Saturday, January 11, 2003

News Feed 20111130

Financial Crisis
»Central Banks Act as EU Sets 10-Day Euro Crisis Deadline
»Desperate Eurozone Chiefs Look to IMF
»EU Pressures ECB, IMF to Stop Financial Rot
»Euro Not the Way Forward, Say Danes
»Europe in ‘Existential Crisis’: French Foreign Minister
»Eurozone Unemployment Hits Record 10.3% in October
»Greek Central Bank, Recession at 5.8% in 2011
»IMF Funds: Sovereign Debt and Sovereignty
»Italy: Monti to Launch ‘Structural’ Reforms Monday
»Milan Bourse Up 4% After Banks Cut Interest on Dollar Swaps
»Monti Gets OK From EU
»Savers Rally to Patriotic Call
»Saving the Common Currency: Euro Zone Looks to IMF for Increased Help
»Six Central Banks Take Joint Action to Enhance Global Liquidity
»Stocks Rocket 4%, Dow Closes Above 12,000
»Turkey Reaches Out to Greece, Cut Defence Costs
»‘Halal Whisky’: Non-Alcoholic Beverage Appalls Scottish Distillers
»Rare Stradivarius Violin Recreated With X-Ray Technology
»University Installs Foot Baths for Muslims: Boston University Acknowledges Growing Population
Europe and the EU
»Berlin Recalls Iran Envoy Over UK Embassy Attack
»Britain Downgrades Diplomatic Ties With Iran; Orders London Embassy Shut
»Denmark: Fears of Vigilantism After Rape of Young Girl
»Germany: School Allowed to Ban Muslim Pupil’s Praying
»Mr Khader Goes to Washington
»Switzerland: Religion Influences Sporting Ability: Study
»Switzerland Stocks Up on Gripen Fighter Jets
»UK to Expel All Iranian Diplomats Over Embassy Attack
»UK: Heathrow Has Never Been More Efficient! Passengers’ Glee as Border Agency Strike SPEEDS UP Passport Control
»UK: The Queen Hosts a Halal State Banquet
»Vatican: Pope Pays ‘Special’ Thanks for Charity Xmas Cakes
North Africa
»Arab Spring: Conference, Don’t be Afraid of Political Islam
»Egypt: Muslim Brotherhood in the Lead, Press
»Egypt: Govt to be Chosen by Majority, Brotherhood Party
»Morocco: King Appoints Head of Islamic Party as Premier
»Muslim Brotherhood Claims to Have Won 40% of Vote in First Round of Egypt Elections
»Thousands of Muslims Attack Christians in Egypt, 2 Killed, Homes and Stores Torched
»Tunisia: State of Emergency Extended to December 31
»Tunisia: Strike in All Universities Called
Middle East
»EU to Lose if Free Trade Talks With Gulf States Fail: UAE
»Iranian Cleric: U.S.: Europe Will Become Islamist in Another Few Decades; Most American Women Would Rather Have a Dog and a Toyota Than a Husband
»The Tolerant Dictator: Syria’s Christians Side With Assad Out of Fear
»Russia Turns on Missile Defence System in Kaliningrad
Far East
»There Will be an Orderly Revolution
»Migrants Settling in Germany
»How Tiny Worms Could Help Humans Colonize Mars
»Scientists Narrow Down Dark Matter’s Mass

Financial Crisis

Central Banks Act as EU Sets 10-Day Euro Crisis Deadline

The world’s top central banks sprang into action Wednesday to help cash-strapped banks, while the EU acknowledged it has 10 days in which to fix a crisis threatening a global financial meltdown. The central banks of the eurozone, the United States, Japan, Switzerland, Canada and Britain collectively announced a giant shot in the arm with “liquidity support to the global financial system.”

Stocks and the euro each surged on the move intended to restore some confidence on markets wearied by the failure of leaders to act decisively to a crisis that French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe warned risks destroying Europe and a return to conflicts on the continent. Many banks are being squeezed by the weight of downgraded government debt bonds in their books and have been finding it difficult to borrow from one another. This has raised pressure to reduce lending to businesses that would choke off economic growth.

The central banks said they would make funds available to banks at lower interest rates until February 2013 in order to “mitigate the effects of such strains on the supply of credit to households and businesses.”

The moves echo similar action in May 2010, when the EU first acknowledged that the Greek drama had become a wider euro crisis causing deep concern among international partners from the United States to Japan. The massive worldwide injection of hard cash came after the EU’s euro crisis commissioner Olli Rehn set the deadline of the end of next week’s summit for the bloc to fix the festering debt crisis.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Desperate Eurozone Chiefs Look to IMF

With little interest materialising in the private sector to boost the eurozone’s rescue fund, the region may ultimately be forced to turn to the International Monetary fund (IMF), eurozone finance ministers conceded on Tuesday (29 November). First talks on the idea looked at options on how to leverage the rescue mechanism, the European Financial Stability Fund, or possibly open new IMF credit lines.

The latter option could see the European Central Bank channelling loans to the IMF and then on to embattled eurozone states. The ECB and Germany have stubbornly resisted the idea of the Frankfurt institution to lend directly to governments, but with strong IMF conditionality attached to such cash, ministers are hoping the fudge will be sufficient to win over opponents.

“We also agreed to rapidly explore an increase of the resources of the IMF through bilateral loans, following the mandate from the G20 Cannes summit, so that the IMF could adequately match the new firepower of the EFSF and co-operate even more closely,” eurogroup chairman Jean-Claude Juncker told reporters after the meeting.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

EU Pressures ECB, IMF to Stop Financial Rot

European Union finance ministers stepped up pressure on Wednesday on the European Central Bank and the IMF to stop the eurozone debt crisis from bringing down the global financial system. As the eurozone posted record 10.3-percent unemployment and the head of the French central bank said a full-blown financial storm is brewing, fears are rising that Italy needs a massive bailout.

With EU leaders staging a critical summit next week to prevent the 17-nation eurozone from breaking up into strong and weak countries, governments are turning towards the potentially unlimited firepower of the ECB as well as the global rescue body, the IMF. “We are now entering a critical period of 10 days to complete and conclude the crisis response of the European Union,” said the the 27-state union’s commissioner with special responsibility for the euro crisis, Olli Rehn.

Finance ministers, holding a second day of talks on the crisis, admitted that EU governments could not save the eurozone on their own after they failed to ramp up their own bailout fund to one trillion euros.

“There is some room also for the European Central Bank to maneouvre,” Swedish Finance Minister Anders Borg told reporters. “We need to keep all options on the table.” He said all International Monetary Fund member-contributors had to increase their input, adding that “if there were specific European institutions taking a step in that direction that would also be a step way forward.”

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Euro Not the Way Forward, Say Danes

Poll reveals highest anti-euro sentiment since 2002, when pollster started asking

Anti-euro sentiment has never been as high a new poll conducted by Megafon released today revealed. Some 65 percent of Danes are against adopting the single currency, while only 24 percent would cast a ballot in favour if a vote were held tomorrow.

The results of the survey for TV2 and Politiken newspaper show the lowest level of approval for the euro since Megafon started asking Danes in 2002. Two out of five people have developed a worse opinion of the euro since the beginning of the financial crisis, while only seven percent say their opinion has improved. Half are relieved that Denmark rejected the euro in the 2001 referendum.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Europe in ‘Existential Crisis’: French Foreign Minister

France’s Foreign Minister Alain Juppé said on Wednesday that the financial crisis ravaging Europe’s debt-ridden economies had called the European Union’s very survival into question. “It’s an existential crisis for Europe,” Juppé said, in an interview with the news weekly L’Express that raised the stark prospect of a return to violent conflict on the troubled continent.

“This could call into question all that we have created, not only in the 20 years since the Maastricht Treaty, but since the foundation of the European community,” he warned. Juppé said the struggles of the 17-nation eurozone’s member states to fund their sovereign debt could bring down the single currency, and that this would be “the explosion of the European Union itself.” “In that eventuality, everything becomes possible, even the worst. We have flattered ourselves for decades that we have eradicated the danger of conflict inside our continent, but let’s not be too sure,” he said.

Juppé said the threat of a return to violent nationalism made it all the more necessary to protect the euro and the European project, adding “we’ve gone too far to not go further.” European leaders are to hold a summit on December 8th and 9th to try to find a way out of the crisis, which has seen eurozone member states facing soaring borrowing costs amid fears their debts are unmanageable.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Eurozone Unemployment Hits Record 10.3% in October

Eurozone unemployment rose to an all-time record of 10.3 percent in October, official figures showed on Wednesday as the indebted 17-nation bloc falls towards a recession. The Eurostat data agency estimated that nearly 16.3 million men and women were out of work last month after the ranks of the unemployed rose by 126,000 compared with September.

The seasonally-adjusted rate was above the 10.2 percent forecast by analysts polled by Dow Jones Newswires, the same percentage as September. The jobless rate across the wide, 27-nation European Union also rose as it reached 9.8 percent in October compared to 9.7 percent a month earlier.

Almost 23.6 million people were unemployed in the EU in October, an increase of 130,000 from September. The highest unemployment rate was still in Spain where it rose to 22.8 percent in October compared to 20.5 percent a year earlier.

In Greece, a nation trapped in the eurozone debt crisis, the jobless rate soared to 18.3 percent in August (the most recent available data) compared to 12.9 percent the same month in 2010. Austria recorded the lowest rate at 4.1 percent, followed by Luxembourg 4.7 percent and the Netherlands at 4.8 percent.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Greek Central Bank, Recession at 5.8% in 2011

(ANSAmed) — ATHENS, NOVEMBER 30 — The recession in Greece could exceed 5.5% in 2011, according to Greece’s Central Bank President Giorgos Provopoulos. “I am afraid,” said Provopoulos in speaking at the Economic Affairs Commission in Parliament, “that it will reach 5.8%.” The central bank president said that the more negative figure was due to the lack of the determination necessary to implement economic recovery, associated with the lack of reduction in public spending. Provopoulos also spoke of the situation as concerns Greek banks, saying that in 2010 bank deposits dropped by 28 billion euros, and by 26.2 billion only in the first nine months of 2011. The president of Greece’s central bank said that it would be enough to eliminate tax evasion and the non-payment of employment contributions — a major problem for Greece — to cover the state deficit.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

IMF Funds: Sovereign Debt and Sovereignty

The feeble denial of a possible IMF loan to Italy, a country caught in the maelstrom of a major international affair not of its making, appears to confirm rumours that we are moving towards new Special Drawing Rights (SDRs), with the gold of the Bank of Italy and the interests of world’s bank cartel at stake.

Milan (AsiaNews) — A bombshell hit readers of financial and macro-economic news over the weekend. Italian daily La Stampa [1] reported on Sunday that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) was preparing “a € 400-600 billion loan to the Monti government for the next 12 to 18 months to implement necessary reforms without having to refinance the debt.”

Ostensibly, the report appears to be only about Italy. In reality, the country is caught up in the maelstrom of a major international affair not of its making, a fact clearly evinced, among other things, by China’s rising interest in European sovereign debt, especially Italy’s.

According to the IMF proposal, Italy’s would carry an interest of 4 to 5 per cent, less than the 7-8 per cent established in recent sales of Italian government bonds. Still, the size of the loan is huge. As the La Stampa journalist and other sources point out, the IMF does not have that kind of money to lend. For the journalist, under the circumstances the IMF might issue new Special Drawing Rights (SDRs), in coordination with the European Central Bank (ECB), which is led by Mario Draghi. Seemingly, the plan is in an advance stage and has been recently discussed by Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti and the new IMF director, Christine Lagarde.

An unidentified spokesperson for the IMF denied the report Monday morning. Yet Molinari, the journalist who penned his name to the article, is known for his access to top financial circles and for the accuracy of his reporting. The denial thus has raised more questions than provided answers and appears to be a feeble attempt to counter the effect of prematurely leaked information.

If it proves to be true, it would clearly confirm what AsiaNews reported in September [2]. Although modesty would dictate otherwise, as this author wrote recently, it appears that the crisis had been in the making for sometimes. “At this point one has to insert a twist, a reversal of fortunes: the Federal Reserve announces that, together with the International Monetary Fund, it will intervene to save the Euro, provided that the European countries do their part. It’s a brilliant move, the world stock markets recover, apparently, and the riots cease. Berlusconi, however, must go away, at any rate, because so it is written in the script.”

What allowed us to foresee developments was not a crystal ball (which we do not have) but the speciousness of the attack against Italy’s public debt. The latter has been hovering around the 120 per cent mark for the past 20 years, but rating agencies, and gaggles of smart money managers, appear to have discovered it only in the past few months.

The feeble denial of the report is worrisome because the article noted that the IMF and the ECB do not have enough reserves for such a loan to Italy. Since the United States, Europe and Japan are strapped for cash, and emerging nations with deep pockets—China, India and Brazil—appear unwilling to depart easily from their money, where would it all come from? From the Bank of Italy, which, in addition to issuing banknotes, also holds 2,500 tonnes of gold [3].

In July 2009, then Finance Minister Giulio Tremonti told an Italian parliamentary committee that the gold belonged to the people of Italy, to the support on both government and opposition benches.

As one expect, private banks took a dim view of that, on the belief that the gold belonged to the Bank of Italy. Such earnest defence of the bank is not surprising; after all, the Bank of Italy supervises the country’s private banks and financial institutions. For their part, private banks and insurance companies own 94.33 per cent of the Bank of Italy.

After the Italian government was taken over by technocrats and Italy was placed under temporary receivership, Tremonti was replaced by Corrado Passera at the helm of a super Economy Ministry.

Until recently, the new minister was the managing director of Banca Intesa, answerable to bank shareholders. That bank also happens to hold the largest block of shares in the Bank of Italy. Shareas in Banca Intesa have been trading downward in recent weeks because it holds a large quantity of Italian treasury bills (BOT) and treasury notes and bonds (BTP).

Recent sales of Italian government bonds have been dismal. Financial markets, and the money managers with huge amounts of capital that run them, have been spooked, and are increasingly reticent to buy Italian bonds, in response to what those in the know say. As a result, interest rates have jumped.

As the rise in interest rates depreciated the value of older bonds bought at a lower rate, Banca Intesa saw the value of its own assets drop. Hence, the value of the shares of the bank of which Passera was CEO until a few days ago also declined. If Passera, as Italy’s new Finance minister, hands over Italian gold, the bank would get enough liquidity to avoid the need of refinancing. The value of BOT and BTP would also bounce back. The same would happen to bank shares, especially those of Banca Intesa. Since the remuneration and severance pay of the managing director of a big bank closely reflects bonuses based on share value, it is hard not to see the conflict of interest and confusion of the roles between controller and controlled.

Anyone who thinks that it is in Italy’s interest to unload some of its gold, the answer is: Think again! According to the World Gold Council, the world’s central banks hold some 30,708.3 tonnes of gold [4] as of November 2010. Italy holds the fourth largest gold reserves in the world after the United States (8,133.5 tonnes), Germany (3,401 tonnes) and the IMF (2,814.0 tonnes). Italian gold reserves represent 7.98 per cent of the total, whilst its economy constitutes 3.35 per cent of the world economy according to World Bank figures (as of 31 December 2010).

If we use a restrictive notion of currency, the M2 [5], the volume of monetary liquidity in the world is equal to 120.6 per cent of world GDP [6], or US$ 73.510 trillion. If we use a broader (and more accurate) definition of financial liquidity to include credit (bank money) and public debt, we arrive at more than US$ 150 trillion [7]. According to the World Gold Council, all the gold dug out of the ground since the start of history amounts to about 165,600 tonnes [8].

What follows is a simple table [9]. It indicates the value of a gram of gold in dollars. The best comparison would be the ratio between M2 and total gold reserves in central banks, i.e. US$ 2,450 per gram against the current rate, which hovers around US$ 55 per gram. Of course, all this is purely theoretical based on a 1 to 1 ratio, namely that for each unit of currency there is corresponding gold coverage for 100 per cent of value.


M2/gold reserves $ 2,450

liquidity /gold reserves $ 5,000

liquidity /total gold $ 906

M2/total gold $ 444

If we use another point of comparison, we would see how it would be to the advantage of the world’s bank cartel but not to ordinary Italians…

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

Italy: Monti to Launch ‘Structural’ Reforms Monday

‘Serious consequences for all if Italy fails’ says Italian PM

(ANSA) — Rome, November 30 — Italian Premier Mario Monti will launch “structural” reforms to start solving Italy’s debt crisis Monday, the former European commissioner told reporters after a meeting of European Union finance ministers Wednesday.

Monti reiterated that the package of measures aimed at restoring market confidence in Italy would be marked by “fiscal discipline, growth and fairness”.

The structural reforms, expected to include a property tax as well as pension and labour-market reforms, will be “designed to cut the deficit in the short term,” Monti said.

Unless Italy “does what is needed, the consequences will be serious for all,” he said.

Monti said he was aiming to make sure Italy had a bigger say in how the whole EU was addressing the debt crisis, by bolstering its rescue fund and laying the groundwork for more coordinated fiscal policies.

“We will act to see that Italy is more incisive in the EU debate,” he said.

“It’s important for Italy to stand beside Germany and France, since it is the third-biggest economy in the eurozone,” he said.

Echoing European Financial Commissioner Olli Rehn, Monti said an EU summit on December 8-9 would be “crucial” to keep Italy and other countries safe from default.

“What will be decided will have the verdict of the markets,” he said as the spread between Italian bonds and benchmark German Bunds, a sign of confidence in Italy’s ability to pay down its debt, held steady below the psychologically important 500-point mark.

The Milan bourse surged by 4% as the European Central Bank, the US Federal Reserve and central banks in Britain, Japan, Canada and Switzerland acted in unison to inject more liquidity into the system by cutting interest rates on swaps in dollars.

“I have never demonised the markets, although they should not be regarded as divinities,” Monti went on. “They represent the collective perception of what individual countries are doing”. The Italian premier rejected suggestions his government has been slow to act, saying it had posted a “record for speed, not for slowness”.

“It’s not as if someone gets his hair cut it means he’s lagging behind,” Monti quipped, after a much-publicised visit to the barber’s Sunday. In other remarks, the Italian premier repeated that the debate on Eurobonds, opposed by Germany but supported by several EU countries, should be conducted “with an open mind”.

He also said he had “never considered” asking for money from the International Monetary Fund.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Milan Bourse Up 4% After Banks Cut Interest on Dollar Swaps

Spread closes at 474 points

(ANSA) — Rome, November 30 — The Milan bourse surged 4.38% Wednesday as the European Central Bank, the US Federal Reserve and central banks in Britain, Japan, Canada and Switzerland acted in unison to inject more liquidity into the system by cutting interest rates on swaps in dollars.

The spread between Italian bonds and benchmark German Bunds, a sign of confidence in Italy’s ability to pay down its debt, closed at 474.1 points, below the psychologically important 500-point mark. The yield, another marker of market sentiment, ended the day on 7.02%, down from yesterday but still at a level widely considered unsustainable in the long run.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Monti Gets OK From EU

‘11-20 bln euros more’ needs to be found to manage debt crisis

(ANSA) — Rome, November 30 — Italian Premier Mario Monti received the backing of fellow European Union financial ministers Thursday night in his mission to rescue Italy from the debt crisis.

The ministers described the package of measures illustrated by Monti as “a good base for reforms”.

Monti assured the Euro Group, the finance ministers from the euro zone, that his government would take the necessary measures to balance the budget in 2013, even in the face of a looming recession.

Monti now needs to cut the budget more deeply, the EU said, because of the recession next year. According to media reports, he will need to find extra savings of 11-20 billion euros.

The Italian premier said the meeting with the Euro Group had gone “very well”.

The eurozone ministers gave the green light to boosting the EFSF bailout fund but did not say by how much.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Savers Rally to Patriotic Call

Will savers prove to be the ultimate defence against the crisis? wonders La Tribune, which reports that “amid demands for the re-nationalisation of European debts, the idea of appealing to national solidarity has gained ground in recent months.”

Last week, the Belgian government, which has had to contend with an abrupt increase in the cost of obtaining finance from the markets, launched a well-advertised campaign to sell government bonds to the country’s population. […] At the height of the political crisis, the main goal of the exercise was to demonstrate the unity of the Belgian population to the markets.

For La Libre Belgique, which leads with the front-page headline, “Government bonds: everyone wants the five-year issue,” the initiative has been a “heaven-sent” success. The newspaper enthusiastically points out that the threshold of two billion invested is now in sight, and notes that it is the five-year government bond, offering a 4% rate of interest, which has proved to be the most successful. La Libre adds that the issue, launched on the 24, 25 and 28 of November “was boosted by a call for Belgians to save voiced by Prime Minister Yves Leterme who tendered his resignation in 2008.”

In Italy, Corriere della Sera reports that “BTP day” (government bonds day), which was held on 28 November, was a major success in the drive to combat speculation. With yields of more than 7%, the three- and ten-year bonds offered attractive terms, and the initiative was facilitated by the banks’ decision to cut commission costs. “The goal is to send a strong message of commitment,” commented the Italian bankers association (ABI), quoted by the Milan daily. The purchase of bonds by private individuals “can be seen as an important demonstration of the confidence Italians still have in their country.” A further “BTP day” is planned for 12 December.

However, in France, which runs the risk of losing its AAA rating, the population appears reluctant to fly to the rescue of the country’s finances, reports La Tribune. According to a survey conducted by Harris Interactive JOL Press, less than a third of respondents said they were ready to buy French debt offered at rates equivalent to those available on the markets:

We might have assumed, amid an atmosphere of national crisis marked by the President and the Prime Minister’s constant references to 1945 and the “war” against the markets, that the French population would be more motivated. Exit the hope of a major bond sale to the people, which Nicolas Sarkozy momentarily seemed to favour last year…

The French business paper worries about the “difficult realities” of the country’s situation: “as a group the French spend more than they produce.”

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

Saving the Common Currency: Euro Zone Looks to IMF for Increased Help

Euro zone finance ministers agreed on Tuesday night on measures to boost the euro backstop fund. But with the crisis rapidly worsening, the IMF may increase aid to the stricken currency union. European currency commissioner Olli Rehn says the euro is entering a critical 10-day period that may determine its fate.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Six Central Banks Take Joint Action to Enhance Global Liquidity

The Federal Reserve, the European Central Bank and four other big central banks took coordinated action on Wednesday to ease the strain of the European debt crisis on the world economy.

The Fed, the E.C.B., the Bank of Canada, the Bank of England, the Bank of Japan and the Swiss National Bank agreed to reduce the interest rate on so-called dollar liquidity swap lines by 50 basis points, among other measures.

“The purpose of these actions is to ease strains in financial markets and thereby mitigate the effects of such strains on the supply of credit to households and businesses and so help foster economic activity,” the Fed said in a statement.

[Return to headlines]

Stocks Rocket 4%, Dow Closes Above 12,000

Stocks rallied sharply Wednesday, with the Dow posting its biggest one-day point and percentage gain this year, after global central banks announced a plan to support the global financial system and a handful of better-than-expected economic reports.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average surged 490.05 points, or 4.24 percent to close at 12,045.68, above the psychologically-important 12,000 level, led by Caterpillar [CAT 97.88 7.34 (+8.11%) ] and JPMorgan [JPM 30.97 2.41 (+8.44%) ]. With the day’s gains, the blue-chip index ended in the black for November is back in positive territory for 2011.

The S&P 500 soared 51.77 points, or 4.33 percent, to end at 1,246.96. The Dow and S&P are on track to post their best weekly point gains in almost three years. Nasdaq jumped 104.83 points, or 4.17 percent, to finish at 2,620.34…

[Return to headlines]

Turkey Reaches Out to Greece, Cut Defence Costs

We don’t need to defend ourselves against each other,Ankara says

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, NOVEMBER 30 — Faced with the Greek economic crisis, Turkey has proposed Greece to cut the “non-essential” defence expenditure of both countries. The proposal was made by Turkey’s European Affairs Minister Egemen Bagis, in a press meeting today in Brussels. Bagis is convinced that the time has come to “take a step” in this direction, considering the friendly relations between the current Defence Minister of Greece, Dimitris Avramopoulos and Turkish Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“Greece and Turkey together spend more than the NATO bases,” said Bagis, “and yet they are not enemies, but neighbours and allies inside NATO. We have a responsibility to defend ourselves against threats from the outside, but there is no reason to defend ourselves from each other. Greek and Turkish citizens need new schools, roads, hospitals and bridges, they don’t need airplanes or submarines. Together we can cut our non-crucial defence expenditure,” Bagis explained. He added that “the current Greek Defence Minister, Dimitris Avramopoulos, is a good friend of Turkey and of Prime Minister Erdogan: Avramopoulos was mayor of Athens when Erdogan was mayor of Istanbul, and they helped each other when they were hit by an earthquake.” So “I am certain that we can discuss the matter,” Bagis concluded.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


‘Halal Whisky’: Non-Alcoholic Beverage Appalls Scottish Distillers

First of its kind alcohol-free ‘halal whisky’, is out on sale heralding the party season. ArKay, the world’s first alcohol-free whisky, will be sold worldwide from Dec 1, and is said to look and taste just like traditional whisky. It has been declared as Halal certified, which opens up the markets in Muslim countries and the Middle East. Whisky distillers in Scotland are said to be in a state of revolt over the ‘alcohol free’ creation.

“It is not possible to make alcohol-free whisky,” the Daily Mail quoted a spokesman for the Scotch Whisky Association as saying. “This company is trying to exploit whisky’s reputation with highly irresponsible marketing,” the spokesman added. A Florida-based company called Scottish Spirits Ltd manufactures the non-alcoholic whisky in its Panama factories, and will be priced at 10 pounds a bottle and 4 pounds for a can.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Rare Stradivarius Violin Recreated With X-Ray Technology

A precise replica of a Stradivarius violin from 1704, made using X-ray images, may help scientists uncover the secrets of the instrument’s unique and highly prized sound quality and also make it available to the average musician. Currently, it would cost musicians millions of dollars to buy one of the 650 Stradivarius violins in existence today, many of which are kept in museums and rarely, if ever, played. “Betts,” the violin that was replicated, is housed in the U.S. Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. It is estimated that Antonio Stradivari, an Italian manufacturer of string instruments who lived from 1644 to 1737, crafted about 1,000 violins.

To better understand what makes Stradivarius violins superior, Steven Sirr, a radiologist at FirstLight Medical Systems in Mora, Minn., teamed up with professional violin makers John Waddle and Steve Rossow of St. Paul, Minn., to scan “Betts” using computed tomography (CT) imaging. The team hoped to use the images to study the characteristics — including wood thickness, shape and degree of arching — that influence the violin’s sound.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

University Installs Foot Baths for Muslims: Boston University Acknowledges Growing Population

As the nation’s Muslim population grows, so does debate over religious accommodation. In Boston, one university has taken steps to help Muslim students maintain an important ritual: bathing before prayer.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Berlin Recalls Iran Envoy Over UK Embassy Attack

Germany on Wednesday temporarily recalled its ambassador to Iran, over what it called the “unacceptable” storming of the British embassy in Tehran by protesters. “In light of yesterday’s events in Tehran, Foreign Minister (Guido) Westerwelle decided that the German ambassador in Iran should be recalled to Berlin for consultations,” a Foreign Ministry spokesman said in a statement.

Germany had already summoned the Iranian ambassador to Berlin over the incident late on Tuesday, saying Iran was bound under international law to protect foreign missions. “We condemn the storming of the British embassy in Iran, in which the German school there was also damaged, in the strongest terms. This storming is in violation of international law, it is in no way acceptable,” Westerwelle told reporters after talks with his Greek counterpart Stavros Dimas.

Westerwelle said Germany stood by Britain in “solidarity” as a European partner, and noted that international law dictates the protection of foreign embassies. “We will stress this to Iran with absolute clarity,” he said. Britain closed its Tehran embassy Wednesday after evacuating all its diplomats from Iran as part of a “very tough” response.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Britain Downgrades Diplomatic Ties With Iran; Orders London Embassy Shut

Britain said on Wednesday that it had closed its embassy in Tehran, withdrawn all its diplomats and ordered Iran to do the same within 48 hours at its own diplomatic mission in London in the worst rupture of relations in decades.

The measures were announced in Parliament by Foreign Secretary William Hague a day after Iranian protesters shouting “Death to England” stormed the British Embassy compound and a diplomatic residence in Tehran, tearing down the British flag, smashing windows, defacing walls and briefly detaining six staff members in what appeared to be a state-sponsored protest against Britain’s tough new economic sanctions against Iran.

The attack was the most serious diplomatic breach since the traumatic assault on the American Embassy after Iran’s Islamic Revolution in 1979.

[Return to headlines]

Denmark: Fears of Vigilantism After Rape of Young Girl

Somalian teen arrested for rape of 10-year-old girl after week of fear of reprisals against small town’s immigrant community

The rape of a ten-year-old has shocked the residents of a small town in Jutland, and led to fears residents would seek revenge against the suspect — a 16-year-old boy of Somalian descent. A week ago last Saturday two girls were threatened at knife-point by a boy and led into a forest. While the nine-year-old girl managed to escape and sound the alarm, the ten-year-old was raped.

It took over a week for the police to make an arrest, and in the meantime the description of the culprit — an ‘African-looking’ male between the ages of 16 and 18 and with black curly hair — was circulated. Some 40 percent of the town’s residents are immigrants and several boys and young men fit the description given by the girls. While the police began collecting evidence, rumours started circulating that groups of residents were looking to take matters into their own hands and young immigrant men were warned to stay indoors.

To help calm nerves, a meeting was held the following Tuesday in which a family member of one of the two girls urged residents to let the police do their job in apprehending the culprit. One of those in attendance was Kaj Mortensen, the manager of a local housing association, who told the press that fears of a vigilante mob forming were overblown, though it was worth reminding residents of the consequences of vigilantism.

“It’s something we want to avoid, it’s the police who have to handle these things. We shouldn’t do anything ourselves,” Mortensen said. “Broadly speaking we discussed the need to talk to each other, regardless of which ethnicity you might have.”

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Germany: School Allowed to Ban Muslim Pupil’s Praying

A German federal court on Wednesday backed banning a Muslim pupil from praying according to Islamic rites at a Berlin public school, ruling it could jeopardise its smooth operation. However, the Leipzig-based federal administrative court found that the right to pray even at school was guaranteed by religious freedom under the constitution.

In the case of the 18-year-old pupil, who took his school to court, it justified the ban at his Berlin high school because the issue of praying had already sparked conflict among Muslim pupils. The court said the school, in Berlin’s ethnically diverse Wedding district, was right in stopping him from praying as “sometimes very severe conflicts” had broken out among Muslim pupils over the interpretation of the Koran.

Capping a more than two-year legal battle, it ruled that a pupil “is not entitled to perform prayer during school outside of class when this can disrupt the running of the school.” The pupil, identified only as Yunus M., is the son of a German Muslim convert. He had insisted on his basic right to religious freedom after the school principal told him praying at school was not permitted.

With an estimated four million Muslims living in Germany, the case sparked interest after two earlier regional court rulings first found in favour of the boy, only then to be overturned.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Mr Khader Goes to Washington

Outspoken “Democratic Muslim” politician leaves Danish politics to work at DC think tank

Denmark’s first immigrant MP is leaving politics to work for the Washington, DC-based think tank Hudson Institute. The Konservative politician Naser Khader used his Facebook page on Sunday to announce that he was quitting Danish politics.

“I’ll be travelling around the Arab world conducting research on freedom of expression and the growth of democracy. It will also have to do with the consequences of the Arab Spring,” Khader wrote, adding that he would continue to live in Denmark, while commuting to Washington and the Middle East.

During the Mohammed cartoon crisis in 2005 Khader rose to prominence as one of Denmark’s most outspoken — Arab and Muslim — defenders of the media’s right to publish satirical cartoons about Muslims and the prophet Mohammed. In the aftermath of the crisis — which pitted jihadists against media in the Western world — Khader helped start Demokratiske Muslimer, a Danish NGO of Muslims for democracy.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Switzerland: Religion Influences Sporting Ability: Study

Results of a study of 600 children conducted by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EHT) have shown that religion has an effect on sporting ability, with Muslim girls the least skilled. For the study, first grade school children in Winterthur in northern Switzerland underwent regular tests to measure their strength, coordination and agility.

After four years of following their development, the ETH’s Institute for Movement Sciences and Sport cross-referenced the data with information about the origin of their parents, their native language and their religion.

Results showed that children with no religious background tend to be the most skilful athletes. These are followed by Protestants and Catholics. At the opposite end of the spectrum are Muslim children, who performed well below the average, especially girls. According to the director of the school, Stefan Fritschi, Muslim girls are often reluctant to participate in sports that involve bodily contact with other children. Similarly, swimming lessons are problematic, as Muslim families try to remove their daughters from the classes.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Switzerland Stocks Up on Gripen Fighter Jets

The Swiss government said on Wednesday it is to purchase 22 Swedish-made Gripen fighter jets to replace its ageing F5 fighter fleet. “The Federal Council has decided to acquire 22 Saab Gripen fighter planes to replace the obsolete F5 Tiger,” a statement said. The planes were selected over the French Dassault Rafale and the EADS Eurofighter, also being considered for the multi-billion Swiss franc contract.

The candidates had been subjected to a robust evaluation lasting several years, the government said, and by opting for the Gripen it had chosen a jet which “fulfils military demands” while being financially sustainable. The planned purchase will be put to parliament as part of the government’s 2012 arms programme. During its last session the Swiss parliament charged the government with launching the acquisition process for new planes by the end of the year.

“This decision allows us to acquire a high performance plane without compromising other military branches or their essential equipment,” said the government. Saab shares rose in Stockholm after the announcement, gaining 9.6 percent to 119 kronor (16.04 francs, $17.6 dollars). Saab AB said it was “proud and delighted” over Switzerland’s decision.

Gripen is already in service with the Swedish, Czech, Hungarian, South African and Thai air forces.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

UK to Expel All Iranian Diplomats Over Embassy Attack

The UK is to expel all Iranian diplomats following the storming of its embassy in Tehran, Foreign Secretary William Hague has announced. He said he had ordered the immediate closure of the Iranian embassy in London. Tuesday’s attack by hundreds of protesters followed Britain’s decision to impose further sanctions on Iran over its nuclear programme. The sanctions led to Iran’s parliament reducing diplomatic ties with the UK.

Mr Hague said he was demanding the immediate closure of the Iranian embassy in London, with all its staff to leave the UK within 48 hours. “If any country makes it impossible for us to operate on their soil they cannot expect to have a functioning embassy here,” Mr Hague told MPs. He said there had been “some degree of regime consent” in the attacks on the embassy and on another UK diplomatic compound in Tehran. He said all UK diplomatic staff in Tehran had been evacuated and the embassy closed.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

UK: Heathrow Has Never Been More Efficient! Passengers’ Glee as Border Agency Strike SPEEDS UP Passport Control

Passengers who had been warned of lengthy delays at Heathrow due to striking workers today said border controls were ‘better than usual’.

As Border Agency bosses were forced to take on regular airport workers to man passport control, delighted passengers said queues had been shorter than normal.

The situation was echoed at Dover too as passengers faced apparently normal travel conditions with ferry services ‘running well and to time’ this morning.

Meanwhile, millions of children have stayed at home as more than half of England’s 21,700 state schools closed. Thousands of NHS operations and appointments have also been cancelled…

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

UK: The Queen Hosts a Halal State Banquet

THE Queen held a halal state banquet at Buckingham Palace for Turkish President Abdullah Gul tonight and promised British backing for his country’s bid to join the European Union.

She celebrated ever-closer political and economic ties between the two nations, despite concerns over allowing the predominantly Asian and Muslim country into the EU.

“We have come through a great deal together to develop what is, today, a very modern partnership,” she said. “In Europe, the British Government remains committed to working with you to secure your place in the European Union.”.

The 85-year-old monarch and 170 British and Turkish guests sat down to a completely halal state banquet of lamb from the royal estate at Windsor in the palace ballroom.

“It’s a matter of politeness that it’s halal. The President and his wife are guests of the Queen. We wouldn’t do a separate menu for them so everyone eats the same,” a palace spokeswoman said.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Vatican: Pope Pays ‘Special’ Thanks for Charity Xmas Cakes

Italian pastry chefs donate delicious panettone

(ANSA) — Vatican City, November 30 — Pope Benedict XVI paid special thanks to Italy’s bakers and pastry chefs’ association Wednesday for its generosity in donating panettone Christmas cakes for the Vatican’s seasonal initiatives for the poor.

Benedict expressed “gratitude” to the association at his general audience for the “appreciated gift of panettone cakes for the pope’s charity work”.

Panettone is a traditional sweet, fruity bread-loaf originally from Milan which has become popular worldwide in recent years as a Christmas treat.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

North Africa

Arab Spring: Conference, Don’t be Afraid of Political Islam

Director of American Studies Centre, acid test after elections

(ANSAmed) — ROME — People must not be frightened by election results in Tunisia and Morocco, which have seen victories for Islamic parties like Ennadha and Justice and Development, but must watch closely to see what the parties are able to do. This, in short, is the message sent out yesterday at the end of a study day dedicated to the Arab Spring and the future of Euro-Mediterranean partnership, which was organised by the French embassy in Italy and by the Ecole Francaise de Rome.

“Slogans such as ‘Allah is the solution’ should not scare anyone,” said the director of the American Studies Centre, Karim Mezran, in his speech. “The solution now is no longer Allah. From now on they are the solution”. Once they have been democratically elected, Mezran said, “exponents of Islamic parties will have no more alibis. They will no longer be able to keep hiding behind a slogan but will instead need to answer to the people who have elected them”. The best consequence that the Arab uprisings have so far produced is to “bring Islam out into the open”, he added. Now, Mezran believes, those elected must show what they can do and in which direction they intend to go. For this reason “we must not be afraid”. The issue now, if anything, is to understand what Europe and the West are able to achieve. So far, they have done almost nothing, according to the EU’s special representative for the southern Mediterranean region, Bernardino Leon. “Europe and the West have been unable to respond swiftly to this political and social earthquake within the Arab world. Now Europe must act, providing economic help for countries going through a period of transition”. For this reason, Leon continued, “in the next two months new task forces will leave for Jordan, Morocco and Egypt, and perhaps even Libya”. Task forces were adopted for the first time in June, when the EU High Representative, Lady Catherine Ashton, set up the first group for the southern Mediterranean with the aim of providing financial assistance for the development of civil society, economic reconstruction and the process of democratisation on the southern shores. Task forces are useful initiatives but are not enough, the MP Stefania Craxi repeated.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Egypt: Muslim Brotherhood in the Lead, Press

(ANSAmed) — CAIRO, NOVEMBER 30 — The Muslim Brotherhood are the top party in Egypt according to the first reports by local press outlets. While vote counting continues for the uninominal part of the first post-Mubarak parliamentary elections, indications show that the Freedom and Justice party, which is affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Salafi party coalition Al Nour are in the lead in six governorates, according to the daily paper Al Ahram. According to the daily Al Shouruk, Freedom and Justice raked in 47% of the votes while the secular and moderate Egyptian Bloc coalition received 22%. In the first round of voting, which ended yesterday, the residents of nine governorates cast their votes, including those in Cairo, Alexandria, Luxor, Asyut and Port Said.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Egypt: Govt to be Chosen by Majority, Brotherhood Party

While announcing its lead after 1st round of voting

Egyptian senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood Khairat al-Shater casts his vote during the first round of Egypt’s parliamentary elections

(ANSAmed) — CAIRO — The next government will be a coalition, and it will be the parliamentary majority resulting from the elections to form the new government. This was explained by Mohamed Morsi, head of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice party, according to Al Ahram online. Morsi also said that he could not imagine the Egyptian constitution without Article 2, which provides for the Islamic law of the Sharia to be the nation’s judicial foundation.

In a statement, the brotherhood confirmed initial rumours circulating this morning in the local press regarding the Justice and Liberty Party, stating that “based on preliminary figures” the party is leading after the first round of elections in 9 out of 27 governorates. In second place is al-Nour, a Salafi movement, continued the statement, while ranking third is the Egyptian Bloc, a moderate alliance, which includes the Free Egyptians Party of Coptic business tycoon Naguib Sawiris.

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

Morocco: King Appoints Head of Islamic Party as Premier

New Premier will listen to Feb. 20 Movement

(ANSAmed) — RABAT, NOVEMBER 29 — King Mohamed VI of Morocco has officially appointed the head of the moderate Islamic “Justice and Development” party, Abdelilah Benkirane as the country’s Premier. The PJD took 27% of votes in last week’s political elections, winning 107 of the 395 seats in parliament.

“The King has today nominated the General Secretary of the Party of Justice and Development, Benkirane, who now should form a coalition government with the other parties,” an official communiqué from the royal palace says. Abdellilah Benkirane expressed his willingness to listen to the militants of the February 20 Movement: “if they make serious proposals, one should listen to them. If one single Moroccan makes a serious proposal, they should be listened to. They are in their thousands”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Muslim Brotherhood Claims to Have Won 40% of Vote in First Round of Egypt Elections

The Muslim Brotherhood today claimed to be in pole position in Egypt’s parliamentary election with as much as 40 per cent of the vote.

The initial count of votes from the opening stage of what is Egypt’s first free election since army officers drove the king into exile in 1952 have started to come in.

A member of the rival liberal Egyptian Bloc said that in Cairo the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) had 40 to 50 per cent of votes while his party had 20 to 30 per cent.

As the results started to come in last night, about 80 people were injured in the city’s Tahrir Square when clashes broke out between protesters and street vendors after polls closed.

The protesters, who have camped out in the square for more than 10 days demanding Egypt’s military rulers step down, tried to clear the area of street vendors, who brought in thugs and hurled stones and fireballs back.

Partial official results are due later today but party representatives have been monitoring the count as it proceeds.

The overall outcome will not be known until January. The election is spread over six weeks with different parts of the country voting separately in three phases, each of which may be followed by run-off votes.

Under an elaborate system that makes it difficult to predict the outcome, two-thirds of the 498 elected seats go to party lists and the rest to individuals…

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

Thousands of Muslims Attack Christians in Egypt, 2 Killed, Homes and Stores Torched

by Mary Abdelmassih

(AINA) — Thousands of Muslims attacked and besieged Copts in elGhorayzat village, population 80,000, killing two Copts and severely wounding others, as well as looting and torching homes and businesses. A quarrel between a Copt, John Hosni, and Mahmoud Abdel-Nazeer, who later died in hospital, turned into collective punishment of all Copts in the majority Christian village of elGhorayzat, in the Maragha district of Sohag province. Muslims vowed not to bury Abdel-Nazeer until John Hosni is punished. Mr. Hosni fled from the village with his family, “fearing a wholesale massacre of Copts,” reported activist Mariam Ragy.

The events started on Monday, November 28, when John Hosni, a building supplier, had a quarrel with his neighbor, Mahmoud Abdel-Nazeer (48), over some steel rods and cement Mr. Hosni had left in the street to use for erecting a wall around his house. This was perceived by Mr. Abdel-Nazeer as extending the home into the street, which is public property. “Instead of reporting this building transgression to the police or local authorities, Abdel-Nazeer took the matter in his own hands and brought some Salafists and torched the store and the home of the Copt,” said an eyewitness.

In the altercation between the neighbors, Mr. Hosni hit Abdel-Nazeer in the head with a wooden branch, which lead to his death later in hospital.

Angry Muslims murdered two Christian brothers, Kamel Tamer Ibrahim (55) and Kameel Tamer Ibrahim (50), in revenge. The brothers were not a party to the altercation. Kamel Tamer, who was defending his shop from looting, was murdered in front of his wife. His brother was also murdered in front of his wife for defending his home (video of the murdered Copts. WARNING: contains highly graphic content

Three other Christians, Maher Samir Gota, his wife, and his brother Osama Samir Gota, were severely injured and are in intensive care. They were in their homes when their shop was broken into and looted by Muslims. Maher and his wife were stabbed and Osama received a blow on the head. The ambulance could not go to them to transport them to hospital. He was privately transported by his friends. There were reports of Muslims preventing the fire brigades from reaching the burning homes.

After killing the Copts, Muslims went on a rampage, looting and burning Christian owned homes and businesses.

Despite killing the two Coptic brothers the Muslims insist they have not yet avenged Abdel-Nazeer’s death.

“This is not revenge; this is simply an excuse to kill people because they are Christians, as well as loot their property,” said an eyewitness.

“Security was present in all the streets, and protected the churches, but they did nothing in the face of Muslims killings, looting and torching of Christian property,”, said another eyewitness, who managed to get out of the village “by a miracle,” as he put it, leaving all his belongings and money behind. “We do not know whether we will be able to go back to the village as the Muslims refuse to bury the dead Muslim before killing all Copts in the village.”

He added that Muslims are openly walking the streets carrying firearms and clubs while the police standby and do nothing. The number of police is not enough, there are 500 Muslims for every one policeman.

Copts have been prevented from fleeing the village by Muslims, who have imposed a blockade. Some were able to flee with the aid of some Muslims, who drove them out in a truck, telling the guards at the exit point these people have nothing to do with the ongoing problem.

Christian inhabitants are still afraid to venture into the streets.

Father Lucas Aghapios, pastor of St. George’s Church in alGhorayzat, described the situation in the village today as “cautioned” peace.. He said that although the Muslim attack started at 11 AM, security forces turned up late in the evening, and Muslim transgressions occurred in the presence of the security forces. Father Lucas said that yesterday Muslim attacks resulted in 25 incidents of looting and torching of Christian-owned shops, in addition to 8 homes. He confirmed the eyewitness accounts of the events, but could not confirm that John Hosni had surrendered to the police. “Yesterday John Hosni was in a safe place, but he is not in the village, I do not know his whereabouts.” He does not know whether any Muslims were arrested in connection with the slaughtering of the two Coptic brothers.

A funeral for Abdel-Nazeer was held on Tuesday.

Bishop Bachoum of Sohag said this evening on CTV Coptic Channel that funerals for the two Copts were held in Sohag and they were buried in their village of elGhorayzat, under heavy security. He said that efforts are under way for a “reconciliation” meeting between Muslim and Christians elders.

Commenting on the elGhorayzat events, Dr. Fawzi Hermina, a Coptic activist who lives in Sohag, said that Copts are living in a state of Statelessness — with no state, no security and no law. “Unfortunately the Copts, being the weak party in society, are paying the price.”

           — Hat tip: Mary Abdelmassih[Return to headlines]

Tunisia: State of Emergency Extended to December 31

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, NOVEMBER 30 — The state of emergency in Tunisia (which was to have been lifted today) has been extended until December 31. The extension decree — reports the new agency TAP — was signed by acting prime minister Foued Mebazaa.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Tunisia: Strike in All Universities Called

Tomorrow, protest against incidents

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, NOVEMBER 30 — A general strike has been called for tomorrow in all Tunisian universities. The call was made by the union of teachers and the university union representatives, as a protest against the incidents at the La Monouba University in Tunis, caused by fundamentalists.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Middle East

EU to Lose if Free Trade Talks With Gulf States Fail: UAE

The European Union stands to lose if free trade talks with the oil-rich Gulf Cooperation Council are not completed, the foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates said Wednesday. Talks were suspended in December 2008 because the EU was insisting on including a chapter on human rights in the agreement and some Gulf countries, notably Saudi Arabia, wanted to retain customs duties on certain items.

“The EU is the most important trade partner of the GCC but those negotiations have taken 22 years. Time is not playing in favour of the EU and it will lose if we fail to reach an agreement,” said Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahayan in a conference in Abu Dhabi.

“Gulf countries will turn towards other groups like the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and countries like India, China and Japan,” added the minister, whose country presides over the current term of the coalition. Besides the UAE and Saudi Arabia the other GCC members are Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait and Qatar.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Iranian Cleric: U.S.: Europe Will Become Islamist in Another Few Decades; Most American Women Would Rather Have a Dog and a Toyota Than a Husband

In recent speeches, Ahmad-Hossein Sharifi, deputy chairman and research director at the Imam Khomeini Education and Research Institute, discussed the dangers presented by the West to Iran’s Shi’ite society. He said that the West had decided to undermine this society by disseminating its corrupt, immoral, and anti-Islam culture, and that it was targeting Iran in particular — because Shi’ite Iran, unlike the Sunni Wahhabi Saudi Arabia, was the center of the pure Islam. Yet despite the West’s efforts, Sharifi added, Islam was spreading rapidly in the West, and the U.S. and Europe would become Islamic countries within a few decades.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

The Tolerant Dictator: Syria’s Christians Side With Assad Out of Fear

Many of Syria’s 2.5 million Christians are supporting President Bashar Assad amidst ongoing protests in the country. They prefer a brutal dictator who guarantees the rights of religious minorities to the uncertain future that Assad’s departure would bring. The president is exploiting their fears of Islamists for his own ends.

The rebellion against him was just a few days old when Syrian dictator Bashar Assad summoned his country’s Christian leaders to the presidential palace in northwestern Damascus. Syrian Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius came. He is 78 years old and critically ill, but still a powerful figure. Bishops and archbishops representing Catholics, Armenians, Aramaeans and Assyrians were also present. In total, there were a dozen religious leaders, representing around 2.5 million Syrian Christians.

The message they received from their head of state was short and simple: Either support me, or your churches will burn.

It seemed Assad, himself a member of the Alawis, a branch of Shia Islam, didn’t want to assume that Syria’s Christians would continue to remain aloof from politics. Sensing that not only his authority but perhaps his very survival was at stake, he resorted to the same means his father, Hafez Assad, once used to maintain power: pressure and violence.

The Arab League has suspended Syria’s membership, isolating the country internationally. Damascus missed last Friday’s deadline for Assad to stop the bloodshed and allow a commission of observers into the country. The League had allowed a brief extension, but on Sunday imposed harsh economic sanctions on the country. On Wednesday, Turkey also introduced its own economic sanctions on Syria.

Open Loyalty

The regime has killed at least 3,500 people since March. There are reports of torture, executions of unarmed individuals and mass executions of army deserters. But none of this has dissuaded members of the opposition. Shaky Internet videos show thousands continuing to march through the streets of Homs, Hama, Daraa and Damascus, chanting: “Down with Bashar!”

Christian neighborhoods and villages, meanwhile, have remained largely quiet, with no large demonstrations and little chanting or graffiti critical of the regime. Instead, there is silence. Or, worse still, expressions of open loyalty to the regime.

“President Assad is a very cultured man,” says Gregorios Elias Tabé, 70, the Syrian Catholic archbishop of Damascus. He calls all the media liars and the demonstrators nothing but terrorists. Every Sunday, he preaches at St. Paul’s Chapel on the southeastern edge of Damascus’ old town, which takes its name from the Apostle Paul, said to have escaped from the city here 2,000 years ago. Syria’s Christian congregations are among the oldest in the world, and the archbishop would like them to continue to exist for many years to come — which gives him a reason to take Assad’s side.

“We’re a nation of 23 million,” Tabé says, “and no law can ever satisfy everyone. That’s true in every country — there are always 10 percent who are sacrificed.” It’s a state of affairs he can accept, as long as Christians aren’t the segment of the population being sacrificed.

From the archbishop’s perspective, it’s possible to live well in Syria. The president guarantees religious minorities’ rights, Christians are allowed to practice their faith freely and churches are protected. Assad generally hands out important government and army posts to members of his own group, the Alawis, but Christians also hold a number of senior positions in important institutions such as the presidential guard and intelligence services. The head of the country’s central bank is a Christian, as is the new defense minister. Many Christians belong to the ranks of the privileged within the system, and few have yet dared to take the step of joining the opposition, not when they are held so closely in the president’s embrace.

Assad not only allows Christians influence, he also fans their greatest fears: Islamists, Sharia law and the prospect of burning churches. The bishops would probably prefer a brutal dictator who lets them pray in peace than the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, who would demand a share of power in a Syria without Assad…

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]


Russia Turns on Missile Defence System in Kaliningrad

Russia has turned on a new incoming missile early warning system in the western exclave of Kaliningrad, bordering on Poland, Lithuania and the Baltic Sea. President Dmitry Medvedev told Russian news agencies the step was “a response” to US plans for a missile shield on European soil.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Far East

There Will be an Orderly Revolution

China cancelled, at the last minute, scheduled border negotiations with India. This was apparently in response to continued Indian support for the Dali Lama, the Tibetan religious leader who opposes Chinese occupation of Tibet. China uses old claims on Indian borderlands to try and control Indian diplomatic and defense policy. For example, China wants Indian warships to stay out of the South China Sea, while not interfering with Chinese naval operations in the Indian Ocean, and establishing more bases there. This aggressiveness is not just directed at India, but at all the neighbors. In response, most of China’s neighbors are uniting to oppose Chinese attempts to expand political control.

Chinese efforts to cool down their overheated economy, and deal with some of the extensive damage corruption has inflicted on the banking system, has also caused an economic slowdown. Like the West, China also has a real estate bubble, and property prices are collapsing. But in addition to bad real estate loans, banks have lots of other bad loans that are becoming a major problem. Overall domestic demand is down and export markets have still not recovered from their three year slump. The government has put off dealing with its bank problems, but believes that a dictatorship has all the tools needed to sort out this mess without triggering a major recession. At the moment, the economy is still growing, but each month the forecasts are lowered.

The economic problems are complicated by growing unrest among workers. Strikes are increasing, as are worker demonstrations and riots. China does little to protect workers from bad employers, and workplace deaths and injuries are much more common than in the West. Chinese workers have become aware of this, and want change, they want it now, and a growing number of them are willing to fight for it.

China’s corruption is spreading overseas. Not just in terms of bribes paid to businessmen or government officials, but in the way Chinese use the Internet. It’s not just the commercial and government sponsored hacking, but the use of fake posts on review and opinion message boards. The Chinese attitude seems to be that, if you are not family, a close friend or business associate (or someone that can arrest you or promptly retaliate), anything goes. Cheating, lying and stealing are all considered legitimate business tools. Foreigners have to learn, often at great expense, that the rules are different in China. Foreign governments are having a hard time comprehending the extent of all this, especially the scale of the Internet based theft of Western technology. But now the evidence is piling up, and so is the call for retribution.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]


Migrants Settling in Germany

Just over 150 welfare refugees, mostly families, who arrived in Malta during the conflict in Libya will be relocated to Germany next week.

Germany would be taking 43 men, 73 women and 36 children from Somalia, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Sudan and relocate them in various parts of the country, the German Embassy said. Many of the refugees already have family ties in Germany and, over the past months, they participated in cultural orientation courses about life there.

They were also taught basic German to facilitate their integration and were given warm winter clothes, donated by the German community.

The refugees will leave Malta on Tuesday morning.

About 300 refugees were relocated to Germany in the last years.

           — Hat tip: LN[Return to headlines]


How Tiny Worms Could Help Humans Colonize Mars

Humanity’s quest to colonize Mars could receive a big boost from some tiny worms, a new study suggests. Scientists tracked the development and reproduction of the microscopic roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans through 12 generations on the International Space Station. Studying these space-hardened worms could help humans deal with the rigors and risks of the long trip to Mars, researchers said.

“We have been able to show that worms can grow and reproduce in space for long enough to reach another planet, and that we can remotely monitor their health,” study lead author Nathaniel Szewczyk, of the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom, said in a statement. “As a result, C. elegans is a cost-effective option for discovering and studying the biological effects of deep space missions,” Szewczyk added. “Ultimately, we are now in a position to be able to remotely grow and study an animal on another planet.”

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Scientists Narrow Down Dark Matter’s Mass

Physicists have set the most precise limit yet on the mass of dark matter, the mysterious and elusive stuff that is thought to make up 98 percent of all matter in the universe and nearly a quarter of its total mass. The researchers used data from NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope to set parameters on the mass of dark matter particles by calculating the rate at which they appear to collide with their antimatter partners and annihilate each other in galaxies that orbit our own Milky Way.

Savvas Koushiappas, an assistant professor in the department of physics at Brown University, and graduate student Alex Geringer-Sameth found that dark matter particles must have a mass greater than 40 giga-electron volts (GeV) — approximately 42 times the mass of a proton.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]