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Gallipoli ANZACs & National IdentitiesRandall CalvinRandall Calvin


Posted 26/04/2015

By Randall Calvin

 

In the Spring of 1915, with stalemate on the Western front, the Allies moved to open a new front in the East by taking the Gallipoli peninsula, so securing the route by sea to Constantinople through the Dardelle Strait.

120,000 soldiers from the Allied and Ottoman armies died at Gallipoli, amongst them more than three thousand forgotten Irishmen.

In the course of the nine month campaign, 44,150 invading Allied troops were killed.

The Ottoman Army lost almost twice as many soldiers defending the peninsula.

But in December 1915, the Allied order came to withdraw, described by an Australian General:

"...Like a thunderbolt from a clear blue sky has come the stupendous and paralyzing news that, after all, the Allied War Council has decided that the best and wisest course is to evacuate the Peninsula,.... I am almost frightened to contemplate the howl of rage and disappointment there will be when the men find out what is afoot, and how they have been fooled, and I am wondering what Australia will think at the desertion of her 6,000 dead..."

The withdrawal was completed in January, 1916.

The Gallipoli Campaign centenary commemoration was marked this weekend.  Also known as the Dardanelles Campaign, the Battle of Gallipoli or the Battle of Çanakkale – in Turkish.

The campaign fought between the 25th of April 1915 and the 9th of January 1916 is often considered as marking the birth of national consciousness in Australia and New Zealand and the date of the landing, 25 April, is known as "Anzac Day" which is the most significant commemoration of military casualties and veterans in those two countries, surpassing even Remembrance Day (Armistice Day).

More than 11,400 of Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (Anzac) troops were killed in the course of the campaign.

Australian PM Tony Abbott paid tribute to their selflessness, describing them as Australia's "founding heroes".

Gallipoli holds a special place in Australian hearts. Many believe it was here Australians proved themselves the equal of any in the world, heralding the young nation's emergence onto the world stage. Some 10,000 Australians and New Zealanders - chosen by lottery such was the demand for places - waited in total silence for dawn to break on Saturday morning at Anzac Cove to mark the solemn event.

They heard New Zealand Prime Minister John Key acknowledge that while his nation is rarely seen as aggressors that is how they were seen by Turks defending their home.

He said the generosity of Turkey since then reflected the healing power of time.

As a line of warships emerged from the morning mist, the Last Post rang around the cliffs and hills that had cost so many lives.

Against that background, I thought I might compare the after effects of the failed campaign, from the different perspectives of the Anzacs, the Irish regiments, and the lasting legacy of the Turks.

As eluded to above, the battle forged Australia as a nation. A veteran of the battle described this vividly by saying “before the Gallipoli experience, we were Queenslanders, or from New South Wales, or Victoria, but after the experience were we all Australians first.” Thus from such a tragic event a universal Australian identity was born, forged in battle, paid for in blood and misery.

Contrasting that, as part of the British Army, over 3,000 Irish soldiers died in the campaign, but sadly in their case, history was to take a different turn. While the Anzacs were unifying a nation, Ireland was falling apart. The soldiers from the 10th Irish Division - The Connaught Rangers, The Royal Munster Fusiliers, and The Royal Dublin Fusiliers returned to a hostile Ireland in 1918, where they were not seen as valiant heroes, where their service medals including the V.C., were not respected.

The political reality had been completely turned upside down, and the new heroes were the IRA militia under Michael Collins, under whose direction the Irish Free State was negotiated in 1922, with the partition of the country. The rest, as they say, is history.

Irish Soldiers fought in the Australian as well as British armies.

However since the success of the peace process in 1995, and the excellent diplomatic Anglo-Irish relations now enjoyed, the time finally came for the Republic to recognise and honour the Irish World War 1 heroes. An end to the cruel amnesia, a time for the truth.

Thus a series of events took place this weekend in Dublin to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli campaign, and Irish President Michael D. Higgins took part in the centenary ANZAC commemoration at Gallipoli. The President laid a wreath in honour of the 3,000 Irishmen who fell at Gallipoli 100 years ago, as many as the New Zealand troops.

The effects of the battle also had dramatic effects for the Turkish people. The campaign was one of the greatest Ottoman victories during the war. In Turkey, it is regarded as a defining moment in the nation's history: a final surge in the defence of the motherland as the Ottoman Empire crumbled. The struggle formed the basis for the Turkish War of Independence and the declaration of the Republic of Turkey eight years later under Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who first rose to prominence as a commander at Gallipoli.

They say, there are those who do not like history, and when I hear that sentiment, I always feel that what they really mean, is that they do not like their own history. But surely we are supposed to learn from the past, that is why we are compelled to remember and commemorate its most tragic moments, for human decency if nothing else.

 


 

London Mayor Boris Johnson: I would like to be Tory leader


Posted 22/04/2015

There have reportedly been rumours in Westminster…

Boris Johnson has admitted he would like to be considered to lead the British Conservative Party after David Cameron.

After being repeatedly questioned over his leadership ambitions, the London Mayor finally coughed: "It would be a wonderful thing to be thought to be in a position to be considered for such an honour."

Mr Johnson, who is running to become MP in Uxbridge, has long been tipped as a future leader of the party - including more recently by British Prime Minister David Cameron.

But he has always been reluctant to discuss his future.

Mr Cameron effectively sparked a leadership race last month when he said he would only serve two terms as prime minister naming Mr Johnson, Theresa May and George Osborne as possible successors.

However, with the prospect of the Conservatives failing to win a majority despite the likelihood of Labour being all but wiped out in Scotland by the SNP, a leadership contest could arise sooner, rather than later.

There have reportedly been rumours in Westminster that Mr Johnson's team is preparing to contest a leadership race.

During an interview with on Sky News, Mr Johnson at first refused to properly answer questions about the leadership saying that it was "not at the top of my agenda" and that he though Mr Cameron would lead the Conservatives to victory on May 8th.

But finally he said: "In the dim, distant future, obviously it would be a wonderful thing to be though to be in a position to be considered for such an honour."

He did go on to add that he would have more chance of being "reincarnated as an olive" or "being blinded by a champagne cork" than being successful.

The London Mayor was equally as reticent to discuss his run as MP before formally declaring he would contest the Uxbridge seat.

 


 

Is Europe’s far-right going mainstream?Randall CalvinRandall Calvin


Posted 18/04/2015

By Randall Calvin

Firstly we must be careful in our definitions. Some would put UKIP and the Front National in the same frame, which of course would hardly be an accurate assessment. Indeed this simplistic grouping is often applied to many right-wing political parties across the EU.

I think it is more accurate to describe what we have today in Europe as a spectrum of populist nationalistic parties. Most are new reaction groups, whilst others have just updated their political clothing to appear more moderate, such as the Front National, but right-wing ideology is firmly in their DNA. The fact that Jean-Marie Le Pen is still around illustrates the point, although as we know he has been rebuked and side-lined by his more progressive daughter.

It is sometimes suggested that the perceived danger of these parties of the right is somewhat exaggerated by the media and mainstream politicians. However, the very fact that they exist and are growing, suggests to me that as long as the traditional parties ignore the concerns – some real and some perhaps not so real, the right, and far-right will continue to grow as will the far-left, as we have evidenced in Greece and Spain in recent times. If we consider that the Greek government is a marriage of the left and far-right, we might conclude that the traditional convenient definitions are no longer fit for purpose.

 

Today it would seem that the dramatic change across the European landscape is driven less by previous sacred cow red-line ideologies and more by focused singular issues, in this case the economy, unchecked immigration, and failed cultural integration policies across the continent.

I concede that the right has had a poor record with regard to violence in the past and stoking the flames of racism, but in a current setting this should not preclude us from considering their views, considering that most of the prominent names such as Marine Le Pen, or Wilders, have a constituency, and have been legitimately elected in their respective countries. It is simply intellectually disingenuous to rubbish some elected representatives because we simply strongly dislike their views.

Political parties have often come from less than perfect origins. One thinks of Sinn Fein in Ireland, with its recent history tied to the Provisional IRA, now in a power-sharing agreement in Northern Ireland, and a strong representation across the border in the Republic’s Parliament in Dublin. The BNP is almost extinct in Britain because a much moderated and reformed party offered a better choice to their naked racism; in the form of UKIP, who have tried very hard to put great distance between themselves and their Union –Jack- waving cousins.

The elephant in the room for the mainstream parties, is that the many of the groups I have mentioned above are actually doing very well and growing.

 We can speculate that people are moving to Le Pen, Wilders, Farage, Adams (although Sinn Fein is a socialist Republican party) either because they are scared, or frustrated at mainstream indifference to their concerns, cultural and economic.

The isolated paper attack on ECB president Mario Draghi last week might underscore that frustration. If she worked with the EU institutions in Brussels for as many years as I have, the outcome could have been worse.

I think what we are seeing today is the playing out of the recent capitalist crises, the echoes and tremors of which still resound loudly for millions of Europeans. Thus the left and right are incredibly meeting in the middle. Austerity is still crushing and displacing many, and cold-faced economic soundings from Brussels, is only polarizing millions of Europeans, not making them feel even more enchanted with the bizarre ideas of President Junker, who today seems like a sad parody of his former self.

 

When I said above that pockets of the right had a bad record regarding violence, it might be worth remembering that a “Socialist” British Prime Minister declared an illegal war not so long ago in Iraq. This legacy of Mr Blair exponentially killed, destroyed and did more damage, than all the political street fighters, protesters and football hooligans in history. But of course his actions can’t be regarded as common violence, it is called foreign policy!

The point I am making clearly is that far-right street thugs do not have a monopoly on violence, it is, as ever, a question of degree and impact.

In conclusion I have only mentioned a choice sample of the dissenting political groups in the EU, for the sake of brevity, but one thing seems quite clear, there are far-right and far-left groups represented across the EU bloc and growing.  

Their members see the traditional mainstream parties as wholly signed up to the current EU agenda, and they are not happy about the direction in which they are being led.

Some want out completely, such as UKIP and others, some want radical reformation. Regardless of which stripe of this rainbow of political discontent; methinks it would be very unwise indeed for Mr Junker and others of his extreme Europhile ilk, to ignore reality.

 


 

Pro-Putin biker gang sparks anger over World War II commemoration


Posted 15/04/2015

The Night Wolves say their trip is not politically motivated

A Russian biker gang loyal to President Vladimir Putin is planning to ride through Europe to mark the end of the World War II, triggering anger in Poland.

Plans by the ultra-nationalistic Night Wolves motorcycle club to retrace the westward route taken by Soviet troops to Berlin have been branded a "provocation" by Warsaw.

The rally comes amid heightened tensions between Russia and the West over the crisis in Ukraine, which have fuelled fears of Moscow's wider territorial ambitions.

The two-week, 3,728 mile ride will pass through Belarus, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria and finish in the German capital on May 9th.

The biker gang's website states "To Berlin" - a reference to the Red Army's famous battle cry.

The planned ride has angered many in Poland, which is a staunch ally of Ukraine's pro-Western government and where bitter memories endure of the Soviet's wartime occupation.

The country's Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz said she considered it a "provocation". But the bikers insist their trip is not politically motivated.

Rally organiser Andrei Bobrovsky said: "This is a memorial rally. The main goal is to pay respects to those killed on WWII battlefields in the struggle against Hitler's Nazis - soldiers and innocent civilians."

"Another goal is to develop and strengthen good neighbourly ties."

Visits to Auschwitz and Dachau

During their journey the bikers will visit war memorials, Auschwitz and Dachau death camps and Berlin's Treptower Park famous for its Soviet war memorial.

Mr Bobrovsky said many bikers from other European countries wanted to join the rally, which is due to start on 25 April, including Germans.

But a Polish Facebook page, called "No to the passage of Russian bandits through Poland," calls on the authorities to ban the Russian riders from the EU.

Jarek Podworski, a biker from Lublin in Poland who helped set up the Facebook page, said that it was "unimaginable" for bikers who have supported pro-Moscow separatists in eastern Ukraine to ride through the EU.

"We know very well what they are doing in Ukraine," Mr Podworski said.

"Brandishing Russian flags, they want to trace the footsteps of the Red Army which in reality did not bring freedom to Poland. The Russians are testing the limits of their expansion. If they pass, there is a risk that in three years they will come for good."

He called on Poles to disrupt the rally by blocking the roads. The Polish government said it is monitoring "the problem".

The Night Wolves, who are sometimes seen as Russia's answer to the Hell's Angels in the US, are close allies of Mr Putin.

The Russian leader has been pictured on a number of occasions astride a Harley-Davidson trike at events held by the gang.

 


 

 

 

The Brussels BubbleRandall CalvinRandall Calvin


Posted 11/04/2015

By Randall Calvin

The Complex & the Bare-Faced Messiah

Least there be any confusion, I have included a qualifying subtext, as “The Complex” which was the title of a book I read some years ago by an ex-scientologist who described how he escaped from the quasi-religious cult after twenty years, and exposed many unpleasant facts about L. Ron Hubbard’s organization.

I reference that because before I became a Brussels-based political journalist, I spent many years looking into the psychology & secret affairs and abuses of the so-called religion, the tag and tactics skilfully employed by the late Mr Hubbard to avoid paying taxes.

I recently did an informal interview with a non-EU national; a visiting economist. She had just completed a tour of various intro seminars and inductions, starting in Luxembourg, and rounding off her trip in Brussels. The purpose of her visit, as she explained to me, was over the week she spent in my work zone, to see first-hand the workings of the EU intuitions, meet with senior Eurocrats and their staff, and basically a week-in-the-life observation study of what the whole thing is about, and what makes the workers and EU staff tick.

The purpose of my interview with her on this occasion was actually to ask her about her views on the current Greek vs Germany financial crisis.

 

She did indeed give me a very comprehensive and qualified overview of that situation, but she seemed more eager to give me her impressions of her week in EU Land.

Thus while stirring my coffee, I asked her about her conclusions after the long week.  I almost choked on the hot beverage as she openly blurted out “ these Eurocrats -they’re like the Moonies!” “What?” I exclaimed. “Ya the Moonies, you know the religious cult.” “Yes, I know who they are, but why do you say that?”

She married her comment to the purpose of our interview; the Greek saga.

She found it strange that while the EU sells itself to the world as a united family of members, headlines in the German press the previous day had surprised her.

“Germany Crushes Greece,” and other such phrases; while the same might be said about Greeks burning Nazi swastikas in Athens.

In short the point she was making, even as an economist, is that while politics and economics are inevitably mixed in any country, Europe is not a country, although the defensive Eurocrats act as if it were; thus in this case the mix is toxic in terms of the Eurozone. Member States only look out for their own interests, and when chilling economic winds blow, they criticize and lash out at each other. France attacks Ireland’s corporate tax rate, while in reality France thinks of herself as a “little Germany” she is in real economic terms a “big Italy.

 

Germany, Finland and other Nordic countries characterize Greece and most Mediterranean countries as tax-avoiding, lazy, and corrupt. While the UK has a perennial negative view of the whole EU, and UKIP wants totally out of the Project.” I still didn’t quite understand why my interviewee used the pejorative tag “Moonies” but as she developed her thoughts, the penny finally dropped. She said that in her dealings with the EU officials, all three institutions, but particularly the Commission, she found them to be incredibly protective, and overly defensive regarding where the Project was going.

As if any observation of where the EU is at in 2015 were a criticism; and their inability to acknowledge or reflect on the current political landscape across Europe, a cold indifference like they lived in a parallel universe.“

She explained that countries – particularly European, are not solely based on the markets, the fiscal ups and downs, but on their stories.

 

On this point she brought us back to the Greek situation, that there are still Greeks alive who remember the German invasion in 1941, the damage they did, but were finally defeated. Yet when the war was over, Germany got a right off of its debts, and massive generous loans; Greece got nothing! She related this view to illustrate what she calls “stories” the collective memory and legacy issues, and very little got to do with the current markets. She also cited the examples of the rise of Marine Le Pen in “proud” France, Podemos in “passionate and proud” Spain, UKIP in “stubbornly independent” Great Britain, and Sein Fein in Ireland, etc. etc. 

We covered almost all twenty-eight Member States, and explored many other “stories”. Conclusion; peoples, and the sum of their parts are their long-standing stories.

I thanked her for the perspective, and had to confess that I could understand how she might form this opinion. I said I could give her my view either as an EU citizen or as a Brussels political journalist; she preferred the latter.

 The purpose of journalism, I said, is to report impartially, or analyse critically, whether in print or broadcast, on issues of public interest. I refine that definition in terms of my area more specifically, to focus - again in the public interest, perspectives on politicians, and administrators of the EU on behalf of their boss, the European taxpayer.

Speaking to hardened EU journalists, many now retired, I was surprised to hear them say that from the late eighties onwards, journalists working in Brussels were very “reverential” to the EU project, and were expected to spin in favour of building the European Union. “A world of uncritical sound-bites, bordering on pure propaganda,” one reporter told me, “It is the structure; the ‘Brussels bubble,’ but it was never our job to build the project; we were supposed to keep an eye on things” he said. "If you don’t have a national press badge, it is the EU Commission who vet and accredit journalists, with a lovely EU flag on the badge!”

Not to contradict her impression, I stressed that we had to be careful to separate the politicians from the legion of civil servants. That the EU Brussels corps are no different from the Westminster, or Washington, or even UN bubbles, but I conceded that unlike the USA or UK – the EU is not a sovereign entity. I explained to her, from my perspective, that the current EU is at odds with itself today, two camps, those who dream of a federal union, the new Messiah - and those who champion a non-federal federation.

I agreed with her that many institution staff are very defensive in protecting the Project, because it is all they know. They perhaps have invested all their working lives in it, and frankly would not be able to function in the outside private sector. They are scared of the thing falling apart before they get their pensions. On a political level I have found enthusiasm for the Project particularly strident from representatives from Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg, for obvious historical reasons I suppose.

 

We concluded our engaging meeting with a warm handshake, kisses on the cheek; and exchanged business cards, as one does in the Brussels EU Project.

 

Disclaimer: EU Spectator is not comparing either the Moonies or Scientology to the EU Institutions - the editor


 

Jewish Museum of Belgium receives honour awardMartin BanksMartin Banks


Posted 07/04/2015

By Martin Banks

It was an attack that shocked the whole of Belgium and much further afield.

Nearly one year ago, a gunman opened fire at the entrance of the Jewish Museum of Belgium in Brussels, leaving four people dead - two museum workers and an Israeli couple.

Now, the museum, which opened its doors again to the public not long after the atrocity, has been honoured with a special award in the annual awards presented by Visit.Brussels, the tourist authority for the city.

The 24 May attack claimed the lives of Emmanuel Riva, 54, and Myriam Riva, 53, from Tel Aviv, Israel, as well as Dominique Sabrier, 66, a French volunteer at museum and Alexandre Strens, 25, who worked at museum's reception.

In a sign that things are now back to normal, the museum is getting read now to host a major exhibition on photography from April 24 to August 24.

In the longer term, part of the museum, housed in a 19th Century town house in the fashionable Sablon area of Brussels, may be demolished and rebuilt.

French national Mehdi Nemmouche is suspected of having carried out the attack after spending most of 2013 fighting in Syria with Islamist rebels.

In the Visit Brussels awards presented last week, a new prize was added to the list to “honour a partner" that, according to the organisers, "has particularly distinguished itself” in recent months - the Jewish Museum of Belgium.

A Visit.Brussels spokesman said it had decided to give an “honorary award” to the staff of the museum to “pay tribute to the courage they have shown” by reopening the museum so soon after the terrorist attack.

The museum is now protected by permanent armed military guards and airport-style X-ray machines and metal detectors for all visitors.

Chouna Lomponda, head of communications at the museum, told this website they were “very pleased and honoured” to receive the awards.

 

She said, “we see it as recognition of the bravery and dedication of the entire staff here, from the president down. We have been fully operational since last September and, if anything, visitor numbers are actually up on the corresponding period 12 months ago.”

She added, “It was essential to pursue our cultural and educational mission and very important that the museum reopened as soon as possible after the attack last year.”

The museum permanently exhibits a number of items, documents and books relating to the Jewish religion and traditions throughout the world; art is also prominently displayed.

The synagogue, celebrations and rites of passage are the three main topics developed in the permanent exhibition known as Trésors de la Vie juive.

In addition, the institution also organises temporary exhibitions on a regular basis highlighting its splendid collections on various subjects.

Accessible to the public, the museum also strives to promote Judaism and its view of the world, further offering an overview of its impact on Western civilisation.

It is now hard to imagine the scenes of last May, on the quiet, cobbled street filled with art galleries and antique shops.

"We have lots of exhibitions planned for the future," says the museum's president, Philippe Blondin.

"Of course, it will be different now. We carry the burden and weight of this event and this wound will stay with us. It will not be destroyed with time. But we carry on."

"We are continuing our educational work," says Norbert Cige, the museum's general secretary. "Those who tried to silence us: well, that objective has failed.''

On the wall by the entrance hall a bronze plaque commemorates the four victims. The accompanying message, in Flemish, French and English, is powerful: "Victims of a cowardly murder by a terrorist in this place."

Video on the occasion of the reopening of the museum in September 2014 

The annual visit.brussels awards honour the best Brussels tourist initiatives in the last 12 months.

A jury made up of professionals from the tourist sector and the general public selected the projects that, in their opinion, have “actively taken part in showcasing” Brussels Capital Region in 2014.

Overall, entries covered a whole range of categories but the one thing each shared in common, according to the organisers, was that they have each in their own way contributed to the reputation of Brussels, both within the city and beyond.

Nearly 8,500 people (2,000 more than last year) voted for 74 projects. Entries were judged on different criteria such as, is the project innovative or unique and, if so, how? How does it fit into a sustainable dynamic and, additionally, is it accessible to people with reduced mobility?

In the words of the judges, each of the winners, chosen from a shortlist whittled down to 27, were deemed to have "significantly improved" the quality of welcome the city gives to visitors and, in doing, had contributed to Brussels' international reputation.

A visit.brussels spokesman said, “Brussels’s reputation is well established and yet the region continues to steadily notch up record tourist results. And these encouraging figures are also, of course, the outcome of original, enthusiastic and dynamic work by stakeholders in all areas in Brussels, who constantly strive to further consolidate the fame that the European capital enjoys on the world stage.”

 

There were nine winners. They are:

"NEW CONCEPT" - Nationa(a)l Expo//Store.Nationa(a)l is a temporary showcase of Belgian talent, a collection of trans- and inter-disciplinary Belgian pieces, laid out for the occasion in a surprising and innovative way.

"EVENING EXPERIENCE" - Boeremet. Boeremet is an after-work event based exclusively on enjoyment, delicious food and meeting other people, all accompanied by great music.

"MOST NOTED EXHIBITION"- 14-18, it's our history. For the centenary of the First World War, the Royal Museum of the Army and Military History, working with the Museum of Europe, presented a major exhibition,“14-18, it’s our history!”

"INTERNATIONAL EVENT" - Brussels Jazz Marathon.The Brussels Jazz Marathon is a weekend all about jazz with events on the Grand Place, Sablon, Place Sainte-Cathérine, Place Fernand Cocq and Place du Luxembourg.

"BEST GASTRONOMIC CONCEPT" - Brussels Food Truck Festival. The Brussels Food Truck Festival is probably the biggest event of its kind in Europe. For three days, Brussels becomes the stage for a new generation of catering artisans, culinary talent and passionate cooks.

"NEW EVENT" - Belgian Chocolate Village.Not far from the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, the Belgian Chocolate Village is one of the largest museum spaces in Europe dedicated to chocolate.

"HOTEL NEWCOMER" - Hôtel des Galeries. Opened in July 2014, a boutique hotel with listed façades. Part of an historic monument built in 1847 - the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert.

"INTERNATIONAL CONGRESS" - TEDxBrussels. TEDxBrussels brings world-class speakers to the heart of Europe with over 2,000 influential audience members who push the frontiers of our knowledge.

"PUBLIC INITIATIVE" - Parcours d'Artistes.The idea was to showcase the resources and creative potential of the urban landscape to promote its image and that of its residents. It put on 256 workshops and showcased 573 artists divided between Saint-Gilles and Forest.

 

By Martin Banks for EU Spectator


 

Global death sentences imposed increased last yearRandall CalvinRandall Calvin


Posted 02/04/2015

By Randall Calvin

With this being Easter week on the eve of Good Friday, which fundamentally – for believing Christians– commemorates an alleged unjust execution by the Roman authorities in Judea two thousand years ago.

So, I thought it might be an opportune time to look at state execution today.

The number of death sentences being imposed across the world rose by 28% last year.

However there was a drop in the number of executions carried out, which is down 22% on 2013 - excluding those carried out in China.

Amnesty International says 607 were recorded across 22 countries.

Big increases have been seen in Egypt, where in 2013 there were some 109 death sentences handed down - this rose to 509 in 2014.
While in Nigeria, there were at least 141 death sentences in 2013 - and this rose to at least 659 last year.

Amnesty International says the number of death sentences recorded in 2014 jumped by almost 500 compared to 2013, mainly because of sharp spikes in Egypt and Nigeria, including mass sentencing in both countries.

The other countries making up the world's top five executioners in 2014 were Iran (289 officially announced and at least 454 more that were not acknowledged by the authorities), Saudi Arabia (at least 90), Iraq (at least 61) and the USA (35).

Pakistan meanwhile resumed executions in the wake of the Taliban attack on a Peshawar school. Seven people were executed in December, and the government has said it will put hundreds more convicted on “terrorism-related” charges to death.

 

While Belarus - the only country in Europe and Central Asia that executes - put at least three people to death during the year, ending a 24-month hiatus on executions.

Colm O'Gorman of Amnesty International Ireland says China executed the most people in 2014, but he says the true figure there is unknown as the Chinese authorities are not always transparent. However we can say, notwithstanding its relative population size, China by far executes more prisoners than all the other countries combined.

Death sentences can be imposed in that country for a range of even non-violent crimes such as fraud for example.

In the EU, capital punishment is prohibited, although many member states still retain the provision on their statute books. However, in recent times the bloc has been accused of gross hypocrisy in maintaining its anti-death penalty stance, while at the same time manufacturing and selling the lethal cocktail of drugs to American states for the purpose of execution by lethal injection.

While on this theme, in a related true story from Ireland, President Higgins pardoned a man hanged for murder in 1941.

Harry Gleeson was tried and convicted for killing Mary 'Moll' McCarthy 75 years ago.

He was pardoned this week after an independent review found that there were 'deficiencies' in his conviction.

 

Mr Gleeson was put to death in 1941 for the murder the previous year of Mary 'Moll' McCarthy in Marlhill, Co Tipperary.

An independent review found that Mr Gleeson had a reasonable alibi for the date on which Mary McCarthy died, and that crucial evidence was withheld from the jury.

The Irish Innocence Project found that the prosecution withheld information that showed a discrepancy in their case relating to a gun register.
It also showed that the Irish police encouraged witnesses to submit false statements, and that they beat a witness during questioning.

David Langwallner, director and founder of the Irish Innocence Project said in January: "Nothing can adequately comfort those who have fought to exonerate Harry Gleeson but this posthumous pardon and the clearing of the good name of Mr Gleeson is a proud moment for everyone involved."

 

Having reviewed the trial transcripts and exhibits, which they got from the National Archives, the Irish Innocence Project sought the pardon under Section 9 of the Criminal Procedure Act.

The government accepted the advice of the Attorney-General that Mr Gleeson should be pardoned, and asked the president to exercise that power.

While this is a rare but certainly not unique example of miscarriage of justice, it serves in my opinion to underline the fallible nature and flaws in exercising the death penalty.

 

By Randall Calvin