Friday, January 10, 2003

News Feed 20100502

Financial Crisis
»Bailout Bill Would Require Banks to Track and Report Personal Checking Accounts to Feds
»Finland Takes Part in Greek Rescue Effort
»Greece: Moody’s Cuts Rating of Nine Greek Banks
»Merkel: Greek Crisis Will Inspire Spain, Portugal
»Portugal: Unemployment and Household Debt
»Portugal Aims to Cut Deficit to 8.3% in 2010
»Auto Bill Draft Would Require Black Boxes
»BP Warned of Rig Fault Ten Years Ago
»Check the Moral Values: Tin the Tuna, Eleven Souls Are Lost
»CNN: Official: TSA Ramping Up Security Measures at East Coast Airports
»Michael Jackson’s Former Lawyer Found Dead
»Modern Leftism and Magical Thinking
»New ‘Safety Plan’ Would Control What You Eat
»NY Governor Calls Failed Car Bomb Act of Terrorism
»Obama Lawyers Want More Secrecy at White House
»Oklahoma: Vance Pilots Targeted by Lasers
»Pittsburgh Marathon Detoured by Roadside Bomb
»Politicians Share Personality Traits With Serial Killers
»Times Square Car Bomb: Police Investigate South Park Link
»Video Shows Federal Officials Knew Quickly of Potential for Massive Oil Flow in Gulf Spill
»Video: Local NYC Channel Reports: Failed Bomb at Times Square Was a “Diversion” For Massive Explosion
Europe and the EU
»Belgium’s Burqa Ban: Divided Country Finds Consensus on Islamic Veils
»Drunken Swedes Kicked Out of Denmark
»German Scholar Rankles Swiss With Questions Over Heidi’s Origins
»Germany: Teen Expelled From Catholic School for Leaving Church
»Italy’s Old-Age Trap
»UK: Open Season on Brown as Heckler is Thrown Out of Glass Factory for Shouting at Beleaguered PM
»UK: Pensioner’s Red, White, And Blue Anti-MP Election Protest Poster is Branded ‘Racist’ By Police
»UK: Residents Form Human Barricade to Stop Travellers Building ‘Illegal’ Site in Picture-Postcard Village
Mediterranean Union
»Journalists: Algerian Baya Gacemi Dies in Paris
North Africa
»Algeria: Hassi Messaoud, A Living Hell for Women
Israel and the Palestinians
»Arab League Supports Indirect Israel-Palestinian Peace Talks
»Israel: Netanyahu Wins in Likud Vote
»Israel — Palestine — US: Obama Thinking About a Conference to Create a Palestinian State
»Siniora: Local Leaders Not Ready for Compromise
Middle East
»Democracy Activist Ribal Al-Assad: ‘Syria is Today a Vassal State of Tehran’
»KSA: Haia Imposes Ban on Women Jogging in Asir Town
South Asia
»India: Mumbai Attack Masterminds ‘Will Never be Brought to Justice’
»India: US Embassy Warns Terror Attacks Planned in India
»Kyrgyzstan: Islamic Veil and Fundamentalism Are Back in Bishkek
»Catholic Money and Tax Dollars Finance Illegal Alien Rally
Culture Wars
»UK: Christian Preacher on Hooligan Charge After Saying He Believes That Homosexuality is a Sin

Financial Crisis

Bailout Bill Would Require Banks to Track and Report Personal Checking Accounts to Feds

It’s amazing to watch the civil libertarians hide when Democrats propose the most sweeping intrusions of privacy in generations. In addition to the litany of bad policies contained in the Dodd Financial Reform bill is this nugget on pages 1039-1040. In short, it extends government reach to every deposit account of every citizen.

Required Acct MonitoringSubtitle G of the Dodd discussion draft bill requires that records be maintained and reported “for each branch, automated teller machine at which deposits are accepted, and other deposit taking service facility with respect to any financial institution, the financial institution shall maintain a record of the number and dollar amounts of deposit accounts of customers.”

What’s worse, banks will be required to submit these records to the new super regulatory agency called the Consumer Financial Protection Agency (page 1041). The CFPA will be allowed to use this information for any purpose “as permitted by law” under CFPA rules—rules set by CFPA themselves.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Finland Takes Part in Greek Rescue Effort

Finland has promised to lend Greece with over half a billion euros this year to help it get over the current financial crisis. Over the coming three years Greece is set to get 100 to 120 billion euros in loans from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.

Finland’s share over the three year period will be over 1.5 billion euros. Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen told YLE on Saturday that the measures were needed as a firewall to keep the Greek crisis within Greece.

Vanhanen also said that the package needed to be big enough to be credible, and Greece needs to commit itself to a credible cost cutting programme.

           — Hat tip: KGS[Return to headlines]

Greece: Moody’s Cuts Rating of Nine Greek Banks

(ANSAmed) — ROME, APRIL 30 — Moody’s downgraded the rating of nine Greek banks, reports the ratings agency. The National Bank of Greece, Eurobank Ergasias, Alpha Bank, Piraeus Bank, Emporiki Bank of Greece, Agricultural Bank of Greece, General Bank of Greece, Marfin Egnatia Bank and Attica Bank all saw their ratings cut. The downgrade, explained a statement, was decided upon due to the weaker financial position of the institutes and the increasing pressure on the country due to the debt crisis. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Merkel: Greek Crisis Will Inspire Spain, Portugal

The deep cuts imposed on Greece in return for an emergency bailout will spur other troubled eurozone members into doing all they can to avoid the same fate, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Sunday.

“All the experts say that Portugal, Spain and Ireland are in a much better situation than Greece,” Merkel said in an interview with the mass-circulation Bild am Sonntag newspaper.

“These countries can also see that the path taken by Greece with the IMF is not an easy one. As a result they will do all they can to avoid this themselves, and they have already set out saving efforts,” Merkel said.

Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou said Sunday that a bailout package of “unprecedented” size had been agreed with the European Union and the International Monetary Fund to avoid what he called “bankruptcy,” but that the country would have to make “big sacrifices” in return.

Mr. Papandreou said that unless Greeks were willing to make major sacrifices the country would go bankrupt.

“These sacrifices will give us breathing space and the time we need to make great changes,” he said.

His comments come after thousands of demonstrators joined May Day marches through Athens protesting planned budget cuts.

The rescue deal could be worth as much as €120 billion euros ($160 billion) over three years.

The Greek debt crisis has raised fears that other countries in the 16-nation eurozone with shaky finances would also be unable to finance their debt mountains and would be forced to seek help from outside.

Portugal and Spain’s credit ratings were downgraded last week.

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

Portugal: Unemployment and Household Debt

(ANSAmed) — ROME, APRIL 29 — Portugal is also at high risk of being hit by a domino effect from Greece after Spain. The latest International Monetary Fund outlook does not place much confidence in Portugal’s plan for debt recovery, which stands at 9.4% of GDP. According to the IMF, this year Portugal will see growth of 0.3% instead of the 0.7% predicted by the government, while the deficit will drop only to 8.7% in 2010 (not 8.3%) and 7.5% in 2011, instead of the 6.6% predicted by the Socialist premier Jose Socrates. Unemployment is expected to rise from 9.5% in 2009 to 11% this year according to IMF estimates, and will be 10.3% in 2011. Eurostat, instead, confirmed the statistics released by Lisbon. At 77% of GDP, Portuguese debt is in line with that of France. What raises the most concern is especially enterprise debt and that of Portuguese households, which represents 236% of GDP and is higher than those of Greece and Italy put together. At the same time, the country’s saving rate is the fourth lowest in OECD countries, according to data provided by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. In these conditions, the IMF has recently indicated that from October 2008-March 2009 and October 2009 to February 2010, Portugal’s contribution to the creation of stress within the euro area had gone from 7.7 to 18.0 points. Prime Minister Socrates has launched a recovery plan — which the left and unions disagree with — providing for privatisations, cuts to public investment and a rise in taxes. Brussels has not ruled out further measures. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Portugal Aims to Cut Deficit to 8.3% in 2010

(ANSAmed) — ROME, APRIL 30 — The Portuguese government is determined to reduce its budget deficit to 8.3% of GDP this year from 9.4% in 2009, said Prime Minister José Socrates today to Parliament in Lisbon, reports Bloomberg. The executive branch led by Socrates aims to bring the deficit to 2.8% of GDP in 2013.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Auto Bill Draft Would Require Black Boxes

All new cars would have to be equipped with “black boxes” that record performance data and federal safety regulators would be granted the authority to order immediate recalls under newly proposed auto-safety legislation being considered by Congress.

The draft of a bill was released Thursday by one of the House committees investigating Toyota’s massive recalls for unintended acceleration in its vehicles. Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House commerce committee, and Sen. John D. Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), chair of the Senate commerce committee, have said they intend to collaborate on automobile safety legislation this year.

The draft contains a wide array of provisions. Some require new safety features, such as the black boxes — called event data recorders — and brake override systems that allow a driver to stop a car even when the throttle is stuck open.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

BP Warned of Rig Fault Ten Years Ago

BP faces fresh questions over the cause of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill after it emerged that problems with the type of equipment that led to the disaster were first reported a decade ago.

In June 2000, the oil giant issued a “notice of default” to Transocean, the operator of the rig that blew up last month. The dispute was over problems with a blowout preventer, a set of iron slabs that should close out-of-control wells. It failed on the Gulf of Mexico rig, triggering the explosion and oil spill.

Transocean acknowledged at the time that the preventer did “not work exactly right”. The rig in question, the Discover Enterprise, was unable to operate for extended periods while the problem was fixed.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Check the Moral Values: Tin the Tuna, Eleven Souls Are Lost

In among the pictures of manatees and blue-fin tuna — all doomed, we are told, because of the oil slick heading for Louisiana after the explosion at the BP-operated Deepwater Horizon drilling rig — you may just have seen one line: 11 workers died when the rig exploded on April 20th.

Or maybe you didn’t see the line at all. The environmentalists and their Democrat friends in Washington are so concerned about shrimp dying that the loss of 11 husbands, brothers and sons seems hardly worth mentioning. Certainly a confused seabird covered in oil touches more Green hearts than a picture of a grieving blue-collar widow outside a Gulf coast bungalow.

Yes, of course, the explosion is an enormous financial disaster — just ask any pension fund with a holding in BP — and a disaster for the wildlife, and for the people who must make their livings along the coast. But I would be willing to kill every gannet from Galveston to Pensacola if it could restore those 11 men to their families. There is worse heartbreak in this than just the loss of animal life and loss of share price.

One ought to remember, too, the heartbreak of the men who designed the rig. Usually I would only mourn the loss of a great church or an historic house by fire. But this rig was magnificent. For it to explode into an inferno — the flames were visible 35 miles away — list and sink, is a technological tragedy.

Deepwater Horizon was no mere platform of the kind we were used to in the North Sea. It was a floating rig. It had no anchors, it was not moored, yet it could operate in depths of 10,000 ft. What was described to me as a ‘triply-redundant computer system’ used satellite positioning to control powerful thrusters to keep it within a few feet of its correct location at all times.

All-in cost to BP of running it for just one day? Close to $1m — that’s £650,000. Everything about it was of the latest, most sophisticated technology. Yet somehow oil and gas got into the well-bore. Despite blowout preventers, dead-man systems, panic buttons, none of these safety mechanisms was activated. The blowout was just that fast.

Tomorrow morning, oil rig workers all over the world will wake up knowing all that — that there are some blowouts, some infernos from which technology can never save them. Yet they will still get up and start their work on the rigs. Technology is brilliant. But courage is even better.

           — Hat tip: TV[Return to headlines]

CNN: Official: TSA Ramping Up Security Measures at East Coast Airports

The Transportation Security Administration on Sunday ramped up security screening at airports along the East Coast after an attempted car bombing a day earlier in New York’s Times Square, a Department of Homeland Security official said.

The official told CNN the TSA has begun operations to counter potential car bombs, or “vehicle-born improvised explosive devices,” as well as taking measures to prevent other kinds of terrorist acts that might occur in crowded public spaces.

The TSA also is coordinating with Customs and Border Protection to facilitate additional secondary passenger screening on both domestic and international flights, the official said.

Officials in Washington participated in a call with top TSA officials at airports in New York, Boston and Philadelphia to talk about partnering with Customs to identify flights that might need more random screening, the official said.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Michael Jackson’s Former Lawyer Found Dead

Peter Lopez, a former lawyer for Michael Jackson and Andrea Bocelli, has been found dead in an apparent suicide.

Mr Lopez, 60, died of a gunshot wound at his home in California, coroner’s office operations chief Craig Harvey said.

Mr Lopez was Michael Jackson’s music attorney for several years, according to Alfred Newman, a spokesman for the firm Mr Lopez helped found, Kleinberg Lopez Lange Cuddy & Klein.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Modern Leftism and Magical Thinking

The Tyranny of Emotional Infantilism Imperils America

In midst of one of the most amazing displays of irrationality in modern Western history, Americans are left to ponder: What the devil has happened to the USA? Arguably, roots of America’s current confusion are traceable to an infection of leftist Magical Thinking.

This is essentially the thought pattern of how children perceive the world, a mindset based upon substituting wishful thinking for reality. One of the chief characteristics of Magical Thinking is a denial of the principles of science. It is a dangerous belief system because it causes folks to assume that as long as their motives are right, all their plans and undertakings will work out.

The unrealistic thought pattern of Magical Thinking now informs American public policy and statecraft at every level—on economics, foreign relations, rule of law, environmentalism, etc. It is a world-view based upon the notion the “right” people will provide successful leadership for America, simply because they are “good,” and not the old “bad” leaders. Most intriguingly, this outlook is characteristic of not just children, but also sufferers of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, which Dr. Ali Sinan believe is a diagnosis fitting Barack Obama.1

Magical Thinking deludes folks into believing the world is exactly as they hope it to be. defines magical thinking as…”a conviction that thinking is equivalent to doing, occurring in dreams, the thought patterns of children, and some types of mental disorders, esp. obsessive-compulsive disorder.” Leonard Zusne and Warren H. Jones, authors of “Anomalistic Psychology: A Study of Magical Thinking” write Magical Thinking is “a fundamental dimension of a child’s thinking.”2

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

New ‘Safety Plan’ Would Control What You Eat

‘It is to our food what the bailout was to our economy, only we can live without money’

Critics say a bill pending in the U.S. Senate would do for Americans’ food supply what “Obamacare” is doing to the nation’s supply of health-care resources.

And it’s generating a surge of alarm among small-farm operators and natural food advocates.

“S. 510, the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2010, may be the most dangerous bill in the history of the U.S.,” writes Steve Green on the Food Freedom blog. “It is to our food what the bailout was to our economy, only we can live without money.”

The plan is sponsored by U.S. Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., who explains the legislation “is a critical step toward equipping the FDA with the authorities and funding it needs to regulate what is now a global marketplace for food, drugs, devices, and cosmetics.”

His website explains, “The legislation requires foreign and domestic food facilities to have safety plans in place to prevent food hazards before they occur, increases the frequency of inspections. Additionally, it provides strong, flexible enforcement tools, including mandatory recall. Most importantly, this bill generates the resources to support FDA food safety activities.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

NY Governor Calls Failed Car Bomb Act of Terrorism

Police tipped off by a street vendor found and defused a car bomb inside a sport utility vehicle, averting an “act of terrorism” that forced the evacuation of New York’s Times Square on Saturday and could have killed many people, authorities said early on Sunday.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg told a news conference that “we have no idea who did this or why.” He said the failed bomb — made of propane, gasoline and fireworks — appeared to have been made in an amateurish manner.


The bomb was discovered at around 6:30 p.m. (2230 GMT) in the vehicle parked on 45th street and Broadway with its engine running and hazard lights flashing, officials said. It had Connecticut license plates that did not match the vehicle.

Kelly said the bomb squad had removed and dismantled three propane tanks, consumer grade fireworks, two filled five gallon (19 liter) gasoline containers, two clocks, batteries in each of the clocks, electrical wire and other components.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Obama Lawyers Want More Secrecy at White House

Say court precedents over FOIA application to visitor logs ‘decided wrong’

The federal government is arguing that previous court rulings applying the Freedom of Information Act to records such as the visitor logs at the White House are incorrect, and President Obama’s administration should be allowed to withhold from the public the information it chooses.

A new government brief filed in a court dispute over the records argues, instead, that people with questions about who visits the White House should go to the White House website and ask for the information, and if the president agrees, it could be released.


“The Obama White House admits in the new court filing that it is taking records from the Secret Service in order to ensure that they are not disclosed under FOIA,” the Judicial Watch report said.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Oklahoma: Vance Pilots Targeted by Lasers

Three flight crews land safely

ENID — Learning to fly is hard, learning to fly a military aircraft is even harder.

And learning to fly a military aircraft at night is hardest of all.

Because of the fact many combat missions over Iraq and Afghanistan are flown after dark, more emphasis has been placed in recent years on training military student pilots to fly at night.

As a result, every three weeks the men and women earning their wings at Vance Air Force Base do their flying after the sun goes down. The next night flying week at Vance is scheduled to begin Monday.

During a recent night flying week, the difficult and dangerous business of learning to fly at night was made even more difficult and dangerous when three Vance aircraft were the targets of a concentrated beam of green laser light, either from a laser pointer or a laser rifle scope.

All three aircraft, a T-6A Texan II and two T-38s, landed safely, but all six pilots had to report to the Vance Clinic for precautionary eye exams. All were cleared by flight surgeons.

“They were on final turns to come into the base,” said Bob Farrell, Vance’s chief of community relations. “That’s a very critical phase of flight.”

The aircraft were flying at an altitude about 1,000 feet when their canopies were illuminated by lasers.

“Unfortunately, they were in the worst spot possible when this happened,” said Lt. Col. Ted Weibel, Vance’s chief of safety. “The critical phase of flight, absolutely, is the last 1,000 feet coming in and landing. That’s when the pilots need their eyes the most.”

If a laser is shined in a motorist’s eyes, he or she can slow down, or stop and pull over until their night vision returns. Pilots have no such option, however.

“I absolutely rely on my eyes for everything in a plane, even though it’s dark outside,” Weibel said. “Without those I am useless as a pilot.”

Each of the Vance aircraft hit by lasers had two pilots aboard, but about 10 to 15 percent of missions flown each night that week were solos. If a solo pilot was temporarily blinded by a laser, he or she might have no option other than to eject. Military pilots are trained to do their best to point their aircraft away from populated areas if they are forced to eject, but might not have the chance if they find themselves literally flying blind.

“If those guys are temporarily blinded, they don’t know if they are pointing the aircraft at an open field or a shopping center,” Farrell said.

Weibel said laser incidents are rare at Vance, and throughout Air Education and Training Command, but not worldwide. In 2009 there were 1,527 laser illumination incidents reported to Federal Aviation Administration, up from 311 in 2005.

Vance’s incidents were reported to the Enid Police Department, which is investigating in conjunction with Air Force law enforcement personnel.

“It’s a federal crime to do anything that’s going to endanger an aircraft or endanger a pilot who’s operating an aircraft,” said Maj. Jim Annexstad, Vance’s staff judge advocate.

Anyone caught and convicted of shining a laser at an aircraft would face a jail term up to 20 years and a hefty fine, he added.

Vance officials don’t think their aircraft were targeted out of maliciousness, but simply out of ignorance.

“We think it’s an awareness issue,” said Annexstad. “We want the city of Enid to be aware of the safety concerns that it poses for not only our pilots but for the folks downtown. And also to be aware that it’s a crime, which they might not be aware of. It is definitely a serious, serious issue.”

Vance officials don’t think their planes were targeted by someone with a hand-held laser pointer designed for use by lecturers, but rather by a rifle-mounted laser scope.

“I have a fairly steady hand,” Weibel said. “I don’t think I could take an inexpensive laser and pin it on a plane a mile or two away from me. We think it would take a fairly high quality laser to get a plane.”

A laser striking an aircraft’s cockpit is refracted and diffused by the canopy and by tiny particles of dust in the air. The light temporarily robs the pilot of his night vision and has the potential to cause eye damage.

“It is a major distraction when it hits a windshield, or it hits a canopy and hits something reflective and it starts bouncing around, it is very disorienting to have to deal with,” Weibel said. “It’s kind of like being in a European disco, with lights going every which way and you don’t know what’s going on.”

Navy Lt. Andrew Parsons, a flight surgeon with the Vance Clinic, said laser pointers can cause permanent eye damage.

“In addition to the disorienting effect, it can cause scarring to the cornea, it can cause a cataract and, if the laser is powerful enough, it can get to the retina,” said Parsons. “If the retina gets damaged, that’s what leads to permanent vision loss, which is a possibility in this case.”

Farrell urged anyone who witnesses someone shining a laser at a Vance aircraft to confront the person and tell them it is not only dangerous, but illegal, or simply to contact the Enid Police Department. He said Vance’s pilots have been able to pinpoint a couple of possible locations from which the lasers originated.

“The issue is not to try to go after them, the issue is to prevent further incidents,” Farrell said.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Pittsburgh Marathon Detoured by Roadside Bomb

PITTSBURGH — A suspicious device near the finish line of the Pittsburgh Marathon on Sunday prompted police to briefly stop the race after it had begun. The device was disabled and police said it was not believed to have been an actual explosive.

The device, in a small microwave oven, was spotted Sunday morning on the sidewalk next to the Greyhound bus station after the race leaders had finished the course, police Lt. Kevin Kraus said.

The bomb squad determined there were contents that resembled an explosive, and the area was evacuated, Kraus said. He declined to describe the materials that concerned authorities pending a further evaluation.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Politicians Share Personality Traits With Serial Killers

Using his law enforcement experience and data drawn from the FBI’s behavioral analysis unit, Jim Kouri has collected a series of personality traits common to a couple of professions.

Kouri, who’s a vice president of the National Assn. of Chiefs of Police, has assembled traits such as superficial charm, an exaggerated sense of self-worth, glibness, lying, lack of remorse and manipulation of others.

These traits, Kouri points out in his analysis, are common to psychopathic serial killers.

But — and here’s the part that may spark some controversy and defensive discussion — these traits are also common to American politicians. (Maybe you already suspected.)

Yup. Violent homicide aside, our elected officials often show many of the exact same character traits as criminal nut-jobs, who run from police but not for office.


Kouri notes that these criminals are psychologically capable of committing their dirty deeds free of any concern for social, moral or legal consequences and with absolutely no remorse.

“This allows them to do what they want, whenever they want,” he wrote. “Ironically, these same traits exist in men and women who are drawn to high-profile and powerful positions in society including political officeholders.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Times Square Car Bomb: Police Investigate South Park Link

Police in New York are investigating whether a car bomb in Times Square was targeted at the makers of South Park over a controversial depiction of the Prophet Mohammed.

The device, which failed to detonate, was left near the offices of Viacom, which owns the irreverent cartoon series.

Last month postings on an Islamic website warned the creators of South Park — Matt Stone and Trey Parker — that they could face violent reprisals after an episode of the show featured Mohammed in a bear suit.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Video Shows Federal Officials Knew Quickly of Potential for Massive Oil Flow in Gulf Spill

A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration video, shot as officials coordinated response to the Deepwater Horizon disaster, shows that federal officials almost immediately worried that the oil well could leak up to 110,000 barrels per day, or 4.6 million gallons.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Video: Local NYC Channel Reports: Failed Bomb at Times Square Was a “Diversion” For Massive Explosion

A 911 caller says last night’s failed bomb attempt in Times Square was just a diversion for a massive explosion to come.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Belgium’s Burqa Ban: Divided Country Finds Consensus on Islamic Veils

Veiled Muslim women stand underneath the Belgian national flag at a demonstration against a veil ban in schools in 2004.

Belgium’s lower house of parliament has approved a radical ban on Islamic face-covering veils. If approved by the Senate, the country would become the first in Europe to prohibit the burqa and niqab. Currently, it seems to be one of the few issues uniting the linguistically divided country.

Belgium may be in the throws of political disarray, but its squabbling political parties have been able to agree on one thing: The banning of the burqa in public. If the legislation is approved, the Benelux country would become the first in Europe to ban the Islamic face-covering veil.

The lower house of parliament voted on Thursday to ban clothes or veils that did not allow the wearer to be fully identified, including the full-body veil, known as the burqa, and the face veil which leaves slits for the eyes, known as the niqab.

A cross-party consensus of 136 deputies voted for the measure, with just two abstentions and no opposing votes. The ban still has to be passed by the Senate, which has two weeks to raise any objections. But a final vote on the controversial measure could be delayed until after early elections, which are likely to be held in June.

The election is necessary following the collapse of Prime Minister Yves Leterme’s government on April 22 over a language dispute between the Flemish-speaking and French-speaking parties.

Belgium shares the anxieties of many European countries about its Muslim minorities and the issue of national identity. The wearing of traditional conservative Islamic dress is regarded by many Belgians as a refusal to assimilate into Western society.

“It’s not about introducing any form of discrimination,” Daniel Bacquelaine, the head of the Francophone liberal Reformist Movement (MR) party and instigator of the bill said on Thursday. He told lawmakers that the ban was against clothing “aimed at stopping people from being identified.”

Exceptions are to be made for motorbike couriers and fire fighters, and may possibly be lifted during the country’s carnival season, when people often wear masks.

Wearing the niqab or burqa in public streets and parks, sports grounds or buildings “meant for public use or to provide services” could lead to fines of €15-25 ($20-33) and imprisonment for up to seven days. The burqa, often worn in Afghanistan, is not a common site in Belgium.

France to Follow Suit?

Ahead of the vote Isabelle Praile, vice president of the Muslim Executive of Belgium, warned that the ban could set a dangerous precedent. “Today it’s the full-face veil, tomorrow the veil, the day after it will be the Sikh turbans and then perhaps it will be mini-skirts,” she told the Agence France Presse news agency.

She said that the wearing of the full-face veil is part of “individual freedoms” protected by Belgian, European and international rights laws. Muslims only account for 3 percent of Belgium’s population.

Her concerns about the ban were shared by a member of another religious community in Belgium. Catholic Bishop Guy Harpigny asked if the state had the right “to regulate the symbols of personal beliefs?”

If the bill is approved, Belgium would be the first country to impose the burqa ban, but it is unlikely to be the last. Fiercely secular France is on the cusp of introducing a ban of the face-covering veil, which President Nicolas Sarkozy has said is an affront to the country’s values and denigrates women. The cabinet is set to approve a ban in public spaces and state institutions on May 19 and the National Assembly will then debate the legislation in July.

In January, Denmark’s center-right government called the burqa and niqab out of step with Danish values. However, it held off imposing a ban after finding that only two or three women in the entire country actually wore the burqa and only around 200 wear niqabs — out of a population of 5.5 million.

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

Drunken Swedes Kicked Out of Denmark

More than 100 Swedes were ejected from Helsingør in Denmark on Friday for starting fights, with the trouble continuing on the ferry back to Sweden.

“Between 100 and 200 Swedes, most of them men, behaved in a rowdy manner in Helsingør and were sent away. The rowdiness continued on the ferry,” said police spokesman Mikael Persson.

Police said there were a lot of young people on board the vessel for the Walpurgis Night journey to Helsingborg in Sweded.

Back on Swedish ground, the troublemakers were met by police, resulting in the filing of five assault reports. Four of the alleged assaults took place at Kronborg castle in Helsingør and one on the ferry from the Danish town.

A 19-year-old man detained for minor narcotics offences is suspected of involvement in three of the alleged cases of assault.

Police said the trouble had not resulted in any serious injuries.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

German Scholar Rankles Swiss With Questions Over Heidi’s Origins

The legend of Heidi, the storybook character cherished as a national icon in Switzerland, has been shaken in recent weeks after a German scholar questioned her Swiss origins.

Peter Büttner claimed that the popular 19th-century novel by Swiss children’s author Johanna Spyri was at least inspired by an earlier German tale.

His assertion was highlighted in a recent documentary broadcast on Swiss television, rankling the country’s Alpine foothills where the fictional blonde, ponytailed young girl is regarded as one of their own.

It has also fuelled traditional German-speaking eastern Swiss animosity towards what they regard as the “arrogance” of their big northern neighbours in Germany.

Büttner, a specialist in German culture and literature, said he came across a largely forgotten short story while conducting research in Frankfurt. Entitled “Adelaide, the Girl from the Alpine Peaks” (“Adelaide, das Mädchen vom Alpengebirge”), the tale was written by a German author named Adam von Kamp.

“I immediately noticed the same narrative structure: a little girl brought up by her grandfather, who left her homeland and grew unhappy abroad until she could go home,” he explained.

Published in the early 1880s, “Heidi” — originally in two volumes — is the story of an orphan who lives with her rural grandfather in the pristine Alpine meadows.

She becomes homesick when she is forced to join her aunt in the German city of Frankfurt, where she faces a disciplined education.

But the sequel a year later brought a happy ending as Heidi escapes urban life to return to her rural idyll and friends.

The story struck a chord in the late 19th century. While its charm crossed borders — the book has been translated into dozens of languages and millions of copies sold world-wide — its impact back home was enormous. “Heidi” swiftly became an inherent part of Swiss popular culture and lore, to the extent that the frontiers between fiction and reality are today sometimes blurred.

‘I never wanted to take Heidi from the Swiss’

“The story is popular in Switzerland because so many people find it familiar,” said Judith Stump, owner of the village shop in Maienfeld.

Perched 100 kilometres southeast of Zurich in the midst of rolling green hills with a snow-tipped rugged Alpine backdrop, Maienfeld was the novel’s setting and is commonly dubbed “Heididorf” — Heidi’s village.

The idyllic picture postcard image of Switzerland is completed by the stone and wood chalets and herds of cows out to pasture.

“I didn’t say Spyri copied” von Kamp, said Büttner, denying he had accused the 19th-century Swiss author of plagiarism. “But I’m assuming that Spyri knew the work and it helped inspire her.”

The German scholar also points to similarities in the vocabulary and the Swiss heroin’s name, Heidi, a diminutive of the German Adelaide.

“The words used were the vocabulary of the time,” retorted Andreas von Sprecher, owner of the Heidi theme village by Maienfeld.

The story also exposed a common characteristic of Swiss society a century ago, he argued.

“It was a well known feature at the time, when children from rural areas were sent to the cities,” said von Sprecher, rejecting the idea that Spyri used von Kamp’s work, while acknowledging that she could have read it.

Regine Schnidler, of the Swiss institute for youth and media, told the Swiss newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung that all the evidence indicated that Heidi’s story was influenced by Spyri’s experiences and her own unhappiness in Zurich.

Adelaide’s story, meanwhile, runs to just 30 pages, while Heidi’s is a rich fable that is 10 times as thick.

“Millions of copies of ‘Heidi’ have been published,” underlined Büttner, currently working on a doctorate at University of Zurich.

He insists that he “never wanted to take Heidi away from the Swiss.”

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

Germany: Teen Expelled From Catholic School for Leaving Church

A 17-year-old girl has been expelled from her Catholic high school in the Bavarian town of Illertissen because she chose to leave the Church.

Secession from the Church violates school rules, headmaster Manfred Schöpplein said late on Thursday, explaining that this led him to present the case to the Augsburg diocese — which runs the only university-track school in the area. It also happens to be embroiled in the huge child abuse scandal hitting the Catholic Church in Germany in recent months.

The organisation faces its gravest crisis of modern times, with decades-old claims of sexual abuse by priests surfacing. Last week Augsburg Bishop Walter Mixa, who was accused of beating children at an orphanage, though not of sexual abuse, was forced to resign.

The scandal has inspired an increasing number of Germans to leave the Church. Last week a poll said nearly a quarter of the country’s 25 million Catholics were considering the move.

The diocese authorities decided that the 10th grade girl would be forbidden to attend school in the next school year, throwing town authorities into an intense debate.

City council member and Catholic Edeltraud Baur said she found the sanction intolerant and a violation of the right to choose one’s religion.

Meanwhile head of the parents’ association Birgit Maile said she understood the expulsion, explaining that parents sign a contract with a religious school that specifies children could be kicked out if they leave the Church.

The high school receives funding from the Bavarian Ministry of Education each year, but the ministry refused to comment on the case.

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

Italy’s Old-Age Trap

A sense of disillusion pervades Italy because young people run the risk of becoming the first generation in modern history that is worse off than its predecessors. This is the fruit of a political system inaccessible to youth.

Italy, with one of the fastest-aging societies in the world, has all the makings of a gerontocracy. For instance, according to a study by Luiss University, nearly three-quarters of the country’s top business leaders and political officials are 60 years old or older.

Over the last 30 years, the gerontocracy turned to rent-seeking activities, preventing new generations from getting a slice of the pie. Young people did not react, conscious that their social benefits in old age would be at least as high as their parents. In other words the ruling class swapped favors for votes, burdening young people with an explosive public debt.

The system is now slowly collapsing for a couple of reasons. First, globalization and weak institutions generate insecurity. Second, the high level of debt and stringent European regulations limit freedom of action. Youthful sacrifices will not be compensated by adequate social benefits in old age.

Is there an escape from the old-age trap by allowing younger generations to again become engines of the economy? Probably yes, but this is not necessarily good news. The escape can be either gradual or traumatic. In the former case, politicians should set up structural reforms to redistribute costs and benefits among generations. In the latter, we would face an intergenerational clash. It is time old-age acted with wisdom.

Edoardo Campanella, Turin, Italy

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

UK: Open Season on Brown as Heckler is Thrown Out of Glass Factory for Shouting at Beleaguered PM

Gordon Brown’s s election campaign was plunged into fresh disarray yesterday as a protester was dragged from a Labour Party event for heckling the Prime Minister over his ‘bigoted’ jibe against Gillian Duffy.

Oxford University dean Julian Borthwick was grabbed by the arm and led out of the meeting in Sunderland after shouting, ‘What about that bigoted woman?’ and telling Gordon Brown the country was ‘broke’.

Afterwards he was branded ‘an idiot’ by party officials, but he in fact holds multiple degrees, and has prestigious legal and academic credentials.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: Pensioner’s Red, White, And Blue Anti-MP Election Protest Poster is Branded ‘Racist’ By Police

A pensioner who put up a red, white and blue election poster telling voters to kick out MPs was accused of racism by police.

After being inundated by canvassing politcians, Roy Newman, 74, decided to tell other voters: ‘GET THE LOT OUT.’

But 90 minutes after he put up the homemade sign up in an upstairs room at his house, two police officers arrived and threatened with arrest.

They said the Union Jack-coloured lettering on a white background could be considered ‘racist’.

He was told there had been a single complaint and he was ordered to remove it or change it otherwise he would end up in court .

But the former Tory councillor, from North Anston, near Rotherham, South Yorkshire, said police had misunderstood his message.

He said : ‘My sign is up there because the MPs and council leadership we have in place at the moment are a load of rubbish and I want them out, nothing more.

‘The police told me that due to the fact that the words were written in red and blue and the background was white, my sign had racist connotations.

‘What a load or rubbish — it certainly wasn’t my intention to come across as racist. I’m not racist.’

And the furious pensioner , chairman of his local history society and a former Samaritan , slammed police for wasting their time.

He said : ‘Three years ago vandals put a brick through my window and when I called the police all they offered me was a crime reference number.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: Residents Form Human Barricade to Stop Travellers Building ‘Illegal’ Site in Picture-Postcard Village

Angry residents have blockaded country lanes and formed a human barricade to stop travellers building a site in a picture-postcard village.

Farmers used pick-up trucks to close roads as protesters united to stop vehicles full of building supplies from entering the site.

More than 20 caravans swarmed on to a 10-acre field in Meriden, Coventry, West Midlands — famous as the centre of England — on Friday.

They arrived with mechanical diggers and were said to be wanting to make concrete bases for their mobile homes and set up a permanent site — without planning permission.

But residents from the village, which dates back to medieval times, rushed to Eves Green Lane en masse to stop the unwanted move.

‘We don’t want them here, it is as simple as that,’ Lawrie Arnold, 65, a farmer who organised the resistance, said.

‘As soon as it happened, people rang round and we started to do what we could.

‘We live by the planning laws, why shouldn’t they? We are going to be here for as long as it takes.’

The villagers fear it will take months for Solihull Council to remove the travellers from the site if they are able to put in permanent facilities.

It is thought that the travellers own the deeds to the land, which was bought for £50,000 in March 2009.

However, a planning application was only handed to the council 10 minutes before the offices closed on Friday.

Residents have alleged this is so the travellers could carry out improvements and apply for retrospective permission on Tuesday, which would allow them to stay.

People living next to the site claim the area was connected to the main sewer supply before Christmas. Last week, electricity and mains water were also linked up.

However, one traveller, who refused to be named, said: ‘Now we are here you will not get us off. We’re here for good.

‘You can stop those lorries but we will get our people to bring ten trucks-worth down.’

Council planning officers were said to be locked in an emergency meeting on Saturday night to decide on whether to ask a judge to issue a stop notice forcing the work to be halted.

Meriden Parish Council clerk Julie Hall said: ‘We understand the land is owned by the travellers so it is a planning matter which Solihull Council will deal with. We are liaising with the authorities.’

Ken Allsopp, 65, district councillor for Meriden, backed the villagers’ efforts: ‘It is marvellous how everyone has come together.

‘It is good we managed to turn the trucks away so they cannot finish the work.

‘There is a good atmosphere and it is good to see everyone working together.’

Caroline Spelman, Tory candidate who has been an MP for Meriden since 1997, called for stronger laws to stop travellers abusing the planning system.

‘This is quite a complex issue but it is a blatant breach of planning law,’ she said.

‘The development has been undertaken by the person who owns the land so the council cannot issue a stop notice.

‘Obviously the land owner is doing the work without planning permission and if they try to apply retrospectively the council may take a dim view of this.

‘In my view the law is not strong enough in this area.

‘Councils cannot do anything until something happens but by the time it happens, it is too late.’

West Midlands Police sent 20 officers to the incident.

A spokesman said: ‘We were called at about 5.30pm on Friday to an incident involving travellers and villagers in Meriden.

‘We maintained a presence at the site in order to ensure that everyone there acted within the realms of the law.

‘It should be made clear that so far no one has committed a criminal offence.’

No one from Solihull Council was available for comment.

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

Mediterranean Union

Journalists: Algerian Baya Gacemi Dies in Paris

(ANSAmed) — PARIS, APRIL 29 — Baya Gacemi has died in Paris at the age of 58. Gacemi was one of Algeria’s most-well known journalists and writers, and was always committed and personally involved in the struggle against the repression of the freedom of the press. Five years ago, she created a satirical newspaper, L’Epoque, though it was forced to close amid pressure from the regime. She was also sentenced to six months in prison for travelling to Israel, “a crime against the flag”. Having given up hope that things might evolve in Algeria, she had recently moved to Paris. “Everyone wants the situation here to change, but nobody makes the effort, so I want to take a bit of distance and concentrate a bit more on myself”, she said in Algiers recently, speaking to friends and colleagues who yesterday got together for a ceremony of recollection. But it was in Paris that she discovered the virulent cancer that would kill her in few months. Gacemi was a correspondent for the French weekly L’Express for about twenty years, and risked her life covering the years of terrorism in the country. She also worked for a number of Algerian newspapers, including La Tribune. She was particularly committed to defending the condition of women, which she talked about at length during a conference in Procida in 2007 organised by ANSAmed as part of a summer school at the Euro-Mediterranean and Black Sea Observatory, where Baya Gacemi was a member of the committee of honour. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

North Africa

Algeria: Hassi Messaoud, A Living Hell for Women

(ANSAmed) — PARIS, APRIL 29 — France, involved for months in an animated debate against the burqa in the name of the freedom of Muslim women, has only now discovered, thanks to a book, the tragedy of hundreds of women who have undergone every sort of violence since 2001, in the oil-producing city of Hassi Messaoud, in central Algeria. In the silence and compliance of the local authorities and those of the oil companies who get rich while exploiting the country’s “strongbox”, protected by impenetrable security, injustice is a daily occurrence and the nightmare of 2001 repeats itself unrelentingly. In “Laissees pour mortes”, left for dead, Nadia Kaci gathers the testimonies of the only two women who have had the courage overcome their ancestral silence to talk about the tragic night of 13 July 2001. Rahmouna Salah and Fatiha Maamoura came to Hassi Messaoud, like hundreds of other women, to work, to escape from a violent husband, a family that rejected them, pushed by unemployment, which is endemic throughout the country. They came to do domestic work, do odd jobs, many of them brought their children. They live in a shantytown, in little huts with tin roofs, where it is 50-60 degrees in the shade. A harsh existence. But for the fundamentalist imam of the Al-Haicha mosque (the beast, in Algerian dialect) a women who lives alone can be nothing other than a prostitute. That godforsaken July 13, in a fiery speech, he incited the men, provoked them and sent them on a punitive mission of ferocious wild beasts. Armed with clubs, knives and iron bars, they stormed into the shantytown amidst shouts of Allah or Akbar or Al Jihad-al Jihad. An endless night. The police did nothing and the next day one hundred women woke up in the hospital beaten, tortured and raped. Dishonoured forever, because in their backward, patriarchal mentality, a women who has been raped is marked for life. The trial is a farce; most of the lawyers of the victims cave into pressure and withdraw, 20 of the aggressors were condemned to 20 years in prison, but in absentia. Of the six men present for trial, three were released, and three escaped with sentences of between three and eight years in prison. Only Rahmouna and Fatiha pursued the issue, and now, from Paris, accuse the state of not maintaining their promise of finding them work and a house. The imam is still there, in a larger mosque, others follow his example and preach against the new women who arrive in town, and the hellish cycle repeats itself. More rapes, and even reports of two women murdered. What is certain is that the horrifying situation has repeated itself in recent weeks, as written by Salima Tlemceni in El Watan in a chilling inquiry. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

Arab League Supports Indirect Israel-Palestinian Peace Talks

May 2 (Bloomberg) — Arab foreign ministers backed the start of indirect peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority after “positive indicators” from the U.S. administration, which will mediate the negotiations.

“We are relying on the U.S. role, though I am not sure of the results,” Qatari Foreign Minister Hamad Bin Jasim Bin Jaber Al-Thani told a news conference yesterday in Cairo, where the 22-member Arab League held a meeting. “We don’t trust the Israeli side and we have said this before. We found positive indicators from the U.S. mediator and we are now talking to the U.S. mediator.”

A U.S. push to resume negotiations stalled in March when Israel announced a plan to build 1,600 homes in disputed east Jerusalem, which it captured in the 1967 Middle East War and to which Palestinians also lay claim. That announcement came during a visit by Vice President Joe Biden and prompted public criticism of Israel by U.S. officials.

The U.S. has assured Arab states that Israel won’t proceed with the announced plan to build in east Jerusalem, according to two Arab diplomats in Cairo who spoke on condition of anonymity because they said the guarantee provided by the U.S. wasn’t made public. The diplomats described assurances without giving a time frame.

When asked about the report of U.S. assurances yesterday, State Department spokesman Michael Tran referred to existing U.S. policy on settlements, as outlined in an April 29 briefing by Assistant Secretary Philip J. Crowley. “The United States has a clear policy with regard to settlements, feeling they are illegitimate,” Crowley said then.

No Total Freeze

The building project in east Jerusalem wasn’t imminent, said an Israeli government official who spoke on condition of anonymity. Netanyahu wouldn’t agree to a Palestinian demand for a total freeze on construction in Jerusalem, the official said.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said April 30 that indirect talks will start this week.

Arab states have said that they wanted U.S. guarantees that Israel won’t go ahead with the March plan and will freeze settlement construction in east Jerusalem.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Israel’s Channel Two television on April 22 that he wouldn’t halt construction in Jerusalem and he wouldn’t agree to pre- conditions for the start of talks.

           — Hat tip: TV[Return to headlines]

Israel: Netanyahu Wins in Likud Vote

(ANSAmed) — TEL AVIV, APRIL 30 — A great personal and political success for Israeli Premier Benyamin Netanyahu. This, according to the press today, was the meaning of his victory in Likud’s Central Committee. This institution, which includes about 2,600 members, was called upon yesterday to rule on Netanyahu’s proposal to postpone voting for party leaders by a year and a half to allow for the full integration of many thousands of new members. Netanyahu needed at least two-thirds of the vote to amend the statute. But last night, after the votes were counted, the premier learned that he received much greater support: 76% of the vote. Only 23% of the vote was taken by his extreme right-wing critics. In today’s comments, it was reported that Netanyahu will have greater freedom to manoeuvre while moving forward in the peace process. Already on Monday he will be in Egypt as President Hosni Mubarak’s guest to discuss the prospects of a future restarting of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, mediated by the United States. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Israel — Palestine — US: Obama Thinking About a Conference to Create a Palestinian State

An international conference might be proposed should indirect Israeli-Palestinian talks fail. The US president has already contacted European leaders on the issue. Palestinian President Abbas might call on the United Nations to recognise officially a Palestinian state. Israel’s Netanyahu is set to meet Egypt’s Mubarak after winning a decisive victory against Likud’s hardliners.

Jerusalem (AsiaNews) — US President Barack Obama told European leaders that he might convene an international conference on the Middle East if Israeli-Palestinian talks remain stalemated into the fall, Israeli daily Haaretz reported, quoting government officials in Israel. This confirms similar stories that appeared recently in US media. One of the conference’s objectives would be the creation of a Palestinian state.

The Jerusalem Post is reporting today that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is going to ask the United Nations to recognise an independent Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. The Palestinian leader appears to be planning to set aside talks with Israel in favour of UN recognition, and this independently of any possible peace treaty with Israel

Whatever the case may be, the two newspapers are signalling that something is moving in the region.

US Mideast envoy George Mitchell is getting ready for a new round of indirect talks between Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a process recently backed by the foreign ministers of the Arab League.

Next Monday, Netanyahu will discuss ways to jumpstart the peace process with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who is likely to demand some actual good will gesture.

Abbas is in Beijing today to boost Chinese support for the Palestinian cause.

If nothing else, Obama’s idea of an international conference will put more pressure on Israel. Should it happen, the summit should include the Quartet (United Nations, United States, European Union and Russia) and focus on the creation of a Palestinian state. Plans for the event should be ready by the end of the year.

For its part, Israel seems to be preparing some major step. This might explain Netanyahu’s drive to get a wide consensus in his party’s central committee on delaying an internal party vote. Seemingly procedural, the prime minister’s successful motion shows his determination to see how strong Likud’s extremist pro-settlement wing is.

In light of the key role played by Jewish settlements in the West bank and Jerusalem, it is also significant that Israel’s Interior Minister Eli Yishai has instructed the Jerusalem Planning and Building Committee to inform him of any plan to authorise construction that the US administration might deem diplomatically sensitive.

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

Siniora: Local Leaders Not Ready for Compromise

(ANSAmed) — MILAN, APRIL 29 — “Our local leaders, both Israeli and Palestinian, are not ready for a compromise solution”. While the last few days have seen rumours of a possible revival of talks between the two sides, this is the view of influential Palestinian figure Hanna Siniora, a historic voice of dialogue with the Jewish state, editor of The Jerusalem Times and co-director of the Israel/Palestine Centre for Research and Information. “As long as there is no strong international stance,” said Siniora, after arriving in Milan for a meeting organised by CIPMO (the Italian centre for peace in the Middle East), “we cannot expect a solution to be found by our local leaders”. As for the role that might be played by American President Barack Obama, “there is still a question mark”. “The fear is that this might be the usual negotiation game for the sake of it, without the desire to reach a solution. Israel has always used these situations to expand its settlements.” Siniora’s view is shared by Menachem Klein, a professor of Political Science at Tel Aviv’s Bar-Ilam University, who also attended the meeting. He said that “it suits Israel to maintain the status quo” and believes that the situation will not change “unless there is a power with the ability to impose change upon Israel, and I cannot see Mahmoud Abbas, or Hamas or European countries as being capable of doing this. I don’t believe that the U.S is any more capable either: the United States does not understand the complexity of the situation.”

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Middle East

Democracy Activist Ribal Al-Assad: ‘Syria is Today a Vassal State of Tehran’

A vendor displays a picture of Syrian President Bashar Assad (left) and Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah in Damascus: “Iran is using Hezbollah to stir up trouble in the Middle East,” says Ribal al-Assad.

Ribal al-Assad, the cousin of Syrian President Bashar Assad, is an advocate of greater democracy in Syria. He talks to SPIEGEL ONLINE about Iran’s influence on the country, allegations that Damascus supplied Hezbollah with weapons and the conditions for a peace deal with Israel.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Syria has been able to improve its relations with the United States and Turkey in recent years. Is the country on the path from pariah status to partner?

Assad: Syria should not see it as a triumph. The US’s new approach is a test. Syria needs to now prove itself. Damascus should not in any case imagine that it has received a green light from the international community to oppress people.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Your cousin is Syrian President Bashar Assad. The two of you are greatly divided over the issue of democracy. Is he at all willing to democratize the country further?

Assad: He has promised to do so. But so far nothing has happened. The problem is the influence of Iran. Syria is today a vassal state of Tehran.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Should your cousin therefore break off relations with Iran?

Assad: Syria must act independently and should no longer be submissive or act subordinately. This can only succeed, however, if Syria has a government of national unity that can win popular support for the goal of more democracy.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: There were reports that Syria supplied the militant group Hezbollah in Lebanon with Scud missiles. What do you know about this?

Assad: If that is true, it would seriously damage Syria’s reputation in the world. So far, however, there have only been rumors about it. Hezbollah is not dependent on Syria, but on Iran. Hezbollah is part of the government in Beirut. They need to stop being a tool of Tehran. Iran is using Hezbollah to stir up trouble in the Middle East.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What could persuade Hezbollah to give up this alliance?

Assad: The international community should speak with Hezbollah and offer something in return for renouncing Iran, such as money for schools and hospitals, for example.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Many people in the West believe that Tehran is trying to develop a nuclear bomb. What can still be done to stop Iran?

Assad: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is very close to his goal and is not willing to give up now. The only hope is the “Green Revolution” (editor’s note: the Iranian opposition movement). The international community must support the movement very patiently. Sanctions don’t achieve anything. They only affect ordinary people.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Why is there still no peace agreement between Israel and Syria?

Assad: The precondition for that is Israel returning the Golan Heights to Syria. (Editor’s note: Israel has occupied the Golan Heights since the 1967 Six Day War.)

SPIEGEL ONLINE: In other words, a compromise currently seems unrealistic.

Assad: The deal is land for peace. That is something that Israel will ultimately have to accept.

Interview conducted by Jan Puhl

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

KSA: Haia Imposes Ban on Women Jogging in Asir Town

AL-MUJARADAH: The Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (Haia) has banned women from jogging and other physical exercise in certain areas of an Asir town, Al-Watan reported on Friday.

The Haia’s branch in Al-Mujaradah attempted to justify its decision by claiming it was doing the women a favor.

“The Haia did not exactly ban women from physical exercise, it only intervened to guarantee their safety from criminals who frequently harass them as they walk in lonely places,” said Haia spokesman for Asir province Bandar Al-Mufreh.

A Haia member, who chose to remain anonymous as he was not authorized to speak on the record, said records from the commission described one particular street in the town where women were banned as lonely, poorly lighted, and frequented by drug addicts and other anti-social people.

This was disputed by fitness enthusiast R.S Al-Shahri, who claimed that the street was safe and well-lit, while almost 30 women would walk there between sunset and Isha prayers. “But the Haia members banned us from walking on the street when there was nothing to fear,” she said.

She claimed that when she called Al-Mujaradah’s Haia chief Muhammad Al-Shahri for an explanation, he told her that the place was unsafe for women.

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

South Asia

India: Mumbai Attack Masterminds ‘Will Never be Brought to Justice’

The suspected masterminds behind the 2008 Mumbai terror attack will never face justice as they are being shielded by Pakistan’s military, Indian officials and intelligence analysts believe.

Their comments came a few days ahead of the expected verdict in the trial of Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab, the sole surviving terrorist gunman in the attack, on Monday.


“They won’t be brought to justice,” said Vikram Sood, former chief of India’s intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). “They fear this will come back to Islamabad, where it was planned or approved, and expose the links between the Lashkar e Taiba and the Pakistan government,” he added Another former Indian intelligence officer, B. Raman, said: “There is a pessimism among professionals in the [Indian] intelligence and security agencies. Ultimately [those charged] will be released and the court will say there’s insufficient evidence against them. Pakistan will never act against LeT because it is a strategic asset for use against India,” he said.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

India: US Embassy Warns Terror Attacks Planned in India

The US Embassy said terrorists were planning “imminent attacks” in India’s capital and has warned Americans there to be vigilant.

Today’s alert adding the word “imminent” appeared to be more urgent than an embassy advisory last month that cited increased indications of attacks in New Delhi.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Kyrgyzstan: Islamic Veil and Fundamentalism Are Back in Bishkek

In a country that is 80 per cent Muslim, strict adherence to Islamic rules is making a comeback with women forced to wear hijab. However, in the workplace, many employers have banned the veil and this has created a controversy. Experts wonder how it will affect Kyrgyz society.

Bishkek (AsiaNews/Agencies) — Islamic fundamentalism, already strong in southern Kyrgyzstan, might get a boost from the country’s current political uncertainties, following the ouster of President Kurmanbak Bakiyev who was replaced by a caretaker government.

The rising tide of fundamentalism is causing a number of social problems. One example illustrates the situation. In March, Mars Dooronova, a well known TV presenter and producer with Osh’s popular ELTR station, quit because her supervisor, the station’s former deputy director, Mametibraim Janybekov, prohibited her from wearing a hijab in the office and on air.

“I got married [recently] and now that I am a married woman I have started wearing a hijab, but Mametibraim Janybekov said I can’t wear a hijab on the air, and even within the building [of the TV Company],” 31-year-old Dooronova told EurasiaNet.

Janybekov offered Dooronova a compromise, saying that she could come to work in a hijab and change her clothes in the office while she was at work. She rejected the deal.

“I can’t be double-faced. I can deceive people, but I cannot deceive Allah. If I could not be on the air in my hijab and even in the office, how could I work there? This is why I had to resign,” said the presenter, who had worked at the station for 11 years.

Kyrgyzstan is a Muslim nation, but like in other former Soviet republic, religious practice tends to be moderate. However, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, Islam got a boost throughout Central Asia, but in particular in Kyrgyzstan’s Fergana Valley, where Osh is located.

Here, Muslim religious leaders have tended to promote a strict observance of Islamic law.

Makhmud Aripov, the imam of the Nabijon Haji Mosque in Osh, told EurasiaNet, “Wearing a hijab secures a woman’s chastity, and a lack of hijabs results in divorces. A mother wearing a hijab serves an example for her daughter, which will help secure her honour.”

All this has led to a growing number of hijab-related conflicts. At present, such incidents are more common in secondary schools, involving senior female students wearing hijabs.

Despite the fact that the country is 80 per cent, local Muslims were not very observant, and tolerated how others chose to interpret religious rules.

Now the debate is over a number of issues, not the least how compulsory the hijab is, especially in the south. In any event, women are the first to pay for the situation. In many offices and schools, wearing the veil has been banned.

Experts wonder about what is behind the rebirth of strict adherence to Islamic rules. They note that Muslim religious leaders justify enforcing rules on some vague reference to divine precepts but reject any social change that might have occurred in the last centuries.

The issue is when a strict adherence to a rule becomes intolerant extremism.

This danger should not be underestimated, especially in light of Kyrgyzstan’s north-south divide, which emerged during the protest movement that led to the downfall of President Bakiyev.

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


Catholic Money and Tax Dollars Finance Illegal Alien Rally

A group organizing a May 1 “May Day” rally in favor of “immigrant rights” in Lafayette Park in front of the White House is financially supported by the Catholic Church, Big Business, the federal government, and various Maryland governmental entities.

It is anticipated that the demonstration will take the form of opposition to Arizona’s new law that is designed to discourage illegal immigration.


CASA de Maryland, an illegal alien support group, is sponsoring the buses that will take hundreds of protesters to the event in the nation’s capital. CASA is considered the biggest promoter and facilitator of illegal aliens in Maryland.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and its Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), which got caught funding the radical group ACORN, are listed on the CASA website as being among its many financial donors and supporters.


In the area of Big Business, foundations, and organizations, financial supporters include the George Soros-funded Open Society Institute, the American Petroleum Institute, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the National Council of La Raza, the Bank of America Foundation, the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy, the Bechtel Foundation, and the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.

In the past, Accuracy in Media has protested support given to CASA from the Philip L. Graham Fund, which is staffed by current and former officials of the Washington Post and includes Donald E. Graham, who also serves as CEO and Chairman of the Board of The Washington Post Company, as a trustee.

The Eugene and Agnes Meyer Foundation, which is named after the former owner and publisher of The Washington Post, is currently listed as a financial sponsor of CASA. The Foundation reports that it provided $405,000 to the group.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Culture Wars

UK: Christian Preacher on Hooligan Charge After Saying He Believes That Homosexuality is a Sin

‘My freedom was taken away on the hearsay of someone who disliked what I said, and I was charged under a law that doesn’t apply.’

Mr Mcalpine said a woman came up to him and they became engaged in a debate about his faith, during which he says he recited a number of sins referred to in 1 Corinthians in the Bible, including blasphemy, fornication, adultery, drunkenness and homosexuality, as well as talking about repentance and salvation.

He and the woman were standing close to each other and he said he did not raise his voice.

Mr Mcalpine says that as the woman left, one of the two officers, PCSO Sam Adams, approached her and had a brief chat before walking towards him. Mr Mcalpine asked Mr Adams if everything was OK.

According to Mr Mcalpine, Mr Adams said there had been complaints and warned him that if he made racist or homophobic remarks he could be arrested. Mr Mcalpine said: ‘I told him I was not homophobic but sometimes I did say that the Bible says homosexuality is a crime against the Creator, but it was not against the law to say this.

‘The PCSO then told me he was gay and he was the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender liaison officer for the police. ‘I said, “It is still a sin”, and our conversation ended. It wasn’t a loud or aggressive conversation.’

Mr Adams has been a member of Cumbria police’s LGBT staff association and last year represented the force at the Gay Pride festival in Manchester, marching in the parade with a police dog named Whistle.

On the social networking site MySpace, he describes his orientation as gay and his religion as atheist.

[Comments from JD: PCSO = Police Community Support Officer. These officers are not full policemen, but have powers to hand out fines and such.]

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Yorkshireminer said...

Peter Lopez, a former lawyer for Michael Jackson and Andrea Bocelli, has been found dead in an apparent suicide.

Lovers tiff, I don't think so. I wonder how much these two skimmed off Jacksons fortune.