Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 5/6/2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 5/6/2009Twelve illegal immigrants hiding in the tank of a chemical tanker truck in Calais were almost burned to death by powerful corrosive acid. Workers who were about to pour acid into the tank heard the men inside just in time. The migrants claimed to be from Afghanistan and Kosovo, and were trying to get into the UK, just like thousands of others.

In other news, Oklahoma’s House of Representatives has passed a new state-sovereignty resolution that sidesteps the governor’s veto. The initiative now moves on to the state Senate.

Thanks to C. Cantoni, costin, CSP, Earl Cromer, ESW, Fjordman, heroyalwhyness, islam o’phobe, JD, KGS, Robin Hood, TB, The Lurker from Tulsa, Tuan Jim, Vlad Tepes, and all the other tipsters who sent these in. Headlines and articles are below the fold.
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Financial Crisis
China Fears Bond Crisis as it Slams Quantitative Easing
Main Kazakh Bank Unable to Pay Foreign Debt
While Germany’s Economy Declines, the Number of Jobless Has Not Soared and Reduced Working Hours May be the Secret
Death to the ‘Death Tax’
Detroit Official Bills Dubai Trip to Pension Plan
Do Leftists Really Love America?
Don’t Start Nothing, Won’t be Nothing
House Bypasses Governor’s Veto to Claim Oklahoma’s Sovereignty
Kansas Rep. Todd Tiahrt: No Welfare for Terrorists
Overcoming American Exceptionalism, With American Democracy as Collateral Damage
Prison Awaiting Hostile Bloggers
The Fat Lady Sings the AGW Blues
Who’s Hunting Savage?
Canada Vows to Take Seal Ban Fight to WTO
Shocking Turnaround as Accused Pleads Guilty in Toronto Bombing Plot
Suspect in Toronto 18 Case Pleads Guilty
Europe and the EU
Berlin Court Rejects Demjanjuk Appeal
Channel Tunnel Marks 15th Anniversary — in Black
Czech Parliament Ratifies Lisbon Treaty
Denmark: Parents to Pay for Children’s Sins
Denmark: No Preference for Catholics at Nursery
Denmark: 30 Percent of Danes Declare Themselves as Socialists
European Parliament Yet Again Turning a Blind Eye to Democracy
France Says it Will Take Algerian From Guantanamo
French Judge Wants to Investigate 3 Africa Leaders
German Finance Minister Groups EU States With African Country
Greenland: Seal Ban is Murder of a Culture
Increased Birth Rate for Danish Women
Netherlands: Supporters Commemorate Death of Pim Fortuyn
Netherlands: School Sued Over Pupil Forced Into Prostitution
Norway: The EU Adopts Trade Ban on Seal Products
Obama to Trace Family History in Germany
Spain Arrest 29 in Alleged Cuban Migrant Ring
Swedish Pirate Party May Get Seat in EU Parliament
The EU’s Eastern ‘Sphere of Influence’
UK: ‘You’Re Just Not Up to the Job, ‘ Cameron Says as He Demands Brown Calls an Election Now
UK: Banning the Display of Cigarettes is a Step Too Far
UK: Brown Orders Inquiry Into Child Slaves Passed Through Heathrow Care Home
UK: Caravan Park Bans Washing Lines Because of ‘Health and Safety Hazard’
UK: Cameron Calls for General Election
UK: Fast Food Chain KFC Converts Eight London Restaurants to Halal-Only Menu
UK: Judge Rules Gipsy Can Stay at Illegal Site to Help Him Beat Heroin Addiction
UK: Labour Must Stop Worrying About Their Silly Little Party and Put Britain First
UK: London Police Escort Pensioners Home From the Bank
UK: One in 20 Britons Booby Trap Homes to Deter Burglars … But May be Risking Jail
UK: Shock Jock Michael Savage and Others on UK Ban List Had Not Applied for Entry
UK: Scientists Unveil Chocolate-Fueled Race Car
UK: There is No Known Antidote for Panic
UK: the Hospital That Banned Paintings of Churches
UK: Trafficked Children Go Missing From Heathrow
UK: Using Tips to Make-Up Workers’ Wages to be Banned as Ministers Back Fair Pay for Bar Staff
Vatican Swiss Guards Consider Opening to Women
Witness: Men Joke About Bombing US Base in Germany
EU and UN Abandon Inquiry Into Missing £60m in Kosovo
North Africa
Algeria and Mali Target Al-Qaeda
Libya: Lockerbie Bomber Prepared to Drop Appeal
Israel and the Palestinians
Israel: President Urges Govt to Cede Christian Sites to Vatican
Middle East
Iraq: Radical Cleric Becomes ‘Ayatollah’
‘Joint Commission a Dangerous Trap’
Turkish Nuclear Plant Assessment Ready Next Week-Min
US Will Not Abandon Arab Allies to Iran, Robert Gates Says
Yemen ‘Curbing Freedom’ of Press
Moscow Says NATO Ties OK, Despite Expulsions
South Asia
Afghanistan: Taliban Announces New Spring Offensive
Afghanistan’s Only Pig Quarantined in Flu Fear
Afghan Lawmakers Seek N Ireland Peace Lessons
India: Governor of Gujarat Under Investigation for Massacre of More Than a Thousand Muslims
India: Attacker Pleads Not Guilty
Indonesia: People-Smuggling Baron Ali Cobra Seized in Action
‘Nuclear Weapons Are Not Kalashnikovs’
Pakistan: Residents Told to Flee Mingora, as Taliban Takes Hold
Pakistan: Militants Step Up Attacks Beyond Swat to Border Area
Pakistan: SHC Acquits ‘Jihadis’ in Frenchmen’s Killing Case
Sikhs Banished by Taliban Want to Migrate to India
Far East
China Rejects US Criticism Over Military Strength
Australia — Pacific
NZ: Weapons Found in Shipping Container
Calais Opens ‘Welcome Centre’ to Help Migrants Stay in France…
France: 12 Illegal Illegal Immigrants Found Hiding in Chemical Tanker — Seconds Before it Was Filled With Acid That Would Have Burned Them Alive
UK: Fraudsters ‘Offered No Win, No Fee Services for Britain’s Largest Visa Scam’
Culture Wars
‘Hate Crimes’ Law Makes Some More Equal Than Others

Financial Crisis

China Fears Bond Crisis as it Slams Quantitative Easing

China has given its clearest warning to date that emergency monetary stimulus by Western governments risks setting off worldwide inflation and undermining global bond markets.

“A policy mistake made by some major central bank may bring inflation risks to the whole world,” said the People’s Central Bank in its quarterly report.

“As more and more economies are adopting unconventional monetary policies, such as quantitative easing (QE), major currencies’ devaluation risks may rise,” it said. The bank fears a “big consolidation” in the bond markets, clearly anxious that interest yields will surge as western states try to exit their QE experiment.

Simon Derrick, currency chief at the Bank of New York Mellon, said the report is the latest sign that China is losing patience with the US and aims to diversify part its $1.95 trillion (£1.3 trillion) foreign reserves away from US Treasuries and other dollar securities.

“There is a significant shift taking place in China. They are concerned about the stability of the global financial system so they are not going to sell US bonds they already have. But they are still accumulating $40bn of fresh reserves each month, and they are going to be much more careful where they invest it,” he said.

Hans Redeker, head of currencies at BNP Paribas, said China is switching into hard assets. “They want to buy production rights to raw materials and gain access to resources such as oil, water, and metals. They know they can’t keep buying bonds,” he said

Premier Wen Jiabao left no doubt at the Communist Party summit in March that China is irked by Washington’s response to the credit crunch, suspecting that the US is engaging in a stealth default on its debt by driving down the dollar. “We have lent a massive amount of capital to the United States, and of course we are concerned about the security of our assets. To speak truthfully, I do indeed have some worries,” he said.

Days later, the central bank chief wrote a paper suggesting a world currency based on Special Drawing Rights issued by the International Monetary Fund.

Some economists say China is suffering from “cognitive dissonance” by anguishing so much over its reserves, accumulated as a result of its own policy of holding down the yuan to promote exports. Quantitative easing by the US Federal Reserve and fellow central banks may has saved China as well, since the country’s growth strategy is built on selling goods to the West.

China’s fears of imported inflation may reflect its concerns about over-heating. The M2 money supply rose 25pc in March on a year earlier, and there has been explosive credit growth since the government relaxed loan restraints. There are concerns that the stimulus is leaking into a new asset bubble rather than promoting job growth. The Shanghai bourse is up over 50pc since November.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Main Kazakh Bank Unable to Pay Foreign Debt

BTA can only pay interest on loans. The crisis caused by falling energy prices and some unsound investments is forcing the government to seek financial deals. China is taking advantage of the situation by providing billions in exchange of oil.

Astana (AsiaNews/Agencies) — Kazakhstan’s largest bank announced on Friday that it could no longer repay US$ 11 billion in foreign debt, underscoring the oil-rich Central Asian country’s cash squeeze. Flushed with money, energy-hungry China is taking advantage of the situation.

The bank, BTA, said it would pay only interest to foreign creditors, who lavished the country with loans during the commodity boom. The rating agency Fitch immediately downgraded BTA bonds to “restricted default.”

The Kazakh government had partly nationalised the bank in February, a move that was taken as a sign that the bank’s debt might be covered by a sovereign guarantee to avoid a loss of confidence in the international community, which could be disastrous.

Kazakhstan’s exponential growth during the recent oil and gas boom brought in foreign investors. Rather than raise money through deposits, banks chose in fact to borrow from international lenders, and did so excessively. Those lines of credit dried up in Kazakhstan, given the risky nature of doing business in the country, plunging it further into recession.

Controlled by Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s daughter and son-in-law, Halyk Savings Bank, Kazakhstan’s third-largest lender, announced today that it will sell new preferred shares for US$ 642.9 million.

In order to prop up the wobbly economy Kazakhstan is spending almost US$ 15 billion or 14 per cent of its GDP on stimulus packages. But to shore up its finances the government is seeking new oil deals.

During a visit to China in mid-April, Kazakh President Nazarbayev (pictured with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao), KazMunaiGas, the Kazakh national oil company, signed a deal giving China’s main oil company, the Chinese National Petroleum Company (CNPC), a 49 per cent stake in MangistauMunaiGas (MMG), a local oil producer.

MMG has estimated crude oil reserves of 1.32 billion barrels and holds a 58 per cent stake in the Pavlodar oil refinery.

Kazakhstan holds over 3 per cent of the world’s proven oil reserves.

Similarly, China’s Eximbank will lend the state-owned Development Bank of Kazakhstan US$ 5 billion. China’s state-run Chinese National Petroleum Company (CNPC) will in turn extend a US$ 5 billion loan to KazMunaiGas.

With the worldwide economic crisis, China can use its currency reserves, the largest in the world, to help cash-strapped commodity producers.

In Kazakhstan China already owns Aktobemunaigas, which produces 120,000 barrels of oil per day (b/d), and holds 67 per cent of PetroKazakhstan, which produces 150000 b/d.

Beijing is also an equal partner, along with the Kazakh state oil company KazMunaiGas, in the 200,000 b/d oil pipeline from the Caspian to China’s Xinjiang border.

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

While Germany’s Economy Declines, the Number of Jobless Has Not Soared and Reduced Working Hours May be the Secret

German businesses, hard-hit by the financial crisis, resort to a time-tested instrument: rather than fire employees , their working hours are reduced.

Germany’s economy is expected to shrink by 6 percent this year, according to both the government and leading economic institutes. But the number of jobless has not skyrocketed, and that is due to the German practice of reduced working hours — not a new concept here, but routinely employed in crises like the 1970s oil embargo, and again after reunification in the early 1990s.

They are all deeply in the red: that is what Germany’s leading businesses have in common these days when they look at their first quarter figures. But rather than lay off valuable workers, they’ve ordered reduced working hours.

More than a third of automaker Daimler’s and roughly a quarter of BMW’s employees, for instance, are working reduced hours. At chemical giant BASF, more than 4,000 people work shorter hours, and another 3,000 are to join them in June. Production at printer Heidelberger Druck is down to 11 days a month.

Instrument to stabilize the job market

About 1,4 million people worked shorter hours in April, says Germany’s Federal Labour Agency. The labor market is stable as a result of these many shorter working hours, says agency chief Frank-Jürgen Weise.

Employers revert to shorter working hours when the number of orders dwindles, but the firm wants to keep its skilled workers and specialists. While the employers only pay wages for the reduced hours, they do continue to pay the full social security dues.

Benefits are available from Germany’s Labor Agency for a maximum of 18 months. Workers without children, for instance, can expect 60 percent of their last net salary, families with children are granted seven percent more. To top that, Labour Minister Olaf Scholz last week proposed taking over all social security payments from the companies after half a year, as well as extending the term of shorter working hours from 18 months to two years.

Dieter Hundt, President of the German employers’ federation BDA, was initially opposed to extending to 24 months the option of reduced working hours. But he welcomed the government’s plan. “Discarding all social security payments is extremely important for the companies”, he said after a meeting last week with Scholz and Michael Sommer, head of the DGB Labor Federation.

Here in Germany, Social Security payments include old age insurance, jobless insurance and health and nursing care insurance — all in all, more than 20 percent of the gross pay package. Supporting reduced working hours is expected to cost the Federal Labor Agency about 500 million euros for 100,000 people per year.

Critics fear abuse of Labor Office plans

Hilmar Schneider, director of Labor Market Policies at the Institute for the Future of Labor, IZA, is critical of the Labor Agency’s policy of taking over all social security payments after six months of reduced work. A firm could keep on an employee but reduce his hours to zero, he explains, making him de facto unemployed. But that employee would still receive his full pay from the Labor Agency for 24 months. Then, the employee could register as unemployed — and would again be eligible for 24 months of financial support.

Firms could of course lay off workers, Hilmar Schneider says, but that is something the government is trying to prevent at all costs. “With parliamentary elections in September”, the labour market expert says, “the media would be full of mass lay-offs in time for the election.”

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Death to the ‘Death Tax’

If you hope to leave your small business or your farm to your heirs, you’d better get all your papers in order and plan on dying in 2010. That is the year the Death Tax goes down to zero.

Earlier in this decade, then-President George W. Bush wanted to kill it dead — for good. But led by the likes of Illinois Senator Richard Durbin — who has lived off the taxpayers all his adult life and thus would not understand all the hard work, sacrifice, and perseverance that goes into creating and maintaining a viable family business — Congressional Democrats held the Bush administration to a graduated formula to phase out the tax ever so gradually over a period of years — finally expiring in 2010 — but then returning like Dracula in 2011.

Kneeling at the altar of the tax-grabbing bureaucracy, the Dems are at it again. President Obama and Capitol Hill Democrats are at odds only on whether to impose the death tax at 35% or 45%, and at what income level to allow this most unfair of all the unfair taxes to kick in.

Death Tax — nothing but bad news

A new study by Douglas Holtz-Eakin, economist and former director of the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, estimates that by eliminating the Death Tax, America could create 1.5 million jobs.

You could even go beyond that and show that the Death Tax is a net minus for the federal government. Think compliance costs and impact on capital accumulation, argued the Joint Congressional Joint Economic Committee in a 2006 study.

Dick Patten’s American Family Business Institute (AFBI) weighs in with a study just this year estimating that doing away with the tax altogether would net the federal government about an extra $26 billion in additional revenue.

So what good is it?

A writer for the super-partisan New York Times frets that without the Death Tax, President Obama won’t be able to pay for his highest priorities of energy, health care, and education. Even forgetting for the moment that Obama’s recipes in all these areas are ineffective, expensive, counter-productive, and arguably dangerous to the republic, the above studies put the lie to the claim that eliminating the Death Tax somehow starves the treasury. More investment creates more jobs. That creates more tax revenue for the feds — with more individuals and companies paying taxes.

The AFBI report says permanently repealing the Death Tax would —

  • Increase small business capital by over $1.6 trillion.
  • Increase the probability of hiring by 8.6%.
  • Increase payrolls by 2.6%.
  • Expand investment by 3%.
  • (As noted above) create well over a million new small business jobs.
  • Slash the current jobless rate by .9%.

So if the Death Tax does no good for the U.S. Treasury, fails to create new jobs, raises the unemployment rate, forces families to sell the family farm/business at fire sale rates to pay the taxman, and imposes an unfair double taxation on assets for which small business people had already been taxed over a lifetime — where is the justification for it?

The Death Tax is a spite tax.

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

Detroit Official Bills Dubai Trip to Pension Plan

DETROIT — Records show a Detroit official charged the city’s police and firefighters pension plan more than $20,000 for a trip to the Persian Gulf emirate of Dubai.

The Detroit Free Press says city councilwoman Barbara-Rose Collins booked a nearly $10,000 business-class plane ticket to attend a pension conference in Dubai last fall. She is a trustee of the pension fund.

She also paid $6,840 to register, almost $3,000 for a hotel stay and $485 for a car and driver.

Collins says her chief of staff is responsible for the costly ticket. She agrees “that’s a lot of money” and says she intends to pay better attention in the future.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Do Leftists Really Love America?

If you met a man who said he would like to “transform” or “remake” his wife, would you conclude that he: a) thought very highly of his wife and loved her, or b) held his wife in rather low esteem and therefore found living with her rather difficult?

The answer is obvious: Those who wish to remake anything (or anyone) do not think highly of the person or thing they wish to remake.

Little is as revealing of Barack Obama’s and the left’s view of America than their use of the words “transform” and “remake” when applied to what they most want to do to America.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Don’t Start Nothing, Won’t be Nothing

Here’s why I don’t care that al-Qaeda operatives Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Zubaydah were waterboarded after Sept. 11, 2001: I remember where I was the day before.

Every American who recalls that day can probably remember where he or she was when those jets hit the World Trade Center. I do too. But I remember where I was on Sept. 10, 2001, at about the same time.

In the lowest level of the World Trade Center, getting off a commuter train from Jersey City, N.J. I had an appointment in midtown-Manhattan and had to take a subway train from the WTC. Had I done that a day later, I’d have arrived at the WTC at just about the time the first or second jet hit.

But what if I had arrived maybe 15 minutes earlier and had some time to kill? What if I’d decided I wanted to go to the top of the WTC and take in the view?

Then I’d have been one of those people who were trapped above the inferno that raged below them, terrified, wondering how or if we could ever escape. I’d have experienced the terror they felt as the WTC Twin Towers collapsed beneath them and sent them to their horrible deaths.

And you sure as heck wouldn’t be reading this column. Yes, I came that close to perhaps being among the WTC casualties of Sept. 11.

So when President Obama declassified Justice Department memos that revealed the waterboarding of Mohammed and Zubaydah, perhaps you can forgive me if the knowledge didn’t exactly leave me prostrate with grief. Nor am I feeling the arguments of those who claim how torture violates our principles and destroys our values.

Does it, really? We were in a war against terrorists. War is called war for a reason. It’s because nasty things get done in a war, lots of them. The Allies killed hundreds of thousands of German and Japanese civilians in bombing raids during World War II. Should we have NOT bombed Germany and Japan because killing civilians violates our principles and destroys our values?

Or does torture violate our principles and destroy our values while wholesale killing of civilians is acceptable?

Several books have hit the market in the last few years about the plight of German civilians during World War II. Some tell the story of their fate during the bombing raids. At least one claims that some two million German civilians died during the Allied occupation of Germany. And of course, for decades, we’ve had the handwringing and whining about what we did to the Japanese with the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

As for the latter event, it occurs to me that there were exactly 1,337 days from Dec. 8, 1941 up to Aug. 5, 1945 — the day before the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. The Japanese government could have surrendered — and surrendered unconditionally — on any one of them.

As for the plight of the Germans, which applies to the Japanese as well, I invoke that great black American adage that goes like this: Don’t start nothing, won’t be nothing.

That saying has been around Afro-Americana for decades. It basically means this: if you don’t want to suffer the consequences of starting some trouble, then don’t start any trouble.

Perhaps Obama, instead of piously intoning that America “does not torture,” should instead tell the world, specifically terrorists, that from now on the nation will invoke the great African-American Prime Directive of “Don’t start nothing, won’t be nothing.” Because once you start something, then anything goes.

So from now on, we won’t have to fret when guys like Mohammed and Zubaydah get waterboarded. After all, they would have been warned in advance. (And won’t someone point out that Mohammed and Zubaydah got off a lot easier than those poor souls trapped in the Twin Towers on Sept. 11, 2001?)

If we don’t want to go with the Great African-American Prime Directive, perhaps we can go with one less known. I can’t recall who said it or where I read it, but it goes something like this:

If it’s worth fighting for, it’s worth fighting dirty for.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

House Bypasses Governor’s Veto to Claim Oklahoma’s Sovereignty

Although Gov. Brad Henry vetoed similar legislation 10 days earlier, House members Monday again approved a resolution claiming Oklahoma’s sovereignty.

Unlike House Joint Resolution 1003, House Concurrent Resolution 1028 does not need the governor’s approval.

The House passed the measure 73-22. It now goes to the Senate.

“We’re going to get it done one way or the other,” said the resolutions’ author, Rep. Charles Key, R-Oklahoma City.

“I think our governor is out of step.”

House Democrats objected, saying the issue already had been taken up and had been vetoed, but House Speaker Pro Tempore Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, ruled the veto is not final action.

Key said he expects HCR 1028 will pass in the Senate. HJR 1003 earlier passed the House 83-18 and won approval in the Senate 29-18.

Henry vetoed HJR 1003 because he said it suggested, among other things, that Oklahoma should return federal tax dollars.

Key said HCR 1028, which, if passed, would be sent to Democratic President Barack Obama and the Democratic-controlled Congress, would not jeopardize federal funds but would tell Congress to “get back into their proper constitutional role.” The resolution states the federal government should “cease and desist” mandates that are beyond the scope of its powers.

Key said many federal laws violate the 10th Amendment, which says powers not delegated to the U.S. government “are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.” The Constitution lists about 20 duties required of the U.S. government, he said.

Congress should not be providing bailouts to financial institutions and automakers, he said.

“We give all this money to all these different entities, including automakers, and now they’re talking about, ‘Well maybe it’s better to let them go bankrupt,’“ Key said. “Well, maybe we should have let them go bankrupt before we gave them the money.”

           — Hat tip: The Lurker from Tulsa[Return to headlines]

Kansas Rep. Todd Tiahrt: No Welfare for Terrorists

In Washington, Kansas Rep. Todd Tiahrt today promoted an up-or-down vote in the House Appropriations Committee to deny terrorists released from Guantanamo Bay any federal or state support. This issue is especially relevant due to the Chinese Uighar jihadists (flush with government assistance) that the Obama Administration plans to release into the Virginia suburbs. He was joined by Frank Gaffney, Colin Hanna (Let Freedom Ring) and Rosemary Jenks (Numbers USA).

Watch today’s press conference and read Rep. Tiahrt’s statement…

           — Hat tip: CSP[Return to headlines]

Overcoming American Exceptionalism, With American Democracy as Collateral Damage

It’s an old Washington, DC axiom — if you want to know what an administration plans to do, look to the sub-cabinet level. And pay particular attention to the lawyers.

Today, these barometers point hard to the left. At the Justice Department, President Obama has nominated Dawn Johnsen to head the influential Office of Legal Counsel. Johnsen once comparedthe curtailment of a woman’s ability to obtain an abortion to slavery, and has been at the forefront of the movement to limitthe executive’s ability to wage war on terrorism.

Moreover, Tom Perez, the nominee to head the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, is an advocate for illegal immigrants and an aggressive proponent of the use of racial quotas by professional schools.

But Obama’s most radical sub-cabinet lawyer nominee is probably Harold Koh, the dean of Yale Law School, who has been tapped to serve as the State Department’s legal advisor. For Koh is a leading exponent of the “trans-national” view of the law.

Ed Whelan, head of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, correctly characterizes legal trans-nationalism as a challenge to the view that international and domestic law are distinct, and that the United States determines for itself through its political branches whether international law is incorporated into its legal system.

Trans-nationalism thus represents a threat to American democracy. In our democracy, when U.S. military personnel combat our enemies, they are answerable, ultimately, only to the president elected by the American people.

In a trans-national regime, they are also answerable to the foreign judges who populate international tribunals, including judges from nations that share few of our values.

Similarly, under our democratic system the elected representatives of the American people, and the presidentially appointed American judges who interpret our laws, decide such “human rights” questions as which actions constitute race or gender discrimination against our citizens. Trans-nationalists would like “the international community” to have a binding say.

Liberals and conservatives disagree about such issues as the proper reach of anti-discrimination laws and hate crime laws, or what type of health care system we should have. Until recently, however, they have agreed that these issues should be decided through the American political process. American trans-nationalists reject that premise.

This must be because they do not trust the American people to support sufficiently liberal outcomes. Even the election of Barack Obama has not redeemed us; trans-nationalists continue to believe that Americans are in need of supervision by more sophisticated and progressive folks, namely European bureaucrats.

As Koh puts it, “as American lawyers, scholars, and activists, we should make better use of trans-national legal process to press our own government to avoid the most negative and damaging features of American exceptionalism.” That’s a fancy way of saying that on issues where Americans are too conservative for Koh’s taste, we should defer to the rest of the world.

To this end, Koh has arguedthat “customary international law” (CIL) should be imported into our domestic law as federal common law. But, as professors Curtis Bradley and Jack Goldsmithhave shown, if CIL is federal common law, it must also be part of the “Laws of the United States” under the Supremacy Clause. As such, it would trump all inconsistent state law and lead to a “dramatic transfer of constitutional authority from the states to the world community and to the federal judiciary.”

Bradley and Goldsmith also note that if CIL is federal common law, it would seem to follow that the president, under his Article II obligation to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed,” is bound by judicial interpretations of CIL and vulnerable to having CIL judicially enforced against him.

As Whelan shrewdly observes, Koh’s push to import CIL into U.S. domestic law takes place at a time when CIL itself is undergoing a radical transformation. The traditional conception of customary international law held that it is “customary,” — the result of a general and consistent practice that states have followed from a sense of legal obligation.

But nowadays, according to Bradley and Goldsmith, CIL is created by United Nations resolutions, multilateral treaties, and other international pronouncements “without rigorous examination of whether these pronouncements reflect the actual practice of states.” It is also “now viewed as regulating many matters that were traditionally regulated by domestic law alone, including a state’s treatment of its own citizens.”

The dynamic, free-wheeling, and “progressive” nature of CIL provides Koh an extra incentive to push for its importation into U.S. domestic law. So does the role law professors get to play.

Koh has writtenthat “academics, nongovernmental organizations, judges, executive officials, Congress, and foreign governments” are “interacting in a variety of private and public, domestic and international fora to make, interpret, internalize, and ultimately enforce rules of transnational law.” Few of these players are identified in the United States Constitution as having the power to make or enforce our laws.

Koh has also supportedthe expansive use of “human rights” treaties to impose radical domestic social and economic policies formulated by foreign “supervisory committees” charged with interpreting these treaties. And he has called on our courtsto “play a key role in coordinating U.S. domestic constitutional rules with rules of foreign and international law.”

In other words, Koh advocates changing the meaning of constitutional provisions to comport more closely with the rules developed by foreign governments and international bodies.

As the State Department’s legal advisor, Koh would be well positioned to facilitate the transfer of power from American voters to foreign bureaucrats. For his duties would include helping to formulate the legal positions the United States takes in federal court on questions of the role foreign law plays in our legal system.

President Obama’s first 100 days have confirmed that he intends to subject America to a radical makeover. As our elected executive, it is his right to attempt this. But that quest should not be carried out anti-democratically by smuggling foreign law into our legal system. It follows that the Senate should not confirm Harold Koh.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Prison Awaiting Hostile Bloggers

Proposed congressional legislation would demand up to two years in prison for those whose electronic speech is meant to “coerce, intimidate, harass, or cause substantial emotional distress to a person.”

Instead of prison, perhaps we should say gulag.

The proposal by Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Los Angeles, would never pass First Amendment muster, unless the U.S. Constitution was altered without us knowing. So Sanchez, and the 14 other lawmakers who signed on to the proposal, are grandstanding to show the public they care about children and are opposed to cyberbullying.

The meaasure, H.R. 1966, is labeled the Megan Meier Cyberbullying Prevention Act. It’s designed to target the behavior that led to last year’s suicide of the 13-year-old Meier.

In response to Meier’s suicide, prosecutors turned to an anti-hacking statute, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, and prosecuted Lori Drew. She was accused of violating MySpace’s terms of service agreement in what prosecutors said was a complex conspiracy to harass Meier via a fake MySpace online profile.

The judge presiding over the case is weighing a motion to nullify the jury’s verdict on allegations the authorities failed to prove Drew knew the MySpace terms of service existed — allegations that would be mooted had Drew been prosecuted under Sanchez’s proposal. Drew’s case was the nation’s first cyberbullying prosecution under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

Sanchez’s bill goes way beyond cyberbullying and comes close to making it a federal offense to log onto the internet or use the telephone. The methods of communication where hostile speech is banned include e-mail, instant messaging, blogs, websites, telephones and text messages.

We can’t say what we think of Sanchez’s proposal. Doing so would clearly get us two years in solitary confinement.

The bill has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee.

           — Hat tip: Robin Hood[Return to headlines]

The Fat Lady Sings the AGW Blues

As that information is even more pertinent today, please allow me to repeat myself: “The Chicago Climate Exchange, which peddles carbon offsets for investment purposes, is a player in the futures market. It’s a spin-off of the InterContinental Exchange (ICE), which was created by international banks led by the global investment and securities banking firm of Goldman Sachs and oil companies led by British Petroleum and Royal Dutch Shell.

A couple of years ago, ICE was involved in a nasty scandal centering around accusations that it was driving oil and gas speculation without regulatory oversight, adding as much as $20 to $25 to the price of a barrel of oil and causing hardship to industry and households and suffering to underdeveloped countries.

One of ICE’s founding partners is Richard Sandor who is credited with being the “inventor” of carbon swaps and carbon-offset derivatives trading. He runs both the Chicago Climate Exchange and the London Climate Exchange.

Goldman Sachs is the largest shareholder of the Chicago Climate Exchange and the second largest shareholder of ICE. In fact, Goldman Sachs put Al Gore into the carbon offset hedge fund business in 2003 when David Blood, a former CEO of Goldman Sachs Assets Management, along with two other former Goldman Sachs officers, helped Gore establish his firm, General Investment Management, which focuses on “Sustainable Investing” by peddling carbon offsets.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Who’s Hunting Savage?

I don’t believe for a minute that the United Kingdom decided to ban entry to U.S. talk-radio star Michael Savage on its own initiative.

First of all, Savage was not asking to enter the U.K.

Second of all, while Savage is a big fish in the U.S., his program is not widely known across the pond.

What would possess Home Secretary Jacqui Smith to single out Savage on a short list of 16 people worldwide who would not be welcome?

I think I know the answer.

But first, you have to understand the backdrop to this story…

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Canada Vows to Take Seal Ban Fight to WTO

OTTAWA — The federal government has a strong case to launch a World Trade Organization challenge to a European ban on seal products because the decision was based on “people’s feelings” rather than hard facts, Trade Minister Stockwell Day says.

“We’re moving ahead with an appeal,” Mr. Day told Canwest News Service on Tuesday, warning that the trade action will proceed unless the European UnionParliament exempts Canada and other countries that he said practise humane and sustainable seal hunting.

“We’ll go to the WTO because it’s clear in WTO regulations that if one country wants to ban the products of another, it has to have clear scientific, medically acceptable reasons for doing so, and this EU ban is not based on hard science.”

The EU Parliament voted 550-49 Tuesday to eliminate seal product imports — such as such as pelts, oil, and meat — a prohibition that would mean a $2.4-million loss for the Canadian industry.

The proposal still must be approved by individual European governments before becoming law and if passed, it could take effect as early as 2010 in the 27 EU nations.

The law would include some exemptions to Inuit communities so they can continue their traditional hunts.

Mr. Day said that the vote was based on emotion rather than facts because opponents portray the seal hunt as it was 40 years ago.

But he said that it has changed and Canada deserves an exemption because it follows internationally accepted guidelines. Among other things, Canada no longer allows the clubbing of baby seals while they still have their white coats.

Fisheries Minister Gail Shea defended the government’s planned trade action, a challenge that could turn out to be relatively expensive, given that the entire Canadian industry, based on the East Coast, is worth an estimated $7-million.

“When you live in small coastal communities, sometimes there’s not many opportunities to make some additional money,” she said on Parliament Hill. “We have a number of families who make up to 35% of their annual income from the seal hunt. So yes, I do think it’s very important.”

Ms. Shea described the European Parliament’s decision as a “politically motivated” one that was driven by special interest groups who have “spent a lot of money misleading the public in Europe” for decades.

Ms. Shea singled out French actress Brigitte Bardot, one of the first of many celebrities to attack the seal hunt. Her high-profile campaign included a 1977 trip to the ice floes off the East Coast, where a famous photograph was taken of her holding a baby seal.

The European Parliament’s move pitted sealers against animal-rights groups, who have decried the annual spring seal hunt as barbaric.

“This is a historic moment in the campaign to stop commercial seal hunts around the world,” said Rebecca Aldworth, director of the Humane Society International Canada, adding that European parliamentarians who supported the law held up photographs and stuffed seal toys before the vote.

Earle McCurdy, president of the Fish, Food and Allied Workers union could not contain his anger toward the EU Parliament.

“They are trying to tell us how to live, to pass judgment on how we live with no regards whatsoever for the impact a growing seal population would have on our fish stocks,” he said.

Robert Courtney, president of the North of Smokey Fishermen’s Association in Nova Scotia, said the government will have to cull the fish-preying seal herd if the ban goes ahead and sealers are no longer motivated to hunt.

Newfoundland Premier Danny Williams called on the Conservative government to retaliate by walking away from a pending trade deal with the European Union being negotiated at a Canada-EU summit in Prague.

“While this vote is certainly a blow to the Canadian sealing industry, it comes at a time when the Government of Canada is very well positioned to deliver a strong message to the European Union,” Mr. Williams said in a statement.

He also called on Harper to urge EU countries to reject the seal ban.

In the House of Commons, MPs from all parties voted to hold a debate Tuesday night to take note “that the seal hunt is a humane and legitimate economic pursuit, and that the European Parliament’s recent decision to ban the importation of seal products is misinformed, inflammatory, counterproductive, and should be rejected.”

The Department of Fisheries estimates the seal population in Canada at about 5.6-million. It sets an annual quota for the hunt, which this spring was 280,000. The bulk of the country’s 7,000 sealers are based in Newfoundland.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Shocking Turnaround as Accused Pleads Guilty in Toronto Bombing Plot

Now that it can be told — sort of — it should be noted how close a call it was.

When Saad Khalid, one of the notorious and now-shrunken group once known as the Toronto 18, this week abruptly pleaded guilty to participating in a terrorist plot to build and detonate bombs in the country’s largest city, it should have been obvious that this was a matter of enormous public importance.

With 12 other adults and five young persons, Mr. Khalid was arrested on June 3, 2006, in the case that was at the time Canada’s first brush with the spectre of so-called “homegrown terrorism” and which immediately caused a national and international uproar.

Charges were later stayed against some alleged members, with the accurate moniker becoming the Toronto 11, one of whom, a youth, was convicted last year of participating in a terrorist group; he will be sentenced later this month. Nine other men, all adults, await their trials.

In the intervening almost three years, as the wheels of justice ground — barely — forward, young Mr. Khalid was not only de facto proclaiming his innocence by his participation in the process, but also was properly presumed to be innocent.

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

Suspect in Toronto 18 Case Pleads Guilty

One of the men accused in the “Toronto 18” terrorism case pleaded guilty to aiding a plot to detonate bombs in the city’s bustling downtown core.

Saad Khalid appeared in a courtroom in Brampton this week to enter the surprise plea, but few other details emerged in light of a publication ban on the facts surrounding the case, according to a lawyer familiar with the file. A sentencing hearing will be held June 22.

Donald McLeod, who represents another of the accused, noted Khalid has become the only one to admit his role in the alleged terrorism plot, which reportedly targeted such high-profile sites as the CN Tower and the Toronto Stock Exchange.

Mr. McLeod could not comment on whether Khalid was viewed as a ringleader, but said his plea will not affect circumstances for his own client, Jahmaal James, who was also arrested in a massive anti-terrorism sweep carried out across the Greater Toronto Area in June of 2006.

“Don’t be looking for [Mr. James] to plead guilty,” Mr. McLeod said. “Where my client’s concerned, it doesn’t change it for us.”

Khalid’s plea, which came with little fanfare, was likely the result of behind-the-scenes manoeuvring between his lawyer and the prosecution to come to an agreement, Mr. McLeod added, “which they’re entitled to do.”

“It’s not necessarily a cloak of secrecy … but in some respects they don’t want to jeopardize their client’s position if they’re in plea negotiations,” he said.

The application for a publication ban, which would cover all of the accused, is set to go before the Supreme Court, Mr. McLeod said. The ban in Khalid’s case prevents the news media from reporting on facts or details of his alleged role in the terrorism plot.

In determining a sentence for Khalid, the judge may consider Khalid’s background and his level of participation in the plot.

“We will be arguing our client’s role was not very significant,” said lawyer Russell Silverstein, who is acting on Khalid’s behalf.

The Toronto 18 terrorism case began to unfold in November of 2005, when Canadian Security and Intelligence Service agents sent Mubin Shaikh to befriend the suspects at a fundraising banquet for people detained under security certificates.

In December, the accused participated in an alleged terrorist training camp near Washago, Ont., where they simulated warfare with paintball guns, ran obstacle courses in the woods and fired semi-automatic handguns.

Several apparently attended a second training camp near Guelph.

In June of 2006, police arrested 14 adults and three youths from across the GTA in a massive sweep, during which officers reported seizing bomb-making materials. All of the suspects were charged with terrorism-related offences. Two months later, an 18th suspect was arrested.

In early 2007, charges against the youngest suspect, a 16-year-old, were stayed, and the Crown later stayed charges against six others.

In May of 2008, Justice John Sproat began hearing evidence at the trial of the only remaining youth charged in the alleged plot, and in September, the 20-year-old was found guilty of participating in a homegrown terror cell that was plotting to kill civilians with guns and explosives

Judge Sproat said the evidence that a terrorist group existed was “overwhelming,” noting the youth was aware of the “political, religious and ideological motivations of the group and its terrorist intentions.”

Charged with attending a terrorist training camp and stealing supplies for the group, the youth was the first of the so-called Toronto 18 to face trial, and his hearing was considered the first test of the prosecution’s case.

His case was also the first terrorism trial to conclude in Canada since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York, and was viewed by some as a test of the country’s ability to ferret out and prosecute terrorists.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Berlin Court Rejects Demjanjuk Appeal

BERLIN — A Berlin court on Wednesday rejected suspected Nazi death camp guard John Demjanjuk’s attempt to block his deportation to Germany, saying his case must be argued in the United States.

It ruled on an emergency suit filed last week against the German Justice Ministry for its role in the upcoming deportation of the 89-year-old Ohio resident, accused of being an accessory to 29,000 murders at the Sobibor camp.

The judges rejected the argument that Germany could block the deportation, saying the decision lies with American authorities, court spokesman Stephan Groscurth said.

He added that judges found the 89-year-old has “been sufficiently able to have (his case) reviewed in the USA.”

Demjanjuk’s attorney in Germany, Ulrich Busch, could not immediately be reached for comment but his son, John Demjanjuk Jr., said in a statement e-mailed to The Associated Press that the decision would be appealed.

“We understand there is tremendous political pressure being put on Germany by the U.S. Justice Department’s OSI (Office of Special Investigations) and Jewish groups,” he wrote. “However, the decision of the German government to accept a deportation remains solely the decision of the Germans.”

Demjanjuk (dem-YAHN’-yuk) is wanted in Germany on an arrest warrant accusing him of accessory to 29,000 murders at the Nazis’ Sobibor death camp in occupied Poland.

Prosecutors in Munich allege he was a guard at the camp in 1943. Demjanjuk maintains he was a prisoner of war, not a camp guard.

Demjanjuk had been tried in Israel after accusations surfaced that he was the notorious Nazi guard “Ivan the Terrible” in Poland at the Treblinka death camp. He was found guilty in 1988 of war crimes and crimes against humanity, a conviction later overturned by the Israeli Supreme Court.

A U.S. judge revoked his citizenship in 2002 based on U.S. Justice Department evidence showing he concealed his service at Sobibor and other Nazi-run death and forced-labor camps.

An immigration judge ruled in 2005 he could be deported to Germany, Poland or Ukraine. Munich prosecutors issued an arrest warrant for him in March.

In the U.S., Demjanjuk’s lawyer said Tuesday he is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to halt the deportation.

Attorney John Broadley said he will ask for a reprieve of at least 90 days so he can argue that a federal appeals court in Ohio erred last week when it denied the Ukrainian-born Demjanjuk a stay of deportation.

The U.S. Justice Department says Demjanjuk and his lawyers have used court filings as a delay tactic. The department provided the appeals court with surveillance video that government attorneys contend shows Demjanjuk is fit enough to travel.

But the filing by Demjanjuk’s lawyer says that even a medically equipped airplane could not eliminate the risk of great pain. Such a risk provides grounds for halting the deportation and “failure to find irreparable injury is incomprehensible,” it said.

Demjanjuk has said he suffers severe spinal, hip and leg pain and has a bone marrow disorder, kidney disease, anemia, kidney stones, arthritis, gout and spinal deterioration.

Groscurth said the Berlin court also rejected the argument that, if Demjanjuk is deported by the U.S., he should be returned immediately.

Judges ruled that “the Federal Republic of Germany has the obligation, because of the warrant for his arrest, to take the accused into custody,” Groscurth said.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Channel Tunnel Marks 15th Anniversary — in Black

UNDER THE ENGLISH CHANNEL — After three years of sweat and toil, Philippe Cozette tunneled into history one wintry day in 1990, using a compressed air drill to power through the last chunk of chalk marl separating undersea tubes extending from the shores of Calais in France to the white cliffs of Dover in England.

When the Frenchman reached through the hole to shake hands with his English colleague Robert Graham Fagg on the other side, the two countries were physically linked for the first time since the last Ice Age.

“Welcome to France,” Cozette said in English. “Bonjour, mon ami,” responded Fagg, before exclaiming in a distinctly English accent: “Vive la France!”

The Channel Tunnel — or Chunnel as it’s affectionately known — opened four years later on May 6, 1994. The world’s longest undersea passageway stands on its 15th anniversary as a dazzling engineering feat that is finally turning a profit following years of crippling losses — and, while tucked away out of sight, it has become a monument to the possibility of change: After centuries of rivalry and warfare, France and England have become partners in a successful enterprise that has changed the face of Europe.

“We don’t have the same way of doing things, but little by little we got to understand each other,” Cozette said, talking about the French and English work crews — but making an observation that could very well apply to the two countries as well.

The French work teams were taught some English, Cozette said, and also given advice about the curious ways of their colleagues from across the Channel.

“We appreciate direct contact,” he said. “The English don’t. But little by little they learned to come and shake hands which is not at all natural for them. … There has been a lot of patience and understanding on both sides.”

Cozette’s story in many ways reflects the ups and downs of the 32-mile (50 kilometer) long Chunnel itself.

He was able to make the transition from construction worker to engine driver when the Chunnel opened, but was laid off along with 900 others in 2005 when the tunnel operator was near financial ruin. He used his severance payment to set himself up as a taxi driver — and Eurotunnel has hired him to chauffeur VIPs and shareholders to the anniversary festivities set for May 6..

Cozette may have lost his job, but he’s still proud of the tunnel, an accomplishment he dreamed of when he was growing up in Calais, the French terminus, and looked toward the English coast some 20 miles (32 kilometers) away.

“When I look at the white cliffs of Dover, I think of the tunnel underneath,” Cozette said wistfully.

Inside, the tunnel is a dark, silent and lifeless place. Even animals don’t venture inside. An immigrant who entered from the French side in April was found dead just 8 kilometers (5 miles) from Calais.

When no train is zipping by, the only sign of life is the water that seeps through the chalk marl, leaving a white, salty dusting on the gray concrete. Fluorescent overhead lights dispel some of the gloom, illuminating miles of pipes and cables.

But the Chunnel has boosted economic life on both sides by improving trading links, galvanizing tourism, and also changing mentalities. Britons have cast aside their island mind-set to warmly embrace the chunnel, overcoming decades of resistance from British military officers who viewed the project as a national security breach that could tempt foreign invaders.

Once this belief faded, physical differences between the two national railway systems had to be worked out — but those adjustments were minor compared to the mental and cultural changes required to make the old enemies partners.

“I like to say the English Channel is 20 miles wide and 1,000 years deep,” said Stephen Clarke, the English author of “A Year in the Merde” and other best-sellers about French life.

“It shows how close and yet so far apart we are. The tunnel has scythed through all that, it’s just become so easy to nip back and forth.”

The two countries, Clarke points out, have been enemies far longer than they have been friends: “We battled each other for domination for so long it is as if we have a genetic allergy for each other.”

“The Hundred Years War was a century where any English landowner or soldiers would come over to France to rape, pillage and steal and then go home with the profits. When the English came, it was time to hide your daughters and your house. So it’s not surprising grudges were held.”

He said the tunnel has become “a secret staircase” that has made it much easier for people to cross the Channel for a football game, a concert, a good meal, or in search of romance.

Now that it has become a reliable transport link, the public tends to take the tunnel for granted, partly because passengers on the Eurostar train between London and Paris don’t even see it as they glide through.

But the American Society of Civil Engineers recognizes it as one of the seven wonders of the modern world.

“It’s humbling,” said Henry Petroski, chairman of the ASCE history and heritage committee. “When it was under construction I took a tour and got a sense of the complexity and scale of it. The project goes back centuries — they started digging once in the 19th Century — and to persevere for so long, over generations, makes it terribly significant. The obstacles were not just technical but political and financial as well.”

But engineering success does not guarantee financial performance.

Once the tunnel opened, the company formed to operate the undersea link lurched from crisis to crisis, dragging down thousands of small shareholders, some of whom had invested their life savings in what had been dubbed the “construction project of the century..”

The tunnel’s operator, Eurotunnel, earns revenue from Eurostar, which pays to operate trains under the Channel, and from its own shuttles, which charge a fee to transport cars, camper vans, motorcycles, buses and trucks between France and England.

The tunnel opened a year late in May 1994, having cost about twice as much as original 4.9 billion pound forecast. Those costs, combined with pie-in-the-sky revenue predictions and savage price competition from ferry lines and budget airlines, left Eurotunnel struggling to keep up with the interest payments on its debt.

Once the banks were trapped by huge costs overruns, they transferred a significant part of their risks to poorly informed individual shareholders, according to Laurent Vilanova, a professor at Lyon University in France.

“The project should never have been financed by small shareholders,” he said. “They didn’t understand what they were getting into.”

Most of the original shareholders were French; some who invested their life savings have been ruined.

“There were suicides,” said Joseph Gouranton, who mounted a shareholders association to defend their interests. “Two wives came to see me. They were small shopkeepers who put all their money into it. They sold their shops thinking it was a good investment. It was a catastrophe for them.”

He said Eurotunnel’s original shareholders have lost as much as 90 percent of their original investment, a position endorsed by independent analysts.

CEO Jacques Gounon is credited with masterminding the financial turnaround since taking over in 2005. He negotiated a deal that halved Eurotunnel’s debt and rescued the company from bankruptcy. But the operation heavily diluted Eurotunnel’s existing shares, which account for 35 percent of the new company, Groupe Eurotunnel SA.

He told the Associated Press that he got the best deal he could for shareholders.

“I tried to defend all the stakeholders,” he said. Banks agreed to write off 5 billion euros of debt after two years of difficult negotiations, Gounon said.

Gounon has been mocked for attending a lavish dinner hosted by Germany’s Deutsche Bank to celebrate the end of the negotiations.

Guests at the VIP party at the opulent Hotel George V in Paris were treated to some of the world’s finest wines, including a Chateau Haut-Brion premier grand cru costing around euro1,000 a bottle, and a 1950 Chateau d’Yquem sauternes estimated at euro2,000 a bottle.

With a Gallic shrug, Gounon said his only sadness comes from the fact that he had to leave before the vintage wines were uncorked.

“What caused the scandal of this dinner was that at the end there was a tasting of very prestigious wines,” he said. “If I have a regret, it’s not having stayed. They accuse me of having gone to this dinner and I didn’t even get to taste the wine.”

But lessons have been learned.

Gounon said the anniversary celebration marking 15 years since Queen Elizabeth II and then French President Francois Mitterrand opened the Channel Tunnel in two elaborate ribbon cutting ceremonies in France and England will be a more subdued affair.

Shareholders will meet in the French town of Coquelles, near Calais, to vote on awarding themselves the first dividend in Eurotunnel’s troubled history.

“We will be modest, economic,” he said. “I think saying that there are no more financial problems at Eurotunnel and to vote the first dividend in the company’s history, that’s enough to mark the 15th birthday.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Czech Senators Approve EU’s Lisbon Treaty

PRAGUE (AFP) — The European Union’s troubled Lisbon Treaty won the endorsement of Czech senators Wednesday, leaving an Irish referendum as the last big stumbling block to a major reform of the European Commission.

“The Czech Senate decided today after a discussion that had taken about a year and three months,” Senate chairman Premysl Sobotka told reporters.

Senators in the Czech Republic, the current holder of the European Union presidency, approved the text designed to streamline decision-making in the EU with 54 votes against 20.

The future of the text, which must be ratified by all 27 EU members to take effect, now depends largely on Ireland, which will hold a second referendum on the text by November, following its rejection by voters there last year.

The outcome of the Czech ratification depends on the country’s eurosceptic President Vaclav Klaus, a fierce opponent of the treaty, who must add his signature to the text to complete the process.

Klaus has said he would delay the signature beyond the Irish referendum, following the example of Polish President Lech Kaczynski, who is also reluctant to sign the text despite its endorsement by the Polish parliament.

“The Czech government and parliament cannot wield any influence whatsoever on the president. He is free to decide as he wishes,” said Sobotka.

Despite the unclear future, the treaty’s supporters welcomed the result.

“This is very good news. I am very happy at the approval today of the Treaty of Lisbon by the Czech senate, which completes the parliamentary process of ratification in the Czech Republic,” European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso said in a statement.

And Alexandr Vondra, Czech deputy prime minister for European affairs, said: “This is an important day for the Czech Republic, for its position and influence in the EU and the world.”

           — Hat tip: ESW[Return to headlines]

Czech Parliament Ratifies Lisbon Treaty

The Czech Republic has completed parliamentary ratification of the Lisbon European Union Treaty, leaving Ireland isolated ahead of its second referendum this autumn.

Czech senators removed the last barrier to the Lisbon Treaty, outside Ireland, by voting 54-20, with seven abstentions, to ratify the text derived from the old EU Constitution.

The Czechs have never been enthusiastic supporters of the Lisbon Treaty or its predecessor and the issue caused the collapse of the country’s government in March, midway through its turn at the EU’s rotating presidency.

“I do not accept the Lisbon Treaty with any great euphoria,” said Mirek Topolanek, the Czech prime minister, who stands down on Thursday.

“But I take it as a price for membership in the club.”

José Manuel Barroso, the European Commission President, described the Czech senate vote as “very good news”.

“I hope that the remaining constitutional requirements in both the Czech Republic and other member states will be completed as quickly as possible,” he said.

“After the news today there are very good prospects for the Irish vote.”

The treaty now awaits signature by the country’s President Vaclav Klaus who has led Czech opposition to ratification. He has refused to sign it until after a second Irish referendum.

“The Lisbon Treaty is dead for this moment. It is dead because it was rejected in a referendum in one member state,” he said.

Parliamentary ratification has now been completed in all EU countries and awaited signatures from the Czech and Polish presidents are regarded as a formality as is a German court ruling on the treaty later this year.

Ireland is expected to hold a second referendum in October in an attempt to overturn a rejection by Irish voters in June 2008.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Denmark: Parents to Pay for Children’s Sins

The justice minister is backing a new law to make parents responsible when their kids commit acts of vandalism

Parents of youths who commit vandalism will be forced to pay up for their children’s damages as of 1 July, per a law which is slated to be passed on Thursday.

The Liberal-Conservative government and the Danish People’s Party are set to give their majority approval to the proposal, which would apply to all young people under 18 living at home. The maximum each family would pay for any such vandalism would be 7,500 kroner.

Vandalism annually costs the state and businesses billions of kroner nationwide, with public transport and schools especially targeted. Originally the proposal was put forth by the Commission for Youth Criminality, although seven of the 16 commission members voted against the recommendation. But Justice Minister Brian Mikkelsen believes the measure can be a successful deterrent.

‘The proposal will create the incentive for parents to take responsibility for turmoil their children cause,’ he told MetroXpress newspaper. ‘We’re doing this so that parents get more involved in what their kids are doing, how late them come home and who they’re with.’

But many social experts have been critical of the proposal, saying it will not have the desired effect.

‘It’s all hot air,’ said Flemming Balvig, one of the commission members who voted against the recommendation.

‘It won’t prevent crime and it may actually have the opposite effect, because these families are often already filled with conflict.’

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Denmark: No Preference for Catholics at Nursery

[Comment from Tuan Jim: A city council can tell a (presumably) private school what it can and can’t do?]

A Zealand nursery school will not be allowed to show preferential treatment to Catholic families

Roskilde city council has given its thumbs down to efforts by St. Josef’s nursery school to prioritise its acceptance of children to those who are Catholic, reports Dagbladet online newspaper.

The school’s board has wished to change its admittance requirements to read that ‘It is the institution’s goal to serve as a day care centre for children. And to the extent possible, children of Catholic families will be taken into consideration.’

Roskilde city council refused to allow the amendment, however. The board had also decided earlier in the year that its kids should visit the Catholic St. Laurentii Church on holy days.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Denmark: 30 Percent of Danes Declare Themselves as Socialists

This report comes to us from Politiken:

As thousands of Danes attend Labour Day meetings throughout the country a new survey shows that almost a third of the population claims to be socialist.

“That is rather a lot,” says a surprised historian and labour movement expert Claus Bryld, although he provides some explanation.

“Danes have different ideas as to the concept of socialism. Some take it literally as the old-fashioned, pure socialism that we knew in the Soviet Union. Others simply tie it to community spirit and solidarity and some regulation of businesses,” Bryld tells Politiken.

The Megafon survey, carried out for TV2 and Politiken shows that 32 percent of those asked agreed with the phrase: “I am a socialist.”

A little reminder to that 32 percent of parasites and cowards; you are in the minority and it is in that minority that your ideas will perish. There has never been a more deplorable and disgusting human characteristic than that of socialism. No matter how you try to sell yourselves, the characteristics of a typical socialist remain the same.

           — Hat tip: costin[Return to headlines]

European Parliament Yet Again Turning a Blind Eye to Democracy

Brussels, May 6th: Tonight Members of the European Parliament will have a lengthy debate on the implementation of the Lisbon Treaty despite the fact that according to the EU’s own rules the Treaty is dead. A total of five different reports have been prepared by MEPs for this anti-democratic debate including the Parliament’s new role and responsibilities in implementing the Lisbon Treaty. This discussion exemplifies yet again the inherent disrespect for the democratic views of European citizens by Brussels and the lack of accountability in Brussels to which Libertas is strongly opposed. Libertas Chairman, and leader of the “No” campaign in the 2008 Irish referendum, Declan Ganley said: “Members of the European Parliament are completely out of touch with reality. Instead of debating live issues, they are spending resources on something which does not exist because it has been rejected by the only people who were allowed vote for it. This displays their arrogance, their disrespect for democracy, and their waste of taxpayers money”.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

France Says it Will Take Algerian From Guantanamo

PARIS — France says it will take in an Algerian who has been held prisoner by the United States at Guantanamo Bay for the past seven years.

Lakhdar Boumediene was arrested along with five other Algerians in 2001 in Bosnia, suspected in a bomb attack plot against the U.S. embassy in Sarajevo. He arrived in Guantanamo in January 2002.

France’s Foreign Ministry did not say Wednesday why Boumediene was not going back to Algeria or when Boumediene would arrive from Guantanamo.

A U.S. federal judge ruled in November that the evidence against Boumediene was not credible.

President Barack Obama has promised to close the prison at Guantanamo and has urged allies to help take prisoners from there. France promised to take one Guantanamo prisoner when Obama attended the NATO summit in April.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

French Judge Wants to Investigate 3 Africa Leaders

PARIS — A French judge has decided to investigate three African heads of state for money laundering and other alleged crimes linked to their wealth in France.

The probe follows a complaint by Transparency International France, an association that tracks corruption, against Gabon’s Omar Bongo, Republic of Congo’s Denis Sassou-Nguesso and Teodoro Obiang of Equatorial Guinea.

Association lawyer William Bourdon claimed Tuesday the decision was “unprecedented” for such a probe against heads of state.

A preliminary investigation turned up numerous signs of wealth among the three that Bourdon says belongs to their people.

The prosecutor’s office opposed the opening of an investigation April 20 and now has five days to appeal the decision by investigating Magistrate Francoise Desset.

Bongo is among the last of the so-called “African Big Men” who came to power by the gun and resisted the democratic tide sweeping the continent. He faces little political opposition in his oil-rich West African nation, ruling through a mixture of patronage and quiet intimidation.

Last year, Bongo became the world’s longest-ruling head of state, not counting the monarchs of Britain and Thailand. He has been in charge since 1967.

French media have reported his family owns abundant real estate in France — at one time with more Paris properties than any other foreign leader.

Equatorial Guinea is Africa’s No. 3 oil producer. Its leader, Obiang, has faced several attempts to topple his government since he seized power in a coup three decades ago. His government is considered among Africa’s worst human rights violators.

Sassou-Nguesso of the Republic of Congo seized power for a second time in 1997 with help from Angolan troops.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

German Finance Minister Groups EU States With African Country

Unloved in much of Europe for his outspoken views on stimulus and tax havens, Germany’s finance minister strikes again. In response to criticism of the OECD’s gray list of countries that are tax havens, Peer Steinbrück has compared Switzerland, Austria and Liechtenstein to the poor African country of Burkina Faso.

German Finance Minister Peer Steinbrück has made few friends in a handful of European countries in recent months with his aggressive campaign to stamp out tax havens — both here and abroad. On Tuesday, he set the tone a notch shriller, comparing Switzerland, Luxembourg and Austria with the developing African nation Burkina Faso, where per capita annual income is just $430.

In remarks made at the European Union finance ministers’ meeting in Brussels, he defended a decision by the G-20 and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development to include Luxembourg, Austria and Belgium on a “gray” list of countries that have been uncooperative with foreign tax authorties and are tax havens worthy of repudiation. Last autumn, the OECD created a black list for the worst offenders and a gray list for the eight countries that, in the international organization’s opinion, do not do enough to combat tax evasion by foreigners who take advantage of their bank secrecy laws.

During a meeting with journalists, Steinbrück criticized Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria and Luxembourg for their failure to attend an international conference on tax havens in Paris last September. “They could have attended,” he said. “I make no bones about the fact that I think this list, which is incomplete and might contain errors, is right,” Steinbrück said, adding that he would invite “Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Austria and Ouagadougou,” the capital of Burkina Faso, to a follow-up meeting in Berlin in June.

With his comments, Steinbrück directly challenged the chairman of the group of EU finance ministers, Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker. On Monday, Juncker once again criticized the gray list. He said it violated an EU decision in March “that no European country would be included on the list.” He accused the largest European economic powers — Germany, France, Britain and Italy — of forcing the issue through at the G-20 summit in London.

But Steinbrück refused to apologize to the Luxembourg leader. “We have nothing to apologize for,” he said, noting that the German treasury was losing a lot of money through tax evasion and that “honest taxpayers in Germany are left looking stupid.”

“Feelings Luxembourgers Would Prefer to Forget”

Steinbrück even seems to have exhausted the patience of his allies. Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn, a personal friend and party colleague of Steinbrück, told SPIEGEL ONLINE on Wednesday that Steinbrück’s rhetoric had descended to the level of bar room banter and that his statements smack of “a rarely exceeded level of arrogance.”

“No Socialist, no supporter and no voter of our party appreciates, let alone accepts, these belittling comments,” said Asselborn. “Every Luxembourger remembers with horror a time in which Germany, initially through word and speech, poured humiliation and fear into their lives. The slightest hint of arrogance coming from a German high official rekindles the kind of feelings that Luxembourgers would prefer to forget.”

Steinbrück’s comments come on the heels of a diplomatic brouhaha in March, in which Steinbrück compared the Swiss to Wild-West “Indians” cowering under the influence of the financial industry’s cavalry. That in turn had led a Swiss member of parliament to describe Steinbrück as a “Nazi henchman,” which sparked outrage in Germany. Swiss tabloids also depicted the finance minister as an “ugly German.”

Last October, Steinbrück called for Switzerland to be included on the OECD’s blacklist of tax havens, saying that the country’s banking industry helped Germans avoid paying taxes. So far, though, the OECD has yet to place a single country on the black list — and only 12 countries are on its gray list.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Greenland: Seal Ban is Murder of a Culture

Greenland lambasts EU decision to ban the trade in seal products

Greenland’s Foreign Minister Per Berthelsen says he is so incensed by an EU ban on seal products, that he is considering raising the issue in the European Court.

“This ban hurts us, because we still have a large group of people who ar dependent on being able to sell sealskin, and we cannot just continue to store a major stock in pelts,” Berthelsen says.

“At the end of the day, the ban can result in tragic consequences for that part of our culture,” he tells KNR.

Majority The EU ban, which was passed with a massive majority in the European Parliament, has been praised by animal welfare organisations, who see the decision as a milestone and historic victory.

As a result of the ban, EU countries can no longer import meat, oil, blubber, organs or pelts from seal. Although there is an exception clause for traditional inuit hunting, Berthelsen says that the ban will hit Greenland’s traditional hunters hard.

“The European Court should study whether this is the murder of a culture. The ban does major damage to our traditional hunting without providing alternatives for those who are dependent on being able to sell sealskin,” Berthelsen says.

Exports Greenland’s sealskin exports have dropped drastically in recent years. Some 85,000 skins were exported in 2004 — dropping to 44,000 in 2007.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Increased Birth Rate for Danish Women

Danish women are giving birth more, while immigrant women are cutting back on their number of children

A new report from Statistics Denmark shows that Danish women are having more children than ever. Last year, women of child-bearing age had an average of 1.9 children, which is the highest figure since 1975.

Welfare researcher Karen Sjørup of Roskilde University told Berlingske Tidende newspaper that most Danish couples want two children and no longer face financial or career barriers by having more children.

‘The mum and dad can look after a job and career and at the same time there are good opportunities for childcare in nurseries and kindergartens. In addition, we also are well covered by maternity leave,’ said Sjørup.

Meanwhile, other figures from the statistics agency show that families from non-Western countries who settle in Denmark are having fewer children than before. These foreign women gave birth to an average of 3.04 children in 1998, but that figure fell to an average of 1.94 by last year.

Garbi Schmidt from the National Research Center for Welfare said that the falling figures were as a result of immigrant women adopting the norms and values of fellow Danish mothers.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Netherlands: Supporters Commemorate Death of Pim Fortuyn

Supporters of murdered Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn commemorate the seventh anniversary of his death today. A minute’s silence will be held at Mr Fortuyn’s memorial statue in his hometown Rotterdam. The city’s mayor, Ahmed Aboutaleb, will also attend the ceremony.

The controversial rightwing populist politician was shot after giving a radio interview, just nine days before the 2002 general election. His murderer was environmental activist Volkert van der Graaf. Mr Fortuyn’s party, the List Pim Fortuyn (LPF), went on to gain more than 17 percent of the seats in parliament in what was its first election, an unprecedented feat in the Netherlands.

The party took four ministerial posts in the coalition government formed after those elections. However, without its charismatic leader, within months the LPF collapsed in disarray and the government fell. By 2006 the party had lost all its seats in parliament, and last year it was dissolved entirely. Its place has been taken by new rightwing populist parties, Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party and Rita Verdonk’s Proud of the Netherlands.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Netherlands: School Sued Over Pupil Forced Into Prostitution

Lucie Mosterd, the mother of a girl who became the victim of forced prostitution, is demanding 74,000 euros in damages from the girl’s former school in the eastern town of Zwolle. She says the school, the Thorbecke Scholengemeenschap, failed to provide a safe environment for her daughter Maria, and did not operate an adequate policy on truancy.

At the age of 18, Maria Mosterd authored a successful book on her experiences, entitled Real men don’t eat cheese. The book recounts her time as the victim of a so-called ‘loverboy’, the popular Dutch term for a young pimp who seduces a teenage girl in order to force her into prostitution. She describes a four-year ordeal when she was aged between 12 and 16, enmeshed in a world of rape, violence, human trafficking and drug smuggling.

Ernst Muller, Lucie Mosterd’s lawyer, confirmed the legal action following a report in the regional newspaper De Stentor. He says the school failed to take appropriate action despite Maria Mosterd’s repeated absence from school during the time that she was being forced to work as a prostitute. Via her website she is appealing for eyewitnesses to come forward in support of the legal action.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Norway: The EU Adopts Trade Ban on Seal Products

The EU has adopted a trade ban on seal products. The Norwegian government believes the ban may be incompatible with international trade rules, and may bring the ban before the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere believes the proposed ban could affect Norway unfairly:

“An EU ban on trade in seal products could restrict our freedom to manage our own marine resources. Norwegian sealing takes a sustainable and modern approach to harvesting marine resources. We expect the EU to take due account of the scientific basis for Norwegian sealing. The proposed ban is a serious challenge for us as a close partner of the EU.”

Before the vote was taken, Mr Stoere urged the EU member states to take full account of the scientific facts when making their decision. The European Commission’s own impact assessment describes Norwegian sealing methods as fully acceptable. The seal hunt is supervised by official inspectors, and the hunters have to pass annual shooting tests. Norwegian sealing is probably the most regulated and best controlled form of hunting practised anywhere in the world.

The Minister said the proposed ban could constitute a dangerous precedent and affect trade in animal products that are harvested in a sustainable and ethical way. Norway has reiterated its willingness to cooperate with the European Commission on the development of international standards for seal hunting.

“In order to safeguard Norwegian interests, we have therefore informed the EU that we will request consultations under the WTO Dispute Settlement Mechanism if the EU introduces an extensive ban”, Mr Stoere said last month.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Obama to Trace Family History in Germany

US President Barack Obama is coming to Germany again in June, but he won’t be visiting Berlin. Instead, he is planning a more personal trip to Dresden and the concentration camp Buchenwald in search of his family history. There will be no photo op with Merkel in the Chancellery — a deliberate move on Obama’s part.

Barack Obama’s planned trip to Germany in June is not going to be an official state visit. German diplomatic sources told SPIEGEL ONLINE that the US president is planning a private trip in which he will go on a personal search to places of importance for his family history.

On Tuesday, the news became public that a White House advance team is currently in the eastern German city of Dresden, where they are looking for possible accommodations for the president. In addition to a short visit to the city on the Elbe River, the president is also intending to visit the memorial at the former Nazi concentration camp Buchenwald.

Obama’s great-uncle, Charlie Payne, served in the 89th Infantry Division during World War II and participated in the liberation of Ohrdruf, a forced labor camp that was a satellite camp of Buchenwald. It’s possible Obama could visit on June 5, one day before his planned participation in the celebrations of the 65th anniversary of the landing of the American troops in Normandy.

A diplomat said Dresden would offer the president a good opportunity to get some first-hand historical impressions of Germany. But other sites are also being discussed for his visit. The German federal government is also helping the White House advance team with its work. The White House recently informed the German government of Obama’s desire to visit the country.

German government spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm said on Tuesday that Berlin and Washington were already conducting preliminary discussions regarding the possible visit in June. German Chancellor Angela Merkel would be delighted if the US president were to visit again, Wilhelm said. During the NATO summit in Strasbourg and Kehl at the beginning of April, Obama had already made a side trip to the German town of Baden-Baden. As presidential candidate, he held a speech in July 2008 in front of around 200,000 people at Berlin’s Victory Column which generated massive media attention.

German diplomats are now quickly saying that the new proposed visit, despite its more personal nature, fits wonderfully into this series. But that could just be an attempt to put a positive spin on things. An official visit by Obama to Berlin seems highly unlikely during the German election campaign — even though Chancellor Merkel for one would prefer the popular US president to make an official appearance at the Chancellery instead of touring around the states of Saxony and Thuringia.

Diplomats point out that other major nations such as France have so far tried in vain to secure a normal state visit from Obama. However it’s perfectly plausible that the White House could be sending a message with the unusual travel plans. Relations between Chancellor Merkel and the new US president have not been particularly close so far.

Merkel rejected Obama’s wish to be allowed to speak at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin as a presidential candidate. So far, she has made no official visit to Washington since Obama was inaugurated, even though a date had already been found before the G-20 summit in April. But according to reports, the chancellor had little desire to cross the Atlantic just for a few hours of talks. In return, Obama may now have little desire to grant Germany an official state visit like the one America’s closest ally, the United Kingdom, already received in the context of the G-20-meeting.

Have the two politicians become distanced from one another? Merkel and Obama got on marvelously at previous meetings such as the G-20 and NATO summits, top German officials claim, saying that their personalities are very similar. The German-American relationship is currently characterized by “strategic patience on both sides,” say officials diplomatically.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Spain Arrest 29 in Alleged Cuban Migrant Ring

MADRID — Spanish authorities have arrested 29 people suspected of forging credit cards to finance an elaborate scheme to smuggle Cubans into the U.S. from Mexico, police said Wednesday.

The organization hacked credit card data to steal more than euro400,000 ($530,000) from customers at restaurants and bars around Spain, a police statement said.

The network allegedly used the funds and help from a Spanish non-governmental organization to forge passports and travel documents and move Cubans along a convoluted route that included stops in Nicaragua, Spain and Mexico.

Spanish police said they did not immediately know how many Cubans actually made it to Mexico or across the border into the U.S.

Police said the group brought Cubans to Nicaragua to work in companies serving as fronts for the smuggling gang.

In Nicaragua, the group got help from a senior official of a Spanish NGO, police said.

From that Central American country, Cubans were eventually brought to Spain with fake papers stating they had jobs waiting for them, then given forged passports to travel to Mexico. There, members of the smuggling ring would aid them in sneaking across the U.S. border, the police statement said.

A Spanish NGO called Infancia sin Fronteras (Childhood without Borders) said one of its employees was involved in the scheme. It insisted the NGO itself had nothing to do with the alleged smuggling operation.

Spanish police said they launched their investigation in August and arrested the 29 suspects in late April in Madrid and Barcelona.. Most are Cubans, and the rest are Spanish, Dominican, Nicaraguan, Colombian or Costa Rican.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Swedish Pirate Party May Get Seat in EU Parliament

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) — Sweden’s Pirate Party, which wants to reform copyright law, could ride a wave of discontent over tighter control of computer file-sharing all the way into the European Parliament in June.

The jail sentences handed out last month to the four Swedish men behind The Pirate Bay, one of the world’s biggest free file-sharing Web sites, have given a boost to the namesake party among young voters in Sweden, a recent opinion poll showed.

“It is definitely something that has put the spotlight on our issues,” Christian Engstrom, the party’s top candidate for the European Parliament, told Reuters.

“And it has demonstrated why it is so important, because the legal machine, if it’s allowed to continue, is going to crush the Internet, starting with the Pirate Bay and then continuing on to other enterprises.”

A DN/Synovate poll ahead of the Europe-wide vote in June showed the party, which is not linked to the Web site though some of its views coincide with those voiced by the Pirate Bay defendants, winning 5.1 percent of the Swedish vote.

That would be enough to secure the party, which wants to deregulate copyright, abolish the patent system and a decrease the level of surveillance of the Internet, a seat in the European parliament.

The party was founded in 2006 and won only 0.6 percent of the vote in the Swedish general elections that year.

The leader of the Pirate Party, Rick Falkvinge, believes that new Swedish laws, that for instance allow copyright holders to track down the IP-numbers of suspected file-sharers, are the main reason for the sudden popularity.

“We’re seeing a shockwave of new repressive legislation that is seriously jeopardizing the core of our civil liberties,” he said.. “People are starting to wake up to that fact.”

What will decide the outcome for the party is simply the question of whether its sympathizers will turn up to vote in the election that is usually plagued by low voter turn-out.

Torbjorn Larsson, associate professor of political science at Stockholm University, said there was a risk some of the Pirate Party supporters won’t show up.

“Young people have a tendency not to vote. But if this issue stays on the agenda up to election day, it will make a big difference,” he said.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

The EU’s Eastern ‘Sphere of Influence’

The European Union on Thursday is set to sign a partnership agreement with a number of countries on its eastern border. Russia, though, fears that Brussels is trying to move in on its territory. German commentators on Wednesday agree.

From the European Union’s perspective, of course, Thursday’s meeting in Prague, to be attended by a number of the 27-member bloc’s eastern neighbors, looks like an important regional gathering aimed at strengthening economic and strategic partnerships.

Slovakian border guards looking across the EU’s eastern border into Ukraine.

Not surprisingly, though, Russia has a slightly different take on the EU’s Eastern Partnership, as the plan is called. The six countries invited — Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine — are all seen by Moscow as belonging to its sphere if influence.

“What is the Eastern Partnership if not an attempt to extend the EU’s sphere of influence?” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov asked in March, according to the news Web site “Is this promoting democracy, or is it blackmail?”

Ostensibly, the â‚600 million ($800 million) agreement, originally proposed by Sweden and Poland in May 2008, is meant to pave the way for improved trade relationships as well as to ease travel restrictions. Both political and economic instability in the region, however, has led many to see the pact as an important measure necessary to increase stability on Europe’s eastern border. The Georgia-Russian war last summer lent urgency to the project and ongoing friction between Russia and Ukraine has likewise made many in Europe nervous.

“The aim is to avoid any freezing of relations with the eastern partners (and to) prevent the emergence of some vacuum between the Union and Russia,” Czech Deputy Prime Minister Alexandr Vondra told Reuters.

EU representatives have brushed aside Russian criticisms as unfounded. “This is not about spheres of influence,” Vondra said. “It is based on voluntariness and free will on both sides.”

Indicating the importance Germany attaches to the partnership, Chancellor Angela Merkel has decided to attend the Thursday summit.. Interestingly, Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko has opted not to attend, despite widespread elation in his country that Belarus was invited in the first place, a gesture ending years of isolation for Minsk. Observers, though, say that his decision is meant to avoid potential embarrassment for Western leaders who might prefer not to be seen with the man who has been referred to as “ Europe’s last dictator.”

German commentators take a look at the Eastern Partnership on Wednesday.

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

“The Eastern Partnership was initially just meant to counter French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s proposal for a Mediterranean Union. But then Russia’s war with Georgia in August increased the urgency of launching a political initiative for the region. And then it grew even more with both the clashes between Russia and Ukraine over natural gas supplies and the economic crisis. But the â‚600 million set out to ease trade and travel arrangements is rather skimpy. And, in organizational terms, things are not very well-defined. Unlike the rather pompously staged Mediterranean Union, there is no secretariat and no president at the top. And prospects for joining the EU are expressly not part of any new offer of friendship.”

“Indeed, with all of its frozen conflicts, the minefield to EU’s east requires any initiative that will bring some degree of relative calm. But Moscow sees the initiative as a provocation is protesting against the EU’s involvement in a regiont it sees as its own sphere of influence. In reality, the Eastern Partnership is really nothing more than an EU attempt to buy more influence at a relatively cheap price..”

The Financial Times Deutschland writes:

“Those wishing to take advantage of the opportunities offered by closer cooperation with Ukraine and Georgia should be very clear about what that entails. By following that path, there is no doubt that the EU is expanding its ‘sphere of influence,’ even if diplomats in Brussels prefer to steer clear of the term. It is very much in the EU’s own best interests to have neighbors on its borders that share similar values and norms. It’s not just a matter of thinking that democracies make nicer neighbors. Over the long term, they are more dependable trading partners, present less of a military threat and attract more investors.”

“Russia has a very different view of the region. It’s not just that Russia is not interested in seeing former Soviet states become democracies; the fact is that such a process goes directly against its own plans. For years, Russia has been ruled by a political caste that is closely intertwined with business interests that are not too inclined to support transparency and open political debate. Nothing would weaken this caste’s position more than having a formerly Soviet neighbor become a democracy — and an economically successful one at that.”

“Under these circumstances, it is becoming clear that the EU must both admit to itself that it has a sphere of influence but also accept the consequences. Partnerships with the EU can’t just be used to placate countries in the region and avoid having to offer full membership in the future. Whoever shows a serious interest in being accepted into the EU must also be given a chance to do so — even if such a step would only be possible at some point in the distant future.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

UK: ‘You’Re Just Not Up to the Job, ‘ Cameron Says as He Demands Brown Calls an Election Now

The Tory leader claimed going to the country was the ‘last bold thing’ Mr Brown could do because even his own Cabinet no longer has faith in him.

David Cameron mocked Gordon Brown’s ‘appalling judgment’ today as he insisted the only option he has left is to call a general election.

The Tory leader claimed going to the country was the ‘last bold thing’ Mr Brown could do because even his own Cabinet no longer has faith in him.

In a blistering question time, he said Labour is in ‘terminal decline’ and the Prime Minister is the only person who still thought he was up to leading the country.

And he ridiculed him for not sacking Communities Secretary Hazel Blears after she was openly critical at the weekend.

His voice verging on pitying, Mr Cameron said: ‘No one doubts he might have come into politics for the right reasons but isn’t it clear he’s just not up to the job.

‘The public know it, his party know it and now the Cabinet knows it so why not do the last bold thing left to him — call an election.’

Aides say Mr Brown is banking on a ruthless clearout of troublesome ministers after next month’s local elections in the hope it will restore his credibility.

The reshuffle after the local and European elections in the first week of June will be the last before a General Election expected next May.

Miss Blears, who mocked Mr Brown’s awkward performance on YouTube at the weekend, and Home Secretary Jacqui Smith are both facing the axe.

Nick Brown, the Labour chief whip, could also be demoted amid claims he has fuelled a rebellion against Mr Brown’s plans to overhaul the Royal Mail.

Mr Brown was incandescent with rage at the article by Miss Blears which accused the Government of ‘lamentable errors’ in its attempts to communicate with the public.

In comments that were generally interpreted as a calculated dig at his widely derided video announcement on the reform of MP’s expenses, she said: ‘YouTube if you want to but it’s no substitute for knocking on doors.’

Mr Cameron gleefully read out part of her article to the Commons today and repeatedly demanded to know why she was still in the Cabinet.

‘Who on earth does the PM think she is referring to? Doesn’t he realise his Government simply cannot go on like this?’, he said.

Labour was in ‘terminal decline’ leaving Britain facing a ‘wasted year with an utterly busted Government’, he claimed to huge cheers from the Tory benches.

Mr Brown dodged questions about Miss Blears and tried to fight back with claims Mr Cameron lacked substance but was mocked for claiming: ‘Compassionate conservatism is gone, gone and gone.’

The Tory leader immediately countered: ‘I am sure that sounded just great in the bunker, where the mobile phones were flying and the printers were flying around the room’

He added: ‘The Prime Minister talks about isolated, he’s isolated in his own Cabinet. He’s the only one who thinks he’s any good. What is it about this Prime Minister and elections?’

Mr Brown replied: ‘The Conservative Party are in the dark ages of policy they have got to think again. He is completely out of his depth when it comes to the big issues.’

But there was further embarrassment when the tale about him bawling out a switchboard operator in Downing Street, as revealed in the Daily Mail yesterday, was brought up by a Tory Mp.

To gales of laughter, Stephen Crabb asked: ‘What do you intend to do about the important issue of bullying in the workplace, given the reliable reports of a senior Whitehall boss throwing mobile phones and printers and swearing at switchboard operators?’

Mr Brown replied curtly: ‘Any complaints are dealt with in the usual manner.’

His allies had earlier begged for Labour to show unity again today, with deputy Labour leader Harriet Harman accusing former ministers of ganging up on their leader.

In a clear dig at former Home Secretaries Charles Clarke and David Blunkett, she said ex-Cabinet heavyweights should stop being ‘political pundits’.

‘We don’t want anybody who is part of Labour’s team in Parliament giving people the impression that we are anything other than completely focused on giving the help they need at this time,’ she said.

Children’s Secretary Ed Balls, a close ally of the Prime Minister, joined in by blaming Mr Clarke’s attack on Labout this weekend on Norwich City football club’s relegation.

‘Charles is Charles. He has made these comments before and he will do so again, sometimes he regrets them. I think he was making those comments before Norwich ended up being relegated to the lower division which was a day of sadness for us all,’ he said.

Meanwhile, Business Secretary Lord Mandelson attacked Mr Cameron’s message of ‘austerity’ and warned him against talking down the country.

He did not mention the Tory leader by name but claimed there was a ‘deliberate political or media ploy’ to make voters feel bad to try and gain an electoral advantage.

Just 24 hours after Mr Cameron claimed Labour was running Britain into the ground, he said undermining confidence in Britain’s future was a ‘route to inexorable economic decline’.

Yesterday Mr Brown pulled Miss Blears aside for a dressing down after a Cabinet meeting.

Senior Government sources say that he had already subjected her to ‘the hair-dryer treatment’ at the weekend, a reference to the aggressive rants used by the Manchester United football manager Sir Alex Ferguson to berate errant players.

The talks were apparently cordial, as Miss Blears apologised for the way her words had been interpreted.

But it is understood that the Prime Minister is in no mood to forgive and forget his internal critics, who he blames for derailing his leadership with constant carping about his character and presentational skills.

Mr Brown is also furious that publicity about ministerial expenses fiddles forced him into the hasty reforms, announced on YouTube, which then disintegrated into chaos last week amid wholesale rebellion on the backbenches.

Miss Smith’s future has been hanging by a thread ever since it came to light that she tried to claim the costs of her husband’s pornography on her Parliamentary expenses.

A ministerial source told the Mail that colleagues think she is ‘overwhelmed’ by the pace of the Home Office and distracted by her personal problems.

‘She appears to be utterly defeated by everything and you can’t have someone like that at the Home Office,’ a source said.

Miss Smith is expected to be offered a downwards move but Mr Brown is content for her to leave the Government altogether.

Chief among the likely beneficiaries of any changing of the guard is expected to be Mr Balls who could replace Miss Smith as Home Secretary.

Mr Balls would prefer a move to the Treasury but Mr Brown may feel replacing Chancellor Alistair Darling would destabilise the Government further.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

UK: Banning the Display of Cigarettes is a Step Too Far

Tobacco is a legal product so why further restrict its advertising and promotion, says Gordon Borrie.

No one approves of drink driving. And yet even the most ardent campaigner against such activity would never advocate banning car parks at public house or near them on the grounds that this might encourage drink driving. It would be seen as draconian and against our principles of liberty not to trust people to act responsibly.

Our Government, however, is currently pushing through legislation which would introduce a ban on the display of cigarettes in shops, supermarkets and nightclubs, even though they have acknowledged that tobacco is an entirely legal product. We already have a ban on smoking in public. There are severe restrictions on advertising, promotion and sponsorship of tobacco. And, rightly so, the sale of tobacco products to youngsters and those underage is forbidden.

Yet the Department of Health, which has enough on its plate already including the recent outbreak of swine flu, persists in seeking to ban the display of something which its own ministers have admitted is a legal product. What is more, the evidence as to the impact of such a ban from the two countries where it already exists is inconclusive.

This week the Lords debates the provisions of the Health Bill which would bring in such a ban. As it stands the Government’s plans pose a risk to hundreds of corner shops who rely on income from the sale of tobacco products. In a time of recession, one would think that a responsible government would have more pressing issues on its agenda.

The risk to our convenience stores, and the benefits they bring to the local community, is enough reason to question the wisdom of introducing such a display ban. Jobs will be lost and shops will close as a result of a measure which there is scant evidence that it will have any effect on stopping people and young people smoking.

But one issue that hasn’t been properly addressed is the anti-competitive nature of the Government’s plans. A point of sale display ban must have an adverse effect on the ability of producers and retailers to compete and it is particularly damaging to impose such restrictions on small and medium sized enterprises at a time of recession. The Government, in an attempt to demonstrate that they are conscious of the damaging effects of the ban on smaller retailers, are planning to introduce it in 2011 only on large outlets and then in 2013 on smaller retailers. This of course, distorts competition between the two types of retailers. A more general point is that since display is one of the few ways left for consumers to know what brands are available in the market place, display restrictions are undoubtedly a substantial restriction on competition.

Although the Government in its Consultation Paper mooted the idea that packs of cigarettes should no longer be available except in plain packaging, it has not pursued that idea in the Health Bill. However, the Government is being pressed to amend the Bill to require plain packaging and, among other things, to ban the use of registered trademarks. Brand names for tobacco products are typically registered as trademarks. Applications fees, registration fees, are paid to the State and the trade mark is a right of property. It would be unprecedented to forbid owners of trade marks to use them when competing for custom in the market place. Interference by one country within the European Union, or for that matter by one country within the G.A.T.T. would surely be contrary to the harmonised E.U. and international system of trade mark protection. Only five months ago, the Prime Minister said “Investment in ideas, brands, R&D…will be a vital force in building Britain’s future high value competitiveness in the global economy.” If a trade mark cannot be affixed to a product’s packaging, it is virtually worthless, valueless.

Last year Sir Liam Donaldson, the Government’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, said in a report that the ban on smoking in enclosed public places which begin in 2007 had been a great success in terms of compliance and improved health. There has been a drop in the number of smokers and next year there is to be a review of the ban.

But the Government is not awaiting that review before pressing on with other restrictions in the Health Bill. Nobody disputes the Government’s objective of reducing health risks to the young, but initial debate in the House of Lords suggest that the tobacco display ban provisions in the Health Bill will not have an easy passage. The Government has been reminded that smoking is not an illegal activity and the proposed restrictions on the display of tobacco products in retail shops do not sit well with the fact that the sale and purchase of tobacco is legal so long as the purchaser is 18 years old.

Personally I am in favour of the ban on smoking in enclosed public places. It has had many beneficial results in terms of health and the comfort of the great majority of the population. But I recognise that it is a considerable restriction for one-fifth of the community and one that must be particularly difficult for addicts who may try but have not yet succeeded in giving up smoking. But now the Government wants to go further. They are ignoring the need to keep a balance between the public health grounds for restriction and libertarian grounds for retaining a reasonable measure of commercial freedom to sell and buy tobacco products.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

UK: Brown Orders Inquiry Into Child Slaves Passed Through Heathrow Care Home

Gordon Brown today promised an investigation after it emerged that a children’s home near Heathrow airport has been used as a clearing house by traffickers who have sold dozens of Chinese youngsters into slavery, prostitution or the drugs trade.

The Prime Minister told the Commons that the Government would investigate a practice which he condemned as “completely unacceptable and inhumane”.

The news emerged in a leaked document from the UK Border Agency, obtained by The Guardian newspaper, that said that at least 77 Chinese children have gone missing from the care home run by the London borough of Hillingdon since March 2006.

“Anything that we can do to stop child trafficking, we will,” said Mr Brown, at Prime Minister’s Questions.

“I will investigate, with the Home Secretary, the reports that are in the newspaper this morning. We will do everything that we can to protect these children and we are leading internationally in asking other countries to help us ban the practice of trafficking children.”

The report, marked “restricted”, revealed how unaccompanied Chinese children arriving at Heathrow are picked up by the immigration authorities as they pass through border controls, and taken into local authority care — only for them to run away within days voluntarily to rejoin their traffickers.

It said that 10 children had jumped out of windows, some had disappeared during fire drills, while others simply walked out of the building into waiting cars. It is believed many are then sold into prostitution and forced labour.

Only four were found. Two girls, one of them pregnant, later reappeared after being forced to work in brothels in the Midlands.

The document said the missing children were victims of an international trafficking network with agents based in countries including China, Brazil, Japan, Malaysia and Kenya.

Chris Grayling, the Shadow Home Secretary, said that the leaked report highlighted a scandalous situation.

“To have such a large number of children going missing when they are supposed to be in care is unacceptable,” he said. “We need an urgent explanation from the Home Secretary.”

Hillingdon council said that the disappearances appeared to be planned and coordinated by criminal gangs.

Julian Worcester, the deputy director of children’s services, admitted: “They (the children) were being trafficked and there has been organised movement through the facility.”

Chinese teenage girls are the ethnic profile most frequently trafficked into the UK, according to last month’s strategic report on child trafficking by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (Ceop).

Vietnamese children, destined to work in illegal cannabis factories in the UK, and Afghan boys are also frequently seen.

Some of the trafficked children are orphans, some come seeking a new life, while others have been sold by their parents to pay a debt. Most arrive by plane, because of the difficulty and expense of an overland journey from China to Britain.

Before they arrive the children have been heavily coached to remain loyal to the traffickers, with reminders of or threats to their family back home, and repeated warnings that no-one in Britain will wish to help them, Ceop says. The children run away from the council homes to rejoin their traffickers as soon as they can.

The 40 or so children each year vanishing from the Hillingdon home are only a small fraction of the trafficked children entering Britain each year. Ceop’s research showed that at least 325 young people were identified by officials at councils and immigration services as being potential victims of trafficking in one year.

The true number of victims of the highly secretive trade is likely to be much higher, says Ceop. Children were found from 52 different countries, including China, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Romania, Vietnam — and from Britain.

Half were forced to work as prostitutes, while others were used as forced labour in restaurants, building sites, beauty salons and the drugs trade, tending cannabis farms, or selling counterfeit goods on the streets

Evidence was uncovered of British children being trafficked around the country for sexual exploitation.

The UK Border Agency said that it was the job of local authorities to prevent unaccompanied children being drawn back under the control of traffickers. “Like any other child in need of protection, local authorities have a statutory duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of trafficked children following an assessment of their individual needs,” said a spokeswoman.

“When a child believed to have been trafficked is reported as ‘missing’ from care, it is essential that the local authority works with the police and the UK Border Agency to locate the child and assist in any prosecution of their traffickers.”

The Department for Children, Schools and Families has produced a guidance leaflet — Safeguarding Children who may have been Trafficked — on how to safeguard any potentially trafficked child that they look after.

“We are clearly very concerned about any children that go missing from local authority care,” said a spokesman for the department.

“It is a duty for local authorities to make sure looked-after children are properly safeguarded wherever they are placed. They are also responsible for making sure the necessary measures are in place to take action whenever a child in their care goes missing.”

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

UK: Caravan Park Bans Washing Lines Because of ‘Health and Safety Hazard’

Holiday park staff have banned campers from putting up washing lines to dry their towels and clothes because they are a “health and safety hazard”

The rule has been introduced at Sheerness Holiday Park, on the Isle of Sheppey, Kent, even though there have never been any accidents caused by washing lines at the site.

However, staff fear that the lines could cause guests to injure themselves.

“We want our washing lines back. These rules are ridiculous,” said Jackie Skinner, who is staying at the site.

The site, run by Park Holidays UK, boasts hundreds of chalets, caravans, cottages and apartments — but washing lines are no longer allowed anywhere on site.

The company says guests can pay to dry their clothes in its launderette.

Park manager Donna Hough said the ban was part of the site rules, which holidaymakers agree to abide by when they sign up.

She added that staff began strictly enforcing the rules when the new season began a few weeks ago.

“We are sorry if a few holiday home owners at the park feel inconvenienced by our washing line restrictions — but our park rules do make it clear that aerial clothes dryers and washing lines are not permitted outside holiday homes,” she said.

“This is a very common restriction on many holiday parks throughout the country, and certainly applies without exception on all the 25 parks owned by Park Holiday UK.

“The reasons for the limitation are twofold. Firstly, we are keen to maintain a neat and tidy appearance on our parks for the benefit of all holidaymakers — and highly visible lines of washing are not consistent with this policy.

“Secondly, we have received professional advice that the washing lines themselves, not always readily apparent when not in use, could constitute a health and safety hazard to guests — and to children in particular who we actively encourage to act their age by running around and playing on the grass areas.

“However, we are certainly not leaving our holiday homes owners hanging out to dry.

“Self-attaching window dryers are perfectly acceptable, and the park provides a fully equipped launderette with drying machines which most people prefer to use as they achieve quicker results.”

However holidaymaker Louisa Rahman said her contract did not mention anything about washing lines.

She said: “Some people think they know everything about site rules, but I have a copy of the old rules saying nothing at all about washing lines.

“They do say we can’t have barbecues because of burning down your caravan, which is fair play, but how the hell can you hurt yourself with a washing line?”

Aggrieved park visitors have now even started their own Facebook group — Sheerness holiday park… rebels against the rotary line ban — to vent their annoyance.

Nicola Budds posted on the site: “Everyone should just rebel and put their washing lines up. What are they going to do? Get rid of everyone on site?”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

UK: Cameron Calls for General Election

David Cameron taunted Gordon Brown that the Government was in “terminal decline” as he repeatedly challenged the Prime Minister to call a general election.

The Tory leader accused Mr Brown of losing control of his Cabinet after Communities Secretary Hazel Blears openly criticised the premier’s YouTube performance.

In their weekly joust in the Commons, Mr Cameron questioned why Ms Blears had not been sacked and mocked a string of Government climbdowns and Parliamentary defeats.

“A series of U-turns, defeats in Parliament even when the Government has a majority and ministers, including Cabinet ministers, openly questioning the authority of the Prime Minister,” Mr Cameron said. “Does the Prime Minister agree that these are signs of a Government in terminal decline?”

The Prime Minister hit back that the Conservative leader was too concerned with personalities and had “nothing to say about the big issues of the day”.

“We’re getting on with the business of governing,” Mr Brown said.

But Mr Cameron retorted: “The big issue in British politics today is the fact the man that’s meant to be leading our country shows such appalling authority. That is the reason he is losing his authority.”

Earlier, Children’s Secretary Ed Balls hit back at Charles Clarke’s attack on the Labour Party — blaming the comments on Norwich City football club’s relegation. The former home secretary had apparently attacked Mr Brown and Mr Balls in the wake of the emails scandal which saw the resignation of former 10 Downing Street key aide Damian McBride.

Mr Clarke told the Mail on Sunday: “Damian McBride was not a lone gun in the politics of 10 Downing Street. He was part of a poisonous team. The matter won’t be laid to rest until all links with Derek Draper and Charlie Whelan are severed and those ministers who worked very closely with them are removed from their positions.”

According to the paper, he was setting his sights on Mr Balls and Tom Watson, the Cabinet Office minister. But Mr Balls brushed off the attack, saying: “Charles is Charles. He has made these comments before and he will do so again, sometimes he regrets them. I think he was making those comments before Norwich ended up being relegated to the lower division which was a day of sadness for us all.. Charles and I sit at the football together and he would have regretted what happened.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

UK: Fast Food Chain KFC Converts Eight London Restaurants to Halal-Only Menu

Fast food giant Kentucky Fried Chicken is to launch a halal-only menu in eight of its London stores in a move which could be extended to other areas of the UK.

The menu, which will form part of a trial, will see the stores selling chicken products which have been fully approved by the Halal Food Authority for the first time.

KFC has 720 stores across the UK, and bosses said the move was designed to ensure the company was catering to a broader range of customers, following a growing demand for halal products.

It is the latest fast food chain to introduce a halal-only menu after Domino’s launched one at a Birmingham store in February.

From this week, KFC bargain buckets, crispy strips and family feasts bought in certain outlets serving high Muslim populations will all have the halal-approved stamp.

The fast-food chain has so far converted eight of its London restaurants to sell the meat, in areas including Forest Gate, West Ham, Tottenham and Bethnal Green.

The chosen branches, which also include those in Beckton, Leyton, Edmonton and Hounslow, will have a logo on the door telling visitors that all food served has been fully approved by the Halal Food Authority (HFA).

As Muslims cannot eat pork, the Halal branches have removed the Big Daddy burger from the menu as it contains bacon.

KFC’s scheme will be trialled over the summer, but if it proves a success dozens more branches across the country are expected to follow suit and become halal-only.

The company said halal menus could be launched in other stores where large numbers of Muslim customers are based and ‘where there is demand’.

Over the next few months it will closely monitor customer feedback in the chosen outlets and if it is good they will be permanently converted to 100 per cent halal.

The move follows a similar decision made by Dominos Pizza, which launched a halal only menu at its Hall Green store in Birmingham earlier this year amid a storm of controversy.

Domino’s said the change has improved business despite an initial backlash from non-halal customers who complained they were not able to order pizzas such as the Meteor which contains pepperoni, sausage, meatballs and bacon.

But KFC insists that the taste of its chicken will remain ‘finger-lickin good’ and that it has only converted branches where there are other non-halal ones within a two-mile radius.

KFC vice-president of marketing Jennelle Tilling said: ‘We want to see how customers respond to the trial, to see if this is something that allows us to make our great tasting food available to a broader range of customers.’

A spokesman for KFC said the food would still taste the same as it ever had and that the fast food giant will use existing suppliers to provide the stores with halal meat.

‘This is taking place in areas where there is a high demand for halal and where they is another KFC outlet within two miles for those who do not want it,’ he said.

‘It is just a chance for us to see if it is something our customers really want or not.’

Halal means any item on the menu which may contain bacon, ham or pork must be removed and all the chicken must by halal-approved.

Under the rules, the animal should be killed by having its throat cut by a Muslim and any flowing blood of the carcass should be completely drained.

Animals cannot be eaten if they have died of natural causes and have to have been killed.

The chain has also moved to assure customers that its halal certified chicken would meet the rigorous animal welfare standards used across the UK.

Masood Khawaja, President of the Halal Food Authority, welcomed the trial and said it was good news for the Muslim community.

‘Having worked with KFC closely, Halal Food Authority is delighted to accredit the usage of the HFA logo and symbol of approval on endorsed products,’ Mr Khawaja said.

‘The Muslim community can now enjoy all the products in this trial in eight participating halal-approved restaurants, as these have been procured with full adherence to both Islamic dietary rules and relevant EU hygiene, food safety and animal welfare regulations.’

           — Hat tip: Earl Cromer[Return to headlines]

UK: Judge Rules Gipsy Can Stay at Illegal Site to Help Him Beat Heroin Addiction

A Romany gipsy has won a High Court battle allowing him to stay on an illegal travellers’ site, after a judge ruled it would help him beat his heroin addiction.

Tom Smith, 30, was evicted from the illegal 100 by 80ft plot in Willingham, Cambs, along with his partner and four children in November 2008.

But Smith, who is currently on probation, took South Cambridgeshire District Council to the High Court to fight the move and returned to the site pending the appeal.

Now Judge Richard Seymour QC has overruled an injunction preventing anybody living on Plot Three at Cadwin Fields, to help Mr Smith get his life back together.

“It is plain on the uncontested evidence that Mr Smith, at this sensitive moment as he continues to try to overcome his heroin addiction, requires effective support,” Judge Seymour told the court.

Speaking at the site on Wednesday, Smith said he bought the plot as a “last resort” after his heroin addiction “got out of control”.

Smith, who freely admitted burgling people’s homes to fund his habit, claimed the council had unfairly discriminated against him.

“I have been in a really bad way with heroin and I was completely addicted.

“I had been in loads of trouble with the police and my partner had left me and was going to take the kids. She had had enough.

“I had been breaking into people’s homes to get money for gear and my family realised I was in a lot of trouble so they all chipped in to buy me a plot where I could get clean about 12 months ago.

“The council have completely discriminated against me and my family. Me and my kids aren’t different to anybody else.”

Smith lives with his pregnant partner Esther Loveridge, 28, and his children Shannon, seven, Courtney, six, Connie, five, and Tom, four.

He added: “They are just discriminating against me because I lived on the traveller’s site. I pleased that the judge at the High Court thought they were discriminating against me too.”

The court was told Smith had been off drugs for six months and he and his children had been living in “dire” conditions at nearby Potton travellers’ site with relatives.

In a witness statement Smith said he had tried living in a house 28 miles away in Biggleswade, Beds, but had “an aversion to bricks and mortar” and could not stand it.

Judge Seymour said Mr Smith would benefit from the support of family members as he battled his drug addiction and should be allowed to stay close by.

He said: “The evidence clearly demonstrates there is immediately available, adjacent to Cadwin Fields, a network of family support.”

South Cambridgeshire District Council (SCDC) first obtained an injunction against gipsies occupying Cadwin Fields with caravans or any other buildings in November 2006.

In October 2008 a routine inspection revealed Mr Smith and his family were living at the site and were told to leave by November 14.

The site was cleared in November 27 but reoccupied again just weeks later, pending an appeal by Smith’s partner Ms Loveridge against SCDC’s refusal to grant planning permission.

The family’s application for temporary planning permission won the backing of the council’s planning officers, but was then refused in a committee vote in February.

One of the reasons given was that Willingham school was already full to capacity and allowing planning permission would add four more children to the catchment area.

But Smith branded the decision discriminatory and claimed that applications for new homes in the village could still be granted planning permission.

Now the family’s planning application will be considered by a Government inspector at a public inquiry scheduled for July.

Jim Paice, MP for South East Cambridgeshire said he was “surprised” by the High Court ruling.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

UK: Labour Must Stop Worrying About Their Silly Little Party and Put Britain First

Labour started all this by picking a flawed leader who was clearly not up to the job, says Simon Heffer.

It is time for a moment of reflection. How the hell did this happen?

I don’t mean the credit crunch. We know how that happened and we know, or should know, why things are so much worse here than elsewhere. I mean, how did we end up having a Prime Minister whose record of destruction is the gift that keeps on giving, who makes Neville Chamberlain, Anthony Eden and — brace yourselves — John Major look good, and who we are told will soldier on until this time next year, providing us with further crops of weeds? If these are the fruits of democracy, then isn’t it time we looked at our democratic systems?

I don’t pretend to know Mr Brown well, but over the years I have broken bread with him. He has a certain sort of intelligence — narrow and not, I fear, especially deep. He manifestly has demons. I say this not because of the stories about him losing his temper in his office, or ripping off his microphone after what he considers to be unnecessarily forensic television interviews; I say it because of his inability to compute an argument, or a point of view, contrary to his own. It has always signalled to me a massive insecurity. It is not just that he seems incapable of accepting a challenge to his way of thinking; it is that he seems to have a fear of having to do so, a fear not just of departing from the script and having to think outside his briefing notes, but a fear also of what he might find if he did. This is a man who not only chooses to operate within a well-defined comfort zone: it is a man who by compulsion must do so. The arguments, the ideas, the policies, the people must all be familiar. Any attempt to go outside risks not merely derailment, but possible catastrophe.

A year before Mr Brown became Prime Minister, I was lucky enough to be invited by a Labour-supporting business for what is politely termed some corporate hospitality; and very fine it was too. My host took me aside early on and was unequivocal. Mr Brown could not be allowed to become leader of the Labour Party. His personal flaws were manifest. Aside from his character, his limited understanding of policy outside his own field of economics was a serious handicap. He had, moreover, surrounded himself with some truly unsavoury people. Were he to grab the levers of power, there could be only one result. Everyone knew this, except for his devout followers, whose own rampant personal ambition would blind them to it, even if they miraculously came near to seeing it. We were all in this together: the press had a duty to point out the problem, and to assist the righteous in the Labour movement to head this man off at the pass.

I recall that I wanted to think all this was an exaggeration, but I knew from moments up close and personal with Mr Brown, and his remarkably unlovely sidekick Ed Balls, that it almost certainly wasn’t. Yet there seemed to be no obvious “Stop Brown” candidate. During the spring of 2007, David Miliband almost became one: then, in a display of the resolve, insight and leadership he has shown as Foreign Secretary, he evaporated. For years, the plotting, scheming and bullying of Mr Brown’s followers had worn down potential opponents. I can never, in 25 years of watching politics for a living, remember so fervent a campaign of denigration: not merely of rivals for the leadership, but of the serving leader himself. These were nasty and ruthless people. But they had clearly read their history and, like so many nasty and ruthless movements in the past, they took power.

As an old-fashioned constitutionalist, I can’t say it bothered me that Mr Brown had not become Prime Minister after a general election, with a popular mandate; neither did Churchill in 1940. Nor was I that concerned that he hadn’t won a leadership election in his own party. These things are occasionally beauty contests, and do not always end up with choosing the best man or woman for the job. However, it is now clear that Mr Brown’s lack of experience at having to offer himself as leader of his party — the man with whom the buck stops — to any sort of electorate is one of the great handicaps he has now. He has endured democratic approval in his period at Number 10, and has become accustomed to doing without it: hence some of his recent policy howlers. The way things are going, he is never likely to get it.

It is offensive to the rest of the country — that vast majority who not only did not vote Labour in 2005, but who would never vote for Mr Brown now even if you paid them — that the current turbulence in politics is inevitably depicted as a Labour Party problem. It is, of course, the country’s problem. It is not just the Labour Party that has to endure an idiotic, destructive economic policy: it is all of us.

But it is, uniquely, the Labour Party that is responsible for our condition. They put this man in charge. They did so without any pretence of democratic procedure. It is nauseating, in the way politics goes, to have heard rather too many Labour MPs who one knows hate Mr Brown’s guts going into the media in the past few days to defend him vigorously, seeking to prolong all our sufferings. It is Labour tribalism that got us into this mess in the first place: we could all, frankly, do with a rest from it now.

If I knew whether there would be a leadership challenge to Mr Brown after what promise to be disastrous council and European elections on June 4, I would not be writing this column: I would be sitting in a tent on a fairground telling fortunes. It is clear that there should be. I do not say this as an aggrieved member of the public, fed up with having my country hobbled by a bunch of incompetents who bullied their way to power but haven’t a clue how to use it when they get it. I say it from what I imagine to be the perspective of a Labour MP, many of whom will be collecting the dole this time next year, as the public and private sectors their brilliant government has forced to contract lack the means to swallow them up. It is the absurdity of tribalism that all but a few brave souls of integrity — the Frank Fields and the Charles Clarkes — feel the need to keep saying how wonderful a tribal leader is when it is palpably clear to everybody else that he has had it. It is time these people stopped worrying about their silly little party and started to worry about what they are allowing it to do to our country.

The problem with throwing Mr Brown out is that even constitutionalists like me would sniff at another “unity” candidate, and feel that any new leader — opposed or unopposed — should have a moral duty to call a general election at once. I doubt a new leader could bear to do that: even though history relates that there would be no better time to call one. Meanwhile, I hope there are enough lifeboats for the men, as well as the women and children.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

UK: London Police Escort Pensioners Home From the Bank

LONDON (AFP) — Pensioners and shoppers concerned about being mugged after withdrawing cash from the bank are being offered a police escort home in a district of east London, officers said.

Posters displayed near banks and post offices explain residents can call up and arrange for a uniformed officer to see them safely home. The officer will follow at a “safe distance” to avoid drawing attention to themselves.

“There have been incidents in the area in which elderly people have been targeted after withdrawing cash and this initiative, which has been running for the past five months, is an extension of the team’s normal duties,” police said.

A spokeswoman for Wansted and Snaresbrook police in east London said the service was only available to people who could walk home, saying officers would not accompany car drivers home.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

UK: One in 20 Britons Booby Trap Homes to Deter Burglars … But May be Risking Jail

A million homes in Britain contain booby traps and snares designed to catch burglars, according to new research.

One in 20 householders admit they have rigged devices to halt a burglar.

However, the homeowners themselves risk jail as it is illegal to set a trap to injure or kill an intruder.

The shock statistics released yesterday by insurance firm Direct Line reveal the measures to which people will go to protect their property.

Common booby traps include holes in floorboards, loose stairs, hidden trip wires, garden pits and even plant pots or ornaments attached to hidden strings.

According to the Crown Prosecution Service, a householder who ‘knew of an intended intruder and set a trap to hurt or kill them rather than involve the police would be acting with very excessive and gratuitous force and could be prosecuted.’

In extreme cases, some property owners who have been repeatedly burgled have illegally set traps involving nail bombs or shotguns.

The shock findings found four in ten householders would arm themselves with objects they could hurl at an intruder.

Seven per cent would even use an axe and 14 per cent would use a knife.

Sixty-five per cent of British householders would arm themselves with bats, walking sticks and other household items to use as protection if they were to come face-to-face with an uninvited guest.

Nearly one in three (29 per cent) would use a cricket bat, baseball bat or tennis racquet to protect themselves, while 17 per cent would reach for a walking stick to keep themselves safe.

Forty-one per cent would arm themselves with anything they could throw at an intruder, while eight per cent would approach a burglar bare-handed.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, men are much more likely than women to try to stop an intruder.

More than seven in ten men said they would approach a burglar, compared to 54 per cent of women.

Top items women are most likely to use against an intruder are anything they can throw (40 per cent), a cricket bat, baseball bat or tennis racquet (21 per cent) and keys (14 per cent).

Men are more likely to use a stick (46 per cent), anything they can throw or a cricket bat, baseball bat or tennis racquet (38 per cent).

Andrew Lowe, head of home insurance at Direct Line, which polled 2,000 people, said: ‘Our research shows the extremes that some householders would go to in order to protect their property from intruders.

‘However, while it’s natural for many to look out for their family and their belongings, we do not recommend anyone resorts to violence as you put yourself at risk of injury or possibly even death.

‘It is far better to ensure that you have the maximum amount of home security that you can. Carrying out simple security measures, such as keeping doors and windows locked, can help ensure householders and their possessions are kept safe.’

Security tips include fitting deadlocks or key-operated security bolts on outside doors, use an alarm system and fit metal locks to ground floor windows.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

UK: Shock Jock Michael Savage and Others on UK Ban List Had Not Applied for Entry

A majority of the people who were named by the Home Office as being banned from entering the country have never sought to travel to Britain, it emerged today.

Two of the 16 people named by Jacqui Smith as excluded from Britain are in prison in Russia where they are serving 20-year sentences.

The disclosure came as a US talk-show host said that he would sue the Government for defamation after being placed on the list.

Michael Weiner, also known as Michael Savage, a shock-jock broadcaster in America, has described the Koran as “a book of hate” and questioned the validity of autism.

He told his radio audience in the US that he intended to sue Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, who he described as the “lunatic… Home Secretary of England”.

He said: “To link me up with skinheads who are killing people in Russia, to put me in league with Hamas murderers who kill people on buses is defamation.”

In an article posted on his website, he said that he did not advocate violence but traditional values.

He wrote: “What does that say about the government of England? It says more about them than it says about me.”

A leading media lawyer said today that lawyers would be “falling over themselves” to offer their services.

Mark Stephens, of the London law firm Finers Stephens Innocent, said: “He would seem to have a very good case. The people on the list who have been banned are supposed to be advocating extreme violence and so to put him into that category is clearly defamatory.

“His views, such as those on homosexuals, may be offensive but that is another thing entirely. The Home Secretary appears not to have appreciated the difference between tolerance and defamation.”

Mr Stephens added that he thought that Mr Weiner could hope to obtain about £200,000 in damages, adding that this should be paid by the Home Secretary personally, not by the Government.

Among others on the list are the Hamas MP Yunis al-Astal and the Jewish extremist Mike Guzovsky, two leaders of a violent Russian skinhead gang, the ex-Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard Stephen “Don” Black and the neo-Nazi Erich Gliebe.

The Home Office admitted that people placed on the “banned” list had not necessarily intended or sought to come to Britain.

A spokesman said that Jacqui Smith placed people on the list after receiving submissions from officials.

Staff across Whitehall, including the intelligence services, are apparently gathering information about individuals around the world who could be included on the list even though they do not know whether the person intends to travel to Britain.

Between August 2005 and the end of March this year, 101 people were excluded from the UK for having engaged in unacceptable behaviour. A total of 22 were excluded between October 2008 and March 31, including the 16 named by the Home Secretary. The remaining six are not being named for security reasons, according to the Home Office.

Britain has been able to ban people who promote hatred, terrorist violence or serious criminal activity since 2005, but the list was made public for the first time only this week.

Chris Huhne, Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said: “Blacklisting people without consideration of why and when they want to enter the country merely risks turning them into martyrs for their cause.

“It would be more appropriate to consider each case when it arises to assess whether British law is likely to be broken if the individual is admitted.”

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

UK: Scientists Unveil Chocolate-Fueled Race Car

LONDON — Scientists unveiled on Tuesday what they hope will be one of the world’s fastest biofuel vehicles, powered by waste from chocolate factories and made partly from plant fibers. Its makers hope the racer will go 145 mph and give manufacturers ideas about how to build more ecologically friendly vehicles.

The car runs on vegetable oils and chocolate waste that has been turned into biofuel. The steering wheel is made out of plant-based fibers derived from carrots and other root vegetables, and the seat is built of flax fibre and soybean oil foam. The body is also made of plant fibers.

Scientists at the University of Warwick say their car is the fastest to run on biofuels and also be made from biodegradable materials. It has been built to Formula 3 specifications about the car’s size, weight, and performance.

Their claims cannot be independently verified.

They hope it can reach speeds of over 145 mph when it is tested on a racetrack in a few weeks time. They have driven it at around 60 mph and are now making final adjustments to the engine before driving it at top speed.

Warwick’s project manager James Meredith said their model shows that it is possible to build a fast, efficient, environmentally friendly car.

The car, named the “WorldFirst Formula 3 racing car,” will go on display at several races including the European Grand Prix and Britain’s Goodwood Festival of Speed.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

UK: There is No Known Antidote for Panic

It’s sickening. Schools have shut and businesses have gone bust — all thanks to the swine flu doom-merchants

At last an expert speaks. “It’s just like a cold says girl, 12,” according to the Daily Mail front page. The paper had tracked down a flu victim not yet under contract to Max Clifford, suffering from the “killer virus” that has brought imminent death to, variously, each school in Britain, 94,000 Londoners, every pig in Egypt and, says a hysterical virologist, “the whole of humanity”.

As reporters gathered around the London deathbed of Sophie de Salis, she whispered, “I had a cough and was under the weather … but really it was just like a normal cold.” After a day off school she was feeling better. The reporters raced for the phones. Sophie’s sniffle echoed around the world.

The 12-year-old was defying the World Health Organisation. She was mocking the health minister, Alan Johnson, and his minions cowering in their Cobra bunker. She was jeopardising thousands of virologists who depend on regular pandemic scares for government grants. To the global coalition of scientists, doom-merchants and drugs profiteers, what Sophie needed was a gag not a mask. The script expected her to die.

This has been a desperate week even in the sick history of professional terrorism. On all the available facts, this year’s mutation of a Mexican flu virus was not serious. The confirmed death rate within that country appears to be a dozen people, roughly in line with the normal death rate from flu in Mexico. The disease kills some 12,000 people a year worldwide.

The mutation did have worrying features, such as the susceptibility of younger people, but its incidence remained small. As for returning visitors, the occurrence, let alone mortality, is miniscule compared with, for instance, victims of food poisoning. Nothing justified the pandemonium with which the British authorities and media greeted news of the illness last week.

The word flu nowadays throws a switch labelled 1918, when living conditions and drugs were wholly different. This in turn triggers a sinister process without any sense of proportion. Professional interests, domestic and international, and a compliant media turn an epidemic that regularly afflicts most countries into an opportunity for money and attention-grabbing.

The utterances of the chief medical officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, have been reckless, including his dismissal yesterday of any optimism in Sophie’s recovery as “premature” and his grim warning that swine flu “could be expected to return” next winter. Anything could happen next winter — or not.

Medical bureaucrats are like sharks. They must keep moving in their sea of bad news or starve. The customary patter has been a lurid declaration of an unquantified “risk” followed by the assertion of better safe than sorry. I have lost count of the number of scientists who have agreed with the ubiquitous London virologist, John Oxford, and his “dial-an-Armageddon” quotations.

At least when the military/industrial complex threatened the world with nuclear war in the 1950s and 60s people could form a political view of the risk. The bomb shelters to be put in every garden could become potting sheds. A viral menace is different and more sinister. It is biological, unseen, unknown, international, untargeted. The 32m masks ordered from some lucky manufacturer by the British government last week are said to be useless. But better safe than sorry.

Doses of Tamiflu now being consumed by healthy people could, so a doctor tells me, produce flu-like side effects that serve to vindicate the panic. In the ultimate absurdity, doses across America are said to be unobtainable since government has ordered that they be stockpiled by hospitals against a possible pandemic. It is the perfect-storm scenario, a pandemic that becomes untreatable by generating its own panic.

No medical authority or media organisation has confined its reporting to the facts. Instead, the most alarmist of a range of possibilities is seized and exploited. To the abuses of statistical science and its stooge, epidemiology, is added something far more dangerous, the abuse of the English language. Colds become “flu-like”. Sickness becomes “deadly”. Potential becomes imminent. Could becomes will. An expected threat morphs into a real threat and then into a terror.

As a result, schools are now being closed. Tour companies are going bankrupt. Every home in Britain is being leafleted with fatuous commonsense advice. Millions of pounds are spent on Tamiflu, funds presumably diverted from such medical priorities as vaccine against the real — and truly “lethal” — flu that visits Britain each winter.

Any fool can “predict” a disaster and claim vindication when one occurs. On the probabilities bandied about last week, I could demand a halt to all travel to Africa because of malaria, a ban on all foreign doctors because of over-prescription and the underpinning of all schools against a “potentially catastrophic” earthquake like the one in Italy.

Speculative scaremongering is not confined to medicine. It is meat and drink to the booming empires of counterterrorism and “health and safety”. All rely on an upward trajectory of fear and risk aversion. All have thousands of jobs and financial interests at their beck and call, demanding millions in public spending.

Crying wolf over globalised disease is now so much a part of the medical/industrial complex that no sane person can tell what is real from what is log-rolling. The word risk has been discredited by an army of so-called assessors and become meaningless. Exaggerating risk leads to mistakes, expense and a lowering of guards. In 1976 the American government had to pay out $93m in compensation for a flu vaccine that was subsequently found to cause paralysis.

All professional activity is an exercise in true risk assessment. We want to know if a particular course of action will leave us richer, safer and alive. We want to know it from a banker, a soldier or a doctor. When their professional judgment is corrupted by cash or political gain, its worth evaporates. We are at the mercy of panic. That is how the credit crunch came to pass. To this pandemic there is no known antidote.

When the current scare is over and the bill tallied, surely there should be an inquiry into this fiasco. Otherwise Voltaire was right. We should take out a virologist from time to time and shoot him, to encourage the others. And perhaps an editor too.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

UK: the Hospital That Banned Paintings of Churches

It was supposed to be a kind gesture to brighten up a hospital for patients.

But a council managed to enrage local artists when it asked them to contribute their paintings to hang in wards.

In an unsolicited letter, Havering council in East London made it clear it would accept pictures of any subject — except churches.

The explanation given was that the hospital had to be ‘mindful of all religious denominations’.

Many artists could not understand why images of Christian buildings were banned, but those of other religions were welcome.

Jo Delaney, the council’s arts development officer wrote to art groups in Havering about hanging paintings in Queen’s Hospital, Romford.

She wrote: ‘Whilst the building is spacious, it has many plain black walls which are crying out to be brightened up!

‘The matron of patient environment is keen for local artists to use the space as a gallery.

‘The hospital has asked artists not to submit paintings of churches as they have to be mindful of all religious denominations.’

Artist Roy Storey said that when he phoned the council to complain he was told it was the matron’s decision if she did not want pictures of churches.

Local painter Beryl O’Brien, 71, said: ‘There are so many religious beliefs, why would they pick on churches?

‘What about synagogues? A painting is a good picture because it is a good composition, not because of the religion.

‘It seems ridiculous to try to be so inclusive, and by doing that exclude people who are tolerant to some extent.’

Mrs O’Brien said the hospital had tainted what was a ‘lovely idea’. She did not know anyone who had submitted a painting yet.

A Havering council spokesman said the terms of the initiative were set by the hospital and the council had only been asked to pass on the information.

A spokesman for Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS trust said its director of nursing had no knowledge of the letter’s content and therefore it had no comment.

           — Hat tip: Vlad Tepes[Return to headlines]

UK: Trafficking in Children, PM to Investigate

Brown calls trade ‘inhumane’ after Guardian reveals 77 Chinese children were trafficked through London home

Gordon Brown today pledged to investigate the trafficking of Chinese children through a local authority children’s home beside Heathrow airport, exposed in the Guardian.

Speaking at prime minister’s questions, Brown told the House of Commons the trade was “completely unacceptable and inhumane” and said he would work with the home secretary to investigate and “do everything we can to protect these children”.

He statement came in response to a question from John McDonnell, the Labour MP for Hayes and Harlington, which includes Heathrow.

McDonell asked Brown to secure a report to Commons on the measures the government is taking with the local authority to tackle the problem.

Brown told the House: “Child trafficking is completely unacceptable and inhumane, and anything we can do to stop child trafficking, we will.

“I will investigate, with the home secretary, the reports that are in the newspapers this morning.

“We will do everything we can to protect these children, and we are leading internationally in asking other countries to help us ban the practice of trafficking children.”

The prime minister’s statement came after the Guardian published details from a secret intelligence report from the Border and Immigration Agency, which revealed that at least 77 Chinese children had gone missing from the 59-bed home since March 2006.

The building houses foreign children who arrive alone at Heathrow without papers.

According to the report, the trade appears to be controlled by organised criminal gangs.

The document suggested that the home has been used for the systematic trafficking of Chinese children to work in prostitution and the drugs trade across Britain, with criminal networks effectively using it as a clearing house for teenagers they want to bring in from China.

Brown’s intervention came as a major boost for campaigners against child trafficking in the UK, who have failed to win political backing for greater resources to be made available for police operations to track down the traffickers.

They have also called for more robust standards of care to prevent vulnerable children from going missing.

“For too long, the problem of trafficked children going missing from care has been a low priority for this government,” Christine Beddoe, the chief executive of Ecpat (UK), said.

“The prime minister’s intervention gives us hope, at last, that this issue may now be treated with the seriousness it deserves.

“The report obtained by the Guardian provides damning evidence that the government knows much more about the risk to these children than they have been prepared to admit in public events or in parliament.

“It is hard to imagine anything more sinister than a government knowing the extraordinary risk of harm to this cohort of children and yet not providing local authorities and support agencies with the resources or information to provide immediate high level safety to these children upon identification.”

Chris Grayling, the shadow home secretary, will today send a letter to the home secretary, Jacqui Smith, demanding an explanation why the trade was allowed to happen.

The letter will call for immediate action to trace more than 70 Chinese children who remain missing from the home.

“This is extremely worrying and the sign that the system has gone wrong,” Grayling said today.

“We need an investigation into what happened to prevent children disappearing in the future.

“The home secretary needs to take immediate action to trace where these children have gone and make sure it can’t happen again.

“But it also needs to hold talks with the local council to see whether it’s putting too much responsibility on the shoulders of one local authority, especially as it’s so close to Heathrow.”

A spokeswoman for the Department for Children Families and Schools said the government was “very concerned” about children who might go missing from local authority care.

“We recognise the vulnerability of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, who may have been trafficked into the UK,” she said.

“We know that early identification is the key to protecting these vulnerable children and we have produced a toolkit to help front line staff to identify those at risk.”

Keith Vaz, the chairman of the House of Commons home affairs select committee, which is undertaking an inquiry into trafficking, said the Guardian’s evidence would be aired at a conference to co-ordinate policy on the policing of trafficking and care for victims of the crime.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

UK: Trafficked Children Go Missing From Heathrow

DOZENS of children are being smuggled into Britain by criminal gangs, according to a London council.

More than 80 children, all Chinese, have escaped from an assessment centre near Heathrow where they were being held under immigration rules and are believed to have been forced to work illegally.

Hillingdon Borough Council, in west London, which runs the centre, said it could not detain the youngsters, who claim to be asylum seekers, because of human rights law.

In one year 77 children fled the centre, with many escaping out of windows, despite attempts by council officials to put them in children’s homes or foster care.

Only four children were found. Two girls, one of them pregnant, later reappeared after being forced to work in brothels in the Midlands.

Julian Wooster, the council’s deputy director of Children and Families said: “We cannot lock the doors because it’s a breach of their human rights.

“We try to persuade them not to run away from the centre.”

A secret report by the UK Border Agency, leaked to The Guardian, said the centre had become a “clearing house” for international gangs.

It revealed some children simply walked out of the building to be picked up by waiting cars. Others escaped out of windows or during fire drills.

Wooster said increased efforts to tackle the problem meant of 20 children assessed at the centre last year four went missing.

Shadow home secretary Chris Grayling said the leaked report highlighted a “scandalous situation in our immigration system”.

He said: “To have such a large number of children going missing when they are supposed to be in care is unacceptable. We need an urgent explanation from the home secretary.”

A spokesman for the UK Border Agency said: “The trafficking of children is an appalling crime and the Government is committed to stamping it out.

“We are having real success targeting the routes used by the criminals who prey on these vulnerable youngsters — a joint operation has seen 12 traffickers prosecuted in the past 12 months alone.

“Children identified as vulnerable by UK Border Agency officers are placed in the care of local authority social services. Local authorities have a duty to ensure children are kept safe from harm.”

Research by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (Ceop) showed at least 325 young people were identified as being potential victims of trafficking in one year, with half forced to work as prostitutes, while others were used as forced labour in restaurants, building sites, beauty salons and the drugs trade.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

UK: Using Tips to Make-Up Workers’ Wages to be Banned as Ministers Back Fair Pay for Bar Staff

Restaurant owners could face jail or a £5,000 fine from October if they use tips to make up staff wages to the legal minimum.

Ministers today confirmed that new laws which ensure that no longer have to rely on customers generosity for to boost their pay packets will come into force this October.

The move follows a union campaign warning diners that tips left for staff in some well known high street chains were being used by managers to make up basic wages.

But the hospitality industry has condemned the decision to introduce the new law at a time when restaurant owners are struggling with falling takings.

They have warned that as many as 45,000 jobs could be lost as businesses will be forced to make savings to meet the cost of an enforced pay rise.

The British Hospitality Association said in a statement that it was ‘concerned that the government has decided to introduce this legislation in October this year rather than wait until the economic situation improves.

Restaurants and bars will not be able to use tips to top up minimum wages from October, which guarantees a fairer wage for hospitality staff. File photo

But ministers said the move was a ‘basic issue of fairness’ which would reassure customers that their tips are being used in the right way.

Employment Relations Minister Pat McFadden said: ‘When people leave a tip for staff, in a restaurant or anywhere else, they have a right to know that it will not be used to make up the minimum wage. It is also important for employers to have a level playing field on wages.

‘This is a basic issue of fairness. We do not believe employers should be able to use tips meant as a bonus for staff to boost pay levels to the legal minimum.’

The decision comes amid calls by employers for the minimum wage — currently £5.73 an hour — to be frozen this year.

In some cases, waiters were being paid as little as £3 by their employers. A review by the Department of Businesses has found that around 60,000 staff could see their salaries increase from October as a result of the new law.

Steve Brooker, from Consumer Focus, added: ‘This is a real victory for common sense, for both employees and consumers.

‘From October customers can be confident their tips will always go to waiting staff, which will allow employees to fully reap these rewards. In the meantime we would urge consumers to pay their tips in cash to ensure staff receive the full amount.’

Derek Simpson, Unite’s joint general secretary said: ‘Hard-working waiting staff will be delighted to learn that bad employers can no longer line their pockets with the money that customers intended to go to workers.

‘This is a triumph for the poorly paid in restaurants, bars and hotels across the country.’

But Mr Simpson added that customers needed greater reassurance that their tips were going directly staff.

‘There remains a need for a fully transparent tipping system where 100per cent of tips go to staff,’ he said.

‘Unite is unconvinced that the voluntary code of practice announced today will give consumers the clarity they need to be confident that any money they leave will go to the employees who deserve it.’

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Vatican Swiss Guards Consider Opening to Women

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican’s Swiss Guards swore in 32 new recruits Wednesday amid suggestions from their new commander that women might one day join their ranks.

Col. Daniel Anrig said Tuesday he was open to the idea of women serving in the elite, 500-year-old papal security force, reversing the long-held position of his predecessors.

“Personally, I could imagine it for one job or another, surely,” Anrig told private Mediaset television. “One could think about it.”

He acknowledged there might be logistical problems, since the Vatican barracks housing the Swiss Guards are already crowded. “Sure, there could be problems, but every problem can be resolved,” he said.

The housing crunch has long been cited by previous commanders as the reason why women couldn’t join.

Anrig, a former Swiss police commander with a degree in civilian and church law, was tapped by Pope Benedict XVI to head the Swiss Guards last August.

The 110-strong force provides ceremonial guard duty, assists at Vatican functions as well as helps to protect the pope. The guards are ubiquitous around the Vatican, in their trademark blue-and-gold uniforms, halberds and crimson-plumed helmets.

Currently, each recruit must be a Catholic male, between the ages of 19 and 30, have completed mandatory Swiss military service, have an impeccable reputation and agree to sign up for at least two years.

On Wednesday afternoon, 32 new recruits joined their ranks in an elaborate swearing-in ceremony in the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace. The ceremony is held each May 6 to commemorate the 147 Swiss Guards who died protecting Pope Clement VII during the 1527 Sack of Rome.

The guards marched into a courtyard of a Vatican palace to the sound of drums, surrounded by clergy and a cheering public.

Then each new recruit grasped the corps’ flag and, raising three fingers in a symbol of the Holy Trinity, swore to uphold the Swiss Guard oath to protect Benedict and his successors “and also dedicate myself to them with all my strength, sacrificing if necessary also my life to defend them.”

The elite corps was founded in 1506 by Pope Julius II, who summoned the first group of 150 Swiss mercenaries to protect him and the Vatican.

Their legend was stained in 1998 by the slayings in a Vatican City apartment of a guard commander and his wife.. The Vatican blamed the killings on a disgruntled guardsman who, according to the Holy See, then fatally turned the gun on himself.

The slayings were the first killings in the Vatican in 150 years.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Witness: Men Joke About Bombing US Base in Germany

DUESSELDORF, Germany — A group of men were caught on tape discussing bombing a U.S. air base and joking about the reaction once they carried out their plan, a German investigator testified Tuesday.

The witness, an agent with Germany’s Federal Criminal Police Office, told the Duesseldorf state court that investigators listened to about 30 hours of covertly taped discussions by the men. The suspects used the word “attack” about 40 times and “bomb” 30 times, he said.

“Ramstein sounds good,” the agent quoted alleged ringleader Fritz Gelowicz, 29, as saying in reference to the U.S. Air Force base.

Authorities arrested Gelowicz, along with Adem Yilmaz, 30, and Daniel Schneider, 23, at a rented vacation apartment on Sept. 4, 2007.

The fourth suspect, 24-year-old Attila Selek, was picked up in Turkey in November 2007 and later extradited to Germany. Selek and Yilmaz are Turkish citizens; Gelowicz and Schneider are German converts to Islam.

The defendants have not entered pleas, normal practice in the German legal system, but lawyers for Gelowicz and Schneider have said they would question whether some of the evidence could be used in court, including the tapes. Lawyers for Selek and Yilmaz raised similar questions.

The suspects had planned to attack the air base in 2007 using three car bombs and another bomb hidden in a base airport terminal that could have been remotely detonated with a mobile phone, said the witness, whose name was withheld in keeping with German witness protection laws.

He said the group discussed using the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington as a date for their plot, saying “the world will burn,” if it worked.

“Some will have to die,” the agent quoted Yilmaz as saying.

Prosecutors allege that the group planned car bomb attacks on various sites, including Ramstein, with the aim of killing “as many people as possible.”

All the suspects are accused of being members of the radical Islamic Jihad Union, an offshoot of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. They face charges including membership in a terrorist organization and conspiracy to commit murder.

The charges together carry a 10-year maximum sentence.

The group had stockpiled 1,600 pounds (730 kilograms) of highly concentrated hydrogen peroxide, purchased from a chemical supplier, and could have mixed the peroxide with other substances to make explosives equivalent to 1,200 pounds (550 kilograms) of dynamite, German officials have said.

But German authorities — acting partly on intelligence from the U.S. — had been watching them and covertly replaced all of the hydrogen peroxide with a diluted substitute that could not have been used to produce a bomb.

The witness testified on the fifth day of the trial that the group made jokes about the expected reaction to the attack.

The witness testified the suspects also had organized false license plates for their cars and threatened to use violence to resist arrest.

Schneider is charged with attempted murder for allegedly grabbing an officer’s gun and firing it at him during arrest. He faces possible life in prison.

The trial, being held in a high-security courtroom, is scheduled to last at least until the end of August.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


EU and UN Abandon Inquiry Into Missing £60m in Kosovo

The European Union and United Nations have abandoned investigations into serious fraud and corruption allegations over £60 million worth of Brussels funding for Kosovo.

The Daily Telegraph has learned that there was evidence of theft, graft and widespread breaches of contract tendering rules during EU-financed operations carried by the UN Mission in Kosovo (Unmik) from 1999 to 2008 in connection with the national electricity company and Pristina airport.

EU funds for “economic reconstruction” to help rebuild a war-shattered Kosovo ten years ago were hit by at least 11 scandals involving 12 cases of alleged criminal activity and 27 examples of alleged breaches of rules on the awarding of contracts and nepotism.

Activites of the UN-led Investigation Task Force in Kosovo, which also included representatives of Olaf, the EU’s anti-fraud office, were finished in June 2008”.

This newspaper has seen internal documents that conclude that “apparently no other follow up action is foreseen”.

Accusations of “potential fraud and irregularities” surrounded the “alleged diversion” of funds worth £58.7 million relating to “two major contracts” at Korporata Enerhjitike e Kosoves (KEK)..

The Unmik-appointed German chief executive of KEK was found guilty by a German court on the basis of an EU investigation. He is currently serving a sentence of three-and-a-half years in jail.

Evidence of fraud and “irregularities” have also been found in contracts and building projects amounting to at least 4 million euros (£3.6 million) at Pristina Airport.

One case allegedly involved “fraudulent acts and significantly abused tendering processes” for the construction of 2.3 million euro airport terminal.

UN investigators recommended a “criminal investigation” but this was dropped.

Cases involving alleged theft of air cargo fees, alleged bribes in return for airport jobs and claims of “theft and corruption” arising out of the collection of handling and landing fees also appear to have been closed.

Following independence for Kosovo last year, UN officials have concluded that there are now “no means any more to monitor any of those follow-up activities”.

Commission officials have “repeatedly raised concerns” with both Unmik and with the Kosovo authorities.

“The Commission continues to raise these concerns with the Kosovo authorities and demand that they clarify the steps they have taken,” said a spokesman.

The scandals have thrown into question the £891 million that the EU channels every year to projects in Kosovo via the UN and World Bank.

The European Parliament is threatening to block EU cash for the UN unless there is proper oversight and accounting for the money is spent.

“Parliament must have assurance evidence in order to be able to accept channelling about a thousand million euros on a yearly basis to international organisations,” says a confidential letter to the European Commission.

The parliament’s budgetary control committee is demanding that the commission halts funding to UN projects which do not hand over accounts to European auditors.

“We urge the commission in future not to finance where there is doubt regarding the existence of such structures and procedures,” said the letter.

Chris Heaton-Harris, a Conservative MEP on the parliament’s budget control committee, said he was concerned that “British taxpayers’ money is effectively being laundered via unaccountable institutions and ending up in the pockets of criminals and fraudsters”.

He added: “I am not sure what is more scandalous: the fact that this happened in the first place or the fact that the institutions involved seem quite happy to bury the story.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

North Africa

Algeria and Mali Target Al-Qaeda

Algeria has begun sending military equipment to Mali in preparation for a joint operation against Islamic militants linked to al-Qaeda.

The aid includes fuel, weapons and sleeping bags, according to reports in the Algerian media.

The operation could involve neighbouring countries Niger and Mauritania, say the reports.

Malian President Amadou Toumani Toure has called for regional co-operation to deal with al-Qaeda linked groups.

The move follows a recent visit to Algeria by Mali’s defence minister, during which he had talks with President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

Hostage deadline

Two independent newspapers have reported that the operation could start within the next month or two and last for six months.

Islamist groups have been using the Sahara in northern Mali as a base for attacks in Algeria and for keeping Western hostages.

A group called al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb has threatened to kill a British hostage, believed to be held somewhere in the Sahara region, on 15 May unless the UK frees a detained Jordanian Islamist..

The group has been waging a campaign of bombings and shootings, primarily along Algeria’s Mediterranean coast.

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

Libya: Lockerbie Bomber Prepared to Drop Appeal

LONDON — The only person jailed over the 1988 Lockerbie bombing said he would drop his appeal against conviction — provided Britain allows him to serve the rest of sentence in Libya, a visiting Libyan official said Wednesday.

Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, who is terminally ill with cancer, was found guilty of blowing up Pan Am Flight 103 over the Scottish town of Lockerbie in an attack that killed 270 people. He has been fighting his conviction in a Scottish court, but a Libyan Foreign Ministry official said al-Megrahi would be willing to drop the case.

“He is sick. He has cancer. There is no cure for his case. He told me that he wants to die among his family and friends in his country,” said Abdel Atti el-Ubaidi, who is leading a Libyan delegation to London. “Al-Megrahi said that he is ready to drop the appeal if he is guaranteed that he will be transferred to Libya.”

Libya has accepted responsibility for the attack, paying out millions of dollars in compensation to the families of the victims and handing over suspects including al-Megrahi for prosecution.

But al-Megrahi’s lawyers, in attempting to clear their client’s name, have said the attack was actually the result of an Iranian-financed Palestinian plot.

Al-Megrahi’s lawyers have said British and U.S. authorities tampered with evidence, disregarded witness statements and steered investigators toward the conclusion that Libya, not Iran, was to blame.

Another Libyan, Lamen Khalifa Fhimah, were prosecuted alongside al-Megrahi in The Hague, Netherlands, in 2001, but Fhimah was acquitted.

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s decision to accept responsibility for the Lockerbie attack at the same time as he renounced Libya’s weapons of mass destruction program led to the United States lifting sanctions against Tripoli.

Al-Megrahi’s appeal, which has been under review since April 28 at Edinburgh’s High Court, points to an exhaustive 2007 legal review by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Board raised questions about evidence used to convict al-Megrahi.

Relatives of the victims expressed dismay Wednesday at the news that al-Megrahi might be sent to Libya.

Scottish lawmaker Christine Grahame said she believed al-Megrahi would succeed in clearing his name if he can complete the appeal process, but she said it was “understandable, on a personal level, why he would want to return to his homeland given his failing health.”

She called for a public inquiry into the Lockerbie bombing, even if al-Megrahi were no longer in the country.

Robert Monetti, from Cherry Hill, New Jersey, whose son Rick died in the blast, said “the American families are incredibly opposed to letting al-Megrahi out of Scotland.”

“As a group we are generally convinced that he is guilty and ought to serve his sentence” in Britain, Monetti said.

El-Ubaidi, the Libyan official, said he made a request to Scottish officials Tuesday to drop the appeal. Scotland’s government confirmed receiving the request, and said a decision could take three months or longer. Scotland had said it would not repatriate him while his appeal was being heard.

Meanwhile, appeals proceedings were held Wednesday at the court in Edinburgh. Al-Megrahi’s lawyer Tony Kelly declined comment, prosecution spokesman Kevin Bell said the appeal was expected to continue.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

Israel: President Urges Govt to Cede Christian Sites to Vatican

Jerusalem, 4 May (AKI) — Israel’s president Shimon Peres is pressing the government to hand over control of six key Christian sites to the Vatican, Haaretz newspaper reported on Monday. But the Vatican’s longstanding demand that Israel transfer sovereignty of the sites has created dissent among senior officials in Jerusalem, Haaretz said, quoting Army Radio.

The sites include the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth; the Coenaculum on Mount Zion in Jerusalem, where Jesus is said to have held The Last Supper; Gethsemane, which sits at the foot of the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem; Mount Tabor; and the Church of the Multiplication, on the Sea of Galilee.

Peres is lobbying Israel’s interior minister, Eli Yishai, to cede control of the sites to the Catholic church, Army Radio reported.

The dispute between Jerusalem and the Holy See threatens to overshadow Pope Benedict XVI’s historic visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories next week.

Vatican officials have made it clear that they intend to reiterate their demand during the visit that Israel hand over control of the Coenaculum, the dining room of the house where Jesus ate the last supper, Army Radio reported.

Israel’s foreign ministry on Sunday launched a website dedicated to the pope’s visit.

The site — — is available in eight languages — English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, Italian, German and Hebrew.

The website also contains textual and audio-visual information about the pope’s visit, relations between Israel and the Vatican, and Christian communities and holy sites in Israel.

During the pope’s visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories, he will hold meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders. He will also celebrate mass in Jerusalem, the Israeli city of Nazareth and the Palestinian city of Bethlehem amid tight security.

Nazareth is the place which Christians believe Jesus lived and preached, while Bethlehem is said to be the place of Jesus’ birth.

The pontiff will also visit Israel’s Holocaust museum or Yad Vashem memorial and will then hold a meeting with inter-faith dialogue organisations.

Benedict will become the first pope to visit the Dome of the Rock, one of Islam’s holiest sites, located in Jerusalem’s old city, where he will meet the Grand Mufti.

Benedict will also visit the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest site and meet with the two chief rabbis of Israel at the Hechal Shlomo Centre.

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

Middle East

Iraq: Radical Cleric Becomes ‘Ayatollah’

Baghdad, 5 May (AKI) — Radical Iraqi Shia cleric, Moqtada al-Sadr, is reported to have assumed the title of Grand Ayatollah after concluding his studies in the holy city of Qom in Iran. Sources close to the cleric’s faction released the news to the Arab daily, al-Sharq al-Awsat.

Around 70 supporters of al-Sadr on Sunday concluded a conference in the Turkish city of Istanbul where they elected new leaders and mapped out their future.

Al-Sadr, who leads the Mahdi Army militia, also met both Recep Tayyip Erodgan, the Turkish prime minister, and president Abdullah Gul in Ankara on Friday during his visit to Turkey.

Al-Sadr joined his supporters after completing two years of study in Iran and was expected to return to Iraq this week to resume his religious leadership.

During the Shia conference entitled ‘The Al-Sadr faction and future challenges’, Al-Sadr’s supporters renewed their commitment to fight the occupation of their country and demand the removal of all foreign troops, while seeking greater collaboration with other Iraqi political parties.

In 2004, al-Sadr’s militia launched an uprising against American troops in Baghdad and British forces in the Shia heartland of southern Iraq.

But his militia suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of Iraq’s new army last year and his followers have reportedly now turned to mainstream politics.

Al-Sadr is the son of a revered Ayatollah, Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr, who represented oppressed majority Shias during Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship.

He was murdered by the former regime in 1999, an assassination which provoked widespread riots in Shia areas.

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

‘Joint Commission a Dangerous Trap’

ISTANBUL — US historian Richard Hovannisian says a joint commission of historians to examine the events of 1915 is a dangerous trap for the Armenian side as it would be a backward step for Armenians to research whether the events were genocide or not.

A U.S. historian with Armenian roots has said he will not take part in a joint commission to research the events of 1915, as the offer is a dangerous trap for Armenians, reported Armenian Reporter magazine.

“The creation of such a commission is very dangerous,” said Richard Hovannisian from the University of California when asked about Armenian President Serge Sarkisian’s statement that Armenia would not oppose the creation of a joint commission if Turkey opened the border between the two countries.

Last month Turkey and Armenia agreed on a road map toward restoring relations. Although the content of the road map has not been disclosed, the prevailing view is that it includes the establishment of a commission to investigate the details surrounding the events of 1915. Armenians believe that the World War I killings of Armenians at the hands of the Ottomans amount to genocide, a claim refuted by Turkey.

Hovannisian said if asked he would refuse to be part of the commission. He said that it would be a step backward for the Armenian side and that even the offer of a joint commission to examine whether it was an act of genocide or not suggested there is doubt surrounding events. “[The commission] is acceptable only under certain conditions. First of all, the genocide must be accepted as a fact, then we can study as to why the genocide happened, what were the factors, etc,” he said.

According to Hovanisian, the Turkish side is relying on the 1948 UN Convention on genocide, where it states that genocides must be premeditated. “The Turks will stress that, yes, there were Armenian victims — 200,000 or 300,000, but you cannot prove that this was premeditated,” he said. In Turkish archives and at that time it was already planned, to send telegrams from the provinces, where supposedly Armenian revolts and desertions from the Ottoman army were recorded, Hovanisian said, adding that Turkish historians can come up with these arguments and try, at least in part, to place the blame on the Armenians. “The Turkish side will never accept that what happened was genocide,” he said.

Opening the border

Hovanisian also said that opening the Turkish-Armenian border would bring more benefits to Turkey than Armenia. “Of course, open borders will also be beneficial for Armenia, because we need access to the sea, toward the Western world. We will then have an alternative to the Georgian routes. Open borders is also good for Turkey, because its eastern regions will develop. It is also good for the Turks because they will have access to expand to the East. The Turks have always had their eye on the East,” he said.

Hovanisian is the father of Raffi Hovanisian, the first foreign minister of Armenia, the daily Vatan reported yesterday.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Turkish Nuclear Plant Assessment Ready Next Week-Min

ANKARA — An assessment of a tender to build Turkey’s first nuclear power plant will be submitted to the energy ministry next week, Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said on Wednesday.

“Then we will present it to the cabinet,” Yildiz told a news conference.

A consortium of Russia ‘s Atomstroyeexport-Inter RAO and Park Teknik submitted the only bid to construct Turkey ‘s first nuclear power plant. Two more nuclear licenses will also be sold.

Analysts have criticized the tender, part of Turkey ‘s plan to meet growing energy needs, for its lack of competition in constructing the estimated $7.5 billion plant.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

US Will Not Abandon Arab Allies to Iran, Robert Gates Says

America offered assurances to its closest Arab allies on Wednesday that President Barack Obama’s overtures towards Iran will not damage their interests.

The leading Arab powers, notably Saudi Arabia and Egypt, are deeply concerned about Iran’s nuclear ambitions and its rising influence across the Middle East. The Sunni powers rely on America to contain Iran’s Shia regime and are concerned about the possible consequences of Mr Obama’s conciliatory approach towards the Islamic Republic.

Robert Gates, the US defence secretary, visited Egypt and Saudi Arabia to reassure them that America will not spring a “grand bargain” with Iran on them without warning.

Mr Gates described these fears as “exaggerated” and “completely unrealistic”, saying: “We will keep our friends informed about what is going so that nobody gets surprised.”

Mr Gates played down the chances of America achieving a comprehensive settlement with Iran. “I believe that kind of prospect is very remote,” he said in Cairo. “We’ll just have to see how the Iranians respond to the offer from the President. Frankly, some of the first things that have happened as a result of the extension of that open hand have not been encouraging.”

But Mr Gates had limited success in winning over his hosts. A statement from the Gulf Cooperation Council, which represents Saudi Arabia and five other Gulf states, expressed the “hope” that “any dialogue” between America and Iran “will not come at our expense”. Referring obliquely to Iran, the statement added: “There exists a strategic and military threat [to Gulf countries] and we are against any nuclear programme that isn’t approved by the International Atomic Energy Agency.”

Saudi Arabia fears Iranian influence over its restless Shia minority. The situation is more delicate in other states, notably Bahrain where a Sunni monarchy coexists uneasily with a Shia majority.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Yemen ‘Curbing Freedom’ of Press

Two media freedom campaign groups have criticised Yemen for what they say are attempts to suppress reporting about protests in the south of the country.

The groups say the popular al-Ayyam newspaper has faced harassment and the confiscation of thousands of copies.

The criticism was made by Reporters Without Borders (RWP) and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

At least seven people have been killed in clashes between the security forces and anti-government protesters.

RWP said the Yemeni information ministry had banned the printing of al-Ayyam and six other newspapers for allegedly promoting separatism.

The Yemeni information ministry denied doing so, and said it had only ordered the withdrawal of one edition of one of the papers.

Reports quoting al-Ayyam’s editor say lorries carrying editions of the privately owned daily were looted and set on fire by pro-government militias known as the Guards of Unity.

On Monday the ministry of information issued a decree suspending publication of any paper that “harmed national unity”.

Correspondents say Yemen has until recently been able to boast a fairly rigorous press, despite President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s three-decade monopolisation of political power.

“I can say that the freedom of the press and speech is dying in Yemen,” former press syndicate head Abdul Bari Taher is quoted saying by Associated Press.

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


Moscow Says NATO Ties OK, Despite Expulsions

MOSCOW — Russia and NATO sought to limit damage to their relationship Wednesday, after expelling each other’s envoys and despite Moscow’s criticism of military exercises in former Soviet Georgia.

Russia had said NATO’s war games amounted to Western meddling in its sphere of influence, and called NATO’s expulsion of Russian diplomats from alliance headquarters last week a provocation. On Wednesday, Russia kicked out two Canadians who were working for NATO in Moscow.

“We naturally were forced to react,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in televised comments, adding that Russia was just playing by the “rules of the game.”

But he took pains to emphasize that Moscow wanted normal relations with the Western alliance, despite objections over NATO expansion into former Soviet republics.

“We want a normal partnership with the North Atlantic alliance, based on mutual respect and mutual benefit,” Lavrov said.

Russia’s relations with NATO have been fraught with tension for years over the alliance’s eastward expansion. Tiny Georgia and its aim of joining NATO have become a major irritation.

On April 29, NATO and Russia resumed formal contacts suspended over Russia’s five-day war with Georgia in August. Russia and NATO — which have cooperated in recent months on matters including shipments to Afghanistan — planned a meeting of foreign ministers later this month.

A day later, however, NATO revoked the accreditation of two Russian envoys to alliance headquarters in Brussels. NATO did not give details, but Russia suggested the move was tied to a February espionage scandal in which Moscow was accused of accepting NATO secrets from a spy.

Russia responded Wednesday by expelling Isabelle Francois, the head of NATO’s Information Office in Moscow, and her deputy. The two were the office’s only foreign staff, the alliance said.

NATO called the move “counterproductive to our efforts to restore our dialogue and cooperation with Russia,” but it said its decision to re-engage with Russia “stands.”

Canada, however, demanded an explanation from the Russian ambassador. “We’re greatly concerned, given that fact that there is this reengagement that is taking place,” Canadian Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon said.

Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper justified NATO’s expelling the Russians, saying NATO would take whatever action necessary “when it comes to spying.”

“It’s true at NATO we talked of reconciliation, but … we are concerned about Russian behavior on a number of fronts,” Harper said during a visit to Prague. “I don’t want to say this is a Cold War, but it’s not an ideal situation.”

But analysts suggested the retaliatory expulsions amounted to diplomacy as usual for Moscow, and said they would likely have little lasting impact on Russia’s relations with the West. During the Cold War, expulsions of Soviet and NATO alliance diplomats were routine.

“We have seen several expulsions in the past,” said Alexander Konovalov, head of Moscow’s Institute for Strategic Assessment. “It’s normal practice, more or less.”

Russia’s NATO envoy Dmitry Rogozin said the two sides should put the dispute behind them and “consider this issue closed,” according to Interfax.

Russia has also loudly complained about NATO military exercises that began Wednesday in Georgia, though NATO has encouraged Russia to join the war games and says they pose no threat.

Russia has said it is inappropriate to hold the monthlong military exercises in a country that recently fought and lost a war.

Exacerbating tensions, hundreds of Georgian troops staged a daylong mutiny Tuesday at a tank battalion headquarters near Tbilisi. The rebellion ended with the soldiers surrendering without incident. Russia angrily denied Georgia’s initial claims that Moscow orchestrated the mutiny in hopes of overthrowing the government.

Georgia quickly backtracked and said the mutiny was aimed at disrupting the NATO exercises. Some Georgian opposition members called the mutiny a charade cooked up by Saakashvili to rally support after weeks of opposition protests.

“We are an established state and showed it yesterday, and we won’t let anyone act this way,” Saakashvili said Wednesday in an address to military officers. He said a former Georgian envoy to NATO was charged Tuesday with spying for Russia and allegedly passed information about Georgian military movements to Russia during the war.

Russia has dismissed the idea of taking part in the NATO exercises in Georgia. Participants were holding meetings until at least May 11, after which battlefield maneuvers would begin, Georgian Defense Ministry spokesman David Dzhokhadze said. Some 15 countries were taking part, after Switzerland, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Serbia and Armenia bowed out.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

South Asia

Afghanistan: Taliban Announces New Spring Offensive

Kabul, 29 April (AKI) — The Taliban has announced it will launch a major new military offensive against foreign forces in Afghanistan from Thursday. The deputy of the Afghan Taliban’s supreme leader Mullah Omar said on Wednesday the militant group would begin a new “strong and robust” operation.

More than 25,000 extra US and NATO forces are due to arrive in the country this year in a bid to counter its increasingly ferocious Taliban-led insurgency.

“As the US and NATO want to send more troops to Afghanistan, the Afghans too sense the need for a strong and robust operation to counter the new forces,” Mullah Brodar Akhund, the Taliban’s second-in-command, said in a statement.

“The target of the operation will be military bases of invaders, diplomatic centres, military convoys, officials of the puppet government and members of the parliament,” he said in a statement.

Brodar said the operation, called ‘Nasrat’ (Assistance), would include an increased number of suicide attacks, ambushes and offensive assaults.

His statement also called on the Afghan government, employees and security forces to stop working with the “puppet government.”

Haulage firms that transport military supplies for NATO troops and construction companies that build military bases in Afghanistan should halt their activities or face reprisals, the statement warned.

It came the same day that a suicide car bomber rammed his explosives-laden vehicle into a convoy of the NATO-led ISAF’s soldiers in northern Kunduz province, wounding five soldiers, according to an official cited by Pajhwok Afghan News agency.

Also on Wednesday, Afghan forces backed by the US-led coalition troops killed an estimated 10 insurgents and detained two suspects in a battle that broke out during a patrol in southeastern Logar province, Pajahwok reported.

US president Barack Obama announced earlier this year that he would send 17,000 combat troops and 4,000 military trainers to Afghanistan this year as the administration changed its focus from the war in Iraq to the one in Afghanistan.

Other NATO countries have also pledged to send around 5,000 soldiers and military advisors to Afghanistan in the coming months to help provide security for the upcoming presidential elections in August.

Britain announced on Wednesday it would send 700 extra troops to boost security in Afghanistan during the presidential elections. The polls are being seen as a key test of democracy in the war-torn country.

Australia’s prime minister Kevin Rudd also said the government would send an extra 450 troops to Afghanistan, increasing its contingent there to 1,550.

The new Australian troops will be mainly tasked with training the Afghan army in the southern province of Uruzgan. They include a temporary eight-month deployment of 120 soldiers for the period around the August elections, Rudd said.

Taliban militants have steadily gained strength in Afghanistan since 2005 and have extended their control over large areas of the country.

Nearly 300 foreign troops were killed by insurgents in 2008 in what was the deadliest year of fighting for them since US-led forces toppled the Taliban from power in 2001.

More than 70,000 international troops from 42 nations are currently deployed in Afghanistan. Over 160,000 newly trained members of the Afghan army and police are also fighting the Taliban.

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

Afghanistan’s Only Pig Quarantined in Flu Fear

KABUL (Reuters) — Afghanistan’s only known pig has been locked in a room, away from visitors to Kabul zoo where it normally grazes beside deer and goats, because people are worried it could infect them with the virus popularly known as swine flu.

The pig is a curiosity in Muslim Afghanistan, where pork and pig products are illegal because they are considered irreligious, and has been in quarantine since Sunday after visitors expressed alarm it could spread the new flu strain.

“For now the pig is under quarantine, we built it a room because of swine influenza,” Aziz Gul Saqib, director of Kabul Zoo, told Reuters. “We’ve done this because people are worried about getting the flu.”

Worldwide, more than 1,000 people have been infected with the virus, according to the World Health Organization, which also says 26 people have so far died from the strain. All but one of the deaths were in Mexico, the epicenter of the outbreak.

There are no pig farms in Afghanistan and no direct civilian flights between Kabul and Mexico.

“We understand that, but most people don’t have enough knowledge. When they see the pig in the cage they get worried and think that they could get ill,” Saqib said.

The pig was a gift to the zoo from China, which itself quarantined some 70 Mexicans, 26 Canadians and four Americans in the past week, but later released them.

Some visitors were not concerned about the fate of the pig and said locking it away was probably for the best.

“Influenza is quite contagious and if it passes between people and animals then there’s no need for the pig to be here,” zoo visitor Farzana said.

Shabby and rundown, Kabul Zoo is a far cry from zoos in the developed world, but has nevertheless come a long way since it suffered on the front line of Afghanistan’s 1992-4 civil war.

Mujahideen fighters then ate the deer and rabbits and shot dead the zoo’s sole elephant. Shells shattered the aquarium.

One fighter climbed into the lion enclosure but was immediately killed by Marjan, the zoo’s most famous inhabitant. The man’s brother returned the next day and lobbed a hand grenade at the lion leaving him toothless and blind.

The zoo now holds two lions who replaced Marjan who died of old age in 2002 as well as endangered local leopards. In all, it houses 42 species of birds and mammals and 36 types of fish and attracts up to 10,000 visitors on weekends.

           — Hat tip: KGS[Return to headlines]

Afghan Lawmakers Seek N Ireland Peace Lessons

DUBLIN — A dozen Afghan warlords-turned-lawmakers came to Dublin on Tuesday to explore the lessons of Northern Ireland peacemaking.

The Afghan National Assembly members from several tribal factions were meeting with Irish Foreign Minister Micheal Martin, President Mary McAleese and the foreign affairs committee of Ireland’s parliament.

They also were visiting the Glencree Center for Peace and Reconciliation amid the Wicklow mountains south of Dublin. Glencree officials, who helped organize the Afghans’ visit, have long specialized in bringing together the Irish Catholics and British Protestants of neighboring Northern Ireland — and today increasingly seek to spread lessons from that work to other conflicts worldwide.

Power-sharing was the central goal of Northern Ireland’s U.S.-brokered 1998 peace accord and took nearly a decade to develop.

“Ireland has many lessons to share from its long history of conflict and the Northern Ireland peace process,” Martin said before meeting the Afghan delegation.

“We are conscious that each country must find its own path to peace, and that there is no correct ‘one-size-fits-all’ path to take,” Martin said. “However, it has also been our experience that international support can be invaluable in securing peace, and we hope to play our part through sharing our experiences.”

It was not possible to get a list of visitors. Telephone calls to officials traveling with the Afghans were not returned and Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs said the visit was privately organized and declined to identify anyone on it.

Afghanistan’s government has struggled to assert its authority across the faction-rife country since the 2001 ouster of the Taliban. The fundamentalist Muslim movement has regained control of broad swaths of the Afghan countryside, weakening the authority of the Kabul government of President Hamid Karzai. He faces re-election in August, the first major electoral test in Afghanistan since the National Assembly was elected in 2005.

Martin said the Aug. 20 election, which also involves elections to 34 provincial assemblies, “represent a critical opportunity for the Afghan people. Given their importance, we must do everything we can to support them and to ensure that they are conducted in a credible manner.”

Later this week, the Afghans lawmakers travel to Belfast, capital of the British territory of Northern Ireland, to meet with the leaders of the Catholic-Protestant government there.

The Afghans’ visit is sponsored by the American aid agency USAID and coordinated by officials from the State University of New York, who are based in Kabul and are helping the Afghans develop international standards of democracy.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

India: Governor of Gujarat Under Investigation for Massacre of More Than a Thousand Muslims

The Supreme Court sets up a commission to verify the responsibility of Narendra Modi in the violence against the Islamic minority in 2002. A polemical reaction from the Bharatiya Janata Party, which considers the governor of Gujarat a candidate for Indian prime minister. The governor, a leading figure of the new party, accuses: “it is a conspiracy of the Congress party to put me behind bars.”

Mumbai (AsiaNews) — A special commission of investigation to verify the responsibility of Narendra Modi (in the photo), governor of Gujarat, in the massacres that rocked the state in 2002, causing the death of more than a thousand people, most of them Muslim.

On April 27, the Supreme Court made public the names of the members of the commission, which will be headed by R.K. Raghavan, former head of the Central Bureau of Investigation, who will be assisted by the lawyers Arijit Pasayat and Asok Kumar Ganguly. Their task is that of clarifying the involvement of Modi and 50 other people, local politicians and government officials, in the clashes seven years ago.

In 2002, a conflict of an ethnic religious nature caused an undetermined number of deaths in Gujarat — some sources say there were 2,000 victims — and 150,000 refugees. The violence broke out after the death of 60 Hindus, during an attack on a train in the city of Godhra, presumed to have been carried out by an Islamic group.

Modi, leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the governor of the state at the time, is accused in particular of being involved in the killing of a member of parliament, but for much of public opinion the leading exponent of the nationalist Hindu party should also respond for the tacit approval of the rioters, and the inertia of the authorities in helping the victims of the massacres.

Jesuit Fr. Cedrick Prakash, director of the Prashant center for human rights, justice, and peace, interprets the decision of the Supreme Court as “a triumph of justice” putting an end to seven years of waiting. “Obviously, there are many in Gujarat society who would best want the horrors of 2002 to be forgotten,” says Fr. Prakash. However, one has to realize and accept that when a whole section of one’s population is brutalized and decimated, things will never be the same again.”

For the Jesuit priest, the coincidence of the institution of the commission and the 60th anniversary of India’s constitution is a good sign, because it indicates that “we can proudly live in a land where ‘Satyameva Jayate’ [editor’s note: India’s motto, meaning ‘Only the truth prevails’] are not only words that come out from our lips.”

The decision of the Supreme Court did not fail to cause controversy among the parties in the grip of an election that should decide who will lead the country over the next five years.

Modi is a star of the BJP, and before the elections underway many pointed to him as a Hindu alternative to prime minister Manmohan Singh, leader of India’s governing National Congress Party. Modi himself has commented on the news of the institution of the commission as “a conspiracy of the Congress party to put me behind bars.”

Lenin Raghuvanshi, director of the popular committee for the protection of human rights, tells AsiaNews that “Hindu fundamentalists will flourish with this type of verdict of the Supreme Court against Narendra Modi during the election time.” But the institution of the commission “proves that the genocide of Muslim minority happened in Gujarat with the nexus of state government.”

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

India: Attacker Pleads Not Guilty

MUMBAI — THE man accused of being the lone surviving gunman from last year’s Mumbai attack pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to 86 charges against him, including murder and waging war against India, lawyers said. Mohammed Ajmal Kasab was charged with being directly involved in seven cases that caused the deaths of 72 people and being a co-conspirator in the deaths of all 166 people killed last November, said the public prosecutor.

‘The prosecution today framed 86 charges against the accused, who has pleaded not guilty to all charges,’ Ujjwal Nikam told reporters after the court was adjourned for the day.

The charges range from waging war to hijacking a boat that carried the attackers to Mumbai. Kasab faces the death penalty if found guilty.

Police say Kasab was one of 10 gunmen who landed in Mumbai by boat from Pakistan and rampaged through several of the city’s landmarks including the main train station, two luxury hotels and a Jewish centre over three days.

Judge M.L. Tahilyani explained the charges to Kasab in Hindi and asked him if he understood, Nikam said. When asked how he pleaded, Kasab said he was not guilty.

Kasab also told the court on Wednesday he was 21 years old, Nikam said, putting to rest a defence submission that he was a minor and should therefore be tried in juvenile court.

The judge had earlier ordered medical and dental tests to confirm his age.

The prosecution will now begin to present its evidence and witnesses in each of the cases against the accused, Mr Nikam said. The prosecution has said it has more than 1,800 witnesses and more than 750 pieces of evidence.

Charges were also laid on Wednesday against Fahim Ansari and Sabahuddin Ahmed, two Indians accused of being members of the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group and of conducting reconnaissance of the Mumbai landmarks before the attack.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Indonesia: People-Smuggling Baron Ali Cobra Seized in Action

ONE of the biggest fish in Indonesia’s people-smuggling racket has been netted, after police raided a house in the eastern port city of Makassar.

The 30-year-old — known to asylum seekers the world over as Ali Cobra and described by Indonesian authorities as the “Noordin M.Top” of the trafficking racket, in reference to the regional terror tsar who has eluded capture for years — was seized on Monday night.

Ali Cobra, also operating under the name Labasa Ali, was in the process of organising a trip to Australia for 10 Afghan asylum seekers, some of whom had previously tried to make the perilous trip but had been detained by Indonesian police.

All 10 Afghan men, as well as the alleged people-smuggler, were captured in the swoop. News of the arrest comes as Australia finds itself confronting a new wave of boat arrivals.

On Tuesday, Border Protection Command intercepted a boat carrying 50 asylum seekers — the 11th such vessel to be detected this year. And late on Tuesday night, four asylum seekers found on a beach on Deliverance Island in the Torres Strait arrived at Christmas Island. The men — two Afghans, a Sri Lanklan and an Indian — were transported on a commercial flight from Perth.

Ali Cobra has established a dominant hold over the trade in recent years; according to one senior Indonesian immigration official who spoke on condition of not being identified, “in almost every case in recent times he is mentioned”.

This includes an ill-fated attempt in January by a group of 18 Afghans, Pakistanis and Burmese to sail in a small fishing boat from Rote Island, west of Timor, to Ashmore Reef. Nine of those on board, including a nine-year-old boy, died when the boat sank.

One of the 10 Afghans arrested this week used a hidden mobile phone to tell The Australian from his immigration detention cell — having been returned there after Monday night’s raid — that it was “absolutely” the Rudd Government’s relaxed policy on boatpeople that was driving the surge in arrivals by sea.

“Absolutely. We, like everybody who tries to go, we know the detention regulations have been lifted since the fall of John Howard,” said Kabul man Gulistan Ali, 32.

“We know the new Government has condemned the actions of the previous one, and has made the policies much easier for asylum seekers. We know this.”

Mr Ali said he and two fellow Afghans escaped from the Indonesian detention centre about a week ago by scaling a 20m wall, leaping to the ground, hiding in dense jungle for two days and then walking 60km to Makassar, where they were contacted by phone and given an address to meet their handler.

Police swooped when the group assembled at the house. Gulistan Ali and his two fugitive companions had previously tried to make the dangerous sea crossing on February 2, when they were arrested in the southeast Sulawesi port of Bau-Bau, preparing to board a small wooden boat.

All three had been in the detention centre, near Makassar city, since then. Gulistan Ali said the “difficult psychological situation” of being incarcerated in the “brutal conditions” there had triggered his second illegal attempt to reach Australia.

Gulistan Ali said he had paid “around $US9000” ($12,000) in total to people-smugglers since arriving in Indonesia early this year; another of the trio, Ahmad Ghahera, 25, said he paid about $US8000. Both men handed over most of that money on arrival in Jakarta, after flying from Kabul via Kuala Lumpur.

They had obtained visas from the Indonesian embassy in Kabul; there have been claims made of officials there providing the entry documents for up to $US1500. Indonesia’s foreign ministry denies that allegation.

Gulistan Ali, who has a wife and two toddlers in Afghanistan, said he knew there was “less than a 50 per cent chance of succeeding, of not drowning” in the attempt to reach Ashmore Reef in Australia’s northwestern waters, both in the one planned for this week and that of three months ago.

However, his life, he said, “is already ruined. Either I die — and I’m not concerned if that happens — or I secure a future for my children.”

However, Gulistan Ali warned that even a figure as significant as Ali Cobra should not be seen as the end of the trail in the people-smuggling business operating out of Indonesia.

“It’s a very organised mafia. But the organiser of it absolutely does not come before the people. They stay behind the curtain.

“I understand that people are very often cheated. They hand over their money and then the smugglers just report them to the authorities, to the police.”

The majority of the $US9000 he had paid went, he claimed, to a smuggler “who has not been arrested”. Also arrested this week in Jakarta was alleged people-smuggler Sajjad Hussein, thought to have been responsible for organising a boatload of asylum seekers intercepted in Australian waters on April 29.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

‘Nuclear Weapons Are Not Kalashnikovs’

The West is concerned about the stability of Pakistan. SPIEGEL spoke with President Asif Ali Zardari, 53, about failed peace talks with the Taliban, the possible whereabouts of Osama bin Laden and the safety of his country’s nuclear arsenal.

SPIEGEL: Mr. President, the Taliban is advancing deeper and deeper into the heart of Pakistan. Does your army lack the will or the capability to effectively combat the extremists?

Zardari: Neither the one nor the other. Swat itself has a particular nature — its physical boundaries limit our action and capabilities. We had a similar situation in Bajaur along the border to Afghanistan.. There, too, we went in with F-16s, tanks, heavy artillery and our forces. At the time, 800,000 people lived in the region, and 500,000 were displaced by the fighting. What we really wanted, though, was for the local population to stay and help resist the Taliban on their land. In the case of Swat, the Taliban used the population as human shields. A more aggressive offensive would have caused greater civilian casualties. For us, the concept of a policy of dialogue has always applied. War is not the solution to every kind of problem.

SPIEGEL: The peace agreement you supported with militant Islamists in Swat Valley just failed like others before it. The Taliban didn’t give up their arms as agreed to in the deal. Are deals with extremists a realistic strategy for peace?

Zardari: During negotiations, we try to differentiate between copycats or criminals and the hardcore. It is an ongoing insurgency which takes time to finish. We go in with our troops, we talk, we retreat, we pull back, and then the Taliban goes on a new offensive. It is a drawn-out issue and there is no encyclopaedia one can turn to for answers. I would advise you to read about the Afghan wars. It’s the way the Taliban, who are Pashtuns, fight: They take you on and then they melt into the mountains. And you often can’t tell who is who or what they are up to. These men are like old Indian chiefs in the US who didn’t want to recognize the fact that, by then, they were ruled by American laws.

SPIEGEL: The chief Taliban negotiator in Swat, Sufi Mohammed, claims that democracy is opposed to Islam. So what are the foundations for a treaty?

Zardari: When he refuses to recognize Pakistan’s constitution, he is breaking the terms of the peace deal. That gives our negotiators and the populace the support they need to take him on. If the deal doesn’t work, then parliament will have to decide on it again. That’s democracy and, as you can see, it works.

SPIEGEL: In the meantime, the army has entered into battle against the Taliban. Is it not just a bogus operation in order to quiet a concerned West?

Zardari: It is a large-scale operation. Altogether, more than 100,000 Pakistani troops are operating in the region. Of course we also have a comprehensive strategy and a plan for reconstruction.

SPIEGEL: The Taliban is increasingly calling on the poor to follow them and to chase away the landlords and feudal lords. Are the Islamists in the process of transforming themselves into a social movement that pits Pakistan’s underprivileged against the rich elite, who have opposed land reform?

Zardari: I don’t see that. In regions of the northwest border provinces, there is no feudalism because there is no land available that would be sufficient for agriculture — it is all mountainous terrain. There are old families and there is a tribal chief system that relies on tribal laws that has been indigenous for centuries. The Taliban have superiority of numbers and arms and are more aggressive, so they sometimes overpower the local authority.

SPIEGEL: Why don’t you move some of the troop divisions you have stationed on the eastern border with India to the northwest border, where there is clearly a greater need?

Zardari: Both borders are of equal importance. The fact that the Indians recently increased their troop presence on the border creates a little concern. We react appropriately and we understand our country better than outsiders. This year we have already killed many foreign fighters and even more local attackers. Our opponents have incurred heavy losses — this is a serious battle.

SPIEGEL: The Taliban in Swat Valley have invited Osama bin Laden to live with them and they have offered to protect him from the Pakistani army and the Americans. What will you do if he accepts their offer?

Zardari: It would be a great gesture if Osama bin Laden were to come out into the open in order to give us a chance of catching him. The question right now is whether he is alive or dead. The Americans have told me they don’t know. They are much better informed and they have been looking for him for a much longer time. They have got more equipment, more intelligence, more satellite eavesdropping equipment and more resources on the ground in Afghanistan, and they say they have no trace of him. Our own intelligence is of the same opinion. Presumably, he does not exist anymore, but that has not been confirmed.

Pakistan’s embattled border regions.

SPIEGEL: The relationship between the democratic government in Islamabad and the traditionally dominant army has never been an easy one. Do you trust your army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, and the notorious ISI secret service?

Zardari: It is a trustful working relationship and I am well enough informed. My party, the Pakistan People’s Party, and its allies have the majority and we will see things through. At the moment I see no danger of a military coup.

SPIEGEL: Why do you leave the elimination of top terrorists in the Pakistani tribal areas to the Americans, whose drone attacks are extremely unpopular amongst the populace? Why don’t you handle this yourselves?

Zardari: If we had the drone technology, then we would. It would be a plus. We have always said that we don’t appreciate the way the Americans are handling it. We think it is counterproductive. But it is mostly happening in the border areas between Pakistan and Afghanistan — for all intents and purposes no man’s land.

SPIEGEL: What are you hoping will happen during your visit with US President Barack Obama this week?

Zardari: That is a million dollar question. And I am hoping the answer will be billions of dollars, because that is the kind of money I need to fix Pakistan’s economy. The idea is to request that the world appreciate the sensitivity of Pakistan and the challenges it faces and to treat us on par with General Motors, Chrysler and Citibank.

SPIEGEL: The Americans currently view a nuclear-armed Pakistan as the world’s most dangerous country. Your wife, Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated by terrorists, feared that your country’s nuclear weapons could fall into the hands of Islamist extremists. Do you share this fear?

Zardari: If democracy in this country fails, if the world doesn’t help democracy — then any eventuality is a possibility. But as long as democracy is there, there is no question of that situation arising. All your important installations and weaponry are always under extra security. Nuclear weapons are not Kalashnikovs — the technology is complicated, so it is not as if one little Taliban could come down and press a button.. There is no little button. I want to assure the world that the nuclear capability of Pakistan is in safe hands.

Interview conducted by Susanne Koelbl

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Pakistan: Residents Told to Flee Mingora, as Taliban Takes Hold

Mingora, 5 May (AKI/DAWN) — Pakistani officials in the northern Swat valley on Tuesday asked residents to leave the Swat district’s largest city, Mingora, and nearby towns as local Taliban demanded security forces to lay down their arms. On Monday Taliban militants took control of the city and reportedly laid seige to a building where 46 security officials were being housed.

The district co-ordination officer in Swat, which is located in the North West Frontier Province, relaxed the local curfew between 1.30 p.m. and 7.00 p.m. local time, and said that residents of Mingora should immediately leave the district.

On Monday, the Taliban took control of Mingora and reportedly laid siege to the building where the security personnel were based.

“This is a clear violation of the Swat peace agreement,” an anonymous official said.

He said militants were patrolling the streets and holding key positions outside important buildings.

Meanwhile, the United Nations says its agencies are increasing their humanitarian relief efforts in Pakistan as tens of thousands of people flee clashes between the army and insurgents in the troubled North West Frontier Province.

Working with the National Disaster Management Authority, UN agencies and their partners have started work on providing assistance to around 1,000 families escaping Buner and Dir districts to the Jalozai Camp, home to some 100,000 Afghan refugees before it was closed down last year.

In preparation for another 5,000 families forced from their homes by fighting, two additional camps have been set up in NWFP’s Mardan district and one in Swabi to give immediate assistance in the form of shelter,food,health and education.

Clashes between security forces and militants were reported in several areas of NWFP including Shamozai, Matta and Bahrain.

A group of armed Taliban stormed the Rahimabad police station in Mingora on Monday night and blew it up.

Local sources said police had vacated the station just before the attack.

Security forces have also established checkposts and started searching vehicles in the area.

Shops and markets in the main Mingora bazaar remained closed for the second day because of fear and ongoing tension.

According to a handout issued by the NWFP information department, the Taliban have continued their activities despite the peace accord recently signed with the government.

Fighting has intensified in the mountainous region of NWFP where Taliban fighters began expanding their control after striking the deal with the authorities in February to impose Islamic Sharia law in several areas of the province including Swat.

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

Pakistan: Militants Step Up Attacks Beyond Swat to Border Area

Karachi, 5 May (AKI) — By Syed Saleem Shahzad — As residents of Pakistan’s Swat valley began fleeing their homes to avoid conflict between the Taliban and the armed forces, militants extended the radius of their attacks to the Khyber Agency and other areas on the Afghan border. But now mainstream Sunni scholars have retaliated by unanimously declaring the Taliban and militant leader Sufi Mohammad outlaws and urging the government to immediately stop all negotiations.

With a massive military operation expected in the North West Frontier Province’s Swat valley, dozens of Pakistani security forces men were under siege by Taliban militants late Tuesday.

The local administration announced the relaxation of the curfew in the district and asked residents to leave the area so that Taliban would not use them as human shields.

NWFP information minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain said on Tuesday up to 500, 000 people are likely to be displaced from Swat.

Meanwhile, a suicide attack was carried out in the Khyber Agency and the militants opened new fronts in the Mohmand and Bajaur agencies against the security forces in a strategy to engage troops and divert them from the Swat operation.

Significantly, this time the Taliban failed to muster the support of mainstream political and religious leaders.

“We demand the government to immediately stop all negotiations with Sufi Mohammad and his outlawed TNSM (Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi),” Ejaz Sarwat Qadr, head of the religious party, Sunni Tehrek told Adnkronos International (AKI) by telephone from a Sunni party conference in Rawalpindi.

“The government should not have started negotiations with outlaws. Neither the Sufi Mohammad nor the Taliban know anything about Islam, Islamic jurisprudence. They are the product of a tribal culture.

“The government should maintain its writ at all cost and sort out the outlaws through a military operation, the chief of Sunni Tehrik Ejaz Sarwat Qadri told AKI on telephone from Rawalpindi where he was attending a grand conference of all Sunni parties.

The Sunni conference on Tuesday condemned the Taliban’s occupation of shrines and their intention to destroy them.

The conference unanimously urged the government to declare Sufi Mohammad an outlaw because of his statements against the constitution and establish the writ of the state.

Pakistan is a majority Sunni state where the adherents of Sunni Muslim revivalist Deobandi movement and fundamentalist Wahabi school of thought are estimated to comprise 10 to 15 percent of the country’s population.

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

Pakistan: SHC Acquits ‘Jihadis’ in Frenchmen’s Killing Case

The Sindh High Court (SHC) has set aside the conviction of two former Jihadi activists who were convicted for masterminding a suicide bombing and killing 13 people, including 11 French engineers, in May 2002.

Asif Zaheer and Rizwan Ahmed, activists of a defunct Jihadi organization, had challenged their conviction in a suicide bombing case which left 11 French naval engineers and technicians and two Pakistanis dead and several others injured near the Sheraton Hotel on May 8, 2002. Earlier, an Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) had found them guilty of masterminding suicide bombing, murder, attempt-to-murder, waging war against the State, explosive substance and terrorism charges and sentenced them to death and life imprisonment on June 30, 2003.

The prosecution alleged that the appellants, who were allegedly trained at a Harkat-ul-Jihad Islami military camp in Afghanistan, hatched a conspiracy along with absconding accused Adnan Qamar and prepared Mohammad Arshad for suicide bombing on a bus carrying French technicians, assisting Pakistan Navy in the preparation of the Agosta submarine.

On May 8, 2002, the suicide bomber rammed an explosives-laden vehicle (No. J-6560) into the Navy bus carrying the Frenchmen from Sheraton Hotel.

The SHC, however, turned down the trial court’s judgment. “We are of the considered view that the prosecution has failed to prove the case against the appellants beyond any reasonable doubt. The conviction and sentence awarded to them under the impugned judgment are hereby set aside,” the SHC’s division bench, comprising Justice Mrs Qaiser Iqbal and Justice Syed Mehmood Alam Rizvi, ordered in the 16-page detailed judgment.

“The cases of heinous crime particularly involving capital punishment cannot be decided on mere presumption or surmises,” the court observed, pointing out that the prosecution seemed to have created a last seen witness and even his evidence was not supported by the independent evidence and could not be relied upon and ought to have been rejected by the trial court.

The court observed: “Even if we accept the statement of PW Zafar Iqbal and identification parade then his statement simply shows that he saw the appellants eight months back in a car or on motorcycle but doing no crime. No evidence has been produced by the prosecution to show that bomb blast was caused by the appellants.” The court pointed out that nobody had seen the appellants at the place of blast or planting explosives in the car.

“In the absence of concrete evidence it cannot be held that the appellants were responsible for causing the bomb blast,” the court observed.

The court termed the identification parade and confessional statement of Asif Zaheer as illegal and noted in the judgment that the entire case was based upon the evidence of a chance witness, who appeared to be created and produced as padded witness.

“The confessional statement of Asif Zaheer is not voluntary and recorded after 23 to 24 days and even this fact was concealed by the police and judicial magistrate as well, therefore, confessional statement is defective and cannot be relied upon,” the court order said.

Appellants’ counsel M. Ilyas Khan, Mohammad Farooq and M.R Syed contended that the prosecution case was full of contradictions and testimonies of eyewitnesses could not be relied upon in the eyes of the law. They submitted that the entire case rests upon the evidence of padded prosecution witness Zafar Iqbal who was said to have seen appellants in Defence area but not at the place of the blast and even no offence was made out on the basis of his evidence.

They argued that appellant Asif Zaheer was admittedly in the police custody since December 14, 2002 and his confessional statement was recorded on January 8, 2003 and the same was not corroborated by any piece of evidence. They also questioned identification parade by the judicial magistrate and contended that confessional statement of the appellant was not voluntary and on the sole basis of such evidence they could not be convicted.

The Assistant Advocate General, however, argued that the evidence produced by the prosecution established the involvement of the appellants. Prosecution had placed 41 witnesses but it depended on the last seen witness Zafar Iqbal, a bread seller, and the confessional statement of Asif Zaheer.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Sikhs Banished by Taliban Want to Migrate to India

May 5: Scores of Sikh families, banished from Pakis-tan’s tribal areas by Taliban militants, want to migrate and settle in India for good, this newspaper learned.

“We can’t say anything openly against the Taliban as we fear for our lives. What we will prefer is to migrate to India where we will have more freedom,” a Sikh, a doctor by profession, told this newspaper. He added, “We have conveyed this to the Pakistan government but they have promised us that things will change and we will be secure.” The Sikhs approached by this newspaper requested anonymity fearing Taliban reprisals.

“Most of our people have been giving pro-Taliban statements on television channels. This does not mean we love them, but we fear them. We may have to go back and then there’s the question of survival,” said a Sikh woman who has taken refuge in Islamabad after migrating from Orakzai Agency. She said, “I have four children, all of them are with me. My husband has a shop (in Orakzai Agency). We can’t say anything against them (the Taliban) on record but the truth is that they are brutal.”

A Sikh shopkeeper named Gurmeet said, “I think the militants are not against any specific religion. They are fighting against humanity. No peaceful citizen can be their (militants’) friend.” Gurmeet added, “Though I would prefer to go back home, I still think India is much better as far as human rights are concerned.” He added, “Several of my family members live in Amritsar and one day I might move there with my wife and children.”

Earlier this month, the Sikhs in Pakistan’s lawless tribal areas were forced to leave by Taliban militants who demanded that they pay jizya (Islamic tax). A local jirga (tribal assembly) last week ordered the Sikhs to pay the Taliban militants Rs 15 million as annual protection money after the militants captured the shops and homes of 35 Sikh families and “arrested” community heads Klank Singh and Sewa Singh in Ferozkhel area of Lower Orakzai Agency.

(original non-working link:

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Far East

China Rejects US Criticism Over Military Strength

BEIJING (AP) — China blamed the United States on Wednesday for the latest naval confrontation between the countries, after rejecting criticism by Washington that Beijing’s rising military strength is focused on countering U.S power.

A U.S. Navy ship “violated” international and Chinese laws by entering what China considers its “exclusive economic zone” without authorization, Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said.

“It entered China’s Exclusive Economic Zone in the Yellow Sea without permission from the Chinese side. China is concerned about it, and asked U.S to take effective measures to prevent a similar case from happening again,” he said in a statement.

The Pentagon said the latest encounter occurred Friday in international waters when two Chinese fishing vessels came dangerously close — to within 30 yards (27 meters) — of the USNS Victorious as it was operating in the Yellow Sea.

The Victorious crew sounded its alarm and shot water from its fire hoses to try to deter the vessels in an hour-long incident, one official said. The vessels didn’t leave until the Victorious radioed a nearby Chinese military vessel for help, said Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman.

The past month has seen a number of confrontations between Chinese vessels and U.S. Navy surveillance ships in the Pacific that have become almost a routine cat-and-mouse game on the seas.

There have been four incidents — including last Friday’s — where Chinese-flagged fishing vessels maneuvered close to unarmed U.S. ships crewed by civilians and used by the Pentagon to do underwater surveillance and submarine hunting missions, two Pentagon officials said.

U.S. Defense officials have called the Chinese maneuvers dangerous and say they could lead to escalating problems.

Military tensions have increased as U.S. officials have increasingly spoken out about China’s military spending and the country’s lack of transparency.

Earlier this week, Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said China’s increasing military strength seemed to be focused on counterbalancing America’s presence in Asia.

“They are developing capabilities that are very maritime focused, maritime and air focused, and in many ways, very much focused on us,” Mullen said in Washington. “They seem very focused on the United States Navy and our bases that are in that part of the world.”

An unidentified Chinese Defense Ministry official was quoted in Wednesday’s Global Times newspaper saying that Mullen’s remarks were “irresponsible and worked to the disadvantage of the development of Sino-US military relations.”

Mullen acknowledged that “every country in the world has got a right to develop their military as they see fit to provide for their own security” but suggested the U.S. and its allies needed to cooperate to figure out a way to work with China to avoid miscalculations.

Beijing has bristled at the criticism, saying its military spending was on par with its economic growth and defense needs, and its budget remains only a fraction of the Pentagon’s.

“The U.S. has to create an imaginary enemy to find excuses to develop its military might,” Li Jie, a military expert on the Navy, was quoted as saying in the Global Times, which is connected to the Communist Party’s People’s Daily. “How on Earth can China threaten the U.S.?”

Last year, China announced a military budget of $61 billion, up nearly 18 percent over the previous year. It was the 18th year of double-digit growth of military spending in the past 19 years. China’s spending, which puts it on par with Japan, Russia and Britain, is still dwarfed by U.S. military expenditures, which are nearly 10 times as large.

Chinese military officials have accused the U.S. of encouraging allies such as Australia to beef up their militaries to help contain China.

Canberra announced last Saturday it would buy 100 state-of-the-art U.S. jet fighters and double the size of its modest submarine fleet to keep pace with military spending in Asia.

“The U.S. has successfully coaxed Australia into approving a military budget of $70 billion to boost its defenses over the next 20 years,” the Global Times quoted Zhang Zhaozhong, a rear admiral in the People’s Liberation Army Navy, as saying Wednesday.

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

Australia — Pacific

NZ: Weapons Found in Shipping Container

A shipping container that arrived in Dunedin from China was yesterday found to be full of weapons and ammunition.

Customs officers alerted police after finding the weapons and ammunition during a routine x-ray of the container , the Otago Daily Times reported.

Among the haul stored in boxes in the container were .50 calibre heavy machine gun rounds and grenades, as well as mortar bombs.

The bomb squad was sent from Christchurch as a precaution to ensure there were no live explosives inside, Sergeant Chris McLellan of Dunedin police said.

An initial assessment found that the grenades and mortar bombs, while appearing to be authentic, were most likely imitations.

The .50 calibre heavy machine gun rounds were real, but the working components of the bullets had been removed and the caps had been replaced.

There were also few other suspicious items stored inside the container, including an “unusual” collection of knives, a police spokesman said.

Police, together with Customs and Port Otago were working on tracing the container’s movements, including the destination and use of the goods.

It was not clear yesterday whether the correct paperwork for the weapons and ammunition had been submitted.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Calais Opens ‘Welcome Centre’ to Help Migrants Stay in France…

…and gets ZERO enquiries (proof they all want to come to Britain?)

A French government advice centre to help migrants in Calais who want to stay in France opened this week — and failed to get a single inquiry. Critics said the zero response was proof that the migrants only ever had one destination in mind — Britain. The new state-funded ‘welcome centre’ is the response by Paris to the demand from the Calais local authority for action to deal with the hundreds of migrants in the area.

It hopes to ease the problem by helping migrants who wish to seek asylum in France. But when it opened yesterday, not one immigrant arrived at the town centre office to show any interest in their services. By contrast, hundreds of migrants were — as usual — milling around the docks, just a mile away, hoping to sneak aboard a ferry or lorry to Britain. And it was no surprise the centre had no takers, as one of the first things have to do is give their fingerprints.

Even the French authorities seem to accept they are offering only a token gesture, as the centre will be open for just four and a half hours a day… and only on Tuesdays and Thursdays. But it is supposedly part of a masterplan by hard-line immigration minister Eric Besson to banish thousands of migrants from the northern French coast. He said it would offer ‘personalised advice’ to asylum seekers who want to stay in France.

And he denied local fears it would lead to any extension of government help to migrants, such as centres offering food or accommodation on the lines of the infamous Sangatte, which was shut down in 2002. Mr Besson insisted after the centre was opened on Tuesday: ‘It is a service to help the migrants in Calais with asylum advice, and solely for giving help on how to claim asylum in France.’ Calais deputy prefect Gerard Gavory said the centre was no more than a branch office of the regional asylum centre in the town of Arras, 40 miles away. And he claimed it would only help clear the streets and surroundings of Calais of refugees. He added: ‘Anyone using the centre will have their fingerprints taken so we can ascertain on the international Eurodac database whether they have already claimed asylum in another country. ‘Then they will be told how they can apply to live in France, and given addresses of temporary accommodation they can use outside of Calais. ‘It will not bring more refugees to Calais. They are already there, and if they are not coming to us, we will come to them.’ Three people would work in the office, located in a local government building in the town centre, and it would be open for four and half hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays, Mr Gavory said. Asylum seekers using the service would be asked to formally state their claim on why they should not be returned to their home country, then offered temporary accommodation 50 miles away while their application is considered, he added. Calais residents’ association spokesman Romain Huillier said it was clear the lack of response to the centre — despite the fact that it had only been open one day — was evidence none of the migrants wanted to stay in France but were heading for Britain.

He said: ‘We have had to put up with migrants on our streets for ten years. ‘They should be rounded up and taken to an asylum reception centre many miles away from the Channel coast — because they are only here as a stepping stone to Britain in the first place. ‘If they are in Calais hoping to sneak aboard a boat, they are hardly like to turn up and agree to have their fingerprints taken.’ The opening of the centre comes just two weeks after the French government vowed to clear Calais of the shanty town of illegal immigrants waiting to cross to the UK.

Immigration minister Mr Besson said he would bulldoze the woodland squat known as the Jungle — then visited the town last month to promise to residents and local businesses that he would return Calais to normal. Meanwhile Calais mayor Natacha Bouchard proposed her own solution to the migrants on her streets, by suggesting Britain should sign up to the Schengen Agreement, which allows anybody to travel between designated EU states — including France — without passports or visas.

There are currently around 2,000 mainly Iraqi, Afghan, Somali and Kurdish refugees living rough in Calais. Many make daily attempts to sneak aboard ferries, lorries and Channel Tunnel trains to Britain. The Home Office said the number of refugees caught sneaking into Britain from Calais fell from 10,000 five years ago to 1,500 last year, a fall of about 88 per cent.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

France: UK-Bound Illegal Immigrants Hiding in Chemical Tanker Were Seconds From Being Burned Alive

Twelve UK-bound illegal migrants came within a few seconds of being burned to death after hiding inside a French chemical tanker today.

It is the latest in a long list of horrifying incidents illustrating how desperate foreigners are to get to Britain. Factory workers in Calais were about to pour gallons of the 94 per cent concentrated acid into the lorry when they heard muffled shouts. They stopped their pumps, and found 12 petrified young men — all claiming to be Afghans and Kosovans — hidden inside the tank.

‘A few seconds more and they would have been burned to the bone — there would have been nothing left of them,’ said a spokesman for the Tioxide chemical plant. The plant is situated next door to a vast shanty town nicknamed The Jungle, where hundreds of migrants are currently sleeping rough in between trying to get on board lorries and trains bound for Britain. Once in the UK they will claim asylum or disappear into the black economy. Tioxide HGVs are regularly broken into, with the company’s director Dominique Vanneste, saying: ‘The migrants have changed attitude in the last few months. They’ve become a lot more aggressive. ‘Staff are regularly attacked and threatened with iron bars. There have even been death threats. ‘Over past years we’ve had around 1500 incidents. We’re regularly had to save migrants from death or injury, particularly those who break into lorries carrying dangerous materials.’

Last month Eric Besson, the French Immigration Minister, pledged that The Jungle would be destroyed by the end of this year. It is always swarming with people smugglers, who charge up to £1000 a time for places in the back of vehicles heading to England. There has been a 100 per cent increase in the number of migrants caught at Calais port this year, many of whom risk their lives in the attempt to get to Britain. More than 1,000 were detected in refrigerated lorries and other HGVs between January and March. France is blaming the British Government for the upsurge, with Mr Besson calling for tighter border controls and a crackdown on undeclared jobs in the UK. The minister announced the closure of The Jungle after hearing local business leaders say that they could be forced to shut factories in the vicinity. On Tuesday a three-man office was opened in Calais aimed at explaining to migrants how they could claim asylum in France. Today staff said there had been ‘very few enquiries’, saying almost all wanted to get to Britain.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

France: Migrants Almost Burned to Death by Acid in Calais Tanker

Twelve UK-bound migrants came within seconds of being burned to death with acid after hiding inside a French chemical tanker in the port of Calais.

Factory workers were about to pour gallons of a 94 per cent concentrated chemical into the lorry when they heard muffled shouts.

They stopped their pumps, and found 12 petrified young men hidden inside the tank.

“A few seconds more and they would have been burned to the bone — there would have been nothing left of them,” said a spokesman for the Tioxide chemical plant.

The men all claimed to be either Afghans and Kosovans.

The plant is situated next door to a vast shanty town nicknamed “The Jungle”, where hundreds of migrants are sleep rough in between trying to get on board lorries and trains bound for Britain.

Tioxide’s HGVs are regularly broken into. The company’s director, Dominique Vanneste, said: “We’ve regularly had to save migrants from death or injury, particularly those who break into lorries carrying dangerous materials.”

Last month Eric Besson, the French immigration minister, pledged that The Jungle would be closed by the end of this year and the government would go after the people traffickers who charge migrants up to 1,000 for each attempted crossing to Britain.

The 12 migrants found inside the tanker were all reported to the police, but released without charge.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

France: 12 Illegal Illegal Immigrants Found Hiding in Chemical Tanker — Seconds Before it Was Filled With Acid That Would Have Burned Them Alive

Factory workers in Calais were about to pour gallons of the 94 per cent concentrated acid into the lorry when they heard muffled shouts.

Twelve UK-bound illegal migrants came within a few seconds of being burned to death after hiding inside a French chemical tanker today.

It is the latest in a long list of horrifying incidents illustrating how desperate foreigners are to get to Britain.

Factory workers in Calais were about to pour gallons of the 94 per cent concentrated acid into the lorry when they heard muffled shouts.

They stopped their pumps, and found 12 petrified young men — all claiming to be Afghans and Kosovans — hidden inside the tank.

‘A few seconds more and they would have been burned to the bone — there would have been nothing left of them,’ said a spokesman for the Tioxide chemical plant.

The plant is situated next door to a vast shanty town nicknamed The Jungle, where hundreds of migrants are currently sleeping rough in between trying to get on board lorries and trains bound for Britain.

Once in the UK they will claim asylum or disappear into the black economy.

Tioxide HGVs are regularly broken into, with the company’s director Dominique Vanneste, saying: ‘The migrants have changed attitude in the last few months. They’ve become a lot more aggressive.

‘Staff are regularly attacked and threatened with iron bars. There have even been death threats.

‘Over past years we’ve had around 1500 incidents. We’re regularly had to save migrants from death or injury, particularly those who break into lorries carrying dangerous materials.’

Last month Eric Besson, the French Immigration Minister, pledged that The Jungle would be destroyed by the end of this year.

It is always swarming with people smugglers, who charge up to £1000 a time for places in the back of vehicles heading to England.

There has been a 100 per cent increase in the number of migrants caught at Calais port this year, many of whom risk their lives in the attempt to get to Britain.

More than 1,000 were detected in refrigerated lorries and other HGVs between January and March.

France is blaming the British Government for the upsurge, with Mr Besson calling for tighter border controls and a crackdown on undeclared jobs in the UK.

The minister announced the closure of The Jungle after hearing local business leaders say that they could be forced to shut factories in the vicinity.

On Tuesday a three-man office was opened in Calais aimed at explaining to migrants how they could claim asylum in France.

Today staff said there had been ‘very few enquiries’, saying almost all wanted to get to Britain.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

UK: Fraudsters ‘Offered No Win, No Fee Services for Britain’s Largest Visa Scam’

A gang of fraudsters behind the biggest visa scam in British history were so confident of fooling the Home Office that one offered their services on a no win, no fee basis, a court heard yesterday.

The three Indian illegal immigrants offered foreigners access to Britain for cash by submitting hundreds of bogus immigration visa applications in 18 months, all of which were rubber-stamped by the Home Office.

The gang ran a fraud factory creating thousands of counterfeit documents and enabling hundreds to cheat border control.

Francis Sheridan, prosecuting, said the “systematic attack” opened the door to hundreds of unsuitable migrants without means to support themselves leaving the taxpayer to foot the bill.

Between October 2006 and May last year, the company UniVisa — posing as a business legitimately helping would-be immigrants with their paperwork — submitted 980 applications to the Home Office, making what is thought to be hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Isleworth Crown Court in west London heard that ringleader Jatinder Sharma, 44, had pleaded guilty to a raft of immigration offences. Sharma’s company provided its customers with fake degree papers, references and CVs to help them enter Britain illegally.

His alleged co-conspirators, Neelam Sharma, 39, and Rakhi Shahi, 32 — both of whom are married to Sharma — are facing a similar range of charges at trial. They are also both accused of entering and remaining in Britain illegally..

“Between them they submitted the largest number of fraudulent visa applications ever received by the Home Office from one source, making this the biggest immigration scam ever seen in this country,” said Mr Sheridan.

“Applicants with humble backgrounds found themselves in possession of degrees, masters degrees, post-graduate qualifications and diplomas within a matter of months.

“They achieved them by paying for it, thereby avoiding the rather troublesome step of actually having to attend a college and study.

“Shahi was so confident of her ability to cheat the system, she even started offering her services on a no win, no fee basis.”

Mr Sheridan said when police raided the home the trio shared in Southall, they discovered some 90,000 pages of documents, including 980 visa application files. Of these 117 were carefully analysed, with only four not raising significant concerns about their legitimacy.

Sharma allegedly told a potential client: “They [the Home Office] don’t even bother to look at your documents. They don’t care what documents you have sent. They just stamp them blindly.”

“They have made a fortune, there are no bones about that, they have made a small fortune at the hands of the Home Office,” added Mr Sheridan.

The trial continues.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Culture Wars

‘Hate Crimes’ Law Makes Some More Equal Than Others

Ascension by the “new evangelicals” continues as a number of left-wing Christian leaders have recently come out in support of hate crimes legislation approved April 29 by the House.

Politico reports that Joel Hunter, a religious advisor to President Obama, and David Gushee, a Christian ethics professor at Mercer University, have signed on in support of the bill, which would add extra penalties for what a criminal thought (or what we think he thought) when committing a violent crime.

The measure is particularly controversial because it puts the terms “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” on an equal footing with race and religion. For his part, Hunter thinks the bill is in line with Jesus’ protection of the woman caught in adultery from John 8.

“This bill protects both the rights of conservative religious people to voice passionately their interpretations of their scriptures and protects their fellow citizens from physical attack,” Hunter said.

Actually, U. S. citizens are protected from physical attack already. The bill, however, adds extra penalties for the intention behind the attack. That foray into the thought world is a short step from prosecuting speech the government thinks might contribute to certain crimes, not just the crimes themselves.

Fairness is also an issue. Classifications listed in the bill single out some citizens for more protection than others. Last week, the House Judiciary Committee refused to include veterans and the elderly as protected classes in the bill.

Therein lies the trouble with government parsing out which citizens are more worthy of protection than others. The credo is equal justice under law, not equal justice unless you happen to be religious or a homosexual, in which case you receive preferential treatment.

Beyond its constitutional implications, the bill vividly demonstrates the Left’s hypocrisy on religious participation in public life. Absent are calls from the Left for Hunter, Gushee, or other leftist Christians to cease mixing faith and politics. The silence might be hypocritical, but it is not surprising.

In liberal-land, the worn-out diatribe against religious voters mixing church and state only applies to conservative religious voters. If faith influences a citizen to support global warming regulations or federal anti-poverty measures, he or she is a hero.

If faith influences a citizen to support abortion regulation or the traditional definition of marriage, he or she is a bigot. The values dichotomy could not be more obvious.

Both Left and Right often agree that religious involvement in some public issues is, without question, beneficial. Few, for example, would condemn the involvement of Christians in the civil rights struggle.

But when the debate turns to the sanctity of human life or other cultural issue, traditionalist Christians are deemed to have no right to speak, while leftist Christians are revered for their values and commitment to a higher cause.

So far, that’s a double standard the Left can inflict only if those of a conservative religious persuasion allow it. Soon, it might have the force of law behind it, and hate crimes legislation is one big step toward that goal.

Look at other western nations that began with hate crimes prohibitions and that now regulate political speech deemed “hateful.” Our country’s leftward lurch, courtesy of President Obama and a leftist Congress, could make that a reality in the United States sooner rather than later. Maybe that’s one of the reasons the House’s top Republican wants to thunder in response to Obama’s thought crimes agenda.

In reality, the debate has little to do with homosexuality or religion, but rather basic constitutionality. Is it appropriate to give one group preferential treatment, and as a byproduct grant non-preferential treatment to the rest of us?

Who decides that homosexuals are more worthy of protection than veterans? Should one protected class be more protected than the others — say, race above religion?

That’s the result when government arbitrarily decides who gets protection and who doesn’t, a cacophony of chaos. Punish the criminal act, and leave the intentions behind it to the constitutional protection to think and believe as we desire.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Tuan Jim said...

A couple of notes re: Czech senate approving EU treaty.

1. Pres Klaus hasn't signed it -and may not anytime soon.

2. Even if it is ratified, it's still not just Ireland that's holding it up. As a few stories recently have reminded us - Germany still hasn't fully ratified it since it hasn't been approved by the constitutional court there.