Thursday, July 30, 2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 7/30/2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 7/30/2009Swedish troops in Afghanistan have been attacked again by persons of Taliban background. Closer to home, a Finnish ship was hijacked in Swedish waters.

In other news, the Uighur rebel leader Rebiya Kadeer has arrived in Japan, evoking a protest from China, which says that the incident may damage bilateral relations.

Thanks to C. Cantoni, Diana West, heroyalwhyness, Insubria, JD, REP, Sean O’Brian, TB, Vlad Tepes, and all the other tipsters who sent these in. Headlines and articles are below the fold.
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USA
ACORN Founder Wade Rathke Plots Downfall of Capitalism
Brother Defends Accused Terror Head
Diana West: Obama’s Secret: Safe With the Media
Downtown Fort Myers Condo Has 32 Stories, And One Lonely Tale
Major Science Group ‘Startled’ By Outpouring of Scientists Rejecting Man-Made Climate Fears!
Obama’s ‘Hit Man’ Emanuel Splitting American Jewry
Stable Owner Catches Man Having Sex With Horse
They’re Coming for Your Tonsils
Washington May Release Ill Prisoners to Save Money
 
Europe and the EU
Abandon the War on Drugs, But Start a War on Addiction
Bertinotti: Notion of Two Lefts Dies in Europe
Ciao Bella: A Trip Across Silvio Berlusconi’s Italy
Does Ireland Want Blair? Does Anyone?
EU: Bad News for Democracy
EU: Wide Gaps in Use of Warrants
Expelled Dutchmen Held in Belgium
Finnish Ship Hijacked in Swedish Waters
Firing Dutchman: Fire Guts Replica Flagship
General Dannatt is Right — Britain is at War
Identity Theft Hackers Attack MI5 Website
Ireland: Security for Two US Detainees Could Cost €430,000
Ireland: These Heroic US Soldiers Deserve Welcome by US All
Irish Blasphemers, Beware! New Law Befuddles Nation, But Fulfills Constitution
Italy: Most Italians Want Troops Out of Afghanistan, Says Survey
Moldova Communists Lose Majority
Survey Reveals Lackluster Support Among Hungarians for EU Membership
Terror Group Recruits in Sweden
The Big Question: Should Police Take a New Approach to Drug Crime by Relocating Dealers?
UK: Inside the World of Dog-Fighting
UK: ID Cards Will Not Display Union Flag to Avoid Offending Irish Nationalists
UK: Not Arresting Drug Dealers Will Help Reduce Violent Crime, Says Think Tank
 
Balkans
Bosnia: Tunisian Terror Suspect Escapes From Jail
 
North Africa
Algeria: At Least 14 Soldiers Killed in Ambush
Algeria Adopts New Moslem Weekend From August
Tunisia Takes First Place Among Arab Universities
Western Sahara: 1.5 Million in UN Aid to Refugees
 
Israel and the Palestinians
Gaza: Italy Allocates 4 Mln Euros for Emergency Intervention
Israelis Want Temple Rebuilt at Al-Aqsa Site
Palestinian Woman Tortured to Death by Father For Using Cell Phone
West Bank: Israel Evacuates Two Illegal Mini-Outposts
 
Middle East
Iran: Press Watchdog Shuts Down Daily for Insulting Khomeini
Iraqi Troops Against a Camp for Iranian Exiles, Enemies of Tehran
Iraqi Officials May Have Colluded in Britons’ Kidnap
Israel Criticises UNIFIL-Hezbollah Contacts
Transport: Mega Highway to Connect Istanbul to Iran, Caucasus
 
South Asia
Bangladesh: Muslims Attack Hindus, Ransack a Temple and Destroy Four Houses
Swedes Attacked in Afghanistan Again
Taliban Issues Code of Conduct That Tells Fighters to Limit Suicide Attacks and Avoid Civilian Deaths
 
Far East
China: Uyghur Leader Rebiya Kadeer in Japan, Beijing Protests
China: Rebiya Kadeer Says 10,000 People Disappeared in One Night in Urumqi, Complains About US Silence
 
Australia — Pacific
Judge Throws Out Islamic Spokesman’s Defamation Claim
 
Sub-Saharan Africa
Mauritania: USA in a Hurry to Work With Elected President
Nigeria Forces Storm Sect Mosque
 
Latin America
Russia to Drill for Oil Off Cuba
 
Culture Wars
NY Taxpayers to Pay Donors for Stem Cell Studies

USA

ACORN Founder Wade Rathke Plots Downfall of Capitalism

On his TV show today, Glenn Beck spotlighted a fascinating interview that ACORNcracked.com editor Kyle Olson conducted with disgraced ACORN founder Wade Rathke.

Olson visited Rathke’s book signing in New Orleans to get the footage. The book is Citizen Wealth: Winning the Campaign to Save Working Families, in which Rathke serves up some community organizing war stories, and offers his thoughts on the future of organizing.

As I wrote in the American Spectator, Rathke is a pioneer of the so-called welfare rights movement that aims to get Americans on welfare. He devotes an entire chapter of his book to what he calls “The ‘Maximum Eligible Participation’ Solution.” It is a strategy for orchestrated crisis that savvy leftist groups across America are likely to embrace.

Rathke confirms in Olson’s footage (during what appears to be a book talk) that he is pursuing this strategy that calls for all Americans eligible for welfare payments to pursue every penny the law “entitles” them to. He urges people to “make sure that other people in the community” are actually getting their due from the government.

The Maximum Eligible Participation Solution is just the old Cloward-Piven Strategy in new clothes. The strategy aimed at radical social and political change was articulated by Marxist university professors Richard A. Cloward and Frances Fox Piven in a 1966 Nation article, “The Weight of the Poor: A Strategy to End Poverty.” The two academics called for “a massive drive to recruit the poor onto the welfare rolls” in an effort to overwhelm the system. [Italics in original.]

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Brother Defends Accused Terror Head

NEW YORK (AP) — The older brother of a North Carolina man accused of recruiting and training would-be terrorists said Thursday he didn’t believe sibling Daniel Boyd intended to wage “violent jihad” abroad.

Robert Boyd said the federal charges sound “like another attempt to associate Islam with terrorism” and the accusations “they’re trying to pin on him is pure poppycock as far as I am concerned.”

Boyd, 49, spoke to The Associated Press from his home in Minnesota and called the situation his brother faces “ludicrous.” He described his younger brother as an “upstanding young man.”

Authorities say Daniel Boyd, 39, bought guns and led a group of men who were planning to kidnap, kill and maim people abroad. The indictment, which names six others including two of Boyd’s sons, said some of the defendants took trips to Jordan, Israel and Pakistan.

Federal authorities are looking for an eighth man tied to the group, who is believed to be in Pakistan.

Boyd traveled to Pakistan two decades ago with his family and brother Charles, where prosecutors say they trained in terrorist camps and fought the Soviet Union.

Debra Cline, 51, was Charles’ wife at the time. She recalled that the brothers would rotate stints in the field, leaving for a week or two at a time to go to Afghanistan or to training. But they never talked about the endeavor.

“The women were pretty much left in the dark,” Cline told The Associated Press from her home in Florida. “We were not given much information.”

Charles Boyd and Cline met a decade before their time in the Middle East. Charles and Robert Boyd came to Florida with just $14, hoping to make some extra money before going to Pakistan. They were inspired by a video shown at a Washington-area mosque that depicted the Soviets killing women and children, Cline said.

“That was their main concern,” she said. “That’s what got them wanting to go over there.”

They did not go for several years, but Daniel and Charles Boyd eventually made the trip.

In 1991, Daniel Boyd and his brother Charles were convicted of robbing a bank in Pakistan, where they and their wives were living. A sentence that included amputations of a hand and foot was overturned.

Cline said she didn’t want to make the trip to Pakistan but went at her husband’s behest. After the brothers were arrested, she wanted to leave and went to the U.S. embassy to make it happen. Cline said that led Daniel and Sabrina Boyd to shun her, and Cline didn’t speak to them again after leaving Pakistan.

Her husband wasn’t nearly as upset.

“He wasn’t as passionate as Daniel,” she said. Cline split from Charles Boyd soon after leaving Pakistan and is no longer Muslim.

Cline said she was shocked by the charges, describing Daniel Boyd as “mellow and laid-back.”

Robert Boyd, who is also a practicing Muslim, said he first learned of the charges against his brother while watching television. He also said his brothers didn’t discuss what they did in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

“They talked about how beautiful it was over there,” Robert Boyd said. “They loved it over there.”

“As far as I was concerned he was with the mujahedeen trying to kick ass on the Russians and get them out of Afghanistan, which was backed by the United States,” Robert Boyd said.

Both Robert Boyd and Cline said they didn’t know of Charles Boyd’s whereabouts.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


Diana West: Obama’s Secret: Safe With the Media

Barack Obama’s birthday is coming up on August 4, and I hereby urge the president to bestow a big daddy party favor on the nation that elected him: a verifying look at the original, “long-form” version of his birth certificate.

Before I explain why, it’s important to grasp the weird fact that this simple request, requiring nothing more than the merest nod of the close-clipped, presidential head, ranks as fightin’ words to, of all people, American journalists. Right-wing, Left-wing, these ladies and gentlemen of the Fourth Estate seem to want nothing less than to gain access to the one piece of evidence that could lay the “natural born” issue to rest once and for all. Not quite kicking but definitely screaming, the media have made their aversion to proof perversely clear: Whatever President Obama does, their jarringly unified message is, he certainly should not direct the state of Hawaii to make public his original, long-form birth certificate.

And so it’s a good bet the president won’t, even though such a presidential directive would instantly dispense with a divisive, corrosive question — whether President Obama’s still-secret long-form birth certificate contains compromising information. The entire controversy would disappear forever if there were nothing more sensational on that long-form document than, say, the name of the Hawaiian hospital where Baby Barack came into the world…

           — Hat tip: Diana West[Return to headlines]


Downtown Fort Myers Condo Has 32 Stories, And One Lonely Tale

Condo can get spooky for tower’s only family

Victor Vangelakos lives in a luxury condominium tower on the Caloosahatchee River. He never has to worry about the neighbors making too much noise.

There are no neighbors.

Vangelakos, 45, his wife Cathy and their three children are the only residents in the 32-story Oasis I condo on the east edge of downtown Fort Myers.

The 45-year-old Weehawken, N.J., firefighter bought the condo from Miami-based The Related Group for $430,000 and closed on it in November. He planned to make it a vacation getaway and eventually his full-time residence when he retires in four years.

But prices have fallen hard since the real estate bubble burst in early 2006. Only a handful of those who put down deposits on the tower’s units actually closed on the deal. Those who did have swapped their Oasis I units for condos in Oasis II next door.

Vangelakos didn’t, because he was unable to convince his lender to agree to the swap, said Betsy Lu McCoy, vice president and associate corporate counsel for Related.

That leaves the Vangelakos family splitting their time between New Jersey and a creepy, surreal life in Oasis I.

They’re the only ones using a well-appointed clubhouse, but they can’t watch the big plasma TV.

“We haven’t found the remote controls,” Victor said.

Pause for a moment anywhere in the building during the day and the silence is deafening.

At night, Vangelakos said, they often hear people on the grounds or even inside the building itself. It’s not hard to break in one of the many entrances.

Once, late at night, “Somebody banged on our door,” Vanelakos said.

It wouldn’t have been hard to find the person in the otherwise darkened building.

“At night,” he said, “you can see our TV from the street.”

Especially popular for intruders is the swimming pool, Vangelakos said. They heard people there one night “and the next day all our chairs were in the pool.”

His relationship with Related is testy at best. Once, he said, when management turned off his water to fix a leak in a pipe, “we came back 10 days later and the water was off but our TV was on.”

Now, after months of exchanging letters with Related about building maintenance and other issues, Vangelakos said he just wants out.

He hasn’t filed a lawsuit but his attorney, Fort Lauderdale-based John Ewing, said Related hasn’t delivered the marina, pro shop and fancy restaurants that were promised.

“They have the ability to buy him out,” Ewing said. “They can resolve this in a fair way.”

McCoy said it’s not that simple.

“His concerns have not fallen on deaf ears,” she said, but it isn’t Related’s fault he hasn’t been able to persuade his lender, JP Morgan Chase Bank, to transfer the mortgage to a unit in Oasis II.

“What he paid went to our lender, it didn’t come to us,” McCoy noted, so Related would have to pay off the mortgage before it got the unit back.

Besides, she said, the situation is the result of market forces beyond anyone’s control.

“We did not foresee, nor did anyone else foresee, the collapse of the real estate business and the concurrent collapse of the lending industry,” McCoy said. “They’re caught and we’re caught.”

           — Hat tip: REP[Return to headlines]


Major Science Group ‘Startled’ By Outpouring of Scientists Rejecting Man-Made Climate Fears!

An outpouring of skeptical scientists who are members of the American Chemical Society (ACS) are revolting against the group’s editor-in-chief—with some demanding he be removed—after an editorial appeared claiming “the science of anthropogenic climate change is becoming increasingly well established.”

The editorial claimed the “consensus” view was growing “increasingly difficult to challenge, despite the efforts of diehard climate-change deniers.” The editor now admits he is “startled” by the negative reaction from the group’s scientific members.

The June 22, 2009 editorial in Chemical and Engineering News by editor in chief Rudy Baum, is facing widespread blowback and condemnation from American Chemical Society member scientists. Baum concluded his editorial by stating that “deniers” are attempting to “derail meaningful efforts to respond to global climate change.”

Dozens of letters were published on July 27, 2009 castigating Baum, with some scientists calling for his replacement as editor-in-chief.

The editorial was met with a swift, passionate and scientific rebuke from Baum’s colleagues. Virtually all of the letters published on July 27 in castigated Baum’s climate science views. Scientists rebuked Baum’s use of the word “deniers” because of the terms “association with Holocaust deniers.” In addition, the scientists called Baum’s editorial: “disgusting”; “a disgrace”; “filled with misinformation”; “unworthy of a scientific periodical” and “pap.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Obama’s ‘Hit Man’ Emanuel Splitting American Jewry

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has denied calling White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and senior Obama advisor David Axelrod “self-hating Jews.” The alleged use of the term “self-hating Jew” is particularly timely as Jews mourn on Thursday the destruction of the First and Second Holy Temples. Jewish thought teaches that “senseless hatred” among Jews was the reason for the fall of the Second Temple.

Whether or not the Prime Minister used the term, increasing criticism by American Jews of U.S. President Barack Obama signals a split in the American Jewish community.

The trigger for the growing crisis between Israel and the U.S., and among American Jews, is the issue of “settlements,” which President Obama labeled as “illegitimate” in his speech in Cairo nearly two months ago. He later included Jewish communities in eastern Jerusalem as part of the “settlement” label.

President Obama revealed this week that his White House advisor Rahm Emanuel, whose father was an Israeli and part of the underground resistance movement under the British Mandate, tells him everything he needs to know about Israel.

Emanuel also is the man who choreographed the handshake between former President Bill Clinton, former Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin and Yasser Arafat on the White House lawn.

He has pushed the president into a head-on collision with the Netanyahu government, but there is a growing opinion that he has also left the president out on a limb. Emanuel’s strategy was to demonstrate that the pro-Israel lobby American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) no longer speaks for American Jewry.

Mondoweis Blogger Philip Weis, who continually attacks a Jewish presence in Judea and Samaria and eastern Jerusalem, wrote last month, “Obama’s game is to defeat the Israel lobby from within. He could not defeat the lobby from outside it… But now he is cracking it like a nut, and counting on Jews to do the cracking.”

That strategy has turned into a wall of opposition, both in Israel, where the president’s popularity rating is near-zero, in the U.S. where Emanuel has simply ignored opposing views of major Jewish organizations, and in the normally anti-settlement American press.

           — Hat tip: Sean O’Brian[Return to headlines]


Stable Owner Catches Man Having Sex With Horse

COLUMBIA, S.C. — A South Carolina man was charged with having sex with a horse after the animal’s owner caught the act on videotape, then staked out the stable and caught him at shotgun point, authorities said Wednesday.

But this wasn’t the first time Rodell Vereen has been charged. He pleaded guilty last year to having sex with the same horse after owner Barbara Kenley found him in the same stable. Then he was sentenced to probation and placed on the state’s sex offender list.

Kenley said she noticed several weeks ago that her 21-year-old horse Sugar was acting strange and getting infections. She noticed things in the barn had been moved around — dirt piled up and bales of hay stacked near the horse’s stall at her Lazy B Stables in Longs, about 20 miles northeast of Myrtle Beach.

“Police kept telling me it couldn’t be the same guy,” Kenley said Wednesday. “I couldn’t believe that there were two guys going around doing this to the same horse.”

She spent several nights at the stables, which are about 4 miles from her home, but didn’t find anything. So she installed surveillance cameras, and when she reviewed the footage from July 19, she couldn’t believe she was seeing the same man doing the same thing to her horse.

Kenley didn’t call police because she was certain the man would come back to the stable, and she wanted to make sure he was arrested. So she staked out the barn and caught Vereen inside Monday night, chasing him to his truck and holding him with her shotgun until police came.

“He said he wasn’t there to do anything, and I said, ‘I know you were. I have you on tape.’ And then he said he was sorry if he hurt me,” Kenley said.

Vereen, 50, was first charged with trespassing, but police added a buggery charge after watching the surveillance tape.

He faces up to five years if convicted. Vereen was already on probation after pleading guilty to buggery last year and was sentenced to three years of probation, ordered to stay away from the Lazy B Stables and declared a sex offender.

He remains in jail, awaiting a hearing Monday to determine if he violated his probation.

Vereen has had mental problems for several years, but seemed to get better after getting court-ordered treatment last year, said his brother, the Rev. James Vereen, who lives just down the street from his brother and the stables.

“He’s done all right when he was on the medicine. I don’t know if he is still taking it,” said James Vereen, who added his brother has kept to himself a lot in the last few months.

Kenley pointed out that she caught Vereen in 2007, too. him then too. She stopped by her stable on Thanksgiving Day and found a man asleep in the hay by her horse, who had been locked in her stall, a mound of dirt and a stool behind her.

She said she thought about shooting Vereen both times, but didn’t want to go to prison.

“Everyone around here has horses,” Kenley said. “And they all said the same thing. You should have shot him.”

           — Hat tip: Vlad Tepes[Return to headlines]


They’re Coming for Your Tonsils

Health Costs: Lawyers are responsible for more unneeded procedures than “greedy” doctors. But instead of capping malpractice awards, bureaucrats will soon decide which treatments are OK and whether you’re worth it.

In a gratuitous slap at the medical profession, President Obama at last week’s news conference said that if you bring your child in with a sore throat, “the doctor may look at the reimbursement system and say to himself, ‘You know what? I make a lot more money if I take this kid’s tonsils out.’ “

Frankly, we find the charge that doctors are robber barons not looking out for the best interests of their patients offensive.

[…]

The Obama administration’s cost controls are based on the British and Canadian systems. Tucked in the stimulus bill was an entity called the Federal Coordinating Council for Comparative Effectiveness Research (Pages 190-192). Its purpose is to decide which treatments you should get, whether you should get them and whether they should even be available.

It is modeled after a British board that approves or rejects treatments after dividing the cost of the treatment by the number of years the patient is expected to benefit. Such a formula is found on Page 464 of the stimulus bill.

In 2006, a U.K.-based board decreed that elderly patients with macular degeneration had to wait until they went blind in one eye before they could get a costly new drug to save the other eye. After all, how many more years would they need two good eyes?

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Washington May Release Ill Prisoners to Save Money

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — About two dozen seriously ill prisoners in Washington state could soon be released from prison — as long as their freedom is expected to save the cash-strapped state money.

A new state law, which takes effect Saturday, expands a current program to release chronically or terminally ill prisoners. Death row inmates, or those serving life sentences without the possibility of parole, are not eligible for early release.

Washington is among more than 30 states that have some form of early release program for seriously ill prisoners, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The move will save the Washington state Department of Corrections an estimated $800,000 over the next two years, mainly on things like prescription costs and transporting prisoners to off-prison medical treatment.

But the state Department of Social and Health Services estimates it could see significant increases in its budget if it has to place all of those released in state-paid nursing homes or provide additional mental health services — offsetting any savings and possibly adding more costs to the already hampered state budget.

That frustrates some lawmakers like Rep. Bruce Dammeier, R-Puyallup. He voted in favor of the bill twice while it was moving through legislative committees, but ultimately voted against it on the House floor because of concerns over costs. The state had to make major cuts this year to patch a $9 billion budget deficit.

“I was prepared to speak out in support of this bill in our caucus room, and then as I reviewed the fiscal note again, it had changed,” Dammeier said. “It’s not clear-cut, it’s not easy to define, and it’s not going to clearly result in savings.”

The number of prisoners who would actually be released is unknown. Also unclear is how many of those released would end up relying on social safety net programs.

Even the state corrections chief admits the program expansion is a work in progress.

“We continue to think this will save the state money, but we won’t know that for sure until we’re down the road,” said Corrections Secretary Eldon Vail. “Will it in every case? That’s the goal. You can’t know until they leave the system.”

Under the law signed by Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire in May, the head of corrections can authorize early medical release only if certain conditions are met. The offender must have a serious medical condition that is expected “to require costly care or treatment.” They must pose a low risk to the community because they are physically incapacitated or expected to be at the time of release. And the release must be expected to save the state money.

The department works to see if prisoners qualify for private or veteran’s health coverage. Barring other options, they arrange for Medicaid, which is paid for partially by the state and partly with federal money.

Vail said there have been cases of some prisoners with such serious health problems that they were sent to state nursing homes or intensive care, with an armed guard paid to be with them. So under the program, not much changes except the lack of a guard, he said.

“The state is still paying for the hospital bed, but the state is no longer paying for the correctional officer to stand watch,” Vail said.

The main change to the current early release program, which has been in place since 1999, is that it no longer requires the prisoner be incapacitated before being approved for release. Fifty-five offenders have been released since 1999 under the earlier program, and two more have been approved and are currently awaiting placement in the community.

Sherry Lynn Bradford, a 40-year-old prisoner at the Washington Corrections Center for Women near Gig Harbor, hopes that she will be one of the prisoners released under the new expanded law. Bradford, who has hepatitis C and has had two surgeries to address liver failure, was denied parole last year under the old program because she wasn’t yet incapacitated.

She said that during her last surgery earlier this month, “my doctor didn’t sugarcoat it.”

“He said my liver is very sick and the only way I’m going to live is to get a new one,” she said.

Bradford has been in and out of prison since 1997 on drug charges, with her most recent conviction in 2006 for possession of a controlled substance, with intent to manufacture or deliver cocaine. She is set to be released on probation in December. She said she hopes she can be out before then under medical parole in hopes that she can get on a transplant list sooner.

“I really can’t do anything from behind bars,” she said.

Her application hasn’t yet been decided, and Vail said every request will be determined on a case-by-case basis.

“It’s a balancing act between trying to make sure a person receives proper care in a way that is cost effective,” he said. “It’s not a black-and-white decision. It all depends on the individual.”

—-

The early medical parole bill is House Bill 2194.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Abandon the War on Drugs, But Start a War on Addiction

Instead of fighting drug-related crime, we need to stop people taking drugs, says Iain Duncan Smith

Yesterday, the UK Drug Policy Commission recommended that the fight against drugs should focus on dealing with the criminal and anti-social elements that surround their sale. In other words, as long as drug dealers don’t start shooting each other, the police should turn a blind eye to their activities.

Yet the irony is that this plan has been followed all too often — with devastating consequences. In a notorious experiment in Brixton, dealers were left alone to sell cannabis, forcing local people to dodge them as they wandered up and down the streets, and to worry that their children would get caught up in the trade and the police would do nothing about it.

In Balsall Heath in Birmingham, the police also decided to leave the dealers to get on with their trade, preferring to monitor their activities. Residents saw front gardens became littered with needles, and prostitutes moved in. Thanks to the leadership of the sociologist Dick Atkinson, the community drove the dealers and the prostitutes out, and forced the police to treat them normally.

The truth is that the sort of communities where the police are being encouraged to adopt this approach are poor, with high deprivation, high crime and high levels of addiction — in other words, places that have already been written off, and which no one seems to care about. Just imagine the outrage if they suggested doing this to a middle-class suburb.

Yes, we have had a decade of failed drugs policy. But instead of more of the same, we should accept that the present policy has failed because it is centred on the wrong premise: that the purpose of our drugs strategy should be simply to minimise the harm that they do.

This approach is not only defeatist, but dangerous. It is a policy which seems to believe that so long as an addict doesn’t mug someone, kill them or rob their house, then that’s fine. It is a policy that parks addicts on methadone, entrenching addiction and ensuring that many of their children follow suit. It fails to address the problems of drugs and alcohol in terms of breaking the cycle of addiction, or in terms of recovery — which is why a significantly higher percentage of Britons are addicts than is the case with any of our neighbours. Rehabilitation treatment has been marginalised, with only a tiny number of addicts helped to get off drugs. The problem is made worse by the authorities’ failure to recognise that high levels of alcohol consumption among young people have a strong connection to the rise in the drugs culture.

Contrast this with Sweden, or even Holland. There, they understand that a successful drugs strategy needs to have a strong emphasis on clear laws, with the expectation they be policed. People are clear about what will happen if they are caught in possession of illegal drugs. In Holland, they spend three quarters of identifiable funding on law enforcement. Typically, this includes interdicting local production and trafficking. In the UK, the corresponding figure is far less, and there is little clarity about enforcement.

Second, these countries use the justice system to divert criminal drug users to care programmes, the purpose of which is to reduce reoffending and break the cycle of addiction. In Sweden, they tie successful involvement in such programmes to the expunging of the criminal record. Unlike in Britain, rehabilitation is seen as an integral part of the approach — and, unsurprisingly enough, the number of addicts as a proportion of the population is considerably lower than here.

What we need is not more rhetoric about a “war on drugs”, which is political nonsense. Instead, we must start a sustained process that aims to reduce drug-taking behaviour rather than containing it, and thus improves the quality of life for addicts, their families, and their communities.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


Bertinotti: Notion of Two Lefts Dies in Europe

(AGI) — Cortina d’Ampezzo, 27 July — In Europe the notion of two lefts, a radical one and a centre-left one, is dead. Former parliamentary president Fausto Bertinotti made the statement in the PalaInfiniti of Cortina InConTra. “The attempt to set up a radical and antagonist left, heir of the 20th century, has failed, my generation has failed, lost, I lost”. Bertinotti was not easy on the democratic party either. “The centre-left has also lost, from Pd to Spd, from French socialists to the Labour party to the Psoe. We won’t come out of the hole until they say that they lost as well”. The defeat can be seen by all, “as shown by the European elections. The defeat is dramatic, the right wins both when in government and when part of the opposition. Once victory followed the accumulation of consensus in the opposition, this did not happen either, not only with Berlusconi but also with Sarkozy”. However the crisis of the left is not at world level because it “governs in South America and in certain Asian countries. This is a European crisis, a left that abandoned the workers’s movement. If anyone thinks that it lost for the fault of others, they’re wrong, we have to set up a new left in Europe”. In Bertinotti’s opinion “with the defeat of the two lefts, we need to rebuild a winning majority in Europe”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Ciao Bella: A Trip Across Silvio Berlusconi’s Italy

Even though it has recently become increasingly enigmatic, bizarre and incomprehensible, Italy continues to be a top vacation destination for Germans. But a journey through the land of Silvio Berlusconi shows that it resembles Germany more than many would like to believe.

Show me the country where a former soft-porn starlet is being considered for a cabinet post. Show me the country where labor representatives jet off to company-paid visits to brothels and a media mogul crazy about music controls 80 percent of the tabloid press.

Show me the country where, according to the World Bank, the red tape required to start a company is more inscrutable than in Rwanda or Kazakhstan. Where business executives run their companies into the ground and then expect bailouts from across the Alps…

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Does Ireland Want Blair? Does Anyone?

How fitting. The unelected, unaccountable Minister for Europe, Lady Glenys Kinnock, has today thrown her weight behind Tony Blair becoming the unelected, unaccountable new EU President.

According to PA, she told the European Parliament in Strasbourg today:

“The UK Government is supporting Tony Blair’s candidature for President of the Council (of EU governments)”.

Asked if the prospect of being Europe’s president had been discussed with Mr Blair, she said: “It is the Government’s position. I am sure they would not do that without asking him.”

It shows a blatent disregard for the Irish for the Government to be talking about grabbing the cushy new jobs in the Lisbon Treaty, before it has even been ratified. But this is also a reminder to the Irish, as they prepare to vote again, that the creation of a new EU President will substantially diminish the influence of smaller countries in Europe.

Under the existing system, each EU country gets to chair the EU and set the agenda for six months at a time. That is no small matter for a small country whose politicians tend not to secure the higher profile jobs in the other EU institutions.

It means that the democratically elected prime ministers and presidents of each country are able to be EU President on a rotating basis. Nobody is pretending that this system is ideal. But it seems a damn sight fairer and more democratic than simply handing the post, complete with enormous new salary, perks, pension and prestige for two and a half years at a time to an ex-leader who has fallen from grace in his or her own country, as will be case under Lisbon.

Nobody even knows what this uber-President is actually going to do, given the total ambiguity of the Lisbon Treaty. How will his role differ from the super new EU Foreign Minister’s?

The Swedish EU Presidency have today had a novel idea. According to PA, the Presidency “has suggested drawing up a proper job description — and then seeing which available political figure best fits the bill.”

A job description??! Radical!

This just proves that the idea for a President is mostly about giving the EU a symbolic, political figurehead to help propel its wild dreams about becoming a world superpower. Otherwise why has noone ever bothered with the details?

Tony Blair may well be well respected around the world, and a weighty character for meetings with Putin and Obama. But he is also yesterday’s news — he has no democratic mandate at all — and neither will any of the other contenders for the post.

Not only that, but according to a Populus poll for the Times in May, 63% of British voters don’t want Blair to be EU President. So Glenys Kinnock is completely out of touch with the British people — quelle surprise.

           — Hat tip: Sean O’Brian[Return to headlines]


EU: Bad News for Democracy

EUOBSERVER / COMMENT — Swedish think-tank Timbro have this week made a much welcome appeal to the Swedish EU presidency to highlight the EU’s growing use of propaganda and to take a first step towards reversing it.

Back in December 2008, Open Europe, an independent think-tank with offices in London and Brussels, published the fruits of many months of investigation into the EU’s unwieldy budget and concluded that it was spending more than €2.4 billion a year on a wide variety of efforts to promote European integration.

This includes everything from straightforward advertising — with posters, leaflets, EU merchandise and so on — to more subtle attempts to convince people of the merits of “ever closer union” through cultural, educational and citizenship initiatives.

The EU has a remarkably sophisticated machine in operation to “sell” EU integration at every possible opportunity, complete with its own “Communication Department,” and an impressive budget for funding hundreds of outside organisations which are supportive of the EU cause.

Without doubt, there is a clear need for citizens to become better educated about the European Union and what it does — especially given the fact that, as the European Parliament has confirmed, EU legislation is now at the root of the majority of laws enacted in its member states.

But the European Commission — and no doubt far too many MEPs — still do not understand the difference between providing much-needed information and “selling” the EU.

The innocuous-sounding pamphlet “How the European Union works,” for example, emotively describes the EU as “a remarkable success story.” And it is very deliberate. The commission even admits in its own policy documents that: “Neutral factual information is needed of course, but it is not enough on its own.”

           — Hat tip: Sean O’Brian[Return to headlines]


EU: Wide Gaps in Use of Warrants

Big differences in how EU countries use powers; many more warrants requested than issued.

Striking differences in how member states are using the European arrest warrant (EAW) have emerged in a report for the Council of Ministers.

There are wide disparities between member states in the number of warrants requested, and even wider gaps between the number of warrants requested and the number issued. But the biggest differences emerge between the number of procedures started and the number of arrests made.

The report on last year’s use of the system show that Poland and Germany accounted for more than half of the warrants issued during 2008. Out of the total of 11,681 warrants, Poland requested 4,829 arrests and Germany requested 2,149.

Overall, a person was surrendered to the requesting state in less than a quarter of cases where a warrant was issued. Poland’s numerous requests resulted in just 617 people being sent there from another member state to face charges, and only 624 were sent to Germany. Success rate

Many more warrants were requested than were issued. Hungary received 14,393 requests to arrest people, followed by Germany with 12,637. But these figures fall dramatically when the numbers of people actually arrested and sent to the requesting member state are examined. Just 113 people were arrested under an EAW in Hungary and of that number, 95 were sent to the requesting state. In Germany, the success rate was 974 arrests and 742 transfers.

The EAW came into force in 2004 with the aim of speeding up extradition between member states, but these latest figures, culled from member states’ responses to a Council questionnaire, demonstrate that different national approaches continue to complicate cross-border judicial procedures. The picture is further obscured because ten member states, including the UK, Italy, the Netherlands and Romania, did not supply any information.

The reasons for the differences displayed in the new figures include divergent national legal systems (Germany and Poland, for instance, require a case to be prosecuted once a crime is reported), the withdrawal of a warrant because the person being sought was already serving a sentence in another member state or the person was already wanted by another member state, and evasion of arrest or a successful legal challenge to the warrant. Evaluations

A separate report issued in May revealed that while some member states examine each arrest warrant request to check if the crime is serious enough to transfer a suspect to another member state, other EU countries consider such a check superfluous.

Member states’ experts who carry out the annual evaluations have repeatedly but unsuccessfully asked for the introduction of a generalised ‘proportionality’ check. An evaluation in 2007 showed arrest warrants were issued for minor offences including stealing a piglet and the theft of two car tyres.

           — Hat tip: Sean O’Brian[Return to headlines]


Expelled Dutchmen Held in Belgium

Four Dutch nationals arrested and expelled by Kenya on suspicion of aiding insurgents in Somalia have been arrested in Belgium.

The 21-year-olds were arrested near the Somali border by Kenyan police who did not believe the four, of Moroccan and Somali origin, were tourists.

The Netherlands authorities have since opened a case against them and want the four men extradited from Belgium.

Hardline Islamists are battling Somalia’s UN-backed government.

There have been several recent reports of young men from the US, Europe and South Asia joining the insurgents in a “holy war”.

AP news agency reports that two homes in The Hague where the men lived were searched, and prosecutors said they seized “a large number of documents”.

In Kenya, Lamu District Commissioner Stephen Ikua told the BBC the four had travelled by boat from Lamu island before hiring a tractor.

The Kenyan authorities say they have arrested and deported several other young men from Tanzania and the United States in the same area for the same reason.

BBC East Africa correspondent Will Ross says in recent months eyewitnesses in Somalia have reported seeing foreigners amongst the insurgent fighters known as al-Shabab.

Al-Shabab wants to overthrow the UN-backed transitional government in Somalia and put in place strict Islamic law.

The hardline Islamists control much of southern Somalia.

The authorities in Minnesota in the United States are investigating claims that several young men were lured to Somalia to fight.

Since early May, the fighting between the insurgents and the forces loyal to Somalia’s government has displaced nearly 250,000 people.

           — Hat tip: Sean O’Brian[Return to headlines]


Finnish Ship Hijacked in Swedish Waters

A Finnish ship was hijacked off the Swedish island of Öland in the early hours of last Friday.

A group of black-clad masked men boarded the ship and, claiming to be police officers, searched the Maltese-registered vessel which was laden with timber bound for Algeria.

The vessel’s Russian crew were bound and gagged for the duration of their 12 hour ordeal which began at around 3am on Friday July 24th.

The Swedish National Police Board (Rikspolisstyrelsen) have stated that the men were not police, neither were they representatives from any other authority.

“It is the first time I have ever heard of such a thing in Swedish waters,” Ingemar Isaksson at the board said to the TT news agency.

The Swedish police were informed of the hijacking via the Russian authorities through which the 15-man crew had contacted the Russian embassy in Stockholm.

The Swedish police have launched an investigation into the hijacking amid allegations that the crew were assaulted with rifle butts.

Exactly what the hijackers, who spoke English, were looking for remains unclear. Reports indicate that they said something about a “drug enforcement control” and that they were looking for narcotics.

The Swedish police are in possession of information forwarded by the shipping company to the Finnish police but have not yet managed to contact the vessel.

Police are now making attempts to contact the vessel and are also appealing for information from any recreational sailors who may have seen anything.

The hijackers are reported to have been travelling in a high-speed inflatable boat. After the attack the vessel continued on its journey.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]


Firing Dutchman: Fire Guts Replica Flagship

(video at link)

A spectacular fire has destroyed a replica 17th century flagship of the Dutch East India Company in the Netherlands.

A Dutch East India Company (VOC) replica of the Prince Willem vessel burns in the historical museum harbour in Den Helder, Netherlands, on July 30, 2009. The replica, built in 1985, was 68 metre long and had a mast 54 metres high. The blaze was reportedly due to an electrical fault in the ship’s foyer.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


General Dannatt is Right — Britain is at War

There is much to commend in General Sir Richard Dannatt’s address on Thursday to The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), his last speech before stepping down as Chief of the General Staff of the British Army. General Dannatt, who has been an outspoken critic of defence cuts and the Labour government’s chronic underfunding of overseas military operations, delivered one of the most important speeches on British strategic thinking in the post 9/11 era.

It is not hard to see why Dannatt was ousted by a Prime Minister who has done more to weaken Britain’s armed forces than any leader in modern times. His IISS speech contained none of the Miliband-like weak-kneed talk of cutting deals with the Taliban, or flowery discussion of how Britain should be advancing a ludicrous European defence identity with Brussels. Instead he offered a frank assessment of Britain’s current military requirements if it is to retain its position as a global power as well as a strong reaffirmation of the Anglo-American Special Relationship. Refreshingly he didn’t even mention the European Union once.

General Dannatt urged the forthcoming Strategic Defence Review to be “underpinned by a clearly defined view of Britain’s global interests and our future global role”:

“I believe it is correct that we must assume that our history and the inescapable demographic legacy of our Empire, (is) linked to our current status, our trading interests, geography, trans-Atlantic ties and our responsibilities as a P5, G8, NATO and commonwealth member — all these things are hardwired into our political and national DNA. With this comes the responsibility of international activism on the global stage. We should not shy away from this. This is not ‘punching above our weight’ but I would suggest it is ‘operating commensurate with our responsibilities’.

And this global perspective must also be informed by a clear understanding of what capabilities our principal ally — the United States of America — needs and expects from us. We should not assume that the legacy of the immediate Cold War aftermath still remains and we must examine what capabilities would secure our continued influence and strong relationship with the United States — and to balance this with any leadership aspirations we may have in a pragmatic way with our European neighbours.”

Most importantly, the General outlined what is at stake in Afghanistan, and powerfully reminded his audience that Britain must be placed on a war-footing in order to win the war in south Asia. Significantly, unlike Downing Street and the Foreign Office, he actually believes the war in Afghanistan can be won on a military level, a clear riposte to the defeatist talk swirling around London — and Washington as well — that accommodations must be reached with our adversaries.

The campaign in Afghanistan is not some sort of peacekeeping exercise but a full-blown war that requires strong public backing and a carefully coordinated approach across all government departments if it is to succeed. As Dannatt put it bluntly:

“We should be under no illusion: we are at war and if we want to succeed, which we must, we must get onto a war-like footing — and as I said to the Officer Cadets being commissioned from Sandhurst last Christmas — you enter an Army that is at War — even if not everyone in our nation realizes that… we must ensure that we succeed in the current campaign.

Success in Afghanistan is not discretionary — it will set the agenda for the future — and we must do whatever is necessary to succeed. This must be demonstrated by a strengthened and enduring national, political, industrial, cross-Whitehall and departmental commitment to delivering success in Afghanistan — we need to get onto a war-like footing. It is very much in our national interest to do this. If this means an uplift in Afghan-specific capabilities, so be it.”

General Dannatt’s wise counsel and willingness to stand up for his soldiers will be greatly missed when he departs on August 28. He has served his country bravely and with tremendous honour. His advice today will probably fall on deaf ears with the Brown administration, but must be taken up by the Conservatives when they come to power.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


Identity Theft Hackers Attack MI5 Website

Computer hackers attacked the website of intelligence agency MI5 in an apparent bid to steal the identities of web users, according to a report that will embarrass security officials.

The security breach could also have enabled the hackers to download viruses onto the machines of anyone using the organisation’s website, the Daily Express reported.

A Whitehall spokeswoman said there had been a “small issue” with a search engine linked to the MI5 website.

She said: “MI5 take security very seriously. Their website is secure and hosted in a high security environment.”

Tory MP Patrick Mercer, who is chairman of the Commons’ counter-terrorism sub-committee, told the newspaper: “Having potentially highly-classified information available to hackers is deeply concerning.

“The identity of agents and informers in terror groups such as al Qaeda are held by MI5.”

Last year Eastern European hackers infected more than a thousand British websites with the virus, known as Asprox, including those belonging to local government offices and the NHS.

Asprox infected the Norfolk NHS website, which is used by thousands of visitors every day to access local services. Twelve local council websites, including that of Hackney Council in London, were also compromised, putting at risk hundreds of residents logging on to pay their council tax.

It is thought that several internet users discovered that their computers have been infected by Asprox only after they found money had been removed from their bank accounts or that they had suffered other frauds committed using their personal data.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


Ireland: Security for Two US Detainees Could Cost €430,000

THE State faces paying up to €430,000 annually to provide round-the-clock garda protection for two former Guantanamo Bay prisoners.

The cost of security for the two men from Uzbekistan was understood to have caused concern among Department of Justice officials.

Justice Minister Dermot Ahern yesterday put these internal reservations aside by announcing that he had decided to accept two detainees here.

“I am conscious of the intention of the United States to close the centre at Guantanamo Bay, in part by transferring detainers no longer regarded as posing a threat to security but who cannot return to their own countries, to other countries willing to accept them,” he said.

It is understood the State will initially have to provide high security for the two men to ensure they are not targeted during their stay here.

According to recent figures from the Department of Justice, it costs an average of €215,000 annually to provide round-the-clock protection for a designated person such as a government minister.

But the move will boost relations with US President Barack Obama.

The US government has faced fierce international criticism for its use of Guantanamo Bay in Cuba to detain suspects without trial since 2002.

Mr Ahern said the State would be complying with the monitoring arrangements for the prisoners agreed by all EU member states last month.

When asked if this meant round-the-clock garda protection, the Department of Justice said it did not comment on security arrangements.

The two men are expected to be given “leave to remain” status which is provided for those who are not refugees, but qualify on humanitarian grounds.

Their names, identities and nationalities are not being released to protect their privacy.

But Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin has previously said that they are from Uzbekistan. And he has also indicated that one of them may be Oybek Jamoldinivich Jabbarov (31), who was the subject of an 18-month lobbying campaign by Amnesty International.

“There has been a campaign in relation to one of them. His advocates believe that he was completely and wrongly brought to Guantanamo,” Mr Martin said last month.

Captured

Mr Jabbarov was living with his elderly mother and pregnant wife as refugees in northern Afghanistan when he was captured in 2001. He was later transferred to Guantanamo.

His lawyer later told a a US congressional committee hearing that he had had not been involved in fighting between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance and was most likely handed over for a bounty.

Amnesty Ireland Executive Director Colm O’Gorman welcomed the decision.

“We are delighted that Ireland will play a valuable role in shutting down Guantanamo and in assisting these men in rebuilding their lives, he said.

The British-based human rights agency Reprieve said it applauded the compassion shown by the Irish Government in accepting the two detainers and urged other European governments to follow suit.

[Return to headlines]


Ireland: These Heroic US Soldiers Deserve Welcome by US All

When next in Newmarket-on-Fergus, I intend to find Eamon Walsh, and buy him a pint. His daughter Amelia’s marriage wedding last week was turned into another bogus anti-American media event.

Some reports declared that uniformed US soldiers, staying overnight in the Clare Inn, had gatecrashed the event, and were most unwelcome. In fact, the soldiers — delayed because their Iraq-bound plane was grounded through a technical fault — had been invited to join the Walsh wedding party. Eamon, Amelia and her husband Sean O’Neill later said they were proud to have them as guests.

Good. Those young people belong to the bravest generation of soldiers the United States has ever produced. They are not the conscript-soldiers of America’s wars of the 20th century, who freed much of the world. They are volunteers. They knew when they enlisted in the US army or the Marine Corps that they would be going to war, with a real possibility of death or serious injury. No words are powerful enough to describe the esteem that I have for them.

They are not just fighting for the US. They are in the forefront to save western civilisation. I’m not glorifying war. Civilians who do that are disgusting, since war is so disgusting. One young British lieutenant recently lost both legs, one arm and his genitalia in a roadside bombing.

However, these men and woman in uniform have made their choice. They know what is going on. If Iraq slips from the comity of nations into the hands of Sunni fascists, a stunning blow for the West will have been inflicted. If Afghanistan were to follow, then Pakistan would assuredly go next. And then the world might be faced with the first ever nuclear-armed, death-worshipping jihadist-Nazi state.

Taliban now controls much of Afghanistan. No doubt elements of its complex alliance can be wooed into the sort of belligerent passivity which is the best kind of normality which that strange country knows. Others must be fought, lest they return to power again, and not merely banish women into an internal exile of illiterate sexual slavery, but turn their country into a vast terrorist training-camp. The Afghan military project is not another example of American adventurism: it is simply our civilisation’s instinct for survival where it is most vulnerable.

Once it was at the gates of Vienna and Budapest. Now those gates stand just this side of the Khyber Pass. Such is the profound sense of cultural isolationism which our 70 years of bogus neutralism has engendered, that I’m not sure how many people in Ireland understand the scale of the Afghanistan problem. Total British casualties in Helmand province alone — through enemy action, accident or illness — stand at nearly 2,500. Three of the 191 dead — 1.6pc — were Irish. More will follow.

The British army has been scandalously deprived of necessary equipment for a task which began an entire First World War ago. Use that as an example. It began in 1914; the first tank was invented in 1915; and in August 1918, 650 tanks launched a mass assault on German positions at Amiens.

That was Britain then. Consider Britain now, with its putrid array of armoured vehicles which are still vulnerable to the improvised bombs of illiterate peasants. (Google ‘Jackal’ and have a good laugh at the picture of soldiers sitting in the front this dune-buggy: they are out in the open, have no armour around them, and do not even have a windscreen; and then stop laughing, because good men — including Marine George McKibben from Mayo — have died in this criminally murderous abortion of a machine).

Most regular readers will know that I am Irish, Brit-born, and, generally speaking, pro-Brit. So without prejudice, I can say that the ineptitude of recent British military operations is in that same epic military tradition which gave the world Gallipoli 1915, Kut 1916, Narvik 1940, Dunkirk 1940, Tobruk 1942, Singapore 1942, Kos/Leros 1943, and Arnhem 1944. You could almost have added Basra, Iraq, 2008 to that melancholy list, but for the US Marine Corps’ intervention there. And now in Helmand, the British have been getting around in three Morris Oxfords and two-a-half Hillman Minx helicopters. They have thereby forfeited the right to have a separate command in a coalition war. British soldiers — those faithful, fateful warriors — will surely find better leaders in the US Army and Marine Corps— as should the Danes, the Estonians, the Poles and — I hope, one day — the Irish.

The USMC has now taken over in Helmand, with their hundreds of helicopters and near IED-resistant personnel carriers and, most of all, with their battlefield professionalism. Let the US rule. National independence of command merely confuses — not just battlefield tactics, but the historical reality. Here we have it. One cause, one culture, one freedom. For the demographic fifth column is already across Europe.

Its historic self-belief could be lethally enhanced if the West is defeated in Afghanistan. Thus the cause of the USA is the cause of Ireland. And the welcome that Newmarket-on-Fergus gave to those heroic US soldiers should be seen as being on behalf of us all.

[Return to headlines]


Irish Blasphemers, Beware! New Law Befuddles Nation, But Fulfills Constitution

After years of decreasing influence for religion in public life, Ireland’s new blasphemy law has free speech campaigners worried.

Dublin — After decades of increasing secularization, Irish President Mary McAleese signed into law last week fresh penalties for the ancient crime of blasphemy, befuddling a general public that didn’t see the need and infuriating free speech campaigners.

The Roman Catholic church, which once wielded great social power here, didn’t seek the new law, nor was any other apparent constituency pushing for it. Justice Minister Dermot Ahern, the law’s strongest advocate, said that Ireland would be better off without it shortly after he introduced the bill to parliament.

“The optimal approach … would be to abolish [the existing blasphemy law],” he said at the time, but added that the Irish Constitution demands that blasphemy be defined as a crime. “As a republican, my personal position is that church and state should be separate. But I do not have the luxury of ignoring our constitution.”

By his reckoning, Ireland has been violating its constitution for the past 48 years — since the passage of a 1961 law on defamation that mentioned blasphemy but was vague in its language and non-specific about potential penalties. When the government decided to update defamation law, he argues, it was legally bound to include the new criminal charge of blasphemous libel, punishable by a fine of €25,000 ($35,000).

Irish legal scholars have generally agreed with his interpretation. “I don’t like the idea of a crime of blasphemy, but the minister was right,” says Eoin O’Dell, a senior lecturer at the School of Law, Trinity College Dublin. But atheists and free speech advocates have been irate.

Ann James, secretary of the Humanist Society of Ireland, concedes that the 1937 Constitution, which enshrines freedom of speech at the same time that it calls for blasphemy laws, contains many religious references that are out of the step with the times. All of them should be revised via a popular referendum, she argues. “Unfortunately, it’s cheaper and easier for the government to introduce this flawed legislation,” she says.

The last time someone sought to use Ireland’s blasphemy law was connected to such a referendum. In 1995, Irish voters narrowly voted to overturn the constitutional ban on divorce against organized, vociferous opposition by the Catholic church. Soon after, the Sunday Independent carried a cartoon depicting Irish politicians waving goodbye to a Catholic priest with the caption, “Hello progress, bye-bye father” that aped the antidivorce campaign’s slogan of “Hello divorce, goodbye daddy.” A Dublin man found this blasphemous and brought suit. The case made its way to the Irish Supreme Court before being dismissed in 1999 on the grounds that “blasphemy” wasn’t defined in Irish law.

The bonds between church and state in Ireland have been loosening for decades as Ireland has become a more pluralist society, and even opponents of the law don’t expect that arc of change to be reversed. In addition to legalizing divorce, Ireland has abandoned the practice of censorship to spare religious sensibilities. Monty Python’s spoof on early Christianity, “Life of Brian,” was banned in Ireland upon its release in 1979 and remained so until the late 1980s. By contrast, the far more controversial “The Passion of the Christ” faced no such obstacles when it was released in 2004.

But the bill has recharged the tension between freedom of expression and religion that can be found, not just in society, but in the Constitution. “In the long term, we should be amending our Constitution to remove these theistic references, not creating new crimes to enforce provisions that were written in the 1930s,” says Michael Nugent, chairperson of Atheist Ireland.

In the past, issues like divorce, abortion, and citizenship have been amended through constitutional referenda. Trinity College’s O’Dell expects blasphemy and other anachronistic elements of the constitution will ultimately be dealt with by the same means.

           — Hat tip: Sean O’Brian[Return to headlines]


Italy: Most Italians Want Troops Out of Afghanistan, Says Survey

Rome, 30 July (AKI) — A survey published on Thursday in a major Italian daily found that more than 56 percent of Italians want a withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. The survey said 22 percent of people surveyed want an immediate withdrawal of troops, while 34 percent favoured a gradual withdrawal. It was published in La Repubblica newspaper and was carried out by market research company IPR.

Thirty-seven percent opposed a troop withdrawal altogether, the survey found.

Among those polled, 62 percent of those favouring a troop withdrawal were voters for Italy’s major centre-left parties, the Democratic Party or PD and the Italy of Values party led by former graft-busting magistrate Antonio Di Pietro.

Among voters for the ruling-centre right coalition, only 35 percent of those surveyed favoured a troop withdrawal.

At least 56 percent of those polled said the Afghan mission has not yielded any results and has been a waste of money.

Only 35 percent said the Afghan mission is useful and it is necessary to guarantee peace and security in the west.

The survey was carried out by market research company, IPR Marketing on 29 July. More than 1,000 people participated in the poll.

A previous poll carried out in 2007 showed 54 percent of people opposed to Italy’s troop deployment in Afghanistan. At that time, a centre-left government led by former premier Romano Prodi was in office.

The new survey was carried out in the aftermath of a number of attacks against Italian troops in western Afghanistan in July that killed one soldier and injured several others.

A roadside bomb attack earlier this month killed a 25-year-old Italian soldier Alessandro Di Lisio while on patrol near the western Afghan city of Farah. Two attacks in Afghanistan last weekend wounded three Italian soldiers and three Italian paratroopers were also injured in the bombing that killed Di Lisio.

Twelve Italian soldiers have died in Afghanistan since 2004.

However, Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, foreign minister Franco Frattini and defence minister Ignazio La Russa have recently said the troops would remain in Afghanistan.

Berlusconi dismissed as “hot air” reports earlier this week of a rift over the issue with the conservative government’s junior coalition partner, the Northern League.

Italy — the lead nation in NATO’s so-called Regional Command West area which covers western Afghanistan — currently has some 3,250 troops there, the sixth largest deployment after the United States, Britain, Canada and Germany.

It recently sent 500 extra troops to the conflict-wracked country to boost security ahead of presidential elections due in August.

There are currently some 58,000 international troops from 42 nations stationed in Afghanistan. The United States has approved sending 68,000 troops to Afghanistan by the end of 2009, including 21,000 that were added this Spring.

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


Moldova Communists Lose Majority

Moldova’s governing Communist Party has lost its majority in parliament, according to preliminary results from Wednesday’s election.

With 97% of ballots counted, the four main opposition parties have 50.7% compared with 45.1% for the Communists.

Opposition leaders say they will form an alliance if the result is confirmed.

Wednesday’s vote was a re-run of the election in April, which was followed by days of violent demonstrations because of allegations of vote-rigging.

The Communist Party has been in government in Moldova, one of Europe’s poorest countries, since 2001.

‘Victory for truth’

If the preliminary results of Wednesday’s election were confirmed, the Communists would have only 48 seats in the 101-seat parliament and its opponents 53 seats, the central election commission said.

The opposition are likely to receive more votes when those won by three parties who failed to reach the 5% minimum threshold are redistributed.

The results are already being seen as a decisive success for the four pro-Western, pro-European parties, says the BBC’s Tom Esslemont in Chisinau.

The leader of the Liberal Democratic Party, Vlad Filat, said the election was a victory for truth and that it would definitely seek to form a coalition with other opposition parties — the Liberal Party, the Democratic Party and Our Moldova Alliance.

“We will find the necessary compromise and find agreement so that Moldova finally gets democratic rule,” he told the Reuters news agency.

Dorin Chirtoaca, the deputy leader of the Liberal Party, said the Communists would have to “join the ranks of the opposition and must not disturb Moldova on its path towards European integration”.

           — Hat tip: Sean O’Brian[Return to headlines]


Survey Reveals Lackluster Support Among Hungarians for EU Membership

The majority of Hungarians approve of the country’s five-year European Union membership, though many believe there have been associated costs too, according to a survey by pollster Szazadveg-Forsense published on Tuesday..

Around three-quarters of respondents said they supported EU membership in one way or another, but only a little over one third gave their full support. A tenth of those surveyed did not approve of Hungary’s EU membership at all, according to the poll taken in July.

The divide between the capital and the provinces was wide, with 20 percent more support recorded for the Union in Budapest than elsewhere.

Gauging criticism of the EU in several subject areas, the poll found that the agriculture was the sector seen to have suffered the most. The percentage of people citing adverse affects of the EU on Hungary’s agriculture rose from 49 percent in 2007 to 66 percent in 2009.

Criticism of the EU for its impact on Hungary’s economic situation grew from 36 percent to 45 percent over the past two years. Other areas seen to have suffered were unemployment and the welfare of disadvantaged groups, while culture and work opportunities abroad were mentioned as pluses.

Those claiming unreserved support for Hungary’s EU membership numbered 50 percent among Socialist supporters, 37 percent among voters of main opposition Fidesz and less than 20 percent among Jobbik affiliates.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


Terror Group Recruits in Sweden

Another young Swedish Somali has died while fighting in Somalia’s civil war. Both Swedish and Somali governments are concerned that there is a flow of volunteers from Sweden to join the radical al-Shabab militia. One of the places where such groups recruit is the Stockholm suburb of Rinkeby.

‘We thought at first that Al-Shabab was a youth movement, but that’s not the case. Now I think they are terrorists’ says one of a group of friends hanging out in the central square of Rinkeby

‘These kids, it’s the older guys who run things and do these things, but they brainwash the young ones and say to them, you’re al-shabab, go and fight’ adds another man.

Thousands have fled the decades of fighting in war-torn Somalia and found their way to Sweden. Now some young Swedish-Somalis are returning to take part in the ongoing civil war. Al-Shabab was once a youth wing of the Union of Islamic Courts, but split off a couple of years ago to pursue a guerilla war against the new transitional government, which other members of the Islamic Courts now participate in. Al-Shabab literally mans ‘the youth’ and the group has been linked to Al-Qaida and has a similar focus on jihad, or holy war.

‘There are many, but they don’t dare actually come forward and say that, we are Al-Shabab, but there are many who support them.’ The man was asked whether he supports them. ‘Yes, sometimes, you can say that when they do something that seems good, but but sometimes you don’t like them’.

Kadafi Hussein is a youth leader at the Community Centre that sits beside Rinkeby central square. He says that once a man stood outside the Centre and offered some youths plane tickets to the Somali capital Mogadishu and said that they should go and defend their religion.

‘There were four youths. He talked about jihad and what was happening in Somalia. That it is right to go there, that if they didn’t have tickets and stuff then he could help. He was from Al-Shabab.’

The four young men in this case said no. But others have said yes, and gone to fight. Some are dead, others disappeared. Friends and relatives noticed that their behaviour changed, that they cut themselves off from their family. Eventually they vanished.

‘Lately he became worse and started to isolate himself, despite the fact that his studies were going better and he had met a girl, who he was going to marry one week before I found out that he was dead.’ His mother relates that the last she heard of him was an email saying goodbye. After a while an unknown man rang her from Somalia saying that her son had done his duty and was now in paradise.

‘I’ve got no explanation why of who or what it was that forced him to do this. Why? Why did he?’

This mother wants to be anonymous, as did several other people with similar stories, who did not want their voices recorded. Their sorrow is to great and some are also scared.

The Swedish Security Police Service (SÄPO) say that around 20 youths have gone to Somalia to take part in war or train there. A handful have died and around ten are still involved in the civil war. Säpo are also worried that interest in volunteering for such activity is increasing in Sweden, and that the effects may be also felt at home.

‘What we are worried about is them developing a network, with experience and training, in place in Somalia, which can be used in Sweden if and when they return. If their aims change, it would be people like this, with tried and tested experience, who would carry out any assassination attempt,’ says Malena Rembe, chief analyst in Säpo’s anti-terrorist unit.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]


The Big Question: Should Police Take a New Approach to Drug Crime by Relocating Dealers?

Why are we asking this now?

A report released yesterday by the UK Drug Policy Commission paints a worrying picture of Britain’s drug market. Among the key findings is the fact that nine out of 10 police and law enforcement agencies questioned said it was “unlikely” that UK drugs markets would be eradicated in the near future. The report also says that drug dealers are becoming better at avoiding having their operations shut down. It says that, even when drugs are seized and arrests made, the drug market is “quick to adapt”. The report suggests moving drug dealers from residential neighbourhoods to different areas where they would cause less harm could help solve the problem. And it discusses the idea of the police opening up a dialogue with drug dealers.

How bad is Britain’s drug problem?

The report follows on from figures released by the Government which revealed that the number of cocaine users in Britain has risen by 25 per cent in a year to almost one million. The figures showed that one in 10 people admitted trying the drug — three times as many as 15 years ago. More than 10m people in Britain — about 15 per cent of the population — have tried cannabis although the popularity of that drug has fallen in the past 15 years.

Although there is no way of knowing how many drug addicts there are in the UK — since only those who seek help are accounted for — the number of people taking methadone or similar substances in England is about 131,500.

What is wrong with taking drugs?

Many people who take drugs will claim that it is their own choice and, if they are not harming anyone, what is the problem? The issue is that, even if the person taking the drugs is not committing any further crimes, there is a very clear link between drugs and organised crime. In the UK, the profits made by drugs gangs allow them to channel their energies and money into more lucrative criminal enterprises, be that simply buying larger amounts of drugs or other activities such as people trafficking or firearms dealing. It also funds terror overseas. Much of the cocaine in Britain, for example, is made by south-American rebel groups who use the profits from the drug to commit further crime in their own countries.

Much more immediately though is the crime that drug addicts create in search of money to fund their habit. This will manifest itself in acquisitive crime such as theft and burglary. Many violent crimes too are carried out by those high on drugs. The latest Government figures show that 17 per cent of violent crime is committed by people under the influence of drugs.

The crime factor aside, drugs are not good for the health. Cocaine is cut with various chemicals which cannot be good for the body. It is also said to increase the risk of heart problems if used frequently, while sustained use of cannabis has been linked to symptoms of psychosis.

How are the police faring in tackling the problem?

The detection rates for drug offences in the UK have always been very high. In 2008/09, for example, of the nearly 250,000 drug offences that were committed in the UK, 95 per cent were solved. Compare this with the fact that only around 14 per cent of criminal damage offences are solved and it appears that the police are winning the war on drugs.

This is misleading, though, because while criminal damage offences will be reported by the victim and then the police attempt to solve the case, drug offences, which are mainly possession, never come to light until a victim is apprehended. Therefore police both discover and solve the crime at the same time. But it is the problems that drug addiction causes police that is more worrying — the increase in theft and other acquisitive crime.

What measures are being taken to alleviate drug-related crime?

A scheme has been running in three health districts of the UK — Maudsley in south London, Darlington and Brighton — where heroin addicts can go to a clinic and have a free shot of heroin injected. It has been running for three years and the organisers have hailed it a success. It not only means that drugs are administered in medically controlled surroundings, but that users being given free drugs have no need to steal to fund their habit. Critics say it is legalising drugs.

So should we legalise drugs?

Many have suggested doing so, saying that it would eliminate the organised crime that thrives on the money created by drug networks. But critics of the suggestion say that, without the threat of a criminal record, drugs would become socially acceptable and legalisation would encourage more people to take them.

Relocating drug dealers was portrayed in the TV series The Wire. Would it work here?

Series three of the US television series The Wire deals with the problem of drug abuse in the city of Baltimore. The sheer number of drug markets in the city means that neighbourhoods are destroyed by the trade. As a solution, drug dealers are moved to “free-zones” — areas of the city where no one lives, where they can deal drugs without the threat of arrest.

The UK Drug Policy Commission report does not explicitly suggest the creation of “free-zones”, but does recommend “seeking to displace a market to another area, where it will have less impact… for instance by displacing a market from a residential area to an industrial estate. Thus the focus is not so much on reducing the amount of drug dealing but rather on reducing the harms associated with the way dealing operates in this particular area.”

Such a move would certainly be desirable, especially to those living in areas blighted by drug use. But it would not provide a solution; people would still be selling and taking drugs, creating money for criminals. In fact it could exacerbate the problem — opening up a dialogue with drug dealers and moving them to another area could give them the impression that drug dealing in the new area is allowed.

Should the police talk to drug-dealers?

The UK Drug Policy Commission report cites the example of the Boston Gun Project, which saw police officers in the American city hold meetings with violent gangs. When they gave them, according to the report, “a direct, explicit warning that further violence would bring a swift and heavy response, a dramatic reduction in violent incidents was achieved”.

The suggestion is that if British police met with drug dealers to warn them that they are known and will be prosecuted if they continue, a reduction in drug dealing would materialise. The problem is that drug dealers clearly already know that they face the threat of prosecution and a lengthy prison sentence if caught, yet they persist. Why would an explicit threat from a police officer make them stop?

It also raise the slightly cynical question, if the police already know who the main drug dealers in their areas are, then why not concentrate on arresting them, rather than just warning them?

Would a dialogue with dealers help to reduce drug-related offences?

Yes…

* Moving drug-dealers into uninhabited areas would reduce the crime that drugs bring to neighbourhoods

* Telling drug dealers that they are known to the police could force them to desist

* The approach used so far is not working. A new tactic could be no worse than the current strategy

No…

* Drug dealers know the risks. They will continue selling drugs regardless of any explicit threat

* Putting drug-dealers and users in a pre-designated area is giving them tacit approval to deal and take drugs

* The police’s job should be to arrest criminals, not to make their illegal enterprises easier

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


UK: Inside the World of Dog-Fighting

It was the sound of dogs barking and whimpering that first attracted PC Paul Foster to the back of an old kitchen showroom in inner city Birmingham.

As he got closer he heard voices and men cheering.

What police found in Alum Rock a mainly Pakistani inner-city suburb, was an unexpected and disturbing crime scene.

“The first thing I notice was the black pit bull terrier, little fur, covered in blood in a bad way,” PC Rogers told BBC Radio 4’s The Report.

Twenty-six men were eventually convicted two years ago for taking part in the largest illegal dog-fight uncovered in the UK.

The RSPCA had long regarded dog-fighting as the preserve of white working class men attending fights in the countryside.

What the fight in Alum Rock revealed was the first glimpse of organised dog fighting in the Asian community taking place in urban surroundings and tens of thousands of pounds gambled on the result.

Since then subsequent raids have revealed that dog-fighting has become a problem in some sections of the Asian community.

Increasing problem

Ian Briggs, chief inspector of the RSPCA’s Special Operations Unit said dog-fighting is up 400% in the past three years in the UK.

“Out of all the work we do 98% is Asian”.

Mr Briggs said the organisation believes there is a dog fight nearly every week nationally from a small fight in the park to the bigger organised events such as that uncovered at Alum Rock.

“Information about one fight we uncover leads to another but certainly we are scratching the surface.”

What has also surprised RSPCA officials is the attention to detail that accompanies the fights.

           — Hat tip: Sean O’Brian[Return to headlines]


UK: ID Cards Will Not Display Union Flag to Avoid Offending Irish Nationalists

The union flag has been banned from Britain’s new identity card in case it offends the nationalist community in Northern Ireland.

The cards will feature the royal coat of arms, alongside discreet images of a rose, thistle shamrock and daffodil representing the four countries of the UK.

A Government impact assessment states that the ID cards must respect the ‘identity rights’ of Irish nationalists in Ulster, meaning that the designers ‘sought to avoid symbols such as flags.’

But the absence of the national flag has drawn a furious response from Unionists who called the design a ‘giant mistake’, and urged a boycott of the scheme.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


UK: Not Arresting Drug Dealers Will Help Reduce Violent Crime, Says Think Tank

Police should turn more of a blind eye to drug dealers to help reduce violent crime, according to a new report.

The UK Drug Policy Commission says ministers should focus more on reducing harm than seizures and arrests.

Leaving drug dealers in place might help avoid violent turf wars between rival gangs that can lead to murder, the think tank claims.

[Comments from JD: So, this “think tank’s” solution is to leave the gangsters where they are so they can consolidate their money and power. Incredible.]

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Balkans

Bosnia: Tunisian Terror Suspect Escapes From Jail

Sarajevo, 29 July (AKI) — A convicted Tunisian former ‘mujahideen’ who fought on the side of local Muslims during the 1990s Bosnian war, has escaped from a Bosnian jail, local media reported on Wednesday. Karaj Kamel Bin Ali, known as ‘Abu Hamza’, didn’t return to prison after he was granted a week’s leave, Bosnian television reports said.

At the time of his escape from prison in the central Bosnian city of Zenica, Bin Ali had served a third of a seven-year jail sentence for assault and racketeering. He previously served seven years in jail for the murder of another Arab man.

Bin Ali was suspected of involvement in terrorist activities in Bosnia and Italy. He was to be extradited to Tunisia in early January, where he has been sentenced to 12 years in jail.

He was among many hundreds of so-called ‘mujahideen’ who fought against Serb forces during the 1992-1995 Bosnian war. After the war, Bin Ali and many other former fighters acquired Bosnian citizenship and married locally.

Hamza had been sentenced to twelve years in jail in Tunis and has been described by Bosnian authorities as a “threat to national security” because of his ties to terrorist organisations, the television said.

Many of the militants have remained in Bosnia after the war, marrying local women. Bosnian authorities have revoked about 400 citizenships granted to former militants because of their alleged ties to terrorist organisations.

Western intelligence sources have reported that many former fighters have been indoctrinating local youths to radical Islam and even operating terrorist training camps in Bosnia.

Hamza was the first former foreign Muslim fighter to have escaped from a Bosnian jail, the television said.

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

North Africa

Algeria: At Least 14 Soldiers Killed in Ambush

(ANSAmed) — ALGIERS, JULY 30 — At least 14 soldiers have been killed in an ambush by “rebels” in the Tipaza province (western Algeria). According to reports from El Watan, the attack occurred yesterday morning. The soldiers were part of a patrol. In citing sources who spoke on condition of anonymity, the newspaper El Khabar instead said that 20 soldiers had been killed.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Algeria Adopts New Moslem Weekend From August

(ANSAmed) — ALGIERS, JULY 22 — From August 14 this year Algeria will join other Moslem countries in adopting the so-called ‘semi-universal’ weekend — that is: Friday and Saturday, and no longer Thursday and Friday as had been established under pressure from religious groups. The final decision was taken by the government’s Cabinet after calls from the National Economic and Social Congress (CNES), comprising some political parties and union groupings, which has for years been campaigning for the adoption of the universal weekend (Saturday and Sunday) or for a solution such as that found yesterday. According to the World Bank, the solution will allow the country to recoup at least 500 million dollars a year and lead to GDP growth of 1.2%. In reply to such estimates, the Algerian government had been wont to reply that using the Moslem weekend would lead to losses of 150 million dollars. Going back as far as 2007, multinationals such as the Indian steel giant Arcelor Mittal and other companies such at Algeria’s NCA (Nouvelle Conserverie Algerienne) and local subsidiaries of Siemens, had started adopting the semi-universal weekend. Forced to be idle on Thursdays and Fridays, Algerian companies had only three days a week for their international operations. This was a heavy handicap for the national economy, considering that 60% of the country’s trade is done with Europe, the United States and China. Among the factors that pushed the government into approving the change was Algeria’s accession to the Arab Free Trade Zone (ZALE). Up to today, alongside Algeria, only Saudi Arabia and Libya had maintained the Moslem weekend. The other Maghreb states: Tunisia, Morocco and Mauritania have adopted the universal weekend. The compromise solution of Friday and Saturday has also been adopted by other Arab states such as Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Syria and Qatar.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Tunisia Takes First Place Among Arab Universities

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, JULY 29 — Tunisia has the largest number of universities of all the Arab countries, highlights a report from ‘The Arab Investment and Export Credit Guarantee Corporation’ on business development in Arab countries in a specific chapter on higher education. The report emphasises that in Tunisia the number of universities and university departments have seen continuous development over the last 40 years. In particular, the report published by ‘Al Riadh’ notes, higher education facilities in Tunisia number 192 under the direction of 13 universities. Education in Tunisia is a public service for which the state ensures minimum funding essential for their functioning with an annual contribution of 1.7%. A figure that is superior to that of Kuwait (1.2%), Morocco (1%) and all of the other Arab countries, all of which contribute less than 1%. (ANSAmed).

2009-07-29 16:28

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Western Sahara: 1.5 Million in UN Aid to Refugees

(ANSAmed) — ALGIERS, JULY 27 — The United Nations have freed up 1.5 million dollars from the Emergency Intervention Fund to strengthen the programme for humanitarian aid to Saharawi refugees, as reported by official sources. According to a statement released by government daily El Moudjahid, the aid was set aside following an assessment made by the beginning of the year in which 18% of refugees were found to be suffering from malnutrition. The statement says that “UN emergency assistance coordinator John Holmes has distributed 1.5 million dollars to reinforce the aid programme for about 90,000 of the hardest-hit Saharawi refugees.” The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has launched an appeal for 6 million dollars to be used for the refugees, but so far only 44%, 2.66 million, has been raised. Formerly a Spanish colony, the Western Sahara was annexed to Morocco in 1975. The Polisario separatist movement is fighting for its independence with the support of neighbouring Algeria, which has about 160,000 refugees on its soil who live solely on international aid. Morocco is willing to grant wide-ranging autonomy but under Moroccan sovereignty. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

Gaza: Italy Allocates 4 Mln Euros for Emergency Intervention

(ANSAmed) — JERUSALEM, JULY 29 — The Italian Foreign Minister officialised the allocation of a 4 million euro emergency fund for some of the immediate emergency assistance required in the Gaza Strip, the portion of the Palestinian Territories that is still awaiting reconstruction after the severe destruction inflicted on December-January during the Israeli military operation ‘Cast Lead’. The funds were handed over to the Italian cooperation office in Jerusalem, a statement reads, and will be used for the completion of projects in the healthcare, water, agriculture and social fields, including the involvement of some non-government organisations (NGOs). In recent days some international bodies involved in humanitarian activities in the Palestinian Territories launched a new appeal for an easing of the blockade imposed around the Gaza Strip by Israel since Hamas came to power in the area in 2007, at least for the reconstruction of scholastic facilities. The organisations reported that none of the schools that were seriously damaged during ‘Cast Lead’ have been repaired. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Israelis Want Temple Rebuilt at Al-Aqsa Site

RAMALLAH: A news survey conducted by the Israeli Ynet news service and the Gesher organization found that about two thirds of the Israeli public want the Second Temple rebuilt. Gesher claims a 4.6 margin of error on a survey of 516 Israelis.

The Temple Mount, which is the foundation of the First and Second temples is today home to Islam’s third-holiest mosque, Al-Aqsa. The Second Temple, built by Herod the Great, was destroyed in 70 A.D. when the Romans sacked Jerusalem.

Sixty-four percent responded favorably to the question of rebuilding the temple commissioned by Herod the Great, while 36 percent responded negatively.

Among the practicing and orthodox Jewish Israelis, virtually all respondents wanted to see the Second Temple rebuilt.

Just under half of secular Israelis — 47 percent — also said they would like to see Herod’s Temple rebuilt.

Eighty percent of respondents said it was “justified” to mark what many Jews consider the saddest day of their history (the destruction of the temple) by rebuilding the temple.

The deputy chief of the Islamic Movement inside Israel Sheikh Kamal Al-Khatib asserted that the temple would never be rebuilt.

“If the Jews think that their mourning will end and they will rejoice by destroying Al-Aqsa Mosque and building their temple, we say to them that their dream will not be fulfilled and they will continue to mourn,” he told Arab News yesterday. “Al-Aqsa is for Muslims only..”

Control over Jerusalem, which Israel captured during the June 1967 War, has been seen as the most sensitive and thorniest issue of Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Palestinians are seeking to set up a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, including Palestinian sovereignty over the city’s holy sites on the Temple Mount.

But the Jewish state says the city is its eternal capital.

The United States also supports this policy. US President Barack Obama stated publicly last year that he does not support a divided Jerusalem.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said recently: “The three major religions of the world exist in peace, have access to all their sites, only because Jerusalem is united and under Israeli rule.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


Palestinian Woman Tortured to Death by Father For Using Cell Phone

A Palestinian woman was tortured and killed by her father for talking on her cell phone, according to two human rights organizations.

Fadia al-Najar, 27, was at her home in Gaza’s Jabalya refugee camp talking to someone on her cell phone when her father, Jawdat al-Najar, grew suspicious that she might be having an “illegitimate relation,” according to two human rights organizations based in the Palestinian Territories.

The Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) and Al Mezan said in statements on their websites, citing police sources that the woman’s father confessed last Friday that he had killed his daughter the night before. The police found the body of the divorced mother of five in the house and took her to Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, according to Al Mezan.

Medical sources told the organizations that Fadia’s body showed evidence of torture and that her skull was fractured after being hit with an iron chain.

According to the human rights center, Fadia is the ninth victim of an honor crime in the West Bank and Gaza this year. The other victims included five women, two men and one child. Perpetrators of honor killings typically serve between six months and three years in prison, according to PCHR.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]


West Bank: Israel Evacuates Two Illegal Mini-Outposts

(ANSAmed) — JERUSALEM, JULY 29 — Israeli security forces cleared another two illegal mini-outposts of Jewish settlers in the West Bank (Palestinian territory) built without any authorisation and consisting of makeshift huts. The operation involved a site called Zur-ya and Mitzpe Avihai, adjacent to the Kyriat Arba settlement in the perimeter of the Palestinian city of Hebron, a recurring hotbed of tension and violence. The removal took place without any difficulties, but the settler movement already said that it has sent several of its activists to establish new outposts in vacated zones. Just two days ago, the head rabbi of Kyriat Arba, Dov Lior, the recognised spiritual leader of the settlers and various extreme right-wing Israeli groups, celebrated with 200 followers the occupation of another hill as a part of the expansion process of the Mitzpe Avihai outpost. The majority right-wing government of Israeli Premier Benyamin Netanyahu in the past weeks has ordered various small outposts that have been recognised as illegal to be dismantled, entrusting this task to Defence Minister and head of the Labour Party, Ehud Barak. The initiative resulted in protests by the settler movement (which has the support of the coalition) despite the fact that Netanyahu has been opposed until now to the growing requests of the Obama administration for a complete freezing of all Jewish settlements built in the territories occupied after 1967 (West Bank and East Jerusalem) including the largest ones. Now total of 600,000 people live in these settlements, which the international community considers completely illegal. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Middle East

Iran: Press Watchdog Shuts Down Daily for Insulting Khomeini

Tehran, 28 July (AKI) — Iran’s media watchdog, the Press Supervisory Board has closed down a reformist newspaper after it ‘disrespected’ the founder of the country’s Islamic Revolution, the late Imam Khomeini.

Reformist newspaper Sedaye Edalat (the Voice of Justice) was shut down for an article it published on 26 July that was considered disrespectful to Imam Khomeini and questioned the Islamic Republic system, which is a violation of Article 27 of Iran’s press law, said Press TV, Iran’s official news agency, on Tuesday.

The Press Supervisory Board announced the decision in a letter sent to the daily. The managing director of Sedaye Edalat acknowledged the article should not have been published.

“The article was published mistakenly and we apologised for the mistake that occurred unintentionally. However, our apology has not been accepted,” said Mostafa Kazzazi, the managing director of Sedaye Edalat, quoted by Press TV.

Article 27 of Iran’s press law says that if a publication insults the Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran or any senior religious authorities, the licence of the publication shall be revoked.

In addition, Artcle 27 states that its managing director and the writer of the insulting article shall be referred to competent courts for punishment.

It is not clear whether Kazzazi will face punishment.

Ayatollah Khomeini, who died in 1989, became Iran’s first Supreme Leader after the 1979 Islamic revolution.

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


Iraqi Troops Against a Camp for Iranian Exiles, Enemies of Tehran

In Ashraf camp, there are 3500 people belonging to the Mujaheddin-e-Khalq, Marxist-inspired Islamic guerrillas enemies of Khomeini.

Baghdad (AsiaNews / Agencies) — Iraqi soldiers and police have attacked an Iranian refugee camp belonging to the Mujaheddin-e-Khalq. The act of violence took place while Robert Gates, U.S. Secretary of Defense was in Iraq. A spokesman for the Iraqi government says that the police only wanted to take full control of the camp and had warned camp leaders one day before; but the leaders of the group say that there were at least 4 dead, 300 injured and 29 arrested in the raid.

According to broadcast images of the episode, some 800 Iraqi soldiers tried to take possession of the camp, while hundreds of refugees barred their entry. The police then responded with water jets and truncheons.

The Ashraf camp hosts at least 3500 people and is located approximately 100 km north of Baghdad, in Diyala province, not far from the Iranian border. It was built in the ‘80s to accommodate Mujaheddin-e-Khalq guerrillas, enemies of Khomeini, who had fled Iran. Saddam Hussein helped them in order to weaken Iran during the war against Tehran.

In 2003 U.S. forces disarmed the camp, but guaranteed the refugees safety. Now that the Americans are leaving, there is constant pressure from Tehran, now a friend of the Shiite leadership in Baghdad, to eliminate the enemies of the Islamic Republic.

The Mujaheddin-e-Khalq was founded in the’60s by Muslim students of Marxist inspiration. At first it participated with other groups in the liberation of Iran from the rule of the Shah, with summary executions and terrorist attacks. Then, with the strengthening of his power, Khomeini launched fierce war against them. The Mujaheddin-e-Khalq are suspected of helping Saddam Hussein in his violent purges of Kurds and Shiites.

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


Iraqi Officials May Have Colluded in Britons’ Kidnap

Guardian investigation suggests link between capture of Britons and multibillion-dollar frauds

An investigation into the kidnapping of five British men in Iraq has uncovered evidence of possible collusion by Iraqi government officials in their abduction, and a possible motive — to keep secret the whereabouts of billions of dollars in embezzled funds.

A former high-level Iraqi intelligence operative and a current senior government minister, who has been negotiating directly with the hostage takers, have told the Guardian that the kidnapping of IT specialist Peter Moore and his four bodyguards in 2007 was not a simple snatch by a band of militants but a sophisticated operation, almost certainly with inside help. Only Moore is thought still to be alive.

Witnesses to the extraordinary operation which led to the abductions have also told us that they have been warned by superiors to keep quiet.

“This operation was on a state level, not al-Qaida. Only the state has the capability to carry this out,” one of the sources said.

The Guardian can also reveal that there was a sixth westerner who was working with Moore at the time of the kidnap. The man — whose identity is known to the Guardian — managed to narrowly avoid being captured by hiding in a toilet at the Iraqi ministry of finance, where the abductions took place.

Over the past 10 months the Guardian has interviewed senior Iraqi figures and eyewitnesses as well as the former British military officer who investigated the kidnap for the men’s employers. Their accounts allege that the hostage takers had contacts in the Iraqi government, and also that officials in the ministry of defence warned off witnesses to the kidnap.

The investigation has also uncovered compelling evidence that the one of the key motives behind the kidnappings may have been the nature of the work the hostages were doing in fighting massive corruption in Iraq’s government ministries.

Moore was employed to install a new computer tracking system which would have followed billions of dollars of oil and foreign aid money through the ministry of finance. The “Iraq Financial Management Information System” was nearly complete and about to go online at the time of the kidnap.

The senior intelligence source said: “Many people don’t want a high level of corruption to be revealed. Remember this is the information technology centre [at the ministry of finance], this is the place where all the money to do with Iraq and all Iraq’s financial matters are housed.”

Last month the bodies of two British security guards, Jason Cresswell and Jason Swindlehurst, were handed over to the British embassy in Baghdad. And on Wednesday this week Gordon Brown said that the remaining two guards, Alan McMenemy and Alec MacLachlan were “very likely” to be dead.

Moore is still believed to be alive, although nothing has been heard from him for months.

Today Avril Sweeney, Peter Moore’s mother, said of the Guardian investigation: “This is the only thing that makes perfect sense — the only thing that has ever made perfect sense since the kidnap began. If this evidence is correct then there are massive questions that need to be answered.. There is no way that 40 armed policemen would be able to storm into that building and take my son. This was all planned.

“Everything has been so tightly controlled. I appeal to the Iraqi government to bring about the safe release of my son.”

A Foreign Office spokesman today told the Guardian: “This is a highly complex and challenging case, illustrated by the scale of the original abduction. There has been widespread speculation in Iraq about many aspects of the case.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


Israel Criticises UNIFIL-Hezbollah Contacts

(ANSAmed) — JERUSALEM, JULY 29 — Israeli defence sources have criticised the meeting between the commander of UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon), General Claudio Graziano with Amal and Hezbollah MPs in the south-Lebanese village of Tibnin. The meeting took place two weeks after the accidental explosion of a secret Hezbollah missile cache in the village of Khirbat a-Silm. One of the sources, quoted today by the Jerusalem Post, criticised General Graziano saying that “UNIFIL should focus on cracking down on Hezbollah instead of meeting with representatives of the terrorist organization”. Israel, the source added, is trying to “sharpen” UNIFIL’s mandate in order to allow the force to sweep villages without coordinating with the Lebanese army. Israeli Chief of Staff, General Gabi Ashkenazi responded to speculation regarding increased tensions along the border between Israel and Lebanon, saying that the “winds of war” are not blowing along the northern border. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Transport: Mega Highway to Connect Istanbul to Iran, Caucasus

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, JULY 30 — The National Highway Administration is planning to connect Istanbul to Iran and the Caucasus with a 1.625 km-long highway, daily Sabah reports. When the project is completed it will be possible to reach the Middle East, East Asia and the Caucasus by highway through Turkey from Europe. Turkey will achieve significant financial benefit from being a “transit country” for transportation vehicles from both the East to the West. According to the Ministry of Transportation report on the mega-highway project which will be ready in ten years, by 2023 almost 5,038 kilometers will have been added to the highway system. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

South Asia

Bangladesh: Muslims Attack Hindus, Ransack a Temple and Destroy Four Houses

The incident took place at night on 25 July. Five people were hospitalised because of their injuries. For Annie Halder, a local Catholic human rights activist, the episode highlights the deep sense of insecurity felt by religious minorities living in the largely Muslim country.

Dhaka (AsiaNews) — A group of Muslims attacked four Hindu-owned houses after ransacking a Hindu temple in Narsangdi District, about 50 kilometres from the capital Dhaka. The episode occurred at night on 25 July in a village called Charsindhu.

The armed attackers from the local Muslim community stormed a local Hindu place of worship. Local Hindus came running to protect their temple but were beaten up instead. Eventually the attackers turned against the houses of some of the Hindus. Five people were eventually hospitalised

Local police moved in quickly and arrested those responsible for the violence.

Annie Halder, a local Catholic human rights activist, told AsiaNews that the episode in Charsindhu is indicative of the deep sense of insecurity that pervades the lives of religious minorities in this predominantly Muslim country.

Attacks by Muslim groups against Hindu and Christian families are frequent, especially in the villages. In many cases the culprits are not pursued by the law.

Bangladesh is home to about 143 million people, 60 per cent of whom live in rural areas.

Muslims constitute about 85 per cent of the population. More than 16 million are Hindus who are the country’s largest minority.

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


Swedes Attacked in Afghanistan Again

The Swedish-Finnish military force in Afghanistan has come under fire for the fourth time in a two week period, news wire TT reports. The soldiers were on patrol in northern Afghanistan when they were fired at about 2 PM Swedish time.

The patrol, which consisted of both Swedish and Finnish troops, fired back immediately. No one was said to be injured in the 40 minute attack.

“People are aware of the risks that exist. After the the last few weeks’ incidents, the soldiers move about with great caution,” said Veronica Sandström, a pulic relations officer with the Swedish Armed Forces.

Two Swedish soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan, both in November 2005.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]


Taliban Issues Code of Conduct That Tells Fighters to Limit Suicide Attacks and Avoid Civilian Deaths

Taliban fighters have been issued with a code of conduct booklet on how to be a good holy warrior.

The 13-chapter guide, entitled Taliban 2009 Rules and Regulations, tells its militants to avoid unnecessary suicide bombings and civilian casualties.

The booklet issued by Taliban supreme leader Mullah Omar in May and several copies have been seized by Nato forces in raids in across Afghanistan this summer.

New rules, boys: The Taliban have been given conduct orrders by Mullah Omar

It reveals concern about how its attacks are regarded by civilian, including minority groups.

The guide also tells ‘mujahideen’ fighters they need to be seen as a disciplined force motivated by Islamic principle rather than personal greed or malice.

It orders militants not to harm Afghans working for the government and to avoid civilian casualties in the battle for hearts and minds.

‘The mujahideen have to behave well and show proper treatment to the nation, in order to bring the hearts of civilian Muslims closer to them,’ it said.

There is also guidance on suicide bombings sparingly.

‘A brave son of Islam should not be used for lower and useless targets,’ it said. ‘The utmost effort should be made to avoid civilian casualties.’

And there is even a passage telling fighters to avoid discrimination wherever possible: ‘The mujahideen must avoid discrimination based on tribal roots, language or geographic background.’

The code appears to be an attempt to impose a more rigid command structure on disparate and semi-autonomous Taliban groups.

It warns irregular units must either operate under its official command structure or disband.

Only provincial commanders have the authority to agree to prisoner exchanges, and ‘releasing prisoners in exchange for money is strictly prohibited,’ it warns.

According to the code, Nato troops, senior Afghan army officers and government officials may be executed, but only with the permission of Mullah Omar or one of his deputies.

Nato commanders condemned the ‘code’ as a propaganda exercise aimed at deluding Afghans into thinking the Taliban are a disciplined force which follows the rules of war.

‘It seems to be a form of propaganda to try to show there is a central control over the insurrection,’ said Brigadier General Eric Tremblay.

He said the code was a sham and that its ‘rules’ had been exposed as false by 90 suicide bombings it had carried out this year. Forty per cent of their victims were civilians, he said.

Mohammad Zahir Azimi , a spokesman for Afghanistan’s Defence Ministry, also denounced the Taliban code’s warning against attacks on government employees and abuse of prisoners of war.

He said Taliban militants had seized and beheaded an Afghan soldier in Paktika province this week

Read more:

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Far East

China: Uyghur Leader Rebiya Kadeer in Japan, Beijing Protests

Exiled leader will hold a press conference and might meet lawmakers from Japan’s ruling party. China responds by saying that visit could jeopardise bilateral relations. Meanwhile internet is restored in Xinjiang but only for government sites.

Tokyo (AsiaNews/Agencies) — Exiled Uyghur leader Rebiya Kadeer has arrived in Japan despite China’s displeasure. Beijing had called on Japan to deny her a visa. In Xinjiang, which is still under martial law, internet access has been restored but only for pro-China sites.

Ms Kadeer came from the United States, where she lives in exile, on a five-day visit and is expected to hold a much awaited press conference tomorrow.

She is likely to talk about the unrest in Xinjiang earlier this month. China claims that almost 200 people, mostly ethnic Han Chinese, died; Ms Kadeer said that thousands have died, killed on masse by police.

She is also expected to meet members of Prime Minister Taro Aso’s party, but the contact will be unofficial for security reasons.

Beijing had called on Tokyo to deny Ms Kadeer the entry visa.

Through its spokesman Qin Gang, China’s Foreign Ministry expressed its dissatisfaction with the trip.

For Beijing Ms Kadeer is a dangerous terrorist, involved in separatist activities who masterminded this month’s violent protests in Xinjiang.

Because of similar charges she spent around six years in a Chinese prison before being released under international pressure in 2005.

China’s ambassador to Japan, Cui Tiankai, also warned that a visit by this “criminal” would damage relations between the two countries.

By contrast, in recent weeks Japan criticised China’s bloody crackdown in Xinjiang, calling on Chinese authorities to protect the human rights of Uyghur people.

In the meantime in Xinjiang access to the internet and text messaging has been restored only today.

Yang Guoqing, a spokesperson for the provincial government news center, said the government is now sending text messages to citizens to inform them “about the latest situation”.

Internet has been restored as well but only to a few select government and business-related Web sites; all the other are still being blocked.

Well-known social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter have been blocked nationwide for weeks.

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


China: Rebiya Kadeer Says 10,000 People Disappeared in One Night in Urumqi, Complains About US Silence

Accused by Beijing of masterminding the violence in Xinjiang, Uyghur leader calls for an international inquiry to see who was behind the clashes and deaths in Urumqi. China says US agrees the matter is an internal Chinese matter. Beijing criticises Japan and Australia for hosting Kadeer.

Tokyo (AsiaNews/Agencies) — Exiled Uyghur dissident Rebiya Kadeer accused China today of trying to lay a veil of silence over the disappearance of “about 10,000 people” during the unrest in Urumqi, Xinjiang. The head of the World Uyghur Congress has also reproached the United States for its silence over the matter as well. Ms Kadeer arrived yesterday in the Japanese capital to urge the international community to provide support to her people, “massacred” by the Chinese.

“About 10,000 people disappeared in Urumqi in one night. Where have they gone? If they are dead, where are they” now, she said during a press conference through an interpreter.

In early July protests by Uyghurs in Urumqi turned into clashes with police and ethnic Han Chinese.

According to the Chinese government 197 people died as a result of the violence, mostly Han Chinese. Uyghur dissidents claim instead that thousands of people have probably died.

Beijing has accused the World Uyghur Congress of masterminding the unrest and has labelled Ms Kadeer the “black hand” that seeks the independence of Xinjiang with the help of “terrorists”.

The Uyghur leader has dismissed these charges and always rejected appeals from al-Qaeda to resort to violence. Instead she believes Chinese police and government are responsible for the clashes.

“The responsibility lies with the authorities who transformed what had been a peaceful demonstration into violent unrest,” she said.

The dissident leader also called for an international inquiry into the demonstrations and clashes.

Ms Kadeer said she was “perplexed and disappointed” by the “cool response of the United States” towards the Xinjiang problem. “I would like to believe that the United States will not remain impassive,” she said.

She also urged the US administration to open a consulate in Urumqi.

Yesterday after two days of Sino-American economic talks, Wang Guangya, China’s vice foreign minister, thanked the United States for taking a “moderate” line on recent ethnic violence in Xinjiang.

“The United States unequivocally said that this incident is entirely a domestic affair of China,” he said.

By contrast, China criticised Japan for granting Ms Kadeer a visa.

Some news agencies have reported that Beijing has blocked Japanese TV programmes reporting the arrival of the Uyghur leader.

After Japan, Kadeer is expected to travel to Australia for the premiere of a film on her life.

Even on this occasion Chinese authorities have tried everything in the power to have the movie pulled from the Melbourne International Film Festival which will be held next month.

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

Australia — Pacific

Judge Throws Out Islamic Spokesman’s Defamation Claim

A judge has overturned a jury’s decision in a defamation case involving islamic community spokesman, Keysar Trad.

In 2007, a Supreme Court jury ruled that Mr Trad, who is president of the Islamic Frienship Association, was defamed by 2GB broadcaster Jason Morrsion.

The case centred on comments made about a peace rally held after the Cronulla riots.

The court heard that Jason Morrison called Keysar Trad a dangerous individual who incited violence hatred and racism.

Today a judge has effectively overturned the jury’s finding, saying that many of Keysar Trad’s public comments are distasteful and appear to condone violence.

The case has been dismissed and Keysar Trad ordered to pay costs.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Sub-Saharan Africa

Mauritania: USA in a Hurry to Work With Elected President

(ANSAmed) — PARIS, JULY 29 — The United States is “in a hurry to work with Mauritania’s President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz”, who was elected in the first round of the presidential elections on July 18, “and with his government on the manifold challenges his country is facing”. So says a communiqué issued by the US Embassy in Nouakchott, without going into any detail, however, as to the precise nature of these “challenges”. The memo states that the United States has noted the decision by Mauritania’s Constitutional Court to recognise the General’s electoral victory, which follows on the coup d’état organised by the General on August 6 2008. “Despite a certain number of irregularities, the Constitutional Council and other international observers are of the opinion that the vote count on July 18 was in line with the general will of the Mauritanian people”, the communiqué continues. It also finds that the accord signed in Dakar in June for taking the country out of its crisis, “constituted the basis for a national consensus for a return of constitutional order in Mauritania and offered an opportunity to the Mauritanian population to choose its own leader”. The communiqué invites “the President and all Mauritania’s political leaders to continue working in a constructive way in the interests of the people”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Nigeria Forces Storm Sect Mosque

Nigerian security forces have stormed a mosque where militants from an Islamic sect blamed for days of deadly violence have been hiding out.

Reports say scores of fighters were killed in the assault, which came after a third night of gun battles in the northern city of Maiduguri.

Many of the militants have now fled, attacking police stations on their way.

The group, known as Boko Haram, wants to overthrow the government and impose a strict version of Islamic law.

Reports from the city on Thursday said the fighting had stopped and the streets were quiet.

The assault by the security forces came after 1,000 extra soldiers were drafted into the city.

Army commander Major General Saleh Maina told the Associated Press that the deputy leader of the sect was killed in the bombardment.

But he said Mohammed Yusuf, leader of the group also known as “Taliban”, escaped along with about 300 followers.

An AP reporter who watched the storming of the mosque on Wednesday night and counted about 50 bodies inside the building and another 50 in the courtyard.

Civilian casualties?

Army spokesman Chris Olukolade told the BBC’s Network Africa programme that law and order had now been restored in Maiduguri.

“The enclave of the people causing the problem has been brought under better control and in a short while we believe that everyone will be able to go about his normal duties in that area,” he said.

           — Hat tip: Sean O’Brian[Return to headlines]

Latin America

Russia to Drill for Oil Off Cuba

Russia is to begin oil exploration in the Gulf of Mexico, after signing a deal with Cuba, says Cuban state media.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin signed four contracts securing exploration rights in Cuba’s economic zone in the Gulf.

Havana says there may be some 20bn barrels of oil of its coast but the US puts that estimate at five billion.

Russia and Cuba have been working to revitalise relations, which cooled after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Russia’s Zarubezhneft oil concern will work alongside the Cubapetroleo monopoly in the deep waters of the Gulf.

“Every time I travel through the region, I come to Cuba to advance our joint economic-commercial projects, and I take every opportunity to communicate with my colleagues,” Mr Sechin told local media.

Under the new agreement, Russia has also granted a loan of $150m to buy construction and agricultural equipment.

Havana imports more than half of its oil, mostly at a subsidised price from Venezuela.

Cuba’s share of the Gulf of Mexico was established in 1977, when it signed treaties with the United States and Mexico.

The US Geological Survey (USGS) recently estimated that as much as 9bn barrels of oil and 21 trillion cubic feet of natural gas could lie within that zone, in the North Cuba Basin.

           — Hat tip: Sean O’Brian[Return to headlines]

Culture Wars

NY Taxpayers to Pay Donors for Stem Cell Studies

NEW YORK (AP) — Hanqi Miao said she wanted to donate her eggs to help infertile couples reproduce, but she acknowledged the money is good, too: She said she’ll be paid about $5,000.

“Who doesn’t want money in your hand?” said the 21-year-old woman, who will have to undergo hormone treatments that could abnormally swell her ovaries to the size of small grapefruits and cause discomfort.

Soon, New York women will be able to donate their eggs not only to help others get pregnant, but also for stem cell research. And they’ll still be able to get reimbursement of up to $10,000 — paid for by taxpayers.

The board that oversees funding of the state’s stem cell research recently voted to make New York the only state that allows taxpayer dollars to be used to pay for women to donate their eggs strictly for stem cell research.

State health officials say it is necessary to compensate women for the burden, discomfort and expense related to the donation process so that suitable eggs can be found for stem cell research.

But some critics say the policy could encourage cash-strapped women to take risks with their health. They question the use of what they call “embryonic human life” for research.

Researchers believe stem cell research could lead to treatments for debilitating illnesses, such as diabetes and Parkinson’s disease. Yet the science is still emergent, and experimental techniques such as somatic cell nuclear transfer — also known as therapeutic cloning — have stirred controversy because embryos can be destroyed in the process, which some consider akin to killing human life.

Research, though, require a suitable supply of eggs for research, which is where donors like Miao come in.

The process involves hormone injections, producing more eggs per cycle than would be considered normal and retrieval with anesthesia, said Debra Mathews of the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics..

“We don’t really have good data on the risks” of the donation process, Mathews said. “You’re asking women to undergo this unknown risk for unknown benefit.”

State Health Commissioner Richard Daines explained that the decision by the Empire State Stem Cell Board, which helps oversee $600 million in state funding for stem cell studies over 11 years, would be a boon to researchers.

Most eggs taken for reproduction have been screened for health problems. What’s necessary in stem cell research is often the reverse, because the intent is to understand diseases and find treatments for them.

“If a stem cell researcher is interested in something related to sickle cell disease, which we know is highly genetic, they might then say we are looking for a woman with this gene, and we will compensate them for the eggs,” Daines said.

The Rev. Thomas Berg, a Roman Catholic priest in the Archdiocese of New York who sits on the board, was the only member to vote against the compensation policy.

He said he opposed using taxpayer money to entice vulnerable women to donate their eggs for what he called speculative research. “We have to understand that this is aimed at a bigger project of using embryonic human life as raw material for research,” he said.

Dr. Kenneth Prager, a bioethicist at Columbia University Medical Center, said he understands the concerns raised about paying women to donate their eggs for research, but society has already deemed it ethical to pay women to donate eggs for reproduction.

“What is happening is that we are paying women approximately the same amount of money they are already getting for the donation of their eggs for fertility treatments,” he said.

While the Empire State Stem Cell Board’s decision on June 11 makes it possible for women to donate their eggs expressly for stem cell research, the program is anticipated to be in place at the earliest by 2010, according to Claire Pospisil, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Health. Research institutions would need to apply for the funding.

The pay for donating eggs would be at least $5,000, but it could be up to $10,000 in certain cases. The payment guidelines conform to standards set by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine for women who donate their eggs for reproduction.

Miao, who was donating through the Center for Human Reproduction in Manhattan, said she understands why women would want to donate their eggs for research, but she said her goal is to help a couple unable to reproduce on their own.

“I value the meaning of life — actually, you are giving a life, a living person, to a family,” she said. “And that just somehow means more to me.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

3 comments:

DP111 said...

ON Diana West: Obama’s Secret: Safe With the Media

an article by Andrew C. McCarthy

But the real question is: Why don’t the media — the watchdog legions who trekked to Sarah Palin’s Alaska hometown to scour for every kernel of gossip, and who were so desperate for Bush dirt that they ran with palpably forged military records — want to dig into Obama’s background?

Who cares that Hawaii’s full state records would doubtless confirm what we already know about Obama’s birthplace? They would also reveal interesting facts about Obama’s life: the delivering doctor, how his parents described themselves, which of them provided the pertinent information, etc. Wasn’t the press once in the business of interesting — and even not-so-interesting — news?

And why would Obama not welcome Hawaii’s release of any record in its possession about the facts and circumstances of his birth? Isn’t that kind of weird? It would, after all, make the whole issue go away and, if there’s nothing there, make those who’ve obsessed over it look like fools. Why should I need any better reason to be curious than Obama’s odd resistance to so obvious a resolution?

Suborned in the U.S.A.</a

Much more above.

heroyalwhyness said...

DP 111 -
"But the real question is: Why don’t the media — the watchdog legions who trekked to Sarah Palin’s Alaska hometown to scour for every kernel of gossip, and who were so desperate for Bush dirt that they ran with palpably forged military records — want to dig into Obama’s background?"

Why? Consequences, Chicago-politic style consequences:

Officers Run Background Check On Obama; Placed On Leave

&

Army warrior terminated from civilian job after questioning Obama eligibility

Nilk said...

More commentary on Keysar from bolta and TimB.

The actual judgement here.

And my fave go-to site on Keysar's background here.

The last one has not been updated in ages, but there's a nice set of links to Trad's words over a few years.