Friday, January 10, 2003

News Feed 20100401

Financial Crisis
»Sell-Off in US Treasuries Raises Sovereign Debt Fears
»Amil Imani: Will America Survive Islamofascisim?
»Bishop Takes Blame in Murphy Case
»Chicago Law Prof on Obama: “The Professors Hated Him Because He Was Lazy, Unqualified & Never Attended Any of the Faculty Meetings”
»Embedded Black Says Tea Parties Not Racist
»FCC Calls on Congress to Spend More Money to Push PBS-Style Government-Sponsored Journalism Onto Internet to Compete With Privately Funded Internet Journalism
»Obama to Crush Economy With Massive CO2 Taxes as Early as Next Week
»Resign! Repeal! Renew!
»Thomas Sowell: ‘Change’ Is Not New
»US Abuse Lawyer Wants Pope to Testify
»Victor Davis Hanson: Chicago Does Socialism
»Why Obama is Ineligible — Regardless of His Birthplace
»“But Do Aboriginals Want to be the Point of Origin of Metis Civilization? “
»Man Dies in Waiting Room After 34 Hours
Europe and the EU
»Abuse in the Church: The Demons of Pope Benedict XVI
»Algerian Charged With Threatening Dearborn Attorney Also Suspected of Plot Against Swedish Cartoonist
»Austria: Hundreds of Cases of Clerical Abuse Reported
»Church Rallies to Pope’s Defence
»Cyprus: UK Losses Could Cost Tourism 13 Million Euro
»France: State Council Rejects Absolute Ban on Burka
»France: Niqab: The Laws in Italy and Europe
»France: No to Total Ban on Niqab, Lacks Legal Basis
»Germany: Bishop Mixa Accused of Abusing Children
»German CIA Rendition Victim Sentenced to Jail for Assault
»Italy: Sicilian Filly With Arab Blood Born
»Italy: Northern League Pushes for Reforms
»Italy: Bishops Back Inquiry Into Sex Abuse Claims
»Italy: Imprisoned Fastweb Founder Resigns From Board
»Italy: Centre-Right Wins Piedmont and Lazio as PDL and Northern League Sweep Regional Elections
»Italy: Abortion Pill May be Available This Week
»Italy: People of Freedom Wins Costly Victory as Bossi Takes Votes From Right and Left
»JPMorgan ‘Chase’ Story in UK
»Minimum Wage in Cyprus Increased to 887 Euros
»Netherlands: Compromise, Consensus and Knee-Capping
»Netherlands: No Place for Wilders-Basher on CDA Election List
»Niqab: Belgium Unlike France, Towards Total Ban
»Romania: Majority Want Roma Who Commit Crimes to Lose Their Citizenship
»Spain: Queen Wants Women in Holy Week Processions
»Spain: Confraternities, Between Local Power and Tradition
»Spain: Balearic Corruption, PP Accused of Illegal Funding
»Spain: Muslim Prayers in Cordoba Cathedral, 2 Arrested
»Swiss Bishops Admit Downplaying Abuse
»Switzerland: Why Foreigners Move to the Political Right
»Switzerland: Kofi Annan-Led Forum Closes Due to Lack of Funds
»Vatican: Swiss Bishops Urge Full Disclosure
»Bosnia: Al-Jazeera Takes Over Sarajevo TV Station
»Serbia: USD One Billion Contract for Armament With Algeria
»Serbia: Bosnia: Belgrade Condemns Srebrenica Massacre
»Serbia: Parliament Debates Srebrenica Massacre
Mediterranean Union
»Treated Like in EU, Arab Hospitals in Europe Network
North Africa
»Algeria-Iran: Teheran Foreign Minister Arrives in Algiers
»Egypt: Paris Denies Pullout Israeli Film From Cairo Festival
»Egypt: Elbaradei Moves Reform Campaign to Governorates
»Soros Backs Egypt Weekly to Give Arab Bloggers Exposure
Israel and the Palestinians
»21% Settlers: Arms to Protect Settlements
»East Jerusalem: US Backs 4-Month Freeze, Media
»Obama Tells Israel to Stop Building in Jerusalem
»President Obama Follows Up on His Middle East Victory: A Satire
»The Full Measure of Joe Biden’s Hypocrisy on Jerusalem
»West Bank: Clashes Between Troops and Protesters
Middle East
»Bahrain Introduces Child Abuse Law After Scandal
»Italian Airline Launches Istanbul-Milan Flights
»John Kerry to Beirut and Damascus for Peace Process
»Jordan: New Phosphate Port in Aqaba
»Kuwait Promises Stronger Human Rights for Workers
»Muslim Scholars Recast Jihadists’ Favorite Fatwa
»Qatar: Ponders Changes to Foreign Investment Rule
»S. Arabia: Lebanese Magician Risks Hanging, Suleiman Intervenes
»Ulema Conference Condemns and Invite to Repent
South Asia
»Mullen: No Winning Afghan H&M Until Zero Afghan Casualties
»Pakistan: Taliban Threat Forces Cinemas to Close
»Pakistan Asks Swiss to Revive Zardari Probe
Far East
»China: Milk Scandal: Closed Door Trial for Seeking Justice for Sick Children
Sub-Saharan Africa
»U.S. Navy Frigate Captures Pirate Mother Ship
Latin America
»In Brazil, Catholic Church Sees Few Scandals
Culture Wars
»Do Not Accept ‘Unjust’ Laws, Pope Says
»Global War on Christian Values, Part 1

Financial Crisis

Sell-Off in US Treasuries Raises Sovereign Debt Fears

Investors are braced for a further sell-off in US Treasuries after dramatic moves last week raised fears that the surfeit of US government debt is starting to saturate bond markets.

The yield on 10-year Treasuries — the benchmark price of global capital — surged 30 basis points in just two days last week to over 3.9pc, the highest level since the Lehman crisis. Alan Greenspan, ex-head of the US Federal Reserve, said the abrupt move may be “the canary in the coal mine”, a warning to Washington that it can no longer borrow with impunity. He said there is a “huge overhang of federal debt, which we have never seen before”.

David Rosenberg at Gluskin Sheff said Treasury yields have ratcheted up 90 basis points since December in a “destabilising fashion”, for the wrong reasons. Growth has not been strong enough to revive fears of inflation. Commodity prices peaked in January and US home sales have fallen for the last three months, pointing to a double-dip in the housing market.


It is unclear whether China is selling US Treasuries after cutting its holdings for three months in a row, or what its motive may be. There are concerns that Beijing may be sending a coded message before the US Treasury rules next month on whether China is a “currency manipulator”, though experts say China is clearly still buying dollar assets because it is holding down the yuan against the greenback. Some investors may be selling Treasuries as a precaution against a trade spat.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Amil Imani: Will America Survive Islamofascisim?

Nearly 1400 years ago, a large number of Muslim jihadists from across the scorching Arabian desert, motivated by the ideology of Islam, indoctrinated by Muhammad, unafraid of death, conquered Iran (Persia), one of the greatest, strongest and most tolerant empires known throughout the history of man. The Bedouin Arabs who toppled the Sassanid Empire were propelled not only by a desire for conquest and to steal Persian Jewels and treasures, and also to enslave Iranian women and children, while imposing their barbaric ideology upon the entire population. With that, they almost destroyed one of the most benevolent religions of all humanity, Zoroastrianism, often called the mother of all revealed religions.

           — Hat tip: Amil Imani[Return to headlines]

Bishop Takes Blame in Murphy Case

Our fault not the Vatican’s says Wilwaukee archbishop

(ANSA) — Washington, March 31 — A US bishop on Wednesday shouldered the blame for a paedophile priest in his diocese whose case spurred claims of inaction by Pope Benedict XVI.

At the same time, a statement from the US Bishops Conference, published in Vatican daily l’Osservatore Romano, praised Benedict for “strengthening the Church’s response to victims and supporting our efforts to tackle culprits”. Last week the New York Times reported that Benedict, in his former capacity of Vatican doctrinal chief dealing with such cases, did not heed appeals in the late 1990s to defrock Father Lawrence Murphy, a priest in Wisconsin who abused some 200 deaf boys between 1950 and 1974.

In reply, the Vatican defended the pope from what it called an “ignoble” attack.

The NYT stood by its story, saying no facts had been challenged or contradicted.

On Wednesday Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki said the archdiocese, not the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, was to blame.

“It was us, the civic and religious authorities of Milwaukee, who were at fault in the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s; not Rome and the Vatican between 1996 and 1998” Listecki told a Mass in the city’s cathedral.

“I ask your forgiveness on behalf of the Church and the Archdiocese,” he said.

In its story on the cover-up, the NYT said Cardinal Ratzinger failed to respond to two letters about the case from Rembert G. Weakland, Milwaukee’s archbishop at the time, in 1996.

In its defence of the pope, the Vatican said the case had only come to the future pope’s attention “four months” before Murphy died in 1998.

The US bishops, in their statement Wednesday, recalled that “one of the most touching moments” of Benedict’s visit to the US in 2006 was when he had a private conversation with abuse victims in Washington.

“He held their hands tightly and replied tenderly, reassuring them”.

With the support first of Pope John Paul II and then, from 2005, Benedict, “we bishops have vigorously pursued everything in our power to make sure abuse is never again committed against children”.

The most concrete evidence of this commitment was a new Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People to aid victims and wipe out priestly paedophilia, they said.

Paedophile scandals erupted in the US in 2002-2004 and settlements to victims bankrupted several dioceses. Benedict is now dealing with growing paedophile priest scandals in Ireland, the Netherlands, Austria and his native Germany.

In a recent letter to Irish Catholics he apologised for systemic abuse and promised to root out paedophilia.

Two Irish bishops have resigned and had their resignations accepted while three others have tendered their resignations.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Chicago Law Prof on Obama: “The Professors Hated Him Because He Was Lazy, Unqualified & Never Attended Any of the Faculty Meetings”

I spent some time with the highest tenured faculty member at Chicago Law a few months back, and he did not have many nice things to say about “Barry.” Obama applied for a position as an adjunct and wasn’t even considered. A few weeks later the law school got a phone call from the Board of Trustees telling them to find him an office, put him on the payroll, and give him a class to teach. The Board told him he didn’t have to be a member of the faculty, but they needed to give him a temporary position. He was never a professor and was hardly an adjunct. The other professors hated him because he was lazy, unqualified, never attended any of the faculty meetings, and it was clear that the position was nothing more than a political stepping stool. According to my professor friend, he had the lowest intellectual capacity in the building. He also doubted whether he was legitimately an editor on the Harvard Law Review, because if he was, he would be the first and only editor of an Ivy League law review to never be published while in school (publication is or was a requirement).

[Return to headlines]

Embedded Black Says Tea Parties Not Racist

I am on the Tea Party Express tour bus traveling to our next rally in Provo, Utah. We just left St George, Utah. At the rallies, I perform my original “American Tea Party Anthem” song and more. I usually walk among the crowds when I am not on stage. I have attended over 100 tea parties across America and the crowds are all the same; bright, well informed, decent and hard working Americans.


As a black patriot, I have never felt a racist atmosphere nor a hint of violence. Yes, attendees are angry. It is the patriotic duty of all who love America to be angry. Today, several tea party attendees hugged me with tears streaming down their cheeks as they thanked me for standing up for our country. Several were also extremely moved by my signature proclamation that I am not a hyphenated American. They called me brother.

The media is littered with articles and news stories about the alleged “n” word incident in Washington DC. Black democrats claim they were called the “n” word fifteen times by a bunch of angry white tea party activists. I believe the accusation is a lie.

First of all, in our high tech everyone has a cellphone video camera age, video of the incident would be posted everywhere if the incident really happened. Also, as I said, I have attended over 100 tea parties. I know my fellow patriots. If a knucklehead yelled the “n” word, the crowd would have immediately verbally attacked the idiot. This accusation is another sleazy divisive attempt by an arrogant bunch of characterless democrat race exploiters and their homeys in the liberal mainstream media to dis millions of patriots who refused to sheepishly surrender our freedom, liberty and culture to their beloved messiah, Obama.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

FCC Calls on Congress to Spend More Money to Push PBS-Style Government-Sponsored Journalism Onto Internet to Compete With Privately Funded Internet Journalism

The Federal Communications Commission’s National Broadband Plan calls for Congress to spend more tax dollars than it currently does on public broadcasting in order to push PBS-style government-funded journalism onto the Internet to compete with private-sector Internet journalism.

The plan, submitted to Congress on March 15, envisions so-called Internet-based public media as the 21st century successor to the local public broadcasting television and radio stations of today. It says this successor will play a “vital and unique role” in American democracy as the government seeks to build a “healthy and thriving media ecosystem.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Obama to Crush Economy With Massive CO2 Taxes as Early as Next Week

Abandoning all loyalty to the democratic processes this nation holds dear, President Obama has made the decision that getting energy tax legislation through Congress with the approval of the American people is just too much of a pain to bother with. Instead he will have the EPA declare as early as next week that CO2 is a dangerous global warming gas and will start regulating its emissions immediately.

Obama’s promise to open up vast stretches of ocean on the East Coast and Gulf of Mexico to energy exploration is simply a ruse to soften up the public for soon to be announced draconian regulations.

Similar to how Obama used the $50 million dollar study on healthcare companies competing across state lines to sell ObamaCare as a bipartisan bill, his recent decree allowing energy companies to explore (not drill, not produce energy from … just explore) new stretches of ocean for oil is also meant to be a trivial, yet impressive enough sounding carrot for conservatives right before he stuffs his Marxist trash down their throats.

House Minority Leader John Boehner responded to Obama by saying “At the same time the White House makes today’s announcement, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is plotting a new massive job-killer that the American people can’t afford.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Resign! Repeal! Renew!

Forcing President Barack Obama to resign, Repealing the appalling healthcare bill, Renewing financial prudence

The trio cited is preparing to pass a Cap-and-Trade act, a huge tax on all energy use, and an amnesty for millions of illegal aliens. The result of this will be to create a surge of more illegals and an even greater burden on all public services and welfare programs.

Porter Stanford, publisher of an investment advisory, has issued a frightening analysis. “My concern is the U.S. already has more debt than it can afford, which puts it at an enormous risk of a debt and currency collapse.”

Discussing debt service, the amount of interest that must be paid on borrowed funds, Stanford warned that, “Right now, the federal government takes in roughly $1 trillion in income taxes and a much smaller amount of money in other fees, duties, etc. The government takes in another $1 trillion from Social Security and Medicare taxes, but it spends more currently on these programs than it takes in. So, as a result, this revenue can’t factor into our analysis of debt service.”

Noting that the official number regarding federal debt at the end of 2009 was $11.8 trillion, Stanford predicts that “By the end of Obama’s first presidency (2013), I believe the U.S. will owe roughly $17.8 trillion in federal debt, $2 trillion in GSE debt/guarantees, $500 billion in FDIC obligations, and $500 billion in FHA obligations. My only big assumption is $1.5 trillion in additional deficits each year, which is what the president’s budget also predicts.”

Just to meet the debt service, “That would equal $1 trillion in interest payments due, per year. That’s 100% of all income taxes paid in 2009.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Thomas Sowell: ‘Change’ Is Not New

Contrary to clever political spin that likened those who refused to join the “global warming” hysteria to people who denied the Holocaust, no one denied that climates change. Indeed, some of the climate scientists who have been the biggest critics of the current hysteria have pointed out that climates had changed back and forth, long before human beings created industrial societies or drove SUVs.

It is those who have been pushing the hysteria who have been playing fast and loose with the facts, wanting to keep crucial data from becoming public, and even “losing” some of that data that supposedly proved the most dire consequences. It has not been facts but computer models at the heart of the “global warming” crusade.

Nothing is easier than coming up with computer models that prove almost anything. Back during the 1970s, there were computer models predicting mass starvation and global cooling. The utter failure of those predictions ought to make us at least skeptical of computer models, especially computer models based on data that advocates want to keep from public view or even “lose” when investigators start closing in.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

US Abuse Lawyer Wants Pope to Testify

Vatican ‘encouraged silence’, Kentucky attorney claims

(ANSA) — Washington, April 1 — A US lawyer representing sex abuse victims has asked a Kentucky court to call Pope Benedict XVI to testify in the case.

The lawyer, William McMurry, maintains the Vatican knew about the abuse but “encouraged silence on sex abuse by priests to protect the reputation of the Catholic Church”.

McMurry told the court that Benedict was aware of the cases because they crossed his desk when he was the Vatican’s doctrinal enforcer as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith from 1981 until his election as pope in 2005.

The lawyer cited a series of documents published by the New York Times which “showed the link between the then Cardinal Ratzinger and the child sex abuse scandal”.

“These documents directly show Ratzinger’s involvement in the Holy See’s decision to maintain a veil of secrecy on the crimes committed by the clergy in the United States,” McMurry argued.

In the latest in a series of articles, the NYT described a 1996 meeting between former Wilwaukee Archbishop Rembert Weakland and Ratzinger’s then No.2 at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, in which Weakland failed to convince Bertone to defrock Father Lawrence Murphy, who abused some 200 deaf boys between 1950 to 1974.

Weakland reportedly said the Wisconsin faithful and the deaf community would not understand the lack of a strong response but Bertone was quoted as saying there was the “danger of a great scandal” if the case got out.

Bertone, now Vatican Secretary of State (‘interior minister’) reportedly proposed banning Murphy from Mass although “he did not rule out” defrocking the priest, who died in 1998 without any action being taken action him.

Widening abuse scandals in Europe have come close to the pope with the NYT accusing him of being aware that a predator priest in Munich had been reassigned to duty when Ratzinger was archbishop there in the mid 1980s.

Benedict’s then No.2 in Munich took responsibility for that decision and claimed the pope had not known of it.

Benedict has also come under fire for a 2001 directive from his Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith stressing the need for initial probes to be kept in-house, although his defenders say this helped him do more than any of his predecessors to tackle the scandals.

The Vatican has said there is an “ignoble” campaign to smear the pope.

In an Easter Thursday sermon at a Vatican Mass, Benedict said that “Jesus did not respond when he was insulted”. The pope was defended Thursday by Venice Archbishop Angelo Scola, who told the faithful there that the pope “has done much and is doing much” to rid the Church of “filth” — a reference to a statement Benedict made after he became pope in 2005.

“Now, nothing is being hidden,” Scola said.

Scandals have spread from the US and Australia in the early 2000s to Ireland, Netherlands, Austria and most recently, the pope’s native Germany.

Benedict wrote an Easter letter to Irish Catholics apologising for decades of abuse and cover-ups and assuring cooperation with the police but taking no action against local Church authorities.

Two Irish bishops have resigned of their own accord because of the scandal; Benedict has yet to respond to resignation offers from three others.

So far Italy has only seen sporadic cases, and rarely have they become headline news. But on Thursday the conservative daily Il Giornale, owned by Premier Silvio Berlusconi’s brother, ran an interview with Milan prosecutor Pietro Forno, longtime head of a special abuse unit, under the banner headline Paedophile Priests: Alarm in Milan. “In the many years in which I have handled the issue, I have never received a single report either from individual priests or from bishops, which is a little strange,” Forno said.

“The list of priests probed for sexual crimes is not short,” the prosecutor said, but all cases have been opened on the basis of complaints from families “after they turned to religious authorities who did absolutely nothing”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Victor Davis Hanson: Chicago Does Socialism

Connect the dots of Obama’s first year in office, and an ugly picture emerges.

We can have a rational debate on any one item on President Obama’s vast progressive agenda, arguing whether adjectives like “statist” or “socialist” fairly describe his legislative intent. But connect all the dots and lines of the past year, and an unambiguous image starts to materialize.

NEW PROGRAMS The problem is not individual legislation, whether passed or proposed, involving the gamut of issues: health care, bailouts, stimuli, education loans, amnesty, cap and trade. Rather, the rub is these acts in the aggregate.

The president promises a state fix for health care; then student loans; and next energy. There are to be subsidies, credits, and always new entitlements for every problem, all requiring hordes of fresh technocrats and Civil Service employees. Like a perpetual teenager, who wants and buys but never produces, the president is focused on the acquisitive and consumptive urges, never on the productive — as in how all his magnanimous largesse is to be paid for by someone else.


Once again, Obama never honestly connects the dots and comes clean with the American people about the net effect: On vast swaths of upper income, new state and federal taxes — aside from any rises in sales, property, capital-gains, or inheritance taxes — could confiscate an aggregate of 65 to 70 percent.


I could go on and on, but again the pattern is clear. Each time Obama prevaricates, we grant him an exemption because of his lofty rhetoric about bipartisanship and his soothing words about unity. Only later do we notice that in retrospect each untruth is part of a pattern of dissimulation within just a single year of governance. Obama has proven so far that in fact one can fool a lot of the people a lot of the time.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Why Obama is Ineligible — Regardless of His Birthplace

The following discussion assumes President Obama was born in Hawaii and is a United States citizen.

The purpose of this article is to highlight judicial and historical evidence suggesting that a “natural born citizen” must be born in the United States to parents who are citizens. By that definition, Obama is not eligible to be president. Therefore, his presidency and official administrative acts remain subject to being rendered void by the Supreme Court.

The relevant Obama admission

At the official Obama campaign website — — just below the Certification of Live Birth (COLB) — the following admission was also published:


This helps explain why the definition of “natural born citizen” as one born in the nation to parents who are citizens makes perfect sense in that such a person will not be infected by dual-allegiance problems. If the parents are citizens, neither will confer allegiance to a foreign nation. Additionally, if one is born on soil foreign to the parents, that nation is likely to recognize the person as a citizen. Owing allegiance to more than one nation is an unnatural circumstance of citizenship.

While the Constitution requires representatives, senators and presidents to be citizens, Article II, Section 1, additionally requires that the president’s citizenship be “natural born.” A natural born citizen is not a higher level of citizen. “Natural born” simply describes a circumstance of citizenship.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


“But Do Aboriginals Want to be the Point of Origin of Metis Civilization? “

The Walrus Magazine 01.04.2010 (Canada)

Anyone who still believes it is possible to describe political positions by sticking to traditional categories of left and right, should read Stephen Henighan’s portrait of the Canadian writer and International PEN chairman, John Ralston Saul. After an eventful professional and intellectual life, Saul arrived at the conclusion that the problem of the neo-liberal elites in Canada was their “self-loathing” and their disdain for the nation’s indigenous heritage. His proposed solution was a culture of collaboration, enshrined in a “metis civilization” inspired by the aboriginal heritage. “But do aboriginals want to be the point of origin of Saul’s metis civilization? Last year, participating on a panel in Toronto, I was surprised by the vehemence with which urbanized, racially mixed aboriginal intellectuals, who did not speak their ancestral languages, rejected all suggestions that they might belong to a hybridized culture, asserting their identity in terms of a cultural and racial purity of the sort that Saul rejects.”

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

Man Dies in Waiting Room After 34 Hours

WINNIPEG — City police will review evidence surrounding the death of double amputee Brian Sinclair after a national legal expert lambasted the force for its “shocking” failure to investigate why Sinclair was found dead after 34 hours in a hospital emergency room.

Renowned criminal and human rights lawyer Clayton Ruby criticized the Winnipeg Police Service on Wednesday, saying he believes charges of criminal negligence causing death and failure to provide the necessaries of life could be laid against Health Sciences Centre and medical staff in charge of its ER.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Abuse in the Church: The Demons of Pope Benedict XVI

By Alexander Smoltczyk

The case of an American priest who abused deaf children for years has shaken the Vatican. Detailed information about the sexual misconduct of the Rev. Lawrence Murphy went across the desk of Cardinal Ratzinger prior to his papacy. Abuse allegations in Italy are also putting the Catholic Church in an increasingly tough spot.

It is late on a Thursday evening at the Vatican and it is already beginning to look like Easter. St. Peter’s Square is brightly lit, and groups attending a world youth forum are in high spirits as they sing and clap to celebrate their pope, clad in immaculate white, who has just spoken about the “Feast of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin,” behaving “as if nothing at all had happened.”

These are the words of Peter Isely. Standing on a street corner one block away from the spectacle, he is determined to spoil the pope’s festival of redemption. Isely has come to Rome all the way from Milwaukee, in the US state of Wisconsin. He is a 49-year-old psychotherapist with a buzz cut and a question that has been on his mind since he was 13: “Why is my church the only institution where pedophiles continue to be employed?”

This is Isely’s first visit to Rome. Isely and a handful of abuse victims were already standing on St. Peter’s Square in the morning, holding up photos and adding their contribution to the process of drawing His Holiness into the maelstrom of cover-ups and revelations that has confronted the Catholic Church with its most serious crisis in decades. While pots containing olive trees — for Easter — were being unloaded on St. Peter’s Square, Isely talked about “Father” Lawrence Murphy from Milwaukee: “This priest molested more than 200 boys at my school. Joseph Ratzinger is responsible for the fact that Murphy was never defrocked.” Isely says that he doesn’t want him to resign. “I just want him to acknowledge his culpability.”

He is referring to the current pope. The scandal over child abuse by priests has rocked the Vatican more than the pope’s Regensburg speech, which got him into trouble with Muslims, or the affair involving the Society of St. Pius X and the Holocaust denier Bishop Richard Williamson.

Culprits in the Cassock

“Everyone here is highly alarmed,” says one official at the Curia, adding: “For Benedict, this is the most difficult challenge of his pontificate. This time it’s not about theological or historical interpretation, but about his own outfit.”

And about Benedict himself.

Last Wednesday, the New York Times published documents on the Lawrence Murphy case that Isely’s victims’ rights group had been trying to make public for years. It was only one case among far too many cases. Nevertheless, it is one that casts a light on how the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), under the leadership of Joseph Ratzinger, showed more concern for the welfare of culprits in the cassock than for the welfare of abused children.

Between 1950 and 1974, Murphy stalked his pupils and molested them in cars, in dormitories and, in some cases, even in the confessional — a doubly serious offence under Catholic Church law.

Murphy would tell the boys to confess to sexual activities with their peers. Then he would begin touching them, using his hand to masturbate them and himself. Murphy pressured the boys to give him the names of other young sinners, whose beds he would then visit at night. There was no need to be quiet about it, because the boys were all deaf.

In 1974, Murphy was removed from the school “for health reasons” and transferred to a parish in northern Wisconsin, where he apparently continued to have contact with children and adolescents. But the civil authorities also did nothing, and all investigations against Murphy were dropped.

Prayed and Went to Confession

It wasn’t until 20 years later that the church hierarchy became active. In 1993, an expert hired by the church concluded that Murphy had no sense of guilt. The priest told her that he had essentially taken on the sins of the adolescents. He said that if he “played” with the boys once a week, their needs would be satisfied and they wouldn’t have sex with each other. “I sensed whether or not they liked it. And if they didn’t push me away, they must have liked it.” After molesting the boys, Murphy said, he always prayed and went to confession.

In June 1996, the Archbishop of Milwaukee, Rembert Weakland, turned to the then chairman of the CDF, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. Even though it wasn’t until 2001 that the church began requiring that all abuse cases in the global church be reported to the CDF, Ratzinger’s office was responsible, because the “sollicitatio,” or solicitation to commit carnal sin, occurred in the confessional, one of the holiest places in the church. The severity of the case, Weakland wrote, suggested that an internal church trial would be the right approach, a trial that could end in exclusion from the priesthood.

Ratzinger didn’t respond.

In December 1996, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee informed Murphy of its intention to investigate the abuse cases. Only after a second attempt did Weakland receive a response from the Vatican, in March 1997, in the form of a letter from Tarcisio Bertone, Ratzinger’s then deputy at the CDF. Bertone wrote that he recommended an internal church trial based on the laws of 1962, which protects the participants by applying the “Secretum Sancti Officii,” or secrecy on penalty of excommunication.

‘Kind Assistance’

On Jan. 12, 1998, Murphy appealed directly to Cardinal Ratzinger, asking him to stop the proceedings his archdiocese had initiated. The acts of which he was being accused, he wrote, had occurred 25 years earlier: “I am 72 years of age, your Eminence, and am in poor health. I simply want to live out the time that I have left in the dignity of my priesthood. I ask your kind assistance in this matter.”

His wish was fulfilled. In April 1998, Bertone dropped the case against Murphy, in the spirit of forgiveness. In his letter to the Bishop of Superior, Wisconsin, he wrote: “The Congregation invites Your Excellency to give careful consideration to what canon 1341 proposes as pastoral measures destined to obtain the reparation of scandal and the restoration of justice.” The letter ends with Bertone’s best wishes for “a blessed Easter.”

Murphy died five months later, in August 1998. Bertone, for whom this meant that the matter was closed, wrote to the Archbishop of Milwaukee: “This Dicastery commends Father Murphy to the mercy of God and shares with you the hope that the Church will be spared any undue publicity from this matter.”

Today, Tarciso Bertone is the Cardinal Secretary of State, which makes him the second-in-command at the Vatican.

Part 2: Abuse in the Vatican’s Backyard

“Bertone should not have put an end to such a sensitive case without consulting his superior first,” says abuse victim Peter Isely. “Ratzinger must have concealed the cover-up, just as he must have known about the transfer of pedophile priest Peter H. to Bavaria when he was Archbishop of Munich.”

Commenting last week on the “tragic case of Father Murphy,” Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi merely said that the CDF “was only informed 20 years after the matter.” He also pointed out that there were never any reports to criminal authorities that would have stood in the way of the Vatican’s recommendation to drop the case because of Murphy’s age.

For this reason, the official Vatican newspaper Osservatore Romano denounced the media for what it called “the evident and ignoble intent to wound Benedict XVI and his closest advisers at any cost.”

The Murphy case has clearly struck a nerve. Since it became public, there has been speculation, even within the walls of the Vatican, over Bertone’s possible resignation.

Just Outside the Gates of the Vatican

Benedict’s pontificate set out to strengthen the church through dialogue with the Eastern churches, the traditionalists and Catholics in China. But now Benedict XVI must look on as the temple begins to totter, and as a veritable furor develops against the Roman church, and not just north of the Alps.

A widespread apathy toward all things religious has turned into aggression. Since the most recent revelations, a mood of “reckoning” has prevailed in Italy, writes historian Ernesto Galli della Loggia: “No one is forgiving the priests and the church for anything anymore.”

The Vatican is now deeply concerned that the scandal could continue to spread around the world. Why shouldn’t the abuses that occurred in Irish parishes have happened elsewhere, as well?

The next wave of revelations could begin just outside the gates of the Vatican. Even in Italy, where the majority of youth work is in the hands of the church, the code of silence is beginning to crumble. Victims’ groups have been formed in Sicily, Emilia-Romagna and the country’s northern regions. The groups plan to hold their first conference in Verona in September, under the motto: “I too suffered abuse at the hands of priests.” For years, the Curia in Verona covered up the abuse of deaf-mute children at a school in Chievo on the city’s outskirts.

And what happens if there were also abuse cases in the Diocese of Rome? The pope is the nominal Bishop of Rome. Internet sites are already calling upon Catholics to refuse to pay their voluntary church contribution.

A List of Horrors

A recently published book by an anonymous author, “Il peccato nascosto” (“The Hidden Sin”), enumerates the cases of recent years. It is a list of horrors. For instance, from 1989 to 1994, a priest in Bolzano, Don Giorgio Carli, repeatedly raped a girl who was nine when the abuse began. The relevant bishop refused all cooperation with the courts. Only last year, the priest was declared guilty by a higher court, but by that time the statute of limitations had passed. Today, Don Carli works as a pastor in a village in South Tyrol.

In Palermo alone, a group headed by a priest attended to 824 victims of abuse last year. According to an investigation by the newspaper La Repubblica, more than 40 priests have already been sentenced in sex abuse cases — “and this could be only the tip of the iceberg.”

Nevertheless, Italy’s bishops have yet to form an investigative commission. The “problem was never underestimated” in Italy, a spokesman for the Italian Bishops’ Conference (CEI) explained in the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, insisting that the situation is “under control.”

Whatever that means.

Benedict’s pastoral letter speaks a completely different language. With unprecedented openness, the pope writes: “In her (the Church’s) name, I openly express the shame and remorse that we all feel.” Critics in Ireland and Germany would have preferred a mea culpa.

‘Listen to the Voice of God’

In November 2002, Joseph Ratzinger refused to admit that there was a crisis. He described the abuse debate in the United States as “intentional, manipulated, (and characterized by) … a desire to discredit the church.”

Now the pope writes, in his pastoral letter, that he intends “to hold an Apostolic Visitation of certain dioceses in Ireland.” The term refers to a field audit of sorts, which can take months.

Even critical Vaticanologists concede that the pope, in his last few years at the CDW, made an about-face from a silent Saul to a zero-tolerance Paul. It would appear that Ratzinger, as head of the CDW, read too many dossiers to harbor any further illusions about the state of his church.

The turning point in Ratzinger’s thinking can be precisely dated to April 2003, when he banished Marcial Maciel Degollado, the founder of the Legion of Christ and a man held in high esteem by Pope John Paul II, to a monastery. Ratzinger had been told that Maciel had allegedly sexually abused minor seminarians.

The pope began Lent this year by saying that it was a time to “return to ourselves and listen to the voice of God, in order to overcome the temptations of the Evil One and find the truth of our being.”

But for the pope, perhaps the most dangerous demons are the ghosts of his own past, in Munich, Regensburg and Rome.

Benedict wants the crisis to be seen as a test, and as a purification and new beginning. He wants to lead his flock through the desert, presumably until the end of his pontificate.

But after everything that has now come to light — the letters, the accusations, his deputy’s entanglement in the Murphy case — it is unlikely to be a feast of redemption for Pope Benedict this year.

Translated from the German from Christopher Sultan

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

Algerian Charged With Threatening Dearborn Attorney Also Suspected of Plot Against Swedish Cartoonist

An Algerian man in Ireland charged with making death threats against a Dearborn attorney is also suspected of being part of an international plot to murder a Swedish cartoonist for his drawings of Islam’s prophet, according to the attorney and Irish media reports.

Authorities have arrested the Algerian man in Ireland, Ali Charafe Damache, 44, for making death threats over the phone to Majed Moughni, the Dearborn attorney who led a rally against Islamic terrorism after the Christmas Day terror attempt over Detroit.

The arrested suspect is also reported to be part of an international plot by Muslims to murder a Swedish cartoonish who sparked protests in 2007 after drawing the head of Islam’s prophet, Mohammed, on the body of a dog.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Austria: Hundreds of Cases of Clerical Abuse Reported

There have been 566 reports of various kinds of abuse by clergy at the Catholic Church’s ombudsman’s offices this year, it was reported today (Tues).

Vienna archdiocese has had the highest number, 174, followed by Innsbruck diocese with 115. More than half of them can no longer be prosecuted because of the statute of limitations.

Cases of sexual abuse constitute 27 per cent of these, cases of violence 26 per cent. More than half of them require further investigation, according to the media.

The rising number of reports has caused Vienna Archbishop Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, the titular head of the Austrian Catholic Church and chairman of the Austrian Bishops Conference, to react.

He announced during a TV interview on Sunday that former Styrian People’s Party (ÖVP) Governor Waltraud Klasnic would head a commission dealing with victims of Catholic Church abuse, but the news was met with harsh criticism.

Parish priest Rudolf Schermann, who publishes Catholic magazine Kirche In, said yesterday: “I would have preferred an objective atheist.” Schermann said no one could expect independent work from Klasnic since she had “strong links” to the Catholic Church.

Social Democratic (SPÖ) juridical issues spokesman Hannes Jarolim branded Klasnic’s nomination “unacceptable. She is not objective in this matter and is not a lawyer,” Jarolim said yesterday.

Various hotlines set up by independent platforms to give victims of violence and sexual abuse by Catholic Church clergy a chance to talk about what they experienced have received hundreds of calls over the past few weeks.

A recent Integral Institut poll found 69 per cent of Austrians said the church was lacking in credibility, while another survey revealed that around one million Austrians were seriously considering leaving the Church.

More than 53,000 people left the Catholic Church in Austria in 2009, the highest in the country’s history. Analysts have said that recent developments could result in a new record number this year.

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

Church Rallies to Pope’s Defence

Benedict framed tougher abuse norms, officials say

(ANSA) — Vatican City, April 1 — Catholic Church officials rallied to the defence of Pope Benedict XVI Thursday amid suggestions he did not do enough to expose clerical sex abuse of children.

The Chairman of the US Bishops Conference, Chicago Archbishop Francis George, told Vatican Radio that thanks to Benedict “we can now permanently banish” paedophile priests, something that “was not possible before”.

George said the tough norms being used to cope with mounting scandals worldwide were framed by Benedict when he was the Church’s doctrinal pointman, as cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, before being elected pope in 2005.

Ratzinger headed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith from 1984 to 2005 and in his latter years there revised rules on abuse as a tide of cases arose in the United States.

They later spread to Australia, Ireland, the Netherlands, Austria and, most recently, the pope’s native Germany.

Among other things, Cardinal George said, Ratzinger encouraged Churchmen to seek out victims as well as setting up support mechanisms and “a system to teach children how to defend themselves, to recognise danger”.

“None of this would have been possible without the legal groundwork and pastoral impetus of Pope Benedict, said George, also recalling the pope’s visit to the US in 2006 when he met with victims to “ease their wounds”.

Another heavyweight, Austria’s top bishop Christoph Schoenborn, said that Benedict throughout his time as doctrinal enforcer “always had a clear line against covering up” abuse.

“I have known him for 37 years and he has always been in favour of shedding light (on these cases), something that was not always to the Vatican’s liking,” Schoenborn said after his first meeting with the head of Austria’s new abuse commission.

Vatican Radio on Friday criticised the international coverage of Benedict’s alleged role in cover-ups, quoting Ratzinger’s successor as doctrinal chief, Cardinal William Joseph Levada, as accusing the New York Times of “false scoops”.

The NYT’s articles on Father Lawrence Murphy, who abused 200 deaf boys between 1950 and 1974, fell short of “any reasonable standard of justice,” Levada claimed.

Vatican Radio also quoted New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan as saying “truth and falsehood are scandalously mingled in the New York Times reconstructions”.

The Vatican broadcaster highlighted statements in the same vein from Italian Bishops Conference Chief Angelo Bagnasco, Venice Archbishop Angelo Scola and Sao Paulo cardinal Odilo Pedro Scherer who spoke of a “concerted” campaign to try to smear the pope.

The NYT has stressed that none of its reports have been factually rebutted.

In an interview with NYT’s Rome correspondent Thursday, Cardinal Levada said Murphy was the most shocking serial abuser he had come across but the pope “failed in nothing”.

Levada said Ratzinger had been “the architect of the steps forward taken by the Church and for this we must give him credit and show our gratitude”. In 2001, Levada said, Ratzinger took the important step of making the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith responsible for gathering and examining all cases.

Benedict, who has been criticised in some quarters for not directly addressing the charges against him, said at a Mass Thursday that “Jesus did not react when he was insulted”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Cyprus: UK Losses Could Cost Tourism 13 Million Euro

(ANSAmed) — NICOSIA, MARCH 31 — Eurocypria, the Cypriot 100% state-owned charter airline, is reported to have cut 104 charter flights from its 2010 programme to service the UK tourist market, a move that could cost local tourism sector operators 13 million euro in lost revenues. Eurocypria, as Cyprus Mail reports, is said to have renegotiated its 2008 agreement with UK tour operator Olympic Holidays, reducing its commitment to carry 80,000 tourists in 2010 to 60,000 — from 17 weekly flights down to 13 flights, a total of 104 for the official tourist season of May 1 to October 31. Based on Statistical Service figures of an average spend per head of around 650, the loss of 20,000 British tourists would deprive the island’s tourism sector of 13 million in much-needed revenues this year. According to Politis newspaper, Eurocypria asked last January for the 2008 agreement to be renegotiated, originally asking for the number of weekly flights to be cut from 17 to 10. The airline is said to have agreed to a reduction of four weekly flights rather than seven only after political intervention. In return, Eurocypria is said to have insisted on operating four additional flights per week from the UK to Crete. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

France: State Council Rejects Absolute Ban on Burka

(ANSAmed) — PARIS, MARCH 30 — The French State Council rejected the much-contested bill for an absolute ban on the full-body veil in public spaces in France. “This bill would not find a secure juridical foundation”, explained the Council of State. French Premier Francois Fillon had asked yesterday for “the general ban of the full-body veil” to be as wide as possible. Fillon had furthermore assured that the proposal by the parliamentary commission on the theme set forth for debate in the National Assembly “would have the government’s support”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

France: Niqab: The Laws in Italy and Europe

(ANSAmed) — PARIS, MARCH 30 — After the decision of the French Council of State, which rejected the idea of a complete ban of the full veil in France, the following is a rundown of the current situation on the issue in other European countries. ITALY: a law from 1975 bans completely concealing oneself in public places (it is therefore prohibited to wear full veils, but also motorcycle helmets). This is was the law that was cited by several Northern League mayors to launch a series of ordinances that ban the full veil or ‘burkini’ (Islamic swimsuit) at a local level. The Northern League launched a bill last year that includes a two-year prison sentence and 2,000-euro fine for those who “make it difficult or impossible to be identified due to their religious affiliation”. DENMARK: In January the government decided to limit burqas or niqabs in public places, without banning them; they have allowed schools, local governments or businesses to set their own rules. BELGIUM: Various municipalities banned the full veil in public places thanks to municipal regulations or police that prohibit concealing oneself in public outside of “the Carnival period”. Parliament will debate several proposals regarding bans on niqabs and burqas starting tomorrow. HOLLAND: Various draft laws are being examined to ban the full veil. UNITED KINGDOM: No bans or plans to do so exist. Only one Eurosceptical party is leading a campaign for its ban. AUSTRIA: A debate was recently opened by Social Democratic Women’s Minister Gabriele Heinisch-Hosek to consider banning the veil in public places. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

France: No to Total Ban on Niqab, Lacks Legal Basis

(ANSAmed) — PARIS, MARCH 30 — The Niqab is forbidden but only “in specific circumstances of time and place”: Muslim women in France will be able to wear the full veil in public with confidence. They will only have to give it up in the office and public transport, aside from in specific situations such as schools. The French Council of State, called in by the Government, ruled out the idea of a general and absolute ban of the full veil in France: “it would lack any legal basis”. For the “sages”, the lay principle (invoked by those who do not want to see the niqab even in the streets) “can be imposed on institutions and public employees but not on society or individuals, save for exceptions such as schools”. Not even the protection of the dignity of a human being represents a valid motive in this case: it clashes with the “principle of personal autonomy”, as explained by the representatives of the Council of State. If it is ruled out that the veil can be prohibited on the streets, the high judicial body however suggests “perfecting” the numerous texts which already prohibit “concealment of the face” and to extend the potential prohibition “in certain specific circumstances of time and place”. Thus it is up to the legislator to decide where and when the ban must be applied. A simple fine for transgressors, without sanctions such as to “provoke disproportionate reactions compare to the phenomenon we want to rein in”. French premier Francois Fillon prompted the opinion of the Council of State at the end of January to examine the possibility of reaching a ban that is “as ample and effective as possible”, without offending “our fellow Muslim countrymen”. In recent days president Nicolas Sarkozy announced that the government will file a draft law against the use of the full veil in France. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Germany: Bishop Mixa Accused of Abusing Children

Five people have accused Germany’s controversial Catholic Bishop Walter Mixa of physically abusing them while they were at a children’s home north of Munich in the 1970s and 1980s.

Three women and two men claimed that Mixa hit them on multiple occasions while they were at the St. Josef children’s home in Schrobenhausen, daily Süddeutsche Zeitung reported on Wednesday, citing statements declared under oath by the alleged victims.

Their descriptions of the abuse include slaps to the face, punches to their upper arms, and spankings with a carpet beater, the paper said.

But the Augsburg diocese called the accusations “absurd, untrue, and obviously invented to defame the bishop.”

Mixa, who recently made headlines for blaming the German Catholic Church’s child sex abuse scandal on the sexual revolution, was the Schrobenhausen parish leader between 1975 and 1996. He frequently visited the St. Josef’s children’s home and disciplined the children for their bad behaviour, said the former residents, who are now between the ages of 41 and 47.

Nuns of the Mallersdorf order who worked at the institution also hit the children with “wooden brooms, wooden shoes, and clothing hangers,” the paper reported.

The order said it would undertake an open investigation into the accusations.

Germany’s Catholic Church has been embroiled in a crisis over recent weeks as victims of widespread sexual and physical abuse continue to come forward. Most cases date back by several years, a fact that has politicians debating a possible extension to the statute of limitations on such crimes.

Similar accusations have also surfaced in the Netherlands, Austria and Switzerland, while Ireland has been rocked by revelations about cover-up efforts by the head of the Church there in the 1970s.

The Vatican has said it received 3,000 reports between 2001 and 2010 of sexual abuse of children by Catholic clergy committed over the past 50 years.

AFP/DDP/The Local (

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

German CIA Rendition Victim Sentenced to Jail for Assault

Khaled el-Masri, a Lebanese-born German citizen mistakenly abducted and tortured by people working for the CIA, has been sentenced to two years in jail for attacking the mayor of a Bavarian city.

A court on Tuesday said the traumatic events surround his so-called “extraordinary rendition” in 2004 did not lessen el-Masri’s transgression against the Mayor of Neu-Ulm on September 11, 2009.

It was then that the troubled man attacked Mayor Gerold Noerenberg in his office. El-Masri first punched his victim until he was cowering on the ground and then threw a chair at him. Since he was on parole for arson and assault offences in 2007, el-Masri will now be sent to prison.

“He is disturbed, disappointed, humiliated and bitter,” said el-Masri’s defence attorney Manfred Gnjidic, pointing out that it was no coincidence he attacked the mayor on the anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington DC. “A torture victim deserves help.”

But the presiding judge said the defendant deserved no special consideration for what he had been put through as an innocent casualty of the United States’ war on terror. A psychiatrist during the trial deemed el-Masri responsible for his actions, but noted his abduction had caused him great suffering.

“Do whatever you want,” a bearded el-Masri muttered as he was led out of the courtroom.

El-Masri claims he was abducted in Macedonia. After being handed over to the CIA and flown to Afghanistan, he says he was tortured and accused of collusion with the September 11 hijackers. He says he was held for four months before being released without any charges on a roadside in Albania.

The CIA has never acknowledged any role in el-Masri’s ordeal.

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

Italy: Sicilian Filly With Arab Blood Born

(ANSAmed) — PALERMO, MARCH 31 — A filly was born in the Institute for experimental zoology of Sicily, a crossbreed between a mare of a typical Sicilian race and an Arab stallion. The stallion is a gift of the Sultan of Omar. In December 2008 he donated the horse, via ambassador to Italy Said Nasser Al-Harthy, to the president of the Region, Raffaele Lombardo. He also gave two mares. Lombardo gave three Sicilian goats in return, “to start a similar crossbreeding project in Oman”, in his words. “This seems to be an interesting way to continue exchanging gifts that can lead to more important results than the usual gifts”, the president of the Region concluded. (ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Northern League Pushes for Reforms

The government has three years to implement them, Maroni says

(ANSA) — Rome, March 31 — Hot on the heels of its success in regional elections, the Northern League said on Wednesday it would press Premier Silvio Berlusconi to launch a series of reforms, including some devolving more power to the regions.

Interior Minister Roberto Maroni, a League heavyweight, told a TV talk show his devolutionist party would not barter for more cabinet ministers.

“We want reforms straight away,” said Maroni, stressing that League victories in Veneto and Piedmont “have strengthened the coalition and the government”.

Maroni said the government’s priority was implementing parts of the 2008 election campaign programme that have not yet been dealt with, in particular devolving fiscal and federal powers to the regions.

“Fiscal federalism will not defraud anyone, it’s not a matter of northern regions taking away from the south. It’s a way of modernising the state,” he said.

He also referred to reports that Berlusconi was considering replacing Agriculture Minister Luca Zaia, elected president of the Veneto region, with someone from his own People of Freedom (PdL) party.

“We would be honoured if the premier decides to replace Zaia, who has done an excellent job as agriculture minister, with someone from the League…We have loads of people who could do a fine job with anything they are tasked with. But it’s up to the premier to decide…we aren’t going to ask for anything in exchange…all we want are reforms”.

He said the most important of these were fiscal reforms to help taxpayers and companies, an overhaul of the judicial system, federalism, reducing the number of parliamentarians and electing the country’s president by popular vote rather than by parliamentary majority.

Maroni said the Berlusconi government, which swept to power in April 2008, had three full years ahead to deal with its reform programme, because after the elections in 13 of the country’s 20 regions, it would not be distracted by other electoral hurdles.

“Aside from the elections of mayors in Naples and Milan there’s nothing to interfere with the government’s and parliament’s schedules,” he said.

Berlusconi and top party aides decided on Wednesday that the PdL national council and executive board would meet after Easter to draw up a schedule for the reform programme.

The premier said on Tuesday that PdL gains in the regional elections gave the government renewed stability and will allow it “to push through reforms for modernisation and growth”.

With some 41 million voting, the March 28-9 elections was generally regarded as the first real test for the premier since he swept to power in April 2008.

Referring to the League victories, Berlusconi said this would bolster the coalition and give it the necessary impetus for making changes.

Opposition leader Pierluigi Bersani said on Tuesday his Democratic Party (PD) was willing to work with the government on mapping out a series of major institutional reforms.

But he said the PD was ready to cooperate only if the reforms were for the country’s good.

“It’s the government’s responsibility to say what it wants to do. We’re willing to join any discussion which tackles problems that interest citizens. Otherwise, we’ll put up a strong opposition,” said Bersani.

On Tuesday, President Giorgio Napolitano said it was important for both political blocs to work together on “further reforms”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Bishops Back Inquiry Into Sex Abuse Claims

Rome, 30 March (AKI) — Italian bishops on Tuesday expressed their solidarity with Pope Benedict XVI over the unfolding child sex abuse scandal and called for a full investigation of all abuse claims.

In a statement issued at the end of the Italian Bishops Conference (CEI) assembly, which began last week, the bishops rejected any suggestions they opposed working with police and investigators.

“They agree on the fact that a rigorous and transparent application of canonical procedural and criminal rules are the main path to search for the truth,” the bishops’ statement said.

“They do not oppose the state authorities whose task it is to investigate the substance of allegations, but rather support those authorities through faithful cooperation”.

The bishops also reaffirmed their support for the victims of abuse and their families.

The Catholic Church is now facing sex abuse allegations which have surfaced in the United States, Ireland, Germany and even in Italy.

Deaf men and women claimed on public TV last Friday that Catholic priests raped and molested them for years at an institute for deaf children in the northern city of Verona.

The Vatican said it would question the 67 victims of the alleged abuse in Verona’ Antonio Provolo Institute for the Deaf after the local diocese initially sought to play down the allegations.

Benedict has come under pressure after it was revealed he had been involved in dealing with two cases of child abuse.

In the first, a German priest who received therapy for paedophilia was allowed to return to pastoral work with children while the pope was archbishop of Munich.

In the second case, when Benedict was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, and headed the Vatican body responsible for disciplining priests, a church trial of a US priest was halted in the mid-1990s after an appeal to Ratzinger, according to a report by the New York Times.

Church officials have said Benedict was unaware the German priest had returned to work and the Wisconsin case was reported to the Vatican 20 years after the alleged paedophile abuse, when the priest was elderly and sick.

Addressing crowds in St Peter’s Square during a Palm Sunday service, the pope did not refer to the paedophile priest scandal that has provoked widespread outrage and disbelief.

The pontiff declared he would not be “intimidated” by “petty gossip”. But he asked God to help “the young and those who work to educate and protect them”.

In his sermon, Benedict said man could sometimes “fall to the lowest, vulgar levels” and “sink into the swamp of sin”.

Last week, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi strongly denied suggestions that a Vatican secrecy rule prohibited senior church figures from reporting paedophilia cases to the police.

Meanwhile, leaders of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops voiced concern for victims of clergy sexual abuse while offering praise for Benedict’s leadership in dealing with abuse cases.

In a Holy Week statement issued on Tuesday, the bishops’ executive committee said they were aware of the pope’s concern for abuse victims and “how he has strengthened the church’s response to victims.”

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

Italy: Imprisoned Fastweb Founder Resigns From Board

Rome, 30 March (AKI) — From a prison in Rome, Silvio Scaglia, the founder and former chief executive of Italian internet company Fastweb, resigned from the company’s board of directors more than a month after being arrested for his alleged role in a mafia money-laundering operation.

“It’s a gesture by the founder that demonstrates his wish that the legal case does no direct or indirect harm to the company,” said his lawyers in a statement late on Monday.

Scaglia is among at least 56 people who in February were issued with arrest warrants in relation to a 2 billion euro mafia money laundering probe involving Fastweb and Telecom Italia. Scaglia and both companies deny any wrongdoing.

In an interview with newspaper Corriere della Sera, Scaglia’s lawyer Piermaria Corso said his client feels “bitterness” for his “protracted” imprisonment after cooperating with investigators.

Scaglia was arrested on 25 February. His request to be released from the Rome prison has been rejected.

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

Italy: Centre-Right Wins Piedmont and Lazio as PDL and Northern League Sweep Regional Elections

Centre-left secures seven regions but Centre-right’s six have more voters. Zaia’s Veneto triumph

MILAN — The regional elections turned into a triumph for the People of Freedom (PDL) and Northern League. The Centre-right tripled its admittedly meagre 2005 vote, winning all the most populous regions including Piedmont and Lazio, where the results were in doubt to the end. When the count was over, the Centre-left had won seven regions to the Centre-right’s six but the only consolation for the Democratic Party (PD) and its allies was that they had defended their traditional strongholds. The Centre-left also held onto Puglia but only because the Christian Democrat UDC decided not to join forces with the PDL.

FINAL RESULT — The majority parties easily held onto Lombardy and Veneto, they secured Campania and Calabria equally decisively and, in a battle that went to the final vote, added the key regions of Piedmont and Lazio to their haul. The Centre-left lost four regions — Piedmont, Lazio, Campania and Calabria — but kept power in seven: Emilia Romagna, Tuscany, Marche, Liguria, Umbria, Puglia and Basilicata. In Puglia, Nichi Vendola stays in charge after lengthy infighting during the primaries and the tussle with rival Rocco Palese, who finished not far behind. What decided the contest was the substantial (more than 8%) vote that went to the UDC’s candidate, Adriana Poli Bortone. Polling day was marked by abstention and the overall turnout was only 63.6%, down 8% on the 2005 regional elections when the Centre-left took eleven regions to the Centre-right’s two.

OVERVIEW — Analysis of the vote by party reveals a triumph for the Northern League. The emphatic victory in Veneto is mirrored by progress in many other central and north Italian regions, particularly in Piedmont, where Roberto Cota joins Veneto’s Luca Zaia as the Northern League’s first regional presidents. The PD continued to haemorrhage votes, although it did perform better than in the European elections. Nevertheless, cracks are starting to appear in the traditional stronghold of Emilia Romagna, where the PD is still the majority party despite Vasco Errani losing about 10% of his support to protest votes for Beppe Grillo’s list and the steadily growing Northern League. On the Centre-right, the PDL had to retrench as expected before the advance of the Northern League, which outperformed its partners in Veneto. In Lombardy, the PDL maintained a slim five or six-point lead. According to Pragma-Emg projections from 100% of the sample, the PDL now has 26.7% over the entire country and the PD has 25.9%. The Northern League is on 12.7%, Italy of Values (IDV) has 6.9%, the UDC is on 5.8%, Left Ecology and Liberty (SEL) has 3%, the Federation of the Left has 2.9%, Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement is on 1.8%, Storace’s Right and the Pannella-Bonino list have 0.7% each, and the Centre-Christian Democracy Alliance has 0.4%.

PIEDMONT — The vote went right down to the wire in Piedmont, one of the crucial regions in this election, where the Centre-right’s Northern League candidate Roberto Cota faced the outgoing president Mercedes Bresso. Yesterday evening, Ms Bresso, who took 46.9% of the vote, admitted defeat but announced she will be asking for a recount. The newly elected (47.34%) president Cota said he had nothing to worry about and that it was the Centre-right that had been penalised. Davide Bono (Five Star Movement — Beppe Grillo) picked up about 4% of the vote.

LAZIO — Uncertainty reigned in Lazio until the final count was in. Emma Bonino and Renata Polverini were neck and neck for long periods in projections for the new regional presidency. According to figures from the ministry of the interior, Ms Polverini secured 51.13% while her rival ended with just over 48%, but the Centre-right candidate anticipated the result, calling her supporters to a meeting in Piazza del Popolo on Monday evening. “The figures show that we are winning and this proves that miracles can happen. Anything is possible when people want it to happen”, she said, raising two fingers in a victory salute. A tearful Ms Polverini added: “At last, I can cry. We’ve won”. The new regional president, joined by defence minister Ignazio La Russa, thanked Silvio Berlusconi and “all the provinces of Lazio, all the men and women who have contributed to this success”.

LOMBARDY — In contrast, there was little excitement in Lombardy, where Roberto Formigoni strolled to a predictable victory. Mr Formigoni secured 56.1% of the poll against the Centre-left’s Filippo Penati, who could only manage 33.3%, while the UDC’s Savino Pezzotta collected 4.7%. The PDL is the leading party with 31.8%, followed by a strongly advancing Northern League on 26.2%. The PD has 22.9%. Mr Formigoni said: “This is our fourth consecutive victory in Lombardy. We have increased the coalition’s vote, despite the withdrawal of the UDC. I have doubled the gap over my direct challenger, who was about ten percentage points behind in 2005 and is now roughly 20 points adrift. Voters have expressed their confidence in us again. We will continue to govern for the good things the electorate wants from us”.

VENETO — Luca Zaia swept home in Veneto. The Northern League candidate, supported by the PDL, is now regional president with 60% of the vote as the Centre-left’s Giuseppe Bortolussi lagged well behind on 29%. Antonio De Poli of the UDC picked up 6.4% and the Beppe Grillo Movement’s David Borrelli had about 3%. The Northern League is the leading party with 35% of the vote. A beaming Mr Zaia said: “This result is a huge responsibility. More than four million Veneto residents want answers and the first of those is federalism. This election is a reward for the government’s actions. Veneto will be embarking on a season of reform straight away”.

LIGURIA — After some initial uncertainty, the Centre-left’s candidate, Claudio Burlando, took Liguria with 52.1% of the vote. Sandro Biasotti collected 47.8% for the Centre-right. Mr Burlando said: “We have constructed an astonishing political operation. We extended the coalition to the UDC, and also addressed Beppe Grillo’s voters, but most important we have halted the Northern League, showing that here in Liguria we, the Centre-left and the PD, are the people”.

EMILIA ROMAGNA — Emilia Romagna confirmed outgoing president Vasco Errani. The Centre-left candidate secured 52% of the poll while his challenger, the Centre-right’s Anna Maria Bernini, could only manage 36.7%. There were remarkable performances by Giovanni Favia, the candidate of Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement, who claimed 7%, and by the Northern League, which won 13.7%. But Mr Errani secured and electoral endorsement, although he lost more that 10% of his vote, which in 2005 was 62.7%.

TUSCANY — The Centre-left also emerged victorious in Tuscany, where Enrico Rossi garnered 59.7% of the vote. The Centre-right’s candidate, Monica Faenzi, could only manage 34.4% and the UDC’s Francesco Bosi ended on 4.6%. Mr Rossi said: “I will commit myself wholeheartedly to being the president of all Tuscans no matter what their political colour or opinion. I believe that the seriousness of our proposals has given Tuscans an opportunity they have taken, some of them breaking rank to do so”.

MARCHE — In Marche, the Centre-left’s Gian Mario Spacca won the day with more than 53.2% while the Centre-right’s Erminio Marinelli had 39.7% and Massimo Rossi of the Left Federation-SEL picked up 7.1%.

UMBRIA — The Centre-left also won in Umbria, where Catiuscia Marini secured 57.2% of the vote against the Centre-right’s 37.7% for Fiammetta Modena. The UDC’s candidate, Paola Binetto, took 5%.

CAMPANIA — The Centre-right swept the board in Campania, where Stefano Caldoro was more than ten percentage points ahead. He finished on 54%, leaving his Centre-left rival Vincenzo De Luca on 43%. Mr Caldoro remarked: “We took advantage of a widespread desire for change. The vote shows that people want results, not words. We feel a great sense of responsibility so we’ll be starting work tomorrow morning”.

PUGLIA — Elections in Puglia saw the outgoing president, Nichi Vendola, finish well ahead. The Centre-left candidate had 48.9% against 42.1% for Rocco Palese of the Centre-right. The centrist Io Sud-UDC candidate, Adriana Poli Bortone had 8.7% of the poll. Mr Vendola said: “It’s a superb result. The figures show that in Puglia we’ve got a workshop of good politics”.

CALABRIA — The poll in Calabria was very clear-cut. Giuseppe Scopelliti for the Centre-right took more than 58% with the Centre-left’s outgoing president, Agazio Loiero, way behind on 32%. Filippo Callipo collected 10% for IDV-Pannella List. Mr Scopelliti said: “I dedicate this victory to the many honest Calabrians who longed for change and gave me the strength to conduct this wonderful election campaign. I could feel people’s desire for deliverance as I travelled the roads of Calabria to all those rallies. And the best thing is that we are ahead everywhere”. Mr Loiero said he could not understand why he had lost.

BASILICATA — The verdict of the polls in Basilicata was equally unequivocal. The Centre-left’s Vito De Filippo garnered more than 60% of the vote while Nicola Pagliuca for the Centre-right failed to reach 28%. Magdi Cristiano Allam took 8.6%.

PROVINCES AND MUNICIPALITIES — Counting for the provincial and municipal elections started at 8 am on Tuesday with provincial polls having precedence, except in Molise and Abruzzo where there were no regional elections. Voting in the earthquake-ravaged province of L’Aquila was particularly significant. The Centre-right’s presidential candidate, Antonio Del Corvo, took 53.4% to beat off the challenge of the Centre-left’s feisty Stefania Pezzopane, who ended on 45.5%.

English translation by Giles Watson

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

Italy: Abortion Pill May be Available This Week

Rome, 30 March(AKI) — The controversial RU486 abortion pill may be available in Italian hospitals from Thursday, despite opposition from the Vatican and the conservative government in the overwhelmingly Catholic country. Unlike other European countries, RU486, also known as mifepristone, will only be available in hospitals.

“From the first of April, Nordic Pharmam, with the okay from producer Exelgyn, will start taking orders,” Nordic Pharma medical director Marco Durini told Adnkronos.

“After a couple of days needed for delivery, the pharmaceutical will arrive in Italian hospitals.”

Italy is one of the last European countries to make the pill available. It has been used in France since 1988.

Under the rules issued by Italy’s pharmaceuticals agency, the pill can be administered up to the seventh week of pregnancy. But the woman must remain in hospital from when she takes the pill until the embryo is expelled and the entire process must take place under medical supervision.

The Italian pharmaceutical authority AIFA had initially authorised the sale of RU486 on 31 July but late last year a committee of the Italian Senate or upper house of parliament asked it to reconsider its decision after strong opposition from Catholics.

The Italian Senate health committee suspended its use and asked the health ministry for “a second opinion” on the grounds that the pill could endanger women’s health or violate Italy’s anti-abortion laws.

The abortion pill is different from the morning-after pill Norlevo, which has been available in Italy since 2000.

RU486 has been available experimentally in some Italian regions, notably the northern Piedmont region.

Women who use the pill, doctors who prescribe it, and those who encourage its use have been threatened with excommunication by Catholic Church officials in Italy.

Italian law permits surgical abortion on demand in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, and then until the 24th week if the foetus has a genetic deficiency or to preserve the mother’s health.

According to the Italian health ministry, 70 per cent of Italian doctors are “conscientious objectors” who exercise their right under the law to refuse to carry out abortions.

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

Italy: People of Freedom Wins Costly Victory as Bossi Takes Votes From Right and Left

Democratic Party improves European result but loses a million votes

The results of the regional elections can be interpreted in several ways. You can, as most observers have done, look at the number of regions won by the Centre-right and Centre-left. As we know, what emerged was the continued prevalence of the Centre-left in regional administrations — seven out of the thirteen regions voting — despite significant losses, above all Lazio and Piedmont. In view of these trends, it seems reasonable to agree with those who see the elections as a victory for the Centre-right.

But leaving aside the number of regions secured, it is also useful to take into account the vote for each individual party and compare this with the previous election to identify the parties that have benefited most from Sunday and Monday’s poll. It is no easy matter. One of the characteristics of regional elections in general, and this one in particular, is the large number of lists presented — there were more than eighty this time — which in some cases can be related to a political movement. Votes for the Polverini list, for example, can be considered as votes for the People of Freedom (PDL).

When the appropriate sums have been done, we can draw a number of important conclusions. The PDL continues to be the most-voted party with an overall poll, including related lists, of 31%. Nevertheless, it is a relatively modest success in comparison with the previous general and European elections. In terms of overall consensus, Silvio Berlusconi’s party has lost a considerable number of votes since last year, in particular because of abstentions and the exclusion of its lists in Lazio, although it has, as we noted, “won” the election politically.

The Democratic Party’s (PD) 27.1% is a modest gain over last year’s European elections. The indication is that Pierluigi Bersani’s party has substantially held onto its position, although it is still a long way short of its result in the 2008 general election. While the PD has maintained a respectable percentage of the vote, in absolute terms it has lost almost one million voters since last year. Obviously, the drop is even more significant if we compare today’s vote with the previous regional elections in 2005.

Antonio Di Pietro’s Italy of Values (IDV) with 7% fell just short of its result in the European elections but has maintained its position and confirms its growth since the 2008 general election. Here, too, in comparison with last year there is a significant drop in the absolute number of votes, which to a certain extent undermines IDV’s robust advance in the European elections.

Similarly, Left Ecology and Liberty (SEL) obtained just under 3%, a result comparable with those obtained in previous elections. The Christian Democrat UDC held its ground with 5.6%. One of this election’s surprises was the Five Star Movement, which secured just under 400,000 votes in the five regions where it presented candidates.

But the Northern League is the party that has made the biggest advances since the European poll, and even bigger gains in comparison with the general elections. Despite being affected by abstention, albeit to a much more limited extent than other parties, the Northern League managed to attract a substantial number of voters from its rivals. Particularly hard hit was the PDL, whose 2009 voters today make up almost 24% of the Northern League electorate. Those voters come from many other parties as well, however, including the PD and UDC. Analysis of the figures for individual parties shows that the real winners of the regional elections were the Northern League and abstentions, which affected practically all the parties. Analysis of voter flows shows that the biggest proportion of today’s abstainers comes from the PDL, which as we have seen lost a large number of votes in absolute terms. At the same time, abstention significantly affected the PD (8% of today’s abstainers), IDV and other parties.

As many commentators have pointed out, voting for the Northern League, and not voting at all, share certain characteristics. Both suggest a critical attitude, albeit different in nature and degree, towards traditional politics and political institutions. This interpretation also emerges from the reasons given by abstainers for not voting. More than a third of those interviewed said they were unable to vote because of circumstances beyond their control but a much higher proportion of the more than 50% who did not vote this time linked their decision to a lack of interest in politics, to disgust with the parties or to protest at the parties’ behaviour.

All this suggests that while it is true that the Centre-right, especially the Northern League, won the election politically, it is equally true that in terms of society as a whole, what prevailed at this election was a feeling of alienation from institutions.

English translation by Giles Watson

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

JPMorgan ‘Chase’ Story in UK

A London-based precious-metals trader who had accused JPMorgan Chase of manipulating the gold and silver markets was involved in a bizarre weekend car accident that triggered a police chase before the suspect was nabbed.

Andrew Maguire, a metals trader at the London Bullion Market Association, and his wife were traveling in their car when a second car coming out of a side street struck their vehicle. That car then hit two more vehicles before fleeing.

London cops using helicopters and patrol cars chased the hit-and-run driver before nabbing that person, whose name has not been released by authorities.

Maguire and his wife were released from the hospital yesterday. London police would not comment on the accident investigation.

The hit and run occurred after Maguire’s name came to light Thursday during a US Commodities Futures Trading Commission hearing on limiting gold and silver positions held by large market participants in order to prevent manipulation.

During the hearing, Maguire was identified as having sent e-mails to Bart Chilton, a CFTC commissioner, and Eliud Ramirez, head of the commission’s enforcement division, alleging that JPMorgan had used its massive metals positions to manipulate the commodities markets.

In one e-mail, Maguire wrote, “It is common knowledge here in London among the metals traders that it is JPM’s intent to flush out and cover as many shorts as possible prior to any discussion in March about position limits,” referring to last week’s CFTC hearings.

JPMorgan inherited the positions when it acquired Bear Stearns two years ago.

When the allegations first surfaced last week, JPMorgan declined to comment.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Minimum Wage in Cyprus Increased to 887 Euros

(ANSAmed) — NICOSIA, MARCH 31 — The minimum wage in Cyprus is being increased to 887 from 840 effective from Thursday, the Labour Advisory Committee announced yesterday. Final approval for the 5.6% increase, which will bring the minimum wage to 50% of the average national wage, rests with the Cabinet. “The minimum wage, I would like to underline, is a tool which affects the most susceptible sectors of the employed population, and one which we intend to utilise in a correct manner,” said Labour Minister Sotiroula Charalambous after the meeting, as reported by Cyprus mail. The minimum wage, for employees who have been at their place of employment for over six months, is currently fixed at 840. This will go to 887. The minimum wage for new employees, who have been working at their place of employment for less than six months, and which currently stands at 791, is set to be increased to 835. The measure drew sharp criticism from employers’ organisations, who said it would “create market distortions” and impact negatively on industry. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Netherlands: Compromise, Consensus and Knee-Capping

The polder model is under threat. Dutch politics and society are about to be put to the test. By Hans Maarten van den Brink

On the night of 18 to 19 February, the Dutch government collapsed after sixteen hours of talks about whether the Dutch should do as NATO requested and’extend their mission in Afghanistan. When the exhausted ministers left the government building at four in the morning, they were accosted by a group of fans who were chanting two words over and over again, to the tune of a Dutch schmalz-pop ditty: Geert Wilders, Geert Wilders, Geert Wilders.

For the past two years this demagogue with his bleached, bouffant Mozart hairdo has kept Dutch politics and public debate on tenterhooks with his fight against the “Islamisation of the Netherlands”. In local elections last week, his Party for Freedom (PVV) ran in just two cities: in Den Haag it came second; in Almere — the seventh largest city — Geert Wilders’ party came in first. This victory was all the more remarkable because Almere has a minute Muslim population and the problems of multicultural co-existence — insufficient language skills, unemployment, youth crime — are markedly lower than the national average. The results of the elections and the related polls provide a good indication of what lies ahead for the Netherlands when it elects a new parliament on June 9. Everything points to PVV becoming one of the three major parties. Some say it will even come out on top.

Protest parties are nothing new to Dutch politics. Most decades have witnessed their version of this phenomenon, which is abetted by the electoral law. Only a coalition of three or four parties can govern the Netherlands, on the basis of compromise and consensus. In a nation which rather self-contentedly prided itself for al long time on its cultural diversity and tolerance, this was regarded as a prerequisite for social cohesion. Everyone gets a say.

The eccentric professor Pim Fortuyn was the first person to try to do away with the polder model, using the election campaign 2002 to launch his attack on the entire political system. In the eyes of this Catholic homosexual anti-monarchist ex-communist with butler, Bentley and lap dog, Dutch society was decadent, defeatist and, after years of welfare, incapable of identifying the problems on its doorstep. Despite being financed by a string of property tycoons, Fortuyn became a hero of the common man. Two days after he was murdered, his hastily founded party won an election victory. But the cabinet which was formed together with the Christian Democrats — the first one of four under Jan Peter Balkenende — imploded only months afterwards due to infighting and the incompetency of Pim Fortuyn’s ministers.

Geert Wilders is determined not to make the same mistakes as his predecessor. Which is why the PVV has no traditional party structure. It is a “grouping” with Geert Wilders as its chairman. And there is really only one main issue on his party agenda: the fight against Islam, which is regurgitated in ever new and more extreme versions. According to Wilders, Islam is not a religion but a criminal, political ideology, which must be fought on all fronts — not only with arguments but also with force. Criminals of Arab descent, for example, should be kneecapped more frequently, there should be a ban on building Mosques and on wearing the hijab in public buildings. If he had things his way, the first article of the constitution would also have to change. The equality of all people in the eyes of the law would be replaced by the “dominance of Judeo-Christian and humanist culture”.

While Pim Fortuyn fought the political establishment with equal amounts of gall and humour and was always ready to engage his adversaries in debate, Wilders is immune to every form of dialectic and irony…

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

Netherlands: No Place for Wilders-Basher on CDA Election List

THE HAGUE, 31/03/10 — Maxime Verhagen is placed above Ab Klink on the Christian democratic (CDA) list of candidates for the general elections on 9 June. Doekle Terpstra, an open adversary of Geert Wilders, is not on the list.

The CDA list of candidates is headed by Jan Peter Balkenende. In second place, a woman has been chosen: Home Affairs State Secretary Ank Bijleveld, who otherwise has no leadership role within the party. The same applies to another woman, Education State Secretary Marja van Bijsterveldt, placed fourth on the list.

At 3 and 5 are Foreign Minister Verhagen and Health Minister Ab Klink. Both are seen as candidates to succeed Balkenende if the CDA does not win the elections. The same applies to the present Finance Minister, Jan Kees de Jager, 6th on the list.

It cannot be assumed with certainty that Verhagen’s higher position means that he is more likely than Klink or De Jager to inherit Balkenende’s crown. On the other hand, the drawing up of the list is not a process characterised by chance.

After De Jager comes sitting MP Joop Atsma, at number seven the highest-placed member of the present Lower House. Financial spokesman Elly Blanksma follows in 8th place, Agriculture Minister Gerda Verburg is 9th and justice specialist Sybrand van Haersma Buma 10th.

Jack de Vries, currently Defence State Secretary and also Balkenende’s campaign leader, is 14th. He could also be a candidate to succeed him, according to some people. The party members still have to approve the list at the party congress on 23 and 24 April.

Notable by his absence is Doekle Terpstra. He is missing despite a recommendation from his local CDA branch of Friesland. Apparently the CDA has no stomach for a tough confrontation with Party for Freedom (PVV) leader Geert Wilders.

Terpstra is chairman of the organisation of colleges (HBO Raad), but is best known for his repeated media pamphleteering against Wilders, who he described as “the evil that must be stopped.” An action group against the PVV set up by Terpstra has since become defunct.

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

Niqab: Belgium Unlike France, Towards Total Ban

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, MARCH 31 — Unlike France, where yesterday the French State Council ruled out the idea of a general and absolute ban of the full Muslim veil, Belgium is in fact moving towards a total ban. The Chamber interior affairs commission has given green light to the measure. If the move is definitively approved, Belgium will be the first European country to introduce a law that bans veils that cover the face completely, or most of it. The commission has approved the draft bill unanimously. The text is meant to modify the penal code to impose a fine (or seven days in prison) “for people who are present in a public space with their face covered, completely or part of it, making identification impossible”. This means that women will not be allowed to wear a burqa or niqab in public places. The measure, to become law, will have to be approved in Chamber on April 22. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Romania: Majority Want Roma Who Commit Crimes to Lose Their Citizenship

Romanians want Gypsies who commit crimes to lose their Romanian citizenship, according to results of a new poll, and half of respondents want the death penalty to be reintroduced.

In the poll, 68 per cent said they supported the idea of a referendum about stripping Roma who commit crimes of their citizenship, and 27 per cent opposed doing so.

Fifty per cent want a referendum on reintroduction of the death penalty.

The telephone poll of 1,060 people was conducted by CCSB for the Pro Democratia Association last week.

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

Spain: Queen Wants Women in Holy Week Processions

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, MARCH 31 — Devotion and tradition come together and pervade the whole of Spain, with the Holy Week processions. These events attract tens of thousands of tourists every year. But this year there is an important novelty: Queen Sofia has accepted to be sister of honour of the Royal Confraternity of Saint Entierro of Zamora, in Castilla y Leon. This makes her the first woman to enter the congregation. “This decision strongly supports people who are in favour of the participation of women in the congregations” said president Luis Boizas. The Saint Entierro of Zamora Confraternity is one of the oldest in existence. It is a ‘Royal’ confraternity because some of its members belong to the reigning dynasty. King Juan Carlos has been a brother of honour since 1973. Like most of these associations in Spain, it has kept women from joining over the centuries. Under the secular government of Zapatero, which promotes equal opportunities, this ban has become more and more anachronistic. The membership application, Boizas explains, was sent in on November 2009, after the reform of the confraternity’s statutes, which made it possible for women to join. “In the past weeks we received a letter from the Royal House, which confirmed that the queen accepted to become the first sister of Saint Entierro”, the president explained. “This is an important step towards our goal to integrate women in a normal way, to modernise tradition on its path in this century”, Boizas added. Since 1539, the Royal Confraternity of Saint Entierro has organised processions through the streets of Zamora on Holy Friday. Tomorrow, for the first time in four centuries, around 200 women will participate. “In ten years it will be normal to see men and women participate together in the Holy Week procession, but now the debate is still open. The queen’s example is very important” the president of the association continues. From Andalusia to Basque Country, tens of thousands of people will renew the ancient tradition these days, from the Via Crucis in Seville to those in Valladolid, Cuenca, Malaga, Cordova and Granada. Some, like the procession of Medina del Campo, in the province of Vallodolid, opened their doors for women several years ago. The Confraternity of Nuestra Senora de la Soledad y Virgen de la Alegria was founded in 1985. The only members are women, the so-called ‘Dame de la Soledad’. To honour their history, the 300 sisters said their rosaries last night, in the presence of women only, a countermelody to the two sessions that are reserved for men held in two other confraternities in Medina del Campo. This division reflects the heated debate that is in progress in the city, and in the rest of the country, between supporters of “pure tradition” and those who believe that excluding women from the procession is “a lack of respect for women”. Raffaella, the woman who in 1986 founded the ‘Cofradia del Cristo del Amor’ in Cordoba, points out that “the first time we carried the statue of Christ in the procession, the men shouted in the streets: go and do the dishes!”. In Seville, of the 60 existing confraternities, only 3 allow women to join. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Spain: Confraternities, Between Local Power and Tradition

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, MARCH 31 — Hundreds of thousands of Spaniards participate in the processions in the week between Palm Sunday and Easter. The Holy Week processions are organised by confraternities, of which there are so many that it is difficult to count them. “In Malaga alone there are currently 70,000 confraternities registered in the various congregations” says historian Elia de Mateo Aviles, expert in the “cofradie” and the Holy Week in Malaga. Among the many associates, the most famous is actor Antonio Banderas, ‘majordomo’ of the ‘Virgin of Tears and Gifts’ of Malaga. “These confraternities are considered to be a form of traditional social organisation” expert in popular religion Mirna Barrios explains, “a way of conserving people’s culture, a local power structure which formed a dualism in the decisions of the traditional communities, together with the civil authorities. They must also be seen as a way to bring religion to the people”. Since the arrival of the Catholic kings and the Christianisation of the peninsula that was occupied by the Arabs in the XV century, with the birth of the first confraternities, the popular tradition is renewed every year with processions and rites that follow the path of the life, the passion and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Spain: Balearic Corruption, PP Accused of Illegal Funding

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, MARCH 31 — Among the 12 cases of corruption for which the former president of the Balearic Islands, Jaume Matas, has been charged is illegal funding for the People’s Party, according to the arrest warrant issued as a precautionary measure cited by the media today. The magistrate Jose Castro, who is in charge of the inquiry, considers it proven that the electoral meeting by PP leader Mariano Rajoy in Palma di Majorca as part of the 2007 regional elections was paid for with public funds. The latter is a case of about 5,000 euros justified with two invoices attributed to security and cleaning services and issued by the Nimbus agency, which was awarded with numerous public contracts by the Balearic Islands government in the PP 2007 election campaign. According to the magistrate, “the two invoices were both paid by the Illesport foundation and obviously with state funds”. The magistrate has issued an over 100-page arrest warrant for Matas, with bail set at 3 million euros. The judge called the line of defence used by the former president of the Balearic Islands to justify the receipts “Kafkian” and, according to reports in the media today, he has widened the investigations abroad and especially to the US, when the PP representative is suspected of having transferred money from bribes received. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Spain: Muslim Prayers in Cordoba Cathedral, 2 Arrested

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, APRIL 1 — The two Austrian tourists who were arrested last night in the mosque-cathedral of Cordoba, accused of contempt and bodily harm of police agents, were handed over to the legal authorities today. The police had tried to stop the two from praying following Muslim rituals, which is forbidden in the temple. According to the Andalusian press today, yesterday afternoon a large group of Muslim and Austrian tourists visited the cathedral and started their Muslim prayers. Some of the tourists responded with violence when guards tried to intervene. One of the tourists, according to testimonies collected by the police, tried attack an agent with a knife. Of the two who were arrested, one has been charged with attempted murder. In a statement issued today, the bishop of Cordoba said that this type of action “does not represent the genuine Muslim identity” and that many “maintain an attitude of respect and dialogue with the Catholic Church”. The new bishop of Cordoba, Demetrio Fernandez, appointed on March 20, said that the Catholic Church is opposed to Muslim rituals in the cathedral of Cordoba. The most recent request to open the building to both Muslim and Catholic rituals was made in October 2009 by the secretary of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, during the international conference on intolerance and discrimination of Muslims. Earlier the president of the Spanish Islamic Council made the same request, which was rejected in December by the Vatican and later also by the archbishop of Cordoba, because “it would not contribute to the peaceful cohabitation of Catholics and Muslims”. (ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Swiss Bishops Admit Downplaying Abuse

Switzerland’s Catholic bishops have admitted they “underestimated” the scale of sexual abuse within churches and have called on victims to report crimes to the police.

The Roman Catholic Church is facing one of its gravest crises in decades as a sexual abuse scandal sweeps Europe. In Switzerland, church leaders say about 60 people have reported to be victims of abuse by priests.

“We have humbly underestimated the scale of the situation. The heads of dioceses and religious orders made mistakes — we ask forgiveness for these,” the Swiss Bishops Conference declared in an official statement on Wednesday.

The highest Catholic body in Switzerland “encouraged people who had suffered abuse to contact victim consultation centres ….and where possible, to file complaints with the police”.

It urged those responsible for the abuse to “assume their errors” and to turn themselves in to the relevant authorities.

“Members of the Bishops’ Conference are ashamed and deeply concerned by the sexual abuse cases carried out within the Church,” Norbert Brunner, president of the Swiss Bishops Conference, told journalists in Bern.

The body says there have been around 60 alleged victims of abuse by Catholic priests in Switzerland in the last 15 years.

In an article in Wednesday’s Berner Zeitung, the vicar-general of the Basel diocese partly blamed the sexualisation of society for the recent scandal.

Society suffers from people being turned into sexual objects and the media “hides this reality”, said Roland-Berhard Trauffer, adding that thousands of cases of sexual abuse take place “especially in family environments”.

Jacques Neirynck, a Christian Democrat Parliamentarian and a Catholic, said the problem was less the fact there were paedophiles among the Swiss clergy.

“The real scandal is that these cases were hidden by the bishops,” he told

Claude Ducarroz, a Catholic priest from Fribourg, told Swiss national radio he was surprised by the bishops’ frank statement and transparent new approach.

He said the Church had believed it could “bury” the scandals and priests had benefited from a sort of immunity, but it was now “paying the price”.

Central register

Amid the growing scandal in Switzerland, attention has focused on the idea of setting up a central register of paedophile priests to prevent them from having further contact with children.

President Doris Leuthard last week publicly supported the idea.

“Whether perpetrators come from the civil or clerical world makes no difference. Both are subject to Swiss criminal law, with no ifs or buts,” Leuthard told the SonntagsZeitung and Le Matin Dimanche newspapers.

She said it was important to ensure that paedophiles had no further contact with children and the possibility of a register for paedophile priests should be considered, on the lines of one for teachers.

Brunner said on Wednesday the body would look at this issue during its June plenary meeting.

But he remained sceptical: “We shouldn’t forget that the effectiveness of such an instrument is controversial both within the church as well as in public institutions.”

In June Swiss bishops will also re-examine their sexual abuse guidelines, in particular the systematic denunciation of abusers to the justice system — which is currently not taking place.

The Catholic Church is reportedly set to counter the negative publicity from the sex abuse scandal with an advertising campaign in each of the country’s 2,000 parishes.

A survey found an overwhelming majority of respondents coming out in favour of blacklisting paedophile priests.

Nine out of ten people taking part in the survey also want the church to report cases of sexual abuse by priests to the justice authorities. About 41 per cent of Swiss residents are Catholics.

Refuse to be intimidated

The Vatican is meanwhile refusing to be intimidated by abuse critics.

In a Palm Sunday service at the start of Holy Week events, Pope Benedict XVI did not directly mention the scandal but said faith in God helps lead one “towards the courage of not allowing oneself to be intimidated by the petty gossip of dominant opinion”.

On March 20 the pope 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.

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

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

Switzerland: Why Foreigners Move to the Political Right

The rightwing Swiss People’s Party is attracting more and more young foreigners at the expense of parties on the left, the traditional base for migrants.

Aleksander, Naveen, Anastasia, Shanky and Shahid: their names or skin colour betray their origins. What they have in common, however, is their allegiance to a party reputed to be the most hostile to foreigners in Switzerland.

“We’ve got nothing against foreigners — we welcome them with open arms!”

This catchphrase, repeated over and over at the People’s Party’s small grassroots gatherings, might look like a slogan, but the growing infatuation of secondos — children of immigrants — and other young foreigners for a party that is otherwise typically agrarian is very real.

“We don’t have statistics, but it’s a very real phenomenon,” said Silvia Bär, a political scientist and member of the party’s central staff in Zurich.

“I’ve been criss-crossing the country for around 20 years and I’ve never seen so many people with foreign origins at our meetings, whether they are members or just sympathisers.”

This trend is confirmed by the party’s vice-president, Yvan Perrin, who adds that the phenomenon is more pronounced in the German-speaking part of the country than in the French-speaking part.

“And we didn’t do anything to attract this demographic. It was they who came to us because they can see the difference between us and the other parties and they find our values appealing,” he said.


As the People’s Party defends its initiative to deport foreign criminals, which will go to a popular vote at an unannounced date, this development appears to be a blessing, if one looks for example at the comments of Shanky Wyser, born in India, adopted as a baby by a Swiss couple and currently an icon for this new political wave.

“All foreign criminals should be deported,” he writes on his Facebook page. “We want stricter laws against criminality.”

For the People’s Party it’s hard to imagine better standard-bearers than these “foreign” activists.

“Like other Swiss, they respect our laws and want to preserve those Swiss qualities which drew them here in the first place,” said Daniel Schär, from the party’s Fribourg section, which has a local representative of Indian origin.

For Nenad Stojanovic, a political scientist and former adviser to transport minister Moritz Leuenberger, this could be an “election manoeuvre” and “political marketing” on the part of the People’s Party.

“But what counts is that young people with foreign backgrounds are welcomed by all parties. In that sense, the attitude of the People’s Party is actually good news.”

“ What counts is that young people with foreign backgrounds are welcomed by all parties. “

Nenad Stojanovic

Role of patriotism

Putting the issue of deporting foreign criminals to one side, the involvement of these new activists also boosts the party in areas with which it is less commonly associated.

In Renens, a traditionally left-leaning commune outside Lausanne in the canton of Vaud, three Swiss of foreign origin have given rise to a youth section of the party and could enable the People’s Party to make its breakthrough into the legislative elections in 2011.

“We recently produced a 30-page paper inviting those responsible for our regional sections to open their doors to activists. This document, which we closely guard from our political rivals, also provides many tips on how to approach this issue,” said Claude-Alain Voiblet, secretary-general of the People’s Party in canton Vaud.

Kurt Imhof, a sociologist and specialist in the role of minorities in society, believes it is the centre-left Social Democrat Party’s “enormous deficit concerning patriotism” that plays a central role.

“It’s precisely on this ground that the People’s Party could win over these new activists seduced by traditional Swiss values,” he said.

For Urs Meuli, a sociologist at Zurich University, “the People’s Party’s language, dynamism and uncomplicated methods correspond to what young people drawn to politics expect regarding immigration”.

He added that the Social Democrats, the traditional ground for such citizens, had become “too rigid and too elitist”.

Meuli believes young people coming from Eastern Europe would also be attracted by the rightwing’s conservative values and authoritarian tone.

“Totally absurd”

“That’s totally absurd,” retorted Aleksander Naumovic, a cantonal delegate for the People’s Party in Zurich. “If I were to follow the political values in force in my country of origin when my parents emigrated, I’d be a dyed-in-the-wool socialist!”

Political scientist Stojanovic confirms this is a cliché that has nothing to do with reality.

“The political sympathies of young people with foreign origins go from one end of the scale to the other. Their origins play no role,” he said.

He is convinced that in a few years people will no longer be amazed that so-called secondos have an interest in Swiss politics and for rightwing parties in particular.

Imhof concludes that “the working-class activism of the first and second waves of migration from the south of Europe no longer appeals to young people, who prefer to belong to parties on the right, which they equate with social climbing”.

Nicole della Pietra, (Translated from French by Thomas Stephens)

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

Switzerland: Kofi Annan-Led Forum Closes Due to Lack of Funds

The Swiss government says it will pay half of the debts of an insolvent private foundation headed by the former United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan.

In a statement on Wednesday, the foreign ministry said it had set aside SFr1.75 million ($1.66 million) to cover the debts of the Geneva-based Global Humanitarian Forum (GHF).

Switzerland has also agreed to pay the outstanding salaries and social security benefits of the GHF staff.

“It is a great disappointment to all of us that this promising project had to end this way,” Annan said. Annan was GHF president, and forum’s CEO was former head of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, Walter Fust.

The Forum began operations in 2007, and Switzerland committed SFr1 million annually to support its activities.

However, the GHF was unable to drum up enough funding from other donors and announced earlier this month that it would suspend its work.

Its most concrete project was to install weather data collectors on mobile phone towers in Africa to provide better climate data to impoverished communities.

The foreign ministry praised the agency for its efforts to improve dialogue on humanitarian challenges, such as making the impacts of climate change better known.

It added that some of the themes tackled by the GHF would be put into the programme of the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos.

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

Vatican: Swiss Bishops Urge Full Disclosure

(AGI) — Holy See, 31 Mar — Swiss bishops today issued a communique’ expressing “mortification at sexual abuse cases” and urged “complete clarity on the past.” The communique’ also acknowledges “we have underestimated the extent of the phenomenon,” and that “dioceses have made mistakes.” The Swiss conference also urged victims to contact diocesan counselling centres and press charges where applicable. Bishops go on to submit “we want full clarification” and that those guilty “need to acknowledge their guilt.” .

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


Bosnia: Al-Jazeera Takes Over Sarajevo TV Station

Sarajevo, 30 March (AKI) — The Arabic-language TV channel Al Jazeera has taken over a local television station in the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, city mayor Alija Behman said on Tuesday.

Behan said Al Jazeera was planning to open a regional centre in Sarajevo that would boost employment in the recession hit Balkans.

“Al Jazeera will establish a regional office in Sarajevo which is expected to lead to the creation of new jobs,” Behman told local media.

Al Jazeera would take over television channel “Studio 33”, which was on the verge of bankruptcy.

The city has invested 160,000 euros in the station, which will be refunded by Qatar-based Al Jazeera, Behman added.

Studio 99 was established as a private radio station in 1992 and gained recognition for promoting the values of multi ethnicity and multiculturalism during Bosnia’s bloody 1992-95 war.

The station started television broadcasting in 1994 but struggled financially after international funding dried up in the late 1990s.

Muslims form Bosnia-Herzegovina’s largest group and the country has traditionally has strong ties with Muslim and Arab world.

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

Serbia: USD One Billion Contract for Armament With Algeria

(ANSAmed) — BELGRADE, MARCH 31 — Through the contract signed with Algeria the military industry of Serbia has almost reached the first one billion USD of export during the mandate of this government, the Minister of Defense Dragan Sutanovac said, reports VIP Daily News Report. Sutanovac declined to reveal the overall value of the contract with Algeria, but he emphasized that it was the penetration of Serbian industry in the markets of North Africa, adding that there was an excellent opportunity for the industry to come back to the markets of Egypt, Libya and Kuwait. “I think that we will be opening a campaign in April or May for the first one billion USD made through the contract Serbia’s defense industry signed during the mandate of this government”, Sutanovac said. The current government was formed in early July of 2008. (ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Serbia: Bosnia: Belgrade Condemns Srebrenica Massacre

(ANSAmed) — BELGRADE — 15 years after the massacre of Srebrenica, the Serbian parliament has approved a resolution in which one of the worst atrocities of the war in Bosnia is condemned. It pays tribute to the 8,000 victims and contains an apology for not doing enough to prevent the killings. “Today is a great day for Serbia, which has shown that it has the strength to qualify what has happened as war crimes”, said Serbia’s President Boris Tadic. The document was approved after a heated debate that lasted 13 hours and was broadcast live on television. The word ‘genocide’ is not mentioned in the text, a compromise caused by the division that is still present in Serbia due to its recent past. Tadic commented on this point that “the parliament does not deal with legal definitions, but has approved a political document”, adding that “Serbia wants to find and arrest those who are responsible for these crimes, General Mladic first of all”. Only the democrat and socialist parties voted in favour of the Statement on Srebrenica. These pro-Western parties want to do all they can to have Serbia finally join the European Union. From Brussels, High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton called the resolution “an important step”. The Netherlands, country responsible for the UN mission in the area that was unable to stop the massacre, used the same expression. The killings go back to July 1995 when, shortly before the end of the bloody conflict that had been going on for three years, 8,000 Muslims were killed by the troops of the Republika Srpska under the command of General Ratko Mladic. The general is still wanted by the Hague’s International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, for genocide and war crimes. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Serbia: Parliament Debates Srebrenica Massacre

Belgrade, 30 March (AKI) — In a bid to put its wartime past behind it, the Serbian parliament on Tuesday began debating a resolution condemning the massacre of up to 8,000 Muslims in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica in 1995. The resolution came years after denial in Serbia and provoked a fiery debate in the parliament.

The killing of nearly 8,000 Bosnian Muslims was carried out by Bosnian Serb forces who were allies of the then-Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic.

Serbian authorities have proposed a declaration that offers sympathy and apology to the victims, saying it would promote reconciliation in the region and help Serbia’s efforts to become a member of the European Union.

The resolution has been criticised by Bosniaks and Muslims in Serbia because it does not describe the massacre as an act of genocide, despite the rulings by the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

Head of the parliamentary majority Nada Kolundzija said that the proposed resolution would “close a tragic chapter of the recent past and open new perspectives to the coming generations”.

“By condemning the crime against Bosniacs (Muslims) in Srebrenica, paying respects to innocent victims and condolences to their families, we lift the burden from the future generations imposed by individuals,” Kolundzija said.

The resolution, condemning the massacre committed by Bosnian Serb forces in Srebrenica, doesn’t specifically mention the word “genocide” but recalls the ruling of the International Court of Justice from February 2006, which said Bosnian Serb forces committed genocide in Srebrenica.

But Serbian nationalists rejected the resolution, saying it must also denounce crimes committed by Bosniaks and Croats during the 1992-95 war.

Opposition parties blamed president Boris Tadic’s pro-European government of “separating innocent victims” and insisted that all crimes, including those committed against Serbs, should be condemned in one resolution, not only Srebrenica.

The leader of the opposition New Serbia party, Velimir Ilic, said the government was acting under pressure from abroad, “aimed at showing Serbs as genocidal people”.

Other opposition leaders echoed his words, saying that crimes against Serbs should be condemned as well.

In order to secure the 126 vote majority needed for the resolution, speaker Slavica Djukic Dejanovic said the parliament will start working as early as Thursday on a new resolution condemning all crimes.

Milos Aligrudic, parliamentary leader of former prime minister Vojislav Kostunica’s Democratic Party of Serbia, said the resolution would undermine the position of Serbs in Bosnia and its entity Republika Srpska (RS).

Bosnian Muslim leaders have demanded the abolition of the RS as a “genocidal creature” after the ICJ ruling. Aligrudic said the resolution would give wind in the back to such demands in the future. He described the proposed resolution as “evil and mean”.

“If there is some higher interest why this resolution should be adopted, then the whole Serbia should know about it,” said another opposition leader, Tomislav Nikolic, alluding to foreign pressure.

Despite contradictory statements, analysts said the government was most likely to receive the majority it needed or it would not have held the session.

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

Mediterranean Union

Treated Like in EU, Arab Hospitals in Europe Network

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, MARCH 31 — Europe has brought telemedicine to Arab countries, making it possible to treat more effectively illnesses such as Mediterranean anemia or epilepsy thanks to the exchange of information in real time between doctors on both sides of the sea. The EU project is called Eumed Connect and has brought together universities, hospitals and research centres all over the Mediterranean. The baton is ready to be passed on to Arab countries, who will manage their network independently. According to the head of the organisation managing the Arab network, Talal Abu Ghazaleh, former UN expert on technological development in Mediterranean countries, Arab universities must plug the gap that exists between them and the rest of the world. They have been cut out of innovation projects for too long, Ghazaleh said.Eumed Connect has linked 18 European and Mediterranean countries since 2003, allowing the exchange of figures at high speed thanks to preferential routes on a normal internet network. As a result, a group of Moroccan physicists has been able to work with colleagues from Geneva’s CERN, while French and Tunisian neurologists have collaborated on a number of cases of epilepsy. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

North Africa

Algeria-Iran: Teheran Foreign Minister Arrives in Algiers

(ANSAmed) — ALGIERS, MARCH 31 — Iran’s Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki has arrived in Algiers today for a two-day official visit. The press agency APS also said that the head of Tehrans diplomatic affairs had been received by the Minister for Affairs in the Maghreb and Africa Abdelkader Messahel. The meetings between the two delegations are expected to revolve around the strengthening of cooperation in the industry, farming, construction and secondary education sectors. The date for the next meeting of the mixed commission, which will be chaired by the Algerian Prime Minister and Iran’s Vice-President, is also expected to be fixed. (ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Egypt: Paris Denies Pullout Israeli Film From Cairo Festival

(ANSAmed) — PARIS, MARCH 31 — France denies the news that the French cultural centre in Cairo has decided to withdraw a short film from its film festival, after protests of an Egyptian member of the jury against the director’s Israeli nationality. The film festival will take place from April 8 to 15. “The film in question is still on the programme of the event” said French Foreign Minister spokesman Bernard Valero from Paris, despite the fact that the French cultural centre itself and the French embassy in Cairo confirmed the withdrawal of the film on Sunday. The short film, ‘Almost Perfect’ (Presque parfait), by Keren Ben Rafael, was made when the director studied at Femis, the most important film school in Paris. The film has also been attacked by Egyptian director Ahmed Atef, also because its director has the Israeli nationality, according to the Egyptian press. Atef has resigned as jury member of the French Festival ‘Image Encounters’ to protest against the screening of the film. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Egypt: Elbaradei Moves Reform Campaign to Governorates

(ANSAmed) — CAIRO, MARCH 31 — Mohamed ElBaradei, the former general director of the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), will start a tour through Egypt on Friday, as part of his campaign for reforms. ElBaradei will start in Mansoura, in the east of the Nile Delta, accompanied by a delegation of the national association for change, the movement created by the former IAEA chief. The possible challenger of President Hosni Mubarak in the presidential election of 2011 last Friday visited the governorate of Dakahlya, north-east of Cairo, where he prayed in the El Hussein mosque. Meanwhile, the “April 6 youth” movement will organise a march on that date, which will start from a central square in Cairo and will move towards the people’s Assembly, to present a series of amendments to the Constitution developed by constitutional law professors. (ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Soros Backs Egypt Weekly to Give Arab Bloggers Exposure

A weekly magazine aiming to link Arab bloggers with politicians and the elderly was launched in Egypt on Thursday at the initiative of a women’s group backed by US billionaire George Soros.

The weekly Wasla — or “The Link” — is being touted as a first for the Arab world, with plans for articles by bloggers as a way of giving them a wider readership.

It is published by the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information and financially supported by the Open Society Institute created by Soros, said ANHRI director Gamal Eid.

“We want to challenge our audience, and open its eyes to the changes society is experiencing, particularly through youths and blogs in which they appear,” he said.

“The goal is to show the older generation that certain things exist,” he said, adding as an example: “Whether we agree or not, gay communities are a reality in Egyptian and Arab societies.”

The 16-page weekly will include two pages in English and will have an initial print run of 1,000 copies for distribution to political, academic, and literary circles. An electronic version will also be available.

           — Hat tip: Takuan Seiyo[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

21% Settlers: Arms to Protect Settlements

(ANSAmed) — JERUSALEM, MARCH 31 — Of all settlers living in the Jewish settlements, 21% think that every means can be used, including weapons, to prevent the clearing out of settlements in the West Bank, based on a survey carried out by the Jewish University of Jerusalem less than one month ago. According to newspaper Haaretz, the survey also shows that 54% of settlers do not think that the government has the authority to order the clearing out of the settlements; 63% think that the decision must be based on a referendum, not only a decision of the Knesset. But also in this case, if the majority of Israel’s Jewish people says yes to the move in a referendum, 49% would still not accept the decision. Of the Israeli population in general, 72% recognise the authority of the government to order the settlements to be removed and 60% are also in favour of this move. The survey has been carried out on a sample of 501 settlers with a 5% margin of error. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

East Jerusalem: US Backs 4-Month Freeze, Media

(ANSAmed) — TEL AVIV, MARCH 31 — A freeze on settlement building in East Jerusalem lasting at least 4 months was requested last week by US President, Barack Obama, in a meeting with Israeli Premier Benyamin Netanyahu, reports Haaretz. The paper went on to say that the request is part of a longer list of measures that the United States feels Israel should adopt in order to revive peace talks with Palestinians, and added that the six ministers closest to Netanyahu currently back a hard-line approach. Following two lengthy consultations with them, Netanyahu expects to engage in a third following the Jewish Easter in early April. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Obama Tells Israel to Stop Building in Jerusalem

(ANSAmed) — TEL AVIV, MARCH 31 — The requests made by US President Barack Obama to the Israeli government of Benyamin Netanyahu to get the Middle East peace process going again include a precise indication on Jerusalem: all new construction activities must be stopped for at least four months in the eastern part of the city, the part of which the annexation by Israel is not recognised by the international community. This was announced by newspaper Haaretz, which specifies that the question was made explicit by Obama during his ‘cold’ meeting last week with Netanyahu. It is the first of a long list of gestures asked of Israel, which should make it possible to start proximity talks with the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), despite the resistance of Israel and the PNA itself. The newspaper underlines that the six Ministers that are closest to the Israeli Premier prefer not to extend the announced moratorium on settlements in East Jerusalem. After two days of consultations with a limited group of Ministers, the Premier wants to take time. He plans to give a formal response to Obama’s rising pressure next week, after Passover (Pesach). The Palestinians meanwhile are sceptical. The spur of the US administration is good, said Nabil Abu Rudeinah, spokesman of President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) today, but the PNA will only return to the negotiation table in the case of “a concrete and total freeze on settlements, in Jerusalem as well as in the entire West Bank”, as asked in the past days “by the Arab League as well”.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

President Obama Follows Up on His Middle East Victory: A Satire

by Barry Rubin

“President Obama! President Obama,” said the aide in a cheery voice as he entered the Oval Office, “we just heard that Prime Minister Netanyahu is going to stop all construction in Jerusalem and give in to all your demands!”

“That is wonderful news,” chortled the chief executive. “And as you know I never waste a moment. Quick! Get me my friend Mahmoud Abbas on the phone.”

With the magical swiftness of the White House communications equipment, within moments the leader of the Palestinian Authority was on the line. Quickly, Obama explained to him what had happened, adding, “and now we can move quickly to a comprehensive peace.”

“Not so fast,” answered Abbas. “Since you got the Israelis to back down on that issue-and a great job you did, Mr. President— surely you can now get them to agree to a return to the 1967 borders, accept all the Palestinian refugees who want to go live in Israel, and drop all the demands they have on us to do anything. Oh, and they have to agree that if we sign a peace treaty that doesn’t mean the conflict is over so we can then launch another round to get everything.”

“But you said that’s all you needed to make a peace treaty!”

“Oh, yes, Mr. President, it’s all I need. But then there are all those Fatah leaders who have the real power and they have their heart set on a Palestinian state from the Jordan river to the Mediterranean. Then there are those Hamas leaders, and you know how unreasonable they can be! Why if I settled for anything less they’d have my head! Oh, yes, that reminds me, unless Hamas agrees do keep in mind that anything I accept doesn’t apply to the Gaza Strip and Hamas. They can just go on fighting. Hope you don’t mind.”

After a bit more discussion, Abbas said, “Sorry, Mr. president but I must go now as my favorite show, ‘Do You Want to Marry a Suicide Bomber,’ is coming on Palestinian television right now.”

The president hung up, fuming. But then he brightened up, realizing that since it wasn’t the Israelis he couldn’t possibly have been insulted. Still, he needed something to cheer him up so he telephoned Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, president of Iran…

           — Hat tip: Barry Rubin[Return to headlines]

The Full Measure of Joe Biden’s Hypocrisy on Jerusalem

Not that long ago, Joseph Robinette Biden was supposedly gravely insulted by Israel announcing that potential housing to be built in Jerusalem had passed one stage of a multi-stage approval process. Biden was so insulted by this dastardly act that he stood up the Prime Minister of Israel for 90 minutes and that he and various Obama Administration officials proceeded to lambaste Israel for “insulting” Biden.

Hillary Clinton proclaimed; “it was not only an insult to Biden, but an insult to the United States.” “There was an affront, it was an insult”, huffed Senior Obama advisor David Axelrod. Hundreds of newspapers immediately penned editorials denouncing Israel’s grave insult. The essence of it was that Israel had insulted Biden by laying claim to Jerusalem during his visit.

There’s just one problem with this. In 1995 Biden himself served as a co-sponsor of S. 1322, known as the Jerusalem Embassy Act. (Additional Senate co-sponsors included such obscure legislators as John McCain, Ted Kennedy, Harry Reid, Jesse Helms, John Kerry, Joseph Lieberman, Strom Thurmond and Bob Dole.) Let’s look at the text of the Jerusalem Embassy Act now.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

West Bank: Clashes Between Troops and Protesters

(ANSAmed) — JERUSALEM, MARCH 31 — Around 200 Palestinian demonstrators clashed today with Israeli troops and paramilitary border police near the Betunia crossing in the West Bank. A police spokesman said that the protesters have thrown stones at the police, which responded by launching tear gas grenades and firing rubber bullets. The Palestinians demonstrated against the detention of a high Al Fatah official, Abbas Zaki. According to the spokesman, the demonstration has been dispersed. Three policemen were mildly injured in the chaos and two demonstrators have been arrested. (ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Middle East

Bahrain Introduces Child Abuse Law After Scandal

More than 135 children suffered abuses in Bahrain in 2009, according to a statement by the social development minister, the Gulf News Web site reported Tuesday.

“According to the records, 27 children did not receive any care, eight were abused psychologically, 32 abused physically and 70 abused sexually,” Minister Dr. Fatima Al Beloushi said and added that the promulgation of a law is an urgent necessity.

“A draft law is now being discussed at the Shura Council (upper chamber) and its focus is on the state’s interest in protecting children and offering them proper care, and the adequate conditions that will ensure them a healthy upbringing,” said Dr. Fatima, who is the third woman minister to enter the cabinet.

According to Dr. Fatima, the ministry will be the centralized authority to oversee the protection of children and the follow up in case they are abused physically, mentally, psychologically or sexually.

Bahrain in May 2007 opened the Bahrain Centre for Child Protection to help and care after children subject to ill-treatment, physical and psychological harm, negligence and sexual abuses.

The centre cites among its objectives the provision of child protection against ill-treatment from the family and society, providing psychological, welfare and legal services and finding alternative families.

It also aims to promote social awareness about children’s protection and rights, and to follow the implementation and application of the rules and agreement related to child protection.

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

Italian Airline Launches Istanbul-Milan Flights

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, MARCH 31 — An Italian private airline company has launched flights between the Turkish city of Istanbul and the Italian city of Milan, as Anatolia news agency reports. The Blu-Express Airlines started flying between Istanbul and Milan six days a week on Sunday. The flights will be from Sabiha Gokcen International Airport on the Asian side of Istanbul to Milan Malpensa Airport. “Blu-Express flights to Milan will strengthen trade ties between Turkey and Italy,” Leonardo Scardigno, the trade attaché at the Italian Consulate General in Istanbul, told a press conference at the airport on Tuesday. Scardigno said Italy was Turkey’s number five trade partner, and Italian businessmen were increasing investments in Turkey each passing year. Tickets are sold at 44.99 Euros on the web-page of the company till April 1. Promotion tickets are limited, and those who buy these tickets can fly from Istanbul to Milan between April 8 and June 30. Blue-Express Airlines, a brand of Blu-Panorama private airline company, launched flights from Turkey to Rome, Italy in December 2009. Blu-Express is the only low-cost airline based in Rome’s Fiumicino airport. It is a young, dynamic and enterprising airline which relies on the experience of Blue Panorama Airlines — the second long-haul fleet in Italy and the first European company to order Boeing’s new 787 Dreamliner. Established on December 26, 1998, the Blue Panorama’s logistics and headquarters are located in Rome. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

John Kerry to Beirut and Damascus for Peace Process

(ANSAmed) — BEIRUT, MARCH 31 — The president of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator John Kerry, arrived in Beirut today for a series of talks on the Middle East peace process. After a meeting with Prime Minister Saad Hariri and President Michel Suleiman, Kerry told journalists that he hopes “that in the weeks ahead we can find a path to progress on the single most important regional stability issue which is the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.” He also said that the peace talks will be “the main argument” of his meeting with Syrian President Bashar al Assad, and that relations between USA and Syrian can improve, which will help to stabilise the region, Kerry added.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Jordan: New Phosphate Port in Aqaba

(ANSAmed) — AMMAN, APRIL 1 — The Phosphate Mines Company (Jpmc) will build a new phosphate port in Jordan, in the Aqaba area, as part of an agreement signed with the Aqaba Development Corportation (Adc). The project will be operated by Jpmc for 30 years, and has a value of USD 240 million (156 million euros). It should be completed halfway 2012. The Italian Trade Commission (ICE) reports that the port will operate in line with the master plan of the ports of Aqaba. The new phosphate port, which will have an average annual processing capacity of around four million tonnes, will include a 280-metre-long space with handling equipment. The landing place will be connected with a processing installation through a conveyer belt, fully equipped by Jpmc. Jpmc will finance the project through a direct loan it has signed with the International Finance Corporation. The loan is divided into: 110 million dollars (71.56 million euros) through debt and the remaining 130 million USD (84.52 million euros), through the resources of the Jordan Phosphate Mines Company. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Kuwait Promises Stronger Human Rights for Workers

(ANSAmed) — KUWAIT CITY, APRIL 1 — Kuwait will introduce a minimum wage for expat private sector workers in the Gulf state in a bid to quell accusations of human rights failures, a local minister has announced. At a press conference today, Social Affairs and Labor minister, Mohammed Al-Afasi, said that the ministry had enforced several regulations to abolish the sponsorship “The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor will approve proper mechanisms to enforce minimum wages for various worker categories in the private sector,” Al-Afasi told the Kuwait Times newspaper. The laws and conditions of human rights will be observed in Kuwait.” Al-Afasi also indicated that the ministry had set up a new facility to provide shelter for workers who have been exposed to physical abuse or violence. In a nod to concerns over the treatment of maids in the Gulf state, which has received widespread media coverage, the minister also revealed that working conditions for female employees would be improved. “The ministry will ensure that women workers are not subjected to any form of restrictions while performing their duties,” Al-Afasi told the newspaper. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Muslim Scholars Recast Jihadists’ Favorite Fatwa

(Reuters) — Prominent Muslim scholars have recast a famous medieval fatwa on jihad, arguing the religious edict radical Islamists often cite to justify killing cannot be used in a globalized world that respects faith and civil rights.

A conference in Mardin in southeastern Turkey declared the fatwa by 14th century scholar Ibn Taymiyya rules out militant violence and the medieval Muslim division of the world into a “house of Islam” and “house of unbelief” no longer applies.

Osama bin Laden has quoted Ibn Taymiyya’s “Mardin fatwa” repeatedly in his calls for Muslims to overthrow the Saudi monarchy and wage jihad against the United States.

Referring to that historic document, the weekend conference said: “Anyone who seeks support from this fatwa for killing Muslims or non-Muslims has erred in his interpretation.

“It is not for a Muslim individual or a Muslim group to announce and declare war or engage in combative jihad … on their own,” said the declaration issued Sunday in Arabic and later provided to Reuters in English.

The declaration is the latest bid by mainstream scholars to use age-old Muslim texts to refute current-day religious arguments by Islamist groups. A leading Pakistani scholar issued a 600-page fatwa against terrorism in London early this month.

Another declaration in Dubai this month concerned peace in Somalia. Such fatwas may not convince militants, but could help keep undecided Muslims from supporting them, the scholars say.

The Mardin conference gathered 15 leading scholars from countries including Saudi Arabia, Turkey, India, Senegal, Kuwait, Iran, Morocco and Indonesia. Among them were Bosnian Grand Mufti Mustafa Ceric, Sheikh Abdullah bin Bayyah of Mauritania and Yemeni Sheikh Habib Ali al-Jifri.

Rule for Muslim Radicals

Ibn Taymiyya’s Mardin fatwa is a classic text for militants who say it allows Muslims to declare other Muslims infidels and wage war on them. The scholars said this view had to be seen in its historic context of medieval Mongol raids on Muslim lands.

But the scholars said it was actually about overcoming the old view of a world divided into Muslim and non-Muslim spheres and reinterpreting Islam in changing political situations.

The emergence of civil states that guard religious, ethnic and national rights “has necessitated declaring the entire world a place of tolerance and peaceful co-existence between all religious, groups and factions,” their declaration said.

Aref Ali Nayed, a Libyan who heads the Dubai theological think-tank Kalam Research and Media, told the conference the great Muslim empires of the past were not a model for a globalized world where borders were increasingly irrelevant.

“We must not be obsessed with an Islam conceived of only geographically and politically,” he said.

“Living in the diaspora is often more conducive to healthy and sincere Muslim living. Empires and carved-out ‘Islamic states’ often make us complacent.”

Nayed said Muslims must also understand that “not all types of secularisms are anti-religious.” The United States has stayed religious despite its separation of church and state, but some “French Revolution-like secularisms” were anti-religious.

The declaration ended with a call to Muslim scholars for more research to explain the context of medieval fatwas on public issues and show “what is hoped to be gained from a sound and correct understanding of their respective legacies.”

           — Hat tip: Henrik[Return to headlines]

Qatar: Ponders Changes to Foreign Investment Rule

(ANSAmed) — ROME, APRIL 1 — Qatar’s authorities are considering modifications to the country’s investment laws which would allow foreigners to hold 100% of the capital of locally registered companies in some business sectors — such as ITC, financial consultancy and sporting and cultural services — areas where the present ceiling of 49% is still effective. According to a report in the daily paper Gulf News, the projected change is part of a national strategy, embodied in the economic planning document, Qatar Vision 2030, which aims at bolstering the country’s competitiveness and attracting foreign direct investment into the country, to open up and boost the economy. This would allow foreign entrepreneurs to set up their own businesses in Qatar instead of having to find joint venture partners. The project is still in its early stages, but has been greeted with favour by several professional commentators who see it as potentially powering the country’s development. In the view of Stephen Anderson, a partner in PricewaterhouseCoopers Qatar, “the loosening of restrictions on foreign property ownership will further boost not just capital inflows into Qatar but, more importantly, expertise and innovation as well”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

S. Arabia: Lebanese Magician Risks Hanging, Suleiman Intervenes

(ANSAmed) — BEIRUT, APRIL 1 — The Lebanese President Michel Suleiman has personally involved himself with the Saudi authorities in an attempt to save the life of Lebanese citizen Ali Sibat, who has been sentenced to death for witchcraft in the ultra-conservative kingdom and could be decapitated today or tomorrow. “I have learned that the President took action yesterday, but the result of his efforts has not yet become clear,” Lebanese lawyer May al Khansa told Ansa, before making an appeal to the Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who has Saudi citizenship and is close to the royal family in Riyadh. The lawyer said that Sibat, who has five children, had received no legal assistance during his trial, because Saudi lawyers contacted by his Lebanese colleagues had requested quite considerable sums to defend the man. “The minimum request was 200,000 dollars up front”, an astronomical amount for Sibat, who is from a humble family. “I am still waiting for news from Saudi Arabia,” said al Khansa, who is in constant contact with the Lebanese embassy in Riyadh, adding that, according to unofficial Saudi sources, the execution could be carried out today or tomorrow. Sibat presented a television show in which he “predicted the future” to viewers who called the station, “Sherazad”, a satellite channel that was shut down four years ago. Witchcraft, black magic and soothsaying are considered extremely serious crimes in Saudi Arabia, where a Wahabi interpretation of Islam is in force, meaning that such practices are akin to polytheism, a crime generally punished by death. Saudi religious police recognized and arrested Sibat when he made the holy Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca in 2008. The sentence was announced last year. Saudi legal experts told al Khansa that, at worst, Sibat should have been thrown out of the country, as his “crime” was not committed in the kingdom, where he is not even a resident. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Ulema Conference Condemns and Invite to Repent

(ANSAmed) — RIYADH, APRIL 1 — A conference bringing together 24 Islamic academics from 12 countries (including five Russian muftis) in the holy city of Medina has denounced terrorism in a statement in which participants invited extremists to “repent” and abandon all forms of violence. The ulema again condemned “all acts of terrorism, wherever they occur and whoever commits them,” deploring “the loss of innocent lives” in which they result. The academics have requested that “extremist groups that associate themselves with Islam stop committing criminal acts and return to reason, following the example of groups that have repented and condemned terrorist acts.” The statement also addresses “young Muslims” across the world, inviting them to “follow a moderate and tolerant Islam, without adhering to false interpretations of the jihad question”. Among the signatories of the document are the Grand Muftis of Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Bosnia, as well as the head of the council of Russian muftis. The conference has also been attended by academics from Europe, India and the United States. In the last few days, during a conference in the Turkish city of Mardin, other authoritative Islamic academics established that the so called ‘Mardin fatwah’, issued by the theologian Ibn Taymiyyah during the Mongolian invasion in the thirteenth century, cannot be used to justify holy war, a common stance among terrorists. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

South Asia

Mullen: No Winning Afghan H&M Until Zero Afghan Casualties

by Diana West

Between 1940 and 1945, 128 known air raids were carried out by Allied forces on German-occupied Rotterdam in the Netherlands, killing 884 civilians and wounding 631. I mention this wondering whether Admiral Mullen ever ponders just why it was that Allied Forces in Europe were greeted as liberators in a war that caused millions of civilian casulaities. From DVIDS:

KABUL — The coalition record on civilian casualties has improved significantly as a new strategy has gone into place in Afghanistan, but American leaders continue to hammer home how important it is to avoid killing civilians.

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, visited with troops serving on the front lines of the war in Regional Command South. Marines in Marjah — the site of the recent offensive in Helmand province — asked him about the rules of engagement. Troops in other venues ask him about the furor over civilian casualties.

Unfortunately, this report brings us only one of those questions — but better one than none.

One Marine yesterday wondered why the Americans — who try desperately not to kill civilians — are pilloried when an accident occurs, yet the Taliban seems to kill fellow Afghans with impunity.

“The question that surrounds civilian casualties … takes me immediately to the lack of depth and breadth of understanding that we had … about the severity of the outcome and the impact it has,” Mullen said to reporters traveling with him.

Reporters? Didn’t Mullen answer the Marine? Whether he did, Mullen’s talk of “breadth and depth” ignores the Marine’s question. Fact is, the Taliban, love or hate ‘em, are the Afghans’ Muslim brethren. The Marines are infidels (just hate ‘em). From the cultural chasm between the two groups bubbles up an easily fanned rage at the Americans. Meanwhile, such rage, akin to “Arab anger” as recently discussed by Gen Petraeus, is a big booty-winner for Afghans, garnering all kinds of compensation. Pillorying the Americans for civilian (or “civilian”) casualties is a win-win situation — for locals and the enemy.

“We just can’t win it if we keep killing the locals.”

Mullen’s mantra. Of course, so long as our forces are armed with live ammunition, they will continue “killing the locals,” whether because the “locals” are enemy fighters or enemy shields. So, by Mullen’s definition, it seems likely we just can’t win. Unless, that is, we move from “armed social work,” the COIN strategy, to just “social work.” Maybe Mullen could show the way…

           — Hat tip: Diana West[Return to headlines]

Pakistan: Taliban Threat Forces Cinemas to Close

Islamabad, 30 March (AKI) — By Syed Saleem Shahzad — The growing influence of the Taliban has forced cinemas to close in northern Pakistan despite support for the film industry from the secular provincial government in the North West Frontier Province. Many cinema owners are demolishing their theatres and replacing them with multi-storey commercial plazas.

Earlier restrictions imposed by the previous religious coalition Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) government on the display of the female form on cinema billboards have been lifted and cinemas are free to operate.

But most cinema owners are uncertain whether the Taliban might target their businesses or if a new government of any religious party in the future may affect their business.

So several cinema proprietors have moved to demolish their cinemas and are aiming to building multi-storey commercial plazas in and around the provincial capital, Peshawar.

The Falak Sher Cinema in Sadar Peshawar, Tasweer Mahal of Kabuli Bazaar in Peshawar , Novelty and Palwalsha cinemas in Peshawar are among the old cinemas which have been demolished in the last few years and all are being replaced by commercial buildings.

“There was a time in the 1960s and 1970s when cinema was the only entertainment in Peshawar where people used to go with family members or with friends,” Peshawar journalist Nasir Dawar told Adnkronos International (AKI).

“However, video cassette recorders and video CD players changed the dynamics. People now prefer to watch the movies at home.

“The Taliban threat was an added woe which further discouraged cinema patrons. So cinema owners chose to demolish the buildings and convert them into commercial plazas.

“Cinemas were lost money for them but now with the commercial buildings they can earn millions of rupees from the rental money,” he said.

Despite the Taliban’s growing influence and a record number of bomb blasts and suicide attacks in the commercial markets and police posts in Peshawar last year, the famous Shama cinema, owned by a powerful federal minister’s family, still shows what are considered to be pornographic English movies.

People flood the cinema every day and it does more business than a commercial market.

During the holy month of Ramadan, however, the Shama Cinema shows only Indian Bollywood movies which attract a comparatively thin crowd. During the sacred month of Muharram, the cinema is closed.

However, obscenity is not the only attraction in the cinema houses.

The Shabistan Cinema also draws audiences because it screens the latest Pashtu language movies.

Many renowned Pakistani screenwriters believe that cinema patrons lost their enthusiasm for cinema due to unpopular Pakistani films and obsolete cinema technology and the Taliban threat simply forced the cinema owners to switch to another business.

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

Pakistan Asks Swiss to Revive Zardari Probe

The Pakistani government says it has asked the Swiss authorities to reopen a graft case against its president, Asif Ali Zardari, after an amnesty protecting him from prosecution was struck down.

The move follows a Pakistani Supreme Court threat on Tuesday to imprison the head of the country’s top anti-corruption agency unless the body moved to reopen cases against Zardari and a slew of other politicians, bureaucrats and party workers.

Geneva’s public prosecutor, Daniel Zappelli, on Wednesday said he had received no request from Pakistani officials. And a spokesman for the Federal Justice Office told earlier in the day it had not received the request, which Pakistan says it sent in the form of a letter.

The Pakistani Supreme Court overturned a 2007 amnesty that allowed Zardari and his wife, the late former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, return from exile as part of a power-sharing deal allowing Bhutto to contest elections.

The bad news for Zardari raises the prospect of an investigation and conviction while still in office, and of continued political instability. The president’s supporters say the court’s lead judge, Asif Ali Zardari, is hostile to his rule.

Zardari has persistently insisted he is innocent and that he has immunity because he is president. He and Bhutto were found guilty in absentia by a Geneva court in 2003 for laundering millions of francs.

The two were each sentenced to six months in prison and fined but both punishments were automatically suspended when they appealed.


Canton Geneva closed the 11-year-old case in 2008 after Pakistani authorities asked them to.

“In Pakistan they decided no crime had been committed,” said Zappelli.

The Geneva prosecutor said he can’t reopen the case against Zardari, because he enjoys “absolute immunity” as a head of state.

“We could go further only if the competent authorities in Pakistan decide to lift the immunity of the head of state, which I do not know whether it is possible according to their constitution,” Zappelli told the Associated Press news agency. “If not, we can’t. Absolutely not. Period.”

Zardari and Bhutto had been accused of receiving multi-million dollar bribes in exchange for handing a contract to Geneva-based certification group Société Générale de Surveillance during Bhutto’s second term in office, which lasted from 1993 to 1996.

Geneva investigating judges found the two received $12 million (SFr12.71 million) from companies registered in the Virgin Islands and Panama.

Zardari has spent more than a decade, including the year before he assumed office, in jail on various charges but he has never been convicted.

He then received a controversial amnesty as part of a power-sharing deal allowing Bhutto to return from exile and contest elections.

Bhutto was killed in a December 2007 gun and suicide bomb attack, and Zardari was elected president in 2008. He took the office after his party forced military ruler Pervez Musharraf to resign.

He has struggled to make much of a dent in the country’s myriad problems, but his government has been praised of late in the West for battling against the Taliban in the northwest.

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

Far East

China: Milk Scandal: Closed Door Trial for Seeking Justice for Sick Children

The trial of Zhao Lianhai begins, accused of fomenting unrest because he helped families to seek fair compensation. The toxic milk killed six children and infected more than 300 thousand, but the authorities want to silence debate.

Beijing (AsiaNews / Agencies) — The trial of Zhao Lianhai ‘began yesterday in Beijing. Zhao is the leader of the Kidney Stone Babies that brings together parents of children ill from drinking milk with melamine. The authorities are attempting to try him in silence and the police even banned his wife from seeing her husband and threw her out of the court.

Zhao is accused of “being an agitator that caused unrest,” to have held illegal meetings and shouted slogans to cause problems and to have seriously disturbed the social order “, a crime that carries up to 5 years in prison. In reality, he gave legal advice to families and victims of toxic milk to help them take action in court to get fair compensation. The trial took place behind closed doors, to prevent the participation of the many people sympathetic to the pro-rights activist.

His lawyers said he was led handcuffed into court like a dangerous criminal. Zhao has protested his innocence and told the judges that “if reporting a crime to the police is a crime …. then we live in a society very dangerous. “

In February, the milk scandal erupted again, when it appeared that at least 5 dairy producers have continued to use toxic milk.

Outside the court, the parents say this is the result of the state’s attempts to stifle the 2008 scandal.

Li, after hours in a persistent drizzle, was unable even to see her husband. She commented sadly to the South China Morning Post that “we are the victims. The authorities want to avoid the problem and, instead, they target us. Do not have a conscience? “

Li Xuemei, Zhao’s wife, waited for hours outside the court in Daxing District, along with their 5 year old son Pengrui and dozens of journalists and supporters. As a police car presumably carrying Zhao pulled up in the morning, supporters shouted his name.

Pengrui drank milk containing melamine (plastic substance used in industry but poisonous to humans) and now has a calculation of 2 mm in right kidney. In September 2008 the scandal broke of leading dairy industries that put melamine in milk to make it appear rich in nutrients in quality control, because its molecule is similar to that of the protein. For having drank this milk about 300 thousand children have fallen ill and at least 6 have died (Zhao spoke of 12 confirmed deaths). At first the state promised adequate compensation, but then gave 2 only thousand yuan (about 210 euros) to each family, a sum entirely inadequate to cover the necessary medical care over the years. Many parents have turned to the courts to seek further compensation, but the court ruled their actions “unacceptable” because the claims were still being investigated by the authorities. Other parents of this group have been threatened by the authorities and some arrested.

For this reason Zhao and other lawyers tried to organize the families seeking compensation for their children. The activist was arrested Nov. 13 in front of his child and since then has not been seen by his family.

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

Sub-Saharan Africa

U.S. Navy Frigate Captures Pirate Mother Ship

NAIROBI, Kenya — U.S. naval forces said Thursday they’ve captured five pirates after exchanging fire with them, sinking their skiff and confiscating a mother ship.

The USS Nicholas was just west of the Seychelles in international waters Thursday when crew began taking fire from a suspected pirate skiff, NBC News reported. The Nicholas returned fire and disabled the pirate boat, then pursued the skiff until it finally broke down.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Latin America

In Brazil, Catholic Church Sees Few Scandals

Brazil is the biggest Catholic country in the world, but accusations of sexual abuse by its clergy are few and don’t get much attention.

In Arapiraca, a town in the Brazilian state of Alagoas, an unlikely DVD was a bestseller this month: a sex tape showing a 82-year-old priest, Luiz Marques Barbosa, in bed with a 19-year-old altar boy. The images are hard to bear for the people of Arapiraca, who worshiped the priest and even named a school after him.

On March 11, Brazilian TV first aired the sordid pictures of Barbosa. On the programme, former altar boys accused him and two other priests from Arapiraca of sexually abusing them from age 12 onward. Other altar boys from the same parish soon came forward with similar accusations.

The incident has led to great indignation in Arapiraca, where the suspected priests were known as extremely conservative and puritan. Congregants wept openly on TV. The local police has even put a special team on the case. But, contrary to many European countries, the revelations have not led to a stream of complaints over paedophilia within the Catholic Church.

A powerful church

The Catholic Church’s dominance is uncontested in Brazil. Of the 200 million Brazilians, 73 percent are Catholic. Even so, the number of abuse cases that came to light has remained limited in recent years. This does not mean abuse that doesn’t exist however.

“Relatively few cases of abuse have been uncovered,” said Luís Lima, a theologian at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro. “It is unclear what the exact reason is.”

In Europe, most of the abuse now in the news occurred decades ago, at a time when the Church still held significant sway over much of the continent. From that perspective, one would expect more cases in Latin America, where the Church remains very powerful today.

Lima, himself a priest, does research into sexual diversity and religion. He did not dare answer the question whether victims were perhaps too afraid or ashamed to come forward, but he also saw the TV-programme about father Barbosa and his colleagues.

The programme revealed how the priests’ lawyer tried to push the boys into dropping their charges by offering them money. One of the boys was wearing a wire at the time, which made the TV audience privy to the lawyer’s threats warning the boy the affair could have consequences for him.

In interviews, the boys said that the priests had threatened them as long as they could remember. If they talked, they would be excommunicated, something which would cause their families great loss of face. The 82-year-old Barbosa had arranged a place at a good school for one of his victims. The boys were afraid to tell their story for years.

Afraid to speak up

Sociologist Luiz Alberto de Souza said he understood their reaction. Fear for social repercussions and shame played an important part in the relative absence of accusations levelled at the Brazilian priesthood, he claimed. “The Church is very dominant in this country and a priest often occupies a key position in smaller communities. One does not easily press charges against him,” said De Souza, who specialises in religion.

He recently studied priests and their affective relationships with female parishioners. He found that more than 40 percent of all priests in Brazil maintained or had maintained an affectionate relationship with a woman. He did not study the level of intimacy of these relationships. “But it says plenty. Priests are only human and mandatory celibacy doesn’t work. Paedophilia is a possible result of suppressed feelings,” De Souza said.

The way the Catholic Church has dealt with the scandals has drawn criticism. The bishop responsible for Barbosa’s parish, Valério Breda, first tried to wash his hands of the entire matter. He had known the priests’ lawyer had tried to buy the boys’ silence. Only after the story had been aired on TV was he pressed into action. Barbosa will now have to answer for his crimes in court. The two other priests have been suspended and will be questioned internally.

Solving problems within its own ranks is an old habit of the Catholic Church, theologian Luís Lima said. Sometimes suspected priests are subjected to special therapies in an attempt to “cure” them. Or they are simply sent to another parish. “But his only moves the problem, rather than solving solves it,” Lima said. “In serious cases, the public prosecutor is the right place to turn to.”

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

Culture Wars

Do Not Accept ‘Unjust’ Laws, Pope Says

Abortion not a ‘right’ but an ‘injustice’

(ANSA) — Vatican City, April 1 — Pope Benedict XVI on Thursday told Catholics not to accept “injustices” which have been turned into law, first among these abortion.

In celebrating Holy Thursday Mass in St Peter’s, the pope said that “Christians, as good citizens, respect the law and do what is just and good. They also refuse to accept laws which guarantee what is not a right but an injustice”.

Christians martyrs, he observed, “refused to accept injustice, to participate in idolatry, to worship the emperor, to bow down before falsehood and adore individual people and their power”.

“Today it is important for Christians to obey the law, which is the foundation of peace. But it is also important for Christians to not accept injustices which have been raised to the level of a law, for example when it allows the murder of innocent unborn children,” the pope said.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Global War on Christian Values, Part 1

The new millennium has brought some ominous changes. Last month alone unleashed a flood of anti-Christian plots around the world. All were designed to suppress God’s unchanging truth — an intolerable obstacle to global solidarity. Even “friendly” regimes have joined this war on faith:

“There is a growing and intensifying attack on Christians around the world. It is not just confined to the Middle East and Islamic countries.”[1]

“…lawmakers in the lower house of the Mexican Congress approved a bill officially instituting the separation of church and state…The bill passed 363 in favor with one ‘no’ vote and one abstention. It ‘guarantees the autonomy of institutions from religious norms, rules and convictions…”[2]

“Moroccan authorities raided [the orphanage] Village of Hope and said they were expelling the 20 workers and parents. The 33 children who were being cared for cried out ‘hysterically’ for their foster parents as they were left behind… Lately Morocco has taken a tyrannical stance against Christians, forcibly deporting foreigners and bringing charges against the Moroccan nationals they associated with.”[3]

“Sweden is forcing Iraqi Christian refugees to leave its country. This will put the lives of Iraqi Christians in greater danger… Swedish hospitality was beginning to diminish.”[4]

These ideological clashes may look like isolated incidents, but they expose the corrupt values behind the rising system that is shaping our global culture. Mexico, Morocco and Sweden are all tied to the international laws and standards of the United Nations and its many branches — including the Alliance of Civilizations (AOC). This statement from the AOC website gives us a glimpse of its agenda:

“The Alliance seeks to forge collective political will and to mobilize concerted action at the institutional and civil society levels to overcome the prejudice, misperceptions and polarization that militate against such a consensus. And it hopes to contribute to a coalescing global movement which… rejects extremism in any society.”[5]

Do you wonder what they mean by “extremism?” According to media reports, its main expressions are Islamic terrorism and Biblical Christianity! Though neither can be conformed to the UN vision of solidarity, the former provides a useful “crisis” as well as a needed tool for silencing the latter.


“Last week, Mexico’s lower house of Congress began the process of amending the Mexican Constitution to formally declare the country to be ‘laica’ [‘lay’ or ‘secular’]. Supporters say the amendment merely codifies Mexico’s commitment to the separation of church and state. But the term ‘laica,’ like the term ‘separation of church and state,’ means different things to different people…


“But who cares?” asks Mr. Goodrich. “Why not codify the idea that religious arguments are unwelcome in the public square?” Note his wise warning:

First, since religious beliefs are inseparable from the individual, forcing religious arguments from the public square effectively forces religious individuals from the public square. …Nihilists, Capitalists, and Socialists can all bring their philosophy to bear on public life, but Catholics (or other religious minorities) must check their religion at the door…

Second, religion… has classically served as a bastion of dissent and a check on unlimited government power. But once the government delegitimizes religious dissent, it can also delegitimize other forms of dissent. The end result is not just increasing restrictions on free speech, but at worst, the tyranny of a government-enforced viewpoint and unchecked government power.”[11]

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


linbetwin said...

Here's a video about the case of the Lebanese "sorcerer". His brother says "If my brother were an infidel, I would tell Saudi Arabia to kill him, but he is a Muslim."