Saturday, January 11, 2003

News Feed 20110428

Financial Crisis
»Spain: Outraged: But Still Sat at Home
»U.S. Economic Growth Slows to 1.8% Rate in First Quarter
»Bill Would Ban North Carolina Courts From Using ‘Foreign Law’
»NJ Mosque in Zone Fight
»Obama Provided the Ammunition to Bring Him Down
»Tornadoes Ravage South; Death Toll at 173
Europe and the EU
»A Boost for Sarkozy and Berlusconi
»Croatia “Kidnaps” Marco Polo
»Horsetrading Over ECB Presidency: Merkel to Demand Concessions for Backing Sarkozy’s Choice
»Hungary’s Rising Right: Roma Defenseless Against Extremist Vigilantes
»Italian Bombs for French Bombast
»Ottomans to Sit Out Royal Wedding Amid Dynastic Spat
»Sweden: Ombudsman Demands More Protection for Roma
»Swedish Bathers in Naked Shower Outcry
»Switzerland: Anti-German Sentiment Could Resurface
»UK: Royal Wedding Guests Include Barhein Ex-Torturer
»Croatia: Over 3:700 Indicted for Crimes in Military Operation “Storm”, 2,380 Sentenced, Prosecutor Says
North Africa
»Imams Hold Demonstration in ‘Secular’ Egypt
»Libya — Vatican: This “War Makes No Sense”, the Italian Govt Should “Resign”, Tripoli Bishop Says
»Morocco: Blast Kills ‘At Least 10’ At Marrakesh Cafe
Israel and the Palestinians
»YouTube: Gaza Flotilla Participants Invoked the Killing of Jews
Middle East
»From Rome to Damascus, Via Tripoli: The Mediterranean Chessboard
»Syria: Nowhere Near Regime Change
»William S Burroughs on Trial for Corrupting Turkish Morality
South Asia
»Bangladesh: Tribal Villages Again Under Attack as Settlers Deny Responsibility and the Authorities Look on
»New Attack Against Pakistani Navy Bus in Karachi, 5 Dead
»Pakistan: Anti-Christian Violence in Punjab, Young Woman Raped, Protestant Pastor Attacked
Far East
»UK: Pub Singer Arrested for Racism After Chinese Passers-by Hear Him Perform Kung Fu Fighting
»Australia: Divorce Sick Wife, Doctor Told
»Denmark: Strict Immigration Rules Pay Off, Report Says
»EU: National Interest Comes First
»EU: Top Court Throws Out Italian Law Making Illegal Immigration a Crime
»Italy: Dozens of Suspected South American Teenage Robbers Arrested
»Italy: Tunisians Deported Under Controversial Bilateral Accord
»Migrants: 77 Tunisians Arrive in Lampedusa
»Muslim Immigration Transforms Finland
»Netherlands Prepared to Amend Schengen Treaty
»Netherlands: Brussels to Look Into Romanian Seasonal Work Permit Ban
»Reforming Schengen: An Absurd Gesture
Culture Wars
»Pets Should be Renamed ‘Companions’, Claim Animal Rights Academics (And Rats Are Just ‘Free Living’)

Financial Crisis

Spain: Outraged: But Still Sat at Home

Unemployment, precariousness, an uncertain future: Spanish youth has been hit hard by the economic crisis. And that’s why they won’t revolt, writes El País.

Juan Antonio Aunión

“This is just the beginning,” promises the organisation Juventud sin Futuro (Youth with no Future), expressing its thanks to those who showed up to demonstrate in Madrid on April 7. Between 1,000 and 2,000 people turned out, and the organisers are happy with those numbers. For the next demonstration, planned for mid-May, they have high hopes.

The truth is that at least a small part of Spain’s youth — that element “who are better armed with diplomas” than ever before in history and yet “will live worse off than their parents,” as proclaimed in the group’s manifesto — is outraged and has taken to the streets in answer to the call from the 93-year-old French activist Stéphane Hessel, author of the pamphlet Get Angry!

Whatever the view one takes of this movement — fear, rejection, paternalism, understanding or support for it — anyone can see why Spanish youth is fed up: a decade of job insecurity, if not rampant unemployment; of mileurismo, or having to get by on 1,000 euros a month; of overqualified university graduates; and of the difficulty if not impossibility of finding a place to live.

And now, after more than two years of economic crisis, youth unemployment (over 40 percent) is double the European average, and half of the jobless are under 34 years of age. In addition, the welfare state they had barely begun to enjoy is now in jeopardy, and the cushion once provided by the family is growing threadbare. “The environment is not explosive,” says UNED sociologist José Felix Tezanos, “but it is flammable; a spark will be enough… The Web is where it is brewing up,” he adds.

In general, there’s a growing feeling that the cost of the economic crisis is being paid by those who had nothing to do with it, while the economic elites who did bring it on have slipped out from under the wreckage without a scratch. The prologue to the Spanish edition of Hessel’s pamphlet was written by José Luis Sampedro. Hessel, in turn, has contributed the foreword to a collection of articles entitled Reacciona (React!).

In the latter, Sampedro, at 93 the same age as the French activist, addresses himself to that diffuse entity called the young, and not only to bestir them to respond to their particular problems: “The system needs a profound change that young people understand and that they should tackle better than the older generation, who are still living in the past. […] Although their leaders are still at the bridge and at the helm, and although from there they continue to give orders that are well behind the times, the young people at the oars can steer the ship.”

The discontent, exacerbated by the crisis, is undoubtedly real. So too is the call to mobilise. The question is whether a movement like Juventud sin Futuro, or any other, can channel it in any direction and take it further. Pablo Padilla is an anthropology student, 22 years old, deeply involved in the organisation. Talk of the passivity of the young brings him to protest: “And the rest of society is really on the move, is it?”

Many experts, however, emphasise the passivity and the apathy. “The distrust in politicians could take the form of conflict or of apathy and disinterest. And that is the model that, in the end, it has taken. The lack of political tradition still weighs on a country that is not accustomed to mobilising, that has no strong professional associations or unions that renew their traditions from generation to generation,” says Marta Gutiérrez Sastre, a professor from the University of Salamanca.

For Antonio Alaminos, a sociologist at the University of Alicante, some alternatives and some clear objectives are needed for this sort of protest to succeed. Or else an “irrational trigger.” The Arab protests, for example, he says, do have these clear goals (both economic and democratic improvements), and in the EU countries where these have emerged that irrational trigger was also produced. “The difficulty in mobilising Spanish youth proceeds from the expectation that nothing will come of it. Spanish youth (and many Europeans), at heart, want to go on living just like their parents — in a capitalist world of consumption. They don’t want to break up the relationship,” he says. “It is capitalism that has broken up with them.”

It may be true that the youth who have taken to the streets so far have been very few in number. It may be that, somehow or other, the family, untaxed work in the shadow economy and the social safety net continue to keep discontent indoors, since basic needs are still being satisfied. And that passivity of the majority of the youth may eventually prevail over the momentum of those who do get out and demonstrate.

“Young people do not have a markedly rebellious attitude. They’re perplexed, rather, by the breakdown of the social contract,” says sociologist Jose Felix Tezanos. However, he warns: “Very profound movements are stirring, and if there are no major changes in society, the problems will boil up to the surface.”

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

U.S. Economic Growth Slows to 1.8% Rate in First Quarter

The American economy slowed to a crawl in the first quarter, but economists are hopeful that the setback will be temporary.

Total output grew at an annual pace of 1.8 percent last quarter, the Commerce Department said Thursday, after having expanded at an annualized rate of 3.1 percent at the end of 2010. Most economists had forecast growth of 2 percent in the first quarter.

The slowdown was largely the result of a widening trade deficit, a larger decrease in federal government spending and higher commodity prices, which reduced the amount of pocket money that households and businesses had available to spend.

[Return to headlines]


Bill Would Ban North Carolina Courts From Using ‘Foreign Law’

RALEIGH A group of Republican legislators is backing a measure that would make it illegal for judges to consider “foreign law” when making rulings in North Carolina’s courts.

Though the federal and state constitutions already guarantee the supremacy of U.S. law in domestic cases, primary sponsor Rep. George Cleveland said he is concerned that Shariah law could gain a foothold in American communities with sizable Muslim populations.

House Bill 640 makes no mention of the Islamic legal code. But Cleveland said Shariah would be defined as a “foreign law” under his bill, and therefore banned from North Carolina’s courtrooms if the legislation he proposes is approved.

“It’s to ensure that any individual in this state does not have to worry about being taken advantage of by foreign laws,” said Cleveland, a retired Marine who lives in Jacksonville. “It’s barring any international law. If Shariah law tries to be enforced in the state, yeah, it would do it.”

Uncertain of effect

Critics of the bill said that the broadly worded legislation could have unintended consequences, such as impeding international businesses or invalidating overseas marriages or adoptions.

Rooted in the teachings of the Quran, Shariah governs the conduct of an observant Muslim’s life, from when to pray to how animals should be slaughtered for meat. It is also the basis for the legal codes in some Middle Eastern and south Asian countries.

Asked to provide real-world examples of the scenario his bill seeks to remedy — cases where foreign laws infringed on the constitutional rights of American citizens in U.S. courts — Cleveland said he did not know of any.

The bill’s other primary sponsor, Rep. Ric Killian, a Charlotte Republican and a real estate developer, could not be reached for comment.

Rep. Joe Hackney, the House Democratic leader, said Republicans are wasting time attacking an issue that doesn’t exist.

“I think it’s a solution in search of a problem,” said Hackney, a lawyer from Chapel Hill. The bill moved through a judiciary committee last week over the objections of Democrats, taking it a step closer to a vote on the floor of the Republican-controlled House.

“It was very odd,” said Rep. Jennifer Weiss, a Cary Democrat and lawyer who serves on the committee. “There were no examples given for why it was needed, when it would be needed, no examples of North Carolina being in a situation where we needed this legislation. It was just sort of rushed through without a whole lot of explanation.”

Promoted by TV pundits

Allegations that Muslims are plotting to make the United States part of an “Islamic caliphate,” or empire, through implementing Shariah law is a staple for such conservative commentators as Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity. On his show Monday night, Hannity got in a heated debate with Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul after the Texas congressman said efforts to ban Shariah are an affront to religious liberty.

Abdullah T. Antepli, the Muslim chaplain for Duke University, said laws like the one proposed in North Carolina are the result of hysteria and Islamophobia.

“This is part of a much larger scare campaign,” Antepli said. “It’s un-American, as if Muslims haven’t been part of the American story from Day One. The Republicans and the tea party people who have been introducing this legislation across the country are perpetuating ignorance by casting suspicion on Islam and Muslims.”

Over the past year, Republican legislators have passed or introduced legislation aimed at banning Shariah or “foreign laws” in at least 17 states, including Tennessee and South Carolina.

In Oklahoma, voters approved a ballot referendum in November that barred “state courts from considering international or Islamic law when deciding cases.” But that measure was quickly blocked by a federal judge who ruled that the Shariah ban violated constitutional protections of religious freedom because it unfairly singled out Muslims.

The language of the North Carolina bill referencing “foreign laws,” but not specifically naming Shariah, could avoid a similar challenge.

Jeanette Doran, senior staff attorney at the conservative N.C. Institute for Constitutional Law, said some of the bill’s provisions appear aimed at addressing a Florida case earlier this year where a judge ruled against the leaders of a Tampa mosque in a dispute with four former trustees.

The Florida judge, an appointee of former Republican Gov. Jeb Bush, ruled the mosque was bound by an agreement that any disputes be settled through arbitration with an Islamic scholar adhering to the teachings of the Quran. The decision was widely flogged by conservative bloggers.

“I don’t see a flood of these cases, but there is a real concern among many citizens that a situation like the one in Florida could arise here,” Doran said. “This bill would clarify that our state and federal constitutions are supreme, always. It is a prophylactic measure more than anything else.”

A problem for business

However, Hackney said the bill could have unintended consequences, such as making it difficult for multinational corporations who do business in North Carolina.

Mark Weisburd, a professor at the UNC School of Law who teaches international law, agreed that the law as drafted would offer little additional legal protections to U.S. citizens while potentially causing big headaches for businesses.

“Say a North Carolina firm wanted to do business with a British firm and for whatever reason they agreed that any litigation should occur in the United Kingdom,” Weisburd explained. “The North Carolina firm could later seek to void the contract by saying they wouldn’t get a jury trial in a civil case in the U.K. That would make the British firm, if they had any sense, reluctant to contract with the North Carolina firm in the first place.”

Religious codes, too

There are also routinely instances in family court where state judges weigh foreign laws when making decisions, such as when a marriage, divorce or adoption might have occurred in a foreign country. Religious codes also sometimes find their way into the courtroom, such as domestic cases involving marriage and divorce with Orthodox Jews, Weisburd said.

“I can see all sorts of ways this might have unexpected consequences,” he said.

Gene Nichol, a UNC professor who teaches constitutional law, called the bill “an embarrassment.” “It’s remarkable to me that any sentient being could think that the imposition of Shariah law is the largest issue facing the people of North Carolina.”

Of the six House Republicans listed as either a primary sponsor or sponsors of the legislation, none has a law degree.

The chamber’s highest-ranking Republican lawyer, Majority Leader Paul “Skip” Stam of Apex, acknowledged Wednesday that some “legal issues need to be explored” as to the potential effects of the legislation as proposed.

Muslims make up less than 1 percent of North Carolina’s population, according to a recent government survey. Antepli, the Duke chaplain, said he counsels Muslim students to become engaged in civic and public life to help combat negative stereotypes about their beliefs.

“I tell my Muslim students to love their flag, love their country and to serve their country,” he said. “And one of the best ways to serve their country is to run for office.”

           — Hat tip: AC[Return to headlines]

NJ Mosque in Zone Fight

New Jersey Group Sues After Plans for Center Are Thwarted

An Islamic group sued Bridgewater, N.J., for religious discrimination after the town changed zoning rules to block a mosque from opening in a residential neighborhood.

The Al Falah Center wanted to convert a former banquet hall located on a quiet side street into a mosque, day-care facility and community center for a diverse group of Muslim Americans who have been trying to find a home for the center more than a decade, according to the lawsuit filed on Tuesday in federal court in New Jersey.

But when the plans were making their way through the municipal channels, hundreds turned up to oppose the mosque. Though residents said their concerns were about traffic and other mundane quality-of-life issues, some people questioned where the group’s funding was coming from, and whether it had ties to terrorist organizations.

On March 14, the town agreed to limit houses of worship to certain main roads and other selected roads, including all areas where current churches and temples—including for Catholic, Protestant, Hindu, Sikh and Jewish congregations—were already located. Al Falah said the town deliberately jimmied with the process, pushing their planning-board application hearing until after the town changed the law, to block the mosque.

“This conduct is discriminatory and imposes a substantial burden on plaintiffs’ right to the free exercise of their religion in violation of federal and state constitutional and statutory requirements,” the lawsuit said.

An attorney for the town, Bill Savo, said he hadn’t yet seen the complaint. “The town always has a history of acting in good faith,” he said. “We believe we acted appropriately.”

The flare-up over the Bridgewater mosque came in the wake of other efforts around the country to block or close mosques, including the so-called Ground Zero mosque in New York.

But the underlying tone of the debate was different in Bridgewater. Residents said they were supportive of mosques in the town—just not on Mountain Top Road, a small, winding street, without sidewalks, where some of the many trees come practically up to the asphalt.

“We have every religion in Bridgewater you can think of, many religions represented,” Mr. Savo said. “It’s just a concern about traffic-safety issues.”

Attorneys from the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University and the Asian-American Legal Defense and Education Fund are among those representing Al Falah. Brennan Center representatives said members of Al Falah declined to be interviewed about the issue.

           — Hat tip: AC[Return to headlines]

Obama Provided the Ammunition to Bring Him Down

Have to ask yourself, why the hurry? It costs a lot of money to fly a lawyer to Hawaii to pick up a piece of paper. I mean, why not express mail? Would a couple more days of “The Donald” ranting have made a difference? After all, Trump had already began moving on to the usurper’s college records and the question of just how “smart” is Barry?

I think it more likely Obama’s handlers are very worried about Dr. Jerome Corsi’s new book, Where’s the Birth Certificate?: The Case that Barack Obama is not Eligible to be President, which comes out May 17, 2011. By trumping Trump, they believe it will take the air out of Corsi’s book. It is already a best seller and Barry’s bosses should be worried. Dr. Corsi is a meticulous researcher who leaves nothing to chance. His book, Unfit for Command, “swift boated” John Kerry’s bid for the White House. I’ve pre-ordered my copy and if you’re interested, Amazon has it at the lowest price I could find. Jerome put out another short rebuttal yesterday about the “new” birth certificate where he again points out the discrepancies regarding the issuance of the birth certificates numbers, who issues them and when.

Is there any basis for believing the document shown around the world is authentic? Not in my book. With Obama/Soetoro already being caught in so many lies, why would anyone believe the piece of paper he’s now waving around contains the truth? There’s no question Barry has used five different aliases. There’s no question in my mind any longer that the Manchurian Candidate has been using a fake social security number. His whole life is just one fabrication after another.

How can anyone, after all the research brought to light proving one discrepancy after another about the life of Obama/Soetoro and all his other known aliases he’s used — how could anyone simply take that document as truth?

Well, I can tell you right now, a whole lot of people aren’t, including me. We are not intimidated by the continued caterwauling about “the birthers” and other name calling. As I have written before, I know nothing about computer technology or some of the programs available to people who use the Internet. Never used Photoshop or any of the other programs discussed in the videos below. I know how to use my computer and word processor, but I am not a technical person like my web master. Below are three videos by individuals who carefully demonstrate and explain why the “new” birth certificate is a poor forgery…

[Return to headlines]

Tornadoes Ravage South; Death Toll at 173

The death toll in five Southern states rose sharply Thursday morning to 173 after devastating storms ripped through five Southern states, spawning a deadly tornado in downtown Tuscaloosa, Ala., and leaving a trail of flattened homes and buildings in a region already battered by storms.

Across Alabama, at least 128 people were killed by storms on Wednesday alone, according to Reuters. The Associated Press reported an additional 32 deaths in Mississippi, 11 in Georgia and 1 each in Tennessee and Virginia.

[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

A Boost for Sarkozy and Berlusconi

Support Broadens for Border-Free Travel Changes

Several European countries have voiced cautious support for adjustments to Europe’s Schengen border-free travel agreement. Given the ongoing influx of economic refugees from North Africa, the reintroduction of border checks should be allowed, say many. But travel freedoms, warned Germany, should not be questioned.

As waves of refugees go, the arrival of 26,000 economic immigrants from Tunisia on Europe’s southern shores so far this year is hardly unprecedented. During the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the 1990s, Germany provided a temporary home to 350,000 people, and even Sweden, population 9 million, took in 53,000. In 2010 alone, Germany received 39,900 asylum requests.

But with ongoing upheaval in North Africa showing no signs of ending anytime soon, both Italy and France are growing nervous. Now, other countries have joined them in demanding adjustments to Europe’s border-free travel regime, the Schengen Agreement, to allow the re-introduction of border checks under specified conditions. Germany is among them.

German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative bloc indicated on Wednesday Berlin’s support for re-introducing border controls within the European Union “in extreme cases.” His ministry spokesperson said the changes under discussion represented “minor adjustments” for “certain situations.”

Hans-Peter Uhl, conservative parliamentary spokesman on interior affairs, likewise said that changes were necessary. “That would be the logical result of the situation which has developed in recent months,” he told the Munich-based daily Süddeutsche Zeitung.

‘Not Up for Negotiation’

But Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, a member of the business-friendly Free Democratic Party, Merkel’s junior coalition partner, provided only tepid support for the idea. “If one can improve the Schengen system, then that is a good thing and one should do it,” he said. “But freedom of travel in Europe is an important achievement and it should not be up for negotiation.”

Bulgaria and Romania, both of which are to become part of Europe’s border-free zone later this year, also expressed support, although they urged that any changes first be made after they have become members. The Netherlands, Greece and Malta have also offered their support for Schengen adjustments.

“I will resist those who call for simply re-instating border controls,” said Dutch Immigration Minister Gerd Leers on Wednesday. “But I welcome the debate on how to strengthen and improve the Schengen rules to combat illegal immigration, especially in these times of turmoil.”

The discussion has gained steam this week as a result of a Tuesday meeting between French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi that resulted in a joint letter to the EU demanding that changes be made to allow border checks in “exceptional” situations. The European Commission is expected to announce its own ideas regarding Schengen reform next week.

Arrests in Paris

The meeting between Sarkozy and Berlusconi came about after weeks of squabbling between the neighboring countries over the fate of thousands of refugees who have made the difficult journey over the Mediterranean Sea from Tunisia to the Italian island of Lampedusa in recent months. When Europe showed reluctance in helping Italy with the influx, Rome responded by issuing the migrants with temporary residency permits.

Many of them took the opportunity to travel onward to France. French is spoken widely in Tunisia and many have relatives in the country. But last week, France temporarily stopped a train carrying Tunisian immigrants at the border and has also increased searches of vehicles arriving from Italy. On Wednesday, 60 suspected illegal immigrants were taken into custody in Paris and an additional 15 were arrested in Marseilles.

The recent wave of immigrants began with the overthrow of Tunisian autocrat Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in mid-January. Since then, the Egyptian regime of Hosni Mubarak has also toppled and NATO fighter jets continue to support rebels in their efforts to overthrow dictator Moammar Gadhafi. Southern European countries fear that the problem will get worse before it gets better.

Criticism of Berlusconi and Sarkozy, however, has been widespread. Many have pointed out that Sarkozy has been a vocal supporter of increased political freedoms in North Africa — and he pushed hard for the international military intervention in Libya. As the Guardian wrote on Wednesday, “if you bomb people … they will run and seek refuge elsewhere — it really is as simple as that.”

Pressure from the Far Right

There also, however, may be domestic pressures pushing the two leaders to take a hard line on immigration. Sarkozy is up for re-election in 2012 and has historically shown a tendency to shift to the right in search of voters. Furthermore, the far right Front National led by Marine Le Pen, which is strongly opposed to immigration, is doing well in the polls while Sarkozy’s own UMP has been struggling.

The UMP has been at pains to portray its current effort to modify Schengen as being fuelled by economic concerns. “Do we have the means to absorb job-related immigration? The answer is no,” Jean-Francios Cope, head of the UMP, told the Associated Press. “The measures we are taking are linked to the economic and budgetary situation,” he added.

Berlusconi, for his part, heads up a conservative coalition which has become increasingly wobbly in recent months due to increased attention being paid to his numerous scandals. One of his most important coalition partners is the notoriously anti-immigrant Lega Nord.

The European Union is working together with Tunisia in an attempt to slow down the influx, but so far only a limited number of illegal immigrants are returned to the North African country. Interim Prime Minister Beji Caid urged his countrymen to stay earlier this week. “We were at the origin of a crisis between European countries,” he said. “We must control our frontiers and block the road to specialists in human trafficking.”

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

Croatia “Kidnaps” Marco Polo

Former president visiting China praises “traveller from Korcula” who brought two worlds together

The Hina press agency reports that former Croatian president Stjepan Mesic has inaugurated a museum dedicated to Marko Polo in the Chinese city of Yangzhou. That’s right, “Marko” Polo with a “k”. Mr Mesic paid solemn tribute to the “Croatian-born world traveller who opened China to Europe” and, apparently, the Chinese applauded. If ever proof were needed that the Italian authorities don’t know what they are doing, this is it. How could they possibly let anyone kidnap Marco Polo? Yet the myth of the Venetian trader and traveller’s “Croatianness” is not new. According to Alvise Zorzi, who has written a shelf’s worth of books on Venice, including one on Marco Polo, traces the story back to another legend, which claims that the Venetian traveller was captured by the Genoese in a sea battle in 1298 near the island of Curzola — “Korcula” in Croatian — off the Dalmatian coast. Zorzi dismisses this version: “It seems more likely that on one of his travels, Marco Polo ended up in the hands of the Genoese off the coast of Cilicia at Laiazzo [today Ayas in Turkey — Trans.]”.

This, however, is not the point. Even if Marco Polo had by some chance been born at Curzola (Italo Calvino was born in Havana but no one would dream of calling him a “Cuban writer”), the island that Croatians now call “Korcula” was culturally Venetian, as is obvious from the old town, the Marcian Lions over the doors and the cathedral of St Mark. In fact, it was held in fief by the Zorzi family until the fifteenth century.

To claim that Marco Polo, or indeed any other resident of Curzola at that time, was Croatian simply because the island is in Croatia today, is to stretch history perilously far. By the same token, the ancient episcopate of Thagaste in Numidia is today called Souk Ahras, and is located in Algeria, so St Augustine was an Algerian philosopher. Septimius Severus, born in Roman Leptis Magna, a short distance from modern-day Al Khums in Tripolitania, would be a Tripolitanian emperor while Justinian was born in what is now Zelenikovo in Macedonia, so he would be Macedonian, or if you like Turkish, since he governed from the present-day Istanbul. To say nothing of the well-known French patriot, Nice-born Giuseppe Garibaldi.

Ridiculous. As if that wasn’t enough, Zorzi goes on, Marco Polo never mentions Curzola in Il Milione. He dictated his memoirs while languishing in a Genoese prison to Rustichello da Pisa, a composer of chivalrous romances, which at that time were written in langue d’oïl (as was Marco Polo’s book, originally entitled Le livre de Marco Polo citoyen de Venise, dit Million, où l’on conte les merveilles du monde). Moreover, Curzola is nowhere mentioned in the Polo family archives in Venice.

There is plenty of archive material — births, deaths, marriages, wives, wills and so on — from which to trace the impeccably Venetian roots of the Polo family, which was almost certainly resident in the San Trovaso district. All you want…

English translation by Giles Watson

[Return to headlines]

Horsetrading Over ECB Presidency: Merkel to Demand Concessions for Backing Sarkozy’s Choice

By Yasmin El-Sharif

Outgoing ECB President Jean-Claude Trichet (left) and his possible successor Mario Draghi.

France has thrown its weight behind Mario Draghi as the new head of the European Central Bank, but now the real political maneuvering begins. The German government is likely to support the Italian candidate, but not without demanding concessions in return, possibly including amendments to the euro rescue fund.

In the end, Axel Weber was wise enough to see it coming. The outgoing Bundesbank president was probably the first to realize that he would have no chance in a fight against Mario Draghi for the top post at European Central Bank (ECB). Weber therefore quit the running early on — in February, he withdrew as a potential candidate for the chairmanship of the ECB.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is now looking at the situation in the same way as Weber did back then. The chancellor must be well aware that Draghi will likely win the ECB election race in the fall. Admittedly, nothing can happen without Germany’s consent, but lacking her own candidate, Merkel has little choice but to support Draghi, especially after French President Nicolas Sarkozy backed the Italian on Tuesday. “I assume that Mr. Draghi will be the joint candidate,” says Volker Wissing, financial policy expert with the business-friendly Free Democratic Party.

The question is now: What will Merkel demand for her acquiescence? The chancellor will certainly not support Draghi for the job without getting some trade-offs in return. But what will they be?

France Won’t Get Its Way Cheaply

What’s certain is that Sarkozy and his European allies will pay a high price for getting their way. With his decisive support for Draghi, the French president has revealed his hand to Merkel all too clearly. The chancellor will now have to present her key demands, according to sources in the ruling coalition government. These could relate to, for example, a greater say for Germany within the European Central Bank and, in particular, determining the final version of the euro stability rules.

Berlin politicians emphasize that, as the largest economy in Europe, Germany has a special say in important personnel discussions. In return for approving Draghi’s candidacy, therefore, Merkel must insist on “a prominent role” for the ECB’s German chief economist Jürgen Stark on the executive board of the central bank, says FDP politician Wissing. His party colleague Frank Schäffler goes even further: “A minimum requirement is that Germany be permanently represented on the board.”

As the largest donor to the ECB, Germany already has a big say at the central bank, and Merkel is likely to demand even more. At the upcoming EU summit, she should lobby in particular for amendments to the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), says Wissing. “The danger that Germany will have to pay for Europe’s debtors must be overcome,” adds Frank Schäffler.

Mario Draghi as ECB president in exchange for greater financial security for Germany — that could end up being the deal. That the German government would like to push up the price in the game of European poker is made clear by official statements from Berlin. The aim is to keep its European partners in suspense for a while. Whether Germany will join France in supporting Draghi’s candidacy has not yet been decided, says government spokesman Steffen Seibert, explaining that a candidate will be backed in due course. A decision will not be taken until June, when the European Council meets, he said. But he adds: “Without German consent, no one will get to the top of the ECB.”

Regardless of the political theater, Berlin can have little doubt about the suitability of Draghi to take on the role. Currently the head of the Italian central bank, he has been making a name for himself internationally for years. From 1984 to 1990, he was executive director of the World Bank, before working as a professor in Florence. Later, he was the European head of Goldman Sachs in London. Prominent US economist Nouriel Roubini is said to be a fan of Draghi, and former German Finance Minister Peer Steinbrück has also praised the Italian. Current Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble has likewise already settled on Draghi as his preferred ECB candidate, the Handelsblatt wrote recently.

They all know that the future head of the ECB will need to step into the job with bags of experience. Tough tasks are awaiting him, including a possible debt restructuring in Greece, which is looking increasingly likely, and maybe even in Portugal. And the financial future of other debt-stricken southern European countries like Italy and Spain is not secure, either.

Merkel Must Convince Tabloid Readers

The price of German acquiescence regarding Draghi will be particularly high precisely because he is a central banker from a heavily indebted country. “In absolutely no case” should “this Italian” become president of the institution that “administers the legacy of the stable deutschmark,” thundered the populist German tabloid Bild recently. The newspaper also suggested that Draghi, in his time at Goldman Sachs, helped the Greek government to fudge the balance sheets and conceal the truth about its disastrous budget problems. Even if the banker denies this, Merkel must find effective ways of convincing Bild readers of Draghi’s suitability.

But politicians in Berlin also fear that the ECB in Frankfurt could in future pursue a soft monetary policy. “We need someone who represents the German culture of stability,” says Wissing. Klaus-Peter Flosbach, financial spokesman for the CDU/CSU parliamentary group, says that the candidate’s qualifications are crucial. “He must guarantee a stable monetary policy.”

Merkel’s Chancellery, too, has listed four requirements that it sees as vital when choosing the person for the job:

• The candidate should have international experience, says spokesman Seibert.

• “Someone is sought who shares our beliefs about currency stability,” Seibert said.

• Furthermore, the new president must continue the ECB’s important role in dealing with financial crises.

• He must be prepared to formulate wide-ranging reform measures for struggling euro-zone members.

But Seibert leaves the crucial question open. He does not say whether Draghi fits these requirements.

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

Hungary’s Rising Right: Roma Defenseless Against Extremist Vigilantes

By Keno Verseck

The Hungarian Guard may have been banned, but other right-wing extremist groups have risen to take their place.

Right-wing extremists have been on the rise for years in Hungary, and the country’s Roma population lives in increasing terror. The government of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has preferred to look the other way as vigilante groups have supplanted the rule of law.

It was one year ago that Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s national-conservative Fidesz party rose to power behind populist calls for law, order and more police. Soon after he was sworn in, he promised a “noticeable increase in public security within two weeks.”

But now, his government is losing its grip. The police and the judiciary have lost control over the growing right-extremist citizen groups and paramilitary-style gangs.

In recent months, extremists have repeatedly staged marches, primarily in eastern Hungary, against “Gypsy criminality.” And police in the villages which have been targeted have shown a preference for standing aside. Roma activist Aladár Horváth says that the country has been gripped by a “civil war-like atmosphere” and “rampant racism.”

The situation is particularly grim in the village of Gyöngyöspata. On Tuesday, right-wing radicals entered the town and three people were injured in the resulting brawls. Dozens more extremists marched in on Wednesday morning. Fully 100 Roma left the village as a result, according to news agency MTI.

‘Anti-National Propaganda’

Orbán’s government has so far sought to play down the problem. In a parliamentary debate over the situation in Gyöngyöspata, members of Fidesz voiced concern about right-wing extremism. But they also accused the opposition Socialists and the Green Alternative party of “anti-national propaganda.” The opposition, Fidesz lawmakers said, are using the incidents in Gyöngyöspata to damage Hungary’s standing abroad.

State Secretary Zoltán Balog, responsible for issues relating to the Roma minority, would also prefer to trivialize the problems generated by the right-wing vigilantes. But he admits that the authorities should have taken action in Gyöngyöspata much earlier to prevent an escalation of violence.

That, though, didn’t happen. As early as the beginning of March, the right-extremist group Szeb Jövöért (“better future”) — the name comes from an old fascist greeting — showed up in the village. Last week, it was Véderö, likewise a group of right-wing vigilantes, which arrived in Gyöngyöspata to take part in training exercises over Easter weekend. Police banned the event, but two-thirds of the 450 Roma who live in the village left anyway, out of fear of right-wing violence. They spent Easter in a recreation center near Budapest. The exodus was organized by a foundation run by an American businessman in Hungary together with the Red Cross. The government, including State Secretary Zoltán Balog, referred to the trip as a “weekend excursion.”

Roma activist Aladár Horváth says the case of Gyöngyöspata is a sign that the Hungarian state has retreated from certain regions and left them to the right-wing vigilantes. “For the Roma there, the rule of law, the police and the judiciary simply don’t exist anymore,” he says. “They are defenseless.”

‘Gypsy Criminality’

Indeed, Gyöngyöspata is merely the apex of a development which has been underway for years. Most of the right-wing vigilante groups model themselves on the Hungarian Guard, founded in 2007 as the paramilitary wing of Jobbik, the right-wing party which received 17 percent of the vote in general elections last year. The group had several thousand members before it was banned in 2009.

The Hungarian Guard, clad in black uniforms, made a habit of frequently marching through towns and villages to call attention to so-called “Gypsy criminality,” often with the raucous approval of non-Roma residents. Consequences for Roma, however, were often grim. In 2008, for example, the Hungarian Guard repeatedly turned up in the village of Tatárszentgyörgy, south of Budapest. In February 2009, a right-wing group set alight a house belonging to a Roma family on the edge of the village. A man and his son were shot to death as they tried to escape from the flames; his wife and daughter were seriously injured by gunfire.

The perpetrators, who ultimately murdered a total of six randomly chosen Roma and injured 55 in arson and firearm attacks, were arrested in the summer of 2009. They are currently being tried in Budapest. But horror at their crimes was far from widespread and right-extremist marches continued.

Jobbik was able to build on their general election success last April by securing up to 30 percent of the vote in eastern Hungary in municipal elections last autumn. In the small town of Tiszavasvári, population 13,000, the right-extremist mayoral candidate Erik Fülöp received 53 percent of the vote. Party head Gábor Vona has since referred to the town as the “capital of our movement” — a reference to Munich’s Third Reich nickname as “capital of the movement.”

Marching on the Edge of Town

Fülöp, 29, is a lawyer, and says things like “coexisting with the Gypsy society is very difficult, the state is treading on the rights of Hungarians.” Last week, he founded a gendarmerie for the town of Tiszavasvári, paid for out of city hall coffers. It is reminiscent of the Hungarian Gendarmerie which, under the authoritarian regime of Miklós Horthy, was a kind of political police force between the two world wars. In addition to being notoriously brutal, the group also helped with the deportation of Hungarian Jews to the German extermination camps.

Last week, a significant number of Hungary’s right-wing elite travelled to Tiszavasvári for the group’s inauguration. The Interior Ministry, said Jobbik head Gábor Vona ironically, need not be “envious” of the “historic initiative” taken by his party. They just want to help the police. Mayor Fülöp said nobody needed to fear the gendarmerie. “Only those who have committed a crime need be afraid,” he said.

The very next day, the group went on its very first march — through the Roma settlement on the edge of town.

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

Italian Bombs for French Bombast

La Stampa, 27 April 2011

“Italian bombs on Libya in exchange for French help with the migrants”: that’s how La Stampa columnist Lucia Annunziata sums up the significance of the agreement signed yesterday in Rome between Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi and French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Apparently a reasonable deal, but, Lucia Annunziata notes, “one in which Italy is shouldering the heaviest burden,” as it commits the country to take part in NATO airstrikes on Libya. For its part, Paris restricted itself to “vague commitments” on reforming the Schengen agreements. One point of contention remains in economic relations: faced with the offensive from French companies seeking to take over the jewels of Italian industry, Berlusconi has put aside the economic patriotism of Italy and is backing the emergence of major Franco-Italian groups. In return, Sarkozy has assured Berlusconi of his support for the candidacy of the governor of the Bank of Italy Mario Draghi for the head of the European Central Bank.

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

Ottomans to Sit Out Royal Wedding Amid Dynastic Spat

Even if the Ottoman dynasty had been included in this week’s royal wedding in the UK, it would not attend due to hostility in the past, surviving members of the family say. ‘The Ottoman family has always kept the European dynasties at a distance. We would not attend the wedding even if we were invited,’ says Ottoman descendant Orhan Osmanoglu

Historical hostility between the British and Ottoman dynasties has outlived the latter entirely, leaving the surviving members of the family disdaining the thought of attending Friday’s royal wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton.

“The Ottoman dynasty has always kept the European dynasties at a distance. Our family remains distant to the U.K. [royals] due to historical reasons. We would not attend the wedding even if we were invited,” said Orhan Osmanoglu, the fourth-generation grandson of Ottoman Sultan Abdülhamid II, known as the “Crimson Sultan.”

Having members of the Ottoman dynasty at the high-profile wedding at London’s Westminster Abbey would set tongues wagging, according to Osmanoglu. “Our presence at this wedding that will be in the headlines all around the world might create problems,” he said. “We don’t want the Turkish Republic to have a problem because of this matter.”

A key factor in the friction between the two clans is an ongoing spat over the rich oil reserves around the city of Mosul in northern Iraq.

Beyzade Bülent Osman, the grandson of Abdülhamid II, told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review last year that the family was preparing to file a suit against the United Kingdom for its share of Mosul’s oil wealth.

“Mosul’s oil reserves were purchased not with state funds but with Sultan Abdülhamid’s personal wealth,” Osmanoglu said. “My family was promised by Britain during World War I that the income would be shared. Unfortunately, this promise was not kept. We have been waiting for the right time to file the suit.”

He added, however, that the legal action has been postponed for the time being.

Calling for Turkey to back the family in such an important lawsuit, Osmanoglu said the relevant documents are available in the state archives. He related the story of his grandfather’s purchase of Mosul’s oil reserves to the Daily News.

“Abdülhamid II noticed the British were paying frequent visits to Iraq and consulted palace bureaucrats on the issue. The civil servants told him to see Kalust Gulbenkian, a member of the Ottoman-Armenian community who was studying at Galatasaray High School,” Osmanoglu said. “He later made an international name for himself as an oil tradesman. Gulbenkian told my grandfather that Britain was using Iraq’s oil to power its cars. My grandfather became the owner of the oil reserves of Mosul thanks to Gulbenkian’s offer.”

In total, there are 76 remaining members of the Ottoman dynasty living in Turkey, the United States, France, the United Kingdom and Arabic countries. The oldest member of the Ottoman family, 85-year old Osman Beyazit, is the grandson of Sultan Abdülmecid and lives in New York. Twenty-four of the dynasty members hold the title of “sehzade,” meaning sultan’s son. Despite the wealth once held by the sultans, many members of the family now have financial problems.

A modest wedding at marriage office

The pomp and circumstance surrounding the British royal wedding would have seemed modest to the Ottomans during their heyday. “The marriage of a sultan’s son was celebrated for 40 days and 40 nights,” Osmanoglu said, relating tales he had heard from older family members. “Members of the public as well as dynasty representatives from other countries were invited to the event.”

Following the proclamation of the Turkish Republic, however, the caliphate was abolished in 1924 and the members of the Ottoman dynasty family were ordered into exile. Some went to Europe and the United States while others made their homes in the Middle East. “The weddings in exile have never been the same as they were before,” said Osmanoglu. “My father, who was the son of a sultan, married my mother at a marriage office. They signed the documents and left the office.”

When it comes to Will and Kate’s nuptials, he added: “They [the British monarchs] define themselves as the ‘empire on which the sun never sets.’ I have no doubt that they will have the most splendid wedding.”

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

Sweden: Ombudsman Demands More Protection for Roma

Svenska Dagbladet, 27 April 2011

“Greater legal protection for Roma,” headlines Svenska Dagbladet, in the wake of the publication of the Swedish ombudsman’s report on ethnic discrimination and its effect on the 50,000-strong Roma population in Sweden. According to the ombudsman, discrimination is part of everyday life for the Roma in Sweden and current legislation should be revised to include greater legal safeguards for Roma rights. The newspaper notes that it is not easy to provide conclusive evidence of discrimination in social services, and cites a spokesman for the ombudsman’s office who points out that this is “a field where many Roma have filed cases without obtaining compensation.”

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

Swedish Bathers in Naked Shower Outcry

Regular visitors to a Stockholm-area public swimming pool have expressed their outrage over the refusal of fellow bathers to get naked.

In an open letter published in local Stockholm news paper Södra Sidan, a group of regular visitors to the Skärholmen public swimming pool have demanded that something be done about visitors refusing take showers and saunas in the buff

“This is a difficult subject to bring up, as it is often dismissed as prejudice, as if we are judging a specific group in society or pointing our finger at ‘immigrants’,” the group wrote.

According to the authors, people with foreign backgrounds often flouted the rules posted on the walls of the swimming pool changing rooms by refusing to remove their swim suits or underpants in the showers and in the saunas, or for failing to shower at all before entering the sauna or gym.

The staff at the swimming pool charged with monitoring the situation seem to have ‘given up’ or are avoiding confrontation due to the ‘unpleasant behaviour’ of those that refuse to shower naked, the authors claimed.

“If this is a matter of timidity, they could always wear a towel wrapped around them in the sauna or turn away in the showers,” they wrote.

Thomas Lindell Taylor, manager of the public pool in Skärholmen, does not think that the writers of the article are right in their criticism.

“The article is identifying immigrants as the problem. I don’t agree with that,” he told Södra Sidan.

Instead it could be a question of a clash between generations, according to Lindell Taylor.

In his view, younger visitors to the swimming pool are simply ignoring the rules.

Swimming teacher Lars Birdal agrees added that not everyone is comfortable with nudity, explaining that the pool is many ways is a reflection of society at large.

“The public pool is like a miniature society and the problems you meet outside the walls you also see within,” Birdall told Södra Sidan.

Among visitors to the bath the opinions are mixed.

One Muslim visitor told the newspaper admitted to showering with his swimming trunks on and changing in a toilet stall in order to avoid undressing in front of others.

Another visitor said he is often irritated by the fact that people don’t take off their clothes before showering.

“Some people don’t care about the rules. It may have something to with their upbringing. But when I tell them off they start a fight with me. I am an immigrant to Sweden myself, but have been accused of trying to act ‘Swedish’. But all I want is for things to be clean and nice,” he said.

Not everyone agrees that there is a problem with overdressing in the Skärholmen public pool showers.

“Perhaps some aren’t used to getting naked in public, but I really don’t think that is a problem here,” one visitor said.

This is not the first controversy in Sweden revolving around appropriate swimming pool attire.

In 2008, the city of Gothenburg was ordered to pay damages to two Muslim mothers who were kicked out of a swimming pool for not removing their veils.

This led to some swimming pools renting out ‘burkinis’, a move considered more hygienic than allowing women to swim with their veils or regular clothes on.

And in 2009 swimming pools across the country were forced to take policy decisions on women bathing topless following pressure from the Bara Bröst network — which translates both as ‘bare breasts’ and ‘just breasts’ — arguing that if men can swim without a top on, women should be allowed as well

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Switzerland: Anti-German Sentiment Could Resurface

The Swiss ambassador to Germany has warned latent anti-German sentiment amongst the Swiss could flare up again.

Writing in the edition of the German weekly Die Zeit to appear on Thursday, Tim Guldimann called for a serious political discussion of the question of German immigration to Switzerland.

“Today, there are some 270,000 Germans living in Switzerland and immigration is continuing,” Guldimann wrote.

He pointed to Swiss frustration with restrictions imposed by Germany which affect flights coming in to Zurich airport and anger that Germany was using banking data stolen in Switzerland to track down suspected tax evaders as reasons for resentment.

But he also said the Swiss, particularly in the German-speaking part of the country, feel a sense of inferiority in relation to their larger northern neighbour.

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

UK: Royal Wedding Guests Include Barhein Ex-Torturer

(AGI) London — A former torturer from Barhein would seem to be in the list of guests to the wedding of William and Kate.

According to the Guardian, the emirate’s ambassador to London is in the list of the 1900 chosen to attend the royal wedding and apparently has a questionable past history. Sheik Khalifa Bin Ali al-Khalifa, from 2005-2008, was, before becoming a career diplomat, a NBA head. The NBA, the National Security Agency of Barhein, is accused by Human Rights Watch of having beaten and tortured, including with electric shocks, various prisoners.

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


Croatia: Over 3:700 Indicted for Crimes in Military Operation “Storm”, 2,380 Sentenced, Prosecutor Says

Zagreb, 27 April (AKI) — Croatia’s state prosecutor’s office said on Wednesday 3,728 people had been indicted for crimes committed in the military operation “Storm” in August 1995, with 2,380 receiving prison sentences.

Most criminal acts were committed against property, but there were also cases of murder and war crimes, the prosecutor said in a statement. Among the perpetrators were 439 members of Croatian armed forces, the statement said.

The United Nations war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia sentenced two Croatian generals, Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac to 24 and 18 years in prison respectively, for crimes committed against Serb civilians in the operation “Storm”

Croatian human rights organisations and opposition politicians have criticized the country’s judiciary organs for failing to vigorously prosecute perpetrators of war crimes committed by Croatian forces.

Croatian forces started offensive dubbed operation “Storm” in August 1995 to quell a Serb rebellion against Croatia’s secession from the former Yugoslavia. According to Croatian human rights organization, the Helsinki Committee, 677 Serb civilians were killed in the operation and 563 are still being listed as missing.

In addition, some 200,000 Serbs fled for a refuge in Serbia and their property in many cases was destroyed. The Hague tribunal said it was a “joint criminal enterprise”, headed by wartime president Franjo Tudjman, whose aim was to ethnically cleanse Croatia of Serb minority.

The prosecutor’s office said it had evidence of 47 murders during and after the operation “Storm” for which 33 perpetrators had been tried. Ten Croatian soldiers were tried for war crimes, it said, but gave no information on the length of sentences.

Croatia is expecting to join the European Union next year, but officials in Brussels have said it would have to prosecute war crimes more vigorously.

The state prosecutor said many cases were still being investigated and vowed to prosecute perpetrators of war crimes, which have no statute of limitations

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

North Africa

Imams Hold Demonstration in ‘Secular’ Egypt

Imams held a large demonstration Tuesday in front of the Al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo, demanding the ancient place of worship and Islamic education institution be released from government control.

The protest took place the same day that Egypt’s minister of religious endowments announced that the country is a “secular state with a religious reference,” according to reports in the Egyptian media.

Egyptian daily Al-Masry Al-Youm reported that about 15,000 imams and preachers held a rally in front of Al-Azhar, demanding the mosque become an independent institution with a grand sheikh who is elected rather than appointed by the government. The group also called for the ministries of religious endowment and the “Ifta,” or religious edicts authority, to come under the control of an independent Al-Azhar authority.

Minister of Religious Endowments Abdallah al-Husseini meanwhile announced a committee was considering the possibility of reappointing imams who lost their jobs after the State Security Investigation Service was dissolved. He insisted, however, that Egypt does not accept the mixing of religion with politics.

Speaking at a meeting with a senior Russian foreign-affairs official, al-Husseini said Egypt has conveyed a moderate image of Islam and welcomed people from different cultures. He said Egypt was ready to cooperate with Islamic educational institutions in other countries, specifically Russia.

The current Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar, Ahmed al-Tayyeb, was not present at the mosque during the protests Tuesday. Egyptian military officers cordoned off the area to prevent demonstrators from entering.

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

Libya — Vatican: This “War Makes No Sense”, the Italian Govt Should “Resign”, Tripoli Bishop Says

Bombs strike Tripoli throughout the night. Residents are desperate, running into the streets, appealing to the Pope to stop the war. “If the war continues, the gap between the Libyan and Italian peoples could get bigger, with unforeseeable consequences,” the apostolic vicar says.

Tripoli (AsiaNews) — “NATO’s war makes no sense. People want peace. What have people done to deserve all this?” asks Mgr Giovanni Innocenzo Martinelli, apostolic vicar of Tripoli. “Targeting military objectives” is crazy because “bombs are striking everywhere,” the prelate said. “We cannot sleep and people are panicking,” he added. “Just last night, there were some explosions just a few kilometres from our area.”

The situation is desperate and the West should stop the war, Mgr Martinelli urged. “We can see women and children crying in the streets. Many Muslim women have come to church crying, asking the Pope to stop the conflict,” the prelate said.

“Bombs solve nothing. NATO and the rebels must stop the military intervention and accept diplomatic talks with the regime,” he explained.

The prelate is also very critical of the positions taken by the Italian government. After backing Gaddafi and his regime for years, now Rome has decided to take part in the air strikes.

“If this is the government’s choice, it would be better for everyone that it resign,” the bishop said.

“How can anyone say that everything is normal and right? If the war continues, the gap between the Libyan and Italian peoples could get bigger, with unforeseeable consequences.” (S.C.)

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

Morocco: Blast Kills ‘At Least 10’ At Marrakesh Cafe

Marrakesh, 28 April (AKI) — An explosion in the southern Moroccan city of Marrakesh on Thursday killed at least 10 people.

The blast was reportedly caused when gas canisters caught fire inside a cafe but police have not dismissed the possibility of a terrorist attack, Arab-language satellite news channel al-Arabiya reported.

“At least 10 people were killed. They include clients and cafe employees, a Moroccan official source told Arab-language satellite news channel Al-Jazeera.

The explosion happened on the famous bustling Jamaa Lafna Square, the city’s main meeting spot.

Rescue officials were pulling casualties from the cafe, according to Reuters photographer.

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

Israel and the Palestinians

YouTube: Gaza Flotilla Participants Invoked the Killing of Jews

Gaza flotilla participants chanted Islamic battle cry invoking the killing of Jews.

The name Khaibar mentioned in battle cry was the last Jewish village defeated by Muhammad’s army in 628. The battle marked the end of Jewish presence in Arabia.

There are Muslims who see that as a precursor for future wars against Jews. At gatherings and rallies of extremists, this chant is often heard as a threat to Jews to expect to be defeated and killed again by Muslims.

The following is the transcript from Al-Jazeera TV: Reporter: “Despite the Israeli threats and several unexpected delays, the arrival of the ships at the meeting point before sailing to the Gaza Strip inflamed the emotions and the enthusiasm of the participants.” Visuals from Gaza flotilla ship of young Muslims shouting Islamic battle chant invoking the killing and defeat of Jews in battle:

“[Remember] Khaibar, Khaibar, oh Jews! The army of Muhammad will return!” [Khaibar is the name of last Jewish village defeated by Muhammad’s army and it marked the end of Jewish presence in Arabia in 628.]

Reporter: “While singing songs reminiscent of the Palestinian Intifada (Palestinian terror war against Israel, 2000 — 2005), participants expressed their longing to reach Gaza.”

A participant: “Right now we face one of two happy endings: either Martyrdom or reaching Gaza.” [Based on Islamic call before battle: “Either victory or Martyrdom”.]

[Al-Jazeera TV, May 29, 2010]

           — Hat tip: TV[Return to headlines]

Middle East

From Rome to Damascus, Via Tripoli: The Mediterranean Chessboard

Berlusconi’s decision for Italy to join the bombing campaign against Gaddafi has roots and reverberations across a region where all is connected, and nothing is certain


Italy’s announcement that it has decided to take part in NATO’s raids against Libya marks a strategic turning point for Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Over the past few weeks, Berlusconi has repeatedly dismissed the possibility of using Italian firepower in the NATO airstrikes, given Italy’s colonial past in Libya. But it became increasingly difficult to maintain this position as NATO put more and more pressure on the Italians. But it was the Italian government’s April 4 recognition of the National Transition Council in Benghazi as Libya’s sole legitimate representative that made the position virtually impossible. In foreign politics there is a line between positions that are just incoherent and those that come with too high a price.

Theoretically, when the Libyan crisis began, Italy could have taken a different position. Opting for a cautious position, as Germany did, was still possible. Instead, the Italian government first granted to the international coalition the use of its military bases and pushed to give the command of the operations to NATO. Then it received in Rome, with open arms, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, the leader of Libya’s provisional rebel government, and sent some military advisors to Libya.

Italy’s refusal to send Italian bombers to Libya was entirely inconsistent with its actions in support of the rebels. Italy was already paying the political costs of the war against Gaddafi and was already undertaking the risk that Gaddafi could seek revenge. At the same time, Italy was losing its credibility inside the North Atlantic coalition and was legitimizing the first-line role of France and United Kingdom in the future of Libya.

After much hesitation, the intervention became necessary, at least to give the appearance of having some sort of coherent foreign policy. The decision finally arrived Monday after a phone call with U.S. President Barack Obama. Italy had to avoid being isolated in a crisis in which it has many interests and is exposed to many risks. There was little to gain and much to lose.

This choice could prove useful if Italy will seriously try to influence an international strategy that by now has been confused and ineffective. Too often in the past, our country’s foreign policy started and ended with the modest desire to just be on the playing field, while others were actually making the decisions. Today, Italy should press for a real debate on some basic but still unanswered questions. What kind of support will we provide to the recently recognized Libyan rebel forces? What should be done to avoid the partition of Libya ? How can an intesified military effort promote a political solution that brings the removal of Gaddafi?

Coherence has not been the main trait in European and American reactions to the Arab uprisings since January. The United States is dealing with the weight of their debt, the Pentagon’ s strategies and realpolitik. They have not decided yet how far they should go in supporting an Arab awakening that by now has triggered the fall of an ally rather than enemy regimes. Europe is divided on the immigration issue, with leaders in France and Italy using it to play electoral politics.

While the US is hesitating and Europe is divided, the Arab spring is facing its winter in Syria. Bashar al-Assad’s regime’s violent repressions and the West’s weak reaction show that Paris can push for a military action in Libya — an oil-producing nation not part of the Middle East balance of powers — but has not been able to save Saad Hariri’s standing in Lebanon or to reduce the influence of Syria, which is allied with Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

According to some theories, the Arab awakening did not start in Tunisia, last December, but in Lebanon in 2005, when the murder of the former Sunni prime minister, Rafiq Hariri, led thousands of people to demand the withdrawal of Syrian troops from the country. On April 26, 2005, Syria finally withdrew, after a UN resolution pushed by France and US. At the time, Syria’s Assad accused foreign powers of contributing to the area’s destabilization. It was just the beginning of the current showdown between the Syrian Alawi minority and the Sunni majority.

This theory argues that the longevity of the Arab spring (or winter) will ultimately be determined by what transpires in the core of the Middle East rather than at the periphery in northern Africa. The show of strength in Syria will affect security in Lebanon and Israel, Iraq and its Kurd minority, and Turkey, which in recent years has built stronger relationships with its former foe in Damascus. By this view, in comparison with Syria, what happens in Libya could start to appear marginal. But it is not: the outcome of the use of force against Gaddafi will also weigh heavily on the choices of Bashar al-Assad.

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

Syria: Nowhere Near Regime Change

by Srdja Trifkovic

“Unrest in Syria has discomforted rather than shaken the regime of Bashir Al-Assad,” I wrote in the May issue of Chronicles (Cultural Revolutions, p. 6). “On current form it is an even bet that he will survive, which is preferable to any likely alternative.” The violence has become far worse since the editorial was written in mid-March and the regime looks somewhat shaken by now, but the overall conclusion still stands.

What was “last but not least” a month ago needs to be stated first now: the army and the internal security apparatus remain reliable in spite of several weeks of intense pressure. Contrary to the protesters’ claims of a split within army ranks, the soldiers are loyal to Bashir and to the regime—rather than to the Army as an institution (like in Egypt), or to whoever appears to be winning in the streets (like in Tunisia).. The soldiers appear singularly unintimidated by mob violence, which is often instigated by the Islamists who treat “martyrdom” as an essential element of their destabilization strategy. The Syrian deaths are now in the low hundreds. This is well below the bimonthly score of our NATO “ally” Turkey during its clampdown on the Kurds in the 1980s, and less than the death toll of a single day of rioting in Saudi Arabia in 1987.

Less dependent on foreign countries than either Egypt or Tunisia, Bashir is virtually immune to U.S. pressure. Alarmed by the misuse of the UN Security Council Resolution 1973 by NATO as a quasi-legal tool of attempted regime change in Libya, China and Russia have successfully blocked an initiative by the U.S. and some of its European allies for the UNSC to condemn the Syrian government’s “attacks on peaceful protesters..” The regime in Damascus is certain there will be no Operation Libyan Freedom, and it is correct to make that assumption. It is also mindful of Qaddafy’s predicament when faced with Western demands and pressures.

Bashir is potentially sensitive to EU (especially French) sanctions, but he would rather risk such sanctions than agree to a string of unreciprocated concessions on the short road to self-annihilation. He can learn from the mistakes of Ben Ali and Mubarak. The first lesson is not to panic and not to appear weak. Bashir is making some concessions—such as the ending of the state of emergency and the promise of multi-party political system—but at the same time the authorities in Damascus are demonstrating “that they have the capacity for so much force” that they don’t have to use it all at once. We are nowhere near a genuine nationwide revolt yet, and the regime is nowhere near collapse.

Bashir’s major advantage is the absence of coherence and clarity among his opponents. He faces an enigmatic opposition movement, amorphous and apparently leaderless. It is conceivable that the opposition as a whole is more popular than the regime, but it is heterogeneous. There is the Muslim Brotherhood and several Ikwani splinters, as well as Saudi-supported Salafi groups, there are two armed communist factions and an array of other leftist secularists, there are Kurdish separatists, and other regional militias are beginning to emerge. Even if there were a free election, Bashir’s Ba’ath would likely remain the strongest single party.

In case of Bashir’s collapse the final outcome would be a fundamentalist Sunni regime controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood. The standard chant of Bashir’s opponents, “Allah, Freedom, Syria,” indicates the order of their priorities. Far from being latter-day Jeffersonians, they demand “freedom” from a modernizing, secularist government that has successfully kept political Islam on a tight leash for some decades now. It is therefore self-defeating, but sadly not surprising, that the U.S. appears actively engaged in encouraging an eventual regime change.

The prospect of a fundamentalist victory strikes horror into the hearts of Alawites, Druze, Christians, and secularists of all hues, who provide the bulk of government cadres and a third of Syria’s population. Many of them would prefer civil war to a regime change. The growing middle class—which includes many prosperous Sunnis—is also loath to see their country become more akin to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The dislike of a common enemy can be a powerful bond, and Syria’s assorted heterodox Muslims, secularists, Sunni moderates and non-Muslim “infidels” know that they need to hang together with Bashir. Otherwise they are likely to hang separately and rapidly disappear, which is exactly what happened to Iraq’s previously stable and prosperous Christian community in the aftermath of the U.S.-led 2003 occupation.

The protesters capture the headlines but Bashir remains popular with a large segment of the population. This applies to the young, who account for more than a half of Syria’s 24 million people and many of whom have taken advantage of his economic liberalization over the past decade. They see the termination of the decades-long state of emergency as a key step on Bashir’s reformist path. “Syrians have two roads to choose from — both being calculated gambles,” the country’s leading author and commentator Sami Moubayed wrote a month ago. They either give Bashir the benefit of the doubt, or they entrust their future to a street movement that doesn’t have a clear command, vision, or agenda.

Some foreign proponents of Bashir’s downfall use the standard rhetoric of “democratic” regime change but do not give a hoot for what “the people” actually want, or what is optimal for the region’s long-term stability. It appears that they want to see him replaced by a hard-core Islamist regime in order to ensure that Syria becomes and remains weak and divided. Caroline Glick thus argued in The Jerusalem Post that Syria led by the Brotherhood would be no worse than that led by Assad. “What would a Muslim Brotherhood regime do that Assad isn’t already doing?” she asked. “At a minimum, a successor regime will be weaker than the current one. Consequently, even if Syria is taken over by jihadists, they will pose less of an immediate threat to the region than Assad. They will be much more vulnerable to domestic opposition and subversion.”

This is a remarkably short-sighted view…

           — Hat tip: Srdja Trifkovic[Return to headlines]

William S Burroughs on Trial for Corrupting Turkish Morality

The Istanbul Prosecutor’s Office has opened an investigation into a book written by internationally renowned author William S. Burroughs. It was translated and published by Sel Publishing House in January.

The court referred to a report written by the Prime Ministry’s Council for Protecting Minors from Explicit Publications that accused the novel, “The Soft Machine,” of “incompliance with moral norms” and “hurting people’s moral feelings.” Sel Publishing issued a press release that included parts of their testimony in the court.

“It is impossible to understand the insistence in sending books written and published for adults to councils that specialize in minors. If we consider things from this perspective, then dozens of such reports could be written about TV channels, newscasts and thousands of books,” read the testimony given by the publishing house.

The testimony also argued that the Prime Ministry’s council had no credentials in literature, aesthetics or translation, thus causing what the representatives of the publishing house called a “freakish” decision by the council.

The council also accused the novel of “lacking unity in its subject matter,” “incompliance with narrative unity,” for “using slang and colloquial terms” and “the application of a fragmented narrative style,” while claiming that Burroughs’s book contained unrealistic interpretations that were neither personal nor objective by giving examples from the lifestyles of historical and mythological figures. None of the above, argued the publishing house, constitutes a criminal act.

The council went further and said, “The book does not constitute a literary piece of work in its current condition,” adding it would add nothing new to the reader’s reservoir of knowledge, and argued the book developed “attitudes that were permissive to crime by concentrating on the banal, vulgar and weak attributes of humanity.”

The representatives of the publishing house responded to these charges. “Just as no writer is under any special obligation to highlight humanity’s fair attributes under every circumstance, the measure of whether a book has any literary value or not, and the judge of what the book may add to the reader’s reservoir of knowledge, is not an official state institution, but the reader himself,” they said.

“Once again, societies comprised of modern, creative and inquisitive individuals are formed by reading and being exposed to literary texts and works of art that can be considered as the most extreme examples of their kind,” further asserted the defendants’ statement.

The testimony also invited members of the council to conduct “a simple Internet research” about the writer, and learn about the fact that Burroughs was one of the pioneers the “Beat Generation” that rebelled against the stagnant morality of the middle class in post-World War II America. The testimony also drew attention to the fact that the “cut-up” technique used in the book was once heralded as a great novelty among literary circles.

“Through this technique, Burroughs runs counter, not just to entrenched attitudes in people’s lifestyles but also in contradiction to [older] literary techniques. That being the case and since the aim of the book itself is to push boundaries, it is clearly absurd to search for criminal elements in the book by suggesting that the book does not conform with social norms,” further stated the press release.

“Moreover, it is also meaningless to expect William S. Burroughs, who was not raised in accordance with the National Education Law, or as an individual who ‘identifies with the national, moral, humanitarian, material and spiritual cultural values of Turkish society, and who always tries to exalt his family, country and nation,’ to have produced a text within this framework,” read the testimony. “It is clear and obvious that this case carries no weight nor any respectability outside of the borders of our country.”

“We demand an end to investigations that constrain our activities and the prosecution of books for any reason whatsoever,” concluded the statement.

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

South Asia

Bangladesh: Tribal Villages Again Under Attack as Settlers Deny Responsibility and the Authorities Look on

Bengalis play victim this time as the possibly disproportionate tribal reaction may herald a return to guerrilla war. With no one trying to find the truth, the only certainty is that 50 villages were attacked and that four Bengalis died. The authorities just look on.

Dhaka (AsiaNews) — At least 50 villages inhabited by Jumma tribes in the Chittagong Hill Tracts area (Khagrachari district) were attacked. More than 200 homes were torched and reduced to ashes. Two Buddhist temples were also burnt to the ground. Four Bengali settlers were killed, whilst more than 20 Jummas, including women and children, were wounded. Unconfirmed but reliable reports say that 40 university students have disappeared. This is the outcome of the latest settler attack against Jummas on 17 April, which the authorities have tried to conceal.

The incident was sparked when a group of Bengalis on 14 April tried to take over land used by local tribal people, named Jummas after their ‘shifting’ or ‘jhum’ form of cultivation. The raid failed because it would seem that locals carried out their own attack against settlers, causing the death of four of them. Such incidents are commonplace in Bangladesh. However, lack of information about them has tended to complicate matters.

Settlers and indigenous groups have accused each other in this particular case. Jummas say that Bengali settlers attacked 50 of their villages, setting houses on fire. The latter have countered, claiming the opposite.

The conflict is economic and social, essentially over land use, not religion. It stems from an attempt by Bengalis, backed by army and police, to colonise land inhabited by tribal communities.

However, in this case, roles were reversed because tribals attacked first. This has given Bengalis an opportunity of playing victim, demonstrate, and get the ear of the authorities, who tend to pay less attention to complaints by Jummas when the latter face similar circumstances.

The only thing that is certain is that four settlers were killed by tribals, something that appears disproportionate, especially since Jummas, who are very poor, tend only to use sticks against those who try to seize their land. When that happens, settlers usually organise counteractions against the indigenous population. Even when the police does move in to separate the parties, it never arrests Bengali settlers, thus allowing them to take over more land.

Some now fear that some small groups in the tribal population are trying to stoke the fire of conflict, perhaps restart the 20-year-guerrilla war that ended in late 1990s with a peace deal.

First declared unconstitutional, the agreement was later revived by the current government, but has not been implemented.

Measures taken by the commission to examine the contending claims have not satisfied anyone. For instance, the planned demilitarisation of the region has not been done since some 400 military camps are still waiting to be closed.

In the meantime, Bengali settlers have set up their own self-defence group, the Fight for People’s Rights in Chittagong Hill Tract (FPRCHT), a quasi-paramilitary organisation backed by local police that is known to use illegal means to suppress minorities.

In the latest incident, the FPRCHT lodged an official complaint with the prime minister, a clear sign that the settlers know how to navigate the corridors of power.

The group has also accused the police of not protecting them and not heeding their complaints. However, making false accusations is not that uncommon in Bangladesh.

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

New Attack Against Pakistani Navy Bus in Karachi, 5 Dead

(AGI) Karachi — At least 5 people were killed and 15 wounded in a new attack, the third in two days, against a Navy bus in Karachi. Five sailors and a civilian were killed by a road bomb exploded in the central Faisal Avenue. Karachi, the economic capital of Pakistan, hosts the NATO supply staging center for the provisioning of the international coalition forces in Afghanistan.

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

Pakistan: Anti-Christian Violence in Punjab, Young Woman Raped, Protestant Pastor Attacked

Two members of an extremist group open fire at the car of Rev Ashraf Paul in Lahore. His 24-year-old son is critically wounded but is now out of danger. In Faisalabad, a police officer rapes a 24-year-old woman over four days.

Lahore (AsiaNews/Agencies) — Anti-Christian violence continues in Pakistan, after Easter was celebrated in memory of Shahbaz Bhatti, the country’s Minority Affairs minister assassinated in March. Yesterday, an extremist group ambushed a Protestant clergyman travelling with his family, seriously wounding his 24-year-old son. A few days ago, a young Christian woman was abducted and raped over several days by a man claiming to be a police officer. After she was let go, he fled without leaving a trace.

Two members of Tehreek-e-Ghazi Bin Shaheed (TGBS), an extremist Muslim group, attacked a Protestant clergyman and his family. The incident occurred near the town of Hamza, near Lahore (Punjab). The pastor’s 24-year-old son sustained serious injuries. The clergyman himself had received threats and demands for money a few weeks earlier.

Rev Ashraf Paul, 55, and his family were driving down Ferozepur Road. At one point, two men on motorbikes intercepted the vehicle, firing at the clergyman’s car, which was hit at least five times. His 24-year-old son, Sarfaz, was critically wounded.

The two suspects, aged 19 to 21, fled the scene right after the attack. Their identity is unknown, but in addition to police, activists from the Center for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS) are on the case.

Sarfaz Paul was rushed to the Mayo Hospital, in central Lahore, where he underwent emergency surgery. Doctors removed three bullets, from the young man’s jaw, waist and public area. The latest medical bulletin said that he was “out of danger” but still under close observation.

In Faisalabad, 24-year-old Sehar Naz, was abducted and repeatedly rape by a man claiming to be a police officer.

After sexually assaulting her several times, in Lahore and Faisalabad, the man, who claimed to be a Major Rana Atif, left the woman at the Faisalabad Railway Station.

The sexual assault, which occurred in mid-April, was confirmed by doctors at Faisalabad’s Civil Hospital.

Police opened a file against the accused rapist, who has since disappeared without leaving a trace.

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

Far East

UK: Pub Singer Arrested for Racism After Chinese Passers-by Hear Him Perform Kung Fu Fighting

Later that night, he was phoned at a Chinese restaurant and then arrested

A pub singer has been arrested on suspicion of racism for singing the classic chart hit Kung Fu Fighting.

The song, performed by Simon Ledger, 34, is said to have offended two Chinese people as they walked past the bar where he was singing.

The entertainer regularly performs the 1974 number one hit, originally by disco star Carl Douglas, at the Driftwood Beach Bar in Sandown, on the Isle of Wight.

But after one of the passers-by reported his routine on Sunday afternoon, Mr Ledger was arrested on suspicion of racially aggravated harassment.

‘We were performing Kung Fu Fighting, as we do during all our sets,’ he said.

‘People of all races were loving it. Chinese people have never been offended by it before.

‘But this lad walking past with his mum started swearing at us and making obscene hand gestures before taking a picture on his mobile phone.

‘We hadn’t even seen them when we started the song. He must have phoned the police.’

Officers later called Mr Ledger while he was eating in a Chinese restaurant to arrange a meeting.

The singer assumed it was a prank — but he was later arrested and is still under investigation.

‘They seemed pretty amazed but said the law is the law and it was their duty,’ he is reported to have said.

‘It’s political correctness gone potty. There are plenty of Welsh people at our shows — does it mean I can’t play any Tom Jones?’

Bar owner Sean Ware told the Sun newspaper: ‘The song is in no way racist and nor is Simon. There is no way he would abuse anyone.

‘He didn’t start the song just because Chinese people were walking past. He had already started playing it.’

Mr Ledger, who was later bailed, wrote on Facebook: ‘If the lad who phoned the police is reading this, what is wrong with you?’

A Hampshire police spokesman last night said a 32-year-old man of Chinese origin had claimed he was subjected to racial abuse.

He added: ‘If a victim believes that an alleged crime is racially aggravated, the police will treat it seriously. Investigations into this incident are continuing.’

The spokesman said a 34-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of causing harassment, alarm or distress under section 4a of the Public Order Act 1986.

The man was not taken to the police station at the time, but was released on bail.

He will visit Newport police station today where he will be interviewed.

           — Hat tip: Takuan Seiyo[Return to headlines]


Australia: Divorce Sick Wife, Doctor Told

A foreign doctor who moved to rural WA to help fill the skills shortage, and now wants permanent residency, has been told he cannot stay in Australia unless he divorces his dying wife.

Philippines-born Cesar Sofocado is appealing for a compassionate approach to his family’s permanent residency application after the Immigration Department told him it would be rejected because of his wife’s terminal illness.

The Catholic doctor said he was advised that the only guarantee to permanent residency would come through divorcing or legally separating from his wife, who has advanced cancer.

Without any legal ties to her husband, Mary Sofocado would be forced to leave the country to die alone in the Philippines.

“I married my wife for richer and poorer and in sickness and health — that is the vow I took,” Dr Sofocado said.

“I want to show my daughters we are a family and we don’t leave each other for any reason.”

Mrs Sofocado said she was only seeking palliative care and would not be a burden on the public purse.

“My only wish is for my daughters to grow up in Australia,” Mrs Sofocado said.

The family moved to WA in 2005 for Dr Sofocado’s job at Geraldton Regional Hospital.

He worked in Dampier, Karratha and Bunbury before moving to Ellenbrook Medical Centre.

The family began their permanent residency application in 2008 but the department did not start considering their application until last year, a year after Mrs Sofocado developed breast cancer.

Dr Sofocado said their first case officer erred by advising them to change their application from visa subclass 175 to 176 on learning of his wife’s cancer.

The second visa category, 176, did not allow the right to appeal against a rejection related to health matters. “We feel our family, after our share of work and contribution in ‘areas of need’ in WA, is being treated unjustly,” he said.

Dr Sofocado said their second case officer told them divorce or separation was the only solution under their subclass 176 application and the only guarantee under other categories.

His medical registration is due to expire in June.

The Immigration Department did not respond.

           — Hat tip: Nilk[Return to headlines]

Denmark: Strict Immigration Rules Pay Off, Report Says

Tighter Danish immigration policy has saved the state five billion kroner a year since 2002; further constrictions in pipeline

The state has saved 5.1 billion kroner annually since 2002 when it imposed significantly tighter immigration policies making it more difficult for non-Western immigrants to come to the country.

The figures come from a new report from government officials from five ministries.

The main savings are due to the changed proportion of non-Western and Western immigrants. There are now fewer non-Western immigrants and more Western immigrants coming to Denmark as a result of the tighter immigration policy.

According to the report, immigrants and descendants of immigrants from non-Western countries cost the state 15.7 billion kroner per year, while immigrants and descendants of immigrants from Western countries contribute to the economy with 2.2 billion kroner per year.

The government and its main ally, the Danish People’s Party (DF), intend to use the findings from the report to further tighten the immigration rules.

           — Hat tip: Steen[Return to headlines]

EU: National Interest Comes First

The crisis prompted by the arrival in Italy of thousands of North African migrants has highlighted a desire on the part of national governments to take control of issues they consider to be crucial to their future performance in elections — a development that the European press argues is much to the detriment of the EU.

“Member states were wrong to consider that the wave of migrants landing on the island of Lampedusa was strictly an internal Italian matter. And Italy’s reaction, which was to allow the new arrivals to travel to other European countries, and in particular to France, has thrown petrol on the flames,”

writes NRC Handelsblad in a report which bemoans the absence of solidarity between member states on the issue of the North African migrants. According to the Dutch newspaper, “populist measures like tighter border controls are little more than symbolic.”

In fact, it would be much more efficient if member states “acknowledged their shared responsibility for Europe’s external borders by establishing a common immigration policy. But instead, they have continued to live in the world they left behind 26 years ago,” when they signed the Schengen Agreement.

In an interview published by NRC, a researcher for the Centre for European Reform, Hugo Brandy, explains that:

“the crisis surrounding the Schengen Agreement is comparable to the one faced by the single currency,” because “Schengen and the euro both depend on mutual trust. Now that certain countries are betraying that trust, we are having to resort to sanctions. In both cases, we are wondering if these crises will prove to be setbacks, or if, on the contrary, they will act as a spur for integration.”

In France, Le Monde is keen to defend the benefits of Schengen at a time when the agreement has been threatened by a migration flow, which “is not as Paris claims on a ‘Biblical’ scale, but significant” nonetheless.

“Signed in the 1980s, the Schengen Agreement, which was mainly designed to cover internal European migration, ranks, along with the euro, as one of Europe’s greatest achievements: a common currency and no more borders, two highly charged symbols!

“However, Schengen will have to be adapted in response to new migration flows, and that means additional help for states — like Italy, Greece and Spain — which are located on the EU’s external borders and tasked with regulating immigration. At the same time, if the Arab Spring is not to result in increased migration, there is a real need for an EU investment strategy to provide aid and long-term loans for its southern neighbours. All of this comes at a cost, and this is the main problem for the EU for which the issue of greater budgetary solidarity remains a taboo subject. One Franco-Italian letter to Brussels will not be enough to change this.”

In La Stampa, historian Gian Enrico Rusconi notes that the current “Mediterranean-Libyan crisis” has marked the official end of “the triangle formed by Italy, France and Germany, which has had a major influence on the history of the European project.”

“Germany has become increasingly inward looking, and France plays its cards with sovereign indifference, while the European Commission has emerged as a weak executive lacking in self-confidence, and even powerless. Although it feels that it is to some extent a victim, Italy has chosen to privilege alliances with more powerful countries, but on a fundamental level it no longer knows where it is going.”

Looking back on the “long-term vision” and the “determination” of the German, French and Italian leaders of the post-war period, who engaged “their three nations in a process to construct a new Europe,” Rusconi affirms that “this cycle either come to a close, or at best, has been irredeemably altered”.

“Along with more than 20 other countries, the three nations continue to be bound to each other by institutional links that are significant and even irreversible, but these links are anything but efficient when Europe is called on to address major issues like the use of military force, or the control of borders and spheres of influence. On these matters, plain old national sovereignty appears is still the main priority. Differences and national interests which had pompously been written off as obsolescent have once again come to the fore.”

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

EU: Top Court Throws Out Italian Law Making Illegal Immigration a Crime

The Hague, 28 April (AKI) — Italy cannot punish illegal migrants with jail, the European Union’s Court of Justice said on Thursday. The ruling struck down a key piece of legislation passed by the Italian government to bolster the hardline immigration policies it pledged to implement while in office.

The EU Court of Justice ruled that jailing migrants contradicts an EU directive whose main objective is “to set up an effective policy to drive out and repatriate third country nationals whose stay (in the EU) is irregular, while respecting their fundamental rights,” the court said in a statement.

The court is tasked with ensuring that EU directives are interpreted and applied in the same way in all EU countries

Under Italy’s 2009 law, migrants who enter Italy illegally and refuse to leave face a prison sentence of from one to four years and fines of up to 10,000 euros, followed by immediate expulsion.

A Italian court in the northern city of Trento had referred to the EU court the case of an Algerian, Hassen El Dridi, who in 2010 was ordered to leave Italy within five days because he did not have a residence permit.

El Dridi ignored the court order and was given a one-year jail term which El Dridi appealed.

The EU court said that following its ruling, judges in Trento should “disapply” the jail terms contained in Italy’s immigration legislation.

Italy’s interior minister Roberto Maroni said he was “dissatisfied” with the court ruling and was considering taking action against it.

“In the coming days, I will evaluate the consequences of this sentence and see what can be done to remedy it,” he said.

“The European Court of Justice’s decision leaves me dissatisfied because there are other European countries that have made illegal immigration a crime and have not been censured for this,” Maroni said.

“Second, if illegal immigration is legitimised, its decriminalisation together with an EU directive on repatriation will make it impossible to deport migrants,” he added.

The ruling was welcomed by the head of the Vatican’s migration body, Antonio Maria Veglio.

“The sentence shows attention and sensitivity towards human dignity, even when the human being concerned is in an irregular position,” said Veglio.

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

Italy: Dozens of Suspected South American Teenage Robbers Arrested

Milan, 28 April (AKI) — Police in the northern city of Milan arrested 26 suspected robbers from South America on Thursday, or whom 20 were minors. The suspects allegedly belong to several immigrant criminal gangs operating mainly on Milan’s subway and paraded the robberies on the internet, police said.

The suspects uploaded videos to social networking websites and the popular video-sharing website Youtube showing them robbing subway passengers, in a bid to impress their gang leaders, according to police.

Police in November 2010 arrested three suspected gang members in the eastern Milan suburb of Ponte Lambro after a violent robbery against a 65-year-old Italian man who required surgery after the attack.

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

Italy: Tunisians Deported Under Controversial Bilateral Accord

Palermo, 28 April (AKI) — Thirty Tunisians were on Thursday due to be deported from southern Italy, where some 23,000 Tunisian migrants have landed since the unrest that toppled longtime president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January.

The migrants will be returned to their homeland aboard a flight from the Sicilian city of Palermo, under an accord signed by Italy’s interior minister Roberto Maroni and his Tunisian counterpart on 5 April, the Italian interior ministry said.

The agreement allows up to 60 Tunisian migrants to be deported per day on two flights. Rights group Amnesty International last week wrote to the Italian government urging it to stop “summary deportations” and guarantee the migrants are properly assessed for asylum and other forms of protection.

Italy has repatriated 650 migrants since the pact was signed, according to the interior ministry. The migrants are deported from Sicily and the Italian mainland after being transferred from the tiny southern fishing island of Lampedusa where most arrive from Tunisia.

Italy fears it will bear the brunt of a wave of illegal immigration triggered by the unrest that has swept North Africa and other parts of the Arab world this year, and has called on the European Union to help it handle the influx of migrants.

The Italian and French governments appear to have smoothed over a row sparked over six-month visas issued by Maroni this month to tens of thousands of mainly Tunisian migrants who illegally entered Italy. Many of the migrants are expected to head for France — Tunisia’s former colonial power — where they would like to find work and join family.

At a meeting in Rome on Tuesday, Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi and French president Nicolas Sarkozy together called for a revision of the Schengen treaty which removes border controls among its 25 European members.

Berlusconi and Sarkozy said they have signed a letter to be sent to European Commission, the EU’s executive body to propose changes to the treaty allowing individual states to temporarily suspend the free movement of people in certain circumstances.

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

Migrants: 77 Tunisians Arrive in Lampedusa

(AGI) Lampedusa — 77 boat people landed on the island of Lampedusa this evening. The migrants, whose conditions are fairly good, said the boat sailed off the Tunisian city of Sfax. The boat breaks a truce which lasted lasted over a week.

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

Muslim Immigration Transforms Finland

by Soeren Kern

As in other European countries (here and here), the politically correct guardians of Finnish multiculturalism have tried to silence public discussion about the escalating problem of Muslim immigration.

In March 2009, for example, Jussi Kristian Halla-aho, a politician and well-known political commentator, was taken to court on charges of “incitement against an ethnic group” and “breach of the sanctity of religion” for writing that Islam is a religion of paedophilia.. He was referring to the Islamic prophet Mohammed, who is believed to have married a six year old girl and consummated the marriage when she was nine..

A Helsinki court later dropped the charges of blasphemy but ordered Halla-aho to pay a fine of â‚330 ($450) for disturbing religious worship. The Finnish public prosecutor, incensed at the lower court’s dismissal of the blasphemy charges, appealed the case to the Finnish Supreme Court, where it is now being reviewed.

Halla-Aho, the best-known political blogger in Finland, maintains a blog entitled Scripta, that deals with issues such as “immigration, multiculturalism, tolerance, racism, freedom of speech and political correctness.” His blog has between 3,000 and 6,000 readers a day. According to Halla-aho, immigration is a taboo topic in Finland. He has received death threats because of his web columns, which criticize the number of immigrants coming to Finland and argue that Muslims cannot be integrated…

           — Hat tip: Steen[Return to headlines]

Netherlands Prepared to Amend Schengen Treaty

THE HAGUE, 28/04/11 — The Netherlands attaches importance to the open borders within the Schengen countries. But if other member states want to tighten up the Schengen treaty, The Hague is prepared to do so, according to Immigration and Asylum Minister Gerd Leers.

Leers said in a debate with the Lower House he has not yet heard anything about proposals which Italy and France want to make for changes in the Schengen treaty for free movement in the affiliated countries. French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi discussed this in Rome on Tuesday. If however they want more scope for taking action in emergency situations, then they will find the Netherlands on their side, said Leers. “Then it could be a matter of temporarily increased control at the border.”

Italy has given thousands of Tunisians a residence permit for six months, with which they can travel through the Schengen countries. The Netherlands had already indicated that it was not happy with this. Closing the borders is however no solution for the stream of migrants from North Africa to Europe, said Leers.

The Party for Freedom (PVV) is in fact urging border controls, but Leers is not in favour of “again putting customs officials everywhere.” He did say that tighter checkups are being made on Tunisians wishing to come to the Netherlands with an Italian residence permit.

As in other countries, the foreign police at airports and border crossings look carefully at whether Tunisians who want to enter the country meet the requirements for this. They must have a passport and enough money for their own maintenance, and must not have any criminal record.

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

Netherlands: Brussels to Look Into Romanian Seasonal Work Permit Ban

The European Commission is to investigate plans by the Dutch government to stop giving work permits to Romanian and Bulgarian nationals to make sure they don’t conflict with EU rules, Trouw reports on Thursday.

The paper says a commission spokesman told Bulgarian radio that the proposals would be looked at in the light of free movement regulations. Although Romania and Bulgaria are members of the EU, member states can impose limits on their nationals up to 2014.

MPs are debating social affairs minister Henk Kamp’s decision to stop giving permits to seasonal farm workers from the two countries later on Thursday. Farming organisations are also going to court in an effort to have the ban, due to come into effect on July 1, overturned.

Earlier story

Minister stands firm over work permits

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

Reforming Schengen: An Absurd Gesture

France and Italy have called for reform of the Convention on freedom of movement — they will not have trouble getting what they want, but that does not solve the problem of accommodating immigrants, says the Berliner Zeitung.

Thorsten Knuf

A redirection activity is an action that is carried out in place of a different action that cannot be done. As a phenomenon it is found across all walks of life. And, often enough, in politics too, where one does something or other to avoid doing what is necessary.

The latest thrust to revise the Schengen Agreement falls into this category. France and Italy want to allow temporary controls on Europe’s internal borders in the event that refugees pour across the EU’s external borders. Germany also thinks the idea is a sound one.

And at the EU Commission, France and Italy are, in principle, preaching to the choir. In any case, there are no objections to the plans. There is nothing to indicate that they endanger the freedom of travel in Europe in any significant way.

Only the project has nothing whatsoever to do with the actual question as to under whose responsibility the EU is systematically shirking from taking action. The question is, how can the Union organise a common, solidly united refugee policy?

What is needed is fair burden-sharing among EU countries in admitting and integrating asylum seekers. That burden-sharing should be permanently in place, and independently of temporary events such as the current influx of tens of thousands of refugees from Tunisia.

Europe has so far failed miserably at this. The biggest brakemen on the train are called Germany and Austria, who do not want to take on the misery of the refugees coming across the Mediterranean to Italy or Malta. Politically, the situation is deadlocked. And so Europe is doing something or other. Just for the sake of doing it.

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

Culture Wars

Pets Should be Renamed ‘Companions’, Claim Animal Rights Academics (And Rats Are Just ‘Free Living’)

Animals should not be described as ‘vermin’, ‘pests’ or even ‘pets’, animal ethicists have decided.

Academics say that traditional words used to characterise animals like ‘beasts’ and ‘critters’ are derogatory and should be replaced.

They say words like ‘pests’ and ‘vermin’ should be dropped altogether, and ‘pets’ replaced by ‘companion animals’.

RWild animals’ should be termed ‘free living or free ranging animals’ they argue, because ‘wildness’ is too close to ‘uncivilised’.

The call for a new ‘animal language’ has been made by the editors of a new academic journal, the Journal of Animal Ethics, published this month for the first time by the University of Illinois Press.

They said: ‘Despite its prevalence, “pets” is surely a derogatory term both of the animals concerned and their human carers.

‘Again the word “owners”, whilst technically correct in law, harks back to a previous age when animals were regarded as just that: property, machines or things to use without moral constraint.’









Free living

Free ranging

Free roaming

           — Hat tip: Kitman[Return to headlines]