Thursday, March 19, 2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 3/19/2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 3/19/2009Notable stories tonight include a report that two American journalists were detained in North Korea, and that more Chinese warships have been deployed to the South China Sea.

More ominously, the United States now backs the idea of a new world reserve currency, based on the “emergency drawing power” of the IMF. Will this be the mechanism for the coming inflation?

Thanks to C. Cantoni, CSP, Diana West, Earl Cromer, Gaia, Insubria, JD, KGS, TB, The Frozen North, The Observer, Tuan Jim, and all the other tipsters who sent these in. Headlines and articles are below the fold.
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Financial Crisis
A Look Behind the Wizard’s Curtain
Ali Bama and the 435 Thieves
Crisis: UAE Transport Sector Hit, Projects at Risk
Dodd: Administration Sought Bonus Limit Revision
Europe Falls Out of Love With Labour Migration
Spitzer Re-Emerges, Pushes for Geithner Questions
U.S. Backs Global Alternative to Dollar
 
USA
Barack Hussein Obama is a Committed Marxist — What Are Americans Going to Do About it?
Diana West: Forget Bonus Outrage, What About ‘ShariAIG?’
Eric Holder: Gun-Grabbing Opportunist
Guantanamo Detainees May be Released in U.S.
How the Socialist Are Destroying America From Within
Obama’s Campaign Network Mobilized to Promote Agenda
Obama Climate Plan Could Cost $2 Trillion
 
Canada
Kenney Has No Regrets Over Cutting Off Arab Group
Kevin Gaudet: the Long-Gun Registry — Allan Rock’s $2-Billion Fiasco
Ottawa May Halt Grants to Anti-Semitic Groups
 
Europe and the EU
Czech Rep: Pig Head Fixed on Prague Mosque, Police Launch Investigation
Czech Rep: PM Topolánek: Radar Base Treaty Threatens Lisbon Treaty
Denmark: Gang Members Waiting to Serve
Denmark/UK: Call for Jihad Against Israel Supporters
EU: Real Cost of EU is Ten Times Higher Than EC Figures Show, Taxpayers’ Alliance Says
Finland Loses Used Car Tax Case in European Court
Group Rules Against Swedish Swimmer on ‘Sexist’ Swimsuit Ban
Spain: Criminality Still Lower Than European Average
UK: Head Accused of ‘Islamophobia’ Wins £400,000 After Being Forced Out by Muslim Governors
UK: What the Horrors of Stafford Hospital Tell US About the Ills of the NHS
University: Spain, Students Clash With Police in Barcelona
Water: Forum; Italy Presents ‘Po Valley’ Project
 
Balkans
Albania: Enlargement; EU to Allocate 60.9 Mln Euro
EU: Expansion, Rehn to Merkel, No to the Stop for Balkans
 
Mediterranean Union
Arab League to Open Liaison Centre in Malta
Crisis: EU Auditors’ Court to Present Report on Med Banking
EU: Auditors Court, Lack of Checks in Med Countries Aid
EU: Tuscany Proposes Mediterranean Regional Cooperation
Med: Dastoli, Overcome UPM Stalemate as Europe With Ecsc
 
North Africa
Algeria: British Council Trains 1,000 English Teachers
Health: Algeria Opens First Artificial Insemination Centre
 
Israel and the Palestinians
IDF to Probe Soldiers’ Cast Lead Accounts
Israel: Shalit, Harsher Conditions for Hamas Prisoners
Scottish Muslims Guard Synagogue
Shalit: Hamas Threatens New Kidnappings
 
Middle East
Emirates: Quotas to Have More Women in Parliament
EU-Turkey: Rehn, Apply Reform on Women’s Rights
Jonathan Kay: a Response to My (Many, Many) Tamil-Canadian Critics
Jordan: Water Canal Reopens, Oil Contamination Under Control
Pakistan: Ex Al-Qaeda Aide Rebuts Syria’s Al-Assad on Obama
Saudi Arabia: Vice Cop Enters No-Go Area to Arrest Fleeing Woman
Syria: Assad, I Trust Obama and Will Mediate With Tehran
Tehran Dominated by Uncertainty Over Upcoming Elections
Terrorism: Yemen; Koreans Targeted Again, Attack Failed
 
Russia
Arabs Are World’s Fastest Learners of Russian Language
Medvedev Steers Religions Toward Young People, But Blocks Jehovah’s Witnesses
Russia’s Jewish Community Fears for Its Future, Foreign Missions in Jeopardy
 
South Asia
Afghanistan: Border Police Gain New Skills From Italian Task Force
Afghanistan: Italian Army Gives Gps Devices and Maps to Police
Indonesia: 15 Years for Terror Suspects?
Pakistan: Rageh Omaar on Why the West Should Fear the Taliban and Al-Qaeda’s Hold on Pakistan
Thailand: Troops Killed in Thai South
Thailand: Inert Bombs ‘Intended to Discredit’ MP
 
Far East
2 US Journalists Detained in N Korea
Beijing to Deploy More Ships to the South China Sea
Filipino Lawmakers Back Bishops on Land Reform
Philippines: Campaigners Push to End Military Pact With US
 
Australia — Pacific
Banned Hyperlinks Could Cost You $11,000 a Day
Hilali Kicks Door, Blames Vandals
New Zealand: Queries Over Pregnancy, Flight and Birth
 
Latin America
The Americas Report: Luis Fleischman on Civil Disobedience in Venezuela
 
Immigration
Immigrants Choosing Suburbs, Small Towns Over Big Cities
Italian MEP Calls for Immigrant Health Passports
Italy: MPs Oppose Bill Requiring Doctors to Report Illegal Immigrants
Malta: Sending Migrants Back is a Must — PM
Sweden: Migration Board Worker Charged With Bribery
 
Culture Wars
Kentucky Counties Fined $400,000 for Posting Ten Commandments
President Barack Obama Makes First Pro-Abortion Judicial Pick in David Hamilton
 
General
$750 Billion “Green” Investment Could Revive Economy: U.N.
Advocates Barred From Meetings on Polar Bears
Protect the Believers, Not the Belief
The Pope’s Critics Are in the Grip of Dogma

Financial Crisis

A Look Behind the Wizard’s Curtain

I’m tired of hearing about subprime mortgages.

It’s as if these things were living entities that had spawned an epidemic of economic pornography.

Subprime mortgages are as much a cause of the current financial chaos as bullets were for the death of JFK. Someone planned the assassination and someone pulled the trigger.

The media, J. Edgar Hoover and the Warren Commission tried to push Lee Harvey Oswald off on the American public. They didn’t buy it. They shouldn’t buy subprime mortgages either.

Someone planned the assassination and someone pulled the trigger.

Only this time the target is the international financial structure and the bullets are still being fired.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Ali Bama and the 435 Thieves

What “we the taxpayers” bought this time was rapidly declining stock in banks that were technically bankrupt. The money was used to pay off big stock market and derivative bets that had gone bad — and would have bankrupted other banks that were playing the same game.

The latest chunk of bailout funds went to AIG insurance. Well, of course. Nobody wants the life insurance check they get after Uncle Milligan’s funeral to bounce! Get a clue, folks. That’s not the part of AIG that was bailed out. AIG’s real business was “insuring” the big banks’ investments against going in the wrong direction.

Well, that’s the direction they went. Instant insolvency. But, unlike Mr. and Mrs. America when they are late with a credit card payment and their interest rate goes to infinity, Uncle Sam picked up the tab on this one. Again. And again.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Crisis: UAE Transport Sector Hit, Projects at Risk

(ANSAmed) — DUBAI, MARCH 18 — The current economic crisis is forcing the United Arab Emirates Road and Transport Authority (RTA) to revise its plans for railway and marine projects in Dubai. The projects already at risk, as reported by the daily paper The National, are the Purple underground line and the transport network along the Emirate’s coastline. Last week the RTA also announced that some stations along the Red line — which will open in September — will remain closed. The reasons behind the revision are partly to be found in the delay or postponement of building and real estate projects. The slowdown in the construction of the man-made archipelagos ‘World’ and ‘Universe’ not only means fewer passengers, but also the inability to create landings and, therefore, the temporary uselessness of coast transport services. In a similar manner, the non-development of urban areas on terra firma (and consequent lack of residents) are the reason behind the closure of some underground stations. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Dodd: Administration Sought Bonus Limit Revision

WASHINGTON (AP) — For a while, the disappearance of an executive bonus restriction from last month’s economic stimulus looked like sleight of hand worthy of a Las Vegas stage. No one could explain how the provision faded into thin air.

On Wednesday, Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., acknowledged that his staff agreed to dilute the executive pay provision that would have applied retroactively to recipients of federal aid. Dodd, the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, told CNN that the request came from Obama administration officials whom he did not identify.

The provision was the subject of new attention this week because, had it survived, it would have prevented the American International Group Inc. from granting $165 million in bonuses to employees of its financial products division.

While the House and Senate reconciled their different stimulus bills last month, the Treasury Department expressed concern with a Senate restriction on bonuses, noting that if it applied to existing compensation contracts it could face a legal challenge.

“The alternative was losing, in my view, the entire section on executive excessive compensation,” Dodd told CNN. “Given a choice, this is not an uncommon occurrence here, I agreed to a modification in the legislation, reluctantly.”

An administration official said Treasury made Dodd’s staff aware of the potential for litigation but did not demand that the provision be removed from the final bill. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter in public.

The legislation does include a provision that allows Treasury to examine past compensation payments to determine if they were “contrary to the public interest.” Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner on Tuesday said he was using that provision to determine whether the government could somehow recoup the AIG bonuses.

Over the years, Dodd has been the top recipient of campaign contributions from AIG employees. During 2007-2008, when he ran for president, he received nearly $104,000 from AIG employees and their families, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group that monitors money in politics.

In a statement, his office said Dodd only became aware of the AIG bonuses in the past few days. “To suggest that the bonuses affecting AIG had any effect on Sen. Dodd’s action is categorically false,” Dodd spokeswoman Kate Szostak said.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Europe Falls Out of Love With Labour Migration

With unemployment soaring, many EU countries want the migrant workers they once attracted to go home as quickly as possible. They are sparing no expense or effort to encourage them to leave, Spiegel Online reports…

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]


Spitzer Re-Emerges, Pushes for Geithner Questions

[Comments from JD: The bonuses are a side issue, to distract the public from the billions being looted from America.]

“My question is, when the group got together, and as we best understand it, it was Mr. Bernanke and Tim Geitner and Hank Paulson, and Lloyd Blankfein, I think was there as well, the CEO of Goldman. When they got together last Fall and decided very very quickly that AIG needed $80 billion, why did they make that determination? That is the issue Congress should be probing. The bonuses yes, they matter, but they are penny ante compared to this money. Why, if they knew that that money was going to go back to Goldman, BofA and Morgan Chase, did they need it? What were they getting the money for and what was the premise that made them pay that money up front?”

Spitzer, meanwhile, dismissed the bonus issue. “Bonuses are the flavor of the month,” he said.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


U.S. Backs Global Alternative to Dollar

EU crisis builds momentum for IMF to form alternative exchange

The idea is for the IMF to issue at least $250 billion in Special Drawing Rights, or SDRs, to IMF member states as a method of placing a safety net under developing countries that might otherwise have to declare bankruptcy.

The idea gained momentum Tuesday when the Moscow Times published an article revealing that the Kremlin intended to use the G-20 meeting, beginning April 2, to push for the IMF to utilize SDRs as “a super-reserve currency widely accepted by the whole of the international community.”

U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner is on the record calling for the G-20 to support “substantially increasing emergency IMF resources” by up to $500 billion to deal with the global economic crisis.

[…]

“The direction in which the IMF proposal to utilize SDRs in this novel way appears aimed at elevating the IMF to the status of a one-world bank,” Chapman said.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

USA

Barack Hussein Obama is a Committed Marxist — What Are Americans Going to Do About it?

Most Marxist coups rely on deception — and that was certainly true of this one. Just about everything Obama said during the campaign was a calculated lie. His handlers and key supporters were equally willing to lie and deceive to gain advantage.

[…]

Despite liberally casting good money after bad, the president has done nothing to help Wall Street or Main Street. As reflected in the stock market, everything is worsening because Obama’s stimulus bill makes no economic sense. His propaganda produces extreme fear among Americans. Meanwhile, our liberties are disappearing before our very eyes. We’ve been had by a smooth-taking, teleprompter-dependent politician from Chicago, where corruption thrives.

Our newly elected president is not fit to lead this nation. Obama is not a reasonable, decent man, and I’m not afraid to say it. He’s the most extreme, most left-leaning president in our nation’s history. He will continue destroying our country because — as a committed Marxist — he believes it’s his duty to do so. He hates our country’s guiding principles, and wants to change our nation to please his own radical ideology.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Diana West: Forget Bonus Outrage, What About ‘ShariAIG?’

Congratulations, American taxpayer. Finally, something has roused you from the stupor, the torpor, the catatonia of lingering Obamania.

It was those bonuses. Those AIG bonuses of $165 million. Because that’s your money, your millions of dollars paid out to the same incompetents who got us into this mess, right? Sure. But you’re on the case now. You’re on top of it. Gave your representatives in Washington a piece of your mind, too. Nobody fools the American taxpayer like that and gets away with it, right?

Sigh. Dear American Taxpayer: If only you knew how easily you have been gulled, played like a greenhorn, a rube, a Madoff mark. This $165 million scandal may have unleashed the first genuine feeding frenzy of the Obama administration, but it is a distraction, a sideshow, a smokescreen over what is really going on: namely, the Bush-initiated, Obama-Pelosi-Reid-led incursion into the private sector designed to nationalize the workings of the economy in order to take over, capture and enslave enough of the free market to transform the fundamental character of this nation. Remember what our 44th president said back in 1995: “In America,” he told the Chicago Reader, “we have this strong bias toward individual action. You know, we idolize the John Wayne hero who comes in to correct things with both guns blazing. But individual actions, individual dreams are not sufficient. We must unite in collective action, build collective institutions and organizations.”

That is exactly what’s going on behind the $165 million smokescreen — truly, a masterpiece of misdirection. I have no reason to believe it was planned, although I am open to suggestion…

           — Hat tip: Diana West[Return to headlines]


Eric Holder: Gun-Grabbing Opportunist

I’ve been a gun-rights advocate for decades now; as a former resident of the state of New York, I can attest firsthand as to how things tend to play out in a civil setting when the only people who have firearms are law enforcement, the privileged — and, of course, criminals. The only way our governments (federal, state and local) have been able to gain any leverage at all in the area of gun control has been through disinformation, emotionalism and the fact that Americans are not familiar with the Constitution. Second Amendment protections were put in place so that we could shoot operatives of an oppressive government, not deer.

Having cleared that up, suffice it to say that Eric Holder is but another floatie in the septic tank that is the Obama administration, albeit a pretty significant one. Another arrogant, smooth-talking, soulless suit, he is attempting to turn a case of gross government negligence into yet another opportunity to diminish our constitutional rights.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Guantanamo Detainees May be Released in U.S.

Attorney General Eric Holder said some detainees being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, may end up being released in the U.S. as the Obama administration works with foreign allies to resettle some of the prisoners.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


How the Socialist Are Destroying America From Within

[Comments from JD: URL also lists the House members in this red army.]

Incidentally, the Democratic Socialists of America do not identify their House members since they consider all members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus part of their membership due to the fact that “they both shared operative social democratic politics.” The most prominent national member of DSA is AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney, who could well be the most powerful influence in the House of Representatives. And for the record, the Chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus is Congressional Progressive Caucus member Barbara Lee (CA-9). The interconnections between all these socialist-based organizations is staggering.

These organizations and their members quite literally comprise a Socialist Red Army within the very contours of the House of Representatives. According to the Wikipedia article on the organization, “The Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) is the single largest partisan caucus in the United States House of Representatives and works together to advance progressive [socialist] issues and causes. The CPC was founded in 1991 by independent [socialist] Congressman Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who remains a member as Senator. [The CPC] represents about a third of the House Democratic Caucus. Of the twenty standing committees of the House, eleven are chaired by members of the CPC.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Obama’s Campaign Network Mobilized to Promote Agenda

Four months after the election, President Barack Obama is resurrecting his campaign army in Florida and nationwide to help him sell his $3.5 trillion budget to Congress.

It’s the first call to action by Organizing for America, the Democratic Party initiative to turn the campaign’s vast grass-roots network into a year-round support system that registers voters, promotes the administration’s policies and lays the groundwork for a second term.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Obama Climate Plan Could Cost $2 Trillion

President Obama’s climate plan could cost industry close to $2 trillion, nearly three times the White House’s initial estimate of the so-called “cap-and-trade” legislation, according to Senate staffers who were briefed by the White House.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Canada

Kenney Has No Regrets Over Cutting Off Arab Group

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney made no apologies yesterday for ending the flow of funds to the Canadian Arab Federation, which he says has expressed support for terror groups.

CAF president Khaled Mouammar believes Canada should regard Hamas and Hezbollah as “legitimate organizations,” Kenney said.

Both Hamas and Hezbollah are on the Canadian government’s list of groups “associated with terrorism,” according to the public safety department’s website.

“Here we have in Canada, someone who, until the end of this month at least, was receiving public subsidies from my department, who says … these organizations that are essentially anti-Semitic and seek the destruction of Israel … should be able to operate in Canada,” Kenney said.

People in Canada “need to exercise freedom of expression responsibly” and should be wary of the rise of a new form of anti-Semitism cloaked in debates about Israel’s actions in the Middle East, Kenney said in a speech to University of Toronto students.

There is no room for non-violent extremism in Canada that is “beyond the pale,” he said. “When I say beyond the pale I don’t mean illegal. But these are the kinds of organizations that should receive no formal support from the organs of the Canadian state.”

Kenney reportedly first threatened to review the CAF’s funding after Mouammar said at a public rally in January that the recent conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza exposed two types of politicians: “Professional whores who support war,” naming Kenney, among other politicians, and others who have been silent about Gaza.

CAF executive director Mohamed Boudjenane was surprised by the minister’s comments, and surprised to learn about the end of funding for programs the organization runs to help settle newcomers and give them English lessons.

“We have a contract to provide English for newcomers,” Boudjenane said. “The LINC (language instruction for newcomers to Canada) school and we have a workshop for newcomers. The agreement is until March 2010. I don’t know what he is talking about,” he said, adding that contracts were signed for two years.

Immigration department officials in Ottawa say the CAF has two contracts with them — the LINC contract for $2,106,623 ends March 31, 2009, and the other for $474,873 runs until March 31, 2010. Neither will be renewed, Alykhan Velshi, director of communications and parliamentary affairs, said in an email.

If Ottawa removes this funding, it is newcomers to Toronto who will suffer, said Boudjenane.

“Most of the people that use our services are Chinese,” he said. “You aren’t going to punish CAF, but these immigrants. This is not the type of money ministers should use to play politics.”

Kenney said he is an “unapologetic supporter” of Israel.

He says the proudest moment in his career as immigration minister was when he withdrew Canada from next month’s United Nations-sponsored Durban II conference in Geneva.


Israel, the United States and Italy have since announced they will boycott the conference, which critics predict will be a repeat of its 2001 predecessor in Durban, South Africa, a meeting infamous for anti-Semitic rhetoric.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Kevin Gaudet: the Long-Gun Registry — Allan Rock’s $2-Billion Fiasco

Many jokes get played on April Fool’s Day. This year, however, April 1 brings a chance to end one long, painful and expensive joke that has been played on Canadian taxpayers and law-abiding gun owners. On that day, Parliament is expected to debate ways to improve the federal gun registry, and to save tax dollars; in part by ending the long-gun registry, a move that can be made without compromising public safety.

The debate will involve voting on a private member’s bill moved by Garry Breitkreuz, the veteran Conservative MP for Yorkton-Melville. Members of Parliament will have a genuine opportunity to end this outrageously wasteful program.

Back in 1995, then-Justice Minister Allan Rock sold Canadians a false bill of goods with Bill C-68, establishing the Canadian Firearms Registry. The idea was to create a national registry to license long-gun owners and their guns, much like provinces do with cars and drivers.

Minister Rock declared the grand scheme would cost only $119-million to build and run, and that gun owners would cover $117-million of that through registration fees, leaving taxpayers on the hook for only $2-million. Supporters of the registry applauded its low costs, their opponents were dismissed as gun nuts, and Canadians quietly accepted the registry.

How wrong they were. Costs soared, and no improvement to public safety resulted.

In response, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation launched a petition that garnered over 14,000 signatures demanding the program be audited by the Auditor General. It was, and the findings revealed astounding waste. For over 14 years, taxpayers have been soaked to the tune of no less that $2-billion….

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Ottawa May Halt Grants to Anti-Semitic Groups

TORONTO — As part of a “zero tolerance approach towards anti-Semitism,” the federal government is reviewing all its public service grants to remove state support from groups that advocate hatred or express support for terrorism.

“We are just at the beginning of the process of trying to formalize and operationalize that principle. In my department, we will be engaged in a cross-government process,” Jason Kenney, the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, told an audience on Wednesday at the University of Toronto, co-hosted by the campus Hillel and Conservative Party clubs.

He said Ottawa is looking to Britain as an example, citing the “really robust” community outreach programs that were developed in the Home Office after the London Underground bombings of 2005.

“Unfortunately, the federal government is a huge, complicated machine,” he said.

You know, it’s over $200-billion budget, hundreds of thousands of people, and sometimes not everyone gets the message,” Mr. Kenney said. “I think there is a tendency to be a little bit naive in Canada. We’re so self-congratulatory about the success of our model of pluralism and diversity that surely no one could really mean ill in Canada. … We don’t necessarily all subscribe to Canadian values, and we should be willing to recognize those that don’t.”

He gave the example of discovering last year that the Canadian Islamic Congress had been providing sensitivity training sessions to the Canadian Air Transportation Security Authority.

“No comment,” he said. “They’re no longer doing that.”


Referring particularly to the CIC and the Canadian Arab Federation, he described the targets of the funding review as groups with “no real constituency. They have an e-mail account. They have a fax machine. And they have a blowhard who’s willing to get on television and say the most audacious things that attract media attention. We, as a government, should not give them additional credibility.”

The review announcement is the latest twist in a bitter war of words between Mr. Kenney and Khaled Mouammar, the president of the Canadian Arab Federation. A detailed chronology posted on the CAF Web site shows the mutual animosity dates at least to Mr. Kenney’s appointment to his Cabinet post in January, 2007. It burst into public last month when Mr. Mouammar called Mr. Kenney a “professional whore” for his denunciation of Hamas and Hezbollah flags at a Toronto protest against Israel’s assault on Gaza. Mr. Kenney this month stripped the CAF of a $447,000 grant to provide language training to new immigrants, marking the first funding casualty of the government’s new hate audit.

That led Liberal MP Jim Karygiannis to file a complaint of “undue influence” with Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson, but Mr. Kenney denied that the two events were linked.

“If that misunderstanding exists, I absolutely regret it,” he said in an interview. “I didn’t create the misunderstanding. It was an initial media report in the Sun newspaper chain that tied the two things together when they were never tied together in my mind. And so, yeah, I regret that, because to some extent I think it has diverted attention away from the real issue, which has nothing to do with name calling whatsoever. Thank God we don’t live in a country where people with political authority can be vindictive in that way. I think that would be really ridiculous.”

He quipped yesterday that the insult was a redundancy — whores are professional by definition — and that alone should disqualify Mr. Mouammar from running any language program.

A call to the CAF yesterday was not returned.

Mr. Kenney focused his speech on the question of anti-Semitism on university campuses, and the “reckless language” of “delegitimization” of Israel. He called it “both a cause and a consequence of the new anti-Semitism,” which hides behind a pose of multiculturalism.

He cited two famous cases: the 2004 statement by former Canadian Islamic Congress leader and University of Waterloo engineering professor Mohamed Elmasry that “anybody [in Israel] above 18 is a part of the Israeli popular army” and thus a valid target, and the 2007 attendance of St. Francis Xavier politics professor Shiraz Dossa at an Iranian Holocaust denial conference.


He said these cases demonstrate “the disturbing comfort of a small minority in Canadian academia with this odious new anti-Semitism,” which is “packaged up as anti-Zionism.”…

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Czech Rep: Pig Head Fixed on Prague Mosque, Police Launch Investigation

Prague — An unknown perpetrator fixed a pig head without eyes on the fence of the mosque in Prague’s Kyje district along with an inscription Stop Islam on Wednesday night, police spokesman Jan Mikulovsky told CTK, adding that the police are checking whether an offence or a crime has been committed.

The incident was reported to the police by a man who arrived in the mosque for prayers this morning.

Photographs from the place of incident have appeared on the Internet site of the ultra-right National Party.

The National Party’s website indicates that the party resents Islam and Muslims.

“Pull mosques down, ban Islam and imprison Islamists for life over their being Islamists,” such sentence that appeared on the party’s website some time ago.

The National Party also announced on its website that it would screen the controversial film Fitna on Prague’s open spaces by which it wants to express its disagreement with the prosecution of the film’s author, Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders.

The 2008 short film Fitna shows selected excerpts from Suras of the Quran, interspersed with media clips and newspaper clippings showing or describing acts of violence and/or hatred by Muslims.

The film wishes to demonstrate that the Quran, and Islamic culture in general, motivates its followers to hate all who violate the Islamic teachings.

Representatives of the Libertas Independent Agency association that groups Muslims and non-Muslims have already condemned the intention to present the film.

“According to our studies, the National Party does not represent any important part of Czech society and its desperate efforts to make itself visible through the spread of anti-Semitism and xenophobia prove this,” association spokesman Lukas Lhotan writes in a statement that CTK has obtained.

The statement says that the association was monitoring the party’s steps and if Fitna were shown it was prepared to stage protests.

The Czech Security and Information Service (BIS) is also following the National Party’s activities. According to the BIS annual report for 2007, the party participated in many controversial actions the goal of which was to provoke the media interest and enter the conscience of wide public.

The party also operates controversial Internet pages www.chceteje.cz aimed against immigrants.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Czech Rep: PM Topolánek: Radar Base Treaty Threatens Lisbon Treaty

Prague — Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek suspended the ratification of the Czech-US missile shield treaty from Czech Parliament’s lower house on Tuesday in a move to prevent being voted down.

“It does not mean we would give up on the ratification process,” PM Topolánek (Civic Democrats) said in an interview for AktuálnÄ›.cz.

The opposition party Social Democrats (ÄŒSSD) pushed the ratification of the treaty on the lower house agenda but Topolánek withdrew the treaty last minute, since his government lacks the supporting votes for the project at the moment.

The treaty has been previously approved by the Senate but the lower house seems to be almost equally divided over the US project to install a radar base in the Czech Republic.

Mirek Topolánek spoke to AktuálnÄ›.cz about the reasons why he put the treaty on ice and whether its ratification will effect the Lisbon treaty approval….

…A[Q]: Is there a danger of “killing” the Lisbon Treaty? ODS congress recommended not to approve the Lisbon treaty before the radar base treaty is ratified.

[A]I think it is possible (the end of Lisbon treaty). But I would stress it is not entirely our responsibility. I will not instruct anyone how to vote and in which case. I have said that many times before….


           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Denmark: Gang Members Waiting to Serve

Bikers and gang members who have received their sentences are still waiting to serve their sentences.

Some of the country most criminal individuals from within the biker and immigrant gang groupings are out and about despite having been sentenced, and despite the government having called for zero tolerance of their groupings, according to Berlingske Tidende.

In February, a total of 28 individuals from the Hells Angels, their support group AK81, the Bandidos and immigrant gangs were waiting to be called in to serve a prison sentence according to the recently published National Police status of the biker and immigrant gang environment.

Unacceptable The prison service has said that there is space in the country’s closed prisons.

The Liberal Party Justice Spokesman says the situation is unacceptable, and several other parties are now demanding action.

“It’s embarrassing. These people should start serving their sentences from Day 1,” says Social Democratic Justice Spokeswoman Karen Hækkerup.

Extraordinary situation Justice Minister Brian Mikkelsen says he plans to address the situation.

“We have to get them off the streets. We are in an extraordinary situation, and as a matter of principle they should be sent to prison as soon as possible,” he tells Berlingske Tidende.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Denmark/UK: Call for Jihad Against Israel Supporters

This declaration was signed in Istanbul by high ranking members of Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood and Jamaat-e-Islami. I could not find this declaration, or its signatories, online. It would be interesting to see who else signed it.

——————

One of the UK’s most influential Islamic leaders, who has helped counter extremism in the country’s mosques, is accused of advocating attacks on the Royal Navy if it tries to stop arms for Hamas being smuggled into Gaza.

Dr Daud Abdullah, deputy director-general of the Muslim Council of Britain, is facing calls for his resignation, after it emerged that he is one of 90 Muslim leaders from around the world who have signed a public declaration in support of Hamas and military action.


           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]


EU: Real Cost of EU is Ten Times Higher Than EC Figures Show, Taxpayers’ Alliance Says

The real cost of EU membership for British taxpayers is ten times higher than figures quoted by the European Commission suggest, it has been claimed..

According to the Taxpayers’ Alliance, EU membership costs every Briton £2,000 per year, compared with the £220 quoted by the EU.

The UK-based lobby group says that, annually, the total cost of British membership of the 27-member club is £118 billion.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Finland Loses Used Car Tax Case in European Court

The Finnish government has lost a case in the European Court of Justice over its used car tax policy. The state might have to reimburse consumers 40-50 million euros.

The Court agreed with the European Commission that Finland’s taxation policy discriminates against individuals who bring in used cars from other EU countries.

Individuals who bought used cars abroad were subject to Finnish car taxes, and then paid an additional sales tax. Companies, on the other hand, were allowed to deduct the Finnish sales tax they paid on the vehicle if they sold it on to a private owner.

It is this special favour to companies that was challenged in court.

The ruling affects around 170,000 vehicles that have been brought into Finland since 2006. The decision will not affect future personal car imports, as new legislation on the matter is taking effect as of next month

           — Hat tip: KGS[Return to headlines]


Group Rules Against Swedish Swimmer on ‘Sexist’ Swimsuit Ban

Swimming’s international governing body has commented on new swimsuit rules labeled “sexist” by Swedish swimmer Therese Alshammar.

The International Swimming Federation (FINA) on Thursday weighed in on the row over hi-tech swimsuits, declaring swimmers cannot wear anything at all under their costume to protect their modesty.

The move comes after Alshammar became the first swimmer to be stripped of a world record under new rules because she wore two swimsuits when she bettered her existing world mark in the 50 metre butterfly in Sydney.

Alshammar slammed the decision, declaring the rules sexist and saying she thought she was allowed to wear a “modesty suit” under her skin-tight racing gear.

Officials at the Australian Swimming Championships had said women were allowed to wear bikini bottoms for modesty purposes but not a full suit because it may provide extra buoyancy in the pool.

However, Swimming Australia spokesman Ian Hanson said the sport’s governing body, FINA, had contacted the organization to say swimmers were not permitted to wear anything under the main swimsuit.

He said the Australian rules allowing modesty briefs would still stand at the national titles, which are currently under way in Sydney, but competitors would be warned any world records they set would not stand if they used them.

“Unfortunately, we can’t change the rules mid-meet,” Hanson told AFP.

He said the Swimming Australia board would amend its laws to comply with the FINA ruling at the first opportunity after the national titles.

FINA executive director Cornel Marculescu told specialist website swimnews.com that his organization had adopted a clear position.

“That means that nothing must be worn underneath,” he said. “One suit only. That’s it.”

FINA this month adopted new rules on new hi-tech swimsuits, the wearing of which led to 105 world records being set in 2008 over long-course and short-course distances.

The measures were introduced after claims that the revolutionary suits provide an unfair advantage and that technology was taking over from sheer individual talent.

Under the new rules, swimsuits cannot cover the neck and cannot extend past the shoulders or ankles.

They must also be a maximum of one millimetre thick and cannot be custom-made for or adapted by individual swimmers.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]


Spain: Criminality Still Lower Than European Average

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, MARCH 17 — Criminality remained stable in Spain in 2008, with 1.85 million crimes registered, or 47.6 crimes for every thousand inhabitants, 22.8 points fewer than the European average of 70.4 crimes per thousand inhabitants. Sources from the Ministry of the Interior told ANSAmed that the difference would be even greater if road safety crimes were excluded; these were introduced in a reform to the penal code last year and were previously considered to be infractions: in that case the rate of criminality would be further reduced to 46.5 crimes per thousand inhabitants. The total number of crimes registered in 2008 is one tenth lower than the previous year, although crimes of child pornography, abuse, the carrying of weapons, murder and burglary with violence were up. An increase in the number of reports of domestic violence was also responsible for the rise, following Government awareness-raising campaigns. Murders were slightly up, from 985 in 2007 (2.49 for every thousand inhabitants) to 1,019 in 2009 (2.61 for every thousand inhabitants). Spain is nevertheless a safe country, compared with its European neighbours such as Italy, where the average number of registered crimes was 55.6 per thousand inhabitants, France (57.5 per thousand inhabitants) and Germany (76.3 crimes per thousand inhabitants). (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


UK: Head Accused of ‘Islamophobia’ Wins £400,000 After Being Forced Out by Muslim Governors

A headmistress who was hounded out of her job after being falsely accused of racism was yesterday awarded more than £400,000 in compensation.

Erica Connor had run a ‘happy and successful’ primary school but was driven to a breakdown by the allegations.

The Daily Mail can reveal the school’s troubles started when a local mosque decided to pack the governing body with Muslims.

Paul Martin — a Muslim convert — and Mumtaz Saleem began monopolising meetings with the aim of turning New Monument in Woking into an Islamic faith school.

The Surrey town is home to the first purpose-built mosque in the country — the Shah Jahan Mosque — which dates from 1889.

Mr Martin, a businessman, yesterday confirmed there had been a ‘conscious effort’ to increase the number of Muslims on the board.

But when Mrs Connor resisted the new governors’ plans — such as the introduction of Islamic worship into the school — she became the target of a smear campaign.

An anonymous petition was circulated among parents, stating that those signing ‘no longer have confidence in Erica Connor to educate our children in a way that respects and values our faith, culture and heritage’.

An accompanying document accused the headmistress of ‘racism and Islamophobia’.

The accusations drove her to suffer from depression.

She eventually retired from the 300-pupil school because of illhealth in December 2006.

She is unlikely ever to return to teaching and now does voluntary work for a cancer charity.

A judge at the Royal Courts of Justice in London yesterday ordered Surrey County Council to pay Mrs Connor £407,781 in compensation.

He ruled that the local education authority had failed to support her properly against the unfounded accusations.

Deputy Judge John Leighton Williams said the council disregarded the ‘health and welfare’ of Mrs Connor because it was more concerned about being reported to the Commission for Racial Equality.

           — Hat tip: Earl Cromer[Return to headlines]


UK: What the Horrors of Stafford Hospital Tell US About the Ills of the NHS

The photos pinned to the campaign group’s clipboard span all ages. They include a newborn baby dressed in pink, a Burma veteran and a grandmother whose portrait is captioned “81 years young”. This disparate group have only one thing in common. All died in the care of Stafford Hospital.

Its record of squalor, indignity and suffering defies belief. Hundreds of lives may have been prematurely extinguished in understaffed wards, where patients were assessed by receptionists, left untended in filthy beds and compelled to slake their thirst with water from flower vases.

Many have described the conditions as “Third World”. That is an insult. I spent a day last week in a hospital in a broken town in one of the most desolate countries in Africa. Doctors had not been paid for months by a near-bankrupt state, and post-operative patients lay, two to a bed, in crowded wards. But compared with the Stafford “war zone”, this clinic looked like Harley Street. Battle-ravaged lives were being saved in an atmosphere of hope, respect and compassion; qualities absent in a flagship hospital in one of the most medically advanced nations on earth. The Prime Minister, said by a friend to be consumed by “fury and frustration”, called Stafford a one-off disaster. Let’s hope he’s right.

The health service is not immune to grave events. In Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells, an outbreak of Clostridium difficile killed around 90 patients between 2004 and 2006. Stafford is, however, the worst scandal of recent times. Its problems were not confined to a near-homicidal emergency room, or a management style verging on the Shipmanesque, or a disregard for human life.

Failings which took years to come to light were also the result of ice-hearted bureaucracy. While patients were complaining publicly about abysmal treatment, the health care trust responsible was given glowing reports by one regulator and groomed by another to become a foundation hospital in a process that apparently involved clawing back £10 million from patient care. The emphasis placed on finance, at the expense of quality or safety, was not peculiar to Stafford, according to the King’s Fund, which says the culture of trust boards must change.

Unsurprisingly (if wrongly), the debacle has been blamed on top-down micromanagement. You can see why critics reached that conclusion. While “target-itis” appears on no death certificate, it can be a contributory cause. When hospital chief executives are being sacked in record numbers for failing to meet government requirements, it is easy to see how corners might be cut and — in extreme cases — lives sacrificed on a pyre of tick-box paperwork.

But Stafford cannot wholly be explained away either as a lone catastrophe or as evidence of the jackboot of Whitehall. I suspect that many people have experienced an echo, however faint, of the institutional cruelty unveiled this week. In an era of good health and longevity, hospitals are an alien environment for those unfamiliar with mortality.

When my mother died, not long ago, after days of suffering and indignity, there was no wilful maltreatment. But nor, apart from one excellent Polish doctor, was there anyone to demystify what was happening to her or offer comfort. The helplessness, on her part and mine, left me certain that even a well-run hospital can be a horrible place to die.

That is not to say the NHS is all bad. Much of it is admirable. Shiny new GP surgeries and hospitals are a testament to private-finance-initiative deals and taxpayers’ largesse. Now, in the midst of recession, state funding is drying up and PFI schemes might more accurately be relabelled RIP. We are back to where it all began.

When New Labour took over, the NHS was flatlining amid protests over closed wards and patients stockpiled on trolleys. Lord Winston, enraged by his mother’s treatment, gave me an interview in which he lambasted a “deeply unsatisfactory” health service he regarded as “not as good as Poland’s”. In the fuss that ensued, Tony Blair promised many billions for the NHS.

Some money was spent wisely, some not. A plethora of performance indicators proved more or less useful. The current Health Secretary, Alan Johnson, has rarely been faced with public outrage. But, as he hinted to me recently, the good times were ending. It was “inconceivable” in a recession that growth levels would continue. In the near future, the NHS can expect no more than a rise in line with inflation.

Politicians have grown complacent over the years in which money filled the vacuum of radical ideas. Almost no expert favours a European social insurance model over a tax-funded system, and neither Mr Brown nor Mr Cameron has much updated Aneurin Bevan’s vision of an NHS free to all at the point of use (or freeish, after the introduction of top-up fees for those who can afford costly drugs).

It’s unfair to say there is no new thinking. The Government wants, for instance, to shift much hospital work back to the front line of primary care, which is sensible. There is, however, no sense of a fresh mission for uncertain times.

If Mr Brown has been remiss at shaping the NHS of the future, then Mr Cameron has proved much worse. Once the Tories were deemed most competent on health: voters, unimpressed by the Opposition’s lack of ideas, now put Labour ahead by eight per cent — a collapse that this week prompted Mr Cameron to tell his senior team that the NHS will be a “key campaign”.

While his policies, if any, remain opaque, the problems are clear. The population grows old, money is scarce, and rationing already rife as science throws up unaffordable marvels. Obesity and superbugs, such as those infecting Stafford’s wards, are modern plagues supplanting the cholera and typhoid that swept cities in the 19th century.

With such threats to public health, the “workhouse” of Stafford is more than an idle reference to Victorian blight. It is a warning that the hands of the clock may be spinning backwards for an NHS hooked on unaffordable doses of public money.

Stafford is, for now, a rare scandal whose enablers are not yet exposed. We know only that they lie somewhere on a spectrum reaching from ward staff to the Secretary of State. It seems clear, however, that patients were killed by the triple vaccine of reckless management, effete regulation and inhumanity. What greater indictment could there be of a service pledged to preside safely over birth and mercifully over death while assuaging all suffering in between?

Those with the blood of the helpless on their hands will, with luck, face some justice. Inquiries will report, and heads will roll. But, as the recession bites and pressures on the NHS multiply, no one should conclude that this story of balance-sheet manslaughter is unrepeatable.

Stafford has not only raised the ghosts of health care from a bygone age. It also offers an early diagnosis of the problems that may afflict tomorrow’s floundering NHS.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


University: Spain, Students Clash With Police in Barcelona

(ANSAmed) — BARCELONA, MARCH 18 — Several incidents took place today in the centre of Barcelona between police and students against university reforms. In the morning police forcibly cleared the vice-chancellorship buildings which had been occupied since November, arresting three students, said the Spanish press. Several hundreds of students blocked the Gran Via in the heart of Barcelona. The block was removed by several police charges. Around 500 students then gathered in front of the vice-chancellor’s offices and tried to reoccupy it, according to the online version of El Mundo. Anti-riot police intervened with force to remove the demonstrators. Several students were arrested. At least five police officers were injured in the clashes. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Water: Forum; Italy Presents ‘Po Valley’ Project

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, 18 MAR — The “Po Valley “ project, a well-known case of good management, is the example chosen by the Italian government for today’s presentation at the fifth Global Water Forum in Istanbul. Italy’s contribution will focus on three topics: financing water management, water culture and the management of river basins. The “Po Valley” project is an initiative of the Council of 13 Po Provinces — from Turin to the sea — coordinated and chaired by Gianluigi Boiardi, president of the Piacenza Province. Part of the National Strategic Framework 2007/2013, the project includes the provinces of Cuneo, Turin, Alessandria, Vercelli, Lodi, Pavia, Cremona, Mantova, Piacenza, Parma, Reggio Emilia, Ferrara, Rovigo, Piedmont, Lombardy, Veneto, Emilia Romagna, and more than 90 municipalities. The project, explained president Boiardi, has five objectives: improve safety for people living in the Po Valley; protect and enhance river areas; increase biodiversity and strengthen the ecological network; preserve the quality and quantity of water resources and support the use of the environmental and cultural-historic resources as well as river tourism. “Water management remains one of the most important problems for humankind and international cooperation dedicates an important part of its means to the definition and resolution of its health-, food-, social-, economic-, financial- and political problems” said Boiardi. “Water-related tensions continue to rise, particularly in Mediterranean countries, causing political conflicts. Access to water is a governance problem rather than a problem of resources”. “These systems are not only the responsibility of governments, but also of local authorities, the private sector and the community” Boiardi continued, adding that “the local systems are winning the challenge, and the Provinces which are showing a strong desire to put things in order and which have the vitality and commitment to share projects and methods which don’t squander the few available resources”. “Through the Council, the 13 provinces have learned to cooperate on an issue that brings people together, the Po, preparing an effective action plan for the river, Italy’s biggest water resource. The result” Boiardi concludes, “came in December 2007 when the CIPE decided to invest 180 million euros in the Po Valley project”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Balkans

Albania: Enlargement; EU to Allocate 60.9 Mln Euro

(ANSAmed) — TIRANA, MARCH 17 — The European Union will pay Albania 60.9 euros. According to the the Italian Foreign Trade Institute office in Tirana, the agreement signed by the European Commission and the Albanian government is part of the EU programme on resources for its enlargement. The Albanian Minister for Integration, Majlinda Bregu, said that the funds will be used to carry out 24 projects: from the reform of the country’s public administration to education and the development of new infrastructure. Another 3.1 million euro fund allocated by the European Commission will be used for the construction of a school, a laboratory to monitor the environment as well as of several roads in the Gerdec region, close to Tirana. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


EU: Expansion, Rehn to Merkel, No to the Stop for Balkans

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, MARCH 17 — Balkan hopes for joining the EU can’t be extinguished, because they are a “stability factor” for the entire area. The statement was made today by European Commissioner for Expansion, Olli Rehn, responding to a request from the German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party, the CDU, whose programme for the European elections includes a pause in the European Union’s expansion after Croatia is admitted. Rehn invited Germany to “not compromise a stability factor” for the Balkans, that is, the prospects of joining the EU. “It is a very difficult period from a political point of view, with the financial crisis, the recession, the coming European elections, and the ratification of the Lisbon treaty”, said Rehn. “But the EU, he added, can do a lot of things at the same time, and we can’t allow our precious work for the stability and the evolution of society in the Balkans to stop”. The adhesion of Croatia, the most advanced in the negotiations but currently blocked by a controversy over the border with Slovenia, is expected for 2010 or 2011. The other official candidates are Turkey and Macedonia, while Montenegro, Albania, Serbia and Bosnia are among the potential candidates. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Mediterranean Union

Arab League to Open Liaison Centre in Malta

(ANSAmed) — VALLETTA, MARCH 18 — The Arab League would establish a liaison centre in Malta to guarantee a long-term relationship and develop Arabic translation, the EU Commissioner for External Relations, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, was quoted as saying by the Kuwait News Agency. She was speaking in Cairo where former Foreign Minister Michael Frendo was special guest of the Secretary General of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, at a joint European Commission-Arab League cultural event at the historic Cairo Opera House. The event was jointly hosted with Ms Ferrero-Waldner and the Anna Lindh Foundation. Both Moussa and Ferrero-Waldner said the idea of the event developed as a result of the Malta initiative that led to the first ministerial meeting in Malta on February 11-12, 2008. They described the Malta meeting as “a cornerstone for enhanced Euro-Arab relations”, adopting a platform to develop further avenues of cooperation between the League of Arab States and its member states and the EU and its member states. Moussa thanked Frendo for the Malta initiative “for which he worked so hard and which he successfully achieved with great success”. He said the Malta initiative” has come to complement the Union for the Mediterranean”. Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner said the Cairo event reflected “our common appreciation of the growing partnership between Arab and European countries and their peoples”. Together with Mr Moussa, she signed an EU-Arab League Memorandum of Understanding to launch cooperation at various levels. This MOU was concluded as a result of the structured dialogue that continued between the European Commission and the Arab League Secretariat following the Malta meeting, the first-ever meeting of the Foreign Ministers of both organisations together with the Commission, the Council and the Arab League Secretariat in the history of the organisations. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Crisis: EU Auditors’ Court to Present Report on Med Banking

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, MARCH 18 — The European Court of Auditors is to hold a press briefing today on its Special Report on ‘Banking measures in the Mediterranean area in the context of the MEDA programme and previous protocols’. The Court’s report examines banking measures under the MEDA programmes and the previous protocols to determine whether: the ongoing projects were adequately monitored by the Commission and the European Investment Bank (EIB) and projects had achieved their objectives. A press release from the European Court of Auditors says the report makes a series of recommendations aimed at setting up a tailor-made evaluation and monitoring programme for banking measures, and emphasises the need for better coordination of the assistance work undertaken by the Community, the EIB and the other international/local partners.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


EU: Auditors Court, Lack of Checks in Med Countries Aid

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, MARCH 18 — The EU Commission and the European Investment bank have received a rap on the knuckles from the European Court of Auditors over financial help handed out as part of Euromediterranean cooperation between 1996 and 2006 (the Meda programme) to the tune of around 1 billion euro. “The Commission relied wholly on the work carried out by the EIB without performing any monitoring,” said the report presented today in Brussels which is the result of the audit carried out by the European Court of Auditors in 2006 and 2007 with visits to Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco, countries which together received 70% of the aid via banking measures from the Meda programme. The auditors focused on three types of banking activities financed by the EU and carried out by the EIB: technical assistance through FEMIP (Facility for Euro-Mediterranean Investment and Partnership), interest debt relief for loans by the EIB and operations on risk capital. Until 2005, explains the report, the level of monitoring on the part of the EIB was inadequate. There was also a lack of coordination between the EIB’s activities and those of the Commission, in particular at the local level. Finally not enough importance was given to environmental monitoring. In general, as far as reaching the objectives set out by the project were concerned, the Court said that the technical assistance projects “substantially reached the objectives established”. Its assessment of the recipients of the interest debt relief and operations on risk capital was different though: the objectives “were only partly reached”. An example of the success of these financial measures, which combined technical assistance and operations on risk capital, was the support given to a bank in Egypt, which improved its procedures and policies through the financing of six projects in various sectors costing more than 7 million euro in total. The Court’s was critical of an unfinished project for a plant in the gulf of Gabes in Tunisia, to prevent pollutants from being poured into the sea. The project began in 1999 and suffered several delays, and the latest deadlines for setting up the structures have been fixed for between the end of 2009 and the middle of 2010. Costs have risen from and estimated 107 million euro at the start of the project to 235 million euro for storage and the network of pipes, with an additional 165 million euros to transfer the plant. And this is without counting the environmental damage: if the project keeps to its current timetable, the Court of Auditors believes that the delays will have caused between 35 and 64 million tonnes of phosphogypsum to be poured into the sea. The recommendations to the EU Commission for the new European Neighbourhood Policy Initiative (ENPI), after the Med programme ended in 2007. According to the European Court of Auditors a made to measure programme to evaluate and monitor banking activities is needed, as well as guarantees over the coordination between the Community, the EIB and other international and local partners. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


EU: Tuscany Proposes Mediterranean Regional Cooperation

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, MARCH 17 — The Regional council of Tuscany today proposed the construction of a platform for Mediterranean cooperation between EU regions and countries on the southern shore, to concentrate investments coming from different financial sources and thus avoid the fragmentation of initiatives. The objective is to ‘create synergy between the different research, cohesion and neighbourliness programmes run by the EU regions and countries in the Mediterranean basin”, said councillor for research for the Tuscany region, Eugenio Baronti. The “Healthy Food for Life” project, promoted by the University of Pisa with 27 partners, including the regional councils of Tuscany, Apulia, French region Paca, Belgium’s Vallonia, Spain’s Navarra, Catalonia and Madrid, as well as Greece, Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt — could serve as a departure point to stabilise, enlarge and define the partnership project and become an interlocutor for the European Commission, to promote concrete actions for the sustainable development of the Mediterranean basin. EU-Med cooperation in the science and technology’ sector is the real transversal axis with respect to the various EU policies in the Mediterranean: the seventh framework programme, the neighbourliness policies, cross-border cooperation, and bilateral agreements. However at the moment these networks “are unable to concentrate on concrete activities. So we asked ourselves how to overcome the risk of fragmentation of initiatives and satisfy the need for a better concentration of investments which come from different financial sources”, said vice-rector of the University of Pisa, Paolo Miccoli. With this in mind the regions recognise the need to promote innovations which involve all the players. The appeal was therefore made to those European regions and those in the southern Mediterranean who are already working to promote sustainable development, by using ever greater elements of flexibility, liberty and autonomy. Above all the appeal is to those who are providing innovations to make their internationalisation processes more efficient and attractive on a regional Mediterranean scale. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Med: Dastoli, Overcome UPM Stalemate as Europe With Ecsc

(ANSAmed) — ROME, MARCH 18 — “To apply the methods which the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) were based on to Euro- Mediterranean cooperation” in order to overcome “the paralysis” which the Mediterranean Union (UPM) seems to have fallen into, even though it was formed less than one year ago. This was the proposal which Pier Virgilio Dastoli, Director of the European Commission Delegation in Italy, launched a few days after the conclusion of the Genoa Forum. An idea which came out of that Forum, which was organised by the same delegation and the Liguria Region, and which Dastoli has taken up “in the manner of a provocation”. To borrow the idea launched by Jean Monnet in 1950, of a European system which would go beyond intergovernmental dialogue, using inspiration from the lessons of federalism, would mean setting up “a high authority with limited but real power in the sectors in which Mediterranean countries have an interest (energy, environment, transport, mobility)”. An authority “whose decisions are binding for all but which acts under the control of both the Council of Ministers and the Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly. Alongside the high authority, the Council and the Parliamentary Assembly it would be opportune to create a committee which would bring together the representatives of the social partners and of civil society. As Robert Schuman said, this will not be set up all at once but will arise from concrete accomplishments which will above all create a de facto solidarity”, summarised Dastoli. A pragmatic and gradual road to overcoming the evidence that the institutional system of the UPM “is paralysed, the six projects accepted by the heads of State and government are having problems taking off and that the renewed cooperation risks coming to a standstill like the partnership which was set up in Barcelona in November 1995”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

North Africa

Algeria: British Council Trains 1,000 English Teachers

(ANSAmed) — ALGIERS , MARCH 17 — One thousand Algerian English teachers will participate in a special training programme set up in Algeria by the British Council. The programme created in collaboration with the Algerian Ministry of Education, as reported today in the Algerian press, will finish in 2010 and includes meetings in Algiers, Constantine and Annaba. Many centres for school inspectors and teachers have already been organised in various cities in the country including Batna and Setif (in the east), and Tlemcen (in the west). Class managment, developing communication skills and correcting mistakes are the central points in the training programme being offered by the experts from the British institute. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Health: Algeria Opens First Artificial Insemination Centre

(ANSAmed) — ALGIERS, MARCH 18 — The first public centre for artificial insemination in Algeria will be open in 15 days, as the Algerian Health Minister Said Barkat announced, according to APS. “The national centre for artificial insemination” said Barkat “will be opened in the coming 15 days in the Nafissa Hamoud (formerly Parnet) Hospital in Algiers”. The director of the hospital, Mohamed Tahli, explained that “a new service for medical emergencies, a pharmaceutical laboratory and an intensive care unit” will also be built. The North African country already has some private clinics for artificial insemination. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

IDF to Probe Soldiers’ Cast Lead Accounts

The IDF will investigate reports by graduates of the Oranim-Yitzhak Rabin Pre-military Academy of violations of the IDF Code of Ethics during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza.

The testimonies include reports of soldiers shooting at people known to be noncombatants, evacuating families to zones the military had defined as no-entry zones and where it therefore would open fire at any person entering, vandalizing homes, and abuse of humanitarian aid.

The accounts were first published in a brochure put out by the Kiryat Tivon-based academy, and then its head, Dani Zamir, turned the material over to the office of IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi.

The military advocate general, Brig.-Gen. Avichai Mandelblit, has instructed the Military Police’s Criminal Investigative Division to investigate the soldiers’ claims, the IDF announced on Thursday.

           — Hat tip: KGS[Return to headlines]


Israel: Shalit, Harsher Conditions for Hamas Prisoners

(ANSAmed) — JERUSALEM, MARCH 17 — According to well informed sources, Israel is examining a series of legal measures to toughen up living conditions for Palestinian prisoners linked to Hamas in order to bring them closer to those experienced by soldier Ghilad Shalit, whom Hamas is holding prisoner in Gaza. Apparently the measures being examined aim to exert pressure on Hamas after the current failure of negotiations to free Shalit. It also seems that, should Shalit not be set free, Israel will continue to open passes to the Gaza strip the bare minimum needed to avoid a humanitarian crisis in Palestine. It also seems that Israel agreed to free 320 of the 450 prisoners sentenced over the killing of Israelis, whom Hamas is still asking in return for Shalit’s freedom. It is understood that Israel refused to set free prisoners with dozens of life sentences and deemed responsible for the bloodiest attacks in Israel since the explosion of the second intifada. The heads of the security services believe that releasing them would have serious consequences for State security. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Scottish Muslims Guard Synagogue

“We wish you to know that the Muslim community stand full square with you in revulsion and horror at this vandalism,” Imrie said.

CAIRO — Scottish Muslims are offering to provide security for a synagogue in Edinburgh, the capital city of Scotland, following an attack on the Jewish worship place, the Scotsman reported on Thursday, March 19.

“We trust you have adequate security arrangements in place, in line with places of worship across the country,” Ken Imrie, chairman of the Scottish Islamic Foundation, said in a letter to Rabbi David Rose of the Edinburgh Hebrew Congregation.

“If not, such is our strength of feeling on this matter, we would wish to physically guard the synagogue ourselves.”

The synagogue, which serves an estimated 700-strong local Jewish community, came under attack last week.

Two men were arrested over the assault, which left several window panes smashed.

The assault came amid a reported increase in attacks on Jewish interests following the recent Israeli war on the besieged Gaza Strip, home to some 1.6 million people.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]


Shalit: Hamas Threatens New Kidnappings

(ANSAmed) — TEL AVIV — While negotiations for an exchange of prisoners between Israel and Hamas are ticking over following the Israeli government’s dramatic assembly yesterday, Palestinian fundamentalists have once again threatened to kidnap Israeli soldiers who would be held together with Shalit, the corporal captured by them in June 2006. In an interview on the Palestinese-Info website, Hamas parliamentarian Mushir al-Masri has confirmed that his organisation’s aim is to free all the Palestinians held in Israel. “The capture of soldiers is the only way to release Palestinian prisoners, especially those condemned to long prison sentences”, said al-Masri. Al-Masri then warned Israel that if it should linger over negotiations for prisoner exchanges, Hamas could “close the matter”. He warned that Shalit “will not see the light of day again” if Hamas’ demands are not answered in full. Osama al-Muzaini, another Hamas leader, explained that in exchange for Shalit, Israel would have to arrange the staggered release of 1,000 prisoners: 450 initially, followed by a further 550. Al-Muzaini repeated that Hamas is completely unable to accept the Israelis’ request that a portion of them should be expelled abroad or confined to Gaza (if they are originally from the West Bank). In a statement sent to the Maan press agency, Hamas stated that “Palestinians would rather die in their own land than live elsewhere”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Middle East

Emirates: Quotas to Have More Women in Parliament

(by Alessandra Antonelli) (ANSAmed) — DUBAI, MARCH 17 — The present is rather rosy for Emirates women, but the future could be even more so, due to the introduction of “pink quotas” which will mean even more participation by women in the political life of the country. However, it was not a women’s rights organisation which suggested the idea, but a study by the Ministry for parliamentary affairs and the Dubai School of Government. “Women in Parliament and in UAE politics”, the paper proposed as a working tool for legislators, while fully respecting “political correctness”, is not recommending “pink” quotas so much as “gender-neutral quotas”, which would mean that neither sex would fall below a ceiling established for each one. “When we talk about the UAE” said minister for Parliamentary affairs, Anwar Gargash, at the presentation of the study, “we talk about the tallest skyscraper, the most luxurious hotel and the biggest airport. Things which we are proud of, but apart from these we have other great success stories, starting with the story of Emirates women”. Their success stories come from all areas of life: from politics to diplomacy, from machine shops to the cockpit, from the law courts to hospitals, Emirates women are present in almost all professions. Including astronauts. 40% of top managerial positions are held by women, managing total pink business assets of over 2.5 billion euros. Women hold 50% of ministerial and federal government posts, 65% of posts in the health sector and 80% in education. The first woman to get to the top of Emirates politics was Lubna Al Qasimi, a minister since 2004 and currently in charge of the economy. No women were elected in the 2006 elections, the first which were open to women, but today just three years later, thanks to a policy of open support for women, there are four females in a government of 24 members, while the nine women MPs make up 22.5% of Parliament. Some 92% of young women in the Arab Emirates are enrolled on a university course — one of the highest percentages worldwide — and it is easy to see that there will be a further increase in women’s presence in the world of work, politics and in the economy. Tradition and conservatives permitting, that is. Not surprisingly, the study shows that pink quotas are still seen more as a positive tool by women than by men, at 81% of women compared with 57% of men. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


EU-Turkey: Rehn, Apply Reform on Women’s Rights

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, MARCH 19 — Women’s employment, violence against women, crimes of honour, forced marriages. These are the key issues in which Ankara must make progress according to European commissioner for Enlargement Olli Rehn, who pointed out the gap between reality and the legal reforms adopted. At a seminar in Brussels, Rehn stated that “Turkey needs to make a greater effort to guarantee the true observance of women’s rights in all of the country’s various sectors and areas”. According to Rehn the issue of women’s employment is “still a priority challenge for this country” where women represent a quarter of the entire workforce. The Commissioner said that “this is the lowest ratio among EU and OECD member countries”. Speaking about violence against women, which is still widespread in Turkey, Rehn remarked that the EU is financing 8 homes for women who fall victim to domestic violence. He thinks that “Turkey has made significant reforms to increase basic freedoms, but there is still a lot of work to do”. And women’s rights “constitute a priority for member States and for the Commission” in terms of Ankara’s future membership of the European Union. (ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Jonathan Kay: a Response to My (Many, Many) Tamil-Canadian Critics

Yesterday, I put up a blog post (subsequently re-purposed into an editorial) denouncing the pro-Tamil-Tiger protestors who were part of the demonstration that paralyzed downtown Toronto on Monday.

“The rally that took place in Toronto on Monday was not just, as organizers claimed, an expression of support for Tamil civilians in war-torn Sri Lanka,” I wrote. “Many of the participants carried flags of the Tamil Tigers, a terrorist group that practices suicide bombings and abducts children to use as soldiers. (In 2006, Canada’s federal government officially designated the Tamil Tigers a terrorist group, a move that criminalized the group’s fund-raising efforts in this country.) Some of the banners displayed on Monday also depicted Tiger leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, a wanted mass murderer who personally authorizes the acts of terrorism the group has committed over the last three decades … Imagine for a moment, if the protestors had instead been Arab or Muslim. Would Stephen Harper, Michael Ignatieff, Dalton McGuinty and David Miller be silent if 120,000 supporters of Hamas and Hezbollah paralyzed downtown Toronto as they chanted slogans and waved flags praising groups that slaughter Jews? … The Sinhalese Sri Lankan victims of Tamil Tiger terrorism are no less deserving of support than the Jewish residents of Ashkelon or Sderot.”

Following publication of the blog post, I received upwards of 100 emails from angry readers — most of them self-identified Tamil Canadians — who found my comments ignorant, bigoted, offensive — or all three.

While I cannot comprehensively summarize all my naysayers’ criticisms, let me try to give a thumbnail rundown of their three main arguments:

(#1) The Tamil Tigers aren’t terrorists. They are freedom fighters.

(#2) The Tamil Tigers may resort to rough tactics, but what the Sri Lankan government does to Tamil civilians is worse. Colombo’s forces are the “real terrorists.”

(#3) The Tamil Tigers, unlike Islamist terrorists, have no designs on Canada or other Western nations. Their dispute is with Sri Lanka’s government only — and so any comparison with al-Qaeda et al is unfair.

I don’t find any of these arguments particularly convincing. But so many Tamil-Canadian readers emailed me — often with long, carefully detailed arguments — that I feel the need to respond to them in some way…

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Jordan: Water Canal Reopens, Oil Contamination Under Control

(ANSAmed) — AMMAN, MARCH 18 — Jordan resumed water pumping from Israel after officials confirmed a recent Israeli-born oil contamination is under control, water ministry official said today. The ministry reopened the Adasiya weir, which provides the kingdom’s man water canal with water to supply the capital with 32% of its needs after lab tests showed contamination has been controlled. The opening o the canal comes almost one week after its closure when the 110 km King Abdullah canal was contaminated with oil coming from Lake Tabrias in Israel through the Yarmouk River, said an official from water ministry. Minister of Agriculture and acting Minister of Water and Irrigation Saeed Masri said a statement run by the Jordan News Agency, Petra, the decision was taken following extensive lab tests on water from this canal which proved water was clean and safe. Last Thursday, water impoverished Jordan suspended pumping of water from the kingdom’s main canal that supplies the capital due to oil contamination. Jordan gets around 60 million cubic meter of water every year from Israel under the 1994 Wadi Araba peace treaty. King Abdullah canal provides the capital with at least 35% of its water needs after it receives the water from the Israeli side. Jordan is one of the poorest countries in the world in terms of water with the share of an individual less by ten times compared to counterparts in Europe, according to figures by the ministry of energy. Officials also say high birth rate adds further pressure on natural resources and limits the kingdom’s ability to adapt to scare resources of water and energy. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Pakistan: Ex Al-Qaeda Aide Rebuts Syria’s Al-Assad on Obama

Islamabad, 18 March (AKI) — By Syed Saleem Shahzad — Syrian president Bashar al-Assad is wrong to be optimistic about the the prospects for a change in attitude by the United States during the presidency of Barack Obama, a former close aide of Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden and ex-intelligence official, Khalid Khawaja, told Adnkronos International (AKI).

Khawaja was reacting to comments made by al-Assad in an interview with Italian daily newspaper La Repubblica in which he said he expected better ties with the US under the Obama administration.

“To me, Obama, after George W. Bush is as as much of a change as Asif Ali Zardari after Pervez Musharraf,” said Khawaja.

“There are other forces who actually control all these faces,” Khawaja added cryptically.

“There is no need to live under any illusion that Obama will be any better compared to Bush. I would expect the worst rather than any change for the better,” Khawaja said.

Due to his Muslim middle name (Hussein), Obama might try to dispel any expectations of a softer stance towards Muslims, he argued. “This is very well reflected in policies that are even tougher those of the Bush era,” he said.

Another example is Obama’s order to close down the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, he said.

“They are talking about closing down Guantanamo bay but there is no mention of secret jails all over the world.

“There are a huge number of forced disappearances of people who are languishing in US secret jails, and there is no word on them,” Khawaja said.

He dismissed Obama’s announcement of an August 2010 deadline for the withdrawal of US combat troops from Iraq as “posturing”.

“He only changed the priorities,” he said.

“They targeted Iraqi oil wealth which they have looted and now their focus is Pakistan.”

US unmanned drone attacks along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border have killed more than 340 people since August 2008.

Six attacks have been blamed on unmanned US aircraft since Obama came to power.

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


Saudi Arabia: Vice Cop Enters No-Go Area to Arrest Fleeing Woman

JEDDAH: A member of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice barged into a women’s professional training center in Al-Sultana district of Madinah, chasing after a young woman who went into the center to escape the pursuing man.

According to police, the commission member saw the woman in a car with a young man. The man was arrested on khulwa (illegal seclusion) charges, but the woman fled into the center, hoping the commission member would not pursue her.

Eyewitnesses said the commission member pushed his way into the center, grabbed the woman by her hair and dragged her out. “The women were horrified,” said an eyewitness who did not want to be identified. “We called the police.”

Muhsin Al-Radadi, Madinah police spokesman, said the owner of the women’s center has filed a complaint against the commission with the police. The commission has responded with a complaint against the center, said Al-Radadi.

The center’s owner said she would take necessary action to “protect our rights.”

A source at the local precinct for the commission said a report would be released after an inquiry into the incident.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Syria: Assad, I Trust Obama and Will Mediate With Tehran

(ANSAmed) — ROME, MARCH 18 — In an interview with La Repubblica, the Syrian president, Basharar-al-Assad, has spoken of his hopes for the future with the new US president. ‘After the dark hours of the Bush Administration, we can once again start to hope”, he said. According to Assad, the principal bone of contention has been resolved with the disengagement of troops in Iraq. ‘We can work together for stability in Iraq, setting up a political process that will prevent the break-up of the country”. As for Iran, the Syrian president explained that so far he had only received ‘an invitation to cover a role”, whilst the main route was that of collaboration, because ‘Iran is an important country, whether we like or not”. Syria is playing a role in the mediation between Hezbollah and Hamas. ‘Now we must have a truce with Israel, a part of which entails the end of the embargo on the Gaza Strip. The reference terms for peace are clear to everyone,” he assured, ‘it’s just a matter of wanting to apply them”. However, Assad envisages some doubt on this latter point, “I am not concerned about Netanyahu’s thinking but rather about Israeli society’s swing to the right”. Finally the Syrian president outlined the emerging of new diplomatic players, such as Turkey and Sarkozy’s France, ‘which today has a vital role” but ‘ultimately” he would like to meet with Obama, ‘not for a souvenir photo,” he concluded, ‘but I hope to see him to talk”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Tehran Dominated by Uncertainty Over Upcoming Elections

The moderate and reformist Khatami has withdrawn, supporting the pragmatic Musavi. He may be able to respond to the country’s economic challenges better than Ahmadinejad.

Tehran (AsiaNews/Agencies) — In the Iranian capital and in the entire country, there is widespread uncertainty over the elections next June 12, after the moderate Mohammed Khatami withdrew in favor of Hossein Musavi.

One month ago, Khatami’s decision to participate in the presidential elections drew attention all over the world, recalling his two-term presidency from 1997-2005, open to dialogue with the United States and the Arab world. But on the evening of March 16, he withdrew from the competition to support Hossein Musavi, a “capable organizer,” and to reduce the criticisms of those who “sow discord in the camp of the reformers.”

Until now, in the camp of the moderates, the challengers to the ultraconservative current president Ahmadinejad were Khatami and former president of the Majlis (parliament) Mehdi Karroubi. But both run the risk of losing, given the influence of the conservatives and the support for Ahmadinejad from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

According to analysts, this prospect has driven the two to look to a moderate candidate, but one favorably viewed by some of the conservative fringes, which Musavi is.

Hossein Musavi, 67, was foreign minister at the beginning of the Iran-Iraq war, in 1980, and after this became prime minister. He was one of Khatami’s advisers during his presidency. After retiring from politics, he continued his work as an architect and an academic. Many observers call him a pragmatist and a capable administrator. For this reason, it is likely that many voters will support him in the economic crisis that is paralyzing the country. Musavi is nonetheless a tenacious proponent of the Islamic system, and known as an anti-American, but he is more open to reform than Ahmadinejad. Precisely these characteristics, so close to Ahmadinejad, could favor him. In fact, although the current president enjoys the support of Khamenei, he does not have much support among the Shiite clergy or the Guardians of the Revolution (pasdaran), given his failures in the economy and foreign policy.

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


Terrorism: Yemen; Koreans Targeted Again, Attack Failed

(ANSAmed) — SANA’A, MARCH 18 — A suicide bomber has tried to hit a delegation of South Korean investigators this morning in Yemen. The delegation is in Yemen to investigate the attack in which four South Koreans were killed on Sunday March 15. The only victim of today’s attack was the bomber himself, reported Yemenite security sources. The bomber was waiting for the two off-road vehicles with the Koreans on board along the road that links the capital Sanàa to the airport. When the cars arrived, the attacker approached them and blew himself up. The windshields were shattered but nobody was injured. Last Sunday a suicide attacker blew himself up close to a group of South Korean tourists on a hill near the historic city of Shibam, 800km south-east of Sanàa. Four tourists and a Yemeni guide died in the attacked, another four tourists and one Yemeni were injured. Local investigators suspect Al Qaeda, as the movement has been very active in the country for some time. The attack in Shibam was the third since 2007 in which tourists were killed. In July of that year eight Spaniards and two local drivers died in an explosion in Marib. In January 2008 two Belgian tourists were killed in an ambush in Wadi Hadramout. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Russia

Arabs Are World’s Fastest Learners of Russian Language

(ANSAmed) — CAIRO, MARCH 18 — Russian language experts said Arabs were the world’s fastest and greatest learners of the Russian language and the largest number of Russian language speakers in the Middle East and North Africa were in Egypt. Experts at the international conference for Russian language teachers, currently in session in Cairo, said although most countries around the world regard Russian as a difficult language, this is not the case with the Arabs because their language is even more difficult. The biggest and only problem facing Arabs in learning Russian is the written part because of the different alphabet, but they have no problems with the spoken part, they said. The conference is organized to discuss ways of promoting the Russian language in North African and Middle East countries. Interest in learning the language declined with the demise of the former Soviet Union. But the interest returned as the new Russia prospered, Egyptian-Russian ecomomic relations improved and the number of tourists visiting Egypt rose. Up to two million Russians visited Hurghada and Sharm el Sheikh last year. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Medvedev Steers Religions Toward Young People, But Blocks Jehovah’s Witnesses

The Russian president is involving the traditional confessions in programs on behalf of young people. The Kremlin wants to reinforce relations with the Orthodox, make the Patriarch of Moscow a point of reference for all religions, and attribute a strong political value to his position. Jehovah’s Witnesses accused of social isolation.

Moscow (AsiaNews/Agencies) — In order to instill moral and religious values in young people, President Medvedev will personally lead the Council on Cooperation with Religious Associations.

It will be attended by the president of the Council of Muftis, Ravil’ Gajnutdin, chief rabbi Berl Lazar, and the president of the traditional Buddhists, Damba Ajušeev. The Orthodox delegation will have the most extensive representation, and will even include Patriarch Kirill himself, metropolitan archbishops Juvenalij and Kliment, Archbishop Aleksandr, head of the youth department, the rector of the Moscow Theological Academy, Evgenij, and Bishop Feofilakt, head of cooperation with the religious associations of Moscow.

The head of the Kremlin has affirmed that the young generations must rediscover their religious roots after the vacuum of values generated by the Soviet era, and reinforced during the 1990’s. For the president, the lack of moral points of reference especially affects the age group between 14 and 30, which represents about a fourth of the overall population. In the Year of Youth, which is being celebrated in 2009, the state wants to develop a more effective youth policy, taking advantage of the collaboration of religious associations on both the federal and regional level, and continuing the cooperation already established in the area of the family.

For various commentators and experts, Medvedev’s statements on the importance of religion in the life of the country and his direct involvement with various representatives of the traditional confessions document the intention of the Kremlin to take a step forward in relations between the state and the Orthodox Church, to confirm the Patriarch of Moscow as a point of reference for all the religions in the Federation, and to attribute a strong political value to his position. Deacon Andrej Kuraev, a famous and very influential theologian, has called the intensification of relations between the state and the Orthodox Church a “resumption of the Byzantine harmony.”

But while a new and lasting association seems to have begun between the Patriarchate and the Kremlin, the situation is very different for many of the other religions present in the Federation. In February, the attorney general of the Federation sent the administrative committee of the Jehovah’s Witnesses a letter accusing the members of the Russian community of “violations of the law,” “abstention from military service,” and “social isolation,” behaviors that “evoke negative attitudes on the part of the populace and traditional Russian confessions.”

The representatives of the Jehovah’s Witnesses reject the accusations, and say that this is just the latest act of violence against them on the part of the authorities. Appealing to the Russian Constitution and the European Court on Human Rights, they complain of systematic violation of their religious freedom and civil rights, which has so far led to the opening of more than 45 legal procedures against their communities scattered throughout the country. The Jehovah’s Witnesses reject the accusation of sectarianism lodged against them by the Russian authorities, and respond by denouncing illegal arrests, confiscations, searches, and detentions against the faithful and their property.

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


Russia’s Jewish Community Fears for Its Future, Foreign Missions in Jeopardy

Two rabbis are expelled for conducting missionary activities on a tourist visa. Medvedev claims he does not want to interfere in religious affairs. Justice Ministry announces new law to regulate foreign missionary activity.

Moscow (AsiaNews/Agencies) — Russia’s Jewish community is concerned for its future. “It is a very depressing signal for us,” said Berel Lazar, chief rabbi of Russia. “Jews have begun to fear for the future of their community in Russia for the first time in many years.”

What concerned Lazar (pictured here with Russian President Medvedev) was the deportation of Rabbi Zvi Hershcovich of Stavropol and Rabbi Yisroel Silberstein of Primorye.

The two clergymen are US citizens in Russia on a tourist visa where they performed missionary activities without the proper residency papers for anyone entering the Russian Federation for religious purposes.

Both rabbis said that without their presence certain Jewish communities would be without guidance.

“The case is greatly complicated by the fact that the list of specialties for receiving workers’ visas does not include clergy,” the Federal Jewish National and Cultural Authority said.

From 1998 to 2003, 30 religious leaders were thrown out of Russia, Jews but also Catholics and Protestants.

The issue of visas for foreign clergymen has been highly controversial. With Putin in the Kremlin and Aleksij II at the helm of the Russian Orthodox Church visa, visa renewals have been a tool in the hands of Russian authorities to rid the Russian federation of unwanted missionaries, whatever their religion.

The year 2002 was the annus horribilis when several Catholic priests were expelled on a ambiguous charge of proselytism. They included the parish priests of Vladimir (Fr Stefano Caprio), Jaroslavl’ (Fr Stanislaw Krajnjak), and Rostov-on-Don (Fr Eduard Mackewicz), plus the bishop of the Siberian diocese of Saint Joseph in Irkutsk, Mgr Jerzy Mazur.

Despite claims by President Medvedev of not wanting to interfere in religious affairs, his decisions to accentuate the connection between the Kremlin and the Orthodox Church and some actions by the Justice Ministry towards religion and minority Christian groups have raised fears that it might be like 2002 all over. There are fears that actions designed to buttress the legitimate primacy of Orthodoxy might restrict religious freedom for other communities of believers.

A few days after the deportation of Zilbershtein and Hershcovich, on 12 March, the Russian Justice Ministry announced a draft bill to regulate missionary activities.

To “begin with, we shall define the term of missionary activity,” said Sergej Miluškin, head of the Non-commercial Organisations Department at the Russian Justice Ministry.

The bill shall also stipulate the conditions for missionary activity and the rules of administrative liability for unlawful missionary outreach.

The new bill will address situations like those of Zilbershtein and Hershcovich.

Foreigners who preach in Russia on a tourist visa should expect deportation for violating the immigration law and a big fine, he said.

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

South Asia

Afghanistan: Border Police Gain New Skills From Italian Task Force

Herat, 17 March (AKI) — Afghan customs officials have successfully completed a training course sponsored by the Italian government designed to stop the movement of drugs and illegal immigrants in Afghanistan. The course run by the Italian finance police or Guardia di Finanza in the western province of Herat was conducted under the auspices of Task Force ‘Grifo’.

The Italian regional commander in charge of the NATO-led ISAF force in the west of the country, Brig. General Paolo Serra, attended the ceremony to mark the end of the course.

“Your action aimed at checking the passage of people and goods through airports will contribute to the development of internal security in Afghanistan,” he said.

Task force ‘Grifo’ has been operating in Afghanistan since 2006 with the objective of educating local border police about drug laws, contraband, clandestine immigration, drug and arms trafficking in a bid to improve the country’s border defence.

The task force was composed of more than 15 officials who worked with 412 officials and agents belonging to the Afghan Border Police and other agencies.

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


Afghanistan: Italian Army Gives Gps Devices and Maps to Police

Herat, 18 March (AKI) — The Italian military has donated satellite navigation devices or GPS (Global Positioning System), maps and rechargeable batteries to Afghan policemen in the western province of Herat. The materials were distributed at the end of a topography training course for 25 policemen held by soldiers from the Italian army’s provincial command in Herat.

The policemen were drawn from all of Herat’s districts. The the course aimed to increase their knowledge of the area’s topography and train them in the use of equipment to orient themselves geographically.

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


Indonesia: 15 Years for Terror Suspects?

JAKARTA — INDONESIAN prosecutors demanded 15 years jail on Thursday for three Islamists alleged to be part of militant cell that killed a priest and plotted attacks on Christians and foreigners. Defendants Agustyawarman, Heri Purwanto and Sugianto are among 10 suspects arrested in Palembang, South Sumatra who were part of an alleged cell of the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) network.

Prosecutor Firmansyah told the South Jakarta district court the men were ‘guilty of acts of terror’ and admitted to making bombs for use in attacks and transferring them between JI safehouses.

Purwanto was involved in the 2007 murder of Christian teacher Dago Simamora and also an attack on Christian priest Yosua Winardi with a hammer, Firmansyah said.

Both Purwanto and Agustyawarman plotted attacks on other priests, he said.

Agustyawarman was also involved in a plan to bomb a backpacker cafe on Sumatra island in 2006 which was aborted on fears of Muslim casualties, Firmansyah said.

Singaporean Mohammad Hasan bin Saynudin, the self-confessed leader of the cell, told the court previously that he had met Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and had planned to bomb Singapore’s Changi airport. — AFP

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Pakistan: Rageh Omaar on Why the West Should Fear the Taliban and Al-Qaeda’s Hold on Pakistan

[Comments from JD: Warning: Article has some graphic descriptions.]

Stronghold of both the Taliban and al-Qaeda, the wild and lawless tribal border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan forms the crucial battleground in the war on terror. Rageh Omaar reports from the front line.

More and more of Pakistan is slipping beyond the control of the government. As the Lahore attack showed, even the centres of major cities are vulnerable. Nowhere is the absence of the rule of law more evident than the north-west of Pakistan. The region is officially known as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, a clunky but accurate description of this vast expanse of nearly 11,000 square miles, home to an estimated seven million people whose first loyalty is not to Pakistan but to their tribal community. As its name indicates, this region is nominally administered by the Pakistani government but it has been autonomous and unconquered for centuries.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Thailand: Troops Killed in Thai South

YALA (Thailand) — SUSPECTED separatist militants killed four soldiers in an ambush in troubled southern Thailand on Thursday, while a female Muslim rights activist has been shot dead, police said. The rangers were on patrol in a pick-up truck in Pattani province when insurgents triggered a roadside bomb by mobile phone and then opened fire on the vehicle, said police.

Separately police announced the death one week ago of activist Laila Paa Daoh Itae, 45 — the fourth member of the same family killed in the Muslim-majority region in the past five years.

Laila was ambushed by suspected militants while riding a motorcycle home in restive Yala province last Thursday. She was rushed to hospital but died during the following night.

More than 3,600 people have been killed during five years of violence in predominantly Buddhist Thailand’s southernmost provinces near the Malaysian border.

The rebels regularly target anyone suspected of collaborating with Thai authorities including security forces as well as civilian workers, such as teachers and government officials.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva last week approved the deployment of an extra 4,000 soldiers in the deep south, saying they would help improve relations with the local population.

Tensions have simmered in the region since Thailand annexed the mainly Malay sultanate in 1902. — AFP

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Thailand: Inert Bombs ‘Intended to Discredit’ MP

SURAT THANI : Five bombs planted at four locations in two districts were defused yesterday in what has been described as an attempt to discredit Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban.

The minister, a Surat Thani MP and native of the province, is in charge of national security.

The first bomb was spotted by a private security guard on Tuesday morning at the base of a high-voltage power pole on the inbound lane of Chonnakasem road leading to downtown Surat Thani.

The guard alerted local police when he saw a blinking light on the black cylinder.

A bomb disposal squad arrived about 8am and found the bomb was made of two black-coloured fire extinguishers welded together. The containers were stuffed with diesel-soaked ammonium nitrate, dynamite and a detonator cap, and were wired to a mobile phone.

The second and third bombs were discovered behind a large billboard bearing the images of Mr Suthep, other Surat Thani Democrats and key Democrat figures at the three-way Khoo Ha junction in tambon Katae of Kanchanadit district at 7am yesterday.

The bombs — two plastic pipes stuffed with explosives weighing about 2kg each — were placed in a travel bag about two metres from the billboard under a high-voltage power line.

These bombs were also connected to a mobile phone.

Around noon yesterday, the fourth and fifth bombs were spotted about 300m apart on Chonnakasem road near Isaan Ruan Luang restaurant, but they were not connected to a detonator.

Surat Thani police chief Thesa Siriwatho said the bombs were planted to have a psychological effect as the SIM cards in the mobile phones had not been activated for service. The bombs were also placed in conspicuous positions rather than hidden.

Theerakit Wangmuthitakul, chairman of the Surat Thani Chamber of Commerce, said the bombs may have been meant to embarrass Mr Suthep who represents the southern province and is responsible for national security.

He said it would seem they were meant to prove Mr Suthep could not provide security in his hometown.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Far East

2 US Journalists Detained in N Korea

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korean soldiers detained two American journalists near the country’s border with China, South Korean news reports and a South Korean missionary said Thursday.

The journalists — Laura Ling and Euna Lee, reporters for former Vice President Al Gore’s San Francisco-based online media outlet Current TV — were taken into custody Tuesday, a missionary who spoke to them earlier that day told The Associated Press.

The Rev. Chun Ki-won of the Seoul-based Durihana Mission said by phone from Washington that he was told that the two women were detained with a guide hired in China to assist them. Chun, a South Korean activist who helps North Korean refugees seek asylum, refused to reveal his sources.

In Washington, an official said the State Department was aware of reports that two American citizens were taken into custody near the Tumen River in northeast North Korea.

“We are working with the Chinese government officials in the area to ascertain the whereabouts of the Americans in question,” press officer Fred Lash said. “We also have been in touch with North Korean authorities to express our concern about the situation.”

He said U.S. officials were in contact with the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital. It represents Washington because the U.S. does not have direct relations with North Korea.

In Beijing, where North Korean Premier Kim Yong Il was meeting with senior Chinese government officials, Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said officials were “investigating the issue involving relevant U.S. nationals on the border between China” and North Korea.

South Korean media first reported the detentions early Thursday, with YTN television saying two Americans were arrested near the Tumen River. The Yonhap news agency, citing unidentified diplomatic sources, said North Korean soldiers took them into custody after they ignored orders to stop filming.

Chun, providing the reporters’ identities, said he met the two in Seoul recently to help them plan their trip to the border to report on North Korean refugees and last spoke to them by phone Tuesday morning. The women told him they were in the Chinese border city of Yanji and were heading toward the Yalu River near the Chinese border city of Dandong, he said.

The Tumen and Yalu rivers are frequent crossing points for both trade and the growing number of North Koreans seeking to flee their country. Chun’s group for years has helped North Korean defectors hiding in China and Southeast Asian countries seek asylum in the U.S. and South Korea.

Chun said he arranged for the reporters to meet with North Korean defectors in South Korea and China but warned them to stay away from border areas.

“I told them very clearly not to go to the border because it’s dangerous,” he said.

Current TV, co-founded by Al Gore, devotes much of its programming to viewer-created short programs called “pods.” It won an Emmy last year for best interactive television service.

Ling, apparently sending updates about her trip to the online site Twitter, wrote Saturday that she was at the Seoul airport en route to the “China/NKorea border.”

“Hoping my kimchee breath will ward off all danger,” she wrote.

Three days earlier, she wrote: “Spent the day interviewing young N. Koreans who escaped their country. Too many sad stories.”

The most recent entry, from Monday, simply read: “Missing home.” The username for “lauraling” does not say she is a reporter for Current TV, but the person appearing in the profile photo appears to be the same person profiled on the Current TV site.

The Chinese-North Korean border is porous. Famine in North Korea and an economic boom in China have proved an attractive combination for the tens of thousands of North Koreans crossing into China in search of food, medicine, jobs or escape.

The Chinese government complains about the incidents, but most incursions are dealt with quietly, if at all. Chinese living on the border say North Korean spies have long acted with impunity when policing or trying to retrieve their own people.

Foreign journalists standing on the Chinese side of the border are often jeered at by North Korean border guards, some brandishing rifles just steps away…

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Beijing to Deploy More Ships to the South China Sea

China plans to boost patrols in the South China Sea, converting retired naval ships and possibly even drafting in fishing boats to protect its interests in the disputed area.

The announcement comes weeks after the United States said that one of its unarmed maritime surveillance ships had been harassed by five Chinese naval boats in waters about 75 miles (120km) off the southern Chinese island of Hainan. China said that the US ship was engaged in spying. The Pentagon then sent in a destroyer to protect the USNS Impeccable as it carried out its surveys in the region.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Filipino Lawmakers Back Bishops on Land Reform

Senators say they will extent terms of land reform for five more years. Poor farmers will benefit from the measure. About 1.3 million hectares have not yet been assigned, 440,000 in Mindanao alone. Bishops demand all land be available for redistribution to farmers.

Manila (AsiaNews) — Filipino lawmakers said they plan to extend the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) for five more years to benefit the country’s poorest farmers. In doing so they are heeding a call made by catholic bishops who recently launched a campaign on behalf of landless peasants.

The senators made the promise to pass the measure before CARP expires in June at a closed-door meeting with representatives of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, other church groups and nongovernmental organisations, including Caritas Manila.

“The Senate leadership gave its commitment to pass Senate Bill 266 before the [June] deadline. . . . The leadership committed itself to pushing this Senate bill extending for five years,” a senator said.

Earlier this month President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo came out in support of the extension.

Adopted in 1988 the law was supposed to be in effect for ten years, but lack of application convinced members of Congress to extend it for another ten years, until December of 2008. An additional six-month extension was approved by Congress (Resolution19) till June of this year

But farmers and CARP backers criticised the extension for not including the compulsory acquisition of private lands component to help poor farmers.

By excluding this component Resolution 19 excludes 64 per cent of lands that might benefit large landowners.

The Bishops’ Conference has opposed Congress’ approval of Joint Resolution 19, which it views as “unconstitutional.”

“Joint Resolution 19 must be stricken down. It is clearly unconstitutional since the Constitution mandates that the State shall undertake the just distribution of all agricultural lands,” the Bishops’ Conference said in a statement.

According to the latest figures, some 1.3 million hectares are available for redistribution, including a little more than 440,000 in Mindanao.

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


Philippines: Campaigners Push to End Military Pact With US

Manila, 18 March (AKI) — Lawmakers and activists who oppose the Philippines’ controversial military pact with the United States that has allowed a US marine convicted of rape to avoid jail pending an appeal have vowed to continue their drive to scrap the treaty.

The pledge came despite the Filipino woman whom the US marine was convicted of raping having recently changed her testimony. The woman, ‘Nicole’ now says that the rape did not occur in a case that had strained US-Philippine military relations.

In a sworn statement released on Tuesday, the alleged rape victim, ‘Nicole’ hinted that Lance Corporal Daniel Smith did not wilfully rape her after all.

“Looking back, I would not have agreed to talk with Smith and dance with him no less than three times if I did enjoy his company or was at least attracted to him since I met him for the very first time on the dance floor of the Neptune Club,” said Nicole in a statement.

According to extracts published in the Filipino media, in her five-page affidavit, Nicole admitted that she “possibly lost her inhibitions” and became “intimate” with Smith, after drinking “alcoholic mixed drinks” with him when they met at a bar in Subic, Olongapo City on 1 November, 2005.

However, a Manila court in 2006 sentenced Smith to 40 years in prison for raping Nicole in 2005.

The rape has become the rallying cry for a wide coalition of left-wing organisations in the Philippines, as well as former and current lawmakers, opposed to the Visiting Forces Agreement.

The VFA allows US soldiers to be stationed in the Philippines for military training, but does not fully clarify who is responsible if they commit a crime.

Smith is currently in the custody of the US Embassy in Manila, although a Supreme Court ordered last month to transfer him to a Filipino jail. The two countries are negotiating a new agreement.

Former Senate President Jovito Salonga and academic Harry Roque, two of the leaders of the anti-VFA movement, said that they do not resent Nicole for entering into an out-of-court settlement, but that this will not affect their anti-VFA petition.

“We filed our petition separate and distinct from Nicole in our capacity as citizens suing to impugn an agreement that violates our constitution,” they said in a statement on Wednesday.

The Philippine Constitution does not allow other countries to have long-term military bases in the country, and the last US bases there closed in the early 1990s.

Current senators Francis Escudero and Rodolfo Biazon have also stated that the controversy over the VFA goes beyond Nicole’s case, and attorney Neri Culminares, secretary general of the National Union of People’s Lawyers, has announced that his group will soon stage a protest outside the US Embassy in Manila.

In the meantime, the Philippines’ Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez stated that the retraction of Nicole’s rape testimony was unlike to lead to freedom for Smith.

Activists have accused Manila and Washington of having pushed Nicole to strike the out of court deal. These claims are denied by Nicole’s mother. She told Manila’s dzXL radio that her daughter had been traumatised by the publicity surrounding the case and that she chose to escape by going to live with her American boyfriend in the United States.

It is alleged that Nicole accepted 100 thousand pesos or 2,000 dollars in compensation.

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

Australia — Pacific

Banned Hyperlinks Could Cost You $11,000 a Day

The Australian communications regulator says it will fine people who hyperlink to sites on its blacklist, which has been further expanded to include several pages on the anonymous whistleblower site Wikileaks.

Wikileaks was added to the blacklist for publishing a leaked document containing Denmark’s list of banned websites.

The move by the Australian Communications and Media Authority comes after it threatened the host of online broadband discussion forum Whirlpool last week with a $11,000-a-day fine over a link published in its forum to another page blacklisted by ACMA — an anti-abortion website.

ACMA’s blacklist does not have a significant impact on web browsing by Australians today but sites contained on it will be blocked for everyone if the Federal Government implements its mandatory internet filtering censorship scheme.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Hilali Kicks Door, Blames Vandals

AUSTRALIA’S most controversial sheik, Taj Din al-Hilali, has been caught on videotape kicking in a door at his own mosque before calling police to report an act of vandalism.

The head imam at the Lakemba mosque, who caused outrage in 2006 by comparing scantily clad women to uncovered meat, was shown on a CCTV security tape kicking open the door just minutes before reporting the incident.

The Nine Network’s A Current Affair last night broadcast the videotape from March 9, showing the incident, which Sheik Hilali initially denied.

“There is a trick in this camera. There is a trick in this film,” he told ACA.

But in a letter sent by Sheik Hilali’s lawyers to ACA yesterday, he admitted kicking the door, saying the damage had already been done to the door before he kicked it.

“What he did do was to kick open a door to the mosque that had already been damaged by others in order to gain entry to it,” the letter said.

Lebanese Muslim Association president Shawky Kassir said they had called the police “for a little problem, but we have fixed (it) and everything is under control”.

The footage shows four young men locking the door behind them at 10.28pm.

Nine minutes later, Sheik Hilali checks the lock and pushes on the top of the door, bending it on its hinges. After checking the corridor, he disappears from view before rushing towards it and kicking it open at 10.46pm.

It is understood the name of the suspected culprit was put forward to NSW police, but it is not known if he was interviewed by the authorities.

A NSW Police media spokesperson said they started to investigate the matter but three days later were told by a mosque official that he did not wish to take the matter any further.

“The matter remains under investigation. Further senior members of the local community will be consulted to discuss the incident.”

           — Hat tip: The Observer[Return to headlines]


New Zealand: Queries Over Pregnancy, Flight and Birth

An investigation has been started into how a heavily pregnant Samoan woman was able to gain a travelling visa, board an aircraft to Auckland and give birth mid-flight without anyone noticing.

The 30-year-old, who boarded a flight from Apia to Auckland early on Wednesday morning, was yesterday facing police investigations after it was found that she had given birth during the flight and dumped the child in a rubbish bin.

The Herald has learned that the baby was found abandoned in a rubbish bin inside Auckland International Airport.

Earlier reports said the newborn was found in a rubbish bin in a toilet on the aircraft.


Immigration New Zealand said an investigation was being carried out into how a heavily pregnant woman was able to board the flight.

Local airline policies state that women more than five months into their pregnancy cannot travel, unless they are New Zealand citizens.

The woman is said to be a Samoan citizen, who was possibly travelling with a group of up to 70 labourers connected to the recognised seasonal employment scheme, under which labourers from the Pacific are brought in for seasonal work, such as apple picking.

“Immigration New Zealand has asked its Apia branch to piece together the facts of the woman’s visa processing — in particular, what was declared on her application form and whether or not she appeared to Apia staff to be heavily pregnant,” an Immigration NZ statement said.

Pacific Blue’s website says pregnant women need medical clearance to board a flight if they’d had complications or were more than 36 weeks pregnant.

An Auckland International Airport spokeswoman said it was not known if crew or passengers had noticed the woman in labour.

TVNZ last night reported that Auckland Airport staff became suspicious when the woman, who had misplaced her passport, approached a staff member, looking pale and blood-stained.

She was later admitted to Middlemore Hospital — with the child. Police were understood to be at the hospital last night. They were waiting for the woman to recover from surgery before speaking to her. Both mother and child were said to be healthy.

Yesterday, a meeting was held with the New Zealand Samoan consul general, Fa’aolotoi Reupena Pogi, and staff at the consulate general.

Consul and trade commissioner Va’atu’itu’i Apete Meredith said the consulate had been in touch with Middlemore Hospital.

“We’ve tried to contact her, because that is our duty — to look out for the wellbeing of our citizens,” Mr Meredith said.

“But at the same time, it’s a police matter and we’re waiting for the police to call us and then we’ll be able to go visit her.”

Mr Meredith said the consulate was in contact with Samoan authorities and a representative or group from the Samoan consulate is set to visit the woman in the next few days.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Latin America

The Americas Report: Luis Fleischman on Civil Disobedience in Venezuela

By Luis Fleischman

In a referendum this past February 15th, Hugo Chavez managed to reverse the results of the previous December 2, 2007 vote by winning the constitutional right to be re-elected indefinitely. Chavez won after running a campaign of intimidation and blackmail.

Chavez does not govern democratically. To the contrary, he has abused state power and resources. He has used the instruments of government to harass unions, human rights advocates and has violated free speech. The state-owned oil-company, PDVSA and other state companies have been encourage to intimidate employees so they would vote in favor of the referendum.

In last November’s municipal and local elections the opposition made some important gains including in the state of Miranda and the City of Caracas. Chavez reacted by removing some key social services such as health care from the jurisdiction of Miranda to the federal government and placed mobs in Caracas city hall that undermined the work of the newly elected mayor of Caracas. Irregularities and other acts of electoral fraud were reported throughout Election Day. There were reports of people who were deceased being registered to vote as well as an illegal extension of voting time. Chavez also controls all the powers of the state including the electoral national council in charge of election supervision. This institution never bothers to read the rules and the regulations but only obeys the man who placed them in their jobs…

           — Hat tip: CSP[Return to headlines]

Immigration

Immigrants Choosing Suburbs, Small Towns Over Big Cities

OTTAWA — New Canadians and established immigrants are increasingly settling in suburban and smaller communities rather than the traditional picks of Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal, says a new report by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

The report, released Thursday, says broadening settlement patterns have put new stains on under-funded communities to provide affordable housing, emergency shelters and employment and public health services to immigrants.

“As a result of these demographic shifts, suburbanization and secondary migration require that municipal service delivery and planning become more dynamic and flexible,” the report says.

Federation president Jean Perrault says worsening economic conditions mean tougher times ahead for both immigrants seeking jobs and municipal leaders struggling with the recession and growing social needs of their communities.

Mr. Perrault said in a statement the federal government must give municipalities a seat at the table in immigration planning if it hopes to meet its labour needs and give new Canadians a crack at success.

“This is as much about co-ordination and co-operation as it is about money,” said Mr. Perrault, who is mayor of Sherbrooke, Que.

“Despite being first in line when it comes to helping immigrants with settlement challenges, municipal governments are not consulted systematically or included in decision-making on immigration policies or programs.”

The sweeping report compares social and economic conditions for immigrants and non-immigrants from 2001 to 2006 in 24 of Canada’s largest municipalities, regional municipalities and metropolitan communities. They account for 54% of Canada’s population.

Although large cities continue to receive the majority of immigrants, it said, their share declined to 83% in 2006 from just under 90% in 2002.

The report traced the shift to the attraction of affordable housing and growing social networks of immigrant communities outside of Canada’s largest cities.

It also said a growing number of well-educated and highly skilled immigrants are choosing to settle outside the large cities, while those centres continue to attract a disproportionate share of the costs of assisting refugees and other immigrants with special needs.

The greatest shift in settlement patterns occurred in the suburbs surrounding Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. Toronto’s share of immigrants fell to 63% of immigrants to the whole census metropolitan area in 2006 from 80% in 2002, Montreal’s fell to 67% from 79%, and Vancouver’s fell to 35% from 56%.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Italian MEP Calls for Immigrant Health Passports

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, MARCH 18 — An Italian MEP asked today the European Commission to introduce a ‘health passport’ certifying that non-European Union immigrants are not carrying contagious diseases before they are allowed into the EU. Mario Borghezio, who heads up the Northern League delegation to the European Parliament, also asked the EC to set up a special observatory on the spread of contagious diseases from the Third World. Borghezio, whose party has been accused of being anti-immigrant, made his comments after two cases of leprosy were recently diagnosed in immigrants by doctors in Milan. “Faced with an increasingly worrying record of very serious cases of contagious diseases and real epidemics, such as that of cholera in Zimbabwe, it’s time for Europe to adopt an efficient filter that will allow authorities to prevent access to carriers of such diseases who could potentially spread the epidemics in the European Union,” Borghezio said. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Italy: MPs Oppose Bill Requiring Doctors to Report Illegal Immigrants

Rome, 18 March (AKI) — One hundred MPs from Italy’s ruling People of Freedom party have written to Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi urging the government to remove “extremely damaging” provisions in a controversial security bill requiring doctors, teachers and other state employees to report illegal immigrants.

In their letter, the MPs ask Berlusconi not to put the security bill to a vote of confidence because the measures are “unacceptable”. Doing so would be “an unforgiveable mistake,” they said.

“Essential amendments need to be made to the bill. We are certain you will also agree once you appreciate how this legislation goes against the most basic human rights,” the letter said.

As the bill makes illegal immigration a crime, doctors, teachers and other state employees will be required to report them under articles 361 and 362 of Italy’s penal code, the MPs wrote.

“It would be a real trap for children, who are obliged to attend school and then dealt a blow by the hand of their doctors or teachers.

“The result will be the exclusion of children from any schooling or medical treatment.

“The exclusion of illegal immigrants — especially children and pregnant women — from any kind of healthcare, with consequent health risks for the whole population will be a shockingly retrograde step for this country,” the letter concluded.

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


Malta: Sending Migrants Back is a Must — PM

Tunisian migrants during a protest at the Hal Far detention centre last February 19.

The government’s repatriation policy of illegal immigrants was fundamental, Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi told Parliament yesterday.

Concluding a two-day discussion on illegal immigration, Dr Gonzi remarked that on Monday, Opposition Leader Joseph Muscat had mentioned that 12,000 immigrants had entered Malta over the past 10 years, and that 5,200 were still here. Such figures proved that work was being done to control and repatriate.

But Dr Muscat had not mentioned repatriation during his speech; and Dr Gonzi suggested that this should be point number 21 in addition to the 20-point plan presented by Dr Muscat. Malta, he said, had repatriated more migrants than some of its neighbouring countries with larger resources.

Dr Gonzi said that it was good to hear the opposition say this was not a political issue, but this was very different to the time they accused the government of omertà. This was both incorrect and unfair. The government had nothing to hide but, rather, it wanted the opposition to be informed.

It was Malta that had put illegal immigration on the EU agenda, even though other countries had also experienced the problem. Under the French Presidency, Malta had achieved something it had long been working for — the immigration pact.

The Prime Minister said it was understandable that people were worried and the government had to be in touch with reality.

Research showed that the problem was very real, and had to be dealt with seriously, keeping in mind values and principles so characteristic of Malta…

           — Hat tip: The Frozen North[Return to headlines]


Sweden: Migration Board Worker Charged With Bribery

An office assistant with Sweden’s Migration Board has been charged with bribery after he requested 40,000 kronor ($4,920) to arrange a residence permit for an asylum seeker from Afghanistan.

While the employee wasn’t authorized to make decisions about residence permits applications, he was able to issue the actual documents, reports the Dagens Nyheter (DN) newspaper.

After seven months had passed without the Afghan having received a residence permit, he confronted the employee about the matter, using his mobile phone to record the conversation.

The Migration Board employee tried unsuccessfully to forcefully take the Afghan’s phone away from him during the confrontation.

The phone has since become a key piece of evidence for prosecutors handling the case.

The employee denies that he accepted money and claims that the Afghan started to threaten him after not receiving a residence permit.

The indictment also includes charges of assaulting the Afghan, whose shirt was torn during the scuffle over the telephone, and of unauthorized accessing of personal data in connection with more than ten other asylum applications.

The employee has since been suspended pending the outcome of the case.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Culture Wars

Kentucky Counties Fined $400,000 for Posting Ten Commandments

Two southern Kentucky counties where officials posted copies of the Ten Commandments in courthouses have been ordered by a federal judge to pay more than $400,000 to the American Civil Liberties Union and citizens who successfully challenged the displays.

US district judge Jennifer B Coffman ordered Pulaski and McCreary counties to pay $393,798 in attorneys’ fees and $8,133 in expenses to the ACLU of Kentucky and citizens.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


President Barack Obama Makes First Pro-Abortion Judicial Pick in David Hamilton

President Barack Obama has nominated his first pro-abortion judicial candidate as he named David Hamilton as his first Appeals Court nominee. Hamilton is a former Clinton nominee whom Obama has appointed to serve on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

Hamilton was initially appointed by President Clinton to a district judgeship in Indiana in 1994 even though the ABA gave him a “not qualified” rating.

[…]

Prior to becoming a federal judge, Hamilton was the vice president for litigation and a board member of the Indiana branch of the ACLU, a top pro-abortion law firm.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

General

$750 Billion “Green” Investment Could Revive Economy: U.N.

Investments of $750 billion could create a “Green New Deal” to revive the world economy and protect the environment, perhaps aided by a tax on oil, the head of the U.N. environment agency said on Thursday.

Achim Steiner said spending should focus on five environmental sectors including improved energy efficiency for buildings and solar or wind power to create jobs, curb poverty and fight climate change.

“The opportunity must not be lost,” Steiner, head of the U.N. Environment Program (UNEP), told Reuters of a UNEP study that will be put to world leaders meeting in London on April 2 to work out how to spur the ailing economy.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Advocates Barred From Meetings on Polar Bears

OTTAWA — Representatives of Canada’s Inuit and the World Wildlife Fund were among observers barred from Tuesday’s sessions of a five-country summit in Norway on polar bears.

Officials from five countries — Canada, the United States, Russia, Denmark and Norway — are reviewing a 1973 accord to protect the world’s polar bear population.

The dust-up over the closed-door sessions began when Norway’s Environment Minister announced observers were not being allowed into that day’s sessions, contrary to Norway’s wishes. Some Canadian Inuit, concerned by an overabundance of polar bears “causing havoc” in some Nunavut communities, are concerned hunting restrictions will be driven by alarm about the impact of climate change 50 years down the road.

By contrast, the WWF suspects some of the governments are reluctant to impose forceful climate change policies to protect the melting of Arctic ice — the polar bears’ natural habitat.

Asked whether Canada supported the closed sessions, Environment Canada provided a statement to Canwest News Service on Wednesday.

The five polar bear “range countries,” it said, had met only twice since 1973 and this third technical meeting was the first open to observers and media. The statement said the protocols for the meetings were “collectively determined” and a mix of sessions that are closed and open to observers is “consistent with other international meetings.”

There are about 22,000 polar bears in the world, the lion’s share of them in Canada. “We were allowed in for the initial meeting but then we were not allowed in the next day, but now we’re back in,” Gabriel Nirlungayuk, an official with an Inuit organization that has an observer at the meetings, said in a phone interview from Rankin Inlet.

“It’s pretty frustrating not to hear what other countries are saying and what Canada will be saying.” He said polar bear management, mostly restricting hunting, has successfully doubled the Nunavut polar bear population to 16,000 over the past 50 years.

Management responsibility has devolved from the federal government to the provinces and territories, so Canada only has jurisdiction internationally to provide information to the other countries.

“Inuit were the first to let the whole world know what was happening way back before this global climate change has taken a hold of all peoples around the world,” he said.

“On one hand people are predicting in 50 years it’s not going to be very good [for the bears]. But right now where we stand in real time, these guys are very healthy and creating some problems, very real problems, to Nunavut communities.”

Bears invade some communities, threatening humans, rummaging for food and ruining cabins.

If a bear has to be shot, he said it comes off the annual hunting quota of about 400 bears in Nunavut.


Clive Tesar, head of communications for the World Wildlife Fund’s international Arctic program, said in an interview from Norway that it may have been his group’s approach to the meetings that prompted some sessions closing.

“We don’t understand what’s so secret about conserving polar bears,” he said. “We suspect one of the reasons that the other poor observers got thrown out were largely because of us.”

He said the fund came with a large well-prepared delegation with a strong demand for an action plan to conserve the species. The 1973 accord requires protection of the bears and their habitat, he said.

“We believe that that means that they are obliged to conserve the sea ice habitat and that of course means that they are obliged to take action on climate change because that’s the only way that one can conserve sea ice habitat.”

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Protect the Believers, Not the Belief

Proposals on ‘defamation of religion’ have split the UN and put at risk the principle that security relies on the freedom of expression

“Defamation of religion” was once again highlighted on the international stage at last week’s meeting of the UN human rights council in Geneva.

It is also at the centre of the continuing negotiations over the Durban review conference in April, which will evaluate progress towards a set of goals to eliminate racism, intolerance and xenophobia. Indeed, the US has cited the introduction of a clause prohibiting “defamation of religion” in the Durban review document to justify its non-participation in the conference.

Over the last eight years, this issue has progressively poisoned exchange between member states of the international community. It is both constructed and perceived as a contest of values, if not civilization, which (falsely) opposes a “secular” west to a “zealot” Islamic world. These increasingly entrenched positions augur badly for the resolution of this disagreement and very poorly for human rights protection in general.

There is no agreed definition of the concept of “defamation of religion”. It has no basis in international law because religions, unlike individuals, cannot be said to have a reputation and therefore cannot be defamed. Thus the term is contradictory.

The motivation behind the introduction of this concept may in fact be clearer than its definition: disallowing criticism of a religion on the basis that religious dogma is sacred and cannot be challenged — a position that has been used to justify vast human rights abuses.

Article 19, which campaigns on freedom of expression, has spoken out consistently against religious defamation, beginning 20 years ago with our campaign in defence of Salman Rushdie.

More recently, working with partners in the Middle East, the organisation has advocated against various “defamation of religion” resolutions coming up at the UN. Just last week another resolution was brought before the human rights council in Geneva by a group of states represented by the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC).

We are uneasy with the current debate and with its “clash of values” thesis. Instead, we seek a more sophisticated understanding of the issue and the tensions involved, believing that this is the only way to uphold universal human rights. We particularly want to make sure the rights to freedom of expression and equality are protected.

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]


The Pope’s Critics Are in the Grip of Dogma

Condoms are not the only way to combat Aids in Africa, says Anthony McCarthy, and the Pope is right to focus on abstinence and monogamy.

The Pope has, again, made a “controversial” statement that has provoked “outrage”. He spoke of humanising sexuality, i.e. treating sexual activity as an expression of fully human and committed love.

That message certainly is controversial to modern ears — as was Christ’s own upholding of the sanctity of marriage and condemnation of sexual activity damaging of commitment to it.

Researchers at the Harvard AIDS Prevention Research Project recently reminded us that in every African country in which HIV infections have declined, this decline has been associated with a decrease in multiple partners and often premarital sex as well. This is not true of use of condoms.

Many countries that have seen marked increases in condom use have not seen any decline in HIV prevalence, whereas in every country in which HIV has declined there have been increased levels of faithfulness and usually abstinence as well. Moreover, it was found, according to the Journal of International Development, that “the promotion of condoms at an early stage proved to be counter-productive in Botswana , whereas the lack of condom promotion during the 1980s and early 1990s contributed to the relative success of behaviour change strategies in Uganda” . Two leading experts (neither in principle opposed to condom usage) had this to say, writing in the journal Science, of the extraordinary changes in Uganda: “the government communicated a clear warning and prevention recommendation: AIDS or ‘slim’ was fatal and required immediate population responses based on…faithfulness to one partner. Condoms were a minor component of the original strategy.”

The Church opposes condom use because she believes that a truly marital act is one of total self-giving, with a love- and life-giving meaning that should always be respected. Her teaching, unsurprisingly, leads to stronger families and safer and healthier communities. The Church does not tell people that there is no hope when it comes to sex, that they are sexual automatons incapable of resisting sexual pressure and promiscuity. The sight of cynical westerners handing out rubber compassion to prostitutes, including child prostitutes, is only one way in which certain aid agencies perpetuate the very evils that rob so many Africans of help and hope. Those who wish to promote condom usage, regardless of what the evidence suggests, are in the grip of an undeclared dogma. The Pope is preaching a dogma of love and liberation.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Vatican: Pope Opposes Condom Use to Fight Aids

Rome, 17 March (AKI) — Pope Benedict XVI said on Tuesday that condoms were not the answer to fighting AIDS, as he was about to arrive in Africa on his first visit as pontiff. “The problem cannot be overcome with the distribution of condoms. This only aggravates the problem,” Benedict told the media as he flew to the western African country of Cameroon.

Instead, the pontiff said sexual abstinence was the best way to fight the deadly disease.

The Vatican has faced strong criticism over its opposition to the use of condoms despite findings by the United Nations’ World Health Organisation that “consistent and correct” condom use reduces the risk of HIV infection by 90 percent.

HIV/AIDS has killed more than 25 million people — mainly in sub-Saharan Africa — since it was discovered in the 1980’s.

Over 22 million people currently live with the HIV virus in sub-Saharan Africa.

The Catholic Church opposes any kind of contraception because it claims it breaks the link between sex and procreation.

Speaking to reporters on his way to Cameroon’s capital, Yaounde, the Pope said HIV/AIDS was “a tragedy that cannot be overcome by money alone, that cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which can even increase the problem”.

President Paul Biya of Cameroon was expected to meet the pontiff on his arrival. Archbishop Simon-Victor Tonye Bakot of Yaounde, president of the National Episcopal Conference of Cameroon and Cardinal Christian Wiyghan Tumi, archbishop emeritus of Douala were also expected to greet Benedict.

Following a speech by the president, Benedict was to give his first address of his eleventh apostolic trip outside Italy before travelling by popemobile to Yaounde where he will spend the night.

On Wednesday the Pope will celebrate a private mass before paying a courtesy visit to the president and then meet the country’s bishops.

According to figures released by the Vatican, the number of Catholics in Africa has been rising steadily in recent years.

Catholics made up 17 percent of the African population in 2006, compared with 12 percent in 1978.

Thousands of people are expected to attend open-air masses and other services during the pope’s seven-day visit to Africa which will also include Angola.

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

2 comments:

BigRedKodiak said...

The link labeled "an opinion piece" directs browsers to a scam anti-virus link. Highly amusing to a see a "My Computer" screen layout with an alleged scan taking place, considering I am using a Mac...)

livfreerdie said...

What would happen if those Kentucky counties told the ACLU and the judge to take a hike? Who would enforce the ruling? How does one "foreclose" on a sovereign state? Interesting times.

Tom