Friday, January 10, 2003

News Feed 20100520

Financial Crisis
»Greece: Thousands Protest at Pension Reform
»Greece: Unions Occupy Finance Ministry
»Greece: New General Strike Freezes Country
»Greek Asset Sales May Attract Turkish Interest
»Italy: Berlusconi ‘Won’t Cut Taxes’ to Reduce Deficit
»Italy: Govt Looks at Pay Cuts ‘Up to 15 Percent’
»Krauss: How Much Euro Decline Will Obama Tolerate?
»Romania Sees Biggest Protest Since 1989 Over Austerity Measures
»CAIR Takes Muslim Media Manipulation to New Heights
»Hillary Signs UN Small Arms Treaty
»Kansas City Car and Auto Parts Dealer Pleads Guilty to Giving Money, Support to Al Qaeda
»Miss USA Accused of Ties to Lebanon’s Hezbollah
»Muslim Student Supports New Holocaust
»Pirates Plying the Waves of Falcon Lake
»Seattle Cartoonist Target of Backlash
»Soros-Funded Group Urges Media Run by Government
»The Black Church’s Commitment to Obama
Europe and the EU
»Danish Cartoonist: Muhammad Drawing Group is ‘Funny’
»Finland Drops to 19th Place in Global Competitiveness
»France: Burqa: Government Approves Law Bill on Ban
»French Cabinet Approves Burqa Ban Draft Law
»Italian Industry Revived, Turnover and Orders Up in March
»Italy: Talk Show Host in Resignation Flap
»Italy: Child Trafficking Gang Smashed in North
»Italy: Phone-Tap Bill — Green Light to Mega-Fines for Publishers
»Spain: Issuing of 3.52 Bln Worth of 10-Yr Bonds Does Well
»Switzerland: Prices for European Union Goods Imported Into Switzerland Could Begin to Drop as of July After the Government Agreed to Lower Technical Trade Barriers on Wednesday.
»UK: Another Fine Mess!
»UK: Britain’s Power Conundrum
»Veiled Affront
»ICTY: Mladic’s Notebooks Handed Over by Belgrade
»Serbia: Ex-Soldiers Find Jobs With South American ‘Mafia’
North Africa
»Egyptian Christmas Eve Shooter Threatens Witnesses in Court
»France: First Stone for Marseilles Mosque
Israel and the Palestinians
»Freed Hamas Official Calls for Deal to Free Shalit
»Israel: Hamas Official Freed
»Video: Top Obama Advisor Refers to Jerusalem by Arabic Name
Middle East
»Al-Qaeda Appeals to Women to Fight in Yemen
»Iran: Jewish State Could be ‘Destroyed in a Week’
»Iraq: Bin Laden Deputy Lauds Slain Al-Qaeda Leaders
»Kuwait: Activists in Kuwait Call for Women Judges
»Lebanon: Pleasure Crafts’ Sales Rise
»Saudi Arabia: Ulema Council Brands “Sinner” Those Who Fund Terrorism
»U.S. Adviser: Washington Hopes to Promote Hezbollah ‘Moderates’
»US Hikers Are Spies: Iran Intelligence Minister
»‘Wage Slavery’ Way Out for Sons of Rich Farmers in Turkey
South Asia
»Afghanistan: U.S. Investigating GIs in Afghan Deaths
»After Facebook, Pakistan Shuts Down Youtube
»Bangladesh: Dhaka, Female Murder Victim Laid to Rest in Christian Cemetery
»Germany: Afghan Mission Costing Triple Ministry Estimates
»India: Dantewada: Naxalite Maoists Attack Bus, Killing 45 People
»Indonesia: Terrorist Suspect Turns Himself in to Police
»Pakistan: Youtube Blocked for ‘Blasphemy’
»Pakistan: After Facebook, The Blasphemy Law Also Blocks Youtube
»Pakistan Blocks Youtube Over UN-Islamic Content
Far East
»Korea: Accused of Having Sunk the Chenoan Gunboat, Pyongyang Threatens “Total War”
»Tunisia-China: Trade Exceeds 1 Billion Dollars
»50,000 Non-Western Immigrants Would Cost €7.2bn, Says Nyfer
»Denmark: Illegal Camps in Amager
»Dutch Back Forced Integration, But Don’t Think It’s Important
»Netherlands: Nyfer: Immigration Costs 7.2 Billion Euros a Year
»New Integration Survey: Ethnic Germans and Immigrants on Better Terms Than Expected
»Oklahoma AG Nominee Vows to Sue U.S. Over Illegal Immigration
»Porous Borders Pose Severe Threat of Terrorism
»Presidents in Glass Houses Shouldn’t Throw Stones
»Sweden Proposes Immigrant Orientation
Culture Wars
»Italy: Tuscany Moves to Stop Gay Prejudice
»UK: First TV Advert Selling Abortion — But Pro-Life Groups Demand a Ban
»‘Everybody Draw Mohammed’ Page Briefly Vanishes Due to Facebook Glitch

Financial Crisis

Greece: Thousands Protest at Pension Reform

(ANSAmed) — ATHENS — Thousands of people have taken to the streets in Athens, Thessaloniki and throughout the rest of Greece, during the latest 24-hour strike against austerity measures. Protesters are asking for the cancellation of pension reform, in a move that has virtually paralysed the country for the fourth time since the beginning of the crisis. While activists from the communist union PAME symbolically occupied the Labour Ministry this morning, while public sector workers affiliated with the GSEE union, who are traditionally allied with left-wing parliamentary groups as well as the anarchic movement, assembled in the centre of Athens, chanting the slogan “Together, we can”, and displaying banners with the words “Hands off pensions”. The protest by the communist union PAME, however, which is always organised separately, began in the nearby Omonia Square, with shouts of “EU-IMF out” and “The anti-workers measures will not be passed”. Together, all groups will go on a march to Parliament. Today’s strike has brought maritime, railway and intercity road travel to a halt and has partially blocked city and air traffic on the islands. International flights, however, are not affected, because air traffic controllers have not taken part in the protest, so as not to deliver another blow to a tourism sector that is already in decline. Meanwhile, hospitals (except emergencies), schools (apart from exams), public offices, ministries and banks are closed. Journalists have not downed tools either, after their hurried return to work on May 5 after three people were killed during a protest at the time of the previous general strike. Unions have called the protests to say no to “antisocial and neoliberal reform” of pensions launched by the socialist government, in association with the “troika” (EU, European Central Bank and IMF). Unionists say that the reform, which is expected to arrive in Parliament at the end of the month, reduces wages by up to 15% and raises the pension age by between 2 and 7 years. Workforce delegations, encouraged by surveys indicating that the majority of Greeks and 80% of public sector workers are inclined to protest, have warned that there will be a new wave of protests if the government fails to change the law.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Greece: Unions Occupy Finance Ministry

(ANSAmed) — ATHENS, MAY 20 — Union representatives and members of the Pame union symbolically occupied the Finance Ministry today, blocking its entrance to ask for a cancellation of the recent measures against the crisis including cuts to salaries and pensions. Members of the aforementioned union, according to the media, put up today another symbolic manifestation at Athens’ Hilton hotel, while the 24-hour general strike against the government’s austerity plan and pension reform goes on today. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Greece: New General Strike Freezes Country

(ANSAmed) — ATHENS, MAY 20 — A new 24-hour general strike against the government’s austerity plan and pension reform is freezing Greece today for the first time since the beginning of the country’s economic crisis, but the strike does not involve the international air traffic and it does not mean a communication blackout. The protest, which it is not going to be the last one, unions warn, stops sea, rail, intercity and partially city traffic. It is also shutting down hospitals (except for emergencies), schools (except for university admission tests), public administration offices, ministries and banks. Flight controllers do not join the strike to rule out further damages to the already difficult situation of the tourism business, one of the more severe losses in the country’s decreasing GDP. But other sectors of the civil aviation are striking, with a partial effect on internal flights. Journalists are not joining the strike either, after dissenting voices rose from inside the category, quickly back to work on May 5, when three people were killed during a manifestation taking place in the latest general strike. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Greek Asset Sales May Attract Turkish Interest

Neighboring Greece will soon be launching an ambitious privatization program to shore up its battered finances. Speaking to Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review, Spyros Capralos, chief of the Athens Stock Exchange, says the asset sales are likely to attract Turkish companies. ‘Politicians in both countries should recognize the common interests and friendly relations between business communities,’ he says

‘I believe Turkish investments would be welcomed here like Greek investments are in Turkey,’ says Spyros Capralos, chief of the Athens Stock Exchange.

The Greek government is likely to start a round of privatizations next year to raise cash to deal with the country’s budget deficit, currently estimated at 13.7 percent of gross domestic product — more than four times what eurozone rules allow.

Spyros Capralos, chairman and chief executive officer of the Athens Stock Exchange, or ASE, said the upcoming investment opportunities are likely to attract investors, including Turkish companies.

“I believe Turkish investments would be welcomed here like Greek investments are in Turkey,” Capralos told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review in an interview on Friday. “Finansbank [which the National Bank of Greece acquired in 2006] is a good example of this cooperation.

“It is up to the government to make the final decision on the corporations it will privatize, but companies like the Athens Airport, the state gas distribution company and the government’s real estate holdings could all be interesting investments if properly packaged,” Capralos said.

Commenting on the recent visit of Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and a delegation of 10 Turkish ministers to Athens, Capralos said it is of utmost importance that politicians in both countries recognize common interests and friendly relations between the business communities. “Business relationships between Greece and Turkey are very good and this is the message politicians can get from business communities as well,” he said. “We should find more things that unite us rather than things that separate us.”

ISE expected to join FESE

Capralos is currently the president of the Federation of European Securities Exchanges, or FESE. The federation represents 45 exchanges in equities, bonds, derivatives and commodities through 20 full members from 29 countries and seven corresponding members from European emerging markets.

The Istanbul Stock Exchange, or ISE, has applied for a full membership in the federation, and its possible inclusion will be discussed at the general meeting of the federation in late June.

Albeit Capralos declined to speculate on the outcome of ISE’s application, but he did hint that the federation is viewing Turkey’s membership favorably.

“I hope the ISE will become a part of the FESE. Our team of experts visited Istanbul and prepared a report, which we will assess and discuss in our meeting,” Capralos said. “If ISE becomes a member, it will be a very good signal of friendship. The benefits of being a member are multiple. It is a modernizing and reforming move, which allows immediate access to what is happening in European markets, and makes the local stock market of the member country more international.”

For the Greek economy, Capralos forecasts a “difficult year ahead.” Since the start of the year, the benchmark ASE index has declined more than 25 percent.

In the same period, the ISE-100 index has gained over 5 percent.

Severe austerity measures

“We have entered a more severe phase of recession in Greece,” Capralos said. “This year will be a difficult one, as the austerity measures will need to be implemented and their consequences will be felt later in the years. However, the measures were necessary for Greece to return to the right path of growth.”

For the stock market the coming months are likely to be likewise difficult, Capralos as well. “Investors are waiting on the sidelines for the results of the reforms, therefore I don’t think volumes will be high. Despite the wait-and-see atmosphere in the market, there will be interesting investment opportunities for those who believe Greece will be able to take the necessary steps to recovery.”

The two neighboring bourses announced the creation of a joint index on Sept. 28. The Greece & Turkey 30 Index comprised of 15 of the biggest and most traded companies from each market, but plans to launch funds based on the index were derailed by the sovereign debt crisis in Greece.

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

Italy: Berlusconi ‘Won’t Cut Taxes’ to Reduce Deficit

Rome, 19 May (AKI) — Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi said his government will not cut taxes as Europe’s fourth-richest country looks for ways to reduce government spending. In early May the finance ministry said it has to cut about 25 billion euros worth of government of spending between 2011 and 2012.

Berlusconi was interviewed for a book by prominent Italian journalist Bruno Vespa, published by Mondadori, one of the companies in his vast media empire.

He said his plan to give greater taxation powers to Italy’s regional governments will “pay dividends” making it unnecessary to raise taxes.

Increased efficiency from such a plan would generate enough money to subsititute a tax cut, he said.

“The tax cut, to use the words of [Italian finance minister Giulio] Tremonti, will be the dividend from fiscal federalism,” Berlusconi said in the interview, referring to his repeated pledge to devolve some tax responsibilities to the country’s 20 regions.

Critics of fiscal federalism claim the plan would penalise the poorer regions in the south of Italy that generate fewer jobs and industrial output and rely on government spending to support their economies.

Berlusconi’s political opponents argue that a more vigorous fight against tax evasion would help the country cut its debt — forecast to be 118.4 percent of its total economic output this year.

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

Italy: Govt Looks at Pay Cuts ‘Up to 15 Percent’

Rome, 20 May(AKI) — The Italian government may move to cut the salaries of public servants by 10 percent, and politicians by 15 percent, in a bid to reduce the country’s growing deficit. According to Italian news reports, managers in public service jobs with salaries totalling at least 100 thousand euros could have their income reduced for two to three years.

News reports cited unnamed sources who discussed the proposals after a meeting between union officials and finance minister Giulio Tremonti (photo).

Tremonti earlier this month said he aimed to cut the country’s budget deficit by at least 25 billion euros by the end of 2012.

The Court of Accounts, which safeguards the management of Italy’s public accounts, said on Wednesday the global financial crisis could result in a 130 million euro drop in Italy’s economic output between 2008 and 2013.

Under this new proposal, the cut in politician’s wages would be far steeper than the 5 percent reduction previously proposed by legislative simplification minister Roberto Calderoli.

To save money the government would also cut 4 billion euros in funds earmarked for Italian cities and regions, according to the reports.

Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi in an interview published Wednesday said his government would not cut taxes.

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

Krauss: How Much Euro Decline Will Obama Tolerate?

The euro’s decline is not a beggar-my-neighbour policy to gain an unfair trade advantage. So it is unlikely for the US to intervene just yet.

By Melvyn Krauss

The Obama administration’s stance towards Europe has done a dramatic about-face. The benign neglect that characterised its early months has been replaced by a deep concern that contagion not cross the Atlantic. Media reports have it that Washington gave Europe’s politicians a significant nudge to get over their differences and do the historic 750 billion euro bailout package of loans, loan guarantees and credit in their battle against contagion.

It is reminiscent of the early Second World War period when an isolationist America thought it could safely turn its back on Europe’s disintegration until wiser heads realised Europe’s troubles were America’s troubles.

Actually, Obama’s early neglect of European interests, when he chose to devalue the dollar to bolster US employment in the export sector, proved anything but benign in its consequences for Europe.

A good thing for Europe

The European monetary union always has been a fragile structure that could only take a limited amount of shock without cracking. The euro at 1.60 US dollar turned out to be the shock that broke the camel’s back, fracturing Europe’s south from its north. Even the Germans had difficulty exporting at that vastly overvalued exchange rate.

Now, the common currency is heading south in a hurry as investors contemplate the possibility that the eurozone will break up.

This is a good thing for Europe, because currently the declining euro is Europe’s most effective tool for generating sufficient economic growth to cover its budget deficits.

The more the currency corrects its overvalued position, the more robust European exports will be — and it not only Germany that benefits. Europe’s south also gains from the lower euro both directly (it will be a busy tourist season in Greece this summer) and because higher German growth means increased German imports from Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy.

But the euro will have to go a lot lower (maybe to parity with the dollar) before the growth it generates for Europe can make a significant dent in those troublesome budget gaps. How much euro decline is theObama administration willing to tolerate before deciding enough is enough? Washington matters because it can stop the euro’s descent by intervening in the foreign exchange markets.

Isolationist rumbling emanating

Obama’s concern that Europe’s sovereign debt crisis be contained virtually guarantees the US will not soon protest a continued decline of the euro. Besides, the US economy is performing much better than many had anticipated. It is in a better position to absorb the competitive consequences of the dollar’s increase than at the beginning of Obama’s term in office.

What also matters is that the euro’s decline is not a beggar-my-neighbour policy to gain an unfair trade advantage — rather it is a symptom of the sovereign debt crisis that is tearing Europe apart. This makes it easier for Washington to accept.

Still, there is isolationist rumbling emanating from the US congress. Concerned that US taxpayer money might be used to bail out infected European governments via the International Monetary Fund, the US senate passed a measure this week by a 94-0 vote that would require theObama administration to certify that any future loans made by the IMF be fully repaid. “Greece is not by any stretch of the imagination too big to fail,” said the sponsor of the measure.

US treasury secretary Timothy Geithner’s response that the US “has a big stake in helping Europe manage through these things” was both correct and reassuring. This does not sound like a man likely to be high jacked by isolationist interests into short-circuiting the euro’s continued decline.

Fighting contagion is bringing America and Europe closer today just as fighting fascism united us 70 years ago.

Melvyn Krauss is an emeritus professor of economics at New York University and senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.

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

Romania Sees Biggest Protest Since 1989 Over Austerity Measures

In some of the largest demonstrations Romania has seen since the ousting of Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989, tens of thousands of workers and pensioners have taken to the streets to protest the swingeing austerity measures the government is imposing at the behest of the International Monetary Fund.

Between 30,000 and 60,000 mostly public sector workers and retirees on fixed incomes descended upon the capital, Bucharest, on Wednesday (19 May), having been bussed in from across the country, and called on the government to resign.

In a worrying sign for the government, even police joined in the protest, with Marian Gruia, head of the policemen’s union, calling fellow citizens to unite, “as we did in 1989, when we overthrew the dictatorship,” according to a number of local media reports.

The centre-right coalition government of Emil Boc has announced public sector wage cuts of 25 percent and pension and unemployment benefit cuts of 15 percent in an attempt to bring down the country’s budget deficit and assuage the concerns of markets. The measures come atop job-benefit reductions in some civil service sectors in 2009.

The Labour Ministry has announced job cuts of between 60,000 and 80,000 positions, including 15,000 teachers, meaning the likely closure of a number of schools in villages.

Additionally, a scheduled increase in the minimum wage has been postponed.

The government is imposing the cuts in order to be able to access another tranche of a €20 billion loan from the IMF. Earlier this month at an auction, the government was unable to attract sufficient takers for public debt.

Already last year, a loan installment from the international lender was delayed following the collapse of the government.

The administration has a small majority in the parliament and has said that it will seek a vote of confidence from the chamber over the measures.

Meanwhile, trade unions have warned they will step up their actions and plan to hold a general strike later this month.

           — Hat tip: Paul Weston[Return to headlines]


CAIR Takes Muslim Media Manipulation to New Heights

Steven Emerson

Imagine the reaction if a newspaper hired a former National Rifle Association employee to cover a gun control referendum. Or if a former Goldman Sachs trader was offered by a television network as an objective journalist on financial reform.

Even those who agreed with the journalist’s point of view would have to acknowledge the appearance of a conflict of interest.

Something similar may be happening when it comes to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a group federal law enforcement views with suspicion at best. In three separate instances in less than a month, reporters working for national news organizations have written stories compatible with CAIR’s agenda without acknowledging their personal histories with the group. In two of the three cases, the reporter had been a full-fledged CAIR employee. In the third, the reporter had received a CAIR scholarship while a student.

Whether the cases are a matter of coincidence, they fit with an ambition outlined by CAIR co-founder and executive director Nihad Awad. During the 2005 Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) conference, Awad described the significance of getting more Muslims into mainstream journalism jobs (Hear it here):…

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Hillary Signs UN Small Arms Treaty

In her testimony today before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee urging the Senate to consent to the ratification of the April 8th Treaty between the Russian Federation and the United States of America on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (New START), Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated the following:


In these areas, Secretary Clinton’s testimony is factually incorrect on both counts. First, the Senate’s choice is not between this treaty or no treaty. The Treaty between the Russian Federation and the United States of America on Strategic Offensive Reductions of May 24, 2002 (Moscow Treaty) is in force today and will remain in force if New START is not ratified, according to its terms, until the end of calendar 2012.

Second, there has not been an unbroken record of Senate support for bilateral strategic nuclear arms control treaties with the Soviet Union or Russia. The Senate’s support for the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty II (SALT II) of June 18, 1979 was so tepid that President Carter, on January 3, 1980, asked it to defer consideration.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Kansas City Car and Auto Parts Dealer Pleads Guilty to Giving Money, Support to Al Qaeda

A Kansas City auto parts dealer who had sworn allegiance to Al Qaeda pleaded guilty Wednesday to taking part in a conspiracy to provide financial support to the terrorist group.

Khalid Ouazzani, 32, a Moroccan native who became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2006, admitted that he sent $23,500 to Al Qaeda between August 2007 and mid-2008.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Miss USA Accused of Ties to Lebanon’s Hezbollah

The controversy began as soon as the glittery diamond tiara was lowered on Rima Fakih’s dark tresses.

Is she the first Muslim Miss USA? Will she be able to keep the title after photos surfaced of Fakih winning a pole-dancing contest?

And — on the conservative blogosphere — is she a secret extremist?

Fakih, a Lebanese immigrant from Dearborn, Michigan who was raised in both the Christian and Muslim faiths, is clearly no fundamentalist.

But her willingness to parade around in a microscopic bikini on national television did not stop conservative blogger Debbie Schlussel from insisting that Fakih was a radical because she shares her family name with some officials in Hezbollah, the armed Lebanese Shiite Muslim group which Washington lists as a terrorist organization.

Hours after Fakih’s Las Vegas win Sunday night, the ill-sourced and illogical rumor went viral, with “rima fakih hezbollah” becoming a suggested search term on Google.

The idea is “ludicrous,” said Magnus Ranstorp, a Swedish political scientist and one of the world’s leading experts on Hezbollah.

“She would be flogged if she showed up in any of Hezbollah’s neighborhoods in Beirut,” Ranstorp said.

Arab-American and Muslim groups hailed Fakih’s win as a sign of the diversity of their culture and their role in American society.

The photos of Fakih gyrating on stage in a 2007 “Stripper 101” contest — not nude, although she was rubbing up against a pole in a tight t-shirt and super-short shorts — cast a pall on celebrations.

Fakih won the contest during an all-female class sponsored by a local radio station, which insists that she should be able to keep her crown.

Times have certainly changed since Vanessa Williams — herself a trailblazer as the first African-American to win the Miss America crown — was forced to relinquish the title in 1984 after nude photos of her were published in “Penthouse” magazine. And Fakih never took her clothes off.

Pageant officials, who courted controversy by having this year’s contestants pose in far more revealing lingerie than in previous pageants, have so far declined to comment.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Muslim Student Supports New Holocaust

A messianic Jewish leader isn’t surprised that an Islamic college student openly admitted in a recent public forum that she supports the radical Muslim extremists’ call for a new Jewish Holocaust.

Conservative activist and publisher David Horowitz was recently the guest speaker at the University of California-San Diego. During the question and answer session of the forum, a member of the Muslim Student Association (MSA) got into an exchange with Horowitz, who asked her if she supported those who call for the extermination of Israeli Jews.

“I am a Jew,” Horowitz declared. “The head of Hezbollah has said that he hopes that we will gather in Israel so he doesn’t have to hunt us down globally. [Are you] for it or against it?” he asked.

The MSA member directly replied “for it” before the conservative activist thanked her for “coming and showing everybody what’s here” and made note of her “terrorist neckerchief.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Pirates Plying the Waves of Falcon Lake

McALLEN — Heavily armed Mexican freshwater pirates have been shaking down U.S. boaters on Falcon Lake, a reservoir and bass fishing haven that straddles the Rio Grande.

Slideshows Mexico Drug War At least three such incidents have been reported since April 30, the latest on Sunday, according to a Texas Department of Public Safety warning issued Tuesday that linked the muggings to northern Mexico’s increasing lawlessness.

According to descriptions of the incidents, the robbers — in at least one case posing as Mexican federal law enforcement officers — searched fishermen’s boats for guns and drugs, then demanded cash at gunpoint.

One of the incidents reportedly occurred on the U.S. side of the lake.

“The robbers are believed to be members of a drug trafficking organization or members of an enforcer group linked to a drug trafficking organization who are … using AK-47s or AR-15 rifles to threaten their victims,” the DPS statement said. “They appear to be using local Mexican fishermen to operate the boats to get close to American fishermen.”

It was unclear why sport fishermen were targeted, but the warning comes only a few weeks before bass fishing tournaments that are among the South Texas border region’s biggest tourist draws.

DPS spokesman Tom Vinger said the warning was issued in part because of the upcoming tournaments.

Zapata County Sheriff Sigifredo Gonzalez said he would be discussing security concerns with tournament participants and has been reviewing protective measures with the DPS Border Security Operations Center and the region’s Fusion Center, a federal information clearinghouse for terrorism prevention and response.

Reported victims included:

* Five people in two boats who were approached by four tattooed men April 30 claiming to be “federales” near the church at Old Guerrero, a once-submerged town on the Mexican side of the lake. The men boarded their boats, demanded cash and asked “where are the drugs?” They then took $200 from the Americans and followed the boats until they re-entered U.S. waters.

* Three fishermen who were approached May 6 by a boat containing two men who pointed AR-15s — the civilian version of the U.S. military’s M-16 assault rifle — at them. One boarded the fishing boat, searched for drugs, cash and guns, chambered a round in his rifle and told the fishermen he would shoot them if they did not give him money.

* Boaters on the U.S. side of the lake who were approached by a boat containing five armed men on May 16, according to second-hand reports that reached law enforcement officers. The DPS said it couldn’t confirm if the boaters had been robbed.

Tuesday’s notice urged fishermen to stay as far as possible from any of the Argos-type boats typically used as fishing vessels by Mexican fishermen, which DPS said had large prows, small outboard motors without cowling and no identification numbers on the hulls.

Boaters on the lake also were urged to stay within U.S. waters and file a float plan with family members.

Falcon Lake is an approximately 60-mile-long reservoir on the Rio Grande fronting Starr and Zapata counties on the Texas side and shared between the United States and Mexico. It was formed by a dam in 1953 to conserve water for agriculture and control downstream flooding.

[Return to headlines]

Seattle Cartoonist Target of Backlash

“I regret my cartoon the way I made it. I wish it would have said ‘Everybody draw the CEO of Viacom Day,’“ says Norris.

SEATTLE — Throughout her career Molly Norris has received acclaim for her colorful cartoons. But her latest work has brought on a different spotlight, one that has made her afraid to show her face.

“I’ve had some death threats from Muslims on Facebook and e-mail,” she said.

In her latest cartoon posted on her Blog and on Facebook, Molly suggested Thursday be “Everybody Draw Muhammed Day.”

She was responding to the irreverent TV show South Park after pressure from a radical Islamic group, Viacom censored a cartoon depicting the Islamic prophet Muhammed in a bear suit.

“I regret my cartoon the way I made it. I wish it would have said ‘Everybody draw the CEO of Viacom Day,’“ says Norris.

For most Muslims, like those at SeaTac’s Aslam Mosque, it is considered sacrilegious to draw Muhammed.

“Especially in this day and age that somebody would intentionally instigate a fire, I don’t think it’s anything funny about it,” says Islam Wardak.

The swell of support on Facebook for Molly’s cartoon prompted Pakistan to pull it off-line as well as YouTube. Molly says if she could do it again, she’d target her anger towards censorship elsewhere.

“What started as something about censorship has ended in censorship. It’s a full circle situation,” she said.

Today local supporters of Molly handed out fliers on Capitol Hill and the U-District. There are now two pages set up by Facebook users, one for “Draw Muhammed Day” and one against it. Both have a little more than hundred-thousand supporters.

           — Hat tip: Steen[Return to headlines]

Soros-Funded Group Urges Media Run by Government

Marxist-led study has close ties to Obama White House officials

A George Soros-funded, Marxist-founded organization calling itself Free Press has published a study advocating the development of a “world class” government-run media system in the U.S.

A newly released book, meanwhile, documents Free Press has close ties to top Obama administration officials.

“The need has never been greater for a world-class public media system in America,” begins a 48-page document, “New Public Media: A Plan for Action,” by the far-left Free Press organization.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

The Black Church’s Commitment to Obama

Dear Black Church,

What I am about to say will probably anger you. As a black Christian, I have struggled with whether or not to address this sensitive topic. I only ask that you give my statements prayerful consideration.

Ninety-six percent of black voters, many of whom are Christians, cast their votes for Barack Obama. I question: Did your desire to see a black man in the White House trump your commitment to Christ and Christian values and principles? While I believe many white Christians also made a racist decision by voting for Obama solely because he is black, I am taking this occasion to address my fellow black Christians.

Now wait a minute. I know the hair is rising on the back of your neck. Don’t go crazy on me. Please hear me out.

My family and most of my black friends are Christians striving to live lives which honor Christ. And yet, there is a huge disconnect between their Christianity and their irrational, blind, and near-idol-worship of Obama.

Will the truth about Obama make a difference? For some, I think not. For those of you who value your commitment to Christ more than your loyalty to skin color, here are a few facts.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Danish Cartoonist: Muhammad Drawing Group is ‘Funny’

Kurt Westergaard describes ‘Everybody draw Muhammad’ initiative as important rebellion against self-censorship

Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard has weighed in with his support for the debate created by the online initiative encouraging people to submit their own drawings of the Prophet Muhammad.

Westergaard currently lives with round-the-clock police protection after numerous threats and attempts on his life following his contribution to the controversial Jyllands-Posten cartoons in 2005, when he depicted Muhammad with a bomb in his turban.

Today’s initiative on social networking website Facebook has sparked outrage in Pakistan, which blocked access to the website and its ‘Everybody draw Muhammad’ page.

The original page had more than 6,700 drawing submitted before it was shut down, including images of Muhammad as a pig, as a Pokemon and also images based on Westergaard’s original drawing.

In an interview with trade magazine Journalisten, Westergaard described the idea as ‘very funny’.

‘The initiative should be understood as a manifestation of the freedom of speech, where Muhammad and my drawing have become icons for this cultural battle. I always think it’s brilliant when someone is moved by a debate. There is of course a risk of provoking some of the dark forces who are inspired by terrorism,’ he said, adding that people should not cower to terrorism.

Westergaard expressed disappointment that intellectuals and his creative peers were beginning to exercise self-censorship.

‘It’s the creative class that lives by provocation and going to the line or wanting to cross it — it’s sad if this class becomes scared.’

The cartoonist reiterated that it was never his intention that his cartoon be used to ridicule people.

‘I have to say, that the cartoon now has a life of its own and I don’t have any influence any more. I’ve always explained that the drawing shows how terrorists get their spiritual ammunition from parts of Islam and the Koran, but it’s always good to have a debate about the freedom of speech,’ Westergaard told Journalisten.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Finland Drops to 19th Place in Global Competitiveness

Finlands’ international competitive rating has dropped more than ever before. The country is now listed number nineteen in the survey done by International Management Development.

Only last year Finland ranked at ninth place. The down-surge is due to the massive drop in Finland’s domestic production. Singapore was rated as most competitive and Hong Kong took the second place. Neighbor Sweden maintained its sixth position and Norway took over Finland’s ninth position.

However, Heikki Taimio from Labour Institute for Economic Research says that this ranking does not accurately reflect Finland’s current situation, as information used in the survey takes data from last year which was particularly poor.

           — Hat tip: KGS[Return to headlines]

France: Burqa: Government Approves Law Bill on Ban

(ANSAmed) — PARIS, MAY 19 — Paris has today taken its latest step towards a general ban on the Islamic burqa, with the government adopting a law bill which will be put to Parliament in July, before a definitive vote in September. According to President Nicolas Sarkozy, the law’s most prominent defender, it is an “exacting but correct path”. France is marching uncompromisingly towards a law that would make it the second country in Europe, after Belgium, to ban the burqa in public, and one that has not only found opposition from the State Council (the country’s highest administrative jurisdiction), but has also infuriated France’s Muslim community. “We are an old nation united by a certain idea of personal dignity,” said the head of state during a meeting of Ministers, “particularly the dignity of women, and by a certain idea of common life. The all-covering veil, which completely hides the face, attacks these fundamental values, which are essential to the republican contract”. For the socialists, the law is simply “inapplicable because it is unconstitutional” (with the left deciding whether or not to appeal to the Constitutional Council). For Muslims, however, it is a stigmatisation of France’s Islamic community, which is 5 to 6 million strong, of whom only about 2,000 women across the country wear the burqa or the niqab. Opposition to the law has reached such a level that last night, on the eve of the government vote, a debate on the burqa organised by the association “Ni putes ni soumises” (“Neither whores nor submissive”) in Montreuil, an eastern suburb of Paris, descended into violence, with insults, assaults and, eventually, police intervention. A number of women fully covered by the Islamic veil appeared on television reasserting their determination not to respect the law, at the risk of being punished by law. The law features a 150 euro fine and a civil education course for women wearing a burqa, as well as a more serious punishment (a fine of up to 15,000 euros and a year in prison) for men who force their wives and partners to wear it. Also yesterday, a fight between two women in a shop in Trignac, in the east of the country, one of whom was wearing a niqab, degenerated into a brawl, with both parties ending up in a police station. The woman wearing the niqab has pressed charges, claiming that the other woman pulled her veil off, uncovering her face, and called her “Belfagor”, the name given to the ghost of the Louvre.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

French Cabinet Approves Burqa Ban Draft Law

The French cabinet approved a draft law to ban the Muslim full-face veil from public spaces on Wednesday, opening the way for the text to go before parliament in July.

“In this matter the government is taking a path it knows to be difficult, but a path it knows to be just,” President Nicolas Sarkozy told the assembled ministers, according to his office.

While Sarkozy’s right-wing majority is expected to be able to push the law through parliament, constitutional experts have warned that it could be thrown out by judges and might fall foul of European law.

“We are an old nation united around a certain idea of human dignity, and in particular of a woman’s dignity, around a certain idea of how to live together,” Sarkozy insisted.

“The full veil that hides the face completely harms those values, which are so fundamental to us, so essential to the republican compact.”

According to the text of the law, no-one in France will be allowed to wear a garment “designed to hide the face”. Those who flout it will be fined €150 ($180) or sent on a course to learn the values of French citizenship.

Anyone who forces someone through threats, violence or misuse of a position of authority to cover her face because of her sex will be jailed for a year and fined €15,000, the law says.

The law defines public spaces broadly to include all thoroughfares, all premises — such as shops, cinemas, restaurants and markets — open to the public and all government buildings.

France’s highest administrative legal body, the Council of State, had warned the government that it might be legally impossible to impose and enforce such a ban, but Sarkozy and his supporters are determined to press on.

Some opposition Socialists have declared they will vote against a ban they feel will be impossible to enforce, and many Muslim groups oppose a ban they fear will stigmatize their religion.

Sarkozy asks Muslims not to feel hurt

President Sarkozy urged French Muslims on Wednesday not to feel hurt or stigmatized by the planned ban.

“This is a decision one doesn’t take lightly,” he said. “Nobody should feel hurt or stigmatized. I’m thinking in particular of our Muslim compatriots, who have their place in the republic and should feel respected,.” Sarkozy told a cabinet meeting

Only a tiny minority of Muslim women in Europe wear full veils, called niqabs or burqas, but their numbers are growing. The Belgian parliament has already begun debating a ban there and could also impose it in the coming months.

France has reaped criticism from Muslim groups and rights advocates for the planned “burqa ban”, which Sarkozy called for last year to counter Islamist views among some Muslims.

The country’s top legal advisory body, the Council of State, has twice warned that a complete ban on veils in public would be unconstitutional, but Sarkozy said the government had decided “in good conscience” that it must outlaw them.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Italian Industry Revived, Turnover and Orders Up in March

(ANSAmed) — ROME — The turnover of Italian industry registered a 6.3% increase in March (the figure is corrected as per the calendar) compared to the corresponding month of 2009 and a 1.5% rise on February 2010. The figures were released by Italy’s national statistics office (ISTAT) who underlined that the trend figure is now at the highest level reached since June 2008. The rough index registered an annual 9.8% rise. Also in March, industry orders registered a rise of 13.1% (rough figure) compared to the same month of 2009 and a rise of 1% on February 2010. The trend figure is at its highest level since June 2007.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Talk Show Host in Resignation Flap

Berlusconi foe Santoro in reported multi-million-euro deal

(ANSA) — Rome, May 19 — The host of a talk show on public broadcaster RAI seen as a thorn in the side of Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi has sparked controversy by announcing his resignation, reportedly in exchange for a multi-million-euro deal to produce different kinds of programmes.

Michele Santoro was blackballed by RAI from 2002 to 2006 after Berlusconi accused him of “criminal use of the airwaves”.

Earlier this year the premier was placed under investigation for allegedly exerting pressure to try to have Santoro’s Annozero show cancelled.

Santoro, whose show was never in fact pulled despite Berlusconi’s alleged efforts, said Wednesday he was “satisfied” with the deal because it would enable him to “test new TV formats” as an outside consultant.

But Marco Travaglio, a journalist also blackballed with Santoro whose monologues on the show regularly attack Berlusconi, said he was “disappointed” at the move.

On Facebook, fans of the show voiced dismay and begged Santoro “not to abandon us”.

Santoro was criticised for taking a pay-out rumoured to be in the region of ten million euros ($12.3 million) but one Annozero co-worker said she understood “why he did this, after all these years of constant pressure”.

The terms of the deal have yet to be released but Sergio Zavoli, head of the parliamentary watchdog on RAI, said other staffers “won’t be very happy” at the size of his golden handshake, “especially as they don’t see him as the best (journalist) around”.

Santoro has frequently been accused of left-wing bias.

Berlusconi’s supporters have called him “a rabble-rouser” determined to undermine the premier but Santoro’s admirers have seen Annozero as a beacon for freedom of information.

Last year the programme was the first to provide an account of the premier’s trip to the 18th birthday party of an aspiring model.

The incident, coupled with the premier’s alleged bid to field several ex-starlets for European parliament elections, led Berlusconi’s wife to sue for divorce.

Annozero was also the first, and only, Italian show to interview a call girl who was paid by a businessman to have sex with Berlusconi at his Rome residence.

The scandals, in which Berlusconi consistently denied wrongdoing or impropriety, received wide play in the Italian press and foreign media but were ignored by Italian TV until Annozero homed in on the story.

The demise of Annozero sparked no reaction from the Berlusconi coalition but members of the centre-left opposition were outraged.

Franco Monaco of the Democratic Party called it a “victory for the premier in his censorship efforts and his belief that everything and everyone can be bought”.

Massimo Donadi of the smaller opposition Italy of Values party said “the news that RAI reportedly forked out ten million euros to rescind Michele Santoro’s contract is extraordinarily grave and immoral”.

Italian trade union leaders also blasted the alleged misuse of taxpayers’ money at a time when workers were losing their jobs and families struggling to make ends meet.

Berlusconi has often been accused of influencing editorial decisions at RAI as well as its rival, the three-channel commercial network Mediaset, which he owns.

He has consistently denied this.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Child Trafficking Gang Smashed in North

Milan, 20 May (AKI) — Italian police in the northern city of Varese moved to arrest 10 suspected members of an international criminal gang that was allegedly trafficking children to Europe from Egypt and Libya. The gang exploited Italian law, which allows unaccompanied or abandoned minors to be granted a permit of stay once they reach Italy, according to investigators.

Police began the investigation into the suspected human trafficking racket in Varese in July 2008, after a number of Egyptian youngsters turned up at the main police station, claiming they were destitute and in Italy alone.

Investigators said police used phone taps to uncover the people trafficking gang which they found was headed by two Egyptian immigrants with valid permits of stay who lived in the northern city of Milan.

The gang operated throughout Italy and several suspected members lived in the southern Sicilian city of Agrigento.

They allegedly took custody of the smuggled children, who were initially detained in immigrant holding centres in southern Italy.

The suspected gang members then sent them on their way to other Italian cities, mainly in the north.

The children’s parents went into debt to pay their passage across the Mediterranean from North Africa to southern Italy aboard rickety people smugglers’ boats, investigators said.

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

Italy: Phone-Tap Bill — Green Light to Mega-Fines for Publishers

Amendment specifying penalties for journalists still awaits approval

MILAN — The Senate justice committee has approved the phone-tap bill’s sanctions for publishers who “arbitrarily publish” judicial investigations and tapped conversations before the preliminary hearing. Opposition amendments that would have struck out the measures were rejected and the text approved lays down fines of 64,500 to 464,000 euros for publishers that make judicial documents public. Contrary to what several senators said after the session, the justice committee has yet to approve Senator Massimo Centaro’s amendment imposing sanctions for journalists who publish “in whole or in part, even in the form of information,” documents from criminal proceedings whose publication is forbidden by law. The news was announced by Senator Centaro and the leader of the Democratic Party (PD) group in the Senate, Anna Finocchiaro.

GREEN LIGHT — In the afternoon, the committee rejected amendments deleting the paragraph that imposes penalties on publishers who publish judicial documents and phone-tap transcripts before the preliminary hearing. Fines range from 64,500 to 464,700 euros. Penalties for journalists, which still have to be approved, are as follows: up to two months’ imprisonment and a fine of 2,000 to 10,000 euros for the publication of judicial documents in their entirety or in summary form; and up to two months’ imprisonment and a fine of 4,000 to 20,000 euros for the publication of transcripts of electronic eavesdropping. Journalists also face temporary suspension from the profession.

FILM AND AUDIO RECORDINGS — There will be penalties for anyone making fraudulent film or audio recordings (the so-called “D’Addario amendment”). However, a number of exemptions were approved concerning films or recordings made for reasons of state security, those made by a qualified journalist exercising the right to report news and those made in the course of a judicial or administrative dispute.

TIMESCALE — Sessions of the Senate justice committee will resume next week. “I spoke to the leader of the Senate, Renato Schifani, and we decided to cancel the evening session of the justice committee”, said Senate justice committee chair Filippo Berselli. Mr Berselli continued: “Since the session could not last for more than two hours, and tomorrow [Thursday — Ed.] there is the joint session of the first committee on the corruption bill, we opted to convene the evening session for next Monday. Majority senators have been real troopers. They have sat through two consecutive evening sessions so I can hardly ask them to make yet another sacrifice for just a couple of hours that will produce very few amendments, given the opposition’s filibustering. Better we should see it through to the bitter end on Monday evening”.

OPPOSITION — Anna Finocchiaro, the PD’s group leader in the Senate, announced: “We’ll be battling it out in the debating chamber. Besides, we’ll see what text actually gets through. The bill has been amended so many times, and contains so many contradictions, that I haven’t yet worked out what will emerge”. In answer to questions about whether the political struggle would continue, after the bill’s approval, with an opposition-sponsored popular referendum, Ms Finocchiaro replied: “That I don’t know”. Meanwhile, Italy of Values (IDV) took a clear stance. Luigi Li Gotti, IDV group leader on the Senate justice committee, said: “If even the deputy editor of Il Giornale admits that the phone-tap bill will hamstring newsgathering, it shows that what we have been saying for days is the simple truth. But the majority continues to turn a blind eye and insists on the bill’s key measures. In other words, what emerges from the committee will in all probability be devastating and a significant setback for the fight against crime”.

English translation by Giles Watson

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

Spain: Issuing of 3.52 Bln Worth of 10-Yr Bonds Does Well

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, MAY 20 — The Spanish Treasury has today issued ten-year bonds for a total of 3.52 billion euros, according to the website of Cinco Dias. The yield paid was 4.04%, a rise on the 3.85% of the previous auction, but the total number of bonds has surpassed the objective fixed by the Treasury, which wanted to place between 2.5 and 3.5 billion euros on the market. Demand was 2.03 times as high as supply, an improvement on demand in March’s auction, which was 1.5 times the supply. Today’s auction comes after the “poorly performing” version held last Tuesday, when the state placed 6.43 billion euros worth of 12- and 18-month bonds, paying interest that almost doubled compared to the previous auction. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Switzerland: Prices for European Union Goods Imported Into Switzerland Could Begin to Drop as of July After the Government Agreed to Lower Technical Trade Barriers on Wednesday.

Swiss ministers in Bern decided to implement the Cassis de Dijon principle, an agreement that says products legally made in the EU can be freely sold in other EU markets, as long as there is no public health risk.

Switzerland, which is not an EU member but has numerous agreements with the bloc, generally sells goods for higher prices than its EU neighbours do, largely because of a sluggish domestic market, lack of competition and stringent import rules.

That could change as the market opens to more competition, particularly with cosmetics, textiles, clothing, food and furniture covered by the principle.

The government originally adopted the Cassis de Dijon principle in 2005.Parliament approved it in 2009, and discussions have continued to iron out differences.

Under current Swiss rules, many EU products do not make their way to the Swiss market because of technical trade barriers. One famous example concerns German cream, which was not allowed to be sold in Switzerland because it was labelled with the German word “Sahne” rather than “Rahm”, the word preferred in German-speaking Switzerland.

In fact, about 48 per cent of goods imported from the EU currently face no technical hurdles. The agreement should boost that to about 80 per cent, with a possible saving of more than SFr2 billion ($1.7 billion) a year, the State Secretariat for Economics (Seco) has found.

The Cassis de Dijon principle originally came about in 1979 after a French importer sued in the European Court of Justice for being barred from selling a black currant liqueur, called Cassis de Dijon, in Germany because it contained less alcohol than German laws required.

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

UK: Another Fine Mess!

Met Office Does it Again! Outdated, Inappropriate, imaginary computer-generated models, CO2 emissions.

“It is frankly ridiculous that the flight plans of millions of air passengers are being disrupted on a daily basis by an outdated, inappropriate and imaginary computer-generated model. It is time these charts were done away with.” — Michael O’Leary, CEO of Ryanair

That’s what Michael O’Leary, CEO of Ryanair said about the Meteorological Office in the UK, after it used computer models to claim ash from the Icelandic volcano was dangerous to ‘planes. On the say-so of the Met Office the UK again ground to a halt, losing airlines a fortune and passengers their holidays and business plans. And that’s not counting the secondary costs lost by subsidiaries, tourism, and other ventures. Look at that quote again — doesn’t it fit computer models used to predict climate change? Of course it does!


You’ve got to admit it, it is pretty loony! A volcano in Iceland explodes. A man with a bow-tie and specs switches on his computer in the UK. He puts in guessed figures and gets guessed results. Then he calls our man in government and bingo — he can stop airplanes from flying! Neat trick, eh? That’s what the Met Office does all the time… not only running airlines, but running every aspect of life on earth, using the same guesswork and computer games to ruin economies, over CO2 suppositions.

A ‘plane was sent up after the Met Office shut down the airports. It discovered the computer data was completely wrong. There was no ash above the UK at all! Yet, millions, if not billions, were lost in revenue. Knowing this I have no doubt that airlines will now sue the Met Office. But, who will pay? Yes — the taxpayers. That’s how good the Met Office game is: it can say what it likes and gets away with it.


I had an email from a scientist friend about this. He headed his note with “Here is a big dose of truth and realism”, before he lampooned greenies:

“Here’s the bombshell. The current volcanic eruption going on in Iceland, since it first started spewing volcanic ash a week ago has, to this point, negated every single effort you have made in the past five years to control CO2 emissions! Not only that, but this single act of God has added emissions to the earth estimated to be 42 times more than can be corrected by the extreme human regulations proposed for annual reductions.”

After giving these bare facts, he rightly scorns the green movement:

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: Britain’s Power Conundrum

David Cameron may have succeeded in bridging Britain’s political power gap, but another looms that could very quickly ‘short-circuit’ his grip on national power, unless his coalition government gets real—and quickly—over energy and environment.

For one thing, the sale of two-thirds of the nation’s power utilities to European competitors has effectively led to Brits subsidizing their EU neighbors’ energy costs; for another, just as the next election season rolls around in five years time, he is likely to find his autocue a little difficult to read as the nation’s lights start going out. Power Game

Big Oil is the usual whipping boy for the public when it comes to energy. But British energy consumers might feel the time is ripe to turn up the heat on Big Power.

While UK energy prices spiralled upwards by 16.7 percent in 2009, the average increase across the rest of the European Union was a mere 3.8 percent. All of this while global energy costs generally fell by around 40 percent. It is a price differential that could not fail to bite into British industrial competitiveness. And in May it did exactly that, putting an end to a 100-year association between the American owners of Celanese Acetate and its British subsidiary—a company that once employed 20,000 people— now due to close at the end of the year. The Celanese Corporation will concentrate production in Belgium, the United States and Mexico, where energy costs are much cheaper.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Veiled Affront

Banning Muslim women from wearing the burqa in public is not the path to better relations between Europe and Islam

Stuart Reigeluth, Special to Weekend Review

Moroccans have a bad reputation in Brussels. Understandably so, many Belgians will say after having experienced or heard stories about being beaten up and robbed (if a man) or hissed at, called “gazelle”, and sometimes teased (if a woman). Most of the time, these young men have emigrated from Morocco to Belgium aspiring to make a better life, but ended up with the disillusionment of finding no golden leaves on the great tree of Europe.

Collective imagination and geographic proximity contributed to emigration from North Africa to Europe, while material exploitation of European colonialism remains a latent source of Arab embitterment. But this does not explain why Moroccan youth are more violent in Brussels than in Casablanca. Indeed, in Morocco, these punks are disowned for staining their national image and dismissed as not being a real representation of Morocco.

This is true. Dangerous are the times when stereotypes define other peoples. And there is no lack of lumping together the “Other” in the Western collective imagination of that violent terrorist polygamous medieval barbaric Arab, particularly since the terrorist attacks on the United States nearly a decade ago. Another certainty is that these stereotypes will not go away by passing a law about how to dress. This is simply evading the real issue.

Belgium is now the first European country to pass a national law that prohibits covering one’s face in public. The separatist Flemish party, Vlaams Belang, openly motioned to mention explicitly the veil in the text of the law. Drafted and proposed by the liberal-right party, Mouvement Reformateur (MR), the text comprises two short articles and refers to the prohibition of wearing a mask or disguise.

According to group leader of the Flemish Green Party in the Belgian Parliament, Meyrem Almaci, of Turkish descent, this new law is purely “symbolic” since at the local commune level, Belgian police have been implementing legislation about wearing masks and disguises in public spaces since 2004. By May 2008, over 20 cases occurred in Molenbeek, a largely Moroccan-dominated neighbourhood in downtown Brussels.

The MR party introduced the national law proposition in 2007, which was passed unanimously by all Belgian parties on April 29, 2010. The law then passed Senate approval and now needs to be signed by the royal family and the incumbent government to be fully approved. Ironically, the law was passed just after the Belgian government dissolved — again. National political coherence is hard to come by in this fragmented federal state but everyone agreed that no one should cover their faces.

Almaci explained that even though the law addressed a “marginal phenomenon” in Belgian society, the Green Party voted for the law because “contact with women wearing the burqa is extremely difficult”. She urged applying “equal rights” and repeated “the need for female participation in society”.

The law does not refer to the female Muslim veil but the allusion is obvious — hence the justification for human rights.

The human rights argument is a double-edged sword that instigates strong emotions and raises real complications with the legality of the law. Vehement Belgian opponents of the law, such as Vice-President of the Muslim Executive of Belgium (EMB), Isabelle Praile, who converted to Islam from Christianity over 26 years ago, claims that this law is both “unconstitutional” and “undemocratic” since it goes against the freedom of expression.

Praile said she has “never seen a burqa in Belgium before” and that the “foundations of democratic practices” are in jeopardy once “exclusive laws are passed that restrict rights”. She added this “new ideology reinforces fear of foreigners and stigmatises Muslims”. This trend has grown since the terrorist attacks on the US in 2001, which have led to a cycle of violent responses from both Islam and the West.

“Some political parties have nothing else,” said Almaci from the Green Party, and many would agree that the ambivalence of the law has been used as a political tool to gain votes. “Political priorities”, Praile said, have caused all parties across the spectrum to endorse the law. This political shift has been accentuated by a European move to the Right, which is usually defined as nationalist or patriotic, in more extreme forms as xenophobic, and in our times as “Islamophobic”.

The overarching parameters being established by the Right were outlined in the well-to-do southern Brussels suburb of Waterloo by a leading member of the political bureau of the new Belgian Popular Party (PP) and candidate for the June 13, 2010, elections in the province of Hainaut. Jean Zarzecki, a successful 75-year-old Belgian businessman of Polish origin, said: “We need to be firm on this issue.” His argument is simple: We respect them; they should respect us.

Zarzecki claims “Belgium is a host country and finds it normal that people would choose to work and live here, but they must adapt to the culture of our country.” As he proceeds, it becomes increasingly evident that for many Belgians, a new limit of tolerance is emerging. “Islam must adapt,” he continues and condemns the double standards imposed by the Arab world: Saudi Arabia does not accept a girl in a skirt to be driving alone, so why should we accept women wearing “blinders”?

Indicative of European exasperation with being tolerant and open-minded and receptive and welcoming, Zarzecki claims his party endorses a “secular society with the highest level of religious and philosophic tolerance possible”, and asks: Why are there no more churches being built in the Muslim world (while we are expected to accept the construction of mosques in Switzerland), and why is Israel allowed to continue repressing Christians while building more Jewish colonies? These are not entirely non-sequiturs.

These are important questions that demand reflection and debate and dialogue but not a new law on how one dresses. As many defenders of the headscarf have asserted, once you start banning, you will not be able to stop. In the European case, imposing a ban on the burqa will exacerbate a phenomenon that hardly exists. Then multifarious scenarios of state repression can be imagined: from detentions and torture in prisons to riots and sabotage in the streets. Conformity will come naturally or not at all; cultural diversity is preferable.

For many Moroccans in Brussels, cultural diversity is synonymous with social segregation. On Sundays, a mini Morocco emerges around the black iron Anderlecht slaughterhouse. Walking through here is like being in an Arab souq, except that you’re in a lower-end part of the capital of Europe. Vendors shout prices, selling clothes and shoes and belts, then come the smells of fruits and fish and meat, as well as all different kinds of drab and bright colours beneath the grey low sky of Brussels. Two cousins from Nador, Morocco, are selling clothes. Yak, 35, is from Brussels and says “he does not want to bother others”, but that this law will “worsen the situation”. The present Muslim “malaise” will be aggravated by prohibitions against their faith. He too mentions that he has never seen a burqa in Brussels. And the niqab is a very small portion of the Muslim minority in Belgium, which Yak says will be further ostracised and will fuel the extremists who support “wars of religions”.

Yak’s younger cousin “Red” is 22: “Don’t be surprised if the situation blows up here!” What will happen when women wearing the veil are stopped and fined or detained and jailed for up to a week? “There will be riots.” When asked the same question, a Belgian convert to Islam, mid-thirties, sporting a blond beard along his jaw, said: “During the Iranian Revolution, fear was spread about women wearing the chador; now it’s about the burqa and the Taliban.”

At the Great Mosque of Brussels, on the corner of the Cinquantenaire Park in the centre of the European Quarter where all the EU institutions are found, a thousand people come to pray every Friday. The mosque was a gift from King Baudouin in 1967 to the Muslim community and houses the European Islamic Institute and offers Arabic courses.

Imam Abdul Hadi, an Egyptian from Al Azhar Mosque in Cairo, lectures about illness, suffering and patience. He talks loudly but this is not a political speech. The story he tells about the Companions of the Prophet (PBUH) can be found in children’s books on street stands across the Arab world.

Upstairs, women are sitting behind a partition. Outside there are beggars asking for alms and boys selling SIM-cards for 5 euros. The Muslim “malaise” is visible in the furrowed brows and the severe scowls of men exiting the mosque. No one stops to answer questions. Everyone is going back to their business. There will be more problems with the coexistence of cultural plurality but there will be no bombs coming from inflammatory speeches at this mosque.

And yet Muslim malaise is matched by European insecurity. National political parties are calling for increased public security but Europe does not know how to deal with massive immigration and rampant unemployment. Looking for a scapegoat, the polemics behind the burqa is now the greatest test to contemporary social tolerance. As these limits are being demarcated, we are now confronted with the dangers of neo-Orientalism.

The warning alarm should be sounding: This is not the path to better relations between Europe and Islam.

Casualties of a misguided law

Belgium may be the first country to ban covering one’s face in public but it is certainly not the only European state to be doing so. Motions to pass laws directly related to or implicitly referring to female Muslim clothing are prevalent throughout Western Europe.

Prior to the Belgian law passed at the end of April 2010, France had banned all religious symbols in public schools in 2004. In June 2009, President Nicolas Sarkozy stated that the burqa is not welcome in France and a subsequent bill is now being proposed.

In Denmark, Prime Minister Rasmussen from the centre-right echoed Sarkozy in January 2010 by saying that the burqa is out of step with Danish values. A veiled woman was not allowed to board a public bus when she refused to reveal her face to the driver.

In Italy, a Tunisian-born woman named Amel Marmouri, 26, was stopped outside a post office in Novara, northern Italy, in early May 2010, for wearing the burqa. She was fined 500 euros and will be kept at home now, according to her husband. Also in Italy, the Northern League, allied to Berlusconi’s centre-right coalition, has motioned to amend the 1975 national anti-terrorist law banning ski masks and motorcycle helmets to mention “garments common among women of the Islamic faith known as burqas or niqabs”.

In Spain, at the end of April 2010, a Spanish girl of Moroccan origin named Najwa Malha was expelled from a public school in Pozuelo de Alarcon, Madrid, for wearing the hijab, on the grounds of maintaining secular education.

Back to Belgium, prior to the national law, and indicative of commune level legislation, the southern city of Charleroi banned the veil in public schools on the basis of providing secular neutrality for its citizens.

Stuart Reigeluth is editor of REVOLVE.

           — Hat tip: TV[Return to headlines]


ICTY: Mladic’s Notebooks Handed Over by Belgrade

(ANSAmed) — THE HAGUE, MAY 19 — Eighteen notebooks filled with the notes of Ratko Mladic, the former military commander of the Bosnian Serbs, were handed over on May 11 by Belgrade to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in the Hague (ICTY). This was reported in a document published by the ICTY. Mladic is currently the most wanted individual by international justice officials for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The other main fugitive is the former political leader of the Croatian Serbs, Goran Hadzic. “The notebooks,” explained a document from the office of lead prosecutor Serge Brammertz, “were seized by the Serbian Ministry of Internal Affairs on February 23 2010 in the apartment of Bisiljka Mladic, the wife of fugitive Ratko Mladic.” The content of the notebooks, which cover the period from June 29 1991 to November 29 1996, was copied with a scanner and sent to the office of the ICTY prosecutor just after they were discovered. The originals then arrived in the Hague on May 11. These notes represent a new source of evidence for Brammertz, who just made a visit to Belgrade, where he hinted that Mladic, accused for the massacre of Srebrenica, is still in Serbia. The head prosecutor will present the next 6-month report on the ICTY’s activity in the second half of June to the UN Security Council. Serbia has arrested and handed over 44 of the 46 war criminals requested by the Hague and its cooperation with the ICTY also weighs on its path towards EU integration. (ANSAmeD).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Serbia: Ex-Soldiers Find Jobs With South American ‘Mafia’

Belgrade, 19 May(AKI) — Former members of Serbian paramilitary units from the 1991-1995 war that followed the disintegration of what was once Yugoslavia have found lucrative jobs protecting mafia bosses in South America, local media reported on Wednesday.

Belgrade daily Press, quoting police sources, said that as many as 50 former paramilitary soldiers might be working in Bolivia, Colombia and Argentina as body guards for mafia bosses and drug dealers.

The news broke out after three Serbs were killed last week in Bolivian city of Santa Cruz, while protecting drug trafficking boss William Suarez Gonzales. They were ambushed by a rival mafia clan disguised as police. Six people were killed and Suarez was kidnapped.

The three, Sasa Turcinovic, Bojan Bakula and Predrag Cankovic were former members of paramilitary and a special police unit “Red berets”. They operated a security agency in the city of Ruma, west of Belgrade, and left for South America a few months ago.

Serbia’s press speculated that many highly skilled former soldiers have found jobs guarding mafia bosses in South America. According to press reports, they earn between ten and 30,000 dollars per month.

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

North Africa

Egyptian Christmas Eve Shooter Threatens Witnesses in Court

by Mary Abdelmassih

(AINA) — The Christmas Eve Massacre trial held before the Emergency State Security Court in Qena on May 17 listened for the first time after eight court sessions to the testimony of witnesses.

The Massacre took place on 6 January 2010, the Coptic Orthodox Christmas Eve, when Muslims carried out a drive-by shooting of the congregation as it left midnight mass, killing 6 Copts and a Muslim, and the injuring 9 Copts. The shooting took place in three locations, one near the church, one 850 meters away and the other near the Monastery of Abu Daba, 1500 meters from the church. Two days later three Muslims, Hamman el-Kamouni, Qurashi Abou Haggag and Hendawi elSayed were arrested and charged with committing the massacre (AINA 1-7-2010).

At the previous court session on May 16, defense lawyers, in a bid to further delay the trial, had requested to see all 19 witnesses, including Anba Kirollos, Bishop of the Nag Hammadi Dioceses, as well as the examinations of the intestines of two of the murdered Copts and the Muslim policeman who was coincidentally in their company, for evidence of narcotic and alcohol consumption. They also requested a medical examination of the two Muslim witnesses for narcotic or alcohol consummation. The court denied all their requests.

The court heard on May 17 the testimony of both Muslim witnesses, taxi driver Osama Abdel-Latif and his colleague Mohamed Ibrahim, in whose taxi three people were murdered by the Muslim killers near Abu Daba Monastery. Both witnesses corroborated police reports and confirmed that el-Kamouni was the killer, using one weapon only.

“As soon as the first witness, taxi driver Osama Abdel-Latif, identified himself to the court and confirmed that el-Kamouni was the killer, El-Kamouni went berserk in his cage,” Dr. Shafik Awad, attorney of the Nag Hammadi victims told renown Coptic activist Wagih Yacoub in an aired interview. “El-Kamouni cursed the witness and threatened him by saying ‘let’s see whether later the government can help you, and how much money did you receive from the government for this testimony?’“ He stopped yelling only after the judge warned that he would be removed from court.

Both witnesses confirmed that el-Kamouni stopped the taxi and asked driver Osama whether he had any Christians passengers. Osama refused to answer, but el-Kamouni recognized the Copt Rafik Refaat, who runs a grocery shop in town. According to Osama’s testimony, el-Kamouni immediately shot him dead, and when he argued with him about the fairness of his acts, el-Kamouni threatened to also kill him if he did not keep quiet and shot several warning shots to the ground. El-Kamouni went on to shoot the other two passengers, 18-years-old Coptic student Mina Helmy and the Muslim policeman, Ayman Hashem, who was mistaken for a Copt.

Both witnesses confirmed seeing el-Kamouni and Qurashi Abou Haggag but were not sure about the third man Hendawi elSayed.

The Court heard on May 18 the third witness, Colonel Ahmad Hegazy, chief investigator at Nag Hammadi directorate, who carried out the investigation with of the three accused murderers. Hegazy confirmed that all three confessed to him during interviews that they had committed the crime. In his opinion the second and third of the men, Qurashi Abou Haggag and Hendawi elSayed, could have prevented the main perpetrator el-Kamouni from committing the crime, by refraining from accompanying him in all three crime scenes, but they were fully committed to collaborating with him.

“They started together at 11:30 PM and killed two Copts,” Awad told activist Wagih Yacoub, “then went on to the second location and killed two other Copts, and finally to Abu Daba Monastery to kill the two Copts and the Muslim policeman.”

Hegazy dismissed the link between the Christmas Eve Massacre and the alleged rape of the 12-years-old Muslim girl in Farshout by the Copt Guirgis Baroumi, as was falsely propagated by the Egyptian government and the media. He said that there is no family relationship or any incentive to make the killers commit the Nag Hammadi crime in retaliation for the Muslim girl. Hegazy was also the investigating officer of the Farshout case (AINA 4-10-2010).

“During Colonel Hegazy’s testimony, el-Kamouni was extremely angry and kept on threatening and cursing him,” Dr. Awad said.

Dr. Awad expressed his concern that the Emergency State Security Court in Qena has not been recording the names of the lawyers representing the victims who were present during the last three sessions, which is against article 271 of the criminal regulations, to protect the rights of victims to be represented. “We do not want to start another clash with this court and ask for change of court, at the same time we cannot neglect the rights of the victims to be represented,” Awad said. “We want to make sure we get the appropriate conviction and compensation for the victims. We also refuse to be completely marginalized by the court,” he added. Lawyers for the victims presented a request to the court to this effect.

Mahmoud Abdel-Salam, the presiding judge at the Emergency State Security Court in Qena , was also presiding over the case of Guirgis Baroumi in Farshout. The defense team of Baroumi clashed several times with the court in Farshout, as they were prevented from seeing their client, and asked for a change of court. Although their request was denied, judge Abdel-Salam resigned on May 15 from overseeing the Farshout case due to “the court’s embarrassment caused by the defense team’s request to change the court.” Many observers believe the relationship between Coptic lawyers and judge Abdel-Salam has been strained since the clashes in Farshout.

Awad said they are in agreement with the Prosecution, which is demanding the death penalty. In his opinion, the testimonies of the two Muslim witnesses, Osama Abdel-Latif and Mohamed Ibrahim, in addition to the “strong and very impressive testimony of Colonel Hegazy” should be enough for the death penalty for the perpetrators.

Cases adjudicated before State Security courts have no possibility of appeal and the rulings come in a form of a “decision” which is sent to the President of the Republic to be ratified, thereby becoming final.

The trial has been adjourned to June 19 to hear the testimony of the Chief of Forensics regarding the weapons used in the killings.

According to many who were present in the court, El-Kamouni’s father vowed out loud during the court sessions that should his son be convicted, “this would mean the end of all Christians in Nag Hammadi.”

           — Hat tip: Mary Abdelmassih[Return to headlines]

France: First Stone for Marseilles Mosque

(ANSAmed) — PARIS, MAY 20 — The rector of the Paris Mosque, Dalil Boubakeur, the Algerian Ambassador to France, Missoum Sbih, the President of the Provence-Cote Azure Province, Michel Vauzelle, and the Mayor of Marseilles, Jean-Claude Gaudin, took part this morning in the ceremony for the placing of the first stone of the Great Mosque of Marseilles, destined to be one of the biggest Muslim buildings in France. A symbolic ceremony, given that the money required for the project, whose estimated cost is 22 million Euros, has not yet been collected, as was underlined by the Mayor of the city with a Muslim community of about 200 thousand people, not all practicing Muslims. The Great Mosque and its 2,500 square metre prayer hall will be erected on the site of the ancient slaughter-houses in the fifteenth arrondissement of Marseilles, on 8,600 square metres of land for which the ‘The Marseilles Mosque” association, presided by Noureddin Sheikh, pays the Municipality a rent of 24 thousand Euros a year. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

Freed Hamas Official Calls for Deal to Free Shalit

Jerusalem, 20 May (AKI) — A Hamas official freed on Thursday after four years in an Israeli prison has urged Israeli leaders to reach an agreement with his organisation to release abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Mohammed Abu Tir, one of 65 senior Hamas members arrested following Shalit’s capture in a cross-border raid from the Gaza Strip in 2006, said if it was up to him, he would expedite a prisoner exchange.

“All Israeli leaders are against the deal to release Gilad Shalit,” Abu Tir told reporters following his release.

“They reached a deal a number of times, but never followed through. Just like I have a family, a father, mother and children, Gilad Shalit also has a mother and father who want him.”

“If only there was a deal, but it’s not in my hands, it is in the hands of the leaders,” said Abu Tir.

“Israel’s leaders must think about this. I don’t like that Shalit is being held hostage, just as I didn’t like being held hostage.”

When asked how he felt having been released from prison, Abu Tir said: “I feel good, thank God. I paid a heavy price.”

Israel has so far released nine of the Hamas officials who were jailed after Shalit’s abduction.

Shalit (photo) was seized by Palestinian militants in a cross-border raid in June 2006 and has been held as a hostage in the Gaza Strip by Hamas ever since.

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

Israel: Hamas Official Freed

(ANSAmed) — JERUSALEM, MAY 20 — After 43 months in detention, Muhammad Abu Their, a Hamas official living in East Jerusalem and a member of the Palestinian legislative council in Ramallah, has today been freed. Abu Their was arrested by Israeli security services (together with other Hamas parliamentarians) immediately after the kidnapping in Gaza of the Israeli corporal Ghilad Shalit, who is still being held by Hamas. Upon his return home, Abu Their said that he shared Shalit’s desire to be freed, but also accused the Israeli government of so failing to carry out an exchange of prisoners with Hamas, mediated by Egypt and Germany.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Video: Top Obama Advisor Refers to Jerusalem by Arabic Name

“In all my travels the city I have come to love most is al-Quds, Jerusalem where three great faiths come together.”

Editor’s note: John Brennan is Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Adviser for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Middle East

Al-Qaeda Appeals to Women to Fight in Yemen

Sanaa, 20 May (AKI) — Al-Qaeda has launched an appeal to Muslim women, particularly those in Saudi Arabia, to travel to Yemen and wage jihad. The appeal was made by Wafa al-Shahri, wife of Al-Qaeda’s second in command in Yemen, Said al-Shahri, in an article published in the latest issue of the online magazine ‘Sada al-Malahim’.

The woman, considered the most important among terrorist organisations, was directing her message in particular to Al-Qaeda colleagues in Saudi Arabia.

“Those of you who are religious should immediately come to Yemen,” she wrote. “ If your men folk are not able to defend you, come here where you will be protected.

“In Yemen we have found men, among Al-Qaeda militants and members of local tribes, who have helped us.”

The young woman admitted to having led a terror cell, uncovered by Saudi security services on 24 March in al-Bureida. At least 113 people were arrested.

Wafa al-Shahri, whose battle name is Umm Hajir al-Azdi, is wanted by Saudi authorities.

Before her marriage to the deputy leader of the group, she had been married to two other Al-Qaeda militants.

The first husband was Saudi Al Shaia al-Qahtani, whom she divorced, while the second was Abdel Rahman al-Ghamidi, killed by royal police at Taif in 2004.

Wafa, married Said al-Shahri two years ago soon after he had been released from the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

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

Iran: Jewish State Could be ‘Destroyed in a Week’

Tehran, 20 May (AKI) — If Israel attacked Iran it would be destroyed within a week, hardline Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, has said. He issued the warning in an address to an ultra-conservative conference in northern Iran.

“If the Zionist regime attacks Iran, the Zionists will have no longer than a week to live,” Israel’s YNetNews cited Mashaei as saying.

Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency quoted Mashaei as saying that the Islamic Republic would destroy Israel “in less than 10 days”.

Mashaei, a former vice-president of Iran and political ally of Ahmadinejad, added that any new sanctions imposed on the Islamic Republic over its nuclear programme would only harm western countries.

A United States-prepared draft resolution against Iran was made public on Wednesday, prompting Tehran to accuse the West of inventing excuses to exert political pressure.

The new draft resolution calls on Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment activities or face further UN Security Council sanctions.

If ratified, the draft will ban countries from selling new categories of heavy weaponry to Iran.

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

Iraq: Bin Laden Deputy Lauds Slain Al-Qaeda Leaders

Baghdad, 20 May (AKI) — A new audio tape purportedly from Al-Qaeda’s second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri has paid homage to two leaders of Al-Qaeda in Iraq who were killed last month, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and Ayub al-Masri. Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden is expected to release an audio message to honour the dead pair in the next few days, according to jihadist websites.

“You, al-Baghdadi, were a great leader of the Islamic State of Iraq, you knew how take it over most ably from your comrade in arms, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi,” said the taped message, aired by Arabic satellite TV channel Al-Jazeera, which has yet to be authenticated.

The Al-Qaeda affiliated Islamic State of Iraq is an umbrella group made up a number of insurgent groups.

Jordanian-born Al-Zarqawi, who was believed to have personally carried out a series of beheadings, died in an air raid on his hideout in Iraq in 2006.

Al-Baghdadi was the political leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq.

He and al-Masri, an Egyptian militant who was the insurgent group’s self-styled “minister of war,” were killed on 18 April in a joint US-Iraq operation near northern city of Tikrit.

Al-Qaeda linked Somali insurgent group Al-Shabab, Al-Qaeda’s North African branch Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and several Salafite groups operating in the Gaza Strip have all released messages of condolences.

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

Kuwait: Activists in Kuwait Call for Women Judges

A year after winning seats in parliament, Kuwaiti women prepare another battle for equality. At a symposium on women’s rights, supporters say that neither Islam nor Kuwaiti law bar women from judicial appointment. A liberal lawmaker appeals to Kuwait’s emir and prime minister to act on the matter.

Kuwait City (AsiaNews/Agencies) — Kuwaiti activists and their supporters on Monday called for the appointment of women to the Gulf state’s judiciary, stressing that neither Islam nor Kuwaiti law bar women from being appointed to the judiciary.

After winning the right to run for parliament, which led to Kuwait’s first elected female lawmakers in last year’s elections, women and their supporters are preparing for another battle for equality in this deeply Islamic country, where however other recognised religions can be practiced.

“There is no legal barrier in Kuwait’s law and constitution that prevents women from becoming judges,” Omar al-Issa, head of the Kuwait Bar Association, told a symposium on women’s rights.

The event was jointly organised by the Kuwait Bar Association and the American Bar Association, and was attended by women judges and attorneys from Bahrain, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, the Netherlands and the United States.

It coincides with the first anniversary of four Kuwaiti women winning parliamentary seats, a first for this small but rich Gulf state.

“All we need for this matter in Kuwait is a political decision. We appeal to the emir and the prime minister to directly appoint women as judges,” liberal MP Ali al-Rashed told the symposium.

Last month, the constitutional court rejected a lawsuit by a Kuwaiti female lawyer after she complained that her application for appointment in the public prosecution was rejected because of her gender.

So far, the conservative Muslim state has followed a strict interpretation of Islamic laws as defined by some religious scholars who claim that women are not allowed to become judges.

Women’s rights activist and veteran lawyer Salma al-Ajmi has challenged that view, saying that the job of a judge is an entirely technical and professional matter as is clearly stated in Kuwaiti law.

Until 2005, only Kuwaiti men over 30 not in the armed forces could vote. Some 139,000 Kuwaitis were thus eligible voters; that represented 15 per cent of Kuwaiti nationals or 5 per cent of the total population. On 16 May of that year, parliament granted women the right to vote.

However, Kuwaiti citizenship is hard to get and most immigrants are excluded. At present, the overall electorate represents only 10 per cent of the country’s resident population.

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

Lebanon: Pleasure Crafts’ Sales Rise

(ANSAmed) — BEIRUT, MAY 20 — The sixth edition of the ‘Beirut Boat Show’, which is returning after an absence of three years, coincides with a significant recovery of pleasure crafts and yacht sales in Lebanon, which recorded a 60% rise in 2009 compared to the previous year. This reassuring figure, according to a report by the Italian Trade Commission in Beirut, is amplified by a further 40% increase even in the first few months of 2010. The ‘Beirut Boat Show’ has a surface area of 47,000 square metres and hosts more than a hundred boats of various styles and dimensions, the latest yacht prototypes and pleasure boats, as well as a number of services and accessories inherent to the nautical sector. There are 100 international exhibitors at the fair, including a few Italians. 25,000 people are expected to visit the show. According to recent figures from Lebanese customs, quoted by the Italian Trade Commission, imports of pleasure boats to Lebanon in 2009 totalled 24 million dollars, with half of the boats coming from Italy. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Saudi Arabia: Ulema Council Brands “Sinner” Those Who Fund Terrorism

Saudi religious leaders say any subversive act is “forbidden” by Islamic law, including economic support for fundamentalists. Some passages from the Koran are included in the norm. Muslim Analysts: norm a smokescreen for the facade of the West, but will have no effect.

Riyadh (AsiaNews / Agencies) — Financing terrorism is “prohibited by Islamic Sharia law” and therefore “a punishable crime.” The Saudi Ulema Council of elders, representing the most influential religious leaders of the country, have defined as “prohibited” by Islamic law any act of terrorism. The Council, appointed by the government, has included “aiding or attempting to commit a terrorist act of any kind” as “a punishable crime.”

The norm issued by the Ulema will dispel any doubt or misunderstanding about what “supporting terrorists” means and labels them as “sinners”. Muslim experts in international politics, however, believe that the resolution is “a message to the West”, to show that Saudi Arabia is committed to fighting terrorism. However, they stress that it is more of a smoke-screen than an effective measure to defeat the fundamentalist fringe.

In order to give greater weight to the resolution some passages from the Koran are quoted, which show the need to follow “piety and virtue” and condemn those who “helps others to sin.” However, analysts believe that the fatwa will have little control “over those who finance terrorist groups.

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

U.S. Adviser: Washington Hopes to Promote Hezbollah ‘Moderates’

United States President Barack Obama’s administration is looking for ways to build up “moderate elements” within the Lebanese Hezbollah guerrilla movement and to diminish the influence of hard-liners, a top White House official said on Tuesday.

John Brennan, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, met with Lebanese leaders during a recent visit.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

US Hikers Are Spies: Iran Intelligence Minister

Iran’s intelligence minister on Wednesday accused three U.S. hikers in custody for the past 10 months of being spies, as their mothers arrived in Tehran.

“Iran has allowed the mothers … to visit their children as a humanitarian act based on religious rules to show the world the Islamic Republic’s behavior in this case,” Intelligence Minister Heidar Moslehi was quoted as saying by the ISNA news agency, referring to a decision by Iran to grant visas for the mothers.

The three women, who have been granted one-week visas, are expected to be reunited with their children as early as Thursday at Tehran’s notorious Evin prison, one of their lawyers, Masoud Shafii, told AFP.

Shane Bauer, 27, Sarah Shourd, 31, and Josh Fattal, 27, were detained on July 31 after straying across Iran’s border in what they described as a mistake while on a hiking trip in northern Iraq’s Kurdistan region.

The trio are being held in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison. Washington insists they are innocent and should be released.

“Despite their being spies and entering Iran illegally, they were dealt with according to religious teachings and in a humanitarian way,” Moslehi said.

The families of the three deny the spying allegations and say they merely strayed into Iran while hiking in northern Iraq.

“We have to see how the Americans will react towards the innocent Iranians kidnapped and transferred there,” Moslehi added.

In December, Iranian media published a list of 11 Iranians they said were being held by the United States or other countries.

They added that Iran’s foreign ministry was pressing “vigorously” for the release of the 11, three of whom have allegedly been detained in countries outside the United States at Washington’s request.

“Compelling evidence”

Moslehi first made the allegation that the trio were spies in April when he said Iran had “compelling evidence that three Americans were cooperating with intelligence services.”

In March, Tehran public prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi said the three faced espionage charges.

But last December, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said they were accused of entering the country illegally.

On Sunday, French teacher Clotilde Reiss, who was arrested on spying charges in July, was sent home from Iran. France has denied it agreed a prisoner exchange deal and said there was no connection to the release on Tuesday of an Iranian jailed in France for killing Iran’s last prime minister under the Shah.

The United States has no diplomatic relations with Iran. Swiss diplomats represent U.S. interests there but Washington has said they have been given very little access to the three Americans.

Iran has given no official indication it is preparing to release the trio although the visit itself was seen as a breakthrough.

Tehran has detained several U.S.-Iranians on suspicion of harming national security, including academic Kian Tajbakhsh who was jailed for five years following protests in the wake of last June’s disputed presidential election.

Ties between Tehran and Washington have been poisoned for decades, with tensions now focused on the Islamic republic’s controversial nuclear program, suspected by Western powers of being cover for a weapons drive.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

‘Wage Slavery’ Way Out for Sons of Rich Farmers in Turkey

The road that links Kirkagaç to Manisa is filled with dozens of banners that show farmers are trying to sell their land. ‘The sons of rich farmers of a decade ago are working at minimum wage jobs,’ says one farmer

Part 3 of series with daily Vatan: Turkey’s Bitter Harvest

The soil of Kirkagaç, an important agricultural center in the Aegean city of Manisa, is so rich that everything from cotton to tobacco and from olives to corn can be grown there.

Farmers here do not have to mostly grow wheat, as is common in Central Anatolia, nor do they rely on tea or nuts as do farmers in the Black Sea region. In the plains, Kirkagaç farmers grow olives, vegetables, watermelons and corn, while in the mountainous regions stockbreeding is more common.

“Total cultivable land is around 60,000 acres, but only 35,500 acres are registered,” said Süleyman Bogaz, chief of the Kirkagaç Chamber of Agriculture. “Out of this, olives are planted on 22,500 acres, while 5,000 acres are reserved for corn. The famous Kirkagaç watermelon is grown on around 2,500 acres. The rest is used to grow vegetables, fruits and sunflowers.”

Despite the diversity of products grown there, though, the situation in Kirkagaç is not very different from that in other regions of Turkey.

“Until seven or eight years ago, the main products were olives, cotton and tobacco,” said Bogaz. “But due to government policies on cotton and tobacco, farmers were no longer able to earn a living and resorted to bank credits out of necessity. At the moment, I can say that all registered land has been offered as security to banks.”

Kirkagaç grows 25,000 tons of olives, 25,000 tons of watermelons, 20,000 tons of tomatoes and 3,000 tons of tobacco on average each year. “Our contribution to the national economy is about 100 million Turkish Liras per year,” said Bogaz. “But we have debts of 120 million liras. Not all of this amount can be paid. At the moment, banks have 22 million liras of bad credit here. Other than that, we have farmers who have been taken to court because they couldn’t pay their debts. The number of dossiers at the bailiff’s office has surpassed 6,000.”

Bogaz said he is touring branches of many banks, warning them not to give any more credit to farmers.

According to the chamber chief, the hardship farmers face is because of prices. “For the past three years, the sales price for products has not changed. But raw material prices are not the same, that’s for sure,” he said. “Three years ago, a liter of diesel cost 2 liras. Now it is 2.9 liras. A sack of fertilizer was 25 liras, while now it costs 60 liras. A sack of seed cost 125 liras three years ago. The price is 190 liras today. Meanwhile, the price of cotton and tobacco has fallen.”

Not even paying for irrigation:

Farmers in the region have thus been eating away at their accumulated money over the past three years. When that ran out, the only chance left was bank credits, Bogaz said. “That is over now, too. Everybody is in debt,” he added. “We have a Central Irrigation Cooperative here that irrigates 1,250 acres of land. It could not pay an electricity bill of 300,000 liras. Now bailiffs are selling off the transformers. The cooperative could not pay the bill because it could not get any irrigation payment from farmers.”

Mustafa Sezer, 68, sells watermelons on the road into Kirkagaç and said he has 8.75 acres left from his father. “It is only me who does not have any debts here, because I do not cultivate my land,” he said. “If I ever tried to do that, I’d have to borrow at least 10,000 liras from the banks. The annual cost with interest would be around 13,000 liras. Whatever I grow, I cannot make that kind of money. Thus, my land is empty.”

The last time Sezer grew something was in 2001. Now, he lives on a retirement wage of 550 liras a month.

The road that links Kirkagaç to Manisa is filled with dozens of banners: “Land for Sale” they all say. But it is hard to see a single farmer working in the vast fields. Among hundreds of fields, there were 15 workers in one, hired by Rahmet Sarikul, who said he is not the landowner but has purchased the spinach from the owner and plans to take it to Istanbul to earn some money. If his plan works out, he may be able to pay off part of a 150,000 liras debt.

“I paid 55 kurus per kilo,” Sarikul said. “One crate is around 15 kilos and costs 2 liras. Transportation per crate and labor costs per crate would be another 2 liras each. For 15 kilos, I’ll pay 8.25 liras to the owner of the land. This means I’ll have a profit of 75 kurus per crate. If I get 30 tons of spinach from the land, this would mean a profit of 1,500 liras. That is nothing, but it’s better than sitting idle.”

Business good at used tractor market:

Kirkagaç also hosts Turkey’s biggest second-hand tractor market, where 60 stores attract buyers and sellers from across the country. Süleyman Sezer, who has been a storeowner for the past three decades, said around 3,000 tractors are being sold at the stores and the circulation is “extremely high.”

“For the past few years, second-hand tractors have been selling well,” he said. “The 3,000 tractors here will be sold in a month and they will be replaced by others.”

According to Sezer, good sales are the result of bank credit. “When interest rates fell to around 30 percent from 80 percent, farmers started buying brand new tractors,” he said. “From 2003 to 2007, not even one second-hand tractor was sold. Everyone took out loans to buy new ones. Then, when payback time came, problems arose. That’s when our business picked up again. Farmers are selling the 50,000-lira tractors and are buying used ones from us at around 10,000 liras. With the money left to them, they are trying to pay back bank debts.”

The land here is also known for it famous Sultaniye grapes. A ton of fresh grapes last year sold for as much as 3,000 liras, some farmers said. This year, the price is predicted to be 2,000 liras.

Metin Özdemir, a 48-year-old father of two, is among those whose hopes are tied to grape prices. He owns 3.75 acres, but also uses another 3.75 acres that he rents from a bailiff. He owes a debt of 30,000 liras to just one bank.

“If you see a farmer using a new tractor, you should understand that his situation is much worse than mine,” Özdemir said. “Their way of getting by is that they sell their old tractors for 8,000 to 10,000 liras. Then they buy a new one without a down payment, and in five installments. If I have to, I will sell my tractor too, and then get a new one with installments.”

Thus, the farmers are selling their vehicles for around 10,000 liras and buying new ones for 50,000 liras, in order to escape financial hardship. “What else can we do?” asked Özdemir. “Nobody buys land. Even if someone bought the land, what would he do with it? Look around in all these villages and you cannot find a single young man. The sons of the rich farmers of a decade ago are finding minimum-wage jobs and are feeling good about it.”

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

South Asia

Afghanistan: U.S. Investigating GIs in Afghan Deaths

The Army is investigating allegations that soldiers from a “rogue squad” may have illegally killed three Afghan civilians in Kandahar province earlier this year, U.S. military officials told NBC News.

Investigators are also looking into reports of illegal drug use and a conspiracy to cover up the alleged crimes, according to NBC News. The alleged ringleader of the group is in pretrial confinement, and seven others are under investigation.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

After Facebook, Pakistan Shuts Down Youtube

Pakistan has blocked the popular video sharing website YouTube indefinitely in a bid to contain “blasphemous” material, officials said on Thursday.

The blockade came hours after the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) directed Internet service providers to stop access to social network site Facebook indefinitely on Wednesday because of an online competition to draw the Prophet Mohammad.

Any representation of the Prophet Mohammad is deemed un-Islamic and blasphemous by Muslims.

Wahaj-us-Siraj, the CEO of Nayatel, an Internet service provider, said PTA issued an order late on Wednesday seeking an “immediate” block of YouTube.

“It was a serious instruction as they wanted us to do it quickly and let them know after that,” he told Reuters.

YouTube was also blocked in the Muslim country in 2007 for about a year for what it called un-Islamic videos.

PTA spokesman, Khurram Ali Mehran, said the action was taken after the authority determined that content considered blasphemous by devout Muslims was being posted on the website.

“Before shutting down (YouTube), we did try just to block particular URLs or links, and access to 450 links on the Internet were stopped, but the blasphemous content kept appearing so we ordered a total shut down,” he said.

He regretted that the administrators at the Facebook and YouTube had not taken the content off despite Pakistan’s protests.

“Their attitude was in contravention to international resolutions and their own policies advertised on the Web for the general public,” Mehran said.

The PTA issued a statement Thursday saying, “PTA would welcome the concerned authorities of Facebook and YouTube to contact the PTA for resolving the issue at the earliest which ensures religious harmony and respect.”

The PTA decision to block all of Facebook also cut Pakistanis off from groups and pages dedicated to opposing the competition, which have thousands more supporters than the competition does.

Along with the ban, some popular websites, including Wikipedia and Flickr, have been inaccessible in Pakistan since Wednesday night. But the spokesman said it happened purely due to a technical reason and no orders were passed against them.

He said the authority was monitoring other websites as well.

“Blackberry services”

Siraj said the blocking of the two websites would cut up to a quarter of total Internet traffic in Pakistan.

“It’ll have an impact on the overall Internet traffic as they eat up 20 to 25 percent of the country’s total 65 giga-bytes traffic,” he said.

After the PTA’s directives against Facebook and YouTube, Pakistani mobile companies blocked all Blackberry services on Wednesday night but restored services used by non-corporate users later on Thursday.

“We have intimated to the Blackberry service administrators in Canada to block them and once it’s done, the service will be restored fully,” said Farhan Butt, an official at Pakistan’s biggest cellular company, Mobilink.

The closure of services worried Blackberry users.

“The biggest concern for us … is the delay in decision making,” said Zahid Sheikh, head of information technology department at National Foods Limited in Karachi city.

“Our top officials and senior management are not always in office. They do travel and work from remote locations, and with this shut down, they can’t access emails.”

Publications of similar cartoons in Danish newspapers in 2005 sparked deadly protests in Muslim countries. Around 50 people were killed during violent protests in Muslim countries in 2006 over the cartoons, five of them in Pakistan.

Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for a suicide attack on Denmark’s embassy in Islamabad in 2008, killing six people, saying it was in revenge for publication of the caricatures.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Bangladesh: Dhaka, Female Murder Victim Laid to Rest in Christian Cemetery

The identity of the victim, whose body was found April 30 at the edge of a road, is unknown. The authorities have entrusted the task of burial to the Catholic Church because she wore a medallion with the image of the Virgin Mary. The body showed signs of violence.

Dhaka (AsiaNews) — The identity of the Bangladeshi woman, victim on 30 April of a probable murder, remains unknown, but she can at least rest in peace — buried in a Christian cemetery in Dhaka. For more than two weeks, her body was kept in a morgue. On 16 May the judge ordered Christian burial rites. The decision was taken because the murdered woman wore a necklace with the image of the Virgin Mary.

Sahjahan Hossain deputy inspector of police in Badda — a sub-district of Dhaka — reports that “on April 30 last we found the body of a dead woman wrapped in blankets in a manhole at the roadside.” The body showed signs of torture and abuse, especially to the neck and head. But the police officer’s attention was attracted by a medal with the image of the Virgin Mary, which she wore at the time of the murder, and from which they deduced her “probable” Christian faith.

The woman’s corpse was held in the morgue for 19 days, without anyone coming forward to indentify the body. Pictures of the woman were released in newspapers and on TV, but to no avail. On 16 May, the chief judge of Dhaka ordered her burial in the Christian cemetery of the capital, the police, meanwhile, have opened an investigation for murder against unknown persons.

At first the authorities have sought the aid of Anjuman Mopfidul, who deals with the burial of unidentified bodies. He objected, explaining that the woman was wearing a Christian medal and should not be buried among Muslims.

When police issued the clearance, Fr. Joyti Costa of St. Mary’s Cathedral, celebrated the funeral and proceeded to give a decent burial to the unidentified body. A decision welcomed by human rights activists, who applaud the choice of the Catholic Church to “look first of all to love of the person, rather than the religion they belong to”.

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

Germany: Afghan Mission Costing Triple Ministry Estimates

Germany’s military contribution to NATO operations in Afghanistan costs three times as much as Defence Ministry figures report, according to the DIW economics institute on Thursday.

Cited by financial monthly Manager Magazin, DIW researchers have calculated that the Bundeswehr operations in the war-torn country cost roughly €3 billion per year, but Defence Ministry estimates say costs are at just €1 billion per year.

“This study does not investigate whether the Afghanistan deployment is sensible or not,” head of the DIW’s world economy division Tilman Brück told the magazine. “But only when the public knows the numbers can a well-founded political debate occur on the topic of whether the political aims of the Afghanistan war justify the economic costs — or whether the money could have been put to use better elsewhere.”

The DIW study estimated that final costs of Afghan operations will be around €36 billion, though the magazine said they had predicted an “optimistic” scenario that current troop levels are enough to stabilise the country so the Bundeswehr could begin pulling out by 2013.

Another less-optimistic projection said that if conditions worsened the German government would have to double troop levels and not withdraw until 2020 — which would then cost twice as much.

In addition to Defence Ministry figures, the DIW calculated Afghanistan-related costs in other ministries, the costs of wounded and fallen soldiers, and the interest on financing for the deployment.

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

India: Dantewada: Naxalite Maoists Attack Bus, Killing 45 People

Special police officers are among the killed. The attack, the second of its kind in just over a month, took place in Dantewada district (Chhattisgarh), some 400 kilometres from the state capital. Security forces are now on high alert in five states as Maoists today launch a 48-hour general strike to protest the government military offensive against them.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) — The death toll from yesterday’s bus attack by Naxalite Maoist rebels in Dantewada district, some 400 kilometres from Raipur, state capital of Chhattisgarh, has risen to 45, including several special police officers (SPO). The bus, which was carrying SPOs as well as civilians, was travelling to Bhusaras. The vehicle blew up when it drove over an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) placed on the road and detonated by remote control. In a similar attack last month in the same district, the Naxalites killed 76 members of the Central Reserve Police Force.

Indian security forces are now on maximum alert in the states of Orissa, Bihar, West Bengal, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh after Maoist rebels launched a 48-hour bandh (general strike) to protest against the government, which began an offensive against the Maoists back in October 2009 to retake areas under their control. In less than a year, some 300 people have been killed in the operation whilst another 50,000 has had to flee their homes.

The Maoist revolt began in 1967 in the village of Naxalbari (West Bengal) when a group of peasants turned against local landowners over a land dispute.

In recent years, India’s economic development has led to more confrontations as peasants resist land seizures. Increasingly, they have backed the Maoist insurgency.

Naxalites and other extreme leftwing groups are active in states like Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Orissa. Here, Maoists can field a military force of some 10,000 members, organised in the People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army, made up mostly of illiterate peasants.

In response to this threat, the central government has set up independent paramilitary forces outside of the regular armed forces.

Lenin Raghuvanshi, director of the People’s Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR), slammed the attacks, saying, “there is no justification for killing.”

“Maoists are the armed opposition group with the worst record of human rights violations,” he said. “They do not represent any democratic movement and conduct kangaroo trials by so-called People’s Courts, which summarily judge and execute their political opponents, after labelling them, ‘police informers’.”

For the human rights activist, the government has to shoulder some of the blame for the situation, especially after it unleashed an offensive using paramilitary groups. This has only fuelled the rebels’ violence.

In Raghuvanshi’s view, India is now faced with a new form of leftwing extremism, concentrated in a ‘red corridor’ that runs from Nepal in the north to Tamil Nadu in the far south. (N.C.)

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

Indonesia: Terrorist Suspect Turns Himself in to Police

Jakarta 20 May (AKI/Jakarta Post) — Suspected terrorist Abu Hamzah turned himself into police on Wednesday to clear his name after seeing his name on a list of militant fugitives.

He said he turned himself in “to clear myself of any involvement in the terror cell. I felt trapped, I didn’t know it was a terror cell.”

National Police spokesman Insp. Gen. Edward Aritonang confirmed the surrender, saying that Hamzah did it after noticing that his name was on the police’s fugitive list.

“He once underwent a military-style training in Aceh. He also met Dulmatin there,” Edward said.

Hamzah said he was initially drawn to Aceh because he wanted to live a more “Islamic” life.

“Aceh had implemented Shariah law, and I wanted in,” Hamzah said. “So when I met this guy called Ibrahim and he asked me to go there with him, I was quick to agree.”

Accompanied by his lawyer, Sugito Admo Prawiro, Hamzah arrived at the National Police headquarters in Jakarta .

Hamzah was among the 30 terrorist fugitives announced by the police in March and is reported to be a cousin of Indonesian soap-opera actress Shireen Sungkar.

Edward said that once in Aceh, Hamzah filmed the activities at the militant group’s training camps, handing over the footage to two brothers, Adbul Rohman and Adbul Rahim, both university students in Solo. Both brothers were arrested on Monday.

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

Pakistan: Youtube Blocked for ‘Blasphemy’

Islamabad, 20 May (AKI/DAWN) — Pakistan has blocked the popular video sharing website YouTube in a bid to contain “blasphemous” material, officials said on Thursday. The obscuring of the website came after the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority directed Internet service providers to stop access to social network Facebook because of an online competition to draw the Prophet Mohammed.

Wahaj-us-Siraj, the chief executive of Nayatel, an Internet service provider, said the PTA issued an order late on Wednesday seeking an “immediate” blockade of YouTube.

“It was a serious instruction as they wanted us to do it quickly and let them know after that,” he said.

YouTube which was briefly disabled in Pakistan in 2008 ostensibly for material deemed offensive to Muslims, has not responded to the latest move.

YouTube was also blocked in Pakistan in 2007 for about a day for what it called un-Islamic videos.

A PTA official, who declined to be identified, said the action was taken after the authority determined that some caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed had been transferred from Facebook to YouTube.

Any representation of the prophet is deemed un-Islamic and blasphemous by Muslims.

Siraj said the blocking of the two websites would cut up to 25 per cent of total Internet traffic in Pakistan.

“It’ll have an impact on the overall Internet traffic as they eat up 20 to 25 per cent of the country’s total 65 gigabytes traffic,” he said.

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

Pakistan: After Facebook, The Blasphemy Law Also Blocks Youtube

The Telecommunications Authority decided to close the website that allows the sharing of videos. Behind the decision, the transfer from Facebook to YouTube of material that offends the prophet Muhammad. Some Wikipedia pages also obscured.

Islamabad (AsiaNews) — After the “temporary” ban on Facebook agreed yesterday, Pakistan has blocked access to YouTube, the popular website that allows the sharing of videos among its users. The local Dawn newspaper cited “official sources” that the decision will “reduce the spread of blasphemous material”, as happened yesterday in the case of social networks. Islamabad’s crackdown on Internet in the name of defending the values of Islam and prophet Mohammed is getting tighter.

Khurram Mehran, spokesman for the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA), told AFP that “we blocked [YouTube] because it contains objectionable material”. He adds that “we have blocked started to block the URL [containing the offending material], because of complaints received” which later became a total ban. The spokesman declined to explain the reasons behind the decision in detail.

The closure of YouTube came only a few hours after the ban on the social network Facebook, which will remain inaccessible until May 31. Behind the decision, the nationwide protest sparked by a page where users are invited to “publish caricatures of Prophet Muhammad.” A sort of online competition, from which the “best” will be chosen, a move that was also condemned today by many media throughout the Arab world.

Wahaj-us-Siraj, Director General of Nayatel, a Pakistani internet provider told the daily Dawn that the PTA issued an order late yesterday imposing an “immediate” block on YouTube. An official of the Telecommunications Authority, on condition of anonymity, said the measures are linked “to the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, that they ended up on YouTube from Facebook.”

The general manager of Nayatel went on to explain that shutdown of two giants like Facebook and YouTube involves a “cutting up to 25% of the total traffic of Internet in Pakistan, which is about 65 giga-bytes in total.

According to the latest information, including some Wikipedia pages are also inaccessible. The blasphemy law, a pretext to attack religious minorities in the country and violently resolve local conflicts, has extended its tentacles to the world-wide web, of which freedom of thought and expression is its strength.

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

Pakistan Blocks Youtube Over UN-Islamic Content

Pakistan blocked YouTube and many other Internet sites Thursday in a widening crackdown on online content deemed offensive to Islam, reflecting the secular government’s sensitivities to an issue that has ignited protests in the Muslim country.

The move came a day after the government obeyed a court order to block Facebook over a page called “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day!” that encourages users to post images of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad. Most Muslims regard depictions of the prophet, even favorable ones, as blasphemous.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Far East

Korea: Accused of Having Sunk the Chenoan Gunboat, Pyongyang Threatens “Total War”

The results of the inquiry committee into the sinking of the Chenoan gunboat lays the blame on a North Korean torpedo. Communist regime strongly rejects the accusations and threatens to launch a war if South Korea and the international community impose new sanctions.

Seoul (AsiaNews / Agencies) — Evidence of responsibility for the sinking of the Chenoan gunboat is likely to bring the two Koreas on the brink of another war. According to the official results of an multinational investigation a North Korean torpedo caused the explosion that March 26 sunk the ship, killing 46 sailors”.

“The evidence clearly indicates that the torpedo was launched from a North Korean submarine — revealed the recently published report of the Committee of Inquiry — there is no other possible explanation.” Scientists have found remains of a North Korean manufactured torpedo with clearly legible serial numbers at the scene of the sinking.

Through an unidentified government spokesman, Pyongyang has denied all responsibility slamming the findings as “pure fabrication” Seoul and has threatened to take “strong measures” even to the point of declaring “all out war”, if new sanctions are adopted.

South Korean President Lee has taken a tough line: “We will be taking firm, responsive measures against the North, and through international cooperation, we have to make the North admit its wrongdoing and come back as a responsible member of the international community.”

For its part the international community condemns the incident. The United States has described the sinking as “an act of aggression” and “unacceptable behaviour” by North Korea. The reaction from China, Pyongyang’s main ally in the region, has been rather more cautious. Through its foreign minister, Beijing describes the episode as “regrettable”, but does not go as far as to give its support to Seoul, while Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama expressed “strong condemnation”. UN Secretary General of Ban Ki-moon has called the results of the investigation “very disturbing”, promising to closely monitor developments.

Meanwhile in the capital of South Korean people today held the first round of protests against the communist regime in the north.

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

Tunisia-China: Trade Exceeds 1 Billion Dollars

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, MAY 20 — Trade between Tunisia and China last year reached a figure of 1.2 billion dollars, a 55% increase on the previous year. The numbers were released during the fourth China and Arab States Cooperation Forum (CASCF). Li Beifen, China’s ambassador to Tunisia, said that “since the creation of the CASCF in 2004, bilateral development between the two countries has been broader, more pragmatic, more agile and more in-depth”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


50,000 Non-Western Immigrants Would Cost €7.2bn, Says Nyfer

An immigrant from a non-western country aged between 25 and 35 jaar will cost the public sector between €40,000 and €50,000 during his or her life time, according to research by private institute Nyfer for the anti-immigration PVV.

Nyfer calculates the arrival of 25,000 non-western immigrants and 25,000 children in the Netherlands every year will cost society some €7.2bn a year. According to the national statistics office CBS, some 48,000 non-western immigrants arrived in the Netherlands in 2008, while 30,000 left.

Immigrants from non-western countries are more likely to make use of subsidised housing, the health service and the social security system than other groups and contribute less to the treasury in terms of taxes and premiums, the Nyfer report says. They are also more likely to be involved in crime.

On the plus side, they are less likely to use subsidised childcare or become involved in higher education and have smaller state pensions because they do not meet the 50-year residency rule.


Nyfer defines a non-western immigrant as someone from Africa, Latin America, Turkey and Asia (excluding Indonesia and Japan) or who has at least one parent born in those countries.

Immigrants from the Antillean islands account for the biggest percentage of non-western immigration, followed by Turkey, Morocco, China and Suriname.

In a news release, PVV Geert Wilders described the figures as shocking. ‘The taxpayer has finally got… insight into what his money is being spent on,’ Wilders said.

The PVV wants an end to immigration from non-western countries.

Some 60% of immigrants to the Netherlands are from western countries, mainly the rest of the European Union.

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

Denmark: Illegal Camps in Amager

Unsanitary conditions at illegal camps in the city’s Amager district have got police and city departments together to work on a solution

A large group of people presumably from eastern Europe have settled illegally in several camps in the city’s Amager district, reported TV2 News.

Police believe that many of the groups’ members in the camps at Amager Common likely sustain themselves through criminal activity.

Over the past two months the immigrant groups have turned the natural green area into a virtual trash bin, according to Copenhagen Police spokesman Richard Østerlund La Cour. He added that the invasion has created considerable insecurity among the nearby residents and park visitors.

‘It’s very depressing. The conditions these people are living in are extremely deplorable and unsanitary,’ said La Cour.

La Cour said police have now joined forces with the Copenhagen Council in an attempt to create an overview of the extent of the illegal camps.

‘Once we receive information about any new camps or groups who have settled in various places, we’ll make a record of it,’ said La Cour. ‘Then we can collaborate with the council on localising the worst spots and getting them cleaned up.’

The city’s Center for Parks and Nature, confirmed that the illegal immigrant camps are on the increase in the city’s green areas, also pointing to several previously set up at Amager’s Ørstedsparken.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Dutch Back Forced Integration, But Don’t Think It’s Important

Some 50% of the Dutch back the forced integration of foreigners into Dutch society and only 19% support a multicultural set-up, according to a TNS Nipo poll for the Volkskrant.

Nevertheless, integration is only in eighth place in a list of concerns which voters say are important in the June 9 general election. Top of the list is healthcare, followed by social security and the economy.

Integration is only a major issue for the anti-immigration PVV, the poll shows.

And while 31% of the Dutch say they are negative about Muslims, and 52% neutral, this position has been stable for years, TNS Nipo says.


In an interview with website, Farid Azarkan, head of the Dutch Moroccan alliance SMN, says he believes the integration debate will soon be a thing of the past.

‘What we are really talking about is sustainable investment in advancement. It is a combination of join in, study and work together.’

The integration of Dutch Moroccans is proceeding at a fast pace and the tone of the integration debate has become milder, he said.

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

Netherlands: Nyfer: Immigration Costs 7.2 Billion Euros a Year

THE HAGUE, 21/05/10 — Immigration of non-Westerners costs the Netherlands 7.2 billion euros a year, according to calculations made by research institute Nyfer and commissioned by the Party for Freedom (PVV).

PVV leader Geert Wilders had already announced earlier that Nyfer had calculated that the net immigration of non-Western immigrants, 25,000 persons per year, has a negative effect on government finances of 6 to 10 billion euros. At the time, Nyfer did not yet wish to confirm that figure.

Nyfer now says the costs of 7.2 billion a year result among other things from the fact that immigrants receive social security benefit payments more often than the indigenous, and on average pay less tax per person. In a presentation of the Nyfer figures, Wilders yesterday gave all political parties that want to make cutbacks the short advice: “Close the borders.”

Wilders asked Nyfer to carry out the research after he had earlier unsuccessfully asked the cabinet for the figures. The government considered it inappropriate to expose the economic cost-effectiveness of certain groups.

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

New Integration Survey: Ethnic Germans and Immigrants on Better Terms Than Expected

Turkish neighbors: But Germans don’t mind as much as everyone thinks they do.

Germany often comes in for flak because of its allegedly poor integration of immigrants and the existence of so-called parallel societies. But a study released this week by a new think tank refutes the country’s bad reputation — at least partially.

It is no cause for wild celebration — but nor is there much reason to complain. According to Klaus Bade, a leading German researcher on immigration, the co-existence of ethnic Germans and immigrants is often unjustly portayed in a negative light. But a study released this week in Berlin by the immigration think tank that Bade chairs, refutes some of these criticisms. On Wednesday, the Expert Advisory Board for Integration and Migration (SVR), which was founded in 2008 by eight major foundations involved in social and political advocacy and research, released its first annual report.

The report contains what the board calls the Integration Climate Index (IKI) which basically takes the temperature of relations between ethnic Germans and immigrants. The forecast, according to the SVR? Sunny and warm.

“Despite some problematic areas, integration in Germany is a social and political success,” Bade said at the launch of the report. “Compared to other nations, things are actually a lot better here than they are reputed to be inside the country.”

Over Five Thousand Surveyed

To get these results, over 5,600 people, both from Germany and elsewhere, were surveyed for their thoughts on integration and migration. The survey focused mainly on what the former West Germany — around 91 percent of all migrants live in the west. There around 14 million people have a migrant background, and 6 million of those still have foreign citizenship. The former East Germany was not included in the study because the number of migrants living in the east is significantly lower, just 800,000. The German capital Berlin was also excluded because high unemployment among the city’s immigrants makes it a special case requiring different research methods.

The final result of the survey in western Germany, though, was cautious optimism. On a scale of zero (very bad) to four (very good) the ethnic German populace’s attitude toward integration registered at 2.77 for 2009. The immigrant population’s attitude registered higher, at 2.93.

Additionally every second non-migrant person surveyed felt that integration policies had improved over the past five years. Those with an immigrant background felt similarly, with around 48.2 percent believing there had been improvement. Around half of all of those surveyed (both immigrant and ethnic German) expected things to continue to improve.

Not All Sunshine: Areas of Potential Conflict Still Exist

Integration is not about fundamental questions of principle, Bade explains. It is much more about practical, every day issues — such as unemployment, better chances for education and promotion and the fight against discrimination. And these things are of concern to both ethnic Germans and immigrants alike. “The person on the street does not pay any attention to the thunder and lightning of the discussion going on in the media. They just get on with their lives,” Bade said.

The overwhelmingly positive results do not mean, however, that there are no problems with integration in Germany. Education was one area of potential conflict because parents from both groups were of the opinion that schools where there were a lot of migrant students could not be as efficient as schools where most of the students were ethnic German.

The satisfaction that those surveyed had expressed could also be endangered by the rising cost of the financial crisis. According to the integration experts, when local resources — such as jobs, for example — became scarcer there was potential for an “ethnic component” to creep into the fight to allocate said resources.

Immigrants Trust Ethnic Germans

One of the more interesting findings of the survey dealt with how much migrants and Germans trusted one another. Migrants trusted ethnic Germans more they trusted one another, with 62 percent having faith in the locals but only 54 percent of the ethnic Germans trusting each other. Also interesting: Up to 93 percent of ethnic Germans thought living in Germany was good, while up to 95 percent of immigrants did.

Bade also pointed out that the optimistic outcome of the survey was not a result of any political measures. Rather he felt it was the outcome of a long, slow process. In the past politicians had either reacted too late or reluctantly when it came to integration issues, Bade said. And it was only in the past 10 years that integration had become an important subject in German politics and society.

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

Oklahoma AG Nominee Vows to Sue U.S. Over Illegal Immigration

Former state Sen. Scott Pruitt — a candidate for Oklahoma attorney general — plans to announce on Thursday that, if elected, he will sue the federal government for all expenses his state incurs as a result of illegal immigration, Fox News has learned.

The campaign promise comes on the heels of a tough, new law aimed at cracking down on illegal immigration in Arizona and is sure to rile federal officials who have harshly criticized the Arizona law.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Porous Borders Pose Severe Threat of Terrorism

I just received this link to the video of an extremely disturbing news report that recently aired on Atlanta-based television station WSBTV-2. This report focused illegal aliens who are crossing our nation’s extremely porous southern border.

When you click on the link above, you will see an excellent piece of journalism concerning how our nation’s failures to secure our borders have literally opened the door to the prospect of terrorist attacks in the United States. The two people who were interviewed for this excellent report were Dave Stoddard, a retired United States Border Patrol Agent who I previously met during one of my trips to Arizona some time ago and former United States Congressman J.D. Hayworth who attended the Immigration Reform Caucus hearing at which I testified approximately five weeks after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

After you watch the video that appears when you click on the link above, you will notice that there is a second report to be found among several thumbnail articles that appear on the website. This article continues to provide even more disturbing information about how the government is not longer even providing information about illegal aliens who are apprehended and are citizens of “Special Interest Countries” that is to say foreign nationals who are citizens of countries associated with terrorism. Even a member of Congress who was interviewed on camera stated he had no idea as to the number of these aliens because he had been unable, as a member of Congress, to obtain this information! He had to ask the news reporters for a copy of the leaked report!

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Presidents in Glass Houses Shouldn’t Throw Stones

President Felipe Calderon of Mexico, the largest contributor of illegal aliens now living and working in America in the vicinity of 12 to 15 million, threw several nasty verbal rocks at Arizona for passing SB 1070. His illegal Mexican citizens residing in the United States contribute $24 billion back to his financial coffers annually in cash transfers. At the same time, their lawlessness costs American taxpayers $346 billion yearly across 15 U.S. federal agencies.


“Every country has the right and duty to restrict the quality and quantity of foreign immigrants entering or living within its borders,” said journalist J. Michael Waller. “If American policymakers are looking for legal models on which to base new laws restricting immigration and expelling foreign lawbreakers, they have a handy guide: the Mexican constitution. The Mexican constitution segregates immigrants and naturalized citizens from native-born citizens by denying immigrants basic human rights that Mexican immigrants enjoy in the United States.

Let’s examine how Mexico treats illegal aliens:

- Immigrants and foreign visitors are banned from public political discourse. — Immigrants and foreigners are denied certain basic property rights. — Immigrants are denied equal employment rights. — Immigrants and naturalized citizens will never be treated as real Mexican citizens. — Immigrants and naturalized citizens are not to be trusted in public service. — Immigrants and naturalized citizens may never become members of the clergy. — Private citizens may make citizens arrests of lawbreakers (i.e., illegal immigrants) and hand them to the authorities. — Immigrants may be expelled from Mexico for any reason and without due process.

The Mexican constitution: Unfriendly to immigrants

The Mexican constitution expressly forbids non-citizens to participate in the country’s political life,” said Waller. “Non-citizens are forbidden to participate in demonstrations or express opinions in public about domestic politics. Article 9 states, “only citizens of the Republic may do so to take part in the political affairs of the country.” Article 33 is unambiguous: “Foreigners may not in any way participate in the political affairs of the country.”

The Mexican constitution guarantees that immigrants will never be treated as real Mexican citizens, even if they are legally naturalized,” said Waller. “The Mexican constitution states that foreigners may be expelled for any reason and without due process.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Sweden Proposes Immigrant Orientation

All newly arrived immigrants should undergo courses in core societal values and be taught about how Swedish society works with municipalities obliged to offer 60 hours of teaching, a government inquiry has proposed.

“Without knowledge of fundamental societal values an important prerequisite to be able to live and work in Sweden is lacking,” writes Erik Amnå, who led the government inquiry, in a debate article in the Dagens Nyheter daily.

Amnå, whose proposal has been presented to the integration minister Nyamko Sabuni, suggests that the courses should be divided into three key areas — values (the constitutional foundations), the welfare state (public institutions), and everyday life (practical applied knowledge of how the welfare state works).

Erik Amnå proposes that municipalities be instructed to offer 60 hours of schooling to each new immigrant and advises against dividing up new arrivals according to traditional categories such as ethnicity or religious identity.

“How shall we begin the story of Sweden for the 40,000 refugees, relatives, labour market immigrants and other adult arrivals who move to Sweden every year?” asks Erik Amnå, who is a Swedish professor in political science at Örebro University.

Amnå argues that his proposal is based on a concern to ensure that all members of society have an equal chance of “on the one hand to take part in collective decisions about societal development, and on the other be able to form their lives independently and to live in freedom”.

The professor draws on the thinking of German philosopher Jürgen Habermas to argue that multiculturalism can be affirmed and social cohesion clarified by “deepening the long-term constitutional solidarity” referring to the importance of acquiring knowledge of ethical norms prevalent in the Swedish constitution.

The proposal suggests that 60 hours of teaching will be offered in the native tongues of the around 30,000 who come to Sweden to live and who are issued with residence permits extending beyond 12 months.

The courses would not be obligatory and thus if half accept the opportunity the cost would run to 90 million kronor ($12 million) per annum, Amnå estimates.

Erik Amnå underlines the importance of showing respect to the individual adults and recognises that “individuals with different backgrounds require scope for individually-adapted reflection and dialogue” and argues that teachers would need support from universities to develop the required expertise.

           — Hat tip: KGS[Return to headlines]

Culture Wars

Italy: Tuscany Moves to Stop Gay Prejudice

Florence, 20 May (AKI) — Italy’s central Tuscany region has set up a special office to combat anti-gay prejudice, the local Giornale di Toscana daily reports. The region’s centre-left governor, Enrico Rossi has tasked regional welfare councillor, Salvatore Allocca to run the office.

Tuscany’s Law 63 of 2004 outlaws discrimination on the basis of gender and sexual orientation, and the new office will formulate anti-homophobia policies including economic incentives to counter workplace discrimination.

The region introduced a 2,500 euro bonus payable for each transsexual hired by employers in 2007.

Italy’s first transsexual prison opened last month in the Tuscan town of Empoli, a move welcomed by gay and transgender rights activists.

Thirty inmates were initially being held in the special jail housed in a former halfway house for female offenders, mainly drug addicts. One of the prison’s primary objectives is to help transsexuals integrate better in Italian society.

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

UK: First TV Advert Selling Abortion — But Pro-Life Groups Demand a Ban

The first abortion commercial on British television is to be broadcast next week — in defiance of concerns from family groups and church leaders.

The Marie Stopes organisation, which receives an estimated £30million a year from the NHS to carry out abortions, is behind the controversial advert.

Angry campaigners claimed that Marie Stopes is taking advantage of a loophole in advertising regulations.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


‘Everybody Draw Mohammed’ Page Briefly Vanishes Due to Facebook Glitch

The original “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day!” Facebook page — with more than 80,000 followers — vanished briefly from the website Thursday, causing some users to accuse the social networking giant of censorship before the controversial page reappeared on the site.

Facebook officials said a “small technical issue” prevented users from accessing the page for a “very short period” of time.

“Once alerted to the problem, we resolved it as quickly as possible,” the company said in a statement to “We want Facebook to be a place where people can openly discuss issues and express their views, while respecting the rights and feelings of others.”

The creator of a sister page dedicated to the campaign, meanwhile, said she has received roughly 1,500 images of the Prophet Muhammad via e-mail or through her page, which had nearly 9,000 followers as of early Thursday, the unofficial day for the “Draw Muhammad” protest.

Mimi Sulpovar said she’s received numerous death threats since she started the page on April 22 to protest what she calls the “manifestation of gradual silencing and subjugation” of free speech rights in the name of political correctness.

“There are death threats, but none of them are specific,” she said. “Nobody knows where I live or how to find me.”

Sulpovar said she will consider reporting the threats to local law enforcement authorities if they become more detailed.

“It’s generalized, like ‘We’re going to find you and kill you’ sort of thing,” she said. “At this point, it’s like throwing death threats to the moon.”

Sulpovar said traffic to her page had increased so much that she was having trouble moderating the comments.

“I can’t keep up anymore,” she said. “The activity on the site now is crazy.”

The brief disappearance of the original page Thursday morning led users to create a “back up” group page. While some users of the new page posted images of Muhammad as a caped superhero and atop a camel named “George Clooney,” others took out their anger at Facebook, accusing it of censorship.

“It’s pathetic that Facebook have taken the other page down!” one posting read. “We need to do something REALLY epic now to show them that censoring our freedom of speech is UNACCEPTABLE!”

Other users said they weren’t surprised that it was gone, given the “messages of hate” found there.

“I am so very disappointed in Facebook, but I am not surprised given the messages of hate that appeared on both sides on this wall,” one posting read. “Perhaps if we try to keep it clean this time, the page can survive?”

The online campaign that began as a cartoonist’s call to action against censorship — an open invitation to submit caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad — also led to a court order in Pakistan to temporarily block parts of the website, and a call for a boycott of Facebook to protest what Muslims believe is blasphemy.

A company spokeswoman told on Wednesday that Facebook was “disappointed” by a Pakistani court’s decision to block some of the pages.

“We are very disappointed with the Pakistani Courts’ decision to block Facebook without warning, and suspect our users there feel the same way,” the statement read. “We are analyzing the situation and the legal considerations, and will take appropriate action, which may include making this content inaccessible to users in Pakistan.”

“Everybody Draw Mohammed Day!” began last month as the brainchild of a Seattle-based cartoonist named Molly Norris, who said she was appalled by Comedy Central’s decision to censor an episode of “South Park” that depicted Muhammad in a bear costume.

As a way to protest the network’s decision — which came after an Islamic extremist website warned of retaliation against the show’s creators, Matt Stone and Trey Parker — Norris declared May 20 “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day!” — and her efforts quickly went viral, spawning several Facebook pages with thousands of followers dedicated to the event.

They also prompted a “protest” movement by thousands of other Facebook users opposed to it. As of early Thursday, more than 82,000 Facebook users associated themselves to the original page dedicated to the event, and Sulpovar’s page was “liked” by more than 9,000 users. More than 96,000 users, meanwhile, have joined a Facebook page opposing it.

“We tried our level best to have a healthy discussion on this page about this controversial topic with other non-muslims on this page, but some of them were bent upon abusing Islam and Our beloved Prophet (SAW),” one posting read on the AGAINST ‘Everybody Draw Mohammed Day’ Facebook page. “So we are now banning anyone who is abusing our prophet on this page and in future anyone who will abuse on [this] page will be shown zero tolerance.”

Other members of the group against the campaign asked users to boycott Facebook on Thursday and to post a graphic in their status update urging others to do the same.


           — Hat tip: Henrik[Return to headlines]