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'Racism on the rise' - singer

Apr 15, 2008
In cooperation with BNS

VILNIUS - Racist attacks are becoming an increasingly acute problem in Lithuania, says popular singer Berneen after being assaulted by racist thugs in Vilnius last week.

In the words of the singer of Indian origin, the growing number of racist and xenophobic attacks has prompted her to bring up the last week's incident.

"I am not speaking about this for myself, for my career or publicity. I am telling this because this is a serious problem," Berneen told a news conference on Monday.

In her words, a group of young people including one female attacked her with fists and a belt, and called her a "nigger" as she was taking a walk with a friend on Wednesday night. Berneen said the attackers were gone by the time police arrived.

After the incident, Berneen went to hospital and was diagnosed with head and hand bruises, however, initially refused to make a statement to the police.

"I did not want this to go public, I did not want the press to find out," said the singer who comes from the Republic of South Africa.

Berneen also said she would suspend her musical career in Lithuania but would not leave the country.

The singer, who sings in Lithuania, gained popularity after various TV projects.

"You cannot escape such people because they exist everywhere. I worked hard for nine months and I do not plan to run from somebody calling me a "nigger." This was the first attack of such type in my life. I have forgotten things like this. I know this happens in all parts of the world - not only in Lithuania, but also London, South Africa, America. But it is totally different when it happens in a small country like this," she added.

Lina Jankauskiene of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) confirmed that the number of racist attacks and other acts of discrimination are on the rise in Lithuania.

"We would like to express great concern with the growing discrimination with respect to all minorities on the basis of race, sexual preference, gender or age. Looking at the future, we can make a well-grounded presumption that the number of people coming to Lithuania will increase, including the number of people of different colors of skin," the official told the same news conference.

The number of cases of instigation of ethnic hatred has been growing for the past few years. According to data provided by the police, 17 pre-trial investigations were launched over such public incidents or online statements in 2006 and 32 in 2007. Some 21 probes have already been started this year.

Defenders of Lithuanians' attitude to other races point out the rise in the number of investigations and prosecutions shows that racism is no longer accepted by society at large.

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