Friday, February 13, 2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 2/13/2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 2/13/2009The two most interesting news stories tonight come from China. First, the Chinese export industry has collapsed, throwing at least 20 million more people out of work. 20 million. Even in China, that’s a lot of people.

The second story: China demands that the USA “guarantee” that the value of any further Treasury assets it buys will not be eroded by federal government policy. Given the inflation that’s headed our way, who would believe such a guarantee?

But the interesting thing is that China is demanding it. Are they facing a liquidity crisis that will force them to cut back on their foreign investment?

And are these two news stories connected? You decide.

Thanks to C. Cantoni, ESW, Gaia, Insubria, islam o’phobe, JD, JEH, Reinhard, Steen, TB, Vlad Tepes, and all the other tipsters who sent these in. Headlines and articles are below the fold.
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Financial Crisis
As Vacant Office Space Grows, So Does Lenders’ Crisis
China’s Exports Collapse, More Than 20 Million Jobs Lost
Enjoy Your $2.60!
Europe’s Industrial Base May Never Recover From Crisis
FBI May Shift Counterterror Agents to Anti-Fraud
Russia to Sit on $56 Billion of CO2 Credits, Awaiting Kyoto Successor Before Cashing in
Wanted: Americans Willing to Fight Back
 
USA
“Kill Yourself. Save US the Paperwork”
Briton Tells of ‘Secretive’ Octuplets Doctor Michael Kamrava
Nationalize the Banks
Obama Likely to Create Office of Urban Policy
‘Sanctions’ Sought in Eligibility Case
 
Canada
Carnaval Apologizes for Ice Sculpture
Where You’ve Been on Net Not Private, Judge Rules
 
Europe and the EU
Ganley Still Planning Campaign Despite Registration Difficulties
Giscard Proposes Irish Deal
Greece: Attack on Anti-Terrorism Prosecutor, No Victims
How the Flying Dutchman Was Stopped in His Tracks
Italian Prankster Spams EU Lobbyist Register
Italy: Frattini Urges European Countries to ‘Play Their Part’ in Afghanistan
Italy ‘May Take Guantanamo Inmates’
Muslim Teacher Banned Over Anti-Semitic Propaganda
Ports: Israeli Produce to Head for Liguria Over Marseille
Stockholm Anti-Fascists Admit to Mugging Right-Wing Extremist
Swedish Town Debates Ban on ‘Racist’ Clothing
UK: Secret Police Target Government Critics
Zapatero: Collaboration With Italy Important
 
Balkans
Croatia-Albania: Joint Support for Transadriatic Gas Pipeline
Kosovo: Serbs Protest in Mitrovica Against Security Force
 
Mediterranean Union
Exports: Italian Furniture Flourishes in Gulf and Med Area
Fashion: Two Italy Scholarships for Gulf & Mideast Students
 
North Africa
Algeria: Bouteflika Announces Candidature as President
Jordan: New Arabic Daily by Islamists Seeks Independence
Libya: End of Revolutionary Hostility to Seif El Islam
Nuclear: Tunisia Will Have Power Plant by 2025
 
Israel and the Palestinians
Israel: Benedict XVI, I Am Preparing for Visit
Israel: Vote. Netanyahu Accelerates, Livni at Crossroads
Israel: Christians in Jerusalem Want Jews to Stop Spitting on Them
Mideast: Abu Mazen Wants Isolation for Likud Gov’t
 
Middle East
Iran May be Running Out of Uranium Oxide, Study Says
Lebanon: UAE Gives 10 Puma Helicopters to Army
Saudi Arabia: Prizes for Weight-Watchers, Women Out of Sports
Syria: Anniversary Hezbollah’s Leader Death, Media Keeps Mum
Syria-USA: Damascus, Attempt at Dialogue With Washington
Syria: Drought, President Summons to Pray for Rain
Yemen: New Law Moves to Reduce Child Marriages
 
Russia
Putin Says Turkey ‘Priority’ for Russian Foreign Policy
Russia: Four Policemen, Two Rebels Killed in Ingushetia Blast
 
Caucasus
Russia and Armenia to Create Joint Air Defense
 
South Asia
India: Guwahati Archbishop Mediates Between Muslims and Tribal Hindu
India: Editor Arrested for ‘Outraging Muslims’
Islamabad Admits for the First Time That Mumbai Attacks Were Planned in Pakistan
 
Far East
China Rejects All Criticism on Human Rights, But Accepts Advice From Cuba and Iran
China Needs U.S. Guarantees for Treasuries, Yu Says
UN Asks About Human Rights, China’s Answer is Economics
 
Australia — Pacific
Australian Brush Fires: Police Release Suspect Photo
 
Immigration
France: DNA Tests to Catch Illicit Immigrants
Maghreb: Conference in Naples on Violations of Human Rights
 
Culture Wars
Argggh! Players Rape, Force Abortion in Hit Game
Prof Calls Christian Student ‘Fascist B———’
 
General
The Elephant in the Room: Intimidating Critics of Islam
UN Surprised at Female Role in ‘Modern Slavery’

Financial Crisis

As Vacant Office Space Grows, So Does Lenders’ Crisis

With job cuts rampant and businesses retrenching, more empty space is expected from New York to Chicago to Los Angeles in the coming year. Rental income would then decline and property values would slide further. The Urban Land Institute predicts 2009 will be the worst year for the commercial real estate market “since the wrenching 1991-1992 industry depression.”

Banks and other financial companies have not had the problems with commercial properties in this recession that they have had with residential properties. But many building owners, while struggling with more vacancies and less rental income, will need to refinance commercial mortgages this year.

The persistent chill in lending from banks to the credit markets will make that difficult — even for borrowers who are current on their payments — setting the stage for loan defaults.

The prospect bodes ill for banks, along with pension funds, insurance companies, hedge funds and others holding the loans or pieces of them that were packaged and sold as securities.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


China’s Exports Collapse, More Than 20 Million Jobs Lost

Exports dropped by 17.5% in January, more than the most downbeat projections. Imports are down by 43%: the markets of the Asia-Pacific region are in crisis. It is feared that growth will not exceed 6%. Now attention is on what the government will do, after focusing so far only on public investment and bank financing.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) — Chinese exports fell by 17.5% in January, compared to January of 2007, the worst figure since October of 1998, increasing fears of job losses and a slowdown in Chinese growth.

The hardest hit sectors are textiles, toys, electronics, and other manufactured goods, the very products that have always driven Chinese exports and are the main products of the factories on the coast. The government says that 20 million migrants have already lost their jobs, but the real number is believed to be much higher, since many migrants work in the underground economy. The official figure also does not consider the fact that many already receive less pay, or none at all, even though they continue to work.

Experts say that the country may grow by 6.1% in the first quarter of 2009, the slowest rate since 1999.

Imports also fell sharply in January, by 43.1% year on year, as a result of lower demand for foreign components and raw materials for production. But the drop is also a symptom of the contraction in consumption because of growing economic difficulties. Because of the reduced imports, China’s trade balance increased by 39.11 billion dollars in January. The trade gap with the United States grew in China’s favor by 1.9%, or 12.3 billion dollars.

Experts forecast a further slowdown in exports, and therefore in production as well, since it does not seem likely that demand from the United States and Europe will pick up soon. But this could have a dampening effect on the economy of the entire region, since nearby countries sell raw materials and partly finished products to China. In December, exports from Taiwan dropped by 42%, Japan’s by 35%, and South Korea’s by 17%: these are the three largest providers of semi-finished products that are assembled in Chinese factories.

China’s domestic demand seems to be slowing in spite of increasing deflation, with producer prices falling by 3.3% in January, and consumer prices increasing by only 1%, the lowest rate in 30 months, with a rise of 4.2% in food prices (19.6% for vegetables), but steep drops for clothing, transportation, and real estate. Experts maintain that the government will intervene to contain deflation, in order to avoid eroding the already slim profit margins of producing companies, and to stimulate domestic consumption. There is eager anticipation for initiatives from Beijing, which so far has limited itself to announcing large-scale public investment, and to providing incentives for bank financing.

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


Enjoy Your $2.60!

The other day, Sen. Chuck Schumer defended a planned $1.2 trillion expenditure by the Federal Reserve by shrugging, “It’s not taxpayer money.” He didn’t mean to, but Schumer let slip the big secret that only Americans are ignorant of.

It isn’t taxpayer money; it’s pretend money. It doesn’t exist until it is printed.

The only reason the extra $1.2 trillion isn’t counterfeit is because the Fed is authorized to print it, but it will accomplish the same thing. Doubling the amount of currency in circulation has the effect of halving the purchasing weight of the currency already in circulation.

Gerald Celente summed it up well on Glenn Beck’s program the other day: “This isn’t Economics 101. It’s not even Economics for Dummies!”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Europe’s Industrial Base May Never Recover From Crisis

The European Commission has issued a red alert over the unprecedented collapse of industrial production, warning that EU states are running out of money for rescue packages.

Factory output plunged by a record 12pc in December year-on-year. Spain suffered the steepest fall of countries in the Eurozone with a 20pc drop. Among non-euro countries, the biggest declines were led by Latvia (-21pc), Sweden (-18pc) , and Romania (-17pc).

“What’s completely new is the extent and speed of this crisis. The credit crunch is a reality, and even member states are having trouble financing their debts,” said industry commissioner Gunther Verheugen.

“Blind activism is not going to help. EU states and the commission must not take on the role of white knights. We don’t have a single euro in our budget to save companies. The financial options of the EU and member states are reaching their limits.”

Julian Callow, from Barclays Capital, said an over-valued euro had slowly “hollowed out” Europe’s manufacturing core over the last two or three years. “It takes time for currency effects to feed through. The damage was concealed during the global boom but the collapse in demand has exposed the vulnerabilities. We going to see a prolonged period of de-industrialisation,” he said.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


FBI May Shift Counterterror Agents to Anti-Fraud

WASHINGTON — With thousands of fraud investigations under way, the FBI is considering shifting agents away from counterterrorism work to help sort through the wreckage of the financial meltdown.

FBI Deputy Director John Pistole told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday that the bureau may reassign some of the positions that were reallocated to anti-terrorism work after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Such a move would be a further sign of the government breaking with the Bush administration’s priorities, which pledged to assign every available resource to averting another terrorist attack.

Pistole told Congress his investigators have 530 active corporate fraud investigations, and 38 of them involve some of the biggest names in corporate finance — cases directly related to the current crisis.

In addition, FBI investigators are tackling an even bigger mountain of mortgage fraud cases in which hundreds of millions of dollars may have been swindled from the system, he told lawmakers.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Russia to Sit on $56 Billion of CO2 Credits, Awaiting Kyoto Successor Before Cashing in

Russia reportedly plans to sit on $56 billion worth of carbon credits until after 2012 rather than sell them in the trading market created by the Kyoto global-warming treaty.

The implications of this are significant. It means there is less chance the market price of a carbon credit will implode during the global recession. In turn, this makes it more likely that carbon trading, although highly controversial, will be seen in 2009 as a financial success worthy of being extended beyond 2012 under a new international treaty still to be negotiated.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Wanted: Americans Willing to Fight Back

stim·u·lus: something that incites to action or exertion or quickens action, feeling, thought, etc.

That’s how my dictionary defines the word being thrown around so frequently by President Obama and Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid.

And that’s exactly what the “economic stimulus package” is doing in Washington and across the country — inciting, exerting and quickening actions, feelings and thoughts.

It will not stimulate economic recovery, nor do I believe that is even the goal.

The real goal of this fraudulent legislation is to incite Americans into accepting a new economic system — one no longer based on the principles of free enterprise, property rights and limited constitutional government.

As Newsweek proclaims, “We’re all socialists now.”

That was actually the Promised Land all along for those who never believed in the American way of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

In “The Creature From Jeckyll Island,” by G. Edward Griffin, the best exposé of the Federal Reserve ever written, what we’re seeing happen to our country today was prophesied. He warned that the power elite would use “bailouts” and other euphemisms to enrich the wealthy and enslave the middle class.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

USA

“Kill Yourself. Save US the Paperwork”

Pfc. Ryan Alderman, now deceased, sought medical help from the Army. He got a fistful of powerful drugs instead.

Late last month, the Army announced data showing the highest suicide rate among soldiers in three decades. At least 128 soldiers committed suicide in 2008. Another 15 deaths are still under investigation as potential suicides. And suicide is only one manifestation of the mental health ills coming home with U.S. troops. Four years after Salon first exposed problems with healthcare at Walter Reed Army Medical Center that ultimately became a national scandal, the situation, at least at some Army posts, has only deteriorated. For the “Coming Home” series, in which today’s two entries are the second installment, Salon put together a sample of 25 cases of suicide, prescription drug overdoses or murder involving Fort Carson soldiers since 2004. A close study of 10 of those cases exposed a pattern of avoidable deaths, meaning that a suicide or murder might well have been prevented had the Army better handled the predictable and well-known symptoms of combat stress. (Read the introduction to the “Coming Home” series here.) As Alderman’s death shows, part of the problem is an apparent tendency of Army doctors to substitute large doses of prescription medication for adequate mental healthcare.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Briton Tells of ‘Secretive’ Octuplets Doctor Michael Kamrava

British embryologist says she is shocked to find Michael Kamrava is still running clinic she walked out of 13 years ago

A British embryologist who worked for the doctor whose fertility treatment led to the birth of octuplets said yesterday that she was shocked to discover he was still running the clinic she walked out on 13 years ago.

Shantal Rajah, 51, told The Times that she left Michael Kamrava’s clinic in the United States after three weeks, such was her concern at his personal attitude. She said that she found his behaviour impossible, including the secretive way that he ran the West Coast IVF Clinic. She successfully sued him for back pay and damages, receiving a substantial sum in 2003.

Describing Dr Kamrava, 57, as “extremely difficult”, Dr Rajah said that he had misled her about the clinic to encourage her to move from Britain and had refused to listen to questions she raised about the way the clinic operated.

“The level of regulation I was used to just wasn’t there,” Dr Rajah said. “His practice was all a very secretive issue. He didn’t tell anyone what he was up to — he would do things that he said would work, but you didn’t get any sense of what he was doing or what was the outcome.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Nationalize the Banks

[Commment from JD: Article is by Matthew Rothschild. Notice he didn’t mention nationalizing the Fed.]

Nobel Prize-winner in economics Joseph Stiglitz also sees the irrationality of leaving the banks in private hands.

“In effect, the American taxpayers are the major provider of finance to the banks,” he wrote on CNN’s website. “In some cases, the value of our equity injection, guarantees, and other forms of assistance dwarfs the value of the ‘private’ sector’s equity contribution. Yet we have no voice in how the banks are run.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Obama Likely to Create Office of Urban Policy

The Obama administration is close to creating an office of urban policy to allocate funds to urban areas for a range of initiatives, including job training and the creation of new jobs, BlackAmericaWeb.com has learned.

According to a political insider, the president’s urban renewal plan — from neighborhoods to downtown corridors — calls for creating more opportunities for minority businesses, establishing more affordable public transportation, raising the minimum wage, ending tax breaks for businesses that send jobs overseas, providing additional funding for community policing and ending racial profiling.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


‘Sanctions’ Sought in Eligibility Case

President’s attorneys file motion demanding birth, college records be withheld from public

A high-powered team of Los Angeles attorneys representing President Obama in his effort to keep his birth certificate, college records and passport documents concealed from the public has suggested there should be “monetary sanctions” against a lawyer whose clients have brought a complaint alleging Obama doesn’t qualify for the Oval Office under the Constitution’s demand for a “natural born” citizen in that post.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


State Lawmakers: Prove You’re President, Mr. Obama

Case being assembled to demand eligibility documentation

A new lawsuit is being prepared by a California attorney who already has four cases pending over the issue of President Obama’s eligibility to occupy to Oval Office, and this one will include a demand from state lawmakers who forward state funds to Washington for documentation of his qualifications.

Orly Taitz told WND today she’s preparing the complaint but is holding onto it and will file it shortly to give state legislators a chance to join the action as plaintiffs.

Four already have signed up, including state Rep. Eric Swafford of Tennessee, who agreed to be a plaintiff “for a Writ of Mandamus to obtain original birth certificate, immigration records, passports and other vital records for Barry Soetero aka Barack Hussein Obama.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Canada

Carnaval Apologizes for Ice Sculpture

The Quebec City Carnaval is apologizing for an ice sculpture of a traditional Ukrainian Christmas scene after a visitor complained that it included a stereotypical bearded Jew in a skullcap, holding a bag of money.

“We don’t want to agree that we shouldn’t [have included the sculpture], because the fact is we have done that. It was a good intention. It’s a Carnaval. It’s a party, you know?” said Annick Marchand, the Carnaval’s director of marketing.

“But if we had known [about the portrayal of the Jew], probably the committee would have stopped this, would have refused this thing. The thing we have to remember is next year we will pay good attention to this kind of situation… We have to be careful next year. That’s a good lesson for us,” Ms. Marchand said.

Jake Burack, a professor of child psychology and special education at McGill University in Montreal, made the complaint after visiting Carnaval last weekend with his wife and children.

“The face itself was nice enough, but it was so classic, the hunched shoulder, the big crooked nose,” he said. “The kids, they’re 11 and 8, they saw how upset my wife was. We explained to the kids why we were upset, that these depictions of Jews were very detrimental.

“The more I looked at it, the more it just reminded me of the caricatures you see in Germany before the war, this stereotypical European portrayal of Jews,” he said.

He said he immediately asked about it, and the sculptors did not speak English or French, but a Carnaval spokesperson told him the character represented a moneylender who charged unfairly high interest.

According to a description published beside the sculpture, and provided to Carnaval as part of the application process, it represents “a theatrical piece that takes place in our country on Christmas night. The story’s characters, the astrologer, the tzar, the warrior, the Jew, Death and the goat, are divided into heroes and villains. They represent, in an ironic and satirical form, people’s lives.”

All the characters are arranged on a boat, “symbolizing the birth of Goodness.”

The Ukrainian sculptor, whom Ms. Marchand identified as Pitro Romaniuk, was yesterday in Niagara Falls and did not return a message left with a colleague. He was due to appear with colleagues today at the University of Toronto’s Munk Centre for International Studies for a panel discussion on contemporary cultural life in Ukraine.

Larysa Iarovenko, Ukrainian Programs Manager at the Centre for European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies at the Munk Centre, said the scene represented by the sculpture is called Vertep.

It refers to a type of puppet show, but also to a tradition similar to trick-or-treating, in which revellers “put on different costumes, like a devil, an angel, Saddam Hussein, whoever. And they sing and go from house to house.”

She did not know the significance of the boat.

           — Hat tip: Vlad Tepes[Return to headlines]


Where You’ve Been on Net Not Private, Judge Rules

An Ontario Superior Court ruling could open the door to police routinely using Internet Protocol addresses to find out the names of people online, without any need for a search warrant

           — Hat tip: JEH[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Ganley Still Planning Campaign Despite Registration Difficulties

DESPITE DIFFICULTIES over registration and funding at EU level, Libertas chairman Declan Ganley has declared his intention to proceed with a campaign to win seats in next June’s European elections.

Speaking yesterday on RTÉ Radio 1’s Today with Pat Kenny , he said: “One way or the other, we are coming. Libertas is going to happen to Brussels, whether they like it or not.”

The failure to win recognition from the European Parliament would be overcome. “We can run candidates anyway because we are registering Libertas as a political party nationally in every member state of the EU.”

Blaming Brussels and EU leaders for the economic crisis, Mr Ganley said: “We need to make sure that we do not chain ourselves to the same set of policies which were enshrined in the Lisbon Treaty that got Europe — not just Ireland, all of Europe — into this economic mess that we’re in, and the question of the leaders that got us there is another question which people can start to answer in the June election.”

He continued: “We have an opportunity across Europe and in Ireland to absolutely reshape the global economy and lead. And there are mistakes being made in the US right now: we have an opportunity as a united Europe, as Europeans, to go out there and lead and Ireland can play a very important part in that. Chucking good money after bad into these banks is definitely not the way to go about doing it.”

Denying he was a Eurosceptic, Mr Ganley said: “Because we’re Europeans, we have trouble with the Lisbon Treaty and the fact is, and I have challenged journalists, I have said: ‘Point to anything that Libertas or I have ever said that is any way Eurosceptic’. We are exactly the opposite.. I have poured scorn on Eurosceptics because scorn is what they deserve.

“But if people understand the effect of the Lisbon Treaty, not just on us in Ireland but right across Europe, they would be outraged at what is in this document and it’s amazing to see the same old people harp on with the same old tunes that they’ve been singing for well over a year now, saying that this somehow makes us more European.”

Libertas activist Caroline Simons said last night she was considering running in the European elections in Dublin. “I am thinking about it,” she said.

In a speech to be delivered tonight at Trinity College Dublin in response to former French president Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, Ms Simons describes herself as “somebody seriously thinking about putting herself before the electorate”.

           — Hat tip: islam o’phobe[Return to headlines]


Giscard Proposes Irish Deal

FORMER FRENCH president Valéry Giscard d’Estaing has said that retaining all 27 European commissioners would not be in the best interest of the European Union and a more “elegant solution” would be to allow Ireland a derogation whereby it would be guaranteed its commissioner until 2020.

Mr Giscard (83), who chaired the commission that drafted the proposed EU constitution, was addressing a debate on the Lisbon Treaty at Trinity College Dublin’s Philosophical Society.

Earlier, he had met Taoiseach Brian Cowen at Government Buildings for over an hour, where they discussed the forthcoming second referendum on the treaty and wider European affairs.

Outlining his view that the number of commissioners should be reduced to 15, he said that the commission would be built on skill and competence rather than national identity, and it would operate on a strict rule of rotation.

“The commission has to be effective. Everybody knows this. The excessive number of commissioners leads to a multiplication of interventions as each commissioner wants to justify his existence by proposing new measures for implementation.”

He pointed out that the complement of commissioners was identified as only the fourth most important issue for those who voted No in last June’s referendum — it ranked after confusion as to the treaty’s contents, the question of identity and moral values, he said.

He said that Ireland could ratify Lisbon in a second referendum, or vote No again, leading to isolation or to a situation where the Nice Treaty — “the worst of all EU treaties” — would still operate. Both would leave Ireland in difficulty.

           — Hat tip: islam o’phobe[Return to headlines]


Greece: Attack on Anti-Terrorism Prosecutor, No Victims

(ANSAmed) — ATHENS, FEBRUAURY 12 — A home-made bomb exploded this morning in Athens, Greece, in front of the home of head anti-terrorism prosecutor Dimitri Papagelopoulos, causing only material damage. Local media reported that the attack, using a gas explosion of moderate force, has not been attributed to any groups but shares many traits with the type police say anarchists use. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


How the Flying Dutchman Was Stopped in His Tracks



In a blaze of publicity, the anti-Islam campaigner was refused entry to Britain. Jerome Taylor joined him on flight BD104Three days ago, few people in Britain, other than those of the far right, knew of the Dutch politician Geert Wilders.Yesterday though, in an own goal by the British Government, the anti-Islamist was handed a stunning PR opportunity when he was turned away from Britain.Apart from two empty rows at the front — reserved for Mr Wilders and his two giant, shaven-headed bodyguards — there wasn’t a spare seat on flight BD104 from Amsterdam to London.One third of the plane was filled with reporters and cameramen, there to chronicle the moment the Dutch demagogue defied a Home Office ban on him entering the country.Mr Wilders, 45, had been due to show his film Fitna, which equates Islam with fascism, in the House of Lords last night. He never arrived — but did garner much helpful publicity. At the front of the plane, Mr Wilders held court. “I am no champion of anything,” he said. “I’m just trying to exercise my right to free speech.”My message to the British Government is that I am sad that the ghost of Chamberlain still resides in Britain instead of the ghost of Churchill. I would say to [Britain], even if you don’t like me, even if you don’t like my thoughts, be brave and defend freedom of speech. If you don’t then you are weak and you are cowards.”When the plane landed at Heathrow at 2pm, the circus continued. Two plainclothes immigration officers walked on to the plane and escorted Mr Wilders off for questioning — pursued by the media pack and bodyguards. “Is this how Great Britain meets a democrat?” the blond populist demanded.He was sent back to Amsterdam on the next flight at 4.30pm. It is thought to be the first time Britain has refused entry to an elected European politician since the creation of the EU in 1993.Mr Wilders seemed happy to have used the one-hour flight to rail against the British Government, which he accused of appeasing “Islamofascists” and stifling free speech. He repeated some of the criticisms of Islam that have made him so reviled.Most Dutch passengers seemed to understand what all the fuss was about but Bridget Naughton, an Australian living in Utrecht, was nonplussed. “To be honest I don’t even know who he is,” she said. “All I do know is that he’s taken my seat. When I checked in online last night I was in the front row, but now it appears this Mr Wilders has taken it.”Mr Wilders had been invited to the House of Lords by Lord Pearson, a Ukip peer. His 17-minute-long documentary Fitna is named after the Arabic word for “civil war”, and was shown last night regardless. The film links Islamic texts with footage of terrorist attacks and calls the Koran a “fascist book”. It has caused waves of protests across the Muslim world, which Mr Wilders responded to by warning of a “tsunami” of Islam swamping the Netherlands; calling for an outright ban of the Koran in Holland and a halt on the construction of any new mosques. He faces prosecution in Holland for inciting hatred and discriminating against Muslims and their religion.Yesterday, he denied any suggestion that he was being hypocritical to demand a ban on the Koran while simultaneously criticising the British Government for attacking his right to free speech. “I don’t see a problem there,” he said. “I’m talking about the Koran, I’m not talking about the people. Unlike in the UK, in Holland we have banned [Hitler’s] Mein Kampf and I see a comparison between the two books. They are both books full of totalitarian ideologies and they both incite violence.”Muslim groups in Britain reacted angrily to his comments yesterday and praised the Government for deporting him…

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]


Italian Prankster Spams EU Lobbyist Register

The European Commission’s voluntary online register of Brussels lobbyists has been hijacked by a mysterious mischief-maker who registered a string of seemingly fake companies, according to EUobserver.com.

Foremost amongst them is the “Fares Bank Ltd” of Harley Street, London, which is supposed to have spent £250 million on lobbying EU institutions in 2008, immediately making it the biggest spender in the Register of Interest Representatives, a database of public relations companies, law firms, NGOs and think-tanks.

The vast sum looks all the more outlandish when put next to the two largest real lobbying outfits in Brussels, Hill & Knowlton, which had a turnover of about £8 million and Burston Marsteller on £7 million.

The Fares Bank entry states, in comically poor English, that it worked on banking legislation. “Fares Bank’s activity is explicated in the international field and proposes itself as strategic partner of trades, giving professionality [sic], experience, competence, venture capitals.”

The company’s London address is the same as Virtual Serviced Offices, a private post office box in London “available on very flexible terms for a minimum period of one week.” Its homepage is skeletally bare.

The supposed Fares Bank director, Willy Bergher, gets just three Google hits — the commission registry, a Romanian literary review and the “Financial Insurance Services European Companies Union,” which was “conceived by an idea of one of the greatest experts of world financial analysts engineer Willy Bergher.”

A quick internet search reveals however that the Fares Bank website is registered to a Gennaro Ruggiero of Prato, Italy. Mr Ruggiero, or “Dr Ruggiero,” as he sometimes styles himself, has a much more prolific web presence than his ostensible associate.

The Italian character is also connected to an extended chain of likely ghost organisations on the internet, such as the “International Association of Freelance Journalists,” the “Professional Order of Qualified Euro-advisors and Euro-planners” and the “Observatory on Tourism in the European Islands,” according to Erik Wesselius of pro-transparency NGO Corporate Europe Observatory.

Mr Ruggiero and another individual, Giuseppe Catapano, are also on the European Parliament’s lobbying register as part of another virtual organisation, the “Observatory of the European Parliament and the Council of Europe.”

[…]

           — Hat tip: islam o’phobe[Return to headlines]


Italy: Frattini Urges European Countries to ‘Play Their Part’ in Afghanistan

Rome, 12 Feb. (AKI) — Following pledges by US president Barack Obama’s administration to send up to 30,000 new troops to Afghanistan, Italian foreign minister Franco Frattini said other European countries to pull their weight in the war-wracked country.

“Italy is the third largest NATO troops contributor in Afghanistan: I believe the moment has come when other European countries must play their part,” said Frattini during an official visit to Makeni, in Sierra Leone.

Frattini also did not rule out a more ‘flexible’ approach to deploying Italian troops.

“We still have some operational limits on our troops deployed in Afghanistan,” he said.

“Our contribution could be increasing the number of troops up to 2,800,” said Frattini, pointing out that defence minister Ignazio La Russa had already announced such an increase.

Frattini said that Italy — as president of the G8 group of nations this year — is organising a conference on the stabilisation of Afghanistan.

“We intend to bring together all the countries of the region,” said Frattini, mentioning India, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey.

“It is clear that the solution (to the conflict in Afghanistan) must be political, while using the military, in the meantime, must be the means by which we maintain security,” said Frattini.

Italy currently has about 2,350 troops serving in the NATO-led international force in Afghanistan.

The Italian troops are stationed between the Afghan capital, Kabul, and the western province of Herat.

There are almost 53,000 troops in Afghanistan from around 40 countries that make up NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

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


Italy ‘May Take Guantanamo Inmates’

‘Recognition of part in terror fight’ says minister

(ANSA) — Sassari, February 13 — Italy could meet a US request to take some inmates from Guantanamo, the controversial US prison President Barack Obama is closing this year, Defence Minister Ignazio La Russa said Friday.

Speaking on a visit to Sardinia, La Russa said he and Premier Silvio Berlusconi had ‘‘accepted this invitation,’’ which he said should be seen as recognition of Italy’s part in the fight against terrorism.

La Russa did not say how many of the 60 or so inmates Italy might take.

The US has asked the European Union to take the inmates because they cannot go back to their home countries and the EU has left the matter up to individual states.

Italian Interior Minister Roberto Maroni has said he is against the idea.

So far only Portugal has said it will definitely resettle inmates while Spain, France and Luxembourg, along with Italy, have expressed willingness.

Britain, Netherlands, Austria, Denmark and Poland have said they will not take any.

The Pentagon has released or transferred abroad some 500 detainees since Guantanamo opened almost seven years ago but always on the basis of a military court order.

In one of his first moves after taking office, Obama said he would shut down the camp by the end of the year.

The camp was set up in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba in January 2002 to house suspected terrorists following the September 11 attacks in the US by al Qaeda.

It currently holds some 250 detainees, many of whom have been held for years without being charged.

The US has so far cleared about 60 detainees for release but says they cannot be repatriated because of risk of mistreatment or worse.

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini recently said Italy could take some of the group, whether by granting political asylum or putting them in Italian jails.

The centre-left opposition has urged the government to provide hospitality for detainees who could be persecuted at home.

CHINESE, NORTH AFRICANS, AFGHANS, IRAQIS ‘AT RISK’.

The US has cleared several members of China’s ethnic minority Uighurs but it has been unable to repatriate them because of human rights concerns.

China accuses Uighur dissidents of seeking an independent homeland in the western Chinese province of Xinjiang.

The opposition said other detainees at risk if repatriated included Tunisians, Algerians, Libyans, Yemenites, Iraqis, Afghans and Saudi Arabians.

In June opposition politicians formally asked the centre-right government to explain the alleged role played by the Italian secret service in the 2002-2003 abduction and interrogation of six Tunisians detained in Guantanamo prison.

A Council of Europe (COE) probe last year concluded that 100 people had been kidnapped by the CIA in Europe and rendered to a country where they might be tortured between 2001 and 2005.

The CIA has admitted ‘extraordinary rendition’ but said the COE’s report was ‘‘biased and distorted’’ and stressed that the agency had operated lawfully.

In Milan, in the world’s first rendition trial, 26 CIA agents and seven Italian spies are accused of the 2003 abduction of an Egyptian cleric who was rendered not to Guantanamo but to Egypt where he says he was tortured.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Muslim Teacher Banned Over Anti-Semitic Propaganda

Social Democrat (SPÖ) Education Minister Claudia Schmied has banned a Muslim man from teaching his religion at a Vienna secondary school after he distributed anti-Semitic leaflets to pupils.

Schmied ordered the city school council today (Thurs) to take such action against the man, who had been teaching at the Cooperative Secondary School (KMS) on Brüßlgasse in Wien-Ottakring district. She said “delay would be dangerous.”

The reason for the ban is the man’s behaviour. He reportedly distributed anti-Semitic leaflets to his students a few days ago. The leaflets contained a list of allegedly “Jewish” firms from which, the man told the students, they should not buy anything.

Teachers of religion are usually appointed and removed by their respective religious associations, but Schmied said the law on religion provided for the minister of education’s intervention in cases in which such teachers violated their legal obligations.

Allowing the man to continue to teach, the minister said, would have caused “serious damage to the interests of the school and the students.”

Schmied’s intervention comes in the wake of a study concluding Islamic instruction in Austria has to change to comply with modern standards.

Mouhanad Khorchide is a professor of the sociology of religion at the Islamic Religion and Pedagogical Institute at Vienna University and the author of the new study, “Islamic religious instruction between integration and a parallel society.”

Khorchide’s study concludes Muslim teachers in Austria have largely anti-democratic beliefs and one in five is “fanatical”.

Khorchide, himself a Muslim, said 22.6 per cent of the 210 Muslim teachers he had surveyed had “fanatical attitudes” and 21.9 per cent rejected democracy as incompatible with Islam.

The older the teacher, Khorchide said, the more likely he was to reject the principle of the rule of law.

According to Vienna weekly “Falter”, the study claimed 8.5 per cent of the Muslim teachers said it was understandable for violence to be used to spread Islam, 28.4 per cent said there was a contradiction in being both a Muslim and a European, and 44 per cent said they had to make their students understand they were better than non-Muslims.

In addition, 29 per cent said it was impossible for Muslims to integrate in Austria without losing their Muslim identity, and 55 per cent called Austrians xenophobic.

On the other hand, 85.7 per cent said they did not believe Muslims had to keep to themselves to avoid losing their Muslim identity.

The education Ministry and the Austrian Islamic Denomination recently agreed on a package of changes providing for new contracts for Islamic instructors and new lesson plans for the teaching of Islam in Austrian public schools.

           — Hat tip: ESW[Return to headlines]


Ports: Israeli Produce to Head for Liguria Over Marseille

(ANSAmed) — VADO LIGURE, FEBRUARY 12 — Carmel Agrexco, the main Israeli exporter of agricultural products, has chosen Vado Ligure as its main port for southern Europe, thereby abandoning Marseille. An agreement has been signed between the GF Group, which controls Reefer Terminal in Vado Ligure and the Agricultural Export Company group, which uses MAE (Mediterranean Agrexco Express) services for transport, which up until now had been used on the line connecting Haifa and Ashdod with Marseille. The specialised ships are the Carmel Ecofresh and the Carmel Bio Top, able to transport stowed pallets in special refrigerator cells as well as refrigerated containers. The service has been rerouted to Vado Ligure, while maintaining a weekly connection with the French terminal Fos. Until 2005 Agexco ran the route from Genoa to Haifa and Ashdod, to then move to Marseille. It is now back on the Italian market, commercialized by the Gastaldi group, with weekly departures and direct return. The decision by the Israeli company will have wide-ranging effects for the port of Marseille, with the resultant loss of hundreds of thousands of tonnes of fresh fruit and vegetables transiting the port every year and therefore heavy consequences on port employment and allied industries. The choice was reportedly made due to Vado Ligure being considered a more reliable and less costly port. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Stockholm Anti-Fascists Admit to Mugging Right-Wing Extremist

The Stockholm chapter of Antifascist Action (AFA) admitted on Tuesday that its members had carried out a violent attack against a prominent right-wing extremist in Stockholm.

“The large police presence made it hard to act against the meeting. Therefore we chose another strategy. We attacked outside the National Democrats’ party offices in Rågsved [south of Stockholm]. When Vavra Suk came there, he and his car were attacked, the party’s sound equipment and propaganda were destroyed, and a handheld computer was confiscated,” AFA wrote on its website.

The group went on to argue that police interference gave AFA the right to act on its own initiative.

“That police persistently try to protect Nazis and racists is nothing new. Nor is it anything new that AFA Stockholm would hardly let themselves be stopped just because of that. We attack when we think it’s most appropriate, whether it’s at a fascist activity, at their party offices, or in a fascist’s home,” said AFA.

According to Mikael Wessling, lead investigator with Stockholm’s southern district police, there are still no concrete suspects in the case.

However, since the attack took place during the daytime on a weekend, there were many witnesses.

“We’ll see where the evidence leads us,” he told the TT news agency.

Sweden’s security police, Säpo, have also joined the investigation in line with a government mandate that they keep track of violent political extremist groups.

A spokesperson for Säpo said there have been more violent incidents that normal within political extremist circles, but that it’s too early to classify the development as a trend.

According to earlier assessments by Säpo, the normal scenario for violence by extremist groups in Sweden is that Nazis or other right-wing extremist groups try to organize a demonstration, prompting left-wing extremists to attack.

But from a societal perspective, each side is infringing on the other’s political and democratic rights.

According to Säpo, individual politicians and decision-makers in state agencies sometimes receive threats from the groups, but the agency doesn’t see the situation as a threat to the Swedish state.

Neither side has grown in size, when viewed over a long-term perspective. The violent extremist factions from both the right and the left consist of about 100 individuals on each side.

           — Hat tip: Steen[Return to headlines]


Swedish Town Debates Ban on ‘Racist’ Clothing

A youth recreation centre in Bromölla in southern Sweden has decided to ban anyone wearing clothing that could be considered racist from entering the facility.

“You can’t have any sort of symbol, no boots, suspenders, or bomber jackets,” said recreation activity leaders Jenny Ahlgren-Bleckert to Sveriges Radio (SR).

She added however, that people who fail to abide by the rules would be allowed to enter the facility, provided they went home and changed clothes first.

Earlier in the week, a parent complained about the differing policies in place at the nearby Humleskolan secondary school and the recreation centre.

“At least one student is going around in clothing which clearly shows his racist opinions and, despite the fact that other students have taken the matter up on several occasions, it appears no one from the school’s leadership cares,” wrote one parent in a letter to the Kristianstadsbladet newspaper.

School principal Sven Håkansson tells the newspaper that the school has a policy against expressions of racism.

Symbols, logos, and slogans on hats and t-shirts with racist messages are not tolerated.

Clothing and hairstyles, however, constitute something of a grey area.

“At Humleskolan, we can’t stop anyone from having a shaved head or boots,” Håkansson told SR.

But Åke Eliasson, a Social Democratic politician in the local children and youth committee, thinks it’s odd that there are different rules at the school and the youth centre, and wants the matter to be reviewed further.

He added that combating racism is important for the community and that it’s not just about clothing, but about changing the attitudes of students with anti-democratic opinions.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]


UK: Secret Police Target Government Critics

Human rights groups compare agency to ‘old KGB’

LONDON — Jacqui Smith, the United Kingdom’s Home Secretary who already is embattled over claims she has “misappropriated” housing allowances, now has approved a new and ultra-secret intelligence unit to spy on groups opposed to government policies, according to a report from Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin.

Called the Confidential Intelligence Unit, the agency will be housed in a high-security annex at Scotland Yard and will report directly to Smith.

It will have the same powers as MI5 to mount secret surveillance operations and recruit informers who will provide details of “domestic extremists” — this will include those in discussion to call strikes affecting rail and air transport.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Zapatero: Collaboration With Italy Important

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, FEBRUARY 12 — Meeting foreign press representatives in Madrid to present the objectives of the upcoming Spanish EU presidency in the first half of 2010, José Luis Zapatero said that “collaboration with Italy is fundamental for Spain” in counteracting illicit immigration through the “important work” performed by Frontex in surveilling the EU’s borders. But it is “more important that illegal immigrants benefit from opportunities to work in their countries of origin”. To attain these results it is “essential that the EU, the United States and developed countries achieve the Millennium objectives set by the United Nations”. Zapatero continued, “We will be able to give more resources to Frontex and tighten up the laws, but the real issue has more to do with what occurs here. If we do not export well-being, we risk putting an end to our well-being”. (ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Balkans

Croatia-Albania: Joint Support for Transadriatic Gas Pipeline

(ANSAmed) — ZAGREB, FEBRUARY 10 — Albania and Croatia today signed a series of agreements on economic cooperation. During talks today in Zagreb the premiers of the two countries, Sali Berisha and Ivo Sanader, paid much time to the region’s energy development, reports Croatian press agency Hina. Sanader and Berisha have decided to fully support the trans-Adriatic gas pipeline project from Albania to Italy. Croatia has announced it wants to hook up to the pipeline somewhere in Albania. “Today we have decided to promote the project together” explained Berisha, who defined the gas pipeline as “one of the most important and effective energy projects for the entire Balkan region”. The two premiers also discussed the possibility of building a nuclear plant in Albania. “Croatia is very interested and wants to invite Bosnia Herzegovina and Montenegro to participate in the investment”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Kosovo: Serbs Protest in Mitrovica Against Security Force

(ANSAmed) — PRISTINA/BELGRADE, FEBRUARY 10 — Several thousands of Serbs from the north of Kosovo participated today in Kosovska Mitrovica in a protest against the new Kosovo Security Force (Ksf) which took office on January 21. The mayor of Mitrovica, Radenko Nedeljkovic, said that the Ksf is an anti-Serb movement which must be dissolved as soon as possible. He asked Serbs not to take part in this NATO-trained Force, seen as the first nucleus of a real Kosovan army. Nedeljkovic urged representatives of international organisations and the NATO peace force Kfor to dissolve Ksf, a military force which according to him “threatens the stability of the Balkan region”. The demonstration did not lead to any incidents. Kosovska Mitrovica, the city in the north of Kosovo divided into a Serb part and an Albanian part, has often been the stage of clashes and violence between the two communities. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Mediterranean Union

Exports: Italian Furniture Flourishes in Gulf and Med Area

(ANSAmed) — MILAN, FEBRUARY 12 — Furniture made in Italy continues to grow in popularity across the Gulf and countries of the southern Mediterranean. Exports in the wood-furniture sector fell by around 2% in 2008, but the volume of sales in the two regions showed double-figure growth. The figures come from a provisional balancefor 2008 by the Cosmit/Federlegno-Arredo study centre, published today during the presentation of the 2009 Furniture Show in Milan from April 22 to 27. In detail, exports to the United Arab Emirates, the eleventh-largest market for Italian furniture, grew by 47%, while Qatar and Bahrein registered increases of 110% and 137% respectively. Kuwait was up by 15%. Excellent results were seen in Turkey(+17%), Libya (+14%), Israel (+16%), Cyprus (+9%), and Morocco (+8%). There were superb results in the countries on the Adriatic coastline as well, with Serbia up by 42% and Slovenia by 27%.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Fashion: Two Italy Scholarships for Gulf & Mideast Students

(ANSAmed) — MILAN, FEBRUARY 12 — To stimulate inter-cultural exchange and promote the made in Italy brand at the high end of the price range in Gulf countries and the Middle East: this is the reason why Chalhoub Group, leaders in the distribution of luxury goods this area, has set up two scholarships for a Master in Luxury Management and in Fashion Merchandising & Management run by Polimoda at the Florence Institute of Fashion. The scholarships are aimed at students who come from the Gulf area (Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, and Bahrain), and the Middle East (Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Iran, Iraq and Yemen) who can apply directly via the website polimoda.com; the closing date is April 30. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

North Africa

Algeria: Bouteflika Announces Candidature as President

(ANSAmed) — ALGIERS, FEBRUARY 12 — Following months of expectations, Algeria’s President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has announced that he will be standing at the upcoming presidential elections on April 9. “It will be a very difficult task,” Bouteflika told a 5,000-strong crowd, “but I’m standing for a third mandate”. The announcement by the 71-year-old president, who has been in office since 1999, was made in Algiers’ la Coupole stadium. (ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Jordan: New Arabic Daily by Islamists Seeks Independence

(by Mohammed Benhussein) (ANSAmed) — AMMAN, FEBRUARY 12 — The Muslim Brotherhood movement in Jordan received a political boost when its first Arabic daily was put on the stands this week, but editors of the political daily said on Thursday the newspaper will aspire to become politically and economically independent. The newspaper, named al Sabil, is the first of its kind for a political party in Jordan, and is a leap in public relations for the troubled Islamist movement in Jordan. Arab countries with strong Islamist presence, such as Egypt and Morocco did not allow such dailies and often clamp down on the group. But historical ties between the Muslim Brotherhood and authorities in Amman — dating back to the early 1950s — allowed improved conditions for the group’s activists in the past few decades. Editor of the newspaper said it will focus on local political reform and ordinary news found in other Arabic dailies. “We are not new to the local readership. The newspaper turned from a weekly to a daily and hopefully we can compete with major Arabic dailies,” said the newspaper’s editor in chief Atef Jelani. Jelani stressed the newspaper is seeking to become financially independent “to avoid prior judgment to its editorial line”. Al Sabil joins eight local dailies, including seven in Arabic, half of them are entirely or semi-government controlled. Although editors of the daily said they will refrain from focusing on Islamist affairs, the first two days of the daily focused around Hamas and its struggle with Israel. Observers however, believe the government already regrets issuing this license, which will lead to a dramatic boost for the Muslim Brotherhood popularity in the kingdom. The government last week decided to ban Muslim Brotherhood clerics from addressing the public on Friday prayer sermons. Minister of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs Abdul Fattah Salah told ANSA the ban was not politically motivated. “This is a purely administrative procedure. We are not targeting any group”, Salah said after 12 leading Islamist figures were told they can not give sermons any more. But Zaki Bani Rsheid, secretary general of the Islamic Action Front (IAF), the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood said the action is a setback in freedom of expression. “The minister of Islamic affairs has no right to bar imams from taking to the podium. If anyone has violated the Preaching and Guidance Law regarding Friday sermons, they should be referred to court for legal action”, Bani Rsheid said. Bani Rsheid believes the high popularity of the group and fear of its control over the political scene in the kingdom is what provoked the banning. The Islamist movement in Jordan has six members in the 110 parliament, but the group accused authorities of vote rigging. Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood has strong ties with Hamas, also an offshoot of the Muslim brotherhood in the Palestinian territories. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Libya: End of Revolutionary Hostility to Seif El Islam

(ANSAmed) — PARIS, FEBRUARY 12 — Hostility shown by Ahmed Ibrahim, leader of the Revolutionary Committee Old Guard, towards the reformist projects of Seif el Islam Gaddafi, the Libyan leader’s son and protégé, has finally given way to satisfaction for the work of the 37-year-old. This is what the weekly Jeune Afrique affirms, highlighting that “this paves the way to solidifying political reforms, including the project for a constitution that government and Anglo-Saxon experts have been working on since December”. Seif el Islam, according to the publication, wants to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of his father’s rise to power on September 1 with the adoption of a fundamental law which will make Libya a country governed by the rule of law and will lay down mechanisms for the election of a head of state, a function which does not exist on the formal level, seeing as all power has been in the Colonel’s hands for the last forty years. The presidential elections will take place, Jeune Afrique continues, within the framework of “popular power” (the revolutionary committees) and there will be no candidates that have not first been approved by the Leader of the Revolution. Until now, Ahmed Ibrahim had been the main obstacle to the reforms. As director of the Centre for International Studies of the Green Book, spiritual son and cousin to Gaddafi, he was the most influential leader in the General Congress of the People (Parliament). The guardians of orthodoxy openly opposed Seif el Islam’s reforms, and the latter was forced to organise demonstrations in numerous cities to gain support for his them. Ibrahim and other members of the Revolutionary Committee saw these forums as an attack to the nation by the masses and prohibited them. Seif el Islam has since renounced mentioning the forums in the text of the Constitution, rendering Ibrahim more conciliatory. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Nuclear: Tunisia Will Have Power Plant by 2025

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, FEBRUARY 12 — Tunisia will have a nuclear centre for civilian use by the year 2025. The project was first spoken about in 2006 and since then the government, with bidding for the contracts through the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), has studied the opportunities and the details of the technological offers on the international market. Three estimates were presented in 2008, from Canada, South Africa and France. The estimates were accompanied to Tunis by important experts, as the investments will be huge in scope: three billion dinars, equal to about 1.5 billion euros. The government decision to give Tunisia an electronuclear power plant was made on the basis of several considerations that included evaluating, in the course of the next dozen years, the dangers — or problems — connected to the energy and water deficit in the country. It has been calculated that the resources currently available (oil, gas, water) will only be able to satisfy demand for the next 11 years, and therefore there is the need to turn to non-conventional resources like nuclear power. This project, which will be located in southern or central Tunisia, will be able to satisfy the demand for both electricity and drinkable water, thanks to a desalination process, in both of these areas. The Tunisian Electricity and Gas Company (STEG) has been charged with moving the project forward, which once the power plant is operational will obtain 20 percent of its electricity, contributing to meeting the country’s demand which grows by 6.6% every year. The power plant will occupy 800 hectares, with 600 employees as a measure of security, and will have a variable minimum production capacity of between 900-1,000 megawatts. Since 2007, STEG has created multidisciplinary units in charge of the diverse phases of the project; last year it began a series of research projects (geotechnical, seismological, atmospheric and others) to evaluate the compatibility of the site and the centre. It also works under the aegis of the French Commission for Atomic Energy (CNEA), on the project to set up the National Agency for Nuclear Energy (ANEN) and one in the National Agency for Nuclear Security (ANSN). As far as the various benchmarks are concerned, STEG believes that by 2011 the technical and economic research will be complete; the launch of bidding, the evaluation and the signing of the contract in 2012-2015; construction and completion in 2016-2023 and, finally, the management of the centre for the period from 2024-2084. Therefore Tunisia, like Egypt, Morocco, Libya and Turkey, has decided on the implementation of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, considering it absolutely necessary for growth and development. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

Israeli Government: Press Bets on Netanyahu

(ANSAmed) — JERUSALEM, FEBRUARY 12 — Israeli press says that Likud leader Benyamin Netanyahu will probably be Israel’s next prime minister and Tzipi Livni, leader of majority party Kadima, will have to decide whether she wants to become opposition leader or minister in a government of national unity. “Tzipi Livni: I will fight (to form a government) against the odds” writes Haaretz on its front page. According to the daily paper, Netanyahu wants to offer Kadima two key ministries (Foreign Affairs and Defence) if the party agrees to be part of his government, in this way avoiding the problems of forming a government with far right-wing parties only. Netanyahu is expected to offer the Treasury to Avigdor Lieberman, leader of Israel Beitenu (IB), the party which came in third in the recent elections. Lieberman hasn’t revealed what he intends to do yet. “Netanyahu will certainly be the new prime minister”, said Hanan Cristal, considered to be the ‘guru’ of Israeli political analysts, to public radio. The Jerusalem Post expects “consensus on a unity government led by Likud and with Kadima”. The other daily papers have expressed similar views. The question is whether Kadima will opt to be an opposition party — as many in the party would like — or will accept Netanyahu’s offer of an important role in his government. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Israeli Elections: Obama Calls Peres, US Cautious on Premier

(ANSAmed) — WASHINGTON — The United States has very cautiously welcomed the election results in Israel. Yesterday evening US president Barack Obama called his Israeli counterpart Shimon Peres to congratulate him on how the elections were conducted, confirming Israel as ‘‘an example of democracy for the world’’. However, beyond the required formalities, Washington has not given any opinion. The White House simply reiterated that the US will work alongside whoever becomes premier in order to bring peace to Israel and the entire Middle East. However, those in the United States who do not look favourably on the elections results have also made themselves heard.’’We are looking forward to working with the next Israeli government to strengthen the special relationship between the United States and Israel, with the unshakeable intention to work for Israel’s security and progress in the search for peace between Israel and the Palestinians, between Israel and its neighbours,’’ said a White House spokesman, Mike Hammer, in the morning. But according to some observers, the uncertainty of the result complicates the work that the Obama administration intends to carry out to strengthen peace in the region. However, one thing is certain, as Robert Gibbs stressed: until a new prime minister takes office in Israel, it will be difficult for the White House to assess the election results in terms of the peace process in the Middle East. ‘‘Until we have something more definitive to deal with,’’ he said, ‘‘it will be difficult to go into any details.’’ However, Obama may have discussed specific details in his phone call to Peres. According to Israeli state radio, the American president asked for some clarification on the complex political system, entirely proportional, but then said that he was sure Peres would be able to get past all problems. At the official level, nothing has leaked out of Washington over whether or not it was pleased with the result and the uncertain outlook for the formation of a new government. It is widely known that the new US administration would most likely have preferred a clearer victory by the party led by outgoing Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Kadima, in order to get the peace process moving as soon as possible. In any case, the US still intends to go forward with its mission at the end of the month by its special envoy for the Middle East, George Mitchell. However, according to Aaron David Mitchell, the former US negotiator for the region, the election results ‘‘are tantamount to hanging up a sign saying ‘closed for a holiday’ in the shop window of the peace process’’. (ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Israel: Benedict XVI, I Am Preparing for Visit

(ANSAmed) — VATICAN CITY, FEBRUARY 12 — Pope Benedict XVI announced today that he is preparing for his visit to Israel. This morning he received the presidents of the most important American Jewish organisations, in his first meeting with the Jewish world after the crisis caused by the revocation of the excommunication of Williamson. Benedict XVI received his Jewish guests at the Vatican ahead of their yearly visit to Israel. “I am preparing to visit Israel as well” he announced “a holy land for Christians and for Jews since the roots of our religions are there”, removing any doubts raised in the past weeks on his wish to visit the country. The visit is scheduled from May 8 to 13, with stops in Jordan, Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Israel: Vote. Netanyahu Accelerates, Livni at Crossroads

(by Alessandro Logroscino) (ANSAmed) — TEL AVIV — It is already time to nudge for seats in the ministry in the chess match for the formation of the future Israeli government after the confusing results of the elections on Tuesday the 10th. The definitive results, updated today with the counting of votes by service personnel, have confirmed Kadima, the centrist party led by Tzipi Livni, in first place. But analysts’ forecasts are favouring Likud leader Banyamin ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu as premier. Behind by one seat in Parliament (27 to 28) and with a tactical advantage over his rival thanks to a majority that he will enjoy from the start, at least on paper, by adding all of the right-wing, lay, and confessional forces together. However, it will take a long time. Netanyahu is trying to accelerate with the threat of a right-wing coalition to aim at his real objective of a national unity government with Kadima, but under his leadership. In the meantime, a hypothetical distribution, with Livni confirmed as Foreign Minister, the promotion to Defence Minister of Kadima’s second in command, Shaul Mofaz, and newcomer Avigdor Lieberman as Finance Minister, having risen with his Israel Beitenu party (radical right-wing, lay affiliated) as the key third force in the country. A move which, ‘‘Tzipi’’, admitted to her supporters, ‘‘has limited margins’’, albeit not inexistent. At least until Leiberman, who yesterday graciously received both sides, gets round to opting for a suitor. According to Hanan Cristal, one of the gurus of Israeli politics, negotiations will be difficult, but in the end ‘‘Netanyahu will be prime minister’’. Liberal Israeli newspaper Haaretz credits Livni of having the will ‘‘to fight until the end although she has little chance’’. From Kadima’s ranks, outgoing Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit warned that his party will not get into just any type of arrangement. And ‘‘it will not fear being in opposition’’ (with Labour), leaving Netanyahu to stew in his own juice, if they propose an ‘‘extreme right-wing ‘‘ executive. Although he may be weak, Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) already has clear ideas, the moderate president of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) and a recognised presence in the international community for his residual hopes of relaunching the peace process. Having recently finished a European tour (including a trip to Rome), Abbas has spread an appeal throughout the world, first and foremost to new United States President Barack Obama, to try to condition the developments in the Israeli elections, saying up until now that he is ready to isolate (and even negotiate equally with Hamas) with a possible right-wing Netanyahu-led government. A spectre that Likud has difficulty in materializing, despite the 65 out of 120 Knesset seats occupied by the right. This prospect is made more distant by the unease between Israel Beitenu and the Orthodox Shas and the United Torah Judaism who have decided to take up a common front in opposing the lay expression contained in Lieberman’s movement: a party that owes more than half of its constituency to a secularized community like the Russian speaking immigrants and that proposed reforms blasphemous to the eyes of religious fundamentalists, such as the introduction of something similar to civil marriages in Israel. Contradictions that Livni seems to want to take advantage of to try to shuffle the deck. And with the blessing of President Shimon Peres, to try to tear the coalition government out of Bibi’s hands. (ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Israel: Christians in Jerusalem Want Jews to Stop Spitting on Them

A few weeks ago, a senior Greek Orthodox clergyman in Israel attended a meeting at a government office in Jerusalem’s Givat Shaul quarter. When he returned to his car, an elderly man wearing a skullcap came and knocked on the window. When the clergyman let the window down, the passerby spat in his face.

The clergyman prefered not to lodge a complaint with the police and told an acquaintance that he was used to being spat at by Jews. Many Jerusalem clergy have been subjected to abuse of this kind. For the most part, they ignore it but sometimes they cannot.

[…]

According to Daniel Rossing, former adviser to the Religious Affairs Ministry on Christian affairs and director of a Jerusalem center for Christian-Jewish dialogue, there has been an increase in the number of such incidents recently, “as part of a general atmosphere of lack of tolerance in the country.”

Rossing says there are certain common characeristics from the point of view of time and location to the incidents. He points to the fact that there are more incidents in areas where Jews and Christians mingle, such as the Jewish and Armenian quarters of the Old City and the Jaffa Gate.

There are an increased number at certain times of year, such as during the Purim holiday.”I know Christians who lock themselves indoors during the entire Purim holiday,” he says.

Former adviser to the mayor on Christian affairs, Shmuel Evyatar, describes the situation as “a huge disgrace.” He says most of the instigators are yeshiva students studying in the Old City who view the Christian religion with disdain.

“I’m sure the phenomenon would end as soon as rabbis and well-known educators denounce it. In practice, rabbis of yeshivas ignore or even encourage it,” he says.

[…]

Jerusalem municipal officials said they are aware of the problem but it has to be dealt with by the police. Shmuel Ben-Ruby, the police spokesman, said they had only two complaints from Christians in the past two years. He said that, in both cases, the culprits were caught and punished.

He said the police deploy an inordinately high number of patrols and special technology in the Old City and its surroundings in an attempt to keep order.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Mideast: Abu Mazen Wants Isolation for Likud Gov’t

(ANSAmed) — JERUSALEM, FEBRUARY 12 — Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas wants a possible right-wing government headed by Benyamin Netanyahu to be isolated from international diplomacy, and has asked for sanctions to be imposed in the manner of those against Hamas, the Islamic movement in power in the Gaza Strip, as Haaretz reported today. According to the daily paper, Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) made this request in his recent talks with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, British Premier Gordon Brown and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. The Palestinian president told these leaders that he is deeply worried about the prospects for the peace process if Israel gets a right-wing government. European leaders, on the other hand, have assured Mahmoud Abbas that they will not agree to a halt in the peace process, and that they want a solution to the conflict based on the constitution of a Palestinian State. Haaretz quoted an influential political source in Jerusalem as saying that Mahmoud Abbas has prepared a “plan for diplomatic resistance” against Israel as an alternative to the “military resistance plan” of Hamas, which would also work towards preserving Al Fatah as an important Palestinian political force. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Middle East

Iran May be Running Out of Uranium Oxide, Study Says

Iran may be close to exhausting its supplies of uranium oxide and lacks the resources to sustain processing and enrichment activities for a civilian nuclear program, a US think tank said on Thursday.

…”Such news has been raised by the media with no scientific basis,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hassan Qashqavi told a news conference when asked about the report in The Times newspaper.

“The news has been the product of a few analyses and guesswork and articles..”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Lebanon: UAE Gives 10 Puma Helicopters to Army

(ANSAmed) — BEIRUT, FEBRUARY 11 — Local press has announced that the United Arab Emirates has given ten French-made Pumà helicopters to the Lebanese armed forces for the transport of troops. The announcement of the donation was made during the Lebanese president Michel Suleiman’s official visit to Abu Dhabi, in the UAE. Suleiman then proceeded on to neighbouring Bahrain. The UAE donated nine French Gazellé helicopters to Lebanon in March 2007, which were later used by the army in Beirut in its battle against the extremist Fatah al-Islam militants. The latter, from May to September of that year, barricaded themselves in a camp of Palestinian refugees in Nahr al-Bared, around 100km north of the capital. The UAE has previously donated ten modern speed boats to the Lebanese navy, to help in the patrolling of its territorial waters, following the war in summer 2006 between Israel and the Lebanese Shiite movement, Hezbollah. (ANSAmed).

2009-02-11 14:10

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Saudi Arabia: Prizes for Weight-Watchers, Women Out of Sports

(ANSAmed) — ROME, FEBRUARY 12- A campaign has been launched by a Saudi Arabian university called “Lose weight and win money” to encourage students and employees to stay fit and adopt a health lifestyle including time set aside for physical jerks. Women, however, have been excluded from the latter component of the programme. It has benn launched at King Saud University (KSU), the oldest in Saudi Arabia with a student population of 70,000. According to reports on the Arab News website, the program offers about 1,250 euro the 10 people who lose the most weight during the campaign. Overweight students are given regular check-ups and personalised diets. Physical education lessons are also offered, however, they are reserved for men only. According to the director of cultural activities of the Muhsin Al-Shargawi Acadamy, this is because female participation in sports at public education institutions is still a socially controversial issue. Initiatives of this kind require approval from various government agencies, which would be difficult to obtain in time to launch the competition. “But it has to begin at some point”, he added, “and social barriers should not prevent us from having alternative tools to help these girls”. An even more urgent issue, he observed, “in a country where one out of every four citizens is clinically obese”. But a further obstacle is also the fact that the KSU woman’s campus is not adequately equipped for sports activities. Despite this, about 100 woman have participated in the contest to lose weight and win prizes. For female students in Saudi Arabia, who are disadvantaged also by the lack of free sports structures and by a ban on driving, the situation is better in private colleges, like Dar Al-Hekma in Jeddah, and in some international schools. (ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Syria: Anniversary Hezbollah’s Leader Death, Media Keeps Mum

(ANSAmed) — BEIRUT, FEBRUARY 12 — Exactly one year after the attack attributed to Israel in which Imad Mughniyeh was killed in Damascus, official Syrian media and most Lebanese media have chosen not to mention the issue today. Mughniyeh was seen as the head of military operations of the Shiite Lebanese movement Hezbollah. Israel has raised its state of alert in its northern regions near the border with Lebanon, fearing retaliation from Shiite militia. However, the Daily Star in Lebanon reporting on the anniversary, wondering “When will Hezbollah avenge Mughniyeh’s assassination?”. Lebanon’s official press agency NNA wrote yesterday that the Party of God had organised a “limited commemoration” for the death of ‘Hajj Radwan’, Mughniyeh’s nom de guerre. Secret services hold Mughniyeh responsible for many terrorist attacks in the ‘80s. Immediately after the attack in Damascus, Hezbollah leadership swore revenge and Syria announced that it would be setting up a commission to investigate the crime. Since then Syrian authorities have not mentioned the issue again. Israel has always denied any involvement in the murder. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Syria-USA: Damascus, Attempt at Dialogue With Washington

(ANSAmed) — DAMASCUS, FEBRUARY 12 — Attempts at dialogue are currently in course between Syria and the United States with the arrival next week in Damascus of US Senator John Kerry (D), president of the Foreign Commission of the US Senate, the Syrian Foreign Minister reported this morning. “Senator Kerry will arrive in Damascus at the head of a delegation of American senators and will meet with President Bashar al-Assad”, Bushra Kanafani, a spokesman from the Syrian Foreign Ministry, said to ANSA. Since 2004, the US has imposed economic sanctions on Syria in relation to accusations that the country “supports terrorism” in Iraq and in the occupied Palestinian Territories, as well as “destabilising” its neighbour, Lebanon. “Kerry and the other senators are welcome”, the spokesman added, stressing that Syria has ‘always invoked dialogue with Washington to allow for bilateral relations to proceed down the correct path with the objective of serving the interests of security and stability for both countries’’. The Democratic senator made an official visit to Syria already in December 2006 when he met with President Assad, in spite of the disapproval of the former US President, George W. Bush. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Syria: Drought, President Summons to Pray for Rain

(ANSAmed) — DAMASCUS, FEBRUARY 10 — Syria is drought-stricken and the country’s president Bashar al-Assad has asked the ministry for religious affairs to call for a prayer for rain next Saturday in all mosques, reports Syria’s official agency Sana today. “On the generous invitation of President Bashar Assad, the ministry has called for a prayer for rain (Salat al-Istisqà) for Saturday February 14” states the note quoted by Sana. The ministry also recommended “three days of fasting on Thursday, Friday and Saturday”. According to UN sources, this year Syria is dealing with the most serious drought in the past 40 years and already last year the Syrian ministry of agriculture and the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (Fao) signed a document to send emergency aid to the country to help out farmers. Due to the lack of rain, Syria harvested just under 2 million tonnes of grain last year, three million tonnes less than in 2007. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Yemen: New Law Moves to Reduce Child Marriages

Sanaa, 12 Feb. (AKI) — A new law passed in Yemen gives women greater legal protection, in relation to marriage and motherhood. The law raises the minimum age for marriage to 17, and provides for the right to alimony and recognition of the mother as the sole guardian of her children.

Despite penalties for anyone who violates the law, it appears that it will allow some girls under the age of 17 to be married if a judge rules the marriage is “in the best interest of the child”.

A Yemeni Islamist deputy said restrictions outlined under the new law were not consistent with Islamic Sharia law.

“It is not possible to clearly define the minimum age for marriage, because it all depends on the level of maturity of the spouse, from a physical and mental point of view,” said Zayd al-Shami, quoted by pan-Arab daily al-Quds al Arabi.

“To define marriage age in such a specific manner is in clear contrast to Islamic Sharia law.”

According to the English-language Yemen Times, the parliament also passed an amendment concerning women and children in two laws.

The amendments include facilitating pre-marital medical checks to determine genetic faults, dangerous diseases or health risks, as well as restricting polygamy to the husband’s ability to support more than one family.

“Fairness is included in all aspects, such as time spent with each wife, housing and logistics,” said the Yemen Times.

“The first wife also has to be legally notified of his intention of marrying another to allow them to make future decisions.”

Other amendments included a women’s right to alimony for her children once a divorce has taken place and the custody of children to be exclusively granted to the mother for the first twelve years of the children’s life.

The new amendments also recognise the mother as the sole guardian of orphaned children, providing that is approved by a judge.

Over half the women who marry in Yemen are under 15 years of age, according to a report last year carried out by Yemen’s Women and Development Study Centre.

According to the statistics 52 percent of young girls are married as children in Yemen, compared to less than seven percent of boys. In rural areas of Yemen, girls are usually married when they are 12 or 13 years old.

Yemen is one of the poorest countries in the world.

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

Russia

Putin Says Turkey ‘Priority’ for Russian Foreign Policy

MOSCOW, February 13 (RIA Novosti) — Russia considers ties with Turkey to be a foreign policy priority, the Russian prime minister said on Friday.

“Russia is Turkey’s number one partner in terms of trade turnover,” Vladimir Putin told Turkish President Abdullah Gul, who is on the first day of a four-day official visit to Russia.

The Russian prime minister said that the trade between Russia and Turkey totaled $32 billion in 2008, adding that “Turkey is a priority in our [Russian] foreign policy.”

Gul, whose current visit is his first to Russia since becoming president, also appraised relations between the countries and invited Putin to visit his country.

“We want to see you in our country and invite you to Turkey,” Gul said.

Russia is a major energy exporter to Turkey, pumping natural gas across the Black Sea through the Blue Stream pipeline, the largest Russian-Turkish energy project to date.

Turkey is also one of the most popular destinations for Russian tourists, helping boost a sector that is an important foreign-currency earner for Turkey.

           — Hat tip: islam o’phobe[Return to headlines]


Russia: Four Policemen, Two Rebels Killed in Ingushetia Blast

NAZRAN: Four Russian policemen and at least two suspected rebels were killed yesterday when a residential building exploded during a police raid in the violence-plagued region of Ingushetia, officials said yesterday.

The two-storey building in Nazran, around 1,500km south of Moscow, exploded when special forces officers forced entry to detain a group of suspected rebels, a police officer at the scene, he said.

“Three special forces officers died at the scene and another died later in hospital,” the officer said.

The bodies of three suspected rebels were later pulled from the rubble, an investigator said on condition of anonymity.

“They were suicide bombers who the police were looking for,” he said. Interfax news agency quoted Ingushetia’s general prosecutor Yuri Turygin as saying four police and two rebels had been confirmed dead.

Attacks by Islamic rebels against government officials and security forces have plagued Ingushetia, one of Russia’s poorest regions, for years.

The government says rebels are financed from abroad and seek to destabilise the North Caucasus region, scene of two separatist wars in Chechnya since the early 1990s. Critics of the government say corruption, heavy-handed behaviour by the authorities and high unemployment are the main reasons behind the instability and violence.

The stand-off began when police who arrived to check the building early yesterday were fired on from a window, the police officer said.

The building was quickly surrounded and special forces attempted to storm it two hours later.

“Two armoured personnel carriers arrived and they began to fire,” said Sulumbek, 54, an eyewitness told Reuters. “Then there was a huge explosion which threw me to one side.”

Interfax news agency quoted local leader Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, who lives nearby, as saying explosives equivalent to one tonne of TNT destroyed the building and damaged neighbouring properties.

Residents say violence has decreased since Yevkurov replaced highly unpopular secret police officer Murat Zyazikov as the region’s leader in October.

           — Hat tip: islam o’phobe[Return to headlines]

Caucasus

Russia and Armenia to Create Joint Air Defense

CSTO General Secretary Nikolai Bordyuzha said that the planned Russian—Armenian air defense system will be similar to the one that is already in operation between Russia and Belarus.

“The so-called joint air defense system that exists between Russia and Belarus is only one part of the system being forwarded by the CSTO,” Bordyuzha told a news conference on Friday. “We suggest the same bilateral security system to be created between Russia and Armenia.”

The official said that the long-term goal is to create a joint CSTO system.

“A regional air defense system in Eastern European, Caucasian and Central Asian regions is the first step. The issue will then focus on the creation of a single CSTO air defense system,” Bordyuzha added.

The Collective Security Treaty Organization, founded in Oct. 2002, includes Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.

Currently, Armenia holds the rotating presidency of the organization.

           — Hat tip: islam o’phobe[Return to headlines]

South Asia

India: Guwahati Archbishop Mediates Between Muslims and Tribal Hindu

The two communities clashed in 35 Assam villages last October. About 50 people died and 60,000 fled their homes. Some local Christian communities were caught in the crossfire. For Monsignor Menamparampil, a “good start has been made” but much work still remains to be done.

Mumbai (AsiaNews/Agencies) — Muslims and Hindus have agreed to peace talks at the initiative of Archbishop Thomas Menamparampil of Guwahati, in the State of Assam. Leaders of the local Muslim and Bodo tribal communities met to sort out a row that has led to tens of dead and thousands of fleeing their homes.

In early October 2008 Bodo and Muslims clashed and burned each other’s houses in Udalguri and Darrang districts. Muslims, who are out-of-state migrants, have become a majority in some districts. Bodos are indigenous and some groups within the community have been created to fight the central government for an independent state.

Tensions broke into open warfare when Bodos began calling for Muslims to leave.

Quickly violence escalated to engulf 35 villages, causing 50 dead and hundreds of wounded. About 60,000 people were forced to leave their homes for the relative safety of 32 camps set up by the Indian army

Local Christians have also become entangled in the violence. Three Christian tribal villages within the predominantly Muslim area were also burnt down, and three Catholic men killed.

Despite the presence of the army some violent incidents are still taking place. Altogether some 45,000 people from both Bodo and Muslim communities are still in government-run camps (refugee camp in Kharupetiya pictured)

But for Monsignor Menamparampil the first meeting on 5 February was an “unbelievably great breakthrough.”

A spokesperson for the Guwahati diocese said that local Christians waited for the meeting’s outcome with “great anxiety” because they were not sure of the Muslim response.

Representatives of the Muslim and tribal communities agreed to avoid any “further instance of violence” and establish a joint Muslim-tribal peace team.

“A clearly good start has been made,” Archbishop Menamparampil said. But much work still remains to be done.

Also, the “conflicting groups are eager for a settlement,” he noted, adding that government involvement will be important.

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


India: Editor Arrested for ‘Outraging Muslims’

Protests against Indian newspaper over article reprinted from Independent

The editor and publisher of a major Indian newspaper have been arrested for “hurting the religious feelings” of Muslims after they reprinted an article from The Independent. Ravindra Kumar and Anand Sinha, the editor and publisher of the Kolkata-based English daily The Statesman, appeared in court yesterday charged under section 295A of the Indian Penal Code which forbids “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings”.

Sections of central Kolkata have been paralysed by protests for much of the past week after The Statesman republished an article by The Independent’s columnist Johann Hari. Titled “Why should I respect oppressive religions?”, the piece was originally printed in The Independent on 28 January. In it, Hari said he believed the right to criticise any religion was being eroded around the world.

The Statesman, a highly respected liberal English-language daily, reprinted the article on 5 February, causing a major backlash among a small group of Muslims who felt that the piece slighted the Prophet Mohamed and insulted their religion. Peaceful protests were held outside The Statesman’s offices at the weekend but by Monday, demonstrations had turned violent. Angry crowds began blocking roads, attacking police and calling for the arrest of the article’s author and the newspaper’s publisher and editor. On Monday and Tuesday police used baton charges to try to disperse crowds and more than 70 protesters were arrested.

Staff at The Statesman were forced to barricade the front entrance to their building and were escorted into their offices through a side door by police. The office is opposite the Tipu Sultan Masjid, Kolkata’s largest mosque.

One journalist at The Statesman said: “The police have surrounded our building all this week but the protesters kept coming back. There was a small section who were absolutely hellbent on causing problems.”

Last night, Hari defended his article. “I wrote in defence of the right to criticise religion — all religion — and it is vitally important to keep that right alive in the world’s largest, and in many ways most admirable, democracy,” he said. On two separate occasions Mr Kumar, The Statesman’s editor, issued statements standing by his decision to publish the article. But he also said he had not meant to cause offence to any religion. A note published on 8 February said The Statesman had reprinted Hari’s article because “it mourned the marginalisation of the middle, liberal path in modern society”. It added: “The Statesman has always upheld secular values and has a record of providing space to all viewpoints, even contentious ones. If we were unable to fulfil this role, we would rather cease publication with honour than compromise our basic values.

“The publication of Johann Hari’s opinion was not intended to cause hurt, or defame any community or religion. Nor was it intended to provoke societal tension. If unwittingly we have aggrieved any section of society, we deeply regret it.”

As well as the protests, a complaint was also filed at a police station by a member of the public, Mohd Shahid, calling for arrests. Speaking to The Independent last night, Mr Kumar said he voluntarily attended the police station yesterday to try to calm tensions. “Upon learning that a case had been registered by Kolkata police, I contacted officers and offered to assist the investigation and to aid efforts to defuse tensions,” he said. “Following this, the arrests were made early today and we were released on bail last night.”

Since Mr Kumar’s arrest yesterday protesters have dispersed.

           — Hat tip: Vlad Tepes[Return to headlines]


Islamabad Admits for the First Time That Mumbai Attacks Were Planned in Pakistan

Pakistan’s interior minister says that part of the planning for the attacks was done by Pakistani citizens, together with members of the extremist group Lashkar-e-Taiba. Six suspects in custody, connections to Spain and Italy.

Islamabad (AsiaNews/Agencies) — Pakistani interior minister Rehman Malik admitted today, for the first time, that “some part of the conspiracy related to the [November 26] Mumbai attacks was planned in Pakistan.” At least 6 people believed to be involved have been arrested, and 2 more are being sought, but the investigation is ongoing and further developments are not ruled out.

It is said that some of the conspirators could be members of the outlawed extremist group Lashkar-e-Taiba, including Zia-ur-Rehman Lakhvi and Zarrar Shah, who sent “an e-mail claiming responsibility for the attack.” Shah has been in jail since December.

Those under arrest also include Hamad Amin Sadiq, considered the “main architect” of the plot, who arranged the transfer of money used for the attacks, and Javed Iqbal, an expert in internet technology living in Barcelona. The money came from Spain and Italy, and SIM telephone cards from Austria and India were used. Also in jail is the person who sold the boat engine used by the attackers to reach Mumbai by sea.

India immediately accused Pakistani extremists for the attacks, which caused 183 deaths. This has produced significant tension, partly because Pakistan initially denied any responsibility. There is also disagreement between the two countries because India is asking for the extradition of those who may be responsible, while Pakistan is saying that it intends to try them on its own soil.

There is no official comment yet from India, whose ambassador in Islamabad replied that he has not yet received “the official report” from the Pakistani government.

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

Far East

China Rejects All Criticism on Human Rights, But Accepts Advice From Cuba and Iran

In the report on the review of violations in China, Beijing stresses the advice of countries calling for greater control of dissidents and the internet. But human rights activists are claiming success simply for being able to discuss China’s abuses at a UN meeting.

Geneva (AsiaNews/Agencies) — China is rejecting almost all of the criticisms made at the UN Human Rights Council, but is welcoming the advice of Cuba and Iran for greater control over dissidents. Human rights groups are, in any case, satisfied that for the first time, the serious violations of the Chinese government have been discussed.

The final report, written yesterday by India, Canada, and Nigeria, limits itself to calling upon China to continue its efforts to promote and protect human rights, and encouraging it to continue its economic development and take on an increasingly active international role.

Germany, Great Britain, and Mexico asked Beijing to permit religious freedom; abolish the reeducation-through-work camps; stop using physical and psychological torture against detainees; abolish the “phantom” prisons for dissidents and its persecution against those who defend human rights; respect minorities like the Tibetans and the Uyghurs of Xinjiang; permit freedom of expression, and eliminate censorship.

Beijing simply responded that these accusations are untrue, or that they are being made for political purposes, without even addressing the numerous specific examples cited. Instead, it said it agrees with the countries, especially the developing ones or those with authoritarian regimes, like Sudan and Sri Lanka, that have urged it to increase its economic development, create more jobs in rural areas, and do more to integrate the disabled.

China agreed to the request to reconsider which cases should be punished with the death penalty, while specifying that “in [the] current circumstances” it has no intention of dropping this.

The concluding statement reports fewer of the criticisms against China and more proposals like that of Cuba, to crack down on the “self-styled human rights defenders working against the Chinese state and people,” or Pakistan’s complaint against the people with “disturbing links to external perpetrators” who took to the streets during the anti-Chinese protests in Tibet in March of 2008, which Beijing repressed through violence and arrests. Or again, Iran’s encouragement to increase censorship of the internet against “defamation of religion.”

But experts observe that for the first time, the UN council has at least been able to talk about human rights violations in China. Before this, since 1989, Beijing had always been able to prevent its actions in Tiananmen Square, or other abuses, from being discussed.

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


China Needs U.S. Guarantees for Treasuries, Yu Says

Feb. 11 (Bloomberg) — China should seek guarantees that its $682 billion holdings of U.S. government debt won’t be eroded by “reckless policies,” said Yu Yongding, a former adviser to the central bank.

The U.S. “should make the Chinese feel confident that the value of the assets at least will not be eroded in a significant way,” Yu, who now heads the World Economics and Politics Institute at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said in response to e-mailed questions yesterday from Beijing. He declined to elaborate on the assurances needed by China, the biggest foreign holder of U.S. government debt.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


UN Asks About Human Rights, China’s Answer is Economics

Beijing denies rights violations, hiding behind improvements resulting from economic development. Experts note however that the economic crisis cut the few rights workers have. Now member state representatives are set to issue recommendations.

Geneva (AsiaNews/Agencies) — China has rejected charges of human rights violations made by other states in the United Nations Council on Human Rights Council in Geneva. Representatives of Germany, Great Britain, Australia, Sweden, Switzerland, Canada and the Czech Republic raised issues during the proceedings, which began on Monday, including restrictions on religious freedom in Tibet and Xinjiang, censorship, persecution of pro-democracy activists, re-education-through-labour camps, the independence of judges, the rule of law, child labour and the growing gap between rural and urban areas.

Representatives from other states like Nigeria, Sudan and Sri Lanka said they “highly appreciated China’s great efforts in promoting human rights, building a harmonious society” and promoting economic development.

China’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Li Baodong, rejected claims that his country restricted freedom of speech or religious freedom or that anyone was persecuted for his or her opinion. He expressed “regret” that some countries like Australia raised “highly politicised” questions like Tibet or the Uyghurs. In the end though, he did not answer any questions on specific issues or points raised.

More generally in their submission to the Council the Chinese stressed improvements brought to the population by economic development.

Still China did come in for criticism on this front as well, in particular for its treatment of migrant workers. Recent gains in the new labour contract in terms of a minimum wage and job security have been swept away by the economic crisis. At least 20 million migrant workers are now out of a job, many unable to collect their severance pay or the last months of their salary.

Labour activist and former Tiananmen Square protester Han Dongfang, one of the foremost specialists on workers rights in mainland China, said that after the onset of the present crisis the new labour contract adopted by the government as a revolutionary step forward “is completely dead,” a year after it was introduced. The authorities have given up on it and no longer require it be respected; now trying only to reduce the number of plant closures.

China’s report will be examined by representatives from Nigeria, India and Canada. Recommendations should be made within the day today.

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

Australia — Pacific

Australian Brush Fires: Police Release Suspect Photo

Victorian police have released a composite photo of a man wanted for questioning over the Australian brush fires that killed at least 181 people and which authorities suspect may have been started by arsonists.

The man in the composite photo, who police say is in his early 20s and has a dark complexion, is believed to have information about a suspicious fire at Ivanhoe East, in Melbourne’s north-east.

He was apparently seen in the area wearing black trousers, a polo shirt and yellow sunglasses and carrying a black rucksack.

Arson investigators are looking into several of the bush fires that destroyed more than 1,000 homes. The fire that wiped out the town of Marysville and claimed up to 100 lives has been classed as suspicious.

John Brumby, the Victorian premier, said a fire at a pine plantation at Mansfield had also been deliberately lit.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Immigration

France: DNA Tests to Catch Illicit Immigrants

(ANSAmed) — PARIS, FEBRUARY 12 — A decree allowing the DNA testing of family members coming to join immigrants living in France will be ready for enactment “within a month and a half, or two at most, not more”, said the country’s Minister for Immigration, Eric Besson, today. All he needs to be able to sign the bill is “the certainty that everything has been done to ensure that the plan is an ethical one, moral and practicable”. France voted in an experimental phase of DNA testing with its Immigration Control Act of Autumn 2007, but the decree has yet to be adopted. Speaking of the provision which allows migrants to obtain permits to stay in exchange for their “collaborating” with the police, Besson noted that immigrants could report their exploiters anonymously, and that the number of illicit migrants to be expelled in 2009 has been set by Prime Minister Francois Fillon at 27 thousand. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Maghreb: Conference in Naples on Violations of Human Rights

(ANSAmed) — NAPLES, FEBRUARY 12 — The violation of Human Rights in North-African countries will be the central theme of a conference taking place in Naples, at Castel dell’Ovo on 13th and 14th February. It will see the participation from, among others, representatives of international organisations, as well as members of Parliament, teachers, journalists, members of civil associations and witnesses of what takes place in Morocco and from Western Sahara to Tunisia and Libya. The international conference, sponsored by the Municipality of Naples, will deal with various topics, say the promoters of the initiative, which rarely interest Western mass media. Very topical issues such as emigration from sub-Saharan countries into Europe. In various North-Africa states, the way migrants are treated is a blatant violation of human rights. It is a situation which, according the accusations of the conference organisers, involves the European countries, who, worried about stopping the immigration flux, neither denounce nor adopted any political or diplomatic measures to try to put an end to these violations. But the conference will be an opportunity to reflect on other grave issues, such as the continuing phenomenon of slavery in Mauritania: officially abolished in 1981, the practice is still widespread in the country, favoured as it is, say accusations from SOS Escalve, by regulations which do not foresee any punishment for enslavement. The debate will also centre on harsh sentences given to workers and trade unionists in Tunisia for protests regarding the miners in Gafsa, after a trial which, say international observers, did not guarantee any defence. The event will kick off on Friday, 13th February at 9:30 with the Mayor of Naples, Rosa Russo Iervolino. Magistrate Nicola Quatrano, President of the International Observatory, will introduce the proceedings. There will be two round tables on 14th February on the themes of “Illegal Immigration: what rights?” and “Violations of Human Rights in Western Sahara”, with the conclusion from the International Observatory. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Culture Wars

Argggh! Players Rape, Force Abortion in Hit Game

Sex assault software formerly sold by Amazon, still listed on eBay

A Japanese computer game where players must rape women and force them to have abortions is for sale on eBay.com and has been available at Amazon.com until today.

On the first level of the “rape simulator game,” gamers stalk a young mother at a subway station and violently assault her, London’s Independent reports. After finishing with the woman, they rape her two virgin daughters.

According to descriptions, gamers may invite other male characters to join a gang-rape scenario. Pregnancy and abortion are “key features,” and characters are punished if they decide to keep a baby.

“If she does become pregnant you’re supposed to force her to get an abortion, otherwise she gets more and more visibly pregnant each time you have sex,” one reviewer revealed. “If you allow the child to be born then the woman will throw you in front of a train.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Prof Calls Christian Student ‘Fascist B———’

Lawsuit filed after speech met with: ‘Ask God what your grade is’

A student at Los Angeles City College has filed a lawsuit against the institution after a professor in his speech class called him a “fascist b———” and told him to “Ask God what your grade is” following the student’s speech about morality.

The case has been filed by the Alliance Defense Fund on behalf of student Jonathan Lopez after his encounter with Professor John Matteson in a speech class.

The lawsuit alleges that Lopez was participating in a class assignment to give a speech on “any topic” that would last from six to eight minutes.

“During the November, 24, 2008 class, Mr. Lopez delivered an informative speech on God and the ways in which Mr. Lopez has seen God act both in his life and in the lives of others through miracles. In the middle of the speech, he addressed the issues of God and morality; thus, he referred to the dictionary definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman and also read a passage from the Bible discussing marriage,” the ADF explained.

At that point, the professor “interrupted him and refused to allow him to finish his speech. Mr. Matteson then called Mr.Lopez a ‘fascist b———,’ … and dismissed the class.”

Later, the professor left an evaluation form on Lopez’s backpack without a grade, instructing him to “Ask God what your grade is.” At that point, the professor “interrupted him and refused to allow him to finish his speech. Mr. Matteson then called Mr.Lopez a ‘fascist b———,’ … and dismissed the class.”

Later, the professor left an evaluation form on Lopez’s backpack without a grade, instructing him to “Ask God what your grade is.”

[…]

David French, a senior counsel with the ADF, however, was critical of the school’s actions.

“Public institutions of higher learning cannot selectively censor Christian speech,” he said. “This student was speaking well within the confines of his professor’s assignment when he was censored and ultimately threatened with expulsion.”

That threat reportedly came when Matteson saw Lopez talking to the college’s dean of academic affairs, and then said , “he would make sure he’d be expelled from school.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

General

The Elephant in the Room: Intimidating Critics of Islam

Politicians and citizens who raise questions about the religion are targeted.

By Rick Santorum

We lost more than a million jobs in the past few months, the headlines remind us. So last month’s story about a Dutch court’s ruling that Geert Wilders was “inciting hatred and discrimination” — and that “it is in the public interest to prosecute” him — understandably didn’t make the American news.

Did Wilders rip off a minority in a Madoff-style Ponzi scheme? No, he’s a member of the Dutch parliament, and his precise villainy was releasing a 15-minute film. Entitled Fitna, it suggests a direct link between certain verses of the Koran and acts of terrorism.

Not to be outdone, the United Kingdom this week banned Wilders from entering the country. Its reasoning: His “presence in the U.K. would pose a genuine, present, and sufficiently serious threat to one of the fundamental interests of society.” A letter from the home secretary went on to tell Wilders that “your statements about Muslims and their beliefs, as expressed in your film Fitna and elsewhere, would threaten community harmony and therefore public security.”

In 2007, Cambridge University Press destroyed unsold copies of Alms for Jihad after it was sued by Khalid bin Mahfouz, a Saudi-Irish businessman whom the book accused of financing al-Qaeda. So much for academics standing up against book-burning.

In 2005, reporters from the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten were forced into hiding after publishing a series of 12 cartoons about Muhammad. Islamic fundamentalists found the images blasphemous and threatened to bomb the paper’s offices and kill its cartoonists — apparently, in certain quarters, an alternative to a letter to the editor.

Last year, at the urging of the Canadian Islamic Congress, author Mark Steyn was forced to defend himself against charges of racism and “Islamophobia” that were filed with three Canadian human-rights commissions, based on his columns in Maclean’s magazine.

And, following a 2008 U.N. resolution urging nations to outlaw “defamation of religion,” several nations — including Italy, the Netherlands and France — are attempting to ban “hate speech” against religious groups.

All of these incidents are calculated to intimidate critics of Islam in Europe and across the West. The message in the European Union is clear: Politicians, religious figures, and even private citizens with religiously and politically incorrect opinions will be subject not only to Muslim protest, but to criminal prosecution and violent retribution.

What publisher will print Steyn’s next book if it can be labeled a hate crime and banned in most countries? “Pretty soon, your little book is looking a lot less commercially viable,” Steyn has said. “At the end of the day, there’ll be a lot of . . . American books that will go unpublished here in America.”

In addition, these incidents deflect attention away from real — rather than trumped-up — religious discrimination. In the arena of actual persecution of religious minorities, Arab and Islamic nations are much of the problem.

Look at the U.S. State Department’s 2008 Report on International Religious Freedom. Among the dozens of limitations on religious freedom in the Arab-Islamic world are the crimes of apostasy — converting from Islam to another religion — and blasphemy against the prophet Muhammad, both punishable by death under Muslim Sharia law. Coptic Christians are, at best, second-class citizens in Egypt; Baha’is are savagely persecuted in Iran; and churches and synagogues are banned in Saudi Arabia, as is any non-Muslim religious activity in public.

This is not a front- or even back-page story in the American press today. Why? Because it has nothing to do with the economy.

The gathering storm I have been warning of for years has now formed over the West. Yet instead of fighting the gradual incursion of Sharia and the demands of an intolerant, even militant Islam, Westerners are cowering and fatalistic. Last year, the Archbishop of Canterbury conceded that acceptance of some parts of Sharia in Britain seemed “unavoidable.”

So how did the market do today?

           — Hat tip: Reinhard[Return to headlines]


UN Surprised at Female Role in ‘Modern Slavery’

UNITED NATIONS — Surprisingly, the perpetrators behind human trafficking around the world are often women, the U.N. reported Thursday.

Women are the majority of traffickers in almost a third of the 155 nations the U.N. surveyed. They accounted for more than 60 percent of the human trafficking convictions in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

For many, human trafficking is a world they had been pulled into themselves.

“Women commit crimes against women, and in many cases the victims become the perpetrators,” Antonio Maria Costa, director of the Vienna-based U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, said in an interview. “They become the matrons of the business and they make money. It’s like a drug addiction.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

2 comments:

Paardestaart said...

Why would trafficking in humans be incompatible with the female sex? Have n't women always played a considerable part in prostitution?
Women have probably become bolder, like all women since feminism seem to have; girls have also become much more agressive and violent than they used to be..
The number of their involvement in violent crime is probably roughly compatible with the percentage of human behavior that is determined by 'nurture' instead of 'nature' :-)

Abu Abdullah said...

I thought some regulars here might enjoy fisking this Pakistani propaganda (and maybe even send a rebuttal to the clueless editors of the American Physical Society News).