Friday, January 10, 2003

News Feed 20100225

Financial Crisis
»China: Beijing to Continue Stimulus in 2010 to Help Chinese Enterprises
»Freddie Mac Losses Mount, Warns of Foreclosures
»German Attacks on Greece ‘Doubly Harmful’
»Greek Row With Germany Over Debt Turns Nasty
»Junk Debt ‘Wall’ To Trigger U.S. Defaults, Bank of America Says
»Rising Jobless Claims Reflect Weakening Recovery
»Spain: Prisa Refinances Bridging Loan to May 2013
»Spain: Pensions: Zapatero: Government is Not Imposing Decrees
»US Senator Warns of ‘Financial Meltdown’ Risk
»America’s First Muslim College
»Bill to Grant Native Hawaiians Sovereignty Passes House
»Covert GAO Agents Sneak Radioactive Material Across U.S. Border to Test Security
»Cryptome Case Reveals How Easy it is to Shut Down Websites
»Hamas-Linked Group Has Deep Ties to White House
»Jackpot Anchor Babies: Allowed by a Blind-Eyed Congress
»Napolitano Secretly Hosts Terrorist Groups in D.C.
»Obama: Bipartisan Health Deal May Not be Possible
»‘When I Saw Woodstock, I Threw Up’
»York University Discriminates Against Christian and Jewish Coalition Ahead of Israel Apartheid Week
Europe and the EU
»Czech Republic: Dealing With the Far Right the Legal Way
»Denmark Rallies Public Behind Afghan War
»EU-Iceland Talks Should Conclude in Early 2011, Commission Says
»EU-Turkey: High Hopes for Liberalisation of Visas, Fule
»French Husbands ‘May be Tagged’
»Italy: Premier Rejects Mafia-Linked Ally’s Resignation
»Italy: Senator and Fastweb Founder Face Arrest in Mafia Money Scam
»Italy: Three Google Executives Convicted in Disabled Boy Harassment Case
»Italy: Rome Gives Buggy Horses a Break
»Italy Poised for Body Scanners
»Italy: Mafia Getting Stranglehold on the North
»Italy: Montezemolo Speaks Out on Corruption
»Neo-Nazis Buy Palace in Eastern Germany
»Netherlands: Geert Wilders’ PVV Set to Win in Almere
»Netherlands: Poll: Wilders to Win Overwhelmingly in Almere
»Netherlands: Christians Can’t Vote for Wilders, Say Vicars
»Official Statement Regarding the Abuse of EDL Prisoners
»Political Corruption in Italy
»Romania’s Black Sea, The New Persian Gulf?
»Sweden: Man Jailed for Malmö Davis Cup Riot
»Sweden: Sahlin Raps Malmö Mayor Over Jew Comments
»Swedish Church Group Offers Choice of Three Genders
»Time for Some Islamic Self-Examination in Norway?
»UK: Anger Over 7/7 London Terror Attacks Inquest ‘Insult’
»UK: Bosses at Scandal-Hit Stafford Hospital Escape Scot-Free
»UK: Starved Birmingham Girl’s Mother Guilty of Manslaughter
»UK: This Tide of Anti-Muslim Hatred is a Threat to US All
»Bosnia: UN Court Funds Karadic Defence
»EU Commission: Extend Custom Tax Exception
»Trade: Trilateral Agreement Between Italy, Serbia and Russia
Mediterranean Union
»A North African Library in the Heart of Cagliari
North Africa
»Algeria’s National Police Chief Shot Dead in Office
»Algeria: Security Chief Killed in Capital
»Algeria-France: Sarkozy Sends Envoy to Calm Tensions
»Algeria: Sky-High Price, 30% of Food Import is Sugar
»Algiers Besieged by Firecrackers at Muslim “Christmas”
»Egypt Leper Colony Grows Into Successful Community
»Libya: Frattini: Italy Neutral in Bern-Tripoli Controversy
»Libya’s Gaddafi Urges Jihad Against Switzerland
»Swiss Businessman Heads to Libyan Jail
»USA-Libya: 1st Economic Mission to Tripoli Since Embargo
Israel and the Palestinians
»Ex-Premier Olmert Standing Trial
»Haaretz: Lieberman Isolates Israel, Replace Him
»Holy Sites: Islamic Jihad Threatens Attacks
»OIC Secretary General Condemns Israel’s Decision to Add the Ibrahimi Mosque and the Mosque of Bilal Ibn Rabah to the List of Israeli Heritage Sites and Considers it an Act of Piracy Against Islamic Heritage
»Riots in Hebron, Calm Restored in Jericho
Middle East
»EU Concerned on Hamas Leader Killed, Lieberman in Brussels
»Germany Welcomes Islamic Education
»Hamas Leader Killed; Frattini, EU’s Balanced Stance
»Iraq: Vatican Voices Concern at Christian Attacks
»Iraq: Pope Urges Respect for Christians
»Iraq: Bishop of Mosul: Humanitarian Emergency. Hundreds of Christian Families Fleeing Violence
»Lebanon: Spy Who Aided Israel Sentenced to Death
»Moderate Islamists Threaten Turkey Army Prestige: Analysts
»New Dubai Mall Evacuated After Cracks Appear in Giant Aquarium
»Nuclear: Iran: Syrian President Receives Ahmadinejad
»Police Detain Several Turkish Military Generals in New Raids
»Reports: UAE Threatens to Boot Canadian Military Base Over Airline Flight Dispute
»Russia Warns West Against “Crippling” Iran Sanctions
»Syria-Iran: No More Entrance Visas, Response to US
»Turkey-France: Minister, Economies Do Not Compete
»Turkey May Import Bread in the Future, Expert
»Turkey: Attempted Coup, Summit With President Gul Tomorrow
»U.S. Will Use Banks to Thwart Iran Nukes
»Yemen: War in North: Children Victimised by Violence and Humanitarian Crisis
»Supreme Muslim Council of Russia to Stop Extremism
South Asia
»Bangladesh: Military Against Christians in Baghaichhari, Three Churches on Fire, Thousands Flee
»Ex-NATO Chief: ‘The Netherlands Will Feel the Effects’
»Indonesia: Jakarta Taxes Marriages With Foreigners: 50 Thousand Dollars to Marry Indonesian Women
»Taliban Happy to See Dutch Leave
Far East
»Concerns Grow Over China’s Sale of US Bonds
»South Korea Court Rules Death Penalty Legal
Sub-Saharan Africa
»Mali: Released Muslims, Algiers Also Recalls Ambassador
»Somalia: Insurgents Battle Over Towns in South
Latin America
»Death of Dissident Orlando Zapata Tamayo Leads to Clampdown in Cuba
»US Refuses to Endorse British Sovereignty in Falklands Oil Dispute
»Australia Sets Spies on People Smugglers
»Immigration Minister Admits His Children Have ‘Suffered’ Because of Migration
»Italy: Unexplainable Controls at Milan Asylum Seekers Centre
»Netherlands: CDA Plan to Tackle Immigrant Youth Crime
»Number of Immigrants Applying for British Citizenship Jumps 30% in Just Three Months
»Turkey: Most Foreign Workers Unregistered
»UK Border Agency Now a Major Anti-Crime Force
»Who’s Funding Somali Nationals to Illegally Enter the U.S.?
»Geologic Carbon Storage Can Never Work, Says New US Study
»Ihsanoglu: Acquisition of Knowledge and Research Has Been the Basic Feature of Muslim Societies Since the Advent of Islam

Financial Crisis

China: Beijing to Continue Stimulus in 2010 to Help Chinese Enterprises

Politburo yesterday decided to continue helping enterprises in order to support recovery. Beijing is not interested in adopting measures wanted by the United States and the European Union (ex, re-evaluation of yuan), but only in strengthening domestic production and economic recovery.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) — Mainland China vowed to continue its fiscal stimulus spending and maintain appropriate monetary policies this year to help its enterprises and economy until their full recovery from the effects of the world financial crisis. The decision was taken by politburo of the Communist Party chaired by President Hu Jintao during a review of the annual government work report to be delivered at the annual plenum of the National People’s Congress, which begins on 5 March.

After the US central bank decided last week to raise its discount lending rate, all eyes were on China. The mainland’s economy, which expanded by 8.7 per cent last year, is expected to lead the world’s economic recovery.

The United States and the European Union want Beijing to raise the value of yuan, which they view as undervalued, and stop financing export companies whose products have invaded Western markets with below cost goods.

China is however more interested in supporting its own enterprises. So far, the Chinese government has spent 4 trillion yuan on a stimulus package, and does not appear interested in changing its exchange policy, at least until the recovery is stronger.

“The economy has not yet recovered to the desired level and the government still needs to work on the ‘three chariots’ of our economy—exports, domestic consumption and investment,” said Wei Jie, an economics professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing. “The tightening will only be very minor because the government still needs to encourage consumption to support economic growth,” he added.

Businesses have also been helped with record loans last year and these were blamed for speculative surges in property and commodity prices. This raised concerns over asset bubbles and this month the China Banking Regulatory Commission ordered banks to tighten personal and business loans.

Zhao Xijun, a finance expert at Renmin University, said the central government faced a delicate situation. It had to strike a balance between boosting consumption and preventing inflation.

“Prices have gone up a lot since the latter half of last year, and this year’s indicators show that the trend is going up,” Zhao said,

The Chinese government is still faced with the task of evaluating carefully the effectiveness of the projects launched under the stimulus package to avoid overcapacity. “Most of the government spending this year will be to finish projects that were launched last year,” he said.

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

Freddie Mac Losses Mount, Warns of Foreclosures

WASHINGTON (AP) — Freddie Mac lost almost $26 billion last year, ominous news for taxpayers who are footing the bill to rescue the mortgage finance company and its sibling Fannie Mae.

Freddie Mac, which has lost a total of almost $80 billion since the housing crisis started in 2007, is bracing for more pain. The McLean, Va.-based company said a record 4 percent of its borrowers are at least three months behind on their payments and facing foreclosure.

Its chief executive, Charles Haldeman, warned Wednesday of a “potential large wave of foreclosures” still to come.

This is a major problem for the federal government, which seized control of Freddie and Fannie in September 2008. The two companies have already siphoned $111 billion from the government to stay afloat. That number is expected to hit $188 billion by fall 2011.

And while Freddie Mac didn’t ask for any more bailout money last quarter, the company said it will likely need more financial aid and might never repay it.

“We now have unlimited taxpayer exposure to the bailout of Fannie and Freddie, a bailout nation where the big get bigger, the small get smaller and the taxpayer gets poorer,” Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, said at a House hearing Wednesday.

Fannie and Freddie dominate the mortgage market, backing about 70 percent of the loans made last year. The two companies purchase mortgages from lenders and package them into securities. Investors are willing to buy the securities because they are effectively guaranteed by the U.S. government. That puts American taxpayers at risk.

But the fragile housing sector is so dependent on the government that officials say they won’t have a detailed exit strategy until next year. Underscoring the market’s weakness, the Commerce Department said Wednesday that sales of new homes unexpectedly plunged 11 percent from December to January to the lowest level on record.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner told lawmakers Wednesday that the Obama administration will “make sure we bring about fundamental change in the housing market and get ourselves in a position where the government is playing a less risky, but more constructive role in supporting housing markets in the future.”

Separately, Freddie Mac warned there is “significant uncertainty as to whether or when we will emerge” from government control.

For taxpayers, stabilizing Freddie and Fannie Mae has been one of the costliest consequences of the financial meltdown. Freddie Mac has received about $51 billion from Treasury to date, and the Obama administration has pledged to cover unlimited losses through 2012.

Freddie Mac said Wednesday it lost $25.7 billion, or $7.89 a share, for all of 2009. Of those losses, $4.1 billion went to dividends paid to the Treasury Department, which holds a nearly 80 percent stake in the company.

In the final three months of last year, Freddie Mac posted a loss of $7.8 billion, or $2.39 a share. The results, however, were a marked improvement over the fourth quarter 2008 when Freddie lost $23.9 billion, or $7.37 a share.

During the most recent quarter, Freddie suffered $7.1 billion in credit losses and a $3.4 billion write-down in low income tax credit investments. Also Wednesday Fannie Mae said in a regulatory filing that it plans to take a $5 billion charge when it reports its fourth quarter results later this week.

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

German Attacks on Greece ‘Doubly Harmful’

It’s no secret that Greece’s public finances are in disorder. But many Greeks have become increasingly disgruntled about criticism from the European Union, particularly from Germany. German commentators on Thursday say that the tone of the debate needs to be raised.

The idea earlier this month seemed to be a good one. European Union leaders gathered in Brussels in mid-February to declare their solidarity with Greece. The country’s bloated budget deficit, well over 12 percent of gross domestic product, and its skyrocketing public debt, had led many to fear that the European common currency, the euro, was in trouble. The EU said that, if worse comes to worst, it would help.

Details of the plan, however, have so far been sparse. Aside from imposing harsh austerity measures on Athens and tightening up EU oversight of the country’s budget, it remains unclear exactly what Brussels might do. And this week, that has resulted in further doubt about the euro’s future.

Greece on Wednesday postponed the offering of a new 10-year bond, originally scheduled for this week, to next week as a result of a warning from Standard & Poor’s that it may downgrade the country’s sovereign debt next month. Furthermore, the country was hit by a massive 24-hour general strike on Wednesday which brought the capital to a standstill.

The Debate’s Growing Absurdity

Amid the uncertainty, the euro has continued to decline against the dollar and other currencies. On Thursday, it hit a 12-month low against the yen. In an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on Thursday, Chancellor Angela Merkel said that “the euro is, for the first time since its introduction, in a difficult situation.” She went on to say, however, that she believes the currency will survive the challenge.

Still, there are many in Greece who have accused Germany of being far too hard on Athens in the ongoing EU efforts to encourage Athens to clean up its financial act. Indeed, one Greek paper printed a mock-up of Berlin’s Victory Column featuring the goddess Victory holding a swastika on its front page earlier this week — a reply to a recent cover story in the German newsmagazine Focus which depicted the Venus de Milo holding up her middle finger next to the headline “Swindlers in the Euro Family.” Likewise, numerous Greek politicians, including Deputy Prime Minister Theodoros Pangalos, have made reference recently to Berlin’s refusal to pay reparations for the Nazi occupation of Greece during World War II.

German commentators on Thursday take a look at the debate’s growing absurdity.

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

“Cheap generalizations saying essentially ‘you Greeks defraud each other at every opportunity’ and ‘Greeks only work when they’ve been bribed’ are well below the belt. Such sentiments do not differentiate between those responsible for the malaise, who are easily identifiable, and all those Greeks who are suffering, and who now must pay the bill. When the attacks come from the Germans, they are doubly harmful. The largest payer of bribes in Greece in recent years was the German company Siemens. Furthermore, Greeks feel they have been cheated out of World War II reparations.”

“The tiff between Greece and Germany is particularly harmful because it plays into the hands of populists on both sides — and makes it more difficult for those seeking a way out of the current crisis.”

The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

“Greece is facing difficult political and social conflicts. It’s no wonder that the search for scapegoats is well under way. Some have already been found, such as the EU, which has imposed harsh austerity measures on the country. No word, however, about the fact that Greece manipulated its way into participation in the common currency zone. Germany is another scapegoat. When Deputy Prime Minister Pangalos was foreign minister, he already called attention to himself with his anti-German comments. Now, in the face of warnings from Berlin, he is playing the Nazi card. How imaginative! Should the Greek government seek to save face with such low blows, it will be difficult to mobilize political solidarity with Greece on the part of the European Union.”

The conservative daily Die Welt writes:

“If the truth be told, people in most European countries are not terribly concerned when their governments display a lack of financial discipline. That was the reason why Germans were skeptical of sharing a currency with the Spanish and the Italians. Germany, for its part, is seen as being too exacting; some in Greece have even opted for Nazi comparisons.”

“But what looks narrow-minded and uncool, is not necessarily over-exacting. After the euro, in its first 10 years, became a success story and put an end to the notorious currency turbulence which had plagued some European countries, its weaknesses are now coming to the fore. It has become increasingly obvious that Europe … is unable to deal with crises like that in Greece. There is no mechanism (in the currency union) to bring rule breakers to order. The fact that Germans are mistrustful of efforts to expand the euro zone and the European Union is understandable.”

— Charles Hawley

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

Greek Row With Germany Over Debt Turns Nasty

The German government on Wednesday dismissed a claim by the mayor of Athens that it still owed Greece billions of euros in reparations for World War II damage amid a mounting row with Berlin over the country’s debt crisis.

“I must reject this criticism,” Andreas Peschke, a spokesman for the German Foreign Ministry, said at a scheduled briefing in Berlin, referring to the claim made earlier by Athens Mayor Nikitas Kaklamanis.

In a complaint to Chancellor Angela Merkel over a front cover of German magazine Focus showing a statue of Venus making an obscene hand gesture, Kaklamanis wrote: “You owe us 70 billion for the ruins you left behind.”

Peschke on Wednesday said Germany had already paid more than €4.4 billion under formal war reparations and compensation for slave workers, adding: “A discussion of the past is not of great help in resolving Greece’s problems.”

The spokesman said Germany had also paid out some €16.3 billion ($22.2 billion) to Greece in the form of bilateral and European Union assistance since 1960 to help the country’s European integration.

Germany, Europe’s largest economy, is seen as the key to any EU financial assistance package to help Greece out of its spiralling debt crisis.

Many German taxpayers, however, are angry at the prospect of having to assist more profligate European economies such as Greece.

Speaker of the Greek parliament, Philippos Petsalnikos, on Tuesday said he would invite the German ambassador to discuss media coverage he described as subjective, simplistic and at times inaccurate, the Ana news agency said.

Petsalnikos accused the Stern weekly of misleadingly summing up the crisis as Greece frittering away German taxpayers’ hard-earned euros and arguing that Germany was footing the bill for Athens’s irresponsibility.

However, the Greek newspaper Eleftheros Typos also did not pull punches on Wednesday, writing “finance Nazis are threatening Europe” and “the Germans have slandered our country enough.” The accompanying picture to the article adorned a famous statue in Berlin with a swastika.

Prime Minister Georges Papandreou hit out at foreign officials and media last month for descriptions of the Greek crisis that “bordered on racism,” but has not raised the issue since.

Greece’s government overspending reached 12.7 percent of output in 2009 as the global downturn sent public deficits through the roof, putting government bonds under pressure, weakening the euro and pushing the eurozone into crisis.

Under acute pressure from its 15 eurozone partners, the Greek government has pledged to slash its deficit to 8.7 percent this year, agreeing to painful public spending cuts that sparked a general strike on Wednesday.

The EU has pledged support for Greece but has also ordered strict monitoring for its deficit-cutting program, and Tuesday sent a team to Athens on the first of a string of visits to make sure it is on the right track.

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

Junk Debt ‘Wall’ To Trigger U.S. Defaults, Bank of America Says

Feb. 24 (Bloomberg) — A “wall” of junk debt maturing in the next four years will increase the risk of corporate defaults in the U.S., according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

More than $600 billion of high-yield bonds and loans are due to be repaid between 2012 and 2014, New York-based analysts Oleg Melentyev and Mike Cho wrote in a note to clients. Almost 90 percent of loans outstanding mature in the next five years, compared with an average of 36 percent between 2005 and 2009, according to the report.

“While the wall-shaped schedule of future maturities is nothing new for the high-yield issuer universe, it is more front-loaded today,” the analysts said. “This could result in additional default pressures further down the road as issuers deal with a higher concentration of maturities than they what they have been dealing with in the past.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Rising Jobless Claims Reflect Weakening Recovery

WASHINGTON (AP) — Layoffs are no longer dropping as they were in the final months of last year, reinforcing fears that the jobs crisis will weigh down consumer spending and the economic rebound.

Severe weather contributed to a rise in jobless claims last week. But other economic data add to evidence that the recovery remains weak and uneven.

An example is orders for big-ticket manufactured goods, excluding airplanes and other transportation equipment. Those orders dropped 0.6 percent in January, the government said Thursday.

Earlier in the week, new-home sales fell in January to their lowest pace on record. And consumer confidence plunged in February.

Mark Vitner, senior economist at Wells Fargo, said the weak reports point to an economy struggling to wean itself from government stimulus programs such as homebuyer tax credits and other supports.

“Going forward, growth is going to be much more dependent on the private sector,” Vitner said. “And consumer demand hasn’t picked up that much yet.”

The economy’s growth rate will likely slow from above 3 percent in the current quarter, Wells Fargo estimates, to less than 2 percent by the middle of the year.

In its report Thursday on jobless claims, the Labor Department said first-time claims for unemployment benefits rose 22,000 to a seasonally adjusted 496,000. Wall Street analysts polled by Thomson Reuters had expected a drop to 455,000.

The rise occurred mostly because state agencies last week processed a backlog of claims caused by snowstorms the previous week. The storms also increased temporary layoffs in the weather-sensitive construction and transportation industries.

Still, the four-week average of jobless claims, which smooths out volatility, rose 6,000 to 473,750. The average had fallen sharply over the summer and fall from its peak last spring of about 650,000.

This year, the improvement has stalled. The four-week average has risen about 30,000 in the past month. It’s now well above the 425,000 level that many economists say would signal net hiring.

Economists closely watch initial claims as a gauge of the pace of layoffs and a sign of companies’ willingness to hire. More layoffs means consumers will have less money to spend, hindering the economic recovery.

“The fact that these snowstorms — as bad as they were — could have such an impact is more testimony to the fragility of the recovery,” Diane Swonk, chief economist at Mesirow Financial, wrote in a note to clients. “The recovery is still on thin ice and lost momentum in the first quarter.”

The jobless claims report, along with economic anxiety in Europe, contributed to unease on Wall Street. In late-afternoon trading, the Dow Jones industrial average fell about 86 points, or about 0.8 percent. Broader stock averages also dropped.

Europe’s debt crisis is adding to pressure on the U.S. economic recovery, given how closely the economies feed on each other. The European Union is pushing debt-laden countries such as Greece, Ireland and Portugal to balance their books. But that’s heightening fears that such austerity measures could tip the continent back into recession.

In the United States, the Senate on Wednesday sought to counter persistent joblessness by passing a $35 billion jobs bill. The bill would provide more funding for transportation projects and tax cuts for companies that hire.

The higher claims figures in recent weeks means the unemployment rate likely rose in February and more jobs were lost. The unemployment rate in January was 9.7 percent, and employers cut a net total of 20,000 jobs. The Labor Department will issue the February employment report next week.

Many analysts expect this month’s snowstorms cost up to 100,000 jobs and will artificially inflate the unemployment rate. A clear reading of the job picture may not be available until March or April.

Also Thursday, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke told a congressional committee that the snowstorms are likely to have a short-term — but not permanent — effect on unemployment and layoffs. He said policymakers will “have to be careful about not overinterpreting” the upcoming jobs data.

The Fed said last week that it expects the rate will average between 9.5 percent and 9.7 percent this year.

The Commerce Department’s report Thursday on durable factory goods was mixed. Orders shot up in January by 3 percent, the most in six months. The gain resulted from a surge in orders for aircraft. Excluding transportation, durable goods orders fell by 0.6 percent.

But economists weren’t overly alarmed by that drop. They noted that the figures are volatile month-to-month. And they pointed out that the government raised its estimate for orders, excluding transportation, in December to show a 2 percent gain.

The economy has grown for six months but is not yet spurring new hiring. Many economists point out that the recovery is weak compared with the aftermath of previous deep recessions. Employers have shed 8.4 million jobs since the recession began.

The gross domestic product, the broadest gauge of the economy’s output, grew at an annual rate of 5.7 percent in last year’s October-December quarter. That figure is expected to decline in the current quarter.

The government will release a revised estimate of fourth-quarter GDP on Friday. Economists expect the number to be unchanged at around 5.7 percent.

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

Spain: Prisa Refinances Bridging Loan to May 2013

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, FEBRUARY 22 — Multimedia group Prisa, whose publications include dailies El Pais, AS and Cinco Dias, has signed an “agreement in principle” with the banks to renew a bridging loan of 1.950 billion euros until May 19 2013, according to a statement to the National Commission for Market Values (CNMV). Prisa underwrote the bridging loan on December 20 2007, which is to expire on March 31, with the HSBC, Santander, Banesto, Caja Madrid, La Caixa, BNP Paribas and Natixis banks. The new agreement is part of the company’s debt restructuring process and is conditional upon the acceptance by the banks of its syndicated loan. The agreement, says a statement by the group, will allow the company to develop a “stable” medium and long-term financial structure, in line with its strategic plan. From now until 2013, the multimedia group will establish a business and finance plan to strengthen its financial structure and capital structure to “face the challenge of national and international opportunities for the group”. In recent months the multimedia giant announced a series of disinvestments. In December Mediaset bought Spain’s fourth-largest TV channel, Cuatro, from Prisa for 1,050 million euros, as well as 22% of pay for view TV channel Digital +, through its Spanish subsidiary Telecinco, in an operation which is awaiting authorisation from Brussels. Previously the group led by Managing Director Jesus Cebrian sold 25% of its publishing house Santillana to private fund DLJ South American Partners, and a further 22% of Digital + to Telefonica. The diversification of its income, along with a reduction in costs of 15.3%, allowed Prisa to show profits in all its business units for 2009, in a situation of general economic crisis and a reorganisation of the sector. The results for 2009 showed 3.208 million euros in utilised income, a fall of 19% on 2008. Net of extraordinary income from the sale of property (226.78 million) and the entry of 3I into Union Radio’s capital (59.68 million), the fall is 13%. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Spain: Pensions: Zapatero: Government is Not Imposing Decrees

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, FEBRUARY 23 — The Spanish government will not approve any reform without the approval of unions because “it is a government that listens” and which does not move on “using decrees”, less than ever “in the context of pensions and employment reforms”. This is today’s offer for debate made by premier José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero to the unions that tonight will take to the streets in Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia, as part of mobilisations against the extension of the pension age called by Ugt and Ccoo. During the joint press conference with European Commission president José Manuel Barroso, after today’s meeting in Moncloa, the premier stated that he believes that in the end “we will reach an agreement”, because both the executive and the unions “all share the same interest”. Aware that social players are “decisive”, Zapatero pointed out that the extension of the pension age from 65 to 67 years of age is a proposal “for dialogue, consent and agreement”. And he remembered that his government “is the one which, in all of Spain’s democratic history, most raised minimum pensions”. But, at the same time, he emphasised that “we need to think about the future”, in the long term, going beyond the current economic recession. “We can and must sit down and work to deal with future challenges”, he added, remembering the rigorous management of social security which allows Spain to “have a reserve fund worth 62 billion euros to safeguard pensions”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

US Senator Warns of ‘Financial Meltdown’ Risk

The US is heading for a debt-driven “financial meltdown” within five to seven years, according to Judd Gregg, the outgoing Republican senator for New Hampshire.

In a robust and at times testy video interview for the Financial Times’s View from DC series, Mr Gregg also complimented China for showing rising alarm about the US’s mounting levels of public debt.

“We have had China say that they are looking for other places to put their reserves and that is probably a smart decision on their part,” said Mr Gregg, who will not seek re-election in November. “So the warning signs are pretty clear and the path is unsustainable and, at this point, unless we take different actions, unavoidable.”

But the senator, who was the most high-profile Repub­lican invited by Barack Obama, the president, to join his administration last year, an offer Mr Gregg accepted and then turned down, said he doubted that the two parties would get together to tackle it.

Last month 16 Republicans and 37 Democrats voted to establish a fiscal commission — seven votes short of what was needed to prevent a filibuster.

Mr Gregg also played down prospects for the non-statutory fiscal commission that Mr Obama set up by executive order last week. “It was just an edict that came from a Democratic president,” he said, adding, that “it’s the only game in town right now”.

Mr Gregg also disputed non-partisan economic studies that showed last year’s $787bn (€585bn, £520bn) stimulus cushioned the impact of the recession. “The facts are wrong,” he said. “I can understand how a Keynesian would make that argument. I find them absurd on their face.”

Mr Gregg also disputed studies that showed the large tax cuts pushed through by George W. Bush, then president, in 2001 and 2003 had added to the US fiscal deficit.

“They were actually paying for themselves,” he said. “If you look at the numbers, they did.”

Mr Gregg also elaborated on why he changed his mind last January on accepting a post in Mr Obama’s cabinet.

“The euphoria of the time made me want to try to help,” he said. “But the practical reality of the situation settled in after a couple of weeks. It would be hard for a hardline fiscal conservative to serve in this administration.”

Mr Gregg declined to criticise the “Tea Party Movement”, which commentators believe is dragging the Republican party to the right. He said the “real opposition” to the fiscal commission came from the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page and Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform group, an anti-tax advocacy group.

[Return to headlines]


America’s First Muslim College

WASHINGTON — As interested students race to beat the fast approaching enrolment deadline, Muslims are turning their sights to the Zaytuna College in California to see if America’s first ever Muslim college will live up to the high expectations.

“We’ve been waiting for this time,” Imam Zaid Shakir, a scholar-in-residence and lecturer at Zaytuna Institute and a co-founded of the college, told in an exclusive interview.

“It’s been a long road to get here, Alhamdulillah, and to know that we’re in this final part to getting freshman class set is very exciting.”

Zaytuna College, a brainchild of Sheikh Hamza Yusuf, Imam Shakir and Professor Hatem Bazian, will stop accepting applications for its first freshman class of 2010 on March 1.

With the application process coming to a close, a committee is readying to study the applications and admit between 20-25 students as incoming freshmen.

And although the college is seeking Muslim students, it is not exclusive to Muslims.

There will be no gender separation at the college and academic pursuits and freedom will be paramount.

Course subjects have been decided on, but educators are now writing syllabi and mapping out teaching methodology for the subjects.

Currently only two majors are being offered: Arabic language and Islamic law and theology.

As the class size increases and more educators are hired, other majors will be offered, Imam Shakir said.

Zaytuna College is in the rigorous process of seeking accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, a process that will take a number of years and one that Imam Shakir hopes will be completed by the time the freshman class graduates.

He noted that they have been able to achieve the goal of raising nearly $4 million needed for its temporary location at Berkeley.

Now they face the challenge of raising upwards of $65 million for an endowment fund that will ensure a consistent monetary support and alleviate the need for constant fundraising.

Along with that comes a move in the near future to a permanent location in Northern California.

Where America Meets Islam

Imam Shakir, along with other Zaytuna College advisors, criss-crossed the country to drum up support, raise funds and answer questions from perspective students and their parents.

He also held a series of weekly informational online seminars explaining the unique nature of the college, which aims to meld two types of learning institution: a college focusing on religious study and one where such study will be explored in the context of a liberal arts education.

“It’s the first time something like this is being attempted in this country,” said Bazian, a professor at the University of California-Berkeley and at St. Mary’s College of California.

“Years ago when we discussed the need for an accredited Muslim college in the US, we knew that we needed one where students learn about the Islamic faith but also how Islam works into the American fabric and into various liberal arts subjects—sociology, anthropology, history, philosophy.”

For example, says Imam Shakir, in a philosophy class students will study Descartes but also spend a lot of time on Al-Ghazali.

“We want to teach the fundamentals of Islam—Shariah, history, Arabic, Qur’an—but we want to bring it into the context of an American education, how these branches of Islam work in the context of other educational subjects.”

One of the goals of the college is to produce scholars of Islam who are a product of an American education system.

One of the main obstacles to the rise of Islam in the US has been that the majority of educators and mosque leaders are educated overseas.

“The wonderful scholars we have in the US get their Islamic foundation from universities in Egypt, Turkey, and other countries,” notes Bazian.

“But we have not been able to produce scholars who received their education here in the US and who can truly understand and address the questions and concerns of the Muslim-American population.”

Bazian asserts that Zaytuna College graduate could become imams at mosques and directors of Islamic community centers.

Imam Shakir explains that another important goal of the college is to provide a sound liberal arts education grounded by Islamic studies that can then be a jumping-off point to any advanced degrees in law, business, medicine and other subjects.

Omar A. Ansari says if he were 18 again, he would apply to Zaytuna College.

“I think a B.A. from Zaytuna would be a great foundation upon which to build further, even if one intends to do law, medicine, etc,” he told IOL.

“I am looking forward to the day when the college allows its classes to be audited, inshallah.”

Mona El-Bashir, a high school student in Virginia, she has been following the development of the Zaytuna College and is excited to see it opening in 2010.

“I am thinking about applying for 2011,” she told IOL.

“I will have to convince my parents that it is a worthy enough education for me to travel all the way to the West Coast.”

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Bill to Grant Native Hawaiians Sovereignty Passes House

A bill that would give native Hawaiians the same right as Native Americans is halfway through the congressional process but opponents say the legislation is divisive and would turn over valuable land and resources out of U.S. hands.

In an overwhelming win, the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization bill, also known as the Akaka bill for four-term Sen. Daniel Akaka, passed the House Tuesday with a 245-164 vote.

The fate of the legislation now rests in the hands of Senate leaders, where it has met challenges before.


But many say the bill’s biggest impact lies in the amount of ‘ceded’ lands the state and federal government may be required to transfer to the new Hawaiian nation. About 1.8 million acres were ‘ceded’ when Hawaii became a state. Some of those lands are expected to be returned to the native Hawaiians under the Akaka bill.

The other controversial element of the bill involves the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. It administers 160 programs worth tens of millions of dollars designed to benefit native Hawaiians.


Other opposing voices spoke out on the House floor. Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., said if passed the bill would allow any other racial group to set up a separate government.

“There is no more effective way to destroy a nation than to divide its people by race and accord them different rights,” McClintock said.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Covert GAO Agents Sneak Radioactive Material Across U.S. Border to Test Security

“The government has conducted numerous vulnerability tests and they all appear to highlight the fact that our borders are porous not only to illegal aliens but also to terrorists, weapons of mass destruction and other contraband. Maybe Secretary [Janet] Napolitano [of the Homeland Security Department] should worry more about that than about guns being smuggled into Mexico,” said political strategist Mike Baker.

GAO investigators identified numerous border security vulnerabilities, both at ports of entry and at unmanned and unmonitored land border locations between the ports of entry. In testing ports of entry, undercover investigators carried counterfeit drivers’ licenses, birth certificates, employee identification cards, and other documents, presented themselves at ports of entry and sought admittance to the United States dozens of times.

They arrived in rental cars, on foot, by boat, and by airplane. They attempted to enter in four states on the northern border (Washington, New York, Michigan, and Idaho), three states on the southern border (California, Arizona, and Texas), and two other states requiring international air travel (Florida and Virginia).

In nearly every case, government inspectors accepted oral assertions and counterfeit identification provided by GAO undercover investigators as proof of U.S. citizenship and allowed them to enter the country. In total, undercover investigators made 42 crossings with a 93 percent success rate.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Cryptome Case Reveals How Easy it is to Shut Down Websites

Earlier this week, Microsoft had the whistle-blower website Cryptome erased from the Web. All the sprawling transnational corporation had to do was file a DMCA notice alleging copyright infringement on Cryptome’s proprietor John Young and Network Solutions did the rest — it locked up Cryptome’s domain name, thus disappearing the site from the Web. Cryptome had posted a Microsoft surveillance compliance document that the transnational corporation gives to law enforcement agents seeking information on Microsoft users.

No court ruling was required. Microsoft merely instructed Cryptome’s ISP to pull the plug.

In 2009, when the Senate was debating a cybersecurity bill and senator Jay Rockefeller lamented the existence of the internet, many people argued that the government would be hard-pressed to shut down the internet, even if Obama had the authority to flip the switch during a national crisis, as the proposed bill suggested. The government, however, would not darken the entire internet, as some suggested, but would rather remove certain sites deemed to be threats to national security according to our rulers.

Domain names are kept in databases maintained by various Network Information Centers (NIC) as part of the Domain Name System. Some name registries are government departments while others are co-operatives of internet service providers (for instance, Network Solutions). The system is currently dominated the United States, Canada, Europe and Japan.

In 2004, a United Nations summit was held in New York on globalizing the system. Then U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan argued that the system “must be made accessible and responsive to the needs of all the world’s people,” in other words the globalists who established and run the United Nations behind the scenes. In 2005, the European Union argued in favor of wresting control of the internet away from the United States.

Meanwhile, the U.S. government has launched a major propaganda effort with accompanying legislation to push the idea that the internet is under attack by nefarious forces. Earlier this week, on the heels of a so-called cyber security bill overwhelmingly passed in the House, Rockefeller held a hearing where witnesses offered dire warnings about the alleged vulnerabilities of U.S. digital networks, which are largely owned and operated by firms in the private sector.

“We’ve got to give the president the right to intervene,” Rockefeller said. “That’s controversial. That’ll always be controversial.”

Censorship and squelching the First Amendment, of course, will always be controversial.

In April of 2009, Rockefeller and co-sponsor Olympia Snowe introduced legislation (the Cybersecurity Act of 2009) containing language that would allow Obama to shut down the internet in the event of a cyber attack on critical infrastructure.

Earlier this month, Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) hosted Cyber ShockWave, a simulated cyber attack on the United States. “Cyber ShockWave highlighted the immediate, real dangers of cyber-terrorism by bringing together a bipartisan group of former senior administration and national security officials playing the roles of Cabinet members,” a BPC press release explained on February 17.

Last week, CNN ran a two-hour production, We Were Warned: Cyber Shockwave, based upon exclusive television access to the BPC cyber “war game” scenario. Politicos participating in this slick propaganda campaign suggested nationalizing private sector corporations and federalizing the National Guard in response to a cyber attack.

[Return to headlines]

Hamas-Linked Group Has Deep Ties to White House

‘One of the chief conduits’ for passing Saudi-style radical Islam into U.S.

JERUSALEM — A radical Muslim group that was an unindicted co-conspirator in a scheme to raise money for Hamas has an extensive relationship with the Obama administration, WND has learned.

Last week, President Obama’s top adviser on counter-terrorism, John Brennan, came under fire for controversial remarks he made in a speech to Muslim law students at New York University. The event was sponsored by the Islamic Society of North America, or ISNA.

ISNA is known for its enforcement of Saudi-style Islam in mosques throughout the U.S. It was named by the Justice Department as an unindicted co-conspirator in its case against the Holy Land Foundation in Texas, which was found guilty in 2008 of raising money for the Hamas terrorist organization. Last year, Holy Land founders were given life sentences for “funneling $12 million to Hamas.

The Obama White House has deep ties to ISNA.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Jackpot Anchor Babies: Allowed by a Blind-Eyed Congress

Every year, 400,000 pregnant women, some figures show a much higher number, enter the United States illegally to birth their babies on American soil. Their children become instant citizens and their mothers become instant wards of the American taxpayer. You might say they provide 400,000 cuts to our financial systems that bleed us 24/7.

To give you a rough estimate of the costs: average birth in U.S. hospital: $8,800.00 without complications, by Barbara Feder Ostrov, San Jose Mercury News, 6/12/07. K-12 education at average rate of $9,644.00 per year per child. Breakfast/lunch provided to anchor babies at $5.00 per meal. English as second language at $1,000.00 per year per child. No figures for costs of medical care, assisted housing, special needs children with Autism, Down’s Syndrome or birth defects, and food stamps.

Bare minimum total cost to U.S. taxpayer for one child to age 18: $218,792.00

Bare minimum total cost to U.S. taxpayer for 400,000 anchor babies to 18: $87,526,800,000.00

That’s $87.5 billion dollars of your money for someone else’s kid from a foreign country that lives illegally in the US. I could not find the figures for the upkeep of their mothers, but their costs run into the billions of dollars also.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Napolitano Secretly Hosts Terrorist Groups in D.C.

In the Obama Administration’s latest effort to befriend radical Muslims, the cabinet official in charge of protecting the country’s safety covertly met with a group of extremist Arab, Muslim and Sikh organizations to discuss national security matters.

Briefing radical Islamists who want to murder Americans about homeland security measures may seem like a bizarre tactic to counter terrorism, but it’s the center of Obama’s famous change rhetoric. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, most concerned about a wave of anti-Muslim backlash after the Ft. Hood massacre, and her senior staff privately met in Washington D.C. with the groups. Among them was the terrorist Muslim Brotherhood, which is a sort of parent organization of Hamas and Al Qaeda.

Not surprisingly, the mainstream media ignored the two-day event which was exclusively reported this week by an alternative internet news company that regularly breaks big stories. Napolitano actually spent and hour and a half briefing the Middle Easterners about the U.S. government’s new “counter-radicalization” and “anti-terrorist” programs largely aimed at their followers.

The top-secret event was part of President Obama’s innovative program aimed at creating an information-sharing framework with Muslim organizations, even those with known extremist ties and terrorist connections. The idea, laughable as it may seem, is to win over Muslims and get them to collaborate with the U.S. government.

Officially, the Department of Homeland Security billed the event as a low-key meeting with faith and community-based groups to brainstorm about ways to increase engagement, dialogue and information sharing. After all, the groups are key homeland security partners that contribute to American life and exemplify the diversity that is a hallmark of our country, the agency claimed in a press release.

Strengthening partnerships with these groups will help the U.S. better prepare, assess and respond to threats, Napolitano assures. This is the same official whose biggest concern was preventing a wave of anti-Muslim sentiment in the United States after an Al Qaeda wannabe Army major went on a murderous rampage at the nation’s largest military base.

These are just some examples of the administration’s push to befriend the enemy. Last month Secretary of State Hillary Clinton signed a special order—intended as a sign of respect to Muslims around the world—to allow the reentry of two radical Islamic academics whose terrorist ties have for years banned them from the U.S. Just this week Obama ordered the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to focus on Muslim outreach and diplomacy, a rather unusual mission for the space agency.

           — Hat tip: JH[Return to headlines]

Obama: Bipartisan Health Deal May Not be Possible

WASHINGTON — After a day of debate and disagreement, President Barack Obama concluded Thursday’s unprecedented live talkfest on health care with the bleak assessment that accord between Democrats and Republicans may not be possible. He rejected Republican preferences for seeking a step-by-step solution or simply starting over.

Obama strongly suggested that Democrats will try to pass a sweeping overhaul without GOP support, by using controversial Senate budget rules that would disallow filibusters. And then, he said, this fall’s elections would write the verdict on who was right.

“We cannot have another yearlong debate about this,” Obama said at the end of a 7 1/2-hour marathon policy session.

Neither side gave much ground, sticking mostly to familiar arguments and talking points. The president urged Republicans to “do a little soul searching” but said majority Democrats would decide quickly how to move forward on a priority that has eluded leaders for half a century.

“This will take courage to do,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. said in her own closing speech. “But we will get it done.”

With the conversation veering between mind-numbing detail and flaring tempers, Obama and his Democratic allies clashed with congressional Republicans over the right prescription for the nation’s broken health care system. Though there was much talk of agreement, each side held onto long-entrenched positions that left them far apart. Democrats seek a kind of broad remake; Republicans favor much more modest changes.

“We have a very difficult gap to bridge here,” said Rep. Eric Cantor, the No. 2 House Republican. “We just can’t afford this. That’s the ultimate problem.”

[Return to headlines]

‘When I Saw Woodstock, I Threw Up’

Vietnam POW Jeremiah Denton profiled in magazine

Retired Rear Adm. and Sen. Jeremiah Denton, a POW during the Vietnam War and author of “When Hell Was in Session,” recalls the shock of returning to America in an interview featured in the April 2010 issue of Vietnam Magazine, a bi-monthly history publication.

“You can imagine if you were out of the country from 1965-1973 you would notice some changes in the culture. I was shocked by it,” Denton said.

“When I was released, my wife picked me up in Norfolk,” Denton said. “As we drove home from the airport, I saw these massage parlors and X-rated movie theatres.

“When I saw Woodstock, I threw up,” he said.

In the interview, he talks about his recently updated and re-released book that tells of his seven years in captivity at the hands of the North Vietnamese and his subsequent return to a changed United States.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


York University Discriminates Against Christian and Jewish Coalition Ahead of Israel Apartheid Week

TORONTO — At the last minute, York University has cancelled events organized by a coalition of Canadian pro-Israel students and organizations due to “security” concerns. The events organized by the Imagine With Us coalition were scheduled for this week in anticipation of Israel Apartheid Week (IAW), which begins on March 1.

The Imagine With Us coalition — a “multi-faith, multi-political movement that is concerned with maintaining Canadian values and keeping our campuses safe from hatred, discrimination and radical incitement, particularly from those subscribing to radical Islam,” explained Michael Mostyn, national director of public affairs for B’nai Brith Canada — is led by My Canada, a non-partisan organization of young adult Christians who are passionate about a variety of social justice issues, and B’nai Brith Canada.

On Monday and Thursday of this week, events were scheduled at York which included the participation of Middle East expert and political commentator Daniel Pipes, Israeli scholar of Arabic literature and political discourse Dr. Mordechai Kedar, ormer PLO terrorist Walid Shoebat, human right activist Rev. Majed El Shafie, social justice activist and founder of My Canada Faytene Kryskow, and B’nai Brith Canada CEO Frank Dimant. The events were scheduled to be streamed live to campuses across Canada and to be viewable online internationally.

On Monday morning, York University informed Imagine With Us campus partners Christians United for Israel (CUFI) that the university was cancelling the event due to the fact that Imagine With Us did not meet their requirements. York had required that the organizers include a formidable police and campus security presence paid for by the organizers, a list of all attendees in advance, a minute-by-minute synopsis of all speakers’ talking points and a ban on public advertising of the event at York and on satellite campuses.

York University has said that the requirements were demanded of the event organizers due to the participation of individuals who they claim invite the animus of anti-Israel campus agitators.

In an interview with the Jewish Tribune, Rob Kilfoyle, director of security at York, confirmed the event had been cancelled and stated that the need for security at events is determined on a case-by-case basis and that the participation of speakers such as Dimant and Pipes was the cause of the stringent requirements. When asked why similar demands were not made of the organizers of Israel Apartheid Week events, Kilfoyle stated that even though the organizers of those events will not be paying for their own security — as the university had demanded of Imagine With Us — York will be there “to monitor the activities.”

“York’s continued appeasement of anti-Israel agitators at the expense of Zionist Christians and Jews is unacceptable,” said Frank Dimant, CEO of B’nai Brith Canada. “Regardless of the fact that York has, in effect, banned me from lecturing on their campus, the show will go on despite all of the hurdles that are being putting in our way.”

The Imagine With Us event organizers continued with the event at an off-campus location for the benefit of the satellite campuses and international online viewers.

This week, the Canadian Council for Israel and Jewish Advocacy (CIJA) and Hillel, with the support of local federations, are also running a campaign. Entitled Size Doesn’t Matter, it stresses Israel’s remarkable achievements in science, medicine, technology, business and humanitarian aid. The following week, during IAW, The Truth Campaign will feature posters with messages challenging the veracity of anti-Israel messages.

           — Hat tip: Vlad Tepes[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Czech Republic: Dealing With the Far Right the Legal Way

Should extremist parties be banned? A recent decision by the Czech Republic’s Supreme Administrative Court to dissolve the far-right Workers Party has prompted renewed debate about the limits of democracy.

Not surprisingly, the Supreme Administrative’s Court’s decision was welcomed by the vast majority of the general public and the media. For most people, the Workers’ Party, which was strongly identified with a neo-Nazi ideology that aimed “to combat the system,” was simply an eyesore on the Czech political landscape. Ranged against them, proponents of a second school of thought argue that imposing a ban is a largely self-defeating solution that inevitably raises the profile of an extremist party. Finally, advocates of third view claim that it is completely hypocritical to enforce a ban of this kind without taking action against the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSÄŒM).


In contrast, the latest ruling is effectively based on the so-called principle of democratic self-defence, which will now take precedence in Czech jurisprudence. Originally devised as a safety mechanism in post-war Germany, with a view to preventing a repeat of the rise of Nazism in a constitutional and democratic state, the principle of democratic self-defence insists on the right of a constitutional democracy to protect itself from forces that aim to undermine its existence. In particular state institutions have to be safeguarded against extremists of all colours — from neo-Nazis to leftist guerillas — and hostile ideologues who aim to impose religious values or membership of cult religions like Scientology. Once this principle has been accepted, the state can avail of a wide choice of means to defend its integrity: these not only include statutes of criminal and administrative law, but can also extend to specialized intelligence agencies with a brief to monitor political extremism like Germany’s Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution.


The case of the Czech Workers’ Party and the procedure adopted by the Supreme Administrative Court, whose 120-page verdict goes well beyond the restrictive framework of strict legal argument, is also to a large extent unique. Disgraceful language resulted in violent acts. Those who assert that in the light of the court’s decision, judgements may now be based on words and ideas rather than actions associated with racial hatred — even though in the case in question these took the form of the torching of Roma homes and attacks on members of sexual minorities — are mistaken. The court did not abolish the Workers’ Party for advocating a repugnant and xenophobic political programme, but on the basis of a complex analysis, which proved the existence of a direct link between the discourse of party supporters, their ideology and hateful acts of organized violence.

It follows that the Supreme Administrative Court’s ruling should not be understood as a simple judicial intervention against extremism, but as a defining judgement that will establish ideological boundaries that must not be crossed by any political party which aims to remain in operation. Of course, that is not to say that other means may not be deployed to combat extremist parties. In themselves, legal sanctions, court decisions, and police investigation will never be enough to eradicate political extremism. We also need greater civic commitment and more courage on the part of democratic leaders, and enhanced credibility for our democratic institutions. Only when these conditions have been fulfilled will we have a democracy that has the ability to efficiently defend itself.

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

Denmark Rallies Public Behind Afghan War

Among allied forces fighting in Afghanistan, few countries have deployed a bigger share of their armed forces than Denmark, and fewer still have taken higher levels of casualties. But the small Scandinavian country is emerging as an unlikely example of how to maintain public support for the war.

The popularity of the international campaign in Afghanistan has fallen across Europe and in the U.S. On Tuesday, the Dutch government set a June 9 date for general elections, nearly one year ahead of schedule. The move followed the unraveling of Netherlands’ coalition government last weekend after it failed win support to extend the mandate of the nation’s 1,600 troops in Afghanistan, presaging a likely withdrawal this year.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned Tuesday that the NATO military alliance is facing “very serious, long-term, systemic problems” sparked by European nations’ unwillingness to adequately fund their militaries.

“I believe we have reached an inflection point, where much of the continent has gone too far in the other direction,” Mr. Gates told an audience at Washington’s National Defense University.

Amid this shift, the Danes have largely maintained public support for the effort, selling the mission as a humanitarian effort rather than simply protection against a terrorist threat, and building consensus among political parties. They have reaped the benefits of a largely supportive media and the country has, to some degree, rediscovered its pride in an active military.

“The key to sustaining public support is an elite consensus that includes politicians in government and opposition as well as key opinion leaders: influential intellectuals, academics and columnists,” says Dr. Peter Viggo Jakobsen, a security expert at the University of Copenhagen.

Denmark has paid a high price in Afghanistan. Its 750 troops represent almost 5% of its entire military, including reserves—among the highest in Afghanistan. Of the total, 31 Danish troops have died there, an allied casualty rate behind only Canada and Estonia, which has just 150 soldiers fighting.

Yet throughout a difficult 2009, polls consistently showed around a half of Danes surveyed by TNS Gallup believed Danish troops should be in Afghanistan; only one-third said they didn’t. In NATO nations such as the U.K., Germany and Netherlands, meanwhile, polls reveal over half wanting troops back home…

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

EU-Iceland Talks Should Conclude in Early 2011, Commission Says

EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS — The European Commission has recommended that the European Union move ahead with accession talks with Iceland. Should EU member states back the move, a development that is far from assured, the EU enlargement commissioner has said the process should last around 14 months.

“We will be applying the same criteria as are applied to any other country. There is no short cut,” said commissioner Stefan Fuele, announcing the commission’s recommendation.

However, asked to give an approximate timeline for the process of accession talks, he said: “From the current members that recently joined that were already part of the European Economic Area, you could make your own conclusions about the challenges and the sort of framework, such as Finland and Austria. The process for them lasted plus or minus 14 months, if I remember correctly.”


For Icelanders, fisheries will perhaps be an even bigger stumbling block. The commission said on Wednesday that blocking access to Icelandic fisheries is a redline, as Iceland does not allow non-Icelanders to fish in its waters and restricts access to its ports to foreign vessels. Foreigners also cannot own more than a minority share in fishing companies.

All of this must be done away with before Iceland can join the bloc. Icelanders for their part are fiercely proud of a fishery that has not been struck by as much overfishing as EU waters have and such a move is unlikely to be popular.

Jon Baldvin, a former foreign minister and the man who led Iceland’s delegation during the formation of the European Economic Area, told EUobserver: “Iceland will never join if we have to allow access to our fishing stock. Icelanders will view this as nothing less than the arrival of the Spanish Armada.”

“We are the teacher here and the EU is the pupil, not the other way round,” he said.

Mr Baldvin, one of Iceland’s biggest supporters of joining the EU, also said that demands for further fiscal consolidation was unlikely to be popular.

“We are already undergoing on of the most drastic fiscal reorganisations any country could go through, with a quarter to a third of budgetary outlays going entirely to servicing our debts, cutting social expenditure to the bone. This will not go down well.”

Separately, commissioner Fuele suggested that if Iceland accede to the EU, it may be time for the other members of the EEA, Norway and Lichtenstein to join the bloc. “Maybe these countries will take the current development to think about similar steps to upgrading their relationships with the EU.”

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

EU-Turkey: High Hopes for Liberalisation of Visas, Fule

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, FEBRUARY 22 — Turkish citizens in the future will also be able to benefit from liberalisation of visas in the Schengen Area, as already occurred for citizens from Montenegro, Serbia and Macedonia last December 19. The news was reported by the EU Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy, Stefan Fule, during his speech at the EU-Turkey Commission in the European Parliament, before the Turkish Justice Minister, Sadullah Ergin. “After the re-opening of negotiations on the admission agreement”, the European Commissioner for Enlargement stated, “we have good news for relations between the EU and Turkey: there are high hopes that the road map will bring us the liberalisation of visas”. According to Fule “as soon as the admission agreement is negotiated, there will be another priority that I intend to see to personally and the same goes for my colleagues in the commission: we have the intention of beginning the process that we hope will lead to Turkey’s road map (regarding the liberalisation of visas, ed.)”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

French Husbands ‘May be Tagged’

Editor’s note: Not men convicted of violence against their wives, but husbands who might be violent.

Men seen as likely to be violent towards their wives could be forced to wear an electronic tag under a law being debated by the French parliament.

The tag would have to be worn by men who have received a court order to stay away from their partner.

The proposal is part of a draft law on conjugal violence. It has cross-party support and is expected to pass easily.

According to the government, around 160 women in France are murdered by their husbands or partners.

Parliament is also considering outlawing psychological violence in the home, because it is seen by many as a precursor to physical violence.

[Return to headlines]

Italy: Premier Rejects Mafia-Linked Ally’s Resignation

Rome, 19 Feb. (AKI) — Italy’s prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has refused to accept the resignation of mafia-linked treasury under-secretary Nicola Cosentino. He offered to step down after the announcement of a criminal investigation of another close Berlusconi ally this month amid a widening corruption scandal.

Cosentino (photo), a member of parliament who is also the coordinator of Berlusconi’s conservative People of Freedom party in the southern Campania region where Naples is located, reportedly offered to quit on Thursday.

‘I appreciate the high-minded reasons behind the Hon. Nicola Cosentino’s gesture,” said Berlusconi.

“It was aimed at preventing the opposition making political capital during the election campaign in Campania,” Berlusconi added, referring to next month’s regional elections.

“But I cannot accept his resignation and must reiterate my esteem for him and urge him to stay, in the interests of the party and of the country,” the premier said.

Reached by Adnkronos news agency, Cosentino said his resignation was aimed at ensuring a level playing field in the March regional polls.

“I want to free the electoral race from any kind of political manipulation,” Cosentino told Adnkronos.

Mafia turncoats have accused 50-year-old Cosentino of doing business with the local Camorra crime syndicate’s powerful Casalesi clan over the illegal disposal of rubbish in the Naples area.

Italian parliament late year voted against Cosentino’s arrest, which had been requested by Naples prosecutors. Members of Italy’s parliament cannot be arrested without the consent of the majority of their colleagues.

The opposition Italy of Values party’s chief parliamentary whip, Massimo Donadi said Cosentino’s offer to resign was “too little and too late.”

“He is accused of very series crimes. He should give up his parliamentary seat and go for trial without delay,” Donadi stated.

Cosentino’s offer to stand down came hours after Berlusconi announced he would present anti-corruption measures to the Italian cabinet and said that anyone under investigation for crimes should resign and should not be allowed to run for office.

“I don’t think there should be any doubt about the fact that whoever makes a mistake and commits crimes can no longer pretend to stay in any political movement,” said Berlusconi, who is currently on trial in the northern city of Milan for corruption and tax fraud. The prime minister denies any wrongdoing.

Berlusconi last week rejected a resignation bid by Italy’s civil protection chief and cabinet under-secretary, Guido Bertolaso. He offered to quit after he was linked to a corruption inquiry into 327 million euros worth of public works contracts allocated for last year’s Group of Eight summit.

Bertolaso has denied any wrongdoing by himself or his agency.

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

Italy: Senator and Fastweb Founder Face Arrest in Mafia Money Scam

Rome, 23 Feb. (AKI) — Italian investigators investigating a mafia money laundering operation on Tuesday issued arrest warrants for a senator and a prominent internet entrepreneur. Founder of Fastweb, Silvio Scaglia, and conservative senator Nicola di Girolamo are facing money laundering and tax fraud charges in connection with the probe conducted by tax police and prosecutors.

The pair were among 56 suspects facing arrest warrants on Tuesday for alleged money laundering and tax fraud. Some of the suspects are believed to be in the US and other European countries, according to investigators.

“Nicola di Girolamo is accused of being the financial brains of the criminal operation,” said anti-mafia prosecutor, Giancarlo Castaldo.

The scam allegedly involved laundering millions of euros through a network of bogus law firms in Italy, England, Panama, Finland, Luxembourg, Panama and other tax havens.

The money was laundered through fictitious international phone service purchases and sales worth over 2 billion euros that took place between 2003 and 2006, according to investigators.

“The investigation has uncovered links with the Calabrian mafia’s Isola Capo Rizzuto Arena family,” said Capaldo.

Scaglia, former chief executive of Fastweb, is currently “out of the country on business” and “is completely innocent of any wrongdoing” according to his spokesman.

Police have not been able to find Scaglia, who is one of Italy’s richest men.

Scaglia was previously the CEO of Omnitel, now Vodafone Italy, and also founded Internet television company Babelgum. In 2008 Forbes magazine estimated his personal wealth to be worth 1.2 billion dollars and he is one of the richest men in Italy.

Di Girolamo, a member of prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s People of Freedom party, was not immediately available for comment when Adnkronos International (AKI) contacted his office at the Italian Senate in Rome.

Authorisation from the Italian Senate is needed before police can arrest Di Girolamo, according to investigators.

Investigators claimed that Di Girolamo, who represents Italians living in other European countries, met members of the Calabrian mafia or ‘Ndrangheta in the southern region before the April 2008 election to generate support from Calabrian immigrants in Germany.

Arrest warrants have also been issued for executives from Fastweb and from Sparkle, a unit of Italy’s largest phone company, Telecom Italia.

Scaglia no longer has a stake in Fastweb. The company did not immediately comment on the arrest warrant issued against him and those against current Fastweb executives.

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

Italy: Three Google Executives Convicted in Disabled Boy Harassment Case

Failed in 2006 to prevent posting of video showing minor with Down’s syndrome being insulted and beaten by four students

MILAN — The court of Milan has convicted three Google executives charged with defamation and invasion of privacy for failing in 2006 to prevent publication on the search engine of a video that showed a boy with Down’s syndrome being insulted and beaten by four students at a Turin technical institute.

SENTENCES — All three defendants were sentenced to six months’ imprisonment. The judge handed down suspended sentences of six months in jail to David Carl Drummond, the former chairman of Google Italy, now senior vice president, George De Los Reyes, a former director of Google, now retired, and Peter Fleischer, Google Inc’s privacy counsel for Europe. All three were found guilty of violation of privacy but acquitted of defamation. Google’s head of video for Europe, Arvind Desikan, who faced only the charge of defamation, was acquitted. The video of the disabled boy being harassed was filmed in May 2006 and then uploaded on 8 September to Google Video. It remained a popular item in the funny videos section until 7 November, when it was removed.

GROUNDS — “The right to conduct business cannot prevail over the dignity of the person”. According to assistant public prosecutor Alfredo Robledo, who was acting for the prosecution with public prosecutor Francesco Cajani, this is the significance of judge Oscar Magi’s ruling. He adds: “At last, a clear word has been spoken. At the heart of this trial was protection of the individual through protection of privacy. Everything else is beside the point. I am confident that this ruling will go out from the court of Milan and finally provoke discussion on an issue that is fundamental”.

FIRST CASE — The case that concluded today in the court of first instance, judge of the fourth penal section Oscar Magi presiding alone, is the first criminal action taken in Italy or elsewhere against Google managers for the publication of content on the web. The judge also ordered publication in summary of the sentence in the Corriere della Sera, La Repubblica and La Stampa.

COMPENSATION — No compensation was awarded to the two co-plaintiffs at the trial, the municipality of Milan and the Vividown association, as their claims were linked exclusively to the charges of defamation faced by the defendants. At earlier hearings, relatives of the disabled boy had withdrawn their action against the Google executives.

GOOGLE DEPLORES “ATTACK ON FREEDOM OF WEB” — “It is an attack on the fundamental principles of freedom on which Internet is built”, said Google’s spokesman, Marco Pancini. He added that it would be appealing “against a decision that we view as surprising, to say the least, since our colleagues had nothing to do with the video in question. They did not film it, they did not upload it and they did not see it”. According to Mr Pancini, the three executives have been held “penally responsible for illegal activities committed by third parties”. He said that during the proceedings, the three executives “had shown courage and dignity, since the very fact that they were put on trial is excessive”. Throughout the trial, Google has maintained that responsibility lies with whoever uploads a video to the web. For Mr Pancini, “if this principle is abandoned, there is no possibility of offering services on internet”.

English translation by Giles Watson

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

Italy: Rome Gives Buggy Horses a Break

City council bans uphill climbs, gives shorter workday

(ANSA) — Rome, February 22 — The horses that pull Rome’s tourist buggies will never again face gruelling uphill climbs, according to a new set of rules which came into effect on Monday.

The new regulations were adopted after a series of accidents over the past few years, which have seen horses maimed in the line of duty.

In addition to limiting the horse’s work-day to a maximum of eight hours with mandatory breaks during the hottest hours of the day, the city ordinance mandates regular check-ups by city-approved veterinarians.

Carriage drivers will also be required to display license plates, that can be used to report mistreatment of the animals.

However, the buggies will continue to operate on the heavily trafficked streets of the historic center, one of the main bones of contention between the drivers and animal rights’ activists.

While city officials said the measure marked a clean compromise, the head of one of Italy’s leading animal rights groups, Animalist Italiani, said he wasn’t satisifed.

“We’re not going to stop lobbying until we get them off the streets for good,” said Walter Coporale.

“It simply isn’t conceivable for horses to be carting people around in 2010,” he said.

Coporale said the city ought to have limited the carriages to shady park trails or helped buggy drivers replace them with electric-powered vintage cars.

Both ideas have been discussed by the city council, but neither one found much appeal among the carriage drivers.

Failing that, he said “the important thing is to make sure horses are protected by same legal status that dogs and cats have”.

At present, horses are classified under Italian law as livestock, which puts them in the same category of animal treatment as sheep and cattle.

The buggy drivers, however, have argued that they treat their animals “like family” and rejected the notion that their time-honoured line of work was necessarily inhumane.

The dispute over tourist buggies came to a head after a pair of accidents in 2008, which saw two horses seriously injured on the job. That summer, a horse collapsed from exhaustion on Rome’s glamorous Via Veneto while hauling a carriage uphill under the sweltering summer sun.

Then in the fall, a horse had to be put to sleep before a crowd of horrified onlookers after it slipped near the Colosseum and broke its leg.

As a first response to the outcry over the accidents, the city council last July set up a emergency veterinary response team for injured cart horses.

The service consists of an on-call veterinarian and horse ambulance capable of transporting the animal to the “emergency room” at an equine clinic run by the Italian mounted police.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy Poised for Body Scanners

Airports in Rome, Milan ironing out last wrinkles

(ANSA) — Rome, February 22 — Italy is gearing to test body scanners on flights to the United States from Rome and Milan in the wake of the failed Christmas Day bomb attack on an American flight coming into Detroit from Amsterdam.

The testing scheme was set to start Monday at Fiumicino and Malpensa but another week will probably be needed to make final preparations, Civil Aviation Authority ENAC chief Vito Riggio said.

Riggio met with Fiumicino security officials and airport police to decide how to implement the scheme, which he said will take off in Rome “a few days” before the Milan airport.

“We’ve decided on the model and we’re ready to go,” he said, but a few last procedural wrinkles have to be ironed out.

Installation of the ‘millimetric electromagnetic wave’ scanners is expected to begin at Fiumicino Tuesday.

Personnel have to be trained to cancel scan records immediately after they’re made while police and security staff need a few more tips on how to liaise if objects are found, Riggio said. Italy is among the first European countries to try out the new scanners, which are expected to come on line in the Spring.

Riggio assured reporters the scanners will not emit harmful rays and will allow the body images to be “immediately cancelled”.

He also stressed the importance of the scanner not being operated by the same personnel who carry out security searches at passport points.than ENAC has earmarked more two million euros to buy some 15 scanners.

After the US, they will be used on other “sensitive flights” to Britain and Israel.

Far from adding to passengers’ search gripes, the scanners should cut them, Riggio added.

“At the moment people are searched one by one, between their legs also, and that takes a long time. It’s obvious that with these devices the procedure will be streamlined”.

Interior Minister Roberto Maroni has said a “balanced” approach would be needed on privacy, with body images fuzzy enough not to cause embarrassment but “able to detect any anomalies” such as concealed objects or containers.

“The right to life is superior to that of privacy,” Maroni stressed.

Italian Foreign Minister Frattini has also said scanners are “the safest tool” against the risk of a terrorist attack on an airliner.

Privacy is “an absolute and inalienable right,” he added, “but if a person does not feel safe enough to fly because they are afraid that the person next to them may have an explosive device on their body, then their freedom has been denied”.

Frattini also said the exchange of data on suspects between the EU and the US should be stepped up, building on his efforts to boost an EU database during his term as European security commissioner from 2004 to 2008.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Mafia Getting Stranglehold on the North

Organised crime imbedded in legal economy, report finds

(ANSA) — Rome, February 23 — The Mafia has extended its stranglehold to Italy’s wealthy northern cities and ‘silently’ seized control of elements in the legal economy there, according to a new report.

Presented on Monday, the report from the National Council of the Economy and Labor (CNEL) said that aside from its ‘traditional’ activities of drug trafficking, loan sharking and extortion, organised crime in the north has expanded into construction, public works projects and finance.

According to the report from the state think-tank, southern Italy’s leading crime syndicates — Sicily’s Cosa Nostra, the Neapolitan Camorra and, especially Calabria’s ‘Ndrangheta — spread northwards because convicted bosses were sent to live there as a punitive measure, during the post-war economic migration and due to strategic decisions by some crime families seeking to expand.

The report observed that criminal elements have fully integrated themselves into various sectors of the northern economy, accumulating real estate holdings and embarking on business ventures, while at the same time laundering illicit earnings and establishing ties with the political world.

‘Ndrangheta is considered to be the most powerful syndicate operating in the north, especially in Lombardy, the report said.

Recent probes in Milan and its hinterland have uncovered how the Calabrian mafia was apparently involved in the construction of the new high-speed train network and motorway expansion.

Through loan sharking, the report observed, ‘Ndrangheta has “silently” taken control of established legal businesses and enterprises which in turn have become ‘Trojan Horses’ for further criminal expansion.

In its report, CNEL cited law enforcement data which showed that as of June 30, 2009, courts in the north had seized from organised crime assets valued at 142 million euros — 108 million euros in Lombardy alone — and businesses worth 1.7 million euros.


The billions of euros in assets seized from the mafia last year made a mere dent in its annual turnover, Anti-Mafia Commission Chairman Giuseppe Pisanu said Tuesday. “Taking seven billion euros away from organized crime is a good thing, but you have to compare that to the 120 to 140 billion euros organized crime grosses every year,” he explained.

Pisanu added that the mafia was reacting to the government’s campaign by liquidating material assets and taking its cash abroad or finding other convenient hiding places like the stock market and investment schemes that can be hard to track down.

According to Pisanu, ‘Ndrangheta in particular has become so adept at concealing its profits that a number of South American drug cartels have enlisted its services as their “financial advisor”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Montezemolo Speaks Out on Corruption

Fiat chairman says ‘titanic effort’ is needed

(ANSA) — Rome, February 23 — Italy needs to mount a “titanic” battle against corruption which in part is the result of the failure of the country’s leaders to adopt the reforms needed to allow the state to function, Fiat Chairman Luca Cordero di Montezemolo said on Tuesday.

While politics is not solely to blame for corruption, Montezemolo observed, by not placing the State in a condition to work effectively “a do-it-yourself mentality has taken root in society in which everyone feels they have the right to do what they feel they have to do, including to corrupt”.

The “high and responsible” aim of politics, the Fiat chairman observed, should be to return to a “deep sense of the State and the creation of a civil fabric in which dirty dealing is the exception and not the rule”.

This is a “titanic quest” which “could take more than a generation and involves great effort and foresight,” Montezemolo added.

At the same time, however, Italy need not “punish itself nor despair” over “the extent of corruption and the waste of public funds and the impact this has had on the credibility of the nation’s leaders,” the Fiat chairman said.

“We need to look at Italy with confidence, at the country’s moral resources and at the vast majority of Italians who dedicate themselves with honesty and commitment to their jobs and towards building a common future,” Montezemolo added.

The Fiat chairman made his remarks at the inauguration of the new school of government at Rome’s LUISS university.


Also making an address at the event was the head of the industrial employers association Confindustria, Emma Marcegaglia, who said that upholding the law was the only way to ensure constant economic growth.

“We entrepreneurs need to do a lot to make sure the law is respected and Confindustria recently took a step in this direction when it adopted its new ethical code to combat organised crime,” she added. In order to combat corruption, the Confindustria chief said she agreed with the idea of “imposing tougher restrictions and not just adopting stiffer penalties. And we need greater controls on local governments and the awarding of public contracts”.

Both Montezemolo’s and Marcegaglia’s speeches came in the wake of a new corruption scandal involving public works contracts for the reconstruction of towns and cities in the region of Abruzzo, struck by an earthquake last April, and for converting a former navy base on the Sardinian island of La Maddalena, which was originally supposed to host last July’s Group of Eight summit. Four people have been arrested in the probe including he head of the state public works office, Angelo Balducci, while Italy’s civil protection chief Guido Bertolaso is under investigation.

This was followed last week by the annual report from the State Audit Court which said that in 2009 complaints of corruption rose by close to 230% over 2008 with reports of bribery up by 153%.

The report defined the phenomenon of corruption as a “malignant tumour” on the nation and said that the state lacked the “antibodies” necessary to fight it.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Neo-Nazis Buy Palace in Eastern Germany

Two prominent neo-Nazis have bought a crumbling 18th century palace in an eastern German village. The locals don’t seem bothered about the prospect of far-right neighbors, but regional authorities are worried that the property will be turned into a neo-Nazi training center.

Trebnitz palace, an austere-looking manor built at the start of the 18th century, has seen better days. Weeds grow out of its gray stone façade, many of its windows are broken and the stone staircase to the main entrance is crumbling.

The former seat of the aristocratic Rauchhaupt family stands empty in the village of Trebnitz, some 20 miles southwest of the eastern German city of Leipzig. At one point it was a retirement home. Soon, young neo-Nazis might be moving in, after two leading figures in Germany’s far-right scene purchased the property for just €80,000 ($108,000) at an auction a few days ago.

The new owners are Thomas Wulff and Axel Schunk. Wulff has been convicted several times for incitement to racial hatred and displaying banned Nazi symbols. He calls himself “Steiner,” in honor of a former officer of Hitler’s murderous Waffen SS unit, and is a member of the executive of the far-right National Democratic Party. He was a close friend of Jürgen Rieger, the prominent neo-Nazi who died last year.

Schunk was a leading member of the far-right “Wiking” youth organization, which has since been banned. Asked by SPIEGEL ONLINE what they plan to do with the property, both declined to comment.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Netherlands: Geert Wilders’ PVV Set to Win in Almere

Geert Wilders’ anti-immigration party PVV is leading the polls in the new town of Almere, one of two places it is contesting the local elections, according to a TNS Nipo poll for Wednesday’s Volkskrant.

The poll gives the PVV 30% of the vote and Labour 20%. Some 84% of PVV voters said they are doing so because they are unhappy with the coalition government.

The poll was taken a day before the cabinet fell.

Among the PVV’s manifesto pledges in Almere are a ban on halal food in hospitals, school canteens and sports clubs and the launch of a special street commando force to boost public safety.

The party is also standing in the local elections in the Hague.

Amsterdam University researcher Philip van Praag who worked on the poll said most Almere PVV voters are older white men.

Although Almere does not have much in the way of race-related problems, PVV voters do not want Moroccan and Turkish families to move in because they are worried about the city becoming like Amsterdam and Rotterdam, Van Praag told the Volkskrant.

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

Netherlands: Poll: Wilders to Win Overwhelmingly in Almere

ALMERE, 25/02/10 — The Party for Freedom (PVV) will be the biggest party by a long way in the local elections in Almere. TNS NIPO has predicted its lead in a poll commissioned by De Volkskrant newspaper and the University of Amsterdam.

In the poll, held just before the government collapsed on Saturday, the PVV scored 30 percent of the votes in Almere, a suburb of Amsterdam. Labour (PvdA) came in as the second-biggest party with 20 percent.

Geert Wilders’ PVV, as a new party, has never yet sat on a local council. On 3 March, it is only running in Almere and The Hague. According to the poll, middle-aged white men, some of whom stayed home in the last elections, will bring the PVV its big win.

According to De Volkskrant, no less than 84 percent of prospective PVV voters plan to vote PVV out of dissatisfaction with the cabinet of Christian democrats, PvdA and small Christian party ChristenUnie, which fell last Saturday. Among conservative (VVD) voters, this figure is 24 percent, and among centre-left D66 and leftwing Green (GroenLinks) voters, 27 percent.

The PvdA will still make slight gains from the figure in this poll, University of Amsterdam political scientist Philip van Praag believes. “The fall of the cabinet is turning out favourable for the PvdA,” a factor which was not yet reflected in the poll, he explained.

Potential PVV voters are very motivated to turn out and vote. Eight out of 10 say they are “virtually certain” to make it to the polling station on 3 March. On average, this applies to five out of 10 of the electorate in Almere.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Netherlands: Christians Can’t Vote for Wilders, Say Vicars

A Christian cannot vote for Geert Wilders’ anti-immigration party PVV, say 75% of church leaders in a poll of 1,200 ministers and church workers in the Nederlands Dagblad.

The ministers represent a cross-section of all the Netherlands’ Protestant churches, representing 2.3 million people, the paper says.

One third of the people polled said there were people who supported Wilders in their communities and 5% said Wilders had a lot of support.

‘Wilders and the PVV’s views contradict Christianity,’ one minister told the paper.

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

Official Statement Regarding the Abuse of EDL Prisoners

To all EDL members:

As you may well already be aware members of the English Defence League have been arrested and charged for relatively “minor” offences.

Members who are prepared to stand up against the rising tide of Islamofascism and its adherents are being “hung out to dry” by our weak politicians in the hope they can salvage much needed Muslim votes in order to retain governance. This is just another ploy to use the “Muslim block vote” so other parties are denied potential seats in the houses of parliament.

It has come to our attention that some EDL members who are currently serving short prison time are actually being targeted by imprisoned radicalised jihadist gangs, consequently they have been beaten and will continue to get beaten as prison authorities “turn a blind eye” to events unfolding under their very roof!

We the English Defence League condemn such apathy, such wanton ignorance or, more likely, deliberate targeting of EDL members!

EVERY prison has a “duty of care” for its inmates. Prisoners MUST be afforded protection from harm as that is their right. They cannot be discriminated against by virtue of their race, colour, religious beliefs, sexual orientation or political views.

EVERY human being, be they prisoner, detainee, terrorist or asylum seeker has the basic human right to be treated with dignity and respect. They have the right to food, housing, PROTECTION, education and assistance from the law. They have the right not to be exploited, tortured or intimidated. As a country we have agreed to abide by the European Convention on Human Rights, as a nation we have the Human Rights Act to protect us from those who would seek to harm us or prevent us from enjoying our civil liberties.

If the British prison system fails EDL members in ANY of the above mentioned points then we as a movement will relentlessly pursue EVERY avenue to secure their safety while serving prison time. Failure on the part of prison governors to ensure the safety of EDL members while in their care WILL result in the petitioning of government, liable governors, the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman, and ANY other authority who are accountable for the Health, Safety and Wellbeing of inmates.

It is also worth noting that Prison service Order Number 1215 clearly states that……

“This PSO supports the delivery of the Performance Standards on Conduct and Discipline and the proper delivery of the Security Standard and all standards relating to the treatment of staff and prisoners.”

If prison staff have been found to be complacent, negligent or wantonly ignorant in the above regard then they themselves are in breach of a “Prison Service Order”

           — Hat tip: ICLA[Return to headlines]

Political Corruption in Italy

The latest scandal is not about Silvio Berlusconi. But it may yet damage him

WITH weary cynicism, the judge who signed the arrest warrants called it “common corruption”. An inquiry by prosecutors in Florence into the award of government contracts for big events has certainly yielded evidence familiar to watchers of Italy’s many scandals: lucrative business steered to chosen bidders in return for payment in cash and kind, sometimes including sex.

Yet the latest case is unusual in two ways. One is the sum of money involved: suspect contracts totalling almost €800m ($1.1 billion) were awarded for one event alone, the celebration next year of the 150th anniversary of Italian unification. The other is that the junior minister who heads the department under inquiry is one of Italy’s most esteemed public servants. Guido Bertolaso, who is also chief of the civil protection service, is under investigation for (though not charged with) allegedly accepting sexual favours from a contractor who has been jailed.

Italy is unusually prone to natural disasters. Last year extensive flooding, forest fires, lethal landslides and an earthquake near the city of L’Aquila cost more than 300 lives. Each time, the men and women of the civil protection service were there in their distinctive yellow or vermilion overalls, rescuing survivors, erecting tents and distributing food, drink and sympathy.

The service, and the straight-talking Mr Bertolaso, a doctor who once managed hospitals in conflict zones, seemed to embody the best of Italy. In a country where state institutions too often underperform, he acquired an unusual reputation for getting results. Mr Bertolaso was crucial to honouring the prime minister’s oft-repeated claim that his is a “government of deeds” (as distinct from the divided, hamstrung centre-left administration that preceded it). It is this that makes Mr Bertolaso’s potential fall from grace so damaging to Mr Berlusconi, just weeks ahead of regional elections in late March.

After joining the government two years ago, Mr Bertolaso became the prime minister’s Mr Fix-it. It was he who cleared the streets of Naples of the garbage that piled up under the previous government; he who organised the civil protection service’s exemplary response to L’Aquila’s destruction; and he who conjured a success from Mr Berlusconi’s audacious decision last July to switch the G8 summit to L’Aquila from its intended venue on an island off Sardinia. These actions helped insulate the prime minister from the damage inflicted by the various scandals in his own private life.

Mr Berlusconi has refused Mr Bertolaso’s proffered resignation, accusing prosecutors of waging a politically motivated vendetta against him. But it remains to be seen whether this will limit the damage. The scandal has called into question the means by which the government has obtained its much-vaunted results. Often, critics say, these depend on ignoring legal safeguards in the name of cutting red tape.

It has reinforced a widely held, if ill defined, sentiment that corruption in Italy is more prevalent than at any time since the early 1990s, when hundreds of people, among them politicians and businessmen, were jailed following the “Clean Hands” inquiry by judges in Milan. A recent poll found that 86% of Italians think graft is as bad today as it was then.

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

Romania’s Black Sea, The New Persian Gulf?

A year ago the International Court of Justice (ICJ) confirmed Romania’s sovereignty over part of the Black Sea continental shelf. Ever since the government in Bucharest has been dreaming of lucrative deals with major oil and gas companies, reports Adevarul.

The world’s largest oil companies are preparing to participate in a call for tenders for hydrocarbon exploration and extraction in the Romanian Black Sea. Obtained in 2009, in the wake of an International Court of Justice ruling on the maritime boundary to divide the Black Sea continental shelf between Romania and Ukraine, the 9,700 square kilometres of Romania’s exclusive economic zone have been estimated to contain one trillion cubic metres of natural gas and 10 millions tons of oil.

Bidders near and far

This spring’s calls for tender organized by the National Agency for Mineral Resources (NAMR) for exploration and development rights to 30 Romanian blocks both on land and off-shore will be the largest in 15 years. Five of the blocks in the area close to Snake Island have attracted the attention of the world’s biggest oil companies, who believe that the possible oil and gas reserves in the Black Sea continental shelf could make a major contribution to global supplies.

According to information supplied by NAMR, to date 20 companies and consortiums have purchased data on the area concerned. These include US giants ExxonMobil and Hunt Oil, Total (France), Lukoil (Russia), OMV Petrom (Romania), Romgaz (Roumania), Audax Resources (Australia), Blackstairs Energy (Ireland), and MOL & Expert Petroleum (Hungary-Romania). Applications will be evaluated on the basis of the proposed volume of investment, the technical capacity of candidates and the environmental impact of their projects. The winners for each block will be officially announced in July, and the oil deals could come into force as early as February 2011, once they have been ratified by the government in Bucharest.

Potentially Europe’s main source of supply

Excitement about Black Sea energy reserves was clearly evident at the Black Sea Energy and Economic Forum held in Bucharest in September 2009. At the event, Richard Morningstar, Special Envoy of the United States Secretary of State for Eurasian Energy, was keen to emphasize that the area could be hiding major reserves of hydrocarbons — a view shared by Mehmet Uysal, President of TPAO (the Turkish national oil company) who pointed out that “the Black Sea reserves had the potential to become Europe’s main source of supply.” Hunt Oil’s vice-president in charge of international exploration, Tom Cwikla, who was also present, declared that Europe should develop its own energy resources — an assertion which no doubt encouraged NAMR to list his company as a potential candidate in the call for tenders.

The exploration of the Romanian Black Sea continental shelf began in 1969, and the first oil find in the area dates back to 1980. Production began a few years later in 1987. Currently, Petrom Roumanie operates two Black Sea fields, which provide 18% of the company’s oil and gas. Its competitor Midia Resources (Romania) is also working on two more fields, which it pledges will begin production in 2011-2012.

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

Sweden: Man Jailed for Malmö Davis Cup Riot

A 23-year-old man from Stockholm has been sentenced to six months imprisonment for rioting in connection with a Davis Cup match between Sweden and Israel in Malmö last spring.

Sahlin raps Malmö mayor over Jew comments (25 Feb 10)

The Court of Appeal on Thursday overturned a district court decision to acquit the man on the grounds that his identity could not be convincingly established from film footage of the angry demonstrations which attracted 6,000 people onto Malmö’s streets.

The Davis Cup match was held behind closed doors after a controversial decision by Malmö city council following a vocal campaign against the match due to the situation in Gaza at the time.

Police had said that despite the risk of protests the match, held in March at the Baltiska Hallen venue, could go ahead in front of an audience, but the council decided to ban spectators on safety grounds.

The Local reported at the time that prominent members of Malmö’s Jewish community believed that the vote to ban spectators, passed with the support of the Social Democrat and Left parties, was politically motivated.

“The decision is a capitulation to violence and the mob, but it is in line with the malignant atmosphere for Israel and Jews in Malmö,” said community member Barbro Posner at the time.

Recent media reports have indicated that the situation for the Jewish community has become increasingly hazardous in Malmö over the past year with an escalation of attacks on synagogues and an increasing number of Jews are deciding to leave the city as a result.

Ilmar Reepalu, Malmö’s Social Democratic mayor of the last 15 years, has recently found himself at the heart of the controversy amid accusations that he has demonstrated ignorance of the problems faced by Malmö’s Jewish community.

In an interview with UK newspaper The Sunday Telegraph last week Reepalu appeared to deny that there was a problem.

“There haven’t been any attacks on Jewish people, and if Jews from the city want to move to Israel that is not a matter for Malmö,” Reepalu told the newspaper.

But writing in Swedish daily Svenska Dagladet on Thursday, Reepalu claimed that his comments have been taken out of context and that he in fact has said that Malmö is no different from other European cities where anti-Semitism experienced a distinct upswing during 2009.

“I believe these are anti-Israel attacks, connected to the war in Gaza,” Reepalu told the newspaper while underlining that he was opposed to anti-Semitism of all kinds and arguing that the focus on him personally was beginning to feel like an organized conspiracy.

The Local reported in January that police reports of incidents involving attacks on Jews in the southern Swedish city had doubled in 2009, from the previous year.

There are currently an estimated 3,000 Jews living in the south of Sweden, with most residing in Malmö, Helsingborg, and Lund.

About 700 currently belong to the Jewish Community of Malmö, but the group confirmed to The Local that its membership rolls have been dropping steadily in recent years.

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

Sweden: Sahlin Raps Malmö Mayor Over Jew Comments

Social Democrat party leader Mona Sahlin has described as “unfortunate” comments made by Malmö mayor Ilmar Reepalu regarding a recent spate of attacks on the city’s Jewish population.

Man jailed for Malmö Davis Cup riot (25 Feb 10)

Green Party stumbles in new poll (5 Feb 10)

Recent comments made by Reepalu have been interpreted to apportion some of the blame for a recent escalation of anti-Semitic harassment in Malmö to Jews themselves for not taking a clear enough stand against Israel’s war in Gaza.

“There have been many examples of discrimination and attacks against Jews, not least in Malmö. The Jews deserve strong support and also one must never mix up the debate about anti-Semitism and Zionism,” Sahlin said to journalists in connection with a visit to Södertörn University in Stockholm.

“There are a number of unfortunate comments from Ilmar that came to be interpreted in that way,” Sahlin added, and underlined that she knows Reepalu well enough to know that it was not what he meant.

“He is a good person. Ilmar is no anti-Semite but is someone who fights racism, and also against the attacks sustained by Jews in Malmö. I have asked him to open a proper dialogue with the Jewish community in Malmö in order to work things out,” the party leader said.

Sahlin emphasised that no one should be subject to attack regardless of their opinion on the conflict in the Middle East.

Fresh concerns have been raised in the Swedish press this week following comments made at the weekend by Reepalu in The Sunday Telegraph.

“There haven’t been any attacks on Jewish people, and if Jews from the city want to move to Israel that is not a matter for Malmö,” Reepalu told the newspaper.

At 2pm on Thursday Ilmar Reepalu was engaged in a meeting with Fred Kahn and Fredrik Sieradzki from the Jewish community in Malmö. It was Reepalu who had taken the initiative to the meeting; Kahn and Sieradzki meanwhile were reticent about what they hoped would be achieved.

“We’ll listen to what he has to say,” Kahn told news agency TT on the way into Malmö city hall.

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

Swedish Church Group Offers Choice of Three Genders

Sensus, a Swedish church-backed study association, has adopted a new policy to allow prospective employees to classify their gender in three ways: Female, Male or Other.

The study association, which runs courses in a range of disciplines for more than 350,000 Swedes, has decided to introduce a third alternative in its standard online application form.

“It is a question of letting you as an individual decide for yourself how you want to be defined. Or if you turn it around, you should not have to have one role privately and another as an employee,” explained Johan Welander at Sensus to Church of Sweden newspaper, Kyrkans Tidning.

Applicants can now choose between Kvinna (woman), Man or Hen, a gender-neutral pronoun and alternative to the Swedish Hon (She) and Han (He).

Hen is a gender-neutral pronoun that has long been in circulation as an alternative to get round problems that sometimes arise when talking about people in the third person. It is also used by many within the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) movement for people who do not wish to conform to the prevailing two gender norm.

The word does not feature however as a pronoun or definition of a gender in dictionaries of the Swedish language.

The Language Council of Sweden — the official language cultivation body and publisher of an annual “New Swedish Words” list — recommends the use of the pronoun Den (It) or Man (One) for the third person.

“It is difficult to change the use of words that are as deep-rooted and commonly used words as personal pronouns. It is much easier to add a new adjective, for example,” a spokesperson at the council told The Local.

“I am not aware of whether the use of Hen is being encourage by the council. But if people start to use the term then it is a Swedish word — that is how language develops.”

Malinda Flodman, press spokesperson at The Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights for Sexuality Education (Riksförbundet för sexuell upplysning — RFSU) told The Local on Wednesday that it was not currently an issue that the rights group is taking a stand on.

“It is a word that that is used by many who do not feel that they fit into any of the current alternatives, or just think that gender is irrelevant in a context,” Flodman said.

While the Federation is not actively working to broaden its use, Flodman said that more linguistic alternatives are always useful.

“Hen is a practical alternative to avoid having to write around it, but I don’t know how broadly it is used; it is perhaps more common among younger people.”

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

Time for Some Islamic Self-Examination in Norway?

by Hege Storhaug

Yet another demonstration in reaction to the publication of a Muhammed cartoon

The Muslims who have recently been demonstrating and agitating in Norway in reaction to the publication of a Muhammed cartoon in Dagbladet should be asking themselves: What is it about us Muslims that causes so much hubbub? Why don’t any other groups occupy as much space in the public square, in public debate, as we do? Why do we so often represent ourselves as victims, as having been offended, and react with aggression?

Sunday, February 14, marked the 21st anniversary of Ayatollah Khomeini’s death fatwa against Salman Rushdie for writing the book The Satanic Verses — a fatwa that marked the beginning of the contemporary confrontation between Islam and the Christian world. As Kenan Malik notes in his book From Fatwa to Jihad, Peter Mayer, who was then the CEO of Rushdie’s publishing house, Penguin, understood instantly how important the publisher’s public reaction would be, insisting that the firm take the long view. To give in now, he recognized, would be only to encourage future acts of terrorism by people who, for whatever reason, objected to the contents of some book or other.

We’ve grown accustomed to the fact that in our society certain elements of the Muslim population, which make up about three percent of the total population, are all over the media. This situation amounts to a kind of permanent exception in which demands and aggression dominate the picture, along with major doses of victim rhetoric. No other group demands anywhere near as much attention or demonstrates so clearly that it is dissatisfied with our liberal values. What, people ask with concern, will our society be like when Muslims make up 10 percent of it, or 20 percent? How many demonstrators will they manage to muster at University Square in 2020, if something goes against them? Will the police be able to maintain order? What do the events we are witnessing now portend?

To witness the demonstration at University Square was to be reminded of the 1930s, when Vidkun Quisling’s Nazi group, the Nasjonal Samling, held mass rallies at the same spot…

[Return to headlines]

UK: Anger Over 7/7 London Terror Attacks Inquest ‘Insult’

Families of 7/7 victims have expressed fury after the suicide attackers were called “apparent bombers” in court.

The hearing, at the Royal Courts of Justice, was to decide how coroners’ inquests into deaths from the 2005 Tube and bus bombings should proceed.

But bereaved relations took offence when Hugo Keith QC used the phrase “apparent” to describe the attackers. He later apologised for the distress.

Ernest Adams, whose son was killed, said it was “upsetting and insulting”.

James Adams, 32, a mortgage broker from Cambridgeshire, was among 26 killed by Jermaine Lindsay, 19, on a Tube between King’s Cross and Russell Square.

His father Mr Adams, 72, stood up in court and said: “For more than four-and-a-half years, the whole world has known that four sick and evil men killed 52 innocent people.

“And yet now lawyers are talking and writing about ‘apparent bombers’.”

“Your inquest is not going to be about 52 apparent deaths, it will be about 52 real deaths caused by four real bombers.

“I find it very upsetting and insulting to use the word ‘apparent’.”

Hazel Webb, whose 29-year-old daughter Laura, of Islington, north London, was one of six people killed at Edgware Road, agreed.

Apologies for distress

She said: “‘Apparent bombers’ just does not rest easily with me.”

Apologising, Mr Keith said: “I must balance that which may seem to be obvious with not wishing to pre-judge the issues.

“We are acutely aware that this raises terrible issues for the bereaved families.”

The coroner, Lady Justice Hallett, repeated the apology and said they would come up with another term that would not cause distress.

Suicide bombers Mohammad Sidique Khan, Shehzad Tanweer, Hasib Hussain and Jermaine Lindsay detonated the bombs on three Tube trains and a bus during the morning rush-hour on 7 July 2005, killing 52 people and injuring more than 700.

Inquest hearings have not taken place yet because criminal proceedings relating to the attacks have taken years.

Inquest ruling due

Thursday’s hearing was told that if full inquests into the deaths are held they are expected to take place in the autumn.

A further three-day hearing, scheduled to begin on 26 April, will decide if full inquests are needed and what their remit should be.

The coroner will then rule whether to split the inquests into the victims’ deaths and those of the bombers.

Imran Khan, representing the families of Mohammad Sidique Khan and Hasib Hussain, said: “Whatever involvement my clients have in these proceedings, we will try our utmost to ensure that it is done with sensitivity and deference to the wishes of the bereaved families.”

It is thought none of the families of the suicide bombers have applied for legal aid.

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

UK: Bosses at Scandal-Hit Stafford Hospital Escape Scot-Free

The senior managers who presided over one of Britain’s worst hospital scandals, in which up to 1,200 patients died, have all escaped being disciplined, it has emerged.

No one on the board at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust has faced censure and all of them were either paid off, walked into another job or allowed to remain in post. The man who ran the hospital trust received a large pay-off despite his part in the scandal.

Martin Yeates, the former chief executive, left the trust “by mutual agreement” with a pay-off of £400,000 and a pension worth £1.27 million, it has been alleged.

The lack of disciplinary action emerged after the publication of a damning report into the treatment of patients between 2005 and 2008.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: Starved Birmingham Girl’s Mother Guilty of Manslaughter

A mother who starved her seven-year-old daughter to death has been cleared of her murder and has had her plea of guilty to manslaughter accepted.

Prosecutors accepted Angela Gordon’s defence of diminished responsibility over the death of Khyra Ishaq.

Gordon’s partner Junaid Abuhamza had a manslaughter plea accepted following a report on his mental health.

Khyra was found severely emaciated at a house in Handsworth, Birmingham, in 2008 and died in hospital.

Denied food

Birmingham Crown Court heard medical professionals treating Khyra found her condition was “outside of their experience”.

Paramedic Steve Hadlington told the retrial, an earlier trial collapsed, that Gordon, of Leyton Road, showed very little emotion as he and his colleagues tried to save her daughter.

Khyra died in hospital of an infection which the prosecution said was the result of her being deliberately starved.

Police said she had been beaten, starved and kept a virtual prisoner away from the other children which Gordon, 35, was looking after.

Jurors were shown pictures from inside the terraced house, including photographs of a “well-stocked” kitchen and a cane used as part of a “punishment regime”.

Prosecutor Timothy Raggatt QC said: “It isn’t that this house was short of food, as you can see, there is lots of food in this household.”

Gordon and Abuhamza, 31, have also admitted five charges of child cruelty relating to the other children.

The decision by the Crown to accept Gordon’s plea on the lesser charge of manslaughter came after she admitted the child cruelty charges and psychiatrists agreed that she had been suffering from severe depression when Khyra died.

Mr Raggatt said: “It is extraordinary that it emerges so late (in the trial) but the sole reason for that is the denial… that Angela Gordon has put up around herself for all these months.”

Before she pleaded guilty to child cruelty and was cleared of murder, her counsel, Michael Burrows QC, said psychiatrists had agreed that her condition impaired her ability to function effectively as a mother.

He said: “The jury already know that Angela Gordon has been assessed by three psychiatrists.

“From what they have said in reports, it is clear and beyond dispute that Angela Gordon was, from the beginning of 2008, depressed, and for a period of around a month before Khyra’s death, severely depressed.”

Abuhamza’s plea of guilty to manslaughter but not guilty to murder was accepted earlier this month.

He was convicted by the jury after direction from the judge, Mr Justice Roderick Evans.

Abuhamza had told the court he was brutally abused as a child and witnessed his father beating his younger sister to death when he was five years old.

He told jurors he had beaten Khyra with a cane, had made her stand outside in the cold and had thrown cold water over her. He said he blamed himself for Khyra’s death.

After the case, Khyra’s natural father Ishaq Abuzaire said he was satisfied with the result.

“I think manslaughter was the right decision and the right outcome,” he said.

He said it had been “horrific” to see professionals reduced to tears and also disclosed that he had not been able to bring himself to look a pictures of Khyra’s injuries.

Det Insp Sean Russell, of West Midlands Police, who led the investigation said he believed Khyra had been kept a virtual prisoner in an upstairs room.

He said she had been the subject of numerous beatings, starved of food, and kept away from the other children.

“The defendants had created a situation in which the children, who were being educated at home, had been kept away from their extended family, friends and the outside world,” he said.

Martin Lindop of the Crown Prosecution Service said the manslaughter pleas were accepted as a result of psychiatric reports.

“As a result of the content of a number of psychiatric reports, which we received at a very late stage in the case, we concluded the charge of murder in relation to Khyra Ishaq could no longer be sustained,” he said.

Gordon and Abuhamza will be sentenced on Friday next week.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

UK: This Tide of Anti-Muslim Hatred is a Threat to US All

The attempt to drive Islamists and young Asian activists out of the political mainstream is a dangerous folly

If young British Muslims had any doubts that they are singled out for special treatment in the land of their birth, the punishments being meted out to those who took part in last year’s London demonstrations against Israel’s war on Gaza will have dispelled them. The protests near the Israeli ­embassy at the height of the onslaught were angry: bottles and stones were thrown, a ­Starbucks was trashed and the police employed unusually violent tactics, even by the standards of other recent confrontations, such as the G20 protests.

But a year later, it turns out that it’s the sentences that are truly exceptional. Of 119 people arrested, 78 have been charged, all but two of them young ­Muslims (most between the ages of 16 and 19), according to Manchester University’s Joanna Gilmore, even though such figures in no way reflect the mix of those who took part. In the past few weeks, 15 have been convicted, mostly of violent disorder, and jailed for between eight months and two-and-a-half years — ­having switched to guilty pleas to avoid heavier terms. Another nine are up to be sentenced tomorrow.

The severity of the charges and sentencing goes far beyond the official response to any other recent anti-war demonstration, or even the violent stop the City protests a decade ago. So do the arrests, many of them carried out months after the event in dawn raids by dozens of police officers, who smashed down doors and handcuffed family members as if they were suspected terrorists. Naturally, none of the more than 30 complaints about police ­violence were upheld, even where video ­evidence was available.

Nothing quite like this has happened, in fact, since 2001, when young Asian Muslims rioted against extreme rightwing racist groups in Bradford and other northern English towns and were subjected to heavily disproportionate prison terms. In the Gaza protest cases, the judge has explicitly relied on the Bradford precedent and repeatedly stated that the sentences he is handing down are intended as a deterrent.

For many in the Muslim community, the point will be clear: not only that these are political sentences, but that different rules apply to Muslims, who take part in democratic protest at their peril. It’s a dangerous message, especially given the threat from a tiny minority that is drawn towards indiscriminate violence in response to Britain’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and rejects any truck with mainstream politics.

But it’s one that is constantly ­reinforced by politicians and parts of the media, who have increasingly blurred the distinction between violent and non- violent groups, demonised Islamism as an alien threat and branded as extremist any Muslim leader who dares to campaign against western foreign policy in the Muslim world. That’s reflected in the government’s targeting of “nonviolent extremism” and lavish funding of anti-Islamist groups, as well as in Tory plans to ban the nonviolent Hizb ut-Tahrir and crack down ever harder on “extremist written material and speech”.

In the media, it takes the form of relentless attempts to expose ­Muslims involved in wider politics as secret fanatics and sympathisers with ­terrorism. Next week, Channel 4 ­Dispatches plans to broadcast the latest in a series of undercover documentaries aimed at revealing the ugly underside of British Muslim political life. In this case, the target is the predominantly British-Bangladeshi Islamic Forum of Europe. From material sent out in advance, the aim appears to be to show the IFE is an “entryist” group in legitimate east ­London politics — and unashamedly Islamist to boot.

As recent research co-authored by the former head of the Metropolitan police special branch’s Muslim contact unit, Bob Lambert, has shown, such ubiquitous portrayals of Muslim ­activists as “terrorists, sympathisers and subversives” (all the while underpinned by a drumbeat campaign against the nonexistent Afghan “burka”) are one factor in the alarming growth of ­British Islamophobia and the rising tide of anti-Muslim violence and hate crimes that stem from it.

Last month’s British Social Attitudes survey found that most people now regard Britain as “deeply divided along religious lines”, with hostility to Muslims and Islam far outstripping such attitudes to any other religious group. On the ground that has translated into murders, assaults and attacks on mosques and Muslim institutions — with shamefully little response in politics or the media. Last year, five mosques in Britain were firebombed, from Bishop’s Stortford to Cradley Heath, though barely reported in the national press, let alone visited by a government minister to show solidarity.

And now there is a street movement, the English Defence League, directly adopting the officially sanctioned targets of “Islamists” and “extremists” — as well as the “Taliban” and the threat of a “takeover of Islam” — to intimidate and threaten Muslim communities across the country, following the success of the British National party in ­baiting Muslims above all other ethnic and religious communities.

Of course, anti-Muslim bigotry, the last socially acceptable racism, is often explained away by the London bombings of 2005 and the continuing threat of terror attacks, even though by far the greatest number of what the authorities call “terrorist incidents” in the UK take place in Northern Ireland, while Europol figures show that more than 99% of terrorist attacks in Europe over the past three years were carried out by non-Muslims. And in the last nine months, two of the most serious bomb plot convictions were of far right racists, Neil Lewington and Terence Gavan, who were planning to kill Muslims.

Meanwhile, in the runup to the ­general election, expect some ugly dog whistles from Westminster politicians keen to capitalise on Islamophobic sentiment. With few winnable Muslim votes, the Tories seem especially up for it. Earlier this month, Conservative frontbencher Michael Gove came out against the building of a mosque in his Surrey constituency, while Welsh Tory MP David Davies blamed a rape case on the “medieval and barbaric” attitudes of some migrant communities.

As long as British governments back wars and occupations in the Middle East and Muslim world, there will continue to be a risk of violence in Britain. But attempts to drive British Muslims out of normal political activity, and the refusal to confront anti-Muslim hatred, can only ratchet up the danger and threaten us all.

           — Hat tip: El Ingles[Return to headlines]


Bosnia: UN Court Funds Karadic Defence

The Hague, 22 Feb. (AKI) — The United Nations war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia on Monday approved extra defence funding for wartime Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, indicted for genocide, war crimes crimes against humanity during Bosnia’s 1992-1995 war. He is defending himself with the help of a legal team.

ICTY president Patrick Robinson said the tribunal approved finance for Karadzic’s legal advisors last year when the trial was interrupted and additional funding for five aides when the trial resumes on 1 March.

Karadzic was arrested in Belgrade in July 2008, after 13 years in hiding, and has pleaded not guilty. He has decided to defend himself but was allowed legal aides of his choice.

The tribunal secretariat had earlier approved the financing of 250 hours per month during recess and 150 hours per an aide during the trial.

Karadzic has appealed the Secretariat ruling, saying he was flooded with hundreds of thousands of documents which he could not study alone.

The trial started on 26 October last year, but Karadzic boycotted the proceedings, saying he wasn’t given enough time to prepare his defence.

The court then appointed British jurist Richard Harvey as an official defence lawyer and postponed the trial until 1 March.

Karadzic has been charged with crimes against Muslims and Croats in Bosnia and genocide in eastern town of Srebrenica, when up to 8,000 Muslims were killed by Bosnian Serb forces in July 1995.

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

EU Commission: Extend Custom Tax Exception

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, FEBRUARY 23 — The European Commission adopted a measure to extend the regime of preferential and exceptional trade tariffs which the European Union applies the western Balkan Countries up to 2015. A statement by Brussels explained that the purpose of the proposal is to ensure that the economies of the region will continue to benefit from an unlimited tax-free access to all products which originate in Albania, Bosnia Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Kosovo. The preferential regime, first set up in 2000, was renewed in 2005 and should end in December of 2010. The EC believes that a halt to these trade conditions, which are more advantageous than those in individual association agreements (ASA), could lead to negative consequences for the economic performance of the western Balkans, with repercussions on the internal reform processes. Brussels believes that, together with the existing bilateral agreements, these preferential tariffs “will support economic integration with the EU and promote political stability and progress across the entire region from an economic standpoint. This proposal will be debated by Parliament and Council, according to the co-decision procedure. (ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Trade: Trilateral Agreement Between Italy, Serbia and Russia

(ANSAmed) — BELGRADE, FEBRUARY 24 — To facilitate the penetration of the enormous Russian market for Italian-Serbian firms, in order to better exploit the advantages offered by the agreement of free trade in force between Serbia and the Russian Federation. This is the main aim of the Italian-Serbian-Russian committee of businessmen created today in Belgrade on the initiative of the Italian-Serbian Chamber of Commerce. “Our Made in Italy manufacturing, Italian design in the sectors of clothing, footwear and furniture will make Serbian goods and products more attractive, whilst Italian companies (in collaboration with Serbian companies) will benefit from the possibility of exporting to the Russian Federation in duty-free conditions,” said the president of the Italian-Serbian Chamber of Commerce, Vincenzo Divella, whilst announcing the agreement. Amongst others, the Serbian minister for Trade and Services, Slobodan Milosavljevic, spoke at the event, praising the trilateral initiative, speaking of an “excellent opportunity to get to know each other better and to improve cooperation.” The trilateral committee of businessmen that fit into the initiatives of the Italian-Serbian Chamber of Commerce in support of small and medium-sized Italian enterprises (SMEs) was set up in synergy with the Serbian Ministry for Trade and Services, and with the mediation support of Russian credit institute Moskovski Bank. As part of the presentation of the trilateral committee of Italian-Serbian-Russian businessmen, there was a promotional exhibition of the Campania Region in support of buffalo mozzarella. The tasting event was held via video-conferencing with 26 Italian Chambers of Commerce in various European countries. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Mediterranean Union

A North African Library in the Heart of Cagliari

CAGLIARI — A library dedicated to the Arab world in the heart of Cagliari will be opened between the end of 2010 and the first months of 2011, in the new Mediterranean media library which is under construction in the building of the former town market in Via Pola. The project, an initiative of the municipality of Cagliari and the Region, has already started: five thousand books in Arabic and French, received from North African countries, have already been catalogued. Novels, essays, but there is also a vast section for children. The idea was born in 2005, but there have been several delays due to bureaucratic problems. The books are kept by the municipal administration of Cagliari for the moment. ''The capital of Sardinia'' explained Cagliari's cultural advisor Giorgio Pellegrini, ''can be seen as a natural bridge between North Africa and Europe due to its geographical location. The opening of the library, as well as many other initiative of the administration, move in this direction''. The library will not only be a symbolic gesture of goodwill towards the culture of Arabic-speaking countries: Sardinia houses many immigrants from the North and Centre of Africa. There will be experts and mediators who know the language to help people find books.

           — Hat tip: KGS[Return to headlines]

North Africa

Algeria’s National Police Chief Shot Dead in Office

The chief of Algeria’s national police was shot dead on Thursday at his headquarters by another police official who was acting in a moment of insanity, the Interior Ministry said.

“The death of Ali Tounsi … took place during a working session, in the course of which a police official, apparently gripped by an attack of madness, used his weapon and fatally wounded Colonel Tounsi,” Algeria’s official APS news agency quoted a ministry statement as saying.

Earlier, a security source told Reuters that Tounsi, who had been national police chief for more than a decade, was shot inside his office by a senior police official with whom he was having an argument.

“This guy was unhappy, he took out his pistol and he fired it,” the source said. “Police officers nearby fired back.”

The Interior Ministry statement said that after shooting the police chief, the attacker shot himself and was now in serious condition in hospital. It made no mention of police firing back.

A Reuters photographer outside national police headquarters, in the center of the capital, said an unusually large number of police were there, including elite armed-response officers.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Algeria: Security Chief Killed in Capital

Algiers, 25 Feb. (AKI) — Algeria’s security chief Ali Tounsi was gunned down in his office in the national capital, Algiers, on Thursday. The interior ministry said that Tounsi was shot by a colleague in his office during a meeting with other security officials, many of whom were injured in the attack.

The alleged killer was a fellow police officer who had an argument with the police chief, the ministry said.

The police chief returned fire, seriously injuring the killer, but died from his wounds, it said.

The motives for Tounsi’s assassination were not immediately clear, according to Algerian daily El Watan said.

Tounsi, the late director general of Algerian security services gained a reputation for toughness after he fired and pensioned off many soldiers, Al-Arabiya said.

He also brought a number of soldiers suspected of involvement in terrorism to trial.

Tounsi survived a previous assassination attempt in 2004.

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

Algeria-France: Sarkozy Sends Envoy to Calm Tensions

(ANSAmed) — ALGIERS, FEBRUARY 22 — Claude Gueant, Secretary General of the French Presidency, paid a 24-hour visit yesterday to Algiers, where he had a meeting “on Algerian-French relations” with Premier Ahmed Ouyahia. An “exceptional” visit, writes the Algerian press, in an attempt to ease tensions which have been spoiling relations between France and Algeria for months now. The difficult relationship between the two countries, which was already strained by a law proposal put forward the the Algerian Parliament to make colonialism a crime, was sparked by recent statements by Bernard Kouchner. A few days ago, in an interview with Le journal du Dimanche, Kouchner stated that relations between France and Algeria “will perhaps be simpler” when the generation of Algerian independence is not longer in power. Words interpreted by Algiers as a direct attack on President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who did not receive envoys from Sarkozy as previously announced, said the press. Guent, along with Diplomatic Advisor to the Presidency, Jean David Levitte and Middle East and North Africa Advisor Nicolas Galey, was received by Premier Ouyahia and Foreign Minister Mourad Medelci. Several political parties and several organisations have condemned Kouchner’s statements as “flagrant and hostile interference in Algerian affairs”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Algeria: Sky-High Price, 30% of Food Import is Sugar

(ANSAmed) — ALGIERS — The price of sugar, which represented 30% of Algeria’s total food imports in the month of January, is continually on the rise. Out of a total of 572 million dollars of food imports, the country spent some 166 million dollars on purchasing sugar, 76.6% more than in January 2009. The staggering increase, underlines the report by the Algerian Customs’ National Centre for Informatics and Statistics (CNIS), is not due to a change in the quantity purchased but due to the price of sugar which has risen by 112% between 2008 and 2009. Algerian imports of all other types of food are down (-12.27%), in particular cereal imports which recorded a drop of 48%, passing from 297 to 153 million dollars.(ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Algiers Besieged by Firecrackers at Muslim “Christmas”

(ANSAmed) — ALGIERS, FEBRUARY 24 — Despite the ban on importing pyrotechnical products that is in force in Algeria, this year, like every other year, firecrackers and fireworks of all types have invaded the market on the eve of the festival of Mawlid An-nabi, the “Mouloud”, which will be celebrated on Friday throughout the Muslim world to mark the birth of the prophet Muhammad. A real “invasion” despite border inspections that are increasingly stringent, permitting the confiscation of large quantities of fireworks. According to the most recent data, in just the last few weeks security forces have intercepted and confiscated some 22 million units of pyrotechnical products. Coming mainly from China, the products enter Algerian territory across the southern borders and the border with Tunisia, but also via the sea, before ending up on improvised stalls that have cropped up on every street corner in the capital. Despite prices that are often prohibitive, young and old are competing to win the title of the most spectacular “cracker”. The latest fashion this year, in light of the victories of the Greens, are bangers with the names — such as Ziani and Yahia — of players from the national football team who manage to get into the final phase of the World Cup, which will take place in South Africa this year. As per tradition, few will listen to the words of the Imams on Thursday evening, repeating the same appeal as every year for calm. Immediately after the evening prayers, the festivities will commence, which will be “liveliest” in particular in the more working-class quarters of the city, such as Bab El Oued. Dozen of deaths occur every year during Mouloud. In 2009, in Algiers alone, the Civil Defence department recorded some 30 accidents with injuries and seven house fires. Mawlid An-nabi is one of the most heartfelt religious festivities in the Muslim world, after Eid al-Adha (Festival of Sacrifice) and the month of fasting of Ramadan. It is the celebration of the birth of the prophet Muhammad in Mecca, according to Muslim tradition, the 12th day of the first month of Rabi (the first spring), third month of the Muslim year, between 562 and 572 AD. The more orthodox wings of Islam, such as the Salaphites and the Wahabites, advise against celebrating the festival, as with every other birthday, because it is a considered an “innovation” that is not present in the holy texts. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Egypt Leper Colony Grows Into Successful Community

Modern drug treatment and medical checks have brought leprosy under control in Egypt. Yet its leper colony near Cairo remains the biggest in the Middle East, home to several thousand people.

If you set off early, it now takes under an hour to drive from downtown Cairo to Abu Zaabal, Egypt’s last leper colony.

However, when the site was set up in the 1930s it was a very isolated place in the desert.

At one time, any Egyptian found to have leprosy could have been forcibly brought here by the police.

Sitting in the well-tended gardens, I meet many long-time residents who still recall the anguish that caused.

“Before they found medical treatment to cure the disease people ran away from us and they were very scared of it,” said Mahmoud Ali Mohammed, who arrived in 1970 from Assiut, south of Cairo.

As he shakes my hand, Mr Mohammed stresses that there is no longer any need to be afraid.

“Leprosy is a normal sickness and you can recover from it. They have a cure. I’m negative now although I still live here,” he said.

In the hospital wards, many former lepers are receiving ongoing medical treatment.

Leprosy attacks nerves just under the skin. In advanced cases it leaves sufferers with no sense of pain and many have lost fingers and limbs. Some are blind.

Yet it is the lingering stigma of leprosy that most complain about.

A middle-aged man, Abdul Khalek al-Sayid, tried life outside the colony after he was cured but soon returned.

“Anyone who leaves here and goes back to his home village or town gets strange looks from people. They wonder how he became like this. Of course this makes one a little sensitive,” he said, holding up damaged hands.

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

Libya: Frattini: Italy Neutral in Bern-Tripoli Controversy

(ANSAmed) — ROME, FEBRUARY 24 — “We never said that Libya is right, but we have remained neutral. In my opinion, this was and is the right position to make Europe count”, said Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini today in Parliament commission regarding the diplomatic controversy between Libya and Switzerland which has led to the visa crisis. Frattini pointed out that the European Union is negotiating with Libya and expects to end these talks “by the end of June”. Europe “is strongly committed” to these talks, “because it sees Libya as a key country and partner”. “We have decided not to simply point the finger” at Tripoli because of “these negotiations”, the minister added, but to try and come to an agreement. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Libya’s Gaddafi Urges Jihad Against Switzerland

BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) — Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi called on Thursday for a “jihad” or armed struggle against Switzerland, saying it was an infidel state that was destroying mosques.

“Any Muslim in any part of the world who works with Switzerland is an apostate, is against (the Prophet) Mohammad, God and the Koran,” Gaddafi said during a meeting in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi to mark the Prophet’s birthday.

“The masses of Muslims must go to all airports in the Islamic world and prevent any Swiss plane landing, to all harbors and prevent any Swiss ships docking, inspect all shops and markets to stop any Swiss goods being sold,” Gaddafi said.

The Swiss Foreign Ministry said it had no comment on Gaddafi’s remarks.

Libya’s relations with Switzerland broke down in 2008 when a son of Gaddafi was arrested in a Geneva hotel and charged with abusing domestic servants.

He was released shortly afterwards and the charges were dropped, but Libya cut oil supplies to Switzerland, withdrew billions of dollars from Swiss bank accounts and arrested two Swiss businessmen working in the North African country.

One has been released but the other was forced this week to leave the Swiss embassy in Tripoli where he had been sheltering and move to a prison to serve a four-month sentence, apparently avoiding a major confrontation.

Libya says the Geneva arrest and the case of the two businessmen are not linked.

“Let us fight against Switzerland, Zionism and foreign aggression,” said Gaddafi, adding that “this is not terrorism,” in contrast with the work of al Qaeda which he called a “kind of crime and a psychological disease.”

“There is a big difference between terrorism and jihad which is a right to armed struggle,” he said.

Gaddafi accused Switzerland of being an “infidel, obscene state which is destroying mosques,” in reference to a Swiss referendum verdict barring construction of minarets.

He called for a “jihad against it with all means.”

Gaddafi was speaking before leading prayers in a Benghazi square in the presence of envoys from dozens of Muslim countries.

Swiss nationals voted 57.5 percent in favor of the minaret ban in the November 29 referendum backed by the right-wing Swiss People’s Party. The federal government had urged voters to reject it, warning it would contravene religious freedom.

           — Hat tip: Steen[Return to headlines]

Swiss Businessman Heads to Libyan Jail

One of two Swiss nationals held in Libya for the past 18 months has left the Swiss embassy in Tripoli to start a four-month jail sentence.

Businessman Max Göldi handed himself over to the authorities on Monday afternoon and was taken to prison in handcuffs.

Rachid Hamdani, the other Swiss national who had been held with Göldi, has received his exit visa However, despite earlier reports that he had left for Tunisia, he was still in Tripoli on Monday evening.

His wife told French-language Swiss radio that she had spoken to him at 5:40pm Swiss time and he had told her he had left the interior ministry, but had to go to the foreign ministry to settle further administrative formalities before he could leave the country.

He had not been able to tell her when he would leave Libya, nor how, but she said he sounded confident.

It had earlier been reported that he had been driven to the Tunisian border. However, the Swiss foreign ministry said on Monday afternoon that it could not confirm this.

European solidarity

Göldi’s surrender avoided escalating a confrontation that has drawn in governments across Europe.

Several dozen Libyan police officers had formed a ring around the Swiss embassy where the two businessmen had taken refuge for several months.

In Brussels, Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger said the police had threatened to storm the building if Tripoli’s ultimatum to hand over Göldi by midday was not heeded, and many European Union ambassadors had gone there “to show solidarity”.

The night before, Koussa had summoned European Union ambassadors to hand them the ultimatum on Göldi.

“No embassy should become a haven from justice,” Koussa told the Associated Press late on Sunday. “I hope this will not force us to adopt other measures.”

Spindelegger, attending a meeting of EU foreign ministers, said a further escalation of the row had been avoided. “Last night there were many intense phone calls,” he told reporters. “It was announced there was a deadline — either hand over the convicted Swiss citizens or the embassy would be stormed.”

He said Germany had played an important mediating role.

The case of the two men has been at the centre of a fierce diplomatic row between Libya and Switzerland which resulted last week in Tripoli suspending visas to citizens of most European countries.

Human rights

Libyan Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa said Göldi would be treated well.

The Swiss foreign ministry confirmed Göldi had been taken into Libyan custody and said Swiss embassy and diplomatic representatives of the EU were in permanent contact with him.

His lawyer, Salah Zahaf, said he intended to submit a plea for clemency for Göldi on Tuesday.

The diplomatic row between Libya and Switzerland stems from the 2008 arrest of one of leader Moammar Gaddafi’s sons in Geneva.

The Libyans had prevented both Swiss nationals from leaving the country since July 2008.

Both had faced trials for visa violations and conducting business in the country illegally. Hamdani had been acquitted of the first charge on appeal, and found not guilty of the second. Göldi’s initial sentence of 16 months on the visa charge was reduced to four on appeal. He was fined on the second charge.

Human rights groups have sharply criticised Libya, calling Göldi’s sentence politically motivated.

The human rights group Amnesty International said it was launching an “urgent action” appeal for Göldi’s immediate release.

“Although Libya says it is a judicial matter, the crisis must be resolved by diplomacy,” said Heba Morayef of Human Rights Watch (HRW).

The Ain Zara prison where Goldi is to carry out his sentence is notorious for the arbitrary detention of political opponents, HRW reported last December.

The group says that one of the prison’s two wings is controlled by Libya’s state security service, which is outside the influence of the justice ministry.

Göldi will reportedly be placed in the other wing. Zahaf said on Monday he would be able to visit him at any time, and that he would have access to medical care.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

USA-Libya: 1st Economic Mission to Tripoli Since Embargo

(ANSAmed) — TRIPOLI, FEBRUARY 22 — The first economic mission by the USA in Libya was launched yesterday in Tripoli, with 25 major US companies taking part, including Boeing, Motorola, Harley-Davidson, Electrolux and numerous other representatives from the telecommunications, energy, construction, water management solution, aerospace, architecture and service industries. Welcoming the US entrepreneurs, who were accompanied by Nicole Lamb-Hale, US advisor to the US Trade Department, were Libya’s Minister for the Economy, Industry and Commerce, Mohammed Al-Hawej, Libya’s Minister for Cooperation, Mohammed Siala, and President of the Union of Libyan Chambers of Commerce, Jumaa Al Ousta. “We are here because the Libyan Government has set aside over 80 million dollars to develop the infrastructure, focusing on several major residential building, motorway, railway, telecommunications and irrigation projects, and because Libya needs our professionalism and technology”, was the motivation for the visit in Lamb-Hale’s opinion. Data from the US Trade Department says that trade between the United States and Libya has risen since April 2004, when US sanctions against Libya were eased. In 2008 exports from the US to Libya were worth 721 million dollars, mainly from machinery, vehicles, iron and steel, cereals and electrical equipment. The delegation is in Libya today to “begin to develop a true economic partnership with Libya”, explained US Ambassador to Tripoli, Gene Cretz. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

Ex-Premier Olmert Standing Trial

(ANSAmed) — JERUSALEM, FEBRUARY 25 — The trial of former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert on several corruption charges has got underway today in Jerusalem. On his introductory remarks in the courtroom of the district court, Olmert said that “a few months ago I came here as someone innocent of the crimes he had been charged with, and I am certain that I will leave here as a person whose innocence has been recognised. From here on out the evidence will speak for itself.” Olmert has been accused of accepting bribes from the American Jew Moshe Talansky, of double-billing several organisations and a government ministry for travel expenses, as well as having used his influence as Trade and Industry Ministry to help out an enterprise represented by his friend and former partner in a law firm. The charges date back to the years in which Olmert was mayor of Jerusalem, and then Minister of Trade and Industry and Treasury Minister before being nominated prime minister in May 2006. To all appearances, in Olmert’s favour is the fact that the main lawyer for the prosecution, Uri Korb, will not be taking part in the trial, or at least not in the initial phase, as he is undergoing disciplinary proceedings on charges of having called a number of judges “donkeys”, as well as of having used offensive remarks against magistrates.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Haaretz: Lieberman Isolates Israel, Replace Him

(ANSAmed) — TEL AVIV, FEBRUARY 19 — “Madness has set in at the Foreign Ministry under the leadership of Avigdor Lieberman and his Deputy Minister Dany Ayalon,” according to an editorial today in liberal Israeli daily Haaretz, which stated that both ministers should be replaced as soon as possible because under their watch “Israel’s isolation is growing”. The reason for the newspaper’s controversial remarks is a refusal of the officials in the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem to receive five U.S. Democrats (Bill Delahunt, Donald Payne, Bob Filner, Lois Capps, Mary Jo Kilroy) who arrived in Israel with a ‘J-Street’ delegation, the new Jewish lobby in America that acknowledges the positions taken by Barak Obama’s Democratic administration. Several months ago, Lieberman ordered the Israeli Ambassador in Washington, Michael Oren, to boycott the first ‘J-Street’ conference. But now, according to Haaretz, by ignoring the congressional delegation, Israeli pointlessly strikes at one of its traditional strong points in Washington. Under Lieberman’s leadership, accused Haaretz, the Israeli Foreign Ministry has become an organ that “censures freedom of thought and silences all criticism”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Holy Sites: Islamic Jihad Threatens Attacks

(ANSAmed) — TEL AVIV, FEBRUARY 24 — Islamic Jihad has threatened to carry out terrorist attacks in Israel in reaction to the decision taken by Benyamin Netanyahu’s government to include the Tomb of Rachel in Bethlehem and the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron among its list of sites of ‘historic memory’ of the Israeli people. These holy sites are located in independent Palestinian areas and are places of worship both for Moslem and Hebrew faithful. A spokesperson for Islamic Jihad announced on the Ynet website of the daily paper Yediot Ahronot that Netanyahu’s move represents an Israeli attempt to “annex” Moslem sites of prayer and that it therefore constitutes an “aggressive” act which will be met with armed attacks. The move by the Israeli government has also led to tension with leaders of the Palestinian National Authority. Open criticism was expressed yesterday by President Mahmoud Abbas: this was speedly countered by a Netanyahu aide, who stated that the position taken by the PNA was “hypocritical and shameless”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

OIC Secretary General Condemns Israel’s Decision to Add the Ibrahimi Mosque and the Mosque of Bilal Ibn Rabah to the List of Israeli Heritage Sites and Considers it an Act of Piracy Against Islamic Heritage

Prof. Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, Secretary General of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, condemned the Israeli Government’s decision to usurp the Ibrahimi Mosque in the city of Hebron and the Mosque of Bilal Ibn Rabah in Bethlehem and add them to the list of Israeli heritage sites, and stressed that these two mosques are for Muslims alone and house purely Islamic heritage which must not bed encroached upon or misappropriated.

The Secretary General considered that the Israeli decision blatantly violates international law and the Geneva Convention which does not permit the occupying state to tamper with religious or heritage sites in the areas they occupy. He also addressed a message to the UNESCO Secretary General urging her to take prompt action and stand up to the Israeli piracy against the Islamic heritage in Palestine, and issued directives in favour of a coordinated Islamic urgent move at the level of the Member States Ambassadors Group at the UNESCO in the face of this defiant aggression. He further called upon the Quartet and the international community and its institutions to stand up to this blatant aggression which is a serious provocation to Muslims.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Riots in Hebron, Calm Restored in Jericho

(ANSAmed) — TEL AVIV, FEBRUARY 22 — Palestinian demonstrators have clashed today with Israeli army units in the West Bank city of Hebron. Reports were from local sources, who said that the protests were sparked by the Israeli government’s decision to include the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron on the list of Israeli “National Treasures” to be restored. The sanctuary is visited by both Jewish and Muslim believers, with the latter considering it a mosque. Meanwhile, calm has been restored to the West Bank city of Jericho, where yesterday Jewish right-wing extremists briefly took control of an ancient synagogue after having forced their way past both the Israeli army and the Palestinian security forces checkpoints. To put an end to the incident, the Israeli army was forced to go into the Palestinian autonomous zone of Jericho and arrest dozens of Jewish protestors. Military sources quoted by the press have said that the demonstration was tantamount to “provocation”, and expressed concern that such actions could trigger violent reactions by Palestinians in the future. They noted that for some time also in Nablus, without the army being aware of it, Jewish believers had been repeatedly raiding what is known as “Joseph’s Tomb”, giving rise to friction with Palestinians.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Middle East

EU Concerned on Hamas Leader Killed, Lieberman in Brussels

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS — Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman will be in Brussels today to meet with a number of EU Foreign Ministers, beginning with the UK’s David Miliband. Lieberman, who will not be taking part in the EU Foreign Ministers’ meeting, is thought to be scheduled to meet with EU Parliament president Jerky Buzeck and the head of the EU Parliament’s Foreign Commission, Gabriele Albertini. The head of Israeli diplomatic affairs will then have an informal dinner with the High Representative for EU Foreign Policy Catherine Ashton. Weighing down talks will be the recent assassination in Dubai of Hamas member Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, committed by a group of individuals using passports from Great Britain, Ireland, France and Germany. Spain’s head of diplomatic affairs Miguel Angel Moratinos — whose country currently holds the EU presidency — has said that he is “very concerned” over the use of Eu passports by the group which killed a Hamas leader. “We are very concerned over the fact that EU passports, rigorously legal documents, have been used for purposes for which they were not intended,” said Moratinos on entering the EU Foreign Ministers meeting. “We will be discussing the matter today and I hope that a statement will be issued expressing our concerns on the matter.” (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Germany Welcomes Islamic Education

Plans to teach Islamic theology at German public universities were welcomed at the beginning of February by key German education groups. The move would allow imams and schoolteachers who guide religion classes to obtain the same academic degrees as Christian and Jewish theologians. It would also promote the study of Islamic scripture and history using academic methods, with the state footing the bill.

The recommendation comes from the German Council of Science and Studies, whose chairman, Peter Strohschneider, said that two to three universities should set up Islamic theology departments, with each estimated to cost 1.5 million euros (2.1 million dollars) annually to run.

What has caused this step toward state-funded academic degrees in Islam?

First of all, it should be understood that there is state-funding of religious schools, unlike the situation in the U.S. where parents who choose private or religious schools must also pay taxes for public schools.

Most of the federal states of Germany have an arrangement where the religious bodies oversee the training of mainline Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish religious education teachers. The training is supposed to be conducted according to modern standards of the humanities, at mostly state-run colleges and universities. Those teachers who teach religion in the public schools are paid by the state but are answerable to the churches for the content of their teaching.

Children who don’t belong to a mainstream religion or wish to opt out for another reason must usually attend neutral classes in “Ethics” or “Philosophy” instead. From the age of 14, children may decide on their own if they want to attend classes and which. For younger children, it is the decision of the parents. The state subsidizes religious schools by paying up to 90% of their expenses.

Second, the second most commonly spoken language in Germany isn’t French, Spanish or even English. It is Turkish, the language of the 2.5 million ethnic Turks who live and work in Germany as a postwar legacy of its guest-worker program. The Turkish immigrants were overwhelmingly members of Islam.

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

Hamas Leader Killed; Frattini, EU’s Balanced Stance

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, FEBRUARY 22 — The EU ministers’ statement on the mystery surrounding the killing of a Hamas leader by a group of people holding EU passports will be “balanced”, announced Minister for Foreign Affairs Franco Frattini in speaking to journalists on his arrival in Brussels for an EU Foreign Ministers meeting. “I can ensure you that we will be issuing a balanced statement,” said Frattini, noting that today would also see Israeli head of diplomacy Avigdor Lieberman in Brussels. Frattini said that “it is important” that on the matter “a serious investigation be conducted to prevent Arab countries from taking measures against EU countries”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Iraq: Vatican Voices Concern at Christian Attacks

Rome, 24 Feb. (AKI) — Pope Benedict XVI and the entire Vatican are deeply concerned about the continuing attacks on Christians in Iraq, a Catholic cleric told Adnkronos International on Wednesday. Mons. Philip Najim, the Vatican’s representative for Chaldean Christians in Europe, said the attacks are being organised by extremists and are aimed at driving out Christians.

“The Pope is very worried about the plight of Christians in Iraq and he has said so many times and has repeated that the rights of this community must be respected,” said Najim.

“These are well organised acts by extremist groups and Islamists aimed at driving Christians out of Iraq.”

His comments came as the funerals of three Christians killed in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul took place, including those of a father and son who were killed at their home.

The Bishop of Mosul, Georges Camoussa, said it was the first time such a “vile act” had been committed against Christians in their own homes.

The killings were the latest in a spate of murders of Christians ahead of Iraq’s key general election on 7 March, which is being seen as crucial test of democracy in a country wracked by sectarian strife.

It is not clear if the spike in attacks against Christians is an attempt at voter intimidation by factions involved in a violent territorial and power struggle between Kurds and Arabs in Mosul or another attempt by Al-Qaeda to derail the election.

Christians number around 250,000 to 300,000 in Nineveh province, of which Mosul is capital.

Najim called on nations to intervene to protect Christians in Iraq.

“This is important. The world is waiting for the results of the election. But if human rights and personal safety are not ensured, there can be no political progress.

“So I appeal to the international community to break its complete silence on the massacre of Christians,” he said.

Earlier on Wednesday, Italy’s foreign minister Franco Frattini said a ‘manual’ will be issued in the next two months to all European Union ambassadors to give guidance on ‘sensitive’ countries’ treatment of religious minorities, especially Christians.

“There is a risk of persecution. We are obliged to act, not just make declarations,” Frattini told Catholic daily Avvenire.

He said he was planning to hold an international conference on religious freedom in Italy “this year”.

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

Iraq: Pope Urges Respect for Christians

Vatican City, 25 Feb. (AKI) — Pope Benedict XVI has called on the Iraqi government to ensure Christians are respected in the Muslim majority country. The pope made the appeal in a front-page article published in the Vatican daily, the Osservatore Romano.

It also published a letter that Vatican secretary of state Tarcisio Bertone wrote to Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki last month reiterating an earlier call by the pontiff urging the Iraqi government to protect Christians and their churches.

“Pope Benedict XVI has learned with deep distress of the continuing killings of Christians in Mosul,” the Osservatore Romano said.

The daily was referring to the northern Iraqi city where there have been a spate of attacks against Christians ahead of Iraq’s crucial 7 March general election. It is not clear who is behind the attacks.

Catholic clerics have said they suspect the perpetrators are from Islamic extremist groups who want to drive Christians from Iraq.

As recently as Tuesday this week, three members of a Christian family were murdered in the sectarian-strife wracked city, the Osservatore Romano noted.

“In his thoughts and prayers, the pope shares the suffering of all the many people involved,” the paper said.

In an unusual move, the Vatican published the letter Bertone sent to al-Maliki on 2 January reminding him of its concerns over the condition of Christians and other minorities in Iraq.

“Your Excellency, I recall with pleasure your important visit to the Vatican in 2008, when after his audience with you His Holiness expressed the shared hope that through diaologue and cooperation between your country’s ethnic and religious groups, including its minorities, and that Iraq would be able to bring about moral and civil reconciliation,” wrote Bertone.

“You will also remember how His Holiness urged respect for freedom of worship in Iraq and asked for Christians and their churches to be protected,” he continued.

“You assured me your government was taking very seriously the situation of minority Christians, who have lived alongside the Muslim majority for centuries, making a huge contribution to the nation’s economic, cultural and social wellbeing.”

The office of the Papal Envoy in Baghdad, the bishop of Mosul, Georges Camoussa, the Vatican’s representative for Chaldean Christians in Europe, Philip Najim, and Chaldean bishops Shlemon Warduni and Emil Shimoun Nona have all called on the Iraqi government this week to protect Christians.

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

Iraq: Bishop of Mosul: Humanitarian Emergency. Hundreds of Christian Families Fleeing Violence

Mgr Nona speaks of an “unending Via Crucis”. The archdiocese helps the refugees with basic necessities, but “the situation is dramatic.” The prelate will go to Baghdad to seek the intervention of the central government. Mgr Sako, archbishop of Kirkuk, will launch a “demonstration and a fast” to remember “the massacre of Iraqi Christians.”

Mosul (AsiaNews) — Mosul is experiencing a veritable “humanitarian emergency” in just one day, yesterday, “hundreds of Christian families” left the city in search of shelter, leaving behind their homes, property, commercial activities: the situation “is dramatic”. Bishop Emil Shimoun Nona, Chaldean archbishop of Mosul, confirmed to AsiaNews about the exodus of the faithful from the city. Meanwhile, Mgr. Louis Sako, archbishop of Kirkuk, will launch “a demonstration and a fast”, to sensitize the international community to the “massacre of Iraqi Christians” and stop the violence in the country.

The archbishop of Mosul is concerned about the many families, “hundreds” in one day yesterday, leaving the city. Bishop Nona speaks of an “ unending via Crucis” and denounces the “change in methods” operated by the armed gangs. “In the past we said to the Christians to remain closed in the house — he remembers — but now they are even attacked in their own homes”. The reference is to the murder took place last February 23: commandos entered the house of Aishwa Marosi, a Christian of 59, killing the man and two boys. His wife and daughter witnessed the murder but were spared by the criminals.

Bishop Nona confirms the risk that “Mosul will be emptied completely of Christians”, who are fleeing towards the plain of Nineveh and other places considered safer. “Yesterday I visited some families — he continues — I have tried to bring comfort, but the situation is dramatic. The people fled without taking anything with them”. This is why the local archdiocese has launched an initial emergency response, trying to provide “essential supplies and relief”, but the danger of “a humanitarian crisis is real.”

The archbishop of Mosul plans to travel to Baghdad to meet with politicians and the central government, to demand their intervention. It is difficult to maintain the Christian presence, he continues, and it is likely that the general elections — scheduled for March 7 — no one will vote. The confining of Iraq’s Christians in the Nineveh Plain, victims of a power struggle between Arabs and Kurds, seems an increasingly concrete likelihood, although the Church leaders have always been opposed to this “ghettoisation”. So far, the warring factions have used the excuse of religion and armed gangs to drag the Christians into the conflict. “For this — concluded Mgr. Nona — we now need to find a ‘political response’ to the conflicts, the struggle for power.”

Archbishop Louis Sako, archbishop of Kirkuk, plans to launch — in the next few days — “a demonstration and a fast”, to sensitize the international community to the “massacre of Iraqi Christians” and stop the violence in the country. The policy that aims to see Mosul emptied of Christians must be stopped, negotiations with the central government and local parliament started to enhance “the idea of national unity” that is lost in the conflicts between different ethnicities, religions and influences foreign in a shattered Iraq. The prelate confirms the will of the Christian community to “participate in the political life of the country”, while there is an increasingly concrete danger that they will be considered “second-class citizens.”

The general elections scheduled for March 7 will cause an even greater escalation of violence. The warring parties — Sunnis, Shiites, Kurds — are sparing no methods or use of force to gain control of the territory. Baghdad, like Mosul and Kirkuk, is tempting for its many rich deposits of oil. Sectarian violence in Mosul, also does not seem linked to al Qaeda, but rather confirms the infiltration in the army and police of “big powers” that are aligned to political parties, religious denominations, or to the tribes. They are a clear indication of the failure to create a unitary state, the “Republic of Iraq” mentioned in the Constitution, but never born because of internal divisions. Added to this the external pressures from neighbouring countries including Iran: Baghdad AsiaNews sources confirm that “Tehran has both hands in the internal politics of Iraq” and is an influence that touches the economic, political and religious sphere.

“There is a state, a home — underlines Msgr. Sako — and sectarian divisions are an obvious fact. Christians who are not interested in power games, economic hegemony, but the creation of a State in which the different ethnic groups can live together peacefully. “ An objective to be achieved, must begin first of all with “the unity of the Christian community and Church leaders, who must make their unity a strength at the bargaining table with the central government and the political forces of the country “. (DS)

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

Lebanon: Spy Who Aided Israel Sentenced to Death

(ANSAmed) — BEIRUT, FEBRUARY 19 — A military tribunal in Beirut sentenced a former Lebanese security officer to death for working as a spy for Israel and for being involved in the murder of two Palestinian leaders in a terrorist attack in Lebanon. Mahmud Rafee (63-years-old) was arrested in 2006 and confessed to collaborating with the Israeli “enemy” since 1993. The former officer for the Internal Security Forces (FSI) also admitted to being actively involved in the preparation of a bombing in May 2006 at the southern port of Sidon, which killed two Islamic Jihad leaders in Lebanon, the brothers Mahmud and Nidal Majzub. Together with Rafee, in a sentence by default, his accomplice Suleiman Khattab, who according to Hezbollah television station al Manar, is currently in Israel, was condemned to death. When collaborating with the “enemy”, death sentences — which must be signed by the president of the republic — in Lebanon are usually decided upon when the accused is guilty of murder. In other cases, individuals are given life sentences and forced labour. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Moderate Islamists Threaten Turkey Army Prestige: Analysts

Turkey’s army, the secular republic’s most respected institution, is in danger of losing its prestige according to analysts, after charges of conspiring against the moderate Islamic government.

“Times change”, journalist Mehmet Ali Birand told AFP, arguing that the army occupies a less central position in Turkey today.

Since the so-called Ergenekon trial began in 2007 over a suspected major plot against the regime involving many officers, the press and lawmakers have disclosed a dozen other alleged attempts to destabilise Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government.

The unease in the military is so strong that the chief of the Turkish general staff, General Ilker Basbug, said at the end of January that coups d’etat, carried out four times by the army in 50 years, “belong to the past”.

Writing in the liberal newspaper Hurriyet, Birand said “losing prestige in the public’s eye may cause cracks in the military”.

The military will have to change, he argued, it will have to “get used to criticism” and “get used to not engineering politics”.

The media for its part, “will have to get used to stop provoking the military”, he added.

As well as the lengthy Ergenekon trial, the Turkish courts announced at the start of February that 19 people including nine naval officers, would be on trial in May accused of “belonging to an armed terrorist organisation”.

They are accused of planning assassinations to provoke chaos in the country.

Fifteen more navy officers and two retired soldiers will go on trial accused of planning attacks in April.

In an unprecedented move in January, police investigating a suspected assassination plot against vice-prime minister Bulent Arinc searched a special forces barracks in the capital Ankara, where secret archives were held.

“This ultimate audacity shows that no military man, however high-ranking, is protected from arrest or at least receiving a humiliating summons”, academic Jean Marcou, head of a thinktank on Turkey, said on his blog (

Some analysts suspect the government of taking advantage of these events to muzzle the nationalist opposition, and instead pursue a hidden agenda to Islamicise the country.

“If we are pushed to the edge, we will make public what we know”, Basbug threatened in an interview last week.

Such comments have led observers to question what revelations might come to light, Marcou says.

Erdogan’s government is pursuing very active “zero-sum game” diplomacy with all of Turkey’s neighbours.

The so-called “two and a half wars” in the nineties, with Turkey’s main threats coming from Syria, Greece and the Kurdish uprising, have lost their pertinence.

Relations with Athens and Damascus have notably improved while the Kurdish conflict has become less intense.

“The army will rediscover its prestige and role as referee if Turkey falls back into an unstable coalition regime”, says Birand, but this is not the case at the moment, with Erdogan holding a comfortable majority in parliament.

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

New Dubai Mall Evacuated After Cracks Appear in Giant Aquarium

Part of the vast Dubai Mall has been evacuated after its giant aquarium developed a leak, a police official said today.

The aquarium, one of the largest tanks in the world at 167ft by 66ft, has hundreds of living animals including Sand Tiger sharks and rays.

It is thought to have developed a crack and a witness said people in part of the mall were evacuated and dozens of emergency vehicles were outside.

The police official, who declined to be identified, said: ‘There was a small problem, a simple crack, and the water leaked.’

Six divers entered the tank and appeared to be coordinating with workers outside the glass, while workers mopped up water from the floor.

Emaar’s chairman Mohammed Alabbar denied there was a leak in the aquarium, saying there was a ‘technical fault in the operating device,’ according to a statement carried on the country’s official news agency WAM.

But a witness said water had been leaking from a crack in the aquarium glass.

‘I saw a small crack in the aquarium glass and there was a little water coming out and a lot of water on the floor,’ said Ranjin, a 27-year old corporate secretary.

‘The police came and evacuated the area around the aquarium.’

Dubai Aquarium is planning to have more than 33,000 animals representing more than 85 species in the giant tank.

It also features an underwater zoo which has penguins, seals, crocodiles and water rats among its attractions.

It is operated by Emaar Properties and also features the world’s largest acrylic viewing panel.

One million people had already visited the aquarium seven months after it had opened.

This is the latest in a string of problems for the aquarium.

Shortly before its opening in October 2008, over ten per cent of the sharks in the tank were been killed in attacks that marred the build-up to its unveiling.

Sand Tiger sharks killed at least 40 smaller reef sharks and were aggressive towards divers working on final preparations in the giant tank.

Dubai Mall, the world’s largest shopping mall by total area, contains around 600 retailers and had over 37 million visitors in its first year of operation.

It now has an average of 750,000 visitors every week. As well as shops and restaurants, the Mall also contains an ice rink and cinema.

Emaar Properties, the Arab world’s largest developer, came under scrutiny earlier this month when it closed the observation deck at Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest tower and the firm’s flagship project, just a month after its fanfare opening.

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

Nuclear: Iran: Syrian President Receives Ahmadinejad

(ANSAmed) — DAMASCUS, FEBRUARY 25 — A Syrian-Iranian summit meeting has got underway in Damascus, with Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad and his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad having set in motion talks, reports the official Syrian press agency SANA. The meeting between Assad and Ahmadinejad has begun a few hours after Washington, by way of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, urged Damascus to “begin distancing itself” from Iran. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Al-Muallim had instead said on Saturday that Damascus intended to get involved in “constructive dialogue” between Iran and the United States in order to try and find a diplomatic agreement on the nuclear issue, reiterating however Syria’s opposition to the inflicting of new sanctions on Iran. The Iranian president’s last visit to Damascus had been in May 2009. For the past 30 years, Syria and Iran have been linked by a close strategic-military alliance, and both support the Lebanese Shia movement Hezbollah and radical Palestinian factions as a part of their anti-Israeli stance. In the context of the political and diplomatic thaw between the United States and Syria, sealed by the return of a US ambassador to Damascus after a five-year absence, Clinton said yesterday evening that during a recent visit to the Syrian capital by US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, the US had “indicated to Syrians the need for greater cooperation with Iraq, an end to interference in Lebanon and weapons supply to Hezbollah, as well as a resumption in Israeli-Palestinian talks.”(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Police Detain Several Turkish Military Generals in New Raids

Turkish police have searched the homes of two retired military generals and detained more than a dozen former and current military commanders for alleged links to the “Balyoz” (Sledgehammer) Operation.

The total of detainees nationwide was reported to be 48. Several high-ranking retired military officials have been taken into custody in this new wave of detainments related to the Ergenekon investigation into an suspected gang called Ergenekon alleged to have sought to topple the ruling government.

According to reports, the new round of detentions may be linked to the Balyoz plot, therefore possibly merging Balyoz and Ergenekon.

Balyoz is an alleged military coup plan against the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, written in 2003. According to Taraf, the military planned for drastic measures to cause unrest in the country in order to remove the AKP from power. Those measures included bombing two major mosques in Istanbul, an assault on a military museum by people disguised as fundamentalists and the raising of tension with Greece through the usual dogfights between the fighter planes of the two countries over the Aegean Sea. The allegations even include shooting down a Turkish plane and blaming it on Greece.

The reason for the detainments was still unclear early Monday evening, but private channel NTV reported that the detainees allegedly had the same signatures as those found on documents related to the Balyoz operation.

The retired generals taken into custody include former top Navy Cmdr. Özden Örnek, former top Air Force Cmdr. Ibrahim Firtina, former 1st Army commander Ergin Saygun, former South Seas Navy Cmdr. Lütfi Sancar, and generals Ayhan Poyraz, Engin Alan, Ümit Özcan, Ayhan Tas and Özer Karabulut.

Another 10 colonels were also reportedly detained in the same operation. So far detentions have taken place in Istanbul, Ankara, Bursa and Izmir. All of the detainees are expected to be brought to Istanbul. Seven detained officials, including Ibrahim Firtina, were brought to Istanbul from Ankara on a 1:30 p.m. flight and taken to the Istanbul Security Directorate from Sabiha Gökçen Airport. Firtina was previously questioned in the scope of the Ergenekon investigation and denied all allegations of being a coup plotter.

Özden Örnek is reported to have been taken to the police department’s Anti-Terror Unit in Istanbul after being subjected to medical examination alongside other detainees.

Çetin Dogan, whose signature was under the alleged Balyoz plan, was not detained after his house in Istanbul and villa in Bodrum were searched, though his lawyer said that there was a detention warrant out for him. Dogan has been very active since the Balyoz allegations appeared and has participated in many TV shows and has given interviews to several journalists, claiming that he signed a “military war game plan,” not a coup plot and the press version of Sledgehammer was forged.

Another retired general whose house in Istanbul was searched is Süha Tanyeli, former head of the Strategic Research Center of the General Staff.

The searched locations have reported to be 20 in various provinces; among them is the veteran’s support group Mehmetçik Foundation. After six hours, documents were confiscated and taken to the security directorate for further inspection.

Top general delays trip

Turkish military chief Ilker Basbug delayed an official visit to Egypt as police detained the retired military officials for suspected involvement in the alleged coup plot, CNNTürk and daily Radikal reported.

Minister of the Interior Besir Atalay told reporters he is following developments very closely and that the detainments are being carried out at the request of the judiciary.

Tensions between the military and the government have been on the rise ever since police began detaining military personnel in the course of alleged coup plot investigations.

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

Reports: UAE Threatens to Boot Canadian Military Base Over Airline Flight Dispute

Long-frustrated in its attempt to win increased landing rights for Canada flights, the lobbying efforts by state-owned carrier Emirates appear to have taken a politically charged turn, according to media reports out today. The National Post of Toronto writes “the United Arab Emirates has increased pressure on Ottawa in its efforts to get additional landing rights for its commercial airlines by tying a direct link between a positive outcome to those talks and the continued operation of Canada’s forward operating base in the Middle East.”

The Globe and Mail of Toronto says the base in question “was established after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks” and “serves as a crucial jump-off point to Afghanistan.” The paper adds that an agreement between Canada and the UAE regarding the use of the base “is set to be renegotiated by mid-2010, threatening the future of the desert base that offers logistics support to troops in Afghanistan.”

The National Post adds “a senior government official has confirmed to the National Post that UAE officials have made it clear to their Canadian counterparts that if Emirates and (fellow UAE-carrier) Etihad Airways are not granted additional access to the Canadian market, the renewal of Canada’s lease on its ‘Camp Mirage’ in the Middle East could be in jeopardy when it comes up for renewal in June.”

Currently, Emirates and Etihad are allowed a combined six weekly flights into Canada, according to the National Post, which adds “Emirates has been the most aggressive in its lobbying efforts.” Emirates currently flies three flights a week between Dubai and Toronto, but says it wants to gradually increase that to twice-daily service — as well as launch routes between Dubai and both Vancouver and Calgary, according to a previous report in the Globe and Mail. Etihad flies three weekly flights between Abu Dhabi and Toronto.

Canadian officials say demand between Canada and the UAE does not warrant increasing flight rights, though some local officials in British Columbia and Alberta — provinces that would likely see new flights — don’t necessarily agree. “Airlines such as Emirates have an enormous ability to add to our economic vibrancy, business and tourism activity,” Calgary Mayor Dave Bronconnier says in a statement quoted by the Calgary Herald. “This is why we will continue to seek and support more competition and more non-stop flights for our community.”

As for Canada’s Camp Mirage base, the National Post notes its “role will certainly be diminished after Canada’s 2011 exit date in Afghanistan.” Until then, however, the National Post says “it will serve a critical role.” Stay tuned …

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Russia Warns West Against “Crippling” Iran Sanctions

MOSCOW (Reuters) — A senior Russian diplomat warned the West on Wednesday against trying to paralyze Iran by targeting the Islamic Republic’s energy and banking sectors with crippling sanctions.

Russia has in recent weeks signaled growing frustration with Iran over its nuclear program, though Moscow has given few indications about what sanctions it might be prepared to sign up to in the United Nations Security Council.

The United States has said it hopes to see sanctions against Iran in a matter of weeks and Israel has pressed Russia to back crippling sanctions, though the Kremlin has steered clear of openly supporting calls for further U.N. sanctions.

Oleg Rozhkov, the deputy director of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s security affairs and disarmament department, said Moscow would only consider sanctions aimed at strengthening the nuclear non-proliferation regime.

“Call them what you want — crippling or paralyzing — we are not got going to work on sanctions or measures which could lead to the political or economic or financial isolation of this country,” Rozhkov told reporters in Moscow.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Syria-Iran: No More Entrance Visas, Response to US

(ANSAmed) — DAMASCUS — Syria and Iran have decided to facilitate the movement of citizens between the two countries by cancelling the restrictions represented by the request for entrance visas. The announcement came from the Syrian president, Bashar al Assad, and his Iranian counterpart, Mahmud Ahmadinejad during a shared press conference today in Damascus. “This decision is the best response to those who ask Iran and Syria to keep a distance from each other”, Assad said, commenting on the declarations left yesterday evening by the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, who affirmed having asked Damascus to keep their distance from the Islamic Republic. The Syrian president also said that he was “surprised” by the declarations left by the important American official. Regarding the question of Iran’s nuclear ambitions, Assad said that “Iran has the right to continue with its programme to enrich uranium for pacific ends”. “Attacks on Iran over its programme,” stressed Syrian leader, “seem like a new operation of Western colonialism and control in the region”. United in Damascus officially for the Islamic Mawlid festivities, the two leaders stressed the will to “strengthen bilateral relations”. The signing of the first strategic-military agreement between the two countries dates back to 1980, and has always been confirmed and stretched to the economic and cultural sectors.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Turkey-France: Minister, Economies Do Not Compete

(ANSAmed) — PARIS, FEBRUARY 11 — France and Turkey were not rivals, but had economic structures that completed each other, Anatolia news agency reports quoting Turkish State Minister for Foreign Trade, Zafer Caglayan, as saying. Caglayan told reporters Thursay that he communicated this position to French Minister of Economy, Industry and Employment Christine Lagarde during his meeting with her. He said the two countries would form a joint commission to discuss bilateral cooperation potentials and potential for cooperation in third countries. “A working group from France will come to Turkey to work out the technicalities for joint and reciprocal investments on February 18. We will seize the opportunity to go over these technicalities with French Secretary of state for Foreign Trade Anne-Marie Idrac during her upcoming visit to Turkey on Februay 25 and 26,” said Caglayan. Caglayan said Turkish economy showed signs of recovery in the aftermath of the crisis noting that in December Turkey’s exports recorded a 30.3% of rise, with industrial production also picking up with 25.2% rise in the same month and auto exports recording a 47% year on year increase in January. He said the Turkish banking sector did not support the real sector as much as it should, noting that if it had extended the needed support, it might have been a brighter picture. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Turkey May Import Bread in the Future, Expert

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, FEBRUARY 22 — Turkey may have to import bread if consumption and costs for producers continue to increase at their current rates, daily Hurriyet reports quoting the chairman of the Agriculturalists’ Association of Turkey. Ibrahim Yetkin said a new report on the state of Turkey’s bread shows that supply might not meet demand in the long run if improvements in the sector are not made as soon as possible. He said the report also indicates rising bread prices are more than an economic problem, they are a social problem as well. “There is a direct correlation between poverty and demand for bread,” said Yetkin. “Bread consumption increased 10% during the crisis period across the country, but the increase was much higher in suburban areas, which shows that people at low income levels are suffering from malnutrition.” To reinforce his argument regarding the possibility of importing bread in the future, Yetkin said unless precautions are taken against rising costs for producers, many wheat growers may withdraw from the sector and use their land for other fruit or vegetable that requires less labor but ensure higher profits. “If the key suppliers decrease in number while the consumption rate increases at the same time, this will destroy the supply-demand balance,” he said. Agreeing with Yetkin on the possible imbalance between supply and demand in the future, Ali Ulusoylu, owner of Ulusoylu Agriculture in Izmir, told the Hurriyet Daily News that the wheat sector cannot survive without urgent interventions. “The increase in the cost of electricity, water, fuel and pesticides force wheat growers to increase the selling prices, which directly reflects on bread prices,” said Ulusoylu, adding that the wheat growers cannot be blamed for such higher prices. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Turkey: Attempted Coup, Summit With President Gul Tomorrow

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, FEBRUARY 24 — President of the Republic of Turkey Abdullah Gul has called a meeting tomorrow at 11.00 am local time with Premier Tayyip Erdogan and Turkey’s Chief of Staff, Ilker Basbug, reports agency Anadolu. Several sources say that the three men will discuss the latest developments in the country after the arrest of 49 high-level army officers over their involvement in an a plot to overthrow the Government of the radical Islamic Justice and Development Party (AKP) in 2003, which came to power one year before. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

U.S. Will Use Banks to Thwart Iran Nukes

Administration frustrated on talks, but reluctant on bombings

The Obama administration, having failed in its first year to reach an entente with Iran, will toughen U.S. policy by applying unprecedented pressures on that regime as it continues its quest to become a nuclear power.

Nonetheless, President Obama for now is ruling out an aerial bombing campaign against Iranian nuclear facilities and is choosing instead to further isolate Iran from the international financial system.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Yemen: War in North: Children Victimised by Violence and Humanitarian Crisis

The war in northern Yemen between the Houthi separatists and the central government has killed 187 children since last August according to the local NGO ‘Seyaj’, which aims to improve the rights of minors, in a report specifying that “71% of the 187 victims have died because of the violence, while others have died because of lack of food or medicines”. Seyaj has also denounced the use of minors by both sides in the conflict, noting that in the provinces of Saada and Amran, where the conflict is concentrated, there are over 73,000 homeless children exposed to disease and malnutrition. Moreover, in the northern provinces, only 3% of school age children have access to education, also because 17 of the 700 schools in the region have been destroyed or damaged and 30 of them used for military purposes. The NGO demands the creation of an independent committee to investigate crimes and violations perpetrated during the war and their impact on children. As of last February 12, after an exacerbation of the conflict that began in 2004, and also drawing Saudi military intervention, the separatists and the government have reached an accord for a ceasefire and a truce.

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


Supreme Muslim Council of Russia to Stop Extremism

The new body will play coordinating role. It will be co-chaired by the leaders of three existing Muslim organisations. Medvedev and Putin want to promote a Russian way for Islam.

Moscow (AsiaNews/Agencies) — Russian Muslim religious leaders have agreed to set up the first body to represent jointly the various Islamic organisations that exist in the Russian Federation. Yesterday, representatives from the Central Muslim Board of Russia, the Russian Mufti Council and the North Caucasus Muslim Coordinating Centre agreed to establish the Supreme Muslim Coordinating Council of Russia.

A group led by Saint Petersburg Mufti Jafar Ponchayev reached the decision. Talgat Tadzhuddin, head of the Central Muslim Board of Russia, made the initial proposal. The new organisation will not however be legally registered.

“In recognition of the absolute necessity to unify the Ummah, the working group is of the opinion that forming a single organisation is currently impossible and unacceptable,” the religious leaders said in a press release issued yesterday. The Supreme Council will instead be co-chaired by representatives from existing national Islamic organisations; they are Mufti Tadzhuddin, Mufti Council Chief Ravil Gainutdin, and North Caucasus Muslim Coordinating Centre Chief Ismail Berdiyev. The chair will rotated among the members. In the future, more muftis could join.

Analysts and the authorities have welcomed the initiative to unify in a single coordinating agency all Islamic groups in Russia. For their point of view, the decision provides an opportunity to control and contain extremist tendencies that have fuelled separatist movements, especially in the Caucasus.

In recent years, various Arab countries have allowed the construction of Orthodox churches on their territory. The Kremlin and Moscow Patriarchate have also been quite active in building bridges with the Islamic world.

On several occasions, President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin have met Muslim leaders and expressed their government’s intention of promoting a Russian way for Islam, a religion that claims 20 million members or 16 per cent of the population of the Russian Federation.

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

South Asia

Bangladesh: Military Against Christians in Baghaichhari, Three Churches on Fire, Thousands Flee

Local Christians are in shock after an attack by about a hundred soldiers on 19 February. About 1,800 people are hiding in the forest, fearing more violence. Police chief pledges security, but for Christian man, they are “meaningless words”.

Dhaka (AsiaNews) — Christians living in Baghaichhari Upazila (district) in southeastern Bangladesh are shaken by an attack against them carried out by about a hundred soldiers. Around 10 pm on 19 February, soldiers beat up people and set fire to three churches, a Buddhist pagoda and 41 homes. They had moved into the area, ostensibly to stop clashes between indigenous tribal groups and Bangladeshi settlers. At present, more than 500 families for a total of some 1,800 people have fled into the forest fearing more attacks.

Clinton Chakama, a member of the Gongarama Baptist Church, told AsiaNews that he was “still scared” just to think about “the sudden attack by the army”. At the beginning, “they started beating us, then poured liquid fuel on the church. We tried to stop them but they started shooting at us,” he said.

After the attack, Christians fled into the nearby forest. “Many people were hurt,” Chakama said. “Some tribal leaders (pictured) organised demonstrations”.

As a result of the attack, the army torched the Baptist Church in Gongarama, that of Joralchori and the Christ Church in Desimon Chara, in Baghaichhari Upazila, about 400 kilometres from the capital Dhaka.

Soldiers are believed to have attacked a fourth church and a Buddhist pagoda as well. A Protestant clergyman in Mangamati, on condition of anonymity, said that “the situation is very tense; 41 homes have been set on fire [. . .], more than 500 families for about 1,800 people are now living in the deep jungle.”

The military moved in to stop clashes between local tribal minorities and Bangladeshi settlers. However, by its actions, it has exacerbated tensions. The conflict between the two groups began as a dispute over land in the early 1980s. At that time, the Bangladeshi government tried to settle thousands of Bangladeshi, mostly flood victims, in the hill region of Chittagong, igniting the conflict.

On Tuesday, the military on government orders harassed a group of journalists in order to prevent them from reporting the episode.

In addition, Clinton Chakama reported that suffering by locals includes “more than 100 children who are ill from water-borne diseases caused by pollution”. All of them are in need of urgent medical care.

Fr Robert Gonsalves, from St Joseph’s Church in Rangamati, said he and his congregation are praying for the “persecuted”. He stressed that the Church is close to the Christians and Buddhists victimised in the attack. He also insisted that Lent is also a time to keep in mind “forgiveness and the desire for justice and peace.”

Yesterday, the police chief in Rangamati visited the scene of the attack along with government officials and a minister. He said, “We shall do our best to guarantee security”. He did not however answer questions addressed by AsiaNews about the church burning and the harassment Christians had to endure.

“They promised food and security,” Clinton Chakama said, “but we know that those are meaningless words. They are not going to take any steps against the army”, which has a past of forcibly seizing land, torturing people and raping women.

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

Ex-NATO Chief: ‘The Netherlands Will Feel the Effects’

Former Nato secretary general Jaap de Hoop Scheffer regrets the end of the Dutch military mission in Uruzgan. He also blames Nato for not getting across how the Afghanistan deployment relates to the fight against terrorism.

It hurts Jaap de Hoop Scheffer that the Netherlands will be the first Nato country to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan. Bad for the Netherlands, bad for Nato and only good for the Taliban, De Hoop Scheffer said in an interview with NRC Handelsblad on Tuesday

Still, the former secretary general of the transatlantic alliance is not only looking to others in placing blame. “I look at myself as well. In Europe, we have failed to convince people the military mission to Afghanistan is necessary to defend ourselves against terrorism. I am convinced it is. But the Dutch government, and I myself as secretary general, have failed to present this case in a convincing manner. Now that is coming back to haunt us.”

Five years as Nato’s top dog

De Hoop Scheffer was Nato’s secretary general from 2004 to 2009. The 61-year-old had risen through the ranks of the Dutch Christian democratic party CDA, for which he served as the country’s foreign minister from 2002 until he was appointed at Nato. Today, he teaches international politics and the practice of diplomacy at Leiden University.

The last thing he wanted to do, De Hoop Scheffer said, was join the chorus of former Dutch politicians who have been commenting the fall of the Dutch cabinet, He did however, want to talk about about the international repercussions the Dutch retreat from Afghanistan will bring.

“I did not stay up till four o’clock in the morning to see how the crisis would unfold,” De Hoop Scheffer said, recalling the fall of the Dutch government in the early hours of Saturday morning. “When I turned on the radio at seven it hit me: the Netherlands will feel the effects of this.”

“In the diplomatic world, these effects are subtle. After Spain’s 2004 change of government, the new prime minister [José Luis Rodriguez] Zapatero withdrew the Spanish troops from Iraq. The American government at the time did not appreciate this. Much later, an excellent Spanish general was proposed as a possible new chair for the Nato’s military committee. He didn’t get the job,” De Hoop Scheffer said.

‘US could always count on Dutch’

“The transatlantic relationship has been a leitmotiv running through Dutch foreign policy since the Second World War. American administrations knew they could always count on the Netherlands. This leads me to believe that [American president Barack] Obama will be very disappointed over what has happened here.”

“Currently, 43 allied countries are active in Afghanistan and the Netherlands is the only one leaving now. One should not overstate the consequences this will have. The appreciation the Netherlands has earned will not disappear overnight. But this is not beneficial to our international standing.”

“On Monday, the news was on the front pages of both the Financial Times and the International Herald Tribune, the newspapers read by people that matter. Both papers voiced the fear that the coalition’s steadfastness has been affected by the move.”

“I certainly hope that [Dutch prime minister Jan Peter] Balkenende will be re-invited to the G20 summit, but this has definitely become less likely. The G20 is becoming an important financial and economic forum. It is important to show your face there.”

De Hoop Scheffer said he was grateful he did not have to endure the Dutch retreat from Afghanistan while still in office as Nato’s secretary general. “When the Netherlands debated extending the mission in 2007, I told The Hague they should not terminate the mission while I, a Dutchman, was in office. I felt it would be unacceptable.”

De Hoop Scheffer said he believed his successor, Anders Fogh Rasmussen of Denmark, is probably feeling ill at ease as well. “He wrote the letter requesting a smaller Dutch mission for another year in good faith. It was written in close coordination with the Dutch government. The Netherlands were practically sitting at his desk when he wrote it. It is quite a step from there to saying: ‘sorry secretary general, but the deal is off’. It is an affront. This is bad for the Nato’s standing.”

Later to be recognised

“Afghanistan is without a doubt Nato’s most important operation. It is the subject of constant discussion [at the headquarters] in Brussels. The Netherlands has a big say there. In meetings, the secretary general always recognises the most important countries first.” Dutch ministers were always among the first seven countries to be recognised by De Hoop Scheffer, he said.

“The Americans are not the only ones watching us closely, so are the Canadians, the English, Germans, Slovaks, Slovenians, Czechs, Hungarians and Polish. All these countries have troops in Afghanistan, and all of their government leaders are having a hard time finding public support for their deployment. Recent events in the Netherlands are definitely bad news for them. It will make it harder for these countries to maintain their forces in Afghanistan.”

Pushing member states to provide troops is part of the secretary-general’s job, De Hoop Scheffer said. “The ambassador tells you what the situation in his home country is. Then you call its minister of defence or foreign affairs and ask what the problem is. You tell them: ‘You aren’t leaving, are you?’ They will then respond, ‘I’ll see what I can do.’ After a while you call again, and they will say: Jaap, you really need to call the prime minister now, or the president, this is above my pay grade. Then I would do that. The same must have happened between Rasmussen and the Dutch government.”

“Sometimes all this going back and forth over the phone yields no result at all. In such a case I would express regret and a minister would ask me to go light on him in the press. Other times, we would reach an agreement. Then the secretary general then sends such a letter, hoping it will help the country.”

True to his word?

In 2007, the Netherlands agreed to extend its mission to Afghanistan only after De Hoop Scheffer had confirmed, both personally and in writing, that it was absolutely clear to Nato the last Dutch soldiers would leave Uruzgan in 2010. What was that confirmation really worth?

“Circumstance have changed in many ways: the US has a new president, who has called the Afghan was a ‘necessity’ and sent extra troops. Other countries have also sent additional soldiers. A new strategy has been formed. This leaves national politicians with a choice: take all this into account and make new plans, or not. The Netherlands failed to make that choice.”

“The Dutch exit is a moral booster for the Taliban. They have internet as well, and are definitely watching us. They are also pragmatic however, and will not for a minute think fewer soldiers will remain in Uruzgan. The Americans will probably take over from the Dutch there.”

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Indonesia: Jakarta Taxes Marriages With Foreigners: 50 Thousand Dollars to Marry Indonesian Women

The law aims to “protect” wives and children in cases of abandonment. The bill is supported by the Indonesian Council of Ulema and the money will be paid to Islamic banks. However, it does not apply to foreign women married to Indonesians.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) — Foreigners will have to pay at least 500 million Indonesian rupiah — about 50 thousand dollars — to marry a woman of the archipelago. The sum of money, payable to one of Islamic banks in the country, will serve to “protect” wives and children in divorce cases. This is spelled out in a bill currently before Parliament and strongly supported by the powerful Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI). The norm, however, does not apply to the Indonesian men who marry foreign women.

After the controversy that erupted in recent days about the proposal to punish unmarried couples and polygamy, although permitted in Islam, with prison and fines, comes another provision intended to provoke a fierce debate in Indonesia. The goal, explains the signatories of the Act, is to “ensure” a financial income to women and children, where the husband wishes to separate.

Mixed marriages between Indonesian women and foreign men — mainly from the Middle East — have become common practice in the country. Even in the entertainment world, including among soap-opera actresses and pop singers, there are numerous examples. According to the bill the money is to be paid “to an Islamic bank” — the Syariah banks — and “will be given to the women should the husband abandon his wife and children for unspecified reasons.”

The amount, says the text, shall be withdrawn only at the time of separation and help to ensure the survival of the family and children until they reach the 21st birthday. However, the law does not apply in cases of mixed marriages between Indonesian men and foreign women. In this case, the husband is not obliged to pay money and the wife is left to defend herself.

Amidan Kiai Hajj, head of the MUI, is among the bill’s strongest supporters, because it ensures “the welfare of wife and child in case of divorce.” The Muslim leader’s comment relates to the series of “ugly incidents” that have occurred recently in Borneo (Kalimantan). Many Indonesians have married foreign workers in the agricultural and industrial sectors, who — once they lost their jobs — return to their countries of origin, leaving their families “without any funds to ensure the survival of.” He stressed that the money “should be paid to Islamic banks.”

The bill has already met with considerable criticism, particularly among women from the world of showbiz. Julia Perez — a soap-opera actress — who previously dated a Frenchman and is now engaged to an Argentine, said she was “shocked” by the rule being considered by Parliament which she defines as “controversial”. An opinion shared by actress Feby Febiola (pictured), married to a Frenchman. Different the opinion of Ruhut Sitompul, of the governing Democrat Party, who supports a law “designed to protect women and children from harmful actions of the [foreigner] father.”

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

Taliban Happy to See Dutch Leave

A spokesman for the Islamist movement has said the Dutch have made a “very good decision” to retreat from Uruzgan.

It is “right and truthful the Dutch have now come to realise they should not sacrifice their lives to American goals”, Qari Yousef Ahmadi, a spokesperson for the Taliban in southern Afghanistan, told NRC Handelsblad in a telephone interview on Wednesday.

After the Dutch cabinet collapsed on Saturday, it has become inevitable the Netherlands will withdraw its mission of approximately 1,600 troops from the Afghan province. Nato and the US are disappointed the country does not want to extend its mission beyond the end of the year, but the Taliban are delighted, according to Ahmadi.

The Afghan Taliban have two ‘official’ spokesmen who claim responsibility when attacks are carried out by their comrades and are available for comment to the media regarding the Nato-mission and the Afghan government. Exactly how and to what extent they are connected to the Quetta Shura, the Taliban’s leadership thought to be based in the Pakistani town of Quetta, is unclear.

Ahmadi called on “other countries sacrificing lives to American goals,” in Afghanistan to “follow the way of the Dutch”. The Netherlands is the first of 43 countries participating in the current Nato mission to Afghanistan to retreat from the country. “The Dutch have come to realise: this is not to our benefit, our objectives do not lie with this country, so why sacrifice ourselves?” the spokesman said.

On behalf of the Taliban he said they do not fear the US, which will probably assume the leading role the Dutch now have in Uruzgan, will put up a tougher fight than the Netherlands did. “Each country that comes to Uruzgan awaits the same fortune. Everyone who has taken up arms against the mujahideen in Afghanistan has fought weakly,” Ahmadi said. The Taliban use the term ‘mujahideen’ (struggler or freedom-fighter) to refer to themselves. “They are not up to the task,” Ahmadi said, speaking of the Nato soldiers. “They only study how they should fight here. They are taking notes.”

Speaking in Berlin on Wednesday, Richard Holbrooke, the US special envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan, said the news of the Dutch retreat brought him “great sadness”. “It is disappointing to see such a decision unfold,” Holbrooke said, adding he hoped this decision might yet be adjusted.

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

Far East

Concerns Grow Over China’s Sale of US Bonds

Evidence is mounting that Chinese sales of US Treasury bonds over recent months are intended as a warning shot to Washington over escalating political disputes rather than being part of a routine portfolio shift as thought at first.


China’s power is growing so fast that it now feels confident enough to raise the stakes on a string of festering conflicts with the US. It has threatened to impose sanctions on any US firm that takes part in a $6.4bn arms deal for Taiwan agreed by the White House. This is a tougher response that on any previous occasion and raises the spectre of a trade war over Boeing, the key supplier.

“Chinese leaders are deploying their reserves to try and pressure the US to stop haranguing China about its currency and trade policies, and to back off from interference in its domestic issues,” said professor Eswar Prasad, ex-head of the IMF’s China division.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

South Korea Court Rules Death Penalty Legal

South Korea’s highest court has ruled the death penalty does not violate the constitution.

The country has 59 prisoners on death row — but the last executions there were in 1997, before an unofficial moratorium to allow for debate.

Rights group Amnesty International said it was “deeply disappointed” by the ruling, and urged Seoul to fully abolish death sentences.

But analysts say it is unlikely executions will now resume.

The ruling follows a case filed by a 72-year-old man convicted of killing four tourists at sea in 2007, who said the death penalty infringed his constitutional guarantee of dignity.

But the Constitutional Court ruled, by five votes to four, it was “a legal punishment that can deter crime for the sake of the public”.

“The death penalty is a kind of punishment that the current constitution expects, and cannot be seen as going beyond the limit of the constitution in terms of (human) rights to life,” the ruling said.

Executing serious criminals helped “protect innocent ordinary citizens and significant public interests”, Yonhap news agency quoted the court as saying.

But the judges had said the sentence should only apply in “exceptional cases” and caution was needed to ensure it was no abused, Yonhap reported.

It is the second time the court has ruled in favour of the death penalty, having said in 1996 the social climate was not right to abolish it.

However, South Korea’s parliament must rule on whether to abolish or reinstate executions.

A justice ministry spokesman told the AFP news agency: “I don’t think there is anyone within the government who can say for sure whether executions will resume or not.”

South Korea executed 23 people in a short period in 1997, but no death sentences have been carried out since Kim Dae-Jung became president in February 1998.

Mr Kim had himself been sentenced to death, by the military government in 1980, but his sentence was commuted and he was later pardoned.

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

Sub-Saharan Africa

Mali: Released Muslims, Algiers Also Recalls Ambassador

(ANSAmed) — ALGIERS, FEBRUARY 23 — Following Mauritania, Algeria also recalled “for consultations” its ambassador in Mali “following the decision by Mali’s government to release four terrorists”, including two Algerians. This was one of the requests made by the al Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb for the release of Pierre Camatte, one of the six hostages held by the terrorist organisation together with Sergio Cicala and wife and three Spanish cooperation workers. The announcement was made by the spokesperson of Algeria’s ministry of Foreign Affairs who specified that “the Algerian government has decided to recall its ambassador for consultations” following “the release of the four men jailed by Bamako under the false pretext that they have been tried and have done their time in jail”. The statement indicates that Algeria “forcefully condemns and complains about this non-friendly attitude by the Mali government”. The same source added that the decision to set free terrorists wanted by neighbouring Countries marks “a dangerous development for security and stability in the Sahel-Sahara region and serves the interest of terrorists groups who are working in the region in the name of al Qaeda”. Yesterday Nouakchott also decided to recall its ambassador to protest against the release from jail of four fundamentalists (one from Mauritania, one citizen of Burkina Faso, and the two Algerians). (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Somalia: Insurgents Battle Over Towns in South

At least six people were killed in fighting yesterday in the town of Dobley, in the Lower Juba region, where insurgents of the Hizbul Islam movement seized control. According to local sources, the other insurgent group that controls most of southern Somalia, the Harakat al-shabab mujahideen also only known as al-Shabab (youths), is apparently withdrawing from the area. Dobley, situated a few kilometres from the border with Kenya, was already disputed in the past by the two groups after a period of alliance, during which they battled together against troops loyal to the Somali transitional government; the two groups are now battling for control of a number of southern towns. A spokesman for the Hizbul Islam announced new offensives against other towns controlled by the rival group. Fighting was also reported more to the north, in Mogadishu, where at least three soldiers were killed in an exchange of fire for control over a strategic street that connects the Km4 area with the presidential palace. Aid groups over the past days expressed serious concern over the recent climb in violence in the war-ravaged Horn of African nation that has led to a massive exodus. “Civilians continue to bear the brunt of conflict and insecurity in the country”, said Mark Bowden, the UN humanitarian coordinator for Somalia, adding that since February over 80 civilians have been killed and over 8,000 abandoned their homes, many seeking refuge in the Afgoye Corridor, where there are already more than 366-thousand displaced.

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

Latin America

Death of Dissident Orlando Zapata Tamayo Leads to Clampdown in Cuba

Cuban security forces rounded up political activists across the island yesterday to prevent protests at the funeral of a leading dissident who died after an 82-day hunger strike.

Orlando Zapata Tamayo, 42, a plumber and bricklayer declared a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International, stopped eating solid food on December 3 to protest what he said were repeated beatings by guards at the Kilo 7 prison in the eastern province of Camagüey.

As his condition worsened last week, he was put on board an ambulance and driven to a clinic at the Combinado del Este prison in Havana where authorities administered fluids intravenously to try to keep him alive. He died on Tuesday after being moved again to the Hermanos Ameijeiras hospital, one of the best in Cuba.

“They have assassinated Orlando Zapata Tamayo. My son’s death has been a premeditated murder,” his mother, Reina Luisa Tamayo, told El Nuevo Herald, the Spanish-language edition of the Miami Herald.

[Return to headlines]

US Refuses to Endorse British Sovereignty in Falklands Oil Dispute

Washington refused to endorse British claims to sovereignty over the Falkland Islands yesterday as the diplomatic row over oil drilling in the South Atlantic intensified in London, Buenos Aires and at the UN.

Despite Britain’s close alliance with the US, the Obama Administration is determined not to be drawn into the issue. It has also declined to back Britain’s claim that oil exploration near the islands is sanctioned by international law, saying that the dispute is strictly a bilateral issue.

Argentina appealed to the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki Moon, last night to intervene in the dispute, a move Britain adamantly opposes.

“The Secretary-General knows about the issue. He is not happy to learn that the situation is worsening,” Jorge Taiana, the Argentine Foreign Minister, said after meeting Mr Ban in New York.

“We have asked the Secretary-General, within the framework of his good offices, to stress to Britain the need to abstain from further unilateral acts.”

A top UN aide acknowledged, however, that Mr Ban would not be able to mediate because of Britain’s opposition.

Sir Mark Lyall Grant, Britain’s Ambassador to the UN, said: “As British ministers have made clear, the UK has no doubt about its sovereignty over the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and the Sandwich Islands . . . We are also clear that the Falkland Islands Government is entitled to develop a hydrocarbons industry within its waters, and we support this legitimate business in Falklands’ territory.”

Senior US officials insisted that Washington’s position on the Falklands was one of longstanding neutrality. This is in stark contrast to the public backing and vital intelligence offered by President Reagan to Margaret Thatcher once she had made the decision to recover the islands by force in 1982.

“We are aware not only of the current situation but also of the history, but our position remains one of neutrality,” a State Department spokesman told The Times. “The US recognises de facto UK administration of the islands but takes no position on the sovereignty claims of either party.”

Kevin Casas-Zamora, a Brookings Institution analyst and former vice-president of Costa Rica, said that President Reagan’s support for Britain in 1982 “irked a lot of people in Latin America”.

The Obama Administration “is trying to split the difference as much as it can because it knows that coming round to the British position would again create a lot of ill will in the region”, he said.

British officials in Washington said that they were comfortable with the US response to the dispute, but indicated that any American support for mediated negotiations would not be well received. It was “up to the islanders whether they want mediation or not”, one official said.

Britain has boosted the islands’ defences since the conflict, Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope, the First Sea Lord, said last night. “We have built a massive runway. We have emplaced forces on the ground, we have sophisticated early warning systems. It is a different package. To compare the way we dealt with the issues in 1982 with today is nonsense,” he said.

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


Australia Sets Spies on People Smugglers

Australia is setting its domestic spy agency on people smuggling, handing the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation greater powers and allowing it to operate overseas.

The Government in Canberra is also boosting co-operation with Malaysia — another key link in the people-smuggling chain — improving intelligence-sharing, immigration controls and the interception of smugglers’ operations.

The moves emerged yesterday as Attorney-General Robert McClelland introduced new laws that will widen ASIO’s brief and introduce tough new penalties, and as Home Affairs Minister Brendan O’Connor met Malaysian counterparts in Sydney.

The Government’s drive to clamp down on people smuggling has been pushed by a new wave of boats carrying asylum seekers from Indonesia, straining detention facilities on Christmas Island and raising a political storm in Australia.

The Opposition claims the influx has been sparked by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s relaxation of the tough regime imposed by conservative Liberal predecessor John Howard.

But introducing the new laws to Parliament yesterday, McClelland said a global surge in asylum seekers was being driven by conflicts and turmoil in Afghanistan, the Middle East and Sri Lanka.

He said the most recent report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimated there were 42 million forcibly displaced people worldwide at the end of 2008, including 15.2 million mandated refugees and 827,000 asylum seekers.

The new laws will enable ASIO to specifically target people smugglers and other serious border threats, and will change the definition of “foreign intelligence” to allow the organisation and other national security agencies to collect people-smuggling intelligence overseas.

ASIO is at present not able to directly act against people smuggling and can only use and pass on information it has indirectly obtained as part of its counterterrorism operations.

The new legislation will allow it to specifically work against people smugglers, supported by extended interception and surveillance powers and the ability to collect foreign intelligence.

The gathering of foreign intelligence under present laws is restricted to information relating to foreign Governments and political organisations relevant to the defence of Australia or the conduct of the nation’s international affairs.

“This position no longer adequately reflects the contemporary threats to Australia’s national interests,” McClelland said. “In an increasingly interconnected global community, activities such as people smuggling are usually undertaken by non-state actors, and [the new law] will enable information about foreign individuals or groups operating without Government support to be collected.”

The legislation also introduces a range of new offences, including providing material support for people smuggling, which will carry a maxi-mum penalty of 10 years’ jail and/or a fine of A$110,000 ($123,563).

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

Immigration Minister Admits His Children Have ‘Suffered’ Because of Migration

The immigration minister has admitted that his own children have ‘suffered’ because of the number of foreigners who have flooded into Britain.

In an extraordinary declaration, gaffe-prone Phil Woolas accepted the influx of migrants under Labour has taken a toll on local communities and services.

Confronted by an unemployed man on a BBC2 Newsnight special, he said: ‘We recognise that. My own family… children have suffered from that.’

Mr Woolas, who has two sons, has a house in Chiswick, south west London, and Oldham, Lancashire, which is his constituency.

It was not clear whether the minister was talking about class sizes or the pressure placed by migrants on school places or some other issue.

Shadow home secretary Chris Grayling said: ‘The biggest impact from immigration in recent years has been on public services.

‘It seems extraordinary to have the immigration minister now admitting that — and from his own experience — but yet still defending the policy that caused the problems in the first place.’

It is the latest in a string of blunders for Mr Woolas.

He was condemned as ‘deeply insensitive’ last December after claiming immigration officials were ‘putting their lives on the line’ for their country.

He said UK Border Agency staff were ‘very brave’ as he defended bonus payouts of more than £10,000 each for 29 senior officials.

Just a month earlier, he was attacked for saying British troops were in Afghanistan partly to help control the number of immigrants heading to Britain — on the day five UK soldiers were killed there by a rogue policeman.

In May, he was humiliated when he was ambushed by Joanna Lumley over the plight of the Gurkhas. In hilarious scenes, the actress sought him out in Westminster and frogmarched him to a live press conference for a very public dressing down.

His bizarre declaration came as new official figures revealed the number of foreigners given UK passports has soared.

A total of 203,865 people were handed British citizenship in 2009 — an increase of 58 per cent on the previous year.

Tens of thousands more immigrants were also given the right to settle in the UK, with the total up 30 per cent to more than 190,000.

Quarterly immigration figures, published by the Office for National Statistics, also showed a 30 per cent increase in student visa numbers last year compared to 2008.

In the final three months of 2009, 61,715 student visas were issued — an astonishing rise of 92 per cent on the same period in 2008.

The figures prompted questions over the effectiveness of the new points-based system for student visas.

Separate figures showed applications by asylum seekers arriving in the UK had dropped off, 30 per cent down on the previous year at 4,765.

Whitehall documents revealed this week confirm Labour encouraged mass immigration despite voters being against it.

The Government said the public stance was down to ‘racism’ and ministers were told to try to alter the population’s attitude.

The approach was unveiled after a document from 2000 prepared by the Cabinet Office and Home Office was finally disclosed in full under freedom of information rules.

It showed that ministers were advised that only the ill-educated and those who had never met a migrant were opposed to immigration.

They were also told that large-scale immigration would bring increases in crime, but they concealed these concerns from the public.

Sections of the paper, which underpinned Labour policies that admitted between two and three million immigrants to Britain in less than a decade, have already been made public.

These have showed that Labour aimed to use immigration not only for economic reasons but also to change the social make-up of the country.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Italy: Unexplainable Controls at Milan Asylum Seekers Centre

“For the first time today, after nearly 10 years of activity, at opening time our volunteers found outside the Centre an army patrol vehicle with two soldiers and a Carabiniere (Italian military police)”, denounced yesterday in a statement the NAGA (Milanese association for medical, social and legal assistance to illegal immigrants), regarding the presence of security forces outside the centre for assistance and socialisation of asylum seekers, refugees and victims of torture, opened in Milan in 2001. “The security forces asked stay permits to all the foreign citizens at the centre, who being asylum seekers and refugees were all in possession of documents. No justification was given at all for the visit”, added the statement, expressing “serious concern” over the episode. “We denounce a practice and policy that continuously criminalises immigration and manages, at least over the past decade, to imprint in the minds of Italians an abstract idea of national identity”, said Pietro Massarotto, president of NAGA, also reminding of the recent “obscene persecution of Roma citizens, evicted from Segrate and then followed anywhere they found refuge”.

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

Netherlands: CDA Plan to Tackle Immigrant Youth Crime

The Christian Democratic party would like to introduce a sort of special community service for ethnic minority youths who commit crimes, news agency ANP reports.

For example, hassling women and calling them prostitutes could be punished under the new regime, CDA MP Sybrand van Haersma Buma is reported as saying. The measure is included in a CDA policy document on immigration and integration published on Monday.

The new punishment would consist of rigid after-school programmes in a special institute which would teach the youths how to behave, ANP said.

In addition, youths who were picked up after an offence should spend a couple of days in the cells, rather than be released straight away, ANP quoted the CDA as saying.

The ANP report did not say if native Dutch teenagers would also fall under the new regime.


The party also wants more restrictions on marriage-based immigration but says the IT specialist would still be welcome, ANP reports. And there should be more emphasis on learning Dutch and less focus on immigrants’ country of origin.

‘You can see that with all the tv satellite dishes,’ Van Haersma Buma is was quoted as saying. ‘That is not a way to build a society.’

The MP denied that the growing popularity of anti-immigration MP Geert Wilders had influenced the CDA position.

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

Number of Immigrants Applying for British Citizenship Jumps 30% in Just Three Months

More than 44,000 British passports were handed out to foreigners in just three months as the number of applications for citizenship soared 30 per cent.

Latest Home Office figures reveal that 51,315 applications were made for citizenship in the final quarter of last year — a massive rise from the 39,325 requests made for the same period in 2008.

The number of immigrants granted UK passports rose 15 per cent from 38,955 to 44,870. It is much higher than the previous record average of 41,000 passports handed out each quarter in 2007.

A fall in the number of workers from Poland given permission to work in the UK was offset by a sharp rise in the numbers coming from the Baltic states of Latvia and Lithuania.

While the approved initial applicants from Poland under the worker registration scheme fell from 16,970 to 12,125, the numbers of Latvians more than doubled from 1,965 to 5,035 while the Lithuanians were up from 2,710 to 4,250.

Overall the number of improved applicants under the scheme was 26,650, down from 28,835 in the final quarter of 2008 and 50,820 in the same period in 2007.

In contrast, the number of asylum seekers arriving in Britain fell sharply.

There were 4,765 applications for asylum in the final three months of last year — a 30 per cent fall on the 6,778 applications made in same period the previous year.

But the number leaving the UK was down 3 per cent, with 16,340 departing in the last quarter of 2009 — either voluntarily or through enforced removal — compared to 16,820 in 2008.

There was an 8 per cent fall to 2,605 in the number of asylum seekers leaving and a 2 per cent drop to 13,735 in the number of people departing in non-asylum cases.

Overall, the number of visas issued was up 16 per cent from 364,060 to 423,595.

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

Turkey: Most Foreign Workers Unregistered

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, FEBRUARY 22 — Much like the large wave of migration of Turkish workers to Germany in the 1960s, foreign workers from Turkey’s neighboring countries are flocking to Turkey to find employment opportunities, only to find themselves in the informal economy as unregistered workers. Speaking to the Anatolia news agency, Confederation of Revolutionary Textile Workers’ Union (DISK Tekstil) President Ridvan Budak said the number of unregistered workers in Turkey has surpassed 2 million and is only expected to increase. “It used to be that Turks would migrate to Germany to find work. Now we see people migrating from poorer surrounding nations to make a living in Turkey,” said Budak. He stated that people migrated from Bulgaria, Romania, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Armenia and Azerbaijan in search of work, adding that many of them ended up in the unregistered economy and in particular in the textile sector. “According to the government, nearly half of the Turkish economy is currently unregistered. More than 2 million foreigners are working in the informal economy,” stated Budak. “We might criticize our nation and look for ways to escape to places like Germany or France, but others look to us as their escape.”(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

UK Border Agency Now a Major Anti-Crime Force

While the United States government — under President Barack Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — continues to move towards accepting unbridled illegal immigration, the United Kingdom is building on its goal to protect its citizens from criminal immigrants and terrorists.

According to a report released by the British Home Office, the UK Border Agency specialist immigration crime teams, working with 300 British police officers temporarily assigned to immigration enforcement, prosecuted more than 2,200 people for organized immigration crimes including human trafficking, fraud and drug smuggling.

“What I find astounding is that the U.S. is moving towards a more lax immigration policy, while U.K. government officials are beginning to see the error of their ways, and are building up their border protection,” said former police commander, now a security firm CEO, Charles McNamara.

Border and Immigration Minister Phil Woolas, speaking Monday at the European Serious Organized Crime Conference, confirmed the UKBA as one of the country’s largest law enforcement organizations.

Woolas stressed that aliens who come to the UK enter into a deal to play by the rules. Overseas criminals who break that pact and damage local communities will find UKBA officers using immigration powers to tackle them.

“Smugglers, forgers, traffickers be warned — the UK is a hostile environment. You will be targeted, you will be caught and immigration powers can and will be used to prosecute you and remove you from the country,” said Minister Woolas.

“The UK Border Agency is responding to local community needs as a law enforcement agency. Our borders are stronger than ever and frontline immigration staff work collaboratively with police, local authorities and government agencies to target and disband immigration crime that preys on vulnerable individuals,” he said…

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

Who’s Funding Somali Nationals to Illegally Enter the U.S.?

I was sent a news article titled: “Va. man accused of helping smuggle Somalis into U.S.” by Chris Burgard. For those of you who are not familiar with Chris, he is the producer of a documentary about our nation’s deplorably porous borders that was simply entitled, “Border.” I was pleased to have a brief appearance in his excellent film. The news article is the stuff of my nightmares and encapsulates a number of the issues I have been hammering away at, ever since I decided to make my concerns public in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

There are many people and organizations who are “out there” making all sorts of ridiculous assertions about immigration and related areas of concern because their agenda is to open our nation’s borders and create a massive amnesty program for millions of illegal aliens whose true identities, backgrounds, intentions and possible affiliation with criminal or terrorist organizations are unknown and unknowable.

These individuals and the organizations they share this agenda with are determined to have their way regardless of the cost.

Often when all else fails, these open borders advocates spew accusations and frankly, lies, accusing those of us who want our borders secured against illegal entry and the immigration system by which aliens are granted a variety of benefits including resident alien status and United States citizenship to have real integrity, of being hate mongers, racists, nativists, etc., etc.

The point is that our nation’s very survival is being threatened by transnational criminal organizations and international terrorist groups. In order to attack our nation the terrorists need to be able to enter our country and then embed themselves in communities around the United States while they wait their call to action.


What is particularly worrisome about this group of illegal aliens is the relative sophistication in the way that they traveled around the globe to make their way here, spending what was estimated, in the article, to be some $30,000.

$30,000 is a significant sum of money for the average American. For an alien from Somalia this amount of money is stratospheric. It would be hard to imagine that someone who simply seeks to work illegally in a menial job would be able to put that sort of money together or that it would be financially sensible to do so. The question is, “Who paid for the travel expenses for these illegal aliens (and why)?”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Geologic Carbon Storage Can Never Work, Says New US Study

Over-inflated claims for carbon capture and sequestration have become the last refuge of the energy scoundrel

If world leaders — still reeling from the fiasco of the Copenhagen Summit in the global war against carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions — were hoping to find technological ‘solace’ on their return, the news could not be worse. Central to hopes for the future management of carbon dioxide emissions are theories associated with carbon capture and sequestration (CCS). That is, collecting and storing the carbon emitted from burning fossil fuels underground, mainly beneath the ocean floor. However, a new US study just published exposes the concept of subsea CO2 management as “overwhelming in both physical needs and costs” and the entire strategy for geological sequestration per se as “profoundly non-feasible”.

It is the capture of carbon from electric power stations that has long been a subject of “considerable interest” in the war against carbon emissions. While the new report acknowledges the cost of carbon capture “may prove feasible” (though at a higher cost than previously thought), it has been the “common assumption that the cost of carbon sequestration is much less than the cost of capture”. It is this last assumption that the study demolishes.


“Volume required for CO2 storage has been severely underestimated”

Assessing the math and science of previous studies, the report goes on to show how the “volume required for CO2 storage has been severely underestimated.” In short, the sheer size of the underground areas required for storage, if the very real dangers of “pressure build up” and “significant leakage” (as all current CCS experiments have experienced, including the North Sea ‘Sleipner’ project) are to be avoided, are enormous. The report maintains that an average 500MW power station produces around 3 million metric tons of CO2 per year. The study goes on to show that the “extent of the reservoir” space required for a successful process would be “the size of a small US state”. In essence, the prospects for geological sequestration anywhere in the world look to be impossible. “The findings of this work,” the summary concludes, “suggest that it is not a practical means to provide any substantive reduction in CO2 emissions, although it has been repeatedly presented as such by others.”

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Ihsanoglu: Acquisition of Knowledge and Research Has Been the Basic Feature of Muslim Societies Since the Advent of Islam

The Secretary General of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), Professor Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu stressed the importance of the strategies in the field of science and technology of member states in OIC which should be geared at bringing about the change in the daily lives of peoples of the Islamic world.

The Secretary General said this in his address at the 27th Meeting of the OIC Standing Committee on Scientific and Technological Cooperation (COMSTECH) Executive Committee held in Riyadh on Tuesday 23 March 2010, which will last for two days.

He also said that the current session of the Executive Committee is of a special significance this year. “It is so as we are almost halfway through since the adoption of the Ten Year Programme of Action and the Vision 1441 H for Science and Technology” he noted. He called for taking bold decisions and making changes wherever necessary if the strategies adopted so far have been found flawed or faced road-blocks.

In the same vein, Ihsanoglu commended the 27th Meeting of the COMSTECH Executive Committee to be able to take stock of achievements and failures over these years. He wondered whether we are today closer to reversing the malaise of insufficient human development, inadequate education system and unfortunate dependence on borrowed technologies. He emphasized that the acquisition of knowledge and research has been the basic feature of Muslim societies since the advent of Islam. “You will agree with me that with the weakening of these glorious traditions, the gap in the scientific, technological pursuits in the OIC Member States and the advanced countries has widened with every passing day” he added.

The Secretary General concluded his speech by welcoming the COMSTECH Secretariat’s transformation into Science and Technology Innovation Organization (STIO). He expressed his hope that the COMSTECH will provide the much needed guidance and impetus to the efforts for ensuring the optimum utilization of scientific and technological potential available in the OIC Member States and their relevant institutions.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]