Monday, March 23, 2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 3/23/2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 3/23/2009Surprise, surprise — Turkey is raising objections to the idea of Danish PM Anders Fogh Rasmussen as the next Secretary General of NATO.

The United States backs Fogh. The USA is also pushing Turkey as a vital new addition to the European Union. It will be interesting to see how it all works out.

My guess is that unless we find a big enough bribe to satisfy Turkey: Fogh Must Go!

Thanks to C. Cantoni, CSP, Fjordman, Insubria, JD, LN, Paul Green, TB, The Frozen North, Vlad Tepes, and all the other tipsters who sent these in. Headlines and articles are below the fold.
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Financial Crisis
EU Chiefs’ £1 Million Pay-Off
Markets Leap as U.S. Unveils $1 Trillion Plan to Clean Out Toxic Assets From Banks
 
USA
Frank Gaffney: Wrecking Operation
‘Fusion Centers’ Expand Criteria to Identify Militia Members
Obama Criticizes Some Guantanamo Release Decisions
Our Enemies Perceive Exploitable Weakness
Saudi Strong-Arm Tactics in Virginia
 
Canada
Heritage Canukistan?
 
Europe and the EU
Environment: EU Warns Spain on Industrial Waste
Italy: Grillo Testifies at Parmalat Trial
Mepa to Stop Islamic Community From Using Sliema Apartment
Spain: Spain Catalan Identity to be Taught in School
Swede in US School Exchange Nightmare
Theodore Dalrymple: Europe is a Riot
Turkey Raises Doubts About NATO Fogh
UK: Big Brother Files Put Children at Risk and ‘Must be Ditched’
UK: Council Uses Spyplane With Thermal Imaging Camera to Crack Down on Homes Wasting Energy
UK: Mother Given Parking Ticket “for Reviving Her Severely Disabled Son”
UK: Stagnation, Decay and a Fear of Failure is ‘Crushing Foreign Office’, Reveals Damning Report
 
Balkans
Kosovo: Situation Stable But Tense, UN Report Says
Serbia and Croatia Vow to Improve Relations
 
North Africa
Terrorism: Algeria, Two Militants Killed in Kabylie
 
Israel and the Palestinians
Israel: Failed Attack in Haifa ‘Work of Hezbollah’, Press
 
Middle East
Bahrain: Rights Group Questions Trial Process
Lebanon: Parliament Reduces Voting Age From 21 to 18
No Woman on TV, Saudi Clerics Say
Syria: Italy Exports Set Record in 2008 With Over 1 Bln Euro
Syria: 8 Bln Dollar Shopping Centre in Raqqa
Syria: Italian Ceramic Tile Exports Up 987% in 2008
Syria: Damascus Eighth in the World for Office Space Cost
Tehran Censors Internet as Mystery Surrounds Death in Prison of Dissident and Blogger
Yemen: ‘Spy’ Sentenced to Death for Israel Contact
 
Caucasus
Azeris Voting to Make Aliyev President for Life
 
South Asia
Kashmir: Ten Die in Clashes Between Rebels and Indian Army
Nepali Muslims Want Constitution to Incorporate Sharia-Based Personal Law
 
Far East
Hong Kong Catholic Schools in Danger
 
Sub-Saharan Africa
Obama and the Mau Mau
 
Latin America
Cubans Starve on Diet of Lies
Organized Crime is Increasingly Active in Film Piracy
 
Immigration
Denmark: Immigrants Happy to be Here
Immigration: Tom Tancredo: Tale of Two Sanctuary Cities
Riots in Maltese Detention Centre, 2 Injured

Financial Crisis

EU Chiefs’ £1 Million Pay-Off

EU fat-cat beauraucrats will pick up £1 million golden parachutes to cushion the blow when they quit Brussels this year.

With 20 of Europe’s molly-coddled 27 Commissioners set to stand down in November, the total payoff pot will hit an astonishing £23.8 million.

Even after just one year in the job, British Commissioner Baroness Ashton would pocket a lottery-win size package worth £1/4 million, plus £8,000-a-year pension, if called back to London.

Last night Lorraine Mullally of Open Europe—a think tank urging EU reform—fumed: “While taxpayers struggle in the recession and worry about losing jobs, their money is going to pamper grossly overpaid eurocrats with eye-watering salaries.

“It’s outrageous this team of unelected Brussels civil servants walk away with these vast sums. This is totally unjustified.”

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]


Markets Leap as U.S. Unveils $1 Trillion Plan to Clean Out Toxic Assets From Banks

U.S. stocks have risen today after the U.S. government released the highly anticipated details of a $1trillion plan to clean out toxic assets from banks’ balance sheets.

[…]

But the positive news came with dire warnings from the head of the International Monetary Fund that the global economic crisis could lead to social unrest and even war.

‘Bluntly the situation is dire,’ Dominique Strauss-Kahn told a meeting on the crisis at the International Labour Organisation, a United Nations agency representing unions, employers and governments that studies labour issues.

Strauss-Kahn was talking less than two weeks before a summit of the G20 leading nations on April 2 to tackle the crisis.

As the crisis spills over into developing countries, millions of people will be pushed back into poverty and hardship, Strauss-Kahn said.

‘All this will affect dramatically unemployment and beyond unemployment for many countries it will be at the roots of social unrest, some threat to democracy, and may be for some cases it can also end in war,’ he said.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

USA

Frank Gaffney: Wrecking Operation

President Obama’s stewardship of the national security portfolio to date amounts to a wrecking operation, a set of policies he must understand will not only weaken the United States but embolden our foes. After all, the Communist agitator Saul Alinsky, a formative influence in Mr. Obama’s early years as a “community organizer,” made Rule Number One in his 1971 book Rules for Radicals: “Power is not only what you have but what the enemy thinks you have.”

According to this logic, the various steps Barack Obama is taking with respect to the armed forces, the foreign battlefields in which they are engaged, our allies as well as our adversaries will not only diminish our power. They will encourage our enemies to perceive us as less powerful — with ominous implications…

           — Hat tip: CSP[Return to headlines]


‘Fusion Centers’ Expand Criteria to Identify Militia Members

Do you like Ron Paul or oppose abortion? You may be a member of a militia, according to a new report by a government information collection agency.

If you’re an anti-abortion activist, or if you display political paraphernalia supporting a third-party candidate or a certain Republican member of Congress, if you possess subversive literature, you very well might be a member of a domestic paramilitary group.

That’s according to “The Modern Militia Movement,” a report by the Missouri Information Analysis Center (MIAC), a government collective that identifies the warning signs of potential domestic terrorists for law enforcement communities.

“Due to the current economical and political situation, a lush environment for militia activity has been created,” the Feb. 20 report reads. “Unemployment rates are high, as well as costs of living expenses. Additionally, President Elect Barrack [sic] Obama is seen as tight on gun control and many extremists fear that he will enact firearms confiscations.”

MIAC is one of 58 so-called “fusion centers” nationwide that were created by the Department of Homeland Security, in part, to collect local intelligence that authorities can use to combat terrorism and related criminal activities. More than $254 million from fiscal years 2004-2007 went to state and local governments to support the fusion centers, according to the DHS Web site.

During a press conference last week in Kansas City, Mo., DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano called fusion centers the “centerpiece of state, local, federal intelligence-sharing” in the future.

“Let us not forget the reason we are here, the reason we have the Department of Homeland Security and the reason we now have fusion centers, which is a relatively new concept, is because we did not have the capacity as a country to connect the dots on isolated bits of intelligence prior to 9/11,” Napolitano said, according to a DHS transcript.

“That’s why we started this…. Now we know that it’s not just the 9/11-type incidents but many, many other types of incidents that we can benefit from having fusion centers that share information and product and analysis upwards and horizontally.”

But some say the fusion centers are going too far in whom they identify as potential threats to American security.

People who supported former third-party presidential candidates like Texas Rep. Ron Paul, Chuck Baldwin and former Georgia Rep. Bob Barr are cited in the report, in addition to anti-abortion activists and conspiracy theorists who believe the United States, Mexico and Canada will someday form a North American Union.

“Militia members most commonly associate with 3rd party political groups,” the report reads. “It is not uncommon for militia members to display Constitutional Party, Campaign for Liberty or Libertarian material.”

Other potential signals of militia involvement, according to the report, are possession of the Gagsden “Don’t Tread on Me” flag or the widely available anti-income tax film “America: Freedom to Fascism.”

Barr, the 2008 Libertarian Party presidential nominee, told FOXNews.com that he’s taking steps to get his name removed from the report, which he said could actually “dilute the effectiveness” of law enforcement agencies.

“It can subject people to unwarranted and inappropriate monitoring by the government,” he said. “If I were the governor of Missouri, I’d be concerned that law enforcement agencies are wasting their time and effort on such nonsense.”

Barr said his office has received “several dozen” complaints related to the report.

Mary Starrett, communications director for the Constitution Party, said Baldwin, the party’s 2008 presidential candidate, was “outraged” that his name was included in the report.

“We were so astounded by it we couldn’t believe it was real,” Starrett told FOXNews.com. “It’s painting such a large number of people with a broad brush in a dangerous light.”

Michael German, national security policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, said the report “crosses the line” and shows a disregard for civil liberties.

“It seems to implicate people who are engaging in First Amendment protected activities and suggest that something as innocuous as supporting a political candidate for office would mean that you’re harboring some ill-intent,” German told FOXNews.com. “It’s completely inappropriate.”

German, who claims the number of fusion centers nationwide is closer to 70, said the centers present several troubling concerns, including their excessive secrecy, ambiguous lines of authority, the use of data mining and military participation.

“No two are alike,” German said. “And these things are expanding rapidly.”

But MIAC officials defended their report, saying it’s not a basis for officers to take enforcement action.

“These reports sometimes mention groups or individuals who are not the subject of the document, but may be relevant to describing tendencies or trends concerning the subject of the document,” MIAC said in a statement.

“For example, a criminal group may use a particular wire service to transfer funds, but the mention of that wire service does not imply that it is part of that group, or a criminal enterprise.

Nor does it imply that all individuals who use that service are engaged in criminal activity.”

The statement continues, “We are concerned about the mischaracterizations of a document following its recent unauthorized release and we regret that any citizens were unintentionally offended by the content of the document.”

Donny Ferguson, a spokesman for the Libertarian Party, said he was concerned by the report’s “poor choice of words,” among other things.

“Unfortunately it is so broadly worded it could be interpreted as saying millions of peaceful, law-abiding Americans are involved in dangerous activities. These mistakes happen and we hope Missouri officials will correct the report,” Ferguson wrote in an e-mail. “The Libertarian Party promotes the common-sense policies of fiscal responsibility and social tolerance. We are the only party in America who makes opposition to initiating violence a condition of membership.”

Bob McCarty, a St. Louis resident who blogged about the MIAC report, said he’s afraid he may be targeted, since he’s previously sold Ron Paul-related merchandise.

“[The report] described me, so maybe I need to get a gun and build a shack out in the woods,” McCarty said facetiously. “It’s certainly an attempt to stifle political thought, especially in Missouri. It definitely makes me pause, if nothing else. Maybe Missouri is just a test bed for squelching political thought.”

ACLU officials blasted a Texas fusion center last month for distributing a “Prevention Awareness Bulletin” that called on law enforcement officers to report activities of local lobbying groups, Muslim civil rights organizations and anti-war protest groups.

           — Hat tip: Paul Green[Return to headlines]


Obama Criticizes Some Guantanamo Release Decisions

President Barack Obama says the U.S. hasn’t done a good job sorting out who should be released from the Guantanamo Bay detention center.

Obama says in a broadcast interview that some of the people released from the facility in Cuba have rejoined terrorist groups. He also says U.S. officials have not always been effective in determining which prisoners will be a danger once they are let go.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Our Enemies Perceive Exploitable Weakness

President Obama’s stewardship of the national security portfolio to date amounts to a wrecking operation, a set of policies he must understand will not only weaken the United States but embolden our foes. After all, the Communist agitator Saul Alinsky, a formative influence in Mr. Obama’s early years as a “community organizer,” made Rule Number One in his 1971 book Rules for Radicals: “Power is not only what you have but what the enemy thinks you have.”

According to this logic, the various steps Barack Obama is taking with respect to the armed forces, the foreign battlefields in which they are engaged, our allies as well as our adversaries will not only diminish our power. They will encourage our enemies to perceive us as less powerful — with ominous implications. Consider some illustrative examples:…

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Saudi Strong-Arm Tactics in Virginia

The bullying mob of Islamic Saudi Academy supporters was frequently allowed to disrupt the tiny number willing to speak against the Islamic Saudi Academy’s planned expansion in Fairfax County. Several speakers challenging this expansion were loudly booed and laughed at. … During one of the few breaks in the heated meeting due to the overflowing crowd of ISA supporters, several of those who sought to speak out against the ISA were cornered and confronted by some ISA supporters.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Canada

Heritage Canukistan?

by Farzana Hassan

Things are heating up in the sweepstakes for the most incompetent department of Canadian government to face Islamic radicalism. For a while, bets were on Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board, which, for 11 years, had the president of the extremist-sympathizing Canadian Arab Federation — big on Hamas and Hizballah — on its board. His job there was to decide who was too dangerous to let into the country.

But now “Heritage Canada,” a Canadian government department whose bid for the title is made with the help of the Calgary-based independent Centre for Faith and the Media (CFM) has jumped in the fray.

Heritage Canada pushes a multiculturalism agenda, and the CFM seems to be a one-employee outfit with a volunteer Board of Directors of sympathetic religious people — with one exception. Positioning itself as a link and information clearinghouse between journalists and religious communities, CFM has been decisive in moving Heritage Canada into committing blunders.

The current fiasco started when Heritage Canada funded the Centre to start something called “The Muslim Project.” This initiative involves a series of cross-Canada “roundtables” prominently displaying CFM’s sole paid employee, Executive Director Richelle Wiseman, as moderator. The end-product? A “study” of media portrayals of Muslims and Islam in Canada, due out within the next year or so.

Heritage Canada bureaucrats would have known something could go wrong with a Muslim-oriented project dealing with this subject if they’d only looked at a “journalist’s guide” to Islam on the sponsoring CFM’s website. The Islam “guide,” which was pulled from the site last month, recommended that Canadian reporters seek out the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) as an authoritative source of information about Muslims and Islam. CAIR, of course, is the Washington, DC radical-Islamist organization that is funded by the Saudis and qualified by the US Justice Department as an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation terrorism-financing trial. A parade of its senior officials and affiliated people has made its way into penitentiaries on criminal charges and an FBI agent testified that it was a front organization for Hamas…

           — Hat tip: Vlad Tepes[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Environment: EU Warns Spain on Industrial Waste

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, MARCH 19 — Spain has received a written warning from the European Commission for an infraction of EU regulations on the treatment and elimination of industrial waste. More specifically, the warning issued by the Commission deals with depositing phosphogypsum, a by-product of fertiliser manufacturers, into the Huelva Estuary in southwestern Spain. EU states are required to issue permits for this type of waste to prevent and reduce pollution coming from landfills. “We find what is taking place in Spain extremely worrying,” said Stavros Dimas, the European Commissioner for the Environment, “where dangerous substances are eliminated without adequate plans for their long-term management. I am asking Spain to deal with this problem as soon as possible.” In the past 40 years, explained the Commission, about 120 million tonnes of phosphogypsum have been deposited in the Huelva Estuary. Brussels notified Spain for the first time in May 2008, when it was established that the necessary permits had not been issued. Spanish authorities replied that phosphogypsum is an industrial by-product and cannot be considered waste, and for this reason, Brussels decided to send a warning-letter to Spain. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Italy: Grillo Testifies at Parmalat Trial

Activist comic claims inside knowledge of ‘cooked books’

(ANSA) — Parma, March 23 — Crusading comic Beppe Grillo on Monday testified at a trial here into the 2003 bankruptcy of dairy giant Parmalat, Europe’s biggest corporate collapse.

The activist comedian, 60, told prosecutors he had had an inside tip in 2001 from a top Parmalat exec that the group’s “books were cooked”.

Asked why Parmalat never protested about Grillo’s subsequent reference to false accounting in his road shows, the controversial comic said “it was a question of interests”.

Before testifying Grillo told reporters the Parmalat case showed that Italian regulators were at fault.

“They should shut down Consob,” the bourse regulator, he said.

“If you do something like this in the United States they give you 25 years in jail,” he added.

Corporate malfeasance has long been a mainstay of Grillo’s shows, along with political corruption.

The comic, who was recently named by Forbes the world’s seventh top blogger and was one of Time magazine’s ‘European heroes in 2005’, became increasingly political after being blackballed from TV 20 years ago.

He grabbed his biggest headlines in 2007 with his ‘V-Day’ initiative, the V-word being the Italian equivalent of the English F-word.

It was directed at the many MPs currently sitting in parliament who have been convicted or are on trial.

The firebrand comic incited crowds to tell the MPs to F-off out of politics.

But Grillo has long been a thorn in the side of the powers that be. He has been off the airwaves since 1987 when he made a stab at Bettino Craxi — six years before the late Socialist leader’s downfall amid escalating corruption scandals.

Parmalat’s fraudulent bankruptcy resulted in some 14.5 billion euros in losses, making it the biggest financial meltdown in modern European history.

Parmalat founder Calisto Tanzi is among those on trial here, the headquarters of the once-sprawling multinational.

In December, in a separate Milan trial for market-rigging in connection with his group’s collapse, Tanzi was sentenced to ten years in prison for feeding false information to the stock market on the state of his company.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Mepa to Stop Islamic Community From Using Sliema Apartment

The Malta Environment and Planning Authority shall be enforcing a stop notice on premises in Sliema used abusively by the Islamic community, the Ombudsman said in a statement.

The premises, in a residential block, are used as a place of worship and gathering without the necessary permits.

The Ombudsman had decided towards the end of last year that Mepa’s stop notice should be enforced since the authority was duty bound to restore the rule of law.

Residents had complained to the Ombudsman that Mepa had failed to follow a stop and enforcement notice it had issued in 2007, as a result of which they were suffering inconveniences.

They argued that the premises were being used for public worship by the Muslim community but the person responsible for the apartment said that the premises was a residence and its tenants had the right to invite the Muslim community over for prayers.

The ombudsman had concluded that as the premises were being used for a different purpose than permitted without the necessary permits, Mepa was duty bound to restore the rule of law.

However, it was wise and prudent that efforts were made to find an amicable solution.

The Ombudsman also said that the Islamic community abusively using the premises should show that it truly accepted to observe the laws and regulations and accept the invitation of the authorities to identify an adequate alternative where its members could practise their belief in full respect of the rights of others.

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


Spain: Spain Catalan Identity to be Taught in School

(by Paola Del Vecchio) (ANSAmed) — MADRID, MARCH 19 — Catalonia’s new Law on Education, currently under discussion in the regional parliament, continues to be the apple of discord in the debate on bilingualism. Art. 2.8 will include the obligation to educate children “to cultivate their sense of belonging as members of the Catalan nation”, reported El Mundo today. Initially the article underlined the obligation to “cultivate one’s own culture and respect for communal life”. But yesterday during the parliamentary debate the text was modified at the request of the Nationalist Christian Democratic CiU party, backed by 3-party coalition Psc, Erc and Icv, to promote “a sense of belonging as members of the Catalan nation” in schools. MP of the Popular Party Rafael Lopez voted against the change, criticising the “totalitarian language” of the three-party coalition, comparing it with Francoist language. Under Franco’s dictatorship it was forbidden to speak languages other than Spanish, the official State language. According to the opposition member, the Ciu and the three-party coalition “are trying to reinforce the compulsory monolingual immersion system” in the region in which Spanish and Catalan are considered co-official languages. The amendments to the law presented by the Popular Party and the constitutionalist party of Ciutadans, aimed at “the defence of bilingualism and plurality and linguistic freedom as principles of the system” have been rejected. Also in the national parliament the bill presented two days ago by the deputy of the Progress and Democracy Union (UPyD), Rosa Diez, to eliminate language discrimination of the Spanish-speaking in the autonomous communities with co-official languages, like Catalonia and the Basque Counties, was rejected by all parliamentary groups except the PP. During the debate in parliament, Rosa Diez said that according to the constitution, Spanish is the official language and that the right to learn this language continues to be violated in regions like the Basque Country and Catalonia. “Hundreds and thousands of Spaniards” suffer this discrimination when choosing which language to educate their children in, and when applying for certain jobs, especially in public offices, where good knowledge of Catalan and Basque is required. Today a strike was called in Catalan public schools against the regional government’s education policies. According to trade unions 78% of teachers supported the strike. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Swede in US School Exchange Nightmare

Swedish international education company EF has been ordered to pay 10,000 kronor ($1,200) to a high school student from Stockholm who was initially housed with criminals during an academic exchange programme in the United States.

Patrik Sundelin was looking forward to spending the 2006-2007 academic year in the United States on an EF Education- arranged programme.

Seventeen at the time, the enthusiastic teen hoped to try out for the American football team at Alma Bryant High School, located in the small town south of Mobile, Alabama.

“I was going mostly because I wanted to do something new, to improve my English, and experience a new culture,” Patrik told The Local.

“I was expecting to have a really fun year.”

But Patrik’s excitement quickly turned to despair when he discovered his host family already had two unpleasant houseguests living with them, both of whom had had brushes with the law.

“The first night they brought me into the kitchen to show me their knife collection. Then one started telling me the best ways to cut someone up with a knife,” said Patrik.

“It was a surreal experience.”

The following day, Patrik found himself taken on an even more bizarre first “field trip”.

“They took me for a ride into town. We ended up at the courthouse so one of them could meet with her probation officer,” he said.

“On the way there, she pointed out all the places where I could buy drugs, if I was interested in doing so.”

And the two dodgy sub-letters weren’t Patrik’s only concern. Not only was house itself also a mess, but the host father was gravely ill and the family’s own son had recently been taken by social services.

“Patrik called us and said there was no way he could spend a year with this family,” said his mother, Lena Sundelin.

Lena contacted EF in Stockholm and within a day, Patrik had been taken away from his first host family and placed with another temporarily.

While admitting that EF quickly removed her son from what she considered life threatening situation, she is nevertheless critical of the company for not updating her on the situation immediately.

“I had to wait for two days because the woman in Stockholm said she was home with the flu,” she said, wondering why no one else with the company contacted her sooner.

Although Patrik was no longer living with veterans of the Alabama prison system, his problems were far from being solved.

Unable to find a permanent home for Patrik, EF placed him with the mother of their regional representative until a second family was located.

But when he finally did move for what he thought would be the last time, Patrik soon discovered that his new family was only a marginal improvement.

His new host mother treated him with little compassion or respect and even laughed in his face when he confessed he was having a difficult time. She was also verbally abusive on at least one occasion, an incident witnessed by some of Patrik’s classmates, who notified school officials.

A guidance counselor at the school who became aware of Patrik’s situation eventually suggested that he live with her sister, a move which seemed agreeable to everyone by the local EF representatives.

Late one evening prior to his planned move to what was to be Patrik’s third host family within two months, EF’s local representative and her mother visited Patrik and asked him to get in the car with them.

“They tried to get me to sign a contract saying that if there was one more problem that I would agree to be sent home,” said Patrik of the uncomfortable late-night meeting.

When Patrik refused to sign without first going over the contract, known as a “Behavioural Agreement”, the two women became angry.

“They basically threatened me with being sent home if I didn’t sign,” he said.

“I had no power. My word didn’t matter at all. If they had succeeded in sending me home, the story would simply have been one of another foreign student who couldn’t handle studying in the United States.”

But Patrik refused to sign and eventually moved in with the third family, where he finished out the rest of what became a very enjoyable year.

“I really enjoyed the school and the friends I met there and I did end up getting to play American football,” he said.

“EF didn’t do anything helpful except getting me out of the first house. They were more of a hindrance than a help. They tried to blame me for all the problems.”

Following Patrik’s return to Sweden, his family filed a claim with EF asking the company to refund some of the more than 50,000 kronor the family paid EF to arrange his trip to the US.

“We feel that we paid for something we didn’t get,” said Patrik.

“A big part of what you pay for is the support they are supposed to give you. EF is supposed to make sure the experience in the United States is a safe one.”

Specifically, Patrik and his family contend the EF failed to live up to their promise to visit the homes of potential host families to assess their suitability for housing an exchange student.

“There’s no way that EF could have done a home visit to the first family because if they had, they would have seen that it wasn’t an appropriate place for a high school student to live,” he said.

The company countered, however, that it did carry out a home visit and background check of family members. The problem, according to EF, was that the family never mentioned anything about the two criminal houseguests.

“If a family isn’t forthcoming with information, there’s only so much we can do to discover it,” said EF’s Emma Ragnarsson with the company’s High School Year department in Stockholm.

There are also conflicting claims about whether a representative from the company ever visited the home of Patrik’s third and final host family. While EF claims to have documentation of the visit, an email from the host mother says that the family “had not seen or heard from anyone from EF”.

In response to the Sundelins’ request for their money back, EF initially offered to pay them 3,000 kronor for “pain and suffering” in the spring of 2008.

Dissatisfied, the family filed a complaint with the Swedish National Board for Consumer Complaints (Allmänna reklamationsnämnden — ARN) asking for an additional 25,000 kronor, or roughly a 50 percent rebate on the total cost of Patrik’s trip.

Around the same time the family filed the claim, EF upped their offer to 10,000 kronor.

In the end, ARN ruled that the family wasn’t entitled to any more compensation than EF’s new offer for the problems Patrik endured.

According to ARN, his mother, who filed the document, “did not show that the failings are such that she is entitled to a discount which extends further than what the company has conceded”.

Ragnarsson said EF regretted that Patrik’s experience in the US got off to a rough start, but said it stands by the procedures it has in place to ensure the safety and security of its students.

“We do more than what is required by the US State Department or the Swedish Consumer Agency (Konsumentverket),” she said, characterizing Patrik’s case as the exception, rather than the rule.

While disappointed by the ruling, Patrik said there was more at stake than financial compensation.

“The compensation doesn’t make up for what we lost,” said Patrik.

“But it’s not really about the money. We wanted to draw attention to the case so that other students didn’t end up in the same situation.”

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]


Theodore Dalrymple: Europe is a Riot

Not long ago, I had occasion to stay for a few weeks in a once-industrial town in the north of England. The last steel mills had just closed down. I was surprised by the elegance of much of the early 19th-century architecture, now completely overwhelmed by the brutalism of the 1960s and ‘70s. The prematurely middle-aged spent their time looking for secondhand clothes in charity shops. Pawnshops had also made a big comeback. Feral young men with an expression of urban predation on their faces stood around on street corners in nylon tracksuits and hoods, muttering f—-ing this and f—-ing that to one another. About half the people in the street were unemployed young immigrants, mainly of Middle Eastern origin, on the lookout for a bit of small-scale trafficking. Some took advantage of free Internet access in the public library—a concrete building aesthetically suitable as the headquarters of the Stasi—to look at inflammatory political sites or to search for women.

I have seen the future, and it’s riots.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]


Turkey Raises Doubts About NATO Fogh

The Turkish government says there is no rush to appoint a new secretary-general of NATO. It can wait.

Turkey may put a spanner in the works of Denmark’s Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s race to the secretary-generalship of NATO, saying an appointment does not necessarily have to be made at next week’s NATO summit in Baden-Baden.

“As far as we are concerned, there is no such deadline. We do not feel any pressure. For both Turkey and the Alliance, there’s plenty of time,” Turkish Foreign Ministry Spokesman Burak Özügergin tells Politiken.

Summit

The current Secretary-General of NATO Jaap de Hoop Scheffer is not due to leave his post before July, and there is no requirement as to when his successor should be announced. The American Defense Secretary Robert Gates, however, has said that a name should be made clear at the summit.

“I hope we can solve the issue in time for the summit. But the most important thing is that it is a person who has the broadest possible support within Alliance countries, and that it is a person who has the necessary leadership experience to head such a large and complex organisation,” Gates said during a NATO meeting in Krakow a month ago.

Baden-Baden

As late as during last week’s EU summit, Fogh Rasmussen said that he expected a decision to be taken at the summit.

But Turkey seems to disagree, and questions whether Fogh Rasmussen is a candidate.

“We are still waiting to see a field of candidates. Up to now, Mr. Rasmussen hasn’t even put himself forward as an official candidate. So we will not comment on what we think about his possible candidacy,” says Özügergin.

Turkey has been reticent about Anders Fogh Rasmussen because of his handling of the crisis involving the publication of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed and the presence in Copenhagen of the Kurdish television station Roj TV.

Consensus among diplomats and experts in Brussels, however, is that Turkey would refrain from using a veto against Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s candidacy, given the support he enjoys in the United States and among the major European nations.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]


UK: Big Brother Files Put Children at Risk and ‘Must be Ditched’

Big Brother-style databases of DNA records and personal details of millions of Britons held by the Government must be scrapped, a report says.

The study of almost 50 large-scale public sector computer systems highlights what it claims are serious breaches of human rights and data protection laws.

It warns that Britain is becoming a ‘database state’ because politicians are scared to step in to halt the spread of costly and flawed projects.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


UK: Council Uses Spyplane With Thermal Imaging Camera to Crack Down on Homes Wasting Energy

A council has been using a spy plane with a thermal imaging camera to crack down on hundred of thousands of homes and businesses wasting energy.

Council bosses paid £30,000 to hire the aircraft to produce a colour-coded map showing the most energy-wasting properties.

Council officers now plan to visit those properties to tell home and business owners how they can improve insulation in a bid to cut carbon emissions.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


UK: Mother Given Parking Ticket “for Reviving Her Severely Disabled Son”

A mother who says she stopped her car on a pavement to revive her profoundly disabled son, was given a £100 parking ticket.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


UK: Stagnation, Decay and a Fear of Failure is ‘Crushing Foreign Office’, Reveals Damning Report

The Foreign Office is sinking into ‘stagnation and decay’ because of a culture of political correctness, says a damning report.

Devotion to modern ideals of gender and race equality, together with inertia and weak leadership are crushing the spirit of those working there, it adds.

A fear of failure means even hopeless projects are allowed to limp on because no one will admit they have messed up.

And the way to the top is simply ‘never make a mistake’.

And despite acknowledging the general quality of the staff, the report calls some employees ‘incompetents, cowards or clones’.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Balkans

Kosovo: Situation Stable But Tense, UN Report Says

Pristina, 23 March (AKI) — The situation in Kosovo, one year after it declared independence from Serbia, is stable but tense, United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon said in a report submitted to the Security Council on Monday.

“Kosovo authorities maintain a working contact with my special representative Lamberto Zanier, but UNMIK (UN mission) is confronted with a growing challenge in fulfilling its mandate based on Resolution 1244,” Ban said.

Kosovo was put under UN control after NATO’s bombing and the withdrawal of Serbian forces in June 1999 under Resolution 1244, which officially treats Kosovo as an integral part of Serbia.

After Kosovo declared independence in 2008, Belgrade agreed for UNMIK to be replaced by the European Union mission (EULEX) as long as it was based on Resolution 1244.

UNMIK has begun withdrawing from Kosovo, gradually turning its competences to EULEX and Kosovar authorities and the process should be completed next year

“Many Kosovo Albanians deem that the UNMIK role has been fulfilled and that its presence represents a barrier to the functioning of Kosovo as an independent state,” Ban said in a report.

Kosovo’s foreign minister Skender Hiseni, who attended the security council session, said he would demand a complete withdrawal of UNMIK from Kosovo.

But Serbian president Boris Tadic, in a televised speech to the Security Council, demanded that UNMIK should continue to perform its basic functions and that EULEX should remain neutral regarding Kosovo’s independence.

Kosovo has been recognised by 56 UN countries, including the United States and 22 EU member states.

However, Serbia is fighting a diplomatic battle to retain their former province and has asked the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to rule on Kosovo’s independence.

Tadic appealed to UN member states to refrain from further recognition of Kosovo until the ICJ made its ruling.

“No one should prejudice that decision, therefore no one should encourage recognition of the so-called Kosovo,” Tadic said.

He called for new talks on Kosovo’s status, as “the only way to secure a just, compromise and mutually acceptable solution”.

Tadic vowed Serbia will never recognise Kosovo’s independence and will “continue a diplomatic, legal and peaceful defence of its integrity”.

Kosovo’s government spokesman Memli Krasnici said EULEX was deployed in Kosovo with the approval of the government in Pristina.

“The Resolution 1244 has no meaning at all, because the reality on the ground has completely changed,” he said.

Belgrade has kept parallel power structures in Kosovo and Belgrade officials had frequently visited minority Serb communities with the approval of UNMIK.

However, Kosovar police on Monday blocked Serbian officials from entering the country and turned back Belgrade mayor Dragan Djilas and Tadic’s aide Mladjan Djordjevic.

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


Serbia and Croatia Vow to Improve Relations

Belgrade, 20 March (AKI) — Serbian prime minister Mirko Cvetkovic and his visiting Croatian counterpart Ivo Sanader agreed on Friday to improve political and economic ties and to leave behind disputes dating back to the 1991-1995 war that followed the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia.

“We expect some issues to be solved very quickly and some will be solved gradually in the future with constant need to improve relations between the two states,” Cvetkovic said during a media conference following talks with Sanader in Belgrade.

“We won’t forget our past, but we should not live in it,” said Sanader. “Looking to the past, we must find ways how to solve possible problems in the future,” he added.

The leaders also discussed issues such as cooperation in the field of energy, transport and cultural matters.

Among the issues that have marred the relations between the two countries since the war were the return of Serbian refugees to Croatia and the fate of missing persons on both sides.

Sanader said Croatia is still waiting for information on some 1,100 missing people and Serbia has made similar request to Zagreb.

However, differences remain, as Croatia sued Serbia in the International Court of Justice for alleged genocide. Serbia later countersued.

Before the visit, Cvetkovic said he would ask Sanader to drop the suit and Serbia would do the same. But Sanader responded there were “more important issues” to be discussed and neither of the two prime ministers mentioned the matter at the media conference.

Sanader came to Belgrade with a large economic delegation and the talks on economic matters seemed to be more relaxed, though no concrete deals were concluded.

Croatia is an official candidate for NATO and European Union membership, while Serbia has made only initial steps towards joining the EU.

The two countries also signed a protocol by which Croatia would cede to Serbia several hundred translated documents pertaining to EU membership.

Some fifty people protested in Belgrade against Sanader’s visit and two opposition parties voiced their displeasure. “Croatia is not a democratic country, she’s not a partner of Serbia and deserves no apology by Serbia for anything, Serbian Progressive Party said in a statement.

Apart from still open war wounds, there is a strong resentment in Serbia for Croatia’s recognition of Serbia’s former province of Kosovo, which declared independence in 2008.

Sanader also invited Cvetkovic to visit Zagreb, and before leaving Belgrade he was scheduled to meet with president Boris Tadic and parliament president Slavica Djukic Dejanovic.

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

North Africa

Terrorism: Algeria, Two Militants Killed in Kabylie

(ANSAmed) — ALGIERS, MARCH 23 — Two men belonging to an armed Islamic group have been killed by the Algerian army in Chalet El Ameur, close to Boumerdes, in the Kabylie region (50km east of Algiers). According to APS, “the two terrorists were killed in an ambush by security forces during the night between Saturday and Sunday”. During the operation, wrote the Algerian press, six soldiers were injured, four of whom seriously, when a homemade device was detonated and mortars were fired by the armed group. The Algerian army is currently carrying out numerous round-ups, specifically in the Kabylie region, and along the Tunisian border, in Tebassa. Security has been strengthened throughout the country in light of the upcoming elections on April 9. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

Israel: Failed Attack in Haifa ‘Work of Hezbollah’, Press

(ANSAmed) — TEL AVIV, MARCH 23 — Lebanese Hezbollah could be behind Saturday night’s failed terrorist attack in the Lev ha-Mifratz Mall in Haifa, where a technical defect in a powerful car-bomb caused only a partial explosion, and did not cause any casualties, reported Israeli daily, Haaretz, citing distinguished sources from the Palestinian National Authority. According to these sources, Shiites have been trying to recruit al-Fatah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad militants in the West Bank for some time in order to perform a large terrorist attack in retaliation for the murder of Hezbollah military commander Imad Mughniyeh one year ago in Damascus. The Israeli authorities, meanwhile, have been highly secretive regarding their investigations into the matter. According to police, the automobile used for the attack was stolen in Jerusalem and the licence plate was later changed. Some 100kg of explosives were then hidden inside of the car, which the attackers parked next to a wall outside a theatre in an attempt to cause the entire building to collapse and bury the spectators in the rubble. “The power of the blast should have equalled that of 10-15 suicide bombers”, said a bomb-disposal expert from the police. Yesterday Premier Ehud Olmert said that the attack was carried out by a well-established organisation, probably with aid in the West Bank, referring to Hamas. An Hamas leader, Ayman Taha, replied that he does not know who organised the attack, which, he specified, “should be hailed as an heroic operation”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Middle East

Bahrain: Rights Group Questions Trial Process

New York, 23 March (AKI) — Bahrain’s use of televised, coerced testimony and other serious flaws in the criminal trial of an opposition leader and 34 other opponents of the government shows contempt for the right to a fair trial, New-York based Human Rights Watch said on Monday.

HRW said all coerced testimony in the trial of Hassan Mushaima, leader of the political opposition group Haq, and 34 others should be withdrawn and that those not charged with a genuine criminal offence should be freed.

“The televised statements of young activists detained without access to lawyers smacks of coercion and should be tossed out of the courtroom,” said HRW’s Joe Stork, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa division.

“Their use makes a mockery of government claims of providing Haq members a fair trial.”

On 28 December last year, public television showed a programme in which young opposition activists who had been held incommunicado for weeks “confessed” to committing violence at a Haq rally ahead of Bahrain national holidays on December 16 and 17.

The broadcast accused Mushaima of inciting violence as part of a plot to overthrow the government during these holidays.

The televised testimony is a key element in the prosecution’s case involving various charges against Mushaima and 34 others. The trials began in February and will resume on Tuesday in Manama, the capital.

Large portions of the February 23 court proceedings were omitted from the official trial record, according to a defence lawyer, Jalila al-Sayed, including detailed torture allegations by many of the 19 defendants then present.

She told HRW that they testified that they had been beaten with water hoses and on their feet, and tortured with electricity, especially on their genitals. Several reportedly said all their clothes were removed, and one alleged being threatened with sexual assault.

Mai al-Khalifa, the minister of culture and information, told the media that the ministry was complying with a “judicial order” of the public prosecutor when it broadcast the “confessions.”

Some of the 35 defendants were arrested before the holidays, after a Haq-sponsored rally in Manama that ended with stone-throwing and tyres being set on fire in the streets.

Three of the defendants, including Mushaima, were arrested without warrants at their homes in the early hours of January 26. The others are Abd al-Jalil al-Singace, who heads Haq’s human rights unit, and Muhammad al-Moqdad, a cleric.

The three face various charges, the most serious being “inciting violent overthrow of the government using terrorist methods.”

Thirteen defendants are believed to be abroad and are being tried in absentia, which HRW claims violate their right to challenge the evidence against them. Lawyers told HRW that none of those in custody were informed of the charges against them until 10 February.

Nineteen of the 35 defendants, including Mushaima, remain in solitary confinement, a lawyer for the group told Human Rights Watch.

Mushaima faces the most serious charge of “forming, leading, providing necessary monies, and training an illegal organisation whose purpose is the advocacy of disrupting provisions of the law and which uses terrorism as one of its methods,” under Bahrain’s counterterrorism law.

He has been ordered to remain in detention until the court reaches its decision, and faces possible life imprisonment if convicted.

“The overly broad and ambiguous language of Bahrain’s counterterrorism law and penal code allow the government to criminalise the basic rights to freedom of expression and association,” said Joe Stork, deputy director HRW’s Middle East and North Africa division.

“The government, for political purposes, seems to have turned a matter of stone throwing and lit tyres into a conspiracy to overthrow the government without any evidence to prove it.”

HRW called on Bahrain to honour its obligation to ensure defendants the right to a fair trial as a signatory of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Bahrain has also ratified the Convention against Torture, which prohibits torture and other ill-treatment and the use of statements made as a result of torture as evidence in legal proceedings, the group noted.

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


Lebanon: Parliament Reduces Voting Age From 21 to 18

(ANSAmed) — BEIRUT, MARCH 19 — The parliament in Beirut has decided that, for the first time in Lebanese history, from 2010 onwards young Lebanese will be able to vote when they are 18 years old rather than waiting until they are 21. The Lebanese National News Agency (NNA) clarified that the members of the majority and the opposition parties had voted unanimously in favour of the change to art. 21 of the Constitution, which had fixed the minimum voting age at 21. According to local analysts it is unlikely that this change will come into force in the legislative elections scheduled for June 7, due to the institutional process which began with today’s vote but which will require over 4 months. The new young Lebanese voters will therefore have to wait until the administrative elections of 2010 to be able to go to the polling stations. On the basis of calculations published today in the local press, with the lowering of the voting age to 18, the Muslim electorate will be at a slight advantage (0.8%) over Christian voters (-0.9%). In absolute terms, the number of people with the vote will increase from 3,232,110 at present to 3,460,570. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


No Woman on TV, Saudi Clerics Say

A group of 35 Saudi clerics issue a statement for the benefit of the new Information minister, telling him Saudi women should not under any circumstance appear on TV or in print media. It is not likely that he will heed their call.

Riyadh (AsiaNews/Agencies) — “No Saudi women should appear on TV, no matter what the reason,” read a statement by 35 Saudi clergymen sent yesterday to Saudi Arabia’s new information minister. “No images of women should appear in Saudi newspapers and magazines.”

“We have noticed how well-rooted perversity is in the Ministry of Information and Culture, in television, radio, press, culture clubs and the book fair,” the statement also said.

“We have great hope that this media reform will be accomplished by you,” it added.

The clerics were referring here to the new Information Minister Abdel Aziz Khoja, and the media reform they have in mind includes the prohibition of playing music and music shows on television.

The 35-member group includes several professors from the ultra-conservative Imam University, Islamic research scholars, a judge and some government employees.

Although the statement is not likely to be accepted, it does put a degree of pressure on the new minister, Khoja, who was appointed by King Abdullah on 14 February.

On that date the king reshuffled his cabinet and other top positions in the Saudi hierarchy in order to reduce the influence of hardliners, several of whom lost their job, including four ministers, the speaker of the Majlis al-Shura (Saudi Arabia’s main consultative assembly), the head of the supreme court and the chief of the religious police (muttawa).

The most striking change was the appointment of a woman, Noura al-Fayez, as deputy education minister.

In a country where they are legally bound to a male guardian (father, brother or husband) and have very few rights and many prohibitions (like driving), women can be journalists and do appear on TV, with their faces showing, whilst in public they have to cover themselves completely.

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


Syria: Italy Exports Set Record in 2008 With Over 1 Bln Euro

(ANSAmed) — ROME, MARCH 19 — According to the latest ISTAT figures for 2008, Italy’s exports to Syria have continued to grow, with exports of products worth 1.030 million euros, an absolute record. Exports increased by 10.5% on 2007 (+55.1% on 2006). Italian imports from Syria totalled 818.3 million euros, down by 11.8pct. Overall trade — says to the ICE (the Italian Foreign Trade Institute) office in Damascus — totalled 1,848 million euro, a 0.6% decline, with a 211.3 million euro surplus for Italy, overturning its traditional deficit. This turnaround was also caused by the decline in acquisitions of refined oil products: 58.3 million euros, -54% from 2007. On the side of Italian exports, there were increase exports of machinery and machines for the production and use of mechanical energy (+159%), primary chemical products (+67.0%) and cars (+58.0%). Food and drink exports increased by 224%, floor tiles by 987.2%, footwear by 153.3% and furniture by 109.8%. Some of these increases are the result of import liberalisation. On the import side, Italy imported mostly crude and refined oil from Syria, with crude and refined oil making up 88.6% of total imports, with a value of 724.9 million euros (-6.0%). (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Syria: 8 Bln Dollar Shopping Centre in Raqqa

(ANSAmed) — ROME, MARCH 19 — Al-Jaz Group (SKJG) a jointly owned Syrian and Kuwaiti company, announced that it will build the first shopping centre in the eastern part of Syria in Raqqa. The centre, reported the Italian Foreign Trade Commission (ICE) in Damascus, will be part of an 8-storey building that will also have a residential component, with furnished apartments on 3 floors. The residential surface of the building will span 18,000 square metres and the commercial area will span 25,000 square metres. The total investment is estimated at about 8 million USD. SKJD will build the shopping centre based on a 50-year treasury bill contract signed with the Governorate of Raqqa, which owns the land. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Syria: Italian Ceramic Tile Exports Up 987% in 2008

(ANSAmed) — ROME, MARCH 19 — According to recent National Institute of Statistics (ISTAT) data produced by the Italian Foreign Trade Institute in Damascus, Italian exports of ceramic tiles for flooring and panelling in Syria increased by 987% to 4.6 million euro in 2008. In 2007 exports of the same product amounted to 420,000 euro and in 2006 they were worth 481,000 euro. This increase can be attributed both to the opening up of the market, with the almost total elimination of bans on imports, and to the development of building projects in the country (the recent Eight Gate project alone is worth 1.2 billion US dollars; it is on the outskirts of Damascus, and consists of numerous buildings). (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Syria: Damascus Eighth in the World for Office Space Cost

(ANSAmed) — ROME, MARCH 19 — According to the recent study ‘Office Space Across the World 2009’ by the property consultancy company, Cushman and Wakefield, Damascus is eighth in the world for the cost of office space. Besides the lease, other costs that were included were taxes and services. The analysis refers to the Central Business District (CBD) of Damascus. The annual cost of leasing in the Damascus CBD is estimated at 351 euro per square metre, whilst the total annual cost per square metre was around 975 euro. The vast difference between the figures was determined as previously indicated by high taxation and by other aforementioned service costs. Damascus also emerged as the second most expensive city in the Arab world, after Dubai and ahead of Abu Dhabi, which was ninth. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Tehran Censors Internet as Mystery Surrounds Death in Prison of Dissident and Blogger

The authorities claim that Omidreza Mirsayafi, a young blogger, killed himself with an overdose of prescription drugs. The family retorts that the prison clinic was responsible for dispensing the medicine. A political dissident dies from poison on 6 March. Reporter Roxana Saberi’s father pleads in a letter to Khamenei to let his daughter go.

Tehran (AsiaNews/Agencies) — Iranian authorities announced a broad crackdown on what they consider obscene and anti-Islamic websites. They also arrested several bloggers one of whom died in prison under suspicious circumstances. In the meantime Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi remains in jail despite a letter her father wrote to Iran’s Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Omidreza Mirsayafi, a 29-year-old Iranian blogger sentenced to two and half years in prison for insulting Iran’s supreme leader and other Iranian religious leaders, died in Tehran’s Evin Prison on Wednesday.

Prison authorities notified Mirsayafi’s family saying that he committed suicide on 18 March by overdosing on sedative tablets.

Mirsayafi (pictured) was suffering from depression and prison aggravated his condition.

But both his attorney and his sister do not believe the official explanation. For Mr Mirsayafi,s sister he would not have had enough tablets to kill himself because they were given to him by the prison clinic.

On 6 March, Amir Hossein Heshmat-Saran, also died in prison. The political dissident was purging a five-year sentence for his political activities and appears to have been assassinated with toxic chemicals.

Human rights associations have called on the Iranian government to open an investigation to shed light on the case.

Nothing has changed for Roxana Saberi. The 31-year-old woman was arrested in January after a revolutionary court issued an arrest warrant against her for working “illegally” in the country. Initially it had seemed that she had been detained for buying alcohol, but her work as a reporter is the most likely reason.

In early March the situation seemed to be close to a solution but then the authorities stopped.

Recently Reza Saberi, Roxana’s father, wrote to Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, asking him to release her because of her fragile mental state..

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


Yemen: ‘Spy’ Sentenced to Death for Israel Contact

Sanaa, 23 March (AKI) — Yemeni Bassal al-Haidari was sentenced to death by the country’s special criminal court in Sanaa on Monday after being found guilty of contacting Israel’s outgoing prime minister Ehud Olmert and offering to collaborate with Israel.

Twenty-six year-old al-Haidari, alias Abu al-Ghaith, was accused of communicating with Israeli intelligence and asking for support to launch terror attacks against foreign embassies and Yemeni government buildings.

“This is unfair, you have sentenced me without any proof of these accusations,” shouted Al-Haidari from the caged dock.

Al-Haidari was charged with corresponding with Olmert via email.

“We are the Organisation of Islamic Jihad and you are Jews, but you are honest, and we are ready to do anything,” said Al-Hardari according to prosecutors quoted by Arab TV network al-Arabiya.

Olmert is then said to have responded to al-Haidari.

“We are ready to support you to become an obstacle in the Middle East. We will support you as an agent,” Olmert was quoted as writing.

“The court… sentences the first defendant to death in the case of making illegal contact with the Zionist Jewish Israeli entity,” said judge Hassan Elwan.

Two others were also sentenced in the case. Defendant Emmad al-Rimi, 23, was sentenced to five years in prison and Ali al-Mahfal, 24, to three years in jail.

The three men went on trial in January after being accused of operating under the little-known organisation, Islamic Jihad, and spreading false information about attacks.

The men were arrested in 2008 and convicted of demanding money from the Saudi Arabian embassy and the United Arab Emirates.

Israel has dismissed the allegations that it had any contact with Al-Haidari.

Yemen and Israel have no diplomatic relations.

Also on Monday, the Yemeni government said it continued to give financial aid to Yemeni Jews living in the capital Sanaa. The government dismissed reports that the government had previously suspended allowances to Jews.

Yemeni news reports say some Jews were relocated from the Saada and Amran provinces to the capital Sanaa after harassment. An estimated 400 Jews live in Yemen.

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

Caucasus

Azeris Voting to Make Aliyev President for Life

Voters have to decide whether to lift a two-term time limit in presidential elections. Opposition is against the change and is boycotting the vote. But Aliyev has widespread appeal in the country, thanks partly to the country’s rapid economic growth.

Baku (AsiaNews/Agencies) — Azeris are voting today in a constitutional referendum to decide whether to lift the current two-term limit for the country’s president. They will also decide on 41 amendments to 29 articles of Azerbaijan’s constitution, but the most important will be President Ilham Aliyev’s eligibility for unlimited runs starting in 2013.

The opposition has branded the move a farce designed to install the current head of state as president for life and called on voters to boycott the referendum.

Mr Aliyev won re-election last October with nearly 89% of ballots cast, in a vote the opposition boycotted as unfair.

Few doubts the amendments will pass since the referendum law requires a 25 per cent turnout of the 4.9 million eligible voters.

The referendum itself was proposed by the Yeni Azerbaijan Party, which is the president’s main supporter.

In 2003 Ilham Aliyev replaced his father, Heydar Aliyev, who was president from 1993 to 2003 and the country’s leader from 1969 till 1982 when it was part of the Soviet Union.

Under Ilham Aliyev’s tenure the country has experienced rapid economic growth (20 per cent annually from 2003 and 2007), thanks to Caspian Sea oil and gas. Many Azeris are grateful to him for this.

By contrast, the opposition and human rights activities have complained that wealth has largely gone to the ruling elites and that democracy and press media are being gradually eroded.

As evidence of their claim there is a proposed constitutional amendment, which would make it illegal for journalists to “follow, film, photograph, or record” a subject without prior consent, a change that is particularly decried by journalists and human rights groups.

The lack of information and public debate during the 28-day campaign are also among the reasons cited by analysts to criticise the referendum, which have been compounded by existing major limits on freedom of speech, press and assembly.

The Venice Commission, the Council of Europe’s advisory body on constitutional matters, said that the elimination of term limits in presidential elections may prove “a serious setback on Azerbaijan’s road to a consolidated democracy.”

But for Elnur Aslanov, head of the presidential administration’s Policy Analysis and Information Department, the “opposition does not have any alternative opinions or concrete position regarding the referendum. Therefore, they decided to boycott the referendum.”

Strategically Azerbaijan is also becoming more important. With Kyrgyzstan’s decision to shut down the US air force base in its territory and the rising number of road attacks by the Taliban in Pakistan, Azerbaijan is an attractive alternative to supply Afghanistan through the Caspian Sea.

Should the route prove successful, it could allow the shipment of upward of 30,000 containers each month to Afghanistan.

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

South Asia

Kashmir: Ten Die in Clashes Between Rebels and Indian Army

The death toll counts four soldiers and six militants. An Indian army siege of rebel hideout triggers battle. Fighting is ongoing. Islamabad speaks of “unmotivated attack”.

New Delhi (AsiaNews/Agencies) — The death toll from three days of fighting between the Indian army and separatist rebels in Kashmir, which has also involved the Pakistani military, stands at ten people.. A spokesperson for New Delhi’s Defence Minister says that “an army patrol was attacked” during a “reconnaissance operation on a rebel hideout in Shamsbari Forest”, along the Pakistani border.

“We have lost an officer and three soldiers” confirms lieutenant colonel J.S. Brar. “Six militants were killed in the battle, fighting is still ongoing” along the border between the two countries.

Islamabad accuses India of “having fired without motive” and says it has lodged official protests with New Delhi. An officer from the Indian army has refuted the accusations affirming that “Pakistani troops opened fire first, wounding a soldier”.

Kashmir, divided between Pakistan and Indian, is claimed by both nations and for decades has been a theatre of bloody conflict; not even an agreement signed in 2003 has been able to guarantee stability and peace in the area. New Delhi accuses Islamabad over backing rebel troops and fundamentalist guerrillas who have set up training camps in the region.

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


Nepali Muslims Want Constitution to Incorporate Sharia-Based Personal Law

The Nepal Muslim Sangh wants the country’s Muslim community to be recognised as a distinct entity. Muslim leaders tell government and parties that Muslims are not just a “vote bank”, demand specific steps in favour of Muslims.

Kathmandu (AsiaNews) — Nepal’s new constitution should recognise Islam. The Nepal Muslim Sangh, a federation of Nepali Muslim communities, made the request to the Nepali government in a six-point list submitted on Saturday to the Constituent Assembly and the parties represented in it.

The federation wants the country’s Maoist government to acknowledge that Nepali Muslims have a separate identity, and that this warrants the creation of a separate Islamic Affairs Commission, an Islamic School (Madrassah) Board, a Hajj Committee (for annual pilgrimages to Makkah) and the introduction of Islamic personal law based on Sharia for Muslims.

Nepal Muslim Sangh Chairman Abdul Sattar said that Muslims should not be exploited as a mere “vote bank”.

Neither the government, nor political parties have paid attention to Muslim concerns; no effort has been made “to launch any concrete programmes targeting the Muslim community,” he said.

Muslims, who number just over 800,000 or about 3.5 per cent out of a mostly Hindu population of 26 million, constitute Nepal’s second largest religious minority after Buddhists.

The government has classified them as Madeshi, or natives of the southern part of the country, along with indigenous groups in the Tarai region

On 15 March the Maoist government signed an agreement with representatives of the Muslim community granting them political, social and cultural rights as a way to stave off possible separatist tendencies.

The agreement does not mention however the inclusion in the constitution of Sharia-based personal law as demanded by the Nepal Muslim Sangh.

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

Far East

Hong Kong Catholic Schools in Danger

The education bill provides for state interference in the management of private schools. The Church says that the provision risks distorting the mission of schools connected to religious congregations and orders.

Hong Kong (AsiaNews/Agencies) — The diocese of Hong Kong is in suspense over the future of Catholic schools on the island. The concerns are caused by the Education Bill Amendment approved in 2004, according to which every school that receives economic support from the government must set up School Management Committees, with a legal value separate from that of the educational institutions (Sponsoring Bodies).

The government maintains that this permits greater transparency and more democracy, while the private school administrators say it is only a maneuver to allow them to interfere in the management of the schools, which would distort them to the point of eliminating the Catholic element.

Cardinal Zen Ze-kiun, the archbishop of Hong Kong, has repeatedly expressed his concern by saying that the government provision does not recognize the contribution that Catholic schools make to society. Now the Sunday Examiner, the diocesan weekly, has brought the problem up again in the fear that the Catholic schools will not be able to enjoy the exemption from the bill that had been guaranteed at least until 2012.

The Sunday Examiner stresses that the model proposed by the government in order to improve the teaching and management of many schools risks being counterproductive for Catholic schools, the value and prestige of which are recognized by Hong Kong society.

The schools of the diocese place special emphasis on promoting religious, ethical, and spiritual values in their curriculum. If the more than 200 schools that are connected to the Church did not have the freedom to continue according to this approach, their mission would be ruined, and this would damage the entire society of Hong Kong.

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

Sub-Saharan Africa

Obama and the Mau Mau

Evidently, the president who swore he would change the way the world looks at America is not a fan of the British.

Obama’s paternal grandfather, Hussein Onyango Obama worked as a cook for a British army officer when he became involved with the Kenyan independence movement. Grandpa Obama was arrested in 1949 as a sympathizer for the Kikuyu Central Association, the organization that ultimately spawned the Mau Mau.

(..)

The left wants to paint the Mau Mau as yet another misunderstood group of oppressed victims. The truth is, the Mau Maus were vicious guerrilla fighters. Contrary to popular folklore, the Mau Mau slaughtered far more Kikuyu citizens than the whites they were supposedly rebelling against.

Mau Mau membership required taking an oath which was not exactly frat boy material.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Latin America

Cubans Starve on Diet of Lies

The Cubans told the world they had heroically learned to feed themselves without fuel or farm chemicals after their Soviet subsidies collapsed in the early 1990s. They bragged about their “peasant cooperatives,” their biopesticides and organic fertilizers. They heralded their earthworm culture and the predator wasps they unleashed on destructive caterpillars. They boasted about the heroic ox teams they had trained to replace tractors.

Organic activists swooned all over the world.

Now, a senior Ministry of Agriculture official has admitted in the Cuban press that 84 percent of Cuba’s current food consumption is imported, according to our agricultural attaché in Havana. The organic success was all a lie—a great, gaudy, Communist-style Big Lie of the type that dictators behind the Iron Curtain routinely used throughout the Cold War to hornswoggle the Free World.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Organized Crime is Increasingly Active in Film Piracy

Three Cases Link Terrorists to Piracy Profits

Hizbullah receives $20 million annually from proceeds of pirated films in South America— the tri-border area of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay.

           — Hat tip: LN[Return to headlines]

Immigration

Denmark: Immigrants Happy to be Here

Denmark has been ranked as one of the best countries in Europe in terms of satisfaction by Muslim immigrants

Despite disagreements over religion, Muslim immigrants are overwhelmingly satisfied with life in this country, according to data compiled by Statistics Denmark.

Commissioned by libertarian think-tank Cepos, the poll showed that 91 percent of people whose parents came from Muslim countries say their lives are better here than what they would be in their parents’ native countries. And 79 percent of those who immigrated to Denmark answered the same in the survey.

The figures are far above those of many other western European countries, including Germany, England and France. The only country where Muslims were more satisfied with their conditions was Spain, where illegal immigrants are given the opportunity to obtain residency.

‘This is the first time anyone has asked these people how they feel about being here,’ Geert Laier Christensen, head of research at Cepos, told Politiken newspaper. ‘And it surprised us that people of immigrant background were just as happy with Denmark as native Danes.’

One survey area where there was less satisfaction related to religion, where 40 percent of the respondents indicated they felt conditions for religious freedom were better in their native countries. Immigrants from Morocco, Palestine and Pakistan were the most dissatisfied in this area, with 42, 36 and 34 percent preferring their homelands, respectively.

But Mehmet Yüksekkaya, integration specialist with the Danish Working Environment Authority, said the survey cannot necessarily be taken at face value.

‘As a rule, immigrants will generally say what the survey questioner wants to hear,’ he said. ‘If they had a problem, they would never mention it over the telephone because they come from countries where they fear the authorities.’

As far as the political situation in Denmark goes, survey respondents were split over whether those conditions were better or worse than in their or their parents’ native country.

Forty-seven percent said the political situation in their country of origin was better than in Denmark, 35 percent said it was better in Denmark and 30 percent indicated the situation was roughly the same.

The poll included responses from 1,247 immigrants and 457 of their children.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]


Immigration: Tom Tancredo: Tale of Two Sanctuary Cities

The two cities of El Paso and Denver are 800 miles apart, but they both exist in the rarified world of “sanctuary cities,” where mayors and city officials love to proclaim, “We welcome all immigrants, regardless of immigration status.” This is PC code for welcoming illegal aliens, but it also means they welcome the prosecution of Border Patrol agents and immigration enforcement agents who take their jobs too seriously.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Riots in Maltese Detention Centre, 2 Injured

(ANSAmed) — VALLETTA, MARCH 23 — Two soldiers have been injured in Malta during a riot in the detention centre in Safi. About 600 migrants managed to force the gate, but were stopped by anti-riot police. Order was restored after two hours of clashes. According to a spokesperson from the Interior Ministry, the riot was due to the rejection of asylum requested by the immigrants. The non-EU citizens also protested against the forced detention imposed upon them by Malta. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

5 comments:

Jungle Jim said...

"The USA is also pushing Turkey as a vital new addition to the European Union"

What difference does it make to us whether Turkey is in the EU? Our government should not be involved in this at all.

Charles Martel said...

I've not been paying attention to the News Feed to my great detriment. What a terrific resource. Thank you.

Graham Dawson (Archonix) said...

OT: My flags arrived today and now they're up flying outside the window. I wonder what reaction I'll get.

Turan Tankgirl said...

@ Jungle Jim 8:27 AM
Take a look from outer space and you know why : to hold Turkey on board the so called Western Civilisation. The CSMO on board of our all girls M 44 Hungarian Janitsar tank - her name is Cassandra - told me that otherwise the marching orders will be TURAN.
BTW Our all women bataillon counts one Afro-Turk : Tuğçe Güder.

She was chosen as the 'Best Model of the World,' an international annual event, in 2005. She is an aspiring model with a bright future currently being featured in Tempo Magazine (a Turkish weekly equivalent of Time or Newsweek). The adopted 22-year old Turk, Tugce Guder, also happens to be black

@ Charles Martel 10:48 AM
Nice to see you again ! We now come from Gent and Anvers to conquer flanders fields : Ata Voor Vlaanderen Vlaanderen voor Ata. I am not allowed to cross the IJzer nehir because south of that muddy trench begins the Western Caliphate as you already know.

@ Archonix 12:12 PM
In a minute of ten I show you some flags you've never seen till now. Smiley.

Turan Tankgirl said...

We are allowed to use
http://tinyurl.com/9c8cad
as kapaklari or bedcovers. Graveclothes four you al and let me speak aloud his name : Holofernes baron Bodissey.