Friday, January 10, 2003

News Feed 20100721

»A Mosque Maligned
»Cameron in Washington: Americans Like Their Brits to be Posh
»Cameron Gives Obama Graffiti Artist’s Work
»Hizballah Teaming Up With Mexicans to Infiltrate US?
»Man Arrested for Breaking Into Bar, Selling Drinks
Europe and the EU
»Algeria: 10 Agusta Westland Helicopters to the Navy
»Diana West: Afghanistan “Buts”
»Italy: One in Five in South ‘Can’t Afford Doctor’
»Wine Cellars Under the Sea for Spain’s ‘Big’ Wines
North Africa
»Egypt: Analysts, Alliance With USA Even After Mubarak is Gone
»Tunisia: TV: Canal+, 35 New Channels in October
Israel and the Palestinians
»Israel Jails Arab for ‘Rape’ After He Had Consensual Sex With Jewish Woman Who Believed His Name Was Daniel
Middle East
»Ashkenazi Praises Italy, Concerns Over Hezbollah
»Italy Has Great Role in UNIFIL, Ashkenazi
»Turkey and Iran to Cooperate in Construction Sector
»Turkey: 1,000,000th Fiat Doblo Comes Off the Assembly Line
South Asia
»British Forces ‘Will Leave Afghanistan Next Year and Stop Fighting by 2015
»Pakistan: No. 1 Nation in Sexy Web Searches? Call it Pornistan
Australia — Pacific
»Australia: Rudd in Line for Job at UN: Report
»Departing U.N. Official Calls Ban’s Leadership ‘Deplorable’ In 50-Page Memo


A Mosque Maligned

Just to show you how naïve I am: When I first heard about the plan to build a mosque and community center two blocks from the site of the 9/11 attacks, I didn’t envision any real opposition to it.

Sure, I can understand how some people traumatized by 9/11 — firefighters who survived it, or people whose loved ones didn’t — might not like the idea. But I’d have thought that opinion leaders of all ideological stripes could reach consensus by applying a basic rule of thumb: Just ask, “What would Osama bin Laden want?” and then do the opposite.

Bin Laden would love to be able to say that in America you can build a church or synagogue anywhere you want, but not a mosque. That fits perfectly with his recruiting pitch — that America has declared war on Islam. And bin Laden would thrill to the claim that a mosque near ground zero dishonors the victims of 9/11, because the unspoken premise is that the attacks really were, as he claims, a valid expression of Islam.

Apparently I was wrong. Two New York politicians — Representative Peter King and Rick Lazio, a candidate for governor — are ginning up opposition to the project, as is the Weekly Standard.

Their strategy is to ask dark questions about the motivations behind the project (known as Park51 because of its address on Park Place). Those motivations reside in an imam named Feisal Abdul Rauf, founder of the Cordoba Initiative and the American Society for Muslim Advancement, the project’s co-sponsors. So far as I can tell, Rauf is a good person who genuinely wants to build a more peaceful world. (I met him briefly last year at a venue where we had both been asked to give talks about compassion — his from an Islamic perspective, mine from a secular perspective. Here’s the talk he gave.)

But if you think Rauf’s good intentions are going to keep him safe from the Weekly Standard, you underestimate that magazine’s creative powers. Its latest issue features an article about Park51 chock full of angles that never would have occurred to me if some magazine had asked me to write an assessment of the project’s ideological underpinnings. For example: Rauf’s wife, who often speaks in support of the project and during one talk reflected proudly on her Islamic heritage, “failed to mention another feature of her background: She is the niece of Dr. Farooq Khan, formerly a leader of the Westbury Mosque on Long Island, which is a center for Islamic radicals and links on its Web site to the paramilitary Islamic Circle of North America (I.C.N.A.), the front on American soil for the Pakistani jihadist Jamaat e-Islami.”

Got that? Rauf’s wife has an uncle who used to be “a leader” of a mosque that now has a Web site that links to the Web site of an allegedly radical organization. (I’ll get back to the claim that the Westbury Mosque is itself a “center for Islamic radicals.”)

The odd thing is that the author of this piece, Stephen Schwartz, is a self-described neoconservative whose parents were, by his own account, communists. You’d think he might harbor doubts about how confidently we can infer people’s ideologies from the ideologies of their older relatives. You’d also think he might disdain McCarthyite guilt-by-association tactics.

You’d be wrong. Schwartz’s piece goes on and on, weaving webs of association so engrossing that you have to keep reminding yourself that they have nothing to do with Rauf. At one point Schwartz spends several paragraphs damning someone whose connection to Park51 seems to consist of having spoken favorably about it.

As for the views of Rauf himself: In Schwartz’s universe, Rauf’s expressions of opposition to terrorism are themselves grounds for suspicion. Rauf, says Schwartz, has “cloaked the Cordoba effort in the rhetoric of reconciliation, describing himself and his colleagues as ‘the anti-terrorists.’“

Rauf has been the imam at a Manhattan mosque for a quarter of a century, so you’d think that, if he actually had radical views, there would be some evidence of that by now…

           — Hat tip: Jerry Gordon[Return to headlines]

Cameron in Washington: Americans Like Their Brits to be Posh

Iain Martin notes, in his Wall Street Journal blog, that David Cameron was wearing a pair of “old shoes” for his historic meeting at the Oval office — the photo that’s on the front page of the Telegraph today, where they’re both wearing blue ties. In the picture, Mr Cameron’s Oxfords look thoroughly creased and worn-in, while Mr Obama’s lace-ups, in contrast, positively glitter. They look new, for one thing, but also the leather appears to have been treated to produce an extra-shiny finish.

Iain Martin interprets Mr Cameron’s choice of footwear as demonstrating that he is “laying down a marker” that he’s not needy or desperate to impress. I think there may be a simpler explanation: Americans like shiny shoes and, in general, an immaculate business uniform; whereas Brits prefer genteel shabbiness. For all I know, Mr Cameron’s shoes might have cost more than Mr Obama’s — all the more reason, then, that they should look distressed. There’s snobbery at work, too, I expect: don’t we Brits, with our love of class and ancestry, like everything to look as if it’s been around for centuries and passed through generations? Americans usually have none of our hang-ups about new money. If it’s true that the two leaders are getting on well, then that’s only to be expected. Americans famously like posh Brits. Good manners go a long way. David Cameron is our most patrician Prime Minister since Harold Macmillan, so naturally many will wonder if his relationship with President Obama will develop some of the closeness that characterised the Kennedy-Macmillan years.

My impression is that was quite a different set-up. In the early 1960s Macmillan and Kennedy were always having meetings, of necessity, to discuss the prosecution of the Cold War. And when Kennedy came to Britain, he enjoyed mixing with fun-loving, posh English types — especially female. After all, he knew England fairly well and had stayed here as a young man when his father was Ambassador. Plus, he was linked by marriage to Macmillan and to the English aristocracy: his sister Kathleen had married the son of the 10th Duke of Devonshire, while Macmillan married the daughter of the ninth Duke.

President Obama has none of these ties and associations with Britain, let alone any affection for our upper classes. But then, unlike Kennedy-Macmillan, the President is similar to Mr Cameron in age and disposition. They’re both “new men”, relaxed in front of the cameras. Which is no bad thing.

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

Cameron Gives Obama Graffiti Artist’s Work

It is hardly a typical gift from one world leader to another — a painting by a graffiti artist with three convictions for criminal damage.

But that is one of the presents David Cameron chose to give Barack Obama on his first visit to the White House as Prime Minister, apparently to demonstrate they share a common taste in contemporary art. For Mr Cameron picked a work by a little-known British artist who perfected his skill defacing or beautifying — depending on one’s point of view — the underpasses, bridges and train carriages of his native south London.

Ben Eine’s colourful typographic works might be known to the street art aficionados of Shoreditch and Spitalfields, but his name is hardly in the same league as Banksy, the elusive but publicity-conscious graffiti artist. Eine’s handmade screen prints sell for as little as £100; his paintings don’t go for more than £7,500. Last night Eine said he was “shocked” when he recently received a call from Number 10.

The Downing Street official claimed Mr Cameron was a fan of his work, and asked if he would mind if the Prime Minister gave the US President one of them. He donated Twenty First Century City. “My initial reaction was, ‘Are you having a laugh?’ “ said Eine. The painting, a three feet by two feet canvas, was chosen by aides from a selection. Eine thought the Prime Minister — or the aides — had done their homework as Mr Obama was known to have a soft-spot for street art. One, American designer Frank Shephard Fairy, even helped propel him to power with the now famous Hope poster from the 2008 presidential campaign, a stencil portrait in red, white and blue.

Eine commented: “I don’t think Cameron would have picked my paintings if he was giving something to George Bush.” Eine, now 39, started off graffiti ‘tagging’ his name as a hoodie-wearing teenager because he wanted to be part of a gang. Frequently arrested, he was charged three times for criminal damage, receiving two fines and a community sentence. Later he mended his ways, even working as an underwriter’s assistant at Lloyds of London before becoming a full-time artist. Despite working on some large commercial projects, he described himself as a “one-man band” operation, forced to move out of London to Hastings to afford a place big enough for his wife and three children.

“I’m a long way from being a Damien Hirst,” he said. In return Mr Obama has given Mr Cameron a painting by Ed Ruscha, one of America’s most influential post-war artists, called Speed Lines. His works, many dominated by the strong lines and empty streetscapes of Southern California, command large sums. One piece, Burning Gas Station, sold for more than £4.5 million ($6.85m) at Christie’s in New York in 2007.

Eine modestly commented: “Someone has got a better deal out of this than someone else.” He estimated that his painting, if sold through a gallery, would be worth a few thousand pounds. But Number 10 convinced him to give it away for free. The artist didn’t mind though. “Perhaps I’ve got the best deal of the lot.”

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

Hizballah Teaming Up With Mexicans to Infiltrate US?

Lebanese terrorist militia Hizballah is eager to threaten not only Israel, but its allies in the US as well. What better way to reach them than to team up with the top infiltrators of American borders, the Mexican drug cartels?

According to congresswoman Sue Myrick (R-NC), Hizballah agents are coming to Latin America, learning Spanish and then working with drug cartels in the Mexico-US border region to obtain falsified US entry passes. She warned Hizballah could start threatening the southern US from Mexico just as it threatens northern Israel from Lebanon.

Myrick, who is a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said she has called on Homeland Security to investigate the matter.

Hizballah has been operating drug trafficking rings in South America for years. The largest operate along the Brazil-Argentina-Paraguay border.

Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez has also befriended the terror group. Several years ago he invited Hizballah to operate freely in his country.

           — Hat tip: VH[Return to headlines]

Man Arrested for Breaking Into Bar, Selling Drinks

AUBURN, Calif. (CBS13) ? A Placer County man has been arrested after he broke into a shuttered bar, reopened the business and started selling drinks to unwitting customers, according to the Placer County Sheriff’s department.

The Placer County Sheriff’s department arrested 29-year-old Travis Kevie of Newcastle after his 4-day stint as the barkeep of the historic Valencia Club in Penryn which had been shutdown for more than a year.

Detective Jim Hudson became suspicious after reading about the Valencia Club’s re-opening in an Auburn Journal newspaper article that featured a picture of Kevie and identified him as the club’s new “owner/operator”. Not only had Detective Hudson had previous run-ins with Kevie, he knew the Valencia Club’s liquor license had been surrendered.

When Detective Hudson went to the bar to investigate, he found it open for business and customers at the bar. Kevie quickly went from behind the bar to behind bars.

Deputies describe Kevie as a transient. They say he broke into the Valencia Club and put an open sign in the window on July 16th. Kevie kicked off his business with a six-pack of beer he bought and resold at the club. He used his profits to buy more alcohol keeping the club open throughout the weekend serving about 30 customers a day, deputies say.

Kevie is being held in the Placer County Jail for burglary and selling alcohol without a license.

           — Hat tip: Lurker from Tulsa[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Algeria: 10 Agusta Westland Helicopters to the Navy

(ANSAmed) — ALGIERS, JULY 20 — The Algerian navy is to receive 10 Super Lynx helicopters in the next few weeks from the Italian-British company Agusta Westland. So reports daily newspaper El Khabar.

Equipped with sophisticated technology, the Super Lynx are search and rescue aircraft, but can also be armed with four Sea Skua missiles. According to the contract signed by Algeria’s Defence Ministry, a certain number of officials made a trip to Great Britain for flight training aboard Super Lynx helicopters.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Diana West: Afghanistan “Buts”

This is a picture of Northern Ireland Lieutenant Neal Turkington, 26, who was one of three British soldiers killed by a “renegade” Afghan Army soldier at a British base last week. Afghan authorities say the attacker, who remains at large, “was Sergeant Talib Hussein, who was sent to the unit, part of 215 Maiwand Corps, eight months ago. They say he was probably already involved with the Taliban.”

Fast thinking, Poindexter.

But guess what? Questions remain. The LA Times reports “the motive for Tuesday’s attack in the Nahr-e-Sarraj district remained unclear.”

Maybe the Times should consult with Afghan authorities and see what they can come up with.

The BBC calls this the third such murder of British soldiers by our Afghan allies. I well remember the bloodletting last November when an Afghan policeman killed five British soldiers who had just come into their base from patrol. Who could forget that? Or is that who couldn’t forget that? I get them confused. Point is, today’s stiff upper lip is all about standing firm against this enemy within.


In fact, the more we ponder the implications — namely, that a war/exit “strategy” which depends on training a native force whom we can’t trust to carry weapons on a base — the more evidence we have that the entire command, from top to bottom, from civilian to military, has lost its grip on logic, reality and, not least, morality…

           — Hat tip: Diana West[Return to headlines]

Italy: One in Five in South ‘Can’t Afford Doctor’

Napolitano calls for “profound change” in Mezzogiorno policies

(ANSA) — Rome, July 20 — One in five southern Italian households can’t afford to see medical specialists or pay their heating bills, a southern Italian development association said Tuesday.

Svimez added that in 2008, 30% of southern households couldn’t afford new clothes and 16.7% paid their gas and electricity bills late.

Some 8% of households in the Mezzogiorno didn’t buy essential food, 21% didn’t have enough money for heating (rising to 27.5% in SicilY) and 20% didn’t have the cash to consult medical specialists or have tests (rising to around 25% in Sicily and Campania).

One southern Italian in three was “at risk of poverty,” the annual report added.

Italian President Giorgio Napolitano reacted by calling for “profound changes in policies for the south”.

The Italian opposition claimed the report was an indictment of government policies, a claim the government rejected.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Wine Cellars Under the Sea for Spain’s ‘Big’ Wines

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, JULY 20 — For centuries they’ve aged in historic oak barrels from Slovenia or in small French casks, the “barrique”, from Massiccio Centrale, but always in the silence and darkness of the wine cellar. Now, instead, the major Spanish wines will mature while lying at the bottom of the sea. It is a technique experimented by Agua Factory, a Basque company concerned with everything that has to do with the sea bed, from oceanographic studies to its popularisation. The company founded a marine laboratory for aging wines.

An initiative which joins marketing and experimentation , already activated in other countries, but a pioneer in Spain, the results of which will be known in six months time. For the development of the project, noted by the media, Agua Factory located a 500 square metre marine space near the beach of Plentzia, in Bilbao, where, at a depth of 15 metres, about 40,000 bottles of wine will be deposited in silos of cement. The silos can hold up to 800 bottles each and are protected by a lattice which allows the flow of the sea water.

The mini marine wine cellars, explained the company, are named “controlled aging modules” (MEC), and are equipped with sensors which control every minute variation or environmental alteration during the aging process, from the velocity of the marine currents to the salinity, from the temperature to the impact of these factors on the stored wines.

Because it is an experimental project, the company is still studying the type of bottle to use for aging in the submarine cellars as well as the type of cork which will consent the proper transpiration, without altering the wines’ properties.

For this reason, at least in the initial phase, different types of glass will be used in order to then evaluate which best respects the organoleptic qualities of the wines. The wines will be of different types and from different vineyards, from young wines to the great Spanish “caldos”, in order to study the different phases of aging under the same environmental condition. So far there are eight wine companies that have joined the project at no cost for the vineyards. The project will start in experimental mode in September.

The participating groups are the regulation councils of the registered designation of origin wine labels of Duero, Guadiana, Arlanza, Valdepeasm Malaga, Toro, Jumilla and Rueda. During the experimentation , which will last a total of six months, wine tasters for each participating group will taste their wines monthly, comparing them to those aged in traditional cellars. If the experiment guarantees satisfying results, wines aged underwater will be have the label: “Aged with the water of the sea”. Like those in the barrels of wrecked antique schooners recovered together with their treasures at the bottom of the sea. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

North Africa

Egypt: Analysts, Alliance With USA Even After Mubarak is Gone

(ANSAmed) — BARCELONA, JULY 20 — The upcoming changes in Egypt’s leadership will not affect regional and international balances, and whoever replaces current president Muhammad Hosni Mubarak will not be interested in changing the Country’s pro-USA stance to hostile one against Washington and Israel.

Such are the conclusions at the end of a complex meeting between experts and researchers of authoritarian regimes in the Middle East that took place in Barcelona in the context of the third edition of the World convention of sector studies that opened yesterday and will end Friday. Gennaro Gervasio, director of the Centre for Middle East and North African Studies of Sidney’s Macquire University in Australia, one of the greatest experts of current Egyptian matters, doubts that elderly president Mubarak, who is 82 years old, has ruled Egypt for 29 years, and has incurable stomach cancer, can go beyond the deadline of the presidential elections scheduled for next September.

Gervasio told ANSA that “Last April Mubarak was successfully operated in Germany but his health conditions remain unstable”.

There is no certainty about this, but for some time Cairo’s establishment has been looking to the future.

After a recent reappearance on Egyptian and pan-Arabian newspapers, Mubarak repeatedly stated that he will continue to “guide Egypt up to my last breath”. Gervasio believes that this statement “does not work in favour of the rise of his second son, Gamal Mubarak, who needs to be elected president while his father is still alive and covering for him”.

Gamal, age 47, always rejected his direct involvement in politics, but in Cairo everyone sees him as “another Bashar al-Assad”, a reference to the current president of the nearby Republic of Syria, who replaced his father Hafez al-Assad ten years ago. Gervasio added that “In recent years Gamal tried to set up an unofficial power network, alternative to the army, which is where his father came from, and some influent generals that could pose a potential threat to the rise of the young Mubarak”.

Head of the Future Generation Foundation and with a secondary role in Egypt’s ruling party, Gamal Mubarak is portraying himself as “the moderniser” and “the alternative” for the Country. But what happens if the president’s second fails in his intent? Gervasio replied that “Many uncertain scenarios would open up, even though the most accepted of these sees the army still in power and the rise of a general from Mubarak’s same political generation. In this case the new general-president would have less power than that wielded by Mubarak and it cannot be ruled out that Gamal could be appointed premier while he waits for the transition stage to pass. But even if power falls in the hands of the Muslim brotherhood or some independent figure, which is rather unlikely, none of these players would be interested in a major change in regional balances: the alliance with Washington and even the peace treaty with Israel would be shielded from any turbulence inside Egypt”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Tunisia: TV: Canal+, 35 New Channels in October

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, JULY 20 — As of October French group Canal+ will start to broadcast its programmes in Tunisia. Unlike other broadcasters, Canal+ will demand payment and offer a range of 35 channels including information, cinema, sport and culture.

The market entrance of the French TV is well seen by many Tunisians, especially because of the chance to counter the radicalism of Gulf broadcasters. According to Media Scan, a survey group, 31% of Tunisians prefer public channel Tunis 7 followed by private televisions Hannibal, 23%, and Nessma Tv, 5%, while Al Jazeera is between 4 and 5%.(ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

Israel Jails Arab for ‘Rape’ After He Had Consensual Sex With Jewish Woman Who Believed His Name Was Daniel

A Palestinian man has been convicted of rape ‘by deception’ after having consensual sex with a woman who had believed him to be a fellow Jew.

Sabbar Kashur, 30, who had introduced himself as Daniel, was only charged with the offence when she later realised he was an Arab.

A court in Jerusalem made international legal history by jailing the delivery driver for 18 months despite acknowledging it had not been ‘a ‘a classical rape by force’.

The unusual case underscores the racial tensions between Israel’s Jewish and Arab communities, where intimate relations between the two are often regarded as taboo.

The court heard that Mr Kashur misled the woman by introducing himself with a traditionally Jewish name during a chance encounter in central Jerusalem in 2008.

Mr Kashur, from the Arab sector of East Jerusalem, had also suggested he was a bachelor seeking a serious relationship.

The two then had consensual sex in a nearby building before Mr Kashur left before the woman, who has not been named, had a chance to get dressed.

When she later found out that he was not Jewish but an Arab, she filed a criminal complaint for rape and indecent assault.

After striking up a conversation, the two went into a top-floor room of a nearby office-block and engaged in a sexual encounter, after which Mr Kashur left.

It was only later that she discovered the Arab’s true racial background, lawyers said, leading her to file criminal complaint.

Although Mr Kashur was initially accused of rape and indecent assault, this was changed to a charge of rape by deception as part of a plea bargain arrangement.

Handing down the verdict, Tzvi Segal, one of three judges on the case, acknowledged that sex had been consensual but said that although not ‘a classical rape by force,’ the woman would not have consented if she had not believed Mr Kashur was Jewish.

The sex therefore was obtained under false pretences, the judges said.

‘If she hadn’t thought the accused was a Jewish bachelor interested in a serious romantic relationship, she would not have cooperated,’ they added.

The court ruled that Mr Kashur should receive a jail term and rejected the option of a six-month community service order.

He is now seeking to appeal, according to The Guardian.

Judge Segal said: ‘The court is obliged to protect the public interest from sophisticated, smooth-tongued criminals who can deceive innocent victims at an unbearable price — the sanctity of their bodies and souls.

‘When the very basis of trust between human beings drops, especially when the matters at hand are so intimate, sensitive and fateful, the court is required to stand firmly at the side of the victims — actual and potential — to protect their wellbeing.

‘Otherwise, they will be used, manipulated and misled, while paying only a tolerable and symbolic price.’

The decision immediately provoked an outcry among Israel’s liberals and human rights groups.

Commentator Gideon Levy said: ‘I would like to raise only one question with the judge. ‘What if this guy had been a Jew who pretended to be a Muslim and had sex with a Muslim woman?

‘Would he have been convicted of rape? The answer is: of course not.’

Arabs constitute about 20 per cent of Israel’s population, but relationships between Jews and Arabs are rare.

There are few mixed neighbourhoods or towns, and Arabs suffer routine discrimination.

Israeli MPs are considering a law requiring prospective Israeli citizens to declare loyalty to Israel as a ‘Jewish, democratic state’.

Leah Tsemel, a human-rights lawyer, an Israeli human rights activists said that Mr Kashur’s actions reflected the deceits many Palestinians are forced to practice.

‘It is very well known that Israeli-Palestinians living in Israel disguise themselves,’ she told the Daily Telegraph.

‘You change your accent and you change your dress because if you look like an Arab you face harassment.

‘If you want to enter a pub, you’d better not look like an Arab and if you want to have sex with an Israeli girl, you had better not look like an Arab.’

The prosecutor in the case was unavailable for comment and officials in the Jerusalem district attorney’s office declined to discuss it.

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

Middle East

Ashkenazi Praises Italy, Concerns Over Hezbollah

(ANSAmed) — TEL AVIV, JULY 20 — Today Israeli chief of staff Gaby Ashkenazi praised the activities of the Italian armed forces in various crisis situations across the world. He made his remarks in an interview with radio Jerusalem from Rome, where he has been invited for an official visit by his counterpart, general Vincenzo Camporini. “Italy is one of Israel’s best friends in Europe”, underlined Ashkenazi. Italy “maintains the main force of UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force In Lebanon) and is deployed with NATO in Afghanistan. We have excellent relations with Italy on the ground, on the sea and in the air”.

When asked by the interviewer, Ashkenazi revealed that Hezbollah forces are getting stronger in the south of Lebanon, the areas outside UNIFIL’s mandate. Yesterday, in a statement issued by a military spokesman, Ashkenazi specified that Hezbollah is forming an underground infrastructure of command centres and rocket launchers in the Shia villages in southern Lebanon and in other areas in the country. “In all Lebanon, the south included, residential villages have been transformed into ‘villages for ground-to-ground rockets”‘, Ashkenazi continued.

Once again, in his opinion, “the harsh reality is that Hezbollah makes use of civilians to put itself in a position to attack Israel”. At this moment the situation is calm, but the chief of staff confirmed that Israel is closely monitoring the developments.

Today Ashkenazi will have more meetings with Italian defence officials. After that, he will move on to France. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy Has Great Role in UNIFIL, Ashkenazi

(ANSAmed) — ROME, JULY 19 — Relations between Italy and Israel are “very good” and Italy’s work in Lebanon, as part of Unifil, is “great, important and we appreciate it very much”. These are the words of Israel’s Chief of Staff, Gaby Ashkenazi, who was speaking today in Rome, where he also met his Italian counterpart, general Vincenzo Camporini.

“It is not the first time that we have met, we know each other well and I consider this a very important visit in taking our collaboration forward,” Ashkenazi explained. Israel’s Chief of Staff said that he had talked with Camporini, amongst other issues, about how to manage and relate to “today’s changes in the nature of wars”.

Ashkenazi praised the work of the Italian contingent part of the UN expedition in Lebanon, though he observed that Hezbollah is continuing to arm itself and is still hiding in urban areas, where it feels more protected. “This is not a criticism of Unifil, but it helps to underline the difficulties faced by the UN,” he said, pointing out that Unifil is unable to conduct searches in urban areas.

During Ashkenazi’s meeting with Camporini, the collaboration project between the two chiefs regarding the threat of international terrorism was also discussed, according to a statement from the Israeli embassy. The Italian general praised the collaboration between the two armies, and called Italy “a great friend of Italy’s”. General Ashkenazi thanked his counterpart for his warm hospitality and said that he hoped for constant collaboration between Israel and Italy, defining it, first and foremost, as “of great importance to both peoples”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Turkey and Iran to Cooperate in Construction Sector

(ANSAmed) — TEHRAN, JULY 19 — Turkey and Iran signed tody a memorandum of understanding envisaging cooperation in the construction sector, as reported by Anatolia news agency. The memorandum, signed by Turkish Public Works & Housing Minister Mustafa Demir and Iranian Minister of Housing & Development Ali Nikzad in Tehran, envisages exchange of information and experiences regarding the construction sector, cooperation in public housing projects, research and training of experts, production of construction materials and utilization of products of latest technology.

According to the memorandum, the Turkish and Iranian ministries of housing will set up technical committees to discuss areas of cooperation, moreover, officials from both ministries will pay mutual visits once a year. Speaking at the signing ceremony, Demir said his visit to Iran had been fruitful and it would contribute to the further improvement of relations between the two countries. Demir said that Turkish construction companies had started to take part in several projects in Iran, adding they were eager to participate in a public housing project aiming at building 1 million residences. The cooperation in construction sector could contribute to achieving USD 30 billion trade volume between Turkey and Iran, Demir also noted.

Nikzad said in his part that Iran wanted to strengthen its cooperation with Turkey in all areas adding that the memorandum of understanding envisaging cooperation in construction sector would contribute to the improvement of bilateral relations.


           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Turkey: 1,000,000th Fiat Doblo Comes Off the Assembly Line

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, JULY 20 — Turkish carmaker Tofas, which makes the light commercial van Fiat Doblo, will build its 1,000,000th car on Wednesday, as Anatolia news agency reports.

The 1,000,000th Doblo will come off the assembly line at Tofas Bursa plant in northwestern Turkey at a ceremony to be attended by company executives and state officials. Turkish Industry & Trade Minister Nihat Ergun is expected to join Mustafa Koc, chairman of Koc Holding, for the ceremony on Wednesday. Tofas is a 42-year-old joint venture of Turkish conglomerate Koc Holding and Italian carmaker Fiat. During the ceremony, Tofas will also test-drive the Fiat Doblo EV, the first electric car of which all research and development works carried out in Turkey.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

South Asia

British Forces ‘Will Leave Afghanistan Next Year and Stop Fighting by 2015

British forces could begin pulling out of Afghanistan within months and will cease their combat role by 2015, David Cameron and Nick Clegg said.

The leaders of the Coalition Government this morning gave their firmest commitments yet about the timetable of Britain’s withdrawal from the country. Mr Cameron said that he agreed with US President Barack Obama’s intention to begin reducing troop numbers by summer 2011, providing “conditions on the ground” were acceptable.

Later Mr Clegg, who was standing in for Mr Cameron at Prime Minister’s Questions, said that the combat role of British troops in Afghanistan will end by 2015. The Deputy Prime Minister said this was “consistent” with Afghan forces assuming responsibility for security in 2014. He told MPs: “No timetable can be chiselled in stone but we are absolutely determined, given how long we’ve been in Afghanistan, given that we are six months into an 18-month military strategy … that we must be out in a combat role by 2015.”

Mr Clegg was answering questions in place of the Prime Minister, who is in the US for talks with Mr Obama. The US president has previously said he plans to reduce US troop numbers as early as next July. Asked if Britain could do the same, Mr Cameron told BBC Radio 5 Live: “Yes, we can but it should be based on the conditions on the ground. I mean, the faster we can transition districts and provinces to Afghan control, clearly the faster that some forces can be brought home. I don’t want to raise expectations about that because that transition should be based on how well the security situation is progressing. People in Britain should understand we’re not going to be there in five years’ time, in 2015, with combat troops or large numbers because I think it’s important to give people an end date by which we won’t be continuing in that way. But I hope that with the strategy we have, the build-up of the Afghan army, the transitioning of districts of provinces, as the president said, it will be possible to bring some troops home.”

The comments came after the two leaders expressed “violent agreement” that the release of the Lockerbie bomber was a mistake. Mr Cameron is to order the release of secret Government documents disclosing how BP pushed Labour ministers to agree to a controversial deal which led to the release last year of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, a Libyan intelligence officer. The release of the confidential memos and letters could pave the way for a full British inquiry into the alleged involvement of the oil giant in the release.

Mr Cameron is currently resisting pressure from the Americans to hold a full inquiry into the “oil for terrorists” scandal. He says that the decision was taken by the Scottish Government and BP’s lobbying of British ministers was inconsequential. However, the Prime Minister asked Sir Gus O’Donnell, the Cabinet Secretary, to review “all the paperwork” and make sure the necessary information is released.

Senior American senators demanded that Mr Cameron also push for the return of Megrahi from Libya “back to justice” in a British prison. The Prime Minister hopes that by offering to co-operate with a US Senate inquiry by releasing any documents it will help to quell growing American anger over the release of the convicted terrorist on compassionate grounds by the Scottish Executive. In Washington, Mr Cameron said: “I am asking the Cabinet Secretary in the UK to go back over all the paperwork and see if there is anything else that should be released so there is the clearest possible picture out there of what decision was taken and why. “I do not currently think that another inquiry is the right way to go. I don’t need an inquiry to tell me what I already know, which is that it was a bad decision.” Speaking at the White House, he said: “It was a bad decision, it shouldn’t have been made. This was the biggest mass murderer in British history.” The Prime Minister added it was for BP to “answer what activities they undertook”. Mr Obama described the release of the Lockerbie bomber as “heartbreaking”. “I think all of us here were surprised, disappointed and angry about the release of the Lockerbie bomber,” he said. “We should have all the facts, they should be laid out there. I have confidence Prime Minister Cameron’s government will be co-operative.”

The scandal is threatening to overshadow Mr Cameron’s first official visit to America as Prime Minister. He had an hour-long meeting with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office. The release of al-Megrahi is understood to have been discussed. Afghanistan dominated the agenda following the conclusion of a major international conference in Kabul. The pair discussed a deal to hand control of the country to the Afghan national army and police by 2014. Funds will also be released to pay for former Taliban fighters to join the Afghan army. Mr Cameron also extended an invitation from the Queen for Mr Obama and his wife to make an official state visit to Britain. The visit is likely to happen next year.

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

Pakistan: No. 1 Nation in Sexy Web Searches? Call it Pornistan

They may call it the “Land of the Pure,” but Pakistan turns out to be anything but.

The Muslim country, which has banned content on at least 17 websites to block offensive and blasphemous material, is the world’s leader in online searches for pornographic material, has learned.

“You won’t find strip clubs in Islamic countries. Most Islamic countries have certain dress codes,” said Gabriel Said Reynolds, professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Notre Dame. “It would be an irony if they haven’t shown the same vigilance to pornography.”

So here’s the irony: Google ranks Pakistan No. 1 in the world in searches for pornographic terms, outranking every other country in the world in searches per person for certain sex-related content.

Pakistan is top dog in searches per-person for “horse sex” since 2004, “donkey sex” since 2007, “rape pictures” between 2004 and 2009, “rape sex” since 2004, “child sex” between 2004 and 2007 and since 2009, “animal sex” since 2004 and “dog sex” since 2005, according to Google Trends and Google Insights, features of Google that generate data based on popular search terms.

The country also is tops — or has been No. 1 — in searches for “sex,” “camel sex,” “rape video,” “child sex video” and some other searches that can’t be printed here.

Google Trends generates data of popular search terms in geographic locations during specific time frames. Google Insights is a more advanced version that allows users to filter a search to geographic locations, time frames and the nature of a search, including web, images, products and news.

Pakistan ranked No. 1 in all the searches listed above on Google Trends, but on only some of them in Google Insights.

“We do our best to provide accurate data and to provide insights into broad search patterns, but the results for a given query may contain inaccuracies due to data sampling issues, approximations, or incomplete data for the terms entered,” Google said in a statement, when asked about the accuracy of its reports.

The Embassy of Islamic Republic of Pakistan did not reply to a request for an interview…

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Australia — Pacific

Australia: Rudd in Line for Job at UN: Report

Former prime minister Kevin Rudd is reportedly being considered by the United Nations for a top-level job as an adviser on climate change.

Mr Rudd spent several days in New York last week meeting with UN officials.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is now considering creating a dedicated role for him as a top-level adviser on climate change, according to a “diplomatic source with knowledge of the plan”, News Ltd newspapers reported on Thursday.

Mr Rudd’s office has refused to comment on the possible UN move.

Labor’s election campaign spokesman Chris Bowen hosed down the speculation.

“I’m aware that Kevin Rudd has said he is recontesting the seat of Griffith and wants to remain a member of the house of representatives,” Mr Bowen told ABC Radio.

Mr Rudd was well respected in international circles and the speculation was not entirely surprising however, Mr Bowen said.

“But my understanding of the arrangements is that he wants to stay in parliament and he will stay in parliament should he be re-elected by the people of Griffith.”

           — Hat tip: Nilk[Return to headlines]


Departing U.N. Official Calls Ban’s Leadership ‘Deplorable’ In 50-Page Memo

UNITED NATIONS — The outgoing chief of a U.N. office charged with combating corruption at the United Nations has issued a stinging rebuke of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, accusing him of undermining her efforts and leading the global institution into an era of decline, according to a confidential end-of-assignment report.

The memo by Inga-Britt Ahlenius, a Swedish auditor who stepped down Friday as undersecretary general of the Office of Internal Oversight Services, represents an extraordinary personal attack on Ban from a senior U.N. official. The memo also marks a challenge to Ban’s studiously cultivated image as a champion of accountability.

Shortly after taking office in 2007, Ban committed himself to restoring the United Nations’ reputation, which had been sullied by revelations of corruption in the agency’s oil-for-food program in Iraq.

But Ahlenius says that, rather than being an advocate for accountability, Ban, along with his top advisers, has systematically sought to undercut the independence of her office, initially by trying to set up a competing investigations unit under his control and then by thwarting her efforts to hire her own staff.

“Your actions are not only deplorable, but seriously reprehensible. . . . Your action is without precedent and in my opinion seriously embarrassing for yourself,” Ahlenius wrote in the 50-page memo to Ban, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post. “I regret to say that the secretariat now is in a process of decay.”

Ban’s top advisers said that Ahlenius’s memo constituted a deeply unbalanced account of their differences and that her criticism of Ban’s stewardship of the United Nations was patently unfair…

           — Hat tip: LN[Return to headlines]