Friday, January 10, 2003

News Feed 20100411

Financial Crisis
»Risk of Japan Going Bankrupt is Real, Say Analysts
»Sovereign Debt Crisis at ‘Boiling Point’, Warns Bank for International Settlements
»Arrogant, Stupid, Seditious & Treasonous
»Obama Going Off the Deep End
»‘Professor’ Obama? Title Never Granted
»Two Arrested for Stealing Railroad Spikes
Europe and the EU
»AJC Urges Italian Church to Denounce Bishop Babini’s Anti-Semitic Libels
»Britain’s Top Catholic ‘Protected’ Paedophile
»Finland: Free, Anonymous HIV Tests for Foreigners in Helsinki and Oulu
»Germany: Number of Jesuit Abuse Victims Continues to Climb
»‘Haider Soulmate’ Petzner Resigns as BZÖ General Secretary
»Hillary Clinton Sends Support to Roma
»Hungary’s Elections Could be Breakthrough for Far-Right
»Hungary: Fidesz Seen Winning Vote, Polls Delayed
»Italo-French Nuclear Cooperation Boosted
»Richard Dawkins: I Will Arrest Pope Benedict XVI
»Sweden: Police Urge Calm at Mosque Demo
»Swedish Consumer Group Urges Israel Boycott
»UK: Anger as Labour Sends Leaflets to Cancer Patients Saying Tories ‘Would Put Their Lives at Risk’
»UK: Blind Passenger Hounded Off Bus Because of His Dog
»UK: KFC Face Halal Muslim Boycott Threat
»UK: Met Allows Islamic Protesters to Throw Shoes
»UK: NHS Relax Superbug Safeguards for Muslim Staff… Just Days After Christian Nurse is Banned From Wearing Crucifix for Health and Safety Reasons
»UK: Organs Removed Without Consent After it Blunder
»UK: Three Muslim Extremists Charged After Attack on Galloway
»UK: Yes, This Marine With 18 Years’ Service Hit a Taliban Bomber Suspect, Cutting His Lip. But Did He Really Deserve to Have His Life Ruined?
»Vatican: Opus Dei Chief Claims Church is Being Persecuted
»Vienna Mayor Says Turkish Schools ‘Possible’
»Woman Sues Over ‘Ossi’ Discrimination
Israel and the Palestinians
»Israeli Nuclear Arsenal 100 to 300 Warheads, Almost Equal to Britain
»Why Does the Palestinian Authority Celebrate Those Who Turned Christianity’s Holiest Shrine Into a Military Bunker?
Middle East
»How Dubai’s $14 Billion Dream to Build the World is Falling Apart
»The Most Dysfunctional Place on Earth
»Turkish PM to Urge World Leaders to Criticize Israeli Nuclear Arms
»US Weapons to Lebanon Despite Hizbullah Closeness
South Asia
»Analysis: Bizarre — Even by Helmand Standards
»Italians Held Over Alleged Plot to Kill Afghan Governor
Australia — Pacific
»Australia: Muslim Refugee Jailed for Strangling ‘Too Australian’ Wife With Her Own Veil
»Behold, Newstralia
Sub-Saharan Africa
»Somali Pirates Abandon Seized Turkish Vessel
»South Africa’s Police Struggle to Contain Crime
Latin America
»Explosive Device Damages US Consulate in Nuevo Laredo
Culture Wars
»State Poised to Punish Free Speech at Schools
»The Sacrifices of the Religion of Liberalism

Financial Crisis

Risk of Japan Going Bankrupt is Real, Say Analysts

TOKYO — Greece’s debt problems may currently be in the spotlight but Japan is walking its own financial tightrope, analysts say, with a public debt mountain bigger than that of any other industrialised nation.

Public debt is expected to hit 200 percent of GDP in the next year as the government tries to spend its way out of the economic doldrums despite plummeting tax revenues and soaring welfare costs for its ageing population.

Based on fiscal 2010’s nominal GDP of 475 trillion yen, Japan’s debt is estimated to reach around 950 trillion yen — or roughly 7.5 million yen per person.

Japan “can’t finance” its record trillion-dollar budget passed in March for the coming year as it tries to stimulate its fragile economy, said Hideo Kumano, chief economist at Dai-ichi Life Research Institute.

“Japan’s revenue is roughly 37 trillion yen and debt is 44 trillion yen in fiscal 2010, “ he said. “Its debt to budget ratio is more than 50 percent.”

Without issuing more government bonds, Japan “would go bankrupt by 2011”, he added.

Despite crawling out of a severe year-long recession in 2009, Japan’s recovery remains fragile with deflation, high public debt and weak domestic demand all concerns for policymakers.

Japan was stuck in a deflationary spiral for years after its asset price bubble burst in the early 1990s, hitting corporate earnings and prompting consumers to put off purchases in the hope of further price drops.

Its huge public debt is a legacy of massive stimulus spending during the economic “lost decade” of the 1990s, as well as a series of pump-priming packages to tackle the recession which began in 2008.

Standard & Poor’s in January warned that it might cut its rating on Japanese government bonds, which could raise Japan’s borrowing costs amid the faltering efforts of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s government to curb debt.

The system of Japanese government bonds being bought by institutions such as the huge Japan Post Bank has been key in enabling Japan to remain buoyant since its stock market crash of 1990.

“Japan’s risk of default is low because it has a huge current account surplus, with the backing of private sector savings,” to continue purchasing bonds, said Katsutoshi Inadome, bond strategist at Mitsubishi UFJ Securities.

But while Japan’s risk of a Greek-style debt crisis is seen as much less likely, the event of risk becoming reality would be devastating, say analysts who question how long the government can continue its dependence on issuing public debt.

“There is no problem as long as there are flows of money in the bond market,” said Kumano.

“It’s hard to predict when the bond market might collapse, but it would happen when the market judges that Japan’s ability to finance its debt is not sustainable anymore.”

“And when that happens, the yen will plummet and a capital flight from Japan’s government bonds to foreign bonds will occur,” he said.

Yet others argue that there is no precedent for the ratio of debt to GDP nearing 200 percent being dangerous.

Nomura Securities economist Takehide Kiuchi cited Britain’s government debt in the post-war period “which reached 260 percent but (the government) didn’t face a debt crisis.

“There is no answer to the question of what the critical level of debt is for a government to go bust.”

The likes of single-currency Greece and non-eurozone countries are also different in that the latter group have flexible currency exchange rates which are more closely calibrated to their fiscal conditions, he said.

Instead, the most realistic hazard brought by huge Japanese debt is prolonged deflation under a shrinking economy, say analysts.

“Regaining fiscal health needs fiscal austerity, which could weigh on economic growth,” said Kiuchi.

“And when the economy is bad, people don’t spend money as they are worried about their future, which in turn intensifies the deflational trend,” he said.

Continued deflation could further worsen Japan’s fiscal health because of less tax revenue and more stimulus spending, stirring fears over big tax hikes, which in turn weigh on demand and again reinforce deflation, analysts said.

The key to breaking the vicious cycle is drafting a feasible economic growth strategy for Japan, they said.

“If the economy grows, tax revenue increases,” Kumano of Dai-ichi Life said.

Since 2001 Japan’s annual growth rate has peaked at 2.7 percent in 2004.

The economy shrank 1.2 percent in 2008 and 5.2 percent last year.

Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s centre-left government has pledged to announce details of its new strategy in June, which aims to lift annual growth to two percent by focusing on the environment, health, tourism and improved ties with the rest of Asia.

           — Hat tip: Henrik[Return to headlines]

Sovereign Debt Crisis at ‘Boiling Point’, Warns Bank for International Settlements

The Bank for International Settlements does not mince words. Sovereign debt is already starting to cross the danger threshold in the United States, Japan, Britain, and most of Western Europe, threatening to set off a bond crisis at the heart of the global economy.


Official debt figures in the West are “very misleading” since they fail to take in account the contingent liabilities and pension debts that have mushroomed over recent years. “Rapidly ageing populations present a number of countries with the prospect of enormous future costs that are not wholly recognised in current budget projections. The size of these future obligations is anybody’s guess,” said the report. The BIS lamented the lack of any systematic data on the scale of unfunded IOUs that care-free politicians have handed out like confetti.

Britain emerges in the BIS paper as an arch-sinner. The country may have entered the crisis with a low public debt but this shock absorber has already been used up, exposing the underlying rot in the UK’s public accounts.

Tucked away in the BIS report are charts and tables showing that Britain faces the highest structural deficit in the OECD club of rich states, with a mounting risk that public debt will explode out of control.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Arrogant, Stupid, Seditious & Treasonous

Under the rule of B. Hussein Obama, America, Americans, the economy, our Constitution, our freedom and our liberty are all worse than they were before. President Obama is an epic failure. The people that Generalissimo Obama has chosen to surround himself with are failures of epic proportions. An assault of unprecedented magnitude is taking place upon America and it is being driven by B. Hussein Obama. Listed below are just a few of the failures, mistakes, and assaults upon America committed by Obama and his minions, since January 20th 2009, when he took office:

Obama & China: Hey, let’s fly the Chinese flag at the White House, what could be the harm? What message could it send?

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Obama Going Off the Deep End

A recent analysis by Roger Simon of PJTV Media maintains that Obama is showing signs of mental illness. A wide variety of commentators have observed that Obama displays severe narcissism. Obama is conceited, and he is demonstrating a serious disassociation from reality.

A recent case in point was Obama’s bizarre and meandering 17-minute, 2,500-word answer to the simple question about how he could justify raising taxes for ObamaCare during a recession when citizens are already overtaxed. Obama’s wildly inappropriate answer left the audience stunned and led commentator Charles Krauthammer to mockingly say, “I don’t know why you are so surprised. It’s only nine times the length of the Gettysburg address, and after all Lincoln was answering an easier question, the higher purpose of the union and the soldiers who fell in battle.”

This lapse of delusion occurred in front of a friendly audience. Overall, Barack Obama seems to be slipping into a slightly more delusional state these days.

On Monday, following his embarrassing answer on Saturday, Obama stopped by the Washington Nationals home opener to loft an effeminate toss toward home plate constituting the ceremonial first pitch. After this display, Obama was mucking it up in the press booth talking about his love of the Chicago White Sox. The announcers asked Obama which players he supported growing up a White Sox fan. After hemming and hawing for about 30 seconds, Obama responded that he grew up in Hawaii and was actually an A’s fan. Again, he avoided mentioning any players by name. Obama seems to believe that he can say whatever he wants, and not reap the consequences or be forced to defend his empty assertions. Obama behaves in a manner so disconnected from reality that he is shocked when someone has the audacity to question him. Obama acts like his word is infallible.

[Return to headlines]

‘Professor’ Obama? Title Never Granted

Barack, Michelle not licensed to practice law

Are attorneys Barack and Michelle Obama currently licensed to practice law?

Was Barack Obama ever a professor of constitutional law at the University of Chicago?

In recent days, these questions have once again gone viral on the Internet.

WND has traced the current controversy to Doug Ross and a March 1 posting on his asserting the Obamas are no longer lawyers registered to practice law in Illinois and that claims President Obama was a professor of constitutional law at the University of Chicago are “a sham.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Two Arrested for Stealing Railroad Spikes

Two men were arrested Sunday after stealing railroad spikes from Norfolk Southern Railroad, according to Henderson County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Charlie McDonald.


“During the course of their investigation, Sgt. Coggins and Deputy Corn found the suspects in possession of over 500 spikes that had been taken from a stretch of active rail road track,” he said.

“This act of theft could have easily had catastrophic consequences had a train derailed in this area,” Davis said. “A spillage of chemicals or other hazardous materials as a result of a derailment certainly puts our citizens at risk, as well as the emergency services personnel that would be required in such an incident. Of course rail transport is a safe and effective method of transporting these products as long as the rails aren’t tampered with. This was an incredibly selfish act on the part of these two individuals.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

AJC Urges Italian Church to Denounce Bishop Babini’s Anti-Semitic Libels

Babini, the retired Bishop of Grosetto, referring to the pedophile scandals, accused Jews of a “refined Zionist” media attack against the Church. He called Jews a “Deicide” people and inferred that the Holocaust took place due to Jews “strangling Germany economically” through “usury.”

“We urge the Italian Bishops Conference to categorically condemn these slanderous stereotypes, which sadly evoke the worst Christian and Nazi propaganda prior to World War II,” said Rabbi David Rosen, AJC’s International Director of Interreligious Affairs.

AJC’s representative in Rome had conveyed the global advocacy organization’s dismay to the Italian Catholic Church.

“These remarks are entirely contrary to the official line and mainstream thought of the Catholic Church,” Bishop Vincenzo Paglia, one of the highest representatives of the Italian Conference of Catholic Bishops and former President of its Commission on Ecumenism and Dialogue, told the AJC.

Rabbi David Rosen added: “The high level of mutual trust and solidarity that binds our two communities today demands that there be zero-tolerance for such defamatory statements by religious representatives.”

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni[Return to headlines]

Britain’s Top Catholic ‘Protected’ Paedophile

The head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales presided over a child protection system that allowed a paedophile priest to continue abusing schoolboys despite repeated complaints from victims, an investigation by The Times has discovered.

The Archbishop of Westminster, the Most Rev Vincent Nichols, chaired the church’s child safety watchdog in 2001-08 while Father David Pearce was repeatedly investigated by church officials and police. Despite a High Court ruling in 2006 awarding damages to one of his victims, Pearce remained a priest at Ealing Abbey, West London, where he groomed and assaulted one final victim before his arrest in 2008.

Pearce, 68, a Benedictine monk and former headteacher at the prestigious St Benedict’s School, was jailed for eight years in October after admitting a catalogue of sex offences against teenage pupils during 35 years at the abbey.

Archbishop Nichols last night denied any knowledge of the Pearce case while he was chairman of the Catholic Office for the Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults (Copca).

Church officials said that Archbishop Nichols was not told the full details of Pearce’s child abuse offences until he replaced Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor at Westminster last year.

However, his predecessor knew of the allegations, a spokesman for Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor confirmed. The Cardinal has recently been appointed by Pope Benedict XVI to sit on the Vatican body that appoints bishops.

The Pope was further embroiled in the worldwide clerical abuse scandal yesterday by the discovery of a letter which purports to show that he resisted the defrocking of an American priest because of the effect it might have “on the good of the universal church”.

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni[Return to headlines]

Finland: Free, Anonymous HIV Tests for Foreigners in Helsinki and Oulu

It is estimated that there may be as many as 500-1,000 people in Finland who are infected with HIV but unaware of the fact. Despite public advice encouraging voluntary testing, if only to avoid pointless worrying, the majority of the population remains untested and thus potentially unaware.

The Finnish AIDS Council will offer free, anonymous HIV tests for foreigners at their facilities in Helsinki and Oulu on Monday 12 April.


The anonymous and free service without appointment is offered to lower the threshold for testing, as early identification of infection means treatment can begin immediately, which greatly improves the prognosis. With the currently available medication early detection means an HIV positive person can expect to live almost as long as they could without the illness. However, the later the diagnosis is confirmed, the less effective the treatment will be. In the worst case the treatment may have little or no effect.

According to the National Institute for Health and Welfare at least 80 per cent of the confirmed cases in Finland resulted from sexual transmission. This indicates that unprotected sex is by far the most common cause of HIV infection in Finland.

There are on average slightly less than 200 new confirmed cases of HIV in Finland per year. According to the National Institute for Health and Welfare there are about 2,600 confirmed cases of HIV in Finland. About 1,800 of these were Finnish citizens when the HIV infection was confirmed. In 2009 there were 180 cases, with 82 confirmed among foreigners.

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni[Return to headlines]

Germany: Number of Jesuit Abuse Victims Continues to Climb

Some 10 weeks after the first abuse cases at Jesuit education institutions came to light, the number of victims continues to climb. Around 170 people are now believed to have been abused in Germany.

Lawyer Ursula Raue, who has been commissioned to investigate the abuse cases, told the DPA news agency in an interview that abuse by members of the clergy took place in Jesuit educational establishments as early as the 1950s.

She did not name the exact number of known abusers.

Berlin’s prestigious Canisius secondary school made headlines when it was revealed at the end of January that at least two priests had repeatedly abused students in the 1970s and 1980s. It is now thought that at least 59 former students were victims of the abuse.

Since the first revelations, the scope of the scandal has spread across the country as more and more people have come forward.

“The subject of abuse if not new,” said Raue. “But the recent developments go further than any of us thought.”

She said that while the revelations are disquieting, she is glad that “this last societal taboo topic” is being discussed in public.

The investigation into the Jesuit abuse cases will take some time, Raue said, adding that she has still not looked at all the files she has received. She is now investigating whether cases of abuse were known early on and covered up by the order.

The Catholic abuse scandal has rocked the church, with new cases coming to light almost daily. The scandal has even reached Pope Benedict XVI, who has been criticised for his actions regarding abuse cases while he was a bishop in Germany.

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni[Return to headlines]

‘Haider Soulmate’ Petzner Resigns as BZÖ General Secretary

Stefan Petzner announced he would step down as general secretary of the Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ) after weeks of denying reports he considered such a move.

Petzner said yesterday (Thurs) he wanted to fully focus on his duties in the province of Carinthia where he was named head of the party’s branch earlier this week. He will however remain a BZÖ MP and the party’s deputy whip in the federal parliament.

Petzner made headlines all over the world with his tearful farewell from his “soulmate” Jörg Haider who died in a drunken car crash in October 2008. Petzner succeeded the late right-wing icon as BZÖ boss but was replaced by Herbert Scheibner after just a few weeks. Josef Bucher took over from Scheibner last year.

Petzner successfully managed several BZÖ election campaigns including the one for the 2008 general election in which the party sensationally garnered 10.7 per cent, up from four per cent in 2006.

He however also made himself a laughing stock months later by revealing his “vision” to become mayor of Vienna someday.

BZÖ spokesman Heimo Lepuschitz said the party “accepts and respects” Petzner’s decision.

Petzner only last week branded claims he was considering resigning as general secretary as “attempts to harm our Easter piece”.

The BZÖ was founded by Haider in 2005 after he fell out with key Freedom Party (FPÖ) officials. It has around two to three per cent support in polls, while the FPÖ seems to have the potential to win up to 25 per cent.

The BZÖ recently failed to enter the provincial parliaments of Vorarlberg and Upper Austria in elections. Bucher is nevertheless optimistic about this autumn’s Styrian elections, while the party will not run in the upcoming provincial elections in Burgenland. It remains unclear whether it will run in Vienna city elections also taking place this year.

Bucher recently appealed to the People’s Party (ÖVP) to team up with his party in nominating a conservative candidate for the 25 April presidential election. ÖVP boss Josef Pröll however rejected the suggestion. Bucher had to ditch plans to run for president himself due to the party’s tense financial situation.

Political parties in Austria are compensated parts of their campaign spending in provincial and federal elections depending on their success. This is however not the case with presidential elections. This ruling was one of the reasons the Greens also decided not to nominate an own candidate.

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni[Return to headlines]

Hillary Clinton Sends Support to Roma

Romanian Times

US State Secretary Hillary Clinton has sent a special message as part of the International Roma Day according to a statement from the US Embassy in Bucharest.

She said: “On behalf of President Obama and the American people, I offer warm wishes to all Roma as they mark International Roma Day.”

“This is an opportunity to celebrate the many contributions of Roma to the historical and cultural development of Europe.

“Romani influences on the fields of music, theatre, literature, and dance have added to the richness of European culture, from the music of Brahms to the novels of Cervantes.”

Clinton also said that the human rights of the Roma should be protected worldwide, referring to the 10 million Roma in Europe.

The International Roma day was celebrated on 8 April.

In Romania, there are over 500,000 gypsies officially registered, but the real numbers are expected to be much more as many have not declared their ethnicity in a country where they face widespread discrimination.

They are Romania’s most socially and economically disadvantaged minority, with high illiteracy levels.

Star Madonna has made an appeal against discrimination of Roma during her concert last year in Bucharest.

The star was in the Romanian capital Bucharest for a concert as part of her Sticky and Sweet tour and spoke to fans during her La Isla Bonita song which was played with a gypsy music rhythm.

She told them: “I’ve never been to Romania before and I am happy to be here.

“But I found out that there is a lot of discrimination against gypsies in Eastern Europe and that makes me very sad, especially because we believe in acceptance, gypsies, homosexuals, people that are different. Everyone must be treated the same, don’t forget that!”

But instead of the applause she expected fans jeered and booed the statement.

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni[Return to headlines]

Hungary’s Elections Could be Breakthrough for Far-Right

The far-right Jobbik party, founded in 2003, looks set to garner a substantial part of the vote in Hungary’s forthcoming Sunday elections.

By Marloes de Koning in Budapest

At Jobbik’s Budapest offices, a constant stream of young volunteers was coming and going. A large Hungarian flag dangled of the facade of the inconspicuous white building that housed this relatively young political party. András Pozsgai (26), a blond boy wearing a black hooded sweater, was helping out carrying around flyers. “It is good to be Hungarian,” the white lettering on his sweater read. Later that evening, a small delegation would be leaving for Komárom, a town on the Slovakian border, to demonstrate against the discrimination of that country’s Hungarian minority.

TJobbik’s breakthrough elections

Next Sunday, eight million Hungarians will be voting in the first round of the Hungarian parliamentary elections. Hungarians will vote twice, first for national candidates next Sunday, and again on April 25 to choose their regional representatives.

The elections’ main contenders are the socialist MSzP, which has been in charge of government for the last eight years, the conservative opposition party Fidesz and Jobbik, the new kid on the block.

Jobbik was founded in October 2003 and has its roots in the right-wing student movement. The name is a play on the Hungarian words for “right” and “better”. The party is currently not seated in parliament but obtained 15 percent of all votes cast in the European Parliamentary elections held in June of 2009.

In the building’s hallway, a man and a woman manned the so-called Jobbtaxi’s switchboard. The cab-service’s red, white and green logo was shaped like the territory Hungary used to control before the First World War, including land today part of Slovakia, Romania and Serbia. The service’s more upscale cars were equipped with small TV-screens that could be used to watch Jobbik promotional features or political speeches, both replete with terms like “gypsy criminality” and “corruption”. Occasionally, the screen would cut from talking heads to seas of Jobbik flags and marching uniformed volunteers.

The mood at the party office was jubilant. Jobbik, a conservative, nationalistic, far-right party, was doing well in the polls for next Sunday’s parliamentary elections. In a possible upset, Jobbik could become Hungary’s second largest party, leaving the governing socialists of the MSzP party, behind it.

Hungary has an inflexible political system. It is difficult for new parties to be elected into parliament, and many policy changes require a two-thirds majority. The country’s two biggest parties, the socialist MSzP and the conservative Fidesz party, have both used this rule frequently in the last decades to block each others’ initiatives.

National frustration with power-hungry politicians reached a climax in September of 2006, after a video was leaked showing the socialist prime minister admitting to lies he told during his election campaign. Furious crowds hit the streets for weeks on end, incited by opposition party Fidesz. Jobbik volunteer Pozsgai participated in the demonstrations and saw several of his friends injured. “Fidesz said they wanted to topple the government, but it failed to follow through,” he recalled in contempt.

The elections will be the first opportunity for voters to give the “lying” socialists their electoral comeuppance. Fidesz is generally expected to obtain a comfortable majority.

An analysis by research agency Political Capital found that 46 percent of all Hungarians were angry with the establishment. Their number has almost quadrupled in seven years. According to managing director Krisztián Szabados the far-right is mostly faring well because people are frustrated with the country’s corrupt elite, that has tried to play down the very real problems caused by the Roma minority. Also, “racism has some deep roots here,” Szabados said. Apparently, many Hungarians think little of deriding minorities and Jews.

Jobbik’s supporters are mostly young people. “40 percent of all Hungarians under 40 sympathise with that party,” Szabados said, who claimed young people tend to be less wary of political radicalism in general. The fact the Jobbik has never been in power before also plays to its advantage, since it has not been involved in any of the numerous corruption scandals that plagued the country in the last 20 years.

“We have the vigour that Fidesz has lost,” Pozsgai said as he drank a cup of coffee in the office kitchen. Pozsgai, who is now a student at the entrepreneurs’ college, became a member a year ago after a friend took him to a rally lead by party chief Gábor Vona (31). “He says it like it is when it comes to our country’s problems. He is a man of the people,” Pozsgai said.

Vona is an eloquent history teacher who sports very shortly trimmed hair. Though he has become more careful in his choice of words, he is known to call for a crackdown on gypsies. He claims this minority has left many Hungarians unsafe and is rapidly depleting the government’s funds through high unemployment and dependence on state benefits like child support. In Vona’s mind, Jews and foreign companies are also suspect.

Apart from their traditional dress and accessories, both references to Hungary’s past, Jobbik’s candidates look young and fresh compared to the socialists’, who are often elderly men with grey moustaches. The socialists are often referred to as “dinosaurs,” the biggest difference being the have not yet gone extinct. Many of them laid the groundwork for their rise to power in the Communist era.

Hungarians that are happy with the way things are going are hard to find. Even though the country, that was once home to a milder, so-called, “goulash communism”, has seen a relatively successful transition to EU membership compared to its neighbours, most of its citizens only see forgotten glory. “During the privatisation of the economy we sold everything we had. But our government remains deeply in debt,” said Aniko Bánkuti (36), sitting in a bar called “National Coffee” in the city centre.

Hot conversation topics at the university dining hall included unemployment, sky-high rents and the poor connection between the educational system and the job market, said law student Gábor Fekete (22). “We feel like we are unable to change a thing. That is frustrating.”

He said he would be voting for the small green LMP party, (“Politics can be different”) even though it remained unclear if it would be able to surpass the election threshold of five percent. Feteke pointed out dissatisfied Hungarians had an easy alternative nowadays. “Europe is wide open,” he said.

Travelling, learning about other cultures: it all sounded good to Jobbik volunteer Pozsgai. “But you need money to travel,” he said. First, he wanted a better life in Hungary. He hoped the elections would be a first step towards radical change.

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni[Return to headlines]

Hungary: Fidesz Seen Winning Vote, Polls Delayed

BUDAPEST, April 11 (Reuters) — Hungary’s election on Sunday is expected to oust the Socialists and usher in a centre-right Fidesz government promising growth and jobs to lift the economy from its deepest recession in nearly two decades.

Two opinion polls published on Sunday showed Fidesz winning 54-55 percent of party list votes, the Socialists 19-20 percent and far-right Jobbik 17, which means Jobbik will likely get into parliament for the first time, along with green liberal LMP.

Voter turnout was 59.28 percent at 1530 GMT and the poll was expected to close at 1700 GMT, but the National Election Committee said many polling stations would stay open longer because voters were still queuing in several places.

The second round of elections will be held on April 25 but analysts have said the outcome on Sunday will likely give a very good indication of the extent of the projected Fidesz victory.

Fidesz, which last ruled between 1998 and 2002, has campaigned on cutting taxes, creating jobs and supporting local businesses to boost to Hungary’s ailing economy…

[Return to headlines]

Italo-French Nuclear Cooperation Boosted

New bilateral accords signed on govt and company levels

(ANSA) — Paris, April 9 — Cooperation between Italy and France for the production of nuclear power took a step forward on Friday with the signing of a number of accords on both a government and company level.

The accords were signed on the sidelines of a summit here between Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi and French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

The accords included ones dealing with nuclear security through the greater exchange of information in regard to the choice of sites to build new plants, their construction, operation, management of radioactive waste, research and health.

Italy abandoned nuclear power following a referendum held a year after the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine and France has played a key role in its return to this energy source. At last year’s Italo-Franco summit an accord was signed for the joint construction of four nuclear plants in Italy and five in France.

In a press conference after their summit, Sarkozy praised the “historic” decision by Berlusconi to return to nuclear power, a choice he said “brings France and Italy closer together”. Berlusconi replied that the decision was Italy’s “duty” given that it pays 30% more for energy than its EU partners and this hurt the competitiveness of its goods and services. “What we need to do now is convince citizens that nuclear power plants are absolutely safe and we are considering using TV to do this,” he added. The premier is the owner of Italy’s three main private TV networks.

The new accords drew sharp criticism from Greens and other environmentalists, including Ermete Realacci, the green pointman for the opposition Democratic Party (PD) who said “by going back to nuclear power the government has signed a blank check which will weigh heavily on the future and the pockets of citizens”.

After branding the premier’s decision to opt for nuclear power “absurd,” Realacci said that “the massive TV propaganda campaign announced by Berlusconi will not be enough to convince Italians that his decision is anti-economic, wrong and out-of-date”.

According to the Greens’ national chairman, Angelo Bonelli, “Berlusconi must now tell Italians where the nuclear plants will be built in Italy. And is he going to use the army to build them? Given that the governors of every region, including the center-right ones, do not want the stations on their territory”.

“The government continues to mislead the people. It is not true that nuclear power will cost less. On the contrary, citizens will see their power bills jump by at least 15% to pay for the construction and operation of the new plants,” he added.

Among the company accords signed on Friday was one between Italian power utility Enel, Ansaldo Energia and the French energy giant EdF which established the areas of potential cooperation in the development and construction of at least four reactors in Italy using the advanced third-generation European Pressurized Reactor (EPR) technology developed by EdF.

In a joint statement, Enel and EdF explained that they would have roles as investors and would have overall responsibility for the project and the management of the plants.

Ansaldo’s role, on the other hand, regards the engineering aspects of building the plants.

Friday’s accord has a duration of at least five years and can be extended to projects to build EPR plants in other countries.

Last February the Italian government approved guidelines establishing the criteria for selecting sites for nuclear power plants.

According to Industry Minister Claudio Scajola, construction on new power plants should get under way in 2013, with energy production beginning in 2020.

However, the government must develop a national nuclear strategy and set up a Nuclear Safety Agency before companies will be allowed to start bidding for contracts.

Aside from the accords with EdF, Italy last September signed a five-year agreement with the United States for the development of 12 nuclear power plants in Italy, with the option to extend the accord another five years.

The two countries agreed to work together in the areas of research and development, the treatment and storage of nuclear waste, security and efficiency.

The Italian government hopes its nuclear program will cover 25% of its energy needs in the future.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Richard Dawkins: I Will Arrest Pope Benedict XVI

RICHARD DAWKINS, the atheist campaigner, is planning a legal ambush to have the Pope arrested during his state visit to Britain “for crimes against humanity”.

Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, the atheist author, have asked human rights lawyers to produce a case for charging Pope Benedict XVI over his alleged cover-up of sexual abuse in the Catholic church.

The pair believe they can exploit the same legal principle used to arrest Augusto Pinochet, the late Chilean dictator, when he visited Britain in 1998.

The Pope was embroiled in new controversy this weekend over a letter he signed arguing that the “good of the universal church” should be considered against the defrocking of an American priest who committed sex offences against two boys. It was dated 1985, when he was in charge of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which deals with sex abuse cases.

Benedict will be in Britain between September 16 and 19, visiting London, Glasgow and Coventry, where he will beatify Cardinal John Henry Newman, the 19th-century theologian.

Dawkins and Hitchens believe the Pope would be unable to claim diplomatic immunity from arrest because, although his tour is categorised as a state visit, he is not the head of a state recognised by the United Nations.

They have commissioned the barrister Geoffrey Robertson and Mark Stephens, a solicitor, to present a justification for legal action.

The lawyers believe they can ask the Crown Prosecution Service to initiate criminal proceedings against the Pope, launch their own civil action against him or refer his case to the International Criminal Court.

Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, said: “This is a man whose first instinct when his priests are caught with their pants down is to cover up the scandal and damn the young victims to silence.”

Hitchens, author of God Is Not Great, said: “This man is not above or outside the law. The institutionalised concealment of child rape is a crime under any law and demands not private ceremonies of repentance or church-funded payoffs, but justice and punishment.”

Last year pro-Palestinian activists persuaded a British judge to issue an arrest warrant for Tzipi Livni, the Israeli politician, for offences allegedly committed during the 2008-09 conflict in Gaza. The warrant was withdrawn after Livni cancelled her planned trip to the UK.

“There is every possibility of legal action against the Pope occurring,” said Stephens. “Geoffrey and I have both come to the view that the Vatican is not actually a state in international law. It is not recognised by the UN, it does not have borders that are policed and its relations are not of a full diplomatic nature.”

           — Hat tip: Sean O’Brian[Return to headlines]

Sweden: Police Urge Calm at Mosque Demo

Police in Gothenburg sought to ward off clashes on Sunday as neo-Nazi demonstrators opposed to the construction of a new mosque met with resistance from counter-demonstrators.

Police formed a human barrier as the demonstrators shouted slogans at each other from a distance of 100 metres at lunchtime on Sunday.

“Our aim is to keep the two groups apart,” police spokesman Niklas Eriksson told news agency TT.

A heavy police presence prevented attempts from both sides to cross the lines just days before construction is scheduled to start on a new mosque at Keillers Park on the island of Hisingen.

Police said the anti-mosque demonstration, headed by known local neo-Nazis affiliated with the Nordisk Ungdom (‘Nordic Youth’) group, consisted of around 100 people. Some 300 people joined the counter-demonstration led by Nätverket Mot Rasism (‘Network Against Racism’), an anti-fascist umbrella group that has come in for stiff criticism for its tolerance of extreme elements.

Police said anti-mosque demonstrators had secured a permit for their rally, which started at midday. Their intention was to march to Lindholmen and the premises of a construction firm set to begin work on the new mosque this Tuesday.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Swedish Consumer Group Urges Israel Boycott

A consumer organization in western Sweden with some 350,000 members has called on the country’s Coop supermarkets to stop selling all goods from Israel.

Three resolutions urging a ban on Israeli products were approved by a majority of the 425 members in attendance at Saturday’s annual meeting in Gothenburg of the consumer cooperative society for western Sweden, Konsumentföreningen Väst (KF Väst). The resolutions cited Israel’s role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as grounds for a boycott.

“The board will now push the issue of a boycott to the other Swedish consumer cooperatives,” said chairperson Carina Malmer in a statement.

KF Väst is one of the largest of the 47 consumer cooperative societies that make up the Swedish Cooperative Union, which has more than 3 million members.

The Swedish Cooperative Union owns the Coop chain of supermarkets. According to the union’s own figures, the retail consumer cooperative societies and Coop together account for 21.4 percent of the grocery retail sector in Sweden.

           — Hat tip: KGS[Return to headlines]

UK: Anger as Labour Sends Leaflets to Cancer Patients Saying Tories ‘Would Put Their Lives at Risk’

Cancer patients are among those who have been sent Labour campaign leaflets warning that a Tory government would put their lives at risk.

Personalised cards were sent to 250,000 women saying that the Conservatives would scrap a Labour guarantee that all suspected breast cancer patients would be seen by a specialist within two weeks of GP referral.

The mailshots, which featured a message from a breast cancer survivor praising Labour’s policy, referred to the addressee’s name several times.

Although Labour strongly denied that the cards were specifically targeted at cancer patients, Health Secretary Andy Burnham was today urged to apologise.


But shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley said he was ‘rather shocked’ by the campaigning. Health Secretary Andy Burnham has been urged to apologise

‘It is shameful that the Labour Party, knowing that we are the only party that is going to increase investment in the NHS, have decided to deliberately scare patients and misrepresent what we have said,’ he said.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: Blind Passenger Hounded Off Bus Because of His Dog

A driver told a blind cancer sufferer to get off his bus when a woman and her children became hysterical at the sight of his guide dog.

George Herridge, 71, told how the mum flew into a rage and shouted at him in a foreign language. A passenger explained she wanted him to get off the bus during the incident on May 20.

Mr Herridge, from Tern Close, Tilehurst, said: “Her child was kicking and screaming and someone off the bus told me her child was frightened of my dog. The driver said, ‘Look mate, can’t you get off?’

“I stood my ground. I had not done anything, my dog had not done anything and I was getting off the bus for no one.”

The retired NHS worker claimed he was forced off a bus by a driver after a similar encounter last summer.

And a day after the latest bus incident an lady began screaming “I don’t like dirty dogs” at Mr Herridge at the Royal Berkshire Hospital.

A week earlier he faced further animosity from a couple at Asda in The Meadway, he said.

He is unsure what has provoked outbursts but said he thinks some have come from Asian people and that it may be due to religious or cultural differences.

If the people who were upset were Muslim, they consider dogs to be ritually unclean.

Some may have them as pets but keep them in a separate living area. Anything coming into contact with its saliva, such as clothes, must be washed seven times if they intend to pray in those clothes.

Mr Herridge said: “I do not expect any special treatment but just to be left in peace and live my life the best I can.”

Reading Buses accepted the driver was wrong but had been placed in an “impossible situation”.

Drivers have been re-instructed to convey the blind and the bus company has sought advice from the Royal National Institute for the Blind and hopes to speak with Muslim leaders.

As part of a Muslim Council of Britain project, Mufti Zubair Butt, Shar’ia advisor to Muslim Spiritual Care Provision in the NHS, admitted Muslims “require some education” on guide dogs.

In response to concerns raised about guide dogs in mid-2008, he said: “It is important that one does not impose one’s own understanding upon others, but one shows understanding and compassion for others, their needs and their views, especially in an open communal space and in a country where Muslims are living as a minority.”

           — Hat tip: ICLA[Return to headlines]

UK: KFC Face Halal Muslim Boycott Threat

FINGS are not lickin’ good for KFC in their bid to sell fried chicken to Islamic customers.

They’re now being threatened with a boycott by both Muslims AND non-Muslims.

Britain’s second biggest fast food chain hoped to woo the Islamic market by opening 86 trial outlets selling halal-only meat — that’s from animals slaughtered under strict religious guidelines.

But KFC’s target diners insist the chickens are not being killed in the right way and say they will stay away.

And furious non-Muslim customers have set up Facebook groups protesting that the trial branches, which also ban pork, have dropped their favourite bacon-topped Big Daddy burger from menus.

Groups with names such as “Against the KFC Halal Trial” and “No Halal at Colne KFC” — referring to a branch in the Lancs town — are rapidly attracting members. For meat to be halal, the animal must be alive when its throat is cut as a verse from the Koran is recited.

KFC insists their methods meet the approval of the Halal Food Society. But Islamic leaders disagree, saying the pre-stunning of animals in the chain’s mechanical process means a third are already dead at the point of slaughter.

And the fact the prayer is played over a speaker means each bird it not blessed individually as it is killed.

They have now threatened to warn the UK’s 2.4million Muslims not to eat KFC meat, and will meet with the fast food giant on Wednesday to question how it is killing chickens sold as halal.

Imam Yusuf Shabbir of the Lancashire Council of Mosques said: “If KFC confirms to us that it has no intention of changing the mechanical method of slaughter we will advise members of the Muslim community this.”

But a KFC spokesman said: “We’ve worked with animal welfare organisations and the Halal Food Authority to ensure our processes fully comply.

“And wherever possible we’ve made sure our trial stores are near non- halal restaurants, to provide customers with a choice.”

           — Hat tip: KGS[Return to headlines]

UK: Met Allows Islamic Protesters to Throw Shoes

SCOTLAND YARD has bowed to Islamic sensitivities and accepted that Muslims are entitled to throw shoes in ritual protest — which could have the unintended consequence of politicians or the police being hit.

News of the concession by the Metropolitan police has come to light amid a series of trials of more than 70 mostly Muslim demonstrators who were charged with violent disorder after last year’s Gaza protests outside the Israeli embassy in London.

Aquib Salim, 21, an IT student at Queen Mary, London University, who was involved in a shoe-throwing incident, is almost certain to avoid a prison sentence as a result.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: NHS Relax Superbug Safeguards for Muslim Staff… Just Days After Christian Nurse is Banned From Wearing Crucifix for Health and Safety Reasons

Muslim doctors and nurses are to be allowed for religious reasons to opt out of strict NHS dress codes introduced to prevent the spread of deadly hospital superbugs.

The Department of Health has announced that female Muslim staff will be permitted to cover their arms on hospital wards to preserve their modesty.

This is despite earlier guidance that all staff should be ‘bare below the elbow’ after long sleeves were blamed for spreading bacteria, leading to superbug deaths.

The Department has also relaxed its ‘no jewellery’ rule by making it clear that Sikhs can wear bangles, as long as they can be pushed up the arm during direct patient care.

The move contrasts with the case of nurse Shirley Chaplin, who last week lost her discrimination battle against Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital Trust, which said the cross she has worn since she was 16 was a ‘hazard’ because it could scratch patients.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: Organs Removed Without Consent After it Blunder

Bereaved families will be told that organs were removed from their loved ones without consent after a blunder affecting Britain’s donor register.

Bereaved families will be told that organs were removed from their loved ones without consent after a blunder affecting Britain’s donor register. Photo: PA

The records of 800,000 people were affected by an error that meant their wishes about the use of their organs after death were wrongly recorded.

An investigation has found that 45 of those for whom wrong records were stored have since died — and in approximately 20 cases organs were taken where consent had not been given.

Andy Burnham, the Health Secretary, said today he deeply regretted the distress caused to bereaved families of people whose organs were removed without consent following a huge blunder affecting the UK donor register.

He said: “I want to assure the millions of people on the organ donor register that they can have full confidence that only their accurate information will be discussed with their families, and that their wishes will be respected.

“This has clearly not happened in a small number of cases in the past, and I deeply regret the distress caused to the families.

He added: “I have asked NHS Blood and Transplant to take immediate steps to identify and contact all affected families. This process is under way and will be completed as quickly as possible.

“I have asked Professor Sir Gordon Duff of Sheffield University to carry out a review to find out why this has happened, prevent mistakes like this being made again and ensure all necessary steps are taken to maintain confidence in the organ donor register.”

Donors can give permission for any of their organs to be taken, or provide more specific agreements. A glitch in the system more than a decade ago removed the distinctions expressed by people.

Many donors have strong views about what can be taken. Often consent is not given for eyes to be removed, while some people who agree to donate organs are uncomfortable with the idea of their body tissue being used in research.

Joyce Robins, from the pressure group Patient Concern said: “This Government has got an absolutely dreadful record when it comes to data, but it is absolutely horrific that such sensitive details were handled in such a careless way.”

The NHS is about to contact approximately 20 families who allowed organs to be taken from their relations after being misinformed about what consent had previously been given.

It is illegal to remove organs without prior consent from the person who died or their next of kin. A view is sought from relations before decisions are taken. In the cases where errors were made, it is understood that families were asked for permission, but their decisions were based on misinformation about the wishes of their relations.

After detecting the fault last year, NHS Blood and Transplant, which holds the organ donation register, was able to correct 400,000 of the flawed records. But 400,000 more people will shortly be contacted to be told that the wrong information may be held about them, and asked to provide consent again.

Until fresh consent is obtained, organs will not be taken from any of those people in the event of death.

The error occurred in 1999, when data held by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, which includes a request for consent in applications for a driving licence, was transferred to the organ registry.

The mistake came to light when NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) wrote letters to new donors thanking them for joining the register, and outlining what they had agreed to donate. Respondents wrote back to say the information was wrong.

A spokesman for NHS Blood and Transplant, said: “We are taking it very seriously and are urgently investigating the situation.”

A Department of Health spokesman said: “NHSBT has made the Department of Health aware that a very small number of donor families, and a small proportion of records may have been affected by a coding error on the Organ Donor Register.

“NHSBT are working hard to identify those affected or their families and will contact them to offer help and support.

“We have been assured by NHSBT that urgent action is underway to correct any miscoding of data and we are monitoring the situation closely.

“Organ donation offers many people the gift of life — those considering signing up to the Organ Donor Register can be reassured that they will not be affected.”

           — Hat tip: KGS[Return to headlines]

UK: Three Muslim Extremists Charged After Attack on Galloway

George Galloway was set upon by a group of Muslim extremists while campaigning in East London this afternoon. Three men, believed to belong to the extreme sect Islam4UK, the latest name for Al-Muhajiroun, were arrested and subsequently charged with public order offences.

Galloway, who is standing in the Poplar and Limehouse constituency, was with a party of supporters in Watney Market around 3pm when he and his colleagues were first abused and then attacked by the group.

“They called me a filthy Kaffir” said Galloway, “and shouted that no one should shake the ‘filthy Kaffir’s hand’. This lot are the latest incarnation of the banned group Al-Muhajiroun. They don’t want Muslims to vote, they don’t believe in democracy, and because I encourage Muslims to vote and take a full part in our society they hate me. My party, Respect, is the antidote to these despicable extremists.”

Galloway’s assistant Kevin Ovenden had his phone smashed in the incident and other supporters were abused and jostled.

Galloway was also attacked, held hostage and received death threats from Al-Muhajiroun, then called Al-Gourabaa, in the 2005 General Election.

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

UK: Yes, This Marine With 18 Years’ Service Hit a Taliban Bomber Suspect, Cutting His Lip. But Did He Really Deserve to Have His Life Ruined?

Mark Leader was only six when the Task Force set sail for the Falklands in 1982. The tales of military courage and derring-do which filtered back from that distant conflict would inspire him, as would the dream that one day he might wear the coveted green beret of a Royal Marine Commando.

He did make it into the elite force, having enrolled on the tough Commando selection course even before his 17th birthday.

His service would take him all around the world, from Kosovo to Kuwait, Dungannon to Diego Garcia, but nowhere was more challenging than Helmand province in Afghanistan, where he served two tours.

And it was there that his 18-year career, during which he reached the rank of sergeant, would come to an ignominious end, after a moment’s misjudgment. A hitherto exemplary and unblemished record counted for nothing, it seemed, when set against a regrettable but relatively minor assault on an Afghan prisoner.

Last week, Sgt Leader, 34, along with 45 Commando colleague Captain Jody Wheelhouse, was thrown out of the Royal Marines for hitting a suspected Taliban bomber with a wellington boot. Mohammed Ekhlas had earlier been detained by Marines who spotted four men ‘digging in’ a roadside bomb near a British base in Helmand province.

The court martial heard Leader and Wheelhouse later burst into a tent where 48-year-old Ekhlas was being held and struck him around the head with the rubber boot, causing a cut lip, two loosened teeth and facial bruising.

The court rejected Sgt Leader’s defence (which he still fervently insists is the truth) that he was trying to stop the man from escaping.

Although Capt Wheelhouse admitted a charge of causing actual bodily harm, Sgt Leader denied it, saying he acted in self-defence against a ‘dangerous and violent prisoner’.

But even if the prosecutors were right and the articulate, quietly spoken NCO did let his disciplined professionalism slip for an instant (after three of his colleagues were blown up by roadside IEDs — improvised explosive devices), the stark contrast in the subsequent fortunes of the ‘bootneck’ and the bomber seem wholly unjust.

Ekhlas was handed over to the notoriously corrupt Afghan police and released without charge. Perhaps not surprisingly, he could not be traced when his testimony was sought for Sgt Leader’s court martial. No one can be certain, but few doubt that the Afghan would have returned to the bomb-planting which apparently led to his arrest.

For Sgt Leader, however, the alleged offence meant an immediate return to the UK in the most shaming of circumstances. Before the trip home, he was stripped of his firearm, his uniform and his dignity and returned to these shores wearing the kind of white paper forensic jumpsuit usually associated with murderers and terrorists.

During a stressful year with the case hanging over him, he vacillated between hope and despair, but only in his darkest moments did he imagine he would be cast out of the close-knit military family which had embraced him for more than half his life.

He compared the trauma of his dismissal to a divorce, but yesterday told The Mail on Sunday: ‘I took a split-second judgment and, presented with the same circumstances, I’d do the same again.’

Sitting at home in East Anglia with his podiatrist fiancee Jo Snook, 39, and their six-week-old son William, he must now contemplate the grim realities of life on civvy street with no job and a criminal record. He said: ‘I’ve got to apply for Jobseeker’s Allowance and get my CV together, but all the kind of security jobs which I might have considered are out for the moment because you need to be CRB-checked and I’ve got the assault conviction.’

Although no longer in the Royal Marines, he said that having joined straight from school, he would always be a Marine and remains loyal to them.

He recalled: ‘It was all I ever wanted to do at school from the earliest days. I was in the Scouts, then the Army cadets. Straight out of school, I went for the Corps, and was taken on for the five-day Potential Recruits Course and then the Royal Marine Commando course in Lympstone, Devon, for 30 weeks.

‘It was the toughest thing I ever did, very physically demanding, but it instilled in me the values that have made me a Marine: courage, courtesy, determination and unselfishness. I’m not from a military family, but my parents were very proud.’

His years of training and operational experience, which included two tours in Northern Ireland and even a stint filling in for striking firefighters, were nothing compared to Helmand.

‘Afghanistan was a very hostile environment. My first tour in 2006 to 2007 was as close to modern-day war-fighting as you can get, and we were out on the ground in very basic conditions for nearly the whole six months.

‘We’d create fire positions, occupy buildings, create an all-round defence and there was a lot of contact. Since then, the Taliban’s tactics have changed from trying to hit us head-on to using IEDs, but it’s just as dangerous.’

The fateful incident began at 2pm on March 19 last year near Wishtan base, Sangin, when four men were spotted planting an IED.

A patrol gave chase and two suspects, one of them Ekhlas, were arrested. He put up a fierce struggle, during which he received facial injuries. The other man was shot dead while escaping.

Five hours later, Ekhlas, in plastic handcuffs, was being held a mile away at Forward Operating Base Jackson, where Sgt Leader and Capt Wheelhouse were based, and the prisoner was put in the custody of their troop, to be held in a tent.

There, Royal Military Police Lance-Corporal Ellen Chun ensured he had food and took photos of his injuries. At some point, the cuffs were removed to allow Ekhlas to pray.

Sgt Leader said he and Capt Wheelhouse went to the tent to check on the guard duty, but upon opening the tent could see no guards, yet found the prisoner, uncuffed and standing up.

Sgt Leader said: ‘I immediately assumed he was making a run for it and I grabbed the nearest weapon available — the boot — and hit him with it and using minimum force put him down on the ground.’

L/Cpl Chun returned to the tent, having found Ekhlas a sleeping bag, and told the court she found the two men assaulting the prisoner, who was streaming with blood.

It turned out that the two Marines guarding Ekhlas had been in the tent, but were not immediately visible when Sgt Leader opened the flap, which led him to assume something was wrong and tackle the prisoner.

He said: ‘It was a split-second judgment call and the whole thing lasted about two or three seconds. I may have drawn the wrong conclusion but, given the same circumstances, seeing what I saw, I’d do the same again without hesitation.’

According to the prosecution, the two assailants fled the tent but Sgt Leader insists he went in search of his sergeant major to explain the situation. When he found him, however, he was ushered to another empty tent and told to wait.

He was then arrested, his clothes taken away for forensic examination and he was given the white jumpsuit, which he wore for the short Chinook helicopter flight to Camp Bastion.

He said: ‘I can still remember sitting on that flight and feeling anger and frustration.

‘The other guys in the helicopter didn’t say anything, but you could see in their eyes that they knew what was going on.’

He was held overnight and flown back to the UK. It was not until three days after the incident that he got a chance to explain himself to the Royal Military Police.

He said: ‘In a way, that hurt as much as anything. I’d served 18 years with never a disciplinary problem but now, suddenly, without being given the benefit of the doubt, I was treated like a criminal and for so long never given the chance to explain myself.’

Eventually, he was released on bail and returned to duties in the UK, but for months was left in the dark as to whether the case would go to trial or be dropped.

Throughout the five-day hearing, Sgt Leader remained confident of an acquittal.

His lawyer presented expert medical testimony to the effect that swelling from the injuries sustained during Ekhlas’s initial arrest could have taken some hours to show fully.

Glowing character references from senior colleagues presented to the court spoke of Sgt Leader’s qualities of ‘calm maturity’ and ‘a man of integrity’.

He said: ‘I never expected to be found guilty. It seemed clear to me that the case was not proven. I was telling the truth. I was absolutely devastated when I heard the verdict. I felt anger at the justice system.’

He said the severity of his sentence had surprised his colleagues and that they had expected him to be retained.

‘To have this end my career in the Marines was way out of proportion to the alleged offence. This guy was caught red-handed planting IEDs and soon after the incident he was released by the Afghan police.

‘So he’s free to go back to what he’s doing, and probably claiming the lives of British troops, while the life I’ve known for 18 years has come to an end.

‘I may have been brought back to the UK wearing a paper suit, but on the same plane were the coffins of men who were killed in Afghanistan. Three of my friends were killed in the months leading up to this incident, one of whom had to be identified by his DNA.

‘Other mates have come back with severe injuries. I feel lucky compared with them, but I just want to put across the point that we are asking the troops out there to fight with one arm tied behind their back.

‘People should understand the extreme pressure it puts on young soldiers when they’re fighting an enemy which has no rules, while they have to be accountable for their every action.’

On Capt Wheelhouse’s guilty plea, he said: ‘I’m loyal to the Royal Marines and the chain of command, and he was in that chain.’

As he contemplates life as a civilian — still unsure whether he will receive a military pension and other benefits worth up to £400,000 — he refuses to speculate on whether he has been used as a political scapegoat, adding: ‘That’s not for me to comment on. We’ll never know I suppose.’

           — Hat tip: KGS[Return to headlines]

Vatican: Opus Dei Chief Claims Church is Being Persecuted

(AGI) — Vatican City, 10 April — In a letter to members, Monsignor Javier Echevarria, head of the Prelature of the Opus Dei, stated, “Ever since Jesus founded our Holy Church, it has been subjected to constant persecution. Attacks on the Church were perhaps once organized openly; nowadays it is usually a matter of silent persecution. The Church is still under siege.

There has been an upsurge of attacks on the Pope and Bishops.

Priests and those who aim to lead a good life are targeted.

Catholic lay priests who try to enlighten civil establishments with the light of the Gospel are ostracized.” ..

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni[Return to headlines]

Vienna Mayor Says Turkish Schools ‘Possible’

Social Democratic (SPÖ) Vienna Mayor Michael Häupl revealed he could imagine Turkish schools in Austria.

Speaking at a joint press conference with Kadri Ecvet Tezcan, Turkey’s ambassador in Austria, Häupl said today (Fri) he thought it was “possible” that there would be Turkish schools in the Austrian capital one day.

The mayor also stressed however how important it was that young Turks living in Vienna take mother language courses. Around 6,000 immigrant students from the country currently sit such classes.

Tezcan said experts have pointed out that mastering one’s mother tongue was essential to being able to learn a foreign language. He stressed this was a key condition for functioning integration.

There are around 15,900 children of Turkish roots born in Turkey or Austria attending primary and secondary schools in the city. They make a 13.7 per cent share of children at primary schools, and a 17.8 per cent share at Hauptschulen (secondary modern schools).

But attempts at ensuring a peaceful coexistence in Austria have suffered some sort of setback with the results of an IMAS survey revealing earlier this week that 54 per cent of Austrians agreed with the statement “Islam poses a threat for the west and our familiar lifestyle”.

The agency said it had also found out 72 per cent believed Muslims would “not stick to the rules” when it comes to living in Austria.

Around 500,000 Muslims live in Austria, most of them in the western province of Vorarlberg and in Vienna.

While Freedom Party (FPÖ) boss Heinz-Christian Strache said the IMAS study’s results confirmed his party’s policies, Greens MP Alev Korun said there must be more encounters and communication between people to reduce lack of knowledge about religions and lifestyles.

“Not being informed about other’s living customs and religions is a hotbed for prejudice and fear,” she claimed.

Vienna People’s Party’s (ÖVP) integration issues spokeswoman Sirvan Ekici meanwhile claimed the Vienna SPÖ’s “failed integration policies” created perfect conditions for the policies of the right-wing FPÖ.

Polls have shown that the ruling SPÖ is under threat of losing its absolute majority in this autumn’s Vienna parliament elections, while the FPÖ will almost certainly increase its share.

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni[Return to headlines]

Woman Sues Over ‘Ossi’ Discrimination

A woman born in the former East Germany is claiming discrimination after discovering the word “Ossi” preceded by a minus sign had been written on a job application rejected by a firm in western Germany. She’s going to court.

A bookkeeper identified in German media as Gabriela S. told news magazine Der Spiegel she was ready to take her legal fight as far as needed to stop what her lawyers are calling discrimination due to ethnic background.

Born in the former East Germany, Gabriela S. applied unsuccessfully for a job with a window manufacturer in the southwestern city of Stuttgart. When her application materials were returned to her, she found someone from the company had written the word “Ossi” preceded by a minus sign on her resumé.

“Ossi” is an term for eastern Germans that is often derogatory.

She is suing the company for discrimination based on ethnic origin. If she wins, the firm could be forced to pay her €4,800, or the equivalent of three months’ salary.

“They’ll only feel it if they have to pay,” she told Der Spiegel.

A labor court in Stuttgart must now decide if “Ossi” is an ethnicity. A decision is expected on Thursday.

The word “Ossi” is considered by many Germans from the former GDR to be pejorative, used by some from western Germany as an insult. The related “Wessi,” referring to westerners, is also used by some from the east as an epithet.

“I just want all this Ossi-Wessi stuff to stop,” Gabriela S. said.

DDP/DPA/The Local (

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

Israeli Nuclear Arsenal 100 to 300 Warheads, Almost Equal to Britain

Data revealed by Jane’s, a Defence Agency, based in London. Since 2005, Israel also has long-range missiles (7800 km). In 1986 Mordechai Vanunu revealed Tel Aviv’s nuclear program and was imprisoned. His freedom is still limited.

Tel Aviv (AsiaNews / Agencies) — The State of Israel is reported to have “100 to 300 ‘nuclear warheads and has a power similar to that of Britain. Tel Aviv was the sixth nation to acquire nuclear weapons already in the 50s. This according to experts of Jane’s Defense Weekly, which deals with military information.

Israel’s nuclear arm-power always been surrounded by the greatest secrecy. Yesterday Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cancelled his trip to Washington for fear of having to answer questions related to nuclear weapons possessed by Israel and because his state is one of the few that has not signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Analysts at Jane’s believe that Tel Aviv has between 100 and 300 nuclear warheads, with a capacity that is more or less similar to that of Britain.

Israel is the only nuclear power in the Middle East. Its nuclear program has gradually developed with the help of France, and it is centred at the Dimona reactor in southern Negev. In 1986 a technician from the Dimona plant, Mordechai Vanunu, revealed details to the world about his country’s nuclear program. Because of this he was arrested for 18 years and still suffers limitations on his freedom.

According to the International Institute of Strategic Studies, based in London, Israel’s strategic strength is based on short-range ground missiles Jericho 1, and intermediate range Jericho 2 missiles. According to Jane’s, the scope of Jericho 1 has increased from 1500 K at 4500 km. Since 2005, Israel also has the Jericho 3 long-range missile (7800 km).

According to several analysts, Israel’s nuclear weapons are not assembled. But they can be prepared and made functional in a matter of days.

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni[Return to headlines]

Why Does the Palestinian Authority Celebrate Those Who Turned Christianity’s Holiest Shrine Into a Military Bunker?

by Barry Rubin

The Obama Administration doesn’t understand this but it is signaling the Palestinian Authority (PA) that it can get away with anything, thus further dooming any hope for serious negotiations and perhaps leading to a restart of large-scale violence.

Decades ago, when Middle East experts held views closer to the region’s realities rather than to its propaganda, it was well-known that one of the best ways to mobilize a big demonstration or riot in Arabic-speaking countries was to tell people: The government is with you.

Say, for example, you wanted to smash up of the British embassy in Damascus or Cairo. The trick would be to persuade the masses that their rulers wanted them to do it and thus they would be rewarded, not punished. In effect, this is the consequence of what the Obama Administration is doing inadvertently.

The PA has concluded that the U.S. government will never criticize or punish it. Indeed, Palestinian leaders know that the more intransigent they are, the more conflict they can provoke in U.S.-Israel relations.

Here’s the chain of reasoning:…

           — Hat tip: Barry Rubin[Return to headlines]

Middle East

How Dubai’s $14 Billion Dream to Build the World is Falling Apart

Of Dubai’s absurd dreams, none has failed more spectacularly than The World — 300 man-made islands sculpted from sand; only ‘Greenland’ has been built on. And as Adam Luck reports, the $14bn dream has left a trail of death, debt and deception.


An estimated $14 billion was sunk into the project. In 2008 master developer Nakheel, effectively owned by the government, boasted that 70 per cent of the islands had already been sold. Developers, financiers, global banks, building giants and investors flooded in. But look out now from the fine white sandy shores of ‘Greenland’ and all you can see is emptiness and desolation. Instead of a millionaire’s playground there are 299 mounds of bare sand sweltering in the 40 degrees centigrade heat. Not even a desert-island shack has been built on any of the other islands, much less a luxury villa, boutique hotel, Michelin-starred restaurant or jasmine-scented spa.

What happened, of course, was 2008’s global financial crash. Virtually overnight property values halved and the market collapsed. Hundreds of billions of pounds’ worth of building contracts were put on hold or simply disappeared in a puff of sand. It wasn’t until November last year that the full scale of Dubai’s debts began to emerge. Dubai World, which is the government investment arm that oversees Nakheel, was in hock to the tune of $60 billion.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

The Most Dysfunctional Place on Earth

Recently I had occasion to read a 2004 speech given by Haim Harari. It is quite prescient and rings true today. Harari is a theoretical physicist. From 1998 to 2001 he was the president of the Weizmann Institute of Science. Suffice it to say he is an internationally respected Israeli scientist and educator.

While the audience may have expected him to discuss the situation in Israel, he began by noting that the millions who died in the Iran-Iraq war had nothing to do with Israel, nor did Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait.

Those who died from the genocide in Sudan where Christians are the target are unrelated to Israel. He reminded the audience that Syria’s former dictator, Assad, did not kill tens of thousands of his own citizens in one week in El Hamma because of Israel.

Israel was and is a convenient excuse for the bad intentions of those in the Middle East who, when not continually killing one another, have attacked Israel repeatedly over the course of its existence since 1947. Poised on its borders and funded by Iran are two proxy forces, Hezbollah and Hamas. Barring a nuclear attack on Israel, if they succeed the West is next.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Turkish PM to Urge World Leaders to Criticize Israeli Nuclear Arms

Underscoring his concern over nuclear proliferation in the Middle East, PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan draws attention to Israel rather than Iran. ‘I will call on the international community, which is so sensitive toward Iran, to pay attention to Israel too,’ he says ahead of a nuclear summit in Washington

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan urged the international community Sunday to pay attention to Israeli nuclear weapons rather than focusing on “yet-to-be-proven” nuclear arms in Iran.

“We don’t desire any nuclear proliferation in our region and our policy is well known regardless of which country has such programs,” Erdogan told reporters. “For us, it doesn’t matter whether it is Israel or Iran.”

The Turkish prime minister will take part in a nuclear-security summit Monday and Tuesday in Washington, D.C., where U.S. President Barack Obama will host leaders from 47 countries in a bid to secure new sanctions against Iran.

Though Iran’s controversial nuclear-enrichment program forms the core of the agenda, the nuclear weapons developed by Israel will be on the table as well.

“I will call on the international community, which is so sensitive toward Iran, to pay attention to Israel too,” Erdogan said at Istanbul’s Atatürk Airport ahead of his departure for the United States.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided at the last minute not to participate in the international talks in Washington because Turkey and Egypt are expected to express their concerns about Israel’s nuclear proliferation in the Middle East.

“Of course, I cannot read their mind. But Iran has denied the claims of having nuclear weapons and says it only has a nuclear-enrichment program for energy production,” Erdogan said, adding that the International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, “has yet to prove [its] claims.”

Though the Iranian program is not transparent, “you cannot judge people or make decisions based on speculations and possibilities,” the Turkish prime minister added, saying that diplomatic efforts should be intensified to find a solution.

Israel is not an IAEA member and has not signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Israeli officials have neither confirmed nor denied allegations that the state has nuclear weapons.

“We have not seen any international call against Israel. I will ask them why they don’t take a certain attitude. Does it mean that it is wrong to be a member of the IAEA?” Erdogan asked. “If you are a member state, you have responsibilities. But if you are not, you freely do whatever you want.”

The Turkish prime minister underscored his concern about “the nuclear proliferation in the region” and vowed to draw the attention of world leaders to Israel’s program.

Erdogan calls on Obama to push Minsk efforts

In addition to the nuclear talks, the normalization process with Armenia will be on the top of Erdogan’s agenda in Washington.

Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioglu traveled between Ankara, Yerevan and Baku last week, conveying the prime minister’s messages to the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents, Serge Sarkisian and Ilham Aliyev.

“In this scope, we will have the opportunity to evaluate our efforts” during the talks with Obama, Erdogan said. “We want the Minsk Group to work more actively and reach a final settlement.”

Noting that both French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev “have confirmed efforts” to boost the group’s work, Erdogan said he would “raise the same issue during the face-to-face talks with President Obama.”

Despite intensified pressure by the White House, Erdogan is expected to say it is unrealistic to ratify the Turkey-Armenia normalization protocols in the Turkish Parliament prior to April 24, the day Armenians mourn those killed in what they term the genocide of ethnic Armenians during World War I. Turkey denies such claims.

Erdogan will also stress that it would harm the peace process between Ankara and Yerevan if Obama uses the word “genocide” during his annual April 24 statement.

Obama did not invite Aliyev to the nuclear summit, although he is planning to host a meeting there between Erdogan and Sarkisian to boost the normalization process.

With Baku irked at being sidelined, Erdogan will stress that “a comprehensive solution” is needed in the southern Caucasus and that the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan cannot be overlooked in reaching a settlement between Turkey and Armenia.

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni[Return to headlines]

US Weapons to Lebanon Despite Hizbullah Closeness

With the dividing lines between Hizbullah and the Lebanese Armed Forces not altogether clear, the United States has delivered weapons and ammunition to Israel’s northern neighbor and thereby possibly to its enemy.

The U.S. embassy in Lebanon announced last week that on April 2 it had delivered the first in a series of shipments of weapons and ammunition. The shipment included 1,000 M16A4 rifles, 10 missile launchers, 1,583 grenade launchers, and 538 sets of day/night binoculars and night-vision devices. It was stressed that the equipment would be supported with training provided by the U.S. government.

Lebanese Defense Minister Elias Murr visited Washington in February to discuss military cooperation, especially U.S. assistance to the LAF to fight terrorism.

A month ago, Minister Murr told Lebanese Al-Manar television that though he does not support integrating Hizbullah arms and forces within the LAF, “this does not mean we should offer Israel a favor [and disarm Hizbullah].”

Insinuating that the issue is not a matter of consensus, Murr said, “There are some [Lebanese] annoyed by [the existence of] Hizbullah’s arms, and I could be one of them” — but he acknowledged that Hizbullah’s weapons deter Israel. Murr is said to be one of the government ministers considered close to the President of Lebanon.

Al-Qaeda, for its part, apparently views the LAF and Hizbullah as working together — to help Israel. Lebanon’s Daily Star reported last week that Saleh al-Qaraawi, an Al-Qaeda member who is listed among Saudi Arabia’s 85 most wanted terrorists, spoke on the CNN Arabic news channel, accusing the Lebanese army, Hizbullah and the United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL) of being traitors and of “working for the benefit of the Jews.”

Palestinian factions in Lebanon did not attribute much importance to the statements, saying they were media-motivated and based on anger that Al Qaeda-linked Fatah al-Islam lost a battle to the Lebanese Army. (

           — Hat tip: Sean O’Brian[Return to headlines]

South Asia

Analysis: Bizarre — Even by Helmand Standards

The arrest of three Italian aid workers for alleged complicity in a plot to kill the British-backed Governor of Helmand province is a bizarre development but not one without a certain amount of history to it.

The Emergency hospital in Helmand is the best source of medical care in Helmand, outside the military field hospitals run by the British and Americans.

The hospital’s moral commitment to care for all those in need means that a sizeable proportion of those treated for battle injuries are suspected of being Taleban fighters. They invariably describe themselves as civilians caught in crossfire.

This has long been a source of irritation and suspicion for the Afghan Government.

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However, in 2007 darker accusations were made by the Government, which accused employees of the Emergency hospital of a role in the kidnap of an Italian journalist, Daniel Mastrogiacomo, and two Afghan colleagues by the Taleban.

The Italian was freed after the release of a number of Taleban prisoners. The Afghans were beheaded.

Afghan officials say that Italian government pressure stopped further investigation of the hospital’s alleged role in the kidnap. As one senior government official said in Kabul yesterday: “There has been suspicion for some time of Emergency.”

The Italian Government has so far been guarded in its responses to the allegations, while British officials have confirmed that their forces were called to make safe weapons and explosives allegedly found by Afghan security services at the hospital.

If proved, claims that Italian aid workers helped to facilitate a Taleban assassination plot would cause huge embarrassment to the Italian Government and provoke outrage among the wider aid community in Afghanistan.

The Italian-run charity insists that the allegations are a fiction. As so often in Afghanistan, the truth is at present obscure.

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni[Return to headlines]

Italians Held Over Alleged Plot to Kill Afghan Governor

Three Italian medical workers and six Afghans detained over alleged plot against governor of Helmand province

Three Italian medical workers are among nine people who were detained over an alleged plot to kill an Afghan provincial governor, officials said.

The nine were held after suicide bomb vests, hand grenades, pistols and explosives were discovered in a hospital storeroom in Lashkar Gah, capital of the southern province of Helmand, a spokesman for the provincial government said. Police had been tipped off about a plot to kill Helmand’s governor during a future visit to the hospital, the spokesman said.

A video of the raid shows British troops accompanying Afghan police, soldiers and government officials to the hospital, which is run by the private Italian group Emergency. In a storeroom, boxes are opened containing what appear to be bullets, pistols, hand grenades, and bags of explosives.

A British soldier is heard saying that an explosives disposal unit is on its way. Three foreign staff members are shown sitting on outdoor benches, their identification cards visible but their names unclear.

In a statement, the Milan-based organisation denied involvement in any plot and said it was confident its staff would be exonerated. It said it had not been allowed telephone contact with the three suspects and that the Afghan government and international forces had not explained why they were being held.

“These are people who for years worked to ensure care for the people of Afghanistan. We ask that you respect their rights, first of all, the right to communicate with us and let us know where they are and what their condition is,” the statement said.

Helmand’s governor, Gulab Mangul, confirmed the arrests at a news conference. The other six held were Afghans who worked at the hospital as clerks, guards or translators. A Nato spokesman in Kabul said its forces had not taken part in any arrests.

Investigators believe the suspects were linked to the Taliban insurgency and that the plan had been hatched at a meeting in the Pakistan city of Quetta, said the governor’s spokesman, Daud Ahmadi. He said the plotters planned to carry out a suicide bombing in Lashkar Gah, then wait until the governor came to the hospital to visit the injured. When he did, they planned to attack with grenades, pistols and explosives, Ahmadi said.

Emergency has had a tense relationship with local authorities, due in part to its policy of treating all patients, including those who may be Taliban. It has operated in Afghanistan since 1999 and currently runs three surgical centres, a maternity centre and a network of 28 health centres.

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni[Return to headlines]

Australia — Pacific

Australia: Muslim Refugee Jailed for Strangling ‘Too Australian’ Wife With Her Own Veil

Is prosecuting this devout Muslim a violation of his religious beliefs? Is prosecuting this honor killer an offense to Islam? Is this prosecution an insult to Islam, lacking in mutual respect? The fact is, if you continue along the line of Obama’s policies and capitulation to sharia and Islam, that is exactly the case.

Misunderstanders of Islam, you will not be spared!

Refugee jailed for strangling ‘too Australian’ wife The hat tip David

A man who killed his wife by using her veil to strangle her in their Melbourne home did so in the belief he was entitled to dominate her, a Supreme Court judge has found.

Soltan Azizi was today sentenced to 22 years’ jail by Justice Betty King, who said the Afghani refugee had been physically abusive towards Marzieh Rahimi throughout their 14-year marriage.

Justice King said Ms Rahimi had sought help from social workers and was intending to leave Azizi, despite him warning that he would kill her if she tried.

She said Azizi had complained to Ms Rahimi’s sister in the days prior to her killing that his wife was becoming “too Australian”, meaning “she was not a docile and good wife in the terms you expected her to be”.

“It is clear you were unable to accept that your wife had rights, which rights included the ability to leave you if that was what she desired,” Justice King said.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Behold, Newstralia

New Zealand is talking about whether to become part of Australia. It would be a sad step for a country which has used its independence to set an example for the rest of the world, says Simon Schama.


That subject turns out to be the suicide of New Zealand. No not suicide in New Zealand but a proposal to cash in the country’s independence and become instead, the seventh state of the Australian commonwealth. An opinion poll has suggested that no less than one in four New Zealanders are in favour of this startling departure, and fully a half of the polled want to begin serious debate about it.


The reasons habitually given for this overture are, surprise, surprise economic and not without a steely logic. Over the past two decades, per capita incomes in the two countries on opposite sides of the Tasman Sea have been diverging with New Zealand on the short end of the trend.

Young brains have been draining to Melbourne, Sydney and Perth. As the British and Irish descendants depart for Oz, the great trans-Pacific Asian migration moves in.

New Zealand is one of the least racially defensive places on the face of the Earth, but even in high-minded circles there’s anxiety about a shift in cultural identity. Which seems to me to be even less of a reason to cash in that identity in for the Mephistophelian allure of the mineral-rich economy of Australia.

           — Hat tip: Sean O’Brian[Return to headlines]

Sub-Saharan Africa

Somali Pirates Abandon Seized Turkish Vessel

A Turkish cargo vessel seized three days ago has been abandoned by Somali pirates, leaving all 25 crew unharmed, Turkish officials say.

The Yasin C came under attack on Wednesday off the Kenyan coast as it headed toward its destination, Mombasa.

The crew locked themselves in the engine room and did not emerge until they knew they were safe.

The US navy has meanwhile clashed with suspected pirates in the Gulf of Aden after they fired on a navy vessel.

Six suspected pirates were captured after the clash.

Unclear motive

A spokesman for Bergen Shipping, which operates Yasin C, said the 22,353-tonne vessel had been safely retrieved.

“The ship’s captain gave the good news that the pirates had abandoned the ship,” Fatih Kabal told Turkey’s state-run news agency Anatolian.

It was not clear why the Yasin C was abandoned. However observers say pirates have been known to abandon a vessel if they believe it has no ransom value, or if it develops mechanical problems or is short on fuel.

           — Hat tip: Sean O’Brian[Return to headlines]

South Africa’s Police Struggle to Contain Crime

As South Africa gears up for the 2010 football World Cup, crime is one of the country’s main concerns and better social and economic conditions could be the answer.

Johan Burger, a researcher at the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies, tells about the endemic violence affecting the country as a result of inequalities in society and a violent history.

A former policemen, Burger now works for the Pretoria Institute for Security Studies (ISS), an independent organisation supported financially by Switzerland, which enjoys a high degree of credibility in South Africa.

The province of Gauteng, South Africa’s economic powerhouse, is suffering from a high crime rate.

In Johannesburg, around 17 murders are committed each day. Burglaries and the violence that accompanies them feature regularly make the local news headlines.

But just as conspicuous is the security mania that mirrors this all-too-real scourge. The boundary walls of middle-class houses are almost universally topped with live electric wires. To get in, you generally have to open four or five gates using different keys.

In Pretoria, the seat of government, the homes of important people are surrounded by several electrified fences, sometimes more than ten metres in height, separated by walkways that are lit up at night and patrolled by security guards.

Johan Burger: I can think of two main reasons. The first has to do with our country’s history. For decades, we were caught up in violent conflicts, in some cases beyond our borders. Large numbers of young militants involved in black liberation movements received military training.

Only since 1994 has South Africa officially been at peace. But weapons continue to circulate in large numbers. Many of today’s hardened criminals underwent military training in the past.

The other key factor is the ever-widening gap between rich and poor. The expectations of large parts of the population have still not been met. For more than 20 years, the inhabitants of the townships have been promised water, electricity and a decent way of life, but nothing has changed. Frustration naturally leads to violence.

“At present, there is a strong sense of impunity.”

J.B.: Precisely. At least as far as theft is concerned. A recent survey we conducted of young burglars showed that most of them were not aware of having done anything wrong.

When you live in Alexandra, a poor township to the north of Johannesburg, and every day you see luxury four-wheel drive cars passing through on the way to Sandton, you think that you, too, are entitled to a slice of the cake. And the only way to get it, nowadays, is through violence.

J.B.: It won’t be easy. We have to improve the social and economic conditions of a large part of the population. But we we must also be more robust in tackling crime.

At present, there is a strong sense of impunity. Some criminals have told us they committed more than a hundred burglaries before getting caught. The crime clean-up rate is ridiculously low. It has to be said that crime pays in South Africa. By stealing a couple of motor vehicles a month, you can earn a very good living.

“ By stealing a couple of motor vehicles a month, you can earn a very good living. “

J.B.: Police numbers have increased by 60,000 over the last ten years, particularly in the run-up to the World Cup. But very few of them are able to conduct a serious investigation.

Moreover, the South African police force has lost a very large number of experienced officers in recent years.

To reach a position of responsibility, you have to be the right skin colour; ability is not a primary consideration.

Many white police officers, such as myself, have left the force. ‘Two wrongs don’t make a right’, as they say. There needed to be a compromise between positive discrimination, which was necessary, and the safeguarding of skills.

Another great concern is to do with private security firms, which account for more than two thirds (420,000) of total security personnel. In several cases, it has transpired that the agents themselves were committing the burglaries. Rather than solving the problem, this makes it worse.

“ I am confident that South Africa will be a safe place during the World Cup. “

J.B.: The victims are mainly young blacks aged between 18 and 26. Almost 80 per cent of murders are in fact committed within the circle of family and close relationships.

A survey conducted in a township in the Northern Cape showed that most crime took place at weekends. People paid on a weekly basis go home, get drunk, then pick a quarrel. Since a lot of weapons are still in circulation, it often ends up with someone being killed.

Generally speaking, blacks are more likely to be victims of crime than whites.

J.B.: I am confident that South Africa will be a safe place during the World Cup. The authorities have mobilised sufficient resources to deal with the various threats.

If I were a member of the government, I would be more concerned as to whether the roads and transport network will be completed on time, rather than focus on security problems.

The fans will nevertheless have to be vigilant, especially in the streets around the stadiums. Street muggings in fact account for more than 60 per cent of thefts involving violence.

I have, for example, advised Dutch fans to take off their very recognisable orange jerseys on leaving the stadium. It is silly to signal the fact that you are a tourist, potentially loaded with money.

Samuel Jaberg, in Pretoria (adapted from French)

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni[Return to headlines]

Latin America

Explosive Device Damages US Consulate in Nuevo Laredo

An explosive device has been thrown at the US consulate in the Mexican city of Nuevo Laredo, US officials say.

The blast caused some damage but no injuries. The consulate will remain closed as investigations continue.

There was no indication of a motive but Nuevo Laredo, near the US border, and other cities in the state of Tamaulipas have seen a flare-up in drug violence.

In March, three people linked to the US consulate in Ciudad Juarez in the state of Chihuahua were shot dead.

The motives for those killings remain unclear, but drug gangs are suspected.

The US consulate in Nuevo Laredo said a device was thrown over the wall into the compound late on Friday night, damaging some windows.

Nuevo Laredo, located just over the border from Laredo in Texas, and other parts of the Tamaulipas state have seen an increase in violence in recent weeks.

This is blamed on a split between the Gulf cartel and their former allies, Los Zetas who are battling for control of smuggling routes into the US.

Drug-related violence has left some 18,000 people dead in Mexico since 2006.

During a visit to Mexico in March, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pledged increased support for Mexico in the fight against drug gangs.

She said more would be done to cut US demand for drugs and the flow of profits and guns into Mexico.

           — Hat tip: Sean O’Brian[Return to headlines]

Culture Wars

State Poised to Punish Free Speech at Schools

Children with traditional values may get ‘detention, suspension

The state of California is poised within days to adopt a resolution that schools be “discrimination-free” zones — a plan one critic asserts is designed “to stamp out the free speech of students and teachers with moral values or scientific ethics.”

ACR 82 already has gone most of the way through the legislative approval process and only awaits state Assembly approval of Senate changes.

The resolution states “all public education institutes are encouraged to … identify themselves as ‘discrimination-free zones’ through placards, signs, notices of available services, and other appropriate identifications to create a campus climate that welcomes diversity and supports the tolerance of others.”

“While this may sound good,” said a statement from an organization called Save California, “the devil is in the details. By including morally controversial lifestyles [homosexuality, bisexuality and others] in this resolution, ACR 82 would encourage schools to ‘enact procedures’ against ‘acts of discrimination that occur on campus.’“

Critics say the “procedures” could be enacted over something as basic as a statement that the Bible does not approve of homosexuality.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


The Sacrifices of the Religion of Liberalism

…In other words, Marxism and socialism seek to supplant true religious movements with a zombified doppelganger, or a malignant, evil-minded twin.

As such, modern neo-liberalism has been erected as a massive religious forgery, a titanic heretic cult. Modern “liberalism” itself began as a fraud movement when socialists changed their name to “liberals” when they realized they could never outstrip classical liberalism for its legendary reputation in helping build the West. So early 20th century progressives simply decided to steal the name and re-brand their undertaking.

Particular Doctrines

In analyzing modern liberalism, we must begin with the preliminary premise that leftists see the secular state as not only godlike, but literally assuming all authority previously held by any religion. To point out the obvious, the assumed power and authority of the modern liberal state create a dangerous, pseudo-religious heresy. As a blind, humanistic replacement for traditional Christianity, modern liberalism has revealed itself as a murderous fraud that brooks no opposition, allows no human rights, and accepts no deviation from its manipulative and simplistic creed.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]