Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 6/24/2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 6/24/2009The Anglican Province of North America has been legally constituted as a challenge to the Episcopal Church of the USA (ECUSA). For those of us who loathe the current incarnation of the Episcopal Church, but aren’t yet ready to become Catholics, this is welcome news indeed.

In other news, Sheikh Mohammad Tantawi of al-Azhar University says that the burkha and other face-covering garments for women are not compulsory under Islamic law. Also, despite the recent unpleasantness, the Obama administration says that Iranian diplomats are still welcome to attend hot dog parties at US embassies on the Fourth of July.

Thanks to Abu Elvis, Brutally Honest, C. Cantoni, CSP, heroyalwhyness, Insubria, islam o’phobe, JD, Paul Green, Steen, TB, and all the other tipsters who sent these in. Headlines and articles are below the fold.
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Financial Crisis
Eurozone Banks Swarm to Record ECB Loan Offer
Fed Says Recession Easing, Inflation is Tame
States: GM Using Court to Ditch Dealers
The Milk Split by the Milk War
The U.S. and the U.K. Will Both Default on Their Debt by the End of Summer
U.N. to Emerge as Global IRS
 
USA
American Jews Fund Anti-Israel Organizations
DC Metro Crash: Investigators Look at ‘Anomalies’ in Track Circuit
DC Metro ‘Warned’ Before Deadly Crash
Diplomacy From Our Knees
Episcopal Defectors Approve Constitution for New Church
Flag-Burning Man Sues City
Foul! — Senate Hate Bill Hearing Rigged!
Jack Engelhard: Obama’s ‘Jewish Experts’
Muslims Distancing From CAIR
Myths, Lies and Stupidity About Health Care
Obama and the Military’s Moral Dilemma
Obama’s Attack on Our Christian Heritage
Obama Leaves Door Open to Tax on Health Benefits
O’s Health Care Reform in Critical Condition
US Nixes 40 Percent Cuts at Climate Change Talks
Virginians Oppose ‘Terrorist’ School Expansion
 
Europe and the EU
Britain Expels Iranian Diplomats in Tit-for-Tat With Tehran
Italy: Obama to Get G8 Hoops
Italy: Premier Says Escorts Case Cooked Up
Klaus Pledges to be Last to Sign the Lisbon Treaty
Netherlands: Banks Abandon ‘Difficult’ Neighbourhoods
Northern Ireland: Hindu Priest Moving After Attack
OIC to Open Office in Brussels to Fight Islamophobia
Sweden: Migration Agency Used Anti-Muslim Lawyer
Swedish Cops Bare All for Undercover Operation
Swiss Order More Evidence Destroyed in Nuke Probe
UK: 1 Million Are Using Cocaine
UK: Burkha ‘Doesn’t Belong in 21st Century Britain’
UK: National Library of Scotland Boss Bans Saltire Over ‘Racist’ Fears
UK: Queen to Miss First Armed Forces Day
UK: Wildcat Strikes Spread at Power Plants
 
Balkans
EU Cancels Croatia Accession Talks as Slovenia Border Row Simmers
Kosovo Ex-Prime Minister Arrested in Bulgaria
 
North Africa
Fear of Massacre Grips Christian Village in Egypt; Crops Destroyed
Muslim Imams Say Burka Not Obligatory in Islam
Terrorism: Algeria; 5 Policemen Killed in Ambush
 
Israel and the Palestinians
Bajnai Visits Israel, Calls it “One of Hungary’s Closest Friends” in Region
Shalit: Israel to Release Hamas Leader in West Bank
 
Middle East
67 Men Charged for Dressing as Women in Saudi Arabia
Bars Boom as Iraqis Dance the Night Away
David Yerushalmi: Sovereign Immunity or Cover-Up?
Iran May Downgrade Ties With Britain
Netanyahu: Iranian Regime Oppresses Its People
Turkey: Court Verdict on Church Land Expected
US Says Hot Dog Diplomacy Still on With Iran
US to Send Ambassador to Damascus
 
Russia
Kyrgyzstan Agreed U.S. Base Deal With Russia — Source
Russia Defends Idea of New Security Plan for Europe
U.S., EU Reject Russian Accusations Over WTO Bid
 
Caucasus
6 Killed, 5 Wounded in Russia’s North Caucasus
Chechen President Vows to Fight Ingushetia Rebels
Chechnya: Kadyrov Pledges ‘Cruel Revenge’
 
South Asia
Orissa: Death Threats Against Christian Witnesses in Murder Case Against BJP Politician
 
Far East
China Says North Korea a “Serious Concern”
China Arrests Leading Democracy Advocate
US, China Pledge Effort to Avoid Sea Confrontations
 
Australia — Pacific
Get Out More: Aussie Muslims to Sarkozy
 
Latin America
Brazil: Unfair to Single Out Emerging Countries in Doha
Cuba’s Spy Program Deeply Rooted in U.S.
US, Venezuela to Restore Envoys
Venezuela, US Restoring Ambassadors: Venezuelan FM
 
Immigration
Conference in Tunis: 1,200 Dead at Sea in 2008
Italy: Immigrants Push Population to 60 Mn
Study Finds an Extra Million Muslims Living in Germany
UK: £1m Repatriation Plan Sees Just One Family Go
UK: One New Household Every 2 Minutes in Migrant Boom
UK: Victory for the People as New Gypsy Site is Blocked
 
General
Google’s $1,500 Coffee Makers
Microsoft Offers Free Anti-Virus

Financial Crisis

Eurozone Banks Swarm to Record ECB Loan Offer

The European Central Bank said Wednesday it lent a record 442.24 billion euros (622.67 billion dollars) at 1.0 percent in one-year funds to commercial banks.

The previous record for the central bank’s refinancing operations was 348.6 billion euros in two-week funds on December 18, 2007 as crisis-hit commercial banks scrambled to bolster their balance sheets during the crunch year-end period.

Analysts at UniCredit markets expected the ECB operation to result in lower rates paid by commercial banks for longer-term borrowing in general and to reduce demand for short-term funds as well.

If that is the outcome, then interest rates overall would be expected to remain low, a key issue as the eurozone grapples with what is likely to be slow recovery from the worst global recession in more than 60 years.

The ECB has resisted the so-called ‘quantitative easing’ practiced by the US Federal Reserve and Bank of England — essentially printing money to buy government and private debt to boost recession-hit economies.

The ECB, however, has generated a flood of cash through loans that will now extend to 371 days, or 12 months, from one week to six months in the past.

Analysts had expected banks to leap at the chance to get an unlimited one-year loan at the ECB’s lowest rate ever.

The central bank has said that in subsequent one-year operations — the next is scheduled for September 29 — the rate could be higher depending on market conditions.

Prominent ECB director Axel Weber, who is also head of the German central bank, said Tuesday during a speech in Munich: “I think there will be strong demand.”

By providing huge amounts of cash to commercial banks, the ECB aims to lower the cost of borrowing by companies and individuals, and spur economic activity.

Money markets influenced by central bank operations determine the flow of credit for vast numbers of people around the globe, from managers trying to fund their businesses to families and students seeking mortgages and personal loans.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


Fed Says Recession Easing, Inflation is Tame

WASHINGTON — The Federal Reserve sought Wednesday to defuse fears that the trillions it’s spending to revive the economy could spark inflation later on. But Wall Street didn’t seem to buy it.

Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and his colleagues said that despite an easing of the recession, the economy remains frail enough to keep inflation at bay.

Fed policymakers held a key bank lending rate at a record low of between zero and 0.25 percent and pledged to keep it there for “an extended period” to help brace the economy. The Fed made no new commitment to expand its purchases of government bonds and mortgage securities, to try to drive down rates on consumer debt. That rattled bond investors who fear the prospect of higher interest rates.

But Wall Street zeroed in on the Fed’s new observations about the risks of deflation and inflation.

Fed policymakers dropped language they had used in the statement at their last meeting in April that the weak economy could trigger deflation — a destabilizing and prolonged bout of falling prices and wages. This also spooked bond investors, who took the Fed’s decision not to mention deflation to mean inflation might arise later.

The Fed acknowledged that energy and other commodity prices have risen recently. But policymakers predicted that idle factories and the weak employment market would make it hard for companies to ratchet up prices. The Fed said it expects inflation will “remain subdued for some time.”

The mere mention of higher prices, though, hit the Treasury market because the value of returns on fixed-income investments can erode quickly if inflation occurs. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note, which moves opposite its price, rose to 3.69 percent from 3.63 percent Tuesday.

Stocks also lost ground after the Fed’s announcement. The Dow Jones, which had been up, closed down 23.05 points.

T.J. Marta, market strategist and founder of Marta on the Markets, a financial research firm, said the Fed’s words “disappoints (inflation) hawks and “angers bond vigilantes.”

Overall, though, Fed policymakers delivered a slightly more encouraging assessment of the economy.

“The Fed is sending the message that the economy is making progress toward a path of recovery, that the credit markets appear to be healing and inflation is not going to be a problem,” said economist Lynn Reaser, vice president of the National Association for Business Economics. “The bogeyman of deflation also was removed from the Fed’s primary risk list.”

The Fed in March launched a $1.2 trillion effort to drive down interest rates to try to revive lending and get Americans to spend more freely again. It said it would spend up to $300 billion to buy long-term government bonds over six months and boost its purchases of mortgage securities. So far, the Fed has bought about $177.5 billion in Treasury bonds.

The Fed is on track to buy up to $1.25 trillion worth of securities issued by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac by the end of this year. Nearly $456 billion worth of those securities have been purchased.

With signs economic and financial conditions are stabilizing, the Fed is wise to keep a steady-as-she goes course, said Sung Won Sohn, economist at the Martin Smith School of Business at California State University, Channel Islands. The Fed’s actions are “bearing fruit,” he said.

Fed policymakers noted that the “pace of economic contraction is slowing” and that conditions in financial markets have “generally improved in recent months.” Those observations about the recession and financial conditions were stronger than after the Fed’s last meeting in April.

Economists predict the economy is sinking in the April-June quarter but not nearly as much as it had in the prior six months, which marked the worst performance in 50 years. The economy is contracting at a pace of between 1 and 3 percent, according to various projections.

Fed policymakers said its forceful actions, along with President Barack Obama’s stimulus of tax cuts and increased government spending will contribution to a “gradual “return to economic growth.

Bernanke has predicted the recession will end later this year. Some analysts say the economy will start growing again as soon as the July-September quarter.

Fed policymakers noted that consumer spending — the lifeblood of the economy — has shown signs of stabilizing but remains constrained by ongoing job losses, falling home values and hard-to-get credit.

Economists predict the Fed will hold its key banking rates at a record low through this year and into part of next year to spur lending and boost spending Americans. If so, that means commercial banks’ prime lending rate, used to peg rates on home equity loans, certain credit cards and other consumer loans, will stay around 3.25 percent, the lowest in decades.

Even after the recession ends, the recovery is likely to be tepid, which will push unemployment higher.

The nation’s unemployment rate — now at 9.4 percent — is expected to keep climbing into 2010. Acknowledging that the jobless rate is going to climb over 10 percent, President Barack Obama said Tuesday he’s not satisfied with the progress his administration has made on the economy. He defended his recovery package but said the aid must get out faster.

Some analysts say the rate could rise as high as 11 percent by the next summer before it starts to decline. The highest rate since World War II was 10.8 percent at the end of 1982.

The weak economy has put a damper on inflation.

Consumer prices inched up 0.1 percent in May, but are down 1.3 percent over the last 12 months, the weakest annual showing since the 1950s. The Fed suggested companies won’t be in any position to jack up prices given cautious consumers, big production cuts at factories and the weak

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


States: GM Using Court to Ditch Dealers

General Motors came under attack Monday from another quarter when 37 states, including Maryland and Virginia, filed an objection in the automaker’s bankruptcy proceedings.

The objection, filed by Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning on behalf of the other states, argues that the company should not be able to use bankruptcy court to skirt state laws, including franchise laws protecting dealers’ relationship with the automaker.

The states find fault not just with GM’s 1,350 dealer terminations, but with the terms it is forcing continuing dealers to accept.

[…]

Mr. Bruning said there are examples of GM dealer closings in his state that put the fairness of the process in doubt.

“One dealer bought his dealership for $2 million four years ago. He has tripled his sales, and they are shutting him down and giving him $70,000,” he said. “They relocate the franchise in the same town, and the new dealer doesn’t have to pay anything.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


The Milk Split by the Milk War

Russia wants to remove Alyaksandr Lukashenka as Belarus’s president.

Belarus had been through numerous economic wars with Russia before, but once the Kremlin sent its Chief Health Inspectorate into battle, it became clear that the stakes would higher than ever. Moscow, it seems, wants the head of Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and will do whatever it can to prevent Belarus turning westward.

The Belarus-Russia ‘milk war’, which lasted for over a week in early June, began in the most unusual manner. In the past, the reason for conflicts was Kremlin’s refusal to satisfy Lukashenka’s insatiable appetite for loans or economic subsidies. This time, though, it was Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin who visited Minsk on 28 May and offered a stabilisation loan worth $500 million (€356m), with just one string attached — that the loan be delivered in Russian roubles. Minsk took this as a sign that Russia wanted to cement Belarus’s economic dependence on Moscow and did what had been unheard of: it refused to take money..

Russian officials were furious. Putin’s deputy, Alexey Kudrin, declared that Belarus might be insolvent by the end of the year, and that independence could be too much of a burden for Russia’s brother-country. At that point, the International Monetary Fund stepped in, almost on the spot adding €1 billion to the stabilisation loan that it had approved for Belarus before the New Year.

That Belarus is now the object of geopolitical competition had become undeniable.

Nor was that the only slight for Russia. During Putin’s visit, Russia also expressed interest in the privatisation of some of Belarus’s major milk producers. The Belarusian government’s response was almost immediately to begin talks with the EU on certification of Belarusian milk standards according to EU norms.

Russia’s response was to send along its health inspectors, headed by the notorious Gennady Onishchenko, a man responsible in the past for banning Polish meat, Moldovan wine, Latvian canned fish and Georgian mineral water. True to form, Onishchenko advised Moscow to ban all imports of Belarusian dairy products, saying they lacked properly certification, and Russian broadcasters appeared on air claiming that Belarusian dairy products could be hazardous for health.

A curious observer might wonder why Russia had tolerated such a hazard for so long and whether the same health inspectors should therefore be prosecuted for endangering the health of Russians. But, when a compromise deal was achieved on 15 June, no one really remembered concerns such as certification and health. Moscow seemed to be satisfied when Belarus agreed to significantly reduce its dairy exports to Russia (per capita, Belarus produces three times more milk than Russia does, and half of its dairy products are exported to Russia).

This may not be the last product war. Already, Russia has begun a de facto embargo on the sale of fish processed in Belarus, and in the Russian media there is already talk of a new ‘gas war’ to follow the four-day war in January 2007. Gazprom has already found a debt of some $200 million that Belarus must now pay almost on the spot.

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


The U.S. and the U.K. Will Both Default on Their Debt by the End of Summer

[…]

LEAP/E2020 believes that,

(5) instead of green shoots (those which international media, experts and the politicians who listen to them kept perceiving in every statistical chart in the past two months),

(6) what will appear on the horizon is a group of three destructive waves of the social and economic fabric expected to converge in the course of summer 2009, illustrating the aggravation of the crisis and entailing major changes by the end of summer 2009… more specifically, debt default events in the US and UK, both countries at the centre of the global system in crisis. These waves appear as follows:

1. Wave of massive unemployment: Three different dates of impact according to the countries in America, Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa

2. Wave of serial corporate bankruptcies: companies, banks, housing, states, counties, towns

3. Wave of terminal crisis for the US Dollar, US T-Bond and GBP, and the return of inflation

In fact, these three waves do not appear in quick succession like the sisters rogue waves. They are even more dangerous because they are simultaneous, asynchronous and non-parallel. Hence their impact on the global system accentuates the risks because they hit at various angles, at different speeds and with varying strength. The only certain thing at this stage is that the international system has never been so weak and powerless to face such a situation. The IMF and global governance institutions’ reforms announced by the London G20 are at a standstill…

[Return to headlines]


U.N. to Emerge as Global IRS

The Conference on the World Financial and Economic Crisis and its Impact on Development that begins on Wednesday will consider adoption of a document calling for “new voluntary and innovative sources of financing initiatives to provide additional stable sources of development finance…” This is U.N.-speak for global taxes. They are anything but “voluntary” for the people forced to pay them. [Read Cliff’s book: “Global Bondage: The UN Plan to Rule The World”]

The most “popular” proposals, which could generate tens of billions of dollars in revenue for global purposes, involve taxes on greenhouse gas emissions and financial transactions such as stock trades.

The document was agreed to at an informal meeting of expert “facilitators” and was made available on Monday afternoon at 3 p.m. It is doubtful that any changes will be made to it.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

USA

American Jews Fund Anti-Israel Organizations

Groups work with Palestinian Authority, promote Iran nukes

A U.S. organization has been receiving money from perhaps unsuspecting Jewish donors to support blatantly anti-Israel groups.

American Jews wishing to donate money to Israeli causes routinely utilize local city Jewish federations as a middleman. Hundreds of millions of dollars per year are sent to Jewish federations across the country with the expectation contributions will be used to aid worthy causes in Israel.

Many U.S. Jewish federations as well as individual Jewish donors give to the New Israel Fund, or NIF, a Washington, D.C.-based foundation dedicated to fostering social change and progressive causes in Israel.

The NIF budget comes from a combination of donors. These include the Ford Foundation, grant organizations such as the Jacob and Hilda Blaustein Foundation and the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies, as well as various Jewish communal federations such as the Jewish Federation in New York, the Durham-Chapel Hill Federation and the Jewish Federation of Grand Rapids.

However, while many of the programs run by the NIF are considered laudable in the pro-Israel community, such as work the group does with economically disadvantaged Ethiopian immigrants, the flagship grantees of the NIF are Israeli-Arab nongovernmental organizations that openly and unabashedly dedicate themselves to removing the Jewish character of the state of Israel..

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


DC Metro Crash: Investigators Look at ‘Anomalies’ in Track Circuit

WASHINGTON — Investigators are looking more closely at a stretch of track near the site of a deadly commuter train crash after finding abnormalities Wednesday in equipment that senses trains and transmits speed commands.

Equipment along a 740-foot stretch of track failed to recognize a device that simulates the presence of a train during the tests, said Debbie Hersman of the National Transportation Safety Board, which is leading the investigation into the crash that killed nine people. Five other stretches of track, or circuits, near the Maryland state line showed no problems.

“Whether trains are operated in automatic or manual, these circuits are vital,” she said. “We’re particularly interested in the speed commands that might be sent from that circuit when there’s a train standing on that circuit.”

Hersman wouldn’t elaborate on what she called “anomalies” found in the circuit, saying more tests were needed. Investigators planned to test the track with a six-car train Wednesday night.

The deadliest accident in Metrorail’s 33-year history occurred Monday when a train plowed into another train that was stopped. The moving train was controlled primarily by computer at the time of the crash, but there is evidence the operator tried to slow it down.

Hersman said Wednesday that inspectors found 300 to 400 feet of markings on the rails, indicating some emergency braking took place before the crash. Hersman also has said the emergency brake control on the moving train was found pushed down, though it’s not clear how or when that happened. The operator of the oncoming train was among the dead.

Hersman said investigators hoped to interview the operator of the other train on Thursday, a day after his release from the hospital.

NTSB officials say their investigations can take more than a year.

The cars destroyed in Monday’s crash included some of the oldest in Metro’s fleet. Federal officials wanted them phased out because of their tendency to compact in a crash, but Metro officials said the agency has lacked the money for replacements.

A union representing Metro transit workers also demanded changes in safety procedures. Jackie Jeter, the union’s president, said cars from the aging series involved in the crash should be placed in the middle of trains, rather than at the front or back because they are less stable.

The union also asked that operators be allowed to choose whether to use automatic mode, which is typically employed during rush hour. Jeter demanded that Metro officials not mandate speeds at which trains should travel, saying operators were being pushed to move too fast.

Metro spokesman Steven Taubenkibel said the agency was looking into the union’s demands.

The union isn’t the only one to raise concerns about running trains in automatic mode.

In Chicago’s ‘L’ train system, operators never use an automatic system, said Robert Kelly, president of the city’s transit workers union.

“If it were left to me, I would never have a train operate in automatic mode or autopilot,” said Kelly, a former train operator.

“The problem with this job is complacency,” he said, noting the risk of problems increases when operators aren’t forced to stay alert.

Robert Jones, who retired from Metro after 18 years as a train operator and then came back in 2007 to work part-time, disagreed.

Operators have to keep an eye on hundreds of people at each train station platform during rush hours and prepare to stop for any safety concerns. They also open and close the doors, which requires them to look back from a window to make sure no one gets caught in the doors.

“You have to be aware all of the time,” Jones said. “It’s a job that requires your full attention.”

Metro has said it needs $12 billion over the next 10 years to maintain services and replace aging equipment such as the older railcars. The agency has long argued the federal government should contribute because its trains serve the capital, and many riders are federal workers.

Last year, Congress approved $1.5 billion in funds over 10 years, but with a condition that the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia match the amount. Now that all three jurisdictions served by Metro have agreed, Congress can move forward, officials said.

The region’s congressional delegation introduced a measure Wednesday that would finalize plans to provide the funds.

“The safety of our citizens is our highest priority,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, who represents Maryland.

Even with an infusion of cash to order new cars, Metro officials caution that it would still take about five years to get the equipment.

“It’s not an off the shelf product,” Metro spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein said. “It’s something that’s custom made.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


DC Metro ‘Warned’ Before Deadly Crash

WASHINGTON — Safety watchdogs warned Washington’s metro operators three years ago about weaknesses in aging subway cars like the one involved in a collision that killed nine people Monday, investigators said.

National Transportation Safety Board member Debbie Hersman said on Tuesday the U.S. capital’s subway system was told in 2006 that the carriage in its 1000-series trains was likely to crumple in the event of an impact.

The possible effects of that danger were seen in the mangled wreckage of two commuter trains, which crashed during the city’s busy Monday evening rush hour killing nine and injuring some 80 others.

“We made recommendations in 2006 about the crash-worthiness of the 1000-series cars,” Hersman told reporters. “We recommended… to either retrofit those cars or phase them out of the fleet.” Hersman said that did not happen. The 2006 report said the 1000-series was “vulnerable to catastrophic telescoping damage and complete loss of occupant survival space.”

The NTSB scoured the wreckage on Wednesday, hunting for clues to the worst subway accident in the history of the system, which carries 800,000 people daily through Washington and nearby suburbs. Metro officials said they still had no clue as to why one train plowed into the back of a stationary one on an above-ground section of the system’s Red Line.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


Diplomacy From Our Knees

I am convinced the more I observe our president that Obama and his fascist legions are actually pleased with the mounting chaos destabilizing the civilized world. The simmering revolution in Iran is just the most recent incarnation. It’s all Chaos Theory, baby! — and the more chaos the better, because it gives Obama the pretext to “do something” to “fix” the problems. In the meantime, Obama’s remedies only exacerbate existential domestic and geopolitical problems, which only starts the Chaos Theory cycle anew.

Peace through strength, or diplomacy from our knees? To any rational observer of politics it is obvious that Obama made the latter choice, and America is paying exceedingly for his treachery. The galling irony of it all is that in defense of the inevitable rocket attacks by North Korea upon American soil, what are we hastily moving to the coasts of Hawaii? That’s right, a missile defense system (SDI). The same Quislings and Neville Chamberlains of the Democrat Party who for years lambasted Reagan as a “warmonger,” “stupid” and “naïve” now cower behind his legacy of SDI. This is the same SDI program that a few weeks ago Obama bragged that he wanted to dismantle because in his perverted worldview, protecting America means destabilizing the world and antagonizing Russia and China.

The communist regime of Kim Jong-il has made it explicitly clear to America: If we board his ship, North Korea will consider that provocation an act of war. Let us hope that Obama will find the courage to be a man rather than a man-child when dealing with rogue nations like North Korea and Iran.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Episcopal Defectors Approve Constitution for New Church

Several hundred former Episcopalians, meeting in a school gym near the Dallas-Fort Worth airport, ratified a constitution Monday for the fledgling Anglican Church in North America as a direct challenge to the Episcopal Church USA and the Anglican Church of Canada.

About 800 people jumped to their feet and sang the Doxology, a hymn of praise, after the ACNA’s new leader, Archbishop-designate Robert Duncan, told the group that it had “done the work.”

“The Anglican Province of North America has been constituted,” he said.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Flag-Burning Man Sues City

A Hondo man who was cited for burning the Mexican flag in front of the Alamo is suing the city of San Antonio, park rangers and The Daughters of the Republic of Texas over the matter.

David Bohmfalk, 48, claims he burned the flag on May 17, 2007, to protest a Senate bill that would have given amnesty to millions of unauthorized immigrants. The measure did not become law.

His lawsuit, moved Friday to federal court from state court, alleges rangers with the Alamo and the city violated his First Amendment right to free speech.

The suit alleges false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress. It seeks unspecified compensatory and exemplary damages.

The officers, the suit said, detained Bohmfalk more than an hour and called him a terrorist before deciding to cite him with illegal burning without a permit, a misdemeanor.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Foul! — Senate Hate Bill Hearing Rigged!

Senate Judiciary Democrats have stacked Thursday’s hate bill hearing with pro-hate bill witnesses, apparently by a ratio as high as 5 to 1!

At the same time, Christian/conservative groups, attempting to submit their own lists of witnesses against S. 909, are being turned away!

[Return to headlines]


Jack Engelhard: Obama’s ‘Jewish Experts’

Where have we heard this before?

This is getting uncomfortable.

A few days ago, George Mitchell once again expressed his position, and opposition, even to “natural growth” in

Judea and Samaria. Both Mitchell and Hillary Clinton speak for themselves and for President Barack Obama, who’s made this — Jewish life in the “settlements” — his priority above all other international disputes.

Even the language is disturbing. Mitchell — top Middle East envoy along with Clinton — explained that the controversy centered on “the number of Jewish births.” Where have we heard this before? To my mind, as someone who was born under similar conditions, in France under Vichy, where Jews were kept within “restricted zones,” this sounds too much like Verboten!…

           — Hat tip: Abu Elvis[Return to headlines]


Muslims Distancing From CAIR

Mosque asks group’s leaders to pray somewhere else

As a result of the government naming the Council on American-Islamic Relations an unindicted co-conspirator in a major terrorism case, the Muslim community is withholding contributions and distancing itself from the group, a new report reveals.

Washington-based CAIR, which claims to be the largest Muslim advocacy group in the nation, has been identified by the Justice Department as a participant in an ongoing criminal conspiracy to support Hamas, a designated terrorist organization — “a conspiracy from which CAIR never withdrew,” federal prosecutors charge.

The blacklisting has scared off many of CAIR’s contributors and hurt the organization’s recruiting efforts and overall operations. What’s more, some Muslims have avoided events organized by CAIR and asked the group to remove their name from its mailing list.

The president of CAIR’s Dallas-Fort Worth chapter, for example, complains that his office has suffered a drop in contributions since the naming of CAIR as an unindicted co-conspirator.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Myths, Lies and Stupidity About Health Care

Here’s something we should worry about: Who are the current uninsured for whom all of us are supposed to sacrifice our current health care plans? And should the other 300 million of us turn to government care just to help those 46 million?

Here’s a quick profile of those who are uninsured. Ten million of the uninsured are illegal immigrants — which, by the way, doesn’t mean they don’t get health care. Walk into virtually any emergency room in California and illegal immigrants are the bulk of the population. Education costs and health care costs for illegal immigrants compose between 16.4 percent and 20.5 percent of California’s budget deficit.

Liberal commentators are already urging that Obama’s nationalized health care plan cover illegal immigrants. Ezra Klein of the Washington Post suggests that a failure to include illegal immigrants in the new health care redesign would create unemployment among U.S. citizens; businesses would not be forced to pick up the health care tabs for illegal immigrants and would therefore hire them at greater rates. This is undoubtedly true. But the solution is to prosecute businesses that hire illegal immigrants — or, better yet, not to require employers to cover employees. Only liberals would use employer malfeasance as an excuse to sacrifice workers’ current insurance plans.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Obama and the Military’s Moral Dilemma

There is now reasonable doubt that Mr. Obama meets the U.S. Constitution’s requirement of “natural born” citizenship. This means that there is also reasonable doubt that he is qualified to be President of the United Sates and commander in chief.

[…]

Until proof of U.S. citizenship is presented beyond a reasonable doubt, it is reasonable to say that Mr. Obama is probably a usurper to the office of President. Yet, for many Americans, this is irrelevant. They believe that holding the office is proof that one is qualified for the office.

Even if the Supreme Court declared upon the examination of the evidence that Obama does not meet the Constitution’s qualifications to be President, what can be done? The chief justice of the court is not going to the Oval Office with a broom and sweep it clean.

The same can be said for many other American institutions. The people have voted. The man is popular. What Constitution? We prefer the thrill up our leg. These are some of the arguments put forward to support the current regime.

The Military and the Constitution

There is one American institution, however, that has a moral responsibility to support the U.S. Constitution. That institution is the U.S. military. The Constitution is the bedrock upon which military order and discipline is founded.

Colonel Anthony E. Hartle claims in his book “Moral Issues in Military Decision Making,” that “When military members pledge to the support and defense of the Constitution, they commit themselves, by logical extension, to the principles and values that form the basis of its provisions.”

In their paper, “Divided Loyalties: Civil-Military Relations at Risk,” DiSilverio and Laushine write: “The commissioning of military officers is another source of legal support for the Constitution as the primary legitimate authority.”

“The commission from the Commander-in-Chief states, ‘this officer is to observe and follow such orders and directions, from time to time, as may be given by me, or by the future President of the United States of America.’“

DiSilverio and Laushine continue: “The requirement to follow orders also applies to those officers appointed over the subject officer. As Anthony Hartle contends, the fundamental law of the United States is the Constitution, and the commission confirms the supremacy of the Constitution…”

“Hartle goes on to say that if a President were to issue an unlawful order, military officers would be obligated to disobey it, and that this obligation derives its moral basis in the commissioning oath.” This same obligation to disobey also holds against an order issued by an unlawful or usurper President.

[…]

Duty, Honor, Country

The motto of the U.S. Military Academy is “Duty, Honor, Country.” These words are imbedded in the academy’s coat of arms. It is the duty of an officer to be a moral agent and to support the Constitution. Honor and country mean nothing if duty is ignored.

The crisis in military discipline and order created by the doubts that swirl around Barack Obama’s status as a natural born citizen can be easily resolved. A simple birth certificate showing birth in Hawaii, along with college and passport documents released to the public, is all it takes.

Up to now, Obama has done little to dispel once and for all the reasonable doubts about his status. He has created, instead, the greatest “moral issue in military decision making” in the country’s history.

Given doubts about Obama’s natural born citizen status, the Joint Chiefs of Staff have a moral duty to investigate Obama’s qualifications to be President. They must then report their findings to those under their command and the American people.

Anything less looks like a violation of their oath and a disregard for the Constitution they swore to defend. If we expect a soldier to die for the Constitution, then he must expect his officers to live by the Constitution.

This is not an issue of legitimate succession to office of Commander-in-Chief, but an issue of usurpation. The moral duty here for military officers is clear: Demand proof, or serve without honor, or resign..

Citizens and servicemen alike should be mindful that once the Constitution is made void, the United States disappears. Who wants to fight and die for nothing? Ensign Rohan did not die for nothing.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Obama’s Attack on Our Christian Heritage

[T]oday our Christian heritage is under attack as never before. In April 2009, the president of the United States, Barack Hussein Obama, while admitting that America has “a very large Christian population,” told the Turkish press that “we do not consider ourselves a Christian nation. …” Two months later in an interview with a French reporter, Obama had the audacity to state that “if you actually took the number of Muslim Americans, we’d be one of the largest Muslim countries in the world.” Finally, on June 4, in a speech in Cairo, Egypt, Obama said that he felt it his duty and “part of my responsibility as president of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear.”

Not only has the president of the United States denied our Christian heritage and identity, but he went so far as to claim that America was one of the largest Muslim countries in the world. In fact, in 2008 Christians made up 76 percent of the population (173 million), religious Jews 1.2 percent (2.6 million), and Muslims only 0.6 percent (1.3 million).

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Obama Leaves Door Open to Tax on Health Benefits

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama left the door open to a new tax on health care benefits Wednesday, and officials said top lawmakers and the White House were seeking $150 billion in concessions from the nation’s hospitals as they sought support for legislation struggling to emerge in Congress.

“I don’t want to prejudge what they’re doing,” the president said, referring to proposals in the Senate to tax workers who get expensive insurance policies. Obama, who campaigned against the tax when he ran for president, drew a quick rebuff from one union president.

The chief executive also met with governors and arranged a prime-time, town hall at the White House, the latest in a string of events designed to bend public opinion toward his top domestic initiative to reduce health care costs while making insurance available to the nearly 50 million Americans who lack it.

The flurry of activity extended to the Capitol, where the administration and its allies hoped for a prominent display of progress in the Senate before Congress begins a weeklong vacation on Friday.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., labored in a daylong series of meetings to produce at least an outline of legislation that could command bipartisan support. Of the five House and Senate committees working on health care, Finance is the only one that appears to have a chance at such an agreement.

For their part, key Republicans pressed the White House for assurances that any concessions made now would not merely lead to additional demands at a later date. “We want to know the president is working in good faith along the way as we are,” said Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, after meeting with Nancy-Ann DeParle, the top White House official on the issue.

Baucus appeared especially eager to show progress before the exodus from the Capitol began.

To that end, several officials said he was negotiating with representatives of the nation’s hospitals, hoping to conclude an agreement that would build on an $80 billion weekend deal with the pharmaceutical industry.

Hospitals were being asked to accept a reduction of roughly $155 billion over the next decade in fees they are promised under government programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, according to numerous officials.

Officials at the American Hospital Association and the Federation of American Hospitals said they could not comment on any discussions.

Baucus is seeking similar concessions from nursing homes, insurance companies, medical device makers and possibly others, noting that any legislation would create a huge new pool of customers for industry providers.

At its heart, any legislation is expected to require insurance companies to offer coverage to any applicant, without exclusions or higher premiums for pre-existing medical conditions.

Overall, Baucus has said he hopes to hold the size of any legislation to $1 trillion or less, and in private negotiations, there were discussions about further scaling back eligibility for insurance subsidies from the government.

Additionally, Baucus was still searching for ways to cover the cost of his emerging legislation, and numerous officials said he appeared roughly $200 billion shy of achieving that goal. They added that a proposal to make it harder for taxpayers to itemize their medical expenses was drawing renewed interest among key senators as one way to raise revenue.

Current law allows those expenses to be itemized when they exceed 7.5 percent of adjusted gross income. The proposal under review would raise that to 10 percent, officials said.

At the White House, Obama sidestepped when asked if he was open to taxing health care benefits — a proposal he opposed vigorously in the campaign for the White House.

“I have identified the ways that I think we should finance this. I think Congress should adopt them. I’m going to wait and see what ideas ultimately they come up with,” he said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

“I don’t want to prejudge what they’re doing. We’ve put forward what we think is best.”

Organized labor weighed in quickly.

Gerald W. McEntee, president of the 1.6 million-member American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said in an interview that union leaders believe Obama is “a person of his word.” He was referring to Obama’s opposition to taxing those benefits during last year’s campaign.

“They’re not going to take it,” McEntee said of workers’ views of that proposal. “They’re not going to tolerate that.”

It was the latest in a series of signs of presidential flexibility. On Tuesday, he left open the possibility that he could sign legislation that does not contain an option for a government-run insurance plan. And he has said recently he could accept a requirement for individuals to buy insurance, a position he opposed in the campaign.

Baucus and many Republicans support taxing health care benefits, and officials have said discussions center on imposing the tax in cases in which premium costs exceed $17,000 combined in payments by the employer and worker. Democrats want to exempt union members covered by contracts, but Republicans are resisting.

The officials who provided specifics on the negotiations in the Senate did so on condition of anonymity, saying they were not authorized to disclose private talks.

Despite months of efforts, Obama said in the ABC interview, “I think that we’re still early in the process. All these issues are getting worked through.”

At the same time, some of the Democrats’ initial deadlines have slipped under the weight of higher-than-expected cost estimates from the Congressional Budget Office, internal disagreements and other difficulties.

Many Democrats insist on having an option for government-run insurance in the legislation so consumers can have a choice other than a plan from private insurers. Republicans are vehemently opposed, and compromise efforts have centered on a proposal for a nonprofit co-operative that initially would be funded by the federal government. Baucus said new approaches were discussed in meetings Wednesday, and he described them as “variations, but on the same themes that have been discussed quite a bit — more robust, beefed-up co-op approach.”

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce said Wednesday that the government-run option would “gut the private market.”

ABC News was the lone network broadcasting Obama’s town hall — drawing criticism from Republicans who wanted equal time.

In defense, ABC News President David Westin said the show would “include a variety of perspectives coming from private individuals asking the president questions and taking issue with him, as they see fit.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


O’s Health Care Reform in Critical Condition

Barack Obama’s high-speed train to socialism was knocked off track by a surprising source: the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). Just as the Senate HELP Committee (Health, Education, Labor and Pensions) was about to begin voting on Chairman Ted Kennedy’s, D-Mass., health care plan (which Obama had let be known was his favorite), CBO released a report that this plan would cost at least a trillion dollars and still leave 36 million people uninsured through 2017.

Obama had promised that people with private health insurance would not be harmed by his health care reform, but the CBO says this would not be true about the Kennedy bill. The CBO report says that the number of people with coverage through their employer would decline by about 15 million and coverage from other sources would fall by about 8 million.

The Senate committee decided to pause and ponder this sticker shock over the Fourth of July recess. While somewhat distancing himself from the Kennedy plan, Obama plowed ahead, saying, “The cost of inaction is greater,” and accusing his critics of “fear tactics” about “socialized medicine.”

[…]

Look out for the words “comparative effectiveness research,” which mean rationing care by telling you that you are not sick enough or not the right age to get the tests and care you know you need.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


US Nixes 40 Percent Cuts at Climate Change Talks

MEXICO CITY — President Barack Obama’s climate envoy dismissed recommendations that the United States and other developed countries reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases 40 percent by 2020.

“The 40 percent below 1990 (levels) is something which in our judgment is not necessary, and not feasible given where we’re starting from, so it’s not in the cards,” Todd Stern said Tuesday at a conference on global warming.

Stern spoke at the end of the two-day meeting of the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate, a gathering of 19 nations and the European Union that together produce 80 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases. The group, called together by Obama, is trying to build a replacement climate change treaty for the expiring Kyoto Protocol.

A panel of U.N. scientists has recommended that industrial countries cut carbon emissions by 25 percent to 40 percent by 2020 to avoid a catastrophic rise in sea levels, harsher storms and droughts and climate disruptions. Some poorer and island countries are pushing for reductions of as much as 45 percent.

After rejecting that idea, Stern pointed to progress on legislation before the U.S. Congress that would require lesser reductions. He said the Waxman-Markey bill is expected to move to the floor of the U.S. House this week for debate, which he said is “quite good news.”

The bill calls for a 17 percent cut in U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases by 2020 from 2005 levels, and an 83 percent reduction by mid-century. Carbon dioxide, produced by burning coal and other fossil fuels, is the leading manmade greenhouse gas that scientists have linked to global warming.

“That’s a very important piece of the overall picture for the United States,” Stern said. “The proposal that is reflected in the Waxman-Markey bill is an enormously ambitious proposal for the United States.”

Such measures may not be enough to bring agreement on a climate change accord, which the United Nations hopes will be agreed on at a conference in Copenhagen next December.

Stern said that “there are still significant differences between the parties” on emissions levels at the talks that were held just south of Mexico City.

“There’s not final agreement on anything yet, but I think we’ve made some progress,” he said. “I do think we’ll have a successful agreement in Copenhagen.”

But the final document from the Mexico talks indicated only that “many leaders’ representatives expressed support for agreeing to a long-term goal by 2050,” indicating there wasn’t even complete agreement on the idea of emission caps by that late date.

Somewhat more progress was made on financing for emissions reduction, technology and adaptation to climate change.

Mexico’s proposal for a “green fund” to which all but the very poorest countries would contribute — and then receive funding for clean energy and environmental projects — appeared to be gaining traction.

Stern voiced support for the proposal, adding that “there are a number of countries that sat around the table that also think it’s an interesting idea.”

Unlike the current, largely private carbon credit market in which polluting companies pay to offset their emissions, the new, $10 billion fund would be financed through government contributions and run by a multilateral agency, possibly the World Bank.

Mexico’s government said Tuesday that it was open to including carbon credits in the framework of the proposed fund, to make more money available to poor countries to develop cleaner technologies and prepare for climate change phenomena like floods and droughts.

“Mexico’s proposals for the ‘Green Fund’ could be compatible with a link to the carbon credits market, which would allow a significant increase in the amount of funds available,” said Adrian Fernandez, head of Mexico’s National Ecology Institute.

Environmental activists said that while Mexico’s proposal lacks compliance mechanisms to ensure that wealthy countries contribute, it is preferable to the current carbon credits market.

“If the market is what is regulating which activities should be funded, our forests and Antarctic would disappear,” said Gustavo Ampugnani of Greenpeace International.

Stern agreed there will be a need for “some sort of mechanism for a more regular provision and a more dependable provision of funding to poor countries.”

Norway has suggested a fund financed by proceeds from auctioning emission permits, but Stern said that proposal was “more amenable to some countries than others,” without offering any specifics.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


Virginians Oppose ‘Terrorist’ School Expansion

Foes file complaint after county sponsors dinner for Saudi academy

A coalition opposing the expansion of the radical Islamic Saudi Academy in Fairfax County, Va., has filed a conflict-of-interest complaint with the Virginia state attorney general over the county government’s role in distributing invitations to an Islamic dinner.

[…]

“No church or synagogue ever got such preferential treatment from the county government,” Lafferty argued.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Britain Expels Iranian Diplomats in Tit-for-Tat With Tehran

LONDON (AFP) — Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced Tuesday that Britain was expelling two Iranian diplomats in a tit-for-tat action after Tehran ordered two British diplomats to leave.

In the latest escalation of tensions between Iran and the West following disputed presidential elections, Brown denounced the “unjustified” step by the Islamic republic.

“It is… with regret that I should inform the House (of Commons) that Iran yesterday took the unjustified step of expelling two British diplomats over allegations that are absolutely without foundation,” he told lawmakers.

“In response to that action we informed the Iranian ambassador earlier today that we would expel two Iranian diplomats from their embassy in London,” he added.

And he said: “I am disappointed that Iran has placed us in this position but we will continue to seek good relations with Iran and to call for the regime to respect the human rights and democratic freedoms of the Iranian people.”

Briefing reporters after Brown’s remarks, a Downing Street spokesman said that Iran’s ambassador to London had been summoned to its foreign office around lunchtime to be informed of the decision to expel two Iranian diplomats.

It was understood that the Iranians had ordered the two Britons to leave Tehran for “activities inconsistent with their diplomatic status” — traditionally, code for spying.

The Foreign Office dismissed this suggestion. “We believe the Iranian decision to expel two members of staff from the British embassy is baseless,” said a spokeswoman.

“We think the government of Iran is seeking to blame the UK and other outsiders for what is an Iranian reaction to an Iranian issue.

“This has a potential impact on our staff safety and is unacceptable. We have taken the decision to reciprocate.”

The surprise announcement came after an Iranian foreign ministry source earlier denied that the country’s ambassador to London had been recalled, amid mounting tensions between Tehran and London.

Iran has accused Britain, and other Western governments, of meddling over the election that returned Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power and manipulating the subsequent unrest.

Iranian student unions called off a planned demonstration outside the British embassy in Tehran on Tuesday to protest at London’s “interference” after it was banned by the Iranian authorities.

Centuries-old mistrust of British interest in Iran welled up once more as Iranian leaders alleged that London played a key role in fomenting the unrest that has swept the Islamic republic since the June 12 presidential polls.

Iranian authorities have fired off a number of accusations against the British government, prompting London to warn its nationals against travel to Iran and to pull out the families of embassy staff.

Amid the heightened tension, Britain’s foreign office warned its nationals Monday against “all but essential travel to Iran” following “large-scale demonstrations” and “violent clashes.”

It also said it is withdrawing the families of embassy staff “until the situation improves.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


Italy: Obama to Get G8 Hoops

‘Basketball court at summit lodgings’

(ANSA) — Rome, June 23 — Italy is planning to build a basketball court for United States President Barack Obama to use during next month’s Group of Eight (G8) summit in the quake-stricken city of L’Aquila.

“We’ve prepared a beautiful room for Obama and we’re also thinking of building him a small basketball court, as a little surprise, because we know he’s passionate about the sport,” Civil Defence chief Guido Bertolaso said Tuesday.

New beds being installed in a converted police barracks for the July 8-10 summit will later be given to survivors of the April 6 earthquake that devastated the Abruzzo capital, Bertolaso added. Local residents will also get the new furniture and decorations currently being put into the barracks. The G8 facilities will be quake-proof, Bertolaso said.

Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi last month moved the summit venue from a Sardinian island to L’Aquila to help boost local morale and revive the Abruzzo economy.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Italy: Premier Says Escorts Case Cooked Up

Berlusconi says woman was given ‘detailed orders’

(ANSA) — Rome, June 23 — Premier Silvio Berlusconi, fending off flak over reports he allegedly hosted paid escorts at his home, said on Tuesday he has never had to pay a woman to keep him company.

“I’ve never paid a woman. I don’t understand what satisfaction there is unless it’s linked to the happiness of winning someone over” the premier said in an interview with the weekly Chi to be published on Wednesday.

Berlusconi also accused Patrizia D’Addario — the escort who alleges to have been paid to spend the night with the premier last November 4 — of being involved in a cooked-up case to foment a scandal.

“Behind the (investigators’) probe in (the southern city of) Bari there’s someone who gave Ms D’Addario very detailed and very well paid orders,” the premier told the weekly’s editor-in-chief Alfonso Signorini.

Asked by Signorini if he had not suspected that D’Addario was “a call girl who was setting a trap for you”, the premier said: “If I suspected someone of being like that, I’d leap a thousand miles away”.

The premier has been at the centre of a media storm since a public divorce spat with his wife Veronica Lario and allegations of links with a teenage girl — Noemi Letizia — which surfaced after his wife accused him of “consorting with minors”.

Berlusconi, 72, has categorically denied any “steamy or more than steamy” involvement with teenagers, explaining there was nothing “spicy” about his attendance at the birthday party of 18-year-old Letizia because he had a long friendship with her family.

He told Signorini that the rift with Lario has been “very painful” and he did not know “whether time could heal” the wound.

“What I do know is that ours was a great love story and real love stories can’t be wiped out… I’m sad but serene,” said the premier.

CATHOLIC WEEKLY URGES CHURCH NOT TO ‘IGNORE MORAL EMERGENCY’. The excerpts from the premier’s interview was released minutes before the influential Catholic weekly Famiglia Cristiana weighed in on the issue, urging the Church “not to ignore the moral emergency”.

Editor-in-chief Antonio Sciortino said Berlusconi had “overstepped the bounds of decency” with his “indefensible” behaviour. “One cannot make believe that nothing is happening or ignore the unease of growing portions of the population and Christians in particular,” said Sciortino. Meanwhile, prosecutors investigating the businessman who allegedly paid escorts to attend parties at the premier’s homes were reportedly questioning other witnesses on Tuesday.

Giuseppe Scelsi, the prosecutor in the southern city of Bari who is leading the investigations, was seen entering the station where police have been interrogating and collecting documentation from women who claim to have attended the parties.

News of the probe broke last week when the Milan daily Corriere della Sera said prosecutors investigating a kick-back scandal in the health sector had wiretappings of Berlusconi’s acquaintance — Giampaolo Tarantini — talking about the parties and the paid escorts.

Tarantini, 34, who owns a hospital supplies firm, has denied that the premier knew that the girls he took or sent to parties at Berlusconi’s Rome home or at his villa in Sardinia were in fact being paid.

Tarantini is being probed for abetting prostitution because prosecutors believe he paid the women to “ingratiate himself” with powerful people, including the deputy president of the Puglia region of the opposition Democratic Party, to help his business activities.

Barbara Montereale, a model who has already been questioned, has told the press that D’Addario confided that she had spent the night in Berlusconi’s home on November 4.

Montereale has given the press photographs she alleges to have taken in Berlusconi’s bathroom and has said that a large number of women attended these parties. Judicial sources say that prosecutors have expressed “concern” over the security issue at the premier’s homes, saying that access to them was not “controlled”.

D’Addario told Corriere in an interview last week she decided to talk to magistrates because Berlusconi had reneged on a promise to help her untangle bureaucracy linked to her construction activities in Bari.

‘BLACKMAIL’ CLAIM REJECTED.

The centre right has cashed in on D’Addario’s accusations to brush off the opposition’s fears that the premier might be subject to blackmail over his private life, claiming that Berlusconi would have helped the woman if that were the case.

However, sources close to Tarantini say that D’Addario had asked him for money, threatening otherwise to tell the press she had spent the night with Berlusconi.

The premier has slammed the press’s coverage of the escorts probe as “just rubbish, just trash” and friends in his People of Freedom (PdL) party and in the Northern League claim that the “gossip” will not affect the government.

They have also accused the opposition and the left-leaning press of fomenting scandals in a bid to damage Berlusconi’s image ahead of the Group of Eight summit which Italy, as G8 president this year, will host in L’Aquila from July 8-10.

House Speaker Gianfranco Fini, a PdL heavyweight, has joined the chorus of those who have brushed off talk of a government crisis.

But he has voiced concern over “a risk that citizens could lose faith in politics and the institutions” if the scandals continue.

Former premier and PD heavyweight Massimo D’Alema told reporters on Tuesday that the government’s “credibility” had been “weakened” by the scandals but had “not influenced” the results of local election run-offs.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Klaus Pledges to be Last to Sign the Lisbon Treaty

Czech President Vaclav Klaus has pledged to be the last in the EU to sign the Lisbon Treaty, raising fears about the future of the document which has been several painful years in the making.

The Czech parliament has approved the treaty, but the president’s signature is needed to complete the process, a fact that the eurosceptic Mr Vaclav has dangled over the rest of the member states on several occasions.

“I will certainly not rush,” Mr Klaus told Czech Radio, reports DPA. “I will certainly wait until after all those things about which I have talked about, which include a constitutional complaint by our senators … happen.”

“The Irish have not voted again. Poland has not signed the Lisbon Treaty, and Germany has not signed the Lisbon Treaty. So I am not the last Mohican who is fighting against all,” he said.

He has always said he would wait until the after the Irish have voted in a second referendum on the treaty, expected in Ireland in the autumn, before signing off. But in recent days, he has increased his anti-treaty rhetoric.

The latest opinion polls show that the Irish are likely to vote Yes this time round, with the approval of all 27 member states needed to put the treaty into force.

However, the treaty is currently being examined by Germany’s constitutional court (a verdict is due at the end of June), the Polish president, also a critic of the document, has not signed it, and it is facing a court ruling in the Czech Republic.

The British question

Mr Klaus’ tactics could result in the treaty never being put into action as the longer it takes for the treaty to be fully ratified across the EU, the greater the chances of a conservative government coming into power in Britain.

A general election must be held in Britain by June 2010, and the Conservatives, widely expected to win over the governing but damaged Labour Party, has pledged to put the treaty to a referendum if it is not in already in force.

Conservative leader David Cameron clashed with Prime Minister Gordon Brown in parliament on Tuesday (23 June) over the treaty, and particularly the guarantees on how it should be interpreted in three areas — tax, neutrality and social issues — secured by Ireland at last week’s EU summit.

The guarantees, to be formally enshrined into EU law after the treaty is in force, were part of a general package designed to encourage Irish voters say Yes in the autumn poll.

Mr Cameron took Mr Brown to task for not having a debate on Ireland’s guarantees in parliament now. He also asked why Irish citizens were “being forced to give their views twice” while British voters had had no referendum themselves.

For his part, Irish leader Brian Cowen, fresh from securing war support from Mr Brown at the summit for making the protocols legally binding, has said believes Ireland will vote Yes this time round.

“I believe the people will say ‘yes’ on this occasion. I am just not prepared to contemplate defeat, “ he told Irish radio earlier in the week.

However, the exact date for the referendum remains unclear, although Mr Cowen has hinted it will take place on 2 October.

He expected to name the day in two week’s time when legislation to allow the referendum to take place goes through parliament, reports the Irish Times.

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


Netherlands: Banks Abandon ‘Difficult’ Neighbourhoods

Banks have all but stopped extending mortgages in problem neighbourhoods of Rotterdam and The Hague, the Volkskrant reports on Wednesday, quoting estate agents and notaries.

A number of run-down areas in both cities have been singled out for extra investment in term of housing, employment and quality of life. The government has made stimulating home ownership a central part of its urban renewal efforts, but this is now under threat, the paper says.

‘The lack of financing is threatening to paralyse these neighbourhoods,’ Rotterdam notary Vic van Heeswijk, who organises compulsory house sales, told the paper.

Mortgages

‘Banks only want to give safe mortgages. Difficult areas and difficult buyers are out of favour. It doesn’t say anywhere in black and white that urban renewal areas are no-go zones for mortgages but that is what is happening in practise,’ he said.

Rob Wassenaar, chairman of the Rotterdam NVM estate agents, said house prices were falling in these areas faster than elsewhere. ‘We are seeing bigger price drops in neighbourhoods where finance is more difficult,’ he said.

Mortgage market leader Rabobank denies it rejected mortgages on the basis of postcodes, as do other banks, the paper says.

Housing minister Eberhard van der Laan told Nos tv on Wednesday that he would look into the Volkskrant’s claims.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]


Northern Ireland: Hindu Priest Moving After Attack

A Hindu priest and his family who live at the Indian Community Centre in north Belfast have said they are planning to move out.

It follows an attack on the Clifton Street property last week, which they believe was racially motivated.

A gang of youths tried to break down the door of the centre while the priest’s wife was alone inside.

Stones were also thrown at the building and the gang tried to take grills off the windows to get inside.

The family said they were too afraid to speak publicly about the incident at the time.

According to Bidit Dey, who works at the centre, police did not make any contact with the priest’s wife after the attack.

“They did not actually stop by or call in to see her. This would have reassured them,” he said.

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


OIC to Open Office in Brussels to Fight Islamophobia

The Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) will open a representative office and appoint an ambassador to Brussels to fight more effectively against Islamophobia in Europe.

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“This office will provide the West and Islam the opportunity to work coherently,” said Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, the Turkish secretary-general of the organization, to Today’s Zaman. The office will cooperate with the European Parliament and the European Council to develop the initiatives for interfaith and intercultural dialogue and institute contacts with nongovernmental organizations. The office will also be effective in efforts aimed at preventing discrimination against Muslims and fighting anti-Islam propaganda. “Of course fighting anti-Islam propaganda is one of the main aims of the office. Intercultural and interfaith dialogue constitute the priorities of the office in Brussels,” Ihsanoglu said.

Ihsanoglu, who had talks in Washington this week, will meet with the Belgian minister of foreign affairs in Brussels in the coming days. An agreement regarding the establishment of the OIC office in Brussels will be signed at the meeting.

OIC officials are concerned that most of the actions considered by the public as Islamophobic took place in European countries; thus, the OIC believes better contact with official European institutions and the public is vital.

A cartoon crisis that stemmed from the publishing of cartoons in Denmark insulting the Prophet Muhammad in September 2005 strained relations between Islam and the West. The idea of opening an office in Brussels was explained by Ihsanoglu to European politicians with whom Ihsanoglu negotiated during the cartoon crisis.

The OIC already has offices in New York and Geneva. The new office in Brussels will advance relations between Europe and the Muslim world. “With this office, we can create close institutional cooperation with the member countries of the European Union,” Ihsanoglu said.

           — Hat tip: Steen[Return to headlines]


Sweden: Migration Agency Used Anti-Muslim Lawyer

A lawyer contracted by the Swedish Migration Board (Migrationsverket) to represent asylum seekers has a personal blog in which he espouses racist and anti-immigrant views, referring to Islam as a “psychosocial disease”.

Hans-Ola Mårtensson is a lawyer based in southwest Sweden whose services were sought by the Migration Board on seven different occasions, most recently in January 2009, the Sydsvenskan newspaper reports.

His job was to represent the interests of asylum seekers during the judicial review of their applications for refugee status.

In his free time, however, Mårtensson publishes a blog featuring a number of anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim postings.

“Muslims are multiplying like rabbits and want to take over Europe,” he wrote in one post.

“Tear down Rosengård, Hammarkullen and Tensta and send those living there to Norrland and Lappland [in Sweden’s far north]. There they can be integrated, learn Swedish, be de-Islamified, and be happy,” reads another post, referring to areas in Malmö and Stockholm with high concentrations of immigrants.

Mårtensson also takes aim at homosexuals, feminists, Social Democrats, and host of other targets, including recent Nobel Prize winning author Doris Lessing, who he calls a “communist witch”.

He adds, however, that giving the prize to Lessing was “still better than earlier choices of Arabs and Negroes.”

A Migration Board representative charged with reviewing the suitability of lawyers asked to serve as legal representatives in asylum cases had a hard time believing migration authorities would hire someone with Mårtensson’s views.

“I can’t believe that this is a person we’d want to use. It doesn’t sound like he’s appropriate,” the Migration Board’s Stefan Råhlander told Sydsvenskan.

“Racist views can definitely be seen as a reason to be found inappropriate.”

The local chapter of the Moderate political party was concerned enough about the views espoused on Mårtensson’s blog to force him to quit the party two years ago.

“There were plenty of values and statements of opinion which aren’t compatible with the Moderates’ basic views,” Moderate local council chair Thomas Håkansson told the newspaper.

Mårtensson defended his blog as a personal pursuit that didn’t affect his professional work.

“I differentiate between by job responsibilities and my private opinions,” he told Sydsvenskan.

“I have many friends who are Muslims.”

Nevertheless, Mårtensson didn’t hide his negative sentiments toward Islam.

“I’m hostile toward Islam, not those who practice it as a religion,” he said.

Following the publishing of select contents from the blog in Sydsvenskan on Wednesday, Mårtensson promptly took the blog offline.

Attempts by the newspaper to reach him for comment were unsuccessful.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]


Swedish Cops Bare All for Undercover Operation

Two Swedish police officers stripped down naked and were offered “extra” treatment on recent visits to massage parlors.

By going above and beyond the call of duty, however, the two undercover officers were able to expose a prostitution ring stretching from Stockholm north to Gävle in eastern Sweden, the Metro newspaper reports.

A 60-year-old Stockholm resident has been charged on suspicions of running brothels in five massage parlors.

The brothels were discovered after two male police officers working undercover visited two separate massage parlors and agreed to take their clothes off.

After stripping, each officer was offered “extra” genital treatment.

“An unusual, but legal method of investigation,” said one of the officers.

In addition to the 60-year-old, a 27-year-old woman and a 32-year-old man were also charged for the extensive pimping operation.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]


Swiss Order More Evidence Destroyed in Nuke Probe

GENEVA — The Swiss government on Wednesday ordered the quick destruction of about 100 pages of evidence linked to an investigation of three Swiss engineers suspected of smuggling nuclear weapons technology.

The Cabinet said the documents were “the most explosive” material in a file of more than 1,000 pages related to the case against the Tinner family, which is suspected of links to the nuclear smuggling network of Abdul Qadeer Khan — the creator of Pakistan’s atomic bomb.

The documents are copies of files destroyed in 2007 under a previous order that led to protests from lawmakers and legal experts, who said the government undermined the prosecution in the smuggling case. The copies were found in prosecutors’ archives last December.

Citing security concerns and its legal obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, the Cabinet, or Federal Council, said that about 100 pages dealing with atomic weapons designs would be shredded shortly to keep them out of “the wrong hands.” It didn’t give a date for the destruction..

Less sensitive documents, such as those dealing with uranium enrichment, will be kept under high security at the Federal Justice Department, the government said. It added that investigators, prosecutors, courts and the Tinner family’s lawyers can view them under tight restrictions, but they will be destroyed at the end of legal proceedings.

Urs Tinner, his brother Marco and their father Freidrich are suspected of supplying Khan’s black market nuclear network with the technical know-how and equipment used to make gas centrifuges. Khan sold the centrifuges for secret nuclear weapons programs in countries that included Libya and Iran before his operation was disrupted in 2003.

Andreas Mueller, the magistrate who has been working for years to bring a case against the Tinners, welcomed the government’s decision to make most of the copies available to investigators.

He said the shredding of files had complicated an already complex case and made it harder to piece together a complete picture of the Tinners’ involvement in the Khan ring. Meanwhile, Switzerland’s highest criminal court criticized the government for opting to destroy further evidence, and said it was disappointed not to be informed earlier.

Complicating the case further are claims by Urs Tinner, 43, that he supplied the CIA with information that led to the breakup of Khan’s network. In a recent documentary, Tinner told Swiss TV he tipped off U.S. intelligence about a delivery of centrifuge parts meant for Libya.

The shipment was seized at the Italian port of Taranto in 2003, forcing Libya to admit and eventually renounce its efforts to acquire nuclear weapons.

Former Swiss Justice Minister Christoph Blocher said the government decided to destroy the original documents after he refused in 2007 an American request to hand over thousands of the files.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


UK: 1 Million Are Using Cocaine

THE UK is now the cocaine centre of Europe with a million regular users, according to the UN.

There are believed to be 860,000 cocaine users in England and Wales and around 140,000 in Northern Ireland and Scotland combined.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime report also revealed that the quality of cocaine sold has declined dramatically in recent years.

A crackdown on traffickers has pushed prices up and led to dealers mixing the drug to the point where in some seizures substances being passed off as cocaine were only 5 per cent pure.

Data given to the UN by the UK’s Serious Organised Crime Agency shows wholesale prices have risen to record levels.

The cost of a kilogram of cocaine has increased by 50 per cent from £30,000 to £45,000 since 2007.

The report revealed a concentration of “problem drug users” in London, with around one person in 100 having drug difficulties.

Most cocaine is smuggled via the Caribbean or Africa.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


UK: Burkha ‘Doesn’t Belong in 21st Century Britain’

THE furious split over whether or not Britain should ban the burkha deepened yesterday, with a Euro MP wading into the row.

Liberal Democrat Chris Davies, MEP in the North-West of England, attacked burkha wearing, saying “it does not belong in 21st century Britain”.

The controversial garment covers a woman from head to toe and only leaves the eyes visible.

It is worn by about 100,000 of the 2.4 million people who follow Islam here.

The question of whether or not they should be worn was ignited earlier this week when French President Nicolas Sarkozy said France was considering banning burkhas.

The debate instantly flared in Britain where it has split both Muslims and non-Muslims.

A spokesman for the anti-extremist think-tank Quilliam said: “In Britain, we pride ourselves on having a liberal and secular society which welcomes people from all walks of life. In such a society we should not legislate on how people should dress and indeed we don’t.

“However, the burkha is not an Islamic requirement and more of an identity statement that limits social interaction. Whilst women should reserve the right to dress however they like, they should remain cognisant of the social impact of their appearance.”

Yesterday, Mr Davies said that people should have the legal right to wear whatever they wish but that politeness should not prevent disapproval being expressed.

He said: “There is no mention in the Koran of the burkha and it is a style of dress used principally in those countries where women are treated as mere chattels of men.

“I believe that it does not belong in 21st century Britain. I have a passionate belief that women and men are equals, and both sexes should be free to express their identity through the dress they wear.

“If there are men who want to use the burkha to impose their own will upon women in their family they should feel the full force of society’s disapproval.”

Mr Davies’s stance drew criticism and he found himself attacked by the Lancashire Council of Mosques which said more education is needed to understand why women choose to wear burkhas. Salim Mulla, vice-chairman of the council, said: “It is absolute nonsense to say men force their partners, wives or daughters to wear the burkhas.

“He probably needs to talk to people like myself and the Council of Mosques to educate himself about the issue. It is up to individuals if they want to wear the burkha.”

The issue flared previously in Britain when Justice Secretary Jack Straw said Muslim women should not wear veils to cover their faces.

France has also been split by the issue since Monday when President Sarkozy controversially declared that the burkha was no longer welcome, branding the face-covering gown a symbol of subservience that suppresses women’s identities and turns them into “prisoners behind a screen.” He claimed the garment was “a sign of debasement”. France has Europe’s largest Muslim population.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


UK: National Library of Scotland Boss Bans Saltire Over ‘Racist’ Fears

THE National Library of Scotland banned workers from displaying Saltires in the office — claiming they could be racist.

Bosses said the flags could “intimidate non-Scottish colleagues” — and also banned the Lion Rampant and tartan seat covers.

The move — believed to have been prompted by one worker bedecking his desk in flags -sparked fury last night.

SNP Msp Christine Grahame accused library chiefs of an “unforgivable slur on the reputation of Scotland’s national flag”.

She demanded an apology after securing evidence of the policy through the Freedom of Information Act.

In emails , director of customer services Alexandra Miller told NLS staff that the display of the Saltire and tartan would not be tolerated.

Miller even went round offices herself removing Saltires and other material she deemed “offensive”.

She wrote: “I believe it could even impinge on respect at work issues where such nationalistic displays may intimidate non-Scottish colleagues.

“I am very disappointed to see (staff ) continue to have inappropriate material bedecking their workstation. This includes several Saltires and a Lion Rampant and the personalisation of a chair with red tartan.”

Miller then implied displaying of the Saltire may be deemed “racist” by other staff and visitors.

When it was pointed out to Miller that one member of staff, ex-soldier John Gibson, was very attached to his flags, she replied: “As for John’s ‘attachment’ to the items, he is perfectly free to adorn his home with them.

“This is a workplace, not a home from home.”

Last night, MSP Grahame branded the actions “deplorable” and hit out: “This is a completely unacceptable slur on Scotland’s national flag.

“I would have thought that in the National Library of Scotland of all places, they would have understood the place the Saltire has in Scottish hearts as one of the oldest national symbols in existence.

“Instead, it appears that senior management have embarked on a deliberate assault on the flag of Scotland, trying to purge it completely.

“The National Library of Scotland should issue a complete and unreserved apology and ensure the Saltire is not attacked in this crude manner.”

Last night, national librarian Martyn Wade tried to defuse the row, claiming: “The Library did not, and would not, ‘ban’ staff from displaying the Saltire.

“We merely asked a single individual to remove what we considered to be an excessive display of large flags from a desk in a shared, professional work area and we would have done so regardless of what the flag was or indeed any other adornment.

“We proudly fly the Saltire from our main building.”

Scots Tory Leader Annabel Goldie last night blamed First Minister Alex Salmond for the library flag row.

She said: “Alex Salmond has politicised the Saltire. I warned him a year ago that the Saltire was our national flag, not his nationalist symbol.

“Scotland should be proud of the Saltire — not nervous about it because Alex Salmond has abused it for his own ends.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


UK: Queen to Miss First Armed Forces Day

The first Armed Forces Day will go ahead this weekend without the presence of the Queen or the Prince of Wales.

In what is seen by some servicemen’s families as a rebuff to veterans and serving troops, no senior royals will attend any of the main ceremonies marking what used to be known as Veterans Day.

The Duke and Duchess of Gloucester will take the royal salute on Saturday at the Historic Dockyard in Chatham, Kent. The Duke is 19th in line to the throne and patron of the Normandy Veterans Association.

Armed Forces Day was set up after a recommendation from a study by the Conservative MP Quentin Davies for Gordon Brown, who wanted to find a way to raise public understanding and appreciation of the armed services. Claims that the Queen and the Prince were both invited to Saturday’s event were denied by both royal sources and the Ministry of Defence.

An MoD spokesman said that the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester were already going to be invited when the event was Veterans Day.

The Queen will be in Edinburgh where she will present campaign medals to the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards. The Prince of Wales will spend the weekend at Highgrove.

Phil Cooper, the father of Britain’s youngest soldier to be wounded in Iraq, Jamie Cooper, told the Daily Mail: “When you sign up, you take an oath to serve the Queen and country, laying down your life for the monarchy if necessary. Surely it’s not too much to ask for a senior royal to be bothered to turn up and take the salute.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


UK: Wildcat Strikes Spread at Power Plants

NORTH KILLINGHOLME (AFP) — Wildcat strikes affecting oil refineries and power plants are expected to spread across the country on Wednesday, after hundreds of workers were sacked, media reports and company officials said.

Thousands of workers demonstrated outside the Lindsey terminal in Lincolnshire Tuesday, where almost 650 contract workers were sacked by French oil giant Total last week.

“As far as we are concerned, they are victimised and locked-out people, and it is an official dispute from the moment those notices arrived,” said Paul Kenny, head of the GMB union.

In a statement, Total called for unions to resume talks over the sacking of 647 workers.

“Total is actively encouraging talks to be opened between its contractors and the unions about how to facilitate the return to work of its contracting companies? former workforces,” the French company said.

But protests spread elsewhere.

Workers from the Coryton oil refinery in Essex, also rallied in support of the protestors at Lindsey, which was at the centre of a bitter dispute over the use of foreign labour in January.

Unofficial protest action was also reported at the Longannet power station in Scotland, the Sellafield nuclear site in Cumbria, and the Didcot power station in Oxfordshire.

At the Aberthaw power station in South Wales, some 300 contract workers walked out — but a spokeswoman for the plant’s owners RWE npower stressed that none of its employees were involved.

“We understand that around 300 contract workers, who work on either construction or maintenance projects at Aberthaw Power Station, have downed tools today in support of workers at the Lindsey Oil Refinery,” she said.

“No RWE npower staff are involved and the situation is not affecting operations at Aberthaw Power Station.”

The latest dispute — which comes amid the worst recession since World War II — started when about 1,200 contract workers called a strike to protest the sacking of 51 people working on a construction project at the plant.

The Lindsey workers claimed an agreement not to cut jobs had been broken, but Total disputed this. On Monday many of the sacked Lindsey workers burned their letters of dismissal, in protest

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Balkans

EU Cancels Croatia Accession Talks as Slovenia Border Row Simmers

BRUSSELS — The European Union announced Wednesday that it has cancelled indefinitely the next round of EU membership talks with Croatia as a border row with its neighbor Slovenia undermines progress.

“The Czech EU presidency has decided to cancel the intergovernmental accession conference with Croatia planned for June 26,” a statement said. No new date was given.

The 18-year-old border dispute has blocked Croatia’s EU membership talks since December, and Slovenia insists it be resolved before the accession negotiations resume.

The row involves a small piece of land and sea and dates back to 1991, when the two proclaimed independence from the former Yugoslavia.

Slovenia joined the EU in 2004 and Croatia hopes to become the EU’s 28th member by 2011, but that timetable might now be under threat.

The EU’s executive body, the European Commission, has been trying to broker an accord, and proposed in April to set up a tribunal to arbitrate, but little headway has been made, with talks last Thursday breaking up in acrimony.

“Despite substantial efforts to facilitate a solution to the country’s border dispute with Slovenia, Croatia’s accession talks remain blocked and no new chapters can be formally opened or closed,” the statement said.

“The (EU) presidency deeply regrets the fact that despite numerous attempts by the presidency and the European Commission to help find a way forward the negotiations have not progressed,” it said.

Slovenia has viewed EU mediation as a way to resolve the row, but Croatia considers it simply a stepping stone to a resolution before the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

A key point for Slovenia is securing free access to international shipping waters by getting a corridor that would cross Piran Bay, which is currently controlled by Croatia.

On Monday, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, whose country takes over the EU presidency on July 1, called for “a period of reflection in both countries”, and said Sweden would not propose any initiatives until the sides were ready.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


Kosovo Ex-Prime Minister Arrested in Bulgaria

SOFIA, Bulgaria — Bulgarian authorities have detained a former Kosovo prime minister on an international arrest warrant issued by Interpol, and Serbia sought his extradition on Wednesday.

Agim Ceku, the prime minister of Kosovo between 2006 and 2008, was taken into custody at Serbia’s request at the Gyueshevo border checkpoint while entering Bulgaria from Macedonia late Tuesday, police said.

Ceku, 48, is wanted for war crimes allegedly committed during the 1998-1999 fighting in Kosovo, when he was military chief of the chief of the Kosovo Liberation Army, made up of ethnic Albanian guerrillas.

Ceku’s arrest comes despite repeated requests from U.N. officials in Pristina that the Belgrade-issued arrest warrant be disregarded.

Serbian Justice Minister Snezana Malovic said Wednesday that Serbia has filed an extradition request for Ceku with the Bulgarian authorities. She said she hopes Bulgaria will hand over Ceku as soon as possible based on a 1960 legal agreement between Belgrade and Sofia.

Bulgarian Prosecutor General Boris Velchev said his office will decide within the next three days whether to petition for the extradition or the release of Ceku before the district court in the western city of Kyustendil, where he was being held in custody.

Ceku was traveling to Bulgaria at the invitation of the Atlantic Club, a non-governmental organization, to lobby for NATO membership, former Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi told reporters.

“I am in constant contact and we exchange regular visits with Agim Ceku,” said Pasi, who is honorary president of the club. He added that the international warrant for Ceku’s arrest was “politically outdated, reflecting realities from a decade ago.”

In Pristina, Kosovo authorities said they were trying to negotiate Ceku’s release.

“We are in contact with Bulgaria’s Foreign Ministry officials as well as representatives here to arrange for Ceku’s swift release and we are hopeful that will be soon,” Albana Beqiri, the spokesperson for Kosovo’s Foreign Ministry told The Associated Press.

The Interpol warrant was suspended when Ceku gained immunity after being named prime minister in 2006, but was renewed by Serbia after Ceku took part in a conference on the demobilization of guerrilla movements in Colombia earlier this year.

Before that he was held overnight in prisons in Slovenia in 2003 and Hungary in 2004 after his name appeared on lists of wanted persons.

Kosovo proclaimed independence last year and was recognized by the United States and most European Union nations — including Bulgaria.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

North Africa

Fear of Massacre Grips Christian Village in Egypt; Crops Destroyed

By Mary Abdelmassih

AINA) — Fears of an impending massacre has gripped the Christian Copts in the village of Ezbet Boshra, El Fashn, which was scene to Muslim mob attacks on Copts on Sunday (AINA 6-22-2009).

Egyptian State Security has placed only Coptic villagers under curfew since the Muslim assaults on Sunday. According to correspondent Mary Bassit of Copts United, The terrified villagers fear that being confined to their homes, while Muslims are free, might encourage Muslim fanatics to massacre them, especially with the bias of the security forces.

Lawyer Makkar Watany, who was detained with the 19 other Copts after Sunday’s events, told Coptic News Bulletin on 6/23/09 that they were mistreated during police detention, with several Copts suffering broken limbs and wounds. “I was singled out as the police knew that I am a Coptic activist and have connections with the NGOs in Cairo. I was beaten by a junior office, in spite of being a lawyer.” he said. “The other Coptic detainees told the police that they ‘are ready to die as they have nothing more to lose.’“

Watany also expressed his fear of a massacre saying that the village presently finds itself in an uncanny situation. “There are approximately 1500 security policemen in a small village with 500 inhabitants, among which there are only 200 poor Coptic villagers. I refrain from even looking out of the window for fear of getting shot.”

Human rights organizations and the media are prevented by security to enter Ezbet Boshra village; telephone and Internet lines are disconnected; cell phones are working sporadically.

On the popular El Mehwar’ TV, the Governor of Beni Suef, Dr. Ezzat Abdulla bluntly said that “Christians need a permit before being allowed to pray to avoid friction.” He stated in the interview that he is ready to give them (the Copts) another place far away to use for prayer. “The problem is that it starts with a place, then it is turned into a church; we have a role in the selection of a praying place which will not cause friction,” he said. It is worth noting that the disputed Coptic Diocese building is near a mosque. The interviewer, Motaz El Demerdash, asked the Governor why Copts have to request permission to pray while Muslims do not; the governor did not answer. Mr. Demerdash commented that the only way to stop this escalating sectarian tension is by the enactment of a unified law for building places of worship.

Less than 24 hours after the Governor’s TV interview, the director of the local council, overturned the aired Governor’s promise of finding the Copts a nearby suitable praying place, not further than 800 meters from the previous one. He declared that there is no place available and that the Copts will have to pray in the nearby village’s church. Watany said “This is completely unacceptable; it will have to be over our dead bodies.” According to a previous interview with the village priest, Reverend Isaac Castor “the neighboring village’s church is 3 miles away and extremely small, hardly accommodating its own congregation. We cannot pray in the street.”

“What is heartbreaking is that the moment the local council director statement was announced, all Muslims were ecstatic and went out in the streets, dancing and chanting ‘Come to Jihad’ and the ‘Cross is the enemy of God,” said Watany who lives in the village, “with the security forces chanting along with them! The terrified Copts are confined to their homes, while Muslims are celebrating outside,” he said.

Watany went on to say “After the sit-in of Bishop Estephanos of Beba El Fashn Diocese, clergy, NGOs and youth in St. Mary’s Cathedral in El-Fashn on 6/22/09, a compromise was reached, between Bishop Estephanos and the State Security in Beni Suef, according to which, the 19 detained Copts would be released on condition of giving up praying in the disputed Church building, and Copts can find another faraway place instead to pray in. Banking on this agreement, we found a house belonging to a Coptic woman, and we acquired another nearby home, totaling 200 sq. meters. It was agreed with Bishop Estephanos during his meeting in Beni Suef that he would contact the State Security to arrange for the start of the conversion of the place we found. But now with the statement of the Director of the local council, nothing will materialize.”

Although the prosecution dropped its charges against the village priest, Reverend Isaac Castor, he has been confined to his home with his toddlers and ten young children since Sunday, without any telephone or outside communication.

Free Copts reported that crops belonging to Copts were destroyed by the security on three consecutive days. “The crops used to be destroyed at night, now with the presence of the security forces, it is done in broad daylight,” said Watany to Coptic news.

Today ‘Sunshine’ Organization of Human Rights said that State Security soldiers still continue with their assaults and intimidations against the Copts of Ezbet Boshra village, and that security destroyed on Tuesday 06/23/09 crops owned by Copts who are still under curfew. When asked by a Copt why they were doing this, one member of the security forces, said “We just feel like it, and we will take you one house at a time,” according to Sunshine, which has been following the situation since its development. A complete file on the incidents with interviews accusing the State Security of complicity has been published by Copts United.

The Egyptian Union Human Rights Organization EUHRO issued today a press release demanding the intervention of the Minister of Interior, accuses him of failing to protect the Copts and their property. The Press Release went on to say that the Egyptian Government assumes full responsibility for the recent events by failing to enact the long overdue unified law for building places of worship and the present inequality between Muslims and Copts in the provision of places of worship. Dr. Naguib Gobraeel, President of EUHRO asked: If this is not Coptic persecution then what is?”

[Return to headlines]


Muslim Imams Say Burka Not Obligatory in Islam

Tantawi says French president is free to ban burka

Days after President Nicolas Sarkozy slammed the burka, or face veil, as “not welcome” in France, Islamic scholars said the burka was not obligatory in Islam and said every state had a right to ban the face veil.

The burka debate has been raging for a while in Europe with countries like the Netherlands banning it in universities and the British press reporting that Muslims and non-Muslims alike are calling for a ban on the face covering attire.

As for the Islamic reaction Egypt’s Grand Imam, Sheikh Mohammad Tantawi, said the face veil was not compulsory in Islam and said every head of state had the right to accept or prohibit it.

“I have nothing to do with the French president’s decision. Every country has its own rules,” Tantawi who heads al-Azhar University, the world’s leading Sunni Islam institution, told Al Arabiya.

Tantawi added that women who wear the burka have to abide by the rules of the country they live in, especially because it is not an obligation in Islam.

“The traditional headscarf [hijab] is what is obligatory. This means covering the entire body except the face and hands and wearing clothes that are neither tight nor transparent,” he said.

In a parliament session, Sarkozy supported French lawmakers’ request that an inquiry be held to determine if the face veil undermines French secularism or women rights.

“We cannot accept to have in our country women who are prisoners behind netting, cut off from all social life, deprived of identity,” he said. “That is not the idea that the French republic has of women’s dignity.”

However, Sarkozy made it clear that Islam, like other religions, was respected in France, home to the biggest Muslim community in Europe.

Headscarf is enough

Meanwhile Egypt’s deputy minister of Religious Endowments for Preaching agreed with Tantawi’s statements that the niqab was not obligatory and said a Muslim woman is only required to wear the headscarf.

Deputy Minister of Religious Endowments for Preaching, agreed with Tantawi’s statements. Abdel-Galil was assigned by Minister of Religious Endowments Mahmoud Hamqi Zaqzouq to give lectures to explain to the ministry’s face-veiled female employees that niqab is not an obligation in Islam and that the head scarf is enough.

“A woman’s outfit is personal freedom and no country has the right to interfere with it,” Dr. Salem Abdel-Galil told AlArabiya. “However, if a woman who wears the face veil is asked to take it off to, for example, have her identity verified, she has to do so.”

“ Sarkozy’s decision is in harmony with the secularism of the French republic “

Imam of the Paris Grand Mosque

Abdel-Galil said he believed Sarkozy had taken such a tough stance on the burka because of an incident where a woman refused to remove her face veil while giving a testimony in a French court.

“Sarkozy’s decision is in harmony with the secularism of the French republic,” Dalil Boubakeur, Imam of the Paris Grand Mosque, told Al Arabiya.

In contrast, Ahmed Gaballah, head of the European Institute of Human Sciences and member of European Council for Fatwa and Research, expressed his surprise at the timing of the decision.

“I believe this is a way of distracting people from the internal problems the society is suffering from,” he told Al Arabiya. “The number of face-veiled women in France is very minimal and cannot by any means be considered a phenomenon.”

Gaballah added that Sarkozy’s statements would have made more sense had they been founded on legal rather than religious basis.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]


Terrorism: Algeria; 5 Policemen Killed in Ambush

(ANSAmed) — ALGIERS, JUNE 23 — Five local policemen were killed yesterday in Algeria in an attack carried out by an armed Islamic group in the Khenchela region, 450 km south-east of Algiers. The news, carried today by the Algerian press, has not yet been confirmed by the authorities. Other sources say that a sixth policeman has been kidnapped. A few days ago 18 policemen and a civilian were killed in an attack in the Bordj Bou Arreridj region, 230 km south-east of the capital. Al-Qaeda for the Islamic Maghreb (the former Salafite Group for Preaching and Combat) has claimed responsibility for the attack. The terrorist organization continues to hit the north of Algeria, as well as the Sahara area along the border with Mali and Niger. Early in June, the north African wing of Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for the killing of a British hostage who was kidnapped in January in the north of Mali. A Swiss tourist, Werner Greiner, is still being held prisoner in the region. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

Bajnai Visits Israel, Calls it “One of Hungary’s Closest Friends” in Region

Hungary’s Prime Minister Gordon Bajnai started a two-day official visit to Israel on Tuesday, marking the 20th anniversary of re-establishing diplomatic ties between the two countries.

Bajnai met Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and discussed with him topical issues including the global crisis and further possibilities for bilateral cooperation, the Hungarian government spokesman told MTI. The talks also touched upon the Hungarian radical nationalist Jobbik party, Domokos Szollar said, adding that Bajnai had distanced himself — and the government — from the ideology of that party. Jobbik has raised questions but the answers it provides are “unacceptable, extremist, aggressive and anti-democratic,” Szollar quoted Bajnai as saying.

Israel is “one of Hungary’s closest friends” in the region, Bajnai said at a meeting with President Shimon Peres. Hungary watches the situation in Iran with concern, Bajnai added.

The prime minister visited the Yad Vashem museum and commemorated the Hungarian Jewish victims of the Holocaust.

“We should learn from the past so that it should never repeat itself. The Hungarian government is highly committed to this,” he said.

He noted that the government was supporting the idea of enacting a law on banning Holocaust denial and sought to join force with all democratic parties to quarantine extremist views.

On Wednesday, Bajnai will visit Ramallah to meet leaders of the Palestinian Authority.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


Shalit: Israel to Release Hamas Leader in West Bank

(ANSAmed) — JERUSALEM, JUNE 23 — According to Radio Jerusalem, Abdel Aziz Dweik, the president of the Palestinian Legislative Council in Ramallah and one of Hamas’s political leaders in the West Bank, will be released today. The radio report specified that Dweik will leave the prison of Hadarim (north of Tel Aviv) in the coming hours to return to his home city of Hebron in the West Bank. Dweik was arrested in August 2006, together with dozens of Palestinian MPs, suspected of “supporting terrorism”. In the weeks prior to Dweik’s arrest, the armed wing of Hamas had claimed responsibility for the kidnap of Israeli soldier Ghilad Shalit, who is still being held prisoner in Gaza. Radio Jerusalem added that Dweik’s release could be a move to relieve tensions with Hamas, in the hope that it will contribute to an exchange of prisoners in which Shalit will also be freed. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Middle East

67 Men Charged for Dressing as Women in Saudi Arabia

US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on Saudi authorities on Wednesday to drop charges against 67 Filipino men facing charges for dressing in women’s clothes and alcohol violations.

“If the police in Saudi Arabia can arrest people simply because they don’t like their clothes, no one is safe,” Rasha Moumneh, a researcher for the rights group, said in a statement.

The 67 Filipinos along with a Yemeni were arrested at a private party and drag show in a resort villa near Riyadh on June 13.

According to Philippines embassy vice consul Roussel Reyes, the men face possible lashes and jail time for both cross-dressing charges and violating Saudi Arabia’s strict ban on alcohol.

HRW criticised Saudi Arabia’s Islamic sharia-based legal system as uncodified and undefined, with laws arising from clerics’ interpretations of the Koran and other Islamic texts.

“No written and accessible legal standards exist that criminalise the wearing of women’s clothing by men,” HRW said.

“Nevertheless, Saudi judges have in the past imposed sentences ranging from imprisonment to flogging on men accused of behaving like women.”

The men were all released to their employers following the arrests while formal charges are drawn up.

Some one million Filipinos work in Saudi Arabia.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


Bars Boom as Iraqis Dance the Night Away

Sectarian tension disappears as the alcohol flows

There may be sectarian tension on the streets of Iraq but in the country’s newly reopened nightclubs the tension dies as people gather to drink and dance the night away and mend ties with shout outs to different ethnic groups.

For one of Baghdad’s elegant bars the fun kicks off at midnight when Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish youth flock to a night of fun, which until recently was banned by Saddam Hussein’s government.

Club-goer, Sayyed Ali, moves between the tables to reach the stage where he throws money at the singer before he whispers something in her ear, the woman responds by shouting out a salute from the people of Nasiriyah to the people of Anbar.

Another person stands up and hails the Awakening Council, a coalition of tribes that maintain security in different parts of Iraq. As a third man salutes the people of the south, it becomes clear that this is the place where sectarian tension comes to die.

A favorite pastime

For the females dotted around the bar venturing out after midnight is in itself unusual but now they dance and freely mingle without a worry in the world.

“Senior police and army officers protect night clubs that were previously shut down under pressure from Islamists,” one of the females clubbers said. “Looks like the sons of the new officials are not different from their predecessors in the way like to spend their nights in Baghdad.”

Under Hussein’s government all bars and nightclubs were shut down as part of what was called the “Faith Campaign,” said the bar owner, who also used to run a similar one in the 1980s.

“Our customers have always been sons of officers and officials,” he said. “We give them a special welcome since they guarantee the safety of our investments as well as the rest of our customers.”

He added that the sons of officers and officials, together with Hussein’s son Odai, were also the first to violate the Faith Campaign in the 1990s.

“However, officials feared for their sons and had to give in to pressure. Many of those sons settled later in neighboring countries in search of night life.”

US funding

The bar owner vehemently denied that the United States gave him the funds that put him back in business and stressed that businessmen only need security to be encouraged to invest in bars and night clubs because everyone knows Iraqis like night life.

There are some, however, who are unhappy with the booming Baghdad night life as hardliners, preachers and Islamist MPs call for a ban on the import and sale of alcohol and seek to shut down all bars and clubs.

But for now clubbers are allowed to go about their business. “If a cop meets one of them and asks him where he’s coming from, the customer replies, ‘I was at a night club’ the cop would then smile and say ‘hope you had a good time,’“ Sayyed Ali said.

The frequent club-goer dismissed Islamists’ attempts to shut down the country’s hot spots.

“No one can turn back time. Extremism and sectarianism are fading away.”

“We are all brothers”

A 17-year-old boy surrounded by girls gives money to the singer and asks her to send a shout out to the students of Baghdad University.

“He is the son of a senior official,” said the club owner. “But he is not a trouble maker. Those girls are university students who come with him every now and then.”

The club regularly features famous young singers from Syria, the U.A.E and Jordan. They have all come to welcome the return of Baghdad nights, the owner said.

As dawn approached, signaling the end of another night of clubbing, everyone was on the dance floor. Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds all held hands and started dancing the Iraqi Dabka, a traditional Arab dance.

“Here is national unity. We are all brothers,” shouted one of them.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]


David Yerushalmi: Sovereign Immunity or Cover-Up?

Full disclosure: I have a pony in this race. I am an American and, as an attorney, I am an officer of the court. I make this disclosure in the light of an amicus curiae brief recently filed with the U.S. Supreme Court by the Obama-Holder Department of Justice. The brief pertains to the mammoth case that came to the Supreme Court via the Second Circuit Court of Appeals (New York) called In re Terrorist Attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. The Supreme Court is currently pondering whether the case merits its review.

In its friend-of-the-court brief, the Justice Department has argued, almost unimaginably, that the Supreme Court should not review the Second Circuit’s ruling that the victims of 9/11 and their families may not sue the Saudi government or, more importantly, the individual Saudi princes who personally (not as government actors) gave money to Muslim charities they knew would be funding al-Qaeda’s jihad against America…

           — Hat tip: CSP[Return to headlines]


Iran May Downgrade Ties With Britain

TEHRAN (AFP) — Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said on Wednesday that Iran may downgrade ties with Britain, accusing London of meddling in the post-election tumult gripping the Islamic republic.

“We are examining it,” he was quoted by the ISNA news agency as saying, in the wake of repeated charges by Tehran that Britain and the United States are trying to destabilise the Islamic republic.

His announcment came a day after Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced the expulsion of two Iranian diplomats in a tit-for-tat move after Tehran ordered two British diplomats to leave.

Downing Street said Britain wants “constructive” ties with Iran but renewed criticism of Tehran’s response to the hotly disputed re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

“We have always been clear that we seek a constructive bilateral relationship with Iran based on mutual respect,” a spokesman said after Mottaki’s comments.

“Iran’s decision to try to turn what are clearly internal matters for Iran into a conflict with the UK and others is deeply regrettable and without foundation.”

Intelligence Minister Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei said on Wednesday that some people with British passports “had a role in the riots”

Mohseni-Ejei was quoted by the Fars news agency as saying members of “known counter-revolutionary groups” who entered the country in the run-up to the vote had been arrested.

“One of the detainees collected information needed by the enemies under the guise of a reporter,” he said. “Britain was one of the countries which fuelled the situation by strong propaganda and some undiplomatic measures..”

The Foreign Office has criticised Tehran for trying to “blame the UK and other outsiders for what is an Iranian reaction to an Iranian issue.”

Britain is not the only target blamed by Iranian leaders for the unrest that has engulfed the country since the June 12 election, with Interior Minister Sadeq Mahsouli saying on Wednesday that rioters were funded by the CIA and exiled opposition group the People’s Mujahedeen of Iran.

Many other countries have also expressed concern about the crackdown on protesters and UN urged “an immediate stop to the arrests, threats and use of force.”

But Britain has been in the spotlight in Iran since last Friday, when supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei denounced it as the “most evil” of enemies.

Earlier this week, Iran ordered the BBC’s permanent correspondent in Tehran to leave the country, accusing him of supporting the rioters.

It alleged the British broadcaster as well as Voice of America were Israeli agents whose aim was to to “weaken the national solidarity, threaten territoral integrity and disintegrate Iran.”

These are the latest snags in decades of often prickly relations that have their roots in 19th century British imperialism.

The standoff is the most serious between the countries since Iran seized 15 British navy personnel at gunpoint and paraded them in front of TV cameras in 2007 before eventually releasing them.

The roots of the mutual distrust date back to the 1800s when Iran — then known as Persia — was trapped in the colonial rivalry between Russia and Britain.

In 1953, nationalist prime minister Mohammad Mossadegh was overthrown in a CIA-organised coup after he nationalised the Anglo-Iranian oil company, the forerunner to British Petroleum.

Diplomatic relations were severed when the British mission in Tehran was closed in 1980 after British special forces stormed the Iranian embassy in London to end a hostage siege.

A 1989 fatwa by Khomeini against British writer Salman Rushdie sparked a new rupture in ties that were only restored in 1999.

Britain is also among the strongest opponents of Iran’s nuclear programme, which London and Washington insist is aimed at developing atomic weapons, a claim rejected by Tehran.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


Netanyahu: Iranian Regime Oppresses Its People

(AGI) — Rome, 23 Jun. — “The Iranian regime oppresses is own people. I am not formulating any hypotheses regarding Obama’s position on the matter. In these days we are seeing the true nature of the regime. I am certain that Washington is taking a second look at the current situation”. The quote is from Israeli Premier, Benjamin Netanyahu, referring to Iran and US/Iran relations. Netanyahu added: “Forces that threaten peace must be dealt with: for example, the violent and aggressive attitude displayed by Iran”. The Israeli premier linked Iran with Hezbollah and Hamas. Referring to the Iranian demonstrations, Netanyahu added: “The Iranian peoples’ courage in their search for liberty is something that deserves notice from free men”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Turkey: Court Verdict on Church Land Expected

ANKARA -A Midyat court will deliver its verdict today about a land dispute between a 1,600-year-old monastery and locals of a southeastern Anatolian town home to around 3,000 Syriacs.

The ruling is expected to be the final phase of a long-running court process. Yilmaz Kerimo, a Swedish deputy of Syriac origin who has attended the hearings as an observer, hoped that the court would recognize Mor Gabriel monastery’s boundaries.

“The monastery is not a property for sale and branding Syriacs as invaders is a disgrace for Turkey,” Kerimo told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review.

Local officials of three nearby villages who contest the borders of the monastery argue that the monastery is bigger than any place of worship in the world. Concerned by the redrawn borders following land surveying proceedings in the area, officials from the monastery foundation appealed to the court, and said they were not occupiers, as they had paid tax on the land since 1938.

The court case is being closely followed by the European Union, which is urging the government to provide its ethnic and religious groups with equal rights and freedoms. European politicians occasionally attended the hearings throughout the year and visited Mor Gabriel monastery.

“Such cases are tarnishing Turkey’s image in Europe. I hope the court will deliver a fair verdict and the Syriacs, together with Arabs, Kurds and Circassians, will live peacefully and side-by-side,” said Kerimo.

Syrians are not officially recognized as a minority in Turkey under the Lausanne Treaty. Midyat’s deputy mayor, Metin Kutlu, said the dispute was politically charged, claiming that the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, was siding with locals, while the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party, or DTP, was supporting the Syriac thesis.

“There is no gold, silver or oil in the area but lots of oak trees which the villagers want to utilize,” he told the Daily News. “I believe the case will be concluded in favor of the Syriacs, who are the owners of the land,” he said. AKP Mardin deputy Süleyman Çelebi said: “We are the justified owners of the monastery and the Syriacs are under the protection of the Republic.”

Çelebi was accused of supporting the villagers’ cause and the statements he made about Syriac migration to Europe sparked controversy. He once claimed Syriacs moved to Europe in the 1980s under their own will, while the Syriacs claimed the court cases aimed to drive them out from Turkey.

The AKP deputy denied the claims he was defending the villagers’ rights. “They don’t consult with me. Nothing is like it used to be. Villagers are aware of their own rights,” he said. Speaking about the Europeans’ attention to this case, Çelebi, in a critical tone, said: “Which liberties have we ever constrained? They are enjoying equal rights.” He declined to comment on the court verdict, saying that all would respect the decision.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


US Says Hot Dog Diplomacy Still on With Iran

The United States said Monday its invitations were still standing for Iranian diplomats to attend July 4 celebrations at US embassies despite the crackdown on opposition supporters.

President Barack Obama’s administration said earlier this month it would invite Iran to US embassy barbecues for the national holiday for the first time since the two nations severed relations following the 1979 Islamic revolution.

“There’s no thought to rescinding the invitations to Iranian diplomats,” State Department spokesman Ian Kelly told reporters.

“We have made a strategic decision to engage on a number of fronts with Iran,” Kelly said. “We tried many years of isolation, and we’re pursuing a different path now.”

But he said it was not clear if Iranian diplomats had accepted the invitations.

           — Hat tip: Brutally Honest[Return to headlines]


US to Send Ambassador to Damascus

Washington has confirmed it is to send an ambassador to Damascus, ending a four-year diplomatic absence in Syria.

The apparent move is being seen as part of President Barack Obama’s attempts to increase engagement with the region.

The US Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, recently visited Syria and said Damascus had an “integral role” in finding peace in the region.

The US envoy in Syria was withdrawn in 2005, following after the assassination of Lebanon’s former PM Rafiq Hariri.

There is widespread suspicion inside and outside Lebanon that Syria was involved in Mr Hariri’s death, but Damascus strongly denies this.

High-level talks

A US official told the BBC that “a decision in principle had been taken” to send a US ambassador to Damascus, but added that the process would take time.

Any ambassador would have to be confirmed by the Senate, and no names have been discussed yet, the BBC’s Kim Ghattas in Washington says.

Mitchell: “Syria has an integral role to play”

Washington said it had already informed Syria of its move.

State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said the decision reflected Syria’s important role in the region, adding that Washington hoped it would be a constructive one.

Another state department official said the decision was in line with President Obama’s decision to engage diplomatically to resolve a number of issues of concern to the US.

Peace with Israel, Syria’s support for militant groups like Hezbollah and Hamas, as well the influx of foreign fighters from Syria into Iraq are all on the agenda, our correspondent says.

Four delegations of high-level US officials visited Damascus over the last few months, including a military delegation.

As the US starts its draw down of troops from Iraq, it is trying to ensure the situation there does not unravel, our correspondent adds.

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

Russia

Kyrgyzstan Agreed U.S. Base Deal With Russia — Source

CAIRO (Reuters) — A Kyrgyzstan deal with the United States to keep open a U.S. air base in Central Asia was agreed with Russia, a Kremlin source said on Thursday, but a newspaper report said Moscow had been thrown off balance by the move.

The United States has agreed to pay $180 million to Kyrgyzstan to keep open the last remaining U.S. air base in Central Asia, a key refueling point for U.S. aircraft in NATO operations against Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan.

Washington had been haggling to keep the base open since February, when the former Soviet republic announced its closure after securing pledges of $2 billion in aid and credit from Russia.

When asked about the deal, a Kremlin official accompanying Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in Egypt told Reuters that Kyrgyzstan had agreed its decision with Moscow.

“Kyrgyzstan agreed its decision (on the base) with Russia,” the source said. “We support all steps aimed at stabilizing the situation in Afghanistan.”

But Russia’s Kommersant newspaper quoted an unidentified Russian diplomat as saying that Moscow felt it had been tricked by Kyrgyzstan over the base and that Russia would make an “adequate response” to the deal.

“The news about keeping the base was a very unpleasant surprise for us — we did not expect such a trick,” the diplomat was quoted as saying by Kommersant.

“The real character of the U.S. military presence in Central Asia has not changed, which goes against Russian interests and our agreement with the Kyrgyz leadership,” the Russian diplomat was quoted as saying.

Kyrgyzstan’s ruling party said on Wednesday it had approved the agreement with the United States to keep the Manas air base open.

“Kyrgyzstan can not step aside from fighting terrorism,” said Kabai Karabekov, a member of Ak Zhol party led by President Kurmanbek Bakiyev. Karabekov said the deal would probably be approved by parliament on Thursday.

The surprise decision to close the base — announced by Bakiyev in Moscow alongside Kremlin chief Medvedev — provoked speculation that Russia was trying to use the issue as a bargaining chip in U.S. relations.

The Kremlin says it is ready for cooperation with Washington on fighting the Taliban and Afghanistan is likely to be on the agenda when U.S. President Barack Obama visits Moscow in July.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


Russia Defends Idea of New Security Plan for Europe

VIENNA (Reuters) — Russia on Tuesday defended its proposal for a new security structure in Europe and said it was not aimed at undercutting the U.S.-led NATO alliance, but rather at banishing division on the continent.

The United States and NATO reacted coolly last year to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s call for a new “security architecture” in Europe, arguing that Cold War-era institutions like NATO cannot defuse tensions in a multipolar world.

Many NATO allies appear willing to discuss the proposal but say it cannot work unless Russia gives up what they regard as an old “sphere of influence” approach to security.

“We’re not attempting to undermine NATO or any other organization active in the security field,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told a conference at the Vienna-based Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

“Quite the contrary, we are in favor of coordination and synergies between existing international structures to ensure that no single government (or) organization in the Euro-Atlantic area work against each other,” he said through a translator.

“We’re not attempting to force anything on anyone. We’re only inviting you to negotiations and talks.”

OSCE foreign ministers will meet on Corfu, a Greek island, this weekend to weigh this and other European security issues.

NATO EXPANSION CRITICISED

Lavrov said the OSCE should be given greater powers to deal with security problems and criticized Western powers for expanding NATO instead.

Some Western diplomats say Russia is partly responsible for hampering the consensus-based OSCE, whose permanent council comprises 56 countries.

Russia has been hostile to OSCE election monitoring and refused to renew the group’s observer mission in Georgia after recognizing as independent states the pro-Russian separatist regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Lavrov told a news conference that some countries had taken an “absolutely unfair” position by saying Russia must withdraw the recognition before further talks on the security proposal.

He said Medvedev mooted the treaty idea in June last year, two months before the brief war in which Russian forces repelled a Georgian attempt to wrest back South Ossetia.

Lavrov said the issue was the main stumbling block for progress on the security treaty talks.

Russia’s actions in the region, he said, were to protect citizens and were compatible with Medvedev’s proposal, which Moscow says would ensure the security interests of one country do not jeopardize those of others.

The OSCE, Europe’s biggest security and human rights group, is struggling to strike a deal with Moscow to maintain its broader Georgian monitoring mission, whose original mandate expired at the end of 2008.

A follow-up mandate which allowed for just 20 military observers is due to expire on June 30.

(Editing by Jon Boyle)

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


U.S., EU Reject Russian Accusations Over WTO Bid

PARIS (Reuters) — The United States and the European Union rejected on Wednesday Russian accusations that Washington and Brussels were to blame for the collapse of Moscow’s unilateral bid to join the World Trade Organization.

“Let’s be clear on this — this is a Russia-created crisis and one they have to resolve,” U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk told Reuters.

Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov said in an interview on Tuesday that the EU and the United States were responsible for Moscow’s decision to ditch unilateral talks for a joint WTO bid with Kazakhstan and Belarus.

“We reject this claim. We have been facilitating this process. We have been helpful and very supportive of Russia’s bid,” Lutz Guellner, spokesman for EU Trade Commissioner Catherine Ashton, said.

Russia, the biggest economy outside the 153-member global trade watchdog, is now negotiating entry with its former Soviet neighbors as part of a proposed new customs union.

The move, announced by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, came just days after Russian officials had held talks with U.S. and EU trade representatives. It has left the WTO secretariat in confusion.

“This is as creative a response from Russia as the one they gave after what were very constructive and positive talks in St. Petersburg,” Kirk said, referring to Shuvalov’s Tuesday comments and Russia’s changed bid for WTO entry.

“We thought we had taken positive steps and made progress,” he said.

BILATERAL TALKS

Kirk and Ashton will hold bilateral talks with Russian Economy Minister Elvira Nabiullina on the sidelines of an OECD meeting on Thursday in Paris.

“We were surprised by Russia’s new approach … we still need to better understand what this means for Russia’s WTO accession process and what exactly Russia’s intentions are,” Guellner said.

“Commissioner Ashton will be seeking detailed clarification at her meeting in Paris.”

Russia has been negotiating to join the WTO for 16 years but Moscow says the United States and European Union have made unreasonable demands for entry.

Shuvalov said the leaders of Belarus and Kazakhstan were more active in pursuing the customs union with Russia than WTO negotiating partners had been in pursuing Russia’s accession to the trade body.

Moscow’s accession stalled after Washington put the issue on ice over its opposition to Russia’s war with Georgia in 2008.

A trade spat between Moscow and Washington over a Russian ban on some U.S. meat imports, on health concerns related to the recent outbreak of the H1N1 virus — otherwise known as swine flu — has also hampered Russia’s WTO bid.

Moves by Moscow to place duties on imports of timber and cars from the EU, and threats of further tariffs on other goods ranging from shoes to furniture, have also hurt the WTO talks.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Caucasus

6 Killed, 5 Wounded in Russia’s North Caucasus

MAGAS, Russia — Roadside bombs and gunfire killed six people and wounded five in Russia’s North Caucasus region, officials said Wednesday, as a provincial leader remained in critical condition from an earlier suicide attack.

The president of the province of Ingushetia, Yunus Bek Yevkurov, has been kept on an artificial respirator in a Moscow clinic since he was wounded in a suicide bombing Monday, but his life was not in immediate danger, said his spokesman, Kaloi Akhilgov.

Chechnya and Ingushetia share a border in Russia’s volatile North Caucasus region, where a separatist Islamic insurgency mounts daily attacks on police and other officials — an aftermath of two separatist wars in Chechnya over the last 15 years.

Chechnya’s branch of the Russian Interior Ministry said a roadside bomb destroyed a car late Tuesday and killed two civilians it was carrying. Early Wednesday, five police were wounded by a bomb hidden amid roadside garbage, it said.

In Ingushetia, a police officer was shot dead Wednesday by unidentified assailants in a drive-by shooting, local prosecutor’s office said. In a separate clash later, several gunmen riding in a vehicle opened fire at police who tried to check their identity papers. Police killed all three militants, the regional Interior Ministry’s branch said.

Officials have blamed Islamic militants for the attack on Yevkurov, but no arrests have been made. Ingushetia’s acting leader on Wednesday announced a 5-million ruble (about $160,000 or euro114,000) reward to those who would provide information to help capture those who staged the attack on Yevkurov.

Yevkurov was seen as uncompromising on the militant insurgency and corruption that have plagued Ingushetia and other provinces in North Caucasus region, and his hospitalization raised questions about who will keep up the pressure on insurgents and criminal elements.

Immediately after Monday’s attack on Yevkurov, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev summoned Chechnya’s regional president, Ramzan Kadyrov, and urged “a direct and tough response.”

Kadyrov on Wednesday met with the temporary leader of Ingushetia and pledged that insurgent leaders would be “destroyed in the near future.” “We have all the means and necessary operative information for this,” Kadyrov said.

Some analysts say Kadyrov favors a merger of Chechnya and Ingushetia, which were part of one province during the Soviet era. Chechen and Ingush are one and the same ethnicity.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


Chechen President Vows to Fight Ingushetia Rebels

MOSCOW (Reuters) — Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov said he had been ordered by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to fight insurgents in the neighboring region of Ingushetia after its leader was gravely wounded in a bomb attack.

Kadyrov’s harsh tactics have brought relative stability to Chechnya since he was elected in 2007 after more than a decade of war. But fellow Kremlin appointees have failed to stem spikes in violence in neighboring Dagestan and Ingushetia.

With Ingush President Yunus-Bek Yevkurov fighting for his life in hospital, Kadyrov said he had been ordered by Medvedev to run cross-border operations.

“He told me to intensify actions … including in Ingushetia,” Kadyrov said in an interview with Reuters. “I will personally control the operations … and I am sure in the near future there will be good results.”

Yevkurov was appointed in October to replace Murat Zyazikov, who was accused of fanning the insurgency with heavy-handed measures. But the situation has deteriorated, with a series of high-profile attacks over the past three weeks.

Yevkurov was badly wounded on Monday when a suicide bomber by the roadside destroyed his armored Mercedes car. Russia’s Vesti-24 channel said investigators believed it was a female suicide bomber whose name had been established.

Medvedev visited Moscow’s Vishnevsky Institute of Surgery where Yevkurov, 45, was being treated late on Monday.

“He has received serious injuries and as a result, a whole host of organs are damaged, above all the skull. The rib cage and liver are also damaged,” Vladimir Fyodorov, the institute’s director, told Medvedev. “His condition remains grave … he is on artificial respiration.”

‘THERE WILL BE BLOOD’

Analysts say Kadyrov’s past as a rebel has helped him. But human rights groups say he has achieved relative calm by pushing violence underground, kidnapping and torturing suspected rebels and burning the houses of their families.

“If they used torture and detentions (in Ingushetia) there wouldn’t be any Wahhabism, terrorism,” Kadyrov told Reuters. “It is the lack of action of certain leaders,” that is to blame.

He said cross-border operations with Yevkurov had achieved considerable success, killing over 30 rebels in recent months.

Accompanied by an entourage of 20 in the lobby of Moscow’s President Hotel, Kadyrov rejected the criticism of his heavy-handed tactics as naive.

The rebels “don’t have any humanity,” he said. “We will take no captives, we will destroy them. As long as they exist there will be blood.”

Kadyrov, whose father was killed in a rebel bomb attack in 2004, said he had no sympathy for families of rebels who refuse to give up their relatives.

“We are sick of protecting them … They are accessories in Wahhabism, terrorism,” he said, tapping the table with his fist.

Kadyrov accused Western rights groups of caring more about the fate of terrorists than the innocent people of Chechnya.

“When they kill me, when they kill my father, when they kill thousands of my people, everyone stays quiet, but if a ‘devil’ is beaten while being detained, straight away there is an outcry.”

Analysts have linked the growing unrest in the North Caucasus with a fall in resources from the Kremlin to buy off local leaders, and have suggested Chechnya’s recent stability could be threatened by a cut in hand-outs from Moscow.

“Nothing has changed,” Kadyrov said. “On the contrary, we have strengthened our position in 2009, the federal center is helping us more.”

Kadyrov also rejected accusations he had created a cult of personality in Chechnya, where almost every street is decorated by vast posters of Kadyrov and his father.

“Kadyrov has created constitutional order and straight away they start talking about a cult of personality,” he said.

“I am a servant of the people. Ask anyone ‘who is Kadyrov?’ in the remotest regions, in the mountains, if they don’t cry with gratitude for what we have done for them, I will sign my resignation in front of you.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


Chechnya: Kadyrov Pledges ‘Cruel Revenge’

Chechnya’s President Ramzan Kadyrov has vowed a “cruel” revenge on those who tried to kill the leader of Ingushetia, during a visit to the republic.

President Yunus-Bek Yevkurov was wounded in an apparent assassination attempt on Monday.

Mr Kadyrov said on Tuesday he had been authorised by Moscow to take charge of security in Ingushetia — a prospect that alarmed some politicians there.

Mr Yevkurov remains in critical condition in hospital.

He received head and body injuries after a car packed with explosives ploughed into his convoy in the Ingush city of Nazran, in the North Caucasus.

“ I think adding additional neighbouring forces would further entangle the situation “

Ruslan Aushev Former leader of Ingushetia

“The federal prosecutors and interior ministry will hold their investigation,” Mr Kadyrov said in Ingushetia, on a visit that took some local officials by surprise on Wednesday.

“But we will have an investigation according to mountain traditions and the revenge for Yunus-Bek Yevkurov will be cruel,” he said.

“I warn that the terrorists, the inhuman ones, the devils who badly wounded Yevkurov will soon regret it,” he said.

Mr Kadyrov, whose own father Akhmad was killed by a bomb in 2004, has brought relative calm to Chechnya, but human rights groups accuse his militias of widespread abuses.

He has been accused of involvement in abduction and torture and a number of apparently political killings, but has always denied it.

Merger rumours

On Tuesday Mr Kadyrov said he had been ordered by Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev to run operations in both countries.

He told Reuters: “He told me to intensify actions… including in Ingushetia. I will personally control the operations… and I am sure in the near future there will be good results.”

But Ingush officials insisted they remained in charge of security, and dismissed rumours that the two republics would be merged, as they were in Soviet times.

“All moves to ensure stability in Ingushetia will be co-ordinated by the operation headquarters of Ingushetia,” Mr Yevkurov’s spokesman said.

And Ruslan Aushev, who ruled Ingushetia from 1992-2001, said: “I think adding additional neighbouring forces would further entangle the situation there. If they want to complicate the situation then this is what to do.”

Mr Aushev said he would be willing to take charge of Ingushetia while Mr Yevkurov recovered.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

South Asia

Orissa: Death Threats Against Christian Witnesses in Murder Case Against BJP Politician

Witnesses are being intimidated in order to force them not to testify against Manoj Pradhan, who has been charged in seven murder cases. In the village of Neelungia, Christians are told to pay 4,000 rupees if they want to get back to their homes, whilst Hindus demand they withdraw accusations against those who carried out the pogrom.

Bhubaneshwar (AsiaNews) — Nine witnesses from the village of Raikia (Kandhamal District) have received death threats. They were going to testify against Manoj Pradhan, a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) who was recently elected to the Orissa State Assembly. He is charged on 14 counts of violence, including seven murders, against Christians.

Human rights activist Ajaya Kumar Singh told AsiaNews that “three people, probably Pradhan supporters or relatives threatened the nine Christians. They told them that if they testified against the BJP politician they would be killed.”

“The situation is still unstable in many areas where there are no Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) agents,” said Sajan, K George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC).

“In the village of Neelungia, near Udayagiri, the predominantly Hindu community has set two conditions to let Christians come back to clear the rubble of their homes. First they want 5,000 rupees (around US$ 100) for the puja or submission ceremony. Secondly, they want Christians to withdraw their complaint (First Information Report) against villagers who took part in the anti-Christian violence.”

Refugee camps in Neelungia village were shut down and Christians now live in tents on the margins of the village.

“The Hindu community is not letting them to go back to their homes,” said Sajan George. “And in spite of complaints about continuous threats by extremists police is doing nothing.”

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

Far East

China Says North Korea a “Serious Concern”

BEIJING (Reuters) — China shares the region’s “serious concerns” about a nuclear North Korea and urged all parties to keep negotiating, a senior Chinese military officer said Wednesday after talks with Pentagon officials.

Lieutenant-General Ma Xiaotian did not announce any new measures against Pyongyang, but said Beijing was concerned about North Korea, which staged a second nuclear test on May 25, prompting new U.N. sanctions.

“For the regional security of northeast Asia, the North Korean nuclear issue is not only a serious concern for the United States and neighboring South Korea and Japan, but is also for China,” Ma told a news conference after talks with a U.S. delegation led by Under Secretary of Defense Michele Flournoy.

But Ma also repeated China’s position that the dispute with North Korea must be defused through negotiations.

“We hope and encourage the relevant parties to take positive steps and more stabilizing measures to control developments on the Korean Peninsula, to address the issues through diplomatic negotiations, consultations and dialogue.”

The United States has ratcheted up the pressure on North Korea, tracking its ships in a bid to deter arms shipments banned under the recent U.N. resolution.

Ma told reporters that the talks did not cover the issue of those North Korean ships.

Ma also said the United States and China had agreed to hold special consultations in July to address the issue of preventing sea confrontations.

“The two sides agreed to work together to avoid such incidents recurring,” Ma said, referring to recent skirmishes between Chinese and U.S. vessels off China.

In recent months, Chinese vessels have become involved in several brief, non-fatal confrontations with U.S. surveillance vessels in seas off the Chinese coast that Beijing claims are in its exclusive economic zone.

The Pentagon has objected, saying the U.S. ships involved were operating within international law.

Ma gave an upbeat view of prospects for improving relations between the two military powers.

“The two sides agreed to work together to strive for improvement,” he said.

(Reporting by Chris Buckley; Editing by Ken Wills and Jeremy Laurence)

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


China Arrests Leading Democracy Advocate

BEIJING (AFP) — Prominent Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, a leading force behind a petition calling for democratic reforms, has been formally arrested for subversive activities, state media said Wednesday.

Activist groups immediately condemned the move, calling the arrest of the internationally known dissident writer a blow for human rights and political freedom in China.

Liu, who has been detained since December, was arrested Tuesday for “alleged agitation activities aimed at subversion of the government and overthrowing the socialist system,” Xinhua news agency said, citing Beijing police.

The 53-year-old writer, who was involved in the 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy movement that was crushed by the army, has long campaigned through his writings for human rights and democracy in China.

He was taken into custody last year after signing Charter 08, a widely circulated manifesto calling for fundamental political and legal reforms to China’s Communist Party-dominated system and respect for human rights.

The document was signed by about 300 Chinese scholars, lawyers and officials.

“Liu has been engaged in agitation activities, such as spreading of rumours and defaming of the government, aimed at subversion of the state and overthrowing the socialist system in recent years,” Xinhua quoted a police statement as saying.

Liu had confessed to the charge, the statement added.

His lawyer, Mo Shaoping, said he was not informed of the arrest, but that police were still in the process of investigating the case. If formally charged Liu could get up to 15 years in prison, Mo said.

Beijing police declined to comment to AFP.

The arrest comes amid tightened controls in China amid a series of sensitive political anniversaries this year.

China earlier this month passed the 20th anniversary of the crackdown on the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests with stifling security and next faces October’s 60th anniversary of the founding of communist China.

Mo said police had told Liu’s wife, Liu Xia, that he might not be able to work as Liu’s defence lawyer. Mo said this may be because he also had signed Charter 08.

Liu Xia could not immediately be reached for comment.

Liu has been under a form of house arrest in an undisclosed location away from his home since December.

Nicholas Bequelin, a Hong Kong-based researcher with Human Rights Watch, said the arrest meant Liu would almost certainly go to prison, calling it “a pre-determined result.”

“We believe that Liu Xiaobo has done nothing but exercise his right to freedom of expression and in no circumstances should he have been arrested,” Bequelin told AFP.

Amnesty International also condemned Liu’s arrest.

“This use of state security charges to punish activists for merely expressing their views must stop,” it said in an emailed statement.

Bequelin said Chinese authorities had long tolerated Liu’s dissident writings.

But he said Liu’s arrest made clear that hardline elements in the government blamed for a tightening of political controls since before last year’s Beijing Olympics had gained the upper hand.

“The Ministry of Public Security has seen its power considerably enhanced and they are more aggressive. The room for dissent is shrinking,” he said.

Liu was jailed for nearly two years for his role in the 1989 Tiananmen protests and then again in the mid-1990s.

His case is the highest-profile dissident arrest since rights activist Hu Jia was arrested in December 2007 and sentenced four months later to three and a half years in prison for sedition.

It has drawn intense international criticism, with the European Union and the United States demanding his quick release.

Novelists such as Britain’s Salman Rushdie and Italy’s Umberto Eco, as well as Nobel literature laureates including Irish poet Seamus Heaney, have also campaigned for Liu’s release.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


US, China Pledge Effort to Avoid Sea Confrontations

BEIJING — (AP) — Top U.S. and Chinese military officials said Wednesday the countries will work together to avoid confrontations at sea that have sparked worries of a crisis in overall relations.

The issue was at the center of their first high-level military talks in 18 months after a series of recent naval encounters — including a collision of a Chinese submarine and a U.S. sonar device — that have raised concerns about poor communication between the two sides.

The military officials also discussed North Korea, which has threatened war with the U.S. and its allies in response to new U.N. sanctions imposed over its recent nuclear test blast.

On the U.S.-China naval encounters, People’s Liberation Army deputy chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Ma Xiaotian, said China had reiterated its opposition to U.S. surveillance patrols in the South China Sea, during the two days of talks with the U.S. delegation led by Defense Undersecretary Michele Flournoy.

“Our two sides agreed to work together to avoid such incidents from happening again since such incidents will surely have a negative impact on our bilateral relations in general,” Ma told a news conference at the end of the U.S.-China Defense Consultative Talks in Beijing.

Flournoy said specific incidents were not discussed, but added the sides had agreed in principle to hold a bilateral forum next month to discuss how to avoid future altercations.

“I think there is a strong desire on both sides to reduce the number of incidents as much as possible and when they do occur resolve them as carefully as possible,” she told reporters separately.

Run-ins between the two militaries are becoming more frequent as the Chinese navy, after years of expansion, undertakes more missions, encountering a U.S. Navy used to maneuvering unchallenged. As its power grows, China is also pressing claims to the entire South China Sea and coastal waters and asserting that surveillance by the U.S. military there is illegal.

The U.S. doesn’t take a position on sovereignty claims to the sea — subject to dispute among various Asian nations — but insists on the U.S. Navy’s right to transit the area and collect surveillance data..

In the latest confrontation at sea between China and the U.S., a Chinese submarine earlier this month damaged a sonar array being towed by a U.S. destroyer. China called that an accident. The U.S. has confirmed only that there was damage.

Pentagon officials have said there were four incidents earlier this year 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.

The defense discussions were last held in December 2007. They had been suspended by Beijing in anger over U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, the self-governing island China claims as its own territory.

Ma said that China had pressed the U.S. delegation on the issue of the arms sales, calling them a “central topic of the discussions.”

“We told the American side that the issue of Taiwan arms sales is a major reason for the constant stop-start course of China-U.S. military relations,” he said.

Flournoy said the Obama administration had not made any decisions on future arms sales to Taiwan.

The sides also discussed North Korea, which counts China as its closest ally, but no specifics of what was said were released. China had hosted now-stalled six-nation talks aimed at pressing Pyongyang to halt its nuclear programs in return for financial aid and diplomatic inducements.

“There is very much a shared objective in seeking to get North Korea to change course and return to a path of verifiable denuclearization,” Flournoy said.

Flournoy was due to travel on to South Korea for talks on Friday. A U.S. destroyer is currently tracking a North Korean ship suspected of carrying illicit weapons to Myanmar — the first test of the new U.N. sanctions.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Australia — Pacific

Get Out More: Aussie Muslims to Sarkozy

Australian Islamic leaders are dismayed at French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s criticism of the burqa as a threat to “the equality and dignity of the female”, saying his comments do not reflect the reality about the status of women in Islam.

Ikebal Patel, president of Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, said the French President’s comments were also tainted by hypocrisy, as his own track-record on gender issues left a lot to be desired.

Mr Sarkozy expressed support for a ban on wearing the burqa in public during a “state of the nation” style speech to the first joint sitting of both houses of parliament in 136 years.

“The burqa is not welcome on the French Republic’s territory. It is not what the French Republic wants for the dignity of women … we cannot accept in our country that women be prisoners behind a screen, cut off from society and all identity,” Mr Sarkozy said.

Mr Patel said the burqa reflected freedom of choice, not oppression.

“Nicolas Sarkozy predicated his whole opinion on the view that Muslim women who wear the burqa are wearing it because they are being oppressed and forced to do so by their husbands — that’s a far cry from reality,” he said.

“Islam does not particularly say everyone has to wear the burqa or niqab, it talks about modest clothing.

“That does not in anyway belittle the status of women; it is purely out of their own choice, so for him to say those words denigrates the religion and the concept of freedom of choice.”

Jamila Hussain, a lecturer in Islamic Law at the University of Technology Sydney, said she believed the burqa and niqab were “inappropriate” in Western countries, but defended the decision of women who chose to wear them..

“I think Nicolas Sarkozy should get out a bit more and go and talk to ladies in minority communities, particularly those that wear the burqa, and ask them if they’ve been oppressed and forced to wear it,” she said.

“It’s a cultural assumption that’s very common in Western countries, but for women who wear it in Western countries it’s largely a matter of choice.”

Mr Patel said Mr Sarkozy should take a leaf out of Barack Obama’s book, after the US President recently urged Western countries to stop “dictating what clothes a Muslim women should wear” and disguising “hostility towards any religion behind the pretense of liberalism”.

“Sarkozy on the other hand is the last person to be talking about the denigration of women given some of the things he’s done in his own life,” Mr Patel said.

He pointed to the French President’s demotion of female minister Rachida Dati earlier this year, weeks after she became a single mother.

Mr Patel said he was confident no Australian leader would ever make similar comments, saying the country had greater respect for freedom of religion and the idea of a “fair go”.

He believed French leaders were too keen to “pander to political pressures” — such as strong far-right political groups — citing previous moves to ban headscarves in schools.

Ms Hussain said while calls to ban forms of Islamic dress from public places had previously been made by politicians such as the Reverend Fred Nile, she did not believe similar feelings were widely held by Australians.

Mr Sarkozy’s comments — which reportedly elicited widespread populist support — were criticised by his political opponents as an attention-grabbing strategy.

In Australia, only a small number of Muslim women wore the burqa, in which only the eyes are visible, with more preferring the hijab, which covers the hair and not the face, Ms Hussain said.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Latin America

Brazil: Unfair to Single Out Emerging Countries in Doha

PARIS (Reuters) — Singling out emerging countries like Brazil, China and India to make more concessions in the World Trade Organisation’s Doha round talks is totally unfair, Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim said on Wednesday.

Amorim was commenting at a news conference on U.S. calls for the big emerging countries to open up their markets further to help bring about a deal. But he said Brazil remained open to dialogue with the United States on the Doha talks even though it does not want the negotiations reopened from scratch.

Amorim also said that from what he had “heard so far”, there was not enough on the table for next month’s G8+5 summit of rich and emerging economies in Italy to make substantial progress on the Doha talks.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


Cuba’s Spy Program Deeply Rooted in U.S.

By Carlos Montaner

Chris Simmons, a former lieutenant colonel in U.S. counterintelligence, insists that there are dozens of spies in the service of Cuba within the government of the United States and in the nation’s universities.

He made that assertion in connection with the recent arrest of Walter Kendall Myers, a former high-ranking State Department official, and his wife, Gwendolyn. Myers spied for Cuba for three decades, and his motivation (like his wife’s) was of an ideological nature. He sympathized with the Cuban dictatorship and felt an enormous contempt for his country’s economic system and political conduct.

Finest spy services

Simmons’ observations must be taken into account. He is the most knowledgeable expert there is about the activities of Cuban intelligence in the United States. He often states that Cuba has one of the world’s finest espionage and counterespionage services and deserves credibility.

There is not a single important U.S. institution that has not somehow been infiltrated, directly or indirectly, by the Cuban G-2. It was Simmons who dug up “mole” Ana Belén Montes, a high-ranking Pentagon official who later was sentenced to 25 years’ imprisonment for spying for Havana.

The interesting thing about the Myers case is not that he was a spy for Cuba recruited in the State Department but that the Cubans “planted” him in that agency.

Three decades ago, they asked him to return to State, from which he had separated, for the purpose of passing to Cuba secret information about any topic that might have strategic value and could be utilized by, sold to or swapped with countries such as the Soviet Union or Iran.

What the Cubans did at the State Department and the Pentagon they have no doubt replicated or attempted to replicate at the CIA, the FBI, the Army, the Department of Justice or any other administrative, political or media organization where it is convenient to have a good ear capable of collecting sensitive information or lips capable of subtly defending the interests of the Castro brothers’ government.

Moreover, I do not doubt — and surely Simmons doesn’t, either — that the Cuban services, directly or indirectly, have made efforts to “plant” or “cultivate” someone like Myers inside the legislative branch of the U.S. government.

Why not? To facilitate the election of an American congressman and to keep him on Capitol Hill is not a very complicated task. It’s just a question of finding the right candidate and providing — discreetly — the resources. Penetrating the top levels at the Pentagon was a lot harder, yet the Cubans managed it.

The United States is not the only objective of the Cuban G-2. In the 1990s, the Cuban services “turned around” the then-chief of Spanish intelligence for Latin America, a pleasant lieutenant colonel in the army. He was found out and separated discreetly from his agency.

Then the Cubans scored an even more valuable coup. They wooed a Spanish deputy to the European Community, a socialist, and turned him into a docile and efficient agent of influence, utilizing the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples, one of the most effective branches of Cuban intelligence.

Not even the Catholic Church has escaped the skill of the Cuban spies. In the 1960s, they dropped into it the Rev. Manolo Ortega, an educated and charismatic man in whom “the apparatus” saw a future bishop “and, who knows, maybe a pope,” as the agents fantasized when they spoke of the priest they had implanted in the bosom of the religious organization.

Ortega may not have been the only robed “plant” but he seemed to have a good future ahead, until a crisis of conscience led him to quit his task of infiltration and retire discreetly after a trip abroad. The sad story became known when his former lover revealed it, for who-knows-what mysterious reasons. She also was a member of the Cuban services.

Trained by KGB

After the inevitable disappearance of the communist dictatorship in Cuba, when the intelligence archives are opened, we shall see how the Ministry of the Interior — trained by the KGB and the Stasi but with a lot more imagination, with its thousands of agents and collaborators, its dozens of satellite organizations and its huge resources devoted to collecting information, releasing disinformation, disseminating propaganda — or even killing, if necessary — achieved such amazing successes.

Of course, the Interior Ministry will be unable to prevent the end of the system, because it is much too unproductive and contra natura, but the future generations at least will understand how and why that absurd and cruel way to enslave a society was sustained in the face of the indifference of half the planet and the applause of the other half. Everything will come to light.

           — Hat tip: Paul Green[Return to headlines]


US, Venezuela to Restore Envoys

The United States and Venezuela are to reinstate ambassadors to each other’s capitals following tit-for-tat expulsions last year.

Officials in Caracas and Washington confirmed the decision, which follows an easing of tension since President Barack Obama came to office.

President Hugo Chavez ordered out the US ambassador last September.

The move followed allegations that Washington was plotting a coup d’etat in Bolivia.

Venezuela’s foreign minister Nicolas Maduro told reporters on Wednesday that diplomatic movement would “take place in the coming days, and as soon as the ambassadors have resumed their functions we will move forward to a more fluid communication”.

“Both ambassadors will return immediately to their work — our ambassador, Bernardo Alvarez, in Washington, and US ambassador Patrick Duddy in Caracas. That is the plan,” he said.

Fierce critic

President Chavez said in April, at a summit of the Americas where he met President Obama for the first time, that he hoped to send an ambassador back to Washington.

Mr Chavez was a fierce critic of the US under former President George W Bush, accusing Washington of plotting to assassinate him.

Analysts say Mr Chavez has toned down his criticism of US foreign policy since Mr Obama took office in January.

In a sign of warming ties, Mr Obama shook hands with Mr Chavez at the summit, and accepted a book from the Venezuelan leader.

The BBC’s James Coomarasamy in Washington says Mr Obama’s policy of re-engaging with countries which have had troubled relationships with the US appears to be moving up a gear.

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


Venezuela, US Restoring Ambassadors: Venezuelan FM

MARACAY, Venezuela (AFP) — Venezuela and the United States are restoring their ambassadors withdrawn amid a diplomatic spat in September, Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro said Wednesday.

The normalization of diplomatic ties “will take place in the coming days, and as soon as the ambassadors have resumed their functions we will move forward to a more fluid communication,” Maduro told reporters.

He was speaking on the sidelines of a summit here of the regional trade group ALBA led by leftist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

During a Summit of the Americas in Trinidad in April, Chavez expressed his wish to return his country’s ambassador to the United States.

In September, Chavez expelled Patrick Duddy, the top US envoy in Caracas in solidarity with Bolivia, after Bolivian President Evo Morales accused the US ambassador of plotting against his government.

Venezuela’s move then led Washington to expel the Venezuelan ambassador to the US, Bernardo Alvarez.

Chavez, who met US President Barack Obama for the first time at the Trinidad summit in April, said he then hoped to begin a “new era” in relations between the two countries, which have often feuded over Washington’s role in Latin America.

The news of the restoration of Venezuela-US ties came as a US official confirmed that Washington planned to reappoint an ambassador to Damascus after a four-year absence.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Immigration

Conference in Tunis: 1,200 Dead at Sea in 2008

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS — Last year more than 1,200 Africans who were trying to illegally reach the south of Europe drowned in the waters of the Mediterranean Sea, said Tunisian sociologist Mehdi Mabrouk during the conference ‘Illegal migration: reality and solutions’ in Tunis. Referring to Tunisian migrants in particular, Mabrouk claimed that European financial support has not been effective in “slowing down illegal migration to Europe”. This is also due to the “strict procedures” adopted in granting visas to Europe and the “frustration” of young people in the country. The sociologist said that the border region between Tunisia and Libya is “the most active centre” for illegal migration, with 1,196 migrants being arrested by Libyan police last year. Mabrouk added that most migrants enter Libya via Tataouine, a city in the south of Tunisia bordering on the desert. Many people who leave the country come from the Gafsa mining region in the south-west of Tunisia. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Italy: Immigrants Push Population to 60 Mn

Percentage of foreigners up from 5. 8% to 6. 5%

(ANSA) — Rome, June 23 — Italy’s population edged over 60 million last year thanks to a hefty increase in immigrant numbers, statistics bureau Istat said Tuesday.

Istat put the 2008 resident population at 60,045,068, a 0.7% rise.

The proportion of resident immigrants rose from 5.8% to 6.5%, again a rise of 0.7%.

Immigrants accounted for 9% of the population in the north-east, 8.6% in the north-west and 8.3% in the centre — but only 2.4% in the south.

Immigrants were also responsible for the highest rise in births in 16 years, national statistics bureau Istat said. There were 12,726 more births in 2008 than the previous year. The percentage of births in 2008 to immigrant mothers climbed to 12.7% or over 70,000 out of a total of 576,659 births. In 1995 there were just over 9,000 foreign children born in Italy, or 1.9% of the total. The percentage of births in 2008 to immigrant mothers was highest in northern Italy, where they represented 19% of the total, or almost one in five. Despite the increase in the number of births last year, deaths in Italy still outnumbered births by 9,467.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Study Finds an Extra Million Muslims Living in Germany

There are around a million more Muslims living in Germany than had previously been thought, according to a new survey.

The Nuremberg Ministry for Migration and Refugees found that there are between 3.8 million and 4.3 million Muslims living in Germany, making up about five percent of the entire German population. It was previously estimated that there were between 3 million and 3.5 million Muslims living here.

More than half of Muslims in Germany originate from Turkey.. As many as 2.7 million Turkish people are living here, making up more than three percent of the population. Another 600,000 Muslim people come from Southeastern Europe and the Middle East.

Just under half, or 45 percent, of Muslim migrants are foreign-born but now hold a German passport. Yet when it comes to integration, the survey still found deep defecits.

Concerning education, Muslims were found to be particularly conservative, making integration of children difficult. Ten percent of Muslim girls are kept home from school trips, another seven percent are withdrawn from swimming lessons and 15 percent are exempt from sexual education classes for religious reasons. However, more than three-quarters of those surveyed would welcome Islamic religion courses in the schools.

The researchers found that integration in schools improved significantly with second generation Muslims, or those born in Germany.

The majority of Muslims in Germany attend Mosque services “rarely to never”, while only a third go regularly. Only 30 percent of Muslims here wear the politically-disputed head scarf, and usually pass the tradition down to their children.

The study questioned 6,004 people from 49 Muslim states living in Germany about everything from origin to religion to integration — for themselves and their families, bringing the total number of people covered by the study to 17,000. Almost all Muslims in Germany — 98 percent — live in the former western states and eastern parts of Berlin.

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


UK: £1m Repatriation Plan Sees Just One Family Go

By Alison Little A £1 MILLION project to persuade failed asylum seekers to go home has led to only one family leaving the UK — saving taxpayers just £22,000 a year.

Critics say it shows again how the Government’s asylum system is “shambolic and failed” because of Labour “mismanaging it from start to finish”.

Tory immigration spokesman Damian Green said: “This piece of incompetence by the Government has managed to combine being unfair to the British taxpayer with being inhumane to children.

“The Home Office spent a lot of our money on this project and didn’t only waste that money but wasted the opportunity.

“Finding alternatives to detention so you’re not locking up children for weeks on end is a good idea. They just messed it up.” The scheme was a response to criticism of the Government for locking up some 2,000 children a year with their families in detention centres before their forcible removal from the UK.

It relied on a “softly softly” approach of sending families to an open unit, where they could come and go and their children would attend local schools while they got help from a charity to organise a voluntary return home.

Some 240 families who had exhausted the appeals process were expected to go through the centre, a former old people’s home in Ashford, Kent, but it housed just 13 and only one family left.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


UK: One New Household Every 2 Minutes in Migrant Boom

LABOUR’S immigration policies were denounced as “madness” yesterday after an official report highlighted how Britain’s population is expected to soar..

One new household will be formed every two minutes until 2021, almost half of it driven by immigration, according to projections which have been steadily revised upwards in recent years.

Around 70 per cent of the population increase up to 2031 will be due to immigration, according to the Government. By 2021, newcomers will account for nearly four in 10 of the four million new households formed in England and Wales.

Labour MP Frank Field and Conservative Sir Nicholas Soames, chairmen of Parliament’s cross-party Group on Balanced Migration, said: “As we face severe cuts in public spending, it is the politics of madness to continue with immigration policies that will mean us having to provide thousands of new homes for newcomers.

“Not to mention the necessary roads, schools and hospitals on this unprecedented scale, when our own citizens, both black and white, cannot get homes.”

The figures were spelt out in the Office for National Statistics’ latest Regional Trends report.

It showed that the projected number of households in England and Wales will rise by nearly four million over 15 years, from 21.52 million in 2006 to 25.44 million in 2021.

Of these, more than a million will be in London and the South-east. By 2031, experts forecast there will be a further 2.5 million households in England — a total of 27.82 million.

The Group on Balanced Migration said the Government now envisaged there would be nearly 1.5 million more households in 2021 than it was forecasting just three years ago. In 2006, the Government estimated there would be 24 million households in 2021.

Last year it revised the projection to 24.97 million. Now it believes there will be 25.44 million.

Sir Andrew Green, chairman of thinktank Migrationwatch, said: “For years the Government have been in denial about the massive impact of immigration on housing.

“They cannot any longer deny we will have to build a new home every five minutes for the next 15 years just for new immigrants.

“Given the financial crisis that the Government faces, this is absolutely crazy. Where is all the money going to come from to build not only houses but also schools, hospitals and roads that will be needed?”

Tory immigration spokesman Damain Green said: “This is why we propose to establish an annual limit on the number of work permits issued, along the lines of the Australian and American systems.

“This is the best way to bring some control over our immigration numbers.” Immigration has spiralled upwards under Labour since 1997. It jumped massively after the Government decided that citizens of 10 eastern and central European countries, which joined the EU in 2004, should be allowed to work in Britain as well as travel here.

This week it emerged that the number of immigrants granted British citizenship had increased by more than half in a year.

A total of 54,615 applications were approved in the first three months of 2009 — 57 per cent more than in the same period last year. If the trend continues, the total this year is likely to reach 220,000, dwarfing the record of 164,540 in 2007.

This year’s surge has been blamed on people trying to get passports before the Government introduces a new tougher system of earned citizenship next year.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


UK: Victory for the People as New Gypsy Site is Blocked

PLACARD-waving protesters hailed a victory for “people power” yesterday after plans for a travellers’ site at a seaside resort were dropped.

Officials had wanted to place the permanent encampment in a built-up area of Bournemouth, Dorset.

Dismayed residents feared the thriving town — rated as the one of the best resorts in Britain — would be overrun with crime, unsightly rubbish and anti-social behaviour if the travellers had been allowed to move in.

But 100 protesters celebrated outside Bournemouth town hall yesterday after councillors buckled under pressure from the local community to scrap plans for the site.

Campaigner Pauline Courtney, 60, declared: “People power is still alive. When I arrived here this morning I did not expect this result.

“This encampent has been a great worry for the town’s residents but people power won through in the end and we received unanimous support from the council cabinet.

“It shows that we do actually live in a democracy and not a dictatorship. I couldn’t be happier.”

Max Clarke, who led the campaign against the site, received rapturous applause as he left the council chamber.

He had presented members of the cabinet with a petition signed by 2,000 people and described the “uproar” the plans had created among residents.

In a five-minute speech he branded the proposals as unacceptable.

He told councillors: “You have a duty to do what is right for Bournemouth. It is your responsibility to listen to the people that put you where you are today.”

The site, which had been described by councillors as the “least bad” option, would have seen pitches for 36 caravans within a few hundred yards of Bournemouth’s designer shops, ornamental gardens, pier and seven-mile sandy beach.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

General

Google’s $1,500 Coffee Makers

Google states that its multimillion-dollar solar array has generated sufficient electricity over the past two years to run 5,158 coffee makers for one hour each day. Google does not mention, however, that this solar array supplies insufficient electricity to run Google’s search engine computers for even one minute per day and that the coffee makers, if supplied with solar panels to operate them, would cost approximately $1,500 each.

[…]

Google brags that the average 24-hour output of its solar array is sufficient to operate 5,158 coffee makers for one hour — based on its daily reports. It does not, however, reveal the cost of this solar equipment. If we assume that the installations at Google and Nellis are similarly cost effective — they are both 2007 technology and our assumption allows for technical differences in the installations (Nellis has solar-tracking arrays), then Google’s installation cost an estimated $7.5 million. With current electricity and maintenance costs, this solar installation will not even pay for itself in more than 40 years, so it produces nothing of net value.

Without considering depreciation, maintenance such as cleaning the panels, and employees to oversee the equipment, this $7.5 million works out to $1,454 per coffee maker. So, if the coffee maker is priced at $46 and delivered with a share in the Google solar array sufficient to operate it for an average of one hour each day, the price is $1,500 per coffee maker.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Microsoft Offers Free Anti-Virus

A trial version of Microsoft’s free anti-virus software has been launched in the US, China, Brazil, and Israel.

Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE) promises to provide people with basic protection against viruses, trojans, rootkits and spyware.

The software giant has been criticised in the past for failing to include free security software with Windows.

Its first security package, Windows Live OneCare, failed to attract many customers and will be discontinued.

Microsoft is hoping that MSE, available as a free download from its site, will prove more popular. It has said it will automatically update it for users.

However, rival security vendors have questioned whether Microsoft can compete with more established anti-virus players.

Family doctor

“Early reviews of the beta are showing that it under-performs when compared to existing freeware products, and well below paid solutions,” said security firm Symantec in a statement.

“Referring to Microsoft’s basic anti-virus and anti-spyware product as an essential security solution is misleading. Consumers need firewall protection, web protection, anti-spam and identity safeguards,” it said.

J.R Smith, chief executive of security firm AVG, said Microsoft’s entry into the security market could “further confuse consumers about the inherent security of their computer”.

“It’s important to recognise that Microsoft’s role in the internet security realm is much like your relationship with your trusted family doctor. They can help diagnose the problems. In addition, they treat many general ailments. In the end, though, they are not a replacement for a specialist when you need one,” he said.

Initially 75,000 trial versions of MSE, codenamed Morro, will be available in the US, Brazil, China and Israel.

The software will be rolled out in other countries later this year.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

11 comments:

heroyalwhyness said...

re: David Yerushalmi: Sovereign Immunity or Cover-Up?

recall also yesterdays link supporting David's case in point:

Documents Back Saudi Link to Extremists, by Eric Lichtblau
posted in the NYT June 24,2009.

Afonso Henriques said...

"For those of us who loathe the current incarnation of the Episcopal Church, but aren’t yet ready to become Catholics,"

LOL ... But it was suposed that Protestants would be an evolution from Catholicism... Catholics are the ones who have to be ready to be Protestants. Protestants can comeback to Catolicism any time. It only will not serve them much.

I feel like going to Utah and becoming a Mormon...
... I am just more stupid than usual, today.

Baron Bodissey said...

Afonso --

You may not realize it, but Anglicans are not really protestants. The liturgy and practices of the Episcopal Church are almost the same as the Catholic Church since Vatican II.

The Anglican Church exists because Henry VIII wanted to remove the power of the Pope from England. The result is like the Church of Rome, but without Rome -- Canterbury instead.

The Poster Formerly Known as Gordon said...

You probably are still mad about how women became priests back in the 1970's like the (former) Bishop of San Joaquin in California, aren't you, Baron?

Unlike you, I am quite happy with the direction the ECUSA has gone in recent years. But you probably would have guessed that on your own.

Baron Bodissey said...

Nodrog --

I love the way you habitually ascribe to me beliefs which I don't hold, and then sneer at me for being foolish, inconsistent, and hypocritical!

The current priest at our church is a woman, and she suits me and our congregation just fine.

ZZMike said...

Iranian diplomats are out, for the July 4th parties:

U.S. rescinds July 4 invites for Iran diplomats

"Unfortunately, circumstances have changed and participation by Iranian diplomats would not be appropriate in light of the unjust actions ..."

July 4 commemorates this coutry's big step forward to freedom. I doubt the Iranian diplomats would understand that.

On the other hand:

"No Iranian diplomat had accepted an invitation from U.S. diplomatic posts abroad to attend embassy Fourth of July parties, according to the State Department."

Afonso Henriques said...

"You may not realize it, but Anglicans are not really protestants. The liturgy and practices of the Episcopal Church are almost the same as the Catholic Church since Vatican II."

Really!? Didn't knew that...
But you know what, you still don't have the confessionary nor do you have to confess your sins to the priest so...
Not that I've already done it but it is irrelevant what I do.

Thanks for the info.

Baron Bodissey said...

Afonso --

Well, it's a little more complicated than I said. There's a "high church" and a "low church". High church people often use incense and have confession. Low church practice varies, but can sometimes come much closer to the Lutheran church.

The Poster Formerly Known as Gordon said...

So, Baron, is your primary objection to the ECUSA the Bishop of New Hampshire? Are you opposed to the 1978 prayerbook revision? Do you think the ECUSA is being run by lily-livered leftists?

Baron Bodissey said...

Nodrog --

To answer your three questions:

1. No.

2. No.

3. Yes.

My primary objection is that the mission of ECUSA is no longer to preach and live the word of God as revealed through Jesus Christ, but to advance a particular social/political agenda.

That agenda happens to be leftist, but I would object just as much if it were rightist. I never cared for Jerry Falwell.

Rocky2 said...

DAVID LETTERMAN'S HATE, ETC. !

David Letterman's hate is as old as some ancient Hebrew prophets.
Speaking of anti-Semitism, it's Jerry Falwell and other fundy leaders who've gleefully predicted that in the future EVERY nation will be against Israel (an international first?) and that TWO-THIRDS of all Jews will be killed, right?
Wrong! It's the ancient Hebrew prophet Zechariah who predicted all this in the 13th and 14th chapters of his book! The last prophet, Malachi, explains the reason for this future Holocaust that'll outdo even Hitler's by stating that "Judah hath dealt treacherously" and "the Lord will cut off the man that doeth this" and asks "Why do we deal treacherously every man against his brother?"
Haven't evangelicals generally been the best friends of Israel and persons perceived to be Jewish? Then please explain the recent filthy, hate-filled, back-stabbing tirades by David Letterman (and Sandra Bernhard and Kathy Griffin) against a leading evangelical named Sarah Palin, and explain why most Jewish leaders have seemingly condoned Palin's continuing "crucifixion"!
While David, Sandra, and Kathy are tragically turning comedy into tragedy, they are also helping to speed up and fulfill the Final Holocaust a la Zechariah and Malachi, thus helping to make the Bible even more believable!
(For even more stunning information, visit MSN and type in "Separation of Raunch and State" and "Bible Verses Obama Avoids.")