Friday, January 10, 2003

News Feed 20100304

Financial Crisis
»USA — Asia: This Year, US Public Debt Could Reach End Game
»‘We Give You Cash, You Give US Corfu!’ German MPs Suggest Greece Sell Its Islands (And the Acropolis) To Pay Off Its Debt
»2 Pentagon Police Officers Shot
»Abuse of Power
»Carbon Market Collapse Brings Gore Out of Hiding
»Colleges’ Liberal Indoctrination ‘Infuriating’
»Feds Weigh Expansion of Internet Monitoring
»NAACP Image Award Reaches New Low
»Obama Czar’s Shocking Communist Connections
»Some Republicans Criticize Judge Pick
Europe and the EU
»Fiat Auto Spinoff Plan on the Table
»France: 20 Million Euros for Storm-Hit Oyster Farmers
»Germany: Islamist Militants Jailed Over Terror Plot
»Italy: Premier’s Party Cannot Run in Rome Area
»Italy: Airline-Style Day- And Time-Specific Tickets for High-Speed Trains
»Italy: Iranian ‘Spies’ Among 7 Arrested in Arms Trafficking Bust
»Italy: Senate Accepts Di Girolamo’s Resignation
»Italy: Fiat: Group Share in Italy Down to 31% in February
»Italy: Premier Blames Electoral Officials
»Napolitano: Anachronistic Anti-European Forces
»Netherlands: Organ Donation ‘Before Death’ Idea Slammed
»Sweden: Malmö Mayor Blasted for ‘Israeli Lobby’ Comment
»Swedish Weapons Exports on the Rise
»UK: Pupils Aged Five on Hate Register: Teachers Must Log Playground Taunts for Government Database
»UK: Pay-as-You-Throw: Council to Launch Pilot Scheme That Could Pave the Way for National Bin Taxes
Mediterranean Union
»EU-Morocco: Farm Products and Seafood, Talks Continue
North Africa
»Cinema: Guido Chiesa Film in Tunisia, Sahara Setting Again
»Egypt in Talks With China Over Suez Economic Zone, Minister
»Egypt: Ghali Urges to Set Up Expatriates’ Council
»Egyptian Court Acquits Muslims Who Beheaded a Christian
»Libya and US in War of Words
»Tunisia: Water Reserves Increase
»Tunisia: Pumpkins for Foreign Markets
Israel and the Palestinians
»Arab League: Yes to Indirect Israeli-Palestinian Talks
»Arabs Manipulate Media, Digital Pogrom
»Israel — Palestine: Jerusalem: Seeds of the Third Intifada Planted in the “ King’s Garden “
»Lieberman Wants Police Chief Investigated
»Worldwide Initiatives Against Israeli ‘Apartheid’
Middle East
»Books: Amoz Oz Translated Into Arabic to Help Understanding
»Hamas Leader Killed; Payoneer Network Involves Israel
»Iraq: From Baghdad to Mosul, For Peace and the Rights of Minorities
»Iraq: Militants Arrested Over Christian Attacks
»Reflecting…With the Bishop of Kirkuk, On the Iraqi Ethno-Religious Mosaic
»Saudi Arabia Removes Embargo on Tunisian Meats
»Syrian FM Urges Unified Stand Against Israeli Policy
»Turkey: Armenians; $45 Billion Ultimatum to Washington
»Turkey: Armenians; Ankara May Recall Ambassador
»Turkey: Armenians; Ankara Prepares for “Plan B”
»Turkey: Armenians; US Gov’t Calls for Blocking Resolution
»Turkey: Armenian Massacre; H. Clinton Warns Foreign Commission
»Turkey: Massacre of Armenians; Obama Calls Gul, NTV
»Yemen: Gov’t: 11 Al Qaeda Members Arrested in Sanaa
»Kazakhstan — Europe: Kazakh Oil to Reach Trieste
South Asia
»‘He’s Just a Little Boy’: Mother’s Tears as British Son, 5, Is Kidnapped and Held for £100,000 Ransom on Pakistan Holiday
»Pakistan: Punjab: Christian Couple Touches Qur’an With Dirty Hands, Gets 25 Years in Prison
»Pakistan: Kidnapped Sikhs Were Forced to Cut Hair and Convert to Islam
Far East
»Chinese Labour Shortage Drives Up Wages

Financial Crisis

USA — Asia: This Year, US Public Debt Could Reach End Game

Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke issues the warning. Asian nations, China and India first, are no longer willing to purchase securities issued by the US Treasury, which this year has about US$ two trillion short-term debt to refinance. Beijing is buying gold instead.

Milan (AsiaNews) — For at least four years, AsiaNews has sounded the alarm bells against the risks due to the huge size reached by speculative finance[1]. In 2008, we said that the attempt to save US banks could push the US debt beyond the point of solvency (see Maurizio d’Orlando, “US debt approaches insolvency . . .,” in AsiaNews 19 December 2008)[2]. Back them it could appear a bit overblown, but now even US Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S Bernanke is warning the US Congress about the danger. In a statement before the House Financial Services Committee,[3] he said that the US public debt might no longer be sustainable very soon. Financial jargon aside, the subtitle of an article by The Washington Times—Stage is set in U.S. for a Greek tragedy—says it all. Interviewed for the article, Bernanke says the United States is likely to face a debt crisis like the one in Greece sooner than later, “not something that is 10 years away”.

In 2008, the size of the debt was such that it was quite clear that it was not sustainable. Now we have a timeframe to measure the likelihood of insolvency for the US public debt, and it is this year. The reason for that is described in an article whose title needs no explanation: “The bankruptcy of the United States is now certain”.[4]

The abyss of debt

By the end of 2010, the US Treasury will have to refinance US$ 2 trillion in short-term debt, plus additional deficit spending for this year, estimated to be around US$ 1.5 trillion (US$ 1.6 trillion today two months after the original article was published). Together, the US Treasury will need to borrow US$ 3.5 trillion (US$ 3.6 according to this writer) in just one year.

In 1999, two well-known economists—Alan Greenspan and Pablo Guidotti—published a formula in an academic paper. Kept secret for a long time, it is designed to predict with precision when a country’s public debt will lead it to be insolvent. Called the Greenspan-Guidotti rule, it says that to avoid a default, countries should maintain hard currency reserves equal to at least 100 per cent of their short-term foreign debt maturities.

According to the author, the United States holds 8,133.5 metric tonnes of gold (the world’s largest holder). At November 2009 dollar values, that is about U$ 300 billion.[5] The US strategic petroleum reserve shows a current total position of 725 million barrels. At current dollar prices, that is roughly US$ 58 billion worth of oil. According to the IMF, the US has US$ 136 billion in foreign currency reserves. Altogether, that is some US$ 500 billion in reserves (US$ 455.5 billion according to AsiaNews).

Foreigners hold 44 per cent of US$ two trillion short-term US debt; that is US$ 880 billion. Total domestic savings in the United States are only around US$ 600 billion annually. If the United States needs to sell US$ 3.5 trillion (or US$ 3.6 trillion) in Treasury bills, and all domestic savings combined are put into US Treasury debt, the United States will still fall short by nearly US$ 3 trillion. Where is the rest of the money going to come from?

China’s gold

Not China, nor India or any other Asian countries. Last year, China has in fact proportionately reduced its holdings in US Treasury bills in relation to rest of its reserves.

Recently, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) put up 191.3 tonnes of gold for sale. Some analysts had earlier suggested that China might be interested in buying it. Assets in dollars are estimated to represent over 70 per cent of China’s US$ 2.4 trillion foreign exchange reserves. As of April 2009, China held 1,054 tonnes of gold or 1.2 per cent of its GDP. That falls well below the world average. Indeed, gold represents less than 10 per cent of China’s total reserves.

According to the China Daily[6], a semi-official mouthpiece for the Communist Party of China, China is not likely to buy IMF gold because it might upset the market. However, some Chinese commentators believe that Beijing should increase its gold reserves to 1,800. Sources told AsiaNews that China’s real goal is 4,000 tonnes.

The same is true for other Asian countries. For instance, India, Mauritius and Sri Lanka have bought 212 tonnes sold by the IMF.

As for Japan, it is likely to continue avoiding open confrontation with the United States; but the real intentions of its top financial circles might be inferred from a mysterious and unsolved incident that occurred last summer when two officials from Japan’s central bank were caught at the Italian-Swiss border town of Chiasso carrying US Treasury bills with a nominal value of US$ 134.5 billion.

Since 1945, the US dollar has been the main international reserve currency. In theory, this gave the US Federal Reserve the power to issue debt securities at will, with the value of international trading assets. However, the Greenspan-Guidotti rule restricts this power.

Whenever US insolvency becomes self-evident, no one dare say they did not know. The Greenspan who came up with the aforementioned formula is the same Alan Greenspan who chaired the Federal Reserve for 18 years and allowed speculative. i.e. “structured” finance to expand (based on poorly tested mathematical algorithms).

This is the same Greenspan who in 1977 wrote a prophetic PhD dissertation (which was removed from his university at his request in 1987, when he became Fed chairman) on how financial bubbles develop in real estate and then burst. Not only was Greenspan aware of it, but so were US top financial circles. In other periods of history, this could lead to accusations of “treason”, but today our sense of personal and collective responsibility is more faded and faint than before. Alternatively, perhaps, there is a level of ultimate responsibility that is darker and runs deeper that the guilt of any one individual.[7]

[1]See also Maurizio d’Orlando, “Clashes between US, China and Iran may account for record gold prices,” in AsiaNews, 12 May 2006; ibid, “War scenarios [. . .] and the collapse of the world’s financial system” , in AsiaNews, 7 August 2006; ibid, “Chinese stocks and the risk of economic crisis,” in AsiaNews,22 May 2007; see also other articles by AsiaNews on the subrime crisis, toxic securities, bank rescue, etc.

[2]See, by the same writer, “Subprime lending to trigger world’s worst financial crisis since 1929,” in AsiaNews, 19 September 2007; ibid, “Depth of the abyss of economic, social, political chaos,” in AsiaNews, 30 September 2008; ibid, “Paulson plan: useless and harmful to democracy,” in AsiaNews, 6 October 2008; ibid, “The way out of the crisis is neither Left nor Right,” in AsiaNews, 25/11/2008; ibid, “Economic crisis: US, China and the coming monetary storm,” in AsiaNews, 09/12/2008.

[3]See Patrice Hill, “Bernanke delivers blunt warning on U.S. debt,” in The Washington Times, 25 February 2010.

[4] See Porter Stansberry, “The bankruptcy of the United States is now certain, in The Daily Crux, 24 November 2009.

[5] According to this writer’s calculations, the current estimated value is lower, US$ 261, 49 billion.

[6]See “China unlikely to buy gold from INF: Official,” in China Daily, 25 February 2010.

[7]Curiously, Greenspan began a close association with Ayn Rand, who developed the philosophy of ‘Objectivism’, which influenced a satanic philosophy (as defined by Satanist Anton LaVey in his writings).

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

‘We Give You Cash, You Give US Corfu!’ German MPs Suggest Greece Sell Its Islands (And the Acropolis) To Pay Off Its Debt

‘The Greek state must sell stakes in companies and also assets such as, for example, unpopulated islands,’ said Frank Schaeffler, a member of parliament for the pro-business Free Democrats.

A legisltator in Chancellor Angela Merke;s conservative CDU party, Marco Wanderwitz, said Athens should provide ‘collateral for any money it receives from the European Union to help it out of its debt crisis — in this case, certain Greek islands also come into question.’

‘We give you cash, you give us Corfu!’ said the racy Bild national newspaper in a tone which many suspect was only half in jest.

That the suggestion came from Germans has only added more fuel to the fire raging between the two countries, with thrifty Teutons calling Greeks lazy spendthrifts and the Greeks retaliating by calling them Nazis with no compassion.

Berlin is seen as key to any eventual bailout if the Greek economy continues to crumble, thus threatening the beloved euro project at the heart of German politics since the end of WW2.

Greeks have been angered by what they perceive as a threatening line from a country which occupied their homeland and ravaged it during their stay in the 1940’s.

Greece’s deputy foreign minister, Dimitris Droutsas, was asked about the sale of the islands in an interview with Germany’s ARD TV.

‘I’ve also heard the suggestion we should sell the Acropolis,’ Droutsas said drily.

‘Suggestions like this are not appropriate at this time.’

Greece has around 6,000 islands off its coast, of which only 227 are inhabited, according to the country’s National Tourism Office website.

Flogging them off to developers would alleviate some of the pressures that Greece faces as it enters a new round of draconian austerity measures aimed at reining in a budget deficit more than four times above EU limits and staving off bankruptcy.

The Socialist government increased sales, tobacco and alcohol taxes and cut public sector holiday allowances to save 4.8 billion euros, equal to about two percent of gross domestic product (GDP), pensions in the public and private sector were also frozen and civil servants had their bonuses for holidays scrapped.

Mrs Merkel is set to hold crisis talks with Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou tomorrow to discuss the situation in Greece.

She is under pressure from German Chambers of Trade to get Greece to call off a boycott of German goods that got underway as soon as the mudslinging about national virtues occurred.

German car dealerships, a supermarket chain and even a pet food distributor from the Fatherland are all feeling the fury of the Greek response to German view of their national crisis in reduced sales.

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]


2 Pentagon Police Officers Shot

WASHINGTON — A gunman coolly drew a weapon from his pocket and opened fire at the teeming subway entrance to the Pentagon complex Thursday evening, wounding two police officers before being shot and critically wounded, officials said.

The two officers suffered grazing wounds that were not life-threatening and were being treated in hospital, said Richard Keevill, chief of Pentagon police.

The suspect, believed to be a U.S. citizen, walked up to a security checkpoint at the Pentagon in an apparent attempt to get inside the massively fortified Defense Department headquarters, at about 6:40 p.m. “He just reached in his pocket, pulled out a gun and started shooting,” Keevill said. “He walked up very cool. He had no real emotion on his face.” The Pentagon officers returned fire with semiautomatic weapons.

Of the suspect, the chief said, “His injury is pretty critical.”

The assault at the very threshold of the Pentagon — the U.S. capital’s ground zero on Sept. 11, 2001 — came four months after a deadly attack on the Army’s Fort Hood, Texas, base allegedly by a U.S. Army psychiatrist with radical Islamic leanings. In the immediate aftermath Thursday, investigators did not think terrorism was involved but were not ruling that out and did not discuss possible motives.

Law enforcement sources identified the suspect as John Patrick Bedell, 36. They also said they were investigating whether a second person was somehow involved. No further information was available.

The subway station is immediately adjacent to the Pentagon building, a five-sided northern Virginia colossus across the Potomac River from Washington. Since a redesign following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the Pentagon, riders can no longer disembark directly into the building. Riders take a long escalator ride to the surface from the underground station, then pass through a security check outside the doors of the building, where further security awaits.

After the attack, all Pentagon entrances were secured, then all were reopened except one from the subway, said Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman.

Keevill said the gunman gave no clue to the officers at the checkpoint about what he was going to do.

“There was no distress,” he said. “When he reached into his pocket they assumed he was going to get a pass and he came up with a gun.”

“He wasn’t pretending to be anyone. He was wearing a coat and walked up and just started shooting.”

A Pentagon official working late in the building said people inside first heard of the shooting on television. They were later told the building was locked down and to stay in place.

Then at around 7:30 p.m., they heard an announcement on the public address system that they could leave through Corridor 3 — one widely used to get access to one of the parking lots.

“We really don’t know anything, just that we can leave now through that corridor,” one official said on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak about the incident.

[Return to headlines]

Abuse of Power

‘An undemocratic disservice to our people and to the Senate’s institutional role.’

A string of electoral defeats and the great unpopularity of ObamaCare can’t stop Democrats from their self-appointed rendezvous with liberal destiny— ramming a bill through Congress on a narrow partisan vote. What we are about to witness is an extraordinary abuse of traditional Senate rules to pass a bill merely because they think it’s good for the rest of us, and because they fear their chance to build a European welfare state may never come again. ***

The vehicle is “reconciliation,” a parliamentary process that fast-tracks budget measures and was created in 1974 as a deficit-reduction tool. Limited to 20 hours of debate, reconciliation bills need a mere 50 votes in the Senate, with the Vice President as tie-breaker, thus circumventing the filibuster. Both Democrats and Republicans have frequently used reconciliation on budget bills, so Democrats are now claiming that using it to pass ObamaCare is no big deal.

Yet this shortcut has never been used for anything approaching the enormity of a national health-care entitlement. Democrats are only resorting to it now because their plan is in so much political trouble—within their own party, and even more among the general public—and because they’ve failed to make their case through persuasion.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Carbon Market Collapse Brings Gore Out of Hiding

We should ignore Al Gore’s bizarre Op-Ed in, where else, the New York Times but it needs analysis because it includes all the standard errors that entrap and confuse most people.

It also exposes him as a real hypocrite in his own words. The title “We can’t wish away Climate change” illustrates how little Gore knows or understands. No, we can’t wish it away because it has and will always exist.


Exploitation of Fear

In case you accept that climate change and global warming are normal, Gore has another fear — national security: “we need to deal with the national security risks of our growing dependence on a global oil market dominated by dwindling reserves in the most unstable region of the world”. But US dependence on foreign sources is a self inflicted wound that began with the military oil reserve set asides made after WWII, and aggravated by anti-nuclear campaigns and unnecessary excessive regulations in the name of environmentalism.

And if that fear doesn’t persuade you he has a third. “In fact, the crisis is still growing because we are continuing to dump 90 million tons of global warming pollution every 24 hours into the atmosphere — as if it were an open sewer. He cleverly doesn’t mention CO2 but the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says it caused all warming since 1950. CO2 is not a pollutant and is essential to life; its designation as such is part of the entire strategy of undermining industrialized nations. This paragraph starts with Gore’s wish that the climate crisis were an illusion. It is an illusion, as anyone who understands the science realizes, an illusion outlined and colored by the corrupt scientists of the CRU/IPCC.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Colleges’ Liberal Indoctrination ‘Infuriating’

Cites study that documents graduates’ shifting perspectives

Talk radio icon Rush Limbaugh says a new study of college students that indicates only a fraction are learning civics lessons but many are adopting liberalism is “infuriating” but not surprising.

Limbaugh cited the American Civic Literacy survey conducted periodically by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute.

Among the results were that 51 percent of the respondents could not name the three branches of government, and 27 percent could not name even one right or freedom guaranteed by the First Amendment.

“This goes on and on and on,” Limbaugh said.

However, the report concluded, colleges are doing an exemplary job indoctrinating students into liberalism.

[Comments from JD: see url for audio.]

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Feds Weigh Expansion of Internet Monitoring

Homeland Security and the National Security Agency may be taking a closer look at Internet communications in the future.

The Department of Homeland Security’s top cybersecurity official told CNET on Wednesday that the department may eventually extend its Einstein technology, which is designed to detect and prevent electronic attacks, to networks operated by the private sector. The technology was created for federal networks.

Greg Schaffer, assistant secretary for cybersecurity and communications, said in an interview that the department is evaluating whether Einstein “makes sense for expansion to critical infrastructure spaces” over time.

Not much is known about how Einstein works, and the House Intelligence Committee once charged that descriptions were overly “vague” because of “excessive classification.” The White House did confirm this week that the latest version, called Einstein 3, involves attempting to thwart in-progress cyberattacks by sharing information with the National Security Agency.

[Return to headlines]

NAACP Image Award Reaches New Low

Quite frankly, the NAACP is a disgrace. When President Obama spoke at an NAACP event, the audience erupted in wild applause when Obama said that blacks are still suffering from racism in America. Thank you, Mr. Great Unifier. Why was the NAACP audience so excited about maintaining victim status? Why did they want to believe the lie that race-relations in America have not changed much since the 1950s?

Yes, as long as there are humans, there will be some prejudice and discrimination. But racism is not a problem for blacks in America today. America is the greatest land of opportunity on the planet for all who choose to go for it. Why are so many people willing to risk everything to get to our shores, attempting the journey on cardboard rafts held together with crazy glue and duct tape?

Dr. King’s once-great NAACP has become a negative, shameful tool of the left: overseers committed to keeping their fellow blacks dependent and subservient to the Democrat party.

Including once-self-proclaimed Communist Van Jones among the honorees at this year’s NAACP Image Award show last night epitomizes the organization’s descent into liberal Hades. Jones was forced to resign as the Obama administration’s green czar due to his radical, far-left ideas, which include believing the Bush administration blew up the towers on 9/11. Jones has spouted extremely vicious and vulgar comments about political opponents. NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous called Jones “an American treasure.” Is Jones the “image” that the NAACP wishes to present to young black America while treating black U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and black former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice like dirt? Utterly outrageous and shameful.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Obama Czar’s Shocking Communist Connections

Edited publication whose founders allegedly fed secrets to Soviet Union

John Holdren, President Obama’s “science czar,” served on the board of editors of a magazine whose personnel were accused of providing vital nuclear information that helped the Soviet Union build an atom bomb.

The magazine, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, has a long history of employing socialist and communist sympathizers, including during the time of Holdren’s employment in 1984, reports the New Zeal blog.


At the time Holdren worked on the Bulletin in 1984, communist and socialist sympathizers still occupied the magazine’s masthead.

The New Zeal blog notes the Bulletin’s board of directors in 1984 included: …

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Some Republicans Criticize Judge Pick

With Democrats scrambling to find enough votes to pass health care reform, Republicans are looking for the next legislative deal to attack and have trained their sights on President Barack Obama’s nomination of Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson’s brother for a federal judgeship.

Republicans gleefully circulated a Weekly Standard piece yesterday that asked if Obama was trying to buy Matheson’s vote by nominating his brother, Scott, to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. Both the White House and Matheson’s office swiftly answered the question with a resounding ‘no.’ And both Republican senators from Matheson’s home state of Utah support the nomination.

Still, that didn’t stop Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann from raising the issue on “Larry King Live” last night, calling for an “independent investigation” into the matter.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Fiat Auto Spinoff Plan on the Table

Marchionne says ‘hypothesis’ addressed in April 21 business plan

(ANSA) — Geneva, March 3 — The possibility of Fiat spinning off its automobile division will be addressed when the group presents its new business plan on April 21, CEO Sergio Marchionne said on Wednesday.

Speaking on the sidelines of the Geneva automobile show, Marchionne said “the option of spinning off the auto division is a very complex one. It is part of a framework of hypotheses which we are analysing very carefully. We’ll see on April 21”.

Two years ago, Marchionne told Fiat shareholders that spinning off Fiat Group Automobiles (FGA) — which includes the Fiat, Lancia and Alfa Romeo marques — was a “hypothetical possibility” but that ‘we have not taken any steps in that direction”.

Speculation that a spinoff may be on the horizon mounted after Fiat last year acquired control of US automaker Chrysler and hit a peak when it was in the running to take over General Motors’ European division, which produces Opel in Germany and Vauxhall in Britain.

The spinoff plan, however, was put on hold last July when Fiat appeared to lose out to Canadian-Austrian autoparts-maker Magna International in its bid for Opel.

The GM-Magna deal later ran aground and the US automaker has now decided to hold on to its European division.

Spinning off FGA and merging it with Chrysler, which includes Jeep, and possibly other marques in the future is in line with Marchionne’s view that “in the not-too-distant future our industry will have five or six producers each with a minimum market of five million cars”.

Fiat acquired 20% and management control of Chrysler last year in a non-cash deal in exchange for its cutting-edge green and small car technology.

Aside from trying to revive the American marque, Fiat plans to use its American production facilities, sales and service network to reintroduce Fiat and Alfa Romeo to the lucrative US market.

Marchionne said on Wednesday that a plan to return Alfa romeo to the US would also be illustrated on April 21.

Once Fiat begins producing its own cars in the US it will be able to increase its stake in Chrysler to 35%.

Fiat has an option to take a majority interest in Chrysler once federal bailout loans have been repaid.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

France: 20 Million Euros for Storm-Hit Oyster Farmers

(ANSAmed) — PARIS, MARCH 3 — France has earmarked 20 million euros to oyster farmers and an “emergency fund” of 5 million euros to farmers affected by Xynthia, the violent storm that ripped through three regions of western France last weekend. The French Agriculture Minister Bruno Le Maire made the announcement during a visit to one of the affected areas. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Germany: Islamist Militants Jailed Over Terror Plot

Dusseldorf, 4 March (AKI) — A German court on Thursday jailed four Muslim militants — including two converts — for up to 12 years each for a failed plot to attack US targets in Germany. The planned attacks were intended to force Germany to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan.

The terror trial was Germany’s biggest in decades and the court found the four plotters had planned a “mass murder unrivaled in Germany.”

The court in Dusseldorf sentenced the two Germans converts, Fritz Gelowicz and Daniel Schneider, to 12 years each. The avoided the maximum 15 year jail term as they confessed their involvement in the plot.

Turkish national Adem Yilmaz was sentenced to 11 years in prison, while German-Turkish citizen Attila Selek got five years for his role in supporting so-called ‘Sauerland’ terror cell. Sauerland is the area of western Germany where they were arrested.

During the trial, all four confessed their allegiance to the Islamic Jihad Union, a splinter group of the Al-Qaeda-linked Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.

According to the US state department, the Islamic Jihad Union was responsible for co-ordinated bombings outside the US and Israeli embassies in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent in July 2004.

The four defendants had planned a “mass murder unrivaled in Germany,” said federal prosecutor Volker Brinkmann in his closing argument.

The ‘Sauerland’ plotters discussed attacking supermarkets on US airbases including Ramstein, Frankfurt airport, German nightclubs and airports to punish Germany for its 4,000 troops in Afghanistan

Defence lawyers however, called it “the largest insufficient attempted terrorist attack.” They had been asking for sentences below 10 years.

The men had trained at camps in Pakistan and procured some 700kg of chemicals to produce 410kg of explosives, prosecutors said.

Gelowicz, Schneider and Yilmaz were detained in September 2007 after preparing 410 kilogrammes of explosives — 100 times the amount used in the 2005 London bombings, prosecutors said.

Selek was detained in Turkey in November 2007 and later extradited to Germany.

The truck and carbomb attacks had been planned for October 2007, during a parliamentary vote to extend German participation in the NATO force in Afghanistan.

German security services uncovered the plot in December 2006 and conducted one of the biggest surveillance operations in post-war German history.

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

Italy: Premier’s Party Cannot Run in Rome Area

Court upholds exclusion in upcoming regional elections

Premier’s party cannot run in Rome area

(ANSA) — Rome, March 3 — Premier Silvio Berlusconi’s People of Freedom (PdL) party suffered another setback on Wednesday after a Rome appeals court upheld a ruling barring its candidates from running in the Rome province in this month’s regional elections.

The court confirmed a decision by a court on Sunday, excluding the PdL from standing in the Rome area because party officials had missed a noon cutoff to present the candidates list on Saturday. The PdL can still take the case to the regional TAR court and then to the state administrative tribunal.

But a final decision would be needed before March 13 — the cutoff for the publication of electoral lists — to allow the PdL to run in the Rome province.

PdL officials have already said they would run the gamut of appeals. Earlier, another Rome court readmitted the party’s candidate for the presidency of the Lazio region to run with her own civic list, overruling a decision to strike it off because of a minor bureaucratic glitch.

The pro-Renata Polverini list was initially barred from running in the March 28-29 elections because of a missing signature in documents presented to the electoral panel on Saturday.

Polverini — a trade union leader — is up against Radical party candidate Emma Bonino, a former European Union commissioner who is backed by most of the centre-left opposition, including the PD.

Hours later, however, a Milan appeals court confirmed that the List for Lombardy headed by incumbent president Roberto Formigoni should be barred because of bureaucratic irregularities with some 500 signatures.

Formigoni can still appeal the ruling and even if barred from running with his own list, his re-election is not in doubt since he is backed by the Premier’s People of Freedom (PdL) party and the Northern League, which have traditionally strong voter support in the region. Whatever the outcome of further appeals, the flap over the PdL’s exclusion from the key Rome province in the March 28-29 elections in 13 of Italy’s 20 regions has upset supporters, raised the premier’s ire and caused friction within the party.

It also drew the scorn of key ally, outspoken Northern League leader Umberto Bossi, who on Tuesday branded officials responsible for the blunders “amateurs out of their depth”.

In a boost for PdL morale, a leading Italian political scientist, Professor Roberto D’Alimonte of Florence University, said that even if the premier’s party is excluded from the race in the Rome area, Polverini still has a good chance of winning since voters could vote for her civic list or for allied parties.

“If she wins there is no risk of Polverini not reaching a majority in the regional council,” said D’Alimonte, explaining that allied parties would step in for the PdL, at least in the Rome province.

However, other pundits believe that if the PdL is barred from running in the Rome province — the biggest in Lazio, with 2.3 million voters — the centre left manage to keep the region.

Berlusconi said last week that the elections are of strategic importance for his government.

The centre right had been optimistic of snatching Lazio away from the centre left after the region’s ex-president, Piero Marrazzo, was forced to resign in October in a sex and drugs scandal.

Meanwhile, Defence Minister Ignazio La Russa whipped up a storm by warning that the centre right was “ready to do anything” if electoral appeals courts bars its candidates from running because of bureaucratic blunders.

La Russa was quoted by two left-leaning dailies as saying that Premier Silvio Berlusconi’s People of Freedom (PdL) party was optimistic of a positive ruling from the courts overturning a decision on Saturday barring its candidates from running in the Rome province.

“We will never accept a ruling which would prevent hundreds of thousands of our supporters from voting for us at the regional elections. If they bar us from running we are ready to do anything”.

La Russa’s statements are “serious and unsettling”, accused the House Whip for the opposition Italy of Values (IdV) Party Massimo Donadi.

“A defence minister should not use such threatening and subversive language,” added Donadi, stressing that the PdL should “blame itself for its woes”.

Nicola Zingaretti, the president of the Rome Province for the opposition Democratic Party, expressed concern over La Russa’s “sinister remarks”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Airline-Style Day- And Time-Specific Tickets for High-Speed Trains

Trenitalia says running-in period is over and fewer trains run late. Managers accuse Alstom equipment of breaking down

MILAN — First came the running-in period when six out of ten trains arrived within 15 minutes of the scheduled time. Then the Christmas snow brought record delays and cancellations. After that, prolonged bad weather and trains called in for maintenance occasioned further delays and cancelled services.

Following a difficult start, high-speed trains have completed their first two months of operation. Internal Trenitalia reports say that today “the proportion of trains arriving on, or within 15 minutes of, the scheduled time has risen from 60% to 90%”. Plans for fine-tuning the service portfolio in phase two are also set out. One move stands out: ticket prices will vary depending on time and day, just like flight tickets, which means that first and second class will be things of the past. But the reports also reveal tensions between the railway group and the French-owned Alstom company, which supplies some of the traffic management systems and the new ETR 600 trains: “Ninety-two hours of delay were recorded from 13 December to the end of January because of technical problems attributable to Alstom. More than 400 trains were involved”, says Trenitalia, referring to “failures of traffic management equipment” and “on-board systems” On-board systems alone “were responsible for delays to one train in seven”.

Running-in period and new service portfolio

The whole of the Turin-Salerno line was inaugurated on 13 December. Frecciarossa services linking Rome and Milan have increased by 40% and travel time between the two cities has fallen by about 30 minutes. But the promised journey times have often failed to materialise owing to breakdowns, running-in or bad weather. Particularly badly hit has been the Florence-Bologna line, where delays have yet to be completely eliminated. “In response to running-in problems, we have decided to extend until the end of March the promotional price of 48 euros for the Rome-Milan service”, Trenitalia announces. The extension is only one of the new developments on the ticket front. The biggest revolution in the run-up to market liberalisation will come with day- and time-specific pricing replacing the differential between first and second class. As on airlines, the Frecciarossa’s direct competitors on the Rome-Milan route, passengers travelling by rail will pay more at busy times and on high-traffic days, and less when demand is lower. Then there are the on-board services: “These will cater for the needs of the different categories of business and pleasure rail travellers”. One soon-to-be-introduced novelty is internet connectivity. Under an agreement the railway group is about to sign with Telecom Italia, Wi-Fi systems will be installed on Frecciarossa trains. “To improve quality of mobile phone calls and internet browsing”. Other changes will affect timetables. “More trains will be in service on the Turin-Milan and Rome-Naples lines from March, before the new timetable comes into effect”. Two more services will run on each line at peak times in the morning and evening. “On the Rome-Milan route, services will be removed, or times changed, at off-peak periods in mid morning and mid afternoon”.

Technical problems

Trenitalia sources acknowledge the issues that have marked the first two months of high-speed trains, particularly on the Bologna-Florence line. “The route and its junctions have had to handle a huge number of trains (more than 100 services every day) which have highlighted problems that could not be detected during trials”. Then there was the bad weather. “Running trains even in extreme conditions led to a series of technical issues and prolonged maintenance operations”. However, Trenitalia blames Alstom, as well as running-in and bad weather. The internal report says: “Most of the delays are attributable to breakdowns of technology supplied by Alstom. In contrast, systems from other suppliers such as Ansaldo worked smoothly”. The problems relating to “unsatisfactory technology” have been known for some time. As a result, Trenitalia has removed Alstom from its list of approved suppliers. In the dock are management systems, such as the centralised traffic control system in Bologna, and the systems at Bologna and Florence stations. Block circuits on the same line also failed because of lack of communication between on-board and trackside software. Trains would be blocked even when they were the only ones on the tracks. The upshot is: “Since 13 December, there has been a 40% increase in breakdowns related to the ETCS trackside/on-board signalling system supplied by Alstom. These problems impacted on the punctuality of one train in seven, on average”.

Emergencies and measures

The report also refers to “malfunctions of mechanical and electrical components manufactured by Alstom and the speed control system fitted to Frecciarossa and Frecciargento”. These were problems “that did not, however, impact on safety”. The report notes that on 10 January, an ETR 600 lost a two and a half by two metre fibreglass cover in one of the two tunnels on the Bologna-Florence line. On 5 February, another accumulated 100 minutes’ delay, and was then cancelled, when a microswitch worth ten euros failed to function. Trenitalia also complains about the failure of the main switch that controls the supply of electricity to the motors, and about excessive wear to the running surface of the wheels. Regarding market liberalisation and competition from NTV, the report adds: “We are not apprehensive. If anything, this is a stimulus. However, the Italo-French company has ordered new high-speed trains from Alstom. We hope they will be more reliable than ours are, otherwise it will be no contest. Criticism from various sources is amply justified by punctuality that is still unsatisfactory. More than two thirds of the fleet with Alstom equipment has required intervention, which has improved punctuality by about ten points”. Other action has been taken to fine-tune the service portfolio. The report notes: “Trains are not running full. To cut consumption and costs, Frecciarossa trains have been shortened by at least one carriage”. This will also facilitate restyling and the substitution of the current seats with new models in leather.

Alessandra Mangiarotti

English translation by Giles Watson

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Iranian ‘Spies’ Among 7 Arrested in Arms Trafficking Bust

Milan, 3 March(AKI) — Police in Italy have arrested five Italians and two suspected Iranian spies for allegedly trafficking weapons to Iran. Arrest warrants were issued for two Iranians still at large who are suspected of involvement in the alleged arms trafficking ring, police said on Wednesday in Milan.

The investigation, dubbed Operation Sniper, was led by Milan prosecutor Armando Spataro, who probed the 2003 kidnapping and “extraordinary rendition “ of Abu Omar, a Muslim cleric suspected of abetting terrorism, by CIA agents in Milan. The investigation led to the conviction of two former Italian secret agents and 23 CIA agents in absentia over the kidnapping.

“It is an investigation of considerable importance because it concerns the entire international community,” Spataro said on Wednesday at a Milan press conference.

Operation Sniper began in June 2009 and was aided by police collaboration in Bern, Switzerland, where one of the Italian suspects resided, Spatoro said.

Earlier, a statement by the Italian tax police said they had intercepted optical-precision equipment, scuba-diving jackets and oxygen tanks bound for Iran as well as tracer bullets, incendiary bombs and other “explosive materials”.

Arms exports to Iran are strictly controlled under a United Nations embargo.

Investigators also suspect the arms trafficking ring sold equipment to Iran known as “dual use” because it can be converted for military use, according to Spataro.

Italy is one of Iran’s biggest European Union trading partners, partly because of exploration investments by Rome-based oil company Eni.

Prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has joined calls by other western leaders called for stronger sanctions against Tehran to convince the Middle Eastern country to curb its uranium enrichment program that the West suspects is being used to develop nuclear weapons.

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

Italy: Senate Accepts Di Girolamo’s Resignation

Vote 259 to 16 on rightwinger linked to mafia

(ANSA) — Rome, March 3 — The Senate voted Wednesday to accept the resignation of a centre-right senator named in a money laundering phone scam and linked to a Calabrian mafia boss.

In the secret ballot, the upper house voted 259 to 16, with 12 abstentions, to accept the resignation of right-wing Senator Nicola Di Girolamo.

Di Girolamo, who is facing an arrest warrant, appealed to the senators before the vote, saying “my story is not a criminal one”.

He said he had no links to ‘Ndrangheta, Italy’s most powerful mafia. The centre-left opposition had on Tuesday opposed the motion to weigh the resignation, saying the senator should be expelled instead. “We don’t want such an important issue, a scandal like this, to be wiped out or treated as if it were a mere discussion about Di Girolamo’s resignation,” said Democratic Party whip Anna Finocchiaro.

Di Girolamo resigned on Monday, a few days before the Senate was expected to give the go-ahead for his arrest.

In a letter of resignation addressed to Senate Speaker Renato Schifani, Di Girolamo accused his colleagues of likening him to Lucifer and “cutting me to pieces”.

He also rejected prosecutors’ charges that he had been elected to the Senate as representative for Italians abroad because of vote-rigging organised by Ndrangheta.

“I was elected thanks to 24,500 voters …who were neither mafiosi or criminals,” said the senator with Premier Silvio Berlusconi’s People of Freedom (PdL) party, admitting though that “a small part” of those who voted for him could have been swayed by individuals “tainted” by mafia connections.

Di Girolamo said he was certain he would be able to clear himself when questioned by prosecutors.

Schifani urged the Senate last week to consider annulling Di Girolamo’s election because he falsely claimed he lived abroad rather than in Rome and was therefore ineligible to run as a candidate for Italians abroad.

Prosecutors say that in exchange for the vote rigging Di Girolamo helped the mafia launder huge sums.

Last week, the newsweekly L’Espresso published several pictures of an electoral dinner in 2008 where Di Girolamo is shown with ‘Ndrangheta chieftain Franco Pugliese and Rome businessman Gennaro Mokbel, the alleged ringleader of the scam.

Pugliese and Mokbel were arrested Tuesday while Di Girolamo’s arrest needed to be cleared by a Senate panel.

Pugliese, who was sent on ‘internal exile’ to Mantua in the 1990s, is a top member of the Arena family, one of Ndrangheta’s most powerful clans.

He first came to the attention of police in 1997 when 12 billion lire in assets were seized including apartments, land and five cars in Calabria and a shopping centre near Bergamo.

His son Michele was among 34 mobsters arrested last November in an operation that uncovered three murders including the bazooka killing of Mob patriarch Carmine Arena in 2004.

Berlusconi said during the weekend he had never met Di Girolamo, adding that he had been put up as a candidate by House Speaker Gianfranco Fini’s National Alliance party, which merged with the premier’s Forza Italia last year to form the PdL.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Fiat: Group Share in Italy Down to 31% in February

(ANSAmed) — ROME — Fiat Group Automobiles market share slipped to 31% from 31.99% a year earlier and 32.02% in January whereas new car registrations climbed 16.82% over February 2008. Within the Fiat group the Fiat marque saw its year-on-year registrations in February rise 15.8%, while those for Alfa Romeo were up 4.58% and Lancia saw a jump of 30.49%. In regard to market share, the Fiat marque’s stood at 24.02%, down from 25.01% a year earlier,and Lancia’s in one year rose from 4.29% to 4.64%, while Alfa Romeo’s share slipped from 2.69% in February 2009 to 2.34% this year. Among the foreign carmaker, Ford was the best selling marque, followed by Volkswagen and Renault. According to the transport ministry, used car sales last month fell 7.33% over February 2009. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Premier Blames Electoral Officials

Too tough with his party’s candidates’ lists, Berlusconi says

(ANSA) — Rome, March 4 — Premier Silvio Berlusconi complained on Thursday that his People of Freedom (PdL) party has been barred from running in regional elections in Lombardy and the Rome province because officials had been overly strict in vetting the paperwork.

“They were too rigorous when checking our lists of candidates,” the premier was quoted as telling his aides.

Courts in Milan and Rome have confirmed election officials’ decision to exclude the PdL from running in Lombardy for technical irregularities and in the Rome area because paperwork was handed in after Saturday’s noon cutoff. The incumbent president of Lombardy, Roberto Formigoni, the PdL and its Northern League ally, which had expected to sweep to victory in their stronghold, will be unable to stand if the decision is not reversed.

A ruling by Lombardy’s regional TAR court on whether to allow Formigoni to run for re-election in the March 28-29 elections is expected over the next few days, his lawyer said on Wednesday.

Luca Giuliante, who filed the appeal with TAR earlier on Wednesday, said it was “technically unfeasible” to expect a ruling today. It will take a few days, he said. A Milan appeals court on Wednesday said Formigoni’s civic list, linked with the PdL and the Northern League parties, should be excluded from the poll because of bureaucratic irregularities involving nearly 100 signatures.

If TAR also decides against, Formigoni can still file another appeal with the state administrative tribunal.

But a final decision will be needed before March 13 — the cutoff for the publication of electoral lists — to allow the PdL to run in the Rome province.

Formigoni said he was confident that the bureaucratic glitches can be overcome because, in the past, similar problems with signatures had been overlooked or approved on the basis of court rulings. Government sources said officials were considering the idea of drawing up an urgent decree which would allow parties to hand in their lists again. This solution would be agreed with the centre-left opposition, which has, in large part, expressed its unease about running without the country’s major party.

The leader of the Italy of Values (IdV) party, Antonio Di Pietro, however, has already ruled out the idea of finding a “legislative solution” to the problem, saying it would amount to “a coup”.

So has Pier Luigi Bersani, leader of the Democratic Party (DP), the biggest in the centre-left opposition.

Bersani said the idea was fuzzy and “didn’t stand on its feet”, stressing that there was still plenty of time to settle the issue through the courts.

“We haven’t popped the champagne or uncorked the wine; we want to run regularly,” he said, stressing that the centre right had created the muddle and could not “hold others responsible for what’s happened”.

Meanwhile, Simplifications Minister Roberto Calderoli said it was important to meet with President Giorgio Napolitano to discuss ways of finding a solution to the problem.

Speaking after a meeting between League leader Umberto Bossi and Berlusconi at the premier’s residence, Calderoli said a number of solutions had been tossed up.

“But at this point, we need to meet with the president and, in view of the unprecedented nature of what’s happened, see what sort of instruments we have available.” Earlier, Napolitano said he was “very concerned” about what could happen if the PdL, the country’s biggest party, and the League, are barred from running in Lombardy.

The president told reporters during a visit to Brussels he was ready to weigh possible options.

Asked if a political solution could be found, he replied “If someone tells me what it is, who is presenting it and what it’s about, I’m ready to examine it,” he said before flying back to Rome.

Government sources said Berlusconi had called an urgent cabinet meeting late Thursday, soon after talks with Napolitano.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Napolitano: Anachronistic Anti-European Forces

(AGI) — Brussels, 4 March — President of Italy, Giorgio Napolitano, commented that the victory of anti-European forces in Holland represents an “anachronistic and very dangerous illusion,” despite it being “an ahistorical and unrealistic tendency.” Talking about Italy, Napolitano continued, “at the moment I don’t see any increase in anti-European views or a desire for Italy to pull back from integration.” .

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

Netherlands: Organ Donation ‘Before Death’ Idea Slammed

A proposal to remove donor organs from patients who are dying before they are actually dead, published today in the Dutch medical journal Medisch Contact, has met with fierce criticism.

Dutch Protestant daily Trouw reports that many doctors and the Dutch Kidney Foundation both find the idea “terrible”.

Clinical ethicist Erwin Kompanje and medical researcher Yorick de Groot of Rotterdam’s Erasmus Medical Centre have proposed removing organs from registered donors before death. They argue this would lead to a greater availability of organs “of optimum quality”. Half of all organs currently harvested are lost because of poor blood supply.

The authors of the proposal admit many doctors will intuitively reject the concept, “It is a very controversial idea, but with an eye on the chronic shortage we thought it should be talked about.”

Quality deterioration

At the moment, doctors wait for a while after terminating treatment (usually by switching off a ventilator) before rushing a donor into an operating theatre. Donor organs deteriorate quickly during this time.

The Dutch doctors’ association (KNMG Royal Dutch Medical Association) thinks it is a terrible idea. They believe a measure like this will damage the trust patients have in the medical profession.

Likewise, the Dutch Kidney Foundation says that even though 200 people die every year because there are no kidneys available, “you have to keep to your promises.” It believes the proposal gives people the wrong idea that the current rules, anchored in law, could change. The foundation says it is already receiving phone calls from worried members of the public.

Sensitive issue

The authors of the proposal are unperturbed. They say they are aware of the sensitivity surrounding the issue, and worded their proposal very carfeully as a result. They say that, at best, the new proposal would be no more than an option which people could consider while they are still healthy.

Dutch newspaper AD writes that more and more kidneys are actually coming from living donors, usually family members, as fewer registered donors are dying in the ‘right circumstances’ for their organs to be used.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Sweden: Malmö Mayor Blasted for ‘Israeli Lobby’ Comment

Representatives for the Jewish Community in Malmö have slammed the city’s mayor, Ilmar Reepalu, for his use of the term “Israeli lobby” in a Danish television interview.

“I encounter a great many people from what one could call the Israeli lobby, who are not interested in what I say and what I think, but who do want to attribute lots of opinions to me,” Reepalu said in an interview with Danish TV2.

Reepalu and the Jewish Community (Judiska församlingen) have been at cross purposes of late after the mayor drew parallels in newspaper interviews between anti-Semitism and Zionism.

He has also denied that there had been any attacks on Jews in the city despite police figures showing that violent incidents against Jews have doubled over the last year.

Reepalu responded to a call from Social Democrat party leader Mona Sahlin last week to engage in a dialogue with Malmö Jews, meeting with representatives last week. His latest comments on the Danish TV2 show Lorry have been met with consternation by the Jewish Community.

In a letter to Reepalu and Mona Sahlin, the Jewish Community representatives have expressed their disappointment with the mayor’s televised comments.

“This is the kind of wording used by anti-Jewish or anti-Semitic forces, who claim that it is the Jews who control the media,” wrote Fred Kahn and Fredrik Sieradzki.

A recent series of articles in local newspaper Skånska Dagbladet detailed how Jews were choosing to leave the city as their situation become increasingly vulnerable in the face of attacks from extreme elements in the Muslim community and far-left political circles.

Reepalu reiterated to Danish TV his view that his quotes had been misrepresented, despite the fact that Skånska Dagbladet has released all its tapes and written correspondence with the mayor in a bid to show that he had not been misquoted.

Kahn and Sieradzki also referred Reepalu to their meeting with the mayor last week as part of the effort to patch up their differences.

“This was exactly the kind of comment we advised you to avoid if you didn’t wish to be misunderstood by people who take this as their cue to direct threats and harassment at Swedes of Jewish extraction.”

Reepalu said last week he was ready to act, via the newly formed Dialogue Forum, to ease tension between the city’s plethora of ethnic groups.

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

Swedish Weapons Exports on the Rise

Sweden sold weapons to the value of 13.5 billion kronor ($1.9 billion) in 2009, up 7 percent on the previous year, according to new figures released by the Swedish Agency for Non-Proliferation and Export Controls (Inspektionen för strategiska produkter — ISP).

“Of the total defence materiel exports, 80 percent went to well established partner countries, both within the EU and to countries like South Africa and the United States,” said agency director-general Andreas Ekman Duse in a statement.

“As in other years, larger deals play their part and have a bearing on the statistics, such as sales of the Combat Vehicle 90 to the Netherlands and the JAS 39 Gripen [fighter jet] to South Africa,” he said.

The export figures encompass products made by companies based in Sweden, regardless of the origins of the owners.

More than half (53 percent) of exports went to other EU countries, along with Norway and Switzerland.

27 percent was accounted for by countries defined by ISP as “established partners”, including the US, Australia, South Africa, Canada, South Korea and Singapore.

The final 20 percent went to twenty different countries, dominated by Pakistan (1.4 billlion kronor) and India (901 million kronor), but also including Malaysia (129 million kronor), Thailand (81 million kronor) and the United Arab Emirates (900,000 kronor).

Green Party spokesman Lars Ångström said he was appalled to see Saudia Arabia on the list of countries buying defence equipment from Sweden.

“Saudi Arabia seriously and systematically violates human rights as defined by the UN, and it is unacceptable that exports have gone there,” he said in a statement.

Ångström was also distressed to see Bahrain, Oman and Malaysia among the recipient nations.

The Netherlands was the biggest buyer of Swedish defence equipment in 2009, paying a total of 2.5 billion kronor. Completing the list of the top five purchasers were South Africa (1.7 billion), Pakistan (1.4 billion), and the United Kingdom, which spent a fraction more than India’s 901 million kronor.

ISP’s role in the process involves approving licences for the export of military equipment. Permission is conditional on a number of factors, with certain barriers put in place if a country finds itself at war. As in the case with the United States however, the agency can continue to authorise sales to warfaring countries if there are overriding defence and security policy reasons deemed to tip the balance in favour of continued trade.

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

UK: Pupils Aged Five on Hate Register: Teachers Must Log Playground Taunts for Government Database

Heads will be forced to list children as young as five on school ‘hate registers’ over everyday playground insults.

Even minor incidents must be recorded as examples of serious bullying and details kept on a database until the pupil leaves secondary school.

Teachers are to be told that even if a primary school child uses homophobic or racist words without knowing their meaning, simply teaching them such words are hurtful and inappropriate is not enough.

Instead the incident has to be recorded and his or her behaviour monitored for future signs of ‘hate’ bullying.

The accusations will also be recorded in databases held by councils and made available to Whitehall and ministers to help them devise future anti-bullying campaigns.

The scale of the effort to stop children using homophobic or racist language was revealed after the parents of a ten-year-old primary school pupil in Somerset, Peter Drury, were told that his name would be put on a register and his behaviour monitored while he remained at school.

The boy was reported after he called a friend ‘gay boy’. His parents fear the record of homophobic bullying will count against him throughout his school career and even into adulthood.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: Pay-as-You-Throw: Council to Launch Pilot Scheme That Could Pave the Way for National Bin Taxes

The first pay-as-you-throw rubbish scheme is to be launched this year, raising fears of nationwide bin taxes.

Under the controversial plans, binmen will weigh each household’s weekly rubbish, with the council paying cash ‘rewards’ to the least wasteful homes.

Town hall chiefs say the scheme is designed to encourage green behaviour. And they insist those who continue to fill their dustbins will not be fined.

But critics say the pilot will lead to a system of rubbish incentives and fines in which large families pay more to have their bins emptied and electronic microchip ‘spies’ are placed in every wheelie bin.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Mediterranean Union

EU-Morocco: Farm Products and Seafood, Talks Continue

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, MARCH 4 — Negotiations between EU and Morocco on the liberalisation agreement for agricultural products and seafood continue. An agreement was reached on the issue on December 17 2009. On the eve of next weekend’s summit in Granada, according to European sources “there are still some minor problems” to resolve. In general, there are problems that regard the sectors that will suffer the agreement’s economic and financial consequences. The question is not whether the agreement will be signed, only when. “There are no uncertainties. Both parties are working with the objective to come to a result as soon as possible,” Brussels reports. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

North Africa

Cinema: Guido Chiesa Film in Tunisia, Sahara Setting Again

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, MARCH 3 — “Let It Be”, which Italian director Guido Chiesa is shooting in Matmata, is the latest film to explore the charm of the Tunisian Sahara. The desert town has been the setting for hugely successful films in the past, most notably George Lucas’ late 1970s classic “Star Wars”, which was set in both Tataouine and Matmata. The latter is a Berber village renowned for its unique Troglodyte architecture, with hillside dwellings dug into the earth. Here tourists can choose to stay in a unusual and spotless hostel built into the rock, dug out of what was used for several scenes in the film. But few people realise that some of the most captivating scenes in the 1976 film “ET” were filmed on the Sahara’s Chott el Djerid, a large salt lake, or that the planet Tattoine that the friendly alien flies over, actually takes its name from nearby Tataouine. Franco Zeffirelli, who was struck by the beauty of the area, shot “Jesus of Nazareth” here in 1977 while Spielberg brought Indiana Jones to Tataouine in “Raiders of the Lost Ark”. Another famous director, Roman Polanski, chose Matmata, Tataouine and Nefta as the setting for “Pirates”. One of the most successful film of the 1990s, winning nine Oscars, was “The English Patient”, which featured breathtaking views of the Tunisian Sahara. Part of the film was shot in the central Tunisian coastal town of Mahdia, which to this day boasts a particularly antiquated charm. The oasis towns of Gafsa, Tozeur and Nafta were used for Roberto Benigni’s 2005 film “The Tiger and the Snow”. But cinematic interest in the Tunisian desert dates back a great deal further. Cinema was a very recent concept when the Lumiere brothers filmed documentaries here. It was not until 1919 that Luitz Morat shot the first feature-length film to be made in Africa, “Les Cinq Gentlemen Maudits”. Towards the end of the 1960s, Yannik Bellon, daughter of the famous photographer Denise Bellon, wrote the short film “Zaa, petit chameau blanc”. Today, it is Guido Chiesa’s turn. An Arab-language film with predominantly Tunisian actors — including Ahmed Hafiene, familiar to Italian audiences — “Let It Be” tells the story of Mary, mother of Christ, in an “anthropological” way. In the words of the director himself, the film aims to evoke the themes of maternity and mother-son relationships “through the story of a girl who lived in Galilee 2000 years ago.” This is the reason for which a large part of the film is shot in the village of Zraoua, highly reminiscent of old Palestine. The role of Mary has been given to an amateur actress, 14-year-old Nadia Lhelifi, who is from Matmata. A bizarre advertisement in Tunisia’s main French-language daily newspaper completes the picture. In the job section, the words “foreign nationals living in Tunisia wanted for roles as extras in Italian film”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Egypt in Talks With China Over Suez Economic Zone, Minister

(ANSAmed) — HONG KONG, MARCH 3 — The Egyptian government is negotiating with Tianjin Economic-Technological Development Area (TEDA), one of China’s most successful investment zones, about replicating the model near the Suez Canal (SEZone) said Egypt’s Investment Minister Mahmoud Mohieldin as reported by MENA. Under Egyptian law, TEDA could take up to a 49 percent stake in the 1.5 billion dollar project, Mohieldin said. SEZone is intended as the first in a series of state-led development zones targeting manufacturing investment. (ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Egypt: Ghali Urges to Set Up Expatriates’ Council

(ANSAmed) — CAIRO, MARCH 3 — Head of the National Council for Human Rights, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, called today for the establishment of an expatriates’ council of elected members to strengthen their connection with the homeland. In the foreword he wrote in a book released by the council on duties and human rights of Egyptian expatriates in European Union states, Ghali called for supporting efforts exerted by Egyptian embassies and consulates and counting the number of Egyptians abroad to get to know their specialties especially scientists to increase their contribution in development projects in Egypt. “Practicing citizenship means working together in all fields to compare problems inside and outside”, he said, referring to the Cairo Declaration on citizenship issued in November 2007. Egyptian expatriates should give a good image of Egypt, through their faith and their behavior, he said, adding that many Egyptians abroad are successful and have merged into their new societies.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Egyptian Court Acquits Muslims Who Beheaded a Christian

by Mary Abdelmassih

(AINA) — An Egyptian court in the southern city of Assuit acquitted this week four Muslims accused of killing 61-year-old Farouk Attallah on October 19, 2009. In broad daylight and in full view of witnesses, the killers fired 31 bullets to his head before beheading him, in the busy village market place of Attaleen, near Dairout, 313 kilometers south of Cairo. The dead body was then dragged in the street, accompanied by shouts of victory. Free Copts website published a video of the disfigured body (warning, violent graphic content: video).

The judge presiding over the court on February 22, said that he was not satisfied that the testimony of the witnesses established that the imprisoned men were the killers. After the acquittal of Mohamad, Ashraf, Osama and Ahmad Hassouna, there was jubilation in the court room, with shouts of ‘Allah is Great’ and congratulations from all Muslims, including members of the state security forces who were present.

Christians were enraged over the acquittal, since similar cases would result in life imprisonment or execution for a Copt if the victim was a Muslim.

The verdict came as another wake-up call to many Copts, according to Peter Sarwat, the plaintiff’s attorney. “It sends a clear message that Coptic blood is extremely cheap.” he told Mariam Ragy of Katiba Tibia Coptic site. “This acquittal will make permanent the present culture of impunity enjoyed by Muslim aggressors against Copts.”.

Sarwat said the ruling was inadequate, as it acquitted the accused but did not say who the perpetrators are. “If these men did not kill, so who killed? The ruling should have referred the case to the general prosecution to present the perpetrators.”

The Court based its ruling on quasi non existent proof, as well as the absence of “positive evidence” testimony versus the presence of “negative evidence” testimony. “The judge refused to take into consideration the testimonies of the dead man’s daughter who said she only saw one killer and not four, as well as the testimony of the Muslim man who was wounded in the shootings,” said Sarwat. According to media reports, most people who witnessed the shootings in the market place refused to come forward for fear of vengeance from the assailants’ family. There were false witnesses who confirmed that the killers were present at work.

“It is not enough to get a conviction based only on police reports which are full of legal loopholes and weak prosecution investigations,” said Sarwat. Legal observers have always claimed that the police purposely deliver to prosecution reports full of inadequacies and loopholes, thereby getting from the courts acquittals for Muslims.

What prompted the killing of Farouk Attallah was an alleged illicit sexual relationship between his son Romany and a local Muslim girl, Hagger Hassouna. A rumor that intimate photos of Hagger together with her lover Romany were circulating on cell phones in Dairout lead four members of the Hassona family to kill Romany’s father, after failing to locate his son, who had fled.

Besides the killing of Farouk Attallah, the arrest of the Hassouna perpetrators sparked on October 24, 2009, Muslim riots and collective punishment against all Copts in Dairout. Christian-owned shops, pharmacies, and homes were looted and burned (AINA 10-27-2009).

Although several hundreds Muslims participated in those riots, the police only detained 19, and these were acquitted on December 13, 2009 because of the lack of eyewitnesses and conflicting statements between the accused and the victims.

The majority of Copts believe the reason for the acquittal of Muslims is that although Egypt claims to be a secular state, in reality it applies the Sharia law which dictates .that a Muslim who kills a non-Muslim must not be killed, because it is not reasonable to equate a Muslim with a “polytheist” (a Christian).

Commenting on the acquittal, Dr. Naguib Gobraeel, President of the Egyptian Union of Human Rights, said: “What is the solution? The same happened with regards to Al-Kosheh Massacre [21 Copts were slaughtered in 2000 and not one Muslim was indicted], the attack on the Copts in Alexandria were blamed on a mentally unstable person; even the assailant who beheaded Abdo Goerge Younan in Menoufiah is now in a mental hospital [AINA 9-21-2009]. Heavenly Justice is our last resourt.” He stated that he will appeal this week’s verdict.

The victim’s family was greatly shocked and saddened by the acquittal. “In spite of the blood of their slain family head filling the street, the Muslim killers got away literally with murder,” Sarwat said “It just shows how cheap Coptic blood can be.”

Sarwat asserted that he will appeal the ruling. “We cannot remain silent over this verdict as it has very serious implications for all Copts in Egypt.” He added: “It is not safe for Copts now, as any Muslims who wants to get rid of a Copt, would kill him, knowing well that in the end he will be acquitted.”

[Return to headlines]

Libya and US in War of Words

Rocky relations between the US and Libya took a turn for the worse on Wednesday when Tripoli demanded an apology from a US envoy who criticised Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. The Libyan foreign ministry is furious about comments made by Philip Crowley who denounced the Libyan leader’s decision to declare a holy war on Switzerland.

Gaddafi’s outburst against Switzerland was the latest episode in an ongoing row between the two countries, which dates back to the arrest of his son Hannibal in 2008 for allegedly beating up two members of his staff in a Geneva hotel. In a speech to mark the birthday of the prophet Muhammad, he criticised Switzerland’s decision to ban the construction of minarets and on Wednesday the Mohammed Baayou said Libya would impose a ‘total’ economic embargo on the country.

Rambling address

US Assistant Secretary Philip Crowley has been summoned by the Libyan foreign ministry for his caustic comments on the speech. At a briefing in Washington he compared Gaddafi’s latest outburst with his rambling address to the United Nations last year, describing it as “… Lots of words and lots of papers flying over the place, not necessarily a lot of sense.”

Tripoli responded by escalating the war of words, saying trade agreements between the two countries will suffer as a result — it comes shortly after the US completed its first trade mission to the country since an embargo was lifted in 2004.

Strained relations

Dirk Vandewalle, an expert on US-Libya relations at Dartmouth College in the US, says it may have a negative impact on some of the large US oil companies operating in Libya, like Exxon: “It’s particularly unfortunate because Libya is in a relatively strong position and can deal economically, at least, with whoever it pleases at this particular point in time. So I’d frankly not be surprised if we do see some other actions in the future that would escalate this a bit further, and maybe even action against some American companies.”

US relations with Libya have been traditionally been fragile and Dirk Vandewalle says Libya’s threat will strain the situation further. But, he argues, Tripoli can’t afford to completely break off relations again: “Gaddafi needs to be a little bit careful because he cannot afford to antagonise the US too much… It remains a very important player for bringing Libya back into the international fold and really keeping it there.”

No apology

Philip Crowley on Wednesday stopped short of apologising to Libya, insisting his comments had not been a personal attack. “We remain firmly committed to the US-Libyan relationship,” the spokesman said, adding: “We look forward to continuing our dialogue with Libya but we will not hesitate to express our concerns about the statements or actions of any country.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Tunisia: Water Reserves Increase

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, MARCH 2 — On February 27, dams in Tunisia contained 1.576 billion cubic metres of water, 46 million more than last year. A very positive figure, considering that the estimated drinking and irrigation water needs for the country total 876 million cubic metres, reported Agriculture and Water Resources Minister Abdessalem Mansour. Tunisia will celebrate a national water saving day on March 22, which aims to raise awareness in the public about optimising water use and preserving natural resources. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Tunisia: Pumpkins for Foreign Markets

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, MARCH 2 — Pumpkin farmers in the Kalaat El Andalous region (Ariana governorate north of Tunis) are looking to foreign markets with interest. Taking into account the fact that 25% of their product, or 12,000 tonnes, is destined for the domestic market, the remaining part could be sold on the Italian, Libyan and Algerian markets. Analysts stress that this type of pumpkin, cultivated in the governorate on a surface of 400 hectares, is particularly valued for its taste and aroma. The pumpkin, whose production cycle lasts about 100 days, has a good nutritional value; 90% of its contents are made up of water, and it is rich in vitamins A and B, proteins, lipids and mineral salts (iron and calcium). (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

Arab League: Yes to Indirect Israeli-Palestinian Talks

(ANSAmed) — CAIRO, MARCH 3 — The Foreign Ministers of the Arab countries currently meeting in Cairo have said today that they are in favour of indirect negotiations between Israeli and Palestinians. The negotiations should take place within 4 months. The news was announced by Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Ereka and the Egyptian television. According to a source from the Arab League, “in the resolution project, which must be approved by the Ministerial Council of the Arab League, underway today in Cairo, support for the Arab peace initiative is declared and it is accepted that the US envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, will continue to mediate for the indirect negotiations between Israeli and Palestinians for a specific period,” equal to four months. “The Arab countries,” he continued, “thus want to show the world and the American mediator that they are not rejecting negotiations, despite being convinced of the lack of serious willingness for peace on the part of Netanyahu’s government.” According to the source, the obstacles put in place by the Israeli government are “the continuing colonisation (of the West Bank), the block around the Gaza Strip and the Judaisation of Jerusalem.” (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Arabs Manipulate Media, Digital Pogrom

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, MARCH 3 — “Manipulation by the media has become a defacto strategic weapon of the Arabs against the Israeli state” and the accusatory “rhetoric” against Israelis spread with blogs and social networks creates a “digital pogrom”, according to Danny Seaman, the head of the press office of the Israeli government, speaking at a conference which took place today at European Parliament in Brussels entitled “The media and the conflict in the Middle East. Manipulation?”. For the press office of the government in Tel Aviv, the foreign media “has exceeded the limit, switching from criticism to demonisation of the Israeli state, nearing delegitimising the nation itself”. A practice of emphatic headlines without verifying information with Israeli sources does not constitute “an attempt to tell the truth,” said Seaman, “but is a defamation that aims to create prejudice. This sort of journalism does not require an official response from Israel, it requires legal defence”. Blogs and social networks are full of accusatory “rhetoric”, which in the virtual era translates into a “digital pogrom”, where delegitimising the Jews marks the creation of a new virtual ghetto.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Israel — Palestine: Jerusalem: Seeds of the Third Intifada Planted in the “ King’s Garden “

Nir Barkat, the mayor intends to demolish a group of houses in east Jerusalem to build a public park. The intervention of Prime Minister Netanyahu has frozen the project. For Palestinians, the expropriation is considered “a declaration of war.” AsiaNews sources: political plan to achieve a “Jewish city”.

Jerusalem (AsiaNews) — The intervention of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has — for the moment — frozen Nir Barkat’s project. However, the intention of the Mayor of Jerusalem to demolish 89 Palestinian homes in the neighbourhood of Silwan — in the area east of the city — to build a public park is only postponed. The project is regarded as a “declaration of war” by the Palestinian side. The tension has reached alarming levels: Christian sources tell AsiaNews that “the seeds for a third intifada have been planted.”

The Israeli authorities claim that the houses in the suburb renamed al-Bustan by the Palestinians — near Temple Mount — is illegal and the area has reached alarming levels of degradation. On the other hand, the Palestinians are claiming ownership of land, considered part of their capital. Nir Barkat, the mayor of Jerusalem, aims to achieve the “King’s Garden “ in the land where King David is believed to have composed the psalms. The project involves the demolition of 22 houses and the tenants, explains the mayor, will be “moved to other areas.” 66 other houses will obtain legal recognition and the “residents have the right to remain” in the land that is the object of discord.

The area of Al-Bustan is located in the heart of Silwan, a Palestinian agglomeration that borders on the Old City of Jerusalem. Tel Aviv occupied the area in 1967 and the intention was to turn it into a public park. The buildings, Nir Barkat adds, are “illegal” and the area is “in the throes of decay” because of the lack of infrastructure. Christian sources tell AsiaNews of a “political plan” to transform “Jerusalem into a Jewish city.” The framework is “disastrous” and there is little room for hope for the future: “The plan is clear to everyone — he adds — and the seeds have been planted for a third intifada.” The Muslim community is ready to respond to attacks and “Christians are caught in the middle, between two fires.” He adds that “I have no hopes for a Palestinian state” nor is there room for hope for a political solution, but “we expect the worst.”

The issue was also addressed by the UN and the U.S. government. Richard Miron, spokesman for the UN, said that “the demolition of the houses in East Jerusalem at the same time demolish confidence [in Israel], not only that of the Palestinians but of the entire international community.” Washington has expressed its “appreciation” for Netanyahu’s intervention and issued an invitation to “avoid unilateral actions” that “undermine the trust and the efforts for the resumption of negotiations.”

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

Lieberman Wants Police Chief Investigated

(ANSAmed) — TEL AVIV, MARCH 3 — Embroiled in a bitter exchange with police, who for years have been investigating his economic activities in Israel and abroad, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has today requested the immediate opening of an investigation into the behaviour of Police Chief Dudi Cohen. Yesterday Lieberman underwent a lengthy interrogation by police investigators, who claim that two years ago he received secret documents related to the inquiry against him from the Israeli ambassador to Byelorussia, Zeev Ben Aryeh. When Lieberman was sworn into office as Foreign Minister a year ago, the ambassador Ben Aryeh thereafter received a rapid promotion. In a Jerusalem press conference, at the entrance to the Supreme Court, Lieberman said that the description of the events supplied yesterday by the police was “distorted and biased” . In his view, it was thought up “to put pressure on magistrates” and induce them to indict him. Lieberman has also asked the Supreme Court to shed light on a press leak by police officers a year ago, in March 2008, which was damaging to him. Today the daily paper Yedioth Ahronot gave wide coverage to a short polemical article by one of its well-known commentators, who demanded that Lieberman “go home”. The daily paper Ha-Yom, which has links to Premier Benyamin Netanyahu, predicted that Lieberman might be indicted “within the next few weeks”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Worldwide Initiatives Against Israeli ‘Apartheid’

The end of military occupation, the removal of the ‘apartheid wall’, the recognition of equality for Arab citizens living in the state of Israel and the right of return for Palestinian refugees: these are some of the issues to be discussed during “Israeli Apartheid Week”, a campaign that begins today with events planned in 50 cities worldwide. This is the sixth edition of the event, which was first marked in 2005, after students at the University of Toronto, in Canada, first launched the idea. The seven days are intended to sensitize and inform people about the situation in Palestine and the Israeli practices and, policies and institutions that enforce segregation within Israel and in the Palestinian Territories through roundtables, films, documentaries and discussions. From Toronto, the campaign spread to other universities with the notion of organizing initiatives in other city venues, beyond universities; in 2008, the event reached considerable media visibility having been promoted in 25 large cities worldwide including Soweto in South Africa, the area made famous by the 1976 insurgency against white apartheid. There will also be related events in Italy, in Bologna and Pisa, organized by the “Provincial Tables for Peace”.

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

Middle East

Books: Amoz Oz Translated Into Arabic to Help Understanding

(ANSAmed) — TEL AVIV — “A Tale of Love and Darkness”, the bestseller in which Israeli author Amos Oz painfully revisits his childhood in Jerusalem, has just been translated into Arabic, and will soon be available in Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan. The move is more than just a publishing initiative. Oz said today that he was “particularly moved and emotional”. This is because the translation has been requested and financed by a Palestinian who has twice suffered the effects of terrorism, the lawyer Elias Khoury. The Arabic version of the book is dedicated to his son George, who was killed in Jerusalem in 2004 by militants belonging to the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, who initially believed they had “eliminated a Zionist”. Once the victim’s nationality became known, it is said that Yasser Arafat phoned Mr.Khoury to offer his condolences. This was not the first time that tragedy had struck the family. In 1975, shortly after saying goodbye to his father Daud in Zion Square in the very centre of Jerusalem, a powerful bomb exploded a short distance away, killing many Israelis. Elias Khoury’s father was one of the bodies later retrieved. To justly commemorate George, a student “with a promising future and a passion for classical music and sport”, the Khoury family asked the author Jamil Ghneim to translate Amos Oz’s book into Arabic. “Literature can favour real understanding”, said Khoury. “Only by getting to know one another will our peoples be able to reconcile”. Khoury added that he had often heard Oz speaking out in favour of peace between Israelis and Palestinians. This book in particular, he says, “is a work of art of the highest order”. Oz pointed out that of the 27 translations of this book to have appeared so far, “the Arabic edition is certainly the most important”.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Hamas Leader Killed; Payoneer Network Involves Israel

(ANSAmed) — DUBAI, MARCH 3 — The investigation related to the prepaid debit cards used by at least 13 of the 27 suspects in the murder case of Hamas leader, Mahmud al Mabhouh, found dead in a Dubai hotel on January 20, reveal a link between the companies that released them and the Israeli security services in a network named ‘Payoneer Connection’. So reports Gulf news online. According to information released by Dubai Police, some of the cards used by the suspects were prepaid Meta Bank MasterCards, which are issued by Payoneer, a US based company that specialises in prepaid debit cards targeted to internet shoppers. The cards function like credit cards but can be used as an alternative in that they are topped up with funds beforehand. The Payoneer connection unveils a network of links to Israel, specifically its intelligence community. Its CEO is Yuval Tal, an Israeli citizen who, according to media reports, described himself as a former Israeli special forces commando in a 2006 Fox News interview. Clips of the interview on video sharing websites have been removed. However, a person who said he met Tal a couple of times but did not want to be named told Gulf News that “there is no question in my mind that Yuval has contacts with [Israel’s spy agency] Mossad”. Payoneer is held by three venture capital firms: Greylock Partners, Carmel Ventures, and Crossbar Capital. Greylock, which has offices in the US, India and Herzliya, Israel, was established by Moshe Mor, a former military intelligence captain in the Israeli army. Carmel Ventures is an Israeli venture capital fund based in Herzliya. Crossbar Partners is run by Charlie Federman, who is also managing director of the BRM Group, a venture capital fund also in Herzliya that was founded by Nir and Eli Barkat, the former of whom is the mayor of occupied Jerusalem. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Iraq: From Baghdad to Mosul, For Peace and the Rights of Minorities

Christians and Muslims, Yazidis and Sabeans marched together in the center of Baghdad demanding protection for religious minorities. There were also rallies in Mosul, coinciding with an appeal to defend the “most vulnerable” Iraqis delivered yesterday by none other than pope Benedict XVI. The demonstrations followed difficult weeks, characterized in Mosul by the killing of at least eight Christians and the tensions, throughout Iraq, promoted by next Sunday’s legislative elections. In a note published today, the association Pax Christi writes about “a situation that appears to worsen from day to day”. According to monsignor Shimoun Nona, the Chaldean bishop of Mosul, the latest violence has caused in the city “a veritable humanitarian emergency” pushing “hundreds of Christian families to flee”. On Friday, the Iraqi government had announced the formation of an inquiry commission over the violence episodes that, as happened in 2008, have been targeting Christian minorities in northern Iraq. Yesterday, while the rally organized by the Hammurabi Organization for Human Rights, was taking place, Benedict XVI asked Iraqi leaders to “make every effort to restore security for the population and in particular for the most vulnerable religious minorities”. According to the Pontiff, Iraq “is crossing a delicate political phase” and the international community must “dedicate to give Iraqis a future of reconciliation and justice”.

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

Iraq: Militants Arrested Over Christian Attacks

Baghdad, 3 March (AKI) — Iraqi police have arrested four Islamist militants accused of planning and carrying out attacks on the Christian community in the northern city of Mosul. According to the Arab news agency, Kuna, the four suspects are being interrogated by police but it was not clear whether they were linked to Al-Qaeda or other militants in the region.

Hundreds of Iraqis protested in the cities of Mosul and Baghdad this week against a wave of violence that has left eight Christians dead over the past two weeks.

Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday called on Iraqi authorities to protect the Middle Eastern country’s Christian minority.

The United Nations said more than 680 Christian families have fled the northern city of Mosul during recent attacks.

The weekend protests took place in the town of Hamdaniyah, 35 kilometres east of Mosul, as well as in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad ahead of this week’s highly charged national election.

In 2004, five Christian churches in Baghdad were bombed while Christians have also been targeted for murder.

Chaldeans form the majority — about 550,000 — of Iraq’s estimated 700,000 Christians.

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

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

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

Reflecting…With the Bishop of Kirkuk, On the Iraqi Ethno-Religious Mosaic

“Christians are not interested in power games, economic hegemony, but the creation of a state in which the different ethnicities might cohabit in a peaceful manner. Iraq is a mosaic of ethno-religious realities. To destroy this mosaic would be to destroy all of Iraq.”

[Monsignor Louis Sako, Chaldean bishop of Kirkuk, quoted in a note by the ‘Pax Christi’ movement]

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

Saudi Arabia Removes Embargo on Tunisian Meats

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, MARCH 3 — Saudi Arabia has called off the embargo on Tunisian beef. The decision regards both fresh as well as frozen and conserved meats and all their derivatives. An online Saudi paper reports that the decision was made thanks to the ascertainment that Tunisian products “are not affected by foot-and-mouth disease.” (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Syrian FM Urges Unified Stand Against Israeli Policy

(ANSAmed) — CAIRO, MARCH 3 — Syrian Foreign minister, Walid al-Moallem, called for a unified Arab stand in the face of the current Israeli policy in the occupied Arab lands, Mena reported. Arabs should use all cards in their hands to press the international community to prod Israel into halting its practices, including attempts to Judaize East Jerusalem, attacks against Aqsa Mosque and non-stop settlement activities, he said while addressing the opening of 133rd session of the Arab League Council at the ministerial level. During this session, Moallem has handed over the council’s chairmanship to Somali Minister of National Planning and International Cooperation Abdirahman Abdi Shakur Warsame. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Turkey: Armenians; $45 Billion Ultimatum to Washington

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, MARCH 4 — Ankara threatened to cancel defense contracts totaling $45 billion with American companies if today the Foreign Affairs Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives will pass a critical resolution for the recognition of Armenian genocide claims. Daily Vatan describes the Turkish warning as “economic ultimatum” adding that Vatan reports that the CEOs of five US companies sent a letter to US congressmen to highlight the hazards of the genocide resolution. They stressed that the approval of the resolution would jeopardize exports totaling $10 billion. Vatan says that despite the warnings, the Foreign Affairs Committee was expected to approve the controversial resolution. Vatan gives details about the companies campaigning in support of Turkey. Boeing: THY has ordered 35 passenger planes. In the next 20 years, THY plans to make deals with Boeing worth $21 billion. Raytheon: The company holds talks with Turkish officials for the establishment of missile defense systems to Turkey. The US government has announced that Turkey could buy equipment worth $7.8 billion. Northrop Grumman: Turkey gives $11 billion support to the Joint Strike Fighter project. Lockheed Martin: Turkey has signed $2.9 billion deal for the purchase of 50 F-16 jets. The company also carries out a modernization project in the Turkish Air Forces worth $635 million. United Technologies: Sikorsky is one of the most powerful candidates for meeting the needs of the Turkish army for 109 helicopters. If the company makes a deal with Ankara, the helicopters will be produced in Turkey. Vatan says that despite the warnings, the Foreign Affairs Committee was expected to approve the controversial resolution. Yesterday, as Vatan reported, Turkish President Abdullah Gul phoned US President Barack Obama to reiterate Turkish concerns about the genocide resolution to be discussed today at the Foreign Affairs Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives. According to the daily, Gul asked the US administration to step in and block the resolution. Gul warned that the approval of the resolution would harm the normalization process initiated between Turkey and Armenia and that strategic partnership between Turkey and the US would suffer a heavy blow. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Turkey: Armenians; Ankara May Recall Ambassador

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, MARCH 4 — If a resolution will be passed today in Washington by the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee to classify the killing of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire between 1915 and 1917 as “genocide”, Turkey may recall its ambassador to the U.S., according to Turkish private network NTV. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Turkey: Armenians; Ankara Prepares for “Plan B”

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, MARCH 4 — So far US President Barack Obama has undertaken no steps to block a critical resolution for the approval of Armenian genocide claims, and Ankara believes that this is result of the hardships encountered by Obama administration in domestic politics. Hurriyet daily newspaper says that Ankara has outlined a plan for coping with the possible approval of the resolution. The ratification of normalization protocols signed between Turkey and Armenia is important for stability and tranquility in the Caucasus. If the US Congress approves the genocide resolution, Turkey might shelf the normalization protocols. Hrriyet says that the US should not forget that the Turkish parliament had rejected a motion for cooperation with the US in the Iraqi war. The US expects Turkish support in Afghanistan as well as in the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq. Turkey might review its positions in these issues. Turkey might slow down its efforts to make a breakthrough in the nuclear tensions with Iran and in the Middle East peace process. The Turkish General Staff still evaluates the radar system planned as part of NATO defense system. The genocide resolution will have impact on these assessments. According to the most recent speculation, 22 of the 46-member committee are expected to vote in favor of the resolution, while 17 are anticipated to vote against. Seven of the committee’s Jewish members remain undecided. The aim of the Turkish committee, which is currently in Washington, is to obtain the support of at least some of the members which remain undecided in order to decrease the gap between votes in favor and votes against the resolution. The U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee is scheduled to meet today at 17:00 Turkish standard time. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Turkey: Armenians; US Gov’t Calls for Blocking Resolution

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, MARCH 4 — A few minutes from the beginning of the debate at the Foreign Commission of the American Congress, over the resolution regarding the genocide of the Armenians during the Ottoman empire, the U.S. administration advised the Commission to block the discussion, reports CNN Turk. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Turkey: Armenian Massacre; H. Clinton Warns Foreign Commission

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, MARCH 4 — US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today warned the Chief of the Foreign Commission of the US Congress that any approval of the resolution over the genocide of the Armenians during the Ottoman Empire would put the process of normalisation of relations begun last October between Turkey and Armenia at risk, reports TV channel CNN Turk. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Turkey: Massacre of Armenians; Obama Calls Gul, NTV

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, MARCH 4 — US President Barack Obama called his Turkish counterpart, Abdullah Gul today, says private television channel NTV, which adds that the head of the White House suggested that Gul speed up the ratification of protocols for the normalisation of relations between Turkey and Armenia signed in Zurich last October. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Yemen: Gov’t: 11 Al Qaeda Members Arrested in Sanaa

(ANSAmed) — SANAA, MARCH 4 — Eleven members of Al Qaeda were arrested in Yemen in an operation conducted by security forces in which the father of one of those arrested lost his life. The announcement was made by the Yemenite Ministry of Defence. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Kazakhstan — Europe: Kazakh Oil to Reach Trieste

The presidents of Kazakhstan and Romania look at how oil from the Caucasus could reach the Black Sea for transhipment to Romania’s sea port of Constanta and then Trieste. Kazakhs want to reduce their dependence on Moscow. Romanians want to become the gateway to Europe.

Astana (AsiaNews/Agencies) — Kazakh oil will reach Europe via a new route, “through the Caucasus, from Kazakhstan across the Caspian to Baku, then to Georgia via Azerbaijan, to the Black Sea and then to Romania.” From there, it would reach Trieste by pipeline, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev said yesterday after talks in Astana with Romanian President Traian Basescu, who travelled home today.

Oil will be shipped through Azerbaijan and Georgia in existing pipelines until the Black Sea. From the Georgian port of Batumi, it would reach the sea port of Constanta in Romania on tankers, and then flow by pipeline until Trieste.

This will enable Astana to reduce its dependency on Russian pipelines, which presently carry almost all of its oil to the West.

“We are interested in this and we agreed with the president (Basescu) to work together and give orders to oil companies involved,” Nazarbayev said.

“Romania understands very well Kazakhstan’s need to open up possibilities for exports to the European Union because it is a huge market,” Basescu said after the meeting.

“Romania,” he added, “is ready to cooperate with Kazakhstan in use of the Romanian infrastructure: these are railways, overland means of communication, Danube, [. . .] and the Black Sea.”

Although the two leaders did not mention dates, analysts note that Kazakhstan in the past looked at the southern Caucasus route, but put it off because of the war between Russia and Georgia in August 2008. Now that relations between the two countries are on the mend, the project can be envisaged again.

For Kazakhstan, this is especially important because it needs new export pipelines to handle an expected surge in oil production after 2012 when the giant Kashagan field comes on stream in the Caspian Sea.

Kazakhstan averaged 1.5m barrels a day of oil last year and expects to double output after Kashagan comes on stream.

KazMunaigas, Kazakhstan’s state oil company bought Rompetrol, the Romanian oil refining and distribution company, in 2008.

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

South Asia

‘He’s Just a Little Boy’: Mother’s Tears as British Son, 5, Is Kidnapped and Held for £100,000 Ransom on Pakistan Holiday

The mother of a five-year-old British boy kidnapped by gun-wielding robbers in Pakistan broke down in tears today as she said her family had ‘no chance’ of meeting a £100,000 ransom.

Sahil Saeed, from Oldham, Greater Manchester, was snatched this morning in the Punjab region after his grandmother’s house was raided by robbers.

His father, Raja Naqqash Saeed, said the kidnappers had put a noon deadline on the ransom for his safe return.

Speaking at the family’s home, his mother Akila said there is ‘no chance’ her family would be able to pay.

She wept as she told Sky News: ‘He’s just a sweet little boy.’

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Pakistan: Punjab: Christian Couple Touches Qur’an With Dirty Hands, Gets 25 Years in Prison

Munir Masih and Ruqqiya Bibi are convicted on the basis of the blasphemy law. In January, they were released on bail; now they are in two separate prison facilities. Extremist fringe put pressure, and perhaps corrupted police to find the right evidence to justify the conviction.

Islamabad (AsiaNews) — A court in Kasur district, Punjab, convicted a Christian couple, Munir Masih and Ruqqiya Bibi, to 25 years in prison. According to the Centre for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS), judge Ajmal Hussein convicted the couple for touching the Qur’an without washing their hands.

Munir Masih and Ruqqiya Bibi were released on bail last January, but were re-arrested after the judge ruled against them. The husband was locked up in Kasur’s district prison; the wife was sent to the women’s prison in Multan. Both have started serving 25 years behind bars.

CLAAS, an association that fights for the rights of the poor and marginalised, said that the couple was accused of “contaminating” the Qur’an when they touched it “without washing their hands”.

The incident, which dates back to December 2008, unleashed the fury of Muslim extremists who put pressure on police. Unconfirmed reports suggest that extremists paid off police agents to discover “new evidence” to justify the sentence.

At the end of the police investigation, husband and wife were charged with blasphemy.

The blasphemy law is the harshest tool for religious repression available in Pakistan. It was adopted in 1986 by then dictator Zia ul-Haq to protect Islam and its prophet, Muhammad, from attacks and insults.

In fact, it is actually comprised of sections 295-B and 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code, which respectively punish with life in prison anyone who defiles, damages or desecrates a copy of the Holy Qur’an, and imposes the death penalty on anyone who defiles the name of the Prophet Muhammad.

In the last two months, there were two more convictions against Christians in Pakistan.

On 11 January, a court in Faisalabad sentenced Imran Masih, a 26-year-old Christian man, to life imprisonment for insulting and desecrating the Koran. He was accused of deliberately burning Qur’anic verses and an Arabic book in order “foment interfaith hatred and hurt the feelings of Muslims.”

On 25 February, a court in Karachi sentenced Qamar David, also a Christian, to life imprisonment for hurting the religious feelings of Muslims when he sent blasphemous SMS.

CLAAS announced that it was filing an appeal with the High Court in Lahore to have the 25-year sentence against Munir Masih and Ruqqiya Bibi overturned.

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

Pakistan: Kidnapped Sikhs Were Forced to Cut Hair and Convert to Islam

by Deepak Lal

The story of kidnapped Sikhs in Pakistan has had a new revelation, with the two men revealing in their 42 day captivity they were forced to convert to Islam. Once Sarjeet Singh and Gurbinder Singh were kidnapped they were forced to go against their religious values by shaving off their beards and cutting their hair.

The two men were being reported to have been kidnapped by a group of militants from the Tehrik-e-Taliban, in which Jaspal Singh was beheaded on February 20th after his family failed to pay a ransom of Rs 30 million, which was demanded for all three men.

Pakistani forces recovered the two remaining men in the Orakzai and Khyber regions, which border neighbouring Afghanistan. Sarjeet and Gurendal were successfully rescued, but not un-scathed as Sarjeet suffered three bullet wounds in the furious gun-fire exchanges. We are being led to believe that Sarjeet was mistakenly shot because he had no beard or turban, with the Pakistani military not being able to tell the difference between the Sikh detainees and the barbaric Taliban militants.

Doctors at the Combined Military Hospital successfully removed two bullets from the body of Sarjeet Singh; he had been in a stable condition since. Gurendal had been reunited with his family in Peshawar where another Sikh man, Robin Singh has recently been abducted with a ransom of £140,000 being demanded. A five year old British boy has also been kidnapped with a ransom of £100,000 being ordered. Although Sikhs are a minority in Pakistan they have lived in Khyber for over 200 years.

India’s foreign minister, S M Krishna has come out to condemn the ‘barbaric’ attacks by the Taliban: “I rise to strongly condemn the beheading of Sardar Jaspal Singh in the tribal areas of Pakistan. This barbaric and heinous crime is deplorable in the strongest possible terms. His abductors, reportedly the Taliban, committed the grave crime when his family was not able to pay ransom money to the abductors. We express our sincere condolences to the family of the victim,” said Krishna who is scheduled to visit Golden Temple in Amritsar on Friday. He has also claimed that Pakistan’s president has condemned the attacks also with the government pledging to find those guilty and India will be taking the issuer up with Pakistan.

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

Far East

Chinese Labour Shortage Drives Up Wages

Chinese car and electronic factories are raising wages in response to their first shortage of workers. The development could hurt China’s competitive advantage.

By Oscar Garschagen in Shenzhen

It didn’t take Zhang Qin (22) long to find himself a job after his 18-hour train ride to the southern Chinese city Shenzhen. “I suspected it would be no problem at all. I read on the internet you could just walk into any factory here and get a job,” he said.

As he stepped into a recruiter’s bus, he called his parents to share the good news. He would be putting together plasma display panels for electronics manufacturer Samsung. But if he didn’t like this work, he said, he would try his luck at competitors LG, Panasonic or Galanz the same month. These options are available because all large factories in the Pearl and Yangtze river delta are currently experiencing a sudden and unexpected labour shortage.

Millions of migrant workers stay home

Millions of migrant workers formerly employed on China’s eastern coast, have not returned from their annual trek back to their native lands. Like every year, they travelled home to celebrate the Chinese New Year and Lantern Festival. But instead of returning east, they have found new jobs in China’s central and western provinces.

Since Chinese employment data are notoriously unreliable and always outdated, no reliable numbers are available concerning the labour shortage. “But if businesses like Samsung, Panasonic and even factories in Hong Kong and Taiwan are raising wages by 10 to 30 percent, you know something big is at work,” said economic analyst Andy Xie. “Those pay raises are a better indicator than official statistics.”

Zhang Qin, an educated but inexperienced electrician from a village in Sichuan, will be earning 1,800 yuan (179 euros) a month working for Samsung. His benefits include a place to stay, three meals a day and free internet. He can earn more for overtime worked on the one day a week he gets off.

Raises all around

Quanta Computer in Shenzhen recently raised the wages of all its 40,000 employees by ten percent, and is also considering a new bonus system. Xie, a former analyst for Morgan Stanley, called this move illustrative of recent developments. Quanta, a Taiwanese company, is one of the biggest manufacturers of laptops in the world. It counts Apple, Dell, HP and Acer among its clients.

Factories producing new iPads, iPhones, Volkswagens, Buicks, Jeeps and BMWs have raised pay by 20 percent on average. “A labour shortage hurting all branches of industry, including hospitality, is an entirely new phenomenon in China. The situation is nothing short of alarming,” said Xie, who works as an analyst for the financial weekly Cajing and several Chinese television networks.

The difference with the situation on the labour market a year ago could not be stronger. Close to 20 of the 150 million migrant workers then lost their jobs after the recession struck in the Western world. There was only one job opening available for every four people looking for work.

Tried every incentive

The situation has quickly reversed: today every job-seeker has four opening to choose from. Large signs with thousands of openings lined the windows of Golden Future employment agency in Shenzhen. The office was quiet on the morning after the Lantern Festival. Director Wang Lu said she had sent her employees to bus and train stations to offer jobs to freshly arrived migrant workers. Other agencies had even sent recruiters out into the provinces.

Tommy Lam Chin, the owner of a chain of textile and toy factories, said he had never been in this situation. Sitting in his Shenzhen office, he explained that while foreign orders had been recovering in recent months, he remained 3,000 workers short of the 8,000 people he needed. “This is the first time I am unable to fill all orders, and am forced to postpone delivery dates past the clients’ wishes,” he said.

Lam Chin’s factories produce high quality sporting gear and expensive blazers for the American market. Like the competition, he has tried every incentive to entice his employees to return: higher wages, bonuses, improved working and living conditions, free internet and movies. Some factories have even paid train and air-fare for their workers.

Their own fault?

Factory owners like Lam Chin hope the labour shortage will prove temporary and that new generations of migrant workers will flock to their factories in May and June when high schools close their doors. But they could be mistaken.

A Chinese periodical, the Southern Metropolis Weekly, concluded this would only happen “if businessmen really start improving working conditions”.

The magazine wrote China’s entrepreneurs “largely have themselves to blame for this problem”, lambasting the companies that provide cheap products to European and American consumers. “They never gave people the respect they deserved. Working and living conditions were appalling and wages were low. Anybody who treats his workers this way should not expect any loyalty. Companies have their own lack of vision to thank for this crisis.”

Two other factors are also at play here. The rapid industrialisation and urbanisation of central and western China has created a demand for labour in the native provinces of many migrant workers. Wages here are mostly lower than they are on the east coast, but so is cost of living, and migrants’ families live nearby. Educational policy is also causing the pool of uneducated labourers to dwindle. Children of labour migrants are attending universities and professional colleges in increasing numbers.

Workers grow richer

Macro-economic consequences of the labour shortage in China’s core industrial regions are not hard to predict, Xie said. “Wages are up, so prices will go too. Inflation will also rise more quickly than the three to five percent currently predicted. Factories producing for export will try to pass some of their rising costs on to consumers in the US and Europe. But they should be careful. Competition is cutthroat and the economic recovery weak.” Current developments are good news for many Chinese labourers however. Their purchasing power will improve as a result.

In any case, China will become less attractive a country for businesses requiring cheap labour. The rising wages and technological developments will hurt China’s competitive advantage in this respect. “This process has been underway for quite some time already. It is an inevitable and welcome development,” Xie said.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]