Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 5/26/2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 5/26/2009For some reason there are a lot of Latin American news stories tonight, particularly from Brazil. Two extraditions have been approved, one of a drug lord to the United States, another of an accused rabbi to Israel. Brazilian police foiled a plot to smuggle cell phones into a maximum-security prison using a toy remote-controlled helicopter. And an Al Qaeda leader was arrested in Brazil, but apparently later released.

See Fausta’s blog for the latest Latin American news.

In other news, two separate people-smuggling plots have been uncovered in Australia. Both of them involved Muslims operating out of Indonesia.

Thanks to Barry Rubin, C. Cantoni, CSP, Fausta, heroyalwhyness, Insubria, islam o’phobe, JD, KGS, Lexington, Nilk, Vlad Tepes, and all the other tipsters who sent these in. Headlines and articles are below the fold.
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Financial Crisis
European Stocks Drop on Grim Economic Outlook
 
USA
Defense of Self Government
Frank Gaffney: Obama’s Shrinking Deterrent
Guess Who’s Calling? Prison Cell-Phone Use a Growing Problem
Obama Set to Create a Cybersecurity Czar With Broad Mandate
Pelosi’s Marxist Connections
 
Europe and the EU
Austria: Indian Sikh Dies After Vienna Attack
France: What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
Guantanamo: Berlusconi, We’ll Help USA in Agreement With EU
Holland: Muslim-Only Rest Home on Its Way
New Portal to Translate EU Dailies Into 10 Languages
UK: Cameron Agrees to Cross-Party Talks on Constitutional Reform
 
North Africa
Counterfeit Cars: 13,000 Parts Impounded in Algeria in 2008
Western Sahara: RASD-TV Breaks Moroccan Media Embargo
 
Israel and the Palestinians
Anger Over Palestinian Nakba Ban Proposal
Israel: Right-Wing Party Wants “Oath” to State
Israel Drops Warning Pamphlets Over Gaza
Israel: Muslims Vandalize Christian Graves
U.N. Fabricated Crisis Like Gun to Israel’s Back
 
Middle East
Arab Fury Over Push to Ban Mourning Day
EU: Swedish Foreign Minister, Europe Needs Turkey
French President Sarkozy Opens UAE Base
Iran Sends Six Warships to International Waters
Iran Arrests 104 “Devil Worshippers”: Report
Iran: Imminent Execution for Teen Offender
Jordan Jails Thousands Without Trials, HRW Report Says
June is the Cruelest Month
OPEC to Keep Current Oil Quotas: Saudi Minister
Saudi Arabia: King Says ‘Fair’ Oil Price Between 75-80 Dollars
Turkey: Erdogan Attacks the Past, Labels Kemalist Ethnic Cleansing Fascist
UAE: Abu Dhabi Mulls 100% Foreign-Owned Property
 
Russia
Back Into the Cold
Russia Signs Uranium Contract With US Companies
 
South Asia
Bangladesh: The First Time in History: A Woman is Chief Officer of Police
Punjab Riots After Vienna Killing
The Taliban Advances
 
Far East
China’s Communist Party Increasingly Powerless to Tackle Corruption
Japan Panel Wants “First Strikes” Against Enemies: Report
Japan to Relax Arms Export Ban: Report
 
Sub-Saharan Africa
Girl Receives Damages for Genital Mutilation
 
Latin America
Brazil OKs Extradition of Drug Lord to US
Brazil OKs Extradition of Rabbi Accused in Israel
Brazil Arrests High Ranking Qaeda Operative — Report
Caribbean States Assail U.S. Over Deportations
Chavez: Venezuela Could Leave OAS, Join Cuba
Ecuador Says Mining, Oil Must be in State Hands
Israel: Venezuela and Bolivia Providing Iran With Uranium
Jailbirds Turn to Toy Helicopter to Smuggle Phones
Venezuela Sends Uranium to Iran
 
Immigration
Australia: ‘People Smuggler’ to Face Aussie Charges
Australia: Man Charged Over People Smuggling Plot
Australia: Two People Smugglers Reap $115,000
Bishops Blast Italy Over Immigrants
Italy: Maroni Pleased With Result
Italy: Berlusconi Urges US Immigration Model
Libya: Attempted Departure Stopped
 
General
An Anti-Semite for UNESCO?
Taliban Law is Not the Quranic Law

Financial Crisis

European Stocks Drop on Grim Economic Outlook

LONDON (AFP) — Europe’s main stock markets fell Tuesday as London traders returned to their desks and digested the bleak global economic outlook amid jitters over North Korea’s nuclear test.

The British capital’s FTSE 100 index of leading shares shed 0.72 percent to 4,333.72 points in late morning trade on Tuesday. The market was closed Monday for a public holiday.

Frankfurt’s DAX 30 reversed 1.44 percent to 4,847.39 points and in Paris the CAC 40 lost 1.46 percent to 3,188.85.

The DJ Euro Stoxx 50 index of leading eurozone shares was down 1.34 percent to 2,407.53 points.

The European single currency stood at 1.3887 dollars.

Frankfurt was dented by confirmation that the German economy — the biggest in the eurozone — was mired in its deepest recession since World War II.

German gross domestic product (GDP) shrank by 3.8 percent in the first three months of the year compared to the last three months of 2008 the Destatis statistics office said, confirming preliminary data.

The contraction — the fourth in a row — was due mainly to a plunge in exports of nearly 10 percent and was the worst decline in modern German history.

“As we move on towards the end of May, the pressures remain tipped on the downside as the fundamentals still point towards economies in distress,” warned CMC Markets dealer Matt Buckland in London.

He added: “The fact remains that the outlook in the medium term is still a difficult one.”

Both the French and German stock markets were little changed in thin trading on Monday, while Wall Street was also shut for a public holiday.

In Asia on Tuesday, Tokyo’s benchmark Nikkei-225 index fell 0.39 percent to 9,310.81 points, and Hong Kong’s key Hang Seng Index closed down 0.76 percent.

Tokyo shares slid as a stronger yen weighed on exporters and investors waited for fresh leads from Wall Street when it reopens after a holiday weekend.

Markets remained wary about North Korea’s announcement the previous day that it had carried out an underground nuclear test, dealers said.

The focus is now expected to turn to upcoming economic data including a US housing market survey due out later in the day and Japanese trade data scheduled for release on Wednesday.

North Korea reportedly fired two short-range missiles on Tuesday in a move set to heighten tensions after its latest nuclear weapons test drew global condemnation.

The UN Security Council held an emergency meeting to consider the options after Pyongyang’s test of a nuclear device on Monday.

The Council called the test a “clear violation” of international law and immediately began working on a resolution that could impose new sanctions on the secretive North, which has now tested two nuclear bombs in three years.

Asian and European foreign ministers on Tuesday jointly condemned the test and called on the reclusive state to return to six-nation disarmament talks.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

USA

Defense of Self Government

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, the question is not what backs the money — gold, silver or nothing — it’s who controls its quantity. Even if you mandate government controlling the quantity of gold-backed money — as Article 1, Section 8 puts it, “… regulate the Value thereof …” — history has shown that once you strap the money supply to gold, the plutocrats will simply manipulate the quantity of gold and thereby have defacto control in no time flat. This has happened time and time again in history.

Issuing money and controlling its quantity (“…regulating the Value thereof…”) is THE most important role of a sovereign nation. Without that power vested in the closest federally elected representatives of the people, government quickly becomes a sham — a cover for plutocracy.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Frank Gaffney: Obama’s Shrinking Deterrent

North Korea celebrated Memorial Day with an underground test of a nuclear weapon reportedly the size of the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima. When combined with a series of missile launches that day and subsequently, the regime in Pyongyang has sent an unmistakable signal: The Hermit Kingdom has nothing but contempt for the so-called “international community” and the empty rhetoric and diplomatic posturing that usually precedes new rewards for the North’s bad behavior.

The seismic waves precipitated by the latest detonation seem likely to rattle more than the windows and members of the UN Security Council. Even as that body huffs and puffs about Kim Jong-il’s belligerence, Japan and South Korea are coming to grips with an unhappy reality: They are increasingly on their own in contending with a nuclear-armed North Korea.

Until now, both countries have nestled under the U.S. nuclear umbrella. This posture has been made possible by what is known in the national security community as “extended deterrence.” Thanks to the credibility of U.S. security guarantees backed by America’s massive arsenal, both countries have been able safely to forego the option their respective nuclear power programs long afforded them, namely becoming nuclear weapon states in their own right.

           — Hat tip: CSP[Return to headlines]


Guess Who’s Calling? Prison Cell-Phone Use a Growing Problem

Drugs and weapons aren’t the only contraband in prisons these days. The latest underground currency among inmates is an item most of us consider harmless: the cell phone. And so far, prison officials are fighting a losing battle to keep inmates from obtaining cell phones and using them to communicate with people both inside and outside prison walls. (See TIME’s photo-essay on “Boxing Out of Poverty and Prison in Thailand.”)

In California, home to the country’s largest state prison system, more than 2,800 cell phones were confiscated from inmates last year, double the number seized in 2007. But the problem isn’t limited to California. State and federal prisons across the country are grappling with what officials say is an epidemic of cell-phone use among inmates. (See TIME’s photo-essay on the long odyssey of the cell phone.)

“The problem has quickly gotten out of control nationwide,” says Republican Congressman Kevin Brady of Texas, who in January introduced a House bill that would permit the jamming of cell-phone signals within prison walls. “Criminals are using cell phones even from death row to threaten victims and harass lawmakers. Inmates are making literally thousands of calls from prison.”

In Texas, prison officials seized 549 cell phones from inmates in the first four months of this year alone. In California, a prison staff member admitted to earning more than $100,000 last year by selling cell phones to inmates. Prisons in Maryland, Virginia, California and Pennsylvania are using specially trained dogs to sniff out phones hidden inside cells and squirreled away in common areas. Florida and Maryland have instituted tougher penalties for anyone who provides a cell phone to an inmate, and other states are planning to follow suit.

In many prisons, cell phones have become as valuable as drugs, if not more so. In a recent sting operation in Texas, an undercover officer was offered $200 by a prisoner for a cell phone and only $50 for heroin. California officials say inmates currently fork over between $100 and $400 to obtain a smuggled cell phone. It’s easy to understand why cell phones command such a premium. Unlike the one-time sale of drugs, an inmate can rent out the same phone dozens of times to fellow inmates.

Inmates sometimes use cell phones to keep in touch with friends and family on the outside — collect calls made from inside prison facilities are notoriously expensive. But officials say inevitably cell phones are also being used to orchestrate crimes, harass witnesses, organize retaliation against other inmates and even order hits. A Baltimore man is accused of using a cell phone from prison to order an accomplice to murder a witness. (In March, the accused man’s cell was raided and guards found another phone.)

Prisoners plotting escapes have found that a cell phone can be just as valuable as a pair of bolt cutters. “I had an inmate escape from one of my prisons just this week, and guess what he used to get his ride — a cell phone,” says Richard Subia, assistant director for California’s Division of Adult Institutions. “According to our investigation so far, he contacted a girlfriend by cell phone and had her pick him up in one of the local towns. We’re still out searching for him.”

ITT’s Intelligence and Information Warfare division is currently hawking a system called Cell Hound that detects all active cell phones within a prison facility and then displays the location on a computer monitor. The monitoring device can also be used to gather intelligence on other illegal activity among inmates. Last month, a Maryland investigation that included wiretaps on prison cell phones resulted in drug and weapons charges for two dozen people, including four state prison officers.

But many prison officials believe the only surefire way to combat the problem is to jam cell-phone signals within prison walls. Yet any jammer for the slammer would run afoul of the Communications Act of 1934, which prohibits intentional interference with radio signals. Brady’s proposed bill (and a companion bill in the Senate) would amend the act to permit targeted interference of mobile-phone service within prisons, while ensuring that emergency calls or other commercial signals near the prison aren’t affected. Brady says he hopes Congress will pass the bill by the end of the year.

“I really identify personally with this problem,” says Brady. “My father was an attorney in a small town and was shot to death in a courtroom when I was 12. Just the thought of someone like Dad’s killer being able to harass a family on a cell phone seems outrageous.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


Obama Set to Create a Cybersecurity Czar With Broad Mandate

Shielding Public, Private Networks Is Goal

President Obama is expected to announce late this week that he will create a “cyber czar,” a senior White House official who will have broad authority to develop strategy to protect the nation’s government-run and private computer networks, according to people who have been briefed on the plan.

The adviser will have the most comprehensive mandate granted to such an official to date and will probably be a member of the National Security Council but will report to the national security adviser as well as the senior White House economic adviser, said the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the deliberations are not final.

The announcement will coincide with the long-anticipated release of a 40-page report that evaluates the government’s cybersecurity initiatives and policies. The report is intended to outline a “strategic vision” and the range of issues the new adviser must handle, but it will not delve into details, administration officials told reporters last month.

Cybersecurity “is vitally important, and the government needs to be coordinated on this,” a White House official said Friday, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “The report give conclusions and next steps. It’s trying to steer us in the right direction.”

The document will not resolve the politically charged issue of what role the National Security Agency, the premier electronic surveillance agency, will have in protecting private-sector networks. The issue is a key concern in policy circles, and experts say it requires a full and open debate over legal authorities and the protection of citizens’ e-mails and phone calls. The Bush administration’s secrecy in handling its Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative, most of which was classified, hindered such a debate, privacy advocates have said.

The White House’s role will be to oversee the process, formulate policy and coordinate agencies’ roles, and will not be operational, administration officials have said…

           — Hat tip: KGS[Return to headlines]


Pelosi’s Marxist Connections

Like the president, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi does not have to go through a background investigation in order to get a security clearance. This loophole in the law enables the president and members of Congress to automatically qualify for security clearances, even if they have controversial backgrounds and associations, by virtue of the fact that they get elected to high office in Washington, D.C.

In the case of Speaker Pelosi, who is second in the line of succession to the presidency after the vice president, there is increasing concern about whether she can be trusted with national security secrets. But the concern not only involves her unsubstantiated charges against the CIA over what officials told her about the treatment of terrorists, but her close personal relationship with pro-Castro Rep. Barbara Lee and the “progressive” Hallinan family of San Francisco, once under scrutiny by the California Senate Fact-finding Subcommittee on Un-American Activities for their pro-Soviet propaganda efforts.

[…]

Lee, who calls Pelosi “a magnificent woman” and “one of California’s greatest representatives,” began her career in the California state legislature as a secret member of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism, a spin-off from the Communist Party. As a member of the staff of Rep. Ron Dellums, Lee was shown to have been collaborating with communist officials on the island of Grenada, according to documents captured after the liberation of that island nation. These revelations have not hurt Lee’s standing with Pelosi and other “progressives.” Indeed, Lee also served as the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

But even more interesting than the Barbara Lee connection is Pelosi’s long-time friendship and association with Vincent and Vivian Hallinan, one of the most radical left-wing families in San Francisco over the course of five decades.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Austria: Indian Sikh Dies After Vienna Attack

Vienna, 25 May (AKI) — An Indian Sikh guru has died in Vienna after an armed attack involving rival Sikh groups at a temple in Austria. Police said on Monday the 57-year-old guru, Sant Rama Anandin, died of injuries he allegedly received in an attack by six men armed with knives and a pistol during a religious ceremony on Sunday.

A second guru, Sant Niranjan Dass, aged 68, was reported to be stable after undergoing emergency surgery, doctors said.

At least 16 people were injured in the clashes, according to the Austrian APA news agency. APA said .

The brutal attack, carried out by bearded and turbaned men, triggered panic among the temple’s congregation of at least 150 people, and immediately provoked riots between rival Sikh groups in cities and towns across the Indian state of Punjab.

Indian police said protesters in the Punjabi city of Jalandhar set fire to vehicles, damaged government buildings and put up roadblocks.

Thousands of protesters poured out into the streets in protests that erupted late on Sunday and a curfew was imposed across Jalandhar, reports said.

It was a dramatic reaction to the Vienna attack which reportedly began when fundamentalist Sikhs from a higher caste attacked the preachers, who, they believed, were disrespectful of the Sikh holy book.

During the mayhem, members of the congregation pounced upon the attackers and overpowered them, severely injuring them, police said.

Police spokesman, Michael Takacs, was quoted as saying the scene was “like a battlefield”.

The visiting gurus Anandin and Dass had previously been guests at the temple, located in Vienna-Rudolfsheim, in the 15th district of the capital.

The Rudolfsheim temple is run by devotees of Shri Guru Ravidas, who founded a Sikh sect called Dera Sach Khand.

Anandin and Dass, both followers of the Shri Guru Ravidas movement, were rejected by a rival Vienna Sikh community.

Police believe the conflict was based on doctrinal differences between the two groups. It is estimated that fewer than 3,000 Sikhs live in Austria.

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


France: What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

NANTES, France (Reuters) — Close to 200 prisoners will cycle around France next month, watched by scores of guards on bicycles, in the first penal version of the Tour de France, authorities said Monday.

The 196 prisoners will cycle in a pack and breakaway sprints will not be allowed. They will be accompanied by 124 guards and prison sports instructors. There will be no ranking, the idea being to foster values like teamwork and effort.

“It’s a kind of escape for us, a chance to break away from the daily reality of prison,” said Daniel, a 48-year-old prisoner in the western city of Nantes, at the official launch of the event. His last name was not given.

“If we behave well, we might be able to get released earlier, on probation,” he told reporters.

The prisoners’ Tour de France will take them 2,300 km (1,400 miles) around the country, starting in the northern city of Lille on June 4 and stopping in 17 towns, each of which has a prison. However, participants will sleep in hotels.

The finish line will be in Paris, following Tour de France tradition.

“This project aims to help these men reintegrate into society by fostering values like effort, teamwork and self-esteem,” said Sylvie Marion of the prison authorities.

“We want to show them that with some training, you can achieve your goals and start a new life,” she said.

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


Guantanamo: Berlusconi, We’ll Help USA in Agreement With EU

(AGI) — Rome, 25 May — “Italy will do what the other European countries do” regarding the request of the United States to accept the prisoners of Guantanamo. Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi, interviewed by CNN International, explained that Italy will give the USA a hand in line with the agreements with the EU. “We’ll see what the majority of European countries do.

If we can do the American people and government a favour we will certainly do so. We will see based on the laws we have and on the behaviour of the other European countries”. How many will you accept? “I don’t know” the premier responded “we haven’t discussed the question in government yet. We want to do all we can to give the USA a hand. We can’t let them fight for all of us. Terrorism is a phenomenon that regards all. I would like our choices to be in line with the other European countries”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Holland: Muslim-Only Rest Home on Its Way

(ANSAmed) — AMSTERDAM, MAY 25 — Retirement homes with separate common rooms — women on one side, men on the other — and an area for prayer. A wing for elderly Moroccan residents is to be opened at the Rosendael retirement home in Utrecht. The Aveant Nursing Home and insurance company Agis are behind the initiative, according to Dutch press. The elderly people who cannot manage to integrate even at an advanced age come from Turkey, Morocco and Suriname. They do not speak Dutch well, and they feel lost in traditional retirement homes, where residents play cards and eat typical Dutch dishes. “Elderly Muslims often shut themselves in their room and spend their time alone”, said Fatima Benaya from the De Kastanjehof retirement home in Amsterdam, where there is a multicultural common room. According to Agis 500 places will shortly be available, although they do not specify when. Each elderly resident will have a room to themself with a bathroom, and communal areas with other guests. “We are trying to recreate a safe environment where elderly Moroccans can live their own faith and culture”, explained head of the project for Aveant, Rosan van der Aa. Meanwhile, in Utrecht, the initiative is a success: people of Moroccan origin have already begun to ask for places, while more than two hundred people have already replied to the advertisement for staff. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


New Portal to Translate EU Dailies Into 10 Languages

EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS — A new website launched Tuesday (26 May) aims to get EU citizens across the 27 member states talking and reading about the same issues, something that to date has been hindered by language barriers.

With €3 million of European Commission funds a year and a team of 10 journalists, www.presseurop.eu is part of the EU’s drive to create a “European public sphere.”

The portal aims to monitor around 250 titles both within and outside Europe, including all of the big national dailies, such as France’s Le Figaro, Spain’s El Pais and the UK’s Financial Times, and put a selection of articles concerning Europe from these papers on the site.

The site will be available in 10 languages with all 23 of the EU’s official languages expected to be onboard within five year’s time.

The set-up is led by Courrier International, along with Internazionale in Italy, Forum Polityka in Poland and Courrier Internacional in Portugal.

Courrier International chief Philippe Thureau-Dangin said the aim of the site “is not to keep pace with the whole of current affairs in Europe but to bring Europe alive.”

EU communications commissioner Margot Wallstrom, who promised the site will be editorially independent, said it will “broaden, enrich and expand coverage of European affairs.”

“It has nothing to do with whether we like what the media writes or not,” she said in response to a question concerning the motives of the commission for the portal, but rather aims to “prolong the life” of quality articles.

Mr Thureau-Dangin said that the voices of eurosceptics will also feature.

“For news and entertainment, these 500 million Europeans watch satellite TV, listen to the radio via internet, read newspapers in print and online versions. But wherever they are on the continent, most turn to media in their own language, or in one or two others,” says an editorial piece on the site.

Its organisers are hoping to have 1.5 million visitors a month across the ten sites by the end of 2010.

The EU set up a similar platform for radio in 2007 and will launch a TV version next year.

The moves come after the commission has for years spoken about wanting to move political discourse away from being purely national in tone to take on a more European hue.

Newspapers’ correspondents in Brussels normally report on EU news through national eyes — one of the first questions in the press conference launching the site saw a Slovene journalist ask when the language of her country would be covered by the site and which of the national newspapers would be used by the presseurop.eu.

The same drive to get a European perspective that crosses borders regardless of language and culture recently saw the setting up of European political parties — although they still tend to run on national theme in the individual member states — as well as European political foundations, both funded by EU money.

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


UK: Cameron Agrees to Cross-Party Talks on Constitutional Reform

Tory leader responds to offer from the justice secretary, Jack Straw, to discuss how to change the way parliament works

David Cameron said today that he would take part in cross-party talks with Labour to develop plans to boost the power of parliament.

The Conservative leader was responding to an offer from Jack Straw, the justice secretary, who wants the talks to start soon and to come up with plans for parliamentary reform before the summer recess.

Straw announced the talks following Cameron’s decision to use an article in the Guardian to outline sweeping plans for constitutional reform. The Conservative leader reiterated his message today in a speech in Milton Keynes.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s The World at One, Straw said the controversy about MPs’ expenses had created “an opportunity for consensus that was not there before”. He said that he was particularly interested in proposals that would give the House of Commons greater power over the executive.

Last week, Gordon Brown told MPs at prime minister’s questions that the government would soon publish plans to make parliament more accountable to the people. He asked Straw and Harriet Harman, the leader of the Commons, to produce a package of reforms.

According to a source close to Straw, the decision to convene cross-party talks was taken some days ago, although Straw did not announce it publicly until after the publication of Cameron’s article today.

Straw welcomed Cameron’s article as a contribution to the debate. The government does not agree with everything the Tory leader said, but Straw believes that the cross-party talks could reach agreement on some aspects of parliamentary reform within the next few months, such as:

* Strengthening Commons select committees. Cameron said the whips should lose the power to choose the members and chairs of select committees. Straw believes there is scope for reform in this area.

* Petitions. Cameron said that if the organisers of a petition collected enough support, they should be able to get their idea debated in the Commons. Straw looked into this idea when he was leader of the Commons and he is interested in taking it forward.

* Scrutinising legislation. Cameron criticised the way every bill is “guillotined”, meaning the time set aside for debate is limited in advance. Straw believes that the creation of a Commons business committee could give the Commons more say over timetabling issues.

Straw is also interested in changing the procedure for private members’ bills. Under the current arrangements, private members’ bills almost never become law unless they have explicit government backing.

One of Cameron’s most radical proposals involved fixed-term parliaments. He said a Tory government would give “serious consideration” to the proposals.

Straw told Sky News that he thought there were “advantages” to having fixed-term parliaments as the “default setting”, but that he thought there would have to be a procedure to cope with cases of a government losing its majority.

He also stressed that he did not support all Cameron’s ideas. He said that giving more power to parents over school selection, as the Tories propose, would not deal with the problem of schools being oversubscribed.

Straw also said that he was interested in looking at the idea of whether voters should be given the power to trigger byelections when MPs commit serious misconduct — an idea promoted by the Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg.

The government will soon publish its constitutional renewal bill and, if the cross-party talks produce proposals for legislative change, it is thought they could be included in the bill as it goes through parliament.

Responding to Straw’s offer of cross-party talks, Cameron said: “I am very happy to take part in any cross-party talks. I am always very happy to do that. I think we have set out a very clear agenda today of what we want to change, and what needs to happen.

But I think the most important set of talks are those between the electorate and politicians, and not between politicians.”

The Liberal Democrats said they had not received any formal invitation to cross-party talks.

Straw responded to Cameron as the Daily Telegraph published further details of expense claims made by MPs. Today the paper focused on claims made by members of the shadow cabinet relating to office expenses.

The shadow leader of the Commons, Alan Duncan, paid £42,000 to the Rutland and Melton Conservative Association, while Michael Gove, the shadow children’s secretary, paid £27,000 to the Surrey Heath Conservative Association, the Daily Telegraph said.

The shadow health secretary, Liam Fox, also pays £9,000 a year to the Woodspring Conservative Association in Bristol, the paper added.

And the Tories’ international development spokesman, Andrew Mitchell, is said to have paid Sutton Coldfield Conservative Association an annual sum of around £8,000 for the last four years.

The MPs have justified the amounts as paying for costs such as rent, office space and telephone services provided by the associations.

Mitchell told the Telegraph: “The rent I pay is below market rate and has been carefully set as a percentage of the cost of the office which reflects the use I make of it.”

Fox added: “They arrange my surgeries, they do some of my casework, and they do a huge amount of secretarial work which probably represents an underpayment for the amount of work they do.”

The Telegraph also revealed that Christopher Fraser, the Tory MP for South West Norfolk, claimed more than £1,800 to buy 215 trees and fencing to mark the boundary of his constituency home. He said that he needed them because his property did not have a natural boundary and they were required to provide security and privacy.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

North Africa

Counterfeit Cars: 13,000 Parts Impounded in Algeria in 2008

(ANSAmed) — ALGIERS, MAY 25 — More than 13,000 counterfeited car parts were impounded in Algeria in 2008. The parts had a value of 5.6 million dollars, around a fifth of the total value of imported spare parts for cars (over 29 million euros) last year. The Algerian press reported that the news had been announced by Hassiba Barkina, technical inspections officer of the Trade Ministry. Barkina specified that 81% of the spare parts had come arrived from China, France, Italy, South Korea or Germany. Counterfeited products, 1.6 million last year, “continue to flood the Algerian market”, admitted Trade Minister El Hachemi Djaaboub. The minister announced that by 2010 a laboratory would be created to analyse and assess imported goods. “ The quality of all products must be certified by our head office,” added Djaaboub. “With the help of producers, car dealers and associations, we hope to be able to make the population aware” of the problem, “and to fight the phenomenon.” (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Western Sahara: RASD-TV Breaks Moroccan Media Embargo

(by Laura De Santi) (ANSAmed) — ALGIERS, MAY 25 — The Polisario Front, which for over 30 years has continued to fight for independence for the Sahrawi people in the Western Sahara has not showed any signs of surrender. While they have not ruled out a return to arms if negotiations fail yet again, they have now launched a media battle with the first Sahrawi TV station, RASD-TV. The new station aims “to break the media embargo imposed by Morocco” and “show the suffering of the Sahrawi people to the world”. Inaugurated by the self-proclaimed President of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (RASD), Mohamed Abdelaziz, RASD-TV broadcasts from Chahid El Hafed. The station’s headquarters has just been completed in one of the five refugee camps in Tindouf in the Algerian Sahara, where about 150,000 Sahrawi people have lived since 1975, after fleeing during the occupation of the former Spanish colony by Morocco. RASD TV “can be seen in the Maghreb, including Morocco, and throughout Africa, as well as in Western Europe and the Middle East,” said the station’s manager, Mohamed Salem Ahmed Laabeid, to ANSAmed. After press agency SPS, “this new means of information aims to demonstrate the Sahrawi cause to the world,” added Laabeid, “to break the media embargo imposed by Morocco and to provide a realistic view of the serious ongoing situation in the occupied territories.” News, reports on life in refugee camps, interviews, and historical documentaries will be broadcast daily via satellite and digital cable. An archive of past videos will also be on the Internet, including the self-proclamation of the RASD on February 27 1976, and commercials in favour of the Sahrawi people’s cause, with appearances by celebrities such as Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz, Pedro Almodovar, and Manu Chao. This new “media weapon will defend the just cause of the Sahrawi people until the inalienable rights of self-determination and independence are obtained,” underlined the RASD President. The RASD is a member of the African Union (of which only Morocco is not a member) and is currently recognised by almost 90 countries, but by no Western states. In the view of the UN, which has been in the region since 1991 with MINURSO (United Nations Mission for the Referendum in the Western Sahara) to monitor the ceasefire with Rabat, the Western Sahara is “not an autonomous territory”. Numerous UN resolutions have reiterated the right of the Sahrawi people’s independence, but there have been few tangible developments due to Morocco’s close Western allies, most notably France and the United States. Negotiations led by the UN, at a standstill since March 2008, should resume in the coming month in an attempt to resolve an issue that continues to divide the Maghreb. Rabat is willing to grant broad autonomy to the Sahrawi people, but only while remaining under its sovereignty. The Polisario Front, which is backed by Algeria, continues to call for a referendum of independence. If the fifth round of negotiations fails, Sahrawi authorities have already announced that “we will have no other alternative than to resume the war”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

Anger Over Palestinian Nakba Ban Proposal

Israeli campaigners and left-wing lawmakers have condemned moves to ban Israeli Arabs from marking the Nakba — the Palestinian “catastrophe” of 1948.

On Sunday an Israeli government panel backed putting the bill, proposed by the party of far-right Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, before parliament.

A Labour minister opposed it; Hadash, a mainly Arab party, called it “racist”.

Some 700,000 Palestinians fled or were forced from their homes in 1948-49 as Israel claimed its independence.

About 20% of Israel’s population are descended from Arab citizens of British Mandate Palestine who remained on the territory that became Israel.

Strengthening unity

Under the proposed legislation, people caught marking the Nakba could be jailed for up to three years.

Avigdor Lieberman’s party, Yisrael Beiteinu, says the bill is “intended to strengthen unity in the state of Israel”.

The Hadash MK Hanna Swaid called it “racist and immoral” and “a fierce insult on democratic and political rights”.

Social Affairs Minister Isaac Herzog, said it “could impair freedom of expression and freedom of protest and achieve the opposite goal — increasing alienation and strengthening extremists”.

He is a member of the Labour party, which is part of the right-leaning governing coalition, together with Yisrael Beiteinu party and led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party.

Legitimate right

Correspondents say that although there have been unsuccessful attempts to introduce similar bills in the past, the right-wing make-up of the current government gives this one more chance of passing — although it has many hurdles to clear yet.

An Israeli rights organisation, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, (Acri) said the committee’s initial approval of the bill was “a sign of a democracy losing its bearings”.

“Marking the Nakba does not threaten the safety of the State of Israel, but is rather a legitimate and fundamental human right of any person, group or people, expressing grief at the face of a disaster they experienced,” said Acri president Sammi Michael.

Mr Lieberman’s party also wants to introduce a loyalty pledge, which would demand that Israeli-Arabs swear allegiance to Israel as a “Jewish, Zionist and democratic” state, before they can be issued with their ID papers.

Israel Beiteinu spokesman Tal Nahum said the measure would be discussed by the cabinet on Sunday and the first parliamentary vote would be the following Wednesday.

raised concerns during Israeli military operations in Gaza in January and December that some Israeli-Arabs were openly expressing sympathy with Hamas — which controls Gaza and which launches militant attacks on Israel and which, in its charter, is sworn to the state’s destruction.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


Israel: Right-Wing Party Wants “Oath” to State

(ANSAmed) — JERUSALEM, MAY 25 — The Israeli extreme-right party Israel Beitenu (IB), led by Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, has proposed a law which would require all the country’s inhabitants to take an oath of loyalty to the Israeli state. The draft law will be voted on by the government next week before being presented to the Knesset. In addition to the oath, the draft law will require signers to declare their loyalty “to the State of Israel as a Jewish, Democratic and Zionist State, to its symbols and values,” and to “serve the country according to the latter’s needs, including military or civil service, in accordance with the law.” If the law passes, it will allow the interior minister to refuse to issue such things as identity cards or passports to those who have not signed the statement, and even the right to revoke their citizenship. The law, bound to give rise to controversy, will affect a million and a half Arabs, at least some of whom do not agree with the Jewish nature of the state. It will also affect ultra-orthodox Jews who oppose the Israeli State due to its being a secular creation and not the work of the Messiah. The Israeli Association for Civil Rights has called the law “clearly fascist”, and said that it violates democracy and fundamental human rights. In order to become law, the bill will have to be approved by the Knesset in three readings and the likelihood of its getting through the entire legislative procedure is held to be low. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Israel Drops Warning Pamphlets Over Gaza

Palestinians told to stay away from border; box of leaflets hits, injures boy

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Israeli aircraft have scattered pamphlets over the Gaza Strip warning residents to stay away from the border.

The heavily guarded border is the scene of sporadic fighting between militants and Israeli troops. Israeli forces killed two Palestinian fighters in a clash on Friday.

The Arabic pamphlets warn Gazans to stay out of areas 300 meters to 500 meters (yards) from the border fence, saying they risk being shot.

The Israeli military had no comment. The military has scattered similar warning pamphlets in the past.

Gaza’s Health Ministry says a 10-year-old boy was struck by a box of leaflets and moderately hurt during Monday’s airdrop.

Violence has largely subsided in Gaza following an Israeli offensive last January.

           — Hat tip: Vlad Tepes[Return to headlines]


Israel: Muslims Vandalize Christian Graves

Crosses smashed: ‘We don’t feel safe anymore’

JERUSALEM — Palestinian Christians in a normally quiet village are reeling from a series of grave desecrations this week that they say are indicative of intimidation tactics from the town’s growing Muslim population. “Christians don’t feel free anymore.

“Our way of life is changing while the Muslim population grows,” a local Christian told WND. The Christian would only give his first name, Anis, for fear of Muslim retaliation if he speaks out. He pointed out there are several other Anis’s in his village, Jisna, which is located near the West Bank city of Ramallah.

This week, 70 Christian grave sites in Jisna were vandalized, with the crosses on top of the graves found smashed off, local Christians told WND.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


U.N. Fabricated Crisis Like Gun to Israel’s Back

International body exposed in blockbuster new book

JERUSALEM — The United Nations is perpetuating a fabricated “refugee” crisis with the aim of destroying Israel’s existence as a Jewish state, charges a recently released blockbuster book.

In “The Late Great State of Israel,” author and WND Jerusalem bureau chief Aaron Klein documents how the U.N. created a separate, massive agency to sustain and fuel a self-generated Palestinian “refugee” crisis, and how, Klein argues, the issue is pointed like a gun at Israel’s back.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Middle East

Arab Fury Over Push to Ban Mourning Day

ARAB members of the Israeli parliament have reacted angrily to the introduction of legislation that would make it illegal for Palestinians to mark Israel’s Independence Day as a day of mourning, or Nakba Day.

The private members bill was introduced by Alex Miller, a member of the Israel Our Home party of the controversial Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman.

The bill would prohibit anyone from holding events or activities that aimed to mark Independence Day as a time of mourning or sorrow, with punishment of up to three years’ imprisonment.

The Deputy Foreign Minister, Danny Ayalon, who was Israel’s ambassador to the United States from 2002 to 2006, strongly backed the legislation. “Any other country in the world would not stand by while its celebrations of independence are turned into a memorial service.”

The bill faces strong opposition from the left and from some members of the Likud party of the Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. The chairman of the Labor Party, Ehud Barak, refused to say whether he would oppose it.

Arab MP Afo Agbaria criticised the anti-Nakba legislation as “no less severe than the laws enacted by the Third Reich”. “Israel is gradually becoming an apartheid state. I won’t be surprised if in the future the Netanyahu-Lieberman Government imposes additional restrictions on Arab citizens, including the use of Arabic language,” he said.

Another Arab MP, Jamal Zahalka, described the proposed legislation as a “crazy bill by a crazy government”.

The 1948 Israeli-Arab war, which ended in a comprehensive Jewish victory, is called the War of Independence by Israelis and al-Nakba, the catastrophe, by Palestinians, hundreds of thousands of whom fled or were driven from their homes by the war.

With more legislation in the wings requiring all citizens of Israel to perform a loyalty oath, or face expulsion from the country, many Jewish MPs have criticised the proposed legislation as divisive and warned that it could it provoke violent confrontation between the country’s Jewish and Arab population.

The proposed laws regarding the loyalty oath makes the receipt of a national identification card for all people born in Israel conditional on signing a statement and taking a loyalty oath.

The law would then give the interior minister the power to revoke the citizenship of any person who fails to fulfil their commitment to serve in the Israel Defence Forces or perform alternative national service.

Labor MP Yuli Tamir said the “string of proposals brought forth by Israel Our Home is intended to cause unrest within the Israeli-Arab community and will lead Israel into a confrontation that will see waves of hate and violence that Israel Our Home thrives on”.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, said he would make Israeli refusal to halt the growth of Jewish settlements in the West Bank the focus of his talks with the US President, Barack Obama, when they meet in the Oval Office tomorrow.

On Monday, Mr Netanyahu indicated that dealing with Iran was more important than dealing with illegal settlement outposts, but conceded that making concessions to the Palestinians would make it easier to halt Iran’s nuclear program.

The Israeli daily newspaper Maariv reported yesterday that Mr Netanyahu was struggling to balance the pressure being exerted by the US for peace with the Palestinians against pressure coming from the right of his party that is steadfastly opposed to a two-state solution.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


EU: Swedish Foreign Minister, Europe Needs Turkey

(ANSAmed) — PARIS, 25 MAY — Europe “has an important strategic interest for Turkey to be oriented towards it. If Europe closes the door on Turkey, we would be encouraging nationalist tendencies in the other direction and we would send a very negative signal to the rest of the world,” said Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, whose country will step in as rotating EU president on July 1. In an interview with Le Figaro, Bildt said that he understands that the entrance of a country that will have the highest population and therefore will have a substantial economic weight into the Union “could cause worries. “All EU enlargement has created fear and opposition and each enlargement has been a success. Europe has transformed with each enlargement and today it is more efficient than ever as a whole,” said Bildt. This is why over the next decades “we will need the economic and demographic energy of Turkey. Furthermore, with Turkey, Europe could play a significant role in reconciliation with the Muslim world. If we consider Cyprus to be a part of Europe, which is an island off the coast of Syria, it is difficult to say that Turkey is not in Europe.” (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


French President Sarkozy Opens UAE Base

President Nicolas Sarkozy has formally opened a French military base in the United Arab Emirates, France’s first permanent base in the Gulf.

The flags of France and the UAE were raised at a ceremony at the so-called “Peace Camp” in the Abu Dhabi emirate.

France is a leading military supplier to the Gulf state, and signed a nuclear co-operation agreement last year.

Its new base will host up to 500 French troops and include a navy base, air base, and training camp.

The BBC’s Stephanie Hancock in Abu Dhabi says the new military base, France’s first outside its own territory for many years, comes on the back of strengthening diplomatic and military ties between France and the United Arab Emirates.

The 500 troops will be there on a support and training capacity, rather than taking part in actual military operations.

But our correspondent says the base will provide all-important reassurance to the Emirates, which, along with many of its Arab neighbours, is concerned about the nuclear threat posed by Iran.

“Be assured that France is on your side in the event your security is at risk,” Mr Sarkozy said in an interview with the UAE’s official news agency.

“Through this base — the first in the Middle East — France is ready to shoulder its responsibilities to ensure stability in this strategic region.”

An aide to Mr Sarkozy is quoted by AFP news agency linking the base to an alleged Iranian threat: “We are deliberately taking a deterrent stance. If Iran were to attack, we would effectively be attacked also.”

Correspondents say the base has drawn some criticism in French political circles for just that reason, with centrist politician Francois Bayrou warning that France risked being dragged into a regional war.

Business partnership

Mr Sarkozy flew to Abu Dhabi on Monday with four ministers and a delegation of senior businesspeople.

He opened the visit by dining with Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammad bin Zayed al-Nahyan.

Officials said talks are continuing over the possible sale of 60 new Rafale jets to the UAE in a deal worth up to eight billion euros ($11bn).

The multi-role Rafale — which has yet to find a foreign buyer — could replace the Emirates’ fleet of French Mirage 2000 combat planes.

In addition to the inauguration of Peace Camp, Nicolas Sarkozy will visit the site of a Louvre Museum branch which France is opening in the United Arab Emirates.

The US maintains the predominant foreign military presence in the Gulf, with key air bases and logistics operations, and its Fifth Fleet housed in Bahrain.

However, Peace Camp gives France a strategic position on the vital Gulf shipping corridor, which carries about 40% of the world’s petroleum supplies.

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


Iran Sends Six Warships to International Waters

Iran has sent six warships to international waters, including the Gulf of Aden, to show its ability to confront any foreign threats, its naval commander said on Monday.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Iran Arrests 104 “Devil Worshippers”: Report

TEHRAN (Reuters) — Iranian security forces have arrested 104 “devil worshippers” and seized drugs and alcohol during a party in a southern city, a semi-official news agency reported Monday.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Iran: Imminent Execution for Teen Offender

Tehran, 25 May (AKI) — An Iranian youth alleged to have committed murder when he was 15 years old is to be hanged on Wednesday, rights group Iran Human Rights said on their website. Mohammedreza Haddadi, now 20 years-old, is due to be executed on 27 May at the Adelabad prison in the southwestern city of Shiraz, said his lawyer Mohammad Mostafei.

Mostafei said he had not been informed of the execution and only learned about it through his client’s family.

Mostafaei says Haddadi (photo) is innocent and that his client confessed to the murder because of his poverty and young age.

On 9 October 2008, a previous order of execution was halted after an order from the head of the Iranian judiciary.

According to IHR, three minor offenders have been executed in Iran since the beginning of 2009.

Iran has ratified international treaties including the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which forbids capital punishment for underage youths who commit crimes.

In Iran young men are considered to be adults from the age of 14 and young women from the age of eight and a half, and therefore responsible for any crimes that they commit.

Iran has one of the highest rates of capital punishment in the world. The government insists that it is a deterrence for crime.

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


Jordan Jails Thousands Without Trials, HRW Report Says

(by Mohammad Ben Hussein) (ANSAmed) — AMMAN, MAY 26 — Human Rights Watch on Tuesday urged Jordan to end administrative detention that allows authorities to put suspects behind bars indefinitely without trial, insisting such practice is widespread and often used for personal vendetta by police authorities. In a report under the title: ‘Guests of the Governor: Administrative Detention Undermines Rule of Law in Jordan,’ the London based agency said the practice is used against crime victims, personal enemies and people freed by the courts “Governors and other high officials shouldn’t be able to lock people up on vague suspicions of improper behavior,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “This is an invitation to abuse,” he said in a statement distributed during a press conference in Amman, noting that there are at least 10,000 new cases of administrative detention each year. Among every five inmates there is at least one administrative detainee. The group urged the government to cancel ‘The Crime Prevention Law’, which grants governors the authority to detain persons who are “a danger to the people,” insisting the term is an excessively vague term that opens the door to routine abuse. “Governors frequently issue such orders against prisoners whose sentences have expired, persons arrested on suspicion of a crime but to whom judges have granted bail, and persons who may have prior criminal convictions,” added the group. “Governors should not be able to overrule the courts by jailing people who judges have said can safely remain free,” Stork said. According to the report governors have jailed victims of crimes instead of the perpetrators. Some women threatened with family violence have spent over ten years in administrative detention, allegedly for their own “protection.” Governors have similarly detained victims of threats of tribal revenge. Street vendors, usually men, are also susceptible to administrative detention. In several cases, governors or their assistants abused their powers of detention by arresting persons against whom they had a personal grudge, said the report. “The government has ignored calls over the past four years by Jordanian rights activists, including the National Center for Human Rights, to review the practice of administrative detention,” added Stork, who also blasted prison guards for helping the injustice prevail. He aded administrative detainees commonly go on hunger strike to try to seek a review of their cases, but prison wardens often deny hunger strikers access to water, in violation of international prison standards, in order to shorten the duration of the strikes. “The cries for release from administrative detainees on hunger strikes are the human face of the breakdown of independent judicial oversight over governors’ powers to detain persons almost at will,” said Stork. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


June is the Cruelest Month

by Barry Rubin

April, wrote T.S. Elliott, is the cruelest month of all. But for hopes of peace, freedom, and moderation in the Middle East, June will play that role this year.

In Iran, Ahmadinejad backed by the spiritual guide is about to be reelected. In Lebanon, a regime backed by Iran and Syria is about to be installed.

It shouldn’t be that way. Remember the famous sign in the Clinton for President Headquarters back in 1992, which said, “It’s the economy, stupid,” as the main issue? Well, in the Middle East the equivalent sign would say, “It’s the Islamist revolutions, stupid.”

And yet instead we see strategies based on a desire to believe or do anything to avoid confronting this great challenge, this uninvited battle that is sure to take up the rest of our lifetimes and very possibly much of this century’s first half.

The head are very deep in the sand. For to fit into the mainstream of Western analysis and strategy about the Middle East, you must:

Pretend that a two-state solution is possible with a mostly radical Palestinian Authority and a far more extreme Hamas running Gaza, neither having done any preparation for real compromise and a lasting peace.

Pretend that this solution-which isn’t going to happen—will solve all other problems, as if personal and state ambition, ethnic conflict, ideological battles, and all sorts of disputes didn’t exist in the region which have nothing to do with this. Not to mention that fact that any compromise peace would actually enrage large elements of opinion and galvanize the Islamists into even more violence.

Pretend that Iran’s regime will be talked out of having nuclear weapons by either the charm of Western leaders or relatively limited sanctions when Tehran already knows everything is a big bluff.

Pretend that Islamists can be moderated when they think they’re winning, believe themselves to be following the will of the deity, and see daily proof that their rivals are eager to make concessions.

Pretend that Syria can be wooed into changing course when it is so dependent on its alliance with the Iranian regime, thinks that it’s on the winning side, and tightening its control over Lebanon.

Pretend that Hizballah and Hamas will settle down into moderation disciplined by the task of governing, the same theory discredited by the behavior of the PLO, Fatah, and the Palestinian Authority over the last 16 years…

           — Hat tip: Barry Rubin[Return to headlines]


OPEC to Keep Current Oil Quotas: Saudi Minister

The OPEC oil cartel is likely to maintain current production quotas at its meeting in Vienna this week, Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Nuaimi said Tuesday on his arrival in the Austrian capital.

“We will stay the course,” the minister, whose country is OPEC’s biggest oil producer, told journalists as he arrived at his hotel ahead of Thursday’s meeting of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries.

Asked if there was a consensus on this position among members of the group, Nuaimi replied: “We will know that on Thursday when we meet.”

He also said that oil prices should rise to 75 US dollars per barrel, “we hope between the third and fourth quarter” of this year.

OPEC, which pumps some 40 percent of global oil supply, has steadily cut production since late last year in a bid to steady prices which have tumbled from record highs above 147 US dollars per barrel in July 2008.

Asked if he was worried about rising oil stocks, al-Nuaimi admitted Tuesday: “Yes, always.”

Industrialised nations in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development had 62 days’ worth of stocks, which he said was too high.

“We would like it to be 53 days,” al-Nuaimi said, noting that this would happen “over time.”

On Sunday, Algerian Energy Minister Chakib Khelil predicted that the OPEC ministers would maintain current production quotas.

“We need the world economy to pick up again and I think maintaining the status quo goes in that direction,” he said on the margins of a meeting of G8 energy ministers in Rome.

“Maintaining the status quo, given that prices are rising, is a wise solution. Why… break the cycle of growth that we are already seeing on the horizon?” he added, noting that a consensus was building among OPEC members.

The price of oil must eventually reach “between 70 and 90 US dollars,” he also said.

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia was similarly optimistic about the future of oil market in an interview with Kuwaiti daily Assiyassa published Tuesday.

“Oil prices dropped for well-known reasons which could never happen again in the future,” he said, referring to the global economic meltdown.

“We are currently seeing a fast recovery for the global economy and are seeing indications of a higher demand for oil,” he added.

In its last monthly report, OPEC had noted “the persistent contraction in demand” and again reduced its forecast for world crude demand.

Late Tuesday, oil prices rose again above 60 US dollars after early weakness, as traders took direction from better-than-expected positive US consumer confidence data.

New York’s main futures contract, light sweet crude for delivery in July, rose three cents to 61.70 US dollars a barrel, having earlier fallen as low as 59.53 US dollars.

London’s Brent North Sea crude for July added 50 cents to 60.71 US dollars.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


Saudi Arabia: King Says ‘Fair’ Oil Price Between 75-80 Dollars

Riyadh, 26 May (AKI) — Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud said on Tuesday that a fair price of oil was between 75 and 80 dollars a barrel. “We still believe that a fair price is 75 dollars and perhaps 80 dollars a barrel, especially now,” said the king in an interview with Kuwaiti daily al-Siyassa.

“The issue of fluctuating prices is governed by developments and conditions of the world markets. These (prices) are bound to stabilise at a higher price for oil in the future,” said Abdullah.

Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter and producer, has been hard hit by plunging oil prices, which last summer reached a peak of 147 dollars per barreal.

The price of crude oil was trading at just below 60 dollars on the global market early Tuesday.

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


Turkey: Erdogan Attacks the Past, Labels Kemalist Ethnic Cleansing Fascist

In a clear reference to the Greek and Armenian minorities, the premier attacks blind nationalism that does not want to question the past. Appreciation for Erdogan’s words from the Greeks, Armenians and western diplomats. Now everyone wants facts to follow words.

Istanbul (AsiaNews) —Turkey’s Prime Minister Tayyp Erdogan has dealt what is being described as a “historic” blow to the kemalist establishment describing their “cleansing of minorities” during Turkey’s foundation as “fascist”. Currently there is a law in act in the country that forbids any attack on the Nation, rendering all historic verification into the Greek and Armenian genocide no-go areas.

On May 23rd last, during a party congress in Düzce, western turkey, the premier reacted to criticism from opposition parties about an Israeli tender for a mine clearing operation along the Turkey-Syria border.

“This is the Fascist mentality and behaviour of the past” said Erdogan, underlining the importance of foreign investment in Turkey. “It is easy to say — he added — that we are loosing our Turkish identity, because the foreign investment in our country involves nations which profess a different religion to ours”.

“For many years — he continued — various facts took place in this country to the detriment of ethnic minorities who lived here. They were ethnically cleansed because they had a different ethnic cultural identity. The time has arrived for us to question ourselves about why this happened and what we have learned from all of this. There has been no analysis of this right up until now”.

“In reality — he concluded — this behaviour is the result of a fascist conception. We have also fallen into this grave error”.

Erdogan’s declaration follows six months after those by Defence Minister Mehmet Vecdi Gonul. On November 10th last, the anniversary of the death of Atatürk, he underlined that Turkey’s foundation came at the cost of the systematic persecution of minorities and the subsequent expropriation of their economic resources, from which the current Turkish business class was born. Gonul also added: “Of course, with a large Greek and Armenian presence across Turkish territory, Turkey would not have its current national identity”.

This last sentence provoked strong indignation among minorities and the International community.

What remains a fact however is that with Erdogan’s declaration, press in Turkey is beginning to talk about “historical self-criticism”.

The newspaper Apogevmatini, of Istanbul’s Greek minority — also a victim of ethnic cleansing — Mihalis Vassilaidis writes “it is a day of celebration for all of us”.

Ridvan Akar, of Vatan, has often written about the methods of persecution used on Christian minorities during the foundation of modern Turkey in 1923. He comments: “Minority rights as well as those of religious foundations are a structural problem within the Turkish state. Of course Erdogan has taken a step forward with this declaration. But the sincerity of his words will depend on facts to back them up such as the restitution of rights to those who have been expelled, the return of confiscated properties, or compensation”.

Not even Patriarch Bartholomew I misses the opportunity to remind those who will listen: “Finally it must be understood that we are not a minority, but citizens of this nation and as such we must be treated”.

Lakis Vigas, a member of the community representative assembly at the General Directorate for Foundations told AsiaNews: “We hope that this important declaration by the prime minister is also taken on board by the public administration”.

Erdogan’s declaration has also reawakened the interest of diplomatic circles who hope for a real break through in drawing Ankara closer to the EU. But this too will have to wait for facts to back up the words.

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


UAE: Abu Dhabi Mulls 100% Foreign-Owned Property

(ANSAmed) — DUBAI — Abu Dhabi is taking into consideration the possibility of allowing foreigners to hold full ownership of some future projects as well as ones currently being built in the United Arab Emirates, Nasser al Hamad al Suwaidi (chairman of the Department for Economic Development) was quoted as saying to the daily paper Emirates Business. Al Suwadi said that the general feeling was towards “guaranteeing total ownership to foreign investors in several industries, as well as a number of projects,” while at the same time stressing that “ownership would concern the projects themselves and not the land on which they are built.” Dubai has already successfully brought in the same strategy for its construction sector with the creation of “freehold zones”, selected residential areas where foreigners can not only hold full ownership of the buildings but also that of the land.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Russia

Back Into the Cold

by Mark Hackard

The United States and Russia appear to be gearing up for a second round of the Cold War. Washington still hopes to extend its reach deep into Moscow’s zone of interests, and the Russians intend to resist. Most of the action will be characterized by espionage and covert operations, but the clash is more than just a grudge match over territory and pipelines. Like the previous conflict, Cold War II will be defined by ideology…

[…]

Beyond geopolitics, the antagonism between Washington and Moscow has experienced a reversal of roles in the arena of ideology.. From the 1917 October Revolution, Soviet Russia embodied the most radical force bent on transforming the world. Communism at once attracted factory workers and track layers, Western intellectuals and colonial liberationists. The commissars in the Kremlin declared the ideas of Marx and Lenin as scientific teachings delineating mankind’s path to a radiant future.

How times have changed! When Russia today opposes Kosovo independence or articulates its regional role in terms of history, culture, and ethnic solidarity, it looks downright counterrevolutionary.

Russia’s secret services also provide an example of shifts in ideology. Soviet intelligence once composed the vanguard of atheistic socialism. The Cheka and its successors knew no equal in ruthlessness or professional skill. Through the recruitment of agents in the West and various means of subversion, Moscow’s spies were charged with ensuring the eventual triumph of World Revolution. By the reasoning of dialectical materialism, any method, fair or foul, could be justified to advance the Communist cause. The Bolshevik sack of Heaven would be preceded by secret police infiltration.

Today Russia’s counterintelligence service, the FSB, maintains an Orthodox Church on the grounds of its headquarters at Lubyanka Square. It is nonetheless remarkable to see one of the Soviet Union’s top cold warriors profess Orthodox Christianity and call for the rebirth of tradition in Russian society. Nikolai Leonov wasn’t just any KGB officer; he was Moscow’s original point man for contacts with Ernesto “Che” Guevara and the Castro brothers before the Cuban Revolution. He would later run the KGB’s analysis directorate and become deputy chief of foreign intelligence. In possession of accurate information on the state of affairs in the USSR, Leonov knew in the 1970s that the outlook was grim. By the time of the Soviet collapse, Marxism-Leninism had been the organizing principle in Russia for three quarters of a century and the results were in.

[…]

In the U.S.-Soviet competition, the Bolshevik ideology was more radical than liberalism, but only in a relative sense. Both systems affirm only material realities and lead man to spiritual desolation. With the defeat of Communism, Washington could attend to the enforcement of its own transnational vision. U.S. foreign policy has functioned as an instrument of revolution, from the “humanitarian” bombing of Serbia to attempts to reform Muslim societies and Islam itself.

Living up to its revolutionary nature, liberal internationalism shares a series of practices with its vanquished Soviet rival. Most noteworthy is a heavy reliance on covert action. Institutes such as Freedom House and the National Endowment for Democracy act as vehicles for regime change, just as Western labor unions and political parties were once manipulated by the Comintern.

The 2003 Rose Revolution in Georgia and the 2004 Orange Revolution in Ukraine, as well as other uprisings, were not as spontaneous as portrayed. Both ideologies also have a record of using armed intervention as a means of social engineering. The invasion of a foreign state such as Afghanistan or Iraq is widely hailed as liberation, while counterinsurgency is a sure way to bring the grateful natives into the fold of progressive humanity.

U.S. foreign policy is carried out under the banner of progress, not only for rhetorical purposes, but because American leadership in “expanding the frontiers of freedom” is taken as a matter of faith. A radiant future for humanity is the promise of all modern ideology, though it varies in its forms. What is constant is a materialist reductionism that divorces man from the realm of the spirit. In this way individuals and entire peoples are deprived of uniqueness, traditions, and their place in the Cosmos. Global democratic capitalism, administered by our enlightened elites, corrodes faith, family and culture just as surely as Soviet state socialism. Marx’s appeal to the proletariat has given way to the equally soulless and inane “Consumers of the world unite!”

A discussion of man’s place in the Universe might seem far afield from talk of a second Cold War, but it is intimately connected. Beneath the dynamics of US-Russian strategic rivalry is an underlying battle of ideas. However inadvertently, the conversions of former KGB men can remind us of our own religious tradition, obscured by modernity but not yet lost. The secular parody of universal brotherhood, dedicated to accumulation and enjoyment, only leaves us isolated from each other and the source of life itself. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn asks a decadent West:

“Is it true that man is above everything? Is there no Superior Spirit above him? Is it right that man’s life and society’s activities have to be determined by material expansion in the first place? Is it permissible to promote such expansion to the detriment of our spiritual integrity?”

We are haunted by the specter of another Cold War, but such a standoff is not inevitable. Russia is not a foreordained enemy, and it has no vital security interests that clash with those of the United States. In order to avoid the danger of renewed conflict, it’s time to reevaluate both the “lifestyle choices” and policies we have long celebrated. At the present moment, the revolutionary fantasies of unlimited consumption and world empire are leading America from one disaster to the next.

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


Russia Signs Uranium Contract With US Companies

MOSCOW — Russia’s uranium export company signed a groundbreaking $1 billion package of contracts Tuesday to supply three U.S. utilities with enriched fuel for nuclear power plants, Russian atomic industry officials said.

State-run Tekhsnabexport, or Tenex, will supply U.S. markets with nuclear fuel enriched from raw uranium for the first time, Tekhsnabexport marketing executive Vadim Mikerin told The Associated Press.

Tenex signed contracts to provide enriched uranium fuel to San Francisco, California-based Pacific Gas & Electric Company; St. Louis, Missouri-based AmerenUE; and Dallas, Texas-based Luminant, said Sergei Novikov, spokesman for the state nuclear agency Rosatom.

The companies are part of a group called Fuelco, he said.

Tenex will supply fuel to the U.S. utilities from 2014 through 2020 under the contracts, which provide the option for renewal, Novikov told the AP. He said the deals will help each company supply electricity to 5 million households.

“It is very significant because it begins new relations between Tenex and American companies operating nuclear power plants,” Novikov said.

“Until this very moment we did not have direct contracts for enrichment services supplies,” he added.

Fuel previously supplied by Russia had been extracted from old nuclear weapons and diluted for commercial use, under a deal aimed at keeping Russian nuclear materials off black markets. That agreement, known as “Megatons for Megawatts,” expires in 2013.

Russia is already the biggest single supplier of uranium fuel to U.S. nuclear plants, but it has been barred from expanding those supplies because of protectionist measures imposed by Washington after the Soviet collapse.

Tenex director Alexei Grigoryev said the deals would enable the company to increase its share of fuel supplies for U.S. nuclear power plants from 23 percent now to as much as 30 percent, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported.

Some U.S. power companies have been pushing for broader access to enriched uranium from Russia for years, saying they need more diverse supplies. Russia is seeking to further expand its role at all levels of the global nuclear power industry, from uranium mining to power-plant construction.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

South Asia

Bangladesh: The First Time in History: A Woman is Chief Officer of Police

Her name is Hosne Ara Begum and she has been in the police force since 1981. Human rights activist Khushi Kabir: A very important fact for a chauvinist and Islamic society such as Bangladesh.

Dhaka (Asia News) — For the first time in the history of Bangladesh a woman is chief of a police division. Hosne Ara Begum has been appointed chief officer to a division in the capital Dhaka, as of May 18th. She started her career with the Bangladesh police in 1981 and has worked in many regions of Bangladesh, in different police jurisdictions and departments, including the Intelligence Branch of the Bangladesh police.

Women first entered the country’s police force in 1974. Then there were only 14, now there are 1,937, and among them 1,331 police constables. Contacted by AsiaNews, Begun said she is “really lucky to be the first female Office-in-Charge and to be a positive part of history in Bangladesh. I have been given the chance to prove my commitment to the nation once more”.

For Khushi Kabir, a prominent human rights activist, Begun’s appointment is an important sign for discrimination against women. “We have experienced in the past that, under police custody, women were being raped by police officers themselves” states Kabir, affirming that even among the police there is “impunity after violating the law or human rights”, particularly the rights of women.

A report of the local human rights organization Odhikar says that 5,816 women and children were raped between 2001 and 2007. Among the victims, 636 women were killed and 69 committed suicide after being raped. Also, 1,024 women were victims of acid burns and 1,884 were subjected to dowry-related violence. Of those, 1,241 were killed, 479 were tortured, 61 sustained acid injuries, and 95 committed suicide.

Kabir says “the appointment of the first female OC in the Bangladesh police force is a good sign of positive change for a chauvinist and Islamic society such as Bangladesh”. The human rights activist adds that “the government should take the initiative to adequately educate the population on the rights of citizens and the responsibilities of the police through media and all other available means”.

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


Punjab Riots After Vienna Killing

Riots have broken out across the Indian state of Punjab after a preacher from an Indian sect was killed by a rival Sikh group in Austria.

Within hours of the incident in Vienna, thousands of Sikhs took to the streets, clashing with police and setting fire to buildings, vehicles and a train.

At least two men were killed when the security forces opened fire on crowds near the city of Jalandhar, police say.

The army has marched through the city, where a curfew is in force.

However thousands of protesters carrying swords, steel rods and sticks defied the curfew on Monday.

Major highways were blocked by bonfires of tyres and sticks. Trains were attacked in several places.

Police said they had fired at rioting mobs in Jalandhar after coming under attack. At least four people were wounded.

One man was shot dead as police dispersed a crowd in the nearby town of Lambran. Police say they arrested six people for arson.

In the Sikh holy city of Amritsar, police fired tear gas after protesters burned dozens of buses.

The Delhi-Lahore bus was stopped near the town of Ludhiana as a precautionary measure.

Violent demonstrations have also been reported in the towns of Patiala, Ferozepur, Bathinda and Nawanshahr.

Appeal for calm

Chief Minister of Punjab Prakash Singh Badal has called an all-party meeting on Tuesday and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has appealed for calm.

“I am deeply distressed by the outbreak of violence in Punjab following certain incidents in Vienna, Austria,” Mr Singh, himself a Sikh, said in a statement

“Whatever the provocation, it is important to maintain peace and harmony among different sections of the people.”

The disturbances were triggered by the death of preacher Sant Rama Nand during a religious ceremony in Vienna on Sunday.

He was attacked by six men armed with knives and a pistol and succumbed to his wounds in hospital early on Monday.

Another preacher, Sant Nirajnan Dass, who was among 15 other people injured, is said to be stable.

Both the preachers were from a breakaway sect which has a large following in parts of Punjab and had travelled to Vienna to conduct a special service.

The BBC’s Sanjoy Majumder, in Delhi, says several Sikh groups had apparently opposed his presence and threatened violence.

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


The Taliban Advances

‘If We Now Kill Schoolgirls, You Shouldn’t Be Surprised’

Responding to threats from the Taliban, at least 10 girls’ schools have shut down near Kunduz in northern Afghanistan. Visiting the schools is a dangerous proposition — a trip leading directly into the heart of Islamist territory.

When the deputy director of Aqtash High School talks of the government, he isn’t referring to Hamid Karzai’s central government in Kabul. Nor does he refer to the provincial administration in Kunduz. “The Taliban are our government,” Bashir says. “They have taken over our region, their commanders give the orders here.”…

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

Far East

China’s Communist Party Increasingly Powerless to Tackle Corruption

Corruption spreads at every level despite great efforts trying to rein it in. officials in 13 cities steal 120 billion yuan earmarked for sea clean up. Criticism is growing in the population.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) — A growing number of Communist Party officials at different levels are involved in corruption scandals despite attempts by the central leadership to crackdown on the problem. For this reason the Central Committee of the Politburo of the Communist Party has recently adopted a new, more stringent accountability policy for officials. Tighter controls will apply to the officials’ work but also their sense of responsibility and collective interests.

Scandals however are breaking out in large numbers, proof that corruption has become an endemic problem. The latest case involves a low-level official in Badong, Hubei, who was killed by a pedicurist, 21, after he allegedly tried to force her to provide “special services”, a euphemism for sex.

Internet has become a venue where many average Chinese are venting their frustration at the state of affairs, expressing views in support of a crackdown on official corruption and immorality.

Sometimes embezzlement cases can reach gigantic proportions before they are revealed.

Last Friday the National Audit Office reported that the State Oceanic Administration and 13 city administrations had stolen 120 billion yuan (US$ 17 billion) which had been set aside to clean up the Bohai Gulf.

As a result of the massive theft only half of the planned 230 water treatment plants were actually built and many substandard.

Despite all this State Oceanic Administration officials in Beijing have continued to approve large coastal construction projects that have a huge impact on the marine environment.

In some provinces probes have shown that corruption is not an isolated problem involving a few rogue officials, but goes to the heart of the system of power.

In Shanghai last year, scandal swept the Communist Party to its core, causing the fall of local party chief Chen Liangyu (pictured) who was sentenced to 18 years in prison for bribery and abuse of power in relation to embezzled pension funds.

Dozens of party officials of all levels were also sacked or tried for their role in the scandal.

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


Japan Panel Wants “First Strikes” Against Enemies: Report

TOKYO (Reuters) — A Japanese ruling party panel is to propose that pre-emptive strikes against enemy bases be allowed despite the country’s pacifist constitution, Kyodo news agency said on Monday, weeks after a North Korean missile launch.

North Korea fired a ballistic missile in April that flew over northern Japan after warning that it planned to launch a satellite, prompting the government to deploy missile interceptors to the area .

“Japan should have the ability to strike enemy bases within the scope of its defense-oriented policy, in order not to sit and wait for death,” Kyodo quoted the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) committee as saying in its proposal.

The committee also plans to call for Japan to develop early-warning satellites to detect the launch of missiles toward the country, Kyodo said.. Japan currently depends on information from a U.S. early-warning satellite, the agency said.

While some lawmakers have called for strike capability, Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada is among those are cautious about the prospect, though the government’s stance is that such strikes should be allowed if an attack were certain to take place.

The panel’s plans are set to be submitted for consideration ahead of the compilation of a five-year government Defense program by the end of the year, Kyodo said.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


Japan to Relax Arms Export Ban: Report

TOKYO (AFP) — Japan has decided to relax its self-imposed ban on arms exports to allow more joint development and production of weapons with other nations, a report said Sunday.

The new measure would “enable shipments to countries with which Japan co-develops arms,” said the Nikkei newspaper without citing sources.

“The move is aimed at reducing procurement costs and stimulating the domestic defence industry by promoting joint development and production of key arms, such as next-generation fighter jets, with the US and Europe,” it said.

By taking a more active role in US or European military development programmes, Japan hopes to reduce the purchasing cost of major equipment such as jets, the Nikkei said.

Tokyo however would continue to prohibit arms exports to nations that are state sponsors of terrorism, violate the human rights of their citizens or lack sufficient controls over arms sales, the Nikkei said.

Japan currently bans almost all weapons exports, except for special cases such as those relating to the joint development of a missile defence system with the United States.

The report came as the world’s second-largest economy is increasingly scaling up its military power and seeking a greater role on global and regional security issues.

Tokyo, which sees itself as a top target for nuclear-armed North Korea, has spent some 700 billion yen (7.1 billion dollars) on its own missile defence system, developed with the United States.

Japan deployed the system last month as a preventive measure after North Korea launched what Pyongyang called “a satellite”. The United States, Seoul and Tokyo said it staged a disguised ballistic missile test.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Sub-Saharan Africa

Girl Receives Damages for Genital Mutilation

A 19-year-old girl in Gothenburg has been awarded compensation after having been subjected to genital mutilation in Somalia as an 11-year-old.

The girl was awarded 390,000 kronor ($52,000) in damages for abuse and gross violation of integrity (grov fridskränkning), the Crime Victim Compensation and Support Authority (Brottsoffermyndigheten) has announced.

Then 11-years-old, the girl was taken on holiday to Somalia in 2001. While there she was subjected to genital mutilation.

She was held down by her mother and two other women while her clitoris and inner labia were removed by a man in return for payment.

The girl’s vagina was then sewn up down to the opening of her urethra. The whole procedure was conducted without anaesthetic.

For several years after the violation the girl was subjected to repeated examinations by her mother who forced her fingers into her vagina to check that her virginity remained intact.

She also repeatedly assaulted her daughter with various implements including books, a curtain rail and a belt.

The girl’s mother later explained in her court trial that the girl was taken to Somalia to be “cleansed”.

The mother was later convicted for the violation in the Court of Appeal (Hovrätten) and ordered to pay her daughter 450,000 kronor in compensation.

In its decision to award the damages to the 19-year-old the Crime Victim Compensation and Support Authority wrote that the “genital mutilation resembled torture and was intended to limit her possibilities to have a normal sex life.”

For the “exceptionally serious violation of her personal integrity” and the subsequent abuse, the girl was awarded a total of 390,000 kronor.

The authority will also later consider whether the girl is entitled to further damages for pain and suffering.

           — Hat tip: Lexington[Return to headlines]

Latin America

Brazil OKs Extradition of Drug Lord to US

BRASILIA, Brazil — Brazil’s Supreme Court approved the extradition to the United States of a Colombian-born drug lord accused of running one of the world’s largest drug smuggling operations, the court said Friday.

Pablo Rayo Montano was accused by the United States of being one of the world’s 10 most powerful drug traffickers, allegedly responsible for smuggling 15 tons of cocaine a month to the U.S. and Europe from the 1990s until his arrest in Brazil in 2006. At the time, U.S. officials compared his organization’s scope to that of late drug lord Pablo Escobar.

The Brazilian court was looking into another extradition request from Panama, but late Thursday it decided to grant the one made by the United States because it arrived earlier.

The American request included an international drug trafficking conspiracy charge and a money laundering conspiracy charge, but Supreme Court Justice Marco Aurelio Mello said the court did not consider them because Brazilian law requires three or more people to be part of a conspiracy. Montano allegedly had just one partner..

The ruling is expected to be ratified by Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

Montano and 31 members of his alleged organization were indicted in 2006 on various drug charges in the United States.

He allegedly had control of three islands in Panama and owned fishing boats, artwork, real estate holdings, yachts and millions in cash.

Colombian police have said he began trafficking drugs in the early 1990s from the Pacific port of Buenaventura and quickly rose to prominence within the now-defunct Cali cartel. He inherited routes with the arrest of top traffickers.

Montano’s organization was dismantled when he was arrested in Sao Paulo as part of the Twin Oceans operation, which was coordinated by U.S. anti-drug forces and involved police in Brazil and eight other countries.

Montano, who had been on the run for a decade, allegedly set up a number of companies in Brazil to launder proceeds from the monthly sale of cocaine to the United States and Europe.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


Brazil OKs Extradition of Rabbi Accused in Israel

BRASILIA, Brazil — The Brazilian government can extradite a fugitive rabbi to Israel where he is accused of burning and cutting toddlers as part of a purification ritual, the Supreme Court said Friday.

Elior Noam Hen and several followers allegedly used knives, hammers and other instruments to abuse children 3 and 4 years old. He faces charges of child abuse, violence against minors and conspiracy.

The Court found there was cause for Hen to stand trial for allegedly subjecting eight children to “intense physical and mental suffering because they were supposedly possessed by the devil.”

It voted unanimously late Thursday to grant the Brazilian government’s request for his extradition, which is expected to be approved by President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

Attorneys for Hen could not immediately be reached. But the Court rejected defense arguments that Israeli courts do not have jurisdiction since the alleged crimes took place in the West Bank settlement of Beitar Illit in February and March 2008.

Judge Carlos Ayres Britto said Israel has jurisdiction under current treaties between Israel and the Palestine Authority.

Hen’s lawyers argued the treaties have expired and their client should not be handed to Israeli authorities.

Hen, who allegedly acted with four other people, was arrested in Brazil in June 2008 after a 45-day manhunt. Police did not say how or when he and his family arrived in the country.

The rabbi allegedly hit the children in the head and face and burned their hands, the court said.. One child sustained permanent brain damage and is in a vegetative state.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


Brazil Arrests High Ranking Qaeda Operative — Report

SAO PAULO (Reuters) — Brazil’s federal police have arrested a high-ranking al Qaeda operative in Sao Paulo and are keeping him under tight security, a local newspaper reported on Tuesday.

The suspect is allegedly a chief of international communications for al Qaeda, according to the report in Folha de S.Paulo, Brazil’s largest daily newspaper.

The report did not give the suspect’s name or say when he was taken into custody, nor did it provide a source for the information.

The arrest was surrounded by secrecy with the federal police disguising it as part of an investigation into neo-Nazi groups in the country, Folha said. The report also said U.S. authorities were notified of the arrest.

A federal police spokesman in Sao Paulo declined to comment, as did a spokeswoman at the Justice Ministry in Brasilia, the capital.

Brazil is home to one of the largest Arab populations outside the Middle East, with most residing in Sao Paulo and Foz do Iguacu, a bustling commercial hub on the border with Argentina and Paraguay.

The U.S. government has claimed on several occasions in recent years that Arabs in the so-called tri-border around Foz do Iguacu raise money for militant groups in the Middle East. Brazil has repeatedly denied the accusation, calling it unfounded.

           — Hat tip: Fausta[Return to headlines]


Caribbean States Assail U.S. Over Deportations

BRIDGETOWN (Reuters) — The United States should review its policy on deporting West Indian criminals back to their home countries, Caribbean nations told U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on Saturday.

The issue is a major irritant between Caribbean states and their larger neighbor. Others include the regulation of tax havens and the use by criminal networks of the West Indies as a staging post for illicit drugs bound for U.S. consumers.

Large numbers of people migrate from the West Indies to the United States each year seeking education and employment.

But under a 1996 U.S. law, criminals convicted of offences ranging from murder to shoplifting as well as low-level drug infractions can face deportation from the United States.

“That vexed issue of repatriation of offenders from the United States of America” dominated a meeting between Holder and West Indian attorneys general in the Barbados capital Bridgetown, according to Barbados’ Attorney General Freundel Stuart.

Holder stressed the need for a mutual diplomatic relationship, comments aimed at soothing West Indian governments who seek give-and-take in their relations with the United States.

“We recognize that the attorneys general represented here today are all essential partners and we are committed to being good partners in return,” Holder said.

“We are all committed to improving security, to strengthening our borders and to combating the plague of gangs and drugs and to reducing recidivism,” he said, adding that Washington was giving an additional $30 million for the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative.

The Caribbean Community, a body that groups West Indian nations, says the 1996 act has helped trigger a rise in violent crime within its borders because criminals have been sent back often with little connection to their home countries.

“A number of these people that are being sent back to the Caribbean have never been part of the Caribbean at all,” having left young, Stuart said.

Precise figures for the numbers deported were not immediately available.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


Chavez: Venezuela Could Leave OAS, Join Cuba

CARACAS, Venezuela — President Hugo Chavez says Venezuela could eventually withdraw from the Organization of American States and seek Cuba’s help to create an alternative regional group.

Chavez claims the OAS serves the interests of the United States. The Venezuelan leader has repeatedly criticized Cuba’s expulsion from the organization in 1962 on grounds that its communist government went against the hemispheric body’s principles.

Chavez said Monday that “Venezuela would love to join Cuba” as a nonmember.

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez chimed in, saying Latin American and Caribbean nations should create an organization that “serves our people rather than the Empire,” a reference to the United States.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


Ecuador Says Mining, Oil Must be in State Hands

QUITO (Reuters) — Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa said on Saturday that key sectors of the economy, including oil and mines, must be in government hands.

During his first two years in office Correa has taken a tough stand with mining and oil companies, pushing for new contracts more favorable to the state, but has so far shied away from nationalizing any firms.

“We will fulfill the goal of having strategic sectors in government hands,” Correa said.

The U.S.-educated economist has recently said he will not nationalize foreign oil companies, but will push for more state control in the key industry via new contracts.

During a joint news conference with his Ecuadorean counterpart, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said his drive to nationalize strategic sectors of his own country’s economy would continue.

Many sectors of Venezuela’s economy, including energy and telecommunications, have passed into state hands since Chavez took office 10 years ago. In recent weeks he has nationalized oil service companies and iron producers.

Chavez also said that Venezuela and Brazil were in talks to create a joint fund worth billions of dollars. It is likely it would be for infrastructure investment.

“One of the subjects we will discuss is the creation of a joint strategic fund … worth billions of dollars,” said Chavez, adding the fund will have funds from the Brazilian Development Bank, BNDES. He said he will meet with Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva next week.

He said earlier his country and Ecuador had signed a deal for a joint fund for investment in energy projects.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


Israel: Venezuela and Bolivia Providing Iran With Uranium

Last December Italian daily La Stampa reported that Iran is using Venezuela do duck UN sanctions by using aircraft from Venezuelan airline Conviasa to transport computers and engine components to Syria for use in missiles.

Today an official report from the Israeli Foreign Ministry further details Venezuela’s extensive ties with Iran, including providing Iran with uranium for its nuclear program. YNet has a copy of the report, which was prepared in advance of Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon visit to South America this week. The information is based on intelligence gathered by Israeli and international agencies.

The Associated Press also has a copy of the report, which states that Bolivia is also providing Iran with uranium…

           — Hat tip: Fausta[Return to headlines]


Jailbirds Turn to Toy Helicopter to Smuggle Phones

SAO PAULO — A plot to smuggle cellular phones into a prison yard using a remote-control model helicopter has been foiled after Brazilian police discovered the high-tech toy in the trunk of a car outside a maximum-security lockup.

Police announced Monday they had confiscated the 1 yard-long (1-meter-long) chopper near the Presidente Venceslau penitentiary in Sao Paulo state and arrested four people riding in the car.

Attached to the helicopter’s base was a basket-like container with nine cell phones wrapped in a disposable diaper, a police statement said. Another five cell phones were found inside the car trunk.

“The cell phones were obviously for jailed gang leaders who would use them to coordinate bank robberies and kidnappings and set up drug deals,” police Sgt. Ricardo Jock told the Globo TV network.

In March, police thwarted an attempt at using carrier pigeons to fly cell phones into a prison near the southeastern city of Sorocaba.

In that case, guards spotted a pigeon resting on an electric wire with a small cloth bag tied to one of its legs. Luring the bird down with food, they discovered components of a small cell phone inside the bag.

Police said one of the suspects arrested on Sunday acknowledged receiving 10,000 reals ($5,000) to buy and prepare the helicopter, and that he would have received the same amount again for successfully landing it inside the prison.

Imprisoned Brazilian gangsters use cell phones to coordinate criminal activity outside and inside an overcrowded prison system where torture, killings and gang violence are routine.

In 2006, Sao Paulo’s notorious First Capital Command gang — whose leaders are based in prison — used cell phones to launch a wave of assaults on police, banks and buses that left more than 200 people dead in South America’s largest city.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


Venezuela Sends Uranium to Iran

Venezuela and Bolivia are supplying Iran with uranium for its nuclear program, according to a secret Israeli government report obtained Monday by The Associated Press.

The two South American countries are known to have close ties with Iran, but this is the first allegation that they are involved in the development of Iran’s nuclear program, considered a strategic threat by Israel.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Immigration

Australia: ‘People Smuggler’ to Face Aussie Charges

A Middle Eastern man accused of leading a major people-smuggling operation in Indonesia has been extradited to Australia to face charges.

Dual Iraqi-Iranian citizen Hadi Ahmadi has been in custody in Jakarta since Indonesian police arrested him last June, at Australia’s request.

He is accused of smuggling more than 900 asylum seekers to Australia in four separate sea voyages from April to August 2001.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono last month approved Ahmadi’s extradition.

An Indonesian immigration department spokesman confirmed Ahmadi was due to fly out of Jakarta on Tuesday afternoon, local time.

It’s understood Ahmadi was to be flown to Perth, where he would be officially charged by Australian Federal Police.

At the time of his arrest, authorities described Ahmadi — who has allegedly used more than a dozen aliases — as a “big fish” in people smuggling.

Ahmadi denies the allegations.

           — Hat tip: Nilk[Return to headlines]


Australia: Man Charged Over People Smuggling Plot

A 21-year-old man has been charged over a plan to smuggle a group of Afghans into Australia.

Rahmatullah Bostan, 21, and his father, 64-year-old Qambarali Bostan, were arrested by Australian Federal Police (AFP) officers at their home in Shepparton this morning.

Rahmatullah Bostan faced court this afternoon, charged with people smuggling, money laundering and drugs offences.

He is accused of organising for a group of 68 Afghans to illegally enter Australia.

The group was caught in Indonesia last month.

Rahmatullah Bostan was remanded in custody and will face court tomorrow morning.

The AFP were granted more time to question Qambarali Bostan and he is expected to be charged tonight

           — Hat tip: Nilk[Return to headlines]


Australia: Two People Smugglers Reap $115,000

More than $110,000 flowed into the bank accounts of a father and son accused of masterminding the illegal passage of Afghani asylum seekers to Australia, a court heard.

Qambali Bostan, 64, travelled to Indonesia to co-ordinate the movements of illegal immigrants while his 22-year-old son Rahmutullah Bostan remained in Australia to collect payments from their families, Australian Federal Police (AFP) agent Josh Born told Shepparton Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday.

“Rahmutullah was in charge of the financial side and his father the actual movement of people,” Mr Born told the court.

Federal police swooped on the Bostan family home in Shepparton, in northern Victoria, early on Tuesday, arresting them in relation to the detention of 68 Afghan asylum seekers in Indonesia on April 16.

Both have been charged with two counts of people smuggling and two counts of money laundering.

The son also faces one charge of drug possession.

Mr Born told the court a series of telephone intercepts revealed that while Qambali Bostan was the principal of the plot, his son played an active role.

“Rahmutullah has been in contact with numerous overseas persons in relation to obtaining funds we suspect to be for people-smuggling,” he said.

“He’s been in regular contact with persons in Indonesia organising the accommodation and movement of people.

“He has been in contact with people detained in Indonesia and people in Australia who have paid for their relatives to come here illegally.

“There were numerous conversations in which he received threats over family members being detained.”

In Rahmutullah Bostan’s bail application hearing on Wednesday, Commonwealth prosecutor Fiona Thompson sought $20,000 surety, saying there was a real risk of him fleeing Australia.

Mr Born told the court Rahmutullah Bostan had a brother living in Indonesia and could easily access the funds to escape the country.

He said more than $40,000 was transferred into his bank account during a three-day period in March and there had been a previous deposit of $75,000 made.

“Due to the amount of funds that have passed through his account, Rahmutullah does have connections where large amounts of funds are accessible,” he said.

However, the Commonwealth withdrew its bid for surety when Magistrate Len Brear indicated he would impose daily reporting conditions and a curfew, along with the surrender of his passport.

Mr Brear said Bostan’s age, ties to the Shepparton area, family support and lack of prior convictions did not necessitate a financial surety, after granting him bail.

His father was granted bail late Tuesday night but was remanded in custody on Wednesday after being unable to raise a $20,000 surety.

           — Hat tip: Nilk[Return to headlines]


Bishops Blast Italy Over Immigrants

‘International cooperation’ required to stem migrant flow

(ANSA) — Vatican City, May 25 — The Italian Bishops’ Conference (CEI) on Monday reiterated criticism of Italy’s immigration policy, calling for a “wider and more articulate strategy”.

Inaugurating the 58th general assembly of bishops, CEI Chairman Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, said the “irrepressible value of every human life, its dignity and its inalienable rights” should be the “fundamental criteria” with which to evaluate the arrival of illegal immigrants.

The central point of the Italy’s strategy should be international cooperation, he said, adding that trying to cope with the phenomenon through “single measures” was “fatally inadequate”.

“There is nobody who doesn’t see that only by improving the economic and social conditions of the countries of origin of our immigrants can one stop the disruptive burden of the migratory phenomenon,” he said.

Cardinal Bagnasco also questioned whether Italy was doing enough for immigrant integration, stressing that a job and a “minimally decent place to live” were “not sufficient”.

“It’s a mistake to undervalue the alarm signs that have been registered here and there in our country,” he said. “Immigration is a chaotic reality: if it isn’t governed, it is suffered”.

The CEI chairman also stressed that it was necessary to “avoid the formation of ethnic enclaves” leading to a supposedly multicultural society that “in reality is just a juxtaposition of ethnicities who don’t speak to each other”.

Italy this month launched a controversial new policy of turning back boats of would-be immigrants and possible asylum seekers trying to reach the country’s southernmost island of Lampedusa despite criticism from the United Nations, the Catholic Church and humanitarian organisations.

Also this month, CEI sharply criticised a new government security bill which makes illegal immigration a criminal offense, extends to six months the period immigrants and would-be asylum seekers can be kept in detention centers, authorises civilian patrols — which critics have likened to vigilante groups — and sets a maximum three-year jail term for landlords who rent to illegal aliens.

IMMIGRATION POLICY ‘EFFECTIVE’.

Meanwhile Interior Minister Roberto Maroni told the Senate Monday that the new immigration policy is proving an effective deterrent to illegal migration.

Under the policy, which sees a key part of a landmark accord with Libya implemented for the first time, migrants are rescued in international waters and taken back to Libya where humanitarian organisations can vet their asylum claims.

Providing figures on the so-called ‘push-back’ policy, Maroni said 471 migrants had been sent back to Libya from May 6 to 10, after the launch of the policy.

Boat migrations in the Mediterranean “have pratically come to halt,” Maroni said. The minister said Italy would persist with the initiative “without wavering” because “it is saving many lives at sea and is producing a drastic decline in arrivals” on its southern shores.

Maroni also rebutted criticism, arguing that the initiative is “in line with existing legislation”. However, the UN refugee agency UNHCR says the initiative undermines access to asylum in the European Union and carries with it the risk of violating the fundamental principles enshrined in the 1951 (Geneva) Convention on refugees and other instruments of international human rights law.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Italy: Maroni Pleased With Result

(ANSAmed) — BUSTO ARSIZIO (VARESE), MAY 25 — The government, through its policy of forced returns, has obtained “an excellent result in full compliance with regulations”, said Italian Interior Minister Roberto Maroni at the Italian Confederation of Italian Industry (Confindustria) assembly in Varese. According to Maroni, “since the start of forced returns on May 7, no boat has reached Italy”. Regarding the reactions of the opposition, Maroni explained that “we have sent back 500 illegal immigrants and they are protesting. Spain sends back 10,000 and that’s ok because the country is led by a socialist government”.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Italy: Berlusconi Urges US Immigration Model

Rome, 25 May (AKI) — Italy’s conservative prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has sought to deflect criticism of Italy’s harsh immigration policies by stressing potential migrants are welcome in his country. In an interview posted to the US television network CNN’s website on Monday, he said immigrants who qualified to come to Italy should be allowed to work and create a better life for themselves and their families.

“We welcome those (immigrants) who have the right to come here. This is what the United States and all normal countries do,” Berlusconi told CNN.

“We are absolutely open to those who come to our country with the wish to integrate and to work… we keep an open door to all who are eligible to come to work in Italy or request asylum,” Berlusconi said.

He rebutted criticism directed at his government by the Italian opposition, the United Nations and the Catholic church over its hardline immigration policies that were part of its electoral pledge to clamp down on illegal immigration.

These policies have included turning back boatloads of migrants to North Africa before they enter Italian coastal waters, under an accord signed between the Italian and Libyan governments last year.

“Does it seem humane to you to transfer these people to (Italian) holding centres and detain them for months, only to then send them back to where they came from?” he asked rhetorically.

“I think it is kinder to return them to the country from which they set sail and hand them over to the United Nations refugee agency which can assess any asylum claims there.”

If illegal immigrants enter Italian waters, however, authorities assess their claims for asylum or protection, and whether they come from situations where they are in danger or face oppression, Berlusconi said.

“The Italian model is one that is totally in line with the behaviour of all western states and with European Union directives,” he said.

Italy welcomes immigrants, and has always provided them with medical care and schooling for their children, Berluconi said.

He blamed the previous centre-left government for having “spread the word” in North African and Asian countries that Italy’s borders were “open to all”.

Italy had to shut its doors “to the great majority of those who are brought here, many of whom are reduced to conditions of slavery by the criminal organisations who profit from them,” Berlusconi concluded.

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


Libya: Attempted Departure Stopped

(ANSAmed) — TRIPOLI, MAY 25 — Following a long period of calm after Italy sent around 500 migrants back to Tripoli just over ten days ago, Libyan police managed to prevent a boat carrying 100 people from making out to sea last Thursday. The boat had just left the coast of Zliten, 170 km east of Tripoli, when Libyan police, who had been investigating the departure for four days, stopped the craft from leaving. The immigrants on board were almost all Nigerians. After the three departures from the coast of Tunisia in recent days, this is the first unsuccessful attempt at a mass departure from Libya in the last two weeks. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

General

An Anti-Semite for UNESCO?

Egypt’s Culture Minister Farouk Hosni is a leading candidate to take over UNESCO in the fall. An alliance of intellectuals and Jewish groups from France, Germany and Israel are up in arms over the possibility due to remarks made by him perceived to be anti-Israeli.

It’ll soon be time for a new boss at UNESCO, the world’s pre-eminent cultural preservation organization. But German cultural and Jewish groups are worried about the candidate currently favored to win the top spot: Egyptian Minister of Culture Farouk Hosni.

In a statement released on Monday, the German Culture Council — an umbrella organization of cultural organizations in Germany — expressed concern over Hosni’s candidacy due to his history of anti-Semitic statements.

“Choosing Farouk Hosni as the new director of UNESCO would be a mistake,” said Olaf Zimmermann, head of the Culture Council. UNESCO is on the verge of putting into practice the Convention on Cultural Diversity. A responsibility like that shouldn’t be trusted to someone who hasn’t fully internalized the ideals of UNESCO.”

Hosni, an artist by trade, has been Egypt’s Culture Minister since 1987. He is known for being a liberal voice in Egyptian politics, opposing the veil for Egyptian women for example. But he has also made anti-Israeli statements in the past. Last year, he said he would “burn Israeli books in Egyptian libraries.”

Charlotte Knobloch, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said in an interview on German radio that due to his “clearly anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli statements” Hosni should be “disqualified” for the position.

With the decision coming up in October, Hosni’s candidacy has become a hot issue in France, Germany and Israel. Last Friday, three Jewish intellectuals — including Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel — wrote an open letter questioning Hosni’s suitability for the position. “We must, without delay, appeal to everyone’s conscience to keep UNESCO from falling into the hands of a man who, when he hears the word ‘culture,’ responds with a book burning,” the letter read.

According to Israel’s Haaretz newspaper, the issue got more complicated after news leaked that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had agreed to support Hosni’s candidacy in a secret deal with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

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


Taliban Law is Not the Quranic Law

Nasr Abu-Zayd

Compared to the legal discourse of early pioneers of Islamic law, this reclaimed Sharia is very distant from the obvious meaning of the foundational sources of Islam. Muhammad of the Sura never raised his voice to any of his wives. The Qur’an bears witness to this. He was a loving husband and compassionate father to his daughters. Marriage is presented in the Qur’an in terms of tranquillity and mutual love; the husband is his wife’s own dress and she is his. They contain each other. Sharia, after all, is a historical human understanding of the Qur’an according to medieval norms, which the Qur’an itself opposes.

This backward decision taken by the Afghan government under pressure from radical groups, whoever they are, is a return to the Middle Ages. The Sharia espoused by those radical groups, and even by other groups who like to present themselves as moderates, is nothing but the legal articulation of similar groups in medieval Islam, based on their own understanding and interpretation of the Qur’an and the Prophetic tradition. Compared with the legal discourse of the early pioneers of Islamic law, this reclaimed Sharia is very distant from the obvious meaning of the foundational sources of Islam.

Before I present the Qur’an’s position concerning the issues related to Women, allow me to analyse the prophetic legacy. I refer to the Prophet Mohammed’s behaviour with his wives, daughters and female relatives. Here, I analyse the person of Muhammad rather than the sayings which were later collected, attributed to him, and canonized, because these sayings are full of statements which contradict the manner and behaviour of the person as presented in his biography (Sura). Muhammad of the Sura never raised his voice at any of his wives. The Qur’an bears witness to this. His wives caused him problems due to their conflicts with each other, to the extent that Muhammad intervened threatening them with divorce if they continued bothering and annoying him. He was a loving husband and a compassionate father to his daughters. All the wives he married after his first wife, Khadija, including his most beloved one Aisha, did not cause him to forget her. Aisha was once very angry because Muhammad always remembered Khadija, and she could not help expressing her jealousy of the dead women. Muhammad became very angry with Aisha. He said of Khadija, “she believed me when all my tribe did not; she gave to me when I was in need.” It is well known that he never had another wife during Khadija’s lifetime…

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

1 comments:

islam o' phobe said...

Here is a must-read post from Mary Ellen Synon's €uroSeptic blog:

Nope, Europe doesn't share a border with IraqAnd again, I repeat: Turkey is not part of Europe. Turkey is not on the continent of Europe, except for a western sliver to one side of Istanbul. Turkey is not part of the European Union and if the French have anything to do with it, despite the wishes of the EU empire builders, Turkey never will be.

Turkey is in the part of Asia known as Asia Minor. Or you could say Turkey is in the Near East. Or indeed in the Levant. But what it is not is: it is not part of Europe.

I usually have to say that to euro-enthusiasts -- some of them American political types who don't want to acknowledge any difference between Nato and Europe. Or indeed to cretins who confuse the Eurovision song contest with a geography lesson.

But the horror is I now have to say it to the Daily Mail sub-editors and reporters. In today's paper is the kind of headline the EU empire builders dream of seeing: 'Hotel Hubris: Rich and famous turn out to opening of most expensive hotel in Europe where champagne is a snip at £25 a glass.' You have to read down a couple of paragraphs before you learn that this 'most expensive hotel in Europe' is in Antalya. That is on the southern coast of Turkey, the part of the Med that slides off towards Syria.

Since the 'ever growing Europe' propaganda is clearly seeping even into the brains of Mail journalists, I think there can be just one solution. We must abandon this modern word 'Europe' and revert to the word traditionally used for all of us in these islands and for all those nations across the Channel: 'Christendom.'

Which would have many benefits, among them that it would let the French off the hook. The Turks would never sign up to join Christendom.