Friday, January 10, 2003

News Feed 20100322

Financial Crisis
»Has Germany Just Killed the Dream of a European Superstate?
»Italy Will Back Greece Debt Help
»Colonel Allen West Pledges to Repeal Bill
»Federal Health Care? Not So Fast, Say States
»Jesse Jackson Taunts Tea Party Protesters… Grabs at Their Signs (Video)
»‘Jihad Jane’ Part of Growing US Jihad; ‘American Like Apple Pie’
»J-Street Hangs Up on Radio Host Aaron Klein
»New Fight: Lt. Col. Allen West Pursues a House Seat
»Phyllis Schlafly: Obamacare Exposed the Myth — “You Cannot be Democrat & Pro-Life”
»Roll Call 165 Final Vote Results
Europe and the EU
»A Taste of History and Culture in Poitier
»Church in Switzerland Says Pope’s Letter Enough
»Cyprus Bishops’ Tombs Vandalised
»Denmark: Hells Angels Kids’ Club
»Disagreement on Database for Paedophile Priests
»European Muslims Reconcile Cultures Through Fashion
»France: Left Wins Local Elections, Sarkozy Left With Alsace
»France: Speculation on Govt Reshuffle, Gauche Looks Ahead
»Greece: Church Against Government, No to 20% Tax on Revenues
»Ireland: Referendum on Blasphemy Should Revise Free Speech Clause
»Italy: Parthenon Frieze Fragment Returns to Palermo
»Jet2.Com Opens Manchester-Venice Run
»Nicolas Sarkozy’s Right-Wing UMP Suffers Crushing Defeat in French Elections
»Now EU Will Send Three Presidents to Summits
»UK: Homeowner Who Forgot His Wallet Returns to Find Romanian Family Moving in In Scene From ‘Dickensian Times’
»UK: Man With ‘Wires Coming From His Rucksack’ Sparks Terror Alert on London Underground
»UK: Troops Axed in Army Cutback Plan
»Marching in Step Towards the EU
»Serbia: Swedish Ambassador, Ikea to Invest Billion Euros
»Serbia: Central Bank Reduces Minimum Obligatory Reserves
Mediterranean Union
»Tunisia: Symposium, Euro-Med Relations Less Than Optimal
North Africa
»Egyptian Women: Not So Bleak; Or is it?
»Egypt: Towards ‘Yes’ To Abortion Due to Poverty
»Libya: Maltese Minister; Without Deal, Visas Limited From 5/4
»Marsa Matrouh Copts Are the Victims of an Outrageous Attack
Israel and the Palestinians
»Clinton: Israel Must Make Difficult Choices for Peace
»Israel: Firefight on Gaza Border
»Palestinians Shot; PLO Protests. Abbas, Risk of Revolt
»Spiegel Interview With Avigdor Lieberman
»State to Invest NIS 700m in Developing Arab Towns
Middle East
»Dubai: No Alcohol in Food, Diktat for Cooks
»German City Ban Israel Flag, Could ‘Interfere With Passers-by’
»Iraq Election Commission Rejects Calls for Vote Recount
»Living Proof of the Armenian Genocide
»The United Nations Exposed: A View From Within
»The UN Gives an Award Named After a Murdered Man to One of His Murderer’s Best Friends
»Turkey: Constitutional Reform; AKP Presents Package
»Turkey: Kurds: New Case Against Two Former DTP Deputies
»Turkey: AKP and European Values
»Ports: Russian Operators Visist Gioia Tauro
South Asia
»Afghan Hezb-e-Islami Militants Hold Peace Talks in Kabul
Sub-Saharan Africa
»Frank Gaffney: “One More Time”
»Somali Islamist Al-Shabab Commander Assassinated
»Spiegel Interview With Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir
Latin America
»Hugo Chavez, Tired of Oppressing Bloggers, Becomes One
»Egypt Releases Israeli Reporter, Followed Immigrants
»New U.S. Tourism: Anchor Babies Aweigh!
»Two New Reception Centres in Greece
Culture Wars
»UK: Police Investigate After Gay Couple Were ‘Turned Away From B&B’ By Christian Owners
»Vatican: Abortion Will Necessarily Influence Catholic Vote
»Amil Imani: Jews as Scapegoats
»Mus’ab Hassan Yousuf, Son of Hamas Leader in the West Bank: The God of Islam Suffers From Split Personality

Financial Crisis

Has Germany Just Killed the Dream of a European Superstate?

By Ambrose Evans-Pritchard

German and Dutch leaders have concluded in the nick of time that they cannot defy the will of their sovereign parliaments by propping up a country that lied about its deficits, or risk court defeats by breaching the no-bail-out clause in Article 125 of the EU Treaties.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has halted at the Rubicon. So has Dutch premier Jan Peter Balkenende, as well he might in charge of a broken government facing elections in a country where far-right leader Geert Wilders is the second political force, and where the Tweede Kamer has categorically blocked loans for Greece.

The failure of EU leaders to cobble together a plausible bail-out — if that is what occurs at this week’s Brussels summit — is a ‘game-changer’ in market parlance. Eurogroup chair Jean-Claude Juncker said last month that such an outcome would shatter the credibility of monetary union. It certainly shatters many assumptions.

There will be no inevitable move to fiscal federalism; no EU treasury or economic government; no debt union. It is Stalingrad for the federalist camp and the institutions of the permanent EU government.

I remember hearing Joschka Fischer, then German Vice-Chancellor, telling Euro-MPs a decade ago that EMU was “a quantum leap … creating an inexorable federal logic”. Such views were in vogue then.

Any euro crisis would force Europe to create the necessary machinery to make it work, acting as a catalyst for full-fledged union. Yet the moment of truth has come. There is no quantum leap. We have a Merkel pirouette


The deeper truth that few care to face is that under the current EMU structure Berlin will have to do for Greece and Club Med what it has done for East Germany, pay vast subsidies for decades. Events of the last week have made it clear that no such money will ever be forthcoming.

Let me be clear. I do not blame Greece, Ireland, Italy, or Spain for what has happened. No central bank could have tried more heroically than the Banco d’Espana to counter the effects of negative real interest rates, but the macro-policy error of monetary union washed over its efforts.

Nor do I blame Germany, which generously agreed to give up the D-Mark to keep the political peace. It was the price that France demanded in exchange for tolerating reunification after the Berlin Wall came down.

I blame the EU elites that charged ahead with this project for the wrong reasons — some cynically, mostly out of Hegelian absolutism — ignoring the economic anthropology of Europe and the rules of basic common sense. They must answer for a depression.

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

Italy Will Back Greece Debt Help

Deal should be made ahead of EU summit, Frattini says

(ANSA) — Brussels, March 22 — Italy will back a European Commission proposal on the Greece debt crisis, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said Monday.

Frattini said Italy was “100% behind” EC Commission President Jose’ Manuel Barroso’s idea of a support mechanism for Greece.

Italy is “ready to do its bit,” Frattini said on his way into a meeting of European Union foreign ministers in Brussels.

The crisis is not solely a problem for Germany, he said.

The euro zone’s richest member might have to bear the lion’s share of any new safety net and German Chancellor Angela Merkel is under pressure from voters who are overwhelmingly against it.

Merkel on Monday warned against raising hopes of a deal at a European Union summit on Thursday and Friday, but Frattini said “a compromise” should be reached as soon as possible.

“I think an accord must be found before the European summit (because) we must not make the summit a hostage of this issue”.

“A solution must be found beforehand”.

“If there is any country in the European Union in trouble it can (only) be resolved with an EU intervention,” Frattini said. “We have to send a European message, otherwise we would compromise the credibility of the euro zone,” he said.

The crisis “is not only a German problem but a European one,” he said, urging Berlin to get behind Barroso’s proposal.

The case is a test of EU credibility, the diplomatic chief reiterated.

“It is indispensable for the EU to show full solidarity with Greece,” Frattini said.

“If the EU does not provide a solution for a euro zone country at a moment of difficulty it will show it is not very important on the world scene,” the foreign chief said.

EU action in support of Greece “is a moral and institutional duty,” he said.

Greece has been facing intense financial-market pressure over a 300-billion-euro debt crisis that some analysts think could undermine the euro.

The Greek government, which has received vocal support from France as well as Italy, has unveiled an austerity plan which has sparked violent domestic protests.

Analysts said it was likely to come under renewed pressure after releasing new data Monday saying its 2009 debt-to-GDP ratio would be 12.9%, higher than the 12.7% it estimated in October.

GDP will shrink by 2% this year, the Bank of Greece added.

Barroso told a German daily Monday that European leaders should back the EC’s proposal, or else “the heightened uncertainty will go on and on”.

“We can’t carry on as we are, as this would threaten the stability of the euro zone and encourage speculation,” the EC chief told the Handelsblatt business daily.

He said the plan did not break the EU treaty’s ‘no bailout’ clause and urged Germany to back it.

Barroso’s spokesperson said Monday the EC chief was working to build consensus on a system of coordinated loans.

The spokeswoman, Pia Ahrenkilde, said Barroso was “confident” of forging a deal at the summit.

The EC president was not “disappointed” at Merkel’s warning that hopes of a summit deal should not be raised, she said.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Colonel Allen West Pledges to Repeal Bill

Deerfield Beach, FL — March 21, 2010 — Republican Congressional candidate Allen West (FL-22) released the following statement after the United States House of Representatives passed healthcare legislation Sunday.

“Sunday’s vote by the House of Representatives was a travesty of policy, politics and process.

The liberal troika of Obama, Reid, and Pelosi has once again conspired to trample the will of Americans and strong armed Congress to pass healthcare legislation the public simply does not want.

From all across America citizens flooded Congress with the message that a government takeover of healthcare, complete with an exploding bureaucracy and massive tax increases, is not the reform needed to solve our healthcare problems.

Congressman Ron Klein was complicit in the tangled tactics used to move an unpopular bill past the public and toward the President’s desk.

Klein did not hold a single town hall meeting where the general public was invited to ask questions or present their views. Klein hid behind controlled environments such as telephone conference calls and tightly controlled meetings. He refused my offer to debate him on this topic at a place and time of his choosing.

Klein has ignored the public’s will with his vote Sunday. On November 2nd Klein will pay the price for his arrogant approach to representing Florida’s 22nd District when the people flood the ballot box with their frustration for Mr. Klein.

My pledge to the people of the 22nd District is simple-once elected I will do everything in my power to repeal the repugnant portions of this monstrous piece of legislation.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Federal Health Care? Not So Fast, Say States

12 attorneys general line up lawsuits, citing violations of U.S. Constitution

Twelve U.S. states are reportedly ready to sue the federal government over the massive health-care overhaul passed in the House yesterday, claiming it constitutes a major overstep of federal power.

“The health-care reform legislation passed by the U.S. House of Representatives last night clearly violates the U.S. Constitution and infringes on each state’s sovereignty,” said Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum, a Republican.

“On behalf of the state of Florida and of the attorneys general from South Carolina, Nebraska, Texas, Utah, Pennsylvania, Washington, North Dakota, South Dakota and Alabama,” McCollum announced, “if the president signs this bill into law, we will file a lawsuit to protect the rights and the interests of American citizens.”

Virginia’s Republican Attorney General, Kenneth Cuccinelli, has also vowed to bring suit, claiming Congress’ constitutional power to regulate interstate commerce doesn’t extend to requiring Virginians to buy health insurance.

“If a person decides not to buy health insurance, that person by definition is not engaging in commerce,” Cuccinelli said in a statement. “If you are not engaging in commerce, how can the federal government regulate you?”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Jesse Jackson Taunts Tea Party Protesters… Grabs at Their Signs (Video)

Jesse Jackson taunted tea party patriots yesterday outside the US Capitol. He even grabbed at their signs. The whole episode was filmed by his son, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. And, of course, The Hill continued the state-run media lie that black representatives were assaulted and called n***er by tea party protesters on Saturday. The Leftists will stop at nothing to destroy conservatives who stand in their way of absolute power over the American people.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

‘Jihad Jane’ Part of Growing US Jihad; ‘American Like Apple Pie’

( “Jihad Jane,” who last week pleaded not guilty to charges of terrorism, is one of approximately 40 native Americans in a growing U.S. Jihad movement that is “as American as apple pie,” says a native American terror fugitive.

Anwar al-Awlaqi boasted that Jihad Jane, a resident of Pennsylvania and born as Colleen LaRose, helped “shatter whatever trust was left in the value of profiling” by allegedly trying to recruit Muslim terrorists to murder a Swedish cartoonist who mocked the prophet Mohammed.

The SITE Intelligence Group reported that al-Awlaqi said Jihad Jane was “a blond, blue-eyed, small framed, middle-aged female. It couldn’t get any further from your typical terrorist profile.”

Also known as “Fatima Rose,” LaRose is one of at least 30 American citizens charged with terrorism-related acts over the past year, the Christian Science Monitor reported.

“Western jihad is here to stay [and] is becoming as American as apple pie and as British as afternoon tea,” warned Awlaqi, an American-Yemeni cleric.

He has been considered to be one of the terrorists who influenced the 9/11 airplane hijackers who crashed into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. He also was in email contact with U.S. army psychiatrist Major Nidal Hasan who gunned down 13 soldiers and others in November.

“Jihad is not being imported but is being homegrown,” Awlaqi’s message continued.

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

J-Street Hangs Up on Radio Host Aaron Klein

Hear the question that resulted in Ben Ami to hang up on Klein! Aaron also confronts the Obama administration’s generated crisis with the Israeli government over whether Jews can build homes in Jerusalem. Also, Klein will play an interview he conducted this week with Jeremy Ben Ami, the director of J Street, a Jewish organization that claims to be pro-Israel but which sided with Obama against the Jewish state and is highly critical of Israeli policies. Plus, Klein exposes how Obama helped to fund “Alinsky Academy.”

[Comments from JD: see url for audio.]

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

New Fight: Lt. Col. Allen West Pursues a House Seat

by Alyssa A. Lappen

In an exclusive interview, the candidate in Florida’s 22nd Congressional District tells PJM that “you cannot repeal the health care bill as long as Nancy Pelosi is in charge of Congress.”

Back in 2003, few Americans had heard of Lt. Col. Allen West, then commanding a battalion of roughly 600 in Iraq. Then attacks on his platoon suddenly spiked, and his intelligence operations got wind of an Iraqi police having leaked their maneuvers, in advance, to Islamic terrorists. West got nowhere by interrogating the suspected collaborator for several hours. Ever-mindful of his men’s safety — and a rumored plot to assassinate him and attack the entire battalion — West drew his service revolver and fired near the man’s head. The policeman started talking, and West thus averted the plot. He also faced a potential court martial, however, and was called to testify before Congress. “I’d go through hell with a gasoline can” to save his men’s lives, a nonplussed West told Congress. The Army merely fined West and relieved him of his command, ending his otherwise stellar 22-year Army career.

But to West, every day offers a new opportunity. After briefly teaching American, then serving as a civilian military adviser in Afghanistan, West decided to seek to fulfill his yen for public service from another route. In 2008, he sought Florida’s 22nd District U.S. Congressional seat, running against incumbent Ron Klein. West garnered 48% of the vote despite raising only $500,000, against vs. Klein’s millions. And in the tradition of his never-say-die lower-middle class Atlanta inner-city parents, the late Herman West Sr. and Elizabeth West, the 48-year-old retired Lt. Col. Is running again — more resolute than ever. Below, investigative journalist Alyssa A. Lappen gives our readers an exclusive interview with West…

           — Hat tip: Steen[Return to headlines]

Phyllis Schlafly: Obamacare Exposed the Myth — “You Cannot be Democrat & Pro-Life”

Phyllis Schlafly, president and founder of the conservative grassroots public policy organization Eagle Forum, made the following remarks after the public announcement that formerly pro-life Democrat Bart Stupak (D-MI) will cast a “yes” vote for the Senate health care bill today in the House:

“It is naive for any elected official, especially one who describes himself as ‘pro-life,’ to expect that a promise to issue an Executive Order that reasserts the intentions of the Hyde Amendment will be fulfilled by the most pro-abortion president to ever sit in the White House. Perhaps Mr. Stupak and his fellow pro-life Democrats forget that President Obama’s first Executive Order was the repeal of the Mexico City Policy to allow for international funding of abortion.

“Not only would an Executive Order be rendered meaningless in the face of Congress passing legislation which actively provides for the massive expansion and funding of abortion services, but anyone who doubts the abortion tsunami which awaits this bill becoming law lives in a fantasy world.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Roll Call 165 Final Vote Results

See which congressman voted for the Health Care Bill.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

A Taste of History and Culture in Poitier

Last week, the view of Turkey and Greece from the historic French city of Poitier was far enough for me to be affected by the political and economic turbulence which has been sweeping over in both countries recently.

As Greece is trying to find the magic recipe for its disastrous economics and Turkey is struggling to put a brave face on the “Armenian genocide” onslaught, it was a good time to escape.

The occasion was an international conference on media with a long but interesting title: “An alternative self-representation? Ethnic minority media, between hegemony and resistance” organized at the University of Poitier.

Among a large number of participants, mainly from France, the United Kingdom, Spain, Germany, the Netherlands, Canada, Latin America, and ex-African colonies, we represented Istanbul Bilgi University with our paper on the construction of identity of Greek women through the viewing of Greek satellite TV.

In a new globalized world of communication plagued by forced migration of peoples from their own homeland and culture to foreign lands, the participants discussed perceptions of cultural hegemony and media production, flows and contra-flows in news production between North and South, or even fascinating new suggestions for the definition of cosmopolitanism through music.

That was my first visit to this historic French town of Descartes and Rabelais, the town of the Baptistère Saint-Jean, the oldest Christian church in France dating from 360 which makes it some thirty years older than the Justinian Haghia Sophia in Constantinople. In fact, when I noticed that on the beautifully preserved frescoes dating from 12th century on the upper frieze of the Baptistère an impressive horseman with a flowing cloak surrounded by peacocks was actually Emperor Constantine, I realized that one cannot but acknowledge the cultural footprint of Byzantium even in this westernmost part of Europe.

In fact Poitier, with 86 protected cultural monuments today and where Gargantua is both a name for a restaurant and a university hall, has a long and interesting history in its encounters with the East whether these were Byzantine emperors or Arab Muslims. The Battle of Tours (Poitier) between the Franks and Burgundians of Charles Martel the Hammer and the Arab Abdul Rahman al-Ghafiqi of al-Andalus in 731, as historians claim, “saved Christianity and halted the conquest of Europe by Islam.”

Perhaps it was that sense of medieval pride for a defender of Christian faith that gave the Pictones, the old inhabitants of Poitier, the urge to have so many impressive churches built in their city, with the abundance of stone tombs of medieval Christian martyrs scattered around today is a further evidence of this.

But in a city where one in four inhabitants is a university student and where the university dates from 1431 and claims among its students Rabelais, Descartes, Francis Bacon and Balzac, traditional arguments on East-West, Christianity versus Islam, modernity and conservatism, are still being discussed with fervor.

Split between tracing the ancient and medieval remains of the city and following the proceedings of the conference — and often choosing the former — I had nevertheless the opportunity for a brief conversation with a Palestinian professor of sociology, living and working today in Canada. He and his wife were a fascinating case of a minority as they were born in Palestine of families who were members of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church and who immigrated to Egypt until they ended up as academics in Canada.

Over lunch I asked the Palestinian professor about the present state of affairs in Palestine and the influence of Hamas. He was not pessimistic over the future of peace talks and he was very negative over the Mahmoud Abbas administration. He was very concerned over the future of the Palestinian society where “corruption is the only way of dealing with the administration” and his prediction is a future of a further strengthening of Hamas as a major social and political power which will bring stronger Islamization and further conservatize of the society.

“We, as secularist Palestinians were once the majority. This is now changing and we have become a minority. This is inevitable,” he said.

“And what about your Malakite faith?” I asked the professor’s wife.

“Well, this more of a cultural tradition than a faith. By the way we were the product of another later Schism, in the Antiochian Church and although we have nothing to do with Greeks or the Orthodox Church, we call ourselves Greek Catholics. Our liturgies are like the Orthodox but we have communion like the Catholics,” she said, confusing me even further.

Our trip to Poitier was an exciting dip into history, religion and battles of faith. It was also a realization that history is something like an undercurrent torrent which reaches you everywhere and makes you link things together.

Back in Turkey we arrived on the eve of the spring celebration of Nevruz, where historical ethnic tensions, memories of bloody past battles and a shaky peace were once again present.

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

Church in Switzerland Says Pope’s Letter Enough

The Swiss Bishops Conference says the church in Switzerland does not need to take further steps on sex abuse, saying a letter released by the pope on Saturday was enough.

A spokesman for the Bishops Conference told the Swiss News Agency the interests of victims were already top priority for the church.

Walter Müller on Saturday said the pastoral letter, addressed to the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland, was relevant to Switzerland as well.

“The letter confirmed the directives the church established in 2002 for cases of sexual abuse,” Müller said.

Pope Benedict XVI slammed Irish bishops for “grave errors of judgment” in handling clerical sex abuse and ordered an investigation into the Irish church but did not mention any Vatican responsibility.

On Friday Chur diocese in eastern Switzerland said it was looking into ten new possible cases of sexual abuse by priests.

The abbot of a monastery in the diocese said at least three of the 77 monks at Einsiedeln, in canton Schwyz, had committed acts of abuse since he took up office in December 2001 but no legal action had been taken in any of the cases.

“The victims or their representatives said expressly that they did not want it,” Abbot Martin Werlen told Swiss television. There had also been two cases of abuse at the monastery school in the 1970s, resulting in one monk being moved to another post.

A priest from Chur resigned on Wednesday after admitting to sexually abusing children in the 1970s.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Cyprus Bishops’ Tombs Vandalised

Cyprus police have arrested a Romanian man suspected of vandalising the tombs of three archbishops in a cemetery in the capital city of Nicosia.

The 34-year old man confessed to removing the marble slabs covering the graves of the churchmen, police said.

The remains of two of the bishops first appeared to have been stolen, but the bones of one of them were in fact buried elsewhere years ago, police say.

The suspect denies removing any human remains from the tombs.

He was arrested after throwing a bag of human excrement at police officers at a Nicosia police station Sunday.

The graves of the men, who led the island’s Greek Orthodox church in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, were discovered to have been tampered with after police officers responded to a pre-dawn fire at a Nicosia church.

An investigation showed that the remains of Kyrillos II were reburied decades ago in his birth village of Prodromos, 80 km south of Nicosia, police say.

Investigators are trying to determine whether the remains of Sofronios III were stolen or reburied by the church elsewhere, police spokesman Michalis Katsounotos was quoted as saying by AP news agency.

The remains of Kyrillos III were left undisturbed.

The suspect had “issues with the church and holy ground”, Nicosia police chief Kypros Michaelides was quoted by Reuters as saying.

The 34-year-old Romanian faces charges of religious sacrilege, trespassing and causing malicious damage at grave sites.

The desecration comes less than two weeks after three men were held over the theft of the corpse of a former Cyprus President, Tassos Papadopoulos.

His corpse was stolen three months ago, but recovered after a tip-off.

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

Denmark: Hells Angels Kids’ Club

Those under the age of 18 given option to join the Viking Defence League by Hells Angels bikers

The Hells Angels bikers have been in the spotlight of the authorities for some time, but now they have awakened even more concern by founding a youth group for children and teens.

Hells Angels spokesman Jørn Jønke Nielsen told BT newspaper that the Viking Defence League offers an option for those who are too young to join the official bikers’ support group AK81.

‘We don’t take people under the age of 18 into AK81. So this is a place for people who are maybe a little too young to become AK81 members or for people who just want to support us a bit. So they can sort of come in and check out the environment,’ Nielsen said.

But Nielsen added that the club will not be bringing members on visits to Hells Angels club houses.

Head of the police’s National Centre of Investigation, Kim Kliver, has expressed concern that the club is no more than a feeder group for future Hells Angels members.

‘Children can’t see the consequence of being a part of it, or criticise the requirements for being in that environment. There is a very great danger that they will end up involved in criminality and become part of the armed conflicts taking place right now,’ he said.

New members who join the club pay an annual fee of 300 kroner and get a t-shirt with the club’s logo on it. So far, more than 500 people have expressed support for the Viking Defence League on the group’s recently created Facebook page.

Justice minister Lars Barfoed has described the club as a ‘giant provocation to the rest of society’.

‘I’m ready to look at all the options we have to prevent recruitment to the criminal environment,’ the minister said this week, as both his government and opposition parliamentary colleagues gave him their backing.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Disagreement on Database for Paedophile Priests

Two prominent Roman Catholic leaders in Switzerland appear sharply split on whether a central registry for paedophile priests is a good idea.

The president of the Swiss Bishops Conference, Norbert Brunner, in an interview published on Sunday rejected the idea and deflected the church’s responsibility in cases of abuse by clergy

It is “up to each diocese to clarify before an appointment whether a person meets the professional and moral qualifications,” Brunner, the country’s top-ranking Catholic, told the Le Matin Dimanche newspaper.

Pope Benedict XVI on Saturday apologised for sex abuse by clergy in Ireland and ordered an investigation.

In a letter addressed to the people, bishops, priests and victims of child sex abuse in the overwhelmingly Catholic country, the pope did not make specific reference to churches in other countries, particularly the pope’s native Germany.

Benedict also avoided placing responsibility for the scandal on the shoulders of the Vatican.

The Swiss bishop has taken the same position, adjusted a few notches down the chain of command. In Brunner’s eyes, the bulk of the responsibility for crimes in Switzerland for falls on offenders — not the country’s church.

“I have trouble when the church as an institution should apologise to victims for the actions of others,” he told the NZZ am Sonntag newspaper. Rather, the bishops should truly be sorry in these cases “and that I am”, he added.

A lonely abbot

Martin Werlen, the abbot of a Benedictine monetary in Einsiedeln, a town nestled in the foothills of central Switzerland, is a proponent of creating a central registry in Rome. He feels increasingly lonely.

“I’m afraid that the Church leadership in Rome is not taking the situation seriously enough,” Werlen said in an interview in SonntagsBlick. “Our credibility is at stake.”

“ I realise only a few decision-makers’ assessments of the situation are correct, in my view. “

Abbot Martin Werlen

“I realise only a few decision-makers’ assessments of the situation are correct, in my view,” he said.

Some dioceses in Switzerland are very vigilant, he argued. There are others “which seem to hardly notice what a difficult situation we are stuck in.”

Werlen says at least three of his monastery’s 77 monks had committed acts of abuse since he took up office in December 2001. No legal action has been taken.

A database, Werlen argues, would allow dioceses to check on incoming priests, no matter the location. He plans to put forth the proposal to the Swiss Bishops Conference and is calling for an extraordinary session, saying a decision must be made before the group’s next regular meeting in June.

The Bishop of Basel’s general representative, Roland-Bernhard Trauffer, told the Sonntag newspaper he would back a blacklist if it meant cases of sexual abuse could be avoided.

Christoph Darbellay, leader of centre-right Christian Democrats, called for priests found to have committed abuse to be blacklisted.

“Whoever abuses children should never work again with children,” said Darbellay.

Don’t break the seal

Abuses within the church are not routinely brought to the attention of authorities, notes Brunner. If a bishop or priest discovered abuse, the offender is invited to turn himself over.

Sometimes not. Disgraced Cardinal Bernard Law shuffled two priests from parish to parish in the United States despite allegations of sexual misconduct in what became the country’s most high profile church abuse disgrace. He is now archpriest at one of the Vatican’s four papal basilicas.

And if crimes are admitted, it can take a long time: a priest in eastern Switzerland last week resigned and surrendered to authorities after confessing to sex abuse more than three decades ago.

In very severe cases, Brunner said, the church would report abuse to authorities if the victim agreed. That’s a policy the church here has consistently towed the line on.

If a priest were to admit abuse during confession, Brunner says it would remain secret. “The sacramental seal must not be broken,” he said.

Brunner said canon law stipulates penalties for all crimes committed by priests. “If the priest is improving, if he repents, you can waive the penalty.”

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

European Muslims Reconcile Cultures Through Fashion

European critics deride the Islamic veil as a mark of female oppression. But for a new generation of young Muslim women, it is part of an emerging fashion that seeks to integrate European and Muslim identities.

On a cold evening, the Starbucks coffee shop in the Paris-area business district of La Defense, offers a welcome refuge. Twenty-nine-year-old Saadia Boussana is cradling a warm drink. Tall and striking, with a black and gold embroidered shirt and a glittering brown bonnet, she blends in easily with the trendy, after-work crowd.

In fact, it’s hard to associate her stylish bonnet with a headscarf or hijab, the head coverings worn by devout Muslim women that are highly controversial in Europe. In France, the center-right government has banned girls from wearing headscarves in public schools. It is now considering legislation to ban women from wearing an extreme version of the veil, the face covering niqab, in public places.

But for young women like Boussana, communications director for a new Muslim women’s magazine called MWM, or My Woman Magazine, the head covering is part of her fashion look.

Increasingly, Boussana says, observant Muslim women want to dress stylishly while remaining modest. Many like her head to mainstream department stories like Zara and H&M to create their outfits — partly for lack of fashionable Muslim shops.

Boussana is part of a new generation of educated, vocal and socially active women who are beginning to brand their European and Muslim identities through style. They layer dresses over pants, wrap headscarves into bandanas, match hooded kaftans with high-heeled boots.

They are turning their backs on fashions worn by their mothers — often first-generation immigrants from Pakistan, Turkey or North Africa. And they are showing that Islamic dress codes — which generally stipulate covering most of the body except for the face, hands and feet — do not have to be boring.

Emma Tarlo is a British social anthropologist and author of a new book, “Visibly Muslim: Fashion, Politics, Faith”. She points to the hijab, or headscarf, as the most obvious manifestation of this fashion revolution.

“In a sense they’re using fashion to try to contradict the idea of the hijab being just about politics, traditionalism or piety even. They are still associating it with modesty and the idea that a woman keeps part of her body private. But they’re active in the public sphere and they’re modern — and they want to be seen as modern.”

Much of the fashion action is taking place in Britain, where cultural diversity is more tolerated than elsewhere in Europe. Up-and-coming designers like Sarah Elenany and Sophia Kara are even attracting a non-Muslim clientele with their edgy styles, bold colors and loose, full clothes.

But Tarlo has seen Muslim street fashion bubbling up in Sweden, the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany — all countries where being “visibly Muslim” is not always appreciated.

“I think that’s partly why people work all the harder to develop interesting hijab styles, to decorate the hijab…so that it actually becomes a sort of visual talking point, it attracts attention. And many young women welcome — if people ask about their dress — they welcome the opportunity to explain it.”

France, with its estimated five to six million Muslims and an international reputation for fashion, appears to be a promising market. But Islamic wear collides with its staunchly secular creed.

In 2004, the center-right government banned pupils from wearing headscarves and other so-called “ostentatious” religious accessories in public schools. In the coming months, the government is expected to push legislation to ban or severely restrict the face-veil, or niqab, in public places.

Chahira Ait Belkacem is executive director of the Muslim women’s magazineMWM.

Belkacem says unlike their counterparts in the United States or Britain, conservative Muslim women in France are afraid of making bold fashion statements. Being chic, she says, is still badly viewed within the Muslim community.

But that appears to be changing. In a sign of their growing social presence, Muslim women now have two new French “webzines,” or Internet magazines, that directly target them. One is MWM. The other is titled Hijab and the City.

Twenty-two-year-old Mariame Tighanime co-founded Hijab and the City two years ago with her older sister Khadija.

Tighanime says the magazine wants to reach all Muslim women, not just those who are well-off and successful. Like MWM, it strives for a broad audience that includes Muslims and non-Muslims. Besides fashion, both Internet magazines have with sections that include beauty, health, family, environment, culture — and features on women who have made a difference in society.

Muslim veils — and Muslims in general — have also sparked strong emotions in the Netherlands, where the Dutch government considered but later discarded legislation to ban face veils.

Still “Muslima wear” is gaining a foothold among young, trendy Muslim women. Even a few, non-Muslim designers like Cindy van den Bremen are getting into the act. Van den Bremen markets a line of sporty hijabs mostly through her Internet store,

She says many Muslim retail stores are not meeting the needs of the new generation.

“On the other hand, there’s an increasing number of modern and fashionable shops on line which combine different styles. And there is an increasing number of Muslim women interested. But it’s different from the shops their mothers would go to.”

Women who assert their Muslim identities through fashion are not always well received. Author Tarlo says that when controversial issues involving Islam crop up in Europe, so do old stereotypes of Islam versus the West. And, she says, many European Muslim women feel incredibly frustrated by this.

           — Hat tip: Steen[Return to headlines]

France: Left Wins Local Elections, Sarkozy Left With Alsace

(ANSAmed) — PARIS — France’s Left did not quite make a ‘grand slam’ of it by taking every single one of the regions as the Right managed to hold on to Alsace and won the overseas seat of Reunion. But the Socialist Party leads in the country with over 54% of votes, with the Right halted at 36%. In the frank admission of party whip Jean-Francois Cope’, it has been “a thorough rout”. France’s Prime Minister, Francois Fillon, is due at the Elysee Palace this morning after conceding the vote live on television yesterday as the results were coming in. He will probably follow the example set in 2004 by his predecessor, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, who offered to step down after taking a pounding in the regional elections under President Jacques Chirac. In this case too, Sarkozy will refuse to accept the resignation but will insist on a thorough re-shuffle of government posts. As it happens, Fillon is one of the few figures on the right to have kept his popularity reasonably intact — especially compared to Sarkozy’s plummet in the polls — and his post is not being questioned. One name that has been frequently heard in recent days as a reshuffle candidate is that of Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, who leads the group of “open” ministries, chosen from the ranks of the opposition by Sarkozy. But the latest rumours in the corridors of power have it that he will keep his not much sought-after post. So among possible heads to roll are those of Roselyne Bachelot (Health) and, most likely of all, Xavier Bertrand, the UMP leader who may pay the price for failing in his first real test at the head of the party. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

France: Speculation on Govt Reshuffle, Gauche Looks Ahead

(ANSAmed) — PARIS, MARCH 22 — Forward with the reforms, especially crucial changes regarding pensions and a ‘technical’ government reshuffling: this seems to be the path indicated by French President Nicolas Sarkozy to the right-wing majority of the French government, defeated in the country’s recent regional elections. Prime Minister Francois Fillon, who acknowledged the defeat and his responsibility last night, was present today at Elysée Palace to “discuss the situation”. He left after an hour and twenty minutes, during which details of the reshuffling were defined, while in Paris speculation is rampant on the who will be assigned which ministry. The latest rumours indicate a turn to the right, but with a slight opening to the centre, which saw Francois Bayrou’s MoDem Party dissolve. Social Affairs Minister Xavier Darcos, heavily defeated in Aquitaine, is reportedly on the way out, as are Deputy Urban Policy Minister Fadela Amara, Secretary of State in charge of the ‘Green Economy’ Valerie Letard, and High Commissioner for Youth and Solidarity Martin Hirsch. Minister Eric Besson (Immigration) is also in line to be replaced, accused of having encouraged the return of Le Pen with his debate on national identity. Rama Yade (Sport), is reportedly slated to switch to Urban Policy, and Eric Woerth (Budget) is set to take over Darcos’ Social Affairs Ministry. Meanwhile, the left is making plans for the future. Daniel Cohn-Bendit launched an appeal for a “cooperative” ahead of the 2012 presidential elections, while Martine Aubry’s winning team — all regional presidential offices, except in Alsace, still held by the right — will meet tomorrow with the socialist leader to set the regional governments’ agenda. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Greece: Church Against Government, No to 20% Tax on Revenues

(ANSAmed) — ATHENS, MARCH 22 — The Archbishop of Athens and of the whole of Greece, Ieronymos, has said in an interview with the Athens weekly Real News that the 20% tax the Greece government has decided to apply on all revenues of the Church is unconstitutional. He warns that he will turn to the Greek and European courts if the draft law will be approved by the parliament. The Church, Ieronymos explained, is willing to pay taxes based on a calculation of income and expenditure, paying 20% on net income. He added that he wants to have a meeting with Prime Minister Papandreou to discuss the problem. “Our patience” the Archbishop concluded, “has come to an end”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Ireland: Referendum on Blasphemy Should Revise Free Speech Clause

The promised referendum to remove the reference to blasphemy from the Constitution should go further, and entirely revamp the very limited guarantee of freedom of expression, writes EOIN O’DELL

CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS are bulwarks against arbitrary State power. The right to liberty prevents unwarranted detention. The right to property prevents random expropriation of land or possessions. Rights should therefore be as clearly expressed as possible. And they should be interpreted as extensively as possible.

However, rights are not absolute, and justifiable limitations are sometimes necessary. Hence, the right to liberty can be lost by those properly convicted of criminal offences. And the duty to pay tax is a legitimate (if unwelcome) limitation on the right to property. But such limitations should also be as clearly expressed as possible. They should be plainly justified. They should only be imposed where it is necessary to do so. And they should be interpreted as strictly as possible.

By these standards, the protection of freedom of expression in the Irish Constitution is a very puny right indeed. The clause begins by making this right subject to public order and morality. The right itself is very confined, covering only the expression of convictions and opinions, and not speech generally. The media’s liberty of expression is made subject to public order and morality (again) and the authority of the State. And the clause ends by requiring that blasphemy, sedition and indecency be offences punishable by law.

This language and structure unjustifiably make the exceptions more important than the right. The text of the right itself is very grudging indeed. And the constitutional crime with which it concludes is quite simply indefensible. Worse, in a peculiar inversion of the norm, the courts until very recently interpreted the right very narrowly, and the exceptions very broadly.

For these reasons, official bodies and reports have frequently criticised the text of the Constitution’s freedom of expression guarantee, and have suggested that it be replaced at the first opportunity.

The Supreme Court has begun to grapple with these problems. For example, in 1998, the court began the process of redressing the imbalance between the right and its restrictions. In particular, the court held that free speech is fundamental both for personal development and as a foundation of democracy. But it was not until 2007 that legislation was found to infringe the constitutional protections of speech. And it was only in that same year that the Supreme Court unambiguously asserted that the right of a free press to communicate information without let or restraint is intrinsic to a free and democratic society.

In 1999, the Supreme Court held that the common law crime of blasphemous libel was too uncertain to give content to the constitutional crime. At the time, this seemed like a victory for freedom of speech, but it was recently undone by Part 5 of the Defamation Act, 2009, which now provides for a crime of blasphemy.

However, in the last week, Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern has stated that, if there is to be a referendum on other issues later in the year, he will propose an additional amendment to delete the reference to blasphemy.

This is very welcome, but it does not address the significant problems underlying the free speech guarantee as a whole. Deleting one objectionable word, rather than thoroughly revising the whole gruesome clause, would be equivalent to repairing a single broken slate on the roof of a house which needs complete refurbishment.

Many constitutions, charters and international conventions have lucid definitions of freedom of expression, and clearly provide for limited exceptions. A replacement for the current Irish constitutional provision should follow this pattern.

The freedom of expression guarantee in the Irish Constitution is an example of the wrong way to protect free speech. The forthcoming referendum should replace it with something far better suited to the needs of a modern constitutional democracy.

Dr Eoin O’Dell is a fellow and senior lecturer in law at Trinity College Dublin.

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

Italy: Parthenon Frieze Fragment Returns to Palermo

(ANSAmed) — PALERMO — A ship sailing from Naples has brought a fragment of the Parthenon’s frieze back from Athens where it has been on show since September 2008. The find had first been housed at the city’s old Museum of Archaeology, where it was visited by Italy’s President Giorgio Napolitano, before being transferred to the new Acropolis Museum. The art treasure, a piece of stone measuring 34 by 35 centimetres, is being kept in Palermo in a double strong box before being returned to the region’s ‘Antonino Salinas’ archaeological museum, where it has been an exhibit for over a century. The stone is a fragment of Phidias’ eastern frieze of the Parthenon and features a foot of Peitho, the Greek goddess of persuasion. The piece had been part of the collection of a British diplomat before it was donated by his widow to the University of Palermo in 1836; it then passed into the collection of Palermo’s National Museum when it was founded in the second half of the 19thcentury. The fragment will be on view when the Antonino Salinas Museum reopens. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Jet2.Com Opens Manchester-Venice Run

(ANSAmed) — VENICE, MARCH 22 — UK low-cost operator has decided to open a new Manchester-Venice route following a series of profitable years in the Triveneto area. The new service becomes operational from March 28. Four connections per week have been planned (on Tuesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays) with fares starting at just 29.19 euros per person each way, tax and surcharges included. The Edinburgh-Venice service is also to be stepped up to three connections per week (Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays) with fares starting at 39.99 euros. The Leeds service continues on Mondays, Thursdays and Sundays, with fares from 29.19 euros. has set itself the target of transporting around 267,000 passengers to and from Italy during the 2010/11 season. For Venice alone, the company is planning incoming and outgoing traffic of around 90,000 passengers, with a load factor of 84%. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Nicolas Sarkozy’s Right-Wing UMP Suffers Crushing Defeat in French Elections

Nicolas Sarkozy will seek to relaunch his embattled presidency on Monday after his Right-wing party suffered a crushing defeat in regional elections that were depicted as a test of his popularity.

Mr Sarkozy’s Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), was on Sunday night on course to lose all but one of the 22 regions in mainland France, according to exit polls. The UMP’s sole consolation besides holding Alsace was taking the Indian Ocean island of Reunion in Sunday’s election for regional councils that are in charge of transport, education and cultural policy.

As polling stations closed, initial estimates gave the Socialists and Greens some 54 per cent of the vote, Mr Sarkozy’s Right-wing UMP 36 per cent and the far-right National Front just under nine per cent. The poll, which saw record low turn-out, was the lowest score for the Right in more than three decades.

As one analyst put it, the president must now reinvent “le Sarkozysme 2.0” — a new ideology to woo disillusioned voters in the run up to 2012 presidential elections.

The chronically divided Left hopes this victory marks their recovery in time for the 2012 presidential polls.

Despite pushing hard-line policies on immigration and security, the president’s allies were further weakened by a strong showing for the far-Right National Front party, which won no regions but was in 12 run-offs. The FN leader scored more than 24 per cent in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region, while his daughter and likely political heir, Marine, won 22 per cent in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais.

Mr Sarkozy said the poll had only “regional ramifications” and was not a protest against his government. However, all eight of his ministers who fought to lead regions were expected to lose.

Martine Aubry, the Socialist leader, said: “The French have expressed their rejection of the policies of the president and the government.”

François Fillon, the prime minister, said the result was a “disappointment” and that the Right had “not managed to convince” the electorate, but said his government would “keep going in the direction fixed by (2007) national elections”.

His finance minister, Christine Lagarde said: “We must imperatively pursue (government) reforms.”

Some reports said François Fillon, the prime minister, would offer his government’s resignation this morning. But Mr Sarkozy was not expected to ask his popular lieutenant to form a new Cabinet.

The president’s chief adviser, Claude Gueant, conceded that minor changes would follow the result.

“Whatever happens, there won’t be a big shake-up,” he said. “It will be a modest, technical reshuffle.”

The scale of the defeat could make more difficult the task of reforming some state sector pensions and raising the retirement age.

Mr Sarkozy swept to power in 2007 on a promise to make people wealthier and France more competitive.

He was credited with deftly handling last year’s financial crisis, but with almost three million people out of work faith in his ability to deliver has been shaken.

“He has two years to reinvent ‘Sarkozysme’,” wrote Claude Askolovitch, a political commentator in Le Journal du Dimanche. “Two years to erase the original and still unresolved ambiguity between the no-holds barred liberal and maintaining the French social model.

“[The president’s] strength was to refuse the status quo, to be one step or theme ahead. He has lost that skill in the exercise of power.”

Mr Sarkozy has signalled he would lead a push for greater global financial regulation when France hosts the G8 and G20 meetings next year.

A drive to rein in financial firms has provoked American concern to the point that diplomatic sources said US leaders hope Gordon Brown remains in power to act as an experienced bulwark in Europe against Mr Sarkozy’s regularity fervour.

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

Now EU Will Send Three Presidents to Summits

PROMISES by EU leaders that the Lisbon Treaty would herald a new era of clarity have been shattered after attempts to settle a major internal power feud resulted in a typical Brussels fudge.

Bureaucrats have decided to send not just one president and his entourage to global summits but a tax-draining three.

Only four months after the fanfare of Herman Van Rompuy’s appointment as European Council president, his most jealous and powerful rival in Brussels has persuaded allies to allow him to muscle in too.

José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, has succeeded in his demands that he should also go to diplomatic summits, such as the G20, after insisting only he has the expertise to deal with specific policy matters.

At certain summits there will even be a third representative — the leader of the country holding the EU’s rotating presidency. This seems to justify criticism that the Lisbon Treaty would add to the EU’s murky waters and not be a move towards transparency.

Sarah Gaskell, spokeswoman for the Open Europe think-tank, said last night: “This surely must be the final nail in the coffin of the Government’s promise that the Lisbon Treaty would bring greater clarity to the European Union.

“Instead of Europe speaking with one voice we have two of the EU’s many presidents fighting for the limelight and over who gets to speak on what issue. Other countries at the G20 will be completely puzzled by the EU’s failure to decide who should speak for it. It seems to change from one day to the next.”

Since the Lisbon Treaty came into force at the end of last year, arguments have raged in Brussels over which department does what.

Mr Van Rompuy, the former Belgian prime minister dismissed last month by Ukip MEP Nigel Farage as a “damp rag” and a “low-grade bank clerk”, is the permanent president of the European Council. That means he has overall responsibility for foreign policy and security matters. And while the commission’s President Barroso will speak on climate change, there are a number of areas where their responsibilities overlap.

One is energy, which is considered both a security and a commission policy area. Only when these circumstances arise will the pair of presidents decide who is to speak, however.

EU spokeswoman Pia Ahrenkilde-Hansen insisted: “These practical arrangements will ensure full coherence, complementarity and clarity in the way we approach international gatherings, in reaching our objective that the EU should speak with one voice.”

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

UK: Homeowner Who Forgot His Wallet Returns to Find Romanian Family Moving in In Scene From ‘Dickensian Times’

A householder returned from work early to discover a Romanian family had moved into his home, a court heard.

The man was astounded to find Mihai and Laura Dediu moving his belongings out of his cupboards while their young child looked on.

The couple claimed they had been told that the two-bedroomed end-of-terrace property in Northampton had been empty for some time and they could squat there.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: Man With ‘Wires Coming From His Rucksack’ Sparks Terror Alert on London Underground

A man wearing a barrister’s wig and a battery strapped to the back of his hand sparked a terror alert on the London underground, it has emerged.

In a chilling echo of the events that led up to the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes, a man carrying a rucksack with protruding wires was trailed by armed police after sparking a major security alert in Central London.

A team of armed officers were scrambled to deal with the incident after the mentally ill man, who is said to have a fascination with electrical wiring, was reported to police by commuter at Green Park station, near Buckingham Palace.

The black man, who is said to bleach his skin and suffers from delusions of being a white woman, bore white marks on his face consistent with possible burns from a failed explosion.

The surveillance team trailing him lost sight of him on the tube network but caught up with him as he exited at Finsbury Park station, close to an East London mosque which has been linked to terrorist recruitment.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: Troops Axed in Army Cutback Plan

Up to 500 soldiers are to lose their jobs in the Army as the Ministry of Defence “rebalances” troop numbers.

Some will be retrained and others asked to leave under a process it calls Manning Control Points. It is being used for the first time in eight years.

In effect it will lead to compulsory redundancies. The MoD said 300-500 troops would be affected by changes.

The MoD says the Army is near to its staffing limit of about 100,000 troops and it needed “modest adjustments”.

It is understood the process will happen in the next financial year, from April 2011.

The focus will be on those soldiers who have served between 12 and 15 years.

During the past 25 years more than 3,000 soldiers have been discharged through the MCP mechanism, but it was last used in 2002.

Those asked to leave will receive a resettlement grant of £10,000.

The MoD said it would not involve those soldiers who were injured in combat.

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


Marching in Step Towards the EU

(ANSAmed) — BELGRADE, MARCH 22 — Prospects for integration with the European Union were on the agenda of the conference held in Slovenia’s Brdo pri Kranju. Here is a quick run down of the countries in the region: — SLOVENIA — Is the only one of the former members of the Yugoslav Federation so far to have joined the European Union. Slovenia is also in the Euro-zone: it is the most advanced economy in the western Balkans with the highest standards of living. — CROATIA — Is the present front-runner for accession to the EU: the country hopes to complete its negotiating process this year or at the start of 2011, with EU membership coming in 2012. — SERBIA — With its population of 7.3 million, Serbia is the largest country in the region and it has political weight to match. The country presented an application for EU membership last December. The EU has so far limited itself to dispensing with the visa requirement for Serb citizens travelling into EU countries. The main obstacles to accession remain the country’s two principal war criminals, Ratko Mladic and Goran Hadzic, as well as its refusal to recognise the independence of Kosovo. — MACEDONIA — Officially, the country is a candidate for EU membership, but its chances of acceding are hampered by an age-old squabble with Greece over the name the former Yugoslavian republic has chosen for itself. Athens insists that the name of Macedonia should remain the exclusive property of Greece’s historic and cultural heritage. This has led to Macedonia being welcomed into the UN under the temporary name of Fyrom (Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia). The EU dispensed with the visa requirement in December last year. — BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA — Scene of the most harrowing and bloodiest armed conflict witnessed inside Europe since the end of the Second World War, Bosnia is perhaps the country in the region facing the greatest challenges to its stability in the form of inter-ethnic tensions. Their present cause may be traced to the delicate institutional balance existing between the two entities established in the country by the 1995 Dayton Accords: Republika Srpska and the Croat-Moslem Federation. These tensions could well be heightened ahead of October’s presidential and parliamentary elections. — MONTENEGRO — This is the smallest country in the region in terms of population (just 620 thousand inhabitants), but it has seen flourishing economic performance, mainly thanks to its attractiveness for tourism. Its main problems are widespread crime and corruption. For Montenegrins, too, the visa requirement was lifted by the EU in December. — KOSOVO — Very difficult relations with Serbia, which has not recognised the country’s independence — declared unilaterally by Pristina on February 17 2008 — remain the biggest hurdle for this country’s integration into the EU, alongside crime, rife corruption and inter-ethnic tensions. — ALBANIA — Following on its entry into NATO in 2008, Tirana has presented an application for EU membership, but has yet to be granted the status of candidate nation. As with Kosovo and its other neighbours, corruption and criminality are among the issues in most urgent need of resolution.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Serbia: Swedish Ambassador, Ikea to Invest Billion Euros

(ANSAmed) — BELGRADE, MARCH 22 — The Swedish company Ikea will invest a billion euros into Serbia in the next seven to 10 years, it was announced by Swedish Ambassador in Belgrade Krister Bringeus, reports BETA news agency. Bringeus said that Ikea has long-term plans related to the Serbian market, adding that it established a successful cooperation with Serbian suppliers a few years ago. Ikea management plans not only to sell goods in Serbia and open a shopping mall, but also to manufacture furniture, said Bringeus. Bringeus added that, wherever Ikea operates, the opening of a shopping mall is connected with the beginning of production. Regardless of the difficulties Ikea management has in finding an adequate location for the construction of the sale center, Bringeus expressed hope that in cooperation with the Serbian government, they will manage to find an adequate solution. According to him, Serbia is a very important market from the prospect of potential Swedish investors, as well as the companies that have already invested into Serbia. Bringeus stressed that Serbia must keep in mind that it has fierce regional competition in terms of investment attraction. He reminded that corruption is one of the biggest obstacles for business operations in Serbia, adding that it is a serious problem against which the Serbian authorities have to fight more vigorously. (ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Serbia: Central Bank Reduces Minimum Obligatory Reserves

(ANSAmed) — BELGRADE, MARCH 22 — Serbia’s Central Bank has opted reduce its obligatory minimum reserves for credit institutes. According to what has been decided by the Central Bank’s Committee for Monetary Policies, reported the Italian Institute for Foreign Trade (ICE) offices in Belgrade, the percentage of reserves in dinars has been lowered from 10% to 5%, while for foreign currencies the amount was reduced from 40% to 25%. The lowering of the minimum level will be gradual with an expected transition period of at least a year. The Central Bank’s decision, underscored the Italian Institute for Foreign Trade (ICE) office, was made with the specific intent to stimulate banking activities both by way of more deposits and by greater credit access. (ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Mediterranean Union

Tunisia: Symposium, Euro-Med Relations Less Than Optimal

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, MARCH 22 — The management of migratory policies was the focus of the Euro-Mediterranean Relations for 2010 symposium held in Tunis by the Mediterranean and International Studies Centre and the German Foundation Konrad Adenauer. Among the various speeches was one by Isabel Schafer, a Berlin University researcher who, in underscoring that Euro-Mediterranean cooperation concerning migratory flows was not at a satisfactory level, stressed the need for European Union countries to commit themselves to taking into account the importance of their “considerable development potential”. She noted that the success of these policies would depend mostly on the measures adopted at a regional level and the making of the European public opinion aware of the advantages deriving from migration, especially considering its aging population. Professor Jamelledine Chichti, from the Sciences Faculty of the University of Tunis, stressed the “lack of a strategic vision” which ignores the potential of human capital which the southern shores of the Mediterranean have in abundance as well as the lack of “infrastructure ensuring lasting development”. In his opinion, these are the main obstacles preventing the implementation of a partnership within the framework of “collective and shared action at the Mediterranean level”. The symposium also debated issues related to efforts to be made concerning regional integration and the need for a shared Euro-Mediterranean space to progressively better serve the interests of the region and to contain the effects of the international financial crisis. (ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

North Africa

Egyptian Women: Not So Bleak; Or is it?

Georgette Sadeq

March is the month for women. The eighth day marks International Woman’s Day, the 16th Egyptian Woman’s Day, and the 21st is the widely popular Mothers Day.

To honour the successive women occasions, the NGO Partners in Development for Research, Consulting, and Training (PID) held a seminar to discuss “The Egyptian woman: Caught between bigotry and partnership”. As the title implies, Egyptian women while being required to partner with men in actively shouldering the responsibility of building the community, are the targets of debilitating bigotry. The duality frequently proves hard to bear, and—apart from, or because of, the emotional and physical hardship involved—is altogether counter productive.

Violence in all forms

Several questions which begged answers were placed before the participants in the seminar. How are women viewed in our community? How is their role in life determined, and how does society define the division of labour between men and women? What cultural and social values determine this division, and what cultural and social restraints hold back women? Is it possible to put an end to discrimination against women? What are the most urgent issues, where women are concerned, that need to be addressed today, and what hope is there for the future of women in light of the apparent escalating chauvinism in our society?

If this appeared to be a tall order, it did not alarm Hoda Zakariya, sociology professor at Zagazig University. Full of zest, Dr Zakariya held her audience captive as she embarked on a comprehensive analysis of the sorry state of Egyptian women and the systematic violence she is subjected to. To start with, Dr Zakariya reminded of the United Nation’s definition of violence against women as: “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life”.

With this definition in mind, Dr Zakariya said, there are several cultural and legal impediments to full women rights in Egypt, all of which constitute flagrant forms of violence.

Falsifying female awareness

First and foremost among the prevalent violence forms is a culture which considers violence against women not only natural, but also necessary for her proper upbringing. Dr Zakariya had the audience in stitches as she cited folk wisdom which extolled the virtue of violence against women and ensured that no harm—rather plenty of good—can come out of it. “Break a girl’s rib and she’ll grow 24 ribs instead”, one saying goes. Worse, she said, we have reached the point of “falsifying female awareness” where most women see violence against them and other women as thoroughly natural, justified, and positive. This violence does not stop at verbal and physical abuse, but may assume other forms such as imprisoning a woman at home and banning her from seeing her parents or friends. Sexual exploitation within the marriage, female circumcision, condoning honour crimes, and exploiting female labour are other forms of communal and domestic violence that is almost never frowned upon, Dr Zakariya said. A research she had conducted on the reasons for divorce revealed that most common is physical violence—in many cases resulting in compound fractures or mild disability, depriving a wife of necessities such as food or medicine, and seizing a woman’s wages to spend on cigarettes, drugs or women.

Selective religious address

It does not help at all, Dr Zakariya said, that the predominant religious address today is a selective, extremist, Wahabi one which sees women as inferior. Wahabi clerics endorse Qur’anic verses which extol male dominance and recommend beating wives and “abandoning them in bed” if a husband harbours fears that his wife would be ‘disobedient’.

Even though Islam does grant women several rights, women are frequently grudged these rights or denied them outright. “When the law was amended some seven years ago to include a provision for khula, a woman’s right to divorce her husband provided she gives up all her rights for a settlement, the media took up the issue with the utmost mockery and disrepute,” Dr Zakariya said. “The provision was branded as a call for broken homes.”

The predominantly male-oriented culture has placed the burden of such societal all-important issues such as chastity or family planning squarely on the shoulders of women, even if this may be detrimental to their health. Female circumcision and contraceptive methods say it all.

It should come as no surprise then, Dr Zakariya said, that such violence should spill over into our streets and workplaces in the form of rampant harassment of women, a preference of male workers, and inferior pay and benefits for women. And even though studies have shown that most harassers are married men, the media is fond of explaining away harassment as the result of sexual deprivation due to the inability of young men to get married because of tight economic conditions, thereby again justifying male chauvinism.

Coming a long way

Chauvinism again rears its ugly head in the media, Dr Zakariya said, where women are depicted as household and sex objects, a woman who demands equality with men is invariably portrayed as unattractive, and men are excused for womanising since their wives are too busy to pamper them properly. “The figure of the mainstream mother and wife who faithfully cares for her family, works hard successfully inside and outside her home, is supported by a fond understanding husband, is—sadly—totally absent from our media.”

Despite the thoroughly realistic study presented by Dr Zakariya, “the picture is not that bleak,” commented Amina Shafiq, the journalist and member of the National Council for Women.

“Women emancipation began early in the 20th century at the hands of Qassem Amin,” Ms Shafiq reminded. Back then, she said, town women did not work outside the home, but peasant women worked hand in hand with their men in the fields to support the family. This was unpaid work, and not recognised as official labour. Today, women form a significant portion of the labour force and many have reached high-ranking positions.

“Socially,” Ms Shafiq pointed out, “and no matter that there is a general feeling that women have gone backward not forward, undeniable improvements have been achieved on certain fronts. Some twenty years ago, I remember attending a gathering with prominent writer and feminist Amina al-Saïd, which focused on the problems of women. I remember we blushed and looked away when the subject of female circumcision was brought up. Today the topic is being unabashedly broached and, when on a recent visit to Upper Egypt, I found billboards portraying attractive, determined faces of girls declaring ‘No to female circumcision’“. This is coming a long way, she said.

Proudly Egyptian

“I feel sure there is no going back,” Ms Shafiq insisted.

It was heart warming to see that the men in the audience could not agree more. “To those who say we are going backwards,” one young man remarked, “How do you explain the demonstrations against the banning of women from sitting as judges on the State Council court?”

Another man who appeared to be in his forties, demanded the revision of laws which discriminate against women or which hinder her from playing the dual role of home-maker and career woman. “How can it be legal that a woman on a temporary contract loses her job once she gives birth?” he said. “We ought to be supporting not penalising her.”

But the words of one particularly enthusiastic man caught everybody’s attention. “Some think of women emancipation as some western initiative,” he said. “Our Egyptian heritage, however, is replete with texts which highly respect women and place them on the same footing as men. And today, in Egyptian villages where the old names persist, girls are given names such as Sitteddar and Sittabouha, literally Lady of the House and Her Father’s Lady. Women in remote villages are frequently vital in the decision making process which concerns the family. A common remark when a man is buying land in Upper Egypt is: ‘Let me consult first,’ meaning he is consulting his wife before taking the crucial decision whether or not to purchase the land.”

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

Egypt: Towards ‘Yes’ To Abortion Due to Poverty

(ANSAmed) — CAIRO, MARCH 22 — An Egyptian parliament commission has decided to allow women to ask for an abortion or for sterilisation for health reasons or, in the case of the probable birth of a malformed baby, for being unable to pay for a proper cure. The decision could have a serious impact in the country, and not only due to its religious implications. The commission has drafted a parliamentary bill, which was presented by the Health Ministry. The news was reported by the pro-government daily Al Gomhouriya, which explains that the bill states that requests for abortion or sterilisation will be judged by a scientific committee of three physicians. This committee has to certify that the woman in question has a disease which could lead to malformations in the baby or to the birth of a handicapped child. According to Al Gomhouriya, the president of the parliament commission and senior member of the union of medics, Hamdi el Sayed, has defended the project and justified it stressing the “difficult living conditions that make it impossible for mothers to raise their children in a dignified way or to pay the costs of cures for serious diseases”. The commission’s decision coincides with the announcement by the president of the Egyptian State Auditors Department, Gawdat el Malt, that Egypt has a 23.4% poverty rate. Egyptian authorities consider the country’s “galloping demography” as the main reason of Egypt’s economic and social problems, including poverty. According to the pro-government newspaper Al Ahram, el Malt, addressing the parliament referring to a report of the World Bank, specified that “the poverty rate has climbed from 20% in the year 2007-2008 to 23.4% in the year 2008-2009. El Malt underlined that “poverty is a rural problem in Egypt”, where 77% of the poor live in rural areas. “Egypt is 82nd on the list of 135 poorest countries in the world” el Malt added, quoted by the independent daily Masri El Yom. The president of the State Auditors’ Department also criticised the country’s high inflation rate, 16.2% in 2009, against 5% in 2005 and pointed out that “most citizens are unable to support such staggering price rises”. El Masri El Yom also quotes the statement in which the Minister of Social Solidarity, Ali Messelhi, has announced a series of measures against Egypt’s population explosion, calling it “a time bomb that threatens Egypt’s future”. Messelhi added that these measures include the removal of State support for the third child and support for large families. The Minister said, in essence, that having many children will not be a way to obtain support and subsidies, like free education. Messelhi said during his visit to a village in the country’s north-east that “the richest classes limit the number of children to two”, that “the number of children in the middle classes varies between three and five” and that the poorest classes have seven to nine children on average. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Libya: Maltese Minister; Without Deal, Visas Limited From 5/4

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, MARCH 22 — If Libya and Switzerland do not resolve their bilateral dispute, starting on April 5 when the new Schengen rules take effect, Malta will move forward with the decision to issue visas with territorial limits to Libyan citizens, said Maltese Foreign Minister Tonio Borg, while speaking at the EU Council of Ministers. On April 5 the new rules on Schengen visas will take effect, which include the possibility of issuing visas with territorial limitations shared by a certain number of countries: everyone will be able to issue a visa for their territory that will also be valid for other Schengen countries adhering to the initiative. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Marsa Matrouh Copts Are the Victims of an Outrageous Attack

Nash’at Abul-Kheir Nader Shukry

Marsa Matrouh is a coastal town that lies some 320km west of Alexandria. Its crystal clear turqoise waters and white sandy beaches make it an ideal spot for summer holidays. But wintertime turns the town into a sleepy place where the inhabitants go about their usual business. The town has been expanding in the last few years, however, to accommodate the growing number of holiday makers in summer, thereby attracting workers and entrepreneurs from various places in Egypt.

On Friday 12 March the district of Reefiya, among the new districts in Marsa Matrouh, was the scene of an attack against Copts which left 28 injured—24 Copts and four Muslims. Some17 houses, 12 cars and two motorcycles owned by Copts were looted and set aflame. The attack, which started at 5:30pm, was waged by Islamist fundamentalists joined by hundreds of the Western Desert Bedouin in the wake of a call for jihad against the ‘enemies of Islam’ sent out from the mosque microphone by the imam Sheikh Ahmed Khamis.

The Angel’s Charity

The main target of the attack was a building owned by the Coptic Orthodox Church and known as al-Malak al-Khairy, literally the Angel’s Charity, which housed a clinic and some social service activities including adult literacy classes. It was claimed that the direct cause of the attack was that the neighbourhood Muslims were infuriated because the Church was building a fencing wall around a plot of land it had recently purchased adjacent to the building and had blocked a road.

The Beheira bishopric had in 2008 purchased a 1400sq.m. piece of land from a Copt named Mufrih Ibrahim Wissa and built on it the Angel’s Charity building. Anba Bakhoumius (Pakomeus), archbishop of Beheira, Matrouh, and Pentapolis, told Watani that, in April 2009, a demolition squad accompanied by security forces partially demolished the Angel’s Charity building under the claim that the ownership of the land upon which it was erected was in doubt. Anba Pakomeus said he met the then Matrouh governor Saad Khalil and presented him with the ownership documents and the building permits, all of which were fully legalised, upon which the governor ordered the building re-built. “We did that,” Anba Pakomeus said, “and obtained a security permit to conduct religious rituals in part of the building, opened literacy classes and a clinic even before the entire interior of the building was painted. We cleaned up the neighbourhood and planted trees alongside the street on which the Angel’s Charity lies. Everything went on in peace and no Muslim neighbour objected.” Father Matta Zakariya of Reefiya church told Watani that the services offered in the building are free of charge and benefit Muslims as well as Christians. All was well until the sermon which incited the rioting, he said.

Hurling stones

Recently, Anba Pakomeus said, the Church purchased a 180sq.m plot of land adjacent to the services building in Reefiya and began erecting a fencing wall around it for protection. On that fateful Friday, Sheikh Khamis, accompanied by a dozen bearded men, approached the workers who were on the site and began abusing them verbally, accusing them of having blocked a road. “This allegation,” Anba Pakomeus commented, “is totally untrue. The area which was being fenced belongs entirely to the Church.”

The verbal harassment worried Fr Bjeimi, a priest at Reefiya, who then, according to Magdy Mounir Tawfiq, 38, a worker who was on the site, ordered the workers to pull down the fence in order to avoid any problems. But this, Tawfiq said, did not deter Sheikh Khamis who started, along with the others, attacking Wissa who was also on the site. “A crowd of more than 300 people gathered,” he recounted, “and began attacking the building and hurling stones at us. I rushed inside for protection; and we closed the gates, but I was struck with a stone in the head and had to have six stitches.”

The rioting spread throughout the neighbourhood, with the mob attacking the homes, shops, workshops and vehicles owned by Copts. Those who could flee took refuge at the Angel’s Charity building. It ended up that some 400 Copts, including four priests, were besieged inside.

The Copts in Reefiya number some 2000 (300 families).


The police was called but the security forces which arrived at the scene were inadequate to control the rioting, even though they surrounded the building. Tear gas was used to disperse the crowd. Extra forces were called in from Alexandria, and the rioting raged on till 1:30am of the following day when the situation was brought under control.

Once calm reigned, the gates of the Angel’s Charity were opened and the security officials escorted the inmates, supposedly, to their homes. The injured were moved to Marsa Matrouh public hospital, most of them with injuries in the head. Two were later moved to Alexandria for treatment of serious wounds.

Instead of being escorted home, 16 young men from among those who had been besieged inside the building were taken to the police station where they were detained. The following day four of them were released since they were under-age. Mina Mounir Aziz, a preparatory school pupil, told Watani that he had been with his cousins at Angel’s Charity when the riots erupted. “Stones were being hurled at us almost incessantly,” he said. “We could not get out till after midnight, when matters finally calmed down. The security men offered to drive us home, and we boarded a vehicle which stopped at the hospital to drop down the wounded. We boarded another vehicle which, we were told, would take us home. But it stopped before Matrouh police station, and we were forced to disembark and go in. We were beaten and maltreated, and spent the night there. None of us could understand what wrong we did. We, along with the others who remain in police custody, had been hiding inside the Angel’s Charity building all through the rioting; why were we caught and why are they being detained? “

At large

Apart from the Coptic detainees, the police arrested 18 Muslims. All were charged with rioting, shouting antagonistic slogans, assault, and arson. The prosecution listened to the testimony of the wounded and the church priests who accused Sheikh Khamis of inciting the violence against the Copts and spreading hatred. Until Watani went to press, Sheikh Khamis was at large, and one young Coptic detainee called Mina Saad had not been charged.

Hard earned belongings lost

On Sunday, Reefiya boasted heavy security presence and almost empty roads. Only a few Copts could be seen on the streets, cleaning the debris after the attack and attempting to salvage what they could of their homes or property.

Watani stopped at the doorstep of the home of Nabil Wahba who readily invited us in. “At 6:00pm on Friday,” he recalled, “I was astounded to find some 40 men whose ages ranged anywhere between 20 and 45, hurling stones at my house and breaking the windows. At 9:00pm they came back with clubs and iron pipes, this time ripping the windows and throwing fireballs in the house which started to burn. When we tried to put out the fire, they hurled stones at us, while others were pulling down the garden fence and setting the other side of the house aflame. I found myself stuck inside the burning house with my elderly sister, until security finally stepped in and rescued us. What really breaks my heart is that my niece’s trousseau which she was storing safely at my place until she gets married in a few months was all burnt.”

Mary Girgis, Wahba’s niece, sat sadly in a corner: “We live in a very small house so I asked my uncle if I could leave all the items I was buying for my new home at his place. Now, everything is gone. For two years I was working as hard as I could and saving every penny to buy what I would need for my new life. I bought my things at bargain prices from various places in Egypt; it cost me a staggering EGP10,000.”

Robbed and burned

The house of Farag Sanad Luqa, 42, was burnt to the ground. We sat down to hear another heart rending story. “I was in my two-storey house with my children when stones were thrown at us and someone smashed the door with a wooden beam. I rushed my children up to the second floor but, a few minutes later, I could see the flames devouring the first floor after the assaulters had stolen my home appliances and my wife’s jewellery. As I looked down a stone hit my head and I lost consciousness. I don’t know how my family escaped and I was taken to hospital. I later went to the police station for legal proceedings.”

Awad Rashid Awad, 41, a worker, was inside the building when he received a phone call from a neighbour who informed him that his house was on fire. He could not leave the building because of the fierce attacks outside, but as soon as he could he went to find his house completely burnt as a result of a flaming gas cylinder which had been hurled inside. Awad said his house was robbed first before it was set on fire.

The two testimonies

Watani met 41-year-old Mounir Naguib, a teacher at the technical school, who was at a hospital in Alexandria for treatment. “I was heading to the Angel’s Charity building in my pick-up truck when the sight of a mob greeted me,” he said. As I stepped down from my car someone holding a knife stopped me and asked if I was Christian. When I replied in the affirmative he said I had to ‘pronounce the two testimonies.” [converting to Islam is acknowledged by pronouncing the testimonies that there is no God but Allah and that Mohamed is his messenger]. When I refused, he stabbed me in the thigh and hit me on the head. I lost consciousness. I was later taken to the Victoria in Alexandria where I got 20 stitches in the head, eight in the thigh and eight in my left arm. I am also being treated for numerous bruises in the back and chest.”

Sobhy Girgis, 33, a driver, was also taken to Alexandria with internal haemorrhage in the kidney due to injuries sustained from being hit by heavy stones.

Amid the hurt and pain, however, a ray of hope beams through.

Abullah Imam who is in his early sixties and was general manager at the Education Ministry before going into retirement, took his Coptic neighbour Magdy Fikry in his home for protection during the riots. He also rescued Karam Sobhy from the hands of the mob who were viciously attacking him in the street. Mr Imam strongly condemned the attack, maintaining that the attackers came from outside Reefiya.

What law?

The head of Matrouh town council Abdel-Rahman Abdel-Bari denounced the violence and said it was alien to Matrouh tradition. “We hope it would have no repercussions,” he said, “and would be limited to its real size. The culprits and those who incited the violence ought to be penalised. No one is above the law.”

Sunday saw the elders of the Bedouin tribes of Matrouh holding a meeting with Anba Pakomeus. They were joined with local politicians and security officials. They denounced the attack against the Copts, and offered to indemnify the victims and hold a reconciliation session. Anba Pakomeus said that making peace was among the most basic teachings of Christ and that peace would be welcome provided the Coptic detainees, who had been the victims of the assault and had been besieged inside the building all through the attack, should be released; the victims indemnified for their losses; and the culprits brought to justice.

“What happened in Matrouh,” Anba Pakomeus said, “is the natural outcome of the false religiosity that is today enveloping Egypt. Even if the Church had violated the law—which is not the case, he insisted—then the law should have been upheld and legal procedures ought to have been taken. It should never have been left to a fanatic preacher to take the law in his own hands, inciting such violence, damage and pain.”

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

Israel and the Palestinians

Clinton: Israel Must Make Difficult Choices for Peace

(ANSAmed) — WASHINGTON, MARCH 22 — US State Secretary Hillary Clinton believes that Israel must make “difficult but necessary choices” in the peace process, because the status quo in relations with the Palestinians is not sustainable. She will say this in a speech to the pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC today. “There is another path. A path that leads toward security and prosperity for all the people of the region. It will require all parties — including Israel — to make difficult but necessary choices,” the statement reads following are excerpts of it released by the State Department. In her speech, Clinton also stresses that Washington guarantees Israel’s security, specifying that the United States must “tell the truth when it is needed”.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Israel: Firefight on Gaza Border

(ANSAmed) — JERUSALEM, MARCH 22 — A firefight lasting several hours took place today on the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip following an apparent attempt by armed Palestinians to infiltrate into Israel near the Kissufim border crossing. According to initial reports from Israel TV station, three Palestinians were captured, according to other sources, three were killed. According to an Arab TV station, an Israeli soldier was killed, news that has not yet been confirmed officially in Israel. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Palestinians Shot; PLO Protests. Abbas, Risk of Revolt

(ANSAmed) — TEL AVIV, MARCH 22 — Controversy continues to mount after two Palestinians boys were shot dead by the Israeli army in an incident near Nablus (West Bank). The PLO issued a harsh statement on the matter, while the Israeli press has cast doubts on the accounts provided by the soldiers. “Israel has returned to resorting to deadly violence against the Palestinians, in a deliberate effort to cause tensions to flare on the ground,” accused PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat. The incident in question occurred in the village of Awarta (Nablus) when, according to an initial version of the incident according to the Israeli army, two Palestinians boys tried to attack an Israeli soldier. According to this version, the two 19-year-old boys — Mohammed and Saleh Quarik — were shot dead by the Israeli soldiers. However, today, Haaretz and Yediot Ahronot have cast serious doubts on the account. They report that previously the two boys were interrogated by soldiers and that they had placed the farming tools that they were carrying on the ground. Palestinian news agency Wafa reports that PNA President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) defined the murder of the two boys yesterday near Nablus as “a very dangerous development”. “I am appealing to the Israelis,” said Abbas at the end of a meeting in Amman with U.S. envoy George Mitchell, “to not drag us towards actions that we neither love, nor want, and that they neither love, nor want”. The PNA President warned that Israel’s breaches of international law and other similar incidents could drive the Palestinians to a popular revolt. Referring to resumed indirect negotiations with Israel, Abbas said that the conversation with Mitchell “was thorough” and that he is still awaiting guarantees so that the resolutions of the Quartet for the Middle East (USA, EU, Russia, UN) — regarding a settlement freeze — be respected by the Israeli government. After falling at home and injuring his leg, Abbas was advised by Jordanian doctors to stay in Amman for several days. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Spiegel Interview With Avigdor Lieberman

‘It Is a Clash of Civilizations’

In a SPIEGEL interview, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, 51, discusses his country’s controversial settlement policies, the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program and the seeming hopelessness of the conflict with the Palestinians.

Even before he became Israel’s foreign minister just under a year ago, Avigdor Lieberman had already established a reputation for his abrasive approach. For example, the former club bouncer, who was born in Moldova and emigrated to Israel in 1978, threatened to bomb the Aswan High Dam in Egypt and publicly stated that he wished President Hosni Mubarek would “go to Hell.”

The popularity of Lieberman, with his thick Russian accent, is fueled by two sources: the more than 1 million Israeli immigrants from the former Soviet Union, who support a largely hardline course against the Palestinians; and the Jewish settlers in the West Bank, where Lieberman himself lives.

When it comes to the settlements in the West Bank, Lieberman’s line is flexible. But he refuses to make any compromises when it comes to preserving the Jewish residential areas that have been constructed in eastern Jerusalem since Israeli victory in the Six-Day War in 1967. Around 200,000 Jews live in this annexed part of the city, and the destruction of Arab homes and new construction projects could soon transform Arab residents into a minority.

In the conflict over East Jerusalem, the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is even willing to irritate its most important ally, the United States. Following the announcement by the Interior Ministry — during a visit to Israel by US Vice President Joseph Biden, of all times — that the Israelis would build 1,600 new homes in East Jerusalem, relations with Washington have fallen to an historic low point. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, as well as German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other European leaders have sharply condemned Israel’s settlement policies, especially in light of the fact that Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Autonomous Authority, had just agreed to new peace talks.

Angered by the announcement, the radical Palestinian organization Hamas called for a “day of rage,” which saw skirmishing on the streets of Jerusalem last week between Israeli security forces and Palestinians.

Fearing a further escalation, the so-called Middle East Quartet on Friday emphatically called on the Israelis and the Palestinians to launch proximity talks. The quartet, which includes US Secretary of State, the foreign ministers of Russia and the European Union and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, also called on Israel to immediately freeze all settlement activity. In order to prevent the rift between Washington and Jerusalem from growing, US Mideast envoy George Mitchell announced that he would travel to Israel at the beginning of the week — a trip he had previously cancelled.

In a SPIEGEL interview, Israeli Foreign Minister Lieberman explains why his country is not ready to negotiate over the status of Jerusalem, why he believes peace cannot be imposed in the Middle East and how tougher Western sanctions could be enough to “suffocate” the Iranian nuclear program…

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

State to Invest NIS 700m in Developing Arab Towns

By Meirav Arlosoroff

The state intends to allocate NIS 700 million for accelerating economic growth in 10 Arab, Druze and Circassian communities who comprise 30% of Israel’s total population of minorities. The final touches are being put on the proposal, which is slated to be submitted to the cabinet for approval on Sunday.

The list of the communities to be included in the program has not been finalized. The idea is to make a concentrated, coordinated effort in those towns to remove the main barriers to their economic development. The plan will simultaneously address employment, transportation, housing and possibly even security issues. But other areas related to economic development, such as education and welfare services, have been left out.

The Finance Ministry and the Minority Affairs Ministry in the Prime Minister’s Office are responsible for the plan, to which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has given his blessing. Also involved is Iman Saif, the director of the Authority for the Economic Development of the Arab, Druze and Circassian Sectors in the Prime Minister’s Office.

The most dramatic changes envisioned by the proposal are in housing. For the first time the state is to address the serious housing shortage in Arab communities and take action to end it. To do this the state will have to take the place of the local authorities and advance zoning, planning and construction plans. The lack of detailed plans of this type in most Arab, Druze and Circassian municipalities effectively blocks legally authorized building in many of these communities.

The new plans mark a radical change for the Arab sector, and will stress higher density construction instead of the traditional building, due to a lack of land. The state will provide terms for the new housing similar to that given by the Israel Lands Administration in the periphery: for example, subsidizing half the development costs. Another problem to be dealt with is a lack of land for public buildings.

Employment will be the second major focus of the plan. The budget wil include funding for public daycare facilities, which are almost nonexistent in these Arab towns. As a result, only 18% of Arab women work today. Public transportation wil also be expanded within the towns, and not just along major intercity routes. This will allow people to better reach the new centers of employment, which will include new industrial areas alongside the cities. The project will also encourage entrepreneurship and the opening of new businesses. It will also include funds for job retraining and advanced professional courses.

The project looks to be the largest economic development plan for the Arab sector in Israeli history. The treasury and the Prime Minister’s Office both view it as being of historic importance, after coming to the realization in recent years that the levels of poverty in the Arab sector have been holding back the economic development of the entire country; and closing the economic gaps between the Arab population and the rest of Israel is an opportunity for a major economic jump forward for all Israelis.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has placed an emphasis on the development of the Arab sector as part of Israel’s application to join the organization. In its report on Israel in preparation for Israel’s entry into the organization the OECD cited the gaps within Israeli society as the largest problem facing Israel, and the biggest barrier to Israel’s acceptance into the OECD.

[Return to headlines]

Middle East

Dubai: No Alcohol in Food, Diktat for Cooks

(ANSAmed) — DUBAI, MARCH 22 — No more chicken in wine or other food that contains even a low quantity of alcohol: the municipality of Dubai has reminded the chefs of the best restaurants that the use of any alcohol is forbidden, The National writes today. The ban, the daily explains, goes back to 2003, but has been widely ignored until now. Many Muslim clients of these restaurants lodged protests and the municipality of Dubai has decided to apply the law in their favour. The chefs are angry: from Crepe Suzette to other important dishes, a drop of alcohol is needed for the best taste, and many delicacies will have to be taken off the menu. The decision does not regard alcoholic drinks, which can be sold in restaurants and hotels thanks to a special licence. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

German City Ban Israel Flag, Could ‘Interfere With Passers-by’

( Kassel, Germany has banned the Coalition against Anti-Semitism from displaying the blue-and-white Zionist flag because it might upset passers-by and threaten them, the news service reported. However, city officials previously have approved showing the Iranian flag.

A woman identified by the news service as “Dorothee H.” said that officials told her she could not display the Israeli flag at an information booth she wanted to set up. Pro-Israelis previously have been threatened and attacked by anti-Zionist protestors in Germany.

“I told him that I could not understand this, and that we were not at all dangerous,” Dorothee H. said, but the city official said the booth could be set up only on condition that no Israeli flags were shown. The unnamed official told her that she had to be “considerate” of others.

Dorothee charged that “the employees of the public order told me that all the political information booths will be automatically reported to the national security. This is absurd. You expect the authorities to guarantee freedom of expression, rather than restricting them.”

“A supporter of the group’s claim added, “If somebody attacked the activists, the state must just intervene protectively.”

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

Iraq Election Commission Rejects Calls for Vote Recount

Iraq’s election commission has rejected calls from the president and prime minister for a recount of votes cast in the general election on 7 March.

An election official said a recount of all votes would be impossible and was unnecessary because of checks on fraud.

Earlier, President Jalal Talabani and Prime Minister Nouri Maliki backed calls for a manual recount of votes.

Partial results indicate a close race between Mr Maliki and former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi.

But the long delay in announcing the full results has led to growing allegations of fraud and demands for a recount.

“It can’t be done, it can’t, we can’t start all over again and count the votes manually,” Saad el-Rawi of the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) told BBC Arabic.

“We don’t say it’s impossible,” he added, “but it will take a lot of time.

“We have more than 50,000 polling stations and 350,000 election officials. Do they want us to resend all the ballot boxes back to the stations and call back all the officials?”

Other IHEC officials have said vote recounts from particular districts could be requested if candidates thought errors had been made.

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

Living Proof of the Armenian Genocide

Robert Fisk

It’s only a small grave, a rectangle of cheap concrete marking it out. Inside are the bones of up to 300 children, Armenian orphans of the great 1915 genocide who died of cholera and starvation as the Turkish authorities tried to “Turkify” them in a Catholic college high above Beirut. But for once, it is the almost unknown story of the surviving 1,200 children who lived in the dormitory of this ironically beautiful cut-stone school that proves that the Turks did indeed commit genocide against the Armenians.

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton — who are now campaigning to prevent the US Congress acknowledging that the Ottoman Turkish massacre of 1.5 million Armenians was a genocide — should come here to this Lebanese village and hang their heads in shame. For this is a tragic tale of brutality against defenceless children whose families had already been murdered by Turkish forces.

Jemal Pasha, one of the architects of the 1915 genocide, and — alas — Turkey’s first feminist, Halide Edip Adivar, helped to run this orphanage of terror in which Armenian children were systematically deprived of their Armenian identity and given new Turkish names, forced to become Muslims and beaten savagely if they were heard to speak Armenian.

The Antoura Lazarist college priests have recorded how its original Lazarist teachers were expelled and how Jemal Pasha presented himself at the front door after a muezzin began calling for Muslim prayers once the statue of the Virgin Mary had been taken from the belfry.

Hitherto, the argument that Armenians suffered a genocide has rested on the deliberate nature of the slaughter. But Article II of the 1951 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide specifically states that the definition of genocide — “to destroy in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group” — includes “forcibly transferring children of the group to another group”. This is exactly what the Turks did in Lebanon.

Before he died in 1989, Karnig Panian — who was six years old when he arrived at Antoura in 1916 — described how, after cruel treatment or through physical weakness, many children died. They were buried behind the old college chapel and the wild animals would dig them up and throw their bones here and there … at night, kids would run out to the nearby forest to get any fruits they could find — and their feet would hit bones. They would take these bones back to their rooms and grind them to make soup, in order to survive starvation.

Using college records, Emile Joppin, the head priest at the Lazarite Antoura college, wrote in the school’s magazine in 1947 that “the Armenian orphans were Islamicised, circumcised and given new Arab or Turkish names.”

Lebanese-born Armenian-American electrical engineer Missak Kelechian researches Armenian history as a hobby and hunted down a rare 1918 report by an American Red Cross officer, who arrived at the Antoura college after its liberation by British and French troops and who spoke to the surviving orphans. His much earlier account entirely supports that of Father Joppin’s research.

Halide Adivar, later to be lauded by The New York Times as “the Turkish Joan of Arc” — a description that Armenians obviously questioned — was born in Constantinople in 1884 and attended an American college in the Ottoman capital. She served as a woman officer in Mustafa Ataturk’s Turkish army of liberation after the First World War. She later lived in both Britain and France.

And it was Kelechian yet again who found Adivar’s memoirs, published in New York in 1926, in which she recalls how Jemal Pasha, commander of the Turkish 4th Army in Damascus, toured Antoura orphanage with her. “I said: Why do you allow Armenian children to be called by Moslim [sic] names? It looks like turning the Armenians into Moslims, and history will revenge it on the coming generation of Turks.’ ‘You are an idealist,’ he answered… This is a Moslem orphanage and only Moslem orphans are allowed.’“ According to Adivar, Jemal Pasha promised they would go “back to their people” after the war.

Adivar says she told the general that: “I will never have anything to do with such an orphanage” but claims that Jemal Pasha replied: “ if you see them in misery and suffering, you will go to them and not think for a moment about their names and religion.” Which is exactly what she did.

Later in the war, however, Adivar spoke to Talaat Pasha, the architect of the 20th century’s first holocaust, and recalled how he almost lost his temper when discussing the Armenian “deportations” (as she put it), saying: “ I have a heart as good as yours, and it keeps me awake at night to think of the human suffering. But that is a personal thing, and I am here on this earth to think of my people and not of my sensibilities … There was an equal number of Turks and Moslems massacred during the [1912] Balkan war, yet the world kept a criminal silence. I have the conviction that as long as a nation does the best for its own interests, and succeeds, the world admires it and thinks it moral.”

The suffering of which Talaat Pasha spoke so chillingly was all too evident to Trowbridge when he himself met the orphans of Antoura. Many had seen their parents murdered and their sisters raped. Ten-year-old Takhouhi was put with her family on a freight train to Konia. Her two brothers died in the truck, both parents caught typhus — they died in the arms of Takhouhi.

Talaat Pasha did indeed die for his sins. He was assassinated by an Armenian in Berlin in 1922. Jemal Pasha was murdered in the Turkish town of Tiflis

It was only in 1993 that the bones of the children were discovered, when the Lazarite Fathers dug the foundations for new classrooms. What was left of the remains were moved respectfully to the little cemetery and put in a single, deep grave. Kelechian helped me over a 5ft wall to look at this place of sadness, shaded by tall trees. Neither name-plate nor headstone marks their mass grave.

The Independent (abridged)

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

The United Nations Exposed: A View From Within

by Alexandra Colen

At the recent conference on the Status of Women at the United Nations I represented Belgium. I observed that with the Obama administration the United States has joined the hardcore Marxist social engineers.

As chair of the Belgian Parliament’s Committee for Equal Opportunities and Social Emancipation I was sent to New York to be part of the national delegation to the 54th session of the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations. If I had not been chair I would probably not even have known about the mission to New York, as I do not belong to the in-crowd of progressive Marxist society-shapers that frequent the conferences of this influential institute of world governance. It was a unique opportunity to observe the UN at work.

My observation started at home, where I attended some of the preparatory meetings to define my government’s position on the main theme of the conference. These meetings were attended by civil servants from the ministries and representatives from a plethora of equal opportunities institutes and NGOs, all lavishly subsidized and accountable to no-one. In the name of “women’s empowerment” they were chiefly concerned with the continuation of attention (and funding), on the part of the government and the UN, for their own activities. Through this system of “consultation” at the preparatory level the NGOs themselves provide the input for the “agreed conclusions”, concrete recommendations of the UN for measures to be implemented by governments and various institutions at all levels, from international to local.

In New York I attended some of the plenaries and panels of the conference (and gave a brief two-minute speech during the panel on “the evolving status and role of national mechanisms for gender equality”). To see how the UN’s texts are developed, however, I attended the “informal consultations” where the representatives of the member states attempted to write consensus texts for resolutions to be adopted by the conference.

Imagine entering a factory hall where a large, complicated machine is in operation. Raw materials are poured in at one end and at various intervals along the belt. There is a regular rhythm, some hissing, clanging, churning from indeterminate sources, a panel with lights that appears to accompany the whole process. Whatever is produced at the other end is immediately packaged and whisked away. Sitting in the room where the “informal consultations” are held, observing the process by which UN resolutions are written, is a similar experience. There is a draft text. At first observation it is unclear where it came from and how it got there. The same applies to the people round the table. Who are they and what are they doing? One thing is clear: the resolution is inevitable, and most of the content of the resolution is inevitable, too. Whoever gets to write the first draft determines the content and thrust of the text.

I asked our diplomats about the draft text and the people. Apparently any country can submit a draft resolution. Once it is submitted, the other countries are doomed to participate in the informal consultations during which the text is adapted until it can be accepted in a general consensus. This year Palestine caused some embarrassment among the diplomats by submitting a resolution (together with Yemen) which laid the blame for the situation of Palestinian women within their own society entirely on Israel. So all 45 missions of the member states of the UN sent out diplomats to try to modify paragraphs such as…

           — Hat tip: TV[Return to headlines]

The UN Gives an Award Named After a Murdered Man to One of His Murderer’s Best Friends

by Barry Rubin

If you want a good example of the ridiculous, shameful ironies in the terrible era we’re living in here it is. The UN-Habitat organization, part of the United Nations, has initiated a Rafik Hariri Memorial Award. The award is named after the former Lebanese prime minister who was assassinated by Syria in February 2005.

The first winner is Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Of course, Erdogan is an Islamist who is an ally of Syria, the murderer of Hariri.

Why did Erdogan get the $200,000 award?…

           — Hat tip: Barry Rubin[Return to headlines]

Turkey: Constitutional Reform; AKP Presents Package

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, MARCH 22 — Members of the Muslim Justice and Development Party (AKP of Premier Tayyip Erdogan) today started a series of meetings with the opposition parties to explain the draft that contains a set of amendments for the small constitutional reform wanted by the Turkish government to adjust to the terms required for Turkey’s accession to the European Union. The news was carried by the Turkish press, which specified that the amendments regard 22-24 articles of the Constitution, and that their precise number will be clear after the consultations that started today. The mini-reform, which will be presented to the parties that are not represented in Parliament as well, has been drafted by Burhan Kuzu, head of the Parliament Constitutional Commission and MP for the AKP, by Ahmet Iyimaya, head of the Parliament Justice Commission and also of the AKP party, and by the vice president of the AKP Parliament group, Bekir Bozdag. The goal of the reform, according to AKP, is to “reorganise” the Supreme Court of Judges and Council of State (HSYK, the equivalent of Italy’s Supreme Council of Magistracy) and the Constitutional Court, to guarantee a more democratic selection process in the context of the magistracy, which will be subjected to government control. The number of HSYK members, based on the mini-reform, will be increased from seven to 21, seven of these will be appointed by the government and Parliament, the other 14 by judges and attorneys. The reform will also make it more difficult to break up political parties. Currently the Constitutional Court can only ban parties that are accused of violence and terrorism. Legal proceedings to break up a party must be approved by the Parliament, while now the initiative is taken by the Supreme Court of Appeal. Other changes to the Constitution are the creation of the Ombudsman Office, the limitation of the power of military courts, new regulations to protect privacy, the right for civil servants to a collective labour contract and the definition of torture as “crime against the Constitution”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Turkey: Kurds: New Case Against Two Former DTP Deputies

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, MARCH 22 — A few days before the start of legal proceedings by the Public Prosecutor’s Office of Diyarbakir regarding propaganda for the illegal Kurdistan Workers’ Party, two former Members of Parliament of the dissolved Democratic Society Party (DTP, pro-Kurdish) will be tried in a similar initiative taken by the Public Prosecutor’s Office of Ankara. The news was announced by press agency Anadolu, which specifies that the initiative once again regards former DTP leader Ahmet Turk, and Aysel Tugluk, MP of the same party. Both were stripped of their parliamentary privilege on December 11 after a decision of the Constitutional Court to ban the DTP for collusion with the separatist PKK. The High Court also decided that 35 party members were suspended from political activities for the coming five years, and that only 19 of the 21 DTP MPs could stay in Parliament, excluding Turk and Tugluk for life. The Ankara trial accuses the two former MPs of PKK propaganda in their speeches on the occasion of the return in Turkey of 8 Turkish troops who had been seized by Turkish rebels after a shootout on October 21 2007 in the south-eastern Hakkari province, near the Iraqi border. If found guilty, Turk and Tugluk could be sentenced to 1-5 years in prison. In the Diyarbakir trial, the local public prosecutor has asked for a sentence of 45 years for Turk and 70 for Tugluk, who was convicted last year by another court in Diyarbakir to 18 months in prison, also for PKK propaganda. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Turkey: AKP and European Values

Perhaps it is seen as such from Athens; otherwise leading Greek newspaper Eleftherotypia would not have run in its Sunday supplement an article describing Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party, or AKP, governance in Turkey of walking in the footsteps of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and of continuing Atatürk’s vision of modern Turkey anchored to the West.

The lead article of Eleftherotypia’s supplement underlined that, under the AKP, Turkey was “progressing” toward Atatürk’s vision of integration with Europe. The article, written by Vangelis Grigoris, stressed that the “limitation of Islam” policies of the former conservative Turkish governments were relaxed, Muslim Turkish people wishing to live in conformity with their cultural-religious traditions were provided a freer atmosphere, while Islamist movements had parted ways with radicalism, started to modernize and were moving toward the center in Turkish politics.

The Turkey, Erdogan and the AKP governance Grigoris mentioned in his article cannot be the same Erdogan, AKP and the AKP administration that we have in this country, particularly in view of the compatibility of the mindset of the leader and ruling majority in this country with European norms and values. These are, headed of course by freedom of speech, supremacy of law, equality of all in front of law, transparent governance, avoidance of all sorts of discrimination and respect to ethnic, cultural, religious as well as individual differences.

Anomalies in Europe

Well, for some time there has been a serious amnesia in Europe and as if it was not the old continent that underwent fascist, Nazi and other ruthless practices in its recent history, there is unfortunately an increase in xenophobic attitudes and particularly a dangerous rise in Islamophobia in the post 9/11 era.

Yet, such anomalies hopefully will be eradicated by Europe and they will not be allowed to consolidate and replace the norms and values established after immense pain and which we have been attempting to acquire. The anomalies of Europe should be considered as conjectural and temporary.

Now, let us look at Erdogan’s and AKP’s Turkey and their compatibility with European norms and values.

Is it possible in any part of Europe for a prime minister to publicly ask newspaper bosses to fire writers and journalists critical of the government? For those who might have forgot, let me remind you what Erdogan said on Feb. 26: “I want to appeal to the bosses of the newspapers that run those articles [critical of the government]. They cannot say, ‘What can I do? I cannot control them [the writers].’ You [the bosses] are paying their [writers’] salaries. On the one hand, you come and hit at the government; on the other hand, you cannot control your columnists… At this point, I have to make a warning: No one has the right to create tensions in this country… Everyone can express his or her ideas, but those who have trusted that pen to those people [columnists] should be able to say, ‘Sorry, my friend, but there is no place for you in this shop.’ Everyone needs unity and togetherness in this country.”

Have we all forgotten the many court cases opened by the “democratic” prime minister “trying to anchor Turkey to the West” against writers, journalists and caricaturists? The most recent example may help refresh Grigoris and his kind.

British national Patrick Dickinson, a part-time teacher, peace activist and artist, was given a suspended sentence of a 7,080 lira fine — he was also placed on five year’s probation — for insulting the prime minister with a really tasteless portrait of Erdogan’s head atop the body of a dog.

The continuous ordeal between the prime minister’s lawyers and the Penguen caricature magazine testify as well to the “democratic tolerance” and commitment to “free speech” of our prime minister.

What about the calls of the lady minister in charge of family and women affairs for the establishment of a board to censor kissing scenes from Turkish soap operas?

Inciting hatred against “different” people, is totally unacceptable and a serious crime throughout Europe. What might have happened to a lady minister in charge of family and women affairs in any European country if she described homosexuality as a disease?

Unfortunately, in Erdogan’s Turkey, she is still a minister and the government is totally silent on the issue. How would Grigoris, I wonder, react to Prime Minister George Papandreou if for some idiotic reason he came up with a statement that if Turkey did not accept a certain demand of Greece his government would consider expelling scores of Turkish nationals who illegally entered Greece?

Of course the situation of Armenian workers in Turkey cannot be compared with the Turkish terrorists “hosted” by Greece. Armenian workers have entered Turkey through legal ways but stayed on and have been working here “illegally” because of the “three-monkeys” attitude of the government and police, but they are not definitely some sort of “hostages” or bargaining chip Turkey might use to promote a certain demand, or to prevent the alleged genocide resolutions…

No need of course to talk about detentions and arrests replacing court-ordered punishment, summary executions on the front pages of the allegiant media and other gross violation of norms of justice…

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


Ports: Russian Operators Visist Gioia Tauro

(ANSAmed) — GIOIA TAURO (REGGIO CALABRIA), MARCH 22 — A Russian trade delegation has visited the port authority headquarters and the port area at Gioia Tauro. As a press release reports, “The visit forms part of the economic internationalisation programme organised by the Regional Department of Productive Activities. The object of the visit was to encourage Calabria’s trade relations with Russia”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

South Asia

Afghan Hezb-e-Islami Militants Hold Peace Talks in Kabul

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has met a delegation from the country’s second biggest militant group, officials say.

The Kabul talks are the first confirmed direct contact between Mr Karzai and envoys of former premier Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hezb-e-Islami faction.

Mr Karzai has yet to respond to a tentative peace plan from the group at talks two days ago, his spokesman said.

Talks with insurgents are seen as vital to securing peace although any deal is a long way off, BBC correspondents say.

Hezb-e-Islami fighters are based mainly in eastern Afghanistan and share many aims with the Taliban — the biggest militant group in the country. There have been recent tensions however, with the two groups clashing in the north.

Observers say the talks in Kabul may only be preliminary but they come at a fluid time in Afghan politics, with a peace jirga, or tribal gathering, due to be held some time next month and a surge in US-led troop numbers under way.

On Friday the former UN envoy to Afghanistan, Kai Eide, confirmed he had been holding secret contacts with top Taliban leaders for the past year.

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

Sub-Saharan Africa

Frank Gaffney: “One More Time”

A solemn vow has animated the people of the State of Israel and their admirers for over sixty years: “Never again.” Those two words have captured a shared, steely determination to prevent another Holocaust — the genocide waged against the Jews by Nazi Germany. Today, alas, there is growing reason to fear that the operative phrase is becoming instead: “One more time.”

Consider a few illustrative examples of the gathering storm that is developing in the Middle East and elsewhere, to the grave detriment of the Jewish State — and to America’s vital interests:

The so-called “international community” as represented by the United Nations and its various subsidiaries has institutionalized anti-Zionism and, in the process, increasingly legitimated anti-Semitism. Israel is the target of the vast majority of UN investigations of human rights abuses and condemnatory resolutions. No other nation even comes close to the “world body’s” sustained and vicious assault on one of the planet’s most liberal democracies and freest societies.

The latest of such UN travesties is the denunciation of Israel produced by Sir Richard Goldstone, a South African jurist (who happens to be Jewish). The “Goldstone Report” he authored purports to be an objective analysis of the conduct of the Israelis and Palestinians when the former retaliated at last against the latter after years of rocket fire on Israel from the Gaza Strip. This odious document largely ignores the responsibility of Hamas for what happened, accuses the Jewish State of using excessive force and has encouraged international prosecution of Israelis on specious war crimes charges…

           — Hat tip: CSP[Return to headlines]

Somali Islamist Al-Shabab Commander Assassinated

A senior commander of the Somali Islamist group, al-Shabab, has been shot dead at close range as he left a mosque in the city of Kismayo.

Unidentified gunmen shot Sheikh Daud Ali Hasan several times, inside an area of Somalia held by his own forces.

Sheikh Hasan was in charge of front-line operations in the town of Dhobley, near the Kenyan border.

Al-Shabab said it arrested several people and would bring them before a court, but did not identify them.

Rival Islamist groups in the vicinity, including Hizbul-Islam, have not said whether they were behind the killing.

A witness, Ahmed Daud, said: “At least three masked men armed with pistols shot Sheikh Daud Ali Hasan several times in the head and the chest as he was coming out of a mosque in Kismayo.”

The BBC’s Mohamed Olad Hassan in Mogadishu says Hizbul-Islam fighters launched an attack in Dhobly hours after the assassination — and claimed they had killed number of al-Shabab militants.

Al-Shabab and Hizbul-Islam are fighting against the UN-backed, weak Somali government and the African Union soldiers.

They have fought together in the capital against government forces and the AU peacekeepers, but in the southern Jubba regions the groups continue to fight each other.

The dispute began last year when al-Shabab forcibly took control of Kismayo from Hizbul-Islam.

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

Spiegel Interview With Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir

‘I Feel Completely Safe’

In a SPIEGEL interview, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, the subject of an international arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court, discusses the worldwide condemnation of war crimes in Darfur, the possible partition of Sudan and his relationship with terrorist leader Osama bin Laden.

According to United Nations estimates, about 300,000 people died and at least 2 million were forced to flee their homes in Sudan’s Darfur region between 2003 and 2008. In the years of forced displacement and torture, the political responsibility lay with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, the first sitting head of state against whom the International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant. The court indicted Bashir on five counts of crimes against humanity and two of war crimes.

The president of the largest African country, as commander-in-chief of the armed forces, stands accused of being responsible for the bombing of numerous villages. He is also accused of having armed and paid the Arab mounted militias known as the Janjaweed, so that, after the bombings, they could murder people in the settlements, drive them out and systematically rape the women. So far, however, Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo has not gained the support of a majority of the judges in The Hague in his efforts to prosecute Bashir for genocide.

Bashir came to power in a non-violent coup about 21 years ago, and in 1993 he was formally confirmed as president. In 2005, he agreed to a treaty brokered by the West, which ended the decades-long civil war in the country’s Christian and animist south. Under the agreement, the south will decide, in a January 2011 referendum, whether to secede from the rest of the country. The population is expected to choose independence.

In the Muslim north, however, Bashir has in fact benefited from the arrest warrant. The Arab League and the African Union have come to his support, and the indictment has provided him with a defiant burst of sympathy within the population. Observers expect Bashir to be confirmed as president in the elections in mid-April.

In an exclusive SPIEGEL interview, Bashir describes the accusations against him as “baseless,” and “conspiracy controlled from abroad.”…

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Latin America

Hugo Chavez, Tired of Oppressing Bloggers, Becomes One

Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez is ready to find out what all the hype surrounding this “internet” thing is all about. Chavez announced on his weekend variety show Alo Presidente yesterday that he is about to expand his media empire to include a blog, or a “battle trench,” as he called it, where he could speak freely and openly about the issues that concern him. Funny, since last week he was railing against those who have mistaken the internet for a place “where you do and say whatever you feel like.”

It’s good timing for the authoritarian leader to go into writing. Now that an opposition (and a nation) ravaged by arrests, corruption, and mysterious disappearances has been mostly tamed, he won’t have to face competition from smarter or more competent writers. Chavez described his new website as “candanga”— literally “the devil,” but he probably meant “awesome”— and warned that he would be using the page to both express his feelings and “communicate with the enemy— let them hit me; I’ll hit back.”

It sounds like he finally gets the internet — except he thinks Twitter is a “terrorist” organization and feels threatened by Blackberries (though that might be Colombian singer Juanes’ fault). He’d better hurry up putting the site together though since, after all, this is the internet, and there is already a fake “Hugo Candanga” blog. Enjoy it before the culprits get arrested, hispanophones!

Chavez isn’t the first repressive dictator to experiment with internet journalism. Until recently,, the Iranian leader’s blog, was up and running with his “colorful” thoughts on everything from foreign affairs to morality and the family. Last January, his site was hacked and, from the looks of it, never seemed to have recovered. And Chavez’s Papa Bear, Fidel Castro, still has a regular column in the national newspaper Granma that appears online every week despite serious internet conjecture suggesting that the former 50-year dictator isn’t even alive.

Welcome to the blogosphere, Hugo! Let’s see if you last longer than Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

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


Egypt Releases Israeli Reporter, Followed Immigrants

(ANSAmed) — TEL AVIV, MARCH 22 — The Egyptian authorities yesterday released an Israeli reporter, after political intervention on high level. The man was arrested one week ago while collecting information in the Sinai desert on illegal migration of African citizens to Israel. The reporter, Yotam Feldman, works for commercial television network Channel 10 and for newspaper Haaretz. He returned to Tel Aviv last night. Feldman is the son of an Israeli lawyer, Avigdor Feldman, well-known for his work in the field of civil rights. His release, according to the press, was the result of an agreement between Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai and the chief of Egyptian security services, General Omar Suleiman. The journalist claims that he has been ill-treated by the Egyptian border guards, and that he has been treated correctly after his transfer to Cairo. “I was only doing my job as reporter” he told the press. “I went to the Sinai to write about people who are forced to do the most heroic, least probable acts in order to maintain a sense of humanity, of people who run to the borders (of Israel, editor’s note) even when soldiers are shooting at them, even when most of those who are caught are lynched to brink of death,” said Feldman. His television programme will be broadcast on Wednesday but without video footage, which has been confiscated. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

New U.S. Tourism: Anchor Babies Aweigh!

Businesses open backdoor for ‘birthright citizenship’

Medical tourism has taken a new twist, exploring opportunities for noncitizens to obtain “birthright citizenship” for their babies by taking vacations to the United States with the chief goal of having them in U.S. hospitals, Jerome Corsi’s Red Alert reports.

“Since 2003, more than 12,000 Turkish children have been born in the U.S., giving them instant citizenship, under the 14th Amendment,” wrote Dave Gibson in the Examiner. “They are part of a growing trend known as ‘birth tourism.’“

Flourishing in countries like Turkey, companies in the birth tourism business are able to arrange trips to U.S. cities like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago at a price ranging from $25,000 to $40,000, all for a package that includes the flight, city tours, living accommodations for several months and hospital expenses.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Two New Reception Centres in Greece

(ANSAmed) — ATHENS, MARCH 22 — A new reception centre for illegal immigrants will come into operation by summer on the island of Lesbos, located in the eastern Aegean sea, whilst another will be ready by next year in the area of Evros, on the border with Turkey. The news was announced by Spyros Vougias, Deputy Minister of Citizens’ Protection, explaining that the two centres will replace the ones that already exist and are decaying, and which have been repeated criticised by humanitarian organisations. (ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Culture Wars

UK: Police Investigate After Gay Couple Were ‘Turned Away From B&B’ By Christian Owners

Police launched an investigation today after a Christian bed and breakfast owner turned away a gay couple because she said it was ‘against her convictions’ to let them share a bed.

Michael Black, 62, and John Morgan, have complained of unlawful discrimination after they were not allowed to take up their booking at the B&B in Cookham, Berkshire.

The couple had booked a double room at the £75-a-night guest house on Friday and were met outside by owner Susanne Wilkinson.

She later admitted she had turned the couple away because it was her policy not to let same sex couples share a room.


Mrs Wilkinson admitted to BBC News that she had turned the men away. She said: ‘They gave me no prior warning and I couldn’t offer them another room as I was fully booked.

‘I don’t see why I should change my mind and my beliefs I’ve held for years just because the government should force it on me,’ she said. ‘I am not a hotel, I am a guest house and this is a private house.’

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Vatican: Abortion Will Necessarily Influence Catholic Vote

(AGI) — Vatican City, 22 March — “What kind of social solidarity would be deemed possible if people refuse or destroy life, especially the life of the weakest?”. This is the question asked by Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, the President of the CEI (Italian Bishops Conference), who invites Catholic voters to take into account non-negotiable ethical issues in voting for the regional elections. This, he explains, is also suggested by the use of the RU486 pill and by the spread of so-called emergency contraceptive methods that banalize abortion. “In this context, inevitably dense of meanings, it would be worth-while — he said — for citizens to carefully focus on every election vote, both on a national and regional level. Voting is a qualitatively important fact that is better not to overlook”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Amil Imani: Jews as Scapegoats

Almost everyone uses scapegoats. It is in our fabric. The word “scapegoat” has come to mean a person, often innocent, who is blamed and punished for the sins, crimes, or sufferings of others, generally as a way of distracting attention from the real causes. It is a potent human disposition to blame others for our failings…

           — Hat tip: Amil Imani[Return to headlines]

Mus’ab Hassan Yousuf, Son of Hamas Leader in the West Bank: The God of Islam Suffers From Split Personality

Muhammad — a False Prophet

Mus’ab Hassan Yousuf, Son of Hamas Leader in the West Bank: The God of Islam Suffers from Split Personality; The following are excerpts from an interview with Mus’ab Hassan Yousuf, the son of Sheik Hassan Yousuf, Hamas leader in the West Bank. Yousuf Jr. converted to Christianity, and recently revealed that he had collaborated with Israel. The interview aired on BBC Arabic on March 12, 2010.

Mus’ab Hassan Yousuf: I have said, and I continue to say, that my problem is not with Hamas or with the Muslims. My problem is with the God of Islam and with the Prophet of Islam. With regard to… There were continuous conflicts, which drove me to think about which direction I would like my life to go. Of course, the torture carried out by Hamas on its people in prison, their stupidity, and their political inadequacy drove me to speak out.


Interviewer: Are you saying that your views on what you call “the Islam of Hamas” are what led you to collaborate with the Israelis?

Mus’ab Hassan Yousuf: Who said there is the Islam of Hamas and the Islam of Al-Qaeda?

Interviewer: That’s what you are saying, more or less.

Mus’ab Hassan Yousuf: No, I am not saying that. What I am saying is that Islam is Islam, and the Koran is the Koran. The Koran suffers from a split personality, and the God of Islam suffers from a split personality. All the Muslims who follow the God of Islam interpret Islam as they like, but this does not negate the terroristic and murderous character of Islam, which incites people, through the Koran, to kill people and blow themselves up.


Interviewer: Where does the Koran call for terrorism?

Mus’ab Hassan Yousuf: Go to Surat Al-Tawba, verses 5 and 29. The problem is that Muslims do not understand their own religion. I call upon the Muslims to read their Koran and understand it, before they say that Islam is a religion of peace and compassion.

Interviewer: I asked you…

Mus’ab Hassan Yousuf: The God of Islam calls to kill any non-Muslim. The God of Islam calls to kill me today.

Interviewer: But don’t you agree that Islam recognizes other religions, exalts Jesus, recognizes Judaism, and so on? Do you or do you not accept this?

Mus’ab Hassan Yousuf: There are several unreliable views of several Islamic thinkers, but their authority does not supersede that of the God of Islam, who said: “Slay the People of the Book wherever you find them.”

Interviewer: How can you say that? Did the Koran call to slay the People of the Book?

Mus’ab Hassan Yousuf: He said: “Slay the polytheists wherever you find them.” Read the surah.

Interviewer: But the People of the Book are not polytheists, are they?


Mus’ab Hassan Yousuf: If you want to argue with me — let’s argue. Is Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, the supreme role model for the Muslims?

Interviewer: What do you think?

Mus’ab Hassan Yousuf: Did Muhammad kill the Jews of Khaybar, or didn’t he? You tell me. Why distort the facts? The Muslims must be honest with themselves and with the rest of the world. Muhammad — the supreme role model for the Muslims — killed the Jews of Khaybar, of Qureiza, and of Nadhir. He killed their children and captured their women. This is the supreme role model for the Muslims.

Interviewer: So your problem is with history, not with the present.

Mus’ab Hassan Yousuf: My problem is with that false prophet, Muhammad, and with the God of Islam.


The Muslims are not terrorists by nature. They are among the best nations, in my opinion. However, if the Muslims continue to cover for the terrorists, and to glorify and honor terrorists who blow themselves up, killing children, they will continue to be accomplices. My father is an accomplice.


Israel has been acting with violence, and killed innocent people. It killed people with or without a reason, but mistakes may happen. Every country on the face of the earth makes mistakes, not only Israel. The difference between Israel and Hamas…

Interviewer: When Israel kills innocent people, this is a “mistake,” but when others kill innocent people, it is not?

Mus’ab Hassan Yousuf: Killing is a mistake — regardless of who the killer is — but Hamas has no principles, no laws, and no limits, whereas Israel is bound by law and constitution. If there is a racist Israeli, he will stand trial. Give me one example of a Hamas official who stood trial.


In my view, if Islam were implemented properly, this would spell the destruction of the Arab and Muslim world — the whole world, in fact — because every Muslim would become a Bin Laden.


The Christians have been persecuted for the past 14 centuries — not by the Muslims, but by the God of Islam. The persecution begins in the Koran and in the behavior of the Prophet of Islam.

           — Hat tip: TV[Return to headlines]