Friday, January 10, 2003

News Feed 20100318

Financial Crisis
»China — United States: US Against China: Revalue Yuan or Chinese Exports Will be Hit
»Greece: Strauss-Khan, EMF is Not the Solution
»Greece Ready to Turn to IMF, Stock Exchange Rising
»Italy: Foreign Banks to Stand Trial for Derivatives Deal
»Italy: More Graduates Unemployed as Salaries Dwindle
»Chicago Man Pleads Guilty to Terror Plots
»Inside Obama’s Manufactured Crises
»Jihad Jane Pleads Not Guilty
»Mark Levin: We Will Sue Over Health-Care Trick
»Muslim Group Calls Textbooks Discriminatory
»Obama’s Fox Interview Gets Combative
»Reliance, Atlas in Talks on Gas Venture
»Simon Cowell to Convert to Islam to Marry Girlfriend?
»Skanska Lands ‘Ground Zero’ Rail Contract
»States to Feds: Take a Hike!
»Strategic Petroleum Reserve: How Congress Accidentally Saved US Millions
»U.S. Accused of Aiding Terror
»Andrew Bostom: Silencing the Jews, Redux
Europe and the EU
»EU: Italy: Optimistic Forecasts on Deficit Cuts
»France: Quickie Divorce — Less Than 3 Months and No Judge
»Germany: Breaking the Silence
»Germany: Second Poker Heist Bandit Arrested
»Italy: Google Cam Skirts Streets of Gomorrah
»Italy: Soccer: Blasphemy Cards to be Used ‘With Care’
»Italy: Court Dismisses Agnelli Inheritance Suit
»‘Loopholes’ Used to Export Torture Equipment
»Netherlands: Marcouch, Albayrak to Flank PvdA Front-Runner Cohen
»Netherlands: No New Election in Rotterdam
»Official Report: Dresden Bombing Killed 25,000
»Pope to Sign Letter on Irish Abuse
»Spain: No to Prado: Picasso’s Guernica to Stay at Reina Sofia
»Sweden Bans University Affirmative Action
»UK: £1,000 Fine for Using Wrong Bin: Families Face New Crackdown Over Household Waste
»UK: Bungling Foreign Nurse ‘Could Barely Speak English and Refused to Learn’
»UK: Boy of 11 Dies of Asthma Attack at School After Teacher Was ‘Too Busy to Call Him an Ambulance’
»UK: Indian Helicopter Deal Saves 4,000 Westland Jobs
»UK: Police Banned From Asking for Someone’s ‘Christian’ Name Because it Might Offend Those of Other Faithsby Rebecca Camber
»UK: Terrifyingly Inept Foreign Doctors Are a Symptom of a Sickness in the NHS — Not the Cause
»UK: Turkish Girl Gets £60k Sex Swap on the NHS to Become ‘Dennis’
»UK: Unseen Images of a Lost London
»Vatican: Pope Says Church ‘Severely Shaken’ By Child Abuse
Mediterranean Union
»Equal Ops: EGEP: Discrimination Against Palestinian Women
»EU-Jordan Agreement on Common Air Space
»EU-Syria: Damascus Celebrating Hammams Starting Monday
North Africa
»Egypt: Egyptian Police Arrest 13 Copts, Victims of Attack by Islamic Extremists
Israel and the Palestinians
»American-Israeli Relations: Where Did All the Love Go?
»Mideast-France: New French/Palestinian/Israeli Business Group
»Netanyahu’s Brother-in-Law: Obama’s an Anti-Semite
»Palestinian Rocket Kills Man in Gaza
Middle East
»Achim Steiner, Head of UNEP Warns of Water Scarcity in Arab World
»Bahrain-Syria: Deal to Develop Economic Zone, Power Projects
»Black Sea Could Fuel Turkey for Next 40 Years, Expert
»Egyptian Writer’s Call for New Ka’bah Shrine Causes International Uproar
»Iraq: Mosul: Another Targeted Execution of Iraqi Christian
»Iraq: Two Security Officials ‘Beheaded’ In North
»Iraq: Nineveh Governor Wants International Probe Into Attacks Against Mosul Christians and Minorities
»Is Iran Infiltrating Iraq?
»Obama Denies Crisis With Israel as Gap With Arabs Widens
»Sahlin Slams Erdogan Over Expulsion Threat
»Saudi Cleric Calls for Rebuilding Holy Mosque
»Saudi Seeks “Honorable Death” On Israeli Border
»Turkey: Erdogan Threathens Expulsion of 100 Thousand Armenians
»Turkey: ‘Homosexuality is a Disease’, Gays Want Minister Tried
»Turkish PM Threatens to Expel Illegal Armenians Workers
»UAE: Airline Pair Jailed Over Sex Texting
South Asia
»India: Orissa: US Support for Victims of Anti-Christian Pogrom
Far East
»‘People Being Denied Food in North Korea’
»Finland: Egyptian Grandmother to be Deported
»Finnish TV Offers Little to Immigrants
»UK: Illegal Migrant Gives Up on Plan to Enter UK (While in Channel Tunnel) Because it is ‘Racist’ And ‘Uncivilised’
Culture Wars
»“Have it Your Way” Christianity
»Again! City Orders Bible Study Closed
»Finance: From Gharar to Riba, The Islamic Terms
»Nations Must Know When to Cringe and Crawl — But for the West It’s Becoming Routine

Financial Crisis

China — United States: US Against China: Revalue Yuan or Chinese Exports Will be Hit

In a rare show of bipartisanship, Democrats and Republicans introduced a bill last night that would directly slap duties on China’s exports if the current exchange rate were maintained. The World Bank forecasts a higher growth rate this year for China, putting the mainland’s economic (and social) stability at risk.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) — An end to the ‘Yuan War’ between Beijing and Washington does not appear to be around the corner. Following statements by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao at the end of the National People’s Congress, indicating China’s unwillingness to act on its currency, the US Congress decided last night to use threats against the Asian giant. Unless Beijing re-values its currency, the United States would impose duties on Chinese imports. At the same time, US lawmakers called on the Obama administration to label the mainland a currency manipulator unless it changed its currency policy”.

Meanwhile, China’s economy is moving like a runaway train. The World Bank raised its mainland growth forecast for this year to 9.5 per cent from 9 per cent but has warned Beijing to cool inflation and possible real estate bubbles. This is a headache for Chinese leaders because higher growth means higher inflation, and thus greater social unrest.

A bipartisan bill introduced in the US Senate merges previous legislative efforts to press mainland to change policies that critics say keep its yuan currency cheap, effectively subsidising exports and taxing competing imports.

“When there’s a 20 per cent or 30 per cent undervaluation that reduces the price of a product coming in, that’s not fair. That’s cheating,” Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow, a co-sponsor of the legislation, said. “If they’re not going to do it, we’re going to force them,” Republican Senator Sam Brownback added.

Beijing and Washington have been at loggerheads over the yuan for at least five years, ever since China began massively buying US debt. Recently, it said it might revalue its currency by about 10 per cent.

By some estimates, China holds reserves worth US$ 3 trillion. Should the yuan gain 10 per cent, China would suffer a nominal loss of US$ 300 billion. Should it go up by 40 per cent as some US economist suggest, the loss could reach US$ 1.2 trillion.

However, a higher yuan would penalise Chinese exports, which would negatively affect employment in the export-oriented sector. Chinese government figures indicate a 1 per cent re-valuation of the yuan would translate in an equal drop in exports, hence fewer jobs. In light of these facts, Chinese authorities said they have done all they can.

In addition to its currency problems, Beijing must also cope with other domestic economic problems. On the one hand, the World Bank forecasts inflation to rise by 3.7 per cent this year. On the other, China’ successful recovery from last year’s economic crisis was achieved through massive injection of public capital into the economy. Now, after the government provided more than 7.5 trillion yuan, it expects loans to be repaid and this could negatively affect China’s already fragile economy.

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

Greece: Strauss-Khan, EMF is Not the Solution

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, MARCH 16 — The Greece problem is a immediate financial problem that is not going to be resolved with new instruments such as the European Monetary Fund, said Dominique Strauss-Khan, the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, while speaking today at European Parliament. “The idea of the EMF is not suitable for the Greece problem, which is an immediate financial problem, and this should not fall out of sight,” said Strauss-Khan. According to the IMF director, the European Monetary Fund, “whatever this may be”, would take too much time to create, because it must even be understood if the treaties need to be changed. “Creative” solutions to establish instruments that can help countries that are undergoing difficulties are positive, but putting these together “would take too much time and we would lose sight of Greece’s immediate financial problems”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Greece Ready to Turn to IMF, Stock Exchange Rising

(ANSAmed) — ATHENS, MARCH 17 — The Greek government is stepping up the signs of its willingness to make use of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in the absence of an effective mechanism for European assistance. While the country continues to be wracked by protests and strikes against the austerity plan, and following the “warnings” repeatedly launched by Premier Giorgio Papandreou, also intervening now is the Economy Minister Louka Katseli, who said that the probability of making use of the IMF “is at 70%”. Katseli has been quoted by the media as saying in a meeting with Greek political journalists that the IMF option “is almost the only one in the current situation”. However, he did not rule out, in light of the results of the upcoming EU summit, that through the ECB a mechanism might be activated that would function alongside the Fund. According to the financial daily Capital, “Germany, supported by Italy, Holland and Finland,” is seen to be in favour of an aid programme that would also include the IMF. Yesterday government spokesman Giorgio Petalotis clearly raised the possibility of turning to the IMF, saying that Athens — which will require 20 billion before the summer — “is determined not to agree to get into debt under the current conditions”. And from Budapest Premier Giorgio Papandreou — who this afternoon will be meeting with Barroso in Brussels — was quoted by the ANA agency as asking for “an immediate response” from Brussels concerning the aid mechanism, indicating that the alternative was the IMF. At midday the stock exchange was rising (+0.50%), apparently reacting well to growing indications on the IMF possibility and ignoring the difficult domestic front in which strikes continue in the state-owned power company PPC, the offices of which have been occupied, with doctors on partial strike and a strike called tomorrow for petrol stations and taxi drivers. (ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Foreign Banks to Stand Trial for Derivatives Deal

Milan, 17 March (AKI) — Four foreign banks and 13 people were ordered by a judge on Wednesday to stand trial for an allegedly fraudulent derivatives deal worth 1.7 billion euros.

Judge Simone Luerti said Deutsche Bank, UBS, Depfa and JPMorgan Chase & Co will be tried after being accused of earning about 100 million euros in “illicit profits” from irregularities in the sale of derivatives linked to a bond issue by the City of Milan, conducted between 2005 and 2007.

In separate statements, the banks denied any wrongdoing.

“We are…confident that the strength of our legal position will be demonstrated through the judicial process,” JPMorgan said. “The JP Morgan employees involved in the transactions acted with the highest degree of professionalism and entirely appropriately.”

UBS said it didn’t commit any fraud. “No illicit profit was earned by the banks, since the intermediation costs applied were fully legitimate and were not hidden from the City,” it said.

Deutsche Bank said it was confident its employees involved in the transactions acted with integrity. A spokeswoman for Depfa said the German bank was convinced it hadn’t violated any law or regulation.

Hearings are expected to start May 6.

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

Italy: More Graduates Unemployed as Salaries Dwindle

University leavers out of work for years. Newly qualified engineers among those affected

ROME — It’s getting increasingly difficult for graduates to find work, no matter where they studied or what type of degree they have. The trend involves even traditionally strong qualifications like engineering, acquired after five years or more at university. The 12th graduate employment report from AlmaLaurea, the database to which 60 universities contribute, has just revealed what happened to Italy’s 210,000 graduates from the class of 2008. The results show a marked increase over 2007 in graduate unemployment. For first-level (three-year) degrees, the rate has risen from 16.5% to 21.9%, for specialist (three years plus two) degrees, it is up from 13.9% to 20.8%, and for single-cycle specialist degrees (medicine, architecture, veterinary science) it has gone from 8.9% to 15%. The employment rate for university leavers one year after graduation is 62% for first-level degrees and 45.5% for second-level qualifications.

Even three and five years after graduation, the job market still struggles to absorb degree-holders. The chairman of the university rectors’ conference (CRUI), Enrico Decleva, says: “Sadly, even universities are affected by the more general crisis that the country is going through. It’s a crisis that has hit our better trained human capital to a worrying extent”. According to AlmaLaurea’s director, Andrea Cammelli, one of the reasons for companies taking on fewer graduates is the lack of public and private funding for research, the engine that drives a country’s development. Italy trails in the European league table for spending on research and development as a proportion of GDP with 1.2% compared with 1.3% for Spain and Ireland, 2.5% for Germany and 3.6% for Sweden. Little changes if we look at spending on university teaching. Italy invests 0.8% of GDP against Spain’s 0.95%, 1.11% for Germany. 1.84% for Sweden and Denmark’s 2.27%.

The county’s parlous state is confirmed by the fall in requests for graduate profiles received by AlmaLaurea from industry. In the first two months of 2010, the drop in comparison with the same period in 2009 was 31%, and involved all courses of study, ranging from 37% in the economics and statistics group to 9% in engineering. There are fewer graduate work opportunities and pay packets are also lighter. Net monthly salary for a graduate is 1,109 euros for first-level degrees, 1,057 euros for specialist degrees and 1,100 for single-cycle specialist qualifications. But in comparison with the previous figures, nominal pay has fallen by 2%, 5% and 3% respectively. Five years after graduation, the average salary is 1,328 euros, with substantial differences among professions. Doctors take home more than 2,000 euros, engineers pick up 1,620 euros and at the bottom of the heap are teachers, with 1,099 euros, and psychologists, on 1,038 euros.

English translation by Giles Watson

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Chicago Man Pleads Guilty to Terror Plots

Chicago, Illinois (CNN) — A Chicago man charged in two international terror plots, including the 2008 Mumbai, India, attacks, pleaded guilty Thursday to a dozen counts against him, and now will not face a trial.

David Headley, 49, pleaded guilty in a federal court in Chicago to a dozen federal terrorism charges. Authorities said he scouted out targets for the terrorist attacks in Mumbai in 2008 that killed more than 160 people, and planned an attack on a Danish newspaper that published cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed.

Headley, who was born in Washington, has agreed to cooperate with the government and testify before a grand jury.

He could have faced the death penalty if convicted, but in exchange for his guilty plea and cooperation, the government has taken execution off the table.

However, he will not be sentenced until after the conclusion of his cooperation, the Justice Department said. According to sentencing guidelines included in the plea agreement released Thursday, Headley is expected to serve a life sentence in prison.

He has been cooperating with the government since he was arrested October 3 in Chicago, authorities said, although he originally pleaded not guilty to the charges last year.

           — Hat tip: Paul Green[Return to headlines]

Inside Obama’s Manufactured Crises

The creation of crises, as I have explained previously, is Barack Obama’s primary mode of governance. Why? Simply because center-right America naturally doesn’t want to go where far-left Obama wants to lead, so to force the issue he must create crises. He must.

Why? Understand that the kind of government Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid want, namely statism or socialism, is perpetual crisis. Repeat: Leftists’ idea of utopia — socialist, cradle-to-grave security for everyone — is by definition a state of crisis. Whenever adult human beings cannot take care of themselves and their families, but become so dysfunctional and helpless that they voluntarily become wards of a mommy government, those people are living in a state of crisis — the very environment in which socialists thrive. Get it? Socialism, Marxism, progressivism, “spread-the-wealth-around-ism” — call it what you will — can grow only in a nutrient base of chaos, discontent and dysfunction.

After all, the only societal non-crisis condition leftists know is an imaginary state of radical equality that has never existed and never can, because it so flagrantly violates the laws of human nature, economics, morality and genuine liberty.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Jihad Jane Pleads Not Guilty

The Philadelphia-area woman who authorities say dubbed herself “Jihad Jane” online pleaded not guilty on Thursday in federal court to a four-count indictment charging her in an overseas terrorist plot.

Colleen LaRose, 46, of Pennsburg, appeared in court wearing a green jumpsuit and corn rows in her blond hair. A May 3 trial date was set.

She was accused of conspiring with jihadist fighters and pledging to commit murder in the name of a Muslim holy war. Authorities say she wanted to kill a Swedish artist who had offended Muslims.

Authorities say she grew acquainted online with violent co-conspirators from around the world. They say she posted a YouTube video in 2008 saying she was “desperate to do something” to ease the suffering of Muslims.

She was arrested in October 2009 in Philadelphia while returning to the United States.

LaRose spent most of her life in Texas, where she dropped out of high school, married at 16 and again at 24, and racked up a few minor arrests, records show.

After a second divorce, she followed a boyfriend to Pennsylvania in about 2004 and began caring for his father while he worked long hours, sometimes on the road.

In 2005, she swallowed a handful of pills in a failed suicide attempt, telling the police she was upset over the death of her father — but did not want to die.

As she moved through her 40s without a job or any outside hobbies, her boyfriend said, she started spending more time online.

Though her boyfriend, Kurt Gorman, did not consider her religious, and she apparently never joined a mosque, LaRose had by 2008 declared herself “desperate” to help suffering Muslims in the YouTube video.

“In my view, she sort of slipped sideways into Islam… There may have been some seduction into it, by one or more people,” said Temple University psychologist Frank Farley.

LaRose and Gorman shared an apartment with his father in Pennsburg, a quaint if isolated town an hour north-west of Philadelphia.

Just days after the father died last August, she stole Gorman’s passport and fled to Europe without telling him, making good on her online pledge to try to kill in the name of Allah, according to the indictment.

From June 2008 through her August 23, 2009, departure, the woman who also called herself “Fatima Rose” went online to recruit male fighters for the cause, recruit women with Western passports to marry them, and raise money for the holy war, the indictment charged.

She had also agreed to marry one of her overseas contacts, a man from South Asia who said he could deal bombs and explosives, according to e-mails recovered by the authorities.

He also told her in a March 2009 e-mail to go to Sweden to find the artist, Lars Vilks.

“I will make this my goal till i achieve it or die trying,” she wrote back, adding that her blonde American looks would help her blend in.

Vilks questioned the sophistication of the plotters, seven of whom were rounded up in Ireland last week, just before LaRose’s indictment was unsealed. Still, he said he was glad LaRose had never got to him.

Although she wrote to the Swedish embassy in March 2009 to ask how to obtain residency, and joined Vilks’s online artists group in September, there is no evidence from court documents that she ever made it to Sweden.

Instead, she was arrested returning to Philadelphia on October 15.

           — Hat tip: Zenster[Return to headlines]

Mark Levin: We Will Sue Over Health-Care Trick

Action prepared to be filed ‘the moment the House acts’

A lawsuit has been prepared by the Landmark Legal Foundation to be filed immediately — if members of the U.S. House use a trick that has been dubbed the “Slaughter rule” to advance President Obama’s vision of government-run health care in the United States.

The action was announced today by Mark R. Levin, attorney, top radio talker and president of the foundation, who said the use of the so-called “deem and pass,” “self-executing,” or “Slaughter rule” to enact H.R. 3590 would result in an instant legal challenge.

“If this tactic is employed, Landmark will immediately sue the president, Attorney General Eric Holder and other relevant cabinet members to prevent them from instituting this unconstitutional contrivance,” the announcement said.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Muslim Group Calls Textbooks Discriminatory

“The World of Islam,” a 10-book series, encourages young readers to believe Muslims are terrorists and seek to undermine U.S. society, said the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the nation’s largest Muslim advocacy organization.

One book contains the passage: “For the first time, Muslims began immigrating to the U.S. in order to transform American society, sometimes through the use of terrorism.”

Moein Khawaja, civil rights director for CAIR in Pennsylvania, said the group has gotten dozens of complaints about the books from Muslim parents around the country.

He said he was not aware of any discrimination against Muslim children due to the books, which are intended for middle- and high-school students.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Obama’s Fox Interview Gets Combative

Fox News’s exclusive interview with President Obama airing tonight is notably combative, with a frustrated President Obama repeatedly lamenting that Fox’s Bret Baier won’t let him finish his sentences.

“Bret, let me finish my answers here,” Obama said at one point.

For example, here’s a portion of the transcript straight from Fox:

[Comments from JD: Comments to the article make for interesting reading.]

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Reliance, Atlas in Talks on Gas Venture

Indian conglomerate Reliance Industries Ltd. is in late-stage talks to buy a big stake in a U.S. natural-gas field, according to several people familiar with the matter.

Reliance is nearing a deal to partner with Atlas Energy Inc., which controls about 584,000 acres in the expansive Marcellus Shale, a huge gas-bearing formation that stretches from West Virginia to New York. The deal would make Reliance the first Indian company to buy into the Marcellus region.

Under the deal as considered, Reliance would pay between $1 billion and $1.5 billion to take a joint venture stake with Pittsburgh-based Atlas. The exact size of Reliance’s stake wasn’t clear, but Atlas is said to be seeking a 50-50 partner, these people said.

While Reliance is currently the prime participant in discussions, other parties such as Sempra Energy are also negotiating to be part of the deal, these people added.

Talks between Reliance and Atlas are continuing and the deal isn’t final, the people added.

Jefferies & Co. and JPMorgan Chase & Co. are running the sales process for Atlas, which announced late last year that it was seeking a development partner. An Atlas spokesman confirmed that the company is exploring possible joint-venture deals but wouldn’t comment further. Manoj Warrier, a Reliance spokesman, declined to comment.

U.S. gas fields have attracted a series of big investments from foreign companies in recent months. In February, Japanese company Mitsui & Co. announced a $1.4 billion joint venture in the Marcellus Shale with U.S. oil and gas producer Anadarko Petroleum Corp. In January, French oil company Total SA paid $2.25 billion for a 25% stake in the Barnett Shale in North Texas.

Companies from Britain, Italy and Norway have also bought into U.S. gas assets.

The deals are a chance for companies to learn how to extract gas from shale formations, which until recently were considered too dense to produce commercial quantities of gas. The companies hope to take the techniques to other shale fields overseas.

“There’s shale all over the world and these people want to get into it and learn how to do it, and take that knowledge and use it somewhere else,” said Robin Fredrickson, a partner at the law firm Vinson & Elkins who has been involved in several joint-venture deals.

Reliance, run by billionaire Mukesh Ambani, has made multiple attempts to acquire North American assets in recent months. Last month, the company bid $2 billion for a stake in Canadian oil producer Value Creation Inc., but ultimately lost out to British energy giant BP PLC.

For the sellers, joint-venture deals are a chance to raise money to drill more wells at a time when low natural-gas prices have cut into revenues. That has given big, cash-rich producers an opportunity to get into U.S. fields that might have been closed to them when energy prices were higher two years ago.

“I’m sure that in 2008, it would have been impossible,” Total senior vice president Patrick Pouyanne said in a recent interview.

Other Indian firms have also sought to expand overseas energy due in part to tight regulations at home. Reliance and smaller rival Essar Group have hired top executives from global oil companies to help them operate overseas. Oil & Natural Gas Corp., India’s flagship state-run oil company, said recently it may spend as much as $30 billion over the next decade to buy assets overseas.

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

Simon Cowell to Convert to Islam to Marry Girlfriend?

Mezhgan Hussainy’s family wants music mogul Simon Cowell to convert to Islam before he marries her, says a report.

The ‘American Idol’ judge had proposed to Hussainy last week.

‘They’re very westernised, but no one in their family has ever married a non-Muslim — and they’re not willing for their youngest daughter to become the first,’ quoted a source as saying about Hussainy’s parents Mary and Sayed.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Skanska Lands ‘Ground Zero’ Rail Contract

Swedish construction firm Skanska has secured a $434 million contract to help build the commuter train station at the site of the World Trade Centre in New York.

The Swedish firm announced on Wednesday that it had won 80 percent of a contract to build the concrete structure of a new PATH commuter train station at the site where two hijacked airliners brought down the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001, killing 2,752 people.

“The construction of the new PATH station will play a significant role in the rebuilding of the World Trade Center site,” senior Skanska executive Mike McNally said in a statement.

The customer, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, had granted the remainder of the total $542 million contract to Granite Construction, Skanska said.

The two companies would be responsible for placing “cast-in-place concrete” to build four new platforms 11 metres below ground, the Swedish company said, adding that construction would begin next month and should be completed in 2014.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

States to Feds: Take a Hike!

Issues range from bulbs and guns to health insurance and marijuana

On issues ranging from light bulbs and medical marijuana to health care mandates and gun regulations, states in a rising tsunami are challenging the federal government’s authority to micromanage the affairs inside Minnesota, Wyoming, Washington and 47 others.

“Since 2007, more than two dozen states have passed resolutions or laws denouncing and refusing to implement the federal REAL ID Act, which imposes rigorous issuance standards for driver’s licenses and state ID cards,” wrote Suzanne Weiss in an analysis titled, “Sovereignty measures and other steps may indicate an upsurge in anti-federal sentiment in legislatures” at the National Conference of State Legislatures.


Steve Palmer, coordinator for the Tenth Amendment Center said in a commentary that it’s not that complicated:

“When I build a fence around my house with a gate in the front, this says to the potential guest that he may enter my property through the gate, but not elsewhere. Someone found crossing the fence at a different location would be considered a trespasser.”

He continued, “The main body of the Constitution establishes the front gate by which Congress was invited to act on our behalf. Most of the delegated powers are listed in Article I, section 8. When the Congress establishes laws on these matters, it is acting as an invited guest. However, when the Congress establishes laws on matters which have not been delegated to it, it is climbing over the Tenth Amendment fence, erected to secure our liberties. At those times, the Congress is trespassing against the states and against the people.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Strategic Petroleum Reserve: How Congress Accidentally Saved US Millions

Two years ago Congress tried — and failed — to control gas prices by stopping U.S. purchases of crude oil for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. But wait — not all was lost. Congress accidentally saved taxpayers more than $600 million.

A bill, introduced and passed in spring 2008, prevented the U.S. Treasury from buying oil for the remainder of 2008 or until barrels fell under $75. The idea, at the time, was that halting the purchase of around 70,000 barrels of crude a day would lessen upward pressure on oil prices. We now know this was merely a drop in our energy-consuming bucket and gas prices would rise anyway. But the government ended up saving millions because, yup, you guessed right, it stopped buying super expensive oil.

The timing of the bill was impeccable and coincided with record rise in oil prices. In mid-May 2008, when the Senate passed the bill, oil was nearly $120 a barrel. By July, oil hit a record $147 a barrel before going into a free fall and dropping to $32 a barrel in December.

The intent of the bill was to put downward pressure on gas prices — not necessarily to save taxpayers money. But who cares, right? At least we all saved $600 million. Maybe I’m quibbling over small stuff here, but I figure it’s fair game since Congress is patting itself on the back for its foresight and a job well done. For example, Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., the bill’s co-sponsor, said this in a recent statement…

           — Hat tip: Zenster[Return to headlines]

U.S. Accused of Aiding Terror

Expert warns that ‘road to victory’ not being taken

Walid Shoebat, who famously turned from the life of terror supporter with the PLO to Christian activist, says the United States has the knowledge and ability to deal with global terror threats, and deliberately is choosing not to take that road.

WND reported just days ago when Shoebat warned that the U.S. needs to be watching the actions not of Iran or Syria but of NATO member Turkey to see the foreshadowings of what could be the next Islamic empire.

In a second part to the interview, Shoebat told WND that the United States has the capability to crack down, but simply refuses to acknowledge the problem, in this case the infiltration into the U.S. of Muslim Brotherhood violence.

“The solution lacks the confession first,” Shoebat said. “The problem is ‘Why is the Islamist arising and wanting to rule the world?’

“We have to be willing to ask the right questions first and be willing to answer the right questions. We have to first be willing to recognize that the country has a problem,” he said.


He recalled Obama’s “slip of the tongue” during his presidential campaign when he referred to 57 states.

“That could be the slip of the tongue, but there’s 57 Muslim states. There’s not 57 American states. He says, ‘My Islamic faith,’ which could be a slip of the tongue. But there are issues that I can prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that were not a slip of the tongue. He says that the Muslim call to prayer is the most beautiful thing he’s ever heard. His criticism of the Bible,” Shoebat cited.

“In fact, this is a question [for] every American. Can anybody in the United States [cite] a single statement Obama has made where he is critical of Islam, a religion that he supposedly has left,” Shoebat wondered.

[Comments from JD: see url for audio.]

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Andrew Bostom: Silencing the Jews, Redux

Tarek Fatah—”Hardened Secular, Moderate Muslim” Antisemite Heir of Al-Maghribi

My essay on Mr. Fatah’s diatribe against the Canadian Jewish community, and Jews at large, appears in Pajamas Media [1] today. Fatah, hailed as “a paragon of secularism and moderation,” makes plain his desire to impose Islamic blasphemy law on Jews. This is hardly surprising, given the supremacist nature of mainstream, classical Islamic doctrine and practice for over a millennium, through the present era, as the great Orientalist [2] Gustave [3] von Grunebaum [4] observed in 1971:…

           — Hat tip: Andy Bostom[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

EU: Italy: Optimistic Forecasts on Deficit Cuts

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, MARCH 17 — In Italy, the deficit-GDP and debt-GDP ratios in the coming years “could be greater than forecast” in the 2009-2012 stability programme due to the “optimistic nature” of the macroeconomic forecasts contained in the plan itself, the unknown factor represented by the lacking indication of the measures that will be adopted in the coming years and the risk of exceeding predicted spending levels. This was pointed out by the European Commission in its evaluation of the Italian stability plan in a statement issued today. The European Commission stressed that the macroeconomic forecasts are “rather optimistic”, as are the results on the deficit and debt, for “the majority” of the 14 countries whose stability plants were evaluated today, including Spain and France. A matter that also holds true due to the “lack” of information on the measures that will be adopted starting in 2011 to cut deficits. (ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

France: Quickie Divorce — Less Than 3 Months and No Judge

(ANSAmed) — PARIS, MARCH 17 — Getting divorced will soon take less time in France than getting married — runs an ironic remark in Paris’ daily Le Parisien. While the divorce law of May 26 2004 cut the time it took for a consensual separation drastically — to an average of between three and six months — now a lightning-speed divorce is on the cards in a draft bill recently proposed to the Cabinet by the country’s Justice Minister, Michele Alliot-Marie. The motion should appear before parliament in the coming months. The ‘flash divorce’, as the papers are calling it, will be available to couples without children or heirs below 18 years of age: an agreed separation will not require a court appearance. The Justice Minister believes this will make the legal procedure much less burdensome for separation couples as well as taking some of the strain off the magistrate court system. Between 1996 and 2007, the numbers of divorced people in France rose from 120,000 to 134,000, of whom 92,000 did so by common consent. Some point to the 2004 reform as being at the root of this increase in numbers. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Germany: Breaking the Silence

Merkel Calls Church Abuse ‘Abhorrent’

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday called the sexual abuse of children “abhorrent.”

After weeks of keeping silent on the issue, Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday spoke out on the mounting allegations of sexual abuse within the German Catholic Church. Also on Wednesday, a Church representative admitted that some cases of abuse had been suppressed.

The complaints keep coming. By the end of last week, some 200 people claiming to be victims in Germany had approached a Berlin attorney engaged by the Jesuits to look into cases of sexual abuse by members of the Catholic clergy. A further 150 went public with stories of mistreatment at the monastery school in Ettal. And 15 former choirboys came forward with grievances relating to their time as members of the famous Regensburg choir called the Domspatzen.

On Wednesday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel commented on the abuse scandal for the first time. Speaking to the German parliament, the Bundestag, during a debate on the country’s 2010 budget, Merkel said that “sexual abuse of children … is an abhorrent crime.” She went on to say that “there is only one possibility for our society to come to grips with these cases: truth and clarity about all that has happened.”

Prior to Wednesday’s comments, Merkel had been criticized for not having spoken up about the cases, which have been generating headlines in Germany ever since the first revelations, about abuse at a Jesuit school in Berlin, were revealed at the end of January. Since then, former students of predominantly Catholic boarding schools — but also from Protestant and non-denominational institutions — have come forward complaining of having been victims of sexual and physical abuse.

Many of the cases stem from decades ago, meaning that the statute of limitations precludes the prosecution of those responsible. There have been calls to revisit Germany’s statute of limitations laws, an appeal that Merkel supported on Wednesday. “We have to talk about the statute of limitations, restitution can also be discussed,” Merkel said.

Church Cover Up

The chancellor’s comments came on the same day that Bishop Stephan Ackermann, appointed by the Catholic Church to look into the abuse allegations, admitted that the Church had known about some of the abuse cases, but had covered them up.

“According to what we now know, there were instances of suppression. That is something that we have to painfully acknowledge,” Ackermann told the Rhein Zeitung in an interview published on Wednesday. “I have learned in recent days that we were too focused on protecting the perpetrators…. We showed improper deference to the reputation of the Church….”

Germany’s Justice Ministry is establishing a round table to look into the abuse cases, a move that Merkel threw her support behind on Wednesday.

Pope Benedict XVI has so far remained silent on the string of abuse allegations in Germany. He met last Friday with the Chairman of the German Bishops’ Conference, Robert Zollitsch and Catholic leaders in Germany expect the pope to comment this week. The pope’s brother, Georg Ratzinger, has been implicated by some former choirboys from the Domspatzen, who have accused the pope’s older brother of having thrown chairs at the children in fits of rage. Once, former chorister Thomas Mayer told SPIEGEL, he became so angry “that even his false teeth fell out.”

Did the Pope Know?

There has been speculation that the pope himself may have known about cases of sexual abuse during his tenure as archbishop of Munich from 1977 to 1982. A priest named Peter H. was transferred to Munich from Essen after having forced an 11-year-old boy to perform oral sex. In 1980, as a member of the Diocese Council, Joseph Ratzinger was involved in a decision to grant Peter H. accommodation in a parsonage.

Shortly thereafter, the man was again involved in pastoral duties, with no restrictions whatsoever. In 1986, a court in Ebersberg gave H. an 18-month suspended prison sentence because he had once again sexually abused a minor, this time in the Bavarian town of Grafing. It has been alleged that the pope knew nothing about the case.

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

Germany: Second Poker Heist Bandit Arrested

After a man turned himself in earlier this week a second suspect has been arrested for a heist on a high-stakes German poker tournament that netted the thieves nearly a quarter of a million euros, authorities said late on Wednesday.

A 21-year-old German, escorted by his lawyer, presented himself at the prosecutor’s office in Berlin on Monday and confessed to taking part in the heist, Sjors Kamstra, a spokesman for prosecutors, told a news conference.

The man had “an immigrant background” and “after intensive questioning, named his accomplices,” he said.

He had also offered to return his share of the €242,000-booty, police said, although the money was currently stashed “with a third party.”

The other gang members were a 19-year-old German, a 20-year-old from Turkey and another 20-year-old of unknown nationality, Kamstra said, presenting photos of the three fugitives.

Later Wednesday a second suspect, aged 20, was arrested “without resistance” after presenting himself to routine security officers in a metro station in the city, police said, without giving his nationality.

“In my opinion, the robbery on the poker championship in the Hyatt can be considered largely solved,” Kamstra said.

In a spectacular daylight robbery likened by some media to the Hollywood blockbuster “Ocean’s 11,” the masked gang of four burst into the hotel near Berlin’s Potsdamer Platz wielding machetes and handguns.

In chaotic scenes captured on television, they snatched bags of cash and struggled with security guards, one of whom managed to recover a bag, and sped away in a black Mercedes-Benz.

The tournament, the German leg of the European Poker Tour, attracted around 950 participants including German tennis legend Boris Becker with €4.7 million in prize money up for grabs.

The game continued after the raid, and the top prize of €1 million eventually went to American online poker star Kevin “ImaLuckSac” MacPhee.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Italy: Google Cam Skirts Streets of Gomorrah

Drug dealing streets of Scampia avoided as Google films districts of Naples for Street View

NAPLES — Today, you can see on your computer screen, so realistically that you might almost be there, the streets of the Bronx, the bainlieues of Paris, Amsterdam’s red light district or even Tepito, the stronghold of Mexico City’s drug trade. But you can’t see the Scampia district of Naples, Italy. Like Medellin, home of the Colombian narcos, the casbah of Algiers and the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, the Scampia district of Naples with its ugly high-rise housing, round-the-clock drug dealing and the last of the turf wars, between the Di Lauro gang and the “Secessionists”, is off-limits for Google Street View, the service that has put the rest of the planet just a mouse click away.

No one knows precisely why. No explanations are forthcoming from Google Italia. A spokesperson admits that “sometimes our cars don’t go into areas where the lanes are particularly narrow” but that is hardly the case with Scampia, whose streets are some of Naples’ widest. No other reasons are offered. “The service is run by our international department. We’ll have to ask them, which will take a few days”. We’ll find out all in good time, then, even though internet’s virtual reality has accustomed us to near-instant responses. In the meantime, Google Maps is online. Scampia is a blacked-out island in the middle of an area entirely covered by Street View. The satellite images are in place. You can pick out the sail-like “Vele” high-rise blocks, ill-famed Via Baku, where so many murders have taken place, and the blue-painted “Smurfs’ houses”, where there are more dealers than residents. But the street-level pictures stop at Via Fratelli Cervi on one side and Via Labriola on the other, areas where the police are constantly making arrests but which are still on the outer edges of the urban decay.

Without any official explanation, it is not possible to say why. We can conjecture that the local gangs didn’t want a car going round filming everything and then posting it on the net. The criminals might have stopped the car, had a quiet word with the driver and camera operator and persuaded them to go somewhere else. But a quick check with the local police station rules this out. No Google operative has reported threats, nor has anyone requested a police escort, as usually happens with TV crews from Italy or abroad. The other possibility that comes to mind is that Google’s crew might have opted to steer clear of the area, even without threats, because they were rightly concerned about Scampia’s appalling reputation. But that argument holds only up to a point because Street View is available in districts like Palermo’s Zen and Brancaccio. It may not be available for Bari’s old town but the streets there really are narrow. It all comes back to Scampia. And, at least for now, it is a missed opportunity to show the district on the web. Scampia may be teeming with gangsters but it is also full of ordinary, decent people, parishes and schools, where residents go to work every day, just as they do in other parts of Naples.

English translation by Giles Watson

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

Italy: Soccer: Blasphemy Cards to be Used ‘With Care’

CONI chief responds to criticism of campaign

(ANSA) — Rome, March 17 — Italian soccer’s new crackdown on blasphemous comments by players and coaches should be applied “with common sense,” the head of the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) said Wednesday.

Responding to protests from clubs, CONI President Gianni Petrucci recalled that blasphemy is a crime under Italian law and he was glad to have suggested the campaign to Italian Soccer Federation chief Giancarlo Abete.

Petrucci, whose organisation oversees all Italian sport, said the campaign to give offending players red cards would go ahead but “FIGC will apply it with common sense”.

“Blasphemy is not at all a secondary thing,” he insisted, “but we have to handle it with care”.

The drive to stamp out irreligious oaths has claimed international headlines and spurred protests from coaches including Juventus’s Alberto Zaccheroni who said “championships could be altered by this overzealous campaign”.

Also contentious is the use of TV replays and lip readers to determine if an oath was actually uttered.

A player was recently acquitted after it was established that he said ‘Porco Diaz’, an alleged northern Italian dialect expression, instead of a well-known expletive against God.

A Serie A coach, one Serie A player and four Serie B players have received one-match blasphemy bans since the initiative kicked off at the start of the month.

In an amateur match, three red cards were handed out for sacrilegious language, leaving one team with ten men and the other with nine.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Court Dismisses Agnelli Inheritance Suit

Daughter of late Fiat chief contested her father’s will

(ANSA) — Turin, March 17 — A court here on Wednesday dismissed a suit filed by the daughter of the late Fiat chairman Gianni Agnelli contesting the execution of his will.

The suit was filed three years ago by Margherita Agnelli de Pahlen, the only surviving child of the late Fiat patriarch, against her mother, Marella Caracciolo Agnelli, and three of her father’s most trusted advisers, who acted as executors.

The three were Sigfried Maron, Franzo Grande Stevens and Gianluigi Gabetti.

Maron is a Swiss consultant with no official role in the Agnelli family holdings, while Stevens — the Agnelli family’s chief legal advisor — and Gabetti have top positions in the Agnelli family’s trust, Giovanni Agnelli & C., which holds a 30% stake in Fiat through two quoted holding companies, IFI and IFIL.

In dismissing the suit, filed four years after Agnelli’s death, Judge Brunella Rosso ordered Margherita Agnelli de Pahlen to pay 32,000 euros in court fees.

In her suit, Agnelli’s daughter said the three executors had ignored her repeated requests for more information about the estate and the way it was being managed, leaving her no choice but to turn to the courts.

When quizzed by the court, Marella Caracciolo Agnelli said her daughter had received more than ample compensation for being excluded from family business affairs.

Margherita Agnelli, who had asked that the inheritance settlement accord she signed be annulled, claimed her father’s estate was much bigger than had been declared and that significant assets were hidden abroad. Her decision to go to court and public was criticised by her eldest son, John Elkann, who has been groomed to take over the family empire and is already deputy chairman of both Fiat and the family financial holding company IFIL.

Over the past three years Margherita Agnelli continually made changes to her legal staff and in July of last year abruptly brought in a whole new team.

Gianni Agnelli, one of the most powerful businessmen in postwar Italy and whose grandfather founded the carmaker in 1899, died on January 23, 2003 at the age of 81 after a long battle against prostate cancer.

Agnelli also had a son, Edoardo, but he committed suicide in November 2000 at the age of 46, leaping to his death from a motorway bridge.

Margherita Agnelli has three children from her first marriage to the writer-journalist Alain Elkann and five from her second marriage to Russian Count Serge Graf von der Pahlen.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

‘Loopholes’ Used to Export Torture Equipment

Brussels, 17 March(AKI) — European companies have used ‘legal loopholes’ to avoid trade bans and sell equipment used for torture, according to the human rights groups, Amnesty International and the Omega Research Foundation.

The groups said instruments like fixed wall restraints, metal thumb-cuffs, and electroshock “sleeves” and “cuffs” that deliver 50,000-volt shocks to prisoners are some of the “tools of torture” sold by European companies.

The joint report is entitled “From Words to Deeds” and was released in Brussels on Tuesday.

“The introduction of European controls on the trade in ‘tools of torture’ after a decade of campaigning by human rights organisations, was a landmark piece of legislation,” said Nicolas Beger, director of Amnesty’s European Union office, on the release of the report.

“But three years after these controls came into force, several European states have failed to properly implement or enforce the law,” he said.

Of the 27 European Union members, only seven have “fulfilled their legal obligations” by publicly reporting exports under the law, Amnesty said.

“We fear that some states are not taking their legal obligations seriously,” said Brian Wood, Amnesty’s military security and police manager, in the statement.

Loopholes in the legislation also permit law enforcement suppliers to trade equipment which has no other use but for torture or ill-treatment, the report claimed.

Germany and the Czech Republic have issued issued export licences for shackles, electric shock equipment and chemical sprays, while Italian and Spanish law enforcement equipment suppliers have sold instruments that deliver 50,000 volt shocks to prisoners, according to the report.

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

Netherlands: Marcouch, Albayrak to Flank PvdA Front-Runner Cohen

THE HAGUE, 18/03/10 — Nebahat Albayrak and Ahmed Marcouch are candidates for seats in the Lower House. Both will almost certainly be given a very high position on the Labour (PvdA) list of candidates, just behind front-runner Job Cohen.

Nebahat Albayrak, who was Justice State Secretary until February, has made herself available to run in the general elections on 9 June, she announced yesterday. In 2006, she was already second on the list, behind the then front-runner Wouter Bos. The politician, with dual Turkish and Dutch nationality, will again be given a high position, but it is not yet known which.

A top position has also been set aside for Ahmed Marcouch. The Moroccon, who has never sat in the Lower House before, was asked by Cohen to run and said yes yesterday. Marcouch wants to combine a seat as MP with his membership of Amsterdam city council.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Netherlands: No New Election in Rotterdam

Rotterdam city council has found the elections of March 3 were fair, in spite of the numerous irregularities that took place all over the city.

The council came to this conclusion on Wednesday night. Earlier in the day, a special committee charged with safeguarding the integrity of the elections had also concluded, on the basis of its own inquiry, that a rerun would be unnecessary. In certain districts, multiple people had been found simultaneously occupying voting booths. The committee concluded, however, that these irregularities could not have had an effect on the distribution of council seats.

Last week, the council had ordered a full recount of votes. Labour garnered the most votes (28.9 percent) in both counts, with populist-right Leefbaar Rotterdam coming in a close second (28.6 percent). Based on the recount conducted last Thursday, the margin between the two parties was only 754 votes. Both parties won 14 seats in the city council.

Leefbaar Rotterdam also agreed to recognise the elections last Wednesday, effectively conceding its narrow loss to Labour. “Right now, Rotterdam is best served with these results, which open the door to a coalition government, rather than a grim rerun election,” said Marco Pastors, leader of Leefbaar Rotterdam.

His words were a thinly veiled invitation to Labour leader Dominic Schrijer, who has often ruled out the possibility of governing with Leefbaar Rotterdam. Since Leefbaar Rotterdam levelled “crude attacks” at Rotterdam’s Labour mayor, Ahmed Aboutaleb, Schrijer says the two parties have “irreconcilable differences in perspective” and “the last thing Rotterdam needs now is a marriage of convenience”.

Leefbaar had earlier insisted on new elections in districts where a large number of irregularities had been reported. The party claimed polling station staff had assisted in filling out proxy voting forms and helped people pick a candidate. Both are violations of Dutch election law.

Pastors now positive

Prior to Wednesday night’s debate, Pastors had already responded positively to the election committee’s findings. “But the true winner of these elections will never be known,” he said, adding that his party would have been the biggest if the committee “had bothered to examine the 2,000 invalid votes.” The special committee including a representative of Leefbaar Rotterdam.

After interviewing the chiefs of several polling stations, the electoral committee concluded the election in Rotterdam had not been a flawless affair, but it failed to find evidence of undue influencing of voters on a large scale. Most voters occupying a voting booth simultaneously did so “out of pure naiveté”, committee member Bas van Tijn said. Dutch election law bars the practice to safeguard the secrecy of the ballot. “But the same law says that a vote cast that way is accepted,” he added.

The committee recommended better instructions for voters in future, using images rather than text on election day itself. “Pictorial symbols and a short video instruction,” Van Tijn said. Illiteracy rates are relatively high in Rotterdam. Approximately one out of six inhabitants can neither read nor write. Nationwide, the figure is one out of ten.

‘Forgotten’ votes

The recount showed 1,202 valid votes had been ‘forgotten’ in the election night count held on March 3rd. According to committee member Van Tijn, this number is negligible in comparison to the total of 226,128 votes. His committee chalked up the error to “the logical fact that people will make mistakes, especially at the end of a long and often stressful day”. Van Tijn suggested Dutch election law could be changed to prevent this, by allowing for the votes to be counted outside of the polling station.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Official Report: Dresden Bombing Killed 25,000

Up to 25,000 people were killed in the controversial Allied bombing of the German city of Dresden during World War II, fewer than often estimated, an official commission concluded Wednesday.

After more than five years of research, the Dresden Historians’ Commission released its final report on the firestorm unleashed by British and US bombers February 13-15, 1945, just three months before the end of the war in Europe.

The study is meant to resolve a bitter debate that has raged for decades, with far-right groups claiming that up to 500,000 people were killed in the “criminal” air assault on the Baroque city known as “Florence on the Elbe.”

Conservative estimates had put the death toll at around 20,000.

The panel of historians was convened in November 2004 by then mayor Ingolf Rossberg in a bid to put the issue to rest.

The commission reviewed records from city archives, cemeteries, official registries and courts and checked them against published reports and witness accounts.

The figure of 25,000 matches conclusions reached by local authorities immediately after the war, in 1945 and 1946.

The report also found that the number of refugees fleeing the horrors of the Eastern front who were killed in the bombing was lower than often presumed, and dismissed speculation that many victims’ bodies were never recovered.

Critics of the raids say they were strategically unnecessary, as Hitler’s Germany was already on its knees, and targeted civilians rather than military objectives.

The commission said its conclusions had far-reaching implications for history’s understanding of the war’s final chapter, and how Germans see their own role in the war.

“Remembering the Allied bombings of Dresden… still carries importance for the social-political understanding of how history is seen, how society is shaped, and how identities are formed,” it said.

“In this debate, the number of people killed in the raids on Dresden has long been a crux of the argument that is key to certain views.”

The raid on Dresden, previously almost untouched by the Allied air assault on Nazi Germany, sparked a firestorm which destroyed much of the historic city.

In February, some 6,400 neo-Nazis rallied on the 65th anniversary of the devastating bombing raids. They aimed to stage a “funeral march” as well, but around 12,000 counter-protesters blocked their demonstration.

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

Pope to Sign Letter on Irish Abuse

Ireland church head will ‘reflect’ on future role

(ANSA) — Vatican City, March 17 — Pope Benedict XVI is to sign a letter to the Irish faithful Friday about recent child sex abuse scandals that have rocked the Church in Ireland, the pope announced at his general audience Wednesday.

Greeting Irish well-wishers on St Patrick’s Day, the pope said in English: “As you know, in the last few months the Church in Ireland has been strongly rocked by the crisis of abuse of minors”.

“As a sign of my profound concern I have written a pastoral letter that deals with this painful situation. I will sign it on St Joseph’s Day, the guardian of the Holy family and patron of the universal Church, and I will send it soon”.

“I ask you to read it yourselves with an open heart and a spirit of faith. My hope is that it will help in the process of repentance, healing and renewal”.

Shortly after the pope’s announcement, a man hurled insults at the pope in English.

The man was said to have “addressed insulting and profane language” at the pope from the front row of the audience, near the pope’s platform, before papal guards hustled him away.

Security around the 82-year-old pope has been tightened since a mentally unstable Swiss woman, Susanna Maiolo, clambered over a railing in St Peter’s Basilica ahead of Christmas Eve Mass, pulling the pope to the ground and injuring French Cardinal Roger Etchegaray.

She had tried to reach the pope on the same occasion in 2008 but was quietly tackled by security guards.

The angry man on Wednesday did not try to get near the pope.

Wednesday’s announcement came as the leader of Ireland’s Catholics, Cardinal Sean Brady, apologised for not reporting a paedophile priest to the police in the mid-1970s.

In a St Patrick’s Day address in Dublin, Cardinal Brady said he would “reflect” on his future role.

Several victims’ organisations have called on the Primate to resign.

Several Irish bishops have resigned after two reports detailed decades of abuse and cover-ups in schools and the Dublin diocese.

The child-abuse scandal, which first erupted in the US in the late 1990s, has since spread to Europe with Austria, the Netherlands and the pope’s native Germany being the latest countries involved.

Benedict, who as doctrinal watchdog in 2001 laid down guidelines to keep initial probes in-house, has pledged new strategies to root out this “hateful crime”. The German scandal came near Benedict himself last week when it emerged that a priestly abuser had been reassigned to Church work when the pope was archbishop of Bavaria.

But the pope’s then No.2 in Munich said he had made the call and the future pope was unaware of the decision.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Wednesday the “abominable crime” of paedophilia was a problem for “the whole of society, not just the Church”.

She called for “clarity” and said victims should be compensated.

Veteran German liberal theologian Hans Kung said the pope should perform a ‘mea culpa” on why Church rules had not been changed.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Spain: No to Prado: Picasso’s Guernica to Stay at Reina Sofia

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, MARCH 17 — ‘Guernica’ will remain at the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid: the museum’s Board of Trustees and Spanish Culture Minister Angeles Gonzalez Sinde rejected a proposal from the Prado Museum to move the famous, huge Pablo Picasso painting, reports the Spanish press. Guernica “belongs to” the Reina Sofia, “it is fine where it is” and “does not need to move”, said the culture minister. The Board of Trustees, in a statement, “unanimously rejected any possibility of loaning out Guernica” and participating “in any project involving moving Guernica”. The famous canvas painted by Picasso in 1937 in Paris to denounce the horrors of Nazism and Francoism, inspired by the bombing of the Basque village of Guernica returned to Spain in 1981 after the death of the dictator Francisco Franco. It was on display long-term at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. From 1981 until 1992 it was on display at the Prado, and then moved to the Reina Sofia. Prado Director Miguel Zugaza made a proposal in recent weeks for a common foundation between the two museums for the creation of a new Museum of Peace, adjacent to the Prado, where several emblematic works would be transferred, starting with Guernica. The new museum would have displayed other masterpieces of Spanish painting such as “Los fusilamentos del Dos de Mayo” by Goya or “La rendicion de Breda” by Velazquez. The Reina Sofia and the culture minister reiterated the fragile state of Picasso’s painting, confirmed in 1998 by a group of experts, who advised against moving it, prohibiting any transfer of the masterpiece today.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Sweden Bans University Affirmative Action

The Swedish government has announced that from August 1st it will no longer be permitted to favour prospective university students by virtue of their gender.

In a communication to parliament, the government stated that university admissions regulations will be changed to reflect only academic merits.

The Minister for Higher Education and Research, Tobias Krantz, underlined the importance of the principle that all individuals be treated equally regardless of their gender.

To exclude motivated and higher qualified women in the university admissions process is naive, Krantz said.

The background to the decision lies in cases such as one involving a group of students at Lund University who were awarded compensation in February for having been denied places to study psychology due to their gender.

The university settled out of court with the 24 women, who were each awarded 35,000 kronor ($5,000) in damages.

In a similar case, the Svea Court of Appeal ruled in December that it was illegal for the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Uppsala to prioritize men for its veterinary education programme.


           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

UK: £1,000 Fine for Using Wrong Bin: Families Face New Crackdown Over Household Waste

Householders could be fined up to £1,000 if they fail to comply with complex new rules on refuse sorting.

Food scraps, tea bags and vegetable peelings thrown into the wrong dustbin could land them with hefty penalties under government plans to be unveiled today.

Families could end up with five different bins and receptacles — including compulsory slop buckets for food waste — and be forced to sift through rubbish for anything that can be recycled, reused or converted into electricity.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: Bungling Foreign Nurse ‘Could Barely Speak English and Refused to Learn’

A bungling foreign nurse could barely understand English and refused to learn the language, a tribunal heard.

Biju John, 38, insisted he was able to understand instructions and wrote to the Nursing and Midwifery Council stating: ‘I never be confused at all.’

The Nursing and Midwifery Council has heard John could not even tell one department from another.

The Indian nurse also had a limited knowledge of basic nursing skills and did nothing when a patient was struggling to breathe, the tribunal heard.

John should have started basic airway management as the man gasped for breath after coming round from an operation.

But instead he had to be helped by a colleague who rushed over when he heard the man’s wheezing from the other side of the ward.

John almost caused another patient to go into shock when he wore latex gloves to treat him despite being told he was allergic to the material.

John, who trained in India before starting work on the Peri Anaesthetic Care Unit (PACU) at Leicester Royal Infirmary in 2003, often could not understand what staff or patients were telling him.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: Boy of 11 Dies of Asthma Attack at School After Teacher Was ‘Too Busy to Call Him an Ambulance’

A boy of 11 who suffered an asthma attack at school was left dying in a corridor because a teacher was allegedly too busy to call an ambulance.

Doctors believe Sam Linton could have been saved if he had received treatment sooner.

Instead, he was left alone and gasping for breath because, it was claimed, his form tutor, Janet Ford, 46, refused to help him because she was in a meeting.

The teacher — who has not been suspended — allegedly told two of Sam’s concerned friends to ‘go away’. He was taken to hospital when his mother picked him up from school, but died hours later.

Last night Sam’s devastated parents, Karen and Paul Linton, launched a furious attack on staff at Offerton High School in Stockport after an inquest jury ruled their son was the victim of systemic failings and neglect.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: Indian Helicopter Deal Saves 4,000 Westland Jobs

David Robertson

The jobs of up to 4,000 UK workers were secured yesterday when AgustaWestland revealed that it had won a €560 million (£510 million) contract to supply helicopters to India.

Westland will build 12 AW101s for the Indian Air Force, which will be used for transporting the country’s Prime Minister, President and other VIPs.

The helicopters, called Merlins by the British Armed Forces, will be built at Westland’s factory in Yeovil and the contract is a boost for the struggling programme. The Government said last December that it would scrap a long-term plan to buy up to 70 medium-lift helicopters for the Armed Forces and instead purchase 22 Chinooks from Boeing. The Merlin had been a favourite to win the Ministry of Defence (MoD) order and the cancellation had raised questions over the future of the Yeovil facility.

Westland is building 62 smaller Wildcat helicopters as part of a £1 billion contract with the MoD, but it now needs export orders to keep the AW101 production line open. Defence officials had raised the prospect of it becoming little more than a repair shop for the UK’s existing fleet of helicopters if such orders could not be won.

Howard Wheeldon, strategist at BGC Partners, the broker, said: “This is very good news for British jobs, not just at Westland but thousands of suppliers in this country. And this is potentially only the start of a relationship with India as they could take more 101s.”

Westland has built 70 Merlins for the UK and has won orders to supply Portugal and Denmark. The factory is also building AW101 helicopters for Italy and other, unnamed, countries.

The AW101 had been selected to replace the ageing fleet of US presidential helicopters, but the deal was scrapped last year amid rising costs. Westland hopes to rejoin the running for that contract, where it is likely go up against Sikorsky’s S92, the helicopter it was competing against in India.

The Indian deal comes as AgustaWestland strengthens its ties with the country. Last month it signed a partnership with Tata & Sons, which owns Jaguar Land Rover, to build its AW119 helicopter in India.

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

UK: Police Banned From Asking for Someone’s ‘Christian’ Name Because it Might Offend Those of Other Faithsby Rebecca Camber

Police officers have been banned from asking for ‘Christian’ names for fear of offending other religions.

Officers taking down a suspect’s particulars must now refer to their ‘personal’ or ‘family name’ as the word ‘Christian’ could offend Muslims, Sikhs and other faiths, according to new diversity guidelines.

They state bobbies on the beat should refrain from using phrases such as ‘my dear’ or ‘love’, when addressing women for fear it may cause embarrassment or offence.

Well-meaning gestures like handshakes or putting a comforting arm around a victim or grieving family member are also prohibited as it could be deemed ‘unprofessional’.

The handbook produced by Kent Police, which aims to ‘promote clearer communication’ and ‘break down barriers’ with diverse communities, advises officers to avoid language like ‘Christian’ name or surname.

They are also warned not to use terms like afternoon or evening as it could confuse people of ‘different cultural backgrounds’ about the time of day.

The 62-page ‘Faith and Culture Resource’ booklet produced by the force’s diversity support group sets out customs and practices in a number of religions and beliefs including paganism and rastafarianism.

In it, officers are told to offer to remove their shoes on entering people’s homes as some religions frown upon shoes being worn inside the home.

Other handy tips for police include wiping their feet to get rid of mud when entering a gypsy’s trailer and not to put a cup of proffered tea on the floor as this could offend their standards of cleanliness.

The booklet also contains a section on appropriate terms to describe ethnic origin, suggesting ‘mixed parentage’ or ‘mixed cultural heritage’ should be used instead of ‘mixed race’.

Staff are warned that when speaking to someone from Africa or Asia, they should refer to their specific country rather than the continent as a whole.

The rulebook has been described by Kent Police Federation secretary Peter Harman as a ‘useful and educational reference guide to dealing with different communities’.

But it has angered some rank and file officers who say it is politically correct nonsense.

One officer said: ‘Most of us are fully aware of how to treat people from different cultural backgrounds, but being told we can’t even ask what their Christian name is just plain ridiculous.

‘That is what we are brought up with — Christian name and surname — and to be honest if you had an officer ask for your personal name and family name it’s just going to confuse people.

‘It’s just the latest in a long line of annoying PC-related nonsense that we keep getting shoved down our throats.’

It follows a raft of PC directives from other forces.

Last year officers in Warwickshire were told not to say ‘Evenin’ all’ — a phrase made famous by classic police drama Dixon of Dock Green — because times of day could meant different things to various cultures.

Scotland Yard recently instructed officers not to use the phrase ‘gang rape’, because the term was considered too emotive.

Instead they were told to refer to the crime as ‘multi-perpetrator rapes’.

A Freedom of Information request to police forces and fire services has also revealed that a number of organisations, including Essex Police and Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service, instruct staff to avoid the words ‘child, youth or youngster’.

Addressing someone as a ‘girl’ or a ‘boy’ could have ‘connotations of inexperience, impetuosity and unreliability, or even dishonesty’, according to official guidance.

The same guide also warns against the phrases ‘manning the phones’, ‘layman’s terms’ and ‘the tax man’, for ‘making women invisible’.

Today, Marie Clair, of the Plain English Campaign, said: ‘It’s so sad that rather than using common sense, we are taking away all sense of respect from the way police deal with the public.

‘If people can’t be asked for their Christian name as a matter of common courtesy- something we all identify with- then where are we?

‘This sort of politically correct nonsense helps no one.’

Kent Police defended the guidelines.

Assistant Chief Constable Gary Beautridge said: ‘It is important that Kent Police recognises and values fundamental human rights and provides services that meet the changing and diverse needs of Kent’s communities, visitors and our workforce.

‘One of our core values is that we will treat everyone with fairness, respect and dignity.

‘As such we need to ensure officers and staff have an understanding and awareness of some of the faiths and ethnicities found in Kent so that they can engage more sensitively with, and have more confidence in, the various cultural and faith backgrounds.

‘In doing so it will help provide the most appropriate and professional services to those people.’

           — Hat tip: KGS[Return to headlines]

UK: Terrifyingly Inept Foreign Doctors Are a Symptom of a Sickness in the NHS — Not the Cause

When a supposed cure has instead become a new kind of sickness, then surely something is badly wrong. Yet that is what has happened in the modern NHS.

The target culture brought in to benefit patients is having fatal consequences.

A system that originally aimed to improve performance and efficiency is now threatening patients’ lives, distorting clinical priorities and encouraging the use of foreign doctors, who may be too inexperienced or unqualified for the jobs they have been given.

The tragic case of 94-year-old Ena Dickinson is a heart-rending example of what can go wrong in a health service that puts compliance with political requirements above the real needs of patients.

Mrs Dickinson, a Lincolnshire grandmother, died in 2008, soon after she underwent a hip replacement operation which was carried out at Grantham Hospital by a German locum surgeon, Dr Werner Kolb.

In an appalling series of errors, Dr Kolb cut through the wrong muscle, severed an artery and used the wrong cutting tool, with the result that Mrs Dickinson lost almost half her blood in an operation that should have been routine.

One witness, another doctor from the hospital, said he was ‘horrified by what I saw’, while an expert surgical witness, Professor Angus Wallace, told the inquest on Tuesday that he ‘could not believe the level of neglect in the operation’.

The episode raises troubling questions about the NHS’s increasing reliance on foreign doctors, both from the European Union and from further overseas, a practice that has been driven partly by the Government’s fixation with meeting targets and partly by an inadequate supply in the number of domestic trained doctors.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: Turkish Girl Gets £60k Sex Swap on the NHS to Become ‘Dennis’

A Turkish transsexual woman who claimed UK asylum will have more than £60,000 of NHS surgery to become a man called Dennis, it has been claimed.

The 33-year-old won the right to become a British resident after fleeing from her Muslim homeland in 2002, claiming she was being persecuted.

Taxpayer cash will now fund her gender-reassignment programme.

According to The Sun, the woman, known only as G.O, has already had her breasts removed and is having male hormone treatment during the first £60,000 phase of her treatment.

She told a friend: ‘Once I have an artificial penis, I will have the body I always felt I belonged in. Life was terrible in Turkey for someone like me.’

G.O. claimed she would be lynched if she returned to Turkey as a man.

A Home Office spokesman told the newspaper they had an obligation to offer safety to anyone at risk of persecution.

‘This sort of case would be acceptable,’ he said.

The Department of Health said NHS treatment is free for UK residents and ‘determined through clinical need’.

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

UK: Unseen Images of a Lost London

They are a remarkable window onto a bygone age. A snapshot of a city in transition — with horse-drawn carts and cobbled streets replaced by a booming industrial revolution.

Lost in the archives of English Heritage for 25 years, these never-before published images have now been compiled into a book. From Victorian London to the devastation of two world wars, they provide a unique record of a vanishing way of life in the capital.

Here, CLAIRE COHEN compares the London of a century ago with photographs taken at the same locations today.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Vatican: Pope Says Church ‘Severely Shaken’ By Child Abuse

Vatican City, 17 March (AKI) — Pope Benedict XVI on Wednesday said the Catholic Church had been “severely shaken” by the damaging child sex abuse scandal in Ireland. The pontiff has written a pastoral letter on “this painful situation” which will be sent soon to help with “repentance, healing and renewal.”

Earlier this week the Vatican sought to contain damage over reports in Germany linking Pope Benedict himself to clerical abuse that occurred when he was an archbishop there.

“In recent months, the Church in Ireland has been severely shaken as a result of the child abuse crisis,” Benedict said in Rome’s St Peter’s Square.

He was speaking during a special greeting to Irish Catholic pilgrims and tourists to mark St Patrick’s Day.

“As a sign of my deep concern I have written a pastoral letter dealing with this painful situation,” he said.

“I ask all of you to read it for yourselves, with an open heart and in a spirit of faith. My hope is that it will help in the process of repentance, healing and renewal,” Benedict said.

The letter will be the first Vatican document to be devoted to paedophilia and is expected to be released on Friday or Saturday, Vatican sources said.

Benedict’s comments came as the head of Ireland’s Catholics, Cardinal Sean Brady, apologised “with all my heart” for mishandling the case of a notorious paedophile priest who allegedly abused hundreds of children in Ireland and elsewhere over several decades.

Brady has come under pressure to resign over an alleged coverup that allowed the paedophile priest, Brendan Smyth, to abuse hundreds of children over a 40-year period in Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland and the United States.

The Irish Conference of Bishops has said it will investigate the case of Smyth, who was finally jailed in the 1990s and died in prison.

Hundreds of allegations, many going back decades, of systematic child abuse by Catholic clergy have come to light this year across Europe.

The scandal has surfaced in Germany — Benedict’s homeland — Switzerland, Austria and the Netherlands.

On Friday the Munich-based Suddeutsche Zeitung disclosed that as Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger, the now Pope Benedict had been involved in a decision to allow a priest accused in Essen in 1979 of sex offences to stay at a rectory in his Munich archdiocese and undergo therapy.

In an unprecedented move, the Pope summoned all 24 Irish bishops to the Vatican for a meeting to discuss the sex abuse scandal that has shocked Ireland.

The Vatican talks followed the release last year of a damning government report on widespread child abuse by priests in Dublin archdiocese.

The Murphy Report, published in November, said the church in Ireland had “obsessively” concealed child abuse in the Dublin archdiocese between 1975 to 2004.

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

Mediterranean Union

Equal Ops: EGEP: Discrimination Against Palestinian Women

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, MARCH 17 — The culture prevalent within Palestinian society discriminates against women and legitimises violence against them within families. This is the main aspect to emerge from a report on the Palestinian territories conducted by the Euromed Gender Equality Programme (EGEP), which discussed the condition of women in the area during a series of round table talks organised in Brussels, which end today. The “Programme to enhance quality between men and women in the Euromed Region”, financed by the European Union as part of its neighbourhood policy, features nine partners (Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, the Palestinian Territories, Syria and Tunisia). According to Hanan Abu Goush, of the Women’s Centre for legal aid and counselling in Ramallah, although the fundamental law recognises the equality between men and women, the situation is actually very different and the family law and the penal code must be modified if discrimination is to cease. “As far as the discipline of court witnesses is concerned, you only need to imagine that two women are worth as much as one man”, Goush explained. “Then there are honour crimes, which basically lets men who kill women in their own family go unpunished. If a woman does something similar, she is a criminal”. In order to marry, Goush continues, “a woman must ask for permission from the male head of the family, the father, the brother or the uncle, otherwise she has to appeal to the judge. The only exception is if she is divorced and over eighteen. If she is not, the same rule applies even at sixty years old.” There is also the question of divorce and custody of children, which always favours the husband. Another issue symptomatic of the regime of discrimination suffered by Palestinian women is inheritance, which Sharia provides for, though the law is never actually enforced. “Even though the woman is entitled to half of the amount going to the man,” says Goush, “sometimes she will not even request it, because society would not accept this.”(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

EU-Jordan Agreement on Common Air Space

(ANSAmed) — AMMAN — Jordan and the European Union have initialled a comprehensive aviation agreement wich is meant to open up the respective markets, strengthen cooperation and offer new opportunities for consumers and operators. “After two years of negotiations, Jordan becomes the very first country of the Near East concluding with the European Union such a comprehensive aviation agreement. This agreement will boost the overall economic, trade and tourism relations between Jordan and the EU. We expect new routes to be created and newcomers to enter the market, allowing better and cheaper flights for the citizens on both sides”, said Vice-President Siim Kallas Commissioner for mobility and transport. A European Commission press release said the aviation agreement would put in place common standards for air transport in order to reach the highest level of safety, security, consumer protection, environment and air transport management. It will allow air carriers of both sides to provide air services from any points in Europe, Jordan and even other Mediterranean partners without any restrictions regarding to fares and capacities. After the successful implementation of a similar treaty with Morocco, this Agreement is an important step towards creating an integrated aviation area in the whole Mediterranean region. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

EU-Syria: Damascus Celebrating Hammams Starting Monday

(ANSAmed) — DAMASCUS, MARCH 17 — The hammam, or Turkish bath, is not only an exotic Western myth, but part of daily life in the entire Southern and Eastern Mediterranean: with this spirit, starting on Monday until midway through April, in Damascus Euromed Heritage 4, a programme financed by the EU, will begin Hammam Day, an event dedicated to the discovery of one of the key sites of the historic Arab-Muslim cities. Together with the World Water Day, during Hammam Day both Syrian and foreign visitors and mainly women and children will be able to go to the historic hammams of Damascus and access baths that are lesser known by tourists and normally more frequently used by locals. >From Tuesday March 23 until April 17 in Damascus it will also be possible to visit an exhibit dedicated to hammams, set up in the picturesque backdrop of the Khan of Ottoman Sultan Suleiman (Tekkiye Suleimaniya, 16th century AD), on the banks of the Barada River and the ancient road that used to lead Muslim pilgrims to Mecca. The event will also include two days of debates and laboratories on Tuesday and Wednesday, and will be attended by professors and students, organised by the Architecture department of the University of Damascus. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

North Africa

Egypt: Egyptian Police Arrest 13 Copts, Victims of Attack by Islamic Extremists

Four minors between 13 and 17, also stopped but later released. A detention order of 15 days issued for Christians and Muslims. Charged with damaging public property, arson and assault. Association for Human Rights promotes an international conference.

Cairo (AsiaNews / Agencies) — Egyptian security forces have arrested 13 Coptic Christians — including four minors, subsequently released — victims of the attack on 12 March. They are being charged with illegal religious assembly, damage to public property, arson and assault. About a dozen Muslims, from a total of 2000 perpetrators, have been detained over the assault against 400 Coptic faithful at the Church of St. Michael in Mersa Matrouh in the north-west of Egypt.

The violence was sparked by extremists, incited by the local Imam, Mohamad Khamis Khamis, during Friday prayers. From the microphones of the mosque of Al-Ansar, located near the church of Saint Micheal, near the building that housed the Copts, the Islamist leader urged the faithful to “holy war” against the Christian place of worship, ordering its destruction, and calling for the expulsion of the “infidels.”

The crowd was trapped inside the church and the Copts attacked them, raiding the homes before setting them on fire. The raid resulted in the wounding of 23 Christians, including two seriously, so who have been sent to Victoria Hospital in Alexandria, 200 km away. Sources of the local church denounced the complete devastation of 18 houses, four shops and 18 cars (pictured). “These people are completely ruined,” says the activist Wagih Yacoub.

The attack on the Coptic Christian community lasted over 14 hours. The — delayed — intervention of the security forces prevented carnage. The police transported the parishioners from the church, located in the suburb of Rifiyah, to their homes, which they are patrolling to prevent new attacks by extremists.

Matta Zakaria, a local priest, reported to the agency AINA “the arrest of four children, aged between 13 and 17 years by the police.” By “deception”, the agents conducted the youths to the police station asking them to identify the Muslim assailants. Among young people there was also a young man who was not in church during the assault. The boys speak of “insults and beatings” by police, who ordered the release after the intervention of Copt several priests. The police have opened a file of investigation against those arrested — Christians and Muslims — on charges of illegal religious assembly, damage to public property, arson and assault. The pre-trial detention will last 15 days.

Meanwhile, the Egyptian Union for Human Rights Organization (EUHRO) has called an international conference for 21 March. During the meeting the incidents of Mersa Matrouh will be discussed, caused by a “lack of a state authority,” and an appeal will be made to the government to monitor the actions of the imams, the source of sectarian violence between Christians and Muslims.

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

Israel and the Palestinians

American-Israeli Relations: Where Did All the Love Go?

Barack Obama has lost patience with Israel. But neither side dares risk a break-up

Friends have spats, but this seems to be more than that. America has not simply accepted Mr Netanyahu’s prompt apology. Opinion in the administration is said to be divided. Mr Biden himself and many State Department officials, together with George Mitchell, who was to have supervised the now-stalled proximity talks, advised cooling things down. But, whether out of rage or calculation, Mr Obama and Mrs Clinton preferred to escalate.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Mideast-France: New French/Palestinian/Israeli Business Group

(ANSAmed) — PARIS, MARCH 16 — French, Palestinian and Israeli businessmen are about to set up a work group to identify the “main sectors” of development in the Palestinian territories. The announcement was made by Valerie Hoffenberg, France’s representative for development in the Middle East, on occasion of the presentation of a Fund to finance Palestinian service and software start-ups. Founded by Israel’s Yadin Kaufmann and by Palestine’s Saed Nashef, upon completion the Middle East Venture Capital Fund should collect from 35 to 50 million euros. The businessmen who will comprise the group will be determined during the inauguration (April 8 in Bethlehem) of a French/Palestinian industrial area by Minister of Industry Christian Estrosi. The group will be created under the high patronage of president Nicolas Sarkozy, of Israel’s president Shimon Peres, and of the Palestinian premier Salam Fayyad. Valerie Hoffenberg, former director of the American Jewish Committee office in Paris, was appointed in September by Sarkozy — who together with Hosni Mubarak presides the Union for the Mediterranean — as representative “for economic, cultural, commercial, educational and environmental matters” in the Middle East. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Netanyahu’s Brother-in-Law: Obama’s an Anti-Semite

( Dr. Hagi Ben-Artzi, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s brother-in-law, labeled U.S. President Barack Obama an anti-Semite in two radio interviews Wednesday. The Prime Minister immediately disassociated himself from his remarks and outright rejected them.

The time has come to tell the truth.” Dr. Ben-Artzi told Arutz-7 radio (Hebrew). “I understand the Prime Minister’s reaction to me, but the truth must be told. Obama is an anti-Semite.” He said that Israel is dealing with “a president who was educated by anti-Semitic preacher Jeremiah Wright.”

He also told IDF Army Radio that Wright (pictured) is “anti-Israeli, anti-Jewish and anti-Semitic.” Obama was a devotee of Wright for two decades but distanced himself from the preacher during the presidential campaign two years ago.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Palestinian Rocket Kills Man in Gaza

Gaza City, 18 March (AKI) — A rocket fired by Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip on Thursday killed a migrant worker as attempts were underway to revive Middle East peace talks, Israeli medics said. The victim was reported to be a Thai farm worker who was struck at the Netiv Haasara kibbutz in southern Israel, Israeli officials said.

Israeli Defense Forces said it was the third rocket fired from the Gaza Strip in less than 24 hours.

Thursday’s attack came as on the same day as Europe’s top diplomat, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, made a visit to Gaza.

Her arrival in the Palestinian territory came amid a new push by the European Union and the United States to revive stalled Middle East peace talks.

One rocket hit an open area in the south Wednesday night. There were no casualties in the incident, but two women were treated for shock after hearing the Color Red rocket alert.

Israeli media reports claimed that two more rockets were fired on Tuesday at the western Negev, but no one was injured.

More than 100 rockets have been fired from Gaza at Israel since Operation Cast Lead ended in January 2009, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

More than 25 have been fired since the beginning of this year, Israeli media said.

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

Middle East

Achim Steiner, Head of UNEP Warns of Water Scarcity in Arab World

In the coming years, Arab region is faced with the danger of water scarcity and could be hit hardest by the potential of direct and indirect impacts linked with climate change, a UN Environment Programme report has found.

“One factor that is both, a persistent but also an emerging challenge, is water,” Achim Steiner, head of UNEP said.

The report ‘The Environment Outlook for the Arab Region (EOAR)’, launched by the League of Arab States in Cairo, says that Arab countries were now among most water- scarce in the world.

There had been a decline in per capita water availability with an average of only 1,000 cubic metre per inhabitant per year, as of 2008.

[Comment from Zenster: Figures show Americans enjoy 2,000 cubic meters per annum while that can drop to ~500 and ~250 for Asia/South America and Africa, respectively (

“Climate change is likely to aggravate these trends. Thus, it is in the interests of nations across the region to constructively engage in the climate change negotiations as countries look to Mexico and the UN climate convention meeting later in the year,” Steiner said.

[Comment from Zenster: Note the complete non-mention of OVERPUMPING and untrammeled POPULATION GROWTH as factors in Arab water poverty? Climate change is a negligible contributor when compared to willful human depletion.]

The impact of climate change includes loss of coastal zones, more severe droughts and desertification, increased groundwater salinity, and a surge in epidemics and infectious diseases.

           — Hat tip: Zenster[Return to headlines]

Bahrain-Syria: Deal to Develop Economic Zone, Power Projects

(ANSAmed) — MANAMA, MARCH 17 — Gulf Finance House has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Syrian Investment Authority (SIA) on behalf of Syria Finance House (SFH), to develop an economic zone, power projects and phosphate mines in Syria, Arabian Business online reports. With a capital of $333 million, Syria Finance House is one of the largest banks currently under establishment in Syria. Gulf Finance House and Syria Investment Authority have been working together closely for months to spearhead this initiative and bring the opportunities it presents into reality. SFH will take the lead in the conceptualisation of these opportunities, drawing up the necessary plans, structuring the financial instruments required to finance the projects, raise the necessary funds and sub contract the developers to commence with the work. Explaining the reasoning behind the establishment of SFH, Esam Janahi, GFH chairman said: “The Syrian authorities have embarked on cross governmental reforms to create an open business environment, laying out strong commercial and legal frameworks that have attracted FDI and witnessed considerable growth in the Syrian economy.” He added: “The impressive growth of private banks over the last five years, driven largely by deposits, has resulted in excess liquidity in the market, which could be better utilised in funding the various business and infrastructure opportunities in the nation. This made a compelling case to use our expertise in emerging markets and Islamic finance to establish SFH and look into infrastructure opportunities like phosphate mining, electricity power generation and developing an economic zone.” (ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Black Sea Could Fuel Turkey for Next 40 Years, Expert

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, MARCH 17 — The Black Sea, long seen as an important source of Turkey’s fossil fuels, may have enough petroleum to cover Turkey’s energy needs for the next 40 years, Today’s Zaman reports quoting Turkish Petroleum Corporation (TPAO) General Director Mehmet Uysal as saying. Speaking at the Ninth Turkish International Oil and Gas Conference (TUROGE 2010) on Tuesday, Uyisal announced that according to their research, the amount of fossil fuel on Turkish soil is not enough to attract international attention but the potential under the Black Sea is different story. According to Uysal, the Black Sea could have enough petroleum to meet Turkey’s needs for the next 40 years. “As soon as we explore and research this potential, there will be a new page opened for Turkey’s petroleum exploration and production,” said Uysal. Noting that similar exploration is being conducted in the Mediterranean Sea, Uysal stated that it too has much potential and that they will be forming partnerships to work with the international sphere. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Egyptian Writer’s Call for New Ka’bah Shrine Causes International Uproar

Mount Sinai building could be affordable alternative to Mecca, says controversial thinker

An award-winning Egyptian writer has caused an international row after he appeared to propose the construction of a second Ka’bah, the cube-shaped building in Mecca that is the focal point of prayer for a billion Muslims.

Progressive thinker Sayyed al-Qimni suggested in an interview with an Egyptian television listings magazine that a religious shrine on Mount Sinai would provide an affordable alternative destination for poor pilgrims as well as generating an income of more than £3bn for his country.

He also said it could improve relations between the three Abrahamic faiths because Mount Sinai is significant in Christianity, Islam and Judaism.

Qimni is a divisive figure in his home country, attracting opprobrium and sometimes death threats for his views.

His detractors have accused him of blasphemy and apostasy because of his critical approach to Islam and his fondness for secularism.

His previous brush with controversy was last year, when he received the State Award of Merit in Social Sciences from the ministry of culture. It sparked a legal and media campaign to have him stripped of the prize.

But it is his comments about the Ka’bah, said to have been built by Abraham and his son Ishmael, that have inflamed opinion outside Egypt.

In London the Saudi embassy said: “This is impossible. There can only be one Holy Ka’bah. This is a sacred place, sacred to all Muslims.” The Saudi writer and journalist Muhammad Diyab said in his Asharq al-Awsat column that Qimni had “fallen into an abyss” and had “officially shifted from the list of fools to the list of madmen”.

The Association of British Hujjaj, a national organisation for British pilgrims, also condemned the “atrocious proposal” for turning Mount Sinai into a place of pilgrimage and a tourist attraction.

Qimni sought to defuse the anger by insisting he was talking about a place of worship and spirituality that all three religions could benefit from, rather than a substitute for the Islamic site, and that he had used the word Ka’bah because of its immediate religious connotations.

He said: “There is no difference between the religions at that place [Sinai]. Ignoring that place constitutes a great mistake, not only religiously but economically. The Bedouins have no source of income. I am not denying the religious obligation on Muslims to perform the hajj [pilgrimage], I am not interfering in it. All I asked was for good and not evil. What I thought about was religious tourism.

“I used the word Ka’bah so it would be more acceptable to Muslims. It is not intended to be a substitute. This would not be an obligation, it would be a choice.”

Qimni said there were many poor people in north Africa, especially Egypt, who could not afford to go to Saudi Arabia to perform the hajj, which is the fifth pillar of Islam.

The Ka’bah is the focal point for prayer and, five times a day, a billion people turn in its direction. It is instantly recognisable to Muslims throughout the world.

It also plays a pivotal role in the hajj, with millions of people orbiting the structure.

The building itself has been demolished and rebuilt several times in the course of its existence. It has always been in Mecca. This city — and Medina — fall under the aegis of the Saudi monarch, King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz.

           — Hat tip: Aurelian[Return to headlines]

Iraq: Mosul: Another Targeted Execution of Iraqi Christian

Sabah Yacoub Adam, 55, married and father of a child, was killed in cold blood. He owned a glass factory and lived in the Arab area of the city. Head to head between Allawi and al-Maliki looming in parliamentary elections. 80% of the ballots Counted so far.

Baghdad (AsiaNews) — Another targeted execution of an Iraqi Christians in Mosu, northern Iraq. This morning, an armed commando killed a businessman aged 55, married and father of a child. Meanwhile, the Iraqi Electoral Commission has scrutinized the 80% of the votes. According to an AFP projection it will be a head-to-head between Allawi and al-Maliki, with a slight margin of advantage for the former premier, who came to power after the fall of Saddam Hussein.

The murder took place this morning in the neighbourhood of al Saa, near the monastery of the Dominican fathers. Sabah Yacoub Adam, 55, married and father of a child, was shot down in cold blood. Sources for AsiaNews in Mosul report that he was a Chaldean Catholic, owner of a glass factory and lived in the Arab area of the city, to the left of the river Tigris.

Today’s shooting is just the latest in a long trail of blood that has forced hundreds of Christian families to flee the city toward the plain of Nineveh or abroad. A spiral of violence that grew in the weeks preceding the parliamentary elections of 7 March, so much so that Msgr. Emil Shimoun Nona, Chaldean archbishop of Mosul, spoke of an “Endless Via Crucis”.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi Electoral Commission continues to scrutinise votes with now 80% of the ballots counted. An Afp a projection released yesterday shows a head to head between the current Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and former interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawy, head of the government between May 2004 and April 2005.

The projection assigns 87 seats to two lists of candidates, about 310 of which make up the Iraqi parliament. The Iraqi National Alliance, which brings together the Shia religious parties, follows in third place with 67 seats and the list that combines the two major Kurdish parties is at 38 seats. Of the 310, 15 will be reserved for religious minorities in the country, including Christians.

Based on the number of votes obtained, which supports Allawi’s secular bloc — the list al-Iraqiya — has collected 2,102,981 votes, with a margin of 8984 votes ahead of the coalition led by al-Maliki, the State of Law (2039 .997). The Shiite religious parties have obtained 1,597,937 votes and the Kurdish bloc 1,132,154.

The current Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has the greater consensus in Baghdad, the largest basin in the allocation of seats, and six Shiite-majority areas. Allawi, however, despite being a Shia Muslim has a wide margin of advantage in four Sunni-majority areas. The secular vision and the support of Sunnis and Shiites have rewarded the program proposed by the former Prime Minister. (DS)

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

Iraq: Two Security Officials ‘Beheaded’ In North

Salah al-Din, 18 March (AKI) — The decapitated corpses of a policeman and an army officer were found in northern Iraq on Thursday, according to unnamed police sources cited by Iraqi media. Gunmen reportedly abducted the two men from their vehicle near the town of Sherquat in Salah al-Din province on Wednesday.

Police found their bodies close to a nearby village where they lived and were combing the area for the men’s killers.

Sherquat lies around 110 km north of the provincial capital of Tikrit, hometown of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein who was overthrown by the US-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

Also on Thursday, unknown gunmen killed a woman after storming her brother’s house in south Baghdad, a police source said, citing the news agency, Voices of Iraq.

It is believed the gunmen were searching for the woman’s brother and killed her as he had escaped, the agency said.

Emerging results from last week’s national elections have made it clear that Iraq remains a dangerously polarised nation, with deep regional and sectarian schisms that could widen as the United States draws down its troops over the next 16 months.

With more than 80 percent of votes counted, the results point to a stark regional and sectarian split in an extremely tight electoral race.

Ayad Allawi, a secular Shia and former premier is leading in the four mostly Sunni provinces in the west and north, especially in Anbar province, once the bastion of the Sunni insurgency.

In those Sunni areas, few votes were cast for Iraq’s prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shia Muslim who has recast himself as a nationalist while still promising to serve the once-oppressed Shia majority.

Allawi is still slightly ahead in the battleground northern province of Tamim, where Kurds, Arabs and Turkmens all claim the oil-rich capital, Kirkuk.

In the Iraqi capital, Baghadad, Maliki is still leading, and he is ahead in six of the nine southern provinces where Shias have a large majority, and where Allawi’s slate is doing poorly.

Allawi’s secular Shia-Sunni Iraqiyya coalition has a slight overall lead overall. But observers say the backing of the Kurds will be crucial in forming a coalition.

Vote counting since the 7 March election has been dogged by technical problems and claims of fraud.

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

Iraq: Nineveh Governor Wants International Probe Into Attacks Against Mosul Christians and Minorities

The governor blames Kurdish militias and parties, calls for UN-EU investigation. Kurdish sources tell AsiaNews that al-Qaeda and inefficient law enforcement are to blame.

Baghdad (AsiaNews) — The Governor of the Province of Nineveh has asked the United Nations and the European Union to undertake an international investigation into attacks against Iraqi minorities in his province. Atheel al-Nujaifi said violence against minorities in Nineveh, especially in the provincial capital of Mosul, had surged recently. He said Christians were being forced to flee and some of them have been killed. Other minorities like the Shebek and Yazidis are under immense pressure and targets of mounting violence, he explained.

In a letter, which he also addressed to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and to the commander of US troops in Iraq, Nujaifi said, “I would like to present before you the suffering of my people in the Province of Nineveh and particularly members of Iraqi minorities which started in the past few years and in the aftermath of 2003.”

Nujaifi points the finger at Kurdish militias and the political factions to which they belong. He said the armed Kurdish militias were in control of large areas of the province, including Mosul’s left bank.

Christians and Yazidis are being targeted as part of a plan to force them out so that their areas can be annexed to the Kurdish autonomous region, which borders Nineveh province.

“Those opposing the Kurdish agenda are persecuted, threatened, arrested and even liquidated,” Nujaifi said.

Kurdish leaders have declined to comment Nujaifi’s charges, but last year a report by Human Rights Watch accused the Kurds of targeting Christians, Yazidis, Shebek and Turkmen as part of their fight with Arabs over Nineveh’s territory and resources.

Some Kurdish leaders told AsiaNews that insecurity in the Mosul area is mostly due to the presence and action of al-Qaeda militiamen, who are responsible for the targeted killing of Christians, and to the inaction and efficiency of law enforcement agencies.

In the meantime, vote counting from the 7 March election continues. After 83 per cent of the ballots were counted, al-Maliki’s coalition has retaken the lead against the nationalist alliance led by former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, which had surged ahead yesterday.

The State of Law Alliance leads the Iraqiya List (Iraqi National Movement), Allawi’s party, by 40,000 votes. The Iraqi National Alliance, which includes most Shia-based parties including the Sadrists, is third.

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

Is Iran Infiltrating Iraq?

U.S. arms could wind up in Ahmadinejad’s control

A candidate supported by Iran is running second as votes are being tallied in the recent national election in Iraq, and there are concerns the empire of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad could influence — heavily — the selection of the next Iraqi prime minister, according to a report from Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin.

Alarmingly, that has thrown open the door to the possibility that weapons systems that Iraq is seeking, such as a request for some 36 F-16 fighter jets by 2014, eventually would wind up under the thumb of Ahmadinejad.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Obama Denies Crisis With Israel as Gap With Arabs Widens

The US president confirms “special relationship” with Israel. Netanyahu expresses appreciation for what the White House said, denies charges of anti-Semitism levelled at Obama by his brother-in-law. Tensions in Jerusalem weaken US-Arab ties, key to contain Iran’s nuclear threat.

Jerusalem (AsiaNews/Agencies) — US President Barack Obama has denied claims that US-Israel relations are in crisis following the announcement that Jerusalem intends to build 1,600 new housing units in the Occupied Territories; yet the “war of words” between the two continues.

“Friends are going to disagree sometimes,” Obama said, but America and Israel “have a special bond that’s not going to go away.” Indeed, both sides want to patch up relations following a series of vitriolic rhetoric that touched off the worst US-Israeli row in decades.

Washington is trying to give a new impulse to the Mideast peace process. However, Israel continues to hold on to its hard-line position on settlements at a time of renewed clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police, growing fears of a third intifada and US indecision. All this has contributed to a widening gap between the United States and Arab nations, who are key players in containing Iran’s nuclear threat.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has distanced himself from an attack on Mr Obama by his brother-in-law, Hagai Ben-Artzi, who accused the US leader of being anti-Semitic. Mr Netanyahu insisted that he “strenuously” objected to his brother-in-law’s comment and expressed his “deep appreciation” for Mr Obama’s commitment to Israel’s security.

Speaking on the Fox News Channel, Mr Obama said on Wednesday that the new settlement homes were “not helpful” for reaching a peace agreement between Israel and Palestine.

Israel announced the Jewish settlement expansion as US Vice-President Joe Biden arrived for a visit last week, causing a major row between Washington and its historic ally. However, Obama noted, “Israel is one of our closest allies and we and the Israeli people have a special bond that’s not going to go away.”

The US administration and Obama now appear to be backing down from the demand made early in the president’s term that Jewish settlements in the Territories be stopped.

Palestinian authorities have indicated that they are not prepared to take part in any direct peace talks so long as Israel expands its settlement plans.

Close to 500,000 Jews live in more than 100 settlements, illegal under international law, which Israel built since it occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem in 1967.

Obama has appealed to Israelis and Palestinians to take the necessary steps to rebuild confidence. Many fear that the current tensions will accentuate the atmosphere of anti-Americanism that prevails in the Middle East, a view confirmed by General David Petraeus, top US military commander in the region.

“Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of US partnerships with governments and peoples,” he said.

Paul Salem, director of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, said Arab countries will be less likely to engage with the United States on issues such as Iran if they get nothing in return.

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

Sahlin Slams Erdogan Over Expulsion Threat

Social Democrat leader Mona Sahlin has blasted Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan over threats that he would consider ordering 100,000 Armenians to leave Turkey.

“It’s a horrible threat,” Sahlin told news agency TT.

Speaking to the BBC on Tuesday, Erdogan cited figures showing that only 70,000 of the 170,000 Armenians living in Turkey were citizens of his country.

“If necessary I will tell the 100,000: okay, time to go back to your country. Why? They are not my citizens. I am not obliged to keep them in my country,” he said.

Erdogan’s comments followed non-binding resolutions by Sweden’s parliament and the US Congress to recognize as genocide the massacres of Armenians by Ottoman Turks in 1915.

“Perhaps this is more an expression of political jockeying in Turkey,” said Sahlin.

“I really hope he didn’t seriously mean that 100,000 people of Armenian extraction living in Turkey but lacking Turkish passports should be thrown out.”

Sahlin also felt that Erdogan’s statements put pressure on Sweden’s prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt to speak out.

“I am assuming the dialogue Reinfeldt says he is having with Erdogan does not only entail apologising for the Swedish parliament’s decision but also involves standing up for the human rights of Armenians living in Turkey,” she said.

The Social Democrat leader added that she had no regrets about the decision of the left-green opposition to push through the resolution last week with the help of four centre-right defectors.

Agneta Berliner was one of two Liberal Party MPs to ignore centre-right calls to reject the resolution.

“I don’t think this kind of threat should have any bearing on decisions by the Swedish parliament. In fact, actions such as this only serve to show how far Turkey still has to go before it is a full democracy that respects human rights,” she said.

Berliner dismissed suggestions that the Riksdag vote had played into the hands of forces in Turkey opposed to the democratic process.

“If that’s the case we can just roll over on every issue. I don’t think there’s any value for Turkey-friendly countries like Sweden in not expressing what we think,” she said.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Saudi Cleric Calls for Rebuilding Holy Mosque

A hardline Saudi cleric called for demolishing the Holy Mosque in Mecca and rebuilding it in a way that would insure Sex segregation.

Sheikh Youssef al-Ahmad told the Saudi-based Bedaya satellite television channel Wednesday that the mosque should be demolished and replaced with a new one featuring “10, 20 or 30” floors.

The floors would then be divided between men and women, al-Ahmad said in video footage posted on the Internet.

The existing Holy Mosque has three floors and is the largest mosque in the world. It is built around the Kaaba, the most sacred place in Islam.

The Saudi cleric is known for his controversial religious views. He once issued a fatwa (an Islamic ruling) calling for the murder of anyone who allows unmarried men and women to mix.

Last month another prominent Saudi cleric, Shaikh Abdul-Rahman al-Barrak, issued an edict calling for those who support co-educational environments to be put to death.

The ruling was following by barrage of criticism from religious scholars in Saudi Arabia and Egypt condemning his fatwa as a call for violence.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Saudi Seeks “Honorable Death” On Israeli Border

Lebanese security forces nabbed Mohammed Jawad al-Fahad al-Issa, 26, at the border town of Kfar Kila as he apparently tried to draw the attention of nearby Israeli troops, said one official, on condition of anonymity.

“He told police that he thought if he cursed and insulted the Israelis, they would open fire and kill him, and that way he would at least die an honorable death,” the official told AFP.

“He did this for sentimental reasons.”

Another security official said that Issa, a student at a technical university in Jordan, told police his Jordanian girlfriend had left him for another man and moved to the Palestinian territories.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Turkey: Erdogan Threathens Expulsion of 100 Thousand Armenians

Brutal warning by Turkish premier in an interview. The answer to the Armenian Diaspora’s curbing of negotiations, and the United States and Sweden that have recognized the genocide. History repeats itself?

Istanbul (AsiaNews) — “We tolerate them “ this brutal and unexpected statement by Erdogan, against the 100 thousand Armenians living and working mainly in Istanbul, is the answer to the decision taken by the U.S. and Sweden to recognize the Armenian genocide

Erdogan declared this in a Turkish-language broadcast on the BBC. He was referring to the 100 thousand Armenians living as illegal immigrants, or with the tolerance of Turkish authorities, given that relations between Armenia and Turkey are not yet fully recovered. Ankara and Yerevan signed two protocols in October 2009 for the development of their diplomatic relations, but have not yet reached the final step.

170 thousand Armenians currently live in Turkey. Of them — according to Erdogan — only 70 thousand have Turkish citizenship. “If necessary — he continued, maybe these 100 thousand will have to return home because they are not citizens of this country. I am not obliged to keep them here”.

Erdogan has also accused the Armenian Diaspora of having devised, and piloted the decisions taken by the parliaments of Sweden and the U.S. in recognizing the Armenian genocide and has urged Armenia to take a clear position against the Diaspora, which he says are restraining diplomatic relations. He has also invited the U.S., France and Russia to assist Armenia in disengaging from the influence of its Diaspora, and he concluded that these initiatives will impact on the nascent Turkish-Armenian relations.

Yerevan’s reaction has been swift. Prime Minister Tigran Sarkosian remarked that these political statements recall the events of 1915 and therefore do not help to contribute to the improvement of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Neither does Erdogan’s brutal stance aid Turkey’s to accelerate its entry into the European Union. However, perhaps he is speculating on the only outlet to the appalling crisis gripping Armenia; that of opening of its borders with Turkey, of which Yerevan is in desperate need. Erdogan also knows that Turkey is a main transit route for the West’s oil and gas energy supplies. Yesterday in Istanbul Erdogan’s controversial comments were the focus of discussions: they recall the method of cutting the Gordian knot — in short, the method of force — and increase the fear that if the historical truth is not accepted its mistakes risk being repeated.

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

Turkey: ‘Homosexuality is a Disease’, Gays Want Minister Tried

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, MARCH 17 — A Turkish gay rights group on Tuesday asked a prosecutor to put on trial a Cabinet minister who said that homosexuality was a disease that should be treated, as daily Hurriyet reports today. The complaint by the LAMBDA association accused Family Affairs Minister Aliye Kavaf of insult, incitement to crime and incitement to enmity and hate — crimes that are punishable by up to two, five and three years in jail respectively. Kavaf “should apologize to lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transvestites and transsexuals in this country for her discriminatory statements that turn homosexuals into a target,” Ruzgar Gokce, LAMBDA spokerperson said. Firat Soyle, a lawyer for LAMBDA, said the complaint was only symbolic since the minister enjoys parliamentary immunity and will not face prosecution. Kavaf, who is also women’s minister, said in a newspaper interview last weekend that she believed homosexuality was a “biological disorder, a disease.” “I think it should be treated,” she told Hurriyet daily. Same-sex relationships have never been criminalized in EU-hopeful Turkey as in other Muslim countries, but there are no laws protecting homosexual rights and prejudice against gays and lesbians remains strong in daily life. Police are notoriously harsh against transsexual prostitutes. Several of them have been killed in “hate murders” in recent years. (ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Turkish PM Threatens to Expel Illegal Armenians Workers

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, MARCH 17 — Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan threatened to expel thousands of illegal Armenians workers amid tensions over allegations that Armenians were victims of “genocide” under the Ottoman Empire. Resolutions voted recently in the United States and Sweden to brand the World War I killings as “genocide” undermined peace efforts with Armenia, Erdogan said, according to excerpts from an interview with the BBC Turkish service published today by the local press. “Those people make shows with those resolutions… And they harm the Armenian people as well… And things become deadlocked,” he was quoted as saying during a visit to London. Referring to about 100,000 Armenians working illegally in Turkey that Ankara has so far tolerated, he said, “So what will I do tomorrow? If necessary, I will tell them ‘come on, back to your country’… I’m not obliged to keep them in my country. “Those actions (on genocide resolutions) unfortunately have a negative impact on our sincere attitudes,” he said. Forced to leave their impoverished country to earn a living, thousands of Armenians, mostly women, have settled in Istanbul, working mainly in manual jobs or as nannies and cleaning ladies. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

UAE: Airline Pair Jailed Over Sex Texting

(ANSAmed) — DUBAI, MARCH 17 — Two Emirates Airline cabin crew have been jailed for three months for exchanging lewd text messages. RS, 42, a flight attendant, and EB, 47, a cabin services supervisor, were convicted of “coercion to commit sin” after sending each other sexually themed SMS messages, according to court documents released yesterday and reported by The National online. The pair, both Indian, were sentenced to six months in prison and deportation by the Dubai Court of Misdemeanors in December. The court said the texts “fulfilled all the necessary angles of coercion to the commitment of sin”. The Appeals Court upheld that decision last week. But it halved their jail sentences and scrapped the deportation orders. There was not enough evidence to prove that the pair had extramarital relations, it added. The flight attendant’s sister, BM, 25, was also convicted of perjury and sentenced to three months and deportation by the lower court. Her deportation order was withdrawn on appeal. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

South Asia

India: Orissa: US Support for Victims of Anti-Christian Pogrom

A joint Catholic-Protestant delegation from the United States visits Kandhamal District, scene of anti-Christian violence in the summer of 2008. Cardinal Gracias insists, “We do not seek revenge, but we need justice.”

Delhi (AsiaNews) — Indian Christians “do not seek revenge, not even when they are victims of persecution, like in Orissa,” said Card Oswald Gracias, archbishop of Mumbai, as he addressed members of a fact-finding mission by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops and the main US Protestant denominations, currently visiting Kandhamal District, scene of anti-Christian violence in the summer of 2008.

The attacks against Christians struck indiscriminately, both clergy and lay people. Whipped into frenzy by false accusations of proselytising, the attackers destroyed homes, churches and schools run by local Christians, forced by their Hindu neighbours to abandon their property and land to find refuge elsewhere.

During the violent incidents, some 5,357 homes were destroyed and 75 people lost their life, all because of their religion or ethnicity. More than 50,000 people were forced to flee, refugees in their own homeland.

After the attacks, survivors filed 3,232 complaints at a number of police stations across the district. Of these, 832 were accepted, but only 89 ended in convictions with light sentences. In 251 cases, the accused were released right away.

Sajan George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians, led the members of the US delegation—PD John, John Hutchison, Erin Weston, Valerie Payne and Virginia Farris—during their visit.

Mr George, whose organisation provides legal and practical assistance to victims of religious discrimination, showed the delegation the damage caused by the violence in places like G. Udayagiri, Nilungia, Bakinga, Raikia, Pirigad and Nuagam.

“We were able to meet several villagers where they have resettled into new areas, or resettled back in their old locations in Kandhamal district,” Virginia Farris told AsiaNews. “We were able to hear stories of what had happed to them and also look at some of the houses,” she added. Ms Farris is foreign policy adviser to the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, .

Delegation members also met with the US Ambassador to India and local Catholic and Protestant religious leaders.

Speaking to his guests, Card Gracias said, “We do not seek revenge, but we need justice. [. . .] Such acts cannot be done without impunity; no one should get away. It is the duty of the administration to investigate and bring them [the culprits] to justice.” Without a doubt, “justice is essential for sustainable peace.”

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

Far East

‘People Being Denied Food in North Korea’

The North Korean government runs a “state of fear” while people are denied sufficient quantities of food, the UN human rights expert on the country said Monday.

Addressing the UN’s Human Rights Council, Vitit Muntarbhorn, an independent special rapporteur, said Pyongyang was running a “distorted” food policy which put the military ahead of ordinary citizens and left many without basic goods.

Aid organizations, including the UN’s own World Food Programme, were also being prevented from functioning, in whole or in part, in North Korea, he told the council.

“The non-democratic nature of the power base has created a pervasive ‘State of Fear’ for the mass base who are not part of the elite,” Muntarbhorn said.

“The national resources are distorted in favour of militarization and the ruling elite,” he added, urging the government to change its “military first” policy to a one of “people first” with appropriate budget allocations.

Muntarbhorn will step down from his role as rights envoy to the North Korea this year, after six years in the role.

Reflecting on his voluntary job since 2004, the expert told reporters in Geneva that “while there has been nominal improvements, substantially, not really”.

“Malnutrition has been predominant for many years,” he noted.

“Children are instrumentalized by the state,” he said, while women’s rights were also abused.

The expert- who was not allowed to visit the country but based his reports on interviews with refugees, diplomats and aid workers — criticized the justice system in North Korea, saying it was subservient to the state. Impunity was rife and capital punishment was regularly used.

The North Korean envoy to the UN in Geneva, Choe Myong Nam, refuted the report.

He said the US, Japan and the European Union were working in “conspiracy, in an attempt to eliminate the North Korea in the pretext of human rights.”

The Human Rights Council should instead focus on Iraq, Afghanistan and the Palestinians, in addition to racist crimes, said Choe, the envoy of the secretive ruler of Pyongyang, Kim Jung Il.

At the council, the North Korea received some backing from several allies, including Cuba, China and Syria, though Western countries quickly backed the Muntarbhorn report.

Multi-lateral sanctions, some of the allies argued, were responsible for the human rights violations in the North Korea, but Muntarbhorn rejected this outright saying no such restrictions hurt ordinary citizens, but rather targeted the ruling elite.

           — Hat tip: Zenster[Return to headlines]


Finland: Egyptian Grandmother to be Deported

The Immigration Police has ordered Eveline Fadayel, an Egyptian grandmother who has fought to stay in Finland with her sons, to leave Finland by March 29. Fayadel’s residence permit application was turned down by the Supreme Administrative Court last week.

Police have ordered Fadayel to produce a travel itinerary by Monday outlining her departure from Finland.

The Vantaankoski Parish says it will continue to offer sanctuary for Fadayel through the end of April. The offer is, however, mainly a symbolic gesture. The parish says it won’t hide Fadayel from the authorities.

Grandparents Not Nuclear Family

Finnish law does not consider grandparents to be part of the immediate family, and therefore they do not have the same right of residence as parents of minors, for example.

Fadayel has lived in Vantaa with her sons for the past several years. The woman’s sons and grandsons are Finnish citizens.

Authorities handed Fadayel a deportation order last summer. Her family fought the case through the Finnish court system.

Fadayel’s family members in Finland say she is unable to live on her own in Egypt, where she has no relatives. As a Coptic Christian, she also faces persecution there.

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Martti Ahtisaari, Evangelical Lutheran Archbishop Jukka Paarma and Finnish Orthodox Archbishop Leo have all earlier urged the government and the courts to let her stay in Finland.

           — Hat tip: KGS[Return to headlines]

Finnish TV Offers Little to Immigrants

TV programming in Finland has little to give to immigrants in the country, says a study carried out at the University of Tampere.

Researchers say that programmes are often made without considering that the viewer might be a refugee or an asylum-seeker who finds the style or the content offensive.

According to Mari Maasilla of the University of Tampere, for example those who have come to Finland from other European countries find that matters that affect them are not presented on Finnish TV at all. Immigration is often associated with non-European origins and refugees. It is also seen as offensive that immigrants are lumped together as one single mass and not considered as individuals.

Even so, most immigrants are interested in what is on TV. Television is a window on the culture of the new country where they are living. Those taking part in the Tampere study said that they would like to see more programmes that would help them learn more about daily life in Finland. For immigrants, the television is also a useful tool in learning the language.

Both native-born Finns and immigrants would like, above all, to see programmes in which immigrants are first and foremost journalists, actors and entertainers, not primarily immigrants.

The study examined attitudes through interviews with 54 people of immigrant background and 18 native-born Finns.

           — Hat tip: KGS[Return to headlines]

UK: Illegal Migrant Gives Up on Plan to Enter UK (While in Channel Tunnel) Because it is ‘Racist’ And ‘Uncivilised’

An illegal immigrant walking through the Channel Tunnel came within seven miles of Dover before giving up after deciding he didn’t want to live in ‘racist’ Britain.

He then waited for security guards to arrest him.

Amer Hassan, 23, had walked for 16 miles from France before abandoning his journey and told police he wanted to live in a ‘civilised country’.

The Egyptian had been thrown out of Britain at least once before for falsely claiming asylum but planned to return.

He told police: ‘I don’t want to go to England anymore.

‘They’re racist over there and always think I’m transporting a bomb.’

He was taken back to France where he was sentenced to two years in prison and told he would be deported on being released.

Appearing before a judge at Boulogne Correctional Court yesterday, Hassan told how he stopped walking towards Dover and waited for security guards to arrest him.

He told the judge: ‘I’ll live as I want to live, which doesn’t mean spending time in England.

‘I’m finished with that country.’

He was jailed after being found guilty of being in France illegally and trespass.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Culture Wars

“Have it Your Way” Christianity

In the Church, theological liberals are making every effort to deconstruct historic, orthodox Christianity. Liberals dilute the gospel to make it acceptable to one and all. So instead of getting “the real thing,” it’s “have it your way” Christianity.

To distinguish themselves from fundamentalist Christians, liberals coined the term “Progressive Christian.” As I pointed out in part 1, political progressives are intent on seeing more government intrusion into our lives. The pending legislation on health care is a good example. With this recommended program you have socialism creeping into government masked by a myriad of doublespeak. In similar fashion Progressive Christians attempt to hide their agenda by using similar tactics. For example, two of their most often used terms, “social reform” and “social justice” are doublespeak for socialism in the Church.


Returning to the “social gospel,” T.A. McMahon explains what it is and why it’s dangerous:

“It had its modern beginning in the late 1800s, when it developed as a way to address the various conditions in society that caused suffering among the populace. The belief was, and is, that Christianity will attract followers when it demonstrates its love for mankind. This could be best accomplished by helping to alleviate the suffering of humanity caused by poverty, disease, oppressive work conditions, society’s injustices, civil rights abuses, etc. Those who fostered this movement also believed that relief from their conditions of misery would improve the moral nature of those so deprived.”


What exactly is Liberation Theology? According to

“It is an attempt to “interpret Scripture through the plight of the poor. It is largely a humanistic doctrine. It started in South America in the turbulent 1950s when Marxism was making great gains among the poor because of its emphasis on the redistribution of wealth, allowing poor peasants to share in the wealth of the colonial elite and thus upgrade their economic status in life. As a theology, it has very strong Roman Catholic roots. …The idea was to study the Bible and to fight for social justice in Christian (Catholic) communities. Since the only governmental model for the redistribution of the wealth in a South American country was a Marxist model, the redistribution of wealth to raise the economic standards of the poor in South America took on a definite Marxist flavor. Since those who had money were very reluctant to part with it in any wealth redistribution model, the use of a populist (read poor) revolt was encouraged by those who worked most closely with the poor. As a result, the Liberation Theology model was mired in Marxist dogma and revolutionary causes. … We now have Black Liberation Theology being preached in the black community. It is the same Marxist, revolutionary, humanistic philosophy found in South American Liberation Theology and has no more claim for a scriptural basis than the South American model has. False doctrine is still false, no matter how it is dressed up or what fancy name is attached to it.”

Fight for social justice…redistribution of wealth…revolution. Just so you’ll know, for over twenty years Barack and Michelle Obama regularly attended a church where Black Liberation Theology was the foundational belief of their pastor, Jeremiah Wright. “Trinity United Church of Christ is now the largest congregation in the United Church of Christ, a megachurch with anywhere from 8-10,000 members. The United Church of Christ denomination was the first in America to ordain gays, and women as ministers. It is at the forefront of liberal churches that do not hold to the Scripture in a Christian manner.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Again! City Orders Bible Study Closed

Municipal rule also says praying family could be banned ‘church’ meeting

A southern California city has ordered a Friday night Bible study involving about a dozen people to shut down its meetings by Good Friday or members could face financial sanctions.

Or they could apply to purchase an expensive permit from the city government.

The new case is similar to two other disputes that have been in the headlines in recent months, including one last week in Gilbert, Ariz., and another in 2009 in San Diego County.

However, in the case involving Rancho Cucamonga, legal experts who have come in to help Bible study members say the city knows it’s targeting for banishment a Bible study and they are “not budging.”


But Dacus said it’s a significant problem because the city’s definition of a church is so broad.

“According to their definition a family praying over their dinner would qualify as a church,” he told WND.

The precedent that would be created should the rule stand, he said, should alarm religious people across the nation.

“When you step back and look at communist China, home churches are being persecuted there. This isn’t any different. And this isn’t even a church, just a Bible study, facing the same ultimatums, the same demands as in communist China.

“Make no mistake, if we let the city of Rancho Cucamonga get away with this, it will be a green light to every other city in the U.S,” he said.

“This is no misunderstanding,” he said. “In this case the city knows exactly what they’re doing, exactly what the facts are, and they’re not budging.”

The city, however, has no similar restrictions for Monday night football parties or various other events that would be held in homes, PJI confirmed.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Finance: From Gharar to Riba, The Islamic Terms

(ANSAmed) — ROME, MARCH 16 — From ‘gharar’, which means “uncertainty”, to ‘ijarah’, which means “leasing”: these are the terms of Islamic finance, in other words of those economic relations which comply with the rules of Islamic law (Sharia). Hereunder is a glossary including the main words of the Islamic way of ‘doing business’: — HARAM: The prohibition of carrying out economic activities explicitly prohibited by the Koran: from the manufacture and distribution of alcohol, up to anything related to pornography and gambling. — BA’I MUJJAL: A contract which provides for the sale of goods on the basis of a delay in payment: the bank purchases goods in name of the final user to then sell them to the customer at an agreed price. — BA’I AL-SALAM: Payment up for goods or commodities that will be delivered at another point in time. As general rule of Islamic law, a sale cannot be carried out unless the goods in question exist at the very moment of negotiations: this contract represents an exception as long as the goods are described in detail and the date of delivery is set. — GHARAR: The Arab word for “uncertainty” or “risk”. The ‘prohibition of gharar’ in Islamic finance means that one cannot draw up contracts characterised by excessive uncertainty or ambiguity. — IJARAH: A ‘leasing’ contract by which the bank purchases and grants goods or equipment to the owner of an activity in return for a determined fee. According to the Islamic law it is a legitimate method to produce revenue and is the classic Islamic financial product. — MAISIR: “Gambling”. One of the main prohibitions of Islamic finance, which thus rules out forms of speculation and the use of derivatives. — RIBA: The term can be translated as “growth” or “increase”. It is one of the main prohibitions of Islamic finance, and rules out all forms of usury and, in many cases, of requests to pay interest. (ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Nations Must Know When to Cringe and Crawl — But for the West It’s Becoming Routine

by Barry Rubin

Sometimes selective appeasement is necessary in foreign policy. But when and just how far should a democratic country go in such behavior? Here’s a brilliant defense of giving in at times-which doesn’t mean I necessarily agree with it, but I do respect it-and a recent example of how it’s overdone and mistakenly carried out nowadays.

The Times of London article is by George Walden, a former British diplomat and Conservative member of parliament with a lot of international experience. Let’s consider what he says and how we should interpret it.

The title tells a great deal: “We can’t afford the moral high ground: “In tough economic times, Britain cannot be too picky about whom it does business with.” In other words, the West is much weaker than it used to be and is often the beggar in these relationships with Third World dictatorships.

At times this is true, but at other times craven behavior is unnecessary and dangerous. Indeed, as I’ve often pointed out, the sense of Western weakness (the West cannot do anything) and cowardice (it won’t do anything) is Viagra for aggressive regimes-from Venezuela through Russia and the Middle East to North Korea—and revolutionary groups.

Here are Walden’s vivid examples:…

           — Hat tip: Barry Rubin[Return to headlines]