Friday, January 10, 2003

News Feed 20100226

Financial Crisis
»Bulgaria Feels Victimised by Greek Financial Mess
»Man Who Broke the Bank of England George Soros ‘At Centre of Hedge Funds Betting Against Crisis-Hit Euro’
»OECD: Spanish Economic Solvency Not in Dispute
»Paul Johnson: The Sickness of the West
»Spain: Government Proposes Public Sector Salary Cuts
»Spain: Telecinco Profits Down by 77% in 2009
»Spain: -21.9% Mortgages From Banks, Savings & Loans Institutes
»Doctors Threaten Medicare Backlash
»New York: Paterson Drops Out of Election Race But Vows to Serve Out His Term
»Obama Denies His Economic Policies Are ‘Socialism’
»Rep. Myrick, Muslims Defend, Debate in Testy Town Hall Meeting
»RINO Sen. John McCain Has Unleashed a New Bill
Europe and the EU
»British Tea Party Movement to Launch on Saturday
»Danish Paper Apologizes to Muslims for Cartoons
»Denmark: Paper Apologises for Mohammed Cartoons
»Denmark: Politiken Settles Mohammed Cartoon Issue
»Environment: Italian Dam Project to Save Ebro From Sea
»EU: Brussels: Stop to Global Trade of Red Tuna
»EU: Environment, Fisheries Commissioners to Save Red-Fin Tuna
»Finland: Polarised Lutheran Church Seeks New Referee Between Reformists and Conservatives
»Germany: Bishop Mixa Under Fire for Sexual Abuse Scandal Comments
»Germany: Schavan Wants Islamic Scholars for Universities
»Is There a Need for International Observers at the Swedish Election?
»Italy: Civil Protection Chief Denies He Attended Sex Parties
»Italy: Civil Protection Deputy Resigns
»Italy: Mafia Clan Linked to Senator “Very Powerful”
»Italy: Berlusconi Daughter ‘Coached’ To Enter Politics
»Italy: ‘Tyrant King Palace Found’
»Italy: Telecom Italia Cited in Laundering Probe
»Italy: Milan Fuming Over Anna Wintour
»Italy: Grillo Slams Google Sentence
»Nuclear: Spain: 8 Councils in Final List to Host Site
»Rai Med: Riva Sud, Founder of European Islamic Party Interview
»Spain: Torero Managed Prostitution Network With Family
»Sweden: Malmö Mayor Concedes Ignorance on Jew Attacks
»UK: ‘Racist’ School Bus Drivers ‘Refusing to Stop for Young Muslim Girls Who Are Wearing the Hijab’
»UK: BNP Votes to Accept Black Members
»UK: Judiciary Selection: White British Males Put Last Again
»UK: No Longer Londonistan But Hamastan
»UK: Pub Landlord Given First Smoking Ban Jail Sentence
»Why Are British Eurosceptics So Rude?
»The Debacle of Serbia’s “Lobbying” In Washington
Mediterranean Union
»Craxi: Southern Shore Natural Outlet for Europe
»Economy: More EU-Arab Coooperation Needed, Experts
»Scajola: Free Trade Zone Starting in 2012
»Urso: Our Goal is 30bln in Exports in Two Years
North Africa
»Gaddafi Calls for Jihad Against Switzerland
»Nuclear Energy: US Supports Algeria’s Civilian Development
»TLC: Algeria: 32 Mln Have Mobile Phone
»Tourism: Tunisia, ‘Andalusian Cities’ Close to Completion
»Transport: Tunisia, New Aberdeen-Monastir Route
Israel and the Palestinians
»Boost to Aviation With Super-Drone
»Craxi: Italian Support for Palestinian Entrepreneurs
»Gaza: EP: EU Must Take Strong Position Over Goldstone Report
Middle East
»BBC Blasted for ‘Bigoted Fear-Mongering’
»Hamas Wants EU to Include Israel in Terror Watch List
»Hamas Leader Murder; No Proof on Mossad, Lieberman
»Netherlands: Iran Celebrates Islamic Revolution in the Hague High School
»Nuclear: Syria: Iranian Programme for Pacific Ends
»Syria-Iran: Israel Fumes Over Damascus Summit
»Turkey: Coup Attempt, Gul Holds Military-Gov’t Summit
»Turkey: Attempted Coup, 8 More Officers Arrested
»Turkey: Erdogan Would Not Mind an Appeal by the Ecumenical Patriarchate to the European Court
»Turkey Objects to Gay Marriage Allusion in Council Document
»Turkey: Western Military, Eastern Governance
»Turkey: Attempted Coup; Problems Between Institutions Denied
»Turkey: Leaders Urge Responsibility to Protect Institutions
»Turkey: Attempted Coup; Erdogan Warns Armed Forces (2)
»Turkey: Court Charges 11 More Officers
»Turkey: Attempted Coup, Erdogan Warns Army (1)
South Asia
»Indonesians in Uproar Over Proposal to Censor Internet
»Myanmar: Burmese Junta Cracks Down on Garment Industry Strikes
»Thailand: Bangkok: Exports Up 30.8 Per Cent
Far East
»Hong Kong: Graves Desecrated at the Catholic Cemetery in Happy Valley
Latin America
»Hillary Clinton Steps Into Falklands Row After ‘Feeble’ Obama Fails to Back Britain in Stand-Off With Argentina
»Demography: Italy, Immigrants 7.1% Population
»Norway: Record Number of Asylum Seekers
»UK: Race Police Seek to Outlaw BNP Policy
»UK: Two Passports a Minute Are Given to Foreigners as 1.5m Issued Since Labour Elected
Culture Wars
»‘Czar’ Sees Transgender School Goals in Reach

Financial Crisis

Bulgaria Feels Victimised by Greek Financial Mess

Despite its bad image, Bulgaria is on track to introduce the euro. The problems in neighbouring Greece force it to shelve its aspirations.

For years, the Bulgarians have worked to join the eurozone. Now their Greek neighbours are ruining the party, is the sentiment in Bulgaria. The chances of joining quickly are negligible, prime minister Bojko Borisov said recently on the popular TV talk show Panorama. “You can hardly imagine the fear, the stress caused by Greece in the EU,” he said, raising his hands and leaning back in defeat. German chancellor Angela Merkel, French president Nicolas Sarkozy and the European Central Bank had all dissuaded him from requesting permission now, Borisov told viewers. Despite the fact that the country is well on its way to meeting all the convergence criteria to introduce the European currency.

Reports about Bulgaria usually focus on corruption, badly spent EU subsidies, fatal shootings and failure to tackle organised crime. Just last month, Bulgaria had to withdraw its candidate for the European Commission based on an alleged conflict of interest.

The image the country has in Europe is so bad that even some Bulgarians seem to believe in it. Until recently, they saw Greece as their example. It may also be ‘Balkan’ — a geographical word with negative connotations — but of a successful kind. Greece may have similar problems when it comes to corruption, but they seemed to weigh less heavily on the country than they did on Bulgaria. Its appeal as a tourist destination enriched Greece’s population at a time when Bulgaria was still beginning to reform its failed planned economy to adapt to capitalism.

‘Greece out, us in’

The visible differences are still significant. Bulgaria’s roads are in poor shape, residential areas are dominated by grey apartment blocks and gypsy slums. In Sofia, the capital, a ‘made in the USSR’ metro connects the city’s two extremes: the centre full of fancy cars and designer shops and the neighbourhoods without sewer systems, where residents keep dogs to protect their chickens from thieves.

But the Bulgarians actually do some things better than their neighbours. “Greece out, us in,” economist Georgi Angelov said jokingly about the future of the eurozone. Angelov works for the Open Society Institute, a foundation committed to improving democracy in Bulgaria.

“There is too much focus on Greece,” agreed Levon Hampartzoumian, chief executive officer of the UniCredit Bulbank, Bulgaria’s largest bank.

According to him, decision makers in Brussels are obsessed with Greece. They threaten to contaminate much healthier Bulgaria by keeping it outside of the European exchange rate mechanism, the final step before adoption of the euro. “That would be unfair,” Hampartzoumian said.

Greece has a huge budget deficit and high national debt, while Bulgaria doesn’t. Greece can only borrow money on the capital markets at extreme interest rates and has had to call for assistance from fellow euro-nations, unlike Bulgaria. And unlike practically all eurozone countries, Bulgaria’s budget deficit has not exceeded the limit of three percent of GDP. It stood at 0.8 percent in 2009. The country has balanced its budget for 2010.

“By the end of 2010, we will be the only EU country that meets all the criteria of the Maastricht Treaty,” said finance minister Simeon Djankov, referring to the 1992 treaty that set the standards for the single currency. He believes this example should be rewarded, but he is concerned it will not be. “This government, which has been in place for six months, has the difficult task of convincing Europe we can be trusted.”

Currency paradox

Billboards in Sofia offer loans in euros against better rates that those in levs. The Bulgarian lev currency has long been pegged to (the Deutsche mark and later) the euro. The exchange rate is fixed and mortgages are offered in euros, while wages are still paid in levs. Why adopt the currency completely, if the exchange rate is already fixed?

“The current paradox does not serve economic development in the country,” banker Hampartzoumian said. The current recession leaves Bulgaria with the worst of both worlds: it doesn’t have the safety net of being part of the eurozone, but neither can it devaluate the lev to soften the effects of the crisis. Hampartzoumian said credit rating agencies and investment banks see this ambiguity as a risk. “It is hard to understand, we’re neither here nor there,” the banker said.

Everyone who has been shocked by how lax the eurozone rules have proved to be, seems to forget that aspiring members have committed to introducing the currency. “If you tamper with that, the euro will never be a global currency,” Hampartzoumian said.

Finance minister Djankov, who spent half of his life working abroad, was amazed when he returned to Bulgaria six months ago. He noticed how much influence Russia still has on the country, especially in the energy sector. “The EU must want to reduce that,” Djankov said. To do so, Bulgaria needs to become part of the eurozone. “Bulgaria has been a member of the EU since 2007, but to really be a part of it, we need to take the next economic step.”

The minister admitted Bulgaria still had some reforms to make before that day, but the EU has to stick to its own rules and not exclude the country because of problems elsewhere, he said. “Not doing so would be hypocritical.”

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

Man Who Broke the Bank of England George Soros ‘At Centre of Hedge Funds Betting Against Crisis-Hit Euro’

The man who broke the Bank of England in 1992 is said to be at the centre of a plot to cash in on the demise of the euro.

George Soros’s investment business Soros Fund Management is among a group of heavyweight Wall Street hedge funds which have launched a series of massive bets against the euro.

The bets came after an all-star ‘ideas dinner’ in New York where some of the world’s most powerful currency speculators argued that the euro will plunge to parity with the U.S. dollar.

The single currency has been under enormous pressure because of Greece’s debt crisis, plus financial worries in Portugal, Italy, Spain and Ireland.

The euro traded at $1.51 in December, but has since fallen to $1.34.

Traders are borrowing 20 times the size of their bet, boosting their potential gains and losses so that a euro move to parity with the U.S. dollar could represent a ‘career’ trade.

If investors put up $5million to make a $100million trade, a five per cent price move in the right direction doubles their initial investment.

Details of the secretive dinner emerged in the Wall Street Journal just days after Mr Soros warned in a newspaper article that the euro could ‘fall apart’ even if the European Union can agree a deal to shore up support for stricken Greece.

He said: ‘Makeshift assistance should be enough for Greece, but that leaves Spain, Italy, Portugal and Ireland. Together they constitute too large a portion of euroland to be helped in this way.’

Mr Soros, who made more than $1billion when the pound was ejected from the Exchange Rate Mechanism on Black Wednesday in 1992, believes the structure of the single currency is ‘patently flawed’.

He believes that unless the European Commission is given sweeping powers over taxation and spending, the single currency will always be vulnerable to financial turbulence in individual states.

‘If member countries cannot take the next steps forward, the euro may fall apart,’ he added.

Mr Soros’s investment house, Soros Fund Management, did not respond to calls.

In a separate move last week, traders from Goldman Sachs, Bank of America’s Merrill Lynch unit, and Barclays helped a separate group of investors to bet against the single currency.

The trade involved buying an inexpensive ‘put’ option that will provide its holder a big payoff if the euro falls to the level of a single U.S. dollar within a year.

The euro-dollar parity put is a cheap way of ensuring that if the euro sinks dramatically within a year, an investor will generate big returns.

A going price for the bet is around 7 per cent of the amount that a parity-trade would pay off. So, for an investor seeking a $1million bet, the cost is $70,000.

This means that the market currently assigns roughly 14-to-1 odds that parity will be reached. In November, the odds were around 33-to-1, said a person who has seen the trade’s pricing.

Greek prime minister George Papandreou last night hit back at the ‘speculators’ who he blames for preying on the country’s troubles.

Following a visit by EU economic inspectors, he told the country’s parliament that the worst fears about Greece’s economy had been confirmed.

Greece is desperate to restore the confidence of investors in its debt after revealing that the previous government understated its budget deficit by half.

The EU is also pressing the country to take radical measures to cut its deficit to prevent further damage to the euro.

Greek officials said the EU inspectors, who were visiting Athens with experts from the International Monetary Fund, delivered a grim assessment of the nation’s economy.

They said Athens will miss its targets for reducing the deficit without the sort of deep spending cuts that have already sparked loud protests on the streets of the country.

Outlining the precarious nature of Greece’s finances, Mr Papandreou said: ‘There is only one dilemma: Will we let the country go bankrupt or will we react? Will we let the speculators strangle us, or will we take our fate in our own hands?

‘We must do whatever we can now to address the immediate dangers today. Tomorrow it will be too late, and the consequences will be much more dire.’

The Greek leader also called for more solidarity from the EU on its debt crisis, as he announced plans to visit Germany, whose backing would be vital for any EU financial.

But a row is still festering between Berlin and Athens over the crisis.

A Greek consumer group called for a boycott of German goods today after a German magazine blasted the country as ‘cheats.

The new trade war came as Angela Merkel admitted the euro is in ‘a difficult situation’ for the first time.

She spoke as German magazine Focus ran a cover image of the armless Venus de Milo somehow raising her middle finger under the headline ‘Cheats in the euro family’ to suggest that Greece deliberately misled EU peers to swindle its way into the euro.

The cover sparked outrage in Greece, prompting the demands for a boycott. A Greek newspaper has also hit back, running an image showing the statue of the goddess Victoria atop the Siegessaeule in Berlin holding a swastika.

‘The falsification of a statue of Greek history, beauty and civilisation, from a time when there (in Germany) they were eating bananas on trees is impermissible and unforgivable,’ a statement from the Consumer Institute (INKA) said.

‘Greeks are no crooks, we want the German government to condemn this most improper publication,’ said INKA president George Lakouritis.

‘If you have such friends, what do you need enemies for?’

INKA distributed leaflets in central Athens and in front of German-owned consumer electronics store Media Markt, urging Greeks to heed the boycott.

Merkel’s government has so far deflected appeals to promise aid to heavily indebted Greece. Opinion polls show that a majority of Germans oppose a bailout.

Germany’s ambassador to Greece, Wolfgang Schultheiss, said yesterday he regretted that German press reports caused offence. ‘Germany is firmly on Greece’s side,’ Schultheiss said after being summoned by Greece’s parliament speaker Filippos Petsalnikos.

But it wasn’t enough for Mr Lakouritis. ‘The ambassador’s statements were not satisfactory,’ he said.

Yesterday Mrs Merkel admitted that Greece’s debt crisis has plunged the euro into a ‘difficult situation’.

The admission from the leader of Europe’s biggest economy prompted fresh fears about the collapse of the single currency.

In the gravest sign yet of the international threat posed by Greece’s crippling debt crisis, Mrs Merkel warned for the first time that the eurozone faces a ‘ dangerous’ period.

The beleaguered euro initially fell in the wake of her comments.

There was also fresh speculation that Greece’s international credit rating may be downgraded.

On a dramatic day which also saw money markets around the world fall:

U.S. regulators said they would investigate whether investment bank Goldman Sachs helped Athens disguise its budget deficit.

The developments came as Greece was recovering from a day of rioting which accompanied a second national strike over plans to curb the country’s huge budget deficit.

Yesterday, while Mrs Merkel insisted the single currency would survive the crisis, she acknowledged that soaring debt levels in Greece and other southern European countries had put the euro at risk ‘for the first time since its introduction’.

In a further sign of concern, Carl Heinz Daube, head of the state-run German Finance Agency, warned of the ‘collapse’ of the euro if Greece or any other member defaulted on its debt.

Last night, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke told the U.S. Senate banking committee that regulators would look into ‘a number of questions’ about how Wall Street firms such as Goldman Sachs helped Greece arrange complex financial deals to disguise its deficits.

International rating agency Standard & Poor’s yesterday indicated that it may downgrade Greece’s credit rating again, but insisted it did not expect the country to go bust or quit the euro.

The euro initially fell against the dollar on the back of the developments, but rallied late on to reverse its losses.

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

OECD: Spanish Economic Solvency Not in Dispute

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, FEBRUARY 23 — “There is no reason to dispute the solvency” of the Spanish economy, considering that “the weight of debt can still be handled.” This is what was said today in Madrid by the secretary general of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Angel Gurria, participating in the forum called for by the economic newspaper, Cinco Dias. According to Gurria, Spain’s situation “is not comparable” with Greece’s, both in terms of debt and in the general state of the economy. Gurria said that, in relation to other countries of the OECD and the EU, the weight of public debt in Spain is still moderate, equal to 55% of GDP in 2009, the fiscal burden is modest and the financial sector is solvent. However, Gurria did not seem optimistic about a rapid exit by Spain from the crisis, forecasting that 2010 will still be difficult and an improved situation in 2011, in a “similarly better” context. For the OECD secretary general, the reform of the labour market “is and must be one of the priorities” of the Spanish government. At the same time, Gurria urged a reduction in the “excessively protectionist” consideration for workers with permanent jobs in Spain. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Paul Johnson: The Sickness of the West

The collapse in global leadership.

The world is groaning beneath a mountain of debt, but that’s not the real problem. History shows repeatedly that debt can quickly be paid off once confidence is restored and men and women set to work with a will. But for that to happen we must have trust in those who lead us.

Trust is missing. We do not trust—and with good reason—either our elected leaders or the corporate elite who constitute the top echelons of society. Seldom in modern history has the lack of trust, now verging on contempt, been so deep, universal and comprehensive.

At the very top we have a sad bunch of flawed mediocrities.

—President Barack Obama. To quote Benjamin Disraeli, “A sophisticated rhetorician, inebriated with the exuberance of his own verbosity.” If only he would talk less, and think more.

—Chancellor Angela Merkel. A well-meaning hausfrau with the steely will of a dishcloth.

—President Nicolas Sarkozy. An operator who is clever at everything except what matters most.

—Prime Minister Gordon Brown. A machine politician whose own machinery is visibly breaking down.

—Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. A splendid advertisement for Viagra, a man whose antics would have afforded us much amusement in a time of normal prosperity.

The collapse in leadership is a serious matter, made worse by the fact that none of the main central bank chairmen is well known, liked or trusted.

The Center Has Not Held

More devastating, in a sense, is the loss of trust in entire categories of people who once formed bastions of integrity at the heart of society. In Britain half a century and more ago there were three categories of professionals who inspired general regard: bankers, scientists and politicians.

At the local level the men who ran the banks in the high street were popular and trusted and were regularly conscripted onto every committee that mattered. In the City of London the top people formed a regulatory agency in themselves and dealt swiftly and severely with anyone who fell short of the highest standards of integrity.

Today the word “banker” is a pejorative term. Local managers are anonymous persons held in low regard. City of London magnates are suspect figures. Bankers are associated with unrestrained greed, recklessness and professional incompetence. It would be hard to think of another group that has fallen so fast and so far in public esteem.

The same thing is now happening with scientists. Since the days of Sir Humphry Davy and Charles Darwin, scientists in Britain have been held in the highest regard. Lord Kelvin and Sir Alexander Fleming were treated as secular saints. Nobel Prize winners were honored like prophets in ancient Israel.

Now, as the theory of man-made global warming unravels, scientists are suddenly and devastatingly revealed as fallible, mendacious, self-seeking, criminally secretive, furtively trying to hide their errors, debasing the system of peer review of scientific papers and conspiring to conceal the truth from once highly respected professional publications. The image of the scientist who puts the pursuit of truth before anything else has been shattered and replaced by a man on the make or a quasi-religious enthusiast who wants to prove his case at any cost. Science is becoming the tool of campaigning warfare, in which truth is the first casualty.

But the fall of the scientist is as nothing compared with the self-degradation of British politicians.

[Return to headlines]

Spain: Government Proposes Public Sector Salary Cuts

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, FEBRUARY 25 — In its austerity plan to combat the economic crisis, the Spanish Government is planning salary cuts for managers and employees in the public sector, in a modification to the agreement previously signed with unions for 2010-2012, which included minimal salary increases to recover the purchasing power of the sector. “We need to revisit the salary agreement in negotiations with the unions to bring it in line with the Government’s objectives”, said Secretary of State for Finance, Carlos Ocaa, quoted in the media today. The objective is to cut the salaries of 2.6 million public employees by 4%, during the period from 2010 to 2013 inclusive. The main bulk of the savings will be achieved by blocking turnover, according to Ocaa, thanks to rules which permits only one in ten vacant posts in the public sector to be covered. The agreement which the Government is preparing to modify was signed with the sector unions last September by Deputy Prime Minister Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega. The austerity plan put in place by the Government to reduce the deficit, which reached 11.4% of GDP in 2009, includes cuts of 50 billion euros. The central administration is one of the items which contributes most to the public deficit, at 9.49%, according to data released by Ocaa. The announcement has provoked angry reactions from the unions concerned. The executive today repeated that “this is just a proposal” and that a cut in public employees’ salaries is not expected, as this year they are expecting an increase of 0.3%. Executives’ salaries have risen above the rate of inflation in recent years, and were increased by around 3.5% in 2009, compared with a rise in inflation of 0.8% and a negative growth in GDP of 3.6%. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Spain: Telecinco Profits Down by 77% in 2009

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, FEBRUARY 25 — Telecinco, the subsidiary of Mediaset, ended the 2009 financial year with profits of 48.44 million euros, that is a 77% decrease compared to the previous year, according to what was reported today by the National Securities Market Commission. The negative result, informed sources from the company in a note, was due to the crisis. The net operations result decreased by 33.2 %, to 656.26 million euros, of which 619.3 million correspond to gross advertising earnings, which for the same period decreased by 33.8%. In a year marked by the “brusque drop” in advertising, the results “highlight more than ever the capacity of adaptation of the Publiespaa Group to market conditions”, according to the sources. According to monitoring carried out by Infoadex, Telecinco confirmed itself as the leader in both the level of advertising investment and the ratio of this to its share of audience. The group stressed that the station owned by Mediaset confirmed itself as the most viewed commercial network both daily (15.1%) and during prime time. The group also announced the distribution of a dividend of 0.20 euros per share on 2009 profits for March 10, which together with the results should be formally approved by the shareholders assembly fixed for April 14. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Spain: -21.9% Mortgages From Banks, Savings & Loans Institutes

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, FEBRUARY 25 — Spanish banks and savings and loans institutes granted 40 billion euros less in mortgages in 2009 compared with the previous year, for a total of 653.173 billion, 21.9% less than in 2008, according to the data released today by the National Institute for Statistics. The decrease recorded last year is the second largest after the 32.5% seen in 2008. Savings and loans banks granted the largest number of mortgages, 52.7% of the total, while banks granted 36.7% and other financial bodies the remaining 10.5%. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Doctors Threaten Medicare Backlash

With a 21% cut to Medicare reimbursement rates set to take effect Monday, the nation’s largest physician organization has informed its members about their options — which include shutting off practices to new Medicare patients.

“To our physicians, we are providing information on their Medicare participation options, including how to remove themselves from the Medicare program,” said James Rohack, president of the American Medical Association, whose more than 250,000 members include doctors, medical students and faculty members.


Kornel, who’s been in practice for 27 years, said he had always accepted Medicare patients in the past.

“But when I looked at my income from reimbursements, I was losing money every time I took care of a Medicare patient,” said Kornel. “It wasn’t covering my costs.”

While Medicare patients accounted for about 20% of his total patient load, they were generating less than 5% of his income.

“I would have had to do 300 operations in one year just to break even,” he said.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

New York: Paterson Drops Out of Election Race But Vows to Serve Out His Term

Gov. David A. Paterson announced on Friday afternoon that he was suspending his election campaign and would not run for a full new term in November.

Mr. Paterson, his administration caught up in a whirlwind of allegations about its intervention in a domestic violence episode involving a top aide, ended his campaign less than a week after it officially began.

“I am being realistic about politics,” he said. “It hasn’t been the latest distraction, it’s been an accumulation of obstacles.”

He added: “There are times not to strive for service but to step back. That moment has come for me.”

He insisted that he had never abused his office, and vowed to serve out the remaining 308 days of his term.

[Return to headlines]

Obama Denies His Economic Policies Are ‘Socialism’

But evidence indicates president was member of a socialist party

President Barack Obama strongly rejected critics who call his economic policies “socialism,” launching a vigorous defense of his economic agenda while insisting he aims to boost U.S. competitiveness abroad.

Speaking Wednesday to the Business Roundtable, which convenes some of the country’s top chief executives, Obama stated in prepared remarks, “Contrary to the claims of some of my critics, I am an ardent believer in the free market.”

Obama said his efforts to enact sweeping legislation to overhaul financial regulations were not socialist.


Lost in much of the debate regarding Obama’s economic agenda, however, is the strong evidence that Obama himself previously was a member of a socialist party.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Rep. Myrick, Muslims Defend, Debate in Testy Town Hall Meeting

In a testy two-hour town hall meeting, U.S. Rep. Sue Myrick argued Thursday night that the threat of homegrown Islamist terrorism is real and defended herself against charges by local Muslims that she was spreading fear about their religion.

Using charts, maps, handouts and even a video slamming a Charlotte TV station, the Charlotte Republican told the crowd of about 175 people, most of them Muslims, that she has never condemned Islam or linked moderate Muslims with terrorism.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

RINO Sen. John McCain Has Unleashed a New Bill

Sen. John McCain has unleashed a new bill designed to destroy the nutritional supplements industry. It’s called “DSSA” and it would implement CODEX-like restrictions across all U.S. dietary supplements.

[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

British Tea Party Movement to Launch on Saturday

The inaugural British Tea Party will take place on Saturday in my home town of Brighton, and I’ll be speaking. Do try to come: here are the details.

Labour has raised more than a trillion pounds in additional taxation since 1997. Yet, unbelievably, Gordon Brown has still managed to run up a deficit of 12.6 per cent of GDP (Greece’s is 12.7 per cent). A far lower level of taxation brought Americans out in spontaneous protest last year.

If you happen to be coming to the Conservative Spring Conference, do please pop in: the Tea Party is five minutes’ walk from the conference venue. It is, however, outside the security zone, and anyone is welcome to come. Oh, and this being England, we’ll be serving actual, you know, tea. I hope to see some of this blog’s readers there.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Danish Paper Apologizes to Muslims for Cartoons

Danish daily Politiken on Friday apologized to Muslims for possibly offending them by reproducing cartoons of the prophet Mohammed in 2008, but said it did not regret publishing the drawings.

Politiken is the first Danish newspaper to formally apologize to those who may have felt offended by the publication of the cartoons.

It published on Friday an agreement reached with eight organizations from as many countries representing 94,923 descendants of the Muslim prophet.

In the agreement Politiken said it regretted if it had insulted Muslims’ faith, but that it did not regret publishing the drawings and that it did not renounce the right to publish the controversial drawings again.

Politiken’s apologies were condemned by the Danish political class, who said the paper was caving in to pressure and had sacrificed freedom of expression, which is considered a cornerstone of Danish democracy.

Danish daily Jyllands-Posten first published 12 caricatures of Mohammed in September 2005.

The cartoons, including one featuring the prophet wearing a turban shaped like a bomb with a lit fuse, angered many Muslims worldwide and sparked angry and in some cases deadly protests in January and February 2006.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Denmark: Paper Apologises for Mohammed Cartoons

Danish newspaper enters deal with organisations and offers apology for offending them with images of the Prophet Mohammed

Politiken newspaper, one of 11 Danish newspapers that reprinted the Mohammed cartoons, has issued an apology to eight Muslim organisations for offending them in exchange for dropping future legal action against the newspaper.

The settlement reached between the paper and the organisations does not, however, apologise for the printing of the cartoons, nor prevent the paper from reprinting them in the future.

Jyllands-Posten newspaper initially published the drawings in 2005, but following the murder plot in 2008 against one of the cartoonists, Kurt Westergaard, 11 major Danish newspapers reprinted them as a symbol of solidarity.

Politiken, which had initially been critical of the cartoons, chose to reprint Westergaard’s drawing and an editorial comment that said Jyllands-Posten deserved ‘unconditional solidarity when it is threatened with terror’.

However, Politiken’s statement today said the decision to reprint the drawing of a man with a bomb in his turban was never intended as a ‘statement of editorial opinion or value, but merely as part of the newspaper’s news coverage’.

A call to Politiken requesting explanation for the about-turn decision was not returned.

The apology stated that it was ‘never Politiken’s intention to offend Muslims in Denmark or elsewhere … we apologise to anyone who was offended by our decision to reprint the cartoon drawing’.

The eight organisations who reached the agreement are based in Egypt, Libya, Qatar, Australia, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Palestine. Together they represent 94,923 descendants of the Prophet Mohammed.

In August last year, the groups’ Saudi lawyer, Faisal Yamani, requested that Politiken and 10 other newspapers remove the images from their websites and issue apologies along with a promise that the images, or similar ones, will never be printed again.

Politiken’s editor-in-chief, Toger Seidenfaden, said he hoped the agreement would help improve relations between Denmark and the Muslim world and that ‘other acts of dialogue and reconciliation may follow’.

But the move has been derided by other newspapers, as well as by cartoonist Kurt Westergaard and leading politicians.

Other newspapers who reprinted the cartoon, including Berlingske Tidende, Kristeligt Dagblad and the original publisher Jyllands-Posten, refused to enter into the same agreement with the organisations.

Jyllands-Posten editor, Jørn Mikkelsen, called it a ‘sad day for Danish media, for freedom of speech and for Politiken’.

The newspaper has previously apologised for upsetting some Muslims with the cartoons, but Mikkelsen believes that Politiken’s apology crosses the line as it was made as part of a deal.

Meanwhile, Westergaard accused the paper of giving up on freedom of speech and said they had given into the fear of terror.

Opposition leaders Helle-Thorning Schmidt of the Social Democrats and Villy Søvndal of the Socialist People’s Party called the move ‘outrageous’ and said deals should not be done involving freedom of speech.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Denmark: Politiken Settles Mohammed Cartoon Issue

Politiken has reached a settlement with the descendants of the Prophet Mohammed, apologising for the offence the Mohammed cartoons have caused. Political condemnation.

As the first newspaper to do so, the Politiken newspaper has reached a settlement with descendants of the Prophet Mohammed in connection with the affront its re-print of drawings of the Prophet Mohammed in 2008 may have caused Muslims.

The settlement was reached between Politiken and eight organisations representing 94,923 of the Prophet Mohammed’s descendants in a move Politiken’s Editor-in-Chief Tøger Seidenfaden says shows that dialogue is the way forward.

“The settlement looks ahead and expresses very sensible views. It may possibly reduce the tensions that have shown themselves to be so resilient. It gives us hope that relations between Denmark, and not least its media, and the Muslim world can be improved,” Seidenfaden says, adding he does not believe Politikens move is a freedom of speech sellout.


Under the settlement, Politiken has not given up its right to publish the cartoons and does not apologise for having printed them, but rather for the affront felt by some Muslims.

Lawyer Faisal Yamani, who entered into the settlement on behalf of the descendants of the Prophet Mohammed says the settlement is a good one.

“This is a good settlement. It would be wrong to speak of a victory. Both parties have reached the point where they understand the background to what has happened. Politiken is courageous in apologizing, even though its was not their intention to offend anyone,” Yamani says.


Political condemnation

Danish politicians have condemned the move.

“It’s crazy. The media carries offensive material every day. That is what freedom of speech is about,” says Social Democratic Leader Helle Thorning-Schmidt. Socialist People’s Party Leader Villy Søvndal says that “freedom of speech is not up for negotiation”.

The Danish People’s Party Leader Pia Kjærsgaard says she is ‘speechless’ in finding words to express how absurd the situation is.

“It is deeply, deeply embarrassing that Tøger Seidenfaden has sold out of Denmark’s and the West’s freedom of speech. I cannot distance myself enough from this total sell-out to this doctrine,” Kjærsgaard says.

Neither the prime minister nor the foreign minister have had the opportunity to comment on the issue, but the Liberal Political Spokesman Peter Christensen says “it is strange that Politiken has the need to apologise. I don’t see what there is to apologise for.”

The former Liberal Chairman and Foreign Minister Uffe Ellemann-Jensen, however is positive.

“The paper loses nothing by apologizing. In a world full of conflict, where too many paint themselves into a corner, it would be good to see more of these types of attempt to reach a common understanding,” Ellemann Jensen says.

In August last year, a total of 11 Danish newspapers were approached by Yamani with demands that the cartoons be removed from Internet pages, that media apologized and that they promised not to re-print the cartoons in question, or others, again.

Politiken is the only newspaper that has chosen to reach a settlement, at the same time avoiding attempts by the descendants of the Prophet Mohammed to sue the newspaper.

Jyllands-Posten: ‘Disgraceful’

Berlingske Tidende, Jyllands-Posten and Kristeligt Dagblad are some of the media that have received Yamani’s letter. Tha Saudi lawyer hopes that these media will show interest in a settlement, but the three newspapers have told Politiken that they have no interest in a settlement in which they apologise.

MorgenAvisen Jyllands-Posten’s Editor-in-Chief Jørn Mikkelsen says it is regrettable that Politiken has folded, instead of continuing the case with the other newspapers.

“Politiken has betrayed the battle for freedom of speech. They’ve given up and bowed to threats. That is, of course, disgraceful,” Mikkelsen says.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Environment: Italian Dam Project to Save Ebro From Sea

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, FEBRUARY 15 — A dam under the Ebro River to stop the advancing Mediterranean Sea, which with the progressive salinisation of the river delta, threatens the ecosystem and is a looming problem for the rice-fields in Tarragona. In order to take action and to stop the slow, but unstoppable advancement of the seawater into constantly decreasing flow of the river, the Spanish Environmental Ministry is examining a project for underwater barriers similar to those placed in the Po delta in 1987 and 1990 and in the same year in the Adige. Explaining their function was Lino Tosini, the engineer who headed the project, cited today in El Pais. The anti-salt barriers are between six and eight metres high: “They are placed on the river bed, near the mouth, leaving two or three meters free at the surface for boats to pass,” explained Tosini, who has already visited Saragossa, where he explained the benefits of this underwater system, which in Spain’s case, would cost between two and three million euros, while speaking to the heads of the Ebro Hydrographic Confederation of the Environmental Ministry. They are placed in April and taken out in September during the driest periods when there is a reduction in the flow of freshwater. When the river maintains a level of over 300 cubic metres per second, the sea does not enter. But when the course of the river is reduced, the tides gain the upper hand and invade the delta, destroying the delicate ecosystem of the rice-fields and wetlands. The protective barriers are a solution to stop the entrance of saltwater, which until now have not caused any side-effects on the ecosystem of the Po and Adige deltas. Enrica Garcia, the director of the Deltamed consortium, which includes the main deltas of the Mediterranean, is in favour of underwater dams. Cited by the daily, she assured that at 20km from the mouth of the Ebro near Amposta, freshwater fish like carp are not being caught, but sole, a saltwater fish, is being pulled in by fishermen. According to the previous Comprehensive Ebro Protection plan from 2006, the delta sinks by 3m per year. This estimate, along with the predicted increase in the sea level provoked by climate change, will result in an increase in the level of seawater at the mouth of the river of 57cm at the end of the century. Without taking into account that, until now, 26 million euros have been invested in purifying water to irrigate the rice-fields and farmland. Until now, pumps that fill irrigation canals with freshwater have been sufficient. But if the sea level continues to rise, this pump system will no longer work. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

EU: Brussels: Stop to Global Trade of Red Tuna

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS — Put a stop to the international trade of Red Tuna to avoid the species’ extinction, preserving the natural patrimony for future generations. But Red Tuna will not disappear from European plates who will be able to savour it only if fished using traditional methods. It is without hesitation that the European Commission asked the EU to increase pressure so that “the prohibition of the international trade of red tuna in the Atlantic enters into vigour in the coming year” inserting it onto the list of species threatened by extinction and protecting it through the Cites Convention. In the same way, a large sacrifice is asked to fishermen and boat owners for whom the support of European Fishing Fund is being studied. Brussels is certain: “The excessive exploitation connected to international trade is dwindling the few Red Tuna resources that are still in existence”. Considering then that up to 80% of the Red Tuna caught in the Mediterranean ends up on Japanese plates, in the future even more of them will have to come to Europe to taste the much desired delicacy of sushi and sashimi. “The proposal from Brussels is shareable”, stated the undersecretary in charge of fishing, Antonio Buonfiglio, “in that it keeps in mind the instructions that have emerged from the series of contacts begun, on our initiative, between Italy, France and Spain”. “Now”, Buonfiglio says, “we need to define the necessary interventions on the national and European community level, without forgetting the scientific work, in collaboration with the member nations to ensure that next November during the International Commission for Atlantic Tuna (ICCAT) we have the effective biological situation of the stock”. Brussels is aware that Europeans are not the only ones who fish in the Mediterranean, but thinks that it is important “to guarantee loyal competition between the EU and its other partners using the contractual system”. The objective, sustain the commissioners for the environment, Janez Potocnik, and fishing, Maria Damanaki, is focused on action to protect the red tuna and long term sustainable fishing practices. “We do not want, in any case”, they added, “to go against the interests of any country”. It was a strong message that came from Brussels, which sees the red tuna inserted onto the Cites Convention list after the ICCAT meeting in November 2010 delineates the most recent data on the existing stock. Extensions are expected for traditional fishing methods. In Italy, where this year the moratorium on fishing the Red Tuna will begin, the activity of traditional fishermen will be able to count on a part of the unutilised European quota. But attention, Damanaki says, “traditional fishing must remain that which it is now”. It is now up to the member nations to reach an agreement in time for the next Cites conference next March in Doha, Qatar. There is no doubt that Europe is preparing a sudden shift in favour of the environment: in addition to the Red Tuna, Brussels has asked for the monitoring of the Red Coral and Pink Coral trade, while continuing to protect tigers in Asia and Polar Bears. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

EU: Environment, Fisheries Commissioners to Save Red-Fin Tuna

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, FEBRUARY 11 — The newly-appointed European Environment Commissioner, Janez Potocnik, and his counterpart at the Fisheries Commission, Maria Damanaki, “are agreed,” in the words of Joe Hennon, the spokesperson for the Eu Environment Commission, interviewed by ANSA, “on the need to protect the red-fin tuna, including it on the list of protected species in the Cites Convention and to work together to reach a compromise agreement which the whole college of commissioners can approve. This text could be ready by next week”. The spokesperson did not reveal any details of the contents of the accord, but community sources say that two guidelines are to be developed in the proposal. The first will be to include the red-fin tuna in the list of protected species under Cites, but this will not happen immediately, only after the meeting in November 2010 of Iccat, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas. Then, traditional fisheries are to be protected. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Finland: Polarised Lutheran Church Seeks New Referee Between Reformists and Conservatives

Seven in running for Archbishop

By Katja Kuokkanen

An archbishop is needs to stand upright while leading the church in the midst of conflict. The ability to do so will be weighed on Thursday when the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church holds the first round of the election of a new archbishop.

The opposite ends of the church are so far apart that none of the seven candidates for the post are expected to get more than half of the votes in the first round of voting.

“The internal debate involves sabre-rattling from the opposite ends. Ever since it was made clear in 2006 that it is not permissible to avoid working together with female clergy, the atmosphere has been unsettled”, says church historian, Dr. Mikko Malkavaara of the University of Helsinki.

The most ardent conservatives are bombing several online message boards with such intensity that the reformists at the other end are becoming radicalised. Generally the issues at hand involve women clergy and the right of homosexuals to gain acceptance within the church.

“The reform-minded are losing patience with the bickering, which has meant that the church is not present in the everyday concerns that people have, which would be important from the point of view of leadership in values”, Malkavaara says.

How can anyone lead a group like this? Theologically, an archbishop is supposed to be a shepherd guiding a flock, even if the sheep scurry about here and there.

“There is no position in which an archbishop would be spared criticism. The role is a combination of the burden of wielding power and of speaking on behalf of a dreary institution to the outside world”, says Jaana Hallamaa, Professor of Social Ethics at the University of Helsinki.

Hallamaa supports Kari Mäkinen, the Bishop of Turku, for the post of Archbishop.

In the 1990s the Lutheran Church was, in Hallamaa’s view, a public rubbish bin.

Lutheranism was blamed for the perverse Finnish attitude toward work, the nation’s lack of an aesthetic culture, and for the Finns’ inability to express emotions.

“Now all that is left is generic criticism. It is hard to work under such a heavy load, but an archbishop needs to be able to withstand the criticism that he cannot live up to the expectations”, Hallamaa says.

An archbishop can also be expected to raise issues, and show that the nation’s church is living the same everyday life as the people.

“Our time is fast-paced. Everything needs to be brought out, and let loose here and now. The time of the church is slow, and is based on continuity”, Hallamaa ponders.

None of the seven candidates for the post stand out as a shining star. Does the playing field of the extremes need as a referee an archbishop who stands in the middle, pulling the edges together?

“Perhaps the candidates are grey, because the conflicts have worn down the rough edges. For instance, Archbishop John Vikström was exceptional: he was humane, had a good sense of humour, and he was fearless, thanks to his curiosity. The time of such personalities is over”, Hallamaa says.

Malkavaara disagrees.

“If an archbishop has vision, he can have great influence. When navigating through rough waters as the leader of the key administrative bodies of the church, he can bring things raise issues based on what he wants to emphasise. Leaders can anticipate, because they get information in advance.”

As for the tasks of the office, an archbishop is not the boss of the bishops, but he is in the leadership positions of the church — he is the chairman of the Synod, the Church Government, and the Bishop’s Conference.

In addition, he chairs the church’s Council for International Relations, and the Church Information Centre

“In the Church, the walls are far apart, and all members who want to, can participate. But nevertheless, an archbishop should have the courage to bid farewell to groups who do not fit in”, Malkavaara says to the future shepherd.

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

Germany: Bishop Mixa Under Fire for Sexual Abuse Scandal Comments

Augsburg Bishop Walter Mixa on Friday faced continuing criticism for claiming the sexual revolution was partially to blame for the widespread abuse of children at German Catholic schools.

The daily Süddeutsche Zeitung reported Mixa’s remarks had caused a rift within his diocese, with one church official saying they were “depressingly imprudent” and the situation was “increasingly embarrassing” having to explain the bishop’s latest “blunder.”

“The leadership hasn’t realised how this looks to the congregation,” said an unidentified member of the Augsburg diocese council.

No stranger to controversy, Mixa sparked outrage this week for saying the systematic sexual abuse recently uncovered at several Catholic schools could be traced to the promotion of more liberal attitudes towards sex.

“The so-called sexual revolution, in which some especially progressive moral critics supported the legalisation of sexual contact between adults and children, is certainly not innocent,” he told the Augsburger Allgemeine Zeitung.

The Catholic theologian Uta Rank-Heinemann told the website of news magazine Focus on Thursday that Mixa was essentially trying to shirk the blame for the horrible sexual abuse.

“The important thing is that someone else is responsible,” she said.

The abuse scandal that was uncovered at Berlin’s prestigious Canisius school last month continues to grow, with around 50 former students claiming they were sexually abused in the 1970s and 1980s.

But lawyers for victims have said more than 115 people across the country have since come forward with allegations of abuse by up to 12 different priests and teachers at other Catholic institutions too.

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

Germany: Schavan Wants Islamic Scholars for Universities

Guest Islamic scholars will be brought from overseas to teach at German universities in an effort to foster a home-grown theology for the religion followed by more than 4 million people here.

Schavan told weekly Die Zeit the shortage of Islamic academics meant they would have to be imported from abroad to ensure imams and other Islamic leaders could be educated within the German educational system.

“There are very few leading Islamic scholars in Germany,” Schavan said.

With an additional €12 billion for education and research announced by the federal government, there was also money available for additional Islamic professorships, Schavan said.

She added that Christian theology had benefited from being developed at German universities and that Islamic theology would be helped by the “same academic approach.”

The German Council of Science and Humanities — an advisory body to the government — recommended at the end of January that in future, imams and Islamic religious teachers should be educated at German universities.

The council also called for major Islamic studies institutes to be established at two or three of Germany’s universities.

It is one of several new ideas to improve integration. Late last year, the cultural organisation Auslandsgesellschaft announced a programme to help 17 Turkish imams learn German. Most of the religious leaders have recently come from Turkey and have no German skills.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Is There a Need for International Observers at the Swedish Election?

Is the Swedish electoral system fair or are there shortcomings that disfavor smaller parties? The question is asked in the Danish newspaper Politiken by Birgitta Wistrand, Swedish researcher and former parliamentarian and Jørgen Elklit, Danish political scientist.

Wistrand and Elklit point out two factors around Swedish elections that they believe should be changed.

Firstly, the system for printing and distributing ballots. In Sweden each party has their own ballot, it is not like in some other countries where there is a common ballot and the voter put a cross in a space that correspond to the party or candidate he/she wants to vote for.

The state pays for the printing and distribution of ballots for all parties that have got at least one percent of the votes in any of the two latest elections. This means that new parties have to pay for printing and arrange with distribution to poling stations by own means. That might be rather expensive and sometimes small parties lack the number of volunteers that is necessary to visit all the polling stations and place their ballots. In some cases the ballots are even removed by political opponents. When this happens to bigger parties it is up to the teller to make sure they are replaced with new ones.

It is however possible to write a party name on an empty ballot. Unless one misspells the party name completely, it will be a valid vote. In order to cross a specific candidate on the party list, one needs however the official ballot.

The other problem Wistrand and Elklit find is that the people standing outside the polling stations giving ballots to voters represent different parties. In small constituencies people often know each other and the distributers are conducting a subtle influence or pressure on the voters, especially if they know them.

I believe the writers have some points. Perhaps the state should pay for the printing and distribution of ballots for all parties that officially run in the election. It is very dangerous if one believe that any electoral system is perfect and free from any possibility of fraud. This is not least shown in the fraud in the internal election in the Moderate party.

But I also believe the Swedish electoral system is very safe when it comes to the actual voting process. Having worked as a teller during Swedish elections I would say my impression is that it would be very difficult to interfere with the process when collecting or counting the votes.

Elklit and Wistrand refer to Morten Messerschmidt, a danish Member of the European Parliament, who has suggested that the EU should send observers to the upcoming Swedish elections. Personally I believe this could be a good idea, not only for the Swedish election, but for all elections. Fraud could occur where you least expect in so why not have an international observation of all national parliamentary elections? Perhaps too expensive but there could be a smaller scale observation in stable democracies. It is something to think about.

           — Hat tip: Steen[Return to headlines]

Italy: Civil Protection Chief Denies He Attended Sex Parties

Palermo, 22 Feb. (AKI) — The embattled chief of Italy’s civil protection agency Guido Bertolaso on Monday denied claims he took part in sex parties. He reaffirmed his innocence in the unfolding corruption and sex scandal surrounding the Group of Eight summit.

“I never took part in any sex parties,” Bertolaso told Italian TV programme Mattino Cinque on Monday.

Bertolaso, a key ally of prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, has been accused of approving public construction contracts in exchange for sexual favours in an inquiry conducted by Florence prosecutors.

He also rejected suggestions that he accepted bribes when he co-ordinated emergency aid and construction contracts after the devastating earthquake in Abruzzo last year.

“To think I could be sold for 10,000 euros is ridiculous,” he said.

Bertolaso, 59, was lauded for his national leadership after the earthquake which killed 300 people and left thousands of others homeless in April last year.

After tendering his resignation twice last week, he offered to resign again on Monday over the sex and corruption claims.

The claims relate to the construction of a €327 million complex at the former US naval base of La Maddalena in Sardinia. At the last minute, Berlusconi moved the summit to L’Aquila as a gesture to the earthquake victims.

Bertolaso is one of 28 people under investigation for alleged corruption in relation to the allocation of contracts.

Four people have been arrested in relation to the charges, including his deputy, Angelo Balducci, who headed the state public works office.

Italian media reports are speculating there may be more arrests.

“I have just left the future of my job in the hands of the Cabinet,” he said. “ If I leave, someone will replace me to take control of emergencies.”

Bertolaso late on Monday returned to the southern region of Calabria which has been the site of serious mudslides. He travelled across the region by helicopter to survey the damage above the Savuto Valley.

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

Italy: Civil Protection Deputy Resigns

Rome, 25 Feb. (AKI) — The deputy of embattled civil protection chief Guido Bertolaso’s resigned on Thursday as an unfolding sex and corruption scandal took its toll on the government body. Angelo Balducci (photo), is one of four people arrested this month for alleged corruption in the allocation of contracts for last year’s Group of Eight summit.

Italy’s infrastructure minister Altero Matteoli accepted Balducci’s resignation which he received by telegram.

A corruption probe is investigating a total 28 people including Bertolaso, in relation to the allocation of the G8 construction contracts totalling 327 million euros.

Bertolaso has denied any wrongdoing and prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has urged the highly popular Bertolaso to stay in his post after refusing his resignation three times.

The G8 summit was to have been held on the island of Maddalena near Sardinia last July but Berlusconi moved it to the quake-hit central Italian town of L’Aquila at the last minute.

The other three people arrested in the G8 corruption probe were Fabio De Santis, a public works contractor in Tuscany, government official Mauro Della Giovampaola, and Rome businessman Diego Anemone, who allegedly organised “sex parties” for Bertolaso.

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

Italy: Mafia Clan Linked to Senator “Very Powerful”

Crotone, 24 Feb. (AKI) — The mafia clan allegedly linked to a money laundering scheme implicating an Italian senator and one of the country’s richest men is “extremely powerful”, a key prosecutor said on Wednesday. Vincenzo Antonio Lombardo, chief prosecutor in the southern city of Catanzaro, spoke to Adnkronos about the scheme allegedly linked to the Arena clan of the Calabrian mafia or ‘Ndrangheta.

“The Arena clan is very powerful,” he told Adnkronos. “We do not have any specific incidents related to this investigation. We knew there were relations abroad particularly with Germany but we do not have any other specific cases.”

Rome prosecutors have accused Nicola di Girolamo, a senator from prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s People of Freedom party, of being the financial mastermind of a mafia money laundering scheme.

He and billionaire businessman Silvio Scaglia, founder and former chief executive of Internet company Fastweb, are among 56 people facing charges including money laundering and mafia association.

Sparkle, a unit of Italy’s largest phone company, Telecom Italia, is also under investigation.

On Wednesday Di Girolamo said he was innocent of all the charges and other claims suggesting he was elected in April 2008 with the support of the Calabrian mafia or ‘Ndrangheta.

Investigators referred to a meeting held at Capo Rizzuto on the southeast tip of the Calabrian region between members of the Arena clan, the Magliana organised crime gang from Rome and businessman Gennaro Mokbel.

The meeting allegedly decided to back Di Girolamo’s election campaign in exhange for assistance with its international money laundering operations.

Scaglia and Fastweb have denied any involvement in the alleged mafia scam, which investigators claim laundered millions of euros through a network of bogus firms in Italy, England, Finland, Luxembourg, Panama and elsewhere.

The laundered money allegedly came from fictitious international phone service purchases and sales worth over 2 billion euros that took place between 2003 and 2006.

Fastweb has rejected any involvement in the alleged scheme, but said its current chief executive, Stefano Parisi, and two other managers, were under investigation.

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

Italy: Berlusconi Daughter ‘Coached’ To Enter Politics

Milan, 19 Feb.(AKI) — Marina Berlusconi, the oldest daughter of Italy’s billionaire media mogul prime minister, may follow her father into politics and is being coached by “media commentators” and “politcal analysts” in the Milan area according to investigative weekly magazine L’Espresso.

“Most likely after Silvio, Marina,” the magazine said.

Marina, 43, is chairman of her father Silvio Berlusconi’s investment holding company Fininvest Holding and the publishing house Arnoldo Mondadori Editore.

She is “impassioned” by politics and has regular meetings with Stefano Folli, a political commentator for financial daily Il Sole 24 Ore, among others, the magazine said.

Marina’s father earlier this week also said his daughter will continue to lead Mondadori, although her younger half-sister Barbara has hinted that she covets the role.

Marina ranked No. 33 on Forbes Magazine’s 2007 list of the world’s most powerful women.

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

Italy: ‘Tyrant King Palace Found’

‘House of Tarquins’ unearthed near Rome

(ANSA) — Rome, February 25 — A palace built by the family of Ancient Rome’s last tyrant king has been located in an ancient city south of the capital, archaeologists said Thursday.

The apparent opulence of the building, buried in a pile of rubble, has led experts to believe it was the home of the son of Tarquinius Superbus (Tarquin the Proud), the Etruscan seventh king of Rome whose brutal reign made Romans vow never to submit to a monarch again.

“It’s an extraordinary find,” Rome Archaeological Superintendent Angelo Bottini said at the site of ancient Gabii, 20km south of Rome.

“The way the site was demolished by furious locals in ancient times and later escaped local urban sprawl has allowed the palace to come to us virtually intact”.

Only three small rooms have so far been uncovered but archaeologists hope to find more remains of what must have been a monumental roof and ornate interiors.

The shards of a terracotta roof decoration showing the Minotaur, an emblem of the Tarquins, has already been found, said Rome Tor Vergata University archaeologist Marco Fabbri.

Experts believe the palace was home to Sextus Tarquinius, whose rape of a king’s daughter in nearby Ardea helped spark the revolt that toppled his equally unsavoury father.

“According to Livy, the Gabians murdered Sextus after Tarquin was thrown out of Rome in 510 BC,” Bottini said.

“But we think it may have been home to generations of Tarquins”.

Aside from its historical value, the site is of “exceptional” archeological importance because similar buildings in Rome and other large cities were demolished to make way for later ones, Bottini observed. The 6th-century BC ruins, brought to light between September and December, in fact contain the highest intact walls of such a date ever found in Italy, at about two metres.

The experts said the discovery corroborated ancient reports of “the political and cultural importance of Gabii”.

Gabii is known to historians as one of the towns that joined the Latin League allied to Rome, but such a close association as that indicated by the new find has never been fully established.

However, the historian Plutarch claimed that Romulus and Remus were brought up at or near the city, where they learned literature and the use of Greek weapons.

Under the “exceptionally well-preserved floor slabs,” the archaeologists said, eight round cells containing human remains were found as evidence of propitiatory rites ahead of the building’s construction.

Five stillborn babies were found, Bottini said, stressing that “there was no human sacrifice”. Bottini said the dig needed more money if it was to unveil the palace “in all its splendour” and Culture Undersecretary Francesco Giro pledged to provide it.

“If it’s a question of having one less show or funding something like this, the choice is easy,” he said.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Telecom Italia Cited in Laundering Probe

Fastweb, Telecom stocks take beating

(see previous story on site). (ANSA) — Rome, February 23 — Italy’s biggest telecommunications group Telecom Italia has been cited in a probe into alleged money laundering linked to the Calabrian mafia, police said Tuesday.

Telecom Italia, its unit Sparkle, and the Fastweb telecoms company are suspected of “transnational criminal conspiracy”.

Telecom Italia stock fell 2.69% on the news while Fastweb was down almost 8%, in heavy trading.

As well as Fastweb founder and ex-CEO Silvio Scaglia, for whom an arrest warrant has been issued, three Fastweb executives including current CEO Stefano Parisi are under investigation for conspiracy and issuing bogus invoices.

There was no immediate response from the companies involved but Scaglia said he was coming back to Italy to “clear things up”.

The criminal organisation led by Rome businessman Gennaro Mokbel, who allegedly made huge cash transfers in London, carried out a two-billion-euro laundering scam on non-existent phone services, investigators say.

During the four-year investigation, police tracked suspects from Delaware in the United States to Switzerland, Luxembourg, the UK, Romania, Dubai, Singapore, Hong Kong and a villa at Antibes where meetings were held.

The Bank of Italy helped investigators by contacting central bankers in Hong Kong, the Seychelles, Singapore, Cyprus, Panama, the United Arab Emirates and San Marino.

Nine of the 56 arrest warrants are being served in the UK, three in Switzerland and one in the US.

None of them were identified.

Bank accounts have been frozen and deposit boxes seized in those countries.

In 2007 the elite ROS Carabinieri unit seized two million euros in three deposit boxes in London but UK authorities claimed the operation was by British police to allow the investigation to continue. Investigations in Italy ranged from Calabria, Puglia and Lazio to Umbria and Lombardy. Prosecutors will seek to recover assets worth some 340 million euros from Fastweb and Telecom Italia Sparkle.

Also the subject of seizure orders are 246 pieces of real estate worth some 48 million euros; 133 cars and five boats worth 3.7 million; 743 financial assets; 58 company shares worth 1.944 million; and two jewelry stores. The value of the assets located abroad is some 15 million euros.

In another part of the probe, Calabrian crime syndicate ‘Ndrangheta allegedly helped Nicola Di Girolamo get elected at the 2008 Italian general election for Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi’s People of Freedom (PdL) party.

The PdL Senator, elected with heavy voting in Germany for the ‘Europe’ constituency for Italians living abroad, was allegedly voted in to help ‘Ndrangheta launder some of its huge drug profits. Gennaro Mikbel, the alleged ringleader in the scheme, is the only one with a criminal record.

He was arrested in 1992 for harbouring a former rightist militant convicted of murder, but served no prison time.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Milan Fuming Over Anna Wintour

Designers seething after shows curtailed ‘to suit her’

(ANSA) — Milan, February 25 — Organizers of the Milan fashion week were still seething on Thursday after the editor-in-chief of American Vogue Anna Wintour’s announced she would cut short her stay, effectively curtailing showings to four days.

In the past, the Milan fashion week lasted a full five days but Wintour had made it very clear well before her arrival she would not stay an entire week. The British-born fashion maven, who inspired the book and subsequent film The Devil Wears Prada, is widely thought to be the most influential person in the industry.

But her detractors accuse her of being aloof, of having a prickly persona and wielding too much power. “Anna Wintour has no power. Once in a while we should just say no. Italian fashion rules the world and no one can ‘snatch’ that away from us,” the deputy chairman of the Italian Fashion Association Saverio Moschillo told reporters on Thursday, after she failed to show up for his Haute collection.

“Our creativity, culture and artisans are unique,” he added, blaming Italian politicians for not providing the same support that French authorities dedicate to the Paris fashion week. Designer Luciano Soprani ended his show on a provocative note, unfurling a banner which read: “Anna Wintour, where are you?” Milan Mayor Letizia Moratti berated the Vogue editor for seeking “to do and undo our fashion calendar” but economic daily Il Sole 24 Ore lashed out at the Italian fashion industry for caving in to her demands.

Though the Italian fashion industry is stronger than its French and American competitors, when “faced by Wintour’s bob and huge sunglasses it transforms itself into Cinderella,” the daily said.

Shoe tycoon Diego Della Valle joined in the fray, blasting his colleagues for bowing to Wintour’s pressure and stressing that Paris designers had not budged an inch when asked to revise their schedule.

“We should not allow this to happen again. We’ve got to maintain our leadership and it shouldn’t be sold out just because three people are scared down like this. It’s scandalous,” he told reporters last week. Polemics were rekindled on Wednesday, on the first day of the shows, after the editor-in-chief of Vogue Italy Franca Sozzani rushed to the defence of her American colleague.

“It’s a mistake to blame Anna Wintour or me. Trying to find a scapegoat is a way of deflecting attention from the real problem faced by Italian fashion: no-one has robbed it of its authoritativeness, we’ve done that on our own,” said Sozzani.

Sozzani shrugged off talk of an anti-Italian plot, urging designers and the Fashion Association to “learn how to sell themselves better”.

But she did admit that the Milan showings deserved a “full five days” considering that the New York Fashion week lasts seven days and that “there are only four shows worth seeing”.

Sozzani also railed against the eight days needed to see the Paris collections, saying the schedule was “absurd” for most fashion editors.

“Who can afford to stay away from their newsrooms that long?”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Grillo Slams Google Sentence

‘Managers should get a medal,’ Web activist says

(by Denis Greenan).

(ANSA) — Rome, February 25 — Comedian and Web activist Beppe Grillo on Thursday slammed an Italian judge’s ruling that Google failed to protect the privacy of an autistic teenager who appeared in a 2006 video posted by school bullies.

Grillo said Wednesday’s conviction of three Google executives, which has been widely decried by advocates of Web freedom, was tantamount to punishing the owner of a building on which offensive slogans have been painted or prosecuting a phone company when users violate privacy norms.

Instead of being found guilty, the Google execs should have been lauded for exposing bullying, said Grillo, 61, a comic and political activist who came seventh in Forbes’ list of Web personalities in 2009.

“The Google managers are not only innocent, but they should get a medal”.

“Without the video, the kid would still be the victim of his tormentors. The scandal only erupted thanks to the visibility provided by Youtube”.

“This sentence sends a message that disabled kids can be bullied in Italian schools, as long as it is kept secret,” said Grillo, who in 2005 was named one of American magazine Time’s European heroes of the year and has in recent years staged huge rallies aimed at removing convicted politicians from parliament.

“If a defamatory insult is written on a wall you don’t convict the owner for allowing it to happen or not cancelling it immediately”.

“If someone uses the phone to spread news that should be protected by privacy norms you don’t report the phone company”.

“If all content had to be preventively checked from a legal standpoint before it was put online, Internet would have to shut up shop,” said the crusading comic.

Across the political barricades, Grillo’s view was shared by an MP in Premier Silvio Berlusconi’s People of Freedom party, Roberto Cassinelli, who called the sentence “wrong and potentially dangerous” and said it might threaten the development of the Web.

The Italian section of Reporters Without Borders (RWB) voiced the same concern, calling Judge Oscar Magi’s ruling “a grave precedent, all the more so because it was taken in a democratic country”.

“If the judges meant to start a debate on Internet privacy they picked the wrong case,” RWB said in a statement.

“This sentence, unfortunately, establishes the de facto need for prior control of the publication of videos”.

“It is a serious blow to freedom of expression”.

Google, which is appealing the sentence, noted that the video, posted in September 2006, was pulled as soon as it came to its attention two months later and its action led to the bullies being expelled from their Turin high school.

On Wednesday night the United States ambassador to Italy, David Thorne, said “the US is negatively affected by today’s ruling, online abuses must not be an excuse to violate the right to a free internet”.

“Freedom on the internet is vital for democracy,” he said.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Nuclear: Spain: 8 Councils in Final List to Host Site

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, FEBRUARY 22 — Eight out of an original 14 city councils have been included in the definitive list of ‘finalists’ to host the storage depot for waste from ten Spanish nuclear power stations. Sources from the Ministry for Industry confirm that the eight municipalities whose candidature has been accepted are Albalà (Caceres), Ascò (Tarragona), Melgar de Arriba (Valladolid), Santervas de Campos (Valladolid), Torrubia de Soria (Soria), Yebra (Guadalajara), Villar de Caas (Cuenca) and Zarra (Valencia). Of the five excluded by the inter-ministry body, Congosto de Valdavia (Palencia) and Villar del Pozo (Ciudad Real), have announced that they will appeal. After the publication of the final list, the commission will evaluate the candidates on the ground and will draw up a report on the various proposals and the advantages and disadvantages of the various delocalizations. The report will be sent to the Government, which will designate the City that will host the Temporary Centralised Deposit, the official name of the plant, after examination by the Council of Ministers. The factor which led to the competition between the municipalities, often in open opposition with the Provinces and Regions concerned, was the 700 million euros in planned investments to build the “cemetery” of nuclear waste, which will bring 300 jobs. A promise of wealth which is capable of overcoming the fears and apocalyptic scenarios of nuclear disasters put forward to ecological organisations such as Greenpeace. The waste warehouse, which will be built on a surface area of 13 hectares, will receive during 60 years — renewable for a further 60 — 6,700 tonnes of radioactive waste from ten Spanish nuclear reactors, including waste currently passed by Spain to France in a contract which expires on December 21 this year. Alongside the silos, (283 metres long, 78 wide and 26 high) there will be a technology centre for research and experimentation, and in a second phase, another two deposits for the storing of waste. For several of the candidate Councils, which are small and have a few hundred inhabitants, the nuclear storage depot represents their only chance of avoiding progressive disappearance. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Rai Med: Riva Sud, Founder of European Islamic Party Interview

(ANSAmed) — PALERMO, FEBRUARY 25 — Mustafa Bakkach, president of PRUNE, the first Islamic party in Europe, has given an exclusive interview with Riva Sud, the socio-economic weekly programme of the TV news from Palermo under the direction of Maria Pia Farinella. The interview will be broadcast tomorrow at 9.15 PM in Italian and at 11.15 in Arabic on the satellite channel RAI MED. Bakkach — a journalist, professor and politician of Moroccan origins but with Spanish citizenship — founded PRUNE in Granada, Andalusia, which until 1492 had been the last city under Muslim domination in Europe. In the interview, granted to the RAI correspondent in Spain, Emanuele Fiorilli, Mustafa Bakkach said that his party intended to take part in the 2011 local elections, in line with the Spanish constitution, in order to represent requests from Muslims living in Spain. The issue of integration in multicultural societies is the organising theme of the episode, with the devotion of Tamils in Palermo to Rosalia, the city’s patron saint; an analysis of Arab TV and newspapers, to see how the West is seen from the southern shores of the Mediterranean; and for the cultural programme Zoom, ‘My Father was a Freedom Fighter’, a success in the world of publishing in the Palestinian Territories by Ramzy Baroud. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Spain: Torero Managed Prostitution Network With Family

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, FEBRUARY 17 — Bullfighter Juan Pedro Galan was arrested today, as well as his sister, his parents and 11 others. Their arrests are part of an operation of the Spanish Civil Guard: operation “Toscana”. The operation targets a network of exploitation of prostitution in the provinces of Cadiz and Malaga, Andalusia. According to Civil Guard sources, the suspects have been charged with sexual exploitation, money laundering and the possession of false documents. The owners of the brothels where the prostitutes worked have also been arrested. The prostitutes were forced to give the organisation 50% of their income, had to work exhausting hours and even had to lose weight or wear the clothes selected by the network. A total of 15 people have been arrested, and six houses have been searched. Many documents have been impounded, as well as half a million euros in cash and 26 cars. According to the Civil Guard, the network owned around 50 million euros worth of real estate. The investigation started in April 2009, after some inspections carried out by policemen of the Civil Guard. The arrested torero and his family manage several bars and sex-clubs in Andalusia. (ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Sweden: Malmö Mayor Concedes Ignorance on Jew Attacks

Malmö mayor Ilmar Reepalu conceded that he has not been sufficiently well informed about the vulnerable situation faced by Jews after meeting with community leaders on Thursday.

Reepalu, who has found himself at the heart of a controversy over comments apparently apportioning blame for an escalation of anti-Semitic harassment in Malmö on Jews themselves, met with community leaders Fred Kahn and Fredrik Sieradzki on Thursday afternoon.

“Serious words have been said. But we had a constructive discussion and could be straight with each other,” Fred Kahn said after the 90 minute meeting.

The trio agreed to pose for photos after their meeting.

But Reepalu continued to claim that his comments had been misrepresented by the media, and local newspaper Skånska Dagbladet was barred from attending a press conference at Malmö City Hall after Thursday’s meeting.

“I agree that the way some of my comments have been described in the media has been very unfortunate,” Ilmar Reepalu said regarding criticism from party leader Mona Sahlin.

The Local reported on Thursday that Social Democrat Party leader Mona Sahlin had instructed Reepalu to open a dialogue with the Jewish community.

Skånska Dagbladet has responded to its press conference snub and continued criticism from Reepalu by granting full public access to all material pertaining to their interview with the mayor.

It was in an interview with “Skånskan” that Reepalu first made a link between Zionism and anti-Semitism and stated that Malmö Jews should take a clear stand against Israeli policy in Gaza.

The newspaper has now published on its website the full tapes of its interview with Ilmar Reepalu, as well as all the texts published in its article series on threats and harassment faced by Malmö Jews, and the exchange of emails between the newspaper and the mayor’s office.

The newspaper writes that Reepalu was given the chance to view his comments and did not require that any part of the interview be removed or changed. He in fact added further comments, some of which were published in the newspaper’s articles.

Comments approved by the mayor include the argument that Jews in Malmö share the responsibility for how they are perceived:

“Imagine if the Jewish community in Malmö, in the same way as a large number of Israelis in Jerusalem, took a stand against the breaches of human rights which the state of Israeli subjected the civilian population in Gaza to. Imagine the effect it would have! Instead they hold a demonstration on Stortorget, which can send the wrong signals.”

When asked whether he had considered taking a public stand against anti-Semitism Reepalu appeared to equate the situation with Zionism.

“We accept neither Zionism nor anti-Semitism or other forms of ethnic discrimination,” Malmö’s mayor for the past 15 years said.

The southern Swedish newspaper also links to a Sveriges Radio interview with Reepalu as well as the text of an article detailing an interview with the Malmö mayor by the British Sunday Telegraph.

In the article Reepalu was quoted as saying:

“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 Malmo.”

After yesterday’s meeting, Reepalu explained that he had hitherto been insufficiently informed about the vulnerable situation faced by Jews in Malmö. He has now been presented with facts from both the police and the community’s own security personnel. The mayor now states that he is ready to act, via the newly formed Dialogue Forum, to ease tension between the city’s plethora of ethnic groups.

“Hate crimes have to be taken seriously,” he said.

In a letter to all council departments, Reepalu urged vigilance for signs of anti-Semitism or racism.

“It is a question of confronting attitudes, often based on prejudice,” said Björn Lagerbäck at the dialogue forum.

Kahn and Sieradzki greeteded the initiative with cautious optimism.

“This is the start of a process. We shall see where it leads.”

The Local has made attempts to call Ilmar Reepalu on Friday but was told that the Mayor was unavailable.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

UK: ‘Racist’ School Bus Drivers ‘Refusing to Stop for Young Muslim Girls Who Are Wearing the Hijab’

School bus drivers have been accused of racism after failing to stop for pupils wearing Muslim hijabs.

Young girls have claimed they are being bullied on board for dressing in the traditional veil which covers the head.

To avoid trouble, ‘cowardly’ drivers are allegedly ignoring pupils who wait at bus stops wearing the headscarf.

Following a police investigation, officers will now be drafted on to board the buses to protect the students from ‘racist’ taunts of other passengers.

The problems centre on Merseytravel and pupils attending West Derby’s Holly Lodge Girls’ College in Merseyside, where 10 per cent of the 11,274 11 to 18-year-old students are from ethnic minorities.

Members of the Muslim community said the issue was a long-running one.

Amina Ismail, who works at Liverpool John Moores University, was approached by the victims.

She said: ‘They said people driving past were being abusive because they were wearing the hijab.’

Ms Ismail said bus drivers refusing to stop were ‘cowardly’ and that ‘they should not push their own personal prejudices on young people’.

She urged people to ‘see past the scarf or skin colour and look beyond this’.

Holly Lodge has previously won praise from Ofsted for its ‘promotion of equality and diversity’.

Headteacher Julia Tinsley said: ‘There have been a small number of cases where ignorant people have directed racist comments at our pupils while they are on buses.

‘It is completely unacceptable and very upsetting for those involved and we have provided support to those affected.

‘We welcome the assistance from Merseyside police in tackling the mindless minority who think it is acceptable to make racist comments.’

Merseyside police has produced an action plan to prevent any further incidents, including looking at how victims can pass on anonymous information.

A spokesman said the force was committed to tackling racism, adding: ‘We will be putting police community support officers on public buses during the periods these incidents are happening to reassure passengers and deter would-be offenders.

‘CCTV will be routinely checked following allegations of any criminal offence.’

However, Colin Carr, regional adviser for Unite — whose members include bus drivers — said he would be surprised if they were failing to stop.

‘The union would condemn this kind of action, and equality and diversity is something we promote across the spectrum,’ he said.

Merseytravel said it condemned ‘all acts of racism’ and, after probing the claims, has ‘now drawn up an action plan to deal with and prevent any further incidents’.

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

UK: BNP Votes to Accept Black Members

Mark Hennessy, London Editor

THE BRITISH National Party (BNP), which had been threatened with court action over its “whites-only” membership rules, has voted to accept applications from blacks and Asians.

Just five of the 300 party members, meeting in Hornchurch in Essex yesterday, opposed the rule change, and five abstained, though no one was particularly happy about having to vote for the rule change, said party leader and MEP Nick Griffin.

“The meeting was dominated by a good spirit of unity, with everyone understanding that the party has to adapt for legal, financial and political necessity,” he said.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) had threatened to injunct the far-right party unless it scrapped its membership rules limiting membership to “indigenous British” people.

The BNP must now return to court next month, when a judge will decide if the new rule complies with the UK’s race relation laws, although it is not clear if the party will actually get applications from non-white people.

Last night Mr Griffin said he expected a “trickle, rather than a flood” of applications from non-whites. “Anyone can be a member of this party. We are happy to accept anyone as a member providing they agree with us that this country should remain fundamentally British.”

Of the EHRC’s action Mr Griffin said: “Our problem with this is a government-funded, taxpayer-funded quango telling people who they can and can’t associate with, [which] is a fundamental outrage. Nevertheless, we recognise legal reality.”

A journalist from the London Times was forcibly expelled from the meeting before the vote was declared, following complaints from BNP London assembly member Richard Barnbrook, who was unhappy about a piece written in the paper on Saturday.

A photograph carried on the newspaper’s website last night showed a security guard grabbing journalist Douglas Kennedy’s nose as he was ejected: “He refused to leave when he was asked, so he had to be encouraged to leave,” said Mr Griffin.

Opponents of the BNP say the vote will make no difference. “I think that regardless of the vote, the changes are cosmetic and have only happened because the courts forced them to stop racist practices,” said Weyman Bennett of [the far-left] Unite Against Fascism.

           — Hat tip: VH[Return to headlines]

UK: Judiciary Selection: White British Males Put Last Again

A Government review which recommends that white British males be actively discriminated against when judges are selected has been accepted by the cabinet and will now be implemented.

The report, issued by the Advisory Panel on Judicial Diversity, said that women, ethnic minority, homosexual and disabled applicants must be given preferential treatment over white male candidates.

Even in cases where two candidates are equally qualified, the report says, preference must be given to the principle of “positive action” — in other words, to anyone but a white male.

The report also called for all candidates for judicial office to be able to demonstrate “experience of diversity” in either their private or professional lives.

According to panel chairman Baroness Neuberger, the anti-white male discrimination was necessary because it was wrong for members of the judiciary to be drawn from a “narrow and homogeneous group.”

The report also called on law firms and senior judges to encourage employees from what it called “under-represented groups” to apply for judicial office.

In addition, senior judges should be required to say when they will retire, so those selected to replace them know when posts will become available, the report said.

According to the Ministry of Justice, the report’s recommendations had been accepted in full.

“I warmly welcome their findings and their recommendations. Becoming a judge must be, and must be seen to be, open in practice to everyone with the right skills and qualities,” Justice Secretary Jack Straw was quoted as saying, ignoring the fact that the report he had just welcomed called for white males to be actively discriminated against.

This however is not unusual for Mr Straw, whose more memorable public utterances include the claim that the “The English as a race aren’t worth saving.”

Unlike Mr Straw, who during his student days was classified as a “communist sympathiser” in his MI5 observation files, the British National Party believes firmly that when it comes to the selection of judges, the only criteria should be competence and nothing else.

To select judges on any other basis is simply madness.

           — Hat tip: VH[Return to headlines]

UK: No Longer Londonistan But Hamastan

An immensely important and chilling analysis by the authoritative Intelligence and Analysis Information Centre in Tel Aviv highlights the shocking extent to which Britain has become the European epicentre of Hamas activity. Hamas, let us remind ourselves, is the genocidal terrorist Muslim Brotherhood organisation, now in cahoots with Shi’ite Iran, which is pledged to exterminate Israel and kill Jewish people everywhere, along with extinguishing human rights within the Islamic world. Its cause should be absolute anathema to the west, which should be doing everything in its power to stamp it out as the unconscionable threat that it is to life and liberty. Yet for the past decade, Britain has turned itself into the principal focus within Europe for the political, propaganda and legal activities of Hamas. The report states:…

           — Hat tip: ICLA[Return to headlines]

UK: Pub Landlord Given First Smoking Ban Jail Sentence

Nick Hogan, 43, was sentenced to six months in prison for refusing to pay a fine imposed for flouting the legislation.

Two years ago Hogan, who ran two pubs in Bolton, became the first landlord convicted of breaking the law for allowing his customers to routinely light up in his bars.

A judge fined Hogan, of Chorley, Lancashire, £3,000 and ordered him to pay £7,236 in costs after finding him guilty of four charges under the Health Act 2006.

But the married father-of-two refused to pay the fine and yesterday, after repeatedly being hauled back before the courts, a judge sitting at Bolton Crown Court finally lost patience and jailed him.

Last night his wife, Denise, 53, who is also a publican, said she was disgusted that her husband would be in prison alongside murderers and rapists.

‘Criminals and bad people go to prison not law-abiding businessmen like my husband who are trying to earn an honest living,’ she said. ‘Nick doesn’t deserve to go to jail, all he has done is speak his mind and people simply don’t like it.

‘Ninety per cent of people who come into my pub want to smoke, even the non-smokers think there should be a choice. These laws are ridiculous.’

At the hearing, in January 2008, magistrates were told Hogan held a ‘mass light-up’ in his two pubs, the Swan Hotel and Barristers’ Bar, in Bolton, on the day the smoking ban came into force in July 2007.

He was visited by inspectors from the local authority, who found letters taped to pub tables advising customers they had the ‘freedom to choose whether or not to smoke’.

They also saw regulars smoking on five separate occasions.

Hogan, who has since sold his lease for both the pubs, was cleared of one count of failing to prevent his customers from smoking and four further charges of obstructing council officers.

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of the anti-smoking group ASH, insisted it was a myth that the anti-smoking legislation had forced pubs out of business.

She said: ‘Many pubs have shifted their focus to serving food, so they have changed their nature.’

She added: ‘Mr Hogan is the exception, not the norm, because compliance rates for the ban are way above 90 per cent.’

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

Why Are British Eurosceptics So Rude?

THE Belgian newspaper, De Standaard, asked me to write an op-ed explaining to their baffled readers why a British Eurosceptic politician was so very rude to the President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, in the European Parliament this week. Nigel Farage, a member of the European Parliament (MEP) from the United Kingdom Independence Party, called Mr Van Rompuy (a Belgian) that he had the “charisma of a damp rag”, among other insults.

The short version of why Mr Farage was winkled out of the UKIP politician by BBC Radio 4’s Today programme yesterday morning. What does being so rude achieve, Mr Farage was asked. Well, it has got me on this programme, hasn’t it, he replied. And there you have it. “Today” is a flagship programme on the BBC: about the most serious news programme in Britain, along with “Newsnight” on BBC television. And calling a foreign politician names gets you on it.

For a longer explanation, this is the English original of my op-ed (in Flemish here).

IF ALL Herman Van Rompuy’s political opponents in Brussels were as harmless as Nigel Farage, a British Eurosceptic member of the European Parliament, the new President of the European Council would have few worries.

A clever enemy of European integration might have found valuable ammunition in Mr Van Rompuy’s first presidential address to the European Parliament. Despite his mild appearance and quiet delivery, Mr Van Rompuy has big ambitions for the European Council, and he scattered clues throughout his speech. The former Belgian prime minister hinted, not for the first time, that he would like to see as many as ten European leaders’ summits a year, and made clear he wants the European Council to make “full use” of the powers in the Lisbon Treaty to move towards much closer economic co-ordination between EU member states. He confirmed that he believes he should attend G20 meetings alongside the President of the European Commission, and made clear he wants a role alongside the new High Representative in representing Europe to the outside world.

Much of what Mr Van Rompuy has in mind should be anathema to Mr Farage. He is from the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), whose vow to pull Britain out of the EU secured it 13 seats at the 2009 Euro-elections (just ahead of Labour, though some considerable way behind the Conservatives, on a feeble 35% turnout). Mr Farage did offer some political commentary, telling Mr Van Rompuy: “You appear to have a loathing of the very concept of the existence of nation states. Perhaps that’s because you come from Belgium, which of course is pretty much a non-country.”

But in truth, Mr Farage had other ambitions for his parliamentary intervention: namely, to say something that would generate headlines.

So he did. The promise was of a Council president who would be a “giant global figure” worthy of a salary higher than President Barack Obama, said Mr Farage, adding: “But I’m afraid all we got was you.” Then came his big sound-bite: “Really, you have the charisma of a damp rag, and the appearance of a low-grade bank clerk. And the question that I want to ask, that we are all going to ask, is: who are you?”

Readers of De Standaard must now be asking a question of their own: who is Nigel Farage (and why is he so rude)?

Mr Farage is a fairly successful populist politician, who would like to become a really successful populist politician. He is not a far-right extremist, though he flirts with tough rhetoric on immigration, Islam and crime. He is a libertarian rather than a social conservative, a trouble-maker and a risk-taker (before politics, he worked as a commodities trader, bawling out bids at the London Metals Exchange). To risk a Flemish comparison, he is more Jean-Marie Dedecker than Filip Dewinter.

In Britain, members of the European Parliament can serve years in Brussels and Strasbourg without once appearing on television. Mr Farage does better than that: as a former UKIP leader and reliable provider of tough quotes, he makes it on to political talk shows every now and then. Along with a clutch of other ambitious British MEPs, he has discovered the power of YouTube, the internet site which can send an especially outrageous soundbite around the world, as a parliamentary appearance goes “viral”.

But Mr Farage has a purely domestic focus just now. He is running for the House of Commons, in the normally rock-solid Conservative seat of Buckingham, a prosperous commuter town near London. He has run for the Westminster parliament five times before, and never achieved more than 8% of the vote. This time, he might just have a chance of winning.

Mr Farage is standing as a rebel challenger to the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, who was Conservative MP for Buckingham, but by convention gave up his party affiliation to become Speaker. By the same convention, when Speakers stand for re-election to parliament, the other big parties do not field candidates against them. Mr Farage has broken that convention, arguing that Mr Bercow is not a true Conservative. It is true that Mr Bercow has few friends on his own side, after drifting from the right of his party to a position not far from the Labour Party.

In short, the attack on Mr Van Rompuy may have a simple explanation. The idea was surely to secure press headlines and YouTube viewings to impress voters in Buckingham.

Strict sticklers for logic might ask Mr Farage why he is so fascinated with running for the Westminster parliament. After all, UKIP argues that “72% of new laws affecting UK citizens come from Brussels.” Unless Mr Farage assumes his party is magically going to enter the British government, he is surely condemning himself to a life of tedium on the green benches of the House of Commons, tinkering with the 28% of laws that do not come from Brussels.

If Mr Farage does make it to Westminster, he will certainly have to brush up his powers of abuse. Calling someone a “bank clerk” will barely impress MPs, a band who take their insults seriously. Norman Tebbit, a cabinet minister under Margaret Thatcher, has said his career was launched when a Labour leader called him a “semi-house-trained polecat.” Years later, when he was ennobled and sent to the House of Lords, he paid homage by including a polecat on his coat of arms.

A “damp rag” on a coat of arms would not look nearly so clever.

           — Hat tip: TV[Return to headlines]


The Debacle of Serbia’s “Lobbying” In Washington

By James G. Jatras

The lobbying contract between the Government of Serbia and Milan Petrovic’s firm appears still to be in force, but it is hard to be sure since there are no discernable activities being performed. And of course that is the real scandal, in which the “yellow” press organs obsessed with my work for Bishop Artemije seem to take no interest.

Since the suspension of Bishop Artemije of Ras and Prizren from administration of his Eparchy, efforts have been made by some to use my role as a lobbyist in Washington on his behalf as a weapon in the campaign against him. I already have addressed elsewhere the questions, first raised last week by Blic (parroting an Albanian-American source), about the source of the funds used for lobbying in the U.S. and whether their use for that purpose was legitimate application of the ruling Bishop’s discretion.

But the more damaging thing about these attacks is the notion that lobbying for Serbia’s right to keep Kosovo was somehow a “waste” of money, and that there were no results from it. This is more than a belittlement of the efforts that were expended by my firm and those working with us.. It is, rather, a suggestion that it is immoral and futile for Serbia to struggle for her interests by lobbying to change US policy.

When we started in the spring of 2006 we were the only professional (as opposed to volunteer) activity lobbying on behalf of the Serbian cause. Our activities, through a US nonprofit organization we created, the American Council for Kosovo, were not confined to narrowly focused lobbying in the form of quiet meetings with American officials and Congressmen. More importantly, we knew we had to change the terms of debate on Kosovo, from a place where the noble West saved innocent Albanian Muslims from evil Serbs, to a place where the criminal, terrorist UÇK was committing genocide of Christian Serbs. Most of our activities in the U.S. and elsewhere (Britain, Germany, Israel, India, Italy, the EU, Russia, etc.), often in cooperation with The Lord Byron Foundation and with the support of other volunteers, were focused on public opinion. We forced people to look at “the other side” of the Kosovo story, to the outraged howls of the Albanian lobby that we were trying to “hijack” US policy. While we were not able to overturn an American policy misinformed by decades of Albanian (and Croatian) anti-Serb propaganda, I believe were successful in helping to delay Washington’s final push for almost two years, giving Serbia a chance to fight back. Our contract, only a part of which was ever paid, was for $100,000 per month, including (about 40% of the total) cost of advertising, conferences, travel, and other expenses.

In evaluating our degree of success, it might be useful to make a couple of comparisons. A few months after we began our effort under the direction of Vladika Artemije, the Serbian government (under Prime Minister Kostunica) hired another firm, Barbour Griffith and Rodgers, to lobby officially on its behalf. That contract was for $60,000 per month, plus costs. As far as has been publicly disclosed, they were not specifically tasked with lobbying on Kosovo, but such concentration can be inferred. Their activities were entirely closed-door meetings, and they did no public activities to make Serbia’s case. They were dropped soon after the UDI in February 2008.

In the summer of 2009, Belgrade (the current government) hired another firm, Chicago-based Advanced Practical Solutions, for $85,000 per month, plus most costs. As a professional lobbyist, I don’t generally like to throw rocks at a competitor, but APS seems an odd choice. They have no active website and apparently not even a Washington office. APS’s President, Mr. Milan Petrovic, is known mostly as a top fundraiser for former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich. According to press reports, when “Blago” was governor APS did a nice little business steering state contracts to its clients, mainly in the healthcare field. The operation fell apart with the Antoin “Tony” Rezko bribery conviction, Blagojevich’s resignation, and Petrovic’s withdrawal from the Indiana bar to avoid imminent expulsion. Maybe APS was hired by the Tadic government because it’s a “Serbian firm,” although that in itself means nothing. But an online search of US political campaign records finds several contributions to candidates (all Democrats: Blagojevich, John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama) by an APS employee named Shqipe Osmani, which doesn’t sound Serbian.

The APS contract appears still to be in force, but it’s hard to be sure since there are no discernable activities being performed. And of course that’s the real scandal, in which the “yellow” press organs obsessed with my work for Bishop Artemije seem to take no interest. I wonder why.

I’m sure these figures for lobbying activities in the US must seem astronomical to readers in Serbia, where people are struggling to scrape by. The sad fact is, this is the kind of money it takes to array a battery of experienced media and lobbying professionals, usually with experience as government officials, Congressmen, Senators, and (like me) Congressional staff. These are people who have the access to make a foreign country’s — or politician’s, or political party’s — case heard in Washington’s corridors of power.

Many countries a lot poorer than Serbia have made the decision it’s an investment they need to make, if only for self-protection. It is a choice Bishop Artemije, to his credit, made when no one else on the Serbian side was willing to step forward. And now there are those who seek to punish him for it, and punish Serbia too. Thats not just a crime, it’s a blunder.

           — Hat tip: Srdja Trifkovic[Return to headlines]

Mediterranean Union

Craxi: Southern Shore Natural Outlet for Europe

(ANSAmed) — ROME, FEBRUARY 25 — Europe must avoid the risk of an excessive orientation towards the east and the Balkans and must consider its natural outlet to be “none other than the Mediterranean area”. This is the emphasis that came from the deputy foreign minister, Stefania Craxi, while speaking today at the Mediterranean Economic Forum. Italy in particular, she continued, considers the Mediterranean as a “natural basin for developing its own economic and political interests”. And in the phase in which the six added secretary general positions of the Mediterranean Union are being discussed, the country is looking to, with its candidate, “for the position of senior deputy secretary in charge of project financing”, she reminded, to ensure “the implementation of large scale projects in the Mediterranean, above all in infrastructure”. Italy can naturally present itself as a leader, Stefania Craxi continued, with the small and medium sized enterprise model, “as well as the social and economic model”, which can be a condition for the “political stability” of the countries along the Mediterranean’s southern shore. Besides, the Italian economy must look to this area, not only from the trade perspective but also as a “structured economic and industrial partner”. Stefania Craxi pointed out the presence of Italian entrepreneurs in the various countries, “from Algerian projects to the new scenarios opening in Libya, and I am not just referring to the 5 billion dollars in 20 years” for infrastructure work. In Tunisia, she went on to say, “we need to combine the impressing number of small and medium sized enterprises from Italy with the capacity to thrive in the market, exploiting the special areas decided by the government to encourage foreign investment”, as well as the possibilities created by the fact that it is the only country to have signed an association agreement with the European Union for the industrial products, along with the sovereign funds aimed at the real estate sector and the development of tourism. As for Egypt and Morocco, which have “growth margins of interesting proportions, in the area we can only count limitedly”, she indicated, “on the presence of our banking system, which preferred in the past to concentrate on Eastern Europe and the Balkans”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Economy: More EU-Arab Coooperation Needed, Experts

(ANSAmed) — DAMASCUS, FEBRUARY 22 — Arab and European officials and experts underlined at the end of a 2-day conference in Damascus the need for expanding cooperation between the Arab world and Europe to develop small and medium enterprises (SME) in the wake of the global financial crisis. At a final session yesterday, the participants recommended to support creation and innovation through linking the businessemen with the investors by supporting the ventures, in addition to establishing a center to develop Arab exports of SME’s products to European Union countries. The objectives of the gathering included creating links between business support institutions of both sides, strengthening the competitiveness of SMEs in the Arab world through facilitating access to existing funds and programs for developing SMEs, creating the incentives for the establishment of joint Euro-Arab investments, and facilitating the transfer of European know-how and technology to the Arab world. Over 550 experts from 30 Arab and foreign countries mulled over the significant role of a fledgling fund for supporting small and medium-sized projects, which was launched upon initiative from the Amir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah during the Arab Economic Summit in 2008. The Damascus event, held under patronage of the Syrian Prime Minister, Muhammad Naji Otri and the Secretary General of the Arab, League Amr Moussa, aimed at achieving maximum benefit from the existing programmes and funds launched by governments of both sides. The European Commission offered 500 thousand euros for joint cooperation fields. Vassilis Bontosoglou, Ambassador, Head of the European Union Delegation to Syria underlined the European Union’s support for bolstering the role of SMEs in Arab economies. The EU is the biggest commercial partner of Arab countries, as it receives 17.6% of Arab exports and provides 31% of Arab imports. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Scajola: Free Trade Zone Starting in 2012

(ANSAmed) — ROME, FEBRUARY 25 — “The objective, ambitious but attainable, is that of the creation of a Euro-Mediterranean free trade zone, of shared peace and prosperity, open to 600 million inhabitants by 2012”. The Minister of Economic Development, Claudio Scajola, revealed the possibility during the opening of the second Mediterranean Economic Forum, organised by the Italian Trade Commission (ICE) together with Confindustria and ABI. “The Mediterranean”, he highlighted, “is an economic intersection of the highest interest for our entrepreneurial system. In spite of the crisis, Italy has confirmed itself as the primary trade partner in the region ahead of both France and Germany”. Scajola also stressed that “Italy, due to its geographic position, could become an energy exchange and transit platform, an energy hub from the Mediterranean towards Europe”. Both the government and companies, the minister said, have defined “the internationalisation of our country’s system as a Mediterranean priority to be examined thoroughly with evermore determination as it is the fundamental motor for growth in GDP” with a forecast recovery in exports at +4% in 2010 after last year’s -20%. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Urso: Our Goal is 30bln in Exports in Two Years

(ANSAmed) — ROME, FEBRUARY 25 — “For the next two years, our objective is to arrive at the level of 30 billion euros in exports. It is achievable through the correct combination of exports and investment”. This was the affirmation made by the deputy minister for economic development in charge of foreign trade, Adolfo Urso, while closing the first part of the second Mediterranean Economic Forum. In 2009, Urso highlighted, Italian exports towards the countries of the Mediterranean area were worth some 22 billion euros, with total exchanges towards the area valuing over 45 million euros “confirming Italy as the primary European partner to the southern shore of the Mediterranean”. Now “we will focus attention on strengthening the Italian presence in the area’s industrial districts”, from Morocco to Turkey, passing through Tunisia and Libya “which could represent the entryway for Italian investments in the area, due to the fiscal reductions offered, the exemption from payment of customs duties on machinery, equipment and raw materials exclusively for Italian companies”. “Districts”, concluded Urso, “which could become logistical platforms to encourage our investment, which could in turn double thanks to lowering customs barriers as a part of the plans for a free trade zone”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

North Africa

Gaddafi Calls for Jihad Against Switzerland

Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi has called for a “holy war”, or jihad, against Switzerland, the AFP news service reported on Thursday.

During a speech in Benghazi, Libya’s second-largest city, Gaddafi declared Switzerland “faithless” and a country of infidels who have “destroyed Allah’s house”.

In November, Switzerland voted to ban the construction of new minarets in a nationwide vote that raised eyebrows around the world. The rightwing Swiss People’s Party and a conservative Christian group were behind the campaign.

Switzerland’s foreign ministry has explained to Muslim leaders that the vote was not against Islam and that freedom of worship is still in place.

Hasni Abidi, director of the Study and Research Center for the Arab and Mediterranean World, said Gaddafi has no clout from a religious perspective and is not entitled to declare jihad. His words would carry no weight in the Arab world, he said.

In the past Gaddafi has called for Switzerland to be dissolved. Each of its language regions should be absorbed by neighbouring countries, he said.

Libya and Switzerland have been at odds since the brief arrest of Gaddafi’s son, Hannibal Gaddafi, in July 2008 on charges that he and his pregnant wife mistreated their staff while staying at a hotel in Geneva. The charges were eventually dropped.

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

Nuclear Energy: US Supports Algeria’s Civilian Development

(ANSAmed) — ALGIERS, FEBRUARY 22 — The United States supports Algeria in its development of nuclear energy for pacific use, declared Obama’s special representative for nuclear non-proliferation, Susan Burk, during a press conference in Algiers. “The United States supports all countries that like Algeria are developing nuclear energy for pacific use, Burk said adding that cooperation in the sector is “excellent”. Moreover, she added, the two countries “are on the same wavelength regarding the strengthening of the non-proliferation treaty” which will be discussed again at a conference to take place in New York next May. A few months ago the Energy Minister, Chakib Khelil, announced that Algeria intends to build its first nuclear power plant by 2020 and another power plant every 5 years thereafter. The North African country has already signed agreements for the development of nuclear energy for civilian use with France, the United States, China and Argentina. Two small experimental nuclear reactors are present in Algeria in Draria, near Algiers, built by Argentina, and in Ain Oussera (250 km south of the capital) built by China. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

TLC: Algeria: 32 Mln Have Mobile Phone

(ANSamed) — ALGIERS, FEBRUARY 25 — In Algeria, the number of those holding a subscription with a mobile phone company reached 32 million at the end of 2009, according to the president of the watchdog for Postal Services and Telecommunications (ARPT) Zohra Derdouri, speaking on national radio. “Mobile phones have a penetration rate of 91.68%, meaning out of every 100 inhabitants 92 have a subscription,” she said. Djezzy, from the Egyptian Orascom, is still the market leader with 14.6 million subscribers, followed by Mobilis, of Algerie Telecom, with 10 million, and Nedjma, under Watanya Telecom (Qatar), with 8 million. About 95% of customers continue to use prepaid top-up cards. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Tourism: Tunisia, ‘Andalusian Cities’ Close to Completion

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, FEBRUARY 24 — Work on the cultural touristic sites of the “Andalusian cities” in the Beja governorate (100km north of Tunis) is making rapid progress. The work is part of an extensive project that regards several archaeological sites in villages in the north-west, including Testour, Mendjez El Bab, Tibar and Teboursouk. Beja, of Libyan origins and later Carthaginian, has been invaded by the Vandals and Byzantines, before it became a strategic location for Rome (under the name of Vaga) under emperor Justinian, who built bulwarks around the stronghold, traces of which are still visible today. Once the work is finished, people will be able to visit the archaeological site of Kasbah (Bordj), the Byzantine fortress, the Roman bridge of Trajan. The migrations of the Andalusian people have left many traces near Testour. First of all the Andalusian mosque, built early in the 17th century by Mohamed Tagharino, of Aragonese origins and arrived with the second wave from Andalusia. There is a motorway between Beja and Tunis. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Transport: Tunisia, New Aberdeen-Monastir Route

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, FEBRUARY 22 — A new direct route has been launched, connecting the Scottish city of Aberdeen with Monastir (on the coast of central Tunisia). The service, which is provided by travel agency Thomas Cook, will operate every Saturday from June 26 to July 24. Aberdeen is the third-largest city in Scotland, and has been described as Europe’s off-shore oil capital. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

Boost to Aviation With Super-Drone

(ANSAmed) — TEL NOF AIRBASE (CENTRAL ISRAEL), FEBRUARY 22 — From yesterday Israel has a new weapon, a super-drone, to fight its enemies, Iran at the forefront. It was presented yesterday to the foreign press at the Tel Nof airbase: in the early afternoon, the gigantic new generation drone was launched in front of the Commander of the Israeli air force, Gen.Ido Nechustan. The super-drone neame is the Eitan (the ‘robust one’ in Hebrew). A weapon which is the result of years of work and is now the pride of Israeli technology. “A historic day for us” confirmed Shmuel Keren, Director of Mifat, the body at the Ministry for Defence for the development of new methods of combat. Israel has been at the forefront of the development of unpiloted jets for 30 years. But whereas the ‘Zahavan’ which was put into action at the beginning of the 1980s was only a few metres long, the Eitan (its English name is the ‘Heron TP’ ) is 13 metres long, with a wingspan of 26 metres (the same as a Boeing 737) and weighs five tonnes. It also stands up well against fighter planes. Witnessing its maiden flight in Tel Nof were a number of television networks, including three Arab-language stations. One of the illustrations, entitled ‘The Challenge’, showed President Mahmud Ahmadinejad an images of the recent experimental launch of the ‘Sejil 2’ missile in Iran. The recurring question among journalist was whether the Eitan would soon fly over the skies of Iran. “It can fly long distances, according to the mission and the requirements” responded officials from the Israeli air force. Military radio specified that the jet is capable of climbing up to 40 thousand feet (12 thousand metres) and of reaching distances hundreds of kilometres away from Israel. The Eitan has a flight autonomy of 20-40 hours. In future it will be capable of refuelling mid-flight. This is probably the “most advanced” drone in the world. Its mission is predominantly reconnaissance and the protection of the armed forces, says the press release. The use of drones in Israel is on the increase: in the last decade the number of hours of use went from 5,000 to 36,000. A prototype of the Eitan was used one year ago during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. From today the ‘super-drone’ is fully operational, and in future it will be accompanied by another seven. “This makes a very important contribution towards the capabilities of Israeli aviation” concluded Yitzhak Nissan, Director of the Israeli air industry. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Craxi: Italian Support for Palestinian Entrepreneurs

(ANSAmed) — ROME, FEBRUARY 25 — The Italian government is committed to supporting Palestinian entrepreneurial activity, stated the deputy foreign minister, Stefania Craxi, from the Mediterranean Economic Forum in progress in Rome. As a part of this framework, Stefania Craxi paused on the “Palestinian Marshall Plan” initiative. “It is an initiative that intends to supply a contribution”, she specified, “to the creation of small ‘incubators’ in the territory, aimed at encouraging development in the West Bank” and in the Gaza Strip as well as soon as it is possible. The goal, Craxi concluded, is to create companies ready to implement financial support from the international community. Such is the case for the project of the industrial area and district of Jenin, the feasibility plan for which is coming to a close and that looks to connect itself to the Euro Mid Bridge project to encourage the development of an economic district in the Palestinian city. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Gaza: EP: EU Must Take Strong Position Over Goldstone Report

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, FEBRUARY 25 — An appeal by the European Parliament to the EU member States to take a strong and united position over the Goldstone report into operation Cast Lead, at the next meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. The Euro MPs are calling for “the application of the recommendations in the report and the acknowledgement of responsibility for all the violations of international rights, including suspected war crimes”, urging both sides in the case, Israelis and Palestinians, to conduct independent investigations which correspond to international standards. According to the Euro MPs “respect for human rights and for the humanitarian rights of the sides is in all circumstances an essential precondition for reaching a fair and lasting peace in the Middle East”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Middle East

BBC Blasted for ‘Bigoted Fear-Mongering’

Radio 4 aired claim that 500,000 Diaspora Jews ready to help Mossad in hits.

The New York-based American Jewish Committee blasted the BBC on Sunday for airing an accusation that Jews around the world assist in supposed Mossad assassinations.

The AJC said in a statement that it was “dismayed that a guest on BBC Radio 4 was allowed to state unchallenged” that the Mossad relies on Jews for assassination plots.

“This baseless accusation crosses every red line between legitimate public discussion and bigoted fear-mongering,” said AJC executive director David Harris. “In less than a minute, the BBC has cast a shadow on the lives of Jews worldwide.”

BBC Radio 4’s PM program interviewed Gordon Thomas, author of Gideon’s Spies, a book about the Mossad, about the January 20 assassination of Hamas military commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai.

Local authorities and many international media outlets believe that the killing of Mabhouh, who bought rockets for Hamas forces in the Gaza Strip, was carried out by the Mossad.

In explaining the Mossad’s operating methods outside Israel, Thomas told PM host Eddie Mair, “They have a whole backup system called ‘asylum.’ These are people, local residents, Jewish people, who help the Mossad. It is estimated to be in the world about half a million; some people say a million; I tend to say it’s about half a million, all of them Mossad people.”

“Of course, Mr. Thomas is irresponsible in making such unfounded assertions on a radio program heard around the world,” said Harris, “but even more shocking is BBC, a premier public broadcaster with a far-reaching global network. How can the interviewer allow such aspersions to be cast on a community without the reporter calling the so-called expert to order?”

The comments also drew condemnation from observers of the BBC.

“Unfortunately, such ugly and nonsensical statements on the BBC come as no surprise. The BBC often handpicks interviewees who are likely to say such things as part of a wider pattern to demonize the State of Israel,” said Tom Gross, a former Middle East correspondent for The Sunday Telegraph and a Middle East analyst who has long been critical of BBC coverage of the region.

The AJC called on the BBC “to examine this disgraceful transmission, apologize to Jews around the world and remove from its archive the slanderous words.”

Reached for comment, the BBC press office in London said, “This interview was part of a wider piece about the assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh which involved contributions from a number of people including Gordon Thomas, an author of a book about [the] Mossad.

“The sentiments expressed by Gordon Thomas were clearly his own opinions. They came at the end of the interview when it was being wrapped up and there was no time to come back on them.”

           — Hat tip: LN[Return to headlines]

Hamas Wants EU to Include Israel in Terror Watch List

Hamas has petitioned the European Union to include Israel in its watch list of terror-supporting countries, citing it was “a threat to international peace.”

The petition follows the organization’s allegations against Israel, which it believes assassinated it officer Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai, in mid-January. Both the EU and the US include Hamas in their Terror watch lists. (AFP)

           — Hat tip: LN[Return to headlines]

Hamas Leader Murder; No Proof on Mossad, Lieberman

(ANSAmed) — JERUSALEM, FEBRUARY 22 — The Israeli Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, said today in Brussels to his Irish colleague Michael Martin that there is no proof connecting Mossad to the murder of Mahmud al-Mabhuh, the Hamas leader that was killed last month in Dubai. The news was reported by the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem in a statement which claims that Lieberman said that “there are no reports which connect Israel to the incident”. According to Lieberman, “many false accusations are turned towards Israel on many important issues and the general tendency of the Arabs is to blame Israel for everything”. Moreover, according to Lieberman, there are many internal conflicts inside non-democratic countries and organisations in the Middle East. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Netherlands: Iran Celebrates Islamic Revolution in the Hague High School

THE HAGUE, 26/02/10 — The Haagse Hogeschool college in The Hague last week rented the school building to the embassy of Iran to celebrate the anniversary of the Islamic revolution. Progressive Iranian students in the Netherlands are angry.

“While the Netherlands refuses the official invitation to the festivities, an institution financed by the government is renting its building to the embassy,” says Iranian student Pehman Salim from the Iranian Progressive Youth student platform “We want an explanation from the Haagse Hogeschool board,” he said yesterday in De Telegraaf newspaper.

The school said it did not keep a careful enough eye out. “We rent out the school buildings on days that no teaching is given. For this, we do not actually look at who is renting the school and for what. As a result of this celebration, which took place on 13 February, we will however do so in future,” said a spokeswoman.

This is the second time in a short period that the Hague college has been in the news. Just before the Christmas period, the school board refused to put a Christmas tree in the central hall because it said this could be experienced as offensive by students with a non-Christian background.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Nuclear: Syria: Iranian Programme for Pacific Ends

(ANSAmed) — DAMASCUS, FEBRUARY 25 — “Iran has the right to continue with its programme to enrich uranium for pacific ends”, stated the Syrian president, Bashar al Assad, at the end of a meeting in Damascus with his Iranian counterpart Mahmud Ahmadinejad. At the end of an hour long meeting, Assad and Ahmadinejad stood before journalists for a press conference, which has just ended. Regarding the question of Iran’s nuclear ambitions, the Syrian leader stressed that “attacks on Iran over its programme seem like a new operation of Western colonialism and control in the region”. In response to the American Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, who yesterday affirmed having asked Syria to keep its distance from Iran, Assad took on an ironic tone, saying that “we met with president Ahmadinejad today in Damascus to make this distance official”. The joke caused an outburst of laughter from journalists and representatives from the two countries. Ahmadinejad spoke on the issue, addressing the US Secretary of State directly, saying: “she asked for Iran and Syria to increase the distance between them, but she evidently doesn’t know that no distance exists between us”. “Speaking seriously”, Assad continued, “we are here today to stress the depth of our bilateral relations and the intention to improve and strengthen them on all levels without exception”.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Syria-Iran: Israel Fumes Over Damascus Summit

(ANSAmed) — JERUSALEM, FEBRUARY 25 — Israel has reacted strongly to today’s meeting in Damascus between Syria’s President Bashar al Assad and the President of Iran, Mahmud Ahmadinajad, with an Israeli government spokesperson calling it “of concern”. The strongest words came from President Shimon Peres, who offered the Syrian president a stark choice: “either the axis of evil and terror with Teheran or peace with Israel”. The region’s problem, he asserted, is not the Palestinian issue, which, he said, could be resolved by negotiation, but the Iran’s efforts, spurred on by “Ahmadinejad’s folly”, to impose its hegemony over the Middle East, at the expense of the Arab nations. The whole world, and all those interested in peace, said Foreign Ministry spokesperson Yigal Palmor, can only be “of concern” when two “promoters of terrorism” meet to strengthen their ties. The Damascus summit coincides with the restarting of the high-level strategic talks between Israel and the USA after a break of one and a half years. On the agenda, apparently, Iran was the main topic. In a statement made from Damascus during the summit, Ahmadinejad warned “the Zionist regime” that any repetition of past mistakes will lead to its downfall. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Turkey: Coup Attempt, Gul Holds Military-Gov’t Summit

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, FEBRUARY 25 — The meeting called yesterday by Turkish president Abdullah Gul has begun this morning in the Cankaya presidential palace in Ankara, and taking part are both Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and the Chief of the Armed Forces, General Ilker Basbug. Local media sources say that the meeting was called to discuss the latest developments in the situation in light of the recent arrests of 49 high ranking military officers on charges of involvement in an alleged coup d’état attempt which, in 2003, was to have damaged the Islamic-based Justice and Development Party (AKP), which a few months before had been sworn into office in the government. Media sources in the country have reported that both Erdogan and Basbug arrived carrying large bags- an unusual occurrence — presumably full of documents. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Turkey: Attempted Coup, 8 More Officers Arrested

(ANSAmed) — ISTANBUL, FEBRUARY 25 — Over the night, an Istanbul court charged and ordered the arrest of eight officers on charges of having plotted in 2003 to overthrow the Turkish government under the Islamic party AK. This brings the number of military officers arrested as part of the inquiry to 20, reported the Anadolu press agency and other national media sources. The eight officers, five in active service and three retired, including two former generals, were interrogated for several hours by investigating magistrates before being taken to civil and military prisons in Istanbul. Yesterday the same court officially charged and ordered the arrest — on charges of belonging to an organisation intending to carry out a coup d’etat — 12 other officers, including two admirals in active service as well as two admirals and a general in retiremen. Twelve other suspects were released. The arrests have come on the heels of the Monday, February 22 raid which led to 40 individuals being taken into custody in Turkey, for the most part members of the military in active service or in retirement. They are charged with belonging to the secret, non-religiously-affiliated organisation Ergenekon, which is thought to have planned attacks to throw the country into a state of chaos and bring down Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyp Erdogan’s government.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Turkey: Erdogan Would Not Mind an Appeal by the Ecumenical Patriarchate to the European Court

The Patriarch’s aim, it is rumoured, is the recognition of the right to reopen the theological school, the fundamental battle for freedom of religion. For the current government a Strasbourg ruling would be useful to help undermine bureaucratic resistance of the establishment to any reform project

Istanbul (AsiaNews) — Appeal to the International Court in Strasbourg. This is the idea which, according to diplomatic sources in Brussels, is being matured by the Ecumenical Patriarchate in order to see the reopening of the Theological School of Halki (see photo).

The idea, according to the same sources, has met with favourable results within the Union, given the difficulties and the unwillingness of the Erdogan government to proceed with the reopening of the school. Because, according to voices in the community setting, as long as there is a continuing clash between the old establishment and Erdogan’s current reformist government there will be no solution to the problem of recognition of the rights of Christian minorities in Turkey, of which the reopening of Halki is a significant point.

The action in itself is nothing new, because the same Patriarch Bartholomew has repeatedly expressed his intention to appeal to international forums to vindicate rights that have been trampled for decades.

What is surprising, according to Brussels, is that this initiative has apparently been approved by certain sectors of the Turkish bureaucracy close to Erdogan’s reformist project. Because they believe that the judgments of Strasbourg — which in principle are binding — are the only way to break the old establishment, which hinders any reform. The rulings, in short, would help Erdogan’s reformist cabinet in its approach to the Turkish bureaucratic apparatus, which considers itself heir to the secularist concept, and of which the judiciary, right up to the Supreme Court, are the last bastion after the army has been — for the moment — close to collapse following the Ergenekon affair (the Turkish Gladio).

The statements made in this regard by Cilek, deputy head of the government party AKP, have been both significant and explanatory. A figure of authority, Cilek in a recent meeting with students made a symbolic radiography of the contemporary Kemalist state. Turkey, he said, was founded (and the founders were mostly refugees from the Balkans, while current reformists instead express an Asian soul) as a parliamentary republic. But without democracy, since a “secular” and authoritarian bureaucracy was created, which is now outdated and anachronistic, pledged to prevent any development of Turkish society and always under the watchful eye of the army. (Remember that in Turkey before 1946 the migration of peasants of Anatolia and Istanbul to Ankara was prohibited in order not to contaminate the Western ways of the bureaucratic elite). In short, for Cilak, a bureaucracy seeking to protect the state from the desires of the population. A so-called secular state, that has not accepted the principle of religious freedom for its minorities can not champion the rights of Muslims in Europe. In a Europe, he concluded, where there are 4 thousand mosques and various centres of Muslim culture. Erdogan himself responding long ago to the army chief of staff, who wanted to express the regret of the military for the past events, was quick to ironically remind him that even the Turkish population has been plagued for decades but has never been able to express his regret.

It seems, finally, not by chance that the choice of new Turkish ambassador to the Holy See was made outside the circles of diplomatic service, another stronghold of the old establishment, and that the diplomat before his departure for Rome made a courtesy visit to Ecumenical Patriarch. For the first time.

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

Turkey Objects to Gay Marriage Allusion in Council Document

The Council of Europe has amended an article of its declaration on children’s rights after Turkey objected to a specific article alluding to gay marriage.

European ministers for family affairs gathered in June to discuss regulations about the rights of children who grow up with diverse family situations.

While Turkey said it supported public policies on the issue, it issued a statement, saying: “As a country, we would like to mention that we do not accept gay marriages and also we do not accept the institution of homosexual family parenting.”

Selma Aliye Kavaf, the minister responsible for family and women, participated in the conference, while Aysen Gürcan, a director from the ministry, signed the statement of objection.

The council considered Turkey’s objection and amended the relevant article. Originally, the article stated, “Currently, the family [is a concept] composed of different lifestyles and children in Europe grow up in family forms that can change during the life of children.”

Following the amendment, however, the article has the added phrase: “These family forms change from one country to another.” At the same time, a phrase reading, “The relevant articles will be evaluated under the framework of national regulations,” was added to relevant subsequent articles.

Turkey considers traditional family values to be important, Kavaf said in a statement. “We do not have gay marriages in our laws. Although it is an advisory jurisdiction, we informed the Council of Europe about our sensitivity on the different forms of families. The council took this into consideration and made the necessary change.”

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

Turkey: Western Military, Eastern Governance

Burak Bekdil

Good news! Turkey’s judiciary last week was not independent when a government-friendly prosecutor was stripped of his duties. Just a few days later, Turkey’s judiciary had become perfectly independent — in the wake of the arrest of 49 on-duty and retired officers, including former service commanders.

No sensible man would ever object to the — deceptively righteous — Islamist argument that the Turkish military’s role in politics should be next to nil if Turkey is striving to become a Western democracy. But it merely looks absurd when we are aiming for “Western democratic standards” for the military ONLY.

Turkey cannot become a Western democracy with a military that looks like Sweden’s and a judiciary, police force and bureaucracy that look like Egypt’s. It wasn’t for no reason that the Wall Street Journal referred to European Union-candidate Turkey in a recent article as a “Middle Eastern democracy,” instead of just “a democracy.”

The Justice and Development Party, or AKP, is not fighting for democracy. It is fighting for “Islamized” democracy. Have you ever heard an AKP bigwig or a columnist from the rich pool of yellow newspapers condemning the undemocratic bureaucratic practice when a governor, who is supposed to be a neutral and bipartisan civil servant, is found guilty for violating the election laws in favor of the ruling party? Or when another governor publicly declares that he would prefer to have a prime minister capable of saying “One minute!”?

Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arinç was right when he said last week those judges (who are “hostile” to the AKP) who wish to do politics should first take off their robes. No doubt the same goes true for the men in uniform, too. What Mr. Arinç did not tell of was the essential need for the governors and judges ‘friendly’ to the AKP too. No, you won’t hear from Mr. Arinç that those governors who wish to do politics should first quit their presumably neutral offices.

Sadly, the “officers, judges and other bureaucrats should stay away from politics” line of reasoning comes with a suffix reading “as long as they are hostile to us.” What would Mr. Arinç think about politicians quitting politics and wearing a judge’s robe if they want to do “judging?”

Possibly the best line exposing the ugly reality came, ironically, from an AKP deputy, in the form of a much-regretted slip of the tongue. The deputy, Avni Dogan, told party officials in a videotaped speech that “for 40 years they [the Kemalists] card-indexed pious Muslims because their daughters wore the Islamic turban or their sons enrolled at imam schools, but now, inshAllah, it’s our turn to card-index them.” No AKP critic could possibly have put it better than this “honest” Member of Parliament.

You don’t correct an undemocratic practice by maintaining it but only interchanging the sides. No, this is not how you improve democracy. And it is precisely for the same reason why Mr. Arinç bothered himself to make yet another public showdown full of emotional mimicking, hatred and ire, calling last week’s battles a “judicial coup d’état.” He was particularly angry because the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors had taken away the powers of a prosecutor who had arrested another prosecutor in essence because the latter had been investigating too-important Islamic brotherhoods.

The supreme board’s decision may or may not be technically correct, it may or may not be democratic. But one should answer, at least for the miniscule sake of intellectual honesty, the disturbing question: If the same supreme board had taken away the duties of the prosecutor investigating the Islamic sects would Mr. Arinç be making the same showdown and call it a judicial coup d’état?

As further details of the story become public we are learning more mysterious things like a telephone call from the justice minister of the time, Cemil Çiçek, now deputy prime minister, to the prosecutor who was investigating the sects. Mr. Çiçek says he actually called the prosecutor because “there were elections in sight and some 50 children had been arrested.”

As a former justice minister Mr. Çiçek should know that underage children are not arrested, but are taken into care to be returned to their parents. In this specific case those children were caught being given illegal Islamic teaching by the Muslim brotherhood investigated by the prosecutor.

I personally would have expected a more convincing explanation from Mr. Çiçek. One option could be that the minister called the prosecutor to talk about the football derby that weekend. Another possibility could be that the minister called the prosecutor because he has plenty of spare time and has the habit of getting to know the prosecutors on a personal level. Mr. Çiçek may well have rung the prosecutor for an intellectual conversation on the merits and demerits of Renaissance humanism and Sufi metaphysics. Unless of course the minister did in fact call for a chat on Iran’s nuclear program.

Anyone with an elementary knowledge of the dynamics of the Turkish bureaucracy should know well what a call from the minister himself to an investigating prosecutor would imply. The prosecutor must have ignored the message as evinced by his determination to investigate and the numerous misfortunes he came across after including charges on all possible crimes, even one for illegal construction on the premises of the courthouse.

So, all that is democracy! But no, thank you.

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

Turkey: Attempted Coup; Problems Between Institutions Denied

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, FEBRUARY 25 — There are no problems between Turkey’s State institutions and our citizens can be assured that all other problems will be resolved within the rules laid down by the Constitution, was the reassuring message issued today by the Turkish Presidency at the end of a meeting between President Abdullah Gul, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and Turkish Chief of Staff, General Ilker Basbug. Among the points mentioned in the statement, it was stressed that “everyone must behave with a sense of responsibility so as not to threaten the State institutions”. The summit had been called to discuss the latest developments following the recent arrest of 49 military chiefs, accused of being involved in plans to overthrow the Government in 2003, which would have damaged the radical Islamic Justice and Development party (AKP) which had come to power a few months earlier. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Turkey: Leaders Urge Responsibility to Protect Institutions

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA — A rare meeting Thursday between Turkey’s president, prime minister and chief of General Staff has concluded with a vow from the Presidency that the current civil-military tensions will be resolved within the framework of the Constitution. President Abdullah Gul, as daily Hurriyet online reports, took on the role of broker as he invited Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and Chief of General Staff Gen. Ilker Basbug to join in a three-hour meeting to discuss the ongoing crisis between the government and the military. This latest crisis erupted following the detention on Monday of nearly 50 former and active officers on charges of plotting in 2003 to overthrow the government. “During the meeting, the issues that are being discussed by the public were handled in depth. Our citizens should be confident that these issues will be solved within the constitutional order and within the framework of our laws, and in this process everyone should act responsibly in order to not tarnish our institutions,” a brief statement issued by the Office of the Presidency after the meeting read. Tension between the government and the military escalated once again following Monday’s detentions, which included former air and naval forces commanders and former 1st Army generals. “It was a very good meeting,” Erdogan told reporters at Parliament, without further elaborating on the issue. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Turkey: Attempted Coup; Erdogan Warns Armed Forces (2)

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, FEBRUARY 26 — Erdogan, speaking at a meeting of his political party, also addressed those he defined as the “owners of the press” for the comments that appeared today in the newspaper editorials on yesterday’s summit between the same Premier, the president Abdullah Gul and the inter-force chief of staff Ilker Basbug to defuse the crisis between the government and the military. At this moment, four days after the police blitz on Monday that led to the arrest of 49 high level military officials accused of having ordered the coup in 2003 to oust the Islamic rooted party Justice and Development (AKP of the Premier Erdogan) from the government. 28 people have been convicted and incarcerated, 16 have been released, while another 5 are still awaiting interrogation from the judges investigating the case. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Turkey: Court Charges 11 More Officers

(ANSAmed) — ISTANBUL, FEBRUARY 26 — A Turkish court on Friday charged 11 more ranking officers for allegedly plotting several years ago to topple the conservative government, increasing the number of officers jailed to 31 — including retired and active seven admirals and four generals. As the local media report, the 11 newly charged officers included two active duty admirals and one retired general. The court’s decision came hours after prosecutors released the former chiefs of the navy and air force and another top general without immediately charging them with being involved, saying they were unlikely to flee. The government detained 49 high-ranking officers this week for allegedly plotted to overthrow his government in 2003, a year after the ruling party came to power. The probe fueled tensions between Turkey’s two main political forces — the Islamic-based government and the fiercely secular military — worrying businesses and investors and jolting the markets. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Turkey: Attempted Coup, Erdogan Warns Army (1)

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA — Turkish prime minister Tayyip Erdogan has today warned the armed forces, saying that “no one is above the law”, according to the private TV broadcaster NTV. Erdogan’s statement came a few hours after the announcement of the arrest this morning of 11 other high-ranking military officers on charges of plotting against the state. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

South Asia

Indonesians in Uproar Over Proposal to Censor Internet

Communication Ministry spokesman announces draft bill to regulate internet use. The proposal provokes protests among ordinary Indonesians who oppose the idea. President Yudhoyono speaks out, defending “freedom of speech and freedom of expression.” The minister backtracks, claiming he is innocent since he knew nothing of the initiative.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) — Controversy over a bill to limit freedom of expression on the internet continues in Indonesia. In a public statement on the matter, President Yudhoyono said that freedom of speech was of paramount value. The Communication and Information Technology minister is forced to backtrack, saying that he was not aware of the new draft proposal presented by his spokesman. On the internet, more and more people have come out against the ministerial regulation on internet content.

It all began at the start of the week when Communication and Information Technology Ministry spokesman Gatot Dewa Broto announced that a planned 30-member Multimedia Content Monitoring Team would act on public complaints filed against so-called disturbing content, which includes porno sites, dirty jokes, sexy pictures and other online offences.

If adopted, the new regulation could become a large net that filters all sorts of content, including critical opinions, or impose preventive censorship. Article 8 was especially singled out because it would require providers to “monitor all content contained, transmitted, publicised or stored using their services”. Critics note that such sweeping powers would kill the country’s information technology industry.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono spoke out on the issue, giving words to the anger many Indonesians feel. Taking a shot at the minister, he reminded him that “freedom of speech and freedom of expression” are highly prized in the country. What is more, the president said that no cabinet minister should make comments or issue statements on matters that are so sensitive that they would cause uproar in society.

Communication and Information Technology Minister Tifatul Sembiring, a former president of the Justice and Prosperity Party (PKS), said he knew nothing about his spokesperson’s statement.

Back from a visit to Sweden, the minister said he was not aware of the proposal. “The draft does not come from me. I have not read it or even known about it,” he said. It “might date back to 2006 and be no longer suitable for today.”

Despite the minister’s claims of innocence, few are willing to believe him. For most Indonesians, his words are unbecoming of a minister. Many in fact are asking themselves how a minister “could not know what his subordinates are doing”, especially since what they say or do “requires prior approval from higher up”.

In the wake of the controversy, the minister announced the withdrawal of the draft proposal; however, for many Indonesians, that is not enough—they want him to resign because his failure of judgement casts a shadow on the capabilities and reliability of the government.

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

Myanmar: Burmese Junta Cracks Down on Garment Industry Strikes

Police and anti-riot units are deployed to stop protests. Workers want better working conditions and a higher minimum wage. Two years after Cyclone Nargis, 500,000 people are still homeless, without enough money to rebuild their homes.

Yangon (AsiaNews/Agencies) — A wave of strikes in Myanmar’s garment industry has forced the country’s ruling military junta to beef up security and deploy police and anti-riot troops in affected areas. The latest episode involved workers in Yangon who organised a sit-in to demand better working conditions and a higher minimum wage. The spark that set of workers’ anger was the decision by the authorities to raise salaries for public employees by 20,000 kyat (US$ 20).

The strike started on Tuesday at the Sky garment factory in the western part of Insein Township in Yangon, when about 100 factory workers stopped working, calling for an increase in basic salary, better overtime pay and days off on public holidays.

“The problem still continues in that factory,” said a senior official from the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (UMFCCI), adding that government officials, factory owners and workers are now negotiating over the workers’ demands.

The event comes in the wake of last week’s labour unrest, involving thousands of factory workers in the Hlaing Tharyar Industrial Zone, a few kilometres from central Yangon.

The government deployed hundreds of riot police to the area.

The workers were demanding an increase of 10,000 kyat (US $10) in salary and ended the strike after employers agreed to pay half the amount.

The workers still want an increase of 100 kyat ($0.10) for overtime pay and an increase of basic salary.

Riot police trucks, a police custody van and a fire engine are still deployed near the factory.

More broadly, poverty continues to affect the population. Two years after Cyclone Nargis, people are still desperate and homeless.

According to the International Organisation for Migration, 500,000 people are still without a home, unable to buy supplies to rebuild their houses because they need to spend the money on food.

Cyclone Nargis in May 2008 killed nearly 140,000 people in the South Asian nation and left 2.4 million homeless.

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

Thailand: Bangkok: Exports Up 30.8 Per Cent

Exports reach US$ 13.72 billion in January, projected to rise 17 per cent in first quarter. For the third consecutive month, all important sectors gain. Trade balance hits US$ 516 million.

Bangkok (AsiaNews/Agencies) — Thai exports rose 30.8 per cent to US$ 13.72 billion in January compared to the same month last year, Commerce Minister Porntiva Nakasai said on Friday. Overall exports in the first quarter of the year should expand 17 per cent.

Thailand’s political divisions and the global economic crisis appear to have spared the South-East Asian nation. For the third consecutive month, exports in all important sectors have been on the rising trend, Porntiva said.

Agricultural exports, including rice, rubber, cassava, sugar, and foods expanded 46.2 percent year on year, she said. In line with agriculture, the exports of manufacturing products, like electronic appliances, grew 27.8 per cent year on year.

Growth was especially strong in new markets: plus 141.7 per cent for India, 96 per cent for Taiwan and 94.2 per cent for China.

Imports in January stood at US$ 13.21, an increase of 44.8 per cent compared to the same period last year. This gave Thailand a trade surplus of US$ 516 million in January 2010.

The Commerce Ministry estimates that exports will expand 14 per cent, for a total of US$ 173 billion.

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

Far East

Hong Kong: Graves Desecrated at the Catholic Cemetery in Happy Valley

The bishops of Hong Kong, many of the PIME missionaries, people of culture and politics are buried in the holy place. Damaging graves is a grave offence to Chinese culture and Catholicism.

Hong Kong (AsiaNews) — Almost 60 graves were damaged yesterday in the Catholic Cemetery of St Michael in Happy Valley. Headstones targeted, vases destroyed, pictures of dead broken was the spectacle that greeted security guards yesterday morning, in what has been called the first large-scale desecration in the 160-year existence of the cemetery. The act offends traditional Chinese culture, which reveres ancestors, and the religious sensibility of Catholics.

The Catholic cemetery is the only one on the island besieged by large skyscrapers. It lies at the heart of the city and is close to the racetrack. There the bishops of Hong Kong and many missionaries of the PIME (Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions) as well as several Catholic personages of the history of Hong Kong are buried.

The Episcopal Vicar Father Dominic Chan Chi-ming, is not yet sure if the gesture is the work of vandals. In any case, Father Chan said that safety will be improved in the cemetery. The police have opened an investigation and are treating the episode as a crime. Police are excluding the possibility of robbery being a motive behind the attack as many niches and tombs, which contain items of value, were left untouched. Fr. Edward Chau King-fun, Director of Institute of Religious Sciences at the Holy Spirit Seminary College in Hong Kong, points out that the graves of ancestors are important both for the Chinese, and for Catholics. “In Chinese culture, damaging a grave is a grave offence, a humiliation for the ancestors and their families. Respect for graves is considered an act of filial piety towards the same ancestors. According to Father Chau, the way in which the graves were damaged, shows that the “vandals acted deliberately, revealing a deep anger.” For the priest is not clear whether the target is the Catholic Church. In this case, the tombs of bishops and priests would have been the first to be affected. Instead, both the tomb of Card. Wu, both the priests and missionaries have remained intact.

Meanwhile, many relatives of the deceased buried in the cemetery, have come today to visit the site and check for damage to the graves of their loved ones. Emily Lau, a lawmaker in Hong Kong, visited the tomb of her parents, to assure it was not among the affected. Lau has asked the Catholic Church to strengthen security at the cemetery. The former Chief Secretary of local government, Anson Chan, hopes that the police can trace the criminals. The grave of Anson Chan’s Uncle, Harry Fan, is among those damaged.

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

Latin America

Hillary Clinton Steps Into Falklands Row After ‘Feeble’ Obama Fails to Back Britain in Stand-Off With Argentina

U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton is due to meet with Argentina’s president amid accusations of a snub to Britain over America’s refusal to support the UK in the Falklands oil drilling row.

Mrs Clinton is to meet Cristina Ferndandez de Kirchner in Uruguay on March 1, Argentina’s ambassador to the U.S. has announced.

Hopes are high in Argentina that Mrs Clinton will intervene on the country’s behalf in the row with Britain over the disputed territory.

Respected Argentine newspaper La Nacion quoted State Department sources that claimed Mrs Clinton was ‘prepared to mediate’ in the row.

America’s lack of support for Britain was last night blamed on the UK’s decision to release sensitive U.S. intelligence on a terror suspect.

President Barack Obama was accused of being ‘feeble’ by failing to back London in the stand-off with Argentina over the disputed islands, despite the ‘special relationship’.

Mrs Clinton and Mrs Kirchner are meeting in Uruguay as they attend the presidential inauguration there of José Mujica.

Argentina already has the support of Latin America and the Caribbean in the row with Britain, and regional leaders are expected to press the case with Mrs Clinton.

Relations between Buenos Aires and Washington since Barack Obama came to power have been less than ‘special’.

She is also the only major Latin American leader not to have met with the U.S. president since he came to power.

However hopes are high in Argentina for her meeting with Hillary Clinton in Uruguay next week.

London and Buenos Aires are at odds over UK firm Desire Petroleum’s decision to drill for oil 60 miles north of the Falklands.

Geologists estimate there are up to 60billion barrels of oil in the seabed.

The Argentine government has tabled a UN resolution condemning the plan. It has also secured backing from 32 South American nations supporting its claim that Britain has occupied the islands illegally since 1833.

But despite Argentina’s sabrerattling, senior U.S. officials insist Washington’s position on the oil drilling is neutral.

It is also ‘taking no position’ on the issue of sovereignty of the islands in the South Atlantic.

A senior MP and a respected foreign policy think-tank claimed Washington’s stance was ‘payback’ for the British courts ordering the disclosure of secret CIA files on Binyam Mohamed.

Two weeks ago, the U.S. said it was ‘deeply disappointed’ that Foreign Secretary David Miliband had been told by Court of Appeal judges to publish closely-guarded information about the former Guantanamo Bay prisoner.

The papers detailed evidence showing MI5 knew that Mohamed, a British citizen, had been tortured by U.S. spies after he was detained in Pakistan in 2002.

This week the White House has refused to endorse the UK’s historic sovereignty over the islands and its right to explore for oil in its waters.

Last night, the Henry Jackson Society, a London-based foreign affairs think-tank, said Mr Obama’s stance was linked to anger at the release of the secret files.

Executive director Alan Mendoza said: ‘The Obama administration’s decision to ignore the democratic rights of the Falkland islanders is disgraceful.

‘It can only be motivated by moral weakness in the White House or a misplaced desire to punish Britain for the Binyam Mohamed case and the disclosure of U.S. intelligence documents.

‘The decision, while feeble, is unsurprising. For the past year, Mr Obama has followed a foreign policy path that punishes allies and democracies while allowing rogue authoritarian nations like Iran and North Korea to pursue their objectives.’

The criticism was echoed by Tory MP Patrick Mercer, the chairman of the Commons’ terrorism sub-committee. ‘The U.S. position on the Falklands certainly seems to be a warning shot which says to Britain: “Don’t mess us around too much or we could make life problematic”,’ he said.

Last week, it was revealed that a conference to mark 60 years of UK and American defence intelligence sharing had been cancelled after the Mohamed judgment. It was to have been held at the U.S. Embassy in London.

Relations between the UK and U.S. nosedived last summer over the decision by the Scottish authorities to release the Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Al Megrahi back to Libya.

Yesterday it was revealed that a Spanish company is also set to begin drilling for oil near the Falklands.

Repsol is to start drilling by December some 200 miles off the Argentine coast — ‘well within Argentine waters’, a spokesman claimed.

Last year, Repsol bought Argentine company YPF — the biggest private oil and gas company in Latin America.

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]


Demography: Italy, Immigrants 7.1% Population

(ANSAmed)- ROME, FEBRUARY 18- Immigrants are “once again crucial” for Italy’s demographic growth: they’re on a constant rise and represent 7.1% of the 60,387,000 residents at January 1st 2010, the national statistics institute (ISTAT) reports with today’s release of 2009’s demographic indicators. The number of births among migrants is 6.4 per thousand while the natural balance is negative (-0.3%), due to a rise in the number of deaths and a decrease in births compared to 2008. The increase in the resident population last year was 5.7 per thousand. The active population shows a 176,000 increase, mainly because of migrations from abroad, reaching 65.8% of the total. The number of under-14’s grew by about 53,000 units (14% of total), while the number of 65 year-old’s and over rose by 113,000 units (20.2%). (ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Norway: Record Number of Asylum Seekers

A record number of persons will apply for asylum in Norway this year, but still fewer than first expected. Justice Minister Knut Storberget now reduces the estimate from 18.500 to 17.300 asylum seekers.

In the Justice Minister’s opinion, the reduction is a result of the Government’s tightening-up of the asylum policy.

- This includes both the earlier tightening up, and the recent warning of a new Immigration Act which will be introduced from January 1st, Storberget says.

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

UK: Race Police Seek to Outlaw BNP Policy

The Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has finally responded to the British National Party’s new constitutional changes — by effectively seeking to outlaw party policy on keeping Britain British.

The EHRC response, delivered a day late, makes a series of claims which have been clearly inserted with the aim of prolonging the court case, based as they are on procedural and minor technicalities which are easily explained by a simple reading of the new constitutional clauses.

“The most important concession that the EHRC response makes is that they now suddenly acknowledge that there are an indigenous people in Britain,” party leader Nick Griffin MEP told BNP News this evening.

“The procedural points they have raised are a few sticks of weak evidence which are actually just straw men put up to keep the legal proceedings going,” Mr Griffin said.

This was contained within the EHRC’s objections to the BNP’s policy which it said put immigrants at a “disadvantage” to the people of “indigenous British ethnic or racial origin.”

The acceptance by the EHRC that there are indeed an indigenous people of Britain is a major breakthrough, because it proves the correctness of Mr Griffin’s earlier statement — for which he was roundly attacked in the media and by the other parties — that immigrants were civically classifiable as British, but were not ethnically so.

“It is good to hear from the EHRC that they agree with me on this point,” Mr Griffin said.

However, the EHRC claimed that two of the BNP’s “provisions, criteria and policies,” which it abbreviated to PCP, should be declared illegal because they put the immigrant population at a disadvantage.

These provisions were identified by the EHRC as the part which refers to the BNP being “pledged to the continued creation, fostering, maintenance and existence of the unity and integrity of the Indigenous British people and of the governments of England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and Eire . . .” and the part which states that the party is also pledged to “stemming and reversing the immigration and migration into our British Homeland” which has taken place without the consent of the Indigenous British since 1948.

In addition, the EHRC has objected to the BNP PCP which states that the party is dedicated to “restoring and maintaining by legal changes, negotiation and consent, the Indigenous British as the overwhelming majority of the makeup of the population and expression of culture which is part of our British Heritage.”

The EHRC has claimed that this “must be read as a reference to housing estate wards or towns” in Britain where ethnics are in the majority and that therefore any ethnic wishing to join the BNP will have to agree to support this policy.

This is, the EHRC has bizarrely claimed, “inconsistent with intermarriage and miscegenation.”

In essence, the EHRC objection means that they are seeking from the courts an injuction which will give them the right to determine BNP policy.

“This is madness,” Mr Griffin said. “If a non-elected Labour quango, headed up by a self-confessed Marxist sympathiser, allocates to itself the right to decide what policies political parties may have, what is the point of even having parties?

“All parties have policies which make them unattractive to other people. The Labour Party has policies which make it impossible for me to join them. The basis of the EHRC’s objection is that because some people might not agree with a party’s policy, that policy should be outlawed,” he said.

“If this is the case, why do we bother with parties at all? Why not have a nice one-party state like Trevor Phillips’s communist heroes where there are no policies with which anyone can disagree?”

Mr Griffin said the BNP would vigorously defend its right to have its own policy and did not expect any court to endorse the EHRC’s “anti-democratic outburst..”

He said a full defence would be made on 9 March, but warned BNP supporters that this was clearly part of a determined campaign by the establishment to halt the party’s rise by employing every dirty trick in the book.

“Now more than ever we need your support, physically and financially, to see off this outrageous attack on the fundamental principles of our democratic society,” Mr Griffin said.

           — Hat tip: VH[Return to headlines]

UK: Two Passports a Minute Are Given to Foreigners as 1.5m Issued Since Labour Elected

Passports were given to foreigners at the rate of two a minute last year.

Officials approved a record 203,865 citizenship applications, 58 per cent more than in 2008.

Another 190,000 immigrants were given the right to settle in the UK in 2009 — a rise of 30 per cent on the year before.

Home Office figures show that 1.5million foreigners have become UK citizens since Labour came to power.

In 1997, just 37,010 were granted the status.

Officials claim the massive rises during the past year may have been caused by migrants rushing to beat the supposedly tougher system of earned citizenship due to start next year.

From then, obtaining a passport will usually take between six and eight years from a migrant’s arrival in the UK — rather than the current five.

The figures also reflect the huge influx into Britain in the early part of the last decade.

These arrivals are now reaching the stage where they can apply for passports.

Damian Green, Tory immigration spokesman, said: ‘It is now clear that immigration has been running out of control throughout the lifetime of this Government.’

A raft of statistics released yesterday showed that huge numbers of students continue to pour into the UK — despite concerns about bogus colleges and visas.

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 revealed a shift in the source of the arrivals.

The number of Poles registering to work fell by a quarter at the end of last year, but arrivals from Latvia and Lithuania more than doubled.

Overall, newcomers from the eight former Soviet countries which joined the EU in 2004 have halved since 2007.

The Institute of Public Policy Research think-tank said the figures showed the number of immigrants was falling as was the number of UK nationals emigrating.

In the year to June 2009, 146,000 British nationals emigrated and 87,000 came back to the UK.

This meant that net emigration was 59,000, down from 89,000 in the year to June 2008 — and a peak of well over 100,000 in 2004. In the same time period, net immigration by non-British nationals was 206,000, down from 257,000 in the year to June 2008.

The weak pound has made it harder to afford to move abroad and, for most, made it more costly to stay there.

MPs Frank Field and Nicholas Soames, who chair the cross-party Balanced Migration Group, said: ‘The Government’s points-based system has had little effect, despite their repeated claims to the contrary.

‘Employment-related visas fell by only 20,000 last year, despite the recession.

‘There was also a modest fall in arrivals from Eastern Europe, as we have long predicted.

‘But the reality is that, based on these figures, we are still firmly on course for a population of 70million in 20 years or so.’

Immigration Minister Phil Woolas said: ‘I welcome those who want to become British citizens — the increase in number of grants is as a result of UK Border Agency working through applications quicker.

‘We are clear that being British is a privilege, not a right, and that British citizenship should be earned.

‘People who wish to settle permanently in the UK must earn that right by working hard, obeying the law and speaking English.’

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

Culture Wars

‘Czar’ Sees Transgender School Goals in Reach

Organization founded by Jennings behind Maine plan

President Obama’s ‘safe schools’ czar, Kevin Jennings, sees his transgender plans for public and private schools within reach in a move developing in the state of Maine.

A hearing is scheduled next week on a proposal before the Maine Human Rights Commission to make allowances statewide for ‘transgender’ students. An organization founded by Jennings is behind the effort, according to a new report.

The plan essentially would instruct schools to allow boys who say they are transgender to use girls’ facilities, such as restrooms and locker rooms, and vice versa.

Mass Resistance, a Massachusetts organization that works to counteract the advance of homosexual activism, has documented in a new report that the Jennings-launched “Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network” “has played a key role in the nightmare plan to transgenderize restrooms in Maine’s schools.”

The report cites a reference from the Bangor Daily News that described GLSEN as a partner in the push to end biology-based restrooms.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]