Friday, May 22, 2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 5/22/2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 5/22/2009Tonight’s big story concerns Muslims in Athens who are rioting because of a rumor that police desecrated a Koran and beat up a Muslim.

In other news, in a northern Swedish town, a threatening mob of native Swedes frightened Iraqi refugees and induced them to flee the town.

Thanks to C. Cantoni, Diana West, Gaia, heroyalwhyness, Insubria, Paul Green, TB, Tuan Jim, and all the other tipsters who sent these in. Headlines and articles are below the fold.
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Financial Crisis
Geithner Carries Fat Fiscal Burden But Thin Wallet
 
USA
Bush’s Gitmo Vindication
Cheney Says Current Policies Put More Americans at Risk
Desert Storm Vet Protects Female Employees by Shooting and Killing Violent Armed Robber
Dozens Arrested in Crackdown on Latino Gang Accused of Targeting Blacks
Eagle-Eyed Sarge Saves Jet From Disaster
FBI: Texas Drug Cell Trains on Own Ranch
Obama Declares Gitmo Detainees to be ‘Fetuses’
Obama in Bush Clothing
Sleepwalking Into Disaster
Stop the Government’s Illegalities on Social Security, Medicare
The Government’s No-Competition Health Care Plan
Waxman-Markey Cap-and-Trade Bill Stuffed Full of Unpleasant Surprises
 
Canada
Reforming Ontario’s Human Rights System
 
Europe and the EU
Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams: Humiliation of MPs Must Stop
Denmark: Who is the Home Guard’s Enemy?
Denmark: Teens Arrested for Shooting
Denmark: Nightclub Attacker Wanted by Interpol
Far-Right Campaign Ads Bother Austria
Finland: Holmlund and Thors Want NGOs to Help Thai Victims of Domestic Violence
Germany: 2,000 Protesters Expected for Germany’s 60th Birthday
Germany: How to Become an Accidental Conservative
Greece: Athens 2nd Day of Clashes Between Muslims and Police
Greece: Athens: Muslims Protest Koran Destruction
Greece Braces for Thrace Rap
Greece: Huge Attica Sex Racket Smashed by Police
Italy-Israel: Alemanno Picks Up ‘Dan David’ Prize for Rome
Italy: ‘More Power for Premier’, Berlusconi
‘Lynch Mob’ Prompts Refugees to Flee Town in Northern Sweden
Netherlands: Going Dutch? Not So Fast!
Netherlands: More Cameras to Fight Airport Crime
New French Law on Internet Piracy Meets Skepticism
‘Romanians Know Russia Better Than You, So Trust Us’
Somali Britons With Jihad Training Pose Terrorist Risk to Britain
Spain: Jews, Muslims and Protestants Want Equal Dignity
Swedish Court Okays Higher Rent for Refugees
UK: Arson Attacks on Schools ‘Deeply Worrying’
UK: Expenses Leak Probe ‘Not In Public Interest’
UK: How MI5 Blackmails Muslims
UK: Miliband Urges Coalition of West and Muslim World
UK: MPs’ Expenses: Politicians Used to be Better, Wiser — and Older
UK: Mohammed Ali Guilty of Killing of Yasmine and Sabrina Larbi-Cherif
UK: MPs Who Fought for Secrecy Are Exposed
UK: Social Worker Cover-Up Shielded Child Sex Offender Who Went on to Rape Foster Parents’ Son, Two
UK: The Man Who Exposed the MPs’ Expenses System “to Its Rotten Core” Has Been Named After More Than Two Weeks of Revelations About Questionable Claims.
 
Balkans
Karadzic Seeks UN Help in Motion Against Charges
Kosovo: Serbs March Against Biden in Mitrovica
Serbia in EU: Frattini, Visas No Longer Needed After 2009
Serbia: Bosnian Spiritual Leader Sparks Controversy
 
North Africa
Al Jazeera and Qatar: the Muslim Brothers’ Dark Empire?
Italy-Morocco: Alert Over Drugs and Terrorism, Frattini
Terrorism: Morocco, Arrest for the Attack in Madrid
Terrorism: Algeria, 5 Gendarmes Killed in Ambush
TLC: Egypt Seeking to Shut Down Iran-Based Channel
 
Israel and the Palestinians
Gaza: Hamas Decreases Attacks on Israel on Egyptian Pressure
Israel Bows to US in Removing Illegal Settlers
Radio: Iranian Nuclear Arms, 30% Would Leave Israel
 
Middle East
Iraq: an Armed Band Kidnap a Christian Teacher in Kirkuk
Kirkuk: Young Christian Teacher is Freed Thanks to Help of Muslims
Ohran Pamuk, the Armenian Genocide and Turkish Nationalism
Turkey Probing ‘Vilnius Way’ Into the EU
 
South Asia
Diana West: We’re Winning the Wrong War
Indian Elections: Congress Wins, the Hindu Bjp and Third Front Collapse
India: Orissa Government Cuts Death Toll From Anti-Christian Pogrom
Pakistan: Ulemas Against the Taliban, “Full Support” to the Government and Army
Pakistan: Wages of Incoherence
 
Far East
China: Employees of Internet Giant Baidu Protest. Job Litigation Up 98%
Koreas: How the Kaesong Complex Made Things Worse in N. Korea
Philippines: US Marines Make Friends, a Few Enemies in Philippines
What Obama’s Asian Ambassador Picks Reveal
 
Australia — Pacific
NZ: Indian Women Tell of NZ Abuse
NZ: Migrants Get Free Courses in Kiwi Slang
 
Sub-Saharan Africa
British and American Fighters Respond to Jihad Call in Somalia
Hero Cruise Ship Britons Fight Off Armed Somali Pirates With Deckchairs and Tables
Somalia: Maersk Hijack Thwarted
UK: Vulnerable Whitechapel Youths Recruited for Jihad in Somalia
 
Latin America
Mexico: Dangerous Prisoners Flee as Guards ‘stand by’
 
Immigration
Italy: Mayor ‘Pays’ Roma-Gypsies to Leave the City
Switzerland: Love May Lose Out Under Marriage Law
UK: ‘Approved’ College Sells Diplomas to Help Foreign Students Stay in UK
 
Culture Wars
Abortion: Spain; Zapatero: it is a Woman’s Right
Spain: Abortion, Gov. Agrees Decriminalisation Draft Law
 
General
WHO Chief: Swine Flu Will Keep Spreading Globally
WHO to Consider Severity of ‘Sneaky’ Swine Flu

Financial Crisis

Geithner Carries Fat Fiscal Burden But Thin Wallet

WASHINGTON (Reuters) — What’s in the wallet of Timothy Geithner, whose hands as U.S. Treasury secretary are on some of the fattest government purse strings in the world?

Not much, it appears, beyond a few bank cards, some euros and a worthless Zimbabwean bill.

Geithner, testifying to a congressional panel on Thursday about efforts to tackle the financial crisis, was shown a $50 billion bank note from Zimbabwe that has nearly no value due to hyperinflation in that African country.

Representative John Culberson asked Geithner if he had ever seen such a bill himself, prompting the Treasury secretary to reach into his pocket and produce a Zimbabwean note.

“I often have some foreign currency in my wallet,” Geithner told Reuters during a break. “Want to see?”

Many of the slots in the thin, weathered leather wallet were empty. There were three cards with Visa and MasterCard logos — all inserted upside down so the issuers could not be seen — and a yellowed identification card of some sort.

From inside, Geithner pulled a small pile of receipts and papers, including a New York City transit card, pointing out there were some euros tucked in there too.

Anything else? Not a single U.S. dollar was in sight.

(Reporting by Jim Bourg; Writing by John O’Callaghan; Editing by Dan Grebler)

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

USA

Bush’s Gitmo Vindication

President Obama delivered a major speech yesterday on how he intends to prosecute the war on terror (or whatever it’s now called), and in particular his desire to close the detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay. As rhetoric, his remarks were at pains to declare a bold new moral direction. On substance, however, the speech and other events this week look more like a vindication of the past seven years.

The President’s speech came after both houses of Congress had denied his funding requests to shut down Guantanamo and relocate some of the most dangerous prisoners to the U.S. The 90-6 vote in the Senate was especially notable because all but a half-dozen Democrats opposed their own President, on that high-minded principle known as not-in-my-backyard.

So, to the idea that isolated Alcatraz Island could serve as one possible location, California’s Dianne Feinstein says it is a historic landmark and instead suggests a prison in another state. But the most state-of-the-art “supermax” prison in America is in Colorado, and this week that state’s new Democratic Senator, Michael Bennet, vetoed that idea; as it happens, he’s running for election in 2010.

Then there is the voluble Jim Webb, who in January said Mr. Obama had offered a reasonable timeline in ordering Guantanamo closed in a year. But now the Virginia Democrat opposes closing Gitmo anytime soon while observing to ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on Sunday that “We spend hundreds of millions of dollars building an appropriate facility with all security precautions in Guantanamo to try these cases. There are cases against international law.” That was the Bush Administration’s point all along.

Mr. Obama, for his part, still wants Gitmo closed, and he cited South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham in saying that the idea that the detainees could not be securely held in the U.S. was “not rational.” Apparently also irrational is FBI Director Robert Mueller, who this week told Congress that bringing the detainees even to U.S. prisons raised serious concerns, “from providing financing, radicalizing others, [to] the potential for individuals undertaking attacks in the United States.”

Yet for all of his attacks on the Bush Administration, which he accused of making “decisions based upon fear rather than foresight,” Mr. Obama stuck with his predecessor’s support for military commissions, adding some procedural bells and whistles as political cover to justify his past opposition. For the record: Both the left and right, from the ACLU to Dick Cheney, now agree that the President has all but embraced the Bush policy.

Mr. Obama also pledged to release at least 50 detainees to other countries — about one-tenth the number released under President Bush — and added that the Administration was in “ongoing discussions” to transfer them. Good luck with that: The Europeans who were so robustly against Gitmo in the Bush years have suddenly discovered its detainees are dangerous. Meanwhile, the countries that might take them, such as Yemen, can’t be trusted to prevent them from returning to the battlefield, where they can kill Americans again.

The President will also seek to try some of the detainees in federal courts, citing the recent case of al Qaeda sleeper Ali al-Marri who last month pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy and may be sentenced to a mere 15 years, and possibly much less, in a civilian prison. But what the al-Marri prosecution — and the soft plea bargain — really shows is how hard it is to convict terrorists in civilian courts when much of the evidence against them is either classified or wasn’t gathered on the battlefield at the time of capture.

Mr. Obama’s most remarkable Gitmo sleight-of-hand was on the matter of how to handle the hard cases, those who Mr. Obama said “cannot be prosecuted yet who pose a clear danger to the American people.” After acknowledging this was “the toughest issue we will face” and pledging that he would not “release individuals who endanger the American people,” the President proposed . . . well, he didn’t really say what he’d do, except that whatever it is must be “defensible and lawful.” No wonder the ACLU is in a tizzy.

Which brings us back to Guantanamo. The President went out of his way to insist that its existence “likely created more terrorists around the world than it ever detained,” albeit without offering any evidence, and that it “has weakened American security,” again based only on assertion. What is a plain fact is that in the seven-plus years that Gitmo has been in operation the American homeland has not been attacked.

It is also a plain fact — and one the President acknowledged — that many of the detainees previously released, often under intense pressure from Mr. Obama’s anti-antiterror allies, have returned to careers as Taliban commanders and al Qaeda “emirs.” The New York Times reported yesterday on an undisclosed Pentagon report that no fewer than one in seven detainees released from Gitmo have returned to jihad.

Mr. Obama called all of this a “mess” that he had inherited, but in truth the mess is of his own haphazard design. He’s the one who announced the end of Guantanamo without any plan for what to do with, or where to put, KSM and other killers. Now he’s found that his erstwhile allies in Congress and Europe want nothing to do with them. Tell us again why Gitmo should be closed?

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Cheney Says Current Policies Put More Americans at Risk

Unrepentant and newly unbridled, former vice president Richard B. Cheney has embraced two missions in his political retirement: to forcefully defend the Bush administration’s anti-terrorism policies and to publicly condemn those who would unravel them.

He did both yesterday, using the drama of a televised feud with President Obama to deliver the blistering accusation that more Americans are likely to die because the president has turned away from George W. Bush’s post-Sept. 11, 2001, national security agenda. Cheney seemed eager to fan the flames of the debates raging through Washington.

Spoken in his droll monotone, Cheney’s words were razor-sharp. He accused the president of “contrived indignation and phony moralizing” over the issue of detainee interrogations and called the decision to ban harsh methods “recklessness cloaked in righteousness” that threatens Americans.

Cheney’s speech was on the calendar long before Obama’s, but the former vice president did not back down when the two schedules collided. He called the zeal for prosecutions of those who conducted interrogations “utterly misplaced.” He accused House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) of treating the CIA with “suspicion, outright hostility and second-guessing.” He said Obama would “regret” bringing detainees into the country.

To those who question what he and Bush did to combat terrorism, Cheney held nothing back, offering a comprehensive — if familiar — justification for the government’s past use of wiretapping, detention and harsh interrogation of terrorism suspects.

“For all the partisan anger that still lingers, our administration will stand up well in history — not despite our actions after 9/11, but because of them,” he told the American Enterprise Institute shortly after Obama’s own national security address at the National Archives.

It has been evident for weeks that the relative seclusion Cheney kept as vice president was ending. In his speech yesterday, Cheney made it clear that he views himself as the principal keeper of the Bush legacy and a key player in making sure Obama does not mischaracterize the past eight years.

Bush confidants said Cheney is not explicitly channeling his former boss. Bush is neither asking him to make the appearances nor discouraging him from doing so, said former Bush press secretary Dana Perino, who remains close to the 43rd president. But Perino applauded Cheney’s decision to offer what she said is a “full accounting” of the Bush presidency.

“Why shouldn’t the vice president defend the Bush administration policies?” Perino said yesterday by e-mail. “I am pretty sure we still have free speech in our country — and he should exercise his right as he sees fit, just as every American should.”

White House officials expressed little concern about Cheney’s speech, saying Obama’s address was not designed to compete with it. Press secretary Robert Gibbs said Obama was in his daily economic and national security briefings during Cheney’s talk and did not watch it on television.

But, the officials said, the point-counterpoint argument that unfolded yesterday could help the president make his case, given that poll numbers show Cheney is not popular among the general public.

Cheney’s forceful defense of the past eight years raises questions about how long he intends to fill the role of Obama inquisitor.

Former Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer said it is critical to the future of the Republican Party that other defense experts take the mantle from Cheney as soon as possible.

“My guess is he sees this as a substantive duty and intends to be a temporary fixture,” Fleischer said. “The vice president knows he’s not a popular spokesperson. The future of the party rests with [others]. They need time and space to emerge.”

In the meantime, however, Cheney’s 15-page speech will serve as a playbook for anyone seeking to defend the Bush administration. In the second half of what amounted to a debate, Cheney vigorously defended the methods that Obama had just belittled as unwise and ineffective.

In great detail, Cheney recounted the hours and days after the 2001 strikes and said the Bush administration’s actions are the reason the country has not suffered another serious attack.

“They were legal, essential, justified, successful and the right thing to do,” Cheney said of the policies. “. . . They prevented the violent death of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of people.”

Cheney said he wishes Obama success in protecting the country, telling his conservative audience that “though I am not here to speak for George W. Bush, I am certain that no one wishes the current administration more success in defending the country than we do.”

Obama did not mention Cheney in his speech, instead making thinly veiled references to the former vice president’s comments. In his rebuttal, Cheney spoke directly about Obama, urging the president to alter his course on national security.

“You don’t want to call them enemy combatants? Fine,” he said. “Call them what you want — just don’t bring them into the United States.”

He accused Obama of propagating half-truths about the effectiveness of interrogation methods by refusing to declassify memos that Cheney claims would show how much information the government obtained through such tactics.

He said Obama’s release of memos that describe the methods was “flatly contrary” to national security interests. But he said the move should be accompanied by a full release of the other memos.

“For reasons the administration has yet to explain, they believe the public has a right to know the method of the questions, but not the content of the answers,” he said.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Desert Storm Vet Protects Female Employees by Shooting and Killing Violent Armed Robber

Man has no regrets defending Oklahoma City pharmacy

Jerome Ersland was back at work Thursday filling prescriptions and hoping that by taking the life of a 16-year-old boy two days earlier, he had saved others.

Rubbing an oversized bandage on his left forearm, where he said he was grazed by a robber’s bullet, Ersland related details of what he said was a highly organized hit on the Reliable Discount Pharmacy.

“I just regret anybody would get killed,” Ersland said. “But if I wouldn’t have been here, there would have been three people killed — the other pharmacist and the two techs.”

He also recalls the angry voices of people who gathered outside the pharmacy Tuesday night, shouting that he was a racist who unnecessarily took a life of the Seeworth Academy charter school student, Antwun Parker.

“There were a lot of black people gathered out there yelling and everything at my boss,” Ersland said.

An organized hit

After the pharmacy near SW 59 and Pennsylvania was robbed two years ago, the owner installed new security measures to try to make sure his employees would never again be forced to a back room and pistol-whipped.

“We have a very good security system,” Ersland said, motioning to the magnetic door locks that won’t let anyone in or out of the store without permission. “The door locks, and they (robbers) knew that. They had cased it because they knew exactly what time to hit us when we’d have all of our narcotics out and our money out.”

About 10 minutes before 6 p.m., Ersland said, two robbers wearing ski masks waited for someone to leave the pharmacy and then grabbed the open door and threw down a board to stop the door from closing.

The robbers went in cursing and yelling, ordering employees to give them money and drugs, Ersland said.

Two women who were working behind the counter ran for a back room where they would be safe, but Ersland said he couldn’t run. Ersland said he’s a veteran with disabilities from wounds he received in Operation Desert Storm, wears a cumbersome back brace and just had his latest back surgery six weeks ago.

“All of a sudden, they started shooting,” he said. “They were attempting to kill me, but they didn’t know I had a gun. They said, ‘You’re gonna die.’ That’s when one of them shot at me, and that’s when he got my hand.”

Ersland said he was thrown against a wall, but managed to go for the semiautomatic in his pocket.

“And that’s when I started defending myself,” he said. “The first shot got him in the head, and that slowed him down so I could get my other gun.”

But as one robber hit the floor, Ersland said, a bullet from the other robber whizzed past his ear.

The pharmacist said he then got his second gun from a nearby drawer, a Taurus “Judge.”

After he had the big gun, Ersland said, the second robber ran.

But as he started to chase after the second robber, Ersland said, he looked back to see the 16-year-old he had shot in the head getting up again. Ersland said he then emptied the Kel-Tec .380 into the boy’s chest as he kept going after the second robber.

“I went after the other guy, but he was real fast and I’m crippled,” Ersland said.

Outside the pharmacy, he said he saw what he thought was a third black male in a car with the engine running and reaching for what appeared to be a shotgun.

“I pulled out my ‘Judge’ and pointed it right between his eyes and he floored it,” Ersland said.

[…]

“Fortunately, God made them miss me, except for this minor scratch,” Ersland said.

“I was able to return fire and protect the girls’ lives. God was helping me.”

           — Hat tip: Paul Green[Return to headlines]


Dozens Arrested in Crackdown on Latino Gang Accused of Targeting Blacks

Federal authorities Thursday accused a south Los Angeles County street gang of a litany of crimes, including the murder of a sheriff’s deputy and racially motivated attacks designed to drive African Americans from their town.

The charges, part of a massive racketeering case dubbed Operation Knock Out, were outlined in several indictments charging 147 members and associates of the Varrio Hawaiian Gardens gang with murder, attempted murder, drug trafficking, weapons trafficking, extortion, kidnapping and witness intimidation.

The gang, also known as VHG, is so pervasive in Hawaiian Gardens that one in 15 people living in the square-mile city just north of Long Beach has ties to it, said Sal Hernandez, the FBI’s top agent in Los Angeles.

“Imagine living in a community where one in every 15 of your neighbors swears allegiance to an organization committed to the spread of violence,” he said. “The good people deserve to live in peace.”

The early morning raids Thursday involved approximately 1,400 local, state and federal law enforcement officers who fanned out across the small, densely populated city and surrounding communities. Seventeen SWAT teams helped make the arrests.

The probe into the gang began in 2005 after Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Jerry Ortiz was fatally shot by a Varrio Hawaiian Gardens gang member he was trying to arrest in connection with the shooting of an African American man. The shooter, a veteran gang member with devil’s horns tattooed on his forehead, has been convicted of murder and sentenced to death.

U.S. Atty. Thomas P. O’Brien, speaking at a news conference at the Lakewood sheriff’s station, where the slain deputy had been assigned, touted the case as the “largest gang takedown in United States history.”

“Today we honor Deputy Ortiz by coming together to crush the outlaw gang that took his life and make a positive difference for the law-abiding people who live in Hawaiian Gardens,” said O’Brien, who stood in front of a memorial to Ortiz and other officers killed in the line of duty as he spoke.

Authorities said the gang was formed in the 1950s or early ‘60s and today has more than 1,000 members spanning several generations, many of them with connections to the Mexican Mafia.

The gang started out with street robberies, drug dealing and turf wars with other gangs, but has since escalated its level of violence, authorities allege.

It is accused of taunting law enforcement with particularly brazen acts, including scrawling “187,” the California Penal Code designation for homicide, on a sheriff’s patrol car in 2006. Authorities interpreted the vandalism as a reference to Ortiz’s killing a year earlier.

Gang members also spray-painted the words “Rest in Piss Ortiz” on a wall, said Assistant U.S. Atty. Michael S. Lowe, the lead prosecutor on the case.

The gang members, with monikers such as Slasher, Shady, Diablo and Menace, boasted about being racist, referring to themselves as “the Hate Gang,” according to a 193-page indictment that outlines the racketeering case.

“VHG gang members have expressed a desire to rid the city of Hawaiian Gardens of all African Americans and have engaged in a systematic effort to achieve that result by perpetrating crimes” against them, the document states.

The indictment details 476 “overt acts” that gang members allegedly committed as part of the racketeering conspiracy since 1992. The crimes include the dealing of methamphetamine, heroin and crack, and the killing of a fellow gang member suspected of cooperating with law enforcement.

The document also details more than a dozen incidents in which African Americans were allegedly beaten, shot at or harassed because of their race.

In one incident, a gang member is accused of using a racial epithet against an African American, yelling at him to “get out of town,” then attacking him with a garden rake. The indictment states that one gang member was heard bragging about the murder of Ortiz, saying it had put the gang “back on the map.”

As a result of the raids Thursday, about 90 suspected gang members and associates were arrested, including some who were not listed in the indictment but taken into custody for other alleged crimes, authorities said.

Thirty-five of those charged were already in custody for other alleged crimes; 49 either remain at large or have yet to be identified.

During the four-year probe, authorities seized 105 guns and more than 30 pounds of methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin. The drugs had an estimated street value “worth well over a million dollars,” said Timothy J. Landrum, special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration in Los Angeles.

Dozens of the defendants made their initial appearances in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, where most were ordered held without bail.

Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office, said the number of defendants charged in the case significantly exceeded the 102 defendants charged in a case against the Florencia 13 gang two years ago — a case prosecutors then said was the biggest of its kind in the nation.

Reaction to Thursday’s raids varied.

Hawaiian Gardens Mayor Michael Gomez praised authorities, saying “the city appreciates the help, both in resources and personnel that we have received in today’s anti-gang operation.

“Honest residents should not have to live in fear of lawless thugs who act like its high noon at the OK Corral.”

Barry Bruce, a community activist who took it upon himself to attend the news conference at which the arrests were announced, accused authorities of overstating the gang problem in Hawaiian Gardens and of mistreating residents he said were falsely labeled as gang members.

“There are serious violations of civil rights going on in the community,” Bruce, who runs an urban outreach program called Way Out Ministries, told reporters. “The police are supposed to follow the law.”

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Eagle-Eyed Sarge Saves Jet From Disaster

Here’s a way to get a first-class upgrade: Help the airline crew cope with a dangerous situation — and maybe save the lives of 300 people.

From his window seat aboard a United Airlines jet, keen-eyed Air Force Sgt. Bartek Bachleda saw what the crew couldn’t — a leak, spewing 6,000 pounds of fuel an hour into the atmosphere, that could have endangered the craft on its trans-Pacific flight.

Right after the Tokyo-bound Boeing 747 took off from Chicago on April 18, Bachleda spotted what looked like a fuel leak from the left-wing tank.

About an hour later, once he was certain as to what it was he was seeing, he alerted a flight attendant — who at first brushed off his concerns.

He got her attention by saying, “Ma’am, it’s an emergency.”

“I told her, ‘You need to inform the captain before we go oceanic,’ “ he said in a recounting released by the Air Force.

The captain, meanwhile, was trying to figure out why the jet seemed to be burning through so much fuel, an airline spokesman said.

So he walked out to Bachleda’s seat and looked out the window. He also watched video Bachleda had shot of the leak.

Planes as big as 747s carry tens of thousands of pounds of fuel. Instead of trying to make an emergency landing, the crew decided to head south to San Francisco, where United has a hub.

The passengers’ trip was delayed by only 61/2 hours. Bachleda and a colleague stayed behind to help investigators.

“When we got off the airplane, everyone was thanking us,” he recalled, adding that he flew to Tokyo the next day — seated in the first-class section.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


FBI: Texas Drug Cell Trains on Own Ranch

The FBI is advising law enforcement officers across the country that a Texas cell of Los Zetas — an increasingly powerful arm of the Mexican Gulf Cartel drug trafficking syndicate — has acquired a secluded ranch where it trains its members to “neutralize” competitors in the United States.

In order to ensure its share of the lucrative illegal drug trade, the cartel’s members reportedly are operating north of the border to collect debts and spy on competitors. They have also protected cocaine and heroin shipments that were bound for Houston, where they were repackaged and shipped on to Alabama, Delaware, Georgia and Michigan, according to the FBI.

The information, which was disseminated Monday to state, local and federal agencies, does not provide specifics, such as the location of the ranch, but includes a notation that the information came from reliable FBI contacts.

Trainees are reportedly taught about home invasions, firearms and ways to run vehicles off the road in order to kidnap occupants who owe drug debts.

The Zetas have achieved almost mythical status in Mexico, as the small band of military deserters has become a managing partner for the Gulf Cartel, terrorizing rivals with beheadings, torture and mass killings.

They are said to have a presence in large swaths of Mexico and are often described as being the most ruthless gangsters in Mexico’s underworld.

Not much U.S. bloodshed

The bulletin continues that although the Zetas establishing cells in Texas and other parts of the United States increases the likelihood of clashes with U.S.-based competitors, there hasn’t been much bloodshed on U.S. soil, an indication the gangsters realize violence here would be bad for business.

The cartel also maintains a network of boats and rafts along the Rio Grande to help move drugs and assassins northward into the United States as well as covertly move kidnap victims southward back into Mexico, the bulletin continues.

It notes that the Zetas have learned the kidnapping is a more effective way to collect debts and control territory.

In April, U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported that the Zetas had warned their traffickers that if they abandoned loads when confronted by U.S. law enforcement, they would be subject to execution by the cartel.

Lack of hard evidence

Lt. Dan Webb, of the Texas Department of Public Safety’s narcotics division for the Houston regional office, said Zetas do operate in Houston and other parts of Texas, but they try to limit their time on U.S. soil in order to avoid being arrested by authorities who are far less corrupt than in Mexico.

As for whether the organization has a training ranch in Texas, Webb said there have long been rumors, but he is not aware of hard evidence.

“It very well could be true, but as far as us having a location for the ranch, it is all conjecture,” said Webb, who believes it is more likely they train in Mexico than Texas. “If we had any hard evidence, we’d be all over it.”

He said a lot of drug activity by U.S. gangs, such as the Texas Syndicate or the Mexican Mafia, is mistakenly attributed to Zetas.

“We are trying to keep them over in Mexico and discourage them from coming to America in any form or fashion,” he said.

Hidalgo County Sheriff Guadalupe “Lupe” Trevino said drug-trafficking-related violence has been going on along the border for decades and that while he hadn’t seen the FBI bulletin yet, it doesn’t surprise him.

“This is nothing new to us,” he said. “It is new to the rest of the country because of horrific events in the Republic of Mexico,” referring to increased media attention.

“South Texas used to be the back door to the United States,” he added. “Now we are the front door.”

           — Hat tip: Paul Green[Return to headlines]


Obama Declares Gitmo Detainees to be ‘Fetuses’

[Comment from Tuan Jim: Satire…]

In an effort to shut down the U.S. Naval Detention Center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, thereby restoring America’s moral standing in the world, President Barack Obama today declared some 240 enemy combatants held at Gitmo to be ‘human fetuses’.

In an executive order, the president said, “Since I ordered Gitmo shut down, and people don’t want us to bring the inmates here, the only way to extract them from the facility is to change their legal status to one that offers us more choices.”

While accused terrorists have access to attorneys, and nearly-limitless legal appeals, a fetus has no legal standing, cannot speak for itself, and is subject to the death penalty without regard to guilt or innocence.

Civil rights advocates have pressured Obama to follow through on campaign promises to shutter Gitmo, but even Democrats in Congress have resisted bringing the inmates to U.S. soil for trials and incarceration.

“We can debate whether enemy combatants have access to protections under the U.S. Constitution,” said Obama. “However, no serious person would grant such protection to an embryo or fetus. The loss of 240 fetuses wouldn’t raise an eyebrow in a nation where more than 3,000 of them hit the Dumpster daily.”

The president noted that America’s global reputation has been devastated by U.S. treatment of terror suspects, but that “our treatment of a million fetuses each year earns us nothing but admiration, and requests for clinic-funding from those who aspire to be like us.”

Sources acknowledged continuing White House debate about whether a terrorist who escapes from Gitmo alive can still be treated as a fetus.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Obama in Bush Clothing

“We were able to hold it off with George Bush. The idea that we might find ourselves fighting with the Obama administration over these powers is really stunning.”

— Unnamed and dismayed human rights advocate, on legalizing indefinite detention of alleged terrorists, the New York Times, May 21


If hypocrisy is the homage that vice pays to virtue, then the flip-flops on previously denounced anti-terror measures are the homage that Barack Obama pays to George Bush. Within 125 days, Obama has adopted with only minor modifications huge swaths of the entire, allegedly lawless Bush program.

The latest flip-flop is the restoration of military tribunals. During the 2008 campaign, Obama denounced them repeatedly, calling them an “enormous failure.” Obama suspended them upon his swearing-in. Now they’re back.

Of course, Obama will never admit in word what he’s doing in deed. As in his rhetorically brilliant national-security speech yesterday claiming to have undone Bush’s moral travesties, the military commissions flip-flop is accompanied by the usual Obama three-step: (a) excoriate the Bush policy, (b) ostentatiously unveil cosmetic changes, (c) adopt the Bush policy.

Cosmetic changes such as Obama’s declaration that “we will give detainees greater latitude in selecting their own counsel.” Laughable. High-toned liberal law firms are climbing over each other for the frisson of representing these miscreants in court.

What about disallowing evidence received under coercive interrogation? Hardly new, notes former prosecutor Andrew McCarthy. Under the existing rules, military judges have that authority, and they exercised it under the Bush administration to dismiss charges against al-Qaeda operative Mohammed al-Qahtani on precisely those grounds.

On Guantanamo, it’s Obama’s fellow Democrats who have suddenly discovered the wisdom of Bush’s choice. In open rebellion against Obama’s pledge to shut it down, the Senate voted 90 to 6 to reject appropriating a single penny until the president explains where he intends to put the inmates. Sen. James Webb, the de facto Democratic authority on national defense, wants the closing to be put on hold. And on Tuesday, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said, no Gitmo inmates on American soil — not even in American jails.

That doesn’t leave a lot of places. The home countries won’t take them. Europe is recalcitrant. Saint Helena needs refurbishing. Elba didn’t work out too well the first time. And Devil’s Island is now a tourist destination. Gitmo is starting to look good again.

Observers of all political stripes are stunned by how much of the Bush national security agenda is being adopted by this new Democratic government. Victor Davis Hanson (National Review) offers a partial list: “The Patriot Act, wiretaps, e-mail intercepts, military tribunals, Predator drone attacks, Iraq (i.e., slowing the withdrawal), Afghanistan (i.e., the surge) — and now Guantanamo.”

Jack Goldsmith (The New Republic) adds: rendition — turning over terrorists seized abroad to foreign countries; state secrets — claiming them in court to quash legal proceedings on rendition and other erstwhile barbarisms; and the denial of habeas corpus — to detainees in Afghanistan’s Bagram prison, indistinguishable logically and morally from Guantanamo.

What does it all mean? Democratic hypocrisy and demagoguery? Sure, but in Washington, opportunism and cynicism are hardly news.

There is something much larger at play — an undeniable, irresistible national interest that, in the end, beyond the cheap politics, asserts itself. The urgencies and necessities of the actual post-9/11 world, as opposed to the fanciful world of the opposition politician, present a rather narrow range of acceptable alternatives.

Among them: reviving the tradition of military tribunals, used historically by George Washington, Andrew Jackson, Winfield Scott, Abraham Lincoln, Arthur MacArthur and Franklin Roosevelt. And inventing Guantanamo — accessible, secure, offshore and nicely symbolic (the tradition of island exile for those outside the pale of civilization is a venerable one) — a quite brilliant choice for the placement of terrorists, some of whom, the Bush administration immediately understood, would have to be detained without trial in a war that could be endless.

The genius of democracy is that the rotation of power forces the opposition to come to its senses when it takes over. When the new guys, brought to power by popular will, then adopt the policies of the old guys, a national consensus is forged and a new legitimacy established.

That’s happening before our eyes. The Bush policies in the war on terror won’t have to await vindication by historians. Obama is doing it day by day. His denials mean nothing. Look at his deeds.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Sleepwalking Into Disaster

As GOP leaders meet in Maryland this week, the Washington conventional wisdom is that it’s the Republican Party that is struggling to stay relevant in the Era of Obama. The Democrats, the insiders tell us, are the ones with the wind — and the American people — at their backs.

The problem with conventional wisdom is that it’s just that — conventional and complacent. When I became Speaker in 1995, only one member of the House had ever served under a Republican Speaker: Democrat Sidney Yates of Illinois. Prior to the 1994 elections, the conventional wisdom was that Sidney would never suffer such an indignity again.

Astute analysts ignore the Washington conventional wisdom and focus on the political winds blowing from the fifty states. And the public opinion currents in America today are becoming eerily similar to those circulating in 1993.

Today, just as then, Washington liberals are getting complacent. They’re ignoring mounting evidence that the American people don’t share their desire for bigger government, higher taxes and a liberal social agenda.

Take, for instance, the political earthquake that shook California this week. On Tuesday, Golden State voters resoundingly rejected five ballot measures that would, among other things, raise taxes, borrow against future lottery receipts and lock revenue surpluses in a Sacramento slush fund-all ostensibly to close California’s gapping $42 billion budget deficit.

Even though supporters of the measures outspent opponents by 10-to-1, the only measure that passed was one that prohibits pay raises for elected officials in times of deficits.

Already the spin has started with the liberal elites attributing the death of these big government ballot measures to their complexity and to low voter turnout, but Democrats would do well to heed the larger message being sent: Even in a blue state such as California, which supported Barack Obama by a whopping 61 percent in last fall’s election, there is no popular appetite for higher taxes and bigger government.

And not just in California, but across the country, opinion is shifting against major parts of the liberal Washington agenda. Recent Gallup polling contains two major public opinion shifts away from liberalism that Americans have yet to see reflected in their leadership in Washington.

First, in April, Gallup found that fewer Americans support gun control than at anytime in the 50-year history of the poll. Only 29% of Americans said possession of hand guns should be made illegal in the United States.

Then, just this month, came a truly shocking finding. The Gallup poll found that, for the first time, a majority of Americans describe themselves as “pro-life.” Asked whether they consider themselves pro-life or pro-choice, 51 percent chose the former, compared to 42 percent for the latter. Just a year ago, 50 percent of Americans called themselves pro-choice and just 44 percent self-identified as pro-life.

Perhaps not surprisingly, these public opinion policy shifts are beginning to be reflected in party affiliation. Although the percentage of Americans calling themselves Republicans today has taken a heavy hit compared to earlier in the decade, the data from the past few months tells a different story.

No, more Americans aren’t identifying as Republicans. But Gallup’s weekly tracking poll shows an increase in Americans identifying as independent. And where are these converts coming from? From Democrats. The same poll shows a slight decline in Americans who call themselves Democrats.

Only time will tell if this small shift in the data will become a major trend. But taken together, the results in California and the latest polling data seem to indicate a real opportunity for a center-right leader with a center-right message.

Americans are increasingly out of synch with the liberal Washington establishment. But what are they getting from their leaders in Washington? Plans to send Guantanamo terrorists to American communities and other far left proposals that will damage our national security. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who made the unfortunate decision to call the CIA liars and criminals, has seen her approval rating plummet from 51 percent in January to 39 percent today.

The feint hissing sound you are beginning to hear is the air slowly leaking out of the Washington conventional wisdom. The question is, anyone in the elites listening?

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Stop the Government’s Illegalities on Social Security, Medicare

Medicare and Social Security trustees on May 12 painted a grim, but not surprising picture of the failing financial health of two entitlement programs. Social Security will be insolvent by 2016, a year earlier than predicted just last year; Medicare by 2017, two years earlier than last year’s forecast.

So why are the Department of Health and Human Services and Social Security Administration fighting tooth and nail to prevent a handful of seniors — including yours truly — from opting out of Medicare Part A, the costly hospital insurance program?

Having some percentage of seniors pay for their own hospitalization coverage would seem like a gift to the cash-strapped Medicare program. From a financial standpoint, the more seniors who choose this option the better.

But the government will have no part of it. Why? Perhaps because doing so could undermine the push for universal health care.

If the government allows us to exercise our legal right to pay privately for medical care, Washington also will have to allow other seniors to decide whether they want Part A coverage or private coverage. And this is the exact opposite of the direction the administration wants to go.

This might not be much of an issue except that Medicare coverage is sure to deteriorate over time as the baby boomers retire and their expectations, old-age infirmities and the burgeoning federal budget deficit collide. Medicare benefits already are limited and are sure to be rationed far more in the future.

There is no law or regulation that says Social Security recipients must receive their health coverage from Medicare. Yet that is the position the government has taken. According to backdoor administrative measures adopted some 16 years ago and only recently coming to light, Medicare-eligible seniors are denied their Social Security benefits if they do not enroll in Medicare Part A.

Without Medicare, many seniors would have no health coverage at all. Others, however, have spent years making plans to provide for their own health care coverage in old age because they realize Medicare services are rationed, inferior to those they could obtain privately, and are administered with little or no concern for privacy.

During my 18-year career in public office I campaigned tirelessly for less government intrusion in the lives of Americans. Telling seniors they must accept Medicare coverage or lose their Social Security benefits is the ultimate intrusion.

That’s why I have joined four other seniors who wish to make their own health choices in a lawsuit challenging the government’s edict.

The government has filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, and Judge Rosemary Collyer of the U.S. District Court is hearing arguments on their motion on May 22. The government’s arguments, however, are flimsy.

The best they can do is argue that the plaintiffs lack standing (nonsense) and did not “exhaust their administrative remedies” before going to court (more nonsense). In fact, John Kraus, a co-plaintiff in the lawsuit, asked to withdraw from the hospital insurance program in February 2006. For more than three years, SSA failed to even respond to his request.

There can only be two possible explanations for this: incompetence or arrogance. Take your choice. Neither enhances one’s confidence in government health bureaucrats or strengthens the administration’s case for universal health insurance overseen by Washington.

The current policy not only violates the right of individuals to make their own health choices, but violates Social Security and Medicare law.

If the Social Security Administration wants to defend its decision, it can publish the proposed policy in the Federal Register as required by law, accept comments, hold hearings and issue a formal ruling. But it can’t impose such an arbitrary and harmful policy by fiat. The courts, we are confident, will see to that.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


The Government’s No-Competition Health Care Plan

During the last presidential campaign, at least six national health care reform proposals were discussed and debated. Consensus on the part of the Obama administration and the Congressional leadership has now formed around a single, government sponsored alternative to the private health insurance market.

If enacted, the administration’s plan would represent the largest intrusion of government control into this country’s health care since Medicare and Medicaid-perhaps even larger. It is not an exaggeration to say our entire health care system is at risk with this new plan.

At face value the proposed government plan would function like Medicare and “compete” with private, non-Medicare insurance. It would offer employers and individuals an alternative to obtaining health insurance in the private market.

That seems all well and good. But in reality the government would set its tax subsidized pricing well below private plans and “crowd out” the private insurance carriers. The government would also mandate that the private carriers provide a comparable benefit package, hence eliminating any chance for competition with different product lines.

So what are the actual numbers? The Lewin Group estimates that at Medicare rates, the new government plan would cover 130 million people. Out of that group, 118 million will be forced to join after opting out or losing their private coverage. To put this in perspective, there are currently 170 million people in the United States with private health insurance.

To believe that the government would “compete” with private carriers is naïve. The government would cut rates well below the private market and make its plan look much more attractive until it controlled all health insurance. After all, it is impossible to compete against an entity that can draw on the full tax resources of the United States.

This is exactly what happened with Medicare. In 1964, senior citizens had access to a wide selection of private health insurance policies. Medicare was passed in 1965, and by 1970, no private market existed, except for co-pays and deductibles, for the elderly in the United States.

Why not offer Medicare to everyone in this country? The reason is simple-we can’t afford it. The unfunded liability for Medicare today is at least $45 trillion, and it may be as high as $67 trillion. Eliminating private insurance for non-seniors would double or triple this debt.

Also, Medicare reimburses hospitals at 70% and physicians at 80% of the private insurance rate. By eliminating the private carriers, hospitals and doctors who are now cost-shifting their losses to private insurance plans would be forced to close their doors. Hence just as demand for health care increases from aging Baby Boomers the supply would decrease.

With the government in complete control of our health care system, prices and reimbursements would be fixed and subject to Congressional politics every session, access and benefits would be dictated by bureaucrats, and ultimately rationing would occur, probably, as in Canada, through the use of patient waiting lists. Access to a waiting list is not the same as access to health care.

We are truly at the brink of losing what is left of our choice and having market competition in health care in the United States. The Administration’s public-versus-private “competition” plan is by far the most insidious of all the reform proposals discussed in recent history.

The new plan would appear to offer a reasonable alternative to private health insurance, yet in reality it will destroy the private market and will force all US citizens into a government controlled health care program.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Waxman-Markey Cap-and-Trade Bill Stuffed Full of Unpleasant Surprises

Congress is considering the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade legislation and guess what? It’s stuffed full of unpleasant surprises for the unwary. But thank goodness for the eagle-eyed folks at the American Energy Alliance, who spotted this little gem on page 781 of the mammoth 946-page bill:

“Title IV, Subtitle B, Part 2, Section 426, of the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 states: ‘An eligible worker (specifically, workers who lose their jobs as a result of this measure) may receive a climate change adjustment allowance under this subsection for a period of not longer than 156 weeks…80 percent of the monthly premium of any health insurance coverage…up to a maximum payment of $1,500 in relocation allowance…and job search expenses not exceed[ing] $1,500.’“

If cap-and-trade is an energy and global warming bill, why is a three-year package of unemployment benefits, job training and relocation expenses buried deep within its fine print? And why is a federally subsidized “job bank” needed if laid-off workers would quickly be rehired for higher-paying “green” jobs? The fact that generous unemployment benefits are buried in the bill means that “green jobs are bunk,” the conservative Heritage Foundation’s Ben Lieberman told The Examiner.

A Heritage analysis also found that Waxman-Markey is the largest, most intrusive energy tax increase in American history. It would reduce the nation’s GDP by $7.4 trillion, raise electricity rates 90 percent and gasoline prices 74 percent. Apparently, the authors of this legislation were unaware that a recent poll found six out of 10 Americans oppose energy policies that raise their electricity bill by even one cent, much less practically double it. And the final kicker is that the bill’s effect on greenhouse gases emissions would be just barely measurable.

It stands to reason that forcing companies and individuals to switch from using relatively cheap, abundant energy sources like oil, coal and natural gas to more expensive “alternative” sources will be a huge drag on the nation’s economy, especially during a deep recession. There’s no getting around it: Higher energy costs will inevitably lead to higher consumer prices and fewer jobs. And any new “green” jobs created will likely be lower-paid manual labor and service jobs, not higher-paid manufacturing positions. Any way you look at it, throwing millions of Americans out of work is an unacceptably high price to pay for a paltry two-tenths of a degree difference in temperature by the end of the century.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Canada

Reforming Ontario’s Human Rights System

Although this newspaper has been a busy critic of increasingly ambitious and arrogant human rights commissions, we are not blind to the electability concerns raised on Wednesday by Ontario Progressive Conservative leadership candidate Christine Elliott. Ms. Elliott attacked rival Tim Hudak for advocating the abolition of the Ontario Human Rights Commission and its Tribunal, leaving little doubt where she stands — in favour of the status quo, and, by extension, in favour of the skein of quasi-judicial absurdities that it produces: cash awards for licensed pot smokers who light up in bars, shakedowns of gym owners trying to figure out how to deal with pre-operative transsexuals and the like.

Whatever criticisms one may have of it, the Ontario system is a Progressive Conservative legacy, presumably enjoys significant support in a politically diverse province and — unlike the Alberta Star Chamber of which Ezra Levant famously ran afoul

— does not feature a code that can be used to penalize particular opinions featured in magazines, newspapers and other printed material. So Ms. Elliott’s position is coherent, and really needs little further exegesis. She appears to regard the OHRC, practically, as a political third rail, and is unlikely to touch it. By the standard she has set, no one should touch it, ever.

If this is what Ontario’s PC members want, they’re entitled to vote for it. But the Progressive Conservative party ought to be a party of ideas, too, and that means sometimes taking the lead in educating the public on policy changes they might initially resist. Ms. Elliott compared the danger from Tim Hudak and Randy Hillier’s ideas on OHRC abolition with John Tory’s calamitous advocacy of full funding for faith-based schools in the 2007 Ontario election. But Mr. Tory got into trouble pitching a hugely expensive idea in the middle of a general election campaign, and was seen, to some degree, to be fixing what wasn’t broken.

A leadership campaign is obviously a much more suitable venue for trial balloons, and is arguably designed entirely to put them in motion. It is not clear what the cost impacts of OHRC abolition, as propounded by Messrs. Hudak and Hillier, would be; and there is certainly an existing base of belief, a large and vocal one, to the effect that the OHRC is malfunctioning. The criticisms aren’t coming out of nowhere.

The problem is that Mr. Hudak’s sudden adoption of language in the Hillier platform does bear all the signs of instantaneous improvisation. And neither man’s proposal — technically, they are almost indistinguishable — is fleshed out carefully enough to be ready for a prime-time electoral challenge to the OHRC. Both say that cases of “real” or “genuine” discrimination should be handled by courts of law, with rules of evidence and due process and cost compensation for the winner. This addresses major criticisms rightly levelled at OHRC procedure, but what constitutes “real” discrimination?

One senses that the roguish libertarian Mr. Hillier and the less radical Mr. Hudak might be using very different definitions of “real,” and it’s clear that neither candidate intends for the Ontario Human Rights Code to be enforced by courts as the Commission enforces them now. Mr. Hudak’s “specially trained” human rights judges would “have a mandate to hear real cases of discrimination or harassment — not politically motivated cases of hurt feelings”; he envisions such cases being handled by a separate branch of the Ontario judiciary, similar to the Domestic Violence and Family Law courts. It seems unwise to be vague about what you want human rights law to look like, but certain about what you want in a large new bureaucracy for handling it. And, honestly, is family law anyone’s natural first choice for a model of efficiency and fairness?

Real courts, with their hard constitutional and procedural rules, might save Ontario money by discouraging nuisance cases, or might cost it more by making the remaining nuisance cases more expensive. It is hard to judge these proposals unless the candidates making them are willing to outline exactly how narrow they want the anti-discrimination law of the future to be.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams: Humiliation of MPs Must Stop

The “systematic humiliation” of MPs is threatening Britain’s democracy, the Archbishop of Canterbury warns today.

Dr Rowan Williams, writing in The Times, says that the issues raised by the expenses scandal are grave and that urgent action is required.

“But many will now be wondering whether the point has not been adequately made,” he says. “The continuing systematic humiliation of politicians itself threatens to carry a heavy price in terms of our ability to salvage some confidence in our democracy.”

Dr Williams says that it would be a tragedy if the expenses saga ended any confidence in the idea that politics and public service could be a calling “worthy of the most generous instincts”.

The warning came as the Conservative MP Andrew MacKay said at a constituency meeting that he would stand for reselection after both he and his wife, the Tory MP Julie Kirkbride, claimed for their homes on expenses.

Nadine Dorries, MP for Mid Bedfordshire, claimed that MPs were victims of a “McCarthy-style witch-hunt”. She said that the drip-drip of leaked claims was creating such an atmosphere of terror that there was a risk of an MP committing suicide.

Hours after Ms Dorries made the remarks, David Cameron ordered a public statement insisting that her comments were her own and did not represent those of the party.

According to one Tory source, party officials have had conversations with Ms Dorries on more than one occasion to rebuke her for her “increasing tendency to make wild and eccentric statements”.

After Ms Dorries drew a comparison between the expenses scandal and the anti-Communist witch-hunts of US senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s, a number of other MPs criticised the backbencher.

Stephen Pound, the Labour MP, described Ms Dorries’s comments as “facile” adding: “The idea that anybody is going to play the violin and ask people to contribute to the MPs’ relief fund has absolutely no grasp of reality whatsoever.”

Mr Cameron attacked Ms Dorries’s judgment insisting that: “Of course MPs are concerned about what is happening but, frankly, MPs ought to be concerned about what their constituents think and ought to be worrying about the people who put us where we are.”

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Ms Dorries said: “People are seriously beginning to crack. The last day in Parliament this week was, I would say, completely unbearable.

“I have never been in an atmosphere or environment like it, when people walk around with terror in their eyes and people are genuinely concerned, asking, ‘Have you seen so and so? Are they in their office? They’ve not been seen for days.’

“There’s a really serious concern that this has got to a point now which is almost unbearable for any human being to deal with.”

Ms Dorries’ comments, echoing postings on her weblog, followed an angry outburst earlier in the week in which one MP, forced to stand down over the size of his gardening bills, complained that his critics had merely been jealous of his “very, very large house”.

“I’ve done nothing criminal, that’s the most awful thing,” Totnes MP Anthony Steen, who spent £90,000 his second home, including big sums for lopping trees, said. “And do you know what it’s all about? Jealousy.”

Mr Steen was one of two MPs who confirmed their departure at the next election, the other being Ben Chapman, the Labour MP for Wirral South, who insisted that he had done nothing wrong despite allegations that he over-claimed £15,000 extra for mortgage interest.

Mr Chapman said that he had been given permission by the Commons Fees Office to maintain claims on the mortgage for his second home in London despite his decision to pay off £295,000 of it, which reduced his mortgage bill from £1,900 a month to around £400.

Another Labour MP, Ian Gibson, also offered to stand down if the voters demanded it after claims that he had sold his taxpayer-subsidised second home to his daughter at a knock-down rate. He, too, insisted that he acted within the rules.

In his article for The Times today, Dr Williams says regulation has taken the place of virtue and questions the “no rules were broken” mentality that has underpinned many of the MPs’ and peers’ responses, arguing that this represents a basic problem in contemporary moral thinking.

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]


Denmark: Who is the Home Guard’s Enemy?

Politicians and military experts question whether the Home Guard’s 50,000 soldiers and 500 million kroner in costs are worth it.

The government’s Defence Commission has determined that there will be no military threat against Denmark in the foreseeable future. As a result politicians and military experts are questioning whether the Home Guard is worth maintaining.

This, not least, following a request by the defence forces during negotiations on a new defence agreement for an extra billion kroner or more in order to carry out tasks such as the war in Afghanistan.

Value

“The problem is that the defence forces want more money but don’t consider where money is used without getting very much value. The Home Guard does not give much value for money in connection with the main tasks facing the military,” says Danish Institute for Military Studies Head Mikkel Vedby Rasmussen.

Although the Home Guard consists of some 50,000 unpaid volunteers, the organisation costs about DKK 500 million to run. The Guard supports the military and takes part in monitoring territorial waters, pollution control and regulating traffic.

Average pay

Most of the Home Guard’s funds are spent on paying some 600 full-time employees at an average wage of DKK 400,000 per year. The Social Democrats now want a report on whether society gets enough value for money.

The head of the Home Guard — Major General Jan S. Norgaard says his force takes on important guard duties, for example in connection with a terrorism threat against Denmark.

“We are called out some 11 times every 24 hours and provide an extensive service that would be very expensive if it had to be provided by fully-paid employees,” says Norgaard.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]


Denmark: Teens Arrested for Shooting

Three teenagers have been detained in connection with a shooting in Hundige overnight.

Three young teenagers aged 15 and 16 have been arrested in connection with a shooting episode in Hundige overnight in which a 22-year-old man was injured.

“We don’t yet know what role they played and have not yet decided whether to present them in a remand hearing,” says Police Investigation Chief Jacob Olsen.

Moped Shots were fired at the 22-year-old man from a moped carrying two people. As such all three detained cannot have been present during the shooting and have been detained as a result of witness descriptions Olsen says.

Argument The incident began when the 22-year-old, in his car with a 19-year—old female passenger, was accosted by two young men on a moped and threatened with a gun. An argument ensued during which the 22-year-old attempted to drive away quickly, but shots were fired at the car, two of which hit the driver in his hand and neck. He is reported to be in a stable condition.

A decision will be taken later Friday as to whether one or more of those detained will be presented in a remand hearing.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Denmark: Nightclub Attacker Wanted by Interpol

Interpol and authorities in the Schengen countries have joined Danish police in the search for a man who assaulted a Norwegian haemophiliac

A man who was instrumental in the death of a patron of city nightclub Rust last week is now being sought internationally, reports public broadcaster DR.

Police reportedly know the identity of the man, who is described as a 28-year-old Danish citizen of Pakistani background.

Last week the suspect threw a glass at the head of 25-year-old Norwegian student Andreas Bull-Gundersen, injuring him in the process.

Gundersen, who was a haemophiliac, attempted to receive treatment at Rigshospitalet but a communication problem between him and staff on duty resulted in his being sent back to the houseboat where he was staying. Gundersen died during the night of a brain haemorrhage.

Both Interpol and countries in the Schengen area have now registered the Dane as a wanted man. Authorities also say the man has a connection to Oslo, but did not specify what that connection was.

‘Norwegian police have confirmed that they know the suspect from earlier incidents,’ said superintendent Ove Dahl of Copenhagen Police.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Far-Right Campaign Ads Bother Austria

note: Israel’s ascension to the EU? huh?!

VIENNA -Austria’s far-right Freedom Party is coming under fire for inflammatory newspaper campaign ads focused on Turkey and Israel ahead of next month’s European elections.

Critics from across the political spectrum, including the chancellor, say the ads are a crass attempt to shore up anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic sentiment.

The ads, the first of which appeared in the mass-circulation Kronen Zeitung, stress that the Freedom Party would veto EU accession of both Turkey and Israel to avoid “getting sucked into the bloody Middle East” crisis.”

The latest ad, which appeared Thursday in the tabloid Oesterreich, even features a small photo of Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and quotes him as saying that Israel’s accession to the EU was an ‘option.’

Israel is not vying for entry in the EU. Even if it applied, its chances would be remote at best as it is not a European state — a basic application requirement under the founding EU treaties. While the Freedom Party has blatantly targeted Muslims and Turkey for some time, the focus on Israel is new.

In an unusually harsh response, Chancellor Werner Faymann, a Social Democrat, called Freedom Party chief Heinz-Christian Strache a “hate preacher” in a newspaper interview this week. “It cannot become a trivial offense in our country to establish oneself using Israel and religious feelings in order to incite hatred and gain a few votes,” Faymann said in a subsequent statement. “I consider this a disgrace for a politician.”

The 27-nation EU opened membership talks with Turkey in 2005, but there has been little progress because of disagreements over issues such as human rights, Cyprus and general opposition from some countries — including Austria.

Strache, who has ambitions to become the mayor of Vienna, has also caused controversy for holding up a cross at a recent demonstration against the expansion of a Muslim center in Vienna.

Analysts say it is still too early to forecast how the Freedom Party will do on June 7, election day. In the last European elections in 2004, the party got roughly 6 percent of the vote and one mandate. In September’s national elections, it took 17.5 percent of the votes and came in third behind the center-left Social Democrats and conservative People’s Party. Christoph Hofinger, co-director of the SORA Institute on Social Research and Analysis, said the Freedom Party would likely see significant gains compared to five years ago.

“They over-stretched it a bit with their aggressive slogans Äž it’s really, really hard to predict how they’ll do,” Hofinger said.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


Finland: Holmlund and Thors Want NGOs to Help Thai Victims of Domestic Violence

Ministers would consider background checks on husbands

Minister of European and Migration Affairs Astrid Thors (Swedish People’s Party) and Minister of the Interior Anne Holmlund (Nat. Coalition Party) are concerned with reports that Thai women married to Finnish men in Finland are often victims of domestic violence.

Both ministers give cautious support to the idea that the background of a potential Finnish husband should be examined when assessing a residence permit application of a Thai girlfriend or future wife, to see if the man has a history of violent behaviour.

A recent study has shown that a disproportionate number of Thai women married to Finnish men suffer physical and mental abuse.

“It is something that could be considered”, said Thors in an interview with Helsingin Sanomat.

Holmlund was more sceptical. She said that it is important to avoid labelling people.

If it were a standard practice in the Nordic Countries, Holmlund feels that an interview of a prospective husband could be considered in Finland.

“There would have to be some clear evidence, so that we do not start out from the assumption that everyone is necessarily a criminal”, Holmlund said.

Helsingin Sanomat wrote last Sunday that domestic violence is common n Thai-Finnish households. Some of the women live underground, or easily end up as sex workers in “Thai massage parlours”.

The articles led to a brisk online debate. A Finnish man living in Sweden said that before he got a residence permit for his Thai fiancé, he was called into the Swedish Immigration Service for an interview. He was asked if he has been sentenced for a violent crime, or had a restraining order placed on him.

“Wise questions: wife beaters and rapists need not ruin the rosy expectations of love of a hopeful immigrant”, the man wrote.

Thors says that she had always felt that social welfare officials give sufficient help in domestic violence situations.

She says that it is clear that targeted action is needed to help Thai women in particular. As examples she mentions a new telephone hotline, which has been granted funding from the early part of the year as part of an EU-funded project. It is the first project aimed at more efficient integration of Thai women.

Thors emphasises the role of non-governmental organisations in successful integration. “Organisations can succeed in things that officials are not capable of.”

Holmlund agrees with Thors: “This is typically the kind of thing that the third sector is also needed.

Holmlund feels that the police cannot take on the roles linked with immigrant integration. Police know that an older Thai woman who runs a massage parlour can recruit young women to work for her.

Many of them have worked practically without pay, and have ended up selling sex services.

However, Holmlund says that it is more difficult to say if actual pimping is involved.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Germany: 2,000 Protesters Expected for Germany’s 60th Birthday

Around 2,000 leftists are expected to attend an “anti-nationalist” parade in Berlin on the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Federal Republic on Saturday, organisers said Friday.

The parade will represent an alliance of around 30 radical leftist groups, and its motto will be “Something better than the nation — against the rule of false freedom.”

“We expect to be able to stage a political demonstration, and we hope the police won’t obstruct us.” a spokeswoman for the organisers said on Friday, calling for a peaceful demonstration.

But she added, “We want participants to express their resentment of the government celebrations.”

In a speech during an official anniversary ceremony on Friday, President Horst Köhler called on Germany to continue the process of re-unification. “Unity is like democracy: it is never finished,” he said. “It is has to be lived, tested, constantly re-examined in our everyday lives.”

Köhler drew attention to the bitterness that many Germans still feel at the disparity in unemployment between the former East and former West of the country. “This compels us to renew our efforts. We must not accept the fact that the division of the nation lives on in the unemployment statistics,” he warned.

The president, who stands for re-election on Saturday, also repeated his call for Germans to use the current financial crisis as an opportunity to create a “new, ecological, industrial revolution.”

On the eve of the presidential election, which will be decided by a secret ballot of 1,224 parliamentarians and other public figures belonging to the Federal Assembly, Köhler received unexpected praise from Left party chief Lothar Bisky.

Bisky, speaking on a radio show on the Südwestrundfunk praised Köhler because, unlike his predecessors, Köhler showed signs of being “truly interested” in the situation in former East Germany. He said it was possible that some members of his party could vote for Köhler over their own candidate, television actor Peter Sodann.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Germany: How to Become an Accidental Conservative

In an excerpt from his new book, SPIEGEL editor Jan Fleischhauer describes his childhood in a typical West German liberal family, with parents who wouldn’t let him eat oranges because they were grown in countries ruled by dictators, and his coming out as a late conservative.

I can say with confidence that I know my way around liberals. I’ve spent half of my life in their company. My parents were on the left, as were my schoolmates and the majority of my teachers, my fellow students at university and, of course, all of my professors. Most of my colleagues are still liberals today.

It isn’t as if I have suffered because of it. I had a very sheltered childhood; it’s just that I was sheltered by liberals. I saw my first Disney film together with my own children. When McDonald’s opened a restaurant in our neighborhood, my father gave me a serious talk about the corruptive influence of American fast-food culture. The enjoyment of my first burger was an act of adolescent rebellion, and to this day, I still feel slightly guilty on my occasional visits to McDonald’s.

I am part of a generation in Germany that knows no other reality than the dominance of the left. Everyone was a liberal where I grew up. This isn’t entirely self-evident, because the neighborhood in which I grew up would generally be described as an exclusive residential area. My parents’ friends — and their friends, of course — all voted for the left-leaning Social Democratic Party (SPD), and later for the Green Party…

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Greece: Athens 2nd Day of Clashes Between Muslims and Police

(ANSAmed) — ATHENS, MAY 22 — Today in Athens for the second consecutive day a few hundred Muslim immigrants were involved in clashes with the police, one of whom was accused of stealing a copy of the Koran and beating a Muslim. Over 1,000 people were involved in protests after spontaneous demonstrations yesterday, during which violence took place with bottles and rocks being thrown, causing the police to intervene with tear-gas. Numerous people were taken into custody. The protest, which was announced yesterday, began this afternoon in the centrally-located Omonia Square, with people chanting ‘Allah is Great’ and ‘Stop racism’, while holding copies of the Koran, despite the fact that authorities said yesterday that they would investigate into the accusations against the police officer. During a march towards Parliament, protected by large numbers of police, the protestors damaged automobiles and set garbage bins ablaze while police responded with tear-gas. Forced to pull back, the protestors dispersed and other clashes took place in various parts of the city. Dozens were taken into custody according to the press. Some were bruised or slightly wounded. Yesterday a few hundred Muslims, mainly Pakistani and Afghan citizens, had already protested similarly against the police, resulting in one officer to be slightly injured and several reported bruises. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Greece: Athens: Muslims Protest Koran Destruction

Hundreds of Muslims marched through central Athens on Thursday, damaging shops and cars, to protest what they said was the destruction of a Koran by a Greek policeman.

The president of the Muslim Union of Greece, Naim Elghandour, said that during police checks at a Syrian-owned coffee shop on Wednesday, an officer took a customer’s Koran, tore it up, threw it on the floor and stomped on it.

In response, about 1,000 immigrants, many from Syria, Pakistan and Afghanistan, marched to central Omonia Square, smashing several shop windows and five cars, a police official said.

Police sources said an internal investigation was launched into the Koran incident.

“We were told by police we will be given the name of the policeman who did this so we can press charges,” Elghandour said.

Thousands of immigrants, many from Muslim countries, cross into Greece illegally every year seeking a better life in the West. Trapped in legal limbo, most have no jobs, live in squalid conditions and are often arrested for minor crimes.

On May 9, members of a rightist group attacked immigrants in Athens, sending at least three to hospital. Rights groups accuse predominantly Orthodox Christian Greece of not doing enough to protect immigrants.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]


Greece Braces for Thrace Rap

Greece is likely to face strict criticism regarding its treatment of a Muslim minority in the northern region of Thrace following a scheduled visit next month by Council of Europe officials, diplomatic sources have told Kathimerini.

The delegation is to check whether Greece has honored a decision by the European Court of Human Rights allowing two local groups to define themselves as Turkish. In March last year, the court ruled that Greece had violated European provisions on freedom of association by banning two groups called the Xanthi Turkish Union and the Rhodope Cultural Association of Turkish Women.

A Greek diplomat said a warning or a stiff fine was in store. “We are going to find ourselves in a corner and under a lot of pressure,” he said. Meanwhile, it emerged that Ankara is considering conceding to Greek requests for the reopening of the Halki Orthodox Seminary but only in exchange for the creation of a Turkish university in Thrace, a proposal Greece is certain to refuse.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Greece: Huge Attica Sex Racket Smashed by Police

Police yesterday detained 13 suspected members of a prostitution ring believed to have been one of the largest and best organized ever to operate in Attica, with an annual turnover of some 3.5 million euros and daily takings of up to 12,000 euros.

Police who infiltrated the ring after two officers posed as prospective customers said yesterday that they were seeking another 22 people, including the suspected ring leaders, two Albanian brothers, aged 29 and 34.

According to police, the ring offered the services of 100 foreign women, chiefly Russians, and also employed around 50 drivers to chauffeur them to and from their appointments.

Twelve of the alleged prostitutes were detained for questioning at the central police headquarters on Alexandras Avenue. According to their testimonies, they pocketed just 10 to 15 euros of the 150 charged for each sexual encounter. The women were lured to Greece via a bogus employment agency in Russia, Attica Police Chief Yiannis Dikopoulos said, adding that the sex workers were accommodated in nine apartments in different parts of Attica.

The ring is believed to have laundered its illicit profits using a yacht rental firm that police are looking into. The firm, with the trade name Istioploikoi Dromoi (Sailing Routes), has been renting out six luxury yachts, moored at Alimos Bay, police said.

Officers, who believe that the two Albanian ringleaders may already have fled to their homeland, have contacted their Albanian counterparts for cooperation in tracking the two brothers. Two bank accounts belonging to the suspects and containing some 1.5 million euros have been frozen, police in Athens said.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Italy-Israel: Alemanno Picks Up ‘Dan David’ Prize for Rome

(ANSAmed) — TEL AVIV, MAY 18 — Last night in Tel Aviv, Rome mayor Gianni Alemanno picked up the Dan David prize, awarded to the capital five years ago but not yet delivered. The prize was given to Alemanno during a gala evening conducted by the president of the state of Israel, Shimon Peres, and the representative of the Quartet on the Middle East, Tony Blair. The prize was awarded in 2004 when the mayor was Walter Veltroni but had never been collected, and includes 300 thousand dollars to be used for the construction of the Urbis Romae archaeological restoration centre in Acre, close to Jerusalem. The minister for Cultural Heritage will also take part in the creation of the centre. The prize was also awarded to an Italian, Paolo De Bernardis, a professor at the University La Sapienza in Rome, in relation to his research in astrophysics. Alemanno spoke about talks he had recently held with the former British prime minister, Tony Blair, on the theme of peace in the region, reporting that “Blair told me that it is very difficult to find a solution, but the hope is there. The meetings he has with Obama will be significant. The city of Rome will try to keep up this cultural operation to maintain a bridge of hope.” The aim of mayor Alemanno’s three-day mission to the Middle East is to create close relations between Rome and Jerusalem. Alemanno explained, “we want to create a sort of bridge between Rome and Jerusalem, a symbolic exchange between these two unique cities in the heart of the Mediterranean.” The first step in the mayor’s travels, which sees him accompanied by a large delegation, was to a dump in Tel Aviv where advanced technology for the treatment of solid urban waste manages to re-utilise more than 75% of refuse while at the same time producing biogas.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Italy: ‘More Power for Premier’, Berlusconi

Parliament ‘useless’, PM tells business body

(ANSA) — Rome, May 21 — Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi on Thursday reiterated plans to change the Italian constitution to give more powers to the premier at the expense of parliament.

“You have a government that is for the first time run by an entrepreneur and a team of ministers that resembles a company board in its efficiency, but we have to reckon with a legislature that must be modernised because the premier has virtually no power,” Berlusconi told the annual conference of employers’ federation Confindustria in response to calls to modernise Italy.

“(Confindustria Chairman) Emma (Marcegaglia) has asked us to use our majority to achieve reforms…but we are faced with infinite difficulties because of a bureaucracy that opposes everything,” said Berlusconi, who has in the past complained that he felt “like a driver without a steering wheel”.

“I, who have always considered myself a revolutionary, believe that revolutions are easier than reforms,” he said.

A previous attempt by Berlusconi to increase the premier’s powers, in 2005, was defeated by a referendum the following year.

That reform would have made the premier a directly elected figure with the power to hire and fire ministers, propose that parliament be dissolved and call elections.

With the present system, only parliament can dismiss a minister via a no-confidence vote, while it is up to the president to dissolve parliament and call elections.

In order to achieve the change given parliamentary opposition, the premier said, a bill would have to be presented from outside parliament.

Under Italian law, bills can be proposed not only by MPs but also by groups of 50,000 citizens.

In Berlusconi’s view, this would resolve the problem of parliament having to vote to divest itself of power.

“You can’t expect turkeys to bring forward Christmas,” he said.

Despite holding sweeping majorities in both houses, Berlusconi issued a fresh attack on parliament as “useless”. He also criticised the practice of parliamentary whips telling MPs which way to vote, implying that this potential obstacle to a reform-minded government could be removed if the premier had the power to dismiss parliament.

In a renewed criticism of the postwar constitution, he argued that the premier “has no power because the constitution was written after the Fascist years and so all the power was given to parliament, not the premier”.

Berlusconi’s renewed criticism of parliament prompted a quick response from the largest opposition party, the Democratic Party (PD).

PD Senate whip Anna Finocchiaro pointed out that, “like it or not, (parliament) is the place for legislative decisions” and that even bills proposed by citizens have to meet with parliamentary approval.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


‘Lynch Mob’ Prompts Refugees to Flee Town in Northern Sweden

Nearly half of the predominantly Iraqi-refugees residing in Vännäs in northern Sweden have decided to permanently move out of the area after being terrorized by what police called “a lynch mob” in early May.

“I thought that Vännäs was the perfect place for us. And there are many, many friendly people here. But we still don’t dare to stay; I’m seriously concerned about my children’s safety,” said father of five Ismail Ramadan to the Svenska Dagbladet (SvD) newspaper.

Ramadan’s family and several others have decided to abandon plans of starting a life in the small community outside of Umeå less than two weeks after a group of 30 to 50 young people assembled outside the apartment building in which the refugees lived and began shouting threats and throwing stones.

The May 9th incident resulted in several windows and many frightened refugees.

“I can’t even describe to you how horrible it was. ‘Now it’s over, here they come!’ I thought,” Ramadan told SvD.

“We all cried and screamed. We spent the whole night lying in the hall and held each other tightly.”

The weekend of harassment prompted municipality refugee coordinator Ingrid Lindroth to evacuate the refugees to safety.

“I made the decision after speaking with a number of refugees who were extremely scared — simply terrified. It was an easy decision,” she told SvD.

But the move was criticized by police, who characterized the decision to evacuate around 40 refugees as “significantly more drastic” than necessary, adding that it complicated the police’s investigation into the incident.

“We don’t believe this is a racially motivated dispute, but rather a disagreement between a number of young people, some of whom live in the refugee building and others from the area,” said local police commander Uno Nilsson to SvD the at the time of the incident.

The day following the attacks, several hundred Vännäs residents gathered to demonstrate in support of the refugees and to denounce what they perceived to be racially motivated attacks.

While the families were welcomed back to Vännäs with flowers after the evacuation, about 30 out of the roughly 70 refugees have ultimately decided to move out of the community of 4,000 residents, much to the dismay of local politicians.

“It’s not confirmed that they will leave yet, but if they do, it is obviously a failure on our part. No one should need to leave Vännäs because they are afraid or worried,” municipal council member Johan Söderling told the newspaper.

Police are also still investigating the matter in hopes of clarifying exactly what took place and who or what may have lay behind the attack.

Prosecutor Lotta Sundström expected it would take at least several more days for her office to make sense of the more than 20 different complaints which have been submitted.

“No one has yet been informed that they are suspected of a crime,” she said to SvD.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]


Netherlands: Going Dutch? Not So Fast!

[Comment from Tuan Jim: Haven’t read original NDTimes article.]

NRC columnist Heleen Mees begs to disagree with Russell Shorto’s raving article in The New York Times about the benefits of living in the Dutch welfare state. Mees, who lives in New York, has recently published a book in which she argues that European welfare states would do well to look to opportunity-based societies like New York for inspiration.

In his elegantly written essay Going Dutch (The New York Times Magazine, April 29), Russell Shorto sounds the praises of the Dutch welfare state. He raves about the ‘kinderbijslag,’ or child benefit, he receives quarterly and the annual check to cover the expenses for his children’s schoolbooks.

Of course Shorto loves the welfare state. The top income-tax rate of 52 percent for all income above 65,000 dollar doesn’t hurt him. As an expatriate Shorto’s income tax is reduced by 30 percent for a period of ten years. Other mortals in the Netherlands, however, face a marginal tax rate of over 55 percent on every euro earned, not to mention the 7 dollar they pay for a gallon of gasoline and the 19 percent value added tax on all goods and services they purchase.

More importantly, the Dutch welfare state isn’t as beneficial to low-skilled immigrants as it is to Russell Shorto. In fact, it has suffocated the large group of non-western immigrants (mostly from Morocco and Turkey) who came to the Netherlands over the past decades to seek their fortune.

Though one would assume that a caring state should be able to ensure a higher quality of life than an “uncaring” state, in actual practice this isn’t the case at all.

Due to the high cost of labour (20-25 dollars per hour at minimum wage level) many low-skilled immigrants can’t find a job and are forced to spend their lives in subsidised isolation. In the Netherlands, immigrants and people of immigrant background in the 15 to 65 age group are four times more likely to live on public assistance than other people in that age group; they are also over-represented in the crime statistics.

In New York it is exactly the other way around. Immigrants commit less crime and are less often unemployed. The gross minimum wage is lower than in the Netherlands at 7.25 dollars, but thanks to the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) people with annual incomes up to 37,000 dollars actually end up with more money after taxes than before.

The EITC is dependent on a person’s salary and family situation and is capped at 4,800 dollars per year. This way the gross cost of labour is kept down and more jobs are created in the bottom segment of the market, both in the public and in the private sector.

Take my building in Brooklyn. The Sweeney Building, an 85 apartments complex, employs six people on a full-time basis and two on a part-time basis. My gym in Chelsea employs one-hundred people full-time and fifty part-time. These jobs simply don’t exist in the Netherlands. Instead there is a labyrinth of benefits whose main use is to camouflage how many people under 65 are living on welfare.

It is this system that allowed Amsterdam mayor Rob Cohen to say at a Henri Polak reading on May 14 that the Netherlands are doing a pretty good job in terms of employment, despite the fact that more than half a million people under 65 are living on some type of state benefit. If the crisis persists, and chances are that it will, this number will likely increase to two million people, or a quarter of the working population.

Neither is the Netherlands the placid, stable country that Shorto makes it out to be. Since the turn of the century the Netherlands has experienced a rise in anti-immigrant sentiments and an unprecedented outburst of political violence.

In May 2002 Pim Fortuyn, a right-wing politician with an anti-immigrant message, was shot and killed. According to opinion polls Fortuyn had stood a chance to become the country’s next prime minister in the national elections that were held a week later.

In November 2004 the Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh was brutally murdered by Mohammed Bouyeri, a Muslim extremist, after he had released the anti-Islam film Submission in collaboration with Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali-born Islam critic. On Van Gogh’s body a letter was pinned containing a death threat to Hirsi Ali who subsequently had to flee the country.

On April 30 the Dutch traditionally celebrate Queen’s Day. This year the national holiday parade was interrupted as a 38-year-old Dutchman slammed his car into the crowd, killing six bystanders. The bald driver, who died of his injuries a day after the attack, admitted to police that he had been aiming for the royal family.

In recent years queen Beatrix and her family have been actively trying to lessen tensions between the different groups in Dutch society, much so to the disgruntlement of Geert Wilders, the political leader of the right-wing Freedom Party.

Wilders, who has compared the Koran to Mein Kampf, and blamed Islamic texts for inciting the 9/11 attacks, declared last December that the queen could no longer be part of government because she had called for tolerance in her Christmas address to the nation. If elections were held today, according to some polls, Wilders’ Freedom Party would win the most seats in parliament.

Russell Shorto is rather disingenuous in portraying the Dutch welfare state as a fairy tale come true without ever mentioning Fortuyn, Van Gogh (other than the famous painter) or Wilders. Shorto is a sojourner, and he doesn’t need to worry about what lies ahead for the country that I grew up in.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Netherlands: More Cameras to Fight Airport Crime

A body responsible for security at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport says more closed circuit TV surveillance is needed to fight drug smuggling and other crimes. The group, which includes representatives of the airport, of flight operator Air France-KLM, and customs and anti-terror officials says drug gangs are active in the luggage handling area, where cameras are needed most. The platform group wants access to recorded images without the prior consent of the public prosecutor.

The local government of Haarlemmermeer town, where the airport is located, is reserving comment pending a council meeting on Thursday. If the council agrees, extended CCTV surveillance will be introduced within a couple of months

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


New French Law on Internet Piracy Meets Skepticism

PARIS — A thousand French Internet users a day could be taken off-line following approval of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s pet project — an unprecedented law to cut the Internet connections of people who repeatedly pirate music and movies.

As the husband of supermodel-turned-pop star Carla Bruni and friend to some of France’s most powerful media figures, Sarkozy has long basked in his cozy ties with the entertainment industry, which has embraced the measure.

But many in Europe have denounced it, saying government controls needed to enforce the law could open the way for invasive state monitoring that violate privacy. And legal challenges at home could derail it: The opposition is trying to get the law declared unconstitutional.

Predictably, music, film and other industry groups have welcomed the measure. John Kennedy, chairman and CEO of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, said Wednesday that it represents a “sea change.”

Critics, however, worry about civil liberties.

“We should be careful about interfering with the freedom of exchange of information,” said Wolfgang Zankl, professor at the University of Vienna and president of the European Center for E-Commerce. “This is a constitutional right which no one should be barred from.”

Some Internet experts say the law will be technically impossible to apply. It requires Internet subscribers to install special software that would enable authorities to track down and identify those suspected of illegal downloads, but some experts say such programs do not yet exist.

And because it denies accused pirates the chance to defend themselves before their Web connections are severed, legal experts say it will not stand up in court.

The measure’s first short-term test came Tuesday, when the opposition Socialists took their objections before the Constitutional Council, which has a month to issue a ruling. If the council decides the law does not violate the constitution, it could take effect by summer.

It calls for graduated reprisals against alleged offenders. If a suspected pirate fails to heed e-mail warnings and a certified letter, Internet access would be cut for two months to a year — with the subscriber required to keep paying for the service under the contract’s terms.

Christine Albanel, the French culture minister, foresees cutting 1,000 Internet connections a day and sending 13,000 warnings to first- or second-time offenders.

In the United States, the music industry has waged war on content swappers with limited success. A campaign to sue individuals who repeatedly download free songs was dropped last year in favor of an effort to work more closely with Internet service providers to try to block connections of alleged offenders. AT&T, the largest Internet service provider in the U.S., is beginning to send the warnings to its subscribers.

Even before the French legislation was approved this month, it encountered resistance in the European Parliament. Elections for a new parliament take place in June, and the fight for Internet freedom has become a campaign issue in some countries, notably Sweden, which has gained a reputation as a hub for illegal file-sharing.

Support for Sweden’s Pirate Party, which calls for legalization of file-sharing, is growing, and a recent poll shows the party could gain a seat in the European Parliament.

Christian Engstrom, the party’s nominee, said the French law is damaging to the free exchange of information on the Internet. French cooperation with the “greedy copyright industry is not fitting for a Western democracy,” he said.

With the exception of Sweden, where a court sentenced four men last month to one-year jail terms for helping people download copyrighted material, court cases in Europe have failed to dent the practice. A Spanish court this week will hear the latest industry case against suspected file-sharers.

Russia and Ukraine are some of Europe’s biggest offenders in illegal file-sharing. However, they have no intention of passing legislation similar to that in France and are out of the reach of eventual European Union rules.

Last year, the Russian government did shut down one music download site, but it soon resurfaced under a different name.

The French law faces opposition not only from politicians and the public. Internet service providers in Britain consider cutting offenders’ connections a disproportionate, and ultimately impractical, punishment.

“Significant technological advances would be required if these measures are to reach a standard where they would be admissible as evidence in court,” the U.K. Internet Service Providers’ Association said Tuesday.

ISPs in Germany have so far refused to volunteer information about Internet pirates, forcing copyright owners to take them to court to compel them to reveal identities.

In the United States, Internet service companies complain that big users of music and video-swapping sites are clogging their networks, and some have begun to impose caps on Internet usage and charge extra for customers who exceed it.

In France, opponents say the new law misses the point by targeting downloads rather than online “streaming” — an increasingly popular approach where music and videos are played over the Internet, rather than downloaded and saved onto a user’s computer.

The French law creates a government agency to sanction offenders, with the actual monitoring left to industry watchdogs.

“It has been extraordinary to see the change of attitude to this problem, not only among governments but also within our own creative industries,” Kennedy told The Associated Press in an e-mail statement Wednesday. “Barely two years ago Internet piracy was something that seemed to many beyond regulation. Today, the mind-set couldn’t be more different.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


‘Romanians Know Russia Better Than You, So Trust Us’

Horia-Roman Patapievici is the president of the Romanian Cultural Institute. He is a physicist, essayist and columnist for leading center-left, intellectual papers in Romania.By Antonie van Campen for NRC International

In the run-up to the European elections, what issues are being debated in your country? Are these national issues or EU-issues?

“The issues debated are almost exclusively national. The political debate in Romania is always self-centred. The most heated debate is focused on the presidential elections, which will probably be held in November of this year, because president Basescu’s positions and comments are at the heart of the political struggle.”

A key issue in European politics is (or should be) market ideology. In your country, is there debate about whether the market ideology of Brussels needs amendments, or instead needs to be defended and even strengthened?

“If by market ideology you understand the idea that the freedom of the market is something desirable and good in itself, then I think that in Romania there is a fairly clear consensus that the social order of private property, or capitalism, should be defended. We know too much about the economic monstrosity of socialism, or a state-controlled economy, to think or act otherwise.

“Whether this implies further deregulation or some kind of softer and much more intelligent further regulation is debatable. I think that in the Romanian debate this distinction is rather poor: right-wing and left-wing parties equally endorse the idea that there should be some kind of regulation; they differ mainly when it comes to tax policies.”

Another key issue is euro-scepticism. Would you say that, in your country, support for the EU has changed? In what way? If so, why? Is there a populist protest against Brussels?

“No, there is neither euro-scepticism in Romania, nor populist protest against Brussels. For Romanians the reintegration of Romania into Europe is a matter of national identity.”

How would voters in your country like the EU to develop itself? Do they support the Lisbon treaty? Would they support a joint foreign policy? A more powerful central bank? What are the limits for further European unification?

“The Lisbon treaty is virtually unknown here. Romanian voters, I think, would support a joint foreign policy if and only if the EU, as a matter of principle, would adopt a position towards Russia that would resembles the Eastern Europeans countries’ view about Russia. ‘We know Russia’s politics better than you, so trust us,’ they would say.

“A more powerful central bank would be acceptable because the monetary policy of the Romanian central bank in the last fifteen years has been beneficial for the Romanians, and they tend to trust the idea of a powerful central bank, provided it is competent and accountable.

“As for the limits for unification, it is hard to say because there has been no public debate and no clear positions were formulated. As a general rule, Romanians endorse a concept of unification which preserves national identity and respects their view about their past, which is an essential part of their current self-proclaimed identity.”

Could you name an anecdote/incident that captures the atmosphere around the European elections in your country?

“During this European elections campaign Romanians do not discuss Europe or European issues: we only debate endlessly about the candidates for the future presidential elections who, with the exception of the current president, never mention European issues either. So we treat the European elections as a pretext for domestic elections. It is not a funny anecdote, but is does capture the moral temper of the day and the misuse of what might have been an excellent occasion to really join Europe institutionally.”

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Somali Britons With Jihad Training Pose Terrorist Risk to Britain

A growing number of young Somali Britons who have received “global jihad” training in Somalia pose a terrorist risk to the United Kingdom.

With al-Qaeda (AQ) in effect ousted from Iraq and constantly attcked by American Predator air attacks in Pakistan, the AQ franchise in East Africa, and notably Somalia, has become a greater focus of attention for the international counter-terrorist agencies.

“Somalia has some of the characteristics of Afghanistan in 2000 and 2001 — a country of ungoverned space which AQ can exploit,” a senior Whitehall official said.

For Britain, the evidence of spreading AQ training camps in Somalia is particularly alarming because of the large Somali community in the UK. About 70,000 live in London, 10,000 in the borough of Tower Hamlets.

Jonathan Evans, the Director-General of MI5, has emphasised that three-quarters of the agency’s international counter-terrorism resources still have to be devoted to Pakistan because of the 400,000 Pakistani-Britons who travel back and forth to Pakistan every year. Most of the terrorist plots uncovered since 9/11 were connected in some way to Pakistan.

Somalia has moved up the agenda and is viewed increasingly as a terrorist haven and growing resource for AQ’s global ambitions.

Although it is believed that the motivation for young Somali Britons may principally be to receive instruction so that they can fight in Afghanistan or join jihad in Somalia, Whitehall officials accept that some might decide to use the expertise they have acquired in the camps to return to Britain and start planning attacks.

Two of the four men who were convicted over the plot to detonate bombs on Tube trains and a bus in London on July 21, 2005 were from Somalia. Ramzi Mohammad had come to the UK from Somalia with his family in 1998, and Yassin Omar had been in the UK since the early 1990s. They and two Ethiopian-born Britons, Muktar Said Ibrahim and Hussein Osman, were found guilty of conspiracy to murder.

MI5 categorises its counter-terrorism coverage by networks rather than individuals. So there is no unit specifically focusing on Somali suspects unless they are involved in a targeted network. The domestic security service has learnt since 2005 that networks are often of mixed ethnic make-up. The East African connection is assessed as a growing threat.

“There is no doubt that there is training activity and terrorist planning in East Africa, particularly in Somalia, which is focused on the UK,” Mr Evans said in a speech two years ago.

Since then there has been evidence that the threat has grown. Whitehall officials said that the number of Somali Britons going to Somalia for training was “not huge” but was increasing. As a consequence, and because the focus on AQ in Iraq has been downgraded, extra resources are being channelled into combating the East Africa/Somalia terrorist connection because of the perceived risk of trained British nationals returning from camps to become attack planners in the UK.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Spain: Jews, Muslims and Protestants Want Equal Dignity

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, MAY 19 — Any future Law on Religious Freedom, one of the Zapatero Government’s top priorities, must extend the treatment reserved for the Catholic church to other religious persuasions. This is the wish of representatives of the Protestant, Muslim and Jewish communities in Spain, who are demanding the ‘neutrality” of the Spanish State. ‘We are asking for equal treatment” said Mansur Escudero, president of the Islamic Junta of Spain in statements to the press, ‘that the government be non-denominational and neutral with regards to religion, that it apply the Constitution and agreements with every acknowledgement which it is currently not doing, not only from the point of view of funding”. The three mono-theistic faiths have come together to complain that State funerals follow exclusively Catholic rites. And they feel discriminated against over funding and education in schools, and also with regard to how willing the Spanish Government is to reform the Law on Religious Freedom which was passed in 1980. Protestants and Muslims are demanding that a special box be included on the income-tax return for their faiths in order to benefit from 0.7% of Irpef (Personal Income Tax), like the box for the Catholic Church and NGOs. Representatives from the Jewish community want a single common box in which tax-payers specify their donations. This request has so far fallen on deaf ears. According to Mensur, talks with the government through meetings with deputy prime minister Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega and the Ministry for Justice have so far not resulted in written agreements. The President of the Islamic Junta of Spain criticised the failure to apply cooperation agreements made with the State ‘which regulate the setting up of mosques, halal food, religious festivals, the national heritage and the teaching of the Islamic religion. The State should pay teachers of Islam in the same way it pays Catholics”, considering that ‘there are only 30 teachers compared to 100,000 pupils”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Swedish Court Okays Higher Rent for Refugees

A Swedish court has ruled that a landlord’s decision to charge higher rent to a refugee family does not qualify as discrimination.

For more than three years, refugee Nafisa Khavari has been fighting against paying what she sees as an unjustifiably high rent.

She came to Sweden from Afghanistan with her seven children several years ago, and has been renting an apartment in Hällefors in central Sweden from the Skarets fastigheter property management company, according to the Hem & Hyra magazine.

After signing her rental agreement, Khavari later learned that she was paying thousands of kronor more per month in rent than her ethnically Swedish neighbours and decided to sue the landlord with support from Sweden’s Ombudsman for Ethnic Discrimination (DO).

But the landlord argued the higher rent was justified, explaining that refugees cause damage to apartments in a different way than “taxpayers” do.

“They live differently in the countries they come from. Taxpayers take care of the damage themselves when they move. Refugees don’t have any money. And you can tell them to clean the apartment when they leave, but they never really do anything. I think instead that they ought to appreciate that we take care of the apartment after they move,” said landlord Nils-Olav Skaret to Hem & Hyra.

But DO lawyer Ulrika Dietersson disagreed with Skaret’s reasoning, asserting that the company was guilty of discrimination and of taking advantage of the refugees’ situation to charge a higher rent.

“This has to be seen as a very serious affront to the tenant,” she said in her closing arguments, urging the court to order Skaret to pay Khavari 120,000 kronor in damages.

But the Örebro District Court ruled in favour of the landlord, finding that refugees as a group can’t be considered an ethnic minority.

Rather than take a stand on whether Skaret was right or wrong to charge higher rent, the court instead focused on DO’s way of defining an ethnic minority.

During the trial, the ombudsman argued that the terms “refugee” and “immigrant” are interchangeable with ethnic minority, and that both are subject to discrimination for just that reason.

But the court disagreed, writing that a person can’t be considered as belonging to an ethnic minority simply because he or she is a refugee or immigrant.

The ruling came as an unexpected shock to Khavari .

“It’s unfair, I’m really upset,” she told Hem & Hyra, adding she would join the DO in an appeal, but isn’t sure she’s ready to go through a new trial.

“And even if we appeal, I don’t think that I’ll succeed. Even the court has a discriminatory view toward immigrants.”

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]


UK: Arson Attacks on Schools ‘Deeply Worrying’

In the past two years, almost 3,000 arson attacks on schools have been reported to police, according to new figures.

Tories describe the number of cases of arson in schools as “deeply worrying”

In Scotland alone there were 1,252 cases recorded between January 2007 and last December — the highest figure for any country in the UK..

In the same period in England there were 1,249 incidents, in Wales there were 126 and in Northern Ireland there were 75.

It is not know how many of the attacks were carried out by pupils.

The Conservative Party asked every police force in the UK how many times they had been notified, or called out for an arson attack on school property in the last two years.

Shadow schools secretary Michael Gove said the results of the Freedom of Information request are “deeply worrying”.

He said teachers should be given more power to deal with pupils and to stop them bringing anything to school which could be dangerous.

“We would also give headteachers the power to ban any items they think may cause violence or disruption and abolish the current Government guidance which tells teachers not to search children who refuse to be searched,” he said.

But Children’s minister Delyth Morgan said heads have already been given the power to search pupils for weapons.

A bill is also making its way through Parliament which would give them additional rights to search for alcohol, drugs and stolen property.

Ms Morgan said: “We are working with the Arson Prevention Bureau to cut the number of arson attacks on schools and local Fire and Rescue services also run schemes which target vandals or those showing an unhealthy interest in starting fires.

“Any child attempting to commit arson can expect to be arrested and face the full force of the law.”

Teachers who suspect a pupil may be about to commit a crime can and should call the police, Ms Morgan advised.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


UK: Expenses Leak Probe ‘Not In Public Interest’

The leaking of details of MPs’ allowances and expenses to the Daily Telegraph will not be investigated by police.

Senior officers and prosecutors have concluded that a criminal investigation into the matter would not be in the public interest.

The Met Police were called in by the Commons authorities after the newspaper published extensive details of MPs’ claims between 2004 and 2008.

A spokesman for the House had said there were “reasonable grounds to believe a criminal offence may have been committed”.

Speaking about the decision not to investigate the leak, a police spokesman said officers closely examined the likelihood of a successful prosecution.

The spokesman said: “Although the leak of documents is not something that the MPS would condone, we have looked at the likelihood of a successful prosecution and whether a prosecution is appropriate.

“Other considerations were the prospect of obtaining evidence and the best use of resources.

“The assessment was informed by a recent published decision from the Director of Public Prosecutions that was, in part, applicable to this case.

“From this the Metropolitan Police believes the public interest defence would be likely to prove a significant hurdle, in particular the ‘high threshold’ for criminal proceedings in misconduct in public office cases.”

The Daily Telegraph’s ongoing campaign to reveal MPs’ expense claims has led to public outrage, forcing Gordon Brown and his Cabinet on to the defensive.

Officers and prosecutors are still deciding how to tackle the wave of allegations against MPs accused of misusing public money.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


UK: How MI5 Blackmails Muslims

LONDON: Five Muslim community workers have accused MI5 of waging a campaign of blackmail and harassment in an attempt to recruit them as informants.

The men claim they were given a choice of working for the Security Service or face detention and harassment in the UK and overseas.

They have made official complaints to the police, to the body that oversees the work of the Security Service and to their local MP Frank Dobson. Now they have decided to speak publicly about their experiences in the hope that publicity will stop similar tactics being used in the future.

Intelligence gathered by informers is crucial to stopping further terror outrages, but the men’s allegations raise concerns about the coercion of young Muslim men by the Security Service and the damage this does to the gathering of information in the future.

Three of the men say they were detained at foreign airports on the orders of MI5 after leaving Britain on family holidays last year.

After they were sent back to the UK, they were interviewed by MI5 officers who, they say, falsely accused them of links to extremism. On each occasion the agents said they would lift the travel restrictions and threat of detention in return for their cooperation. When the men refused some of them received what they say were intimidating phone calls and threats.

Two other Muslim men say they were approached by MI5 at their homes after police officers posed as postmen. Each of the five men, aged between 19 and 25, was warned that if he did not help the security services he would be considered a terror suspect. A sixth man was held by MI5 for three hours after returning from his honeymoon in Saudi Arabia. He too claims he was threatened with travel restrictions if he tried to leave the UK.

An agent who gave her name as Katherine is alleged to have made direct threats to Adydarus Elmi, a 25-year-old cinema worker from north London. In one telephone call she rang him at 7 a.m. to congratulate him on the birth of his baby girl. His wife was still seven months’ pregnant and the couple had expressly told the hospital that they did not want to know the sex of their child.

Elmi further alleges: “Katherine tried to threaten me by saying, and it still runs through my mind now: ‘Remember, this won’t be the last time we ever meet.’ And then during our last conversation she explained: ‘If you do not want anything to happen to your family you will cooperate.’“

Madhi Hashi, a 19-year-old care worker from Camden, claims he was held for 16 hours in a cell in the Djibouti airport on the orders of MI5. He alleges that when he was returned to the UK on April 9 this year he was met by an MI5 agent who told him his terror suspect status would remain until he agreed to work for the Security Service. He alleges that he was to be given the job of informing on his friends by encouraging them to talk about jihad.

Mohamed Nur, 25, a community youth worker from north London, claims he was threatened by the Security Service after an agent gained access to his home accompanied by a police officer posing as a postman.

“The MI5 agent said, ‘Mohamed if you do not work for us we will tell any foreign country you try to travel to that you are a suspected terrorist.’“

Mohamed Aden, 25, a community youth worker from Camden, was also approached by someone disguised as a postman in August last year. He alleges an agent told him: “We’re going to make your traveling harder for you if you don’t cooperate.”

None of the six men, who work with disadvantaged youths at the Kentish Town Community Organization (KTCO), has ever been arrested for terrorism or a terrorism-related offense.

They have repeatedly complained about their treatment to the police and to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, which oversees the work of the Security Services.

In a letter to Lord Justice Mummery, who heads the tribunal, Sharhabeel Lone, the chairman of the KTCO, said: “The only thing these young people have in common is that they studied Arabic abroad and are of Somali origin. They are not involved in any terrorist activity whatsoever, nor have they ever been, and the security services are well aware of this.”

Sharhabeel added: “These incidents smack of racism, Islamophobia and all that undermines social cohesion. Threatening British citizens, harassing them in their own country, alienating young people who have committed no crime other than practicing a particular faith and being a different color is a recipe for disaster.

“These disgraceful incidents have undermined 10 years of hard work and severely impacted social cohesion in Camden. Targeting young people who are role models for all young people in our country in such a disparaging way demonstrates a total lack of understanding of on-the-ground reality and can only be counterproductive.

“When people are terrorized by the very same body that is meant to protect them, sowing fear, suspicion and division, we are on a slippery slope to an Orwellian society.”

Frank Dobson said: “To identify real suspects from the Muslim communities MI5 must use informers. But it seems that from what I have seen some of their methods may be counterproductive.”

MI5 and the police refused to discuss the men’s complaints with The Independent. But on its website, MI5 says it is untrue that the Security Service harasses Muslims.

The organization says: “We do not investigate any individuals on the grounds of ethnicity or religious beliefs. Countering the threat from international terrorists, including those who claim to be acting for Islam, is the Security Service’s highest priority.

“We know that attacks are being considered and planned for the UK by Al-Qaeda and associated networks. International terrorists in this country threaten us directly through violence and indirectly through supporting violence overseas.”

It adds: “Muslims are often themselves the victims of this violence — the series of terrorist attacks in Casablanca in May 2003 and Riyadh in May and November 2003 illustrate this.

“The service also employs staff of all religions, including Muslims. We are committed to recruiting a diverse range of staff from all backgrounds so that we can benefit from their different perspectives and experience.”

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]


UK: Miliband Urges Coalition of West and Muslim World

LONDON (AFP) — Terrorism and past conflicts have “distorted” relations between western and Muslim nations but both sides must work together against global challenges, the foreign secretary said Thursday.

David Miliband admitted that London’s interventions from the Crusades and colonialism to the invasion of Iraq had created distrust in many countries, with the latter war causing “a sense of bitterness, distrust and resentment”.

But he said the challenges of climate change, terrorism and financial crisis required a united effort born of better understanding on both sides, as well as a resolution of conflicts such as in the Middle East.

In a speech to the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, Miliband said a history of relations between Europe and the Islamic world “have been characterised by conquest, conflict and colonialism”.

“More recently, the invasion of Iraq, and its aftermath, aroused a sense of bitterness, distrust and resentment,” he said.

Since the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, the focus of the relationship between western and Muslim states had narrowed, he said.

“Terrorism has distorted our views of each other and skewed our engagement with each other.”

But Miliband said global security can no longer be guaranteed by the world’s only superpower, or even grouping of great powers.

“The threats from climate change, terrorism, pandemics and financial crisis are too large and too diffuse… we need the broadest possible coalition of states and political movements”, he said.

While western powers “need to hold fast to our own values”, any coalition would at times have to include “groups whose aims we do not share, whose values we find deplorable, whose methods we think dubious”, Miliband said.

But he stressed forging coalitions required “greater respect” from western nations, in particular, adding: “That means rejecting the lazy stereotypes and moving beyond the binary division between moderates and extremists.”

Distrust over conflicts such as Iraq has also overshadowed efforts to use diplomacy and aid for humanitarian reasons, Miliband said: “We need to recover the original idea (of liberal interventionism) which was and is a noble idea.”

Active diplomacy was most needed in the Middle East, he said, an issue on which “we need — all of us, in our own ways — to act soon, very soon, to prevent a fatal and final blow to the scope for compromise”.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


UK: MPs’ Expenses: Politicians Used to be Better, Wiser — and Older

Only those who have worked outside politics can truly represent the people, says David Young.

It was at my fifth Cabinet meeting that, sitting back and idly glancing around the table, a thought struck me. Of the 21 of us in attendance, 11 had at one time started their own business. In today’s House, it is hard to find Members with much outside experience at all, let alone that of working for themselves.

When Gordon Brown introduced Members’ outside earnings into his review of expenses, he was continuing the process of discouraging MPs from having other interests. Politics is increasingly described as a full-time occupation, even a profession. Today, the traditional route to the House has become school, university political society, think tank and then Member; this achieves an almost total insulation from the life of their constituents.

The hours of the Commons have changed so that, instead of starting after lunch and sitting into the night, they sit in the day, finishing most days at 7pm. Politics has gone from a vocation to just another occupation. How did this come about and why?

More than 100 years ago, Parliament was a part-time affair, sitting from February to mid- August. The vast majority of Members had outside interests, there were no women and they were unpaid. That seemingly amateurish arrangement sufficed for running the largest empire the world has known.

After the First World War, the widening of suffrage allowed the entry of women and Labour replaced the Liberals. At the time of the post-war Labour government of 1945, Parliament was still part-time. Senior silks who were MPs would finish in the courts at 4pm and go down to the House. Many others were leading lights in the City or industry, in management and the unions. The Commons commanded vast experience, much of it disinterested.

When I entered the Lords in 1984, there was also a tremendous array of talent. Of course it was undemocratic, with its majority of hereditary peers, but the Salisbury convention ensured the House would not stand in the way of a manifesto commitment.

Sitting alongside the hereditary members were many of our most successful men and women. The standard of debate was very high. There were occasions when Kenneth Clarke, who was my minister in the Commons, and I had a debate on the same subject at the same time. I would have a speech going into many pages, invariably heard in attentive silence, while Ken would have four or five paragraphs. He had a simple answer to this: “After that, we will have points of order for the rest of the time.”

Of course, the Lords was political, but I remember our Chief Whip complaining to me about one of our captains of industry, who had taken the Conservative whip, being dragged into the chamber against his will for a three-line whip. When the vote came, he voted with the other side and when challenged, said: “I came and listened to the argument, and they were right!”

This spirit went with the Blair reforms of the Lords, replacing most hereditaries with members who carried pagers in order to be able to follow the party line. Probably as a result, we have had cases of questionable behaviour by peers and even an investigation into a member’s expenses.

There have been a number of causes for the deterioration in both Houses. First, at least in the Commons, is the cult of the young. Aspiring candidates in their forties have all too often been quietly told that they are too old; yet this is just the age when experience blended with enthusiasm produces a more balanced judgment. The Labour landslide of 1997 introduced far too many Members into the House with little or no experience of life outside politics, and the next election might do the same again for the Conservatives.

Time spent outside politics is important if it is spent in business, unions, voluntary bodies, or academia. The House must have Members who can relate what they are asked to do to their own experience. If more MPs had worked outside politics, alarm bells would have rung over their expenses scheme. Selection committees should look to a candidate’s experience.

But there is a more subtle reason. Parliament has been inundated with European legislation, which it had to nod through. The Government has treated the House with barely disguised contempt, introducing unnecessary and ineffectual legislation.

We wasted 700 hours on the law restricting hunting with dogs. The Government was dismissive of the reports of the Lords Select Committee on which I served. This meant that Parliament had less and less of anything important to do and, in time, Members degenerated into becoming superior social workers, making the job increasingly unattractive to people of talent.

What should we do? We can’t turn the clock back, but we can encourage new and existing Members to have outside interests and we should reverse the change of hours to enable this to happen. The next government should ration legislation, ensuring that both Houses peruse only important Bills. We should strengthen the Select Committee system to really hold the government to account. Then, and only then, will we get the people that Parliament really deserves.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


UK: Mohammed Ali Guilty of Killing of Yasmine and Sabrina Larbi-Cherif

A man who stabbed to death his girlfriend and her sister was convicted of murder today.

A jury at Birmingham Crown Court took three hours and 20 minutes to convict Mohammed Ali of murdering Yasmine and Sabrina Larbi-Cherif, whose partially clothed bodies were found at their flat last September.

In a two-week trial the jury was told that Ali, 29, from Old Snow Hill, Birmingham, used three knives to stab Yasmine twice and inflict 35 knife wounds on her sister.

Family and friends of Yasmine, 22, and Sabrina, 19, sobbed and hugged in the public gallery as the verdicts were returned.

Ali, who was not in court, will be sentenced at a later date.

David Crigman, QC, for the prosecution, said that Ali stabbed both women in the lounge of their central Birmingham flat before dragging their bodies into a bedroom.

Jurors, who watched CCTV film of Ali leaving the Jupiter Apartments in Ryland Street, Birmingham, after the killings, heard that he twice walked from the lounge of the flat to the kitchen to rearm himself after breaking two of the knives he used.

Mr Crigman said: “He had left behind a scene of carnage.

“He had used violence of the most brutal and depraved kind and he had killed two young girls.”

In his opening speech Mr Crigman said that Ali was arrested in Dover, Kent, two days after being seen leaving the flat.

“In this case, it’s likely that there will be overlapping motives — anger, control, base male brutality and a significant sexual dimension,” he said.

The court heard that the attack on Sabrina had a sadistic element — with 32 of the wounds inflicted with apparent precision rather than in anger.

The sisters were last seen alive at 10pm on September 13, 2008.

Their bodies were found after relatives became concerned. CCTV images seen by the jury show Ali leaving the flat with a carrier bag — thought to contain his bloodstained clothes — at about 1pm on Sunday, September 14.

He was arrested two days later at Dover docks in what the prosecution claimed was an attempt to flee the country.

The killer had denied murder but pleaded guilty to manslaughter at a hearing in March, claiming that he was provoked.

Yasmine, a salsa dancer, moved to the West Midlands to study chemistry at the University of Birmingham.

After failing her exams she left and became a French and Arabic translator and later a sales administrator.

Sabrina moved in with her sister shortly before she was killed. She was due to study French at the same university as her sister.

They shared the flat with a friend, who was on holiday at the time of the killings.

In a text message to Ali a few days before her death, Yasmine, who was a twin, wrote: “Actually let’s call it a day like you mentioned. I am disappointed you think I am a slut.

“I am not willing to have you in my life if you do not respect who I am.”

In February last year Yasmine accused Ali of rape. He was charged with six counts of rape, five of sexual assault and one of causing actual bodily harm, and spent five months on remand in jail.

But Yasmine, who police say felt unable to face a court case, retracted the complaint and Ali was freed.

Detective Chief Inspector Joanne Clews, who led the murder inquiry, said that the rape trial could not go ahead without Yasmine’s evidence.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


UK: MPs Who Fought for Secrecy Are Exposed

Five MPs, including two shadow ministers, who fought to keep their expenses secret have had their claims exposed in the Sunday Telegraph..

The two Labour backbenchers and three Tories backed a 2007 Bill to exempt Parliament from the Freedom of Information Act — a move which would have ensured their expenses remained hidden.

Shadow home office minister David Ruffley is reported to have “flipped” his second home from London to his constituency before claiming back thousands for furniture and fittings, including a £1,674 sofa.

He was said to have been refused the full amount when he claimed for a £2,175 television from Harrods, and also had a £6,765 claim for bedroom furniture and equipment reduced.

David Ruffley MP said: ‘It is completely untrue to state that I have flipped a second home to claim thousands of pounds before selling the property, thus avoiding capital gains tax.

“In my 12 years as an MP I have not sold any property anywhere in the United Kingdom.”

Other MPs are alleged to have bought repeat items in consecutive months.

Labour MP Fraser Kemp has reportedly agreed to repay money to the taxpayer after claiming for two DVD players in one month and 16 sheets in just seven weeks.

Meanwhile Justice Secretary Jack Straw has denied claims from a former sleaze watchdog that he blocked an inquiry into MPs’ expenses two years ago.

Sir Alistair Graham said Gordon Brown and the head of the civil service had agreed his proposal for a root-and-branch review of the system, when he was chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life (CSPL).

“My understanding — I can’t prove it because I subsequently left — is that the person who stopped that inquiry from going ahead was Jack Straw,” he told BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show.

But a spokesman for Mr Straw dismissed the claims.

“It is nonsense to suggest that plans for an inquiry into MPs expenses were blocked.

“The Government has no power to do so. The CSPL is an independent body.”

Ye are a pack of mercenary wretches and like Esau sell your country for a mess of pottage and like Judas betray your God for a few pieces of money.

Oliver Cromwell, Boulton & Co.

It came as William Hague confirmed to Sky News’ Sunday Live with Adam Boulton that he will get rid of all his lucrative outside interests by September including directorships and after-dinner speeches.

“I very much defend MPs being able to have some outside interests because I think without that we would eventually have a Parliament of people who are either entirely dependent on the taxpayer…or people who are independently wealthy before they came into politics and I think that is something that has to be avoided,” he said”.

“But for myself I am closing those things down in the next few months.”

Hague On Outside Interests

The latest disclosures in the Sunday Telegraph include:

:: David Maclean, who introduced the 2007 Bill, spent more than £20,000 doing up his farmhouse under the Additional Costs Allowance (ACA) before selling it for £750,000.

It says he was entitled to the money because the property was designated as his “second home”, yet he did not pay capital gains tax on the sale because the taxman accepted it was his main home.

:: Labour MP David Clelland “bought out” his partner’s share of a joint mortgage on a flat in London in a deal which cost the taxpayer thousands of pounds plus legal fees.

:: Fraser Kemp, one of Labour’s key election strategists, made repeat purchases of household items within weeks of each other for his one-bedroom flat in London.

He is said to have told the newspaper: “Bed linen and a second DVD player was an error for which I apologise and will pay back.”

:: Julian Lewis, the shadow defence minister, asked if he could claim £6,000 expenses for a wooden floor with acoustic underlay but was told by officials this “could be seen as extravagant”.

He was permitted to claim £4,870 to upgrade the London flat, as well as £352.20 in legal fees for settling a dispute over unpaid service charges.

Mr Lewis also claimed £119 for a wall-mounted trouser press and £5 for a “sweater tidy”. He has since described the ACA as an “absolutely rotten system”.

:: David Ruffley, the shadow Home Office minister, “flipped” his second home from a London flat to his Bury St Edmunds constituency before spending thousands of pounds on furniture and fittings.

Get involved in the row — send us your views in video & watch what others are saying.

He successfully claimed for a £1,674 sofa — but was refused the full amount when he claimed for a £2,175 Sony widescreen TV from Harrods.

An attempt to claim £6,765 for the purchase of several bedroom items was reduced by £4,748.

The paper says not all of the 98 MPs who supported Mr Maclean’s Bill had questionable expenses. Some submitted low or zero claims including Ann Widdecombe, the Conservative MP.

Since the Telegraph investigation began nine days ago, one minister has stepped down from his post, two Labour MPs have been suspended, and a parliamentary aide to the Conservative leader has also resigned.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


UK: Social Worker Cover-Up Shielded Child Sex Offender Who Went on to Rape Foster Parents’ Son, Two

Social workers put the rights of a teenage sex offender over those of the foster family whose children he went on to abuse, a report has found.

The married couple who welcomed the 19-year-old into their home were not told of his sexual interest in minors.

They only discovered the truth after he raped their two-year-old son and molested their nine-year-old daughter.

Yesterday, social services admitted they had withheld the information because they considered the paedophile to be ‘the one in need of protection’.

[Return to headlines]


UK: The Man Who Exposed the MPs’ Expenses System “to Its Rotten Core” Has Been Named After More Than Two Weeks of Revelations About Questionable Claims.

Details of MPs’ expenses led to anger over the way Parliament works

Former SAS officer John Wick was identified by The Daily Telegraph as the man behind the disclosures.

He is the head of a corporate intelligence company which contacted newspapers on behalf of the Commons whistleblower who passed over the unedited claims.

Mr Wick, who served in the elite special forces regiment during the 1970s, said he was always aware of the risk of his actions.

But he told the paper he decided to act after the public was frustrated in its attempts to learn about MPs’ expense claims.

Mr Wick said: “We’ve all had concerns about the expenses and how they’ve managed it, purely because of how they’ve handled our requests for information.

“We’ve reached a stage in society where they want to know everything about us — I think we’re entitled to know about them.”

Mr Wick, a Conservative Party supporter, claimed the expenses system had been “exposed to its rotten core” as a result of his actions.

The party was unaware of his role in the expose until now, the Telegraph said.

His identity was revealed as a Conservative MP who resigned as an aide to David Cameron over the scandal was jeered as he attended a public meeting in his constituency.

Former Tory aide under fire

Bracknell MP Andrew Mackay resigned from the post after confirming he had claimed for a second home allowance while his wife, Bromsgrove MP Julie Kirkbride, claimed for another property.

At a meeting of more than 300 of his constituents, he was heckled by some who called for him to resign — but he has still put himself forward for re-selection as a Tory candidate at the next General Election.

The Telegraph continued to reveal details of MPs’ expenses, including those of a multi-millionaire Conservative who claimed for automatic gates at his constitutency home.

Jonathan Djanogly had the large wooden gates — which are opened by an electronic touchpad from a car — installed at his house at a cost of £4,936 including maintenance.

The shadow business minister said they were needed for security reasons after he helped constituents threatened by animal rights activists over their links to the animal-testing company Huntingdon Life Sciences.

He also claimed for a monthly gardening bill of about £400 plus £13,962 for cleaning and £12,951 for gardening at his second home over four years, the Telegraph said.

Mr Djanogly said he had decided to repay £25,000 after talking to the Tory scrutiny panel set up by Mr Cameron to study his MPs’ claims.

He also said he would not be claiming any more expenses until the whole system had been reviewed.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Balkans

Karadzic Seeks UN Help in Motion Against Charges

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic has asked the United Nations for documents that could underpin a motion calling on the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal to drop all charges against him, according to a letter released Friday by the court.

In the request addressed to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and dated May 11, Karadzic asks for correspondence or statements by U.N. members supporting his claim that American peace envoy Richard Holbrooke was acting with the world body’s authority in 1996 when he allegedly promised Karadzic immunity from prosecution if he relinquished power.

Holbrooke, who is now a special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan for U.S. President Barack Obama, denies making such a deal..

Karadzic’s lawyers plan to file a motion on Monday asking the U.N. tribunal to dismiss the 11-count indictment against him because of the alleged agreement.

It appears unlikely that the motion will derail Karadzic’s trial, which is expected to begin later this year. Dealing with an earlier motion, judges said that the alleged Holbrooke agreement was not binding on the court.

The former Bosnian Serb leader is charged with two counts of genocide as well as crimes against humanity and war crimes for allegedly orchestrating atrocities by Bosnian Serb forces throughout Bosnia’s 1992-95 war, ranging from ethnic cleansing campaigns to the shelling and sniping campaign in Sarajevo and the 1995 massacre of some 8,000 Muslims in Srebrenica.

A tribunal judge entered not guilty pleas on Karadzic’s behalf after he refused to enter a plea.

Karadzic was arrested on a Belgrade bus in July after more than 12 years on the run. His military commander Gen. Ratko Mladic, remains a fugitive.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


Kosovo: Serbs March Against Biden in Mitrovica

(ANSAmed) — PRISTINA, MAY 21 — A few hundred Serbs staged a protest today against US vice president, Joe Biden, in Kosovska Mitrovica, the city in northern Kosovo that is half Serb and half Albanian. The protesters gathered next to the bridge crossing the Ibar river that divides the Serb half of the city (north of the river) from the Albanian half (south) with banners and posters carrying messages such as “the assassin returns to the crime scene”, “we are not over”, and “Tadic don’t humiliate Serbs”. Boris Tadic is the Serbian president who met Joe Biden in Belgrade yesterday. While in Pristina the US vice president repeated his country’s full support for Kosovo’s sovereignty and independence, which he called “irreversible”. But Serbs still oppose independence and see Kosovo as Serbia’s southern province. The protesters lit candles and laid flowers at the foot of the monument dedicated to the victims of Nato bombardments 10 years ago while police forces strengthened their surveillance. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Serbia in EU: Frattini, Visas No Longer Needed After 2009

(ANSAmed) — BELGRADE, MAY 20 — Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said that he believes that it will be possible to end visa requirements for Serbian citizens by the end of 2009. “The time has come to do everything possible to eliminate the barriers that separate the Balkan countries of the EU, and I believe that it is possible to eliminate visa requirements for Serbian citizens by the end of this year,” said Frattini in speaking to Belgrade daily Blic. “Decisive progress,” he added, “is possible.” “Italy,” observed Frattini, “is firmly convinced that the EU enlargement plan must be implemented completely in order to open up the doors to Serbia and other Western Balkan countries, which historically and traditionally are an integral part of Europe, and which have a strong and unshakeable ally in Italy.” (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Serbia: Bosnian Spiritual Leader Sparks Controversy

Belgrade, 20 May (AKI) — The spiritual leader of Bosnia’s Muslim majority on Wednesday sparked controversy by stating that nothing could separate Muslims in Serbia from those in Bosnia. Reiss-ul-Ulema Mustafa Ceric made the comments during a visit to a Muslim community in Serbia’s Muslim-majority Sandzak region bordering Montenegro.

“We are one, and there is no force that could separate us,” Ceric told Muslims in the Sandzak town of Tutin.

“Sarajevo has been and will remain a spiritual centre for all Bosnian Muslims, wherever they live,” he said as he ended a three-day visit on Wednesday.

Sarajevo is the capital of Bosnia, where Muslims make up 40 percent of the population — the largest group in the country.

“We, the Bosniacs (Bosnian Muslims) in the Balkans, demand no more and no less than what others have,” Ceric said.

“We know very well what it is, and they (Serbian leaders) will learn soon what it means.”

Serbia’s 200,000 Muslims are split into two groups. One is led by Muamer Zukorlic, who recognises Ceric’s supreme leadership.

A second group led by Adem Zilkic, believes that Muslims in Serbia should be autonomous from those in Bosnia.

Supporters of the two groups have often clashed in recent years, and several people have been wounded.

Zilkic appealed to Ceric to postpone his visit, warning it could have a “bloody epilogue” but there were no incidents.

Ceric also criticised Bosnian Muslim leaders in Sarajevo for “loving less” their fellow Muslims in Serbia.

Muslims in the former Yugoslavia are of Slavic origin, but were granted Yugoslav nationality by the former strongman Josip Broz Tito in 1963.

But after Bosnia seceded from Yugoslavia in 1992, most Muslims, except Kosovo Albanians, tend to call themselves Bosniacs.

Serbian ambassador to Bosnia, Grujica Spasovic, said Ceric’s concern for other Muslims was legitimate as long as it was related to cultural and religious ties.

But he said Ceric was “interfering in the politics and internal affairs of another country”, meaning Serbia.

Along with several Bosnian Muslim leaders, Ceric has called for Bosnia to be transformed into a unitary state of “Bosniac” people, prompting protests by the country’s two other main groups — Serbs and Croats.

American vice-president Joseph Biden on Tuesday urged Bosnian leaders to unite while pledging support for Bosnia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity enshrined in the US-brokered Dayton peace accord that ended the 1992-1995 civil war.

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

North Africa

Al Jazeera and Qatar: the Muslim Brothers’ Dark Empire?

Zvi Mazel

  • There has been a significant presence of the Muslim Brothers (also known as the Muslim Brotherhood) in Qatar since the second half of the twentieth century. The first wave came from Egypt in 1954 after Nasser had smashed their organization. The next wave came from Syria in 1982 after Hafez el-Assad bombed their stronghold in Hama. The last group arrived after September 11, 2001 — from Saudi Arabia.
  • In 1995, the present Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, deposed his father in a bloodless palace coup. One of his first steps was to establish the Al Jazeera satellite channel in 1996, which is the most viewed station in the Arab world with an estimated audience of some 60 million.
  • There was never any doubt about the network’s political orientation. Al Jazeera immediately launched scathing attacks on Israel during the Second Intifada and went on to incendiary broadcasts against the United States at the time of the Afghanistan conflict and over Iraq. It was later revealed to be in contact with bin Laden, and was the medium of choice for the video and audio cassettes of bin Laden and his men.
  • During the U.S. war in Iraq, the Americans accused the station of being pro-Saddam, and after the war, of presenting the terrorist groups active in the country in a positive light. One of its reporters stationed in Baghdad always seemed to arrive suspiciously quickly, with his camera, at the site of terror attacks. During the Second Lebanon War in 2006, Al Jazeera behaved as a Hizbullah spokesman. During the Gaza war, a senior Al Jazeera reporter stationed himself at Shifa Hospital, from where he broadcast a stream of carefully selected horror pictures.
  • The Egyptian Maamun Fendi wrote in Asharq Alawsat that some 50 percent of the network’s personnel belong to the Muslim Brothers. He believes that Qatar, by embracing the Brothers while hosting American bases, has found the perfect formula against retaliation by Arab leaders and attacks by Islamic extremists. Al Jazeera has become a weapon in the hands of an ambitious emir who may be driven by the Muslim Brothers and who is threatening the stability of the Middle East.
  • With the Muslim Brothers increasingly aligned in recent years with Iran, by repeatedly attacking the Sunni Arab regimes and inciting against them, Al Jazeera is serving as an important instrument for Tehran and its effort to undermine their internal stability.

Could Qatar and Al Jazeera’s satellite channel located there be secretly manipulated by the Muslim Brothers? This is a question frequently asked by Arab media trying to puzzle out the high profile adopted by the ruler of the tiny desert country and the nationalistic and radical Islamic content of the channel he owns…

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


Italy-Morocco: Alert Over Drugs and Terrorism, Frattini

(ANSAmed) — RABAT, MAY 14 — Today the Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini and the Moroccan Interior Minister Chakib Ben Moussa looked at ways of facing up to extremist terrorism through active cooperation and a common strategy to be adopted between Italy and Morocco. Frattini announced, “there are serious concerns over a possible link between the drugs route and extremist terrorism which can be traced from the western coast towards north African countries, and so we have agreed that our two countries will keep our guards high.” Frattini and the Moroccan Interior Minister also discussed immigration, which is not a subject which leads to serious concern since Rabat maintains tight control and the Moroccan community is well integrated into Italy, where the community of 300,000 people represents Italy’s largest non-European migrant group. Just as in Tunisia, Frattini spoke about legal immigration in Morocco, which should not be overshadowed by the presence of illegal boats of migrants. The minister also underlined the importance of seasonal work, which has been established between Morocco and Spain for some years. Previously the Foreign Minister had laid a wreath at the Mausoleum of Moroccan Sovereigns, an ancient mosque in the centre of Rabat where Mohammed V and Hassan are buried, the grandfather and father of the current sovereign Mohammed VI.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Terrorism: Morocco, Arrest for the Attack in Madrid

(ANSAmed) — RABAT, MAY 21 — Moroccan authorities have arrested a 31 year old fundamentalist suspected for having been involved in the attack that took place in Madrid in 2004 which caused 191 deaths, local sources in Rabat reported. The man, Mohammed Bel Hady, was extradited from Syria last week where he moved after leaving Spain. According to Moroccan police, the man rented the apartment in Madrid where three weeks after the attack at the Antocha station seven men blew themselves up. Held in the Salé prison, near Rabat, the man should appear before judges in a month’s time. If he is found guilty he faces a sentence of up to 10 years in prison. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Terrorism: Algeria, 5 Gendarmes Killed in Ambush

(ANSAmed) — ALGIERS, MAY 21 — Five gendarmes were killed and one injured in an ambush carried out by an armed Islamic group yesterday morning in Algeria in Ouled Antar, in the mountains near Medea 80 kilometres south of the capital. According to reports appearing today in the Algerian press, seven men wearing military uniforms set up a roadblock 4 km from the Ouled Antar town council offices, and when the convoy arrived opened fire on the gendarmes. Among the victims was reportedly also the head of the local brigade of Gendarmerie. Though not yet confirmed by official sources, it is the first attack in this region just outside of Algiers after months of calm. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


TLC: Egypt Seeking to Shut Down Iran-Based Channel

(ANSAmed) — CAIRO, MAY 15 — Airing on Egypt’s Nilesat, an Iran-based TV channel has frequently insulted politicians and the government in this Arab country, which is now seeking to withdraw the broadcast license. The Arabic-speaking al-Alam channel has launched a campaign urging a coup d’etat in Egypt and went as far as mocking President Hosni Mubarak and Attorney General Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud. Samir Sabry, a lawyer, filed a suit at the Administrative Court to get the channel off-air. On its website, alalam.ir, the channel posted an unsourced article claiming that Counselor Mahmoud falsely accused Hezbollah of planning to launch combat operations in Egypt and that the man was trying to influence parliamentary elections in Lebanon. The channel also raised doubts about the integrity of the Egyptian judicial system. Established in 2003, al-Alam addresses the Muslim and Arab worlds and the Middle East.(ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

Gaza: Hamas Decreases Attacks on Israel on Egyptian Pressure

(ANSAmed) — TEL AVIV, MAY 21 — Palestinian fundamentalists of Hamas have reportedly opposed and prevented various plans to perform terrorist attacks and launch rockets on Israel planned by other radical Islamic groups active in the Gaza Strip in recent weeks, say Israeli sources cited anonymously by Haaretz’s website. The reports credit Hamas leaders, who are reacting to pressure applied by Egypt, which is mediating negotiations with Israel and in inter-Palestinian dialogue. This activity has been demonstrated by the relative peace over the past weeks and an almost completely silent April, which was recently interrupted by the most recent episodes (which were less frequent compared to the past). The sources attributed the attacks to minor groups rebelling against Hamas’ indications. According to the sources, the Hamas government in Gaza, which has been in control since 2007, has asked militant groups to calm down in order to encourage the arrival of international aid and begin reconstruction after the devastation suffered in Israeli military initiative Operation Cast Lead (concluded on January 18 with a death toll of between 1,200 and 1,400). Hamas is mainly committed to pleasing Egypt and to avoid “a further deterioration” in relations with Cairo. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Israel Bows to US in Removing Illegal Settlers

NO SOONER had Benjamin Netanyahu returned from his week in Washington on Thursday than he moved to dismantle an illegal outpost in the West Bank.

“It seems that this was done in order to throw a bone to the United States President,” says Avi Roeh, the chairman of the local settler council. It was only a tiny outpost of seven shacks on a barren hilltop, but at least it was something.

With the US President, Barack Obama, scheduled to unveil his vision for peace in the Middle East in Cairo on June 4, US officials had made it clear to the Israelis that they wanted some quick concessions.

Mr Netanyahu seems to have got the message.

“The Prime Minister sees the unauthorised construction in the West Bank as a problem that has to be dealt with,” his official spokesman, Mark Regev, told the Herald after Mr Netanyahu’s return. “Illegal construction will be taken down.”

Mr Regev added that Mr Netanyahu had instructed his Defence Minister, Ehud Barak, to take the lead on the issue. “He is trying to find a non-violent solution but the bottom line is that illegal construction will be coming down,” he said.

Mr Barak has already identified another 26 outposts that will be dismantled within weeks. For the typically unauthorised clusters of caravans manned by ideologically driven, extremist settlers who believe that every inch of land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River is their Biblical homeland, removing illegal outposts is one thing.

What Mr Obama meant by a freeze on settlement expansion was an end to further construction in the 121 authorised settlements spread across the West Bank that house nearly 300,000 people, plus a further 200,000 people living in East Jerusalem. So if settlements in the West Bank are such a bad idea — as governments outside Israel keep stipulating — why can’t Israel stop building them?

The simple answer is that no Israeli leader has really wanted to take on what is a powerful and emotional political constituency — especially in a country where prime ministers are made and broken by the sectional interests of minor party partners in large coalition governments.

The more complicated answer is that since the Six Day War of 1967, virtually every arm of the state apparatus has been geared towards encouraging settlement — both in terms of economic and political support. Left-wing Israelis such as Laura Wharton, who was elected to the Jerusalem City Council on the Meretz ticket last November, believe the settlements block the establishment of a viable Palestinian state.

“Any country that can grab more land will,” said Ms Wharton. “The Israeli public was eager to enlarge the country after the 1967 war and because the land has a historic connection to the Jewish people, they believe it is justified.”

Right-wingers such as Gil Hoffman, chief political correspondent for The Jerusalem Post, dismiss such claims as the excuse of Palestinians eager to cover up their deeper failures to guarantee Israeli security.

“We withdrew 10,000 settlers from Gaza, we got 6000 rockets in return,” Mr Hoffman said. “We are now expected to get out of the West Bank and invite in Iran, a state that wants to wipe out the Jewish people in a nuclear holocaust?”

Dr Sharon Schwartz is harder to categorise. Born in Chicago’s Hyde Park, the same neighbourhood as Mr Obama, Schwartz studied medicine at Harvard before settling in the northern Israeli city of Haifa.

Like the Hyde Park of her youth, Haifa is a mixed neighbourhood. In this case, the majority population is Jewish, but there is also a significant number of Israeli Arabs.

“I think we need a new paradigm. I don’t see why a Palestinian state means we should have to kick all the Jews out. If the Palestinians are able to prove they can establish a state, why can’t Jews who want to remain there do so and become citizens of that state. I think we can live together.”

A poll commissioned by the OneVoice Movement, which advocates a viable Palestinian state alongside a safe and secure Israel, suggested that Mr Netanyahu would have difficulty balancing the competing demands of Israel’s most important ally, the US, against what the Israeli public wants.

Based on 1200 interviews in Israel and the Palestinian territories, the poll, conducted by the University of Liverpool’s Dr Colin Irwin, found that 100 per cent of Palestinians interviewed said they wanted all the settlers to leave West Bank, 53 per cent of Israelis considered this totally unacceptable.

“In the end, this will be for the people of Israel to decide, no one else really has the power,” Ms Wharton said.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


Radio: Iranian Nuclear Arms, 30% Would Leave Israel

(ANSAmed) — TEL AVIV, MAY 22 — Some 30% of Israelis would consider abandoning their country if Iran manages to arm itself with nuclear weapons. Military radio announced the result of a poll carried out by the Iranian Studies Centre of the University of Tel Aviv. “If the aim of the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was to create concern in Israel, he has certainly succeeded in doing so,” an expert from the research centre, doctor Uzi Rabi, commented. He believes Israeli fears are exaggerated because “the Iranian leadership is certainly fundamentalist from a religious viewpoint, but quite rational from a political point of view”. The poll also showed that 81% of Israelis are convinced that Iran will succeed in completing its nuclear programme. More than half of people interviewed think that Israel should use force to remove that threat, without waiting for the outcome of the diplomatic efforts which seem destined to fail. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Middle East

Iraq: an Armed Band Kidnap a Christian Teacher in Kirkuk

He was kidnapped for ransom. Msgr. Louis Sako has intervened for his release seeking the help of Muslim leaders. The bandits want a “very high sum” in exchange for his freedom, which the family — of poor origins — is unable to pay.

Kirkuk (AsiaNews) — This morning at 10 am local time, an armed group broke into a primary school in Kirkuk, dragging away a young Christian teacher. Namir Nadhim Gourguis is 32 years old, is unmarried and from “a family of very humble and poor origins” refer AsiaNews sources in Iraq.

The gang of four people, broke into the primary school in Ruwaidha village —Al Rashad district, 30 km from Kirkuk — and abducted the teacher. They have already demanded a ransom: “a very high sum — underlines the local source — that the family is unable to pay”.

In an effort to save this young man’s life, the Chaldean Archbishop of Kirkuk, Louis Sako, has intervened appealing to the sheiks and imams in the area to help gain his release. The prelate hopes that “these attempts at mediation will lead to he being set free”.

Kirkuk’s Christian community has been the target of these armed criminal gangs who carry out kidnappings for extortion. Only days ago a young man was assassinated on the doorstep of his home; another three people—two women and a man — were shot to death. The criminals see he Christians as an easy target: in fact unlike the Arabs or Kurds they are not protected by the community, relatives or police.

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


Kirkuk: Young Christian Teacher is Freed Thanks to Help of Muslims

Joint intervention of army and tribal leaders led to the release of Namir Nadhim Gourguis, kidnapped on May 14th last. No ransom was paid. Decisive the mediation between Imam and tribal chiefs. Msgr Sako: “the Christian community of Kirkuk rejoices”.

Kirkuk (AsiaNews) — Namir Nadhim Gourguis, a 32 year-old Christian teacher, has been freed. A joint operation yesterday between the army and Arab forces of the reawakening in Kirkuk, led to the release of the young man who was kidnapped on May 14th by an armed group.

AsiaNews sources in Iraq explain that “mediation with tribal chiefs” and “collaboration provided by the local Imams” proved to be decisive in securing his freedom. The kidnappers “did not receive any ransom”.

The kidnapping took place the morning of May 14th: an armed group of four men broke into the primary school in Ruwaidha village — in the sub district of Al Rashad, circa 30 from Kirkuk — abducting the young man. Local sourced explain that he “is from a simple and poor family background”, that the ransom demanded by the kidnappers was “very high” and the family “was unable to pay it”.

Collaboration between the Christian community, the Arab world and local tribal chiefs was detrimental in securing the Namir release for which the Archbishop of Kirkuk, Msgr. Louis Sako had also immediately intervened. “Today is a day of great celebration for the Christian community — Msgr. Sako tells AsiaNews —After 8 days Namir is free. We thank God: today the Christian community of Kirkuk rejoices”.

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


Ohran Pamuk, the Armenian Genocide and Turkish Nationalism

The trail against the Turkish writer, guilty of having spoken about the Armenian genocide and the massacre of Kurds, could be reopened. Turkey is sliding towards Islamic fundamentalism and nationalism. Tell-tale signs; its friendship with Syria and Iran.

Ankara (AsiaNews) — The infamous article 301 of Turkey’s Penal Code which severely punishes anyone who dares to “sully Turkey’s national identity” is once again in the news. Over the past few years it has silenced many intellectuals who dared to contest “Turkey’s democratic government”. Once again the writer Orhan Pamuk is being targeted, in a case that has been on the shelf for over three years.

Just as the writer, the first Turk to receive the Noble Prize for Literature (2006), was in Florence to receive a degree honoris causa, rumours began to circulate that he will probably have to appear before Turkey’s courts once more for having “offended the Turkish identity”.

In reality the charge is an old one, even if ever present in public memory.

Born in Istanbul in 1952, in 2005 Pamuk was charged with having declared to the Swiss weekly Das Magazin that “we Turks are responsible for the death of 30 thousand Kurds and a million Armenians and no-one in Turkey dares speak about it, except me”. However he was absolved by an Istanbul court, above all tank to the intervention of the International Community which also urged the partial modification of art. 301. Approved in 2008, the change led to the cancellation of the generic “offense against Turkish identity” and its’ substitution with a more detailed “offense against the State or organs of the Turkish State”.

However on May 4th last, Ankara’s Supreme Court rejected the primary courts ruling and decided to proceed against Pamuk because he holds his country responsible for the Armenian “genocide” — a taboo word for the Turkish nation — during the Ottoman Empire, thus committing a grave crime according to the Turkish Penal Code.

World famous Pamuk is held as one of the most translated contemporary writers, not only into European languages. Since his debut in 1982, he has published nine novels and other writings, which have received awards in Europe and the United States. He elaborated an original form of narrative, at times complex and not always easy to read, through which he explores, from a historic point of view, the problematic issues of art, expression, identity and the relationship between the East and the West. In his homeland and abroad Pamuk has had great literary success. But despite this, he is still opposed by a large part of public opinion in Turkey. An official in Isparta even went to the point of ordering the destruction of his books in libraries and bookshops throughout the province.

Pamuk, invited to the International Book Fair in Turin, decided not to mention any of this. In the past he ad even refused to participate in debates and discussion on the murder of the Armenian journalist and long-time friend Hrant Dink. In Turin, when asked about the case currently going to the courts, he commented: “I don’t think it is a serious matter, even if I don’t really know the details of the latest developments, nothing is official yet, but from what I have understood I could be on trial again. Unfortunately, in my country the justice system is politicised — said Pamuk — and you know that if there is no freedom in a nation then there is no justice. This is why I feel obliged to speak freely”.

For now Turkey’s press prefers to hold its tongue on the issue and only Hurriyet has dared to nod its head at the probable opening of a new trial. No-one is sure of anything and they prefer to keep quiet, given the scandal generated by the first case involving Pamuk and article 301. Many hope that this is not the latest sign of the current government’s increasingly authoritarian and nationalist stance. Many see confirmation of this suspicion in recently improved relations between Syria, Iran, and the Turkish government which has forgotten the principals of secular kemalism and is moving towards an Islamic extremism, in which nationalism and fundamentalism are dangerously united.

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


Turkey Probing ‘Vilnius Way’ Into the EU

VILNIUS — Visiting Lithuania’s capital Vilnius, members of Turkey’s Young Executives and Businessmen’s Association strengthen links with their counterparts, hoping to raise support for Turkey’s European Union bid. But the country is so badly affected from the global crisis that it is hard to believe Vilnius is selected the ‘European Capital of Culture’ this year

With the policy of “a vote is a vote” when it comes to entering the European Union in mind, members of Turkey’s Young Executives and Businessmen’s Association, or GYÄ°AD, last week organized a trip to Vilnius, the capital of recent EU member Lithuania.

Members of GYİAD, led by Chairwoman Pınar Eczacibaşı, met with many decision-makers in the country, aiming to provide a common platform for businesspeople of both countries.

“Lithuania is one step ahead of Turkey.,”Eczacıbaşı said. “Their businesspeople have been through all the things Turkish businesspeople will encounter when Turkey enters the EU.”

“We have selected Lithuania as our project partner mainly because neither Turkey nor Lithuania knew much about each other,” Kerim Alain Bertrand, the vice chairman of the association, said. “The general focus is on Germany or France. However, if we only contact the countries we already know of, we will miss out on making new friends who can support us on our path to the EU. After all, one vote is one vote.”

Lithuanian people’s support for Turkey’s EUbid stands at just 40 percent. “That is only because they don’t know much about you,” said Nerijus Aleksiejunas, an EU Department Director at the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry.

“We support Turkey’s accession to the EU” said Danas Arlauskas of the Lithuanian Business Employers’ Confederation. “Unity brings peace and we need a peaceful environment to conduct business.”

A visit to Vilnius makes one think that it is EU members who need Turkey more than Turkey needs them. Lithuania, with a population of 3.4 million, has an unemployment rate of 7.9 percent that is projected to jump to 13.5 percent in the first quarter. But the situation provides an opportunity for foreign firms, according to Antanas Miseikis of Lithuania Development Agency. “They have plenty to choose from,” he said.

The services-based economy is dependent on Russia for energy. The weight of Russia is expected to increase further as Lithuania is forced by the EU to demolish its only nuclear power plant by the end of the year.

Lithuania has a robust services industry, but it has not been able to escape the global crisis. The nation’s only airline has bankrupted, meaning that those flying to Vilnius have to transfer at Riga, the Latvian capital. “The trouble is, FlyLAL, the national carrier, was also a sponsor of many events. It was an unfortunate decision on behalf of the Lithuanian government not to bail it out,” said OÄŸuz Ã-zge, Turkey’s ambassador to Lithuania. The loss of sponsorship is another reason why tourists visiting Vilnius would have a hard time understanding that the city is the current “European Capital of Culture.”

“Aleading construction firm also filed for bankruptcy,” said Ã-zge. “Now the market is open to everyone. Turkish construction firm Kayı has a few projects here. But there is plenty room for many others.”

Another Turkish investor is Ä°brahim Tekstil, a firm that produces in Turkey and sells in Lithuania. But to many, Turkey is just a tourism destination, as 80,000 Lithuanians chose to visit the beaches of Antalya and Alanya last year.

It is quite easy for foreign businesspeople to enter the market, Miseikis told members of GYÄ°AD. “All an investor has to provide for the government are some legal papers and a minimum capital of 2,300 euros,” he said. Lithuania lured in a foreign direct investment of 1 billion euros last year, a remarkable feat.

“We will convey the information we have obtained from our bilateral talks to Turkish businessmen,” said Eczacıbaşı.

“We will organize a symposium at Istanbul’s Kadir Has University in June,” she continued. “Our Lithuanian friends will come to Istanbul once again and hopefully create an effective platform for businesspeople from both countries to meet each other. We will also launch a joint project with the Vilnius University. We have invited Povilas Gylys, a former foreign minister, to come and lecture students.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

South Asia

Diana West: We’re Winning the Wrong War

This week’s column examines the mindless logic of pursuing “victory” in Afghanistan through waging what is looking more and more like a “war on civilian casualties.” Our leadership, military and civilian, has decided that eliminating Afghan civilian casualties (bogus or not) is the surefire way to win Afghan hearts and minds. They don’t say “hearts and minds,” of course; they say “trust.” But it’s the same darn, stupid thing. As I wrote in the column, if the Afghans were with us, they’d be, well, with us. But Western and Islamic culture don’t mix — or, at least, they just don’t line up on the same side to fight jihad.

Not that “jihad” is ever mentioned, or, worse, understood. No, our men are out there fighting David Kilcullen’s “accidental guerillas”—”guerillas” “accidentally” created by us, not by a supremacist culture of conquest 13 centuries old and going strong. But even as we direct our military to engage in “accident prevention,” the innate conflicts of jihad culture remain. As a result, we fight a very strange and endless kind of war — a war that may best be understood not as George W. Bush’s idiotically non-named “war on terror,” or Obama’s even more postmodernist “man-caused disaster,” but this: the War on Muslim Alienation. Assuaging Islam is the cause we have undertaken since 9/12 in order to protect ourselves, somewhat, without “alienating” the very politico-religious culture that plans our destruction.

It’s not working — at least, not in our favor.

Now, the column:

“When Does Someone Apologize to Our Military?”

Afghanistan has been dubbed “Obama’s War” but maybe it should be called “the war on civilian casualties.”

You may have thought the United States was at war in Afghanistan to “defeat” the Taliban and win one for our loyal ally in counter-jihad, the Afghan people. But even that pipedream is beside the point. The latest concern-turned-obsession of the United States is eliminating as many as possible, if not all, “civilian casualties.” If we can only do that, according to brain-trust, top-brass, fairy-tale thinking, we will surely win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people. If we can’t, Afghan hearts and minds will go to those globally recognized humanitarians, the Taliban.

Indeed, there is something wrong with this picture…

           — Hat tip: Diana West[Return to headlines]


Indian Elections: Congress Wins, the Hindu Bjp and Third Front Collapse

Rajnath Singh, president of the Bharatiya Janata Party has already admitted defeat. Msgr. Fernandes, secretary general of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of India comments on a “welcome result” in favour of “the nation’s secularism”.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) — Congress wins Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The forecast is based on the first tally of electronically counted votes give the United Progressive Alliance (Upa), a coalition group led by Sonia Gandhi e Manmonah Singh, 250 seats. The National Democratic Alliance (Nda), allied to the Hindu party has won 160 while the Third Front is at circa 80.

Rajnath Singh, president of the BJP, has already conceded defeat: “The Bharatiya Janata Party ‘s performance in the results is very unexpected. The success for the National Democratic Alliance that we had hoped for has not materialised. The reasons for this will be discussed later” declared the leader of the nationalist Hindu party already at 11 am this morning local time.

In an interview with AsiaNews, Msgr. Stanislaus Fernandes, secretary general of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of India, says that “this is certainly a welcome result for the secular nature of the country”. The bishop believes that the election result indicates that the people of India “want a stable government” and has voted “against fundamentalism and communism”.

Theodore Mascarenhas, Vatican Official of the Pontifical Council for Culture Asia Desk, comments that “the result is an answer of the people of India to the politics of hate in Orissa against the Christians in Karnataka”. For Fr. Mascarenhas “this verdict once again reflects the intelligence of the Indian people who chose inclusiveness against divisiveness”.

In the lead up to the final results expected later today, early analysis of voting has begun. The minimum requirement of 272 seats for a ruling majority in the Lok Sabha seems impossible for any of the parties and it is already clear that the future government will be a coalition. The BJP has already called a meeting of party leaders for this afternoon to analyze their defeat. Congress, who at the outset of the election had already declared its willingness to work with any party except the BJP, is now speaking of openness towards all of the nation’s secular parties.

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


India: Orissa Government Cuts Death Toll From Anti-Christian Pogrom

The authorities reject the list of dead submitted by the diocese of Bhubaneshwar. The president of the Global Council of Indian Christians says the government is reducing the number relying “false justifications” in an attempt “to cut compensation to the victims.” In Kandhamal tensions remain high as Hindu extremists try to storm a refugee camp at night.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) — The Orissa State government and the diocese of Bhubanshwar, in the State’s capital, are at loggerheads over the number of people who were killed in last August’s anti-Christian pogroms. State authorities have reported fewer casualties than Mgr Raphael Cheenath, archbishop of Cuttak-Bhubaneshwar.

“The petitioner’s list included the names of RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) activists, Dhanurjaya Pradhani, Ajit Kumar Mallick and Prabhat Panigrahi, allegedly killed by naxalites,” said the authorities for whom 42 people, and not 93, died in the Hindu-led anti-Christian violence.

“In ten cases people are still alive, in 25 cases people have died because of chronic and other medical problems, in 12 cases the reference/history of the persons with reported names could not be traced in villages mentioned against their names, and in two cases the villages mentioned could not be located,” the State government said.

Contacted by AsiaNews, Sajan K George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), slammed the government “for its false justifications”, its failure to assume responsibilities for the refugees and its attempt “to cut compensation to the victims.”

“Saying that people are missing, does not mean that they disappeared in thin air,” said the GCIC president.

What is more, the government is trying to exclude people who died from their wounds months after the violence.

The GCIC has a list of 123 people killed during the anti-Christian violence, which includes everyone who became a victim of the violence perpetrated by the Sangh Parivar, the nationalist umbrella group that includes the RSS.

George does not exclude the possibility that his list might include the names of some Hindu extremists, but rejects out of hand the State’s attempt to impose its shorter list over that provided by the diocese of Bhubaneshwar.

In their latest claim State authorities even contradict what they had reported last year.

In November 2008 during a visit to Kandhamal by a delegation of the Communist Party of India-Marxist Leninist (CPI_ML), a State official had estimated the death toll to be around 500 people, saying that he had personally authorised the cremation of at least 200 people (see AsiaNews report).

Fr Dibya Singh, who represents the Church before state authorities, also rejects speculation by the authorities. As far as he is concerned, the state claim that ten people are still alive “is not true.”

“People died either in the relief camps or elsewhere. Two, who were nearly beaten to death, succumbed to their injuries later,” he explained.

In the meantime the situation in Kandhamal remains tense. Last night some Hindu extremists tried to storm a camp in Mondakia where about 1,500 Christian refugees have found shelter but were stopped by police.

Also yesterday Khands (known as Kondhs as well), an aboriginal tribe that represents more than 50 per cent of the population in Kandhamal district, filed a petition in the Supreme Court, accusing the government of Orissa of favouring Christians and expropriating their land to give to refugees for church building.

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


Pakistan: Ulemas Against the Taliban, “Full Support” to the Government and Army

Islamic leaders reject the “Taliban version of sharia” and invoke “unity” against the fundamentalist’s offensive. Catholic bishops welcome the ulema’s decision, describing it a “positive step”. Summit of 42 political leaders to draw up a common response to the crisis.

Lahore (AsiaNews) —Pakistan’s ulemas have rejected the methods used by the Taliban to apply Islamic law in Swat Valley and fully support the military offensive launched by the government. The Catholic bishops judge the step to be “positive”, while on the ground the battle intensifies to uproot the last outposts of the Islamic extremists.

Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan (JUP), an organisation of experts on Islamic law, at the Convention Centre in Islamabad unanimously adopted a nine-point resolution, rejecting the “Taliban’s version of Sharia” and the beheading of innocent people in Malakand. They also give their “full backing” to the ongoing military operation, which they describe as “a war for Pakistan’s integrity and sovereignty’“ against forces which aim to create a “state within a state”. The Ulema also called on the Organisation of Islamic Countries to come forward to help the displaced people of Swat and to forge “unity” in their ranks against the Taliban.

Pakistan’s Catholic bishops “favourably welcome” the decision by the ulemas, defining it a “positive step”. Msgr. Lawrence John Saldanha, Archbishop of Lahore and President of the Catholic Bishops Conference, applauds the military campaign against the “brutal forces” which attack the “nation’s constitution”. The prelate also recalls to mind the drama of the one and a half million refugees who have fled the war, announcing a series of initiatives that the Church has launched to come to their aid. Among these, the purchase — thanks to money collected in the Lenten campaign — of electric fans to alleviate the summer heat within the tents for people living in the camps. The Archbishop further added that National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) has also called a meeting of all major churches (Catholic and Protestants) in Lahore on May 22 to “ponder the currant situation of the country” especially “the extremism and military operation”.

On the ground operations continue with army helicopters and fighter jets bombarding the extremist’s stronghold of Mingora. In Islamabad, an All Party Conference on Swat, has begun, uniting the government and 42 principal political groups. Premier Yousaf Raza Gilani has confirmed that the army will continue its operations to wipe-out the Taliban resistance restore peace and favour the re-integration of the displaced. He has also recognised that the peace accord signed with the extremists — the introduction of Sharia in exchange for a ceasefire- has been a failure and adds that “the Pakistani nuclear arsenal is safe”.

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


Pakistan: Wages of Incoherence

US secretary of state Hillary Clinton has astonished the world with her rare candour. She has described US policy towards Pakistan on the last 30 years as incoherent. She has bemoaned that, after accepting Pakistan’s support in the Afghanistan war in the 1980s, the US imposed all kinds of sanctions on it. True, US policy was incoherent. But Clinton should be cautioned against accepting an incoherent explanation for it and overlooking what led to US sanctions. It would also help if the US came clean on the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) relationship with notorious proliferator A Q Khan.

According to former Dutch prime minister Rudd Lubbers, this relationship dated back to 1975. The CIA had intervened twice with Dutch authorities to let Khan go when he was detained by them. The US’s role in Pakistan’s nuclear proliferation was not exactly a passive one. The Pressler amendment was not meant to discourage Pakistan’s nuclear weapons build-up but to outmanoeuvre the proposed Glenn-Cranston amendment imposing a 20 per cent limit on uranium enrichment. The Reagan administration enabled Pakistan to go up to building a weapon. The tacit agreement was that it would stop short of testing.

The Pakistanis broke that understanding and got their weapon tested by the Chinese at their Lop Nor site on May 26, 1990. This has been disclosed in a book, The Nuclear Express, by two US scientists, Thomas Reed and Danny Stillman, associated with Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos nuclear establishments. In the third week of May 1990, a US delegation headed by Robert Gates, currently defence secretary, rushed to Islamabad presumably to persuade Pakistan not to test. It failed. George Bush Sr was left with no alternative but to invoke the Pressler amendment. Clinton, therefore, need not feel guilty about the sanctions. Rather, it would do her and the world a lot of good if the US came clean on the events of 1990.

That doesn’t mean other aspects of US policy were not incoherent. The US helped promote the worst form of Wahhabi extremism among the mujahideen. It is now paying the price since Wahhabi conditioning spawned al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) learnt the tricks it is displaying vis-a-vis the US from CIA trainers. In the years to follow, the CIA could not correctly assess what its former pupils would be up to. Even after the Taliban’s extremism became known, Bill Clinton’s assistant secretary of state Robin Raphael tried to negotiate with it. Hillary Clinton would dismiss that as part of incoherent policy. But many who were responsible for it are still around her in the present administration.

No doubt Barack Obama’s policy has a certain coherence. It recognises the Taliban/al-Qaeda and their Wahhabi extremism as the enemy and no longer talks about the war on terror overlooking the fact terrorism was a strategy to spread an extremist cult. It also recognises the ISI’s links with some extremist organisations. Clinton has spoken of Pakistan’s government and civil society abdicating their responsibility to fight extremists posing an existential threat to them, and of Pakistan in its present state posing a mortal threat to the US. Yet she now talks approvingly of action against the Taliban by Pakistan’s army and democratically elected government. Has she noticed that Pakistan’s national assembly has not yet been able to pass a resolution by consensus endorsing army operations against the Taliban?

A coherent policy would depend on assessing the nature of the threat Pakistan’s situation poses to US and international security. The threat is not merely the Taliban and al-Qaeda, It is an extremist cult under which hundreds of thousands of children from age seven upwards are being robotised to become suicide bombers and cannon fodder in hundreds of madrassas. This did not happen in Iraq, Iran or Saudi Arabia. Even as the army, government and some sections of civil society in Pakistan have fallen in line with the US demand to fight the Taliban and al-Qaeda, significant sections of the population still view this as an American war. There is no evidence of the beginning of any ideological transformation against Wahhabi extremism.

Policy incoherence arose from the US’s inability to understand that Pakistan was a religious ideological state and had a conflict of interest with the US on that account. While both parties in pursuit of tactical gains tried out an opportunistic alliance, Pakistan emerged the gainer. Nuclear weapons made it immune to international punitive action. Plus it had an expansionist ideological cult from which the US now feels a threat.

While the US is trying to use Pakistan’s army and state apparatus to fight the most organised expression of the extremist cult in the form of the Taliban and al-Qaeda, the ideology pervading the madrassas remains untouched. No doubt a programme for building schools and reforming education exists on paper. If the US is not to make the mistake of leaving Pakistan once the anti-Taliban/al-Qaeda campaigns end, it must recognise that there is a fundamental ideological conflict with the prevalent extremist cult. There has to be a de-jihadisation of Pakistan and Afghanistan, just as once there was de-Nazification in Europe.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Far East

China: Employees of Internet Giant Baidu Protest. Job Litigation Up 98%

Thousands present formal complaints spurred on by wage cuts some as much as 30%. The economic crisis hits the sector, as seen in the drop in internet sales. Blue collar workers first to pay the price: in 2008 job litigation has doubled throughout China.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) — Thousands of employees lodged official complaints at the Labour Office in Shenzhen on May 15th to protest the wage cuts introduced by Baidu, the Chinese giant in the internet search engines sector. The grave global financial crisis is hitting workers hard and in China job litigation has doubled.Baidu is the main search engine in China and has overtaken even Google and Yahoo, who in turn are larger on a global scale. The site is particularly used for online purchasing.Now the company has slashed the basic wage (around 4 thousand Yuan per month, that’s 400 Euro) by 30% for employees who supervise sales and has even reduced their commission.As a sign of protest on May 4th hundreds of employees in Shenzhen staged a stay-home or sit —in at the office. In nearby Guangzhou numerous employees presented complaints to their Labour Office.In the first 4 months of 2009 there company faired better then previously forecast but has registered a drop in advertisements.Meanwhile since the beginning of May the Ministry for Human resources and social security revealed that in litigation over work-related issues totalled 1.2 million cases, with an increase of 98% compared to the 693thousand of 2007. But the real number is far higher given that the total number is 22 thousand collective cases, put forward by workers groups (+71% compared to 2007) which counted alone make up 41% of the complaints. The data is also the direct result of the increasing economic difficulties being faced by businesses, which often close without paying wages or redundancy. There are also numerous cases of injuries sustained at the work place.

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


Koreas: How the Kaesong Complex Made Things Worse in N. Korea

The Kaesong Industrial Complex was started in 2002 to promote, as the slogan had it, Korean co-prosperity. Once the industrial park is completed in 2010, it was said, it would accommodate over 2,000 South and North Korean and foreign firms to employ 250,000 people and produce US$150 billion a year. Kaesong would become a global free trade city, specializing in manufacturing, finance, commerce and tourism, and become “a breakthrough guaranteeing the South’s long-term growth potential.”

A year short of that deadline, the industrial park now accommodates 104 South Korean businesses who employ some 39,000 North Korean workers. Accumulated production from 2005 to April this year stood at $574 million. The Seoul government, Korea Land Corporation and Korea Telecom spent W360 billion (US$1=W1,248) to build the complex and the firms operating there W370 billion. In addition, the state subsidized construction of a railroad, roads, logistics, development, power supply and communications with W969.8 billion. Hyundai Asan paid W749.2 billion for its right to develop the industrial park and W500 billion in facilities investment. The corporation has also paid North Korea $16 million in rent for 50 years.

The future of the W2.5 trillion complex is now unpredictable after it produced returns of a mere W700 billion. Declaring the contracts null and void, the North said no benefits of the June 15, 2000 Joint Declaration can be given to those who would go back on it. The South’s benefits from the industrial park have been confined to prolonging the lives of some marginal South Korean businesses on the strength of low wages in the North. If they sustain losses due to North Korean decisions, they are entitled to 90 percent of their facilities investment plus up to W5 billion insurance out of the Inter-Korean Cooperation Fund. The joint industrial park, from the perspective of the South Korean economy, is nothing but a burden on the taxpayer.

The North earns a total of some $350 million in wages a year, averaging at $73 per worker. If the money leads to other economic activities through household consumption, the North’s revenue increases proportionately. According to government announcements and other available information, however, North Korean workers get merely $30-35 each, with the official exchange rate of W150 to the dollar applied. Given that a dollar is exchanged for between W2,000 and W3,000 in the black market, only around $2 is paid to each North Korean worker, with the rest collected by the authorities. Thus nothing remains to stimulate the North Korean economy, only more dollars to prop up the regime. In effect, the industrial park delays rather than stimulates reform and opening.

Why has this happened? To begin with, the last administration railroaded through huge investments in the North, emphasizing merely exchanges and cooperation. Had the North been sincere in its reforms, South Korean conglomerates, foreign companies and innovation industries could have moved into the park. But Pyongyang, far from abandoning its closed communist system, has attempted to make the park a pawn in pressuring Seoul. It has shown that politics-driven investment becomes an albatross around the South’s neck.

The South has invested in a country that is totally unprepared to do business with a capitalist country. In the North Korean system, the party adjusts disputes between economic bodies, while civil and commercial laws and contracts mean nothing. Pyongyang’s unilateral cancellation of the Kaesong contracts exposed the North’s ignorance of proper business practices. That will have chased away any remaining potential business partners in the global village.

The North can build a self-growing state like China and Vietnam only if it first learns the cold economic processes of the capitalist world. All late-comer developing countries learn the game principles of the market by being taken advantage of and paying the cost of unequal contracts. A nation needs to increase adaptability to the market and businesses need to acquire management ability through trial and error.

The South, under the last two administrations, fell victim to extortion by the North. In reality, the South spoiled the North and thus held it back in its isolation.

Now the government must show Pyongyang that its methods are unacceptable in the world. Our investments in the North are being held hostage to North Korea’s politics. The aim of Korean co-prosperity can be achieved only through a relationship of pure economic exchanges.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Philippines: US Marines Make Friends, a Few Enemies in Philippines

PIO DURAN, Philippines (AFP) — The remote town of Pio Duran, with its palm- and thatch-roofed homes, had never known a decent road, while a decades-long communist insurgency lurks threateningly in the background.

So it is little surprise that, while they are accused by some of being “occupiers” in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, US Marines have been warmly welcomed in the impoverished and sometimes dangerous central region of Bicol.

“This is Bicol, so (the insurgency) is an ever-present factor,” the local mayor, Roger Arandia, told AFP of the 5,200-member New People’s Army (NPA).

“But everyone needs a road,” he added.

It is by no means on the scale of reconstruction efforts in the Middle East, for example, but the Marines are on a “hearts and minds” mission here that is winning them many friends locally — and inevitably drawing a few enemies too.

As well as roads, they have rebuilt typhoon-damaged schools, treated 22,000 residents with various ailments and even given anti-rabies shots to pets in what is one of the poorest regions in the whole of the Philippines.

“I don’t get into the whys of an insurgency or anything. What I’m here to do is help people,” said Brigadier-General Ronald Bailey, commander of a US Marine expeditionary brigade consisting of around 40 troops.

They are a small part of the more than 6,000 US soldiers involved in military exercises in Bicol, Luzon and Mindanao.

The non-combat segment allows Washington to dispense its largesse to earn goodwill in the former US colony’s poorest areas, which are typically troubled by insurgencies — many of them long-running.

It took about a month to turn a three-kilometre (two-mile) dirt track into a proper road linking Pio Duran to the coastal resort of Donsol, where most visitors to Bicol head, said Marine Staff Sergeant Chad Anderson.

The locals’ response was “outstanding. They appreciated it a lot,” Anderson, from Maine, told AFP.

But the threat from the NPA is never far away. They have warned they are prepared to attack the American forces, although there have been no reported direct assaults yet.

However, they have come close, wounding one local soldier who was part of a Filipino unit guarding the Marines as they built another road.

While the Americans have tried to avoid getting involved with the issue of the communist insurgency and say their role is to improve basic services for the locals, some Filipinos hope they will indirectly also be making it safer.

Building roads “enables the government to bring basic services, so naturally it has an immediate impact on the insurgency,” said Filipino Defence Secretary Gilberto Teodoro.

He added the rebellion has persisted for so long — 40 years, to be precise — “because we have not been able to address it properly due to lack of manpower.”

Some even hope the US forces could expand their remit to include combat operations against the NPA.

It has some precedent in the Philippines. In the south of the country US Special Forces military advisers are already embedded — albeit in a strictly non-combat role — with Filipino troops battling Islamic militants.

No specific figure has been put on the number of people killed in the four-decade rebellion here, but some military sources say the number runs into many thousands.

US ambassador to the Philippines, Kristie Kenney, would not rule out helping the government in Manila fight the rebels in Bicol in some as yet undefined way.

“Right now we are very happy with where we are in our relationship,” Kenney told AFP.

“But we’re friends and allies, and we’ll listen if the government of the Philippines suggests something new.”

Back on the ground, the US medics and Marine engineers assigned here on their short-term assignment hope the benefits of their work will be felt long after they have gone.

A fierce typhoon in 2006 killed about 1,000 people in the town of Guinobatan, left countless others in need of medical attention that was not available and destroyed the only very ramshackle medical centres.

“Many patients have seen doctors and they say they hold them in high esteem,” said Commander Catherine Yates, a US Navy doctor, as she tended to patients at a makeshift clinic.

“But they can’t afford them. Many people say that,” added Yates.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


What Obama’s Asian Ambassador Picks Reveal

As U.S. President Barack Obama completes his appointment of ambassadors to major countries, stark contrasts are becoming apparent among the officials chosen to represent the United States in Korea, China and Japan.

Obama evidently set the greatest store by the appointment of the ambassador to China. As he appointed Governor Jon Huntsman of Utah on Saturday, Obama said the position “as important as any” ambassadorial post because of the wide range of issues concerning the U.S. and China. Obama said working with China was a prerequisite to dealing effectively with the global challenges of the 21st century.

And he chose a figure with a substantial level of expertise. Huntsman even has a Chinese name, “Hong Bopei,” and is considered pro-Chinese, having adopted a daughter from China. He is naturally favored by Beijing. Huntsman is also a heavyweight in the Republican Party, being mentioned as a possible presidential candidate in 2012. He is expected to maintain a direct line with Obama when he takes up the job.

In Korea, Kathleen Stephens is a career diplomat already appointed to the job by former president George W. Bush. She has no direct ties to Obama, but her abilities were recognized when she successfully handled Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to Seoul just after Clinton took office. Her other strengths are her experience as a Peace Corps volunteer back in the 1970s, when Korea was still a backward country, and her fluency in the language, which have led Koreans to welcome her. But critics point out that she needs more diplomatic skills should a sensitive issue arise comparable to the deaths of the two schoolgirls in a 2002 accident under the wheels of a tracked U.S. military vehicle.

In stark contrast, John Roos, Obama’s pick as ambassador to Japan, is an unexpected choice due to his background as a corporate lawyer specializing in mergers and acquisitions. There are Japanese media reports that say officials in Japan’s Foreign Ministry are dismayed at the appointment. Clinton is believed to have favored Harvard University professor Joseph Nye, who had contributed to strengthening U.S.-Japan relations during his tenure as assistant secretary at the State Department.

But Obama apparently awarded the ambassadorship to Roos for his efforts in raising large sums of money for the presidential election campaign last year. And it seems Obama’s picks for ambassadors to Germany and the U.K. were made along the same considerations.

Louis Susman, who is to go to London, is a 71-year-old former vice president of Citigroup. His skill at hoovering up campaign funds for Obama earned him the nickname the “vacuum cleaner” by the Chicago Tribune. And Phil Murphy, a strong candidate for ambassador to Germany, is a former executive at Goldman Sachs and also played a large role in fundraising for Obama, according to German weekly Der Spiegel.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Australia — Pacific

NZ: Indian Women Tell of NZ Abuse

An ethnic women’s shelter has found the number of Indian women being subject to dowry abuse has nearly doubled in the past year.

Shakti, which runs four refuges for Asian, African and Middle Eastern women, says an increasing number of callers to its crisis line are from women of Indian origin — and two of every three reports made by these women were linked to dowry abuse.

“There has been a huge increase,” said Shakti spokeswoman Shila Nair. “Last year, the number would probably be just one out of every three.”

“It is also worrying that the intensity of abuse is also getting worse.”

Dowry abuse occurs when the husband or his family continues to press the wife’s family — sometimes with threats of physical violence — for more money or other gains after the marriage.

Although dowry has been illegal in India since 1961, it was still widely practised by many ethnic Indians, Ms Nair said.

It was becoming a widespread problem for Indian women in New Zealand because it had no laws against forced marriages or dowry abuse here.

Shakti receives about 600 calls a month on its crisis line, and a “significant number” were woman of Indian descent.

Dowry abuse cases being referred to Shakti included women who were sexually violated, made to live in slave-like conditions and were threatened with prostitution by their Kiwi-Indian husbands if they could not get more dowry money from India.

Three women spoke to the Herald about their plight, but Ms Nair estimated the number of Indian women affected by dowry abuse numbered in the hundreds.

A 22-year-old said her parents thought they had “struck Lotto” when they were told an Indian engineer in New Zealand was looking for a bride.

But after meeting the man’s demand for a dowry of $30,000 in cash and a house in India, they are on the verge of bankruptcy as her husband continues to demand payments.

“He told them there are other Indian women who are prepared to pay more dowry to marry him, and threatened to dump me on the streets of New Zealand if they don’t pay up.”

Another 24-year-old said she had “lived like a slave girl” since her arranged marriage to a Kiwi-Indian IT technician, who already had a live-in partner when they wed last year.

Her duties included cooking, cleaning and doing the laundry for the couple. “I was shocked, but now I realise that he didn’t want an Indian wife, he wanted an Indian slave,” she said.

“I tried calling the police, but they said it was a domestic issue and he wasn’t breaking any laws.”

Another, 28, whose husband has threatened to leave her and their one-month-old baby for another Indian bride if she couldn’t obtain e more dowry to match the $20,000 the other woman was prepared to pay, says her family is doing all they can to raise the money.

“I come from a good family and divorce is out of the question because it will bring shame to them,” she said.

Ms Nair said Shakti had been campaigning since 2007 for the Government to follow India’s lead in banning the practice of dowry, forced marriage and under-age marriage, but it did not seem to be getting anywhere.

Ethnic Affairs and Women’s Affairs Minister Pansy Wong, said she would discuss with the Minister for Justice whether there was a need for new legislation, but blackmailing was an offence in New Zealand.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


NZ: Migrants Get Free Courses in Kiwi Slang

After being told she was “wicked” by her boss, Singaporean immigrant Teoh Mei Fang was left wondering if she had done something wrong at work.

It was only after her boss, lawyer Marie Dyhrberg, explained that in Kiwi slang it was a compliment and not criticism — that she managed a sigh of relief.

“English is my first language, but Kiwi English is really something else,” said Miss Teoh, who moved to New Zealand last year.

Now, English Language Partners New Zealand — formerly ESOL Home Tutors — has started a programme it hopes will help immigrants to hurdle the slang barrier.

Called English for Employees, the programme teaches that “bring a plate” does not mean an empty one, “choice” means very good and “hunky- dory” means everything’s okay.

English Language Partners spokeswoman Grace Bassett said: “The English that will be taught is centred around the needs of the learner. It will help those who are already in jobs hold a conversation in the tearoom, improve their English skills and make sure they are fitting in.”

The programme is free for permanent residents, citizens and employers who enrol their immigrant employees.

Professor Paul Spoonley, Massey University’s regional director and acting head of language studies, said studies showed “colloquial language is the most important language to learn”.

“Not being able to speak it is one of the major, major barriers to successful integration.”

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Sub-Saharan Africa

British and American Fighters Respond to Jihad Call in Somalia

Up to a thousand foreign fighters, including Britons, have answered the call to jihad in Somalia and are leading street-fighting Islamist extremists in the war-torn capital Mogadishu, The Times has learnt.

Early yesterday the Western-backed Government launched a counter-offensive after almost a fortnight of attacks by insurgents that have killed at least 200 civilians, wounded hundreds and forced tens of thousands to flee their homes.

The attacks threatened to topple the shaky government of Sheikh Sharif Ahmed only weeks after the international community pledged £135 million to support him.

Senior security officials in the region say that the foreign fighters are behind the recent success of the extremists. More than 290 foreign fighters from Britain, the US, Canada, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia entered Mogadishu in the past two weeks.

An intelligence report seen by The Times, which is due to be presented to the US Congress next week, states: “An estimated ten foreigners have taken the lead to command both Somali and foreign fighters in Mogadishu and other parts of Somalia.”

“I have no doubt that some of the foreign fighters are British as well as North American and Scandinavian,” said Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, the top Somali diplomat for the United Nations. One Western diplomat with experience in Somalia said: “These foreigners are the ones with al-Qaeda links. I would be surprised if Britons were not the leading foreign members of al-Shabaab [one of the insurgent groups].”

In March the propaganda unit for the al-Shabaab militia released a video entitled Ambush at Bardale, in which a white American, thought to have a special forces military background, was filmed leading dozens of Somali fighters.

“Mortar by mortar, shell by shell; only gonna stop when I send them to hell,” he rapped over the footage in a clear attempt to glamorise the insurgency and appeal to young disenfranchised Westerners.

A year earlier, al-Shabaab released another propaganda video, this time of a British suicide bomber who addressed the camera in English.

“Al-Shabaab welcomes and calls foreign fighters for jihad,” said Jason Mosley, an Africa analyst at Oxford Analytica. In most cases foreign fighters bring religious fervour helping to radicalise the bulk of disparate al-Shabaab militants, who fight mostly for money or under duress.

A smaller number have military skills, financing and weaponry. “We understand that these fighters are providing training to the extremist insurgents and are helping to mobilise funding and source weapons, the level of which we have never seen before,” Nicolas Bwakira, the head of the African Union (AU) Somalia mission, said.

Intelligence sources said that foreign jihadis from Britain and elsewhere had joined an alliance of al-Shabaab factions and Hizb al-Islam extremists that have coalesced around Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys. The Sheikh, who is wanted as a terrorist by the US, returned from exile in April to take on the fragile Administration of Mr Ahmed. His is the 15th attempt to form a functioning executive since the collapse of the last Government in 1991.

Since then Somalia has known nothing but war and chaos.

Mr Ahmed’s hilltop presidential palace is protected by 4,350 AU peacekeepers with tanks and artillery. The besieged Government controls little more than the hill, the airport, port and a couple of roads in Mogadishu.

The Government’s fighters have a tendency to desert in their hundreds when not paid, often reappearing as hired guns for the insurgents.

Mr Bwakira said that his peacekeepers were facing newer and heavier military equipment, including surface-to-air missiles. They are also falling victim to suicide attacks, which are attributed to foreign influence. In February 11 Burundian peacekeepers were killed by suicide bombers in Mogadishu. “It is an extremely dangerous development for the region,” Mr Bwakira said.

The influx of foreigners has raised fears that Somalia might become an alternative hideout for al-Qaeda extremists from Afghanistan and Pakistan. The al-Qaeda operatives responsible for bombing US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in 1998 and a hotel in Mombasa in 2002 are thought to have found a safe haven in Somalia.

Western intelligence agencies are directing their attention and resources to the region. “If this threat is not contained Somalia could become the Swat Valley of Africa,” said Ted Dagne, a Washington-based Somalia expert, “There is no doubt that the foreign component of al-Shabaab is more extreme than those on the ground,” said Rashid Abdi, a Somalia analyst at the International Crisis Group, who said that the bulk of the militants were hired guns, not idealogues.

“There is a feeling now that al-Shabaab is ruled by foreign fighters; that they are dictating policy and this has all come about in the last couple of months,” Mr Abdi added.

The wave of foreign extremists came after the videotaped call in February by Ayman al-Zawahiri, the deputy of Osama Bin Laden, for the overthrow of the “US-made Government in Mogadishu”.

There are signs that the foreign presence is creating divisions within the ranks of insurgents. On Thursday Sheikh Mukhtar Robow Mansur, the chief spokesman for al-Shabaab, quit and Mr Aweys, who is as extreme a nationalist as he is an Islamist, is known to despise foreigners meddling in Somali affairs.

Despite the help of foreign extremists, the fightback by Mr Ahmed’s forces suggests that predictions of the imminent collapse of his Government may have been premature. “It was an attempt to take power by force,” Mr Ould-Abdallah said “but the coup has failed.”

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Hero Cruise Ship Britons Fight Off Armed Somali Pirates With Deckchairs and Tables

British pensioners on a cruise ship bravely fought off machine gun-armed Somali pirates by hurling deckchairs and tables at them.

The holidaymakers were enjoying a midnight Mozart concert onboard MSC Melody when pirates armed with Kalashnikovs attempted to board it using grappling hooks and ladders.

But passengers forced them back to their boats by throwing chairs and tables over the stern of the ship as Israeli security guards onboard the cruise liner fired warning shots.

The ship was a week into a 22-day cruise in the Indian Ocean, 180 miles north of the Seychelles, when it came under attack from pirates in speedboats.

Maureen Gawthrop, 66, from Barnsley, said: ‘We were enjoying a classical concerto on the pool deck when everyone heard a cracking sound.

‘The applause for the musicians died down suddenly and someone came running in from the open deck and shouted “pirates”.

‘Crew members acted quickly to evacuate passengers into their cabins and told them to lock their doors.

‘We went to our cabin and we could hear bullets whizzing and clanging as they hit the ship.

‘I saw a white speed boat riding alongside on the wake of the ship about 15 yards away. There were eight men dressed in green camouflage who turned and fired at us.

‘We couldn’t believe it was happening, it was unreal.’

Husband Roy, 66, added: ‘We later learned what we witnessed was the aftermath of the incident. The pirates had tried to get on board the ship with short rope ladders and failed.’

Ian Moakes, 62, from Forest Town, Mansfield, said passengers were terrified as the hijackers began shooting at the ship.

He said: ‘We were told to go to our cabins, lock the doors and not to answer the door to anyone and they would let us know what was happening.

‘A lot of the crew were elderly and very frightened because they didn’t know what was going on.

‘I was very frustrated because there was no news coming through and I was stuck in the cabin.’

The ship’s captain ordered security guards to fire two warning shots to scare off the attackers, but many of the passengers did not know the full extent of the attack until 36 hours later.

‘There were a lot of angry people on board as a lot of misinformation was given out.

‘Only when we got off the boat at Aqaba did I realise that it could have been a lot nastier — there were bullet holes in the side of the ship from their Kalashnikov rifles.’

Wife Jessie, 61, said the ordeal had no put her off travelling abroad.

‘It was not until after the incident that I realised how serious it was,’ she said.

‘It ruined our holiday but we will go again — just not to the Indian Ocean, it is far too dangerous.’

Owner of MSC Cruises, Gianluigi Aponte, said the ship’s crew took all necessary precautions to avoid the attack, which happened in April.

He said: ‘We are very proud that our crew proved to be able to promptly tackle the emergency.

‘At the moment of the attack, the ship was 600 nautical miles from Somalian coast, in an area that is not considered dangerous, and 180 nautical miles from Seychelles.

‘All security measures adopted worked perfectly. Captain Ciro Pinto followed all security protocols provided, guiding the ship out of danger with a sequence of evasive manoeuvres.’

Pirate attacks on ships passing through the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean have soared this year, with attacks nearly doubling between January and March.

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]


Somalia: Maersk Hijack Thwarted

Canadian and Italian helicopters came to the rescue as Somali pirates attempted to hijack a Maersk vessel.

Armed pirates have unsuccessfully atempted to hijack the Maersk Virginia in the Gulf of Aden and were forced to dump their weapons after Canadian and Italian helicopters gave chase.

According to a CBS correspondent on board the Royal Canadian Navy vessel, helicopters were despatched to another vessel, the Lebanese-flagged Maria K, which had transmitted an SOS signal after coming under attack.

Pirates broke off their attack and instead attempted to hijack a Maersk vessel nearby — but with four helicopters hovering over them, the pirates were said to have thrown their weapons overboard and given themselves up.

The Maersk Virginia is from the same fleet as the Maersk Alabama, which was hijacked in April and whose captain Richard Phillips was held hostage for four days.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


UK: Vulnerable Whitechapel Youths Recruited for Jihad in Somalia

In a rundown flat in Whitechapel, East London, the Somali chewed qat as he pondered the issue of radicals within the community. Throwing his arms in the air he declared: “Its true, everyone knows.”

But as for the people co-ordinating? “No one knows.”

The capital’s large Somali community is beset by rumours about the recruitment of vulnerable youth, fuelled by media reports and the internet. However, members said that it was difficult to establish exactly where people were being recruited or who was doing it.

Along an East London strip sometimes known as Somaal town because of its ethnic shops and restaurants, Somalis told The Times that the majority of the community abhorred the radical elements. However, they said that the problems of the community — overcrowded housing, high school dropout rates and unemployment — had led to a proliferation of angry and vulnerable teenagers who could be preyed upon.

Abdi Razzaq, a restaurant owner, said: “I’ve heard that people have gone to join, there are lots of rumours. But there is nothing concrete. It is the influence of the internet and what they call jihad. If anyone goes, their family are traumatised.”

Osman Abdi, 40, said: “It makes me very angry. I’ve got kiddies myself, I don’t want to see people going back and killing people or getting themselves killed.”

Omar Yusuf, a community leader in Camden, North London, said that there were elements of truth to the rumours. “Nobody knows how many [recruiters] there are or the numbers they are attracting. Those kind of people don’t advertise it.

“I’ve never known anyone going. But I’m sure that there are some people.”

Ahmed Mohammed, a qat dealer in East London, said that most Somalis were more worried about a lack of jobs and the problem youths than radicalisation. It was impossible that people were being recruited. “There are plenty of fights to have here. No one needs to go back to Somalia,” he said.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Latin America

Mexico: Dangerous Prisoners Flee as Guards ‘stand by’

Dangerous Mexican prisoners have been caught on CCTV casually strolling out of prison while guards appear to turn a blind eye.

Prisoners caught on CCTV walking out of a Mexico prison while guards seem to turn a blind eye.

CCTV pictures show the prisoners shuffling out of the jail

Many of the 53 criminals, who escaped without firing a shot, have been described as by Interpol as “a risk to the safety and security of citizens around the world”.

The security footage shows prisoners gathered in a cell before one covers the camera with a blanket.

Meanwhile, another camera shows what look like police cars racing into the prison shortly before 5am.

Two guards are said to have opened the front gate without asking questions.

Back inside, another shot shows eight men in federal police uniforms rush into the prison brandishing guns.

They move down a corridor and seem to let prisoners take their time to amble past them and out of the building in single file.

After they are gone, other pictures apparently show a guard with his hands bound by plastic luggage ties walking calmly down an empty hall.

Only after the convoy of cars has careered off into the night are guards said to have run towards the gate, some crouching with their guns drawn.

Prisoners Walk Out Of Jail

Reforma newspaper, who first published the footage, said the guards appeared to be overacting for the cameras “in Jim Carrey style”.

About a dozen of the prisoners are drug cartel suspects and several have been jailed for kidnapping, said Ricardo Najera, a spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office.

The inmates stole 23 guns from a prison storage room before escaping, Mr Najera said.

A prisoner holds a blanket to cover a cctv camera before escaping from a jail in Mexico

A prisoner covers CCTV with a blanket

He also revealed that 51 people will face investigations into their possible involvement, including the prison director and all 44 guards on duty at the time.

Najera said the police uniforms worn by the gunmen were either outdated or fakes, and the vehicles they came in were not real police cars.

Investigators, however, have not ruled out the possibility of federal police involvement.

An international security alert for 11 of the prisoners involved in the 2 mins 52 secs prison break on Saturday in Cieneguillas, has been issued.

Mexico has struggled to reduce corruption and ineptitude in its justice system.

Two prison guards are serving up to 19 years for aiding the escape of Mexico’s most-wanted drug lord, alleged Sinaloa cartel leader Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.

He rode out of federal prison in Jalisco state in a laundry cart after bribing guards in 2001.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Immigration

Italy: Mayor ‘Pays’ Roma-Gypsies to Leave the City

Pisa, 21 May (AKI) — The mayor of the central Italian city of Pisa, Marco Filippeschi said the city was paying Roma-Gypsies who lived on the outskirts of the city to leave. “We send them back to their home in Romania,” said Filippeschi, quoted by Italian daily ‘Il Giornale’.

Filippeschi, from the centre-left Democratic Party, said he decided to demolish the shanty towns along the Aurelia and behind the hospital of Cisanello.

“The initiative has been coming for a long time. It involves 42 Roma-Gypsies from Romania, European Union citizens, who have voluntarily chosen to take part,” said Filippeschi.

“As a grant to the families, the initiative cost 21,500 euros (or 511,90 per person), or a total of 30,000 including the bus trip escorted by the Red Cross. We cannot say that this is an exhorbitant price.”

The group of Roma-Gypsies were taken to the Romanian city of Craiova, located in southwest Romania.

Filippeschi, when asked whether he was a member of the Northern League party known for its anti-immigrant and anti-Gypsy stance, insisted he was a member of the Democratic Party and this was not a deportation.

“By no means. I am a member of the PD. This was not a deportation, you know?. Everything was done respecting the law, informing the prefecture, police headquarters and the relevant foreign ministries. It is called ‘voluntary repatriation’ anyway.”

The mayor said that the area of Pisa hosts around 1,000 Roma-Gypsies, half of whom live in villages where they pay rent or expenses, and the other half who live as squatters in makeshift huts.

“This winter there was a major flood in one of the camps and now the fire season is about to begin. Many of the illegal immigrants are targeted by the police for crimes such as thefts and receiving stolen goods,” said Filippeschi.

Funds for the repatriation were taken from a European fund for immigration set aside for the region of Tuscany.

Under the agreement with the Roma-Gypsies the administration pays for a ‘soft’ return home, and in return, they commit not to come back to Italy for at least a year.

According to Filippeschi, it would be more costly for the Roma-Gypsies to return because their shacks have already been demolished and the areas already reclaimed.

There are 70,000 Roma-Gypsies in the country who are Italian citizens. Many others come from European Union countries such as Romania and Slovakia while others came from the Balkans.

Romanians are currently the largest immigrant group, and many Roma Gypsies have Romanian nationality.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Switzerland: Love May Lose Out Under Marriage Law

A Geneva politician warns that a motion going through parliament that would make marriage with non-Swiss residents illegal in Switzerland could do more harm than good. The Swiss People’s Party amendment to the Foreign Nationals Law would end the right to marry for asylum seekers and illegal residents in Switzerland. It aims to curb the number of marriages of convenience used by people trying to get around the law to stay in the country.

Having gained the approval of the House of Representatives in March it is due before the Senate “soon”, the Federal Migration Office confirmed.

Antonio Hodgers of the Green Party says it infringes on people’s rights.

“I don’t think you can criminalise marriage. Everyone is free to choose why they want to marry and that’s why it is very delicate when you try to penalise marriages of convenience, you end up criminalising people’s motives for marriage,” he told swissinfo.ch.

“Some marry for love, some marry for money, some marry for family. I don’t think the authorities should judge why people marry. There is only one circumstance with which I agree [with the motion] — people who clearly receive money to get married to someone so it can be used to their advantage, notably for a residence permit.”

Growing awareness Last week, criminal proceedings were launched against eight people in Zurich for entering marriages of convenience to gain a Swiss visa, which cantonal officials say is a growing trend.

Canton Zurich has the highest amount of legal foreigners in Switzerland with registered residence permits. It investigated 3,500 cases of suspected “green card” marriages in 2007, of which 500 registered unions were found to be shams.

“We understand that people want to stay in Switzerland and this is one way of getting around the law. They get married if they cannot stay,” said Bettina Dangel of the Zurich canton migration office.

“We are noticing that this situation is tending to increase. The reason could be on the one hand the growing number of foreign people and on the other a growing awareness among the authorities concerned. This results in more messages that reach us and in us carrying out checks more often.”

She says figures appeared to be in line with those of 2008 and there were an estimated 1,000 cases annually in Switzerland, although “the real figure could be far higher”.

Informing police The probe by the Zurich migration office is one of the first criminal proceedings launched since the introduction of the new Foreign Nationals Law in 2008.

Under the draft amendment to be reviewed by the Senate, before obtaining the go-ahead for marriage, foreign fiance’s would be required to prove they are legally resident in Switzerland and produce a residence permit or visa.

Registrars would be obliged to inform the police about all marriage candidates who are illegal residents. The draft would also give civil registry offices and the authorities access to a central database of information about migrants.

Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf said the reform would “harmonise practices between the cantons”.

Vigilant Hodgers warned it would impact not only on foreign nationals but also on Swiss who want to marry a non-Swiss resident.

“We are stopping people from falling in love with whoever they wish. Before you fall in love you have to ask to see their papers to be sure that all will end well. It is not just an attack towards foreigners, it is an attack on the Swiss.”

He adds that he does not expect the Senate to vote differently to the House of Representatives but urges vigilance if the motion is enforced.

“I think it will be the role of the media and associations — from the moment that the law comes into force — to show a little the absurdity of [cases where] people want to marry but cannot if one of them does not have the residence permit.”

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


UK: ‘Approved’ College Sells Diplomas to Help Foreign Students Stay in UK

A college accredited by a government-approved body as a “high-quality institution” has been selling diplomas to enable foreign students to extend their stay in Britain.

An investigation by The Times has revealed that the Pakistani-run college has 1,200 international students on its rolls, despite claiming to have only 150. King’s College of Management, in Manchester, has offered places to a further 1,575 foreigners.

It kept a hidden list of 207 people who were sold diplomas that allowed them to extend their stay in this country. The Times has also obtained a secret video recording, which reveals how the college faked attendance records to fool the immigration authorities.

The revelations follow The Times’s exposure of sham colleges yesterday. Manchester College of Professional Studies, which gave places to eight of the students arrested in April for suspected involvement in an al-Qaeda terror plot, closed last summer.

King’s is not only still in business but has been recognised by a government-approved body, the Accreditation Service for International Colleges, as a “high quality institution”.

Despite this, The Times has discovered that individuals working at the college are under investigation by the UK Border Agency for allegedly “assisting students to gain status by deception”.

King’s has links with another ten colleges in Manchester, Bradford and London that have been investigated by The Times. All were established in the past five years and were run by young Pakistanis who came to this country on student visas.

They exploited a loophole in Britain’s immigration controls to fuel a sharp rise in the number of Pakistanis who have been given leave to study in Britain. Records show that two of the terror suspects enrolled at King’s after leaving Manchester College of Professional Studies.

They were among 1,178 foreign students, most of them Pakistanis, who came to King’s over a 15-month period from October 2007 and were — at least on paper — enrolled at the college to study for a range of certificates and diplomas.

Those still overseas but already offered places at King’s include 906 Pakistanis, 535 Nigerians and applicants from Iran, Afghanistan, Syria, Egypt, Libya, Saudi Arabia, the Sudan and Algeria. The college, which is based in the centre of Manchester, has a more respectable appearance than Manchester College of Professional Studies. It teaches a limited range of courses to a minority — at most 200 — of the students it enrols.

For many, however, a place at King’s is merely a licence to come to Britain, where they look for full-time work.

The Times has a secret recording, made last week, in which a woman confides that she visited King’s last autumn to seek the college’s help in gaining a student visa for her nephew to enter Britain.

She explains that a man at the college told her that for a payment of £1,000, which was duly made, he would take care of the entire visa application process, which was subsequently successful.

When she took her nephew to enrol at the college last October after his arrival in Britain, she says that the same man told her: “Okay, I’ll get him a national insurance number.

“He can work from now for one year and at the end of the year he’ll get a certificate to say he’s been attending, even though he’s not attending.” Her 18-year-old nephew, she confirmed, did not attend a single lesson in Manchester, yet he is still listed on the college database as an enrolled student.

King’s is owned by Farah Anjum, a Pakistani businesswoman, but its driving force was Tahir Siddique, a 29-year-old Pakistani who came to Britain on a student visa. He was employed at Manchester College of Professional Studies and was involved in many of its visa scams before being recruited to run the new college.

Tahir Siddique left King’s last autumn to run Yorkshire College Manchester, which changed its name to Queens College International recently. The Times has learnt that King’s is currently under investigation by the UK Border Agency, which mounted a raid on its warren of offices and classrooms earlier this year, removing a haul of documents and computers.

The search warrant named Tahir Siddique in connection with an investigation into those who were “assisting students to gain status by deception”. Dr Anjum told The Times yesterday that the college’s enrolment register was not the same as its list of active students.

“When they walk into your college, you enrol them,” she said, claiming that the college had subsequently reported hundreds of its enrolled student to the UK Border Agency for failing to attend lessons. King’s kept all their names on its enrolment register, she explained, in case any of them later came back to resume their studies.

Dr Anjum said that as many as 800 students had been reported for nonattendance. The Times understands that the Home Office only has evidence of 60 King’s College of Management students being reported.

The Home Office confirmed last night that the UK Border Agency is making inquiries into a number of colleges as part of a continuing investigation into the alleged use of deception to facilitate the entry into the UK of foreign nationals. Phil Woolas, the Immigration Minister, said that allegations of dubious practices at colleges “highlights exactly why I have brought forward changes which crackdown on abuse of the student route into the UK.

“The UK Border Agency is systematically vetting colleges to clamp down on abuse of the rules. Before we tightened controls, around 4,000 UK institutions were bringing in international students. This currently stands at around 1,500.

“We will act swiftly where there is credible evidence of organised abuse of the immigration system by any college — whether registered as a sponsor or not.” Opposition MPs and immigration experts yesterday expressed their astonishment that Britain’s recently reformed student visa system remained “riddled with holes”.

Sir Andrew Green, the chairman of Migrationwatch UK, an independent think-tank, and a former British Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, said: “It is astounding that these scams were allowed to take place under the nose of the Home Office for year after year.

“What we need now is a complete reappraisal of travel to and from Pakistan and Britain, especially as conditions there deteriorate. It is now absolutely clear that greater resources are needed for effective checks on colleges in Britain.

“The minister [Mr Woolas] himself admitted that there are gaping holes in the immigration system, but even he must be astonished at the scale of this chaos.”

Chris Grayling, the Shadow Home Secretary, said: “There are still big questions about the way visas are granted to students from abroad, not just from Pakistan. The system ought to be tightened up considerably, it is riddled with holes. There are still adverts in Pakistan which promote ways for people to travel quickly and easily to the UK.”

The Home Office — specifically the Border Agency — is understood only to investigate individuals who have been named by intelligence agencies. There are no comprehensive audits of students already in the country.

All but two of the ten students arrested last month in Manchester and Liverpool over an alleged al-Qaeda bomb plot were enrolled on the books of one Manchester college.

A UK Border Agency spokesman said: “We are making life tougher than ever for those who try to stay in the UK illegally. The system in place to deal with students coming to the UK from abroad is more robust than ever before. Intelligence-led operations are conducted every day of the week across the country to detect and remove those people who have breached immigration laws. Since 2008 we have been issuing foreign students with ID cards and under e-Borders the majority of the foreign students will be tracked into and out of the country by December 2010.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Culture Wars

Abortion: Spain; Zapatero: it is a Woman’s Right

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, MAY 19 — Premier José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero defended the most controversial aspect of an abortion reform law today, which allows 16-year old minors to voluntarily terminate a pregnancy without parental consent to avoid parents from “interfering” in a decision that must be “free and personal”. “We are not taking away or interfering with a woman’s free and personal decision, who is the individual responsible for her entire life for accepting a pregnancy,” said the Premier, cited by the media in a press conference together with the President of the Dominican Republic, who was on an official visit to Madrid. Zapatero pointed out the similar opinion of “experts” and the fact that the majority of European governments have set the legal age for an abortion at 16. “Let’s heed the advice of the experts, the governments in Europe, and let’s have confidence in our young people, our women,” urged Zapatero, who said that he is sure that adolescents who choose to not inform their parents “will be a minority”. “It is a woman’s right,” insisted the socialist premier, “and as a woman’s right, a woman’s will must prevail. We must respect the personal nature of the decision,” he said. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Spain: Abortion, Gov. Agrees Decriminalisation Draft Law

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, MAY 14 — The government presided over by the Spanish prime minister José Luis Zapatero has today approved the first reading of the draft law on the depenalisation of abortion: the news was announced by the vice-premier Maria Teresa de la Vega following the weekly cabinet meeting. The plan for new legislation, she confirmed, “is in line with the current situation in Spain today” and “protects and guarantees the rights of women who have to face up to what is always a difficult time.” She went on, “from the first to the last paragraph, the document approved by the government aims at “safeguarding a woman’s dignity.” The Equality Minister Bibiana Aido specified that the draft law which will be put under the scrutiny of parliament in Madrid, would allow a women to decide whether to abort or not within the first 14 weeks of pregnancy. From the fourteenth to the twenty-second week, abortion will only be possible in case of “serious physical or psychological risk” to the woman’s health, or due to a malformation of the foetus, ascertained by two different doctors. After the twenty-second week, Aido said, abortion would only be legal if “a life-threatening condition” or a “terminal illness” was observed in the foetus and confirmed by a panel of doctors. The Zapatero government’s abortion reform law has met with strong opposition from the Spanish Episcopal Conference (CEE) and from pro-life associations. The current law does not decriminalise abortion, but allows it in three circumstances: rape, foetus malformation or psycho-physical risks to the woman’s health. This final clause is the one used to justify 98% of the around 120,000 abortions which take place each year in Spain. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

General

WHO Chief: Swine Flu Will Keep Spreading Globally

GENEVA — Swine flu is a “sneaky virus” that is likely to keep spreading to new parts of the world and within countries already affected, the head of the World Health Organization said Friday.

At least 42 countries have confirmed cases of the disease, which has sickened 11,168 people and caused 86 deaths, most of them in North America.

“This is a subtle, sneaky virus,” WHO’s Director-General Margaret Chan said at the close of the global body’s annual assembly. “It does not announce its presence or arrival in a new country with a sudden explosion of patients seeking medical care or requiring hospitalization.”

Countries need to increase their laboratory testing capacity to detect and follow the virus, whose march around the world was virtually unstoppable, she said.

“We expect it to continue to spread to new countries and continue to spread within countries already affected,” Chan said.

Discussions about swine flu took up much of the WHO’s five-day meeting in Geneva, which was shortened from two weeks to allow government ministers to spend more time overseeing pandemic preparations at home.

Chan heeded the call of many of WHO’s 193 member states to reconsider the agency’s criteria for raising the pandemic alert to phase 6 — its highest alert level — to avoid unnecessary panic and economic disruption.

The WHO’s alert currently stands at phase 5, meaning a pandemic is “imminent.”

Chan indicated she was going along with the countries which had urged caution in declaring a pandemic, saying that “even the best-laid plans need to be fluid and flexible when a new virus emerges and starts changing the rules.”

With increasing numbers of cases in Japan and Europe, the world is inching closer to meeting WHO’s criteria for a pandemic: ongoing spread in at least two world regions..

Chan conceded that phases 5 and 6 are “virtually identical in terms of the actions they launch.” She said she would consult the WHO’s emergency flu committee before declaring a global outbreak.

Countries taking part in the Geneva meeting agreed Friday to put off efforts to finalize a deal on sharing flu virus samples, instead instructing Chan to find a solution by early next year.

Developing countries lobbied hard to ensure they would benefit from any drugs created using their samples.

Against that, the United States and the European Union called for samples to be shared without restriction, arguing that this was in the best interest of science and global efforts to combat disease.

Both sides agreed Chan should form a task force to investigate unresolved questions, including whether countries should have to share samples and resulting drugs could be patented. They also want the task force to consider whether doses of any new pandemic flu vaccine should be reserved for developing countries, and to report back to members in January with recommendations.

WHO said confirmed cases of the new virus — termed A/H1N1 — increased by 134 since Thursday.

The U.S. has reported the most laboratory-confirmed cases with 5,764 — an increase of 54 cases — followed by Mexico with 3,892. It was unclear, however, if the increases reflected only a higher infection rate, or could also be partly explained by the fact that there has been more avid testing in those countries.

Japan raised its tally by 35 to 294, while in Chile the caseload rose by 19 to 24.

Overall there have been 86 deaths linked to swine flu.

Of those, Mexico have been in 75, nine in the U.S., and one each in Costa Rica and Canada.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


WHO to Consider Severity of ‘Sneaky’ Swine Flu

GENEVA — The World Health Organization said Friday it will change the rules for declaring a swine flu pandemic, a virus the agency’s chief called “sneaky” because of its ability to spread quickly from person to person and potentially mutate into a deadlier form.

Under political pressure from many of its 193 members to consider factors other than just the spread of the disease before announcing a global epidemic, WHO’s flu chief said “course corrections” were being made.

“What we will be looking for is events which signify a really substantial increase in risk of harm to people,” Keiji Fukuda told reporters in Geneva.

So far the virus has been mild, sickening 11,168 people and causing 86 deaths, most of them in Mexico, according to WHO.

But experts worry it could evolve into a more deadly strain or overwhelm countries unprepared for a major flu outbreak.

Many countries fear a pandemic declaration would trigger mass panic, and be economically and politically damaging. For developed countries that already have activated their pandemic preparedness plans, a pandemic declaration would change little in their response strategies.

Earlier this week, Britain and other countries urged WHO to reconsider its pandemic definition.

WHO hastily responded to these concerns, as Fukuda said the agency would revise the conditions needed to move from the current phase 5 to the highest level, phase 6, which makes it a pandemic.

“The countries are telling us now that moving from phase 5 to 6 is not so helpful,” Fukuda said. He said the alert phases were developed before the outbreak hit, and now need to be adjusted to the reality of the situation.

The virus’ lethality could become one of the required criteria before a pandemic is declared, Fukuda said.

Fukuda’s comments echoed those of WHO Director-General Margaret Chan, who told governments she would heed their call to caution in declaring a pandemic.

At the same time, Chan warned against complacency.

“This is a subtle, sneaky virus,” she said at the close of the weeklong meeting. “It does not announce its presence or arrival in a new country with a sudden explosion of patients seeking medical care or requiring hospitalization.”

“We expect it to continue to spread to new countries and continue to spread within countries already affected,” Chan said.

Countries taking part in the Geneva meeting agreed Friday to delay efforts to finalize a deal on sharing flu viruses, instead instructing Chan to find a solution by early next year.

Developing countries lobbied hard to ensure they would benefit from any drugs created using their virus samples.

Against that, the United States and the European Union called for samples to be shared without restriction, arguing that this was in the best interest of science and global efforts to combat disease.

Both sides agreed Chan should form a task force to investigate unresolved questions, including whether countries should have to share samples and resulting drugs could be patented. They also want the task force to consider whether doses of any new pandemic flu vaccine should be reserved for developing countries, and to report back to members in January with recommendations.

WHO said confirmed cases of the new virus — termed A/H1N1 — increased by 134 since Thursday.

The U.S. has reported the most laboratory-confirmed cases with 5,764 — an increase of 54 — followed by Mexico with 3,892.

Japan raised its tally by 35 to 294, while in Chile the caseload rose by 19 to 24.

Overall there have been 86 deaths linked to swine flu.

Of those, Mexico have been in 75, nine in the U.S., and one each in Costa Rica and Canada.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Religion does not teach hatred to the religion. people will understand the purpose of life in the world, then peace will be realized.

Zenster said...

Greece: Athens: Muslims Protest Koran Destruction.

Every time one of these Group Terrorist Attacks are spawned by some rumor of Qu'ran desecration, it should be the immediate signal for counter-demonstrators to show up with Qu'rans in hand from which they begin to remove page after page whilst using them as Kleenex or for other hygienic functions.

Muslims should be taught that squalling over what happens to their silly little book will only inspire more people to desecrate it in response. Behavioral modificstion at its finest. "Pavlov", does that name ring a bell?

PS: A big kumbayah back at 'cha, Daro.

islam o' phobe said...

EU budget: How the money is spent by country - €114bn