Sunday, September 13, 2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 9/13/2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 9/13/2009A twelve-year-old child bride in Yemen died while attempting to give birth. She went through three days of labor before she finally succumbed, and her baby was stillborn.

In other news, the British energy company BG Group has announced the discovery of up to two billion barrels in oil reserves off the coast of Brazil.

Thanks to A Greek Friend, Barry Rubin, heroyalwhyness, Hindu boy, Insubria, JD, Lexington, Nilk, Steen, TB, Tuan Jim, and all the other tipsters who sent these in. Headlines and articles are below the fold.
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Financial Crisis
France: Ambitious Bankers Follow Islamic Finance Course
Global Poll Sees Support for Spending Stimulus
UK: Unions Chief Warns Against Spending Cuts
 
USA
Doctors, Budgets and Solutions
Everyone Drills for Oil Off Florida — Except U.S.
Father of ‘Green Revolution’ And Nobel Prize Winner Norman Borlaug Dies
Forest Fire Funds Aid D.C. Festivals
Giving Ramadan a Drumroll in Brooklyn at 4 a.M.
Inquiry Opened Into New Black Panther Case
Norman Borlaug, Who Developed Crops That Helped Save Millions From World Hunger, Died at 95
Norman Borlaug
Probe Into Ill. Fundraiser’s Death Looks at Drugs
Rifqa Bary: Hate Groups Use Teen to Defame Islamic Center
Search for Yale Student Turns to Conn. Incinerator
Up to Two Million March to US Capitol to Protest Against Obama’s Spending in ‘Tea-Party’ Demonstration
We Can be Too Safe
Why is ACORN Giving Tax Advice? Started With Shakedown of H & R Block
 
Europe and the EU
Archbishop of York: I Am Fed Up to the Back Teeth With Political Correctness That Denigrates Young People Like Naomi
British Foreign Office Denies ‘Secret’ Libya Deal
Cadbury Slams Kraft Over Rejecting Takeover Bid
Denmark: Terrorist Threats ‘Increasingly Serious’
Economy: Czech Republic Beats Spain on Competiveness
France: France Telecom Demonstrations Against Suicides
Gay Italians Seek Asylum in Spain at the Consulate in Milan
Ireland: Let the Real Lisbon Debate II Commence
Italy: No Charges for PM in Escort Probe
Italy: At Least 30 Women ‘Booked for PM’s Parties’
Krekar Questioned by Swiss Authorities
Nestle Warns of Possible Exit From Switzerland
Netherlands: Geert Wilders is One of US, Say Indies Immigrants
Opel: Spain’s Government Defends Saragozza Plant
Prostitution: Spain, A Bln Euro Business for Newspapers
Spain: Workers’ Protests Overshadow Catalan Celebration
Spain: Islamic Teachers Lacking in Madrid, Catalonia
Spain: Francoism, Garzon Charged With Abuse of Office
Switzerland: Revelations About Libya Fail to Shed Light
The Birth of Rage. And Pride.
UK: Anti-Islamic Protest Fears as 2,000 Palestinian Supporters Gather for London Rally
UK: If Children Are Taught That Patriotism is Wrong, Britain’s Very Identity is at Stake
UK: Ofcom Launch Investigation Into Muslim TV
UK: Ramadan TV Appeals Probed
UK: Rapist Praised by Judge for Converting to Islam
UK: Security Guards Ban Boy, 9, From Sailing Toy Boat on Pond Because it ‘Frightens the Fish’
UK: The Snooper’s Handbook: Guide That Will Ensure No Home Improvement Escapes the Council Tax Inspectors
 
Balkans
Serbia: ‘Health Tourism’, Italians in First Place
 
North Africa
Egypt: Cairo Organ Trade Ring Busted, 3 Surgeons Arrested
Energy: Tunisia, Nuclear Power Plant by 2023
France-Libya: Gaddafi’s Help Needed Against Terror, Minister
Tunisia: 14.2 Mln Inhabitants in 2050
 
Middle East
Barry Rubin: U.S Government Jumps Voluntarily Into Iran’s Trap, Pulls in Europeans, Too
Child-Bride, 12, Dies in Yemen After Struggling to Give Birth for Three Days
How Islamist Gangs Use Internet to Track, Torture and Kill Iraqi Gays
Lebanon: Everything Set for ‘Francophone Games’
Saudi Arabia: Counseling Saves Schoolgirls
UNESCO: Jordan Ambassador, Hosni Criticised But Not Lieberman
 
Russia
Deadly Russian Base Fire Also Burns Secret Papers
 
South Asia
Bangladesh Probes Marriage of Teen to Elderly Man
India Says Open to Monitoring of Some Climate Projects
Inside Cobra: How Last Week’s Extraordinary Special Forces Mission to Rescue Taliban Kidnap Reporter Unfolded
Pakistan: Kidnapping of Greek Volunteer From Chitral
Pakistan: Kalash People Protest Greek Volunteer’s Kidnapping
Pakistan: Team Leaves for Afghanistan to Hold Talks With Kidnappers
Tortured in Pakistan, Hindu Migrants Want to Stay in India
Where Did East Timor’s Money Go?
 
Far East
China Sentences 3 to Prison Over Needle Attacks
Emissions in Parts of China ‘Above Rich Nations’
U.S. Duties on China Tires to Enforce Rules: W. House
Uighur Activist Urges World to Pressure China
 
Australia — Pacific
Aussie Designer Cashes in on Contentious Burkini
Muslims Want Islamic Holidays Recognised
 
Sub-Saharan Africa
More Britons Travel to Somalia for ‘Jihad’: Report
 
Latin America
Brazilian Oil Field Holds 1.1-2 Bln Barrels: BG
Brazil to assemble French fighters for Latin market: FM
 
Immigration
Berlusconi: Vote to Immigrants Communist Stratagem
Berlusconi-Zapatero: Immigration Must be an EU Priority
Italy: Interview With Minister Frattini (Panorama)
Schifani Calls for EU Intervention
 
General
New Bin Laden ‘Address to Americans’ Is Released

Financial Crisis

France: Ambitious Bankers Follow Islamic Finance Course

(ANSAmed) — PARIS, SEPTEMBER 7 — French bankers who want to build up a career must follow courses in Islamic “sharia-compatible” finances to reconcile the principles of the Western economy with the dictates of Islamic law (sharia). This is necessary to meet the demands of Muslim clients and to be able to deal with the expanding Islamic banking industry. It isn’t easy to take these courses, because the “sharia” forbids “riba”, that is, loan at interest. “Sharia-compatible” finance doesn’t only regard Islamic banks, but mainly Western banks with Muslim clients or relations with the Islamic banking sector. This sector increased by 25% between 2007 and 2008 and now counts 250 financial institutes worldwide. In 2010 the sector could reach a turnover of 2.7 trillion USD. The first in France to understand the importance of Islamic finance were the law firms, followed by bank managers who are now looking for experts in sharia-compatible finance. For this reason the Paris-Dauphine University has created the first Master in Islamic finance. Courses will start in November. Behind the Eiffel Tower, close to Bois de Boulogne, 35 students will follow 300 hours of lessons, mostly in weekends because most are working. In January 2009 the ‘Ecole de management (Em)’ the University Degree Finance Islamique in Strasburg. Thirty of the thirty-five students were lawyers. One of them was, Stephane Oddos, 33, specialised in mergers and acquisitions: “I decided to follow this course after one of my clients in Kuwait asked to make sharia-compatible investments in French property” he explained the newspaper La Croix. The course that will start in November in Paris will focus on financial aspects, while the lessons taught in Strasburg give more importance to the legal side. Economy is most important, but the manager of the Master, Elyes Jouini says with regret that often “Islamic finance is linked to Muslim fundamentalism.” The bankers who will follow the courses will learn to work with the murabaha, the salam, the ijra: financial products that guarantee neutrality of taxation the avoidance of ‘Riba’, loan at interest. The murabaha for example, is used if a client wants to buy a good and lets the bank buy it for him or her, paying the institute a commission. In February France’s Finance Ministry published a first memo that specified the tax regime to apply to some instruments of Islamic finance. This measure, according to observers, shows that also Minister Christine Lagarde approves the development of sharia-compatible finance. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Global Poll Sees Support for Spending Stimulus

LONDON (Reuters) — Most people around the world support significantly increasing government spending to counter the economic crisis, according to a 20-nation opinion poll released on Monday.

The findings will bring solace to leaders such as British Prime Minister Gordon Brown who have backed multi-billion-dollar stimulus programs to try to lift their economies out of recession.

G20 finance leaders agreed this month they would not remove emergency stimulus until the recovery was well entrenched.

The survey of more than 22,000 people in 20 countries for the BBC World Service found that, on average, 60 percent favored “significantly increasing government spending to stimulate the economy.”

Support for government stimulus of the economy was highest in Nigeria (87 percent support), Egypt (83 percent), and Russia (81 percent). Support was much lower in France (39 percent) and Germany (42 percent).

In Britain, 60 percent favored significantly increasing government spending to stimulate the economy.

Americans were divided on the question, with 48 percent in favor and 48 percent against.

“People around the world are looking for a dynamic approach to the economic crisis,” said Steven Kull, director of the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland in the United States, which conducted the survey with Canadian polling firm GlobeScan.

The poll found that support was especially strong for investments in renewable energy and green technology (72 percent) and for giving financial support to major industries and companies in trouble (62 percent).

BACKING FOR MORE REGULATION

However, only a slight majority (51 percent) supported giving financial support to banks in trouble.

In the United States, majorities opposed giving financial support to troubled banks (63 percent against) or industries (55 percent against).

Two-thirds of those polled wanted to see an increase in government regulation and oversight of their economies.

Just under half (49 percent) supported giving international institutions more power to regulate the global economy.

The U.S. government’s efforts to address the crisis, which have included far-reaching measures to stimulate the U.S. economy, were relatively well received around the world.

Nearly half (46 percent) of all respondents said they were satisfied with what the United States has been doing, compared with 39 percent who were dissatisfied.

By contrast, 44 percent on average were satisfied with their own government’s response.

Satisfaction with their own government’s response ranged from 68 percent in Australia, 63 percent in Egypt and 59 percent in Brazil to 27 percent in France, 18 percent in Japan and just nine percent in Mexico.

Americans were evenly split between those happy and those unhappy with their government’s response.

“It is clear that citizens in many countries are still not seeing the kind of economic leadership they think is needed from their national government,” GlobeScan Chairman Doug Miller said.

The poll found low public confidence in executives of major banks — an average of just 32 percent were satisfied with what they were doing to address the crisis.

Many people are angry over high rewards enjoyed by bankers, blaming bonuses for excessive risk-taking that contributed to last year’s market crisis.

In total, 22,158 people in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Egypt, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, Russia, Turkey, Britain and the United States were polled between June 19 and August 17.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


UK: Unions Chief Warns Against Spending Cuts

LIVERPOOL (AFP) — Trade unions leader warned on Sunday that government cuts in public spending would cause a second wave of recession and mass unemployment, scarring young people for life.

“Public spending cuts will provoke a double-quick, double-dip recession,” Brendan Barber said on the eve of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) annual conference being held in the port city of Liverpool.

“Unemployment could well exceed four million (in Britain) and it would take many years before there was any chance of returning to anything like full employment,” said Barber, the TUC general secretary.

“That would scar for life a whole generation of young people.”

Unions face a tough future as recession threatens to cut public spending on key services such as schools and hospitals.

Furthermore, the governing centre-left Labour Party led by Prime Minister Gordon Brown is on course to be defeated by the main opposition centre-right Conservatives, opinion polls show, at an upcoming general election.

The nation’s unions provide the bulk of funding for the Labour Party and fear for their future should the Conservatives win the election, which must be held by mid-2010.

Former Conservative prime minister Margaret Thatcher had famously crushed the unions’ power during the 1980s.

“A double-dip recession would not just be deeper — but also longer. Prolonged mass unemployment would not just do economic damage, but have terrible social effects,” Barber told reporters on Sunday.

“I don’t think that Britain is broken, but this would be one way to break it. Last time we suffered slash and burn economics we had riots in the streets here in Liverpool.

“I make no prediction that this would happen again, but I do know that prolonged mass unemployment will have terrible effects on social cohesion, family break-up and the nation’s health,” added Barber.

Rather than government cutting public spending, Barber said the country’s ballooning budget deficit caused by the recession could be tackled by scrapping controversial nuclear defence and identity card projects.

Additionally, money could be saved by further increasing taxes on the wealthy.

Britain has yet to follow France, Germany and Japan out of recession in the wake of the financial crisis, as the number of unemployed people in the country heads towards three million.

Business Secretary Peter Mandelson was on Monday to deliver a tough message on public spending in a speech to the think-tank Progress.

According to the Press Association news agency, Mandelson was to warn of “less spending in some programmes” and to admit that some government projects may have to be scrapped.

Prime Minister Brown was meanwhile set to tell union delegates in Liverpool on Tuesday that the government has “to make tough choices in public spending”, according to extracts from his speech leaked to media.

On Friday, Brown hosted union leaders for private talks, described by The Times newspaper as “a charm offensive… to pacify Labour’s disgruntled trade union paymasters, who are warning that the party may already have lost the next election”.

Brown’s office said the talks had been “constructive”.

The TUC brings together more than 50 unions representing about six million mostly public-sector workers.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

USA

Doctors, Budgets and Solutions

How to cut costs, increase compassion

My father was a country doctor who viewed medicine through the prism of the Hippocratic Oath, which embodies the ideal of “Above all, do no harm.”

A child of the Great Depression, my dad was generous when people couldn’t pay their bills. I recall sitting as a child at the dining room table with my dad, my mom and my little sister, Gayle, stuffing patient bills at the end of the month. As Dad sorted through bills, I remember him setting several aside saying “can’t pay… can’t pay.”

When I asked him why he did this, he said, “Son, if I send a man a bill he can’t pay, when he’s sick, he may not want to come see me. That wouldn’t be good.” Soon after, Medicare was created, and when my dad came home the night it passed, he sadly said, “Medicine is changed forever.” It wasn’t a compliment. Dad knew that compassion was dealt a blow when health care became the province of big government.

Sadly, history could repeat itself, as President Obama and his liberal allies in Congress seem poised to disregard the admonition to “do no harm.” Not only does their reckless policy threaten the health care arrangements of private citizens, but their prescription also bodes ill for state budgets when we are at the breaking point, something I see daily as a state legislator.

Virginia, better than most states, is laboring to balance its budget in the midst of a weak economy and amateurish fiscal forecasts by Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine’s administration. Yet Congress wants to increase coverage of uninsured persons with incomes up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level, thereby expanding Virginia’s Medicaid program by $1.7 billion to $2.2 billion. While the federal government would raise taxes and cover more than 100 percent of the cost through 2015, Virginia would be required to cover 10 percent of the cost in 2015, leaving the commonwealth scrambling to cover another $387 million in fiscal 2015-16.

Moreover, some in Congress want to eliminate the pretax savings on Flexible Spending Accounts (FSA). Virginia allows employees to participate in both the medical and dependent care FSAs. Consequently, both the employee and the commonwealth save a substantial amount — $1.7 million in state and $1.7 million in employee contributions — by not paying Social Security taxes on pretax deductions. Employees save on both federal and state taxes because those dollars are deducted on a pretax basis.

Taken together, this approaches a $6 million tax savings for Virginians that would disappear. Similar savings would be lost, too, to local governments and school divisions. Simply put, eliminating the pretax status of FSAs would increase the burden on employers and employees alike.

So what’s the answer? First, Congress needs to kill the current bill (HR 3200) and refrain from unfunded mandates and higher taxes. Second, Congress should do the following to rein in costs through real reform and free-market initiatives:

  • End junk lawsuits. Tort reform has been opposed by trial lawyers — big Obama supporters — for years. But lawsuits have driven malpractice insurance rates through the roof. Our overly litigious system results in huge costs for tests and procedures that are unneeded but ordered to protect doctors’ equities. Those costs are passed to consumers. They must be capped to reflect actual physical harm.
  • Permit the sale of health insurance products across state lines. There’s a reason cell phones, once expensive, are very affordable today: competition. The byzantine prohibition to selling health insurance across state lines must end.
  • Permit portability of insurance. When a person changes jobs, he should be able to take his insurance with him, just like a 401(k). Also, when children graduate from college or leave home, permit parents to keep those children on their policies until the children can buy their own insurance.
  • Stop punishing people for pre-existing conditions. This clearly is in the best interest of all concerned. If we want people to have insurance, we must promote access.
  • Incentivize the creation of private-sector clearinghouses for billing and claims. The current system is a nightmare for doctors and patients alike. But what if private enterprise could create a clearinghouse to handle bills and claims while standardizing forms and procedures? That alone could result in clearer and more efficient business processes that would cost less and be likelier to detect fraud, which is estimated to be in the billions. Maybe then doctors could spend less time on paperwork and devote more time to patients.

All these things would help without busting state or personal budgets, and maybe provoke a smile from my departed dad, who no doubt is busy seeing an angel with a broken wing.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Everyone Drills for Oil Off Florida — Except U.S.

Will Obama continue American dependence on foreign supply?

BP has announced the discovery of yet another huge oil field in the Gulf of Mexico. At the same time, communist Russia is ready to work with Cuba to begin drilling 50 miles offshore Key West in the Gulf, and China is negotiating with Canada for the right to develop the vast oil resources in Alberta.

Still, the Obama administration has remained resolute in opposing U.S. offshore drilling, Jerome Corsi’s Red Alert reports.

Found 250 miles southeast of Houston, the Tiber well was found under 4,132 feet (.8 mile) of water and was drilled to a total depth of 35,055 feet (6.6 miles), making the well one of the deepest ever drilled by the oil and natural gas industry.

Bloomberg noted that 35,000 feet is a greater height than Mount Everest.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Father of ‘Green Revolution’ And Nobel Prize Winner Norman Borlaug Dies

DALLAS: Agricultural scientist Norman Borlaug, the father of the “Green Revolution” who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in combating world hunger and saving hundreds of millions of lives, died on Saturday in Texas. He was 95 years of age.

Borlaug died just before 11 pm, on Saturday, at his home in Dallas from complications of cancer, said school spokeswoman Kathleen Phillips. Phillips said Borlaug’s granddaughter told her about his death. Borlaug was a distinguished professor at the university in College Station, Texas.

The Nobel committee honoured Borlaug in 1970 for his contributions to high-yield crop varieties and bringing other agricultural innovations to the developing world. Many experts credit the green revolution with averting global famine during the second half of the 20th century and saving perhaps 1 billion lives.

Thanks to the green revolution, world food production more than doubled between 1960 and 1990.

In Pakistan and India, two of the nations that benefited most from the new crop varieties, grain yields more than quadrupled over the period.


Equal parts scientist and humanitarian, the Iowa born Borlaug realized improved crop varieties were just part of the answer, and pressed governments for farmer friendly economic policies and improved infrastructure to make markets accessible.

A 2006 book about Borlaug is titled ‘The Man Who Fed the World.’

“He has probably done more and is known by fewer people than anybody that has done that much,” said Dr Ed Runge, retired head of Texas A&M University’s Department of Soil and Crop Sciences and a close friend who persuaded Borlaug teach at the school.

“He made the world a better place, a much better place. He had people helping him, but he was the driving force.”


Borlaug began the work that led to his Nobel in Mexico at the end of World War II. There he used innovative breeding techniques to produce disease resistant varieties of wheat that produced much more grain than traditional strains.

He and others later took those varieties and similarly improved strains of rice and corn to Asia, the Middle East, South America and Africa.

“More than any other single person of his age, he has helped to provide bread for a hungry world,” Nobel Peace Prize committee chairman Aase Lionaes said in presenting the award to Borlaug. “We have made this choice in the hope that providing bread will also give the world peace.”

During the 1950s and 1960s, public health improvements fuelled a population boom in underdeveloped nations, leading to concerns that agricultural systems could not keep up with growing food demand. Borlaug’s work often is credited with expanding agriculture at just the moment such an increase in production was most needed.

“We got this thing going quite rapidly,” Borlaug told The Associated Press in a 2000 interview. “It came as a surprise that something from a third world country like Mexico could have such an impact.”

His successes in the 1960s came just as books like “The Population Bomb” were warning readers that mass starvation was inevitable. “Three or four decades ago, when we were trying to move technology into India, Pakistan and China, they said nothing could be done to save these people, that the population had to die off,” he said in 2004. Borlaug often said wheat was only a vehicle for his real interest, which was to improve people’s lives.

“We must recognize the fact that adequate food is only the first requisite for life,” he said in his Nobel acceptance speech. “For a decent and humane life we must also provide an opportunity for good education, remunerative employment, comfortable housing, good clothing and effective and compassionate medical care.”

He remained active well into his 90s, campaigning for the use of biotechnology to fight hunger and working on a project to fight poverty and starvation in Africa by teaching new drought resistant farming methods.

“We still have a large number of miserable, hungry people and this contributes to world instability,” Borlaug said in May 2006 at an Asian Development Bank forum in the Philippines. “Human misery is explosive, and you better not forget that.”

Norman Ernest Borlaug was born March 25, 1914, on a farm near Cresco, Iowa, and was educated through the eighth grade in a one-room schoolhouse. “I was born out of the soil of Howard County,” he said. “It was that black soil of the Great Depression that led me to a career in agriculture.”

In 1986, Borlaug established the Des Moines, Iowa-based World Food Prize, a $250,000 award given each year to a person whose work improves the world’s food supply. He also helped found and served as president of the Sasakawa Africa Foundation, an organization funded by Japanese billionaire Ryoichi Sasakawa to introduce the green revolution to sub-Saharan Africa…

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Forest Fire Funds Aid D.C. Festivals

Even with forest fires raging out West, the U.S. Forest Service this week announced it will spend nearly $2.8 million in forest-fire-fighting money in Washington — a city with no national forests and where the last major fire was probably lit by British troops in 1814.

The D.C. aid is going to two programs: $90,000 is slated for a green summer job corps, but the vast majority of the money — $2.7 million — is going to Washington Parks & People, which sponsors park festivals and refurbishes urban parks in the Washington area.

Forest Service officials didn’t return messages left seeking comment on why they spent money from their “wildland fire mitigation” stimulus fund in Washington, but members of Congress said city parks don’t deserve the money while fires are scorching millions of acres of land and owners are losing homes.

“As catastrophic wildfires continue to burn throughout the West, destroying people’s homes and businesses in the process, funds that should be used to thin our overgrown forests and protect the public are being frivolously spent on park restoration,” said Rep. Wally Herger, a California Republican whose district has seen some of the worst fires. “While the administration is spending millions of taxpayer dollars on improving picnic grounds, communities and citizens’ lives tragically remain at risk.”

The $2.7 million in stimulus aid also appeared to come as a surprise to the folks at Washington Parks & People.

“We do not yet know anything beyond the information that we saw on the [Agriculture Department] Web site yesterday,” the group’s executive director, Stephen W. Coleman, said in an e-mail response. The Forest Service is part of the Agriculture Department.

Washington Parks & People is a 19-year-old organization that says its mission is to revitalize “once-forgotten parks and communities throughout the inner capital region.”

The stimulus bill, which passed Congress and was signed by President Obama in February, was designed to create jobs and take care of urgent priorities. The $787 billion package set aside $500 million for the Forest Service for fire mitigation, and included another $15 million for Interior Department firefighting efforts.

On Thursday, the White House Council of Economic Advisers released a report arguing that the stimulus bill has created or saved at least 1 million jobs, and will mean economic growth is up to 3 percentage points higher this quarter than would have been the case if Congress had not acted.

Republicans disputed the jobs number, saying 2.5 million people have lost their jobs since Mr. Obama signed the bill, and arguing it’s impossible to calculate what constitutes a “saved” job.

Republicans also have charged that some stimulus money is being wasted — a charge some have leveled at the Forest Service before.

Earlier this year, Rep. Doc Hastings of Washington, the top Republican on the House Natural Resources Committee, sent a letter asking why the agency was sending money to states with no Forest Service land. Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts and Rhode Island all received money, even though they don’t have any national forests.

Mr. Hastings pointed to the wildfires raging in the West and asked for an accounting of how those decisions were made, and how many jobs have been created by the spending. His office said he has not received a response.

Under the new money announced this week, Rhode Island received an additional $449,000 in wildfire suppression money, Delaware received $895,000 and Massachusetts was awarded $4.5 million. The Massachusetts money is slated to go to “Asian Longhorn beetle Area Watershed Health and Ecological Enhancement,” according to the Forest Service announcement.

While those states have state forest land, Washington, D.C., does not, and forest fires are not generally considered a risk.

In fact, according to the National Interagency Fire Center’s definition of wildland fire — which is a fire that consumes undeveloped areas with sparse habitation — Washington can’t even have a wildland fire.

NIFC doesn’t even list the city in its online reports of annual wildland fire statistics.

Nationwide, forest fires have burned more than 5 million acres of land this year.

This is not the first time Washington has received an outsized benefit from stimulus money. Despite being one of the smallest jurisdictions, the capital city has received about $2.3 billion as of late August, or more than 19 states have received, including some with populations five or six times bigger.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Giving Ramadan a Drumroll in Brooklyn at 4 a.M.

The man, Mohammad Boota, is a Ramadan drummer. Every morning during the holy month, which ends on Sept. 21, drummers stroll the streets of Muslim communities around the world, waking worshipers so they can eat a meal before the day’s fasting begins.

But New York City, renowned for welcoming all manner of cultural traditions, has limits to its hospitality. And so Mr. Boota, a Pakistani immigrant, has spent the past several years learning uncomfortable lessons about noise-complaint hot lines, American profanity and the particular crankiness of non-Muslims rousted from sleep at 3:30 a.m.

“Everywhere they complain,” he said. “People go, like, ‘What the hell? What you doing, man?’ They never know it’s Ramadan.”

Mr. Boota, 53, who immigrated in 1992 and earns his living as a limousine driver, began waking Brooklynites in 2002. At first he moved freely around the borough, picking a neighborhood to work each Ramadan morning.

Not everyone was thrilled, he said. People would throw open their windows and yell at him, or call the police, who, he said, advised him kindly to move along.

As the years went by, he and his barrel drum were effectively banned from one neighborhood after another. He now restricts himself to a short stretch of Coney Island Avenue where many Pakistanis live.

Fearing that even that limited turf may be threatened real estate for him, he has modified his approach even further — playing at well below his customary volume, for only about 15 to 20 seconds in each location, and only once every three or four days.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Inquiry Opened Into New Black Panther Case

The Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility has begun an official inquiry into the dismissal in May of a civil complaint against the New Black Panther Party and two of its members who disrupted a Philadelphia polling place during the November general elections.

The inquiry is disclosed in an Aug. 28 letter to Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, the ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee who first raised questions about the dismissal in May and asked unsuccessfully that Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. make available the head of the department’s Voting Section of the Civil Rights Division for a closed-door briefing on the decision.

In the letter, Mary Patrice Brown, acting OPR counsel, told the veteran congressman from Texas that the office had “initiated an inquiry into the matter” and that it would “contact you with the results of our inquiry once it is completed.” A copy of the letter was obtained by The Washington Times.

“I am pleased that someone at the Justice Department is finally taking the dismissal of the New Black Panther Party case seriously,” Mr. Smith said Wednesday. “The Justice Department’s decision to drop a case against political allies who allegedly intimidated voters on Election Day 2008 reeks of political interference.”

Mr. Smith said the department’s refusal to provide Congress with an explanation for the dismissal “only further raises concerns that political favoritism played a role in this case.” “Voter intimidation threatens democracy,” he said. “These cases must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law without political considerations.”

In January, the Justice Department filed a civil complaint in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia against the New Black Panther Party, claiming two of its members in black berets, black combat boots, black shirts and black jackets with military insignias intimidated voters with racial insults, slurs and a nightstick. A third party member was accused of managing, directing and endorsing their behavior.

The complaint said two New Black Panthers engaged in “coercion, threats and intimidation racial threats and insults menacing and intimidating gestures and movements directed at individuals who were present to vote.” It said that unless prohibited by court sanctions, they would continue to direct intimidation, threats and coercion at voters and potential voters “by again deploying uniformed and armed members at the entrance to polling locations in future elections, both in Philadelphia and throughout the country.”

The original incident was captured on videotape and gained national attention after the video was distributed on YouTube.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Norman Borlaug, Who Developed Crops That Helped Save Millions From World Hunger, Died at 95

DALLAS — Scientist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Norman Borlaug rose from his childhood on an Iowa farm to develop a type of wheat that helped feed the world, fostering a movement that is credited with saving up to 1 billion people from starvation.

Borlaug, 95, died Saturday from complications of cancer at his Dallas home, said Kathleen Phillips, a spokesman for Texas A&M University where Borlaug was a distinguished professor.

“Norman E. Borlaug saved more lives than any man in human history,” said Josette Sheeran, executive director of the U.N. World Food Program. “His heart was as big as his brilliant mind, but it was his passion and compassion that moved the world.”

He was known as the father of the “green revolution,” which transformed agriculture through high-yield crop varieties and other innovations, helping to more than double world food production between 1960 and 1990. Many experts credit the green revolution with averting global famine during the second half of the 20th century and saving perhaps 1 billion lives.

“He has probably done more and is known by fewer people than anybody that has done that much,” said Dr. Ed Runge, retired head of Texas A&M University’s Department of Soil and Crop Sciences and a close friend who persuaded Borlaug teach at the school. “He made the world a better place — a much better place.”

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack called Borlaug “simply one of the world’s best. A determined, dedicated, but humble man who believed we had the collective duty and knowledge to eradicate hunger worldwide.”

Borlaug began the work that led to his Nobel in Mexico at the end of World War II. There he developed disease-resistant varieties of wheat that produced much more grain than traditional strains.

He and others later took those varieties and similarly improved strains of rice and corn to Asia, the Middle East, South America and Africa. In Pakistan and India, two of the nations that benefited most from the new crop varieties, grain yields more than quadrupled.

His successes in the 1960s came just as experts warned that mass starvation was inevitable as the world’s population boomed.

“More than any other single person of his age, he has helped to provide bread for a hungry world,” Nobel Peace Prize committee chairman Aase Lionaes said in presenting the award to Borlaug in 1970. “We have made this choice in the hope that providing bread will also give the world peace.”

But Borlaug and the Green Revolution were also criticized in later decades for promoting practices that used fertilizer and pesticides, and focusing on a few high-yield crops that benefited large landowners.

Borlaug often said wheat was only a vehicle for his real interest, which was to improve people’s lives.

“We must recognize the fact that adequate food is only the first requisite for life,” he said in his Nobel acceptance speech. “For a decent and humane life we must also provide an opportunity for good education, remunerative employment, comfortable housing, good clothing and effective and compassionate medical care.”

Borlaug also pressed governments for farmer-friendly economic policies and improved infrastructure to make markets accessible. A 2006 book about Borlaug is titled “The Man Who Fed the World.”

Norman Ernest Borlaug was born March 25, 1914, on a farm near Cresco, Iowa, and educated through the eighth grade in a one-room schoolhouse.

He left home during the Great Depression to study forestry at the University of Minnesota. While there he earned himself a place in the university’s wrestling hall of fame and met his future wife, whom he married in 1937. Margaret Borlaug died in 2007 at the age of 95.

After a brief stint with the U.S. Forest Service, Norman Borlaug returned to the University of Minnesota for a doctoral degree in plant pathology. He then worked as a microbiologist for DuPont, but soon left for a job with the Rockefeller Foundation. Between 1944 and 1960, Borlaug dedicated himself to increasing Mexico’s wheat production.

In 1963, Borlaug was named head of the newly formed International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center in Mexico, where he trained thousands of young scientists.

Borlaug retired as head of the center in 1979 and turned to university teaching, first at Cornell University and then at Texas A&M, which presented him with an honorary doctorate in December 2007.

He remained active well into his 90s, campaigning for the use of biotechnology to fight hunger. He also helped found and served as president of the Sasakawa Africa Foundation, an organization funded by Japanese billionaire Ryoichi Sasakawa to introduce the green revolution to sub-Saharan Africa.

In 1986, Borlaug established the Des Moines, Iowa-based World Food Prize, a $250,000 award given each year to a person whose work improves the world’s food supply.

He received the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor given by Congress, in 2007.

He is survived by daughter Jeanie Borlaug Laube and her husband Rex; son William Gibson Borlaug and his wife Barbie; five grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Norman Borlaug

The man who fed the world.

On the day Norman Borlaug was awarded its Peace Prize for 1970, the Nobel Committee observed of the Iowa-born plant scientist that “more than any other single person of this age, he has helped provide bread for a hungry world.” The committee might have added that more than any other single person Borlaug showed that nature is no match for human ingenuity in setting the real limits to growth.

Borlaug, who died Saturday at 95, came of age in the Great Depression, the last period of widespread hunger in U.S. history. The Depression was over by the time Borlaug began his famous experiments, funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, with wheat varieties in Mexico in the 1940s. But the specter of global starvation loomed even larger, as advances in medicine and hygiene contributed to population growth without corresponding increases in the means of feeding so many.

Borlaug solved that challenge by developing genetically unique strains of “semidwarf” wheat, and later rice, that raised food yields as much as sixfold. The result was that a country like India was able to feed its own people as its population grew from 500 million in the mid-1960s, when Borlaug’s “Green Revolution” began to take effect, to the current 1.16 billion. Today, famines—whether in Zimbabwe, Darfur or North Korea—are politically induced events, not true natural disasters.

In later life, Borlaug was criticized by self-described “greens” whose hostility to technology put them athwart the revolution he had set in motion. Borlaug fired back, warning in these pages that fear-mongering by environmental extremists against synthetic pesticides, inorganic fertilizers and genetically modified foods would again put millions at risk of starvation while damaging the very biodiversity those extremists claimed to protect. In saving so many, Borlaug showed that a genuine green movement doesn’t pit man against the Earth, but rather applies human intelligence to exploit the Earth’s resources to improve life for everyone

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Probe Into Ill. Fundraiser’s Death Looks at Drugs

CHICAGO — The investigation into the death of the former chief fundraiser for ousted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich intensified on Sunday as medical examiners completed an autopsy and detectives looked into whether drugs found in the trusted aide’s vehicle might have factored into his death.

Dwight Welch, the mayor of suburban Country Club Hills where Kelly was found slumped over his vehicle’s steering wheel in a lumber yard, said a number of drugs were found in the former fundraiser’s black Cadillac Escalade but declined to say which drugs. He did say the investigation was being treated as a possible suicide.

Welch said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press on Sunday morning that it was his understanding that Kelly had told an officer at the hospital that he had “taken on overdose of something.” But on Sunday afternoon he backed off that statement and said he was not “confirming or denying” that Kelly had made such a statement to police.

The Cook County Medical Examiner’s performed an autopsy but said Sunday it couldn’t determine the cause of death until toxicology tests are completed in 3-6 weeks.

Kelly died Saturday morning at a Chicago hospital, and Welch said his city’s police detectives were investigating the death as a suicide but giving the case the priority of a homicide.

An admitted high-stakes gambler who once haunted Las Vegas’ card tables, Kelly was facing at least eight years in prison after pleading guilty to fraud charges in two separate cases, and he was scheduled to start serving his time on Friday.

Welch said detectives want to interview Clarissa Flores-Buhelos, 30, who he said was Kelly’s girlfriend. Flores-Buhelos told police she found Kelly Friday night slumped over the wheel of his Escalade at the lumber yard, Welch said. Kelly is believed to have rented storage space nearby.

The mayor said it appeared Kelly called or text-messaged Flores-Buhelos and asked her to meet him at the lumberyard. He said she told police she pushed Kelly into the passenger seat and drove him to Oak Forest Hospital for treatment.

Kelly arrived at the hospital at 11:15 p.m., and was transferred six hours later to John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital in Chicago for further treatment. He was pronounced dead Saturday at 10:46 a.m.

Flores-Buhelos hired a prominent Chicago defense attorney, Terry Gillespie, who did not immediately respond to a message left at his office seeking comment.

Detectives are looking to speak with a man who turned up at Oak Forest Hospital, identified himself as Michael Allen and asked to pick up the Escalade but was turned away by security, Welch said.

Kelly was part of the former governor’s inner circle, and as chairman of Blagojevich’s campaign fund, he presided over a political war chest of millions of dollars. But at the time of his death, Kelly had run up thousands of dollars in personal debts was believed to be strapped for cash.

He was facing three years in prison for hiding $1.3 million in income, including company money he used to pay gambling debts that he wrote off as business expenses. He was facing five additional years for taking part in an $8.5 million fraud involving roofing work on United Air Lines and American Airlines hangars at O’Hare International Airport.

And still to come was a trial in a sweeping indictment that charged Blagojevich, Kelly and four other men with planning several fraudulent deals involving state government and millions of dollars in kickbacks.

The trial is set for June 3 and could have added years to Kelly’s sentence.

Even while his problems were mounting, Kelly continued to wield heavy influence in the Blagojevich administration.

Early on, Blagojevich appointed him as the governor’s liaison to the gambling industry. But he had to step down after it was found that he had business ties to a man who held shares in the planned Emerald Riverboat Gambling Casino.

When fundraiser Antoin “Tony” Rezko was indicted for a wide-ranging fraud that included shaking down the money management firms, Blagojevich said he was confident that the same wouldn’t happen to Kelly. He said he was much closer to Kelly than to Rezko.

When Kelly was indicted on tax charges, Blagojevich expressed sadness.

“Chris is my friend,” Blagojevich said. “I am saddened to hear these allegations about his personal life.”

While other members of Blagojevich’s circle have switched sides and become federal witnesses against him in hopes of getting lighter sentences, Kelly steadfastly refused to turn against the former governor.

Prosecutors made in plain they hoped that he would cooperate and tell what he knew about corruption in state government but he stubbornly rejected that idea.

Whatever secrets Christopher G. Kelly may have known died with him

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


Rifqa Bary: Hate Groups Use Teen to Defame Islamic Center

COLUMBUS, Ohio: At only age 17, Fathima Rifqa Bary has already managed to create one of the most controversial national news stories in the United States. Her heinous allegations have tried to give Islam a bad name and taint the reputation of Noor Islamic Cultural Center (NICC), one of the most prominent mosques of Columbus, Ohio.

She and her family left their Sri Lankan hometown in 2000. Bary, who had lost sight in one eye, hoped to find a cure in the United States. What she found, instead, was religion. Bary left Islam four years ago and secretly converted to Christianity. According to her testimony, her father recently learned of her conversion and threatened to kill her, prompting her to run away from home.

An openly declared Christian on Facebook, Bary corresponded with Florida pastor Blake Lorenz of the Global Revolution Church in Orlando. Accepting his offer of help, she boarded a Greyhound bus and fled to the pastor’s home. Bary’s parents not knowing the whereabouts of their daughter, filed a missing person’s report. As three weeks passed and police involvement intensified, Lorenz finally admitted to sheltering the runaway teen. Bary has currently been placed in foster care and her case awaits hearing in the Florida family courts.

Rifqa’s father, Mohammad Bary, has repeatedly denied ever threatening to kill his daughter. He claims to have known of her conversion for quite awhile. “When she was 14 … when she wanted to do some babysitting, she put (on the application) I’m Christian. And that was the first time. Then one year ago, my son came and told me that she was going around school with a bible, trying to convince other kids.”

Muhammad Bary states that he accepted her conversion. He claims to be a liberal father who allowed Rifqa to be a cheerleader and wear clothes outside of the Islamic dress code. He himself had gone to a Christian school and his best friend was a Christian. He said that this whole matter was the result of a family argument blown out of proportion. “My daughter is a minor. She has been kidnapped by the pastor. Somebody came to Ohio and took her. The Evangelicals have brainwashed and have coached her what to say. They are using her and she is a victim. I just want her to stay at home and be part of the family.”

Her mother added tearfully: “She is my only daughter, I want her home.”

The local news channels poured forth images of Rifqa. Her 5’ 2”, 90 pound stature shook vigorously as she cried:” They love God more than they love me. It is an honor to kill me. I am fighting for my life here you don’t understand, I cannot go back to Ohio.” Rifqa sobbed uncontrollably on pastor Lorenz’s shoulder. Christian right-wingers in the media sympathized with her attacking the “Islamic Shariah” which they said prescribed the death penalty for apostates.

The Columbus police have said they do not see Mohammad Bary as a threat to his daughter. As Bary’s lawyer demanded that the case be moved from Florida to Ohio, Rifqa immediately changed her tone and started making statements against NICC. She claimed that her parents attended the mosque and adhered to its teachings, which supported and promoted terrorist activities and encouraged honor killing.

Her lawyer John Steinberger issued a 35-page memorandum, highlighting how Bary’s life would be in “clear and present danger” if returned to Ohio due to her parents’ affiliation with NICC. He attacked everyone from the mosque’s director Hani Saqr to its other active members. Local radio and television stations promptly shifted their focus to the mosque and its alleged ties to terrorism. A Fox News truck was seen outside the mosque during taraweeh prayers. The mosque consequently began receiving concerned phone calls and even hate mail from those who were convinced that Bary would be killed due to her conversion.

In an effort to set the facts straight, NICC invited major television networks such as CBS, ABC and Fox to visit the Noor premises. They were also given a press release that said: “NICC categorically denies all allegations made against its community — NICC records indicate that Rifqa attended only three Sunday classes in 2007.” This confirms Muhammad Bary’s claims of belonging to a different mosque.

The press release further stated: “This is a family law issue that is currently being handled by the Florida family courts. NICC believes that attempts to draw the Muslim community into this conflict are a smokescreen hiding an effort to exploit Rifqa and her family. Unfortunately, hate groups appear to be using this family matter as an attempt to further their religious and political goals.”

When contacted by Arab News, an NICC official, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “This is nothing new, right-wing Christians have always attacked active mosques. Noor is a very prominent mosque. It caters to 10,000 Muslims in central Ohio. We have very successful interfaith programs. We have prominent visitors like congressmen, and the president of Bangladesh visited us. We have even been invited to the White House.”

Is NICC considering any legal action for this defamation? Adnan Mirza, an NICC spokesperson, said that at this time they are not. He said NICC felt that the case was already in court and the legal process would show that those accusations were not true.

Muslims, who attend the NICC, were outraged. “I have been coming to this mosque since it opened. I have never heard one extremist, terroristic sermon. They only tell us to be better parents, neighbors and be exemplary in our behavior to non-Muslims.” said a taraweeh prayer attendee.

Members of other faith groups have also supported NICC. Talking to Arab News, at a recent event, Rev. Tim Ahrens said that he was ashamed by the accusations of pastor Lorenz. That it was not based on Jesus’ teachings. “It is not news but a smear campaign. I have known Hani Saqr for the last 20 years. I am ashamed to see people smear Noor. We stand with you shoulder to shoulder. This center has blessed central Ohio.”

Ahrens also said people made statements against Islam and NICC because of “fear and hate and lack of knowledge. That it is coming from elements who call themselves Christians is troubling to me as it does not reflect the values of Christ. I have only ever found graciousness and kindness in my dealings with Muslims.”

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]


Search for Yale Student Turns to Conn. Incinerator

HARTFORD, Conn. — Investigators sifted through garbage at an incinerator Sunday, looking for clues into the disappearance of a Yale University graduate student who was supposed to be celebrating her wedding day.

FBI agent Bill Reiner said Sunday that investigators are “following the trash” that left the university laboratory in New Haven. He declined to comment further on the search at the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority’s trash-to-energy plant in Hartford.

Annie Le, 24, was last seen Tuesday morning at the lab. More than 100 state, local and federal law enforcement agencies are looking for her but have not yet determined if Le’s disappearance is a missing person’s case or an act of foul play.

Authorities say Le, a pharmacology doctoral student originally from Placerville, Calif., swiped her identification card to enter the lab. But there is no record of her leaving despite some 75 surveillance cameras around the complex. Her ID, money, credit cards and purse were found in her office.

Investigators on Saturday said they recovered evidence from the building that houses Le’s laboratory, but would not confirm reports by media outlets that the items included bloody clothing.

In a story published Saturday, the Yale Daily News quoted an unnamed New Haven Police Department official as saying the bloody clothes were found in a ceiling at the building. The official spoke to the newspaper on the condition of anonymity so the official would be free to discuss an ongoing investigation.

On Sunday morning, a state police Major Crimes Squad van drove down a ramp into the basement area of the building where the lab is located. Officials had no immediate comment.

Yale is offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to Le’s whereabouts.

On Sunday, students prayed for Le’s safe return at The University Church.

“It has been a week that has tested many people in many different ways,” the Rev. Ian Buckner Oliver said just before he gave the Sunday morning sermon. “It has brought up a lot of fears for people. It has brought up a lot of worry and concern for her and for all our safety.”

The student-dominated congregation offered a moment of silence and prayer, “for Annie, and her family, who have arrived here in New Haven, for her fiance, on this, what would have been their wedding day. Let’s lift them up in our prayers,” Oliver said.

Le’s family arrived in New Haven on Saturday, Oliver said after the service. He said the church doesn’t have any other events or prayer services planned specifically for Le.

“There is nothing else at this point because the university and police have said there is no criminal investigation, there is no proof of a crime. So at this point, we are just praying,” Oliver said.

Le, who’s of Asian descent, stands 4 feet 11 inches and weighs 90 pounds. She was to marry Columbia University graduate student Jonathan Widawsky on Sunday at the North Ritz Club in Syosset, N.Y., on the north shore of Long Island.

Police say Widawsky is not a suspect and is assisting with the investigation.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


Up to Two Million March to US Capitol to Protest Against Obama’s Spending in ‘Tea-Party’ Demonstration

Up to two million people marched to the U.S. Capitol today, carrying signs with slogans such as “Obamacare makes me sick” as they protested the president’s health care plan and what they say is out-of-control spending.

The line of protesters spread across Pennsylvania Avenue for blocks, all the way to the capitol, according to the Washington Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency.

People were chanting “enough, enough” and “We the People.” Others yelled “You lie, you lie!” and “Pelosi has to go,” referring to California congresswoman Nancy Pelosi.

Demonstrators waved U.S. flags and held signs reading “Go Green Recycle Congress” and “I’m Not Your ATM.” Men wore colonial costumes as they listened to speakers who warned of “judgment day” — Election Day 2010.

Richard Brigle, 57, a Vietnam War veteran and former Teamster, came from Michigan. He said health care needs to be reformed — but not according to President Barack Obama’s plan.

“My grandkids are going to be paying for this. It’s going to cost too much money that we don’t have,” he said while marching, bracing himself with a wooden cane as he walked.

[Comments from JD: Note the almost total media blackout about this. Whenever photos or videos were shown, they were zoomed in to the crowd so as not to show the size of the crowd.]

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


We Can be Too Safe

Overdosed on pharmaceutical regulation

He is right, but greater safety is not synonymous with more stringent regulation. In fact, net benefit to patients is often compromised by excessively risk-averse regulatory policies that hinder the use of important products or unnecessarily delay their availability. That is evident today in current trends in the regulation of pharmaceuticals.

Earlier this month, the Food and Drug Administration revised a black-box warning, the most severe at its disposal, on the labels of an important class of drugs used to treat inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease and inflammatory bowel disease.

The cancer risk of these drugs, called TNF inhibitors, has been known for years, but regulators wanted the labels to highlight cancer risks in children and adolescents. The new warning signals only a change in perception of risk, not new information about heightened risk.

In recent years, the FDA has been using — some would say overusing — black-box labels with increasing frequency. Between 2003 and 2007, the number of new or revised black-box labels increased almost fourfold. This proliferation of warnings has its own negative effects.

Consider, for example, the risk-benefit calculation for use of the drug to treat inflammatory diseases. The prominent black-box labels certainly deter both physicians and patients from resorting to drugs that carry these warnings.

If the drugs are underused because of heightened concerns elicited by the new additional cancer warning, might patients with inflammatory bowel disease face a higher risk of colon cancer as a result of years of inflammation of the colon, as well as the morbidity of undertreatment of the disease?

You won’t see those risks in bold print, but they are just as real. That is precisely the problem with the trend at the FDA toward erring on the side of more warnings and more risk aversion in general.

An unequivocal example of ill-advised caution is the FDA’s warning last month about the safety of a product called e-cigarettes, which many smokers use to give up real cigarettes. These devices supply users with vaporized nicotine and look like cigarettes; some even boast an LED light at the tip. They contain no tobacco and are noncombustible, and they lack most of the risks of smoking.

For the vast majority of smokers unable to quit even with the help of drugs and counseling, e-cigarettes could be lifesavers — but because the FDA found tiny levels of carcinogens in the product, the agency warned smokers to stay away, essentially telling them to go back to deadly cigarettes. Regulators appear not to understand comparative risk assessment.

The trend toward more black-box warnings illustrates that as the agency weighs benefits versus risks of drugs and medical devices, the risk side will dominate. Nowhere is this more evident than in the FDA’s Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategies (REMS), which the agency can impose on new drugs whenever it wishes.

These REMS include “elements to assure safe use” of the drug, which may encompass restriction of the drug to specified patient populations, distribution only by certain specialty pharmacies, required laboratory findings/monitoring in all patients who get the drug, advertising permitted only to certain physician specialists, and patient enrollment in a central registry. These restrictions and requirements amount to “limited” approvals of a new drug, which will have the effect of constraining the prescribing and use of the medicine.

The swinging of the pendulum at the FDA toward greater risk aversion and more stultifying regulation itself has side effects:

  • Fewer patients will get the treatment they need, out of an “abundance of caution” and physicians’ fear of litigation or their aversion to red tape.
  • The proliferation of black-box warnings, originally meant for only the most angerous drugs, has discounted the impact of these warnings and made them less meaningful.
  • The FDA’s new regulatory power over tobacco actually makes it harder for people to quit smoking cigarettes.
  • Investors and industry researchers have less incentive to pursue new medications whose markets are constrained by regulatory policy.

Are we becoming too “safe” for our own good?

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Why is ACORN Giving Tax Advice? Started With Shakedown of H & R Block

Wondering why anybody would go to an ACORN office for tax advice, as Jamie O’Keefe and Hannah Giles did for their child prostitution sting operation? There is actually a very good reason to think of ACORN and tax advice in the same sentence and it was exposed by The Washington Examiner’s Kevin Mooney several months ago in a Special Report:

“The program’s biggest score came against H&R Block, MonCrief said. The company was targeted beginning in January 2004 when ACORN promised demonstrations by its members in front of H&R Block offices protesting ‘overpriced tax refund loans’ in at least 30 cities.

“Eventually, H&R Block agreed to pay for the establishment of tax centers for the benefit of ACORN officials and members in exchange for stopping the protests, MonCrief said. H&R Block did not respond to an Examiner request for comment.”

So one might reasonably ask if ACORN offices around the country are routinely giving out advice on how to evade federal and state tax laws.

You can read the full report here.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Archbishop of York: I Am Fed Up to the Back Teeth With Political Correctness That Denigrates Young People Like Naomi

Anyone reading the newspapers in recent weeks could be forgiven for thinking young people are nothing but trouble.

Whether it’s the ‘Hell Boys’ in Edlington, Doncaster, with their terrorising of the local community, or the young man in Liverpool who killed Rhys Jones and his gang who attempted to conceal the crime, there is a temptation to completely write off the young — especially those who live in our poorest communities.

However, the great majority in this country are not troublemakers. Many are hard-working, committed to their local communities and making a positive difference. There is nothing to be gained in demonising a whole section of society.

[…]

As a society, we have allowed marriage to become devalued and apart from the financial cost of family breakdown, the impact upon young people is incalculable. Marriage has suffered in terms of central and local government funding, fiscal opportunities, welfare benefits and legal reforms.

In terms of finance alone, the report estimated that family breakdown fuels crime, adding £60billion to its annual cost; drug and alcohol abuse adding £40billion and educational failure a further £20billion.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


British Foreign Office Denies ‘Secret’ Libya Deal

LONDON — Britain’s complicated relations with Libya returned to center stage Sunday as Foreign Office diplomats took the unusual step of denying a newspaper report about a secret deal with Moammar Gaddafi’s regime.

The officials said there was no truth to a front-page Sunday Times article alleging that British diplomats had made a secret deal with Libya three years ago that would prevent the killer of a British policewoman from going on trial in Britain.

The newspaper said British officials seeking to make trade and oil deals with Libya secretly agreed that the person responsible for killing policewoman Yvonne Fletcher outside the Libyan embassy in London 25 years ago would not be brought to trial in Britain. The report said even her family had been kept in the dark.

The issue is sensitive because the British government’s dealings with Libya have been under intense scrutiny since the release last month of Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, who is terminally ill with cancer.

“It is entirely misleading and simply wrong to suggest that there was a ‘secret deal’ over the treatment of any suspect in relation to the murder of Yvonne Fletcher,” said a Foreign Office spokesman, who asked not to be identified in line with government policy.

He said the exchange of letters cited by the newspaper did not outline a secret deal but simply established that under Libyan law in effect at the time there was no way for a Libyan to be extradited to face trial abroad.

That meant any suspect in the Fletcher murder could only be tried inside Libya, the spokesman said, adding that the British government is pressing the Libyan government to allow Scotland Yard investigators to travel to Libya to pursue leads in the case.

Libya suspended its cooperation with the British police after reports surfaced of a British-led plot to kill Gaddafi, but British officials hope this can be reversed since there has been a significant thaw in ties between the two countries since Gaddafi renounced terrorism and abandoned his program to develop weapons of mass destruction.

Relations have been cordial since former Prime Minister Tony Blair flew to Libya to meet with Gaddafi in 2004, but there has been no visible progress in solving the Fletcher case.

Fletcher was shot dead outside the Libyan embassy in 1984. No one has been convicted for her killing, though the Libyan government has accepted that its agents were responsible.

The British government says Prime Minister Gordon Brown raised the matter with Gaddafi when the two met in July at a summit in Italy.

Brown’s government has been criticized in recent weeks for making too many concessions to Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi because of its desire for more trade and oil-related contracts, and the Sunday Times article fueled this sentiment.

William Hague, foreign affairs spokesman for the opposition Conservative Party, said an independent inquiry is needed to evaluate the entire range of the government’s dealings with Libya.

“They once again stand accused of lack of candor and double dealing,” Hague said of the government. “The Foreign Secretary will need to give a full and transparent account of how ministers have conducted themselves.”

Liberal Democrat spokesman Ed Davey said the Times article is consistent with other reports about British diplomats cozying up to Libya for trade reasons.

“It increasingly seems as if ministers were prepared to give Colonel Gaddafi anything he wanted in return for oil, gas and arms contracts,” he said.

“It’s not surprising that they tried to keep this shoddy behavior secret and failed to inform Parliament, the public and even the parents of Yvonne Fletcher.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


Cadbury Slams Kraft Over Rejecting Takeover Bid

LONDON (AFP) — Confectioner Cadbury criticised US food giant Kraft Foods for having a “low growth” business model in rejecting their “unappealing” takeover bid, a letter on its website Sunday showed.

The letter from Cadbury chairman Roger Carr to Kraft Foods chairman and chief executive Irene Rosenfeld explained why Cadbury rejected the offer.

Kraft Foods launched a 10.2-billion-pound bid for Cadbury on Monday — an offer spurned by the British group as takeover activity appeared to be returning to the market.

Despite the snub, Kraft said it hoped the venerable maker of Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate bars and Trident chewing gum, among other brands — would eventually jump on board.

“In my letter of August 31, I informed you that the board had rejected your unsolicited proposal on the grounds that it is unattractive and fundamentally undervalues Cadbury,” wrote Carr in the letter dated Monday.

“Under your proposal, Cadbury would be absorbed into Kraft’s low growth, conglomerate business model, an unappealing prospect which contrasts sharply with our strategy to be a pure-play confectionery company.”

“Your proposal fundamentally fails to reflect the current value of Cadbury as a standalone business, its growth prospects and the potential synergies of a combined entity.”

Kraft Foods, the world’s second largest food company after Nestle, said it hoped the takeover would increase annual revenues to 50 billion dollars a year from 42 billion dollars presently.

It added that by combining the groups, plans for about 500 job cuts at Cadbury in Britain would be scrapped.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


Denmark: Terrorist Threats ‘Increasingly Serious’

Militant Islamists remain the main threat to Denmark, but intelligence agency looks further ahead

Denmark is facing increasingly serious terrorism threats, domestic intelligence agency PET has concluded.

According to PET’s director Jakob Scharf, the number of specific threats against Denmark spiked in the first few months of this year but despite declining since then had become more serious.

‘More terror groups are looking to attach themselves to al-Qaeda, and al-Qaeda’s leadership has clearly stated that Denmark should be seen as a potential target,’ Scharf told Berlingske Tidende newspaper.

Denmark, he said, remained a terrorist target due to the publication of the Mohammed cartoons in 2005 and again last year.

Al-Qaeda and other terrorist networks wanted to keep the cartoon controversy alive for strategic reasons, Shcarf said.

‘It resonates with people in many Muslim countries. The cartoon controversy isn’t going away and that means the increased awareness of Denmark isn’t going to subside for many years to come.’

Brynjar Lia, a terrorism and security expert at the Norwegian Defence Research Institute, was surprised that al-Qadea had continued to keep Denmark on its list of enemies.

‘Jihadists haven’t forgotten Denmark,’ he said.

According to Lia, al-Qaeda’s targeting of Denmark broke its pattern of targeting countries based on their military actions in Muslim countries.

‘With the cartoon controversy al-Qaeda is throwing its attention towards something that is more about religion and culture.’

PET will continue to focus its activities on preventing fundamentalist Islamic terrorism against Denmark, but it has also worked out an analysis of the terrorism threats against Denmark until 2025.

In addition to continued threats from al-Qaeda, Scharf named environmental, economic or political terrorism by left- as well as right-wing groups as threats the agency considered possible.

           — Hat tip: Steen[Return to headlines]


Economy: Czech Republic Beats Spain on Competiveness

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, SEPTEMBER 8 — For the first time, an Eastern European country beat Spain as one of the most competitive economies in the world. According to a report published today by the Economic World Forum and quoted by the on-line edition of El Mundo, the Czech Republic is ahead of Spain both in terms of global economy and the efficiency of institutions, job market, the situation of public accounts, technological innovation and the financial system. According to the Davos Forum, Spain ranks 33rd amongst the most competitive countries in the world, losing four places compared to last year. Switzerland is the most competitive country, globally, beating the United States to the title. Amongst the Top 20 countries: Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Finland, United Kingdom and France. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


France: France Telecom Demonstrations Against Suicides

(ANSAmed) — PARIS, SEPTEMBER 10 — Employees of France Telecom demonstrated this morning in Paris, Marseille, Nancy, Montpellier and other French cities, after one of their colleagues tried to commit suicide using a knife during a meeting. The protesters ask the company to end its reorganisation, saying that they put the staff under too much pressure. The demonstration in Paris took place in front of the company’s headquarters, during a meeting of the national committee for health, safety and labour conditions. France Telecom has already announced that it wants to “reinforce suicide prevention” training 20,000 managers in “detecting possible signs of weakness” among employees. Forced transfers will be frozen until October. The suicide of a France Telecom employee in Lannion in late August raised the total number of suicides in the group to 22 since February 2008, plus ten suicide attempts in the same period, according to trade unions. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Gay Italians Seek Asylum in Spain at the Consulate in Milan

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, SEPTEMBER 9 — In a show of protest against the “growing climate of homophobia in Italy” members of gay, lesbian, transsexual and bisexual groups in Italy are to ask for collective political asylum in Spain outside the Spanish consulate in Milan, announced sources from Arcigay, cited by the Efe press agency. “We are seeking asylum in a civilised country” Arcigay announced on its website, after promoting several protest initiatives ahead of the national demonstration set for October 10 in Rome. The association for gay, lesbian, transsexual and bisexual rights is protesting outside the Spanish Consulate against the personal attacks being carried out in bars frequented by gays in recent weeks. They are demonstrating in the hope that Spain, which introduced a law in 2005 legalising gay marriage and adoption by gay couples under the Zapatero Government, will become their voice in Europe. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Ireland: Let the Real Lisbon Debate II Commence

He’s back, and you could say it’s by popular demand. Despite promising to stay out of the second referendum campaign on the Lisbon treaty, businessman Declan Ganley is returning to Ireland to lead the No campaign.

Whatever your views on the October 2 referendum, this cannot be regarded as an unwelcome development. In the absence of Mr Ganley, the No to Lisbon campaign has floundered. Populated mainly by cranks from the far-left and the far-right political fringe, whose only tactic seems to be to misquote the treaty or present bits out of context, the No campaigners have failed to present an argument worthy of their cause.

Undoubtedly, a better case can be made to appeal to the large constituency of middle-of- the-road Irish voters sceptical that the next stage of European integration will be good for democracy. They find themselves bereft of conventional political leadership. Mr Ganley proved in the last referendum campaign that he has the skills (and financial backing). It is clear that his tactic this time will be courageous, to take on the government’s main argument: that passing the Lisbon treaty will help the Irish economy to recover. He warns the voters not to fall for familiar scare tactics and Brussels intimidation — saying “No” to Lisbon won’t damage our economic prospects.

In an interview with The Sunday Times today, Mr Ganley challenges Brian Cowen and Brian Lenihan to a debate. It will be fascinating to see how the taoiseach and finance minister respond. Will they go head to head against the Libertas leader, or will the cabinet again play the man rather than the ball and resort to making allegations about Mr Ganley’s business career, which really has nothing to do with the main issue.

Not that Mr Ganley doesn’t have a serious point to address himself. He and other No campaigners have criticised the Irish government for making people vote again on the same treaty. Why was the electorate’s first answer not accepted, Mr Ganley demands. Why is a beaten team being allowed a rematch?

The problem with that argument from his perspective, of course, is that the Libertas leader is allowing himself the same indulgence. He said he would use the European election last May to seek a mandate for both himself and Libertas. He failed to achieve that. Mr Ganley did not win a seat in North West, and only one Libertas candidate succeeded anywhere else. Despite that setback, we are now witnessing Mr Ganley’s second coming.

At least we can look forward to a robust debate, with Yes and No arguments both being energetically ventilated. The cause of democracy deserves no less. Let the real battle now commence.

[Return to headlines]


Italy: No Charges for PM in Escort Probe

Berlusconi not ‘criminally responsible, ‘ prosecutor says

(ANSA) — Bari, September 10 — Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi is not under threat of criminal charges in a probe into a southern Italian businessman suspected of procuring prostitutes, the chief prosecutor in the case said Thursday.

“It’s quite clear from what the papers have published that Premier Silvio Berlusconi is utterly clear of any criminal responsibility,” said Bari Prosecutor Antonio Laudi.

Healthcare entrepreneur Gianpaolo Tarantini, 35, is under investigation for allegedly providing prostitutes for parties held by the premier.

According to leaked testimony published in the press Wednesday, Tarantini says he brought some 30 women to 18 parties but said they were friends of his.

Tarantini reportedly admitted to paying the escorts if they spent the night with Berlusconi but said the premier was unaware of the payments.

In reply to the scandal sparked by the leaks, Berlusconi has insisted he has never paid for sex but admitted he is “no saint”.

On Friday, meeting with Spanish Premier Jose’ Luis Zapatero, Berlusconi quipped that “women are God’s greatest gift to mankind,” denying he had ever said there were too many women in the Spanish cabinet.

Berlusconi said a reporter who asked about the escort probe was “jealous” and added that Spanish women were booking more Italian holidays.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Italy: At Least 30 Women ‘Booked for PM’s Parties’

Bari, 9 Sept. (AKI) — An Italian businessman under investigation for abetting prostitution has admitted inviting more than 30 women — many of them prostitutes — to attend parties organised by the prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. Gianpaolo Tarantini, told prosecutors that many of the women were paid 1,000 euros for “sexual services”, while others were “just paid expenses” at 18 parties.

“I introduced them as my friends and I did not say anything when I paid them,” said Tarantini during hearings conducted in the southern city of Bari in July this year, according to Italian daily Corriere Della Sera.

Tarantini said he invited several women, including TV personalities Barbara Guerra and Carolina Marconi, as well as Bari prostitute Patrizia D’Addario, confirming her claims that she had “spent the night at Palazzo Grazioli (Berlusconi’s Rome residence”.

“I accompanied Terry De Nicolo in one occasion to Berlusconi’s home in Rome, keeping quiet at the same time, about the previous agreements that I had made with De Nicolo and the activities she would carry out, if I am not mistaken, in September or October 2008.”

“I had to reimburse her in advance for sexual services, but I don’t know if it happened or not,” said Tarantini.

Tarantini also admitted to have “promoted the sexual services” of a “very dear friend” called Vanessa Di Meglio. He also said he had supplied Di Meglio with cocaine.

“I also organised the sexual services of Di Meglio for Berlusconi on two occasions in Rome on 5 September and 8 October 2008,” he reportedly said.

“I recall that on 5 September Di Meglio stayed at Palazzo Grazioli.”

Tarantini, a businessman from the southern Italian city of Bari, is under investigation for corruption, abetting prostitution and supplying cocaine.

During the hearing, Tarantini admitting to paying prostitute Patrizia D’Addario 1,000 euros to attend parties at Berlusconi’s homes in the capital and Sardinia in late 2008.

The Bari businessman revealed that he had an ambition to get acquainted with the prime minister to win his trust. He wanted to use women and cocaine to penetrate Italy’s public administration and gain success.

“I wanted to get to know the president (of the cabinet) Berlusconi and to achieve that I incurred substantial expenses to gain his trust,” Tarantini said.

“Aware of his interest in the female gender, I did nothing but introduce him to girls as my friends, without saying that I sometimes I paid them,” said Tarantini.

He also stressed that ultimately he wanted to extend his network of contacts in the Italian government.

“I would like to clarify that I turned to cocaine and prostitutes in a bid to build a network in the public administration, because I believed that women and cocaine were the key to success in society.”

Tarantini also admitted to having organised appointments between prostitutes and the vice president of the southern Italian region of Puglia, Sandro Frisullo, who comes from the centre-left Democratic Party.

He also paid for a dinner attended by prominent centre left opposition politician and former prime minister Massimo D’Alema and the mayor of Bari, Michele Emiliano.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Krekar Questioned by Swiss Authorities

Former Iraqi separatist leader leader Mullah Krekar who has been declared unwanted in Norway, has this week been questioned by the Swiss prosecution authority, in connection with a case of possible financing of terrorism from Switzerland.

According to Aftenposten, two persons have already been detained in Switzerland in connection with the investigations into the case, investigations whch according to the newspaper led to Norway and Mullah Krekar.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Nestle Warns of Possible Exit From Switzerland

GENEVA (AFP) — The world’s biggest food company Nestle could leave its homebase Switzerland if Bern imposes a cap on executives’ salaries, the group’s chairman said in remarks published on Sunday.

“It would be the beginning of an end,” Peter Brabeck told Swiss newspaper Sonntag, in reply to a question about calls for the federal government to impose salary ceilings.

Asked what kind of consequences such a move might have on Nestle, a national corporate icon, Brabeck replied: “Then we must ask ourselves whether Switzerland is still the right location for us.”

The global financial and economic crisis has prompted mounting public anger against high pay and bonuses drawn by executives, particularly those who work in the finance industry.

In recent weeks, politicians from some industralised economies have been pushing for caps on wages.

For Brabeck, Switzerland’s most attractive characteristic has been the “legal certainty” that it offers. However, he said that this certainty, which was “like a granite block, has been dampened.”

“Recently, there has been external pressure on Switzerland and populist pressure from within. There we’ve seen that the government and parliament was rather quickly prepared to amend existing laws.

“That is damaging for a location. Switzerland was once known for not ceding to such demands.”

In a landmark out-of-court settlement with US authorities, major Swiss bank UBS agreed to reveal the identities of 4,450 American clients. For some, this meant that Switzerland’s strict banking secrecy rules had been compromised.

Brabeck said the UBS case was not isolated, and cited pressure from the German Finance Minister Piers Steinbrueck on Swiss banking secrecy rules as another example.

“For Switzerland as a location, it is important that legal certainty stays — it must in part even be rebuilt,” Brabecks said.

Headquartered in Vevey, in the west of Switzerland, Nestle last year posted net profits amounting to 18 billion Swiss francs (17.3 billion dollars, 11.9 billion euros).

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


Netherlands: Geert Wilders is One of US, Say Indies Immigrants

Geert Wilders is surprisingly popular with immigrants who came to the Netherlands from the former Dutch East Indies. The key, believes anthropologist Lizzy van Leeuwen, lies in the populist politician’s own convoluted family history.

If you consider the evidence, says Lizzy van Leeuwen, Geert Wilders is himself a second generation immigrant. His mother was born in Sukabumi, in what is now Indonesia. His grandfather, Johan Ording, was a civil servant in the colonial administration and his grandmother, Johanna, belonged to a mixed blood family.

Could that have played a role in the development of Mr Wilders’ preoccupation with territorial issues? “It’s possible,” says Ms Van Leeuwen. She knows of dozens of immigrants from the East Indies who have roughly similar ideas. But actual evidence? She admits there is none.

More significant is that people from the Dutch East Indies will immediately recognize Mr Wilders as one of their own. Despite the bleached hair. “I interviewed more than a hundred elderly immigrants. They see him as what they call an ‘Indies boy’. As someone who tells the truth.”

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]


Opel: Spain’s Government Defends Saragozza Plant

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, SEPTEMBER 11 — The government of Spain has announced that it is to do battle to defend the future of Opel’s Figueruelas (Saragozza) plant and save jobs there after the sale of the German group to a consortium comprising Canada’s Magna and Russia’s Sbrebank. Any decision on the future of Opel, said Economy Minister Elena Salgado, in an interview on Spanish National radio, will recognise that the Arago plant is the most productive in the group. According to union sources, the cut-backs planned by Magna at Figuerelas would be of the scale of an annual reduction in the production of 320,000 cars, wiping out 1,700 of the 7,500 jobs. Figuerolas is the most productive factory “the best equipped and with the most highly specialised workforce in the whole of the automotive sector”, Salgado said, stressing that “any share holding solution will have to recognise these facts”. General Mortors is to sell 55% of its holding in Opel, keeping control of 35%, while the remaining 10% will go to the employees. The new company, the New Opel, along with its sacking of 1,700 employees in Spain, is aiming to cut 10,000 jobs Europe-wide. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Prostitution: Spain, A Bln Euro Business for Newspapers

(by Paola Del Vecchio) (ANSAmed) — MADRID, SEPTEMBER 9 — Chinese, Russian, Romanian and African young women, some of them very young, of all kinds for every taste. Prostitution in Spain is a business that earns organised crime billions of euros, but it also makes national and local newspapers and periodicals rich through advertisements with contact information and full-page entertainment ads. In total, 15,000 euros per day and 40 million annually in advertising, according to a parliamentary commission investigation published in 2007. Spain is the only European country where authoritative and prestigious newspapers publish these adverts, often, as in recent days, next to investigations into the inhumane treatment inflicted on prostitutes in the open-air sex market, like Madrid and Barcelona where civilians have mobilised protests in recent weeks. To re-discuss a very old debate, that still has not been resolved, is the president of the Federation of Progressive Women, Yolanda Besteiro, quoted by the socialist paper Publico, denouncing the ‘hypocritical aspect’ of the majority of papers in relation to prostitution. Together with the free-press paper 20 Minutos, Publico is the only nationally circulated paper to refuse advertising paid by organisations that often exploit prostitution. It has been calculated that the latter moves 18 billion euros per year, advertisements excluded, according to the report ‘Los amos de la prostitucion en España’ (‘The owners of prostitution in Spain’) by the journalist Joan Cantarero. “No media that claims itself to be a champion of human rights can publish this type of advert and, if it does so, it immediately transforms itself into an accomplice in this form of slavery”, affirmed Basteiro. According to her, newspapers like El Pais or El Mundo take in over 5 million euros per year each for advertisements from which it is possible to contact prostitutes, followed by those of the Vocento Group, like the conservative publication ABC, which next to the escorts publishes the weekly religious supplement Alfa y Omega. Self-regulation with the elimination of the publication of the adverts, hoped for by the government as a part of the ‘Integral Plan Against the Prostitute Trade’ that was implemented by the socialist executive wing last January, has not produced any results as of yet. The same results came out of the appeals by the Minister of Equality, Bibiana Aido, to the directors of the papers. With the deep economic recession, the newspapers are not ready to renounce a substantial source of income. The ‘Plan Against the Prostitute Trade’ provided for the regulation of the advertisements to verify if the long arm of the mafia was present behind them for human trafficking and exploitation, but this measure remains dead in the water. In the same way, petitions from NGOs and feminist associations have been ignored, after just one year ago they managed to collect 2,000 signatures against the advertisements. For its part, the government has limited itself to the appeal for self-regulation, without law bound obligations. The consequence is that every day El Pais publishes an average of 702 advertisements for every kind of service required, followed by El Mundo (687), ABC (225) and the right-wing newspaper La Razon (91). (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Spain: Workers’ Protests Overshadow Catalan Celebration

(by Paola Del Vecchio) (ANSAmed) — MADRID, SEPTEMBER 11 — The traditional slogans for independence on the day of the Diada, the Catalan national celebration, were overshadowed today by the protests of workers in the factories where many have already been dismissed. The protests were heard in Barcelona as well during the traditional ceremony in which political parties, Catalan institutions, members of the business and cultural world led by the president of the Generalitat, the socialist José Montilla, place flowers at the monument of Rafael Casanova. Workers in the car sector shouted “Montilla, listen, Nissan is fighting!” and employees of the Rocca group, where 731 jobs may be lost, made it hard to hear the national anthem shouting “traitors” to the authorities. “Less use of the benefit fund, more work, No to 713 dismissals at Rocca” were some of the slogans heard in the crowd of around a hundred workers near the monument. The situation became more tense when a group of around twenty jobless broke through the police cordon to join the Nissan and Rocca demonstrators. The ceremony was closed without serious incidents on the day of national Catalan pride, marked by demonstrations for the pro-independence referendum of the municipality of Barcelona Arenys de Munt, scheduled on Sunday and cancelled by the administrative court of Barcelona; by this afternoon’s march through the centre of the city organised by pro-independence groups and led by the president of FC Barcelona, Joan Laporta; by the expected reading by the constitutional court of Catalonia’s statute of autonomy and even by the row over the concert of Israeli singer Noa who was invited as guest of honour by the Arab orchestra of Barcelona for the Catalan festivities. The ‘Green Catalan initiative’, allies of the regional socialist government, has in fact called for a boycott and was accused by the Israeli embassy of “anti-Semitism.” (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Spain: Islamic Teachers Lacking in Madrid, Catalonia

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, SEPTEMBER 7 — A week before the beginning of the school year, which is set to get underway on Monday September 14, in Catalonia and the Community of Madrid where 45% of Islamic students are concentrated, no Muslim religion teachers have been hired. This was reported today by the President of the Union of Islamic Communities in Spain (UCIDE), Raiy Tatary, in a statement to the media. Catalonia and Madrid had 34,392 and 26,247 Islamic studies students respectively for the 2008-2009 scholastic year according to a demographic study on the Muslim population that UCIDE will publish in the coming days. Like other autonomous Spanish communities, Madrid and Catalonia are responsible by law for hiring their own religion professors, while the Justice Ministry continues to hire in other regions, which, observed Tatary, “is more efficient in fulfilling its legal obligations”. In all of Spain, according to an UCIDE study, about 360 Islamic religion teachers are lacking. Tatary, the main interlocutor with the government for the Muslim community, reported that “the majority of the autonomous communities do not adhere to the cooperation agreement signed by the Spanish government with the Islamic Commission of Spain in 1992,” which regulates the rights and duties of Muslims in the country. Article 10 recognises their right to “receive Islamic religious education in public schools and state-certified private schools.” Only Catholics, Jews, Evangelists, and Muslims can teach religion in schools. For Catholics, the agreement is part of the pact signed with the Vatican. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Spain: Francoism, Garzon Charged With Abuse of Office

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, SEPTEMBER 8 — Baltazar Garzon went from Examining Magistrate to defendant: the former judge of the Audiencia Nacional will have to appear tomorrow in front of the Supreme Court, to defend himself from the abuse of office charge in the inquiry on crimes committed by the Francoist regime. The trial against Garzon started with the accusations against the magistrate from far-right trade union Manos Limpias: the Public Prosecutor’s office demanded closure but the Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court decided to start proceedings. Manos Limpias demanded Garzon’s incapacitation and his temporary suspension for the duration of trial. The Supreme Court summons for Garzon follows yesterday’s support to the magistrate, expressed by the International Commission of Jurists, which includes 59 presidents and former presidents of Supreme Courts, magistrates and state lawyers from UN member countries. According to the Commission, Garzon’s inquiry on Francoism “does not justify any form of prosecution or disciplinary action”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Switzerland: Revelations About Libya Fail to Shed Light

New revelations about Switzerland’s dealings in its crisis with Libya have left the situation more confusing than ever.

The Swiss foreign ministry has confirmed media reports that one of the two businessmen barred from leaving Libya for over a year has close ties with the family of the Libyan prime minister.

It also said that it had held discussions last year with Edwin Bollier, a Swiss businessman with ties to Libya and a supporter of convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi.

Bollier had proposed to the Swiss government that Megrahi should be allowed to come to Switzerland if he were to be exonerated on appeal.

Swiss President Hans-Rudolf Merz flew to Tripoli on August 20 and apologised for the arrest in Geneva in July 2008 of Hannibal Gaddafi, a son of the Libyan leader, which triggered the row with the North African country.

Merz returned with a letter signed by Libyan prime minister Al-Baghdadi Ali al-Mahmoudi, which he presented as a promise to allow the two businessmen to return home before the end of August.

The Libyans say this was a misunderstanding.

Links to prime minister

Confusion has increased in recent days after information about Rachid Hamdani, one of the two businessmen, appeared in some Swiss newspapers. The reports were based on leaks from the foreign affairs commission of the House of Representatives.

The reports say that Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey revealed in closed-door meetings in February that Hamdani was a regular guest at Mahmoudi’s home. Hamdani holds dual Swiss and Tunisian citizenship.

On Thursday Hamdani’s wife accused the press of spreading misinformation about her husband. She rejected media reports that he had been able to visit Tunisia during the past year.

In an interview published on the website of the French-language Le Temps newspaper, she said he had not been allowed to leave the country despite the fact that he was in need of medical attention.

Her interview did not mention his alleged links with Mahmoudi.

In the dark

The confusion about hostages reflects the complexity of the Libyan system, where even those in the Libyan administration are often in the dark.

The country’s leader, Moammar Gaddafi, does not hold any official position, yet all decisions depend on him, says Reinhard Schulze, a professor of Islamic studies at Bern University.

“[Mahmoudi] tries to have influence by creating decisions which, he supposes, have the favour of Gaddafi, but in fact nobody knows what Gaddafi really wants,” he told swissinfo.ch.

“Until Gaddafi says yes or no, [Hamdani] may play tennis with the prime minister but he won’t be able to leave the country.”

Two factions are jostling for power in Libya: on the one hand the old guard, and on the other the “reformers”, who are backed by the foreign minister and the prime minister.

Whoever takes the decision which turns out have Gaddafi’s favour is the one who will gain in political influence, Schulze said.

“Switzerland has become the hostage of the internal Libyan political situation.”

Lockerbie twist

In another twist to the story, Bollier revealed on Swiss television on Wednesday that he had proposed to the foreign ministry that Switzerland should agree to take in Megrahi.

Bollier hoped that this would help to defuse the tension between the two countries.

Bollier figured in the investigation following the Lockerbie bombing but was never charged. Timers made by Bollier’s company, Mebo Telecommunications, were found in the wreckage at Lockerbie.

Bollier does not believe that Libya was involved in bringing down Pan Am Flight 103. He says Libya was not the only country to which the timers were supplied.

The foreign ministry confirmed that it had discussed the matter with Bollier but said it had reached the conclusion that there was no legal basis for such an offer.

Schulze believes that making a link with the Megrahi case would only complicate matters and would not help the businessmen.

Megrahi, who is dying of prostate cancer, was released last month on compassionate grounds from the prison in Scotland where he was serving a life sentence.

In order to be allowed to return to Libya, he withdrew the appeal he had lodged against his conviction.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


The Birth of Rage. And Pride.

Meeting in New York, horror and moral revulsion after ten years’ silence

We publish below Ferruccio de Bortoli’s preface to the first Italian paperback edition of “La Rabbia e l’Orgoglio” [The Rage and the Pride] by Oriana Fallaci, in the bookshops tomorrow (BUR-Rizzoli, pp. 162, €10). The text, published in the Corriere della Sera on 29 September 2001, is part of the series “Opere di Oriana Fallaci” [Works by Orianna Fallaci] and has been supplemented by two later pieces: “Eppure con la Francia non sono arrabbiata” [Yet I am not Angry at France] (from 8 June 2002), and “Wake up, Occidente, sveglia” [Wake Up, West], an extract from her lecture to the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, also published in the Corriere della Sera on 26 October 2002. The series was inaugurated at the end of last year by “Intervista con la storia” [Interview with History], followed by “I sette peccati di Hollywood” [The Seven Sins of Hollywood], “Il sesso inutile” [The useless Sex], “Gli antipatici” [The Limelighters], “Quel giorno sulla Luna” [That Day on the Moon], “Lettera a un bambino mai nato” [Letter to a Child Never Born] and “Penelope alla guerra” [Penelope at War]. The next book to come out will be “Insciallah” [Inshallah].

I must be sincere. I am not sure that Oriana would have approved of this preface. Ours was an intense, stormy relationship. Frequently interrupted, it was unresumed at the time of her death, unfortunately. I would have liked to have been with her, but it was not to be. The fault is, I think, mine. So these few, insignificant lines begin with a confession that took shape over eight long years. Oriana deserved a stouter defence. As her editor, insofar as she had one, I had the modest merit of persuading her to write after 9/11 and a ten-year silence, but also the great demerit of then adhering to the wretched code of political correctness. “Italy Split in the Name of Oriana” was our headline the day after her article was published. Formally correct, but cold and detached.

The Rage and The Pride hit Italy with a maelstrom of emotion. It was a body blow to the country’s cravenness. Italy of course split. But it was also abruptly enfolded in an astonishing act of love that in a sense rendered it more united and more aware of its identity. Oriana went straight for the heart, forcing even those who agreed with none of her thoughts to think. Even those who, wrongly, considered her slightly racist. Giuliano Zincone put it well on 17 October 2001 in the Corriere. “Oriana has crushed the chatter of good sense and ecumenical caution, capturing the spirit of the age. What matters is not the correctness of her arguments but the force with which she obliges me to reflect”. A writer, a great writer, generates emotion, pokes into the farthest corners of our conscience and mobilises passions. In that bloody September, with America wounded by terrorism and the world in fear, Oriana slapped us in the face, pushed us up against a wall and hectored us, but in doing so rekindled our dormant pride with the deep affection that only a mother, although she was not one herself, can have for her children.

In other words, Oriana was our Mother Courage. Fiamma Nirenstein wrote in a penetrating review that “Prophets see what it is forbidden to see and the gift from heaven they receive is the ability to clothe it in poetry. That applies to Oriana Fallaci’s text: truthful, poetic and despairing”. “A tremendous kick to the sandcastle of our hypocrisies”, observed Angelo Panebianco. Before publication of The Rage and the Pride, Oriana said the piece was a sermon in a phone call to Howard B. Gotlieb, the director of her archive at the University of Boston. “Call it a sermon”, she screamed at him. It wasn’t I that called her on 9/11. I refrained out of a sort of coyness. She hated being asked for an article. “You editors are all the same. In the end, that’s all you want. I know you”. I’d tried many times with no success whatsoever. In the end, the article format seemed to her to be almost insulting. She rang me and we had a long talk. She described the horror of the bodies falling from the tower, the spectral spectacle of an empty New York crossed solely by emergency vehicles. She impressed me because she talked about the stench she could smell at her home on 61st Street, between Second and Third Avenue. A stench of death. “We could do an interview, Oriana. What do you say?” She let herself be persuaded. “But you’ve got to do it, OK?” “Deal”. “Get on the first plane and come over”. I waited for transatlantic flights to start again and hopped onto the first plane from Milan to New York. It was 15 September. The passengers were mute. Bewildered expressions and awkward attempts to look normal. The flight was surreal. On arrival in New York, I went straight to my hotel. The Waldorf Astoria was deserted. The staff were glued to the television sets, watching videos of the tragedy: planes slicing into the towers like blades into the living flesh of a city, a nation. Very few cars. Long lines of empty taxis. Time stood still.

When Oriana opened the door of her apartment at number 222 on 61st Street, I started breathing again, even though the rooms were closed, the air stale and the windows perpetually locked. Heaps of books lay in an unbearable yet mesmerizing chaos. Oriana was welcoming and even warm, her cigarette always lit. The interview never actually started because it had already been done. She’d written it, including the questions. And she started reading it to me there and then. She liked reading; she liked listening to herself. And afterwards she would look unhappy with what she had written. It was a sort of game, with a dash of narcissism. She might have been looking at herself in a mirror. Her voice gave her feelings flesh. She was her words, as she was in the Letter to a Child Never Born, which she had probably preferred reading, and recording, to writing. “Fine, Oriana, but you’re interviewing yourself (which she would later do). I have no part in this. A word from me would ruin everything. You’ve got to do something of your own, under your own name”. “Here we go again. You want an article, I know. You couldn’t care less about anything else”. Her mood had changed instantly. Her voice was even hoarser, sharper. She got up from the sofa and went into the kitchen. I recall that she was silent for a few, interminable, minutes. I was thinking: “She’s going to kick me out now”. It was getting late. “Shall we have something to eat?” she asked. “We can go out”. “No, I’ve got some lobster in the fridge. There’s no champagne, though”.

I went out into the moon-like desert of New York and bought a bottle of Cristal, her favourite champagne. I felt a bit ashamed. The sales assistant looked disapproving. What has this guy got to celebrate? Good question. We mused for a moment on the appropriateness of such a frivolous menu. We changed the subject and talked about her life, my life. About the Corriere on 12 September, and my editorial whose title she liked — “Siamo tutti americani” [We Are All Americans] would later become famous — but whose content she objected to. Oriana would have written something very different. “It’s clear you’ve got no balls. You lot don’t get your hands dirty. You spend too much time in the office”. At a certain point, raised voices could be heard outside. Oriana jumped up. “It’s the usual bastards”. She was angry at the clients of a nearby club, and especially with the drivers waiting for them in the street. Many of whom were Arabs. She reeled off a few insults but I stopped her going to the window. “Oriana! Then you say you’re forced to barricade yourself in”. It was getting late, very late. I was exhausted. She was bursting with energy and a suppressed desire to go out and visit Ground Zero. Back to the front line, just like when she was young.

But it wasn’t possible. There was no point in going anywhere near. “See you tomorrow?” “Yes, but think about it. There’s no point in doing an interview. You write everything. I’ll write a separate piece and explain how you arrived at your decision to break your silence. If you don’t want to do an article, write a letter. Write it to me. Is that OK?” “I’ll think about it tonight. See you tomorrow. I’m a bit tired now”. She didn’t look tired, despite the cough and the signs of the disease that, although she didn’t know it, she was fighting every minute of her solitary existence. Oriana always had some battle to fight and this was the most perilously malignant. The next morning, I arrived a little late, bearing flowers. As she opened the doors, she took the flowers looking distracted, irritated. We had a cup of coffee and talked about all sorts of things. I couldn’t summon the courage to return to the previous evening’s discussion: the article or letter. I waited for her to bring it up. Time passed. A lot of it. Then Oriana asked me if I had thought about how to present her thing. Her generic “thing”. “Front page, top right, and then inside with whatever layout and photos you want”. She said nothing and went off to rummage through her many photographs. The one she liked shows her sitting in a car with the doors open and the World Trade Center reflected on the window. She’s wearing a broad-rimmed hat and dark glasses. “This will do”. “And have you written your piece?”

I booted up my computer and showed her what I had dashed off at the hotel. I was tempted to read it out loud, the way she had, but thought better of it. She read it in silence, her brow furrowed. Like an exam. Which I failed. She didn’t like my references to Penelope at War or Inshallah. It annoyed her to read from a computer. “Insupportable and also uncomfortable”. “Look, Oriana, let’s forget about it. Anything else next to your piece would look out of place”. “Well, if you really insist”. Oriana knew how to distil the savour of her victories, even the tiny ones. “What are you going to put on the front page?” “We’ll do a nine-column box (there still were nine columns then) and then continue in a special insert. It’ll be like a book being published first in a newspaper. Is that all right?” She nodded a yes, worried about never seeming satisfied. “What about the title?” At this point, the discussion began to take time. We threw words on the table in a game of lexical Shanghai. One by one, Oriana discarded them. In the end, I stood my ground for “The Massacre and the Pride”. She appeared to agree, perhaps more out of exhaustion than anything. Then lighting one of that morning’s many cigarettes, she stood up and said: “The Rage”. All the rage she had inside. The Rage and the Pride.

PS. Oriana didn’t like the replies to her letter from New York from Dacia Maraini and Tiziano Terzani in particular. If I could go back, I would publish them again in the same way, defying Oriana’s ire. Both articles were unfavourable but written with commitment and passion, contributions from two Florentines, like Oriana. Another Florentine, Giovanni Sartori, replied in the Corriere, coming down on Oriana’s side. A fifth Florentine, one who was certainly not fond of Oriana, had died a few weeks earlier. Indro Montanelli would have paid tribute, in his own way. But that would inevitably have raised Oriana’s suspicions, she who distrusted unwarranted praise and spontaneous embraces. Oriana, an uncompromising combatant from her American redoubt, adored bucking trends. On her own.

Ferruccio de Bortoli

08 settembre 2009

English translation by Giles Watson

www.watson.it

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


UK: Anti-Islamic Protest Fears as 2,000 Palestinian Supporters Gather for London Rally

More than 2,000 people are expected to gather at a pro-Palestinian rally today amid fears far-right protesters could hijack the event.

Organisers of the annual Al-Quds Day demonstration claimed authorities in London had ‘bowed’ to pressure and threats from anti-Islamic groups by ruling it could not take place in its traditional Trafalgar Square venue.

The Greater London Authority denied the decision was last-minute and said permission to use the site was refused because the event did not have appropriate insurance.

For the past 27 years, a number of groups — both Muslim and non-Muslim — led by the Islamic Human Rights Commission have gathered to make a stand against oppression of all kinds.

But instead of meeting in Trafalgar Square, the crowd will listen to speeches by guests including Dr Daud Abdullah, Sheikh Bahmanpour, Rabbi Ahron Cohen, Yvonne Ridley and Anas Al Tikriti in Pall Mall.

Organisers blamed the decision on threats made by far-right groups such as the English Defence League, which issued a call to members to descend on the rally to oppose it.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


UK: If Children Are Taught That Patriotism is Wrong, Britain’s Very Identity is at Stake

One of the most startling aspects of our society at present is the way things that were once considered to be virtues have now become the object of intense disapproval, and vice versa.

A recent survey of teachers by London University’s Institute of Education found that some three-quarters of them believed it was their duty to warn their pupils about the dangers of patriotism.

Once upon a time, loving your country enough that you were prepared to die for it was held to be the highest virtue.

Indeed, without patriotism there would be no one serving in the Armed Forces.

For the past 1,000 years, it has given the people of these islands the strength and courage to repel invaders and defeat the enemies of liberty.

Is it not extraordinary that such affection for your country should now be considered so objectionable that children should be told it is positively dangerous?

One teacher said that praising patriotism excluded non-British pupils.

‘Patriotism about being British divides groups along racial lines, when we aim to bring pupils to an understanding of what makes us the same.’

But on the contrary, patriotism is what binds us together through a shared sense of belonging and a desire to defend what we all have in common.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


UK: Ofcom Launch Investigation Into Muslim TV

By Ted Jeory, Whitehall Editor BROADCATING watchdog Ofcom has launched a major investigation into British Muslim TV stations that have been helping to raise vast sums of money for overseas mosques and madrassas.

Some of the TV channels under the spotlight are linked to a convicted fraudster.

The satellite stations have been airing all night “fundathon” appeals during the current Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Much of the money is being raised by organisations in Pakistan and Bangladesh that have often just registered as UK charities.

As such, they have little traceable financial history and security sources are concerned how donations could be spent once transferred abroad.

Earlier this year, the head of the Stockport-based Green Crescent charity was arrested in Bangladesh after an arms cache was discovered at an Islamic school his organisation allegedly funded.

The latest appeals are being broadcast in Bengali and Urdu from TV studios in east London.

The charities urge Muslim viewers, many of them poor, to seek salvation by donating during Ramadan.

Channels have been announcing that they are raking in more than £100,000 a night.

Ofcom has been monitoring the broadcasts and is now investigating whether its rules have been broken.

Under its code, broadcasters can only run appeals if they do not charge for airtime.

However, a Sunday Express investigation has discovered that charities are being asked to pay up to £15,000 for an all night slot with viewers unaware that donations are being used to cover those costs.

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The channels under Ofcom’s glare are all available on the Sky satellite platform and broadcast to the large Muslim Bangladeshi diaspora throughout Europe.

They include Channel S, ATN Bangla, Bangla TV and Iqra TV.

There is no suggestion that any channel or charities broadcasting appeals are involved with terrorist activity.

According to Ofcom, licences for all channels are held by Channel S Global Ltd, a company founded by, and still run from, the east London offices of Mohammed Ferdhaus, a 36-year-old businessman sentenced in August last year to 18 months in jail for an insurance fraud.

He served four months and launched an appeal against his conviction in July.

He said he has severed all links with Channel S, yet latest files at Companies House show him as the company secretary and sole shareholder.

During a Sunday Express investigation, TV bosses boasted to an undercover reporter that they could help charities raise hundreds of thousands of pounds every night during Ramadan, which started at the end of last month and is due to end next week.

A manager at ATN Bangla said that it had raised £181,000 in just one night for the Bangladeshi Islami University in Dhaka, an institution that registered as a UK charity just last year and which has no financial history in Britain.

Feroz Khan, the boss of Bangla TV, which is based in Hackney, east London, told our reporter, who was posing as a charity trustee, that fundraising slots for this year’s Ramadan were sold out long ago.

A slot for next year could cost £12,000, he said.

After revealing our identity, he said: “We are not a charity, we would not give our time for free. What we are doing is just like teleshopping. It’s part-advertising.”

Asked whether he vetted fundraisers, he said: “My job is to check they are a registered charity and where they are from and that’s it. I don’t have the right to look at their accounts to see how they spend the money.”

He said he did not “have to tell Ofcom” anything when asked whether he had notified the regulator of his charging policies.

A spokesman for Channel S insisted it charged just £600 for appeal slots, that viewers were aware of the costs and that all charities were strictly vetted.

A spokesman for Iqra TV said his was a benevolent educational channel that kept within at least the spirit of the law, while ATN Bangla declined to comment.

Tory MP Patrick Mercer said: “There’s no question that there has got to be a clear audit trail to ensure that funding is used for proper purposes. The security implications are obvious.”

An Ofcom spokesman said: “We take the protection of viewers extremely seriously and when our rules are broken, we take firm action.

“We are currently investigating the matters raised.”

           — Hat tip: Lexington[Return to headlines]


UK: Ramadan TV Appeals Probed

By Ted Jeory VAST sums are being funnelled into foreign mosques and madrassas via a group of British Muslim TV stations that have links to a convicted fraudster.

They are airing all-night appeals from TV studios in east London each night during Ramadan which ends next week.

Much of the money is being raised by charities that have often only just registered in the UK. As such, they have little traceable financial history and security sources are concerned how donations could be spent.

This year, the head of the Stockport-based Green Crescent charity was arrested in Bangladesh after arms were found at an Islamic school it had allegedly funded.

Ofcom is investigating because charities should not be charged but airtime costs up to £15,000 and viewers are unaware their donations cover the costs.

A boss at one of five channels being probed said that it had raised £181,000 in just one night for a university in Dhaka.

The TV licences are held at the east London offices of Mohammed Ferdhaus, 36, who served four months for insurance fraud. There is no suggestion that any channel or charity broadcasting is involved with terrorist activity.

           — Hat tip: Lexington[Return to headlines]


UK: Rapist Praised by Judge for Converting to Islam

A judge lambasted a rapist for claiming his victim was a liar — then commended him for becoming a muslim.

Judge Anthony Goldstaub QC sentenced Stuart Wood for seven years for the attack, then told him: ‘You have turned to Islam and this promises well for your future, particularly as you are now an adherent of a religion which respects women and self-discipline.’

Speaking at Chelmsford Crown Court, Judge Goldstaub strongly criticised Wood, 34, for pleading not guilty at his trial which meant his victim was put through the ordeal of having to tell 12 strangers ‘the most intimate details’.

‘This she did with dignity and courage,’ said Judge Goldstaub. ‘You, through your counsel, called her a liar and suggested she had invented rape.’

The judge added that Wood, who had previous convictions for indecent assault on underage girls and for violence, had shown no remorse and still protested his innocence about the attack in August last year in Colchester, Essex.

He added that Wood had achieved the humiliation he intended on his victim.

Wood, of no fixed address, pleaded guilty to assault causing actual bodily harm.

He was jailed for seven years for rape, nine months for ABH and three months for common assault, making a total of eight years. He will be on the sex offenders’ register indefinitely.

           — Hat tip: A Greek Friend[Return to headlines]


UK: Security Guards Ban Boy, 9, From Sailing Toy Boat on Pond Because it ‘Frightens the Fish’

Security guards reduced a nine-year-old boy to tears after banning him from sailing his toy boat on a pond because it ‘frightens the fish’.

Noah Bailey was distraught after staff at Chiswick Business Park, in west London, stopped him playing with his model of the German battleship Bismarck.

His grandfather Paul Fabricius, 57, said that when they went to complain about the draconian rule the guard refused to tell him the name of the manager for ‘security reasons’.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


UK: The Snooper’s Handbook: Guide That Will Ensure No Home Improvement Escapes the Council Tax Inspectors

If you have just proudly added an en suite bathroom to your house or laid a tiled floor in your conservatory, then beware.

As part of secret plans for a council tax hike on the middle classes, inspectors have been armed with a new ‘snoopers handbook’ to ensure that no home improvement — however discreet — escapes their scrutiny.

The Big Brother manual trains valuation experts how to follow up leads from ‘informants’ by undertaking ‘detective work’, including photographing properties, plundering estate agents’ details and room-by-room inspections.

In July, The Mail on Sunday revealed that the Valuation Office Agency is compiling a database that will give all 23million homes in England one of 100 ‘dwelling house codes’, which are expected to form the basis of a council tax revaluation if Labour wins the next Election.

Middle-income families are likely to bear the brunt of any tax increases as the Government struggles to fill the black hole on its balance sheet caused by the recession.

The handbook, complete with audio commentary, sets out how inspectors can catch homeowners who have so-called ‘value significant’ features.

One exercise reads: ‘Your office has been informed the roofspace has been converted into a fourth bedroom. Your task is to establish whether existing details [for the house] require amendment.’

Another states that ‘information has been obtained’ about a house that has been ‘extended to include another living room and two new bedrooms with en suites. It also emerges that the house has a partial view of the mountains’.

The trainee inspectors then have to change their valuation to place the home in a higher bracket.

A further exercise trains inspectors to look out for ‘a garage large enough for two cars and a drive large enough for three’, a ‘hardwood conservatory with single glazing and tiled floor’, a ‘full sea view’ and recent modernisation.

The language in the manual will strike homeowners who have carried out improvements as positively Orwellian.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Balkans

Serbia: ‘Health Tourism’, Italians in First Place

(by Franco Quintano and Dragan Petrovic) (ANSAmed) — BELGRADE, SEPTEMBER 9 — The number of Italians choosing Serbia for medical and spa treatment is rising steadily, fed by so-called “health tourism”, a phenomenon which is booming in the Balkan country. Plastic surgeons and dentists are the most sought-after specialists, but patients are also looking for other types of treatments. Thermal spas are also very popular, especially Vrnjacka Banja (central Serbia), Banja Koviljaca (west), and Ribarska Banja (central). It isn’t just the markedly lower prices which are driving Italians to Serbia for treatment, but also the high level of preparedness and professionalism among the local specialists. “Patients come here, but so do doctors seeking to update their techniques and knowledge” says Bojan Ciric, a well-known plastic and laser surgeon, speaking to ANSA. He carries out general surgical operations at his private clinic in the centre of Belgrade, along with plastic and eye surgery. “Italians come to us especially for face-lifts, breast enhancements, neck tucks, lipotransfer (transfer of fat instead of silicon), as well as for genital problems, including lengthening, enlargements and straightening of the penis, and for sex-change operations” said Professor Ciric, who says that the vast majority of his Italian patients come from the north of Italy and Canton Ticino. “The costs here are at least three times lower than in Western Europe, but the real benefit is is the excellent price/quality ratio” says Ciric, stressing the high level of technical ability and the smooth functioning of his clinic. “Our equipment is completely new and cutting-edge, and in several fields we are better-equipped than the Americans”. Apart from Italy, foreign patients come to Serbia from Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Slovenia, Great Britain and Scandinavia. Many Italians choose Serbia to go to the dentist, especially for implants and dentures. “My customers mainly come from northern Italy. They come by plane from Milan or Trieste, they stay in hotels close to my clinic in Belgrade, and I tell them the bars and restaurants where they can eat pasta and pizza” says Nebojsa Simic, one of the many specialists in dental surgery who have a large Italian client-base. “Our quotes for dental work are up to five times lower. If they ask for 15,000 euros in Italy, we charge three, four, or five thousand euros” says Professor Simic, who worked as a dentist in Lombardy between 1992 and 1993, between Brescia and Bergamo. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

North Africa

Egypt: Cairo Organ Trade Ring Busted, 3 Surgeons Arrested

(ANSAmed) — CAIRO, SEPTEMBER 3 — Cairo police have thwarted an illegal kidney transplant operation involving a female Saudi recipient and a male Jordanian donor, security sources said. They said police had raided a small private hospital in the Cairo upmarket of Nasr City at the north of Cairo on Tuesday and arrested three transplant surgeons while preparing for the operation. “The police also arrested a score of lab workers and closed down the medical centre. They also started searching for middlemen involved in the case,” the sources said. The police found the donor and the recipient laying semi-conscious in bed before being taken to the operation theatre of the hospital. The donor, a destitute Jordanian man identified as Mohanad Mohamed Fallah, told police that he had sold one of his kidneys for $2,000 to the Saudi patient through the help of Egyptian middlemen working for El-Fattah Medical Centre that is allegedly involved in underground organ trade, the sources said. In order to stop ‘transplant tourism’, the Ministry of Health has started enforcing a law, which bans the sale of organs, prohibits transplants to foreigners, restricts the operations to public hospitals and impose sentences of up to 15 years in prison and $180,000 fines for violations. He identified the medical team leader as Mohamed Fattahallah, a surgery professor at Al-Azahr University in Cairo. In the absence of a law, the organ trade in Egypt has been out in the open, warn medical experts. They say that the donors, who are selected from poor classes, are often misled about the post-surgery risks. In Egypt, there are no official statistics about the annual number of transplant operations. However, doctors say that at least 500 kidney transplants are carried out each year. The sources claimed that the 50-year-old Saudi woman needed a kidney transplant and came to Egypt and met with Mohanad, who was ready to sell his organ. “This organ-trade mafia should be busted and the only way to do it is to enforce the law,” el-Maghrabi said, adding that the legislation slaps heavy fines and prison sentences on people found guilty of involvement in illegal organs trafficking. According to him, the law bans transplants between two people of different nationalities, in a bid to reduce the incentive for transplant tourism. However,a Cairo-based lawyer told The Gazette by phone that the go-betweens could not be prosecuted. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Energy: Tunisia, Nuclear Power Plant by 2023

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, SEPTEMBER 8 — Societé Tunisienne d’Electricité et du Gaz (STEG) is studying the possibility of integrating the nuclear power plant, which should come into operation by 2023, into its plan for the development of the electricity system by 2031. The plan includes the integration of the nuclear power plant which, with its 1000 Megawatt, will cover 15% of the country’s electricity demand. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


France-Libya: Gaddafi’s Help Needed Against Terror, Minister

(ANSAmed) — PARIS, SEPTEMBER 8 — Colonel Gaddafi’s evolution is “rather positive, increasingly positive” and his role may be very useful in contrasting terrorism in the Sahel region, according to French Secretary of State for Cooperation, Alain Joyandet, speaking in an interview to TV5 Monde. Joyandet, according to sources within the Ministry, was referring to the fact that Gaddafi ended his support to international terrorism in 2003. The Colonel may also have the same role in contrasting terrorism in Afghanistan, Joyandet said, answering a question regarding French efforts against terrorism in the region, which “must be fought to avoid it reaching us. You are aware of what happens in the Sahel region and we need Gaddafi and Libya’s support”. The undersecretary was France’s representative during the ceremonies marking the 40th anniversary of Muammar Gaddafi’s rise to power. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Tunisia: 14.2 Mln Inhabitants in 2050

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, SEPTEMBER 9 — The population in Tunisia, which is currently 10.4 million, in 2050 will be 14.2 million. Then, like now, Tunisia will be the least populated country in Northern Africa, stated figures published by the French Institute of Demographic Studies, according to which, in 2050, there will be 51 million Algerians (currently 35.5 million) and 42 million Moroccans (currently 31.5 million). (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Middle East

Barry Rubin: U.S Government Jumps Voluntarily Into Iran’s Trap, Pulls in Europeans, Too

The great French diplomatist Talleyrand put it best: “That’s worse than a crime, it’s a mistake.”

By accepting the Iranian proposal for negotiations, the Obama Administration has just made the most important foreign policy decision of its term so far. And it is a very bad mistake, a very bad one indeed.

True, the idea of engagement was a U.S. idea. The Iranian regime ignored it for months. And then at the very last moment, the Tehran government sent a five-page letter calling for talks. The letter didn’t even mention the nuclear program as a topic. Shouldn’t that be enough to reject it as insufficient?

Everyone should understand the timing of this letter. On one hand, it came after the most extreme government in two decades took over that country; after a stolen election; after the repression of peaceful demonstrations; after the show trials of reform-minded oppositionists, and after the appointment of a wanted terrorist as minister of defense.

Never have prospects for negotiations resolving U.S.-Iran differences, including the nuclear program, seemed poorer.

At the same time, the United States was finally on the verge of raising sanctions against Iran. True, the increase was insufficient and neither Russia nor China was on board. Yet this was going to be a major step.

Never have prospects for the Obama Administration making some real effort to confront Iran and press for ending the nuclear program seemed better.

Now this whole U.S. strategy has been swept away by no one other than the U.S. government itself.

Few people in the U.S. government think that the talks will lead anywhere. They will eat up months and months, as the Tehran regime consolidates control and surges forward in its nuclear program. The timing of sanctions will presumably be put off until “after” the talks are finished, meaning the Iranian regime will be able to string along America for as long as it wants.

Not to mention the fact that this is a repressive, extremist, anti-American, antisemitic, terrorist-sponsoring government which is going to remain so in every respect no matter how many sessions are held with U.S. delegates.

But it gets worse…

           — Hat tip: Barry Rubin[Return to headlines]


Child-Bride, 12, Dies in Yemen After Struggling to Give Birth for Three Days

A 12-year-old Yemeni child-bride died after struggling for three days in labour to give birth, a local human rights organisation said.

Fawziya Abdullah Youssef died of severe bleeding on Friday while giving birth to a stillborn in the al-Zahra district hospital of Hodeida province, 140 miles west of the capital San’a.

Child marriages are widespread in Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest country, where tribal customs dominate society.

More than a quarter of the country’s females marry before age 15, according to a recent report by the Social Affairs Ministry.

Youssef was only 11 when her father married her to a 24-year-old man who works as a farmer in Saudi Arabia, Ahmed al-Quraishi, chairman of Siyaj human rights organization, said Saturday.

Al-Quraishi, whose group promotes child rights in Yemen, said that he stumbled upon Youssef in the hospital while investigating cases of children who had fled from the fighting in the north.

‘This is one of many cases that exist in Yemen,’ said al-Quraishi.

‘The reason behind it is the lack of education and awareness, forcing many girls into marriage in this very early age.’

Impoverished parents in Yemen sometimes give away their young daughters in return for hefty dowries.

There is also a long-standing tribal custom in which infant daughters and sons are promised to cousins in hopes it will protect them from illicit relationships, he said.

Al-Quraishi said there are no statistics to show how many marriages involving children are performed every year.

The issue of child brides vaulted into the headlines here two years ago when an eight-year-old Yemeni girl went by herself to a courtroom and demanded a judge dissolve her marriage to a man in his 30s.

She eventually won a divorce, and legislators began looking at ways to curb the practice.

In February, parliament passed a law setting the minimum marriage age at 17. But some lawmakers are trying to kill the measure, calling it un-Islamic.

Before it could be ratified by Yemen’s president, they forced it to be sent back to parliament’s constitutional committee for review.

Such marriages also occur in neighboring oil-rich Saudi Arabia, where several cases of child brides have been reported in the past year, though the phenomenon is not believed to be nearly as widespread as in Yemen.

           — Hat tip: A Greek Friend[Return to headlines]


How Islamist Gangs Use Internet to Track, Torture and Kill Iraqi Gays

Iraqi militias infiltrate internet gay chatrooms to hunt their quarry — and hundreds are feared to be victims

Sitting on the floor, wearing traditional Islamic clothes and holding an old notebook, Abu Hamizi, 22, spends at least six hours a day searching internet chatrooms linked to gay websites. He is not looking for new friends, but for victims.

“It is the easiest way to find those people who are destroying Islam and who want to dirty the reputation we took centuries to build up,” he said. When he finds them, Hamizi arranges for them to be attacked and sometimes killed.

Hamizi, a computer science graduate, is at the cutting edge of a new wave of violence against gay men in Iraq. Made up of hardline extremists, Hamizi’s group and others like it are believed to be responsible for the deaths of more than 130 gay Iraqi men since the beginning of the year alone.

The deputy leader of the group, which is based in Baghdad, explained its campaign using a stream of homophobic invective. “Animals deserve more pity than the dirty people who practise such sexual depraved acts,” he told the Observer. “We make sure they know why they are being held and give them the chance to ask God’s forgiveness before they are killed.”

The violence against Iraqi gays is a key test of the government’s ability to protect vulnerable minority groups after the Americans have gone.

Dr Toby Dodge, of London University’s Queen Mary College, believes that the violence may be a consequence of the success of the government of Nouri al-Maliki. “Militia groups whose raison d’être was security in their communities are seeing that function now fulfilled by the police. So their focus has shifted to the moral and cultural sphere, reverting to classic Islamist tactics of policing moral boundaries,” Dodge said.

Homosexuality was not criminalised under Saddam Hussein — indeed Iraq in the 1960s and 1970s was known for its relatively liberated gay scene. Violence against gays started in the aftermath of the invasion in 2003. Since 2004, according to Ali Hali, chairman of the Iraqi LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) group, a London-based human-rights group, a total of 680 have died in Iraq, with at least 70 of those in the past five months. The group believes the figures may be higher, as most cases involving married men are not reported. Seven victims were women. According to Hali, Iraq has become “the worst place for homosexuals on Earth”.

The killings are brutal, with victims ritually tortured. Azhar al-Saeed’s son was one. “He didn’t follow what Islamic doctrine tells but he was a good son,” she said. “Three days after his kidnapping, I found a note on my door with blood spread over it and a message saying it was my son’s purified blood and telling me where to find his body.”

She went with police to find her son’s remains. “We found his body with signs of torture, his anus filled with glue and without his genitals,” she said. “I will carry this image with me until my dying day.”

Police officers interviewed by the Observer said the killings were not aimed at gays but were isolated remnants of the sectarian violence that racked the country between 2005 and 2006. Hamizi’s group, however, boasts that two people a day are chosen to be “investigated” in Baghdad. The group claims that local tribes are involved in homophobic attacks, choosing members to hunt down the victims. In some areas, a list of names is posted at restaurants and food shops.

The roommate of Haydar, 26, was kidnapped and killed three months ago in Baghdad. After Haydar contacted the last person his friend had been chatting with on the net, he found a letter on his front door alerting him “about the dangers of behaving against Islamic rules”. Haydar plans to flee to Amman, the Jordanian capital. “I have… to run away before I suffer the same fate,” he said.

According to Human Rights Watch, the Shia militia known as the Mahdi army may be among the militants implicated in the violence, particularly in the northern part of Baghdad known as Sadr City. There are reports that Mahdi army militias are harassing young men simply for wearing “western fashions”.

A Ministry of Interior spokesperson, Abdul-Karim Khalaf, denied allegations of police collaboration. “The Iraqi police exists to protect all Iraqis, whatever their sexual persuasion,” he said.

Hashim, another victim of violence by extremists, was attacked on Abu Nawas Street. Famous for its restaurants and bars, the street has become a symbol of the relative progress made in Baghdad. But it was where Hashim was set on by four men, had a finger cut off and was badly beaten. His assailants left a note warning that he had one month to marry and have “a traditional life” or die.

“Since that day I have not left my home. I’m too scared and don’t have money to run away,” Hashim said.

           — Hat tip: Steen[Return to headlines]


Lebanon: Everything Set for ‘Francophone Games’

(ANSAmed) — BEIRUT, SEPTEMBER 9 — ‘Solidarity, diversity, and excellence’ is the motto if the 6th ‘Francophone Games’, a sports and artistic competition for countries speaking the French language and with French traditions, which will take place this year in Beirut. Over 30,000 young athletes and artists from the 57 member countries of the International Francophone Organisation (OIF) will compete for 10 days, from September 27 until October 6, in 7 sports events and 7 culturally-themed challenges. The games, founded in Quebec in 1987 during the second ‘Sommet de la Francophonie’, are held every four years. After Morocco, France, Madagascar, Canada and Niger, in 2009 it will be Lebanon’s turn to host the events. Women’s basketball, beach volleyball, men’s football, boxing, judo, and table tennis are the sporting events for this year’s games. Culturally themed events will include creative dance, singing, fiction, painting, sculpture, and photography. This year’s new development is a story-telling event, with participants competing based on originality and articulation, telling stories in front of a jury made up of photographers, painters, theatre producers and directors. ‘Cedrus’, the mascot for the games, a purple phoenix dressed in the colours of the Lebanese flag, will be at Hariri Airport in Beirut to welcome the delegations from the Francophone countries. Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora during the presentation of the games, spoke about the importance of “the values spread by the French speaking world in Lebanese culture”. Values such as liberty, democracy, respect for diversity, and difference of opinions, as well as reciprocal recognition. “We could not find a more stimulating opportunity to encourage peace between cultures than this encounter of artistic, sports, and young talent,” explained the President of the National Organising Committee for the Games, Clement Duhaime. In the past, the games served as a launching pad for young talents, such as French athlete Marie-José Perec, who won the gold medal in the Olympics in Barcelona in 1992. According to the organisers, the event represents a great opportunity for development in the host countries, aided by financing to modernise sports facilities and tourist accommodations. Project will involve the Francophone village on the University of Hadeth campus where the delegations will stay, and Beirut Stadium, which will host the opening and closing ceremonies for the games. There is also the UNESCO building, the seat of the culturally themed competitions, beach volleyball courts on the Jbeil beach, and various other sports facilities and locations that will receive work. On September 27, the opening ceremony will take place, which will include 1800 people with musicians, dancers, technicians, actors, singers, and volunteers. Over 200,000 spectators will attend the events and the main competitions will be broadcast on TV in the OIF member countries. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Saudi Arabia: Counseling Saves Schoolgirls

JEDDAH: The Women’s Counseling Committee at the Interior Ministry has been successful in changing the minds of schoolgirls and teachers who harbor Al-Qaeda-like extremist thoughts and ideas, says Fatima Al-Sulami, a member of the committee.

“We found women with such extreme ideas during social gatherings and were able to remove their deviant and destructive thoughts and ideologies through counseling and awareness campaigns,” she told Al-Watan Arabic daily in a report published Friday.

Al-Sulami said lack of patriotism was the main reason for women to harbor such deviant thoughts, adding that they get these ideas from websites.

An informed source at the Interior Ministry, meanwhile, said no woman is being held in prison for crimes related to extremism. “If we find any woman enticed by Al-Qaeda thoughts, she would be given advice at home,” the source said.

The Men’s Counseling Committee was formed in 2003 at the initiative of Prince Muhammad bin Naif, assistant minister of interior for security affairs, and included many Islamic scholars. The committee, which comprises scientific, security and psychology panels, was instrumental in correcting the thoughts of more than 150 young men, the source claimed.

“When we saw that some schoolgirls and teachers were following extremist ideologies, our committee quickly acted to contain the trend by providing them with necessary counseling,” Al-Sulami said.

She said the first Women’s Counseling Committee was formed two years ago in Hafr Al-Baten. Apart from students, their mothers, teachers and administrators attended the open discussions that were held at schools and conference halls in Hafr Al-Baten and Qaisuma. Al-Sulami said counseling was provided to such girls and women in one-to-one meetings where they were provided with necessary advice in a friendly manner in order to correct their thoughts.

Al-Sulami emphasized the importance of continuing such counseling programs in order to remove dangerous ideas from the minds of those girls and women.

She emphasized the need for protecting young men and women from deviant thoughts. “If every family had inculcated the thoughts of patriotism and love of religion in the minds of their children, these girls and women would not have been exposed to such deviant thoughts and ideologies,” she said.

Al-Sulami said tribalism was partly to blame for extremism and violence. She cited an instance when she had to intervene and dissuade the mother of a student who came to attack the school principal because she thought her daughter was being maltreated at the school because of her tribe.

“I was able to cool down that woman and give her necessary advice in order to correct her extremist thoughts,” she said.

At present two awareness programs are planned for Kharma and Turba, said Saeed Al-Wadie, coordinator the Men’s Counseling Committee. Counseling is given through direct talks, Friday sermons, lectures and cultural contests in certain areas.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


UNESCO: Jordan Ambassador, Hosni Criticised But Not Lieberman

(ANSAmed) — ROME, SEPTEMBER 10 — “Farouk Hosni is a man of great culture, I have met him and I have great respect for him. I am sure that at Unesco he will represent an opportunity for an opening to the Arab and Islamic world on the part of the West, and will bring mutual understanding by the two cultures to new levels”, said Princess Wijdan Al Hascemi, Jordan’s Ambassador to Italy, who spoke out on the debate over the Egyptian Culture minister’s candidacy for the post of Director General of Unesco. “Hosni may have said something about burning Israeli books” said the Princess, referring to one of the accusations made against Hosni by his opponents, “I don’t know how or in what circumstances he said it, and how it was interpreted. But how many people from the other side, how many Israelis have condemned Arabs, both Muslim and Christian? What should we say about someone like Liebermann, who said that the best solution for Gaza is to use the atomic bomb to get rid of its people? And Liebermann is the Foreign Minister, he is received by the most important people in the world”. “But let’s not get into these petty issues”, concluded the Ambassador, saying that she is sure that Hosni has never censored any author. “I don’t want to get into who came first, the chicken or the egg. Otherwise we will never managed to do anything concrete and positive”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Russia

Deadly Russian Base Fire Also Burns Secret Papers

MOSCOW — Five soldiers died Sunday in a fire at a military base in Russia and a state news agency said the blaze may have destroyed sensitive security documents.

The RIA-Novosti agency said the fire at the base in Tambov, about 300 miles (500 kilometers) south of Moscow, damaged a large section of a building of the GRU, the military’s foreign intelligence unit.

It quoted an unnamed source in the Russian special services as saying that the fire-damaged section included an area where very important documents are kept. The damage was initially assessed as “very serious,” the agency quoted the source as saying.

The Defense Ministry could not be reached for comment on the report by The Associated Press.

First deputy defense minister Alexei Kuznetsov went to the base to investigate the fire, the official news agency ITAR-Tass reported.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

South Asia

Bangladesh Probes Marriage of Teen to Elderly Man

DHAKA, Bangladesh — Authorities in southern Bangladesh are investigating whether a 13-year-old girl was forced to marry a 75-year-old man as a way to pay off her father’s debt, local media reported Sunday.

Lokman Shikder loaned the girl’s father, Azhar Bepari, 4,000 takas ($59) several months ago, but Bepari had trouble repaying it, the United News of Bangladesh news agency reported. Shikder recently gave Bepari the choice of immediately paying back the money plus interest or allowing him to marry his daughter in exchange for waiving the loan, it said.

Shikder, who was already married, is the father of four grown children and has a host of grandchildren, the news agency said.

Badrul Huq, a government official in Barisal district, said authorities were investigating and legal action would be taken against the father and husband if the marriage indeed took place, the report said. People under the age of 18 are not legally allowed to marry in Bangladesh.

Shikder’s first wife also wants her husband punished because he married the girl without her permission, the report said. Men can marry up to four women in Bangladesh, but their wives must agree in writing to any new marriages.

Human rights groups say child marriage is rampant in rural Bangladesh, an impoverished nation of 150 million people where almost half of the population lives on less than $1 a day. They say the punishment for violations of child marriage laws is too mild — one month in jail or a fine of 1,000 takas ($15), or both.

Rashida Akhter Shirin, a women’s rights lawyer, said she would help the girl and her family if they want to file a court case against Shikder, the report said.

Officials could not be reached for comment Sunday

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


India Says Open to Monitoring of Some Climate Projects

NEW DELHI (Reuters) — India could allow monitoring of green projects built with international finance and technology to prove to rich nations its commitment to fight climate change, the environment minister said on Friday.

Developing nations are under pressure to be accountable for steps taken to fight climate change, through what the United Nations refers to as “measureable, reportable and verifiable” actions.

“Wherever we take on a mitigation project, we will have no problems of subjecting that project to international monitoring where international technology and finance is involved,” Jairam Ramesh told an industry lobby meeting.

“Having said this, let me also say that India should take on mitigation responsibilities not necessarily dependant on international finance. We have responsibility to our people.”

He said India could make emissions mitigation offers such as trying to double the share of renewable energy in the country’s power basket to about 16 percent by 2030.

India says it is taking steps not only to adapt to climate change but also limit and reduce planet-warming emissions, but will not take on any binding targets because it needs to burn energy to lift million from poverty.

Global negotiations for a new U.N. agreement on climate change in Copenhagen in December are stuck on the question of how much cash or technology rich nations will provide to poorer countries to fight climate change. Differences also remain over emissions cuts targets.

Ramesh argued countries such as India should be left to fortify their voluntary, unilateral climate action with domestic legislation rather than signing up to internationally binding targets. India has already announced several steps to fight global warming, such as ramping up solar power investment, expanding forest cover and bringing in domestic energy efficiency trading.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


Inside Cobra: How Last Week’s Extraordinary Special Forces Mission to Rescue Taliban Kidnap Reporter Unfolded

British journalist Stephen Farrell owes his life to a remarkable rescue by Special Forces in Afghanistan — organised last week by Cobra, the crisis committee that sits in Cabinet Office Briefing Room A.

Here, Richard Kemp, a former member of Cobra and the author of the newly published book Attack State Red, an account of combat in Afghanistan, explains how the dramatic operation unfolded.

One of the most repeated mantras drilled into our troops in Afghanistan is ‘don’t let anyone get taken’. This is so important that military operations are sometimes delayed, disrupted, reshaped or even cancelled if the risk of capture is too high.

Apart from care for the lives of their men, commanders recognise the disproportionate political damage caused by a hostage situation and the risks inherent in a rescue mission.

But Stephen Farrell, the British journalist working for the New York Times in Afghanistan, did get taken. His story was an important one — the alleged killing of many innocent civilians by a German-directed airstrike near Kunduz.

But as soldiers must, so journalists should temper tenacity with judgment. Farrell should not have been where he was for as long as he was, and he knew it.


I don’t question his ability as a journalist, and I certainly don’t question his courage.

Placing himself in grave danger in pursuit of his story would have been acceptable if there was only his life to consider.

But he unnecessarily risked the lives of his Afghan fellow journalist Sultan Munadi — and those who might have to rescue him.

There were special reasons why Farrell was important and why the opportunity to rescue him was taken with such speed and decisiveness.

Farrell was a great prize: a British journalist working for an American paper. His death would have been drawn out, probably preceded by a drip feed of videos in which he pleaded for Nato withdrawal from Afghanistan in exchange for his life.

[…]

The risks had been immense, and Corporal John Harrison was tragically killed. He did not think twice about putting his life on the line to save Stephen Farrell.

But Farrell should have thought twice before putting himself in a situation where Cpl Harrison and his comrades had to fight their way in to rescue him.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Pakistan: Kidnapping of Greek Volunteer From Chitral

PESHAWAR: Expressing serious concern over the kidnapping of a Greek volunteer in Chitral, the residents of Kalash Valley Friday threatened to migrate to some other country if the government failed to recover the kidnapped foreigner.

“The Greek volunteer Athanasios Lerounis had been working on health and education projects for the last 15 years,” Taleem Khan, a representative of the Kalashi community, told a news conference here.

The entire community was seriously concerned about the kidnapping of their guest, he said, adding, they have harmed nobody but their guests were being targeted.

Accompanied by minority member of the NWFP Assembly Prince Javed, members of his community, Chistiar Khan, Zarin Khan, Saeed Gul and others, he accused the local and Afghan Taliban of kidnapping the Greek volunteer and killing his local guard Zafar.

He said that after the kidnapping incident, the entire community was feeling unsafe and they had stopped going to work. “The kids too were terrified and reluctant to go to schools,” he added.

Female representative of the community, Saeed Gul remarked that they were peace-loving and patriotic community, but if the series of targeting them continued, they would be compelled to leave the country for another peaceful place.

She urged the government to stop the step-motherly attitude towards them, as they had not been given their genuine rights.

Minority MPA Prince Javed called upon government to deploy army all around Kalash Valley to protect the community who were scared after the kidnapping of the Greek engineer.

He said that Kalash culture was an important asset to the country and it must be the prime obligation of the government to protect it at any cost.

The MPA demanded of the government to take prompt and effective steps for early and safe recovery of the kidnapped foreigner. He called for concrete steps to recover the kidnapped Greek national as soon as possible.

The Greek volunteer was sleeping in the Kalash museum a few days ago when some 20 masked men broke into the museum, killed his police guard and kidnapped him.

The area people fear that the criminals or militants had shifted the foreigner to Nuristan province of Afghanistan.

The protesters, including schoolchildren, men and women from three Kalash valleys of Bumboret, Birir and Rumbur staged a protest demo outside the DCO office in Chitral on Thursday.

They demanded of the government to recover the kidnapped volunteer before Eid, otherwise, a series of protests would be launched against the administration for their failure to protect foreigners in the scenic valleys.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Pakistan: Kalash People Protest Greek Volunteer’s Kidnapping

CHITRAL: Scores of schoolchildren, men and women from three Kalash valleys staged a protest rally against the kidnapping of the Greek volunteer, Athuanasis Lerunis, outside Chitral Police Lines on Thursday and demanded his immediate recovery.

The protesters, including schoolchildren, men and women from three Kalash valleys of Bumboret, Birir and Rumbur later went to Chitral Press Club and recorded their protest. They demanded of the government to recover the kidnapped volunteer till Eid, otherwise, a series of protests would be launched against the administration for the failure to protect foreigners in the scenic valleys.

Speaking on the occasion, Wazir Zada, Councillor Behram Shah, Bashara Khan, Ayun Union Council Nazim Rehmat Ilahi and representative of Bumboret Muslim Community Ghulam Hazrat said that the kidnapping of a foreign social worker was a slap in the face of local administration, police, border force and Chitral Scouts.

The protesting leaders criticised the border force and Chitral Scouts for their failure to avert the occurrence of such incidents and arrest the responsible persons. They set a 10-day deadline for administration to recover the kidnapped Greek or else they would launch tough protests for which, they warned, the government would be responsible. They vowed that protests would continue till his safe recovery.

The protesters said that they would collect donations if the captors had kidnapped Athuanasis for ransom.It was learnt that the kidnapped Greek national had been spotted near Pak-Afghan border when he was being crossed over by 12 armed men to Nuristan province of Afghanistan.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Pakistan: Team Leaves for Afghanistan to Hold Talks With Kidnappers

CHITRAL: A 12-member jirga left for Afghanistan on Friday in a bid to pave the way for the safe recovery of the Greek volunteer, who was kidnapped by unidentified armed men few days back.

“Yes, we have credible reports that the Greek national, has been shifted to Nuristan province of Afghanistan,” said Zafar Ahmed, Station House Officer (SHO) of Ayun Police Station. He said a shepherd had saw the kidnappers taking the volunteer to Afghanistan near the Pak-Afghan border.

The SHO further said that a 12-member committee led by Abdul Hameed, former union council nazim, left for Afghanistan to hold with the kidnappers for the safe release of the volunteer. He said a Nuristani man living in Sheikhan area of Bumboret and a close relative of the guide who helped the kidnappers in shifting the volunteers had also been arrested in connection with the case.

Meanwhile, lashing out at the kidnapping incident, the Awami National Party (ANP) district president Syed Muzaffar Ali Shah said the government was making all-out efforts for the safe release of the Greek volunteer. He demanded of the government to beef up security measures in the district by establishing more police and border force checkpoints.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Tortured in Pakistan, Hindu Migrants Want to Stay in India

Sun, Sep 13 01:17 PM Jodhpur, Sep 13 (IANS) ‘We Hindus in Pakistan are being discriminated against, tortured and harassed,’ complains Ram Lal, a 45-year-old migrant from Pakistan, one of the estimated 10,000 migrants from that country settled in and around here in the desert state of Rajasthan.

He came to Jodhpur with his family of five over six months ago when, he says, things started to worsen.

‘I do not want to go back….being a Hindu, there are so many problems for you in Pakistan,’ Ram Lala told IANS, adding that only one member of his family, his brother, now lives in Pakistan.

‘In Pakistan we, being Hindus, are not allowed to eat in a restaurant or a dhaba and if allowed by chance, we are served food in different utensils which we have to clean ourselves after eating,’ said Ram Lal, whose name was changed on request, as he feared for the safety of his brother.

Ram Lal, who used to work in a farm in Dilshakh near Hyderabad in Sindh province, said: ‘Hindus were given a paltry remuneration in comparison to Muslims and we had no one to complain to’.

Imran Kumar, another Hindu refugee, adopted a Muslim name saying this was the best way to live peacefully in Pakistan. His father’s name is Nemi Kumar.

‘I come from a Hindu family. I did not change my religion, I only changed my name and it helped me to get admission in school easily,’ said Imran, a man in his early 30s, adding that if you are a Hindu in Pakistan it is most likely that you will not get admission in educational institutions.

Lal and Kumar are not the only Pakistani refugees in Jodhpur. According to rough estimates by Seemant Lok Sangathan (SLS), a group working for refugees in Rajasthan, over 10,000 Hindu migrants from Pakistan are living in this city.

Over 5,300 of them were granted citizenship till 2005 and SLS says more than 5,000 others have now already applied for long term visa (LTV).

SLS president Hindu Singh Sodha said: ‘The LTV number keeps on changing because whoever stays here for six months can apply for it to the union home ministry and according to our information, the displaced who have applied for LTV till date are around 5,000.’

‘Religious persecution, discrimination and harassment of the Hindu minority are the main reasons behind people wanting to come to India. While the Pakistani government has discriminatory policies for the minority community members, they are also victims of rising fundamentalism in Pakistan,’ Ranaram told IANS.

Ranaram, a farm labourer, who used to live in a village in the Pakistani part of Punjab, said he was held hostage by fundamentalists, was tortured and was forced to convert to Islam.

‘Me and my family were tortured by a fundamentalist group which forced us to convert to Islam. My wife and children were kidnapped when I complained about it. I was told that I would only get back my son and daughter and I should forget about my wife as she is a Muslim now. That day, I decided to come to India and now I am here,’ Ranaram said. He came here over eight months ago.

‘I am not alone. There are thousands of others who are facing this torture and harassment. But they have nowhere to go. We had no option but to come here,’ Ranaram said.

With tears in his eyes, another farmer said: ‘Our children are forced to perform Namaz and they call us Kafirs. The life for Hindus is very difficult there.’ He was too scared to reveal his identity.

According to him, such incidents have increased after the ouster of Gen.Pervez Musharraf from the post of Pakistan’s president in 2008.

Sodha criticised New Delhi for rarely taking up the issue with Islamabad. ‘At the same time, it is getting more difficult for these people to get Indian citizenship,’ he held.

‘The minimum period of stay in India to apply for citizenship has been increased from five years to seven years and the fees have been hiked steeply.’

‘Most of these people are agricultural labourers and from 2005 onwards the government has raised the prescribed citizenship fee structure from Rs.100-500 to Rs.3,000-20,000. It has just become impossible for this deprived group,’ Sodha said, adding that the process of acquiring Indian citizenship is also very complicated.

           — Hat tip: Hindu boy[Return to headlines]


Where Did East Timor’s Money Go?

Billions of dollars were pledged to the young nation, but poverty is growing

A decade after tiny East Timor broke from Indonesia and prompted one of the most expensive UN-led nation-building projects in history, there is little to show for the billions spent.

The world has given more than US$8.8 billion in assistance to East Timor since the vote for independence in 1999, according to figures compiled by The Associated Press from the UN and 46 donor countries and agencies. That works out to US$8,000 for each of East Timor’s 1.1 million people, one of the highest per capita rates of international aid.

But little of the money, perhaps no more than a dollar of every 10, appears to have made it into East Timor’s economy. Instead, it goes toward foreign security forces, consultants and administration, among other things.

In the meantime, data from the IMF, the World Bank, the World Food Program, the UN Development Program and others show the money has done little to help the poor. In fact, poverty has increased. Roads are in disrepair, there is little access to clean water or health services and the capital is littered with abandoned, burned-out buildings where the homeless squat.

“The international intervention has preserved the peace, which was always its primary objective,” said James Dobbins, director of the RAND International Security and Defense Policy Center. “Its success in promoting political reform and economic development has been more limited.”

East Timor was once seen as the poster child for UN nation-building. After a bloody 24-year occupation by Indonesia that left 174,000 dead, the people of this predominantly Catholic former Portuguese colony voted overwhelmingly in a UN-managed referendum on Aug. 30, 1999, to separate. The vote triggered a rampage by Indonesian soldiers and proxy militias who killed more than 1,000 people and destroyed much of the infrastructure.

A provisional UN administration restored basic services, repaired buildings and resettled hundreds of thousands of people who had lost their homes. With greater powers than any previous mission, the UN was supposed to help create the pillars of a new country, virtually from scratch.

The vastness and complexity of the job became apparent in early 2006, just as the UN was pulling out its last staff members.

Fighting broke out between rival police and army factions, killing dozens and toppling the government. Then, last February, President Jose Ramos-Horta was nearly killed by rebel gunmen in an ambush.

Timor still faces grave challenges:

  • Between 2001 and 2007, the number of Timorese living in poverty jumped nearly 14 percent to about 522,000, or roughly half the population, according to the World Bank.
  • Children make up half of the poor, and 60 percent of those under five suffer malnutrition, the World Bank and the World Food Program found.
  • The Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation concluded in a 2007 report that very little aid was channeled into “productive activities, including private sector development.”
  • The unemployment rate for 15 to 29-year-olds in the capital, who make up the vast majority of the national work force, was more than 40 percent in 2007, according to the IMF and the state.

Atul Khare, who has headed the UN operation in East Timor since mid-2006, dismissed the World Bank and IMF figures as “absolutely incorrect” and not representative. He said the country has made “considerable progress” since 1999, and that the UN East Timor mission had been effective and successful.

“All these figures are a cause of concern, but they are extrapolations, they are not the real figures, and I would not rely on those figures for making assessments,” he said. “In the last 10 years, with their own efforts … assisted by the international community, this country has largely, yes, been a success.”

“Were you here in 1999? If you were not here, you cannot gauge,” he said.

Khare cited increased fertility rates, among the highest in the world, new buildings and fewer potholes in Dili as positive signs.

He said accurate numbers will emerge from next year, when the next national census is held.

But groups that study East Timor have concluded that a mere fraction of aid money is trickling into the economy — just 10 percent of about US$5.2 billion, estimates La’o Hamutuk, a respected Dili-based research institute. Its figure excludes more than US$3 billion in military spending by Australia and New Zealand.

The rest went to international salaries, overseas procurement, imported supplies, foreign consultants and overseas administration, the institute said. About 20 percent of pledged aid was never delivered, it said.

Another group, the Peace Dividend Trust, concluded that as little as 5 percent of the UN mission budget trickled into East Timor’s economy between 2004 and 2007.

The UN spent US$2.2 billion on missions in East Timor between 1999 and 2009. Roughly US$3 billion in donor aid — the bulk of it from Australia, Japan, the European Union, the US and Portugal — was channeled through 500 not-for-profit groups and institutions like the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.

The World Bank has expressed concern that too much is being spent on consultants, but could not provide a comprehensive figure.

High-level Timorese government officials said that millions of dollars have been wasted on projects that overlapped or were not completed, donor rivalry, mismanagement and corruption. They asked not to be named for fear of a backlash from donors.

Ramos-Horta, a Nobel peace laureate, said the world needs to rethink its aid model.

“Where has this money been invested? That is the question the donor community needs to ask itself,” he said. “If that money were to have been spent mostly in Timor, it would have transformed this country, economically and socially.”

Much of the money has gone toward security, for which the impact is difficult to measure. An AP tally shows that US$3.6 billion was spent in the past 10 years on troops from Australia and New Zealand, who make up the bulk of a foreign intervention force.

Timor’s leaders and most experts agree that without outside help East Timor would have been at risk of becoming a failed state.

Thousands of foreign soldiers, UN police officers and staff remain across the country, but will start departing early next year.

Today, East Timor’s streets are calm. The economy is starting to grow under a new government that took over in 2007 after peaceful elections and is tapping into a US$5 billion petroleum fund from oil and gas fields. The fund will be exhausted by 2023, and analysts say if the non-oil economy is not stable by then, people will starve.

Under the current government, compensation has also been paid to a third of the armed forces who deserted in 2006. Pensions payments have also started for the generation of guerrilla fighters who battled Indonesian troops in the mountains for more than two decades.

In the meantime, the people are still waiting for help.

Domingos Pereira, a 40-year-old street vendor, lost his father, siblings and other family members in the fight for independence, and his house was destroyed in riots in 2006. He now supports his wife and six children by selling sodas, cigarettes and candy.

“My expectation was that when East Timor became an independent country, small people like me would see an improvement in our lives,” he said. “But after 10 years of our independence, I don’t have it yet.”

Duarte Beremau sleeps in a two-room, dirt-floor shack with eight family members, including four unemployed adult children. The shelter is cobbled together from rusting sheet metal and has no water, electricity or sanitation.

Beremau, who is illiterate and doesn’t know his age, earns US$10 a week from a coffee factory, part of which he bets on a Sunday afternoon cockfight in the dusty back streets of the capital.

“Nothing has changed my suffering,” he said. “My life is still like it was.”

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Far East

China Sentences 3 to Prison Over Needle Attacks

BEIJING — A court in western China’s Xinjiang region sentenced three people to up to 15 years in prison Saturday in the first trials over a series of mysterious syringe attacks that led to mass protests against the local government.

The three, all ethnic Uighurs, were sentenced by the Intermediate People’s Court in the regional capital, Urumqi, state media reported.

Some 500 people have reported being attacked in the city, but only about 100 have showed evidence of being pricked. None have suffered from illness, poisoning or other effects.

Earlier this month, tens of thousands from China’s ethnic Han majority took to the streets of Urumqi to demand that the government improve security, as the needle attacks raised tensions almost two months after riots left nearly 200 dead and exposed rifts between the native Uighur minority and Han Chinese.

Officials say five people died in the protests and 48 people were detained as suspects in the needle attacks, according to state media.

The court on Saturday sentenced 19-year-old Yilipan Yilihamu to 15 years in prison for inserting a needle into a woman’s buttock on Aug. 26, a notice on the official China Court Web site said.

The woman was standing buying fruit by a stall when she was stabbed. She didn’t realize until she returned to work after which she told police. The teen was caught four hours later, the Web site said.

State-run China Central Television said the teen was about to start college and had no previous criminal record. The official charge against him was “spreading false dangerous substances,” but the TV channel said the prosecution wanted to charge him on the more serious count of endangering public security by dangerous means.

He did not accept his verdict and plans to appeal, the Web site said.

In a separate hearing, the court also sentenced a 34-year-old man, Muhutaerjiang Turdiand, and a 22-year-old woman, Aimannisha Guliwere, to 10 years and seven years, respectively, for robbery after they threatened a taxi driver with a syringe and took 710 yuan ($103) off him on Aug. 29. They were also fined. The two turned themselves in to police, CCTV said.

The official Xinhua News Agency said all three are Uighurs, a mostly Muslim, Turkic-speaking ethnic group that is the largest in Xinjiang at 45 percent of the population. Around 200 people were present at the two hearings, it said.

Officials and state media have blamed both the deadly July rioting and the attacks on Uighur separatists bent on destroying ethnic unity, but have not publicized any evidence to support the allegations.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


Emissions in Parts of China ‘Above Rich Nations’

BEIJING (AFP) — One of the world’s top authorities on climate change warned on Friday that carbon emissions per person in parts of China were higher than in some developed countries.

Nicholas Stern, the British author of an acclaimed review on climate change, told students in Beijing’s People’s University that 13 Chinese provinces, regions and cities had higher per capita emissions than France. Six also overtook Britain.

“There are many parts of China where emissions intensity and emissions per capita are looking much like some of the richer countries in Europe,” he said in a speech that laid out his predictions on global warming.

Stern warned that if the world continued to emit around the same levels of greenhouse gases every year, there was a 50 percent chance temperatures would rise more than five degrees Celsius (nine degrees Fahrenheit) within 100 years.

A rise of “five degrees Celsius has not been seen on this planet for 30 million years — we as humans have been here for only 200,000 years,” he said.

“This type of temperature change involves radical dislocation, it involves re-writing where people can live, it would involve the movement of hundreds of millions, probably billions, of people.”

“This would result in extended, serious global conflict.”

Stern’s comments came ahead of a key summit in Copenhagen in December aimed at hammering out a new climate change pact to cut emissions.

China and other developing nations are opposed to any compulsory cuts in emissions, saying their per capita emissions are low and the responsibility for solving the problem rests with developed countries that have polluted longer.

Based on Stern’s calculations, emissions per person worldwide would have to fall to two tonnes by 2050 to minimise the risk of a dangerous rise in temperature.

Currently, according to Stern, China emits six tonnes per person, the European Union emits an average of 12, and the United States 25.

Stern, a noted economist, said he was confident China would lead on climate change action.

“China will use its leadership… to explain to the developed world what their obligations are, and China will support developing countries as a whole,” he said.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


U.S. Duties on China Tires to Enforce Rules: W. House

MINNEAPOLIS (Reuters) — The U.S. decision to slap steep additional duties on tire imports from China is meant to enforce trade rules and not spark a trade war, the White House said on Saturday.

“This is simply about enforcing the rules of the road and creating a trade system that is based on those rules and is fair for everybody,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters on Air Force One as President Barack Obama traveled to talk about his healthcare initiative.

Less than two weeks before world economic powers meet in Pittsburgh to discuss their efforts to help countries recover from the global downturn, the spat over the tires threatens to overshadow the gathering.

Still, amid a sharp rebuke from Beijing, the White House said that the new duties would not risk provoking a trade war with one of its biggest trading partners.

“For trade to work for everybody, it has to be based on fairness and rules,” Gibbs said. “We’re simply enforcing those rules and we expect the Chinese to understand those rules.”

The new duty of 35 percent will take effect on September 26 and adds to an existing 4 percent duty. The extra duty would fall to 30 percent in the second year and 25 percent in the third year.

(Reporting by Matt Spetalnick, writing by Jeremy Pelofsky, editing by Jackie Frank)

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


Uighur Activist Urges World to Pressure China

PRAGUE — An exiled Uighur activist accused China on Friday of destroying the cultures of the country’s minorities and urged democratic nations to force China to change its policies on minorities.

Despite protests from China, activist Rebiya Kadeer spoke before the “Peace, Democracy and Human Rights in Asia” conference organized by the Forum 2000 Foundation established by former Czech President Vaclav Havel.

The Chinese Embassy in Prague protested her appearance — and that of the Dalai Lama — at the conference because it said Kadeer’s aim was “to promote her separatist views.”

Czech Prime Minister Jan Fischer privately met with the Dalai Lama Friday, Fischer spokesman Roman Prorok said. He gave no details of the 20-minute meeting, which could anger China.

Former Premier Mirek Topolanek met the Tibetan spiritual leader during his previous visit a year ago.

China accuses Kadeer, the U.S.-based leader of the World Uyghur Congress, of inciting recent riots between Uighurs and members of the dominant Han Chinese group in western Xinjiang province that killed at least 197 people and injured more than 1,700. She denies it.

“China has accelerated the assimilation and destruction of the cultures of ethnic minorities in China,” Kadeer said.

“Now the Chinese government tries to assimilate, to destroy the ethnic minorities’ culture as soon as possible,” she said. “I urge the international community, democratic countries and non-governmental organizations to accelerate their pressure (on China).”

Kadeer said her people have been using nonviolent ways to promote their rights and called on the Chinese government to directly “sit and talk with me” and other leaders of minority groups, including the Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai lama.

A documentary about Kadeer, “The 10 Conditions of Love,” was being shown in Prague on Friday as part of the conference.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Australia — Pacific

Aussie Designer Cashes in on Contentious Burkini

Ahiida Massoud Zanetti, 41, who owns a company that specializes in Islamic swimwear and sportswear, says she first designed the Islamic swim suit while she was working as a hairdresser and added it was only meant to be for personal use.

“I wanted to swim, but since I am Muslim I can’t be half naked on the beach,” Zanetti told Al Arabiya. “So, I decided to design a bathing suit that preserves Muslim modesty.”

Zanetti said it all started with friends and relatives asking her to make them what would later become nicknamed burkini, a mix between the word burka, a loose outer garment worn my Muslim women, and bikini.

The burkini covers the entire body except the face and it looks more or less like a full-length wetsuit except it is manufactured of lighter material that makes swimming easier.

From Australia to Germany

Zanetti explained how the new swim suit gradually started spreading amongst members of the Muslim community in Sydney, where she lives, and then to other parts of Australia.

“Australian press started writing about the burkini as a strange phenomenon while many saw it as just another type of bathing suit,” she said.

The burkini quickly reached Europe and the Middle East and Zanetti found her small business that sells by piece producing more than 4,000 swim suits a year for a minimum of $ 130.

Zanetti, who is married to a Greek businessman who converted to Islam, said company profits now hit $5 million annually.

“The company now has 21 employees from Australia, Lebanon, Germany, Vietnam, and Pakistan,” she said.

No to Israel

Since she started exporting burkinis two years ago, Zanetti said she has been getting ordered from countries across Europe and the Arab world, especially Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar and Morocco.

The only country Zanetti has refused to sell her burkinis to is Israel.

“I do not want to deal with anyone in Israel even though I know that Muslim women there will be using the burkinis,” she said with no further explanation.

Male alternative

Zanetti said that after the huge success of the burkini she is now working on designing a similar one for men so they can look “more decent” on the beach.

“All men’s bathing suits, regardless of their type, are revealing. A conservative woman with a burkini would most likely be embarrassed to see men’s bodies in that way.”

The male bathing suit Zanetti is designing will cover what other suits reveal thus making men look more modest and women feel more comfortable on the beach.

Despite the success she is currently enjoying, Zanetti said she was disappointed in the way the Arab media handled her project.

“Although the burkini stirred controversy in the West to the extent that some countries have banned it, not one Arab or Muslim channel or newspaper contacted me about the issue.”

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]


Muslims Want Islamic Holidays Recognised

A leading Muslim spokesman has criticised new NSW laws that enshrine the rights of staff to refuse to work on Christian-orientated public holidays.

The state government is banning most shops from opening on Christmas Day, Boxing Day, Easter Sunday and Good Friday unless their owners can prove compelling demand from the local community.

Shops will also only be able to open for half a day on ANZAC day.

The new law prevents shop owners forcing staff to work on those days.

Sydney-based Muslim community spokesman Keysar Trad said workers of all faiths were entitled to a break and called for the two main Muslim public holidays to be recognised as well.

“It does give the impression that we are a solely Christian nation and it raises the issue of other religions too, whether you are Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim,” he told AAP on Saturday.

“I know Muslim workers face problems asking for their public holidays off work at the moment.

“There are only two Muslim public holidays, so it is not a lot to ask.”

He cited the example of Lebanon where Christian and Muslim public holidays are widely celebrated by members of both faiths.

“Productivity in Lebanon has not been hurt by the way they do things. Celebrating other faith’s public holidays, actually, is excellent for community relations.”

Shops in Sydney CBD, Newcastle CBD and in Cabramatta are exempt from the new law, as are small businesses.

NSW Minister for Industrial Relations John Hatzistergos introduced the legislation to Parliament on Friday in a bid to allow shop workers to spend the major Christian public holidays with their families.

A spokesman for Mr Hatzistergos admitted the days involved were Christian-orientated, but said the new law, which is supported by opposition ministers, was not about religion.

“It’s about allowing workers to spend time with their families,” he told AAP.

“It’s not about enshrining something for religious reasons, it’s about protecting workers rights.”

The law has been applauded by unions, some major retailers and veteran groups.

           — Hat tip: Nilk[Return to headlines]

Sub-Saharan Africa

More Britons Travel to Somalia for ‘Jihad’: Report

LONDON (AFP) — Intelligence chiefs have warned British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s government that Somalia is the next challenge in efforts to stem Islamic terrorism, a report said Sunday.

The officials have warned that the number of young Britons travelling to Somalia to fight in the war-torn country or take part in “terror training camps” is rising, the Independent on Sunday said, citing unnamed sources.

In particular, they are concerned about the number of people with no direct family connection to Somalia who are travelling there.

The number travelling there every year has more than quadrupled to at least 100 since 2004, according to the newspaper.

“I have seen figures that are not in the public domain that suggest there is an increasing flow of young Britons into Somalia,” said opposition Conservative MP Patrick Mercer, chairman of the counter-terrorism subcommittee.

“There is now a mixture of British people, from numerous backgrounds, who are heading out there and that is causing great concern.”

The Shebab, an Al-Qaeda inspired movement, is spearheading a three-month-old offensive to topple Somalia’s President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed and has imposed strict Sharia law in areas under its control.

The US has expressed fear that the Shebab would turn Somalia into an extremist haven similar to the border area between Afghanistan and Pakistan — which has been a top priority for the Barack Obama administration.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Latin America

Brazilian Oil Field Holds 1.1-2 Bln Barrels: BG

LONDON (AFP) — British energy producer BG Group on Wednesday said that an oil and gas field it helped to discover off the coast of Brazil holds between 1.1 and 2.0 billion barrels.

“The Guara discovery in the Santos Basin pre-salt, offshore Brazil is now estimated to contain recoverable volumes of 1.1 to 2.0 billion barrels of oil equivalent,” BG said in a statement.

The British group owns 30 percent of the field whose discovery was announced in 2008 and which is operated by Petrobas owing to the Brazilian company’s 45-percent stake. Repsol of Spain owns the remaining 25 percent.

BG Group said Guara was capable of initially producing up to 50,000 barrels of oil or gas per day from 2012, potentially rising to 120,000 barrels.

“The well test results on Guara were excellent and underscore again the outstanding potential in BG Group’s extensive position in the world-class Santos Basin,” BG Group chief executive Frank Chapman said in the statement.

“It is clear that the Santos Basin pre-salt will make a very material contribution to the production and cash flow of BG Group for many years to come,” he added.

The announcement comes one week after British energy major BP said it had made a major oil discovery in the Gulf of Mexico after drilling one of the industry’s deepest-ever wells.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


Brazil to assemble French fighters for Latin market: FM

BRASILIA, Brazil (AFP) — Brazil would assemble Rafale fighter jets under an imminent deal with France, and could sell them to other Latin American nations, Foreign Minister Celso Amorim said MondayHis comments came after Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and visiting French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced in a joint statement that Brazil had started talks to acquire 36 Rafale combat aircraft in a deal worth billions of dollars”There is a decision to negotiate the purchase of the Rafales, which won’t be a simple purchase because there will be (aircraft) construction in Brazil — there will be a possibility for Brazil to sell these planes to Latin America,” Amorim told reportersHe explained that the Rafale’s effective victory over two other aircraft in a race to equip Brazil’s air force — the F/A-18 Super Hornet made by US group Boeing and Sweden’s Gripen NG, built by Saab — hinged on France’s pledge to share the technology that goes into the jet”The central aspect of the French offer compared to the others is the effective transfer of technology. There will not only be access to knowhow, but we will also be able to have free access to expertise for other operations,” he saidThe French offered a price that was “competitive, reasonable and comparable to what the French defense forces pay,” he said, adding that there were also unspecified financing options.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Immigration

Berlusconi: Vote to Immigrants Communist Stratagem

(AGI) — Rome, 7 Sept. — “Silvio Berlusconi is defending the security of Italians and preventing those on the left from opening wide our borders to anyone who wants to come in. The result would be an Italy faced with a growing number of illegal immigrants who, in the near future, the left would like to grant citizenship and therefore the right to vote to. With this devious communist stratagem , communists and Catholic communists would like to ensure a future electoral pre-eminence,” said Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, who spoke over the phone with Mattino Cinque. “But luckily for Italians, they are not stupid and know that what the left wants we will never allow. This is why we are well liked and are supported by a wide majority.”

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Berlusconi-Zapatero: Immigration Must be an EU Priority

(By Fabrizio Finzi) (ANSAmed) — LA MADDALENA, SARDINIA — Spain has undertaken to use its forthcoming presidency of the European Union (for the first six months of 2010) to construct a truly European policy to combat irregular migration and has promised that Rome and Madrid will follow the same line at the Pittsburgh G20 in seeking a swift and lasting economic recovery. This is the crux of Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi’s haul from the Italo-Spanish summit that has been held here at Maddalena. It has been a “fruitful” meeting which has revealed broad “political and personal agreements” between the prime ministers of Italy and Spain. Trade between the two countries is proceeding apace and the two Mediterranean powers find themselves today more “twinned” than ever, at least in their shared desire to find a solution to the drama of illicit African immigration. This predicament was mentioned several times by Berlusconi today as he called on other European nations to show solidarity, as he rebuffed charges — coming mainly from the world of Catholicism — of carrying out inhumane and immoral policies in repelling boatloads of migrants on the high seas. “On the front of the fight against immigration, we are conducting ourselves in a completely Christian and civilized way”, the Italian premier intoned to the joint press conference held with José Luis Zapatero. “Nobody in peril at sea has ever been left to their fate by Italy”, Berlusconi added, stressing, however, that other countries “have done so”. Berlusconi returned to this accusation in reaffirming that “there is not any clash” with the Church, and that relations were in fact “excellent”. But if Italy and Spain “have the same problems and have the same solutions up their sleeves that Europe should adopt”, on the issue of immigration, Zapatero explained that getting Europe to accept the necessity of a policy on immigration involving all 27 “means digesting the fact that the borders of every European state are all of Europe’s borders”. While this was happening at Sardinia’s Maddalena, in Gubbio at the same time the Speaker of Italy’s Lower House, Gianfranco Fini was on the attack: “It is time to stop mortifying proposals; saying that giving the vote to immigrants at local elections isn’t the work of ‘Catto-Communist’- it is, indeed, already policy in many European countries”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Italy: Interview With Minister Frattini (Panorama)

“I’m frankly puzzled by the opposition’s attitude. All over Europe, the immigration issue is seen as a question of national interest, a subject of debate by majority and opposition. Everywhere, except here in Italy, where the opposition even speculates about tragedies just for the sake of attacking the government”. Usually measured, almost cold, in his manner, this time Franco Frattini looks and sounds absolutely furious. And in this conversation with Panorama the Foreign Minister is not sparing anyone: the Partito Democratico (PD) (not all of them, though) and Di Pietro’s “Italia dei Valori” party, the intemperance of the Northern League, and the selfishness of our partners in northern Europe and our neighbours in Malta.

The holiday month of August certainly doesn’t seem to offer him much rest and recreation. Last year the Russia-Georgia conflict broke out. And this time Italy’s high summer hiatus has been disrupted by the case of the five shipwrecked Eritreans picked up near Lampedusa (possibly the only survivors of the 78 who set sail from Libya). An event that’s opened up a Pandora’s Box, with the government accused of lacking humanity and almost being held responsible for a massacre. And the government, for its part, accusing the centre-left and the EU, which continues to view the arrival of desperate Africans by sea as a problem purely for the Mediterranean countries.

What’s really annoying Frattini is, first, the motion against the Italian Government announced in the European Parliament by Di Pietro’s group. Second comes the (well publicised) visit by PD Secretary Dario Franceschini (who describes the government as “racist and xenophobic”) to two of the Eritreans currently being treated in a Palermo hospital. “Italy”, says the minister, “is responsible for saving these people, not abandoning them. We’ve saved more lives at sea than all the other European countries put together. I’m not saying that the opposition should have a constructive attitude on all of our foreign policy, but at least on life or death questions. Our European partners are astonished. And speaking for myself, in the years I spent as a European commissioner in Brussels, I never saw anything like this. In Spain, Zapatero’s PSE has a far stricter policy on immigration than Italy, yet the PPE has never opened it up to political speculation outside the country. That’s where the Italian anomaly lies, and that’s why we still can’t manage to be a ‘normal’ country. The opposition is blinded by its anti-Berlusconi obsession, to the extent that it’s even harming its own country”.

Listening to these sharp words, you begin to wonder if the Foreign Minister glimpses some exit route or opportunity to patch things up, with the Parliament still in its early stages.

“Franceschini has got off to a bad start”, is his reply. “That visit to the survivors with TV crew and journalists in tow was a mistake. He was probably influenced by the fact that it’s congress season, but let me point out that Pier Luigi Bersani didn’t follow him down this route. A point that needs to be underscored. After the congress, I would frankly like to have a discussion with the winner on the whole range of foreign policy, Mediterranean policy and immigration issues. Of course, if Franceschini or Ignazio Marino win, then I’m under no illusions”. But Frattini has some good words to say for another opposition politician too, not just Bersani.

“When Piero Fassino was shadow foreign minister in Veltroni’s PD, there was none of this disgraceful rubbish. We spoke with him on a weekly basis. And we knew who was expressing the PD’s foreign policy. Now, who can tell?”

While relations with the opposition are a fresh and keenly felt wound, the relationship with the Catholic Church is a painful thorn in the side. Presented with this drama in the August seas, l’Avvenire even referred to a new Shoah. Comunione e Liberazione, Caritas and the Pontifical Council for Migrants all voiced their criticism. With so many sensitive issues on the table (biological wills, fast-track divorce, abortion pill) and the Catholic community as yet distancing itself in measured terms from the Premier’s private life, there are plenty of reasons for Frattini to be on the alert. But he doesn’t seem too concerned. “With the Church, we have a dialogue, something I can’t say for the PD. And saving every possible human life is an absolute value, just as it is for us. The Church is well aware that we have an institutional obligation to respect the European law envisaging refusal of entry and repatriation for illegal immigrants”.

So, what now? For the minister, the tensions originated in the intemperance of the Northern League and the crescendo of vitriolic utterances that the League has hurled at the Church’s hierarchy since the start of the affair. It even went so far as to threaten to review the Lateran Pacts. “When important prelates are defined as ‘the usual catholic-communists, but without the ‘catholic’ tag’ [a reference to the disagreement between Roberto Cota, from the League, and Monsignor Agostino Marchetto, ed. note], this will clearly trigger controversy, and the reaction has not been slow to arrive. They need to put a stop to this sort of talk!”

After berating the PD and the League, Frattini’s fury is still not spent. He turns his anger on Italy’s EU partners. You only need to ask — given his accusations of inertia on the part of Brussels, which so far has left Italy to fend for itself in combating immigration by sea — where he was from November 2004 until May 2008, a period when he was European Commissioner responsible for that very same issue. “First”, he begins, “the European Commission is finally adopting a plan to redistribute refugees throughout all 27 countries. And this is partly the fruit of my work. Of course, the plan will need to be examined by the European Council in October. Some states might not like it and could block the whole thing”.

Because until the Lisbon Treaty comes into force, introducing qualified majority decisions [for which we will need to wait for the Irish referendum in October, ed. Note] all decisions have to be unanimous. But many states could sign up on a voluntary basis. In any case, we’ll know who to hold up to public opinion and the European Parliament. You can be sure that Italy can and must make its voice heard — loudly”.

Yes, but who might veto the plan? Frattini doesn’t hold back: “Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Austria and Poland. In the past, the last three have absorbed large flows of immigrants from the east, mainly Turks, and don’t intend to take on new immigrants from the south”.

In short, there’s not much to smile about, but the foreign minister is optimistic. “First of all, there’s a growing awareness that, with the free movement envisaged by the Schengen Treaty, any refugee entering Italy can then travel all over Europe. I also have every confidence in the Swedish Presidency. Three years ago, about 20,000 refugees from Kurdistan headed for Sweden, where there was already a Kurdish community. This would have brought Sweden close to collapse, but Europe stepped in and agreed to share the burden. And now I’m certain that Sweden will want to return that help”.

This hoped-for redistribution of the refugees (who now make up the majority of the clandestine immigrants) will, according to Frattini, also lead to a solution of the dispute with Malta. A tiny country that is currently doing everything in its power not to allow the desperate boatloads access to its territory. “When they realise that for every 500 people coming in, they only need to keep 2, then you’ll see that the Maltese rigidity will melt away”.

And with Libya? The balance sheet is one of light and shade, given that boats are still leaving from its coasts. Here too, however, the minister declares himself an optimist, and offers a few revelations. “It’s true that boats are still leaving from Libya, but in a ratio of 1:1000 compared with before the Italian-Libyan agreement. Proof that the most recent sailings have been organised by isolated, desperate groups lies in the fact that on board they — sadly — no longer have the GPS and satellite phones that the people-traffickers used to provide. Instruments that they would use to ask to be picked up, as soon as they were sure they were in Italian territorial waters”.

And the situation will improve even more, he explains, “because an EU-Italian project to monitor Libya’s southern borders by satellite is in the pipeline. 1500km A border over which the traffic organised by black Africa arrives, to then head for Europe by sea”.

Good news too on collaboration with Libya in their reception camps. The Libyans have overcome their initial reluctance to host Italian and UN officials to check in situ who does or doesn’t have the right to asylum. “The UNHCR [the UN agency for refugees, ed. note] has already opened an office in Tripoli. And the Libyans will certainly not be displeased if we take a few hundred people entitled to come to Europe off their hands”.

Before diving back into the last few days of his summer holiday, the Minister is at pains to deny a concern voiced by a number of fishing boat skippers, who are convinced that with the new law on security, helping clandestine immigrants will lead them to be charged with abetment.

“Utter nonsense. If anything, it would be a crime to do the opposite”.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Schifani Calls for EU Intervention

(ANSAmed) — GUBBIO (PG), SEPTEMBER 11 — “Clandestine immigration still represents an emergency to which each one of us, regardless of political alignment, should try to bring a solution. It has now become a European problem and Europe must intervene with collective action and an increased and more direct commitment,” said the Italian president of Senate, Renato Schifani, during a speech at the party’s further education college. “Occasional and sporadic intervention is not sufficient: the European Community has to take upon itself this reality, which goes beyond our own boundaries and those of the other countries that are involved in the situation, as primary entry spots for immigrants”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

General

New Bin Laden ‘Address to Americans’ Is Released

WASHINGTON (AFP) — A new audio purported to be an “address to the American public” from Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden has been released by the militant network’s media branch, a US-based terror monitoring group said.

Al-Qaeda’s As-Sahab media released a video featuring a still image of bin Laden and an audio statement, said IntelCenter, noting that there were no subtitles or transcript yet available.

The release came two days after the United States marked the eighth anniversary of the Al-Qaeda-sponsored September 11, 2001 attacks which killed nearly 3,000 people.

“The video shows a still of bin Laden while the audio statement plays. There is no video footage of bin Laden or of anything else, aside from the graphics surrounding his still. There is no media footage or footage from other groups,” IntelCenter said.

The group described the release as “an address to the American public” and said bin Laden typically releases such a statement annually around September or October.

The last audiotape by bin Laden was released June 3. In that missive he scorned US President Barack Obama’s overture to the Islamic world and warned of decades of conflict ahead.

That audiotape aired on Qatar’s Al-Jazeera news channel less than an hour after Obama landed in Saudi Arabia, bin Laden’s home country, at the start of a Mideast tour.

Obama “has followed the steps of his predecessor in antagonizing Muslims… and laying the foundation for long wars,” bin Laden said in the June release, referring to deadly clashes in Pakistan between the US-backed government and Islamist militants.

“He gave his orders to (Pakistani President Asif Ali) Zardari and his army to prevent the people of Swat from applying Sharia (Islamic) law,” he said.

“Obama and his administration have sowed new seeds of hatred against America,” said the Al-Qaeda leader whose network carried out the 9/11 attacks in the United States.

“Let the American people prepare to harvest the crops of what the leaders of the White House plant in the next years and decades.”

Bin Laden has a 50-million-dollar bounty on his head and has been in hiding for the past eight years.

Intelligence officials, the US military analysts and other experts have long said they believe the world’s most wanted man is hiding in either Pakistan or Afghanistan near the remote mountainous border between the two countries.

In March, an audio attributed to bin Laden accused some Arab leaders of being “complicit” with Israel and the West against Muslims and urged holy war to liberate the Palestinian territories.

The same month, the terror chief urged the overthrow of the Somali president.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

4 comments:

Wally Ballou said...

Obama:

“You know, John McCain likes to say he’ll follow bin Laden to the gates of Hell — but he won’t even go to the cave where he lives.”

Wonder why Bin Laden hasn't been "arrested" by now. Can we call Obama a failure yet?

laine said...

Yemen is the poorest of Arab states, a common source for terrorists now (or in Obamaese, man-made disaster vector).

As the article states, one quarter of marriages involve a girl under 15. An eight year old was granted a divorce from her 30 something husband.

An attempted law against such degradation was denounced as "unIslamic".

And Muslims dare to take umbrage at Mohammed being called a pedophile prophet with so many claiming to follow his example?

This god running a bordello in the sky and rewarding killing of innocents on earth and his pedophile war lord prophet should be made objects of derision in the West, not shown all kinds of respect with footbaths and white gloves for his book preaching barbarism and supremacism.

We're in the 21st century. Would we be showing respect for an ancient Aztec religion with human sacrifice if it had survived? There really is not much difference since Islam has always watered the ground with innocent blood and continues this practice to the present without any condemnation from within the religion itself.

katatonik1984 said...

Yes, I believe that the Kalash people should flee Pakistan while they still can. Considering their small population and the fact that they're non-Muslim, it would only be a matter of time before Taliban descends on them and massacres their entire population. One should only remember the Kalash's ethnic brethren, the Nuristanis (previously known as Kafirs) who were subjugated and forcibly converted to Islam by the Pashtuns in the late 19th century. The same Pashtun people who make up the bulk of Taliban thugs.

Tuan Jim said...

I only skimmed a few background articles on the Kalash after I came across the articles about the Greek kidnapping. I was under the impression they were (in the manner of many SE Asian muslims) mixing a bit of the old traditions in with the not quite so serious islam - but that they had converted en masse a century or so back. I was also seeing some references to the tribe being Nuristani itself - but it probably depends which Anthropologist you talk to.

But yeah, they seem to be on the short end of the stick right there.