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Cameron discusses Ukraine situation with Merkel, Hollande over phone

LONDON, (Xinhua) -- British Prime Minister David Cameron on Monday spoke to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande in separate phone calls to discuss the ongoing situation in Ukraine, a Downing Street spokesperson said Monday.

"They agreed that the Contact Group meeting due to take place on Thursday would be an important opportunity for the Russian government to demonstrate a commitment to dialogue and de-escalation," the spokesperson said in a statement.

The spokesperson added that the three leaders agreed that the current occupation of government buildings in eastern Ukraine is "illegal and dangerous", calling on all parties to do everything they can to de-escalate the situation.

The three leaders noted that European Union (EU) foreign ministers met Monday and agreed that they should look at accelerating work on further possible sanctions, the spokesperson said.

A new wave of unrest has erupted in Ukraine's east over the weekend, when pro-Russia activists seized several government buildings in the cities of Donetsk, Lugansk and Kharkov, demanding a referendum on autonomy and closer ties with Russia.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Monday that Moscow is not interested in getting involved in Ukraine's domestic affairs.

Commenting on reports that the United States, the European Union and Ukraine were going to present some evidence about Russia's alleged involvement in the situation in Ukraine during an upcoming meeting scheduled for Thursday, Lavrov said those evidence could be "quasi-facts."

Twenty-five Birmingham schools inspected over Islamist 'takeover plot'
The Guardian - Helen Pidd

Twenty-five Birmingham schools inspected over Islamist 'takeover plot'

Twenty-five schools in Birmingham are now under investigation following 200 complaints received by the council in relation to allegations of Islamist "takeovers", according to the leader of the city council.

Sir Albert Bore detailed the investigations as he announced the appointment of a new chief adviser to deal exclusively with the fallout from Operation Trojan Horse a dossier claiming to reveal a plot to "overthrow" teachers and governors in secular state schools in the city and run them on strict Islamic principles.

Birmingham MP Khalid Mahmood said 20 headteachers in his Perry Barr constituency alone "virtually all Muslim heads" had raised concerns about potential plots.

Despite fears the Trojan Horse document was a hoax, Mahmood said he'd been made aware of similar allegations over the past 12 years and that he was confident there had been concerted attempts to take over Birmingham schools by Islamic fundamentalists from the Wahabi or Salafi sect.

Allegations have also emerged involving schools outside Birmingham, including the Laisterdyke Business and Enterprise College in Bradford. It emerged on Monday that Laisterdyke's entire governing body has been sacked by Bradford council amid concerns over poor performance and a "dysfunctional" relationship between governors, including two city councillors, and management.

Laisterdyke's female, white headteacher is thought to have complained of coming under pressure to quit by a few influential, hardline Muslim governors who firmly deny trying to oust her.

In a press briefing in Birmingham on Monday, Bore said: "There are certainly issues in Bradford which have similarities with the issues being spoken about in Birmingham."

Bore also announced that Ian Kershaw, a former headteacher with experience of leading independent inquiries, has been given a six-month contract by the council to "analyse further all Trojan Horse material to enable us to see the whole picture", according to a statement put out by the council on Monday.

He is currently managing director of Northern Education, a company working in partnership with schools, local authorities and other agencies.

Kershaw will co-ordinate with the existing Trojan Horse operational group, which is made up of officers from Birmingham city council, West Midlands police, the National Association of Headteachers (NAHT) and the school inspection authority Ofsted. "[The group] will continue to meet regularly, as it has since the Trojan Horse document was first received. Its role will continue to be the co-ordination and oversight of the process of investigation and intelligence sharing," said the council spokeswoman.

A new review group with a wider membership across education, police, politics and faith will also be established this month to oversee Kershaw's work and the operational group, the council said. The review group will be chaired by Stephen Rimmer, Home Office director general, and will include MPs, representatives from the national bodies for school governors and heads, and councillors.

Kershaw will report back to the city council's own jointly convened social cohesion and education scrutiny committees in May.

In addition, the council has asked Birmingham's Young People's Parliament to carry out a piece of work during the summer term to address two particular questions: "What does a good, inclusive education in Birmingham look like?" and "What does a safe and resilient citizen of the future look like?"

By summer, the city council will publish a report setting out its recommendations to be implemented locally and nationally by the DfE and others.

At the weekend, it emerged that the education secretary, Michael Gove, had personally sent Ofsted in to inspect 15 Birmingham schools in recent weeks, after the allegations first broke.

Concerns over how some of the city's 430 schools were being run first emerged when an anonymous letter known as Operation Trojan Horse was leaked to councils and teaching unions, claiming that a small but radical group of Muslims were pursuing their own agenda in the classrooms, with non-compliant headteachers and governors forced out.

The document, which is unsigned and undated, claimed to have caused "a great amount of organised disruption" in the city, crediting the plan with forcing a change of leadership at four schools.

Since the letter came to light, anonymous whistleblowers, including former staff, have come forward, making claims that boys and girls were segregated in classrooms and assemblies, sex education was banned, and non-Muslim staff were bullied. In one case it was alleged that the teachings of a firebrand al Qaida-linked Muslim preacher were praised to pupils.

In Bradford, one of the sacked governors from Laisterdyke said on Monday that the governing body had been unfairly removed. Faisal Khan, an independent councillor (formerly with George Galloway's Respect party), said the head, Jen McIntosh, had refused to take instructions from the governing body and had colluded with the council to get them all sacked after they refused to "rubber stamp" an internal appointment.

Khan said that latterly all but one of the governors at the school were Muslim but denied being part of any Islamist plot. Such allegations, he said, aimed to cause "mischief" and were invented by those who "believe Muslims should not serve as governors".

He said Operation Trojan Horse was an invention by anonymous voices looking to drown out legitimate concerns raised by Muslim governors trying to push standards up at schools.

"I've spent the last eight years encouraging members of the community to be part of the 'big society', as David Cameron calls it, and become governors. How can I continue doing that given this shoddy behaviour, when Muslim governors are being treated so unfairly?"Mohammed Shafiq, Chief Executive of the Ramadhan Foundation urged calm while allowing authorities to continue their investigations. "The allegations of alleged extremist takeover of schools in Birmingham are very serious however there is a wider concern that this is a witch-hunt against the Muslim community." he said.

"I am very clear that if these allegations are proven then all stakeholders will need to work together to ensure that it does not happen again but equally this could be a hoax dreamt up without any evidence. It is important that Muslim parents and the wider community who take an interest in schools and education where they represent their children's interests are not seen as extremist when ensuring their religious needs are being met; this is something that should be encouraged and celebrated. Sadly the events of the past few months will lead to parents being reluctant of coming forward to support schools and it is the children and schools that will suffer."

Military chiefs warn Scotland over evicting nuclear weapons
by Belinda Goldsmith

(Reuters) - The Scottish government's plan to evict Britain's nuclear submarine base if it wins a vote for independence would cost billions of pounds, cut thousands of jobs and create resentment internationally, former defense chiefs said on Monday.

The Scottish National Party, which runs Scotland's devolved parliament, has vowed to remove and ban all nuclear weapons in the first parliament of independence, that would start in 2016 if Scotland votes Yes at a September 18 referendum.

But the former top brass said the proposed timescale would create "huge practical problems" over the cost and jobs lost and such a stance would be "unacceptable" to NATO allies.

The concerns raised by four former chiefs of defense staff, six former first sea lords, a former chief of the general staff, and a former chief of the air staff, come after a narrowing in opinion polls this year, which have made independence seem a possibility even though nationalists still lag in support.

"Were the Scottish people to vote for independence, then Scotland, as a new small nation in an uncertain world, would need international partners to help secure its economic and social objectives and allies to provide national security," their letter to Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond said.

"NATO, as an alliance with nuclear deterrence as a central part of its strategic concept, could hardly be expected to welcome a new member state whose government put in jeopardy the continued operation of the UK independent nuclear deterrent - a deterrent which protects not only the UK but all of NATO as well."

Scotland is home to four submarines armed with Trident nuclear warheads at the Faslane naval base on the Clyde River which employs about 7,000 people. One of the submarines is always on patrol, giving a continuous at-sea presence.

It wants to seek NATO membership as a non-nuclear state if it becomes independent, ending a 307-year tie to England.

The future of the nuclear submarines are seen by many as one of Scotland's main bargaining chips in getting what it wants in the 18 months of negotiations that would follow any Yes vote in September in working out how it leaves the United Kingdom.

Last month an unnamed UK minister was quoted as suggesting that the refusal by the main UK parties to share the pound with an independent Scotland could be resolved if Scotland was flexible on Trident.

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said nothing could be ruled out if the two countries did have to negotiate a split.

But Salmond is adamant that nuclear weapons will not be on the negotiating table.

He was cheered at a party conference two days ago when he gave a guarantee that a Yes vote would lead to the removal of "weapons of mass destruction" from Scotland "once and for all".

(Editing by Alison Williams)
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