Friday, January 10, 2003

News Feed 20100306

Financial Crisis
»German Tabloid Tells Greeks to Get Up Earlier
»Greece: New Strike Paralyses Country
»How Safe is Britain’s Proud Pound?
»Italy Denies Iranian ‘Payback’ Charges
»Italy: Economy: Italy: GDP Drop in 2009 Worst in 38 Years
Europe and the EU
»Dutch MP Geert Wilders Claims to be All About Freedom of Expression — But is He About to Engulf Britain in a Holy War?
»Geert Wilders Warns Brits of Muslim Takeover
»Importing Germany’s Imams
»Is Geert Wilders the New William of Orange?
»Islamophobia on Tour: Wilders Comes to Britain
»Spain: First Muslim Party Presented in Granada
»UK: By Calling for the Release of ‘Lady Al-Qaeda’, Lord Ahmed Has Brought the Upper House Into Disrepute
»UK: Fury as Far-Right Leader Faces Demo
»UK: Kenan Malik: I Despise Him, But That’s No Reason to Ban Him
»UK: Neglected by ‘Lazy’ Nurses, Man, 22, Dying of Thirst Rang the Police to Beg for Water
»Kosovo: Fire Destroys Eulex Documents on Crime
»Serbia: EU: Frattini, Too Soon to Say Accession in 2014
Mediterranean Union
»Egypt-NATO Partnership Paves Way to Boost Euromed Dialogue
»EU: Neighbourhood Policy Funds, 5.7 Bln From 2011 to 2013
North Africa
»Internet: Algeria; 770,000 With ADSL But Ministry Wants More
Israel and the Palestinians
»Jerusalem Clashes and in West Bank, Dozens Hurt
Middle East
»Economy: Turkey CPI Highest in EU Area, Report Says
»Turkey: Judiciary Under Siege, Supreme Court President Says
»Venetian Group to Head Study on Dead Sea
South Asia
»Italy: ‘No Impediment for Premier’
Sub-Saharan Africa
»Mauritania: France Cancels 17.4-Million-Euro Debt
»Australians Don’t Want More People — Poll

Financial Crisis

German Tabloid Tells Greeks to Get Up Earlier

Tabloid Bild newspaper has written an open letter to Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou, telling him he was visiting a country where, unlike his own, people “get up early and work.” Merkel condemned “negative emotions” as “unhelpful.”

“No one here has to pay thousands of euros in bribes to get a hospital bed. We don’t give pensions to generals’ daughters who can’t find a husband … Taxi drivers give receipts and farmers don’t get billions of euros in EU subsidies for non-existent olive trees,” the newspaper thundered in its Friday edition.

Responding to an earlier suggestion by some German MPs, Papandreou said Friday that Greece did not need to sell some of its uninhabited islands to raise cash and plug its gaping budget deficit.

“I think that more creative solutions exist to tackle the deficit than selling Greek islands,” Papandreou told reporters in Berlin after talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Tensions have been growing between the popular press and some politicians of the two countries as Greece seeks to restore trust in its solvency in the global financial markets. Germany, as Europe’s biggest economy, is seen as first in line for any bailout but any such move would be deeply unpopular with voters.

German magazine Focus recently printed a cover image of the famous Venus de Milo statue making an obscene hand gesture. The accompanying article called Greece the “traitor” of the euro for its excessive deficit spending.

Merkel said on Friday that “everything to do with negative emotions is unhelpful. We should find other solutions to our problems.”

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

Greece: New Strike Paralyses Country

(ANSAmed) — ATHENS — Greece is once again paralysed today by a new partial general strike and by demonstrations in all the major cities, whilst Parliament is being called to approve the government’s austerity package which will severely reduce wages, freeze pensions and impose new taxes. The communist union PAME has called for a national 24-hour strike for today, whilst the two main confederations, ADEDY (civil servants) and GSEE (private sector), have decided on a suspension from work from midday local time (11am in Italy), but giving their members permission to strike for the full day. And this is what will happen to all urban transport, doctors, professors, and journalists from state media. Air transport will suffer heavy delays due to the air traffic controllers’ four-hour strike, as will rail and ferry links. ADEDY and GSEE are also preparing to declare a general strike next week (likely to be March 11) after protests in recent days by taxi drivers and pensioners, whilst customs officers prepare to follow suit. Yesterday evening thousands of people, lead by activists and communist trade union representatives, demonstrated in Athens, Thessaloniki and in the country’s major cities against the “anti-popular and criminal” measures urged by Premier George Papandreou who will today meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin. During yesterday evening’s demonstration, there were skirmishes with the police in the centre of the capital. Meanwhile, this morning the governor of the Bank of Italy, Mario Draghi, has commented positively — in light of the success of the bond sale — on the measures adopted by the Greek Government to deal with the crisis, defining them as “very serious”. Draghi said that “they are measures that have convinced the markets, as can be seen by the success of the sale (of Greek bonds, Ed.) and they have also convinced the ECB and EU Commission.” Yesterday requests for the Greek ten-year bonds resulted as three times what was offered: 15 billion euros against the 5 billion on offer. As a result the New York Times wrote that “it is a step back from disaster”, commenting on the outcome of the operation. The bonds will pay annual interest of 6.37%.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

How Safe is Britain’s Proud Pound?

Speculators Eye Next Prey

By Carsten Volkery in London

First the euro, now the pound. Britain’s currency is coming under massive pressure as speculators bet that the UK’s national debt will soon get out of hand. Like Athens, London has its share of problems — and the Brits don’t have any euro zone partners to back them up.

Schadenfreude may be a German word, but it has never been a foreign concept in Great Britain — particularly in recent months as the British watch the trials and tribulations of the European common currency, the euro. The budgetary and debt problems facing Greece, Portugal, Italy, Ireland and Spain have merely reinforced their conviction that staying out of the euro zone was the right decision. Unlike Berlin, London is not under pressure to come to the aid of Athens.

But speculators have not just taken aim at the euro in recent days. The British pound, too, has become a favored target — showing Brits how vulnerable their own currency may actually be. At the beginning of the week, the pound slid to a 10-month low of just $1.4781. Since then, the pound has staged a mini-recovery, moving back above $1.50 on Wednesday. But market pressure on the British currency is not likely to disappear overnight.

Alarm on the Markets

The most immediate trigger for the recent currency swoon came in the form of political surveys which indicated that a Conservative victory in general elections (which will likely be held in early May) may not be a foregone conclusion. Markets were alarmed out of fear that a close election could make it difficult for parliament to pass a strict package of savings measures.

Such political concerns are temporary. Given the British electoral system, a Conservative victory remains likely — nor is it clear that a minority government would be unable to cap spending.

More permanent, however, are the fundamental economic indicators that are becoming the pound’s Achilles heels — debt and budgetary problems that have fuelled the British currency’s downward trend since October 2008.

The problems start with the size of the country’s budget deficit. With a budget deficit of 13 percent of GDP this year — Greece’s is 12.7 percent — Britain is by far the deficit champion of the G-20 states. Britain has so far avoided an Athens-style crisis primarily by virtue of the fact that its economy is much more flexible and competitive than Greece’s. Furthermore, most still believe that the country is capable of shrinking its debt without outside help. Also, unlike Greece, which is facing the need to immediately refinance €20 billion in debt, most British debt won’t come due until 14 years from now.

Losing their Patience

But international financiers are beginning to lose their patience. Since the beginning of the year, the share of foreign investors in British bonds has dropped from 35 percent to 29 percent. Returns on 10-year bonds, one measure of the risk associated with them, have climbed to above 4 percent — almost a percentage point above the German benchmark. The number of short positions on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange betting on a further loss of pound value has spiked upwards recently. The numbers reflect the market’s growing skepticism.

In recent months, the British have proudly pointed out the advantages of having their own currency in the midst of the crisis. Through the devaluation of the pound, exports have been made cheaper and investments in the country more attractive. The domestic economy has profited, too. Growth of around 1 percent is predicted for the first quarter of 2010 — the first since 2008.

It has also enabled the Bank of England to intervene in grand style, holding down interest rates so that money is available cheaply to both the government and consumers. Attractive mortgage interest rates have also helped to revive the real estate market, which has in turn buoyed the general mood of the British.

Whitewashing the Crisis

The downside of these monetary policies, though, is that they conceal the true scope of the crisis. The most recent bonds issued by the British government were fully subscribed because the Bank of England purchased the majority of them. That may enable the government to finance its deficit under favorable conditions, but the move risks jeopardizing the trust of the markets.

Mass consumer debt in Britain is whitewashed in a similar manner. With an average personal debt of 170 percent of annual income, British households are even further indebted than the Americans. And interest rates kept artificially low by the Bank of England are still feeding this bubble. Sooner or later, a rise in interest rates is inevitable — at which point domestic demand could take a nose dive.

If Britain had joined the euro zone when it was established, at least some of these excesses could have been prevented. The fiscal policy guidelines of the common currency would have ensured that. The average annual deficit of the euro-zone countries is currently only 6 percent. Great Britain also could have hid behind the reputation of more solid euro-zone members, just as the Greeks are now doing. As a relatively small country with its own currency, however, Britain is more vulnerable.

Currency Remains Weak

But in Britain, the opinion still prevails that the country is better off staying alone. Hope for a upswing is being nourished by a series of positive economic indicators. On Wednesday, the Markit Service Index, which measures the mood of British service providers, rose to its highest level in two years. It also helped to rally the pound again.

Still, the currency remains weak. And though it is unlikely at this point that the rating agencies will downgrade Britain’s creditworthiness, the possibility cannot be ruled out. In May 2009, Standard and Poor’s cut its view of British bonds from stable to “outlook negative.” If Britain were to actually lose its AAA rating, it could have disastrous consequences for the pound. And there would be no holding the speculators back.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Italy Denies Iranian ‘Payback’ Charges

Tehran demands release of TV reporter arrested for arms dealing

(ANSA) — Rome, March 5 — Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini on Friday denied Iranian claims that the arrest of two Iranians in an arms trafficking probe was a ‘political manoeuvre’ or any kind of ‘payback’.

“I flatly reject any Iranian insinuation that there was political motivation behind the recent arrests,” he said.

“Italy is a nation founded on the rule of law and is a state in which the judiciary is independent of the executive.

The arrests of Iranian and Italian nationals were carried out in connection with a probe into arms trafficking in violation of international law,” Frattini said in a statement.

“All those who were arrested will obviously see guaranteed their right to defend themselves and to legal counsel throughout the entire trial process. They will also benefit from the full guarantees awarded to anyone held in custody,” he added. The Iranian foreign ministry on Friday summoned Rome’s ambassador to Tehran, Alberto Bradanini, to officially protest the arrests of TV journalist Hamid Masoumi-Nejad, 51, and fellow Iranian national Ali Damirchilu, 55, and demand their immediate release.

The pair were among seven people including five Italians arrested Wednesday on suspicion of breaking an international arms embargo to smuggle weapons into Iran.

Two other Iranians, Hamir Reza and Bakhtiyari Homayoun, escaped arrest and are considered fugitives.

Iranian news agency IRNA on Friday quoted Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ramin Mehman-Parast who called the arrests “another propaganda initiative against Iran”.

On Thursday Iranian TV claimed the arrest of the journalist was ‘payback’ for his coverage of scandals involving Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

According to the Iranian TV news channel IRINN, Masoumi’s reports “on the Italian economic crisis and cases of corruption and scandals concerning Berlusconi” had annoyed politicians. Masoumi has been accredited to the Rome foreign press association as a correspondent for IRINN for the last 15 years and is a well-known figure in journalism circles.

IRINN also said the arrests were part of “a Zionist-American plan to unfairly accuse the Islamic Republic” and claimed Arab satellite TV stations Al Arabiya and Al Jazeera were allegedly helping it by covering the Milan probe.


On Wednesday Milan assistant prosecutor Armando Spataro said the seven people arrested sought to export to Iran weapons ‘dual use’ materials and systems, which can be converted from civilian to military use.

He added that the arrests were the result of an eight-month probe which had been carried out using a vast number of wiretaps and intercepting email and SMS communication. Among the Italians arrested was Alessandro Bon, 43, a Veneto native who lives in Monza and who is believed to have orchestrated the illegal trafficking through a Varese-based company, Antares. Also arrested were Bon’s girlfriend Danila Maffei, 40; Bon’s business partner Arnaldo La Scala, 43, who is also a lawyer in Turin; Guglielmo Savi, 56, the head of a telecommunications company, Sirio SrL; and Raffaele Rossi Patriarca, who investigators said travelled to Iran to establish contacts with the Iranian military interested in arms deals.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Economy: Italy: GDP Drop in 2009 Worst in 38 Years

(ANSAmed) — Rome, March 1 — Last year’s 5% decline in Italy’s gross domestic product was the greatest drop since Istat began collecting data in 1971, the national statistics bureau said on Monday. In presenting its latest report on the nation’s economy Istat also revised its data for 2007 and 2008, reducing the 1.6% rise in 2007 to 1.5% and expanding the 1% decline in 2008 to 1.3%. Italy’s deficit/GDP ratio rose to 5.3% from 2.7% in 2008 while the public debt rose to 115.8% of GDP, at 1,761.191 billion euros, from 105.5% in 2008. The new Istat report also showed that for the first time since 1991 Italy posted a primary deficit rather than surplus, with state revenue excluding interest on existing debt falling by 0.6% of GDP, compared to a surplus of 2.5% in 2008. State revenue in 2009 amounted to 47.2% of GDP, down 1,9% over the previous year when it rose by 1.1%, while spending rose to 52.5% of GDP from 49.4% in 2008, Istat reported. Tax pressure in Italy climbed 43.2% from 42.9% in 2008, Istat said. Consumer spending in Italy last year shrunk by 1.2%, with a 1.8% drop in household spending, while overall government spending rose by 0.6%. Gross salaries in 2009 fell by 0.6%, with increases of 1.7% in the agricultural sector, 1.2% in construction and 0.9% in the services sector, offset by a 5.7% drop in the industrial sector, Istat reported. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Dutch MP Geert Wilders Claims to be All About Freedom of Expression — But is He About to Engulf Britain in a Holy War?

From the Netherlands drift the first sparks of a firestorm that threatens to engulf Britain and the rest of Europe.

At its centre stands one man, a 44-year-old by the name of Geert Wilders.

He is a Dutch MP who likes sharp suits and has a shock of blond hair.

It’s a look not dissimilar to that of car salesman “Swiss Toni” from classic comedy series The Fast Show — but mention the name of Geert Wilders in Holland and it won’t raise a laugh.

Quite the opposite, in fact.

His actions, the Dutch government is warning, have put countless lives at risk. Plans are being drawn up to evacuate Dutch embassies around the world, riot police are on standby in Amsterdam and ordinary citizens are cancelling foreign holidays as they prepare for trouble.

There are already protests on the streets and by the goverments of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia.

Wilders, you see, has spoken out against the Muslim faith. He’s attacked the “tsunami of Islamisation” that he says is engulfing traditional Dutch society.

He’s attacked the prophet Mohammed, saying that were he alive today he should be “tarred and feathered” and deported as an extremist.

He’s attacked the culture of political correctness that has seen immigrants given housing and benefits without even having to try to assimilate into Western culture.

And he’s attacked the Koran, a book he likens to Hitler’s Mein Kampf, describing it as the cornerstone of a “fascist ideology” that aims to destroy all who oppose it.

Wilders has also made a 15-minute movie. Called Fitna (Arabic for “strife”), it was broadcast on the internet for the first time on Thursday afternoon, prompting fears of a backlash against Dutch citizens of unprecedented proportions.

Wilders remains unrepentant. Over the past few years the Right-wing MP has received many death threats and knows his life is in danger.

Even so, he says: “If I were to moderate my voice, if I stop saying what I think, then the people who use undemocratic arguments like death threats would have won.

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“So I will never stop, because if I moderate my voice, if I do not tell the truth according to me, then the people who use threats will win. I believe that in a democracy those people should never win.”

Opinions of Wilders are mixed. The Establishment seeks to discredit him as an over-ambitious, Right-wing, pro-Israeli politician who will do anything to gain popularity.

It says his comments are so inflammatory that they have no place in a civilised society.

But others insist he should be free to express his opinions and that those who seek to silence him are the real threat.

Surveys show that many people agree with him. Where others have been cowed into silence, Wilders has given voice to the concerns of the masses (or so the argument goes).

And, as Wilders has noted, those concerns are not unique to the Dutch — but are also boiling close to the surface in Britain.

When a Danish newspaper published caricatures of the prophet Mohammed in 2005, more than 100 people died during ensuing protests across the Muslim world.

So it is hardly surprising that mainstream TV companies haven’t been keen to broadcast Wilders’s video.

The sensitivities surrounding the film mean that even making it available on the web hasn’t proved straightforward.

When an early clip from Fitna was placed on YouTube, the internet moviesharing site, the authorities in Pakistan took the unprecedented step of blocking access to it.

Then, earlier this week, the website on which Wilders had proposed showing the film was closed down by its internet service provider amid concerns over its content.

Undeterred, Wilders vowed that, if necessary, he would personally hand out copies of it on DVD in Amsterdam.

In the end, he didn’t have to, as he posted the footage on, a Britishbased video-sharing website.

It is that connection which yesterday dragged the UK into the controversy.

“This heinous measure by a Dutch lawmaker and a British establishment. . . is indicative of the continuation of the evilness and deep vengeance such Western nationals have against Muslims,” Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman said.

The documentary juxtaposes Koran extracts against footage of terrorist atrocities, of Sharia law in action and of jihad.

These include graphic scenes of Americans throwing themselves from the Twin Towers in the 9/11 attacks, beheadings and hangings.

Ten minutes into the film, Wilders turns to the Netherlands.

Statistics showing the growing Muslim population in Holland (nearly one million Muslims make up 5.5 per cent of the population but in the main cities it is around a third and growing) are followed by images of female genital mutilation, a hanging of gay men, and bloodied children.

This is succeeded by the question: “The Netherlands of the future?”

The film concludes with someone leafing through the Koran and a tearing sound. “The sound you heard was a page being torn out of the phone book. It is not up to me, but up to the Muslims to tear the spiteful verses from the Koran,” reads the text on the screen.

“In 1945, Nazism was defeated in Europe. In 1989, Communism was defeated in Europe. Now, the Islamic ideology has to be defeated. Stop Islamisation. Defend our freedom.”

The final image is the Danish cartoon of the prophet Mohammed with a bomb as a turban. The fuse coming from the bomb is lit and as the screen turns black there is the sound of thunder.

Overall, it’s quite a slick production but its content, while stomach-churning and offensive in places, is no more extreme than other packages on the web.

What distinguishes it is that Wilders is prepared to claim authorship and makes no bones about his motivations for making it.

His aim is to illustrate his dislike for the Koran. “The main issue is the fascist book of the Koran,” he says.

“What I want to show. . . is that many verses (in it) are very bad indeed and, even today, are inspiring people to do the worst things not just in the Middle East but in Europe and the United States.”

He adds that it is wrong to see the Koran in the same light as the Bible.

“It is a very vivid book that, unfortunately, is still giving incentives to a lot of people and some countries of the world to do the most terrible terroristic things. Unfortunately, it is not a handful, it is a growing minority who find an inspiration in Islam.”

Wilders, whose Freedom Party (PVV) holds nine seats in the 150-seat Dutch parliament, emphasises it is the ideology that he objects to and not Muslims per se.

But he claims that rising numbers of Muslims are taking an extremist stance and he does not believe that a “moderate” or “European” version of Islam will emerge for many thousands of years.

“We cannot afford to wait,” he says.

Wilders does not think that all cultures have a right to be treated equally, even branding Islamic culture “retarded”.

It is his view that the politically correct approach of Governments in Western Europe towards immigrants has failed.

He wants the Dutch constitution rewritten so that the Koran can be outlawed in Holland, all immigration from Muslim countries halted, Muslim immigrants paid to leave and all Muslim “criminals” stripped of Dutch citizenship and sent “back to where they came from”.

“We tried for many decades in Europe, we tried it the other way, to do it with dialogue and by accepting other cultures and by calling them our equal and by saying everything is all right,” he says.

“Dutch politicians allowed it to happen. They never said: ‘Stop, this is our country, our values, we are the bosses, if you want to come here and stay here that is OK but only if you adhere to our values, to our principles and our laws.’ But certainly that is not happening.

“For all our tolerance, unfortunately we are also tolerant to the intolerant. We should learn to start being intolerant to the people who are intolerant to us. That is the best lesson for the Dutch government to learn.”

And, according to Wilders, it’s not just the Dutch government who needs to learn this — other nations, Britain included, are “going in the wrong direction altogether”.

“There is almost no country more politically correct than the UK,” he has said.

“Look at the terrible things that happened in London after Madrid. You have more reason than most to make this debate transparent and public.

“As long as the political elite does not take the questions, the threats, the problems of large parts of their constituents seriously, I am very negative about the future.”

Not as negative, though, as his many critics who say that the posting of the film is likely to provoke such a strong reaction that people will die.

Dutch soldiers in Afghanistan are certainly a target and plans have been drawn up to evacuate Dutch nationals from Muslim countries worldwide.

Wilders acknowledges that some people will be offended by the film but says he can’t be blamed if people react in a way that is outside the law.

“I can never be responsible for that because I am a democratically elected politician.

“I use only democratic means and I believe in a democracy — if you don’t like the message or the movie or the article, you write your own article or you make your own movie or you go into a debate or a discussion, and if people use violence (instead) then they are responsible for it.”

Others say he is being disingenuous and trying to provoke an extreme reaction. For while he condemns Nazism, he is also displaying its worst traits by wanting to get rid of Muslims.

Hans van den Broek is a former Dutch minister for foreign affairs and a government adviser.

“I am well aware of people’s constitutional right regarding freedom of speech, but Wilders’s pronouncements about wanting the Koran forbidden and his likening of Mohammed to Hitler go too far,” he insists.

Meanwhile, Zainab al-Touraihi, secretary-general of the Contact Body for Muslims, the official Muslim advisory body to the Dutch government, says: “I think he’s addicted to the attention of the media. He’s doing it for political reasons, and I’m sure he’s getting more and more votes — and that’s the scary thing.”

Wilders is well aware of this growing support. Most Dutch people wanted the film to be broadcast, andWilders recently topped a poll as the most effective politician in Holland. Support for his party increases, as does the feeling that he has tapped into a deep well of grievances.

Those who know him say it is hardly surprising given his own experiences. The son of a printing company director, Wilders has a Catholic background and went to a Catholic secondary school.

He was a speech-writer for the liberal VVD party, was elected as city councillor in Utrecht in 1997 and made an MP the next year.

Wilders lived with his wife in Utrecht’s Kanal island area — which, once a respectable neighbourhood, became dogged by crime, blamed on rising immigration and unemployment.

Around this time Wilders was beaten up and had his wallet stolen, reportedly by immigrant youths. He needed hospital treatment.

The attack was said to have left him convinced the Netherlands was unsafe and that immigration and unemployment and crime needed to be tackled.

This was reinforced in 2002, following the murder of outspoken anti-immigration MP Pim Fortuyn by a Leftist activist.

Wilders set up the Freedom Party and attracted widespread publicity calling for a ban on the burqa. Friends say he is obsessed with politics, partly due to the extraordinary life he now has to live.

Surrounded by six bodyguards, paid for by the State, he has received 600 death threats. Sometimes he and his wife have been moved into prison cells for their safety.

“It is something you would not wish on your worst enemy,” he says of this. “I lost my freedom and privacy because of my opposition to Islam.”

And though he does not say it, it is clear he would sacrifice his life, too.

Before the film’s release, a statement on an Arabic website with links to Al Qaeda read: “In the name of Allah, we ask you to bring us the head of this infidel who insults Islam and Muslims and ridicules the Prophet Mohammed.”

For Geert Wilders — and for the stability of society in much of Western Europe — the stakes have again been raised.

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

Geert Wilders Warns Brits of Muslim Takeover

VIOLENCE erupted outside Parliament after a notorious far-right politician was allowed to enter Britain.

The English Defence League and anti-fascist and Muslim protesters clashed yesterday over the arrival of extremist Dutch MP Geert Wilders.

Police arrested more than 50 demonstrators as tension boiled over.

A thousand of the rival groups’ supporters hurled missiles at each other just hours after Mr Wilders, leader of the Dutch Freedom Party, showed his anti-Islamic film Fitna to the House of Lords.

Mr Wilders’ visit comes just a year after he was banned from Britain for his far-right political views.

The 46-year-old firebrand has seen his popularity rocket in his native Netherlands and is even being touted as a future prime minister.

In a press conference near Parliament yesterday, he branded Islam a “violent and hateful” religion, and Allah “a mass murderer”.

He added: “Islam and democracy are incompatible. The more Islam we have, the more freedom we lose.

“I advocate in my country the complete halt of immigration from Muslim countries and the deportation of those who want to impose Sharia law or have terrorist sympathies.

“I believe the rest of Europe, including Britain, should take a similar stance.

“I will seek to block the building of new mosques and abolish Muslim faith schools if I gain power.

“I do not hate Muslims, only the minority who believe in violence to achieve their hard-line aims.

“The question that Britain must ask itself is, will their capital be London or Londonistan in 20 years?”

The press conference was chaired by cross-party politician Baroness Cox, 72, and UKIP leader Lord Pearson, 67.

Lady Cox said: “I may not agree with what Mr Wilders believes but this is a victory for freedom of speech.”

During the visit the English Defence League and various far-left and Muslim groups were separated by a strong force of police.

The anti-fascist protestors sang “Nazi scum off our streets”, while the EDL responded with the same chant.

March For England leader Dave Smeeton, 54, said: “We are not racists, we just don’t want to see Britain turned into an Islamic state.”

Protester Francis Aincliffe, 26, from Bradford, explained why he was at the rally. He said: “I’m protesting against Sharia law. It’s an ancient medieval belief that has no place in modern Britain.

“I’ve got a four-year-old daughter and I don’t want to see her exposed to all of that.”

In a statement, The Home Office said it was unhappy Mr Wilders had been invited to Britain, adding: “The

Government continues to oppose extremism in all forms.”

           — Hat tip: Steen[Return to headlines]

Importing Germany’s Imams

With Germany lacking schools of Islamic theology, Muslim congregations have long imported religious leaders. As Germany considers steps to create more homegrown imams, countries like Turkey — which sends state-employed imams to Europe to serve large segments of the Turkish diaspora — are filling the gap.

It was impossible to tell that the men who gathered in a German language class one frigid winter morning in Ankara, Turkey were Islamic religious leaders. They wore suits, or plaid button-up shirts, and could have easily passed for office workers or graduate students as they worked over phrases of German in their course book.

“Birgit Deichmann still searches,” one man in a grey suit read aloud. He stroked his black mustache with a look of befuddlement. “What is a Deichmann?” he asked the instructor. Deichmann, she explained, was just a German last name, the name of the person still searching.

His question indicated the degree of culture shock that lay ahead. These men, who hail mostly from the villages and cities of Anatolia, would in the next several months depart for Germany to serve four years as imams, leaders of Muslim congregations in mosques throughout the country. From their classroom at the Goethe Institute in Ankara, where through the windows the students could behold the white and grey minarets of Ankara’s Kocatepe Mosque soaring to such heights that the towers seemed to hang from the clear blue heavens, German society seemed like a distant notion. Most of the imams, in fact, had never visited Germany, much less held a conversation with anyone with a last name like Deichmann.

Bridging the Gap

Germany lacks well-established Islamic theological programs that can educate German-born Islamic scholars, which means that Muslim congregations often have little choice but to import imams and religion teachers from abroad. But German policy-makers are increasingly considering whether religious leaders from Turkey or other nations are the best candidates to lead congregations in Germany, especially following a recommendation in February by the German Council of Science and Humanities, an advisory group to federal and state governments, which called for the prompt creation of two to three new Islamic theology programs within German public universities. The creation of such programs can be considered a progressive notion in a nation where even the construction of a neighborhood mosque with minarets can ignite fears over the increasing prevalence of Islam in Europe.

But for Germany, a country perpetually seeking antidotes to what many of its citizens see as the difficulty of integrating its manifold population of 4 million Muslims, comprised mostly of Germany’s large Turkish minority, the idea of cultivating a distinctly German form of Islam that is rooted in German institutions, or at least mosque leaders with a native knowledge of the German language and the communities they serve, is increasingly seen as wise integration policy.

Within the Turkish Presidency of Religious Affairs, the state agency known as Diyanet that oversees the practice of Islam in Turkey and appoints imams to serve large segments of the Turkish Diaspora abroad, there is agreement that Germany could benefit from educating more home-grown imams in its own theological institutions. “But how can one do that now so long as the institutions in Germany or in Europe are not of the kind that exist in Islamic lands?” Ali Dere, who heads up foreign relations for Diyanet, said in his office in Ankara, where, on the wall, a portrait of Mustafa Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish republic, gazed down upon the room. “As a long-term goal, we wish that Europe somehow develops wholly strong and good institutions of Islamic theology.” But, Dere added as a note of caution, it would take time to develop such programs since there is not exactly an abundant pool of German-speaking, university-trained Islamic theologians who could staff them.

Close Ties to Turkey

Diyanet began sending imams to Germany in the mid-1980s, at a time when more fundamentalist Islamic movements that had been banned in Turkey had become increasingly popular among Turkish Muslims in Germany. In 1984, Diyanet founded The Turkish-Islamic Union of the Office for Religious Affairs in Germany (DITIB), now one of Germany’s largest Islamic organizations, in a move that experts say was at least partly intended to counteract the influence of those movements. Today about 880 of Germany’s estimated 2,500 mosques and Islamic associations affiliate themselves with DITIB, which maintains close ties to Turkey.

This class of 16 religious officials in Ankara — including five women headed abroad as Koran teachers — was near the end of a four-month course required by Diyanet. After school one day, many of the men from the class gathered in the common room of their dormitory, where during the course, they shared cramped rooms with as many as five single beds and barely enough floor space to lay down a prayer carpet. The men said they believed in a very tolerant strain of Islam, and indeed, they sounded almost idyllic when speaking of their faith. “Every Muslim loves everyone,” said Murat Abdullah, a tall 39-year-old who towered above his classmates. “Not only human beings, but all God’s creatures,” added his colleague, Haluk Disci, a 29-year-old with a trimmed black beard.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Is Geert Wilders the New William of Orange?

The Kingdom of England is in a parlous state. Ruled by a rotten Scottish tyranny, the nation groans under the weight of oppressive, unconstitutional laws, the ruling elite is in the pay of its absolutist masters on the continent, and many Englishmen suspect their government is promoting an oppressive and reactionary religion against the will of the people.

The nation’s only hope is a charismatic young Dutchman fighting almost single-handedly against the creation of a united Europe under the rule of an unelected tyrant in Holland’s southern neighbour.

The Dutchman, coming to England’s aid, warns its people:

“It is both certain and evident to all men, that the public peace and happiness of any state or kingdom cannot be preserved, where the Laws, Liberties, and Customs, established by the lawful authority in it, are openly transgressed and annulled; more especially where the alteration of Religion is endeavoured, and that a religion, which is contrary to law, is endeavoured to be introduced; upon which those who are most immediately concerned in it are indispensably bound to endeavour to preserve and maintain the established Laws, Liberties and customs, and, above all, the Religion and Worship of God, that is established among them; and to take such an effectual care, that the inhabitants of the said state or kingdom may neither be deprived of their Religion, nor of their Civil Rights”

Three centuries after William III of Orange, another Dutchman comes to these shores, although at least King Billy never had to defend himself against charges of “Cathophobia”.

Geert Wilders’s Freedom Party is on course to top the polls in the Dutch election in the summer, after tremendous gains in local elections this week — it came first in Almere and second in The Hague, the two only local authorities the party contested, and this despite Wilders being put on trial earlier this year for “insulting Islam”.

Or maybe because of… Despite the media consensus that Wilders is “far-Right” and Islamphobic, and a trouble-maker with a dodgy haircut, the Dutch people obviously saw his trial for what it was — proof of his point that multiculturalism threatens freedom. They decided that, whatever the benefits of “diversity”, the most important thing is diversity of opinion. Freedom to eat two dozen different cuisines in an evening or visit half a dozen religious buildings is small comfort if it is at the expense of freedom of speech.

The Dutch establishment only has itself to blame, for they have made the people’s decision for them — either Wilders will be jailed or he will become Prime Minister.

There is almost nothing they can do to stop him. In central London right now United Against Fascism and the English Defence League are poised to repeat some of the retro-1930s street battles they’ve been having around the country these past few months. But whatever happens, and even if the EDL alienate everyone who is remotely worried about Islamic immigration by looking like a bunch of football hooligans, it won’t taint Geert Wilders.

Because unlike many opponents of mass immigration, he’s not a fascist or a racist — the British establishment would love Wilders to reveal himself to be another Nick Griffin or Jorg Haider, someone with lots of skeletons dressed in SS uniform in his closet, but he’s not. He’s just a normal mainstream conservative who sees, like many others, that the liberal establishment suffers from sort of groupthink madness when it comes to the subject of immigration.

As he said this week: “We’re going to take the Netherlands back from the leftist elite that coddles criminals and supports Islamisation.” Now if only David Cameron had said that last Sunday…

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

Islamophobia on Tour: Wilders Comes to Britain

A year after his first attempt, the Dutch politician finally brought his message here.

By Chris Green

When the far-right Dutch MP Geert Wilders came to the UK to promote his brand of Islamophobia last year, he made it only as far as Heathrow before being unceremoniously turned away and flown back to his native country.

Yesterday, after a wait of more than a year, he returned to screen his anti-Islamic film in the House of Lords, but unlike his earlier visit, which provoked a storm of debate about the right to free speech, this time few people seemed to notice.

The politician’s flowing locks of swept-back blond hair have led some to nickname him Mozart. So it was unfortunate that Mr Wilders was forced to address the world’s media yesterday in a tiny room with a piano prominently displayed in one corner.

On the wall behind him was a portrait of Peregrine Bertie, the Duke of Ancaster and Kesteven, whose 18th-century wig bore more than a passing resemblance to Mr Wilders’s hairstyle. The Duke’s expression remained calm throughout, a remarkable feat considering the events which unfolded in front of him.

The hot and cramped venue was selected for two reasons: its proximity to the House of Lords, where Mr Wilders had finally succeeded in screening his controversial short film Fitna, and its security. Only one person from each media organisation was permitted, and all bags were searched.

Here, under the watchful eyes of his three earpiece-wearing bodyguards, the 46-year-old leader of the Freedom Party told a tense and sometimes heated press conference that Islam was a “fascist ideology” and that the Prophet Mohamed was “a mass murderer, a barbarian and a paedophile”. He said: “I have nothing against Muslims, but I have a problem with the Islamic ideology, which I believe is a totalitarian ideology to be compared with other totalitarian ideologies like communism or fascism. I believe Islam is a violent and dangerous religion and even a retarded culture. I think we should stop the Islamisation of our society. Islamism and democracy are incompatible. The more Islamism we have, the more freedom we will lose and this is something worth fighting for.”

He added that if his party was elected at the Netherlands’ general elections in June, he would attempt to halt all further immigration of Muslims into European countries, and would deport Dutch citizens with Moroccan or Turkish parentage “as soon as possible”.

Mr Wilders’ film Fitna, an Arabic word meaning “strife”, is an incendiary anti-Islamic piece of propaganda which the Dutch Prime Minister once said served “no purpose other than to offend”. In the 15-minute movie, sections of the Koran are read out alongside footage of the 11 September terrorist attacks. Disturbing images of lynchings and executions are shown, as is the beheading of the British civil engineer Ken Bigley in Iraq in 2004. No facts or figures are quoted other than a graph showing the increase in the number of Muslims living in Europe over the past century. Even to be sitting in front of the cameras in central London marked an important victory for Mr Wilders, who is awaiting trial in his home country for discrimination and fomenting hatred. If convicted, he faces 16 months in prison, but the trial has been suspended until after the Dutch elections, at which his party is tipped to become the second-largest in parliament.

He has been waiting to screen his film in this country for more than a year. In February 2009, he was detained at Heathrow and ordered to return to the Netherlands. The then Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, used EU laws to prevent his visit, describing Mr Wilders as an “undesirable person” whose presence would “threaten community harmony and therefore public safety”. But his ban was overturned at an asylum and immigration tribunal, allowing Mr Wilders to claim a victory for free speech and misquote George Orwell.

“Even if you don’t subscribe to my views, I’m able to come here and to speak out my mind,” he said. “Like George Orwell once said, the right of freedom is especially to listen to somebody who says something that you do not want to hear.”

He was invited to Britain by Lord Pearson, the leader of the UK Independence Party, and the cross-bencher Baroness Cox, who said they did not subscribe to Mr Wilders’s views but felt it was important he was given the chance to air them. Lord Pearson described Mr Wilders as “a very great man” who lived with the constant threat of assassination.

But the Ukip leader was forced to admit that only six MPs and peers had attended the screening, and that most of the audience had been made up of parliamentary staff. “Don’t forget it’s Friday,” he said. “The important thing about this debate is that it took place.”

On his way to face the media, Mr Wilders drove past protesters against British far-right groups such as the English Defence League (EDL) and the British National Party (BNP). Their placards read: “EDL + BNP = Nazi racist thugs”. Jonathan Dodds, a 26-year-old student, said: “There’s been a huge rise of far-right groups across Europe, which is extremely alarming. That we’re giving a platform to fascists like this is scary.”

But there can be no denying that Mr Wilders is a far more impressive speaker than other far-right party leaders. After 45 minutes of questioning he had not come close to being ruffled. And shortly after Lord Pearson declared: “We’re got to go, we’re going to be late for lunch”, the politician known as Mozart climbed into his bulletproof car with his bodyguards and set off once more for the House of Lords.

It was, if nothing else, a virtuoso performance but one that may well have been avoided had Britain allowed his entry in the first place.

Not welcome: Banned from Britain

*Since 2005 hundreds of people who promote hatred, terrorist violence or serious criminal activity have been banned from entering the UK. In May last year the Government published a list of 16 “least wanted” people.

*Those excluded in recent years include religious extremists, neo-Nazis, animal rights activists, rap artists and lifestyle gurus. But banning people based on their political views is rare.

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

Spain: First Muslim Party Presented in Granada

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, MARCH 5 — PRUNE, the Partito Renacimiento y Union de Espana, Spain’s first Muslim party, was presented today on national level. The party was founded in July 2009 and will participate in the 2011 local elections and the 2012 general election. During the presentation in Granada, party founder Mustafà Bakkach, born in Morocco and with the Spanish nationality since 2001, explained in the Arabic language that the new party “that wants to represent minority groups” aims to increase citizen participation in politics, to promote justice, equality and solidarity and to respect “binding legality in the Spanish Constitution”. “People have tried to spread fear, saying that this is a fundamentalist, pro-Moroccan or Islamic party”, said Bakkach, quoted by press agency EP. The founder of PRUNE, who has been delegated by the Spanish Islamic commission for the Moroccan community and who is Vice President of the Foundation of Muslim religious bodies in Spain (FEERI), added that “if there are Christian parties, I don’t see why our problem can’t be based on Islam. We don’t receive funds from any foreign country, though attempts have been made, which we have refused”. The party leader stressed that the “restitution of Al-Andalus or the application of the Sharia”, suggested by the media, is nothing but “stupidity”. The party was presented on the eve of the EU-Moroccan summit tomorrow and Sunday in Granada, with Spain as EU president this half year. PRUNE has opened offices in Madrid and Barcelona, after Granada. The party will now present its programme in Asturias, Valencia, Murcia and Malaga.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

UK: By Calling for the Release of ‘Lady Al-Qaeda’, Lord Ahmed Has Brought the Upper House Into Disrepute

The popular Dutch MP Geert Wilders is in town again today. And once again the Labour peer Lord Ahmed has objected to this Dutch Parliamentarian appearing in the British Parliament.

Lord Ahmed appears to have a very warped idea of what brings the Upper House into disrepute and what does not. What does not bring the House into disrepute is the possible future Prime Minister of an allied country appearing therein.

What certainly does bring the House into disrepute is a peer using the facilities of the House to throw a meeting calling for the immediate release of the convicted al-Qaeda terrorist Aafia Siddiqui, otherwise known as ‘Lady Al-Qaeda’.

Who did this? Why Lord Ahmed of course. As reported by Associated Press Pakistan last month Lord Ahmed said :

He would be writing a letter to the US President Barack Obama carrying signatures of other British MPs calling for Dr.Siddiqui’s repatriation to Pakistan and withdrawal of case [sic].

The Labour Peer further said he would also raise this question in the Parliament to ascertain how the British Government could help in this regard.

APP continues:

According to Lord Nazir, the conviction of Dr.Siddiqui has been received with great dismay in Pakistan which would further fuel anti-American feeling in the south Asian country.

“If US wants to create a good impression of itself in Pakistan, it should release Dr.Siddiqui and send her back to Pakistan,” he asserted.

He said no credible independent evidence was presented at the New York court and in the words of defence lawyers the decision of the jury was based on fear rather than facts.

Lord Ahmed may have his own reasons for disliking courts. But to use the House of Lords in this way strikes me, at any rate, as another reason why Lord Ahmed remains — amid some fairly stiff competition — the most persuasive single argument for reform of the Upper House.

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

UK: Fury as Far-Right Leader Faces Demo

ANTI-FASCIST protesters were arrested as they staged a demo against far-Right Dutch politician Geert Wilders who arrived in Britain yesterday.

Police faced chants of “shame on you” when they bundled members of the crowd into vans outside the Houses of Parliament.

Controversial Wilders, 46, who wants the Koran and the burkha banned in the Netherlands, was screening his latest film at the House of Lords.

He said the anti-Islam film Fitna and subsequent discussion was attended by around 60 people.

The blond Dutchman last year overturned a Home Office order banning him from entering the country on public safety grounds.

Yesterday’s visit was at the invitation of UK Independence Party peer Lord Rannoch and Baroness Cox, a former Tory peer. A Home Office spokesman said the Government regretted the peers’ decision to bring him back to Britain.

Wilders, leader of the Dutch Freedom Party, is on course to win most Parliamentary seats in the country’s June 9 election.

Yesterday he branded Islam a “violent and retarded” culture.

He claimed that Islam and democracy are “incompatible” and called for an end to immigration to Europe from Muslim countries.

           — Hat tip: Steen[Return to headlines]

UK: Kenan Malik: I Despise Him, But That’s No Reason to Ban Him


I despise Geert Wilders. I loathe his populist anti-immigration rhetoric. I despair of his tirades against Muslims. I find his film obnoxious.

But I also think that he has every right to be as crude and as loathsome as he wants to be. He should be free to be as rude about me and my beliefs — indeed, about anybody’s beliefs — as I am about him and his. That is the essence of robust political debate in a plural society.

When he was banned from Britain last year, the then Home Secretary Jacqui Smith claimed that his “statements about Muslims … would threaten community harmony and therefore public security in the UK”.

Wilders is a threat to public security only insofar as some of his critics may be provoked to respond with violence. But then they, not Wilders, should be held responsible. What of the threat to “community harmony”? Wilder’s ideas have caused controversy because there is a real debate in Western societies about Islam and about the relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims. That is why his party, the PVV, made gains in Dutch elections last week. However deplorable we might find Wilders’ arguments we cannot wish them away. They have to be engaged with, openly and robustly.

Underlying the argument for censoring people like Wilders is the belief that, in a plural society, speech necessarily has to be less free. “If people are to occupy the same political space without conflict”, the sociologist Tariq Modood suggests, “they have mutually to limit the extent to which they subject each others’ fundamental beliefs to criticism.”

No they don’t. It is precisely because we live in a plural society that expression needs to be as free as possible. In a society in which different beliefs are deeply held, clashes are unavoidable. A society in which no offence is given or taken is one that is culturally and politically dead. The right, even of bigots, to “subject each others’ fundamental beliefs to criticism” — and indeed to be abusive about them — is the bedrock of an open, diverse society.

Kenan Malik is senior visiting fellow at the department of political, international and policy studies at the University of Surrey

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

UK: Neglected by ‘Lazy’ Nurses, Man, 22, Dying of Thirst Rang the Police to Beg for Water

A man of 22 died in agony of dehydration after three days in a leading teaching hospital.

Kane Gorny was so desperate for a drink that he rang police to beg for their help.

They arrived on the ward only to be told by doctors that everything was under control.

The next day his mother Rita Cronin found him delirious and he died within hours.

She said nurses had failed to give him vital drugs which controlled fluid levels in his body. ‘He was totally dependent on the nurses to help him and they totally betrayed him.’

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Kosovo: Fire Destroys Eulex Documents on Crime

(ANSAmed) — PRISTINA, MARCH 4 — A fire has destroyed most of the documentation on organised crime kept in the offices of EULEX, the EU mission in Kosovo. As announced by EULEX spokesperson Karin Limdal, flames engulfed EULEX offices on the Film City base of KFOR. The documents destroyed contained data analysis and a large amount of intelligence information on organised crime. However, it was stressed that the fire had not jeopardised EULEX’s possibilities to investigate serious crime in Kosovo. (ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Serbia: EU: Frattini, Too Soon to Say Accession in 2014

(ANSAmed) — BELGRADE, MARCH 4 — According to Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini it is too early to say that 2014 is the year in which Serbia will become full EU member. In an interview today with the Belgrade newspaper Vecernje Novosti, Frattini said that all depends on the negotiations with Brussels. “It is premature to discuss 2014 now as possible date for Serbia accession to the European Union”, said the Foreign Minister. Underlining that Italy is a strong supporter of Serbia’s European integration, Frattini said that the accession process requires “a certain amount of time”. Frattini added that Serbia’s candidature may already be on the agenda of the next European Council of Ministers. Now the European Commission has to completely analyse Serbia’s membership application on a technical level. This will have to be done rapidly, the Italian Foreign Minister continued. Referring to Kosovo, Frattini said that Italy intends to respect the decision of the International Court of Justice on the legitimacy of its statement of independency. The Court is expected to read its verdict in the coming months. The Italian government will continue in its balanced approach, according to Frattini, who underlined that Italy appreciates the fact that Belgrade has decided to go to court instead of using political means in the case of Kosovo’s independence. “Of course, we will respect the decision of the International Court of Justice”, Frattini concluded. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Mediterranean Union

Egypt-NATO Partnership Paves Way to Boost Euromed Dialogue

(ANSAmed) — CAIRO, MARCH 4 — Partnering with Egypt, NATO is looking to what is beyond bilateral cooperation; enhancing Euromed dialogue. According to Michael Stopfore, NATO Deputy Assistant Secretary General, Egypt continues to play the same effective role it has been playing for years to boost dialogue between countries in the north and south of the Mediterranean. Cooperation with Cairo has taken an upturn after an agreement was reached with NATO three years ago, Stopfore said. In 2009, the two sides locked a deal to preserve data that the NATO official believes will give anti-terror cooperation a shot in the arm. Stopfore was speaking at a seminar on NATO-Egypt cooperation which opened in Cairo today. Adopting a new strategy that gives priority to its partnerships, NATO has been reaching out to partners to solve common problems. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

EU: Neighbourhood Policy Funds, 5.7 Bln From 2011 to 2013

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, MARCH 2 — EU resources to strengthen cooperation policies and promote economic integration with neighbouring countries, in the south like in the east, are increasing: over the next three years funds allocated for this purpose will reach 5.7 billion euros. Today the European Commission announced that the finances will support economic and political reforms and regional and cross-border cooperation with partner Countries in the context of ENPI, the instrument for Europe’s neighbourhood policy and partnership, in addition to sponsoring projects in areas such as climate change, transport, energy and the environment. In 2013 alone the EU’s neighbouring countries will receive more than 2 billion euros, compared to 1.6 billion in 2010. With a new entry: for the first time ever, the countries that will benefit from EU funds will include Libya. EU High representative for foreign policy Catherine Ashton stated that “We want to further commit ourselves to cooperating with our neighbours, proving that the EU remains a solid and reliable partner in hard times such as these”. European Commissioner for enlargement Stefan Fule added that “If we want to make a successful neighbourhood policy, we need to give ourselves the instruments to do so: greater mobility of the people, more trading, more assistance. All of this has a price”. The 5.7 billion euros budget concerns 19 ENPI programmes scheduled for 2011-2013, of which 16 were approved today, for a total amount of 4.2 billion euros. The budget also includes assistance to the occupied Palestinian territories. In particular, 13 new bilateral programmes were approved, mostly with Countries of the Mediterranean area: Algeria, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Egypt, Georgia, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Moldavia, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia and Ukraine. The news is Libya, which is currently negotiating a deal with the European Commission. To guarantee effective work with Tripoli, for example on the topic of immigration, financial cooperation must also be established, which amounts to 60 million euros over the next three years. Two new programmes are also starting: a regional one to support the partnership with the Countries of the East, and an interregional one, worth 757.7 million euros, to finance cultural exchanges, contacts between local and regional authorities, and to support investments in the transport, energy and environment areas. This latter initiative will include, for example, finances for interconnection infrastructures for the supply of energy. What is instead still under preparation are the programmes which concern the Euro-Mediterranean partnership, Belarus and cross-border cooperation. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

North Africa

Internet: Algeria; 770,000 With ADSL But Ministry Wants More

(ANSAmed) — ALGIERS, MARCH 3 — Those with a subscription to the ADSL internet network in Algeria number 770,000, said Postal Services and Communication Technologies Minister Hamid Bensalah today on national radio. Bensalah noted that the figure was still lower than what had been expected, since “Algerie Telecom has technical capacity to offer ADSL access to 1.2 million.” The state-run telephone company “is doing all it can to improve what it has on offer,” he added. According to the minister, by 2013 subscribers will number about 6 million. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

Jerusalem Clashes and in West Bank, Dozens Hurt

(ANSAmed) — JERUSALEM, MARCH 5 — Around sixty people are suffering from injuries, bruising and the effects of tear gas, Palestinian sources say, after today’s clashes between Palestinian demonstrators and Israeli forces. The clashes occurred during Islamic Friday prayers in the Old City of Jerusalem and other sites around the West Bank. Meanwhile, Israeli forces in Jerusalem are speaking of at least six police officers having to receive treatment for injuries incurred with a further dozen officers suffering bruises. The clashes in Jerusalem’s Old City took place outside the Temple Mount area, which had already been the scene of an outbreak of violence this morning. Eye-witnesses speak of demonstrators throwing stones in the alleyways, while police replied with tear gas and stun grenades. Medical sources have reported one Palestinian boy being seriously wound by a rubber bullet in Nabi Saleh, a suburb of Ramallah, in the course of today’s protests.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Middle East

Economy: Turkey CPI Highest in EU Area, Report Says

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, MARCH 5 — Latest inflation figures for February in Turkey put the country on the top of a list of European Union countries with highest Consumer Prices Index (CPI) rates, said a report released by an Istanbul-based risks research institute quoted by Anatolia news agency. TurkStat said earlier this week consumer prices in Turkey recorded a 1.45% monthly rise in February as the year-on-year increase was 10.13% (2003=100). Year-on-year CPI in January was 8.19%. “Pressure caused by a rise of 21.02% in prices of alcoholic beverages and tobacco products as well as a rise of 8.61% in prices of food and non-alcoholic beverages had adverse effects on February figures, which came above expectations,” said the report by Okan University Financial Risks Research Center. The report said Turkey’s macro-economic outlook seemed negative given recent capacity utilization figures, foreign trade data and jobless rates. The report said the Turkish Central Bank could be expected to wait until figures for the second quarter are announced before making any intervention to policy rates. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Turkey: Judiciary Under Siege, Supreme Court President Says

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, MARCH 5 — Turkey’s Supreme Court President Hasan Gerceker said the government was attempting to beseige the judiciary through constitutional amendments. Gerceker, as Anatolia news agency reports, who addressed a conference on judiciary independence and constitutional amendments in Ankara emphasized the importance of the separation of powers in democracies. He said that all branches of the state should respect the powers, rights and responsibilities of the other as arranged under the constitution. Gerceker said that they wanted the administrative survision over the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) to end. He said the Supreme Court wanted the Justice Minister and his undersecretary to be left out of the HSYK. “However we see know that the executive branch wants to further besiege the judiciary with planned arrangements,” said Gerceker. “Appointment of members to high judiciary bodies by the executive and the judiciary branches is not only against the independence of the judiciary but also not a necessity or a priority. The desired reforms (by the government) will further limit the independence of judiciary and make HSYK inoperable. The election of members to the board by the parliament will politicise HSYK,” said Gerceker. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Venetian Group to Head Study on Dead Sea

(ANSAmed) — VENICE, MARCH 4 — Thetis, an engineering group headquartered at the Arsenal in Venice, will carry out a study with the purpose of helping the environment in the Dead Sea basin between Israel and Jordan, which is suffering from a lack of water. The World Bank Project (20 billion dollars) will bring water from the Gulf of Aqaba/Eilat (Red Sea) to the Dead Sea through a subterranean tunnel that will travel for 180km through the desert. The objective of the work, explained Antonio Paruzzolo, the director of Thetis, is to compensate for the water deficit of the Dead Sea, which is expected to intensify by 2040, and to generate a greater volume of freshwater, obtained through a desalinisation plant. Thetis, which was chosen out of a field of 18 competitors, must now realise one of the five studies necessary to evaluate the feasibility of the project, meaning that they must examine the potential environmental impact of transnational infrastructure on the Gulf of Aqaba/Eilat. The capacity of the tunnel, which will transfer water to the Dead Sea, totals about two million cubic metres per year. The group must assess the impact of the project on the circulation of water and on the reef system. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

South Asia

Italy: ‘No Impediment for Premier’

Cabinet meeting no bar to trial continuing, Milan judges rule

(ANSA) — Milan, March 1 — A Milan trial into alleged tax fraud by Silvio Berlusconi’s Mediaset group went ahead Monday after judges denied the premier had a ‘legitimate impediment’ from attending because of a cabinet meeting.

In their ruling, the judges said the cabinet meeting was called after the schedule of hearings had been agreed with Berlusconi.

Berlusconi’s lawyers and supporters criticised the ruling.

“This is extremely serious,” said lawyer Niccolo’ Ghedini, a member of his People of Freedom (PdL) party.

He argued that the trial would now have to be annulled because, he claimed there was a sentence by the Constitutional Court which quashed a trial in a similar case.

“The Constitutional Court will have to agree that there is a conflict of powers” between the executive and the judiciary, Ghedini argued.

Another of the premier’s lawyers, Pietro Longo, said “the premier will have to raise the issue of conflict of powers”.

PdL Chamber of Deputies whip Fabrizio Cicchitto said: “It is clear that we are faced with a permanent political use of justice” while the party’s Senate whip, Maurizio Gasparri, said the ruling was another alleged instance of “persecution and prejudice” against the premier.

But a small opposition party, the Italian Communists (PdCI), said: “A premier who systematically shrinks from being tried, calling last-minute cabinet meetings only to dodge trials, is a very bad example for citizens”.

“Either the law is the same for everyone or it is not a law, but a privilege,” said PdCI national coordinator Alessandro Pignatiello.

In the trial, one of two involving the premier, Berlusconi and others are accused of evading tax by allegedly inflating film prices.

The Berlusconi government is seeking to enshrine into law the legitimate impediment principle to allow top officials to do their jobs without trial distractions.

It is one of several moves, including a mandatory trial cap, which critics say the premier will use to end his legal woes.

The second trial, for allegedly bribing British tax lawyer David Mills, went ahead Saturday despite a final ruling Thursday that Mills’ reception of the $600,000 was covered by Italy’s 10-year statute of limitations.

Mills, who denied wrongdoing, saw his four-and-a-half year sentence quashed. For Berlusconi, the statute is set to elapse in November because he was removed from proceedings for about a year by an immunity law later struck down by the Constitutional Court.

But the trial, for allegedly paying Mills for reticent testimony in two previous trials, is unlikely to run its course because it is only at the initial stage, legal experts say.

Berlusconi, whose trials stem from business activities before he entered politics in 1994, has consistently denied wrongdoing and claims a leftwing group of prosecutors and magistrates is persecuting him.

On Friday he likened them to the Taliban fundamentalist militants in Afghanistan.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Sub-Saharan Africa

Mauritania: France Cancels 17.4-Million-Euro Debt

(ANSAmed) — NOUACKCHOTT, MARCH 4 — France has decided to cancel a 17.4-million-euro debt on the part of Mauritania, to allow the country to invest this money in programmes for local development. The cancellation of the debt was authorised in an agreement signed in Nouackchott by the Mauritanian Minister of the Economy and Development, Sidi Ould Tah, and by the French Ambassador Michel Vandpoorter. The agreement, a note specifies, “falls within the realm of measures for the cancellation of debt, decided by the international community in favour of poor, heavily indebted countries, of which Mauritania is one of the prime beneficiaries”. From the sums thus freed up, 4 million euros will be destined to programmes in the fight against poverty and 6.7 million euros will go to the National Programme for the Development of Education. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Australians Don’t Want More People — Poll

THE public has rejected plans to massively boost Australia’s population.

The federal government wants to increase the population from 22 million to 35 million by 2050, largely through immigration.

But a poll has found three-quarters of respondents think Australia does not have the services or infrastructure to cope with more people.

More than 60 per cent wanted immigration slowed.

And a majority of the 1000 people surveyed by Essential Research late last month thought the environment was too fragile to cope with more people, and there was not enough space for them.

The government wants to boost the population because it means more young taxpayers to pay for the high costs of an ageing population.

But the public aren’t buying the economic argument either — just over half of those surveyed thought more people would not help the economy.

The poll also found that just over half the respondents — 51 per cent — approved of the government’s plan to means test the rebate for private health cover. A third of respondents opposed the plan.

The government wants to wind back the rebate for single people earning more than $75,000 and couples earning more than $150,000 a year.

Support for the move, which is in trouble in the Senate, was stronger among Labor voters and those on low and middle incomes.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]