Friday, January 10, 2003

News Feed 20100421

Financial Crisis
»Obama’s Wall Street Bill Lets Crooks Escape
»UK: Unemployment Hits 16-Year High at 2.5m in New Blow for Brown
»Approaching Apocalypse: Will Obama Docs Surface?
»Democrats Seek Greater Control Over Health Insurance Rates
»Florida: Muslim Extremist Up for Human-Rights Post
»Florida Guv Won’t Sign Offshore-Drill Order
»Government Has Over 2,000 Photos From Airport Body Scanners
»Health-Care Mandates Could be ‘Null and Void’
»Stakelbeck: CBN Uncovers New Details About Ohio Muslim’s Arrest
»Canada Rejects IMF Bank Tax Plan
Europe and the EU
»AIVD: Netherlands Underestimates Foreign Interference
»Britain Bans Israeli Tourism Ad Showing Western Wall
»France: Interior Minister Hortefeux in Court for Allegedly Racist Remarks
»France: Sarkozy to Push Ahead With Veil Ban
»France: Bill on Total Ban of Burkha in May
»Germany: Pensioner Jailed for Attempted Jehovah’s Witness Massacre
»Germany: Mixa Asks for Forgiveness as Church Begins Abuse Inquiry
»German Abuse Victim Accuses Catholic Church of Failing to Investigate
»Italy: Montezemolo Leaves Fiat Chair to Agnelli Heir
»Italy: PM Provokes Debate After Receiving Communion
»Italy: Montezemolo Denies Political Ambitions
»Muslim Brotherhood Meeting in Amsterdam
»Netherlands: MPs Call for Emergency Debate on Islam Conference
»Switzerland: Will Good News Drive Out Bad?
»The Euro Project’s Knockout Flaw
»UK: Britain’s Barmiest Bike Lane That is Wider Than the Car Lane
»UK: Chocks Away for World’s Biggest [Electric] Model Aircraft
»UK: How the Lib Dems Would Release 60,000 Convicts
»UK: Homeowner Puts Huge Banner on House After Anonymous Letter Blasts it as Eyesore
»UK: It’s Time for Voters to Wake Up and Get Real
»UK: Labour Ready to Let in the EU Snoopers
»UK: Maid Who Claims She Was Treated Like a Slave ‘Was Taken on Day Trips and Given Expensive Clothes’
»UK: Mosque in Bradford With Four Minarets Wins Prize
»UK: Nine Out of Ten Expats Are So Glad to be Gone
»UK: New NHS Uniforms Could be Scrapped After Nurses Complain of ‘Unbearable’ Rashes
»UK: Nuns on the Run: Sisters Forced to Move After 100 Years as Yobs and Schools Disrupt Their Quiet Lives
»UK: Wealthy Couple ‘Forced Maid to Work 16 Hours a Day and Made Her Sleep on the Floor’
»Bosnia: Violent Protests by War Veterans, Injuries
»Bosnia: Srebrenica; RS Still Contests Genocide, Dispute
»Serbia: 1:961 Villages Without Any Inhabitants
»Serbia-Montenegro: Minors to Travel Without Passports
Mediterranean Union
»Mediterranean: EU Planning an ‘Eco-City’
»Towards Euro-Mediterranean Education Area
Israel and the Palestinians
»PNA: Fayyad Forecast, State Proclamation in 2011
»U.S. Promises Arabs No More Jewish Construction
»U.S.-Trained Forces Caught Aiding Hamas
»US Warn Israel: With us or Against us
Middle East
»Hezbollah With Syrian Missiles ‘Of Great Concern’
»Iranian Missile May be Able to Hit U.S. By 2015
»Iraq: Stalemate in Baghdad, Between Vote Recount and the “Needs” Of Powerful Neighbours
»Italy: Berlusconi to Hariri, Contingent Stays in Lebanon
»Syria: Anti-Smoking Law in Force, Start of New Era
»UAE: Contested Islands; Minister, Iran Occupation Like Israel’s
»UAE: Dubai: Yes to Foreign Lawyers in Appeal and Cassation
»United Nations — Gulf: UN Calls on Gulf States to Respect the Rights of Women and Immigrants
»US Won’t Promise Won’t Shoot Down Israeli Planes
South Asia
»Indonesia: Jakarta, Constitutional Court: Blasphemy Law is Legitimate
»Kyrgyz Islamists Eye Chaos With Eager Eyes
Latin America
»Hillary Clinton Scorns ‘Entrenched’ Cuba
»U.N.’s Ballooning $732 Million Haiti Peacekeeping Budget Goes Mostly to Its Own Personnel
»Australia: UN Urges New Approach to Asylum Seekers
»Australia: Abbott Unveils ‘Asylum Seeker’ Billboard
»DHS Official: Virtual Border Fence a ‘Complete Failure’
»Finland: Filipino Nurses Arrive
»Finland: Ombudsman: Russians’ Skill Set Often Ignored
»Have British Jobs Gone to British Workers?
Culture Wars
»Italy: First Abortion Pill Issued in North
»U.S. Congressman Backs ‘Hate Crimes’ Lawsuit
»Confirmed! Global Warming is ‘Settled’ — as a Scam
»Neanderthals May Have Interbred With Humans

Financial Crisis

Obama’s Wall Street Bill Lets Crooks Escape

The indictment of Goldman Sachs is as deceptive as the “financial reform” bill that President Obama and the liberals are pushing on Capitol Hill, says Zubi Diamond, author of the blockbuster book, Wizards of Wall Street. Diamond is warning legislators not to fall for the Obama Administration’s claim that the legislation somehow punishes Wall Street for bad financial practices.


The SEC charges against Goldman Sachs are a ruse, a ploy, and a smokescreen to get the Dodd financial reform passed,“ he said. The bill, he argues, fails to hold the multibillion dollar hedge fund short sellers accountable for their illegal market manipulations. One of these short sellers, not named in the Goldman suit, is billionaire George Soros, known as the man who “broke the Bank of England” by betting against the British pound and who was convicted of insider trading in France.

The firms of Soros and Paulson are key players in the MFA.

As AIM reported back in January of 2008, Paulson, who had already made billions of dollars betting that the housing market would collapse, had met with George Soros about using various “financial instruments” against the U.S. economy.

We warned at the time: “The American people should be quickly educated by our media on how very rich people like Paulson and Soros make ‘bets’ on the rise or fall of national currencies and economies. Paulson is now telling investors ‘it’s still not too late’ to bet on more economic problems. These are capitalists who seem to have a vested interest in the further decline of the U.S. economy.”

Soros refused to talk about his meeting with Paulson, according to the Wall Street Journal.

While Paulson has contributed financially to both major political parties, Soros is a major financial backer of Obama, the Democratic Party, and “progressive” organizations like the Center for American Progress (CAP), which Diamond labels the “Center for American Destruction” and the base of Marxist operations in the U.S. today. CAP President John Podesta recently re-hired Van Jones, the communist “Green Jobs” czar ousted from the Obama Administration for allegedly concealing his radical views.


Diamond’s book makes the case that billionaire hedge fund short sellers deliberately engineered the economic collapse, making billions of dollars while ordinary Americans lost trillions of dollars in the value of their homes and investments. He says the purpose of the crash, in addition to making money for the hedge fund short sellers, was to elect Barack Obama to the presidency and achieve total control over the U.S. economy.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: Unemployment Hits 16-Year High at 2.5m in New Blow for Brown

Gordon Brown’s strategy of putting the economy at the heart of his election battle was dealt a fresh blow today as new figures showed unemployment has hit a 16-year high.

The jobless total now stands at 2.5 million, while the number of people classed as economically inactive has reached record levels.

Official figures showed that unemployment increased by 43,000 in the three months to February to the worst total since 1994.

Long-term unemployment, counting those out of work for over a year, increased by 89,000 to 726,000, the highest since Labour came to power in 1997.

The number of 16 to 24-year-olds out of work also increased — up 4,000 to 929,000, the highest since last autumn.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Approaching Apocalypse: Will Obama Docs Surface?

Attorney hints proof of eligibility will come up in officer’s defense

The defense attorney for an officer refusing Army orders until Barack Obama documents his eligibility to be commander in chief has hinted that the president’s proof of eligibility could come up during the course of the government’s prosecution of his client.

“In the UCMJ (Uniform Code of Military Justice), just as you would expect, criminal defendants have the process of the court, for subpoenas and depositions under the rules that are prescribed,” attorney Paul Jensen said during an interview today on G. Gordon Liddy’s nationally syndicated radio show.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Democrats Seek Greater Control Over Health Insurance Rates

Congressional Democrats have begun pushing legislation giving government regulators greater authority to block big increases in health insurance premiums, kicking off what is expected to be a years-long process of revising and expanding their major healthcare overhaul.

The move, which comes less than a month after President Obama signed the healthcare legislation, is aimed at giving all states the power to stop premium hikes deemed excessive and allowing the federal government to step in if the states don’t act.


Republican lawmakers and insurance industry leaders say the push for more regulation will not address rising medical costs, which many experts say are helping drive up premiums.

“Health plan premiums are a symptom, not a cause of the problem,” said Karen Ignagni, who heads America’s Health Insurance Plans, the industry’s Washington-based lobbying arm.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Florida: Muslim Extremist Up for Human-Rights Post

Ex-CAIR leader’s ties to wife-beheader, Saudi Arabia questioned

The former head of a Saudi-funded Muslim group under active terror investigation moved one step closer to appointment to a human-rights commission in Florida — in spite of what critics call his own “checkered” human-rights record.

After nearly two weeks of raucous debate, the Jacksonville City Council rules committee this week voted 4-1 to recommend University of North Florida professor Parvez Ahmed for a seat on the city’s Human Rights Commission.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Florida Guv Won’t Sign Offshore-Drill Order

Crist’s inaction costs state $100 million in revenue, 25,000 new jobs

As the drama builds over whether Florida Gov. Charlie Crist will abandon the Republican Party to run for the Senate as an independent, a behind-the-scenes controversy is growing over why he is dragging his feet on offshore drilling.

Last November, WND confirmed with Kathy Mears, the governor’s deputy chief of staff for legislation, that an executive order had been prepared for the governor’s signature ordering Florida sovereignty 125 miles into the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico under the Submerged Lands Act of 1953, with the goal of issuing leases for offshore oil and natural gas exploration and drilling.


Crist believes CO2 causes ‘warming’

Crist has made a series of executive decisions that have imposed added costs on the use of hydrocarbon fuels to generate electricity in Florida.

On July 13, 2007, Crist signed Executive Order 07-127, placing caps on carbon dioxide emissions in Florida.

As a result, five planed coal-fired plants that would have produced 4,150 megawatts of power online by this year were cancelled.

Instead, Crist supported a Florida Power and Light plan to build three commercial solar power plants.

The Martin Power Plant west of Indiantown in Martin County opened last year; when sun is not available, the plant shuts down, switching electricity generation over to a natural gas plant.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Government Has Over 2,000 Photos From Airport Body Scanners

As a result of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, EPIC has obtained hundreds of pages of documents from the Department of Homeland Security about the plan to deploy full body scanners in US airports. A letter to EPIC reveals that the government agency possesses about 2,000 body scanner photos from devices that the DHS said earlier “could not store or record images.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Health-Care Mandates Could be ‘Null and Void’

Citizens launch drive to put feds back in their constitutional place

A group of Americans who believe the federal government overstepped its constitutional bounds in passing the recent health-care legislation is rallying allies to a bold and controversial initiative: state nullification of the federal law.

“Now that health-care reform has been signed into law, the question people ask most is, ‘What do we do about it?’“ said Michael Boldin, founder of the Tenth Amendment Center, in a statement. “The status quo response includes lobbying Congress, marching on D.C., ‘voting the bums out,’ suing in federal court and more. But the last 100 years have proven that none of these really work, and government continues to grow year in and year out.”

Instead, the Center is reaching back into the history books to suggest states take up “nullification,” a controversial measure that would essentially involve states saying to the federal government, “Not in our borders, you don’t. That law has no effect here.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Stakelbeck: CBN Uncovers New Details About Ohio Muslim’s Arrest

Is another case of homegrown jihad being ignored?

CBN News has uncovered new details about the arrest of a white convert to Islam in Columbus, Ohio named Abdullah Mohammed Muslim.

Muslim is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to weapons charges and charges related to identity theft and Passport fraud.

According to his attorney, Muslim—a convicted violent felon who converted to Islam in prison—spent time in the tribal regions of Pakistan, a notorious Al Qaeda hotbed.

During two separate searches of Muslim’s home federal agents uncovered large quantities of weapons. During the second search, they also uncovered enough material to make five pipe bombs.

Despite all of these red flags, federal authorities say Muslim’s case had nothing to do with terrorism.

Read more at my blog at the link above.

[Return to headlines]


Canada Rejects IMF Bank Tax Plan

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty says he will be adamant about opposing a bank tax, even after the IMF has come out in favour of one.

“Canada will not go down the path of excessive, arbitrary or punitive regulation of the financial sector,” Mr. Flaherty said.

He said the government does not want to see financial institutions in this country penalized because of their relative success and their stability during the course of the crisis.

The Finance Minister’s comments, which he made in Toronto Wednesday morning at a Euromoney conference, show that he is prepared to battle his G20 counterparts over the creation of a bank tax even as support for the idea grows.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

AIVD: Netherlands Underestimates Foreign Interference

THE HAGUE, 21/04/10 — Dutch administrators and politicians are insufficiently aware of the fact that various foreign countries try to exercise influence on Dutch policy. And the risks of espionage are underestimated, the AIVD intelligence service said in its 2009 annual report presented yesterday.

The AIVD finds that “awareness of espionage risks is in general still low in the Netherlands.” Protection and security do not always receive sufficient attention within organisations, and “the risk of strategic knowledge or operations that are relevant to national security in the long term leaking abroad is given insufficient attention.”

“Likewise, awareness that other countries actively try to influence Dutch policy and decision-making processes in a secret manner is low.” Secret activities by foreign powers are by no means always recognised as such, the AIVD explained.

“Foreign governments use various methods to acquire sensitive political, military, technical-scientific and economic information in the Netherlands or to influence Dutch political and administrative decision-making in a secret way. Generally, the intelligence services of the countries involved are deployed. These (intelligence) activities can cause substantial damage to national security and erode national sovereignty.”

“The Chinese government is still covertly active in the Netherlands. Important targets are the technical-scientific sector, the defence industry and Chinese minorities. Thus, the Chinese government has tried by means of putting pressure on government sectors and the cultural sector to influence decision-making to the disadvantage of Chinese minorities. This has happened among other occasions during the runup to the Dalai Lamas’s visit to the Netherlands.”

“The activities of Iranian intelligence services in the Netherlands are aimed at combating groups and individuals that are regarded by the Iranian regime as a danger to its existence. Additionally, the Iranian intelligence services have the brief of gathering political, economic and scientific information both from Dutch government authorities and companies and in international institutions based in the Netherlands. Iranians living in the Netherlands are put under pressure to spy for the Iranian intelligence services.”

“The Russian foreign intelligence services are to an important degree covertly active in Europe including the Netherlands. Important targets for the Russian services are NATO, the technical-scientific centre, the defence industry and the energy sector.” The AIVD also says “Russian services shown an unabated interest in Dutch nationals that play or are going to play a role within the policy and decision-making processes that concern Russian interests.”

As to terrorism, the AIVD said it has in recent times increasingly directed its attention towards developments abroad and will also continue to do so in the coming years. “It is not local groupings, which weaken and are scarcely active, but foreign Jihadist groupings that now form the most important terrorist threat to Dutch security.”

“The AIVD has, as part of ‘forward defence’, begun working more intensively with foreign fellow-services.” An example is investigation within the framework of nuclear, chemical or biological programmes. “The AIVD must have more insight into the technical capacities, intentions and needs of countries such as Iran, Syria and Pakistan. Investigation of these countries is indispensible.”

On the AIVD website, three brochures can be downloaded which are intended to increase awareness of risks in organisations (Espionage in the Netherlands, Espionage in travelling abroad and Digital espionage). They give companies and organisations tips on recognising and thereby thwarting espionage.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Britain Bans Israeli Tourism Ad Showing Western Wall

Britain has banned an Israeli tourism ministry ad because it “misleads” the public to think that the Western Wall and Temple Mount are part of the country. The publicity was banned by the government advertising regulator. Britain, like the United States and most of the international community, do not recognize Israeli sovereignty over the parts of Jerusalem that were restored to Jewish sovereignty during the 1967 Six Day War.

The “problematic” ad, with the pictures of the holy sites, tells readers that they can “travel the entire length of Israel in six hours.”

The Advertising Standards Authority (BASA) prohibited the advertisement after receiving a complaint that the pictures show sites that are located in the “occupied territories” and implies they are part of the country. An Israeli tourism ministry official said the advertisement contains “accurate information.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

France: Interior Minister Hortefeux in Court for Allegedly Racist Remarks

A French anti-racist organisation has accused Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux of “public defamation of a racist nature,” for remarks he made at last year’s summer conference of the ruling UMP party. His trial starts Friday.

French Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux created an enormous stir last September when he was caught on film saying what would become an oft-quoted phrase: “When there’s one, that’s fine. It’s when there are a lot of them that there are problems” (a video snapshot of which is caught in our photograph above). At the time he was attending the ruling UMP party’s summer conference in the town of Seignosse on the southwest coast of France.

The French anti-racist organisation Movement against Racism and for the Amity between Peoples (French acronym: Mrap) brought him to court for “public defamation of a racist nature,” and the trial starts Friday at the Paris correctional court.

Exactly who or what Hortefeux’s remark was referring to remains a matter of controversy, but since he made the statement while posing for a photo with Amine Brouch-Benalia, a young UMP supporter of Algerian descent, many concluded he was referring to North Africans.

Hortefeux faces up to a year in prison and 45,000 euros in fines if he is found guilty. Mrap lawyer Pierre Mairat said in an interview with the French news publication the Nouvel Observateur in September that the Hortefeux case was, “uniquely about a symbolic condemnation.” The lawyer is expected to make the case to the court that it should consider “circonstances aggravantes” — in other words, that Hortefeux’s governmental position makes him subject to even sterner judgment. Hortefeux himself is not expected to attend, and he did not call upon other parties to give testimony in his defence. The judgment is expected in several weeks.

He meant Auvergnats, not Muslims

The incident in question was captured by a camera crew of the state-owned political television network, LCP, which covers parliamentary events. It was, the web site companion to the French daily, that first aired the video on September 10, 2010. The public outcry that ensued was instant, and Hortefeux found himself having to give an explanation.

He has maintained that his remark made “no reference to any ethnicity, be it North African, Arab, African, or otherwise.” In fact, he said he was referring to inhabitants of the French department of the Auvergne — since the young UMP supporter was from that region.

Speaking before the Muslim Council on September 14 of last year, he expressed his “regrets,” although adding that the whole “controversy” was “useless and unjust.”

Since September, Hortefeux’s actions and subsequent attempts to clear his name have become fodder for countless parodies. One web side, “Bricetoutpuissant,” (Brice Almighty), has gone so far as to make a kind of online game of filling in the blank: “When there is one ___ , that’s fine. It’s when there are a lot of them that there are problems.” Readers are invited to type in suggestions as to how to complete the sentence, eg “When there is one Pope who protects paedophiles, that’s fine…”

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

France: Sarkozy to Push Ahead With Veil Ban

Government spokesman says president will submit legislation banning veils ‘in all public places’

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has ordered legislation that would ban women from wearing Islamic veils that fully cover the face and body in public places, the government said Wednesday.

It is Mr. Sarkozy’s first political action toward an outright ban, though he has repeatedly said such outfits oppress women and are not welcome in France, home to a firmly secular government.

Government spokesman Luc Chatel said after a Cabinet meeting Wednesday that the president decided the government should submit a bill to parliament in May on an overall ban on such veils “in all public places.”

That ups the stakes in Mr. Sarkozy’s push against veils such as the burka and niqab and chador. Some in his own party have bristled at a full-out ban, and France’s highest administrative body has questioned whether it would be constitutional.

Mr. Sarkozy insisted that “everything should be done so that no one feels stigmatized,” according to Mr. Chatel. Mr. Sarkozy said the veils “do not pose a problem in a religious sense, but threaten the dignity of women.”

Mr. Chatel did not say how the new bill would affect a resolution already slated for discussion in parliament May 11 on ways of limiting the full veils.

France, nominally Roman Catholic, but also home to western Europe’s largest Muslim population of at least 5 million. Very few French Muslim women wear face-hiding veils, but the issue has become a flashpoint of debate on national identity, the rights of religious groups in France’s secular society and integration of France’s immigrant populations.

Legislators and members of the government have been discussing ways to limit veils such as the burqa and niqab and chador for months. France banned Muslim head scarves and other “ostentatious” religious symbols from classrooms in 2004.

           — Hat tip: KGS[Return to headlines]

France: Bill on Total Ban of Burkha in May

(ANSAmed) — PARIS, APRIL 21 — At the end of the council of ministers today, French Government spokesman Luc Chatel announced the presentation in May of a parliamentary bill for the total ban of the full veil. Chatel said that the bill provides for the ban of the burkha in “any public place”, including the street. Speaking with journalists in Paris, Chatel also reported that during the council of ministers today President Nicolas Sarkozy repeated that the full veil or burkha “offends the dignity of women.” “It is a matter of keeping the phenomenon under control. We are making laws for the future,” added Chatel, “wearing the burkha is a sign of a community falling back and a refusal of our values.” There are some 2,000 women in France who wear the burkha. The bill will also have to be passed by the Council of State, the highest French administrative jurisdiction, which in March excluded the possibility of a total ban. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Germany: Pensioner Jailed for Attempted Jehovah’s Witness Massacre

An 83-year-old man who stormed a Jehovah’s Witnesses congregation with a machine gun in the city of Bielefeld was sentenced to 11 years prison on Tuesday for 39 counts of attempted murder.

The man, who the court said blamed the church for his estrangement from his daughter — herself a Jehovah’s Witness — entered the church hall in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia last July armed with a machine gun, knife and samurai sword.

But he was unable to fire the weapon and was eventually overpowered by worshippers before he could inflict any damage.

The court in Halle judged the man guilty of 39 counts of attempted murder — the number of bullets he was carrying — as well as weapons charges.

The man had denied any intent to murder and his lawyer said they would appeal the verdict.

Judge Jutta Albert said in her hour-long judgement that on the evening of July 30 2009, “nightmare became reality” for the 81 worshippers gathered at the Jehovah’s Witnesses church hall in Bielefeld.

The man had stormed the prayer meeting with intention of killing as many people as possible, she said.

The former prison warden, bricklayer and soldier carried three magazines with a total of 39 rounds, as well as a knife and a samurai sword.

Rejecting the claim he had not intended to kill anyone, Judge Albert said the man had been driven by an “animal hatred” because his daughter had turned away from him and joined the religious group.

She added that the pensioner had long planned the crime, keeping contact with the church in order to spy on it. This was proven by a letter he had written to his son expressing his hatred for the church and outlining his plans.

The man had “preyed on the ignorance of the congregation” and planned to “wreak a bloodbath in the church hall,” she said.

The only reason he failed to carry out his murderous plan was that he could not operate the machine gun. Likely he had been too delirious with rage to handle the weapon or had been unable to release the safety catch and pull the trigger because he was wearing thick gloves.

But crucially, the weapons were fully functional, Judge Albert said.

Reading from a criminal profile, she said the man had been above the average fitness and mentally capability for his age. However she also stressed he had a tendency to violence, having once beaten his adult daughter in a cellar while wearing leather gloves.

Lawyer Werner Robbers said after the trial his client still denied he had intended to murder anyone and would appeal the verdict and sentence. The man claimed during the trial he wanted to warn the Jehovah’s Witnesses congregation of the dangers of Islamic extremism.

He also claimed he had stumbled on the weapons by accident in the woods. If he’d wanted a bloodbath he would have succeeded, he said, given his familiarity with weapons.

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

Germany: Mixa Asks for Forgiveness as Church Begins Abuse Inquiry

Controversial Augsburg bishop Walter Mixa has asked for forgiveness as church officials look into accusations that he physically abused children at a church orphanage and spent the institution’s money on art, wine and jewellery.

“This pains my heart and I am sorry that I created trouble for many people,” he said during a diocese priests’ council meeting in Leitershofen on Monday night. “I ask for forgiveness.”

In recent weeks Mixa was accused of physically abusing several former wards of St. Josef children’s home in Schrobenhausen, north of Munich, in the 1970s and 1980s — allegations he strongly denied until this weekend when he said he could not rule out possible “cuffs around the ear.”

Meanwhile a special investigation into activities at the orphanage and the charitable foundation which ran it has now been completed by lawyer Sebastian Knott, whose ten-page report highlights a number of seemingly incongruous purchases by the orphanage.

These include spending 15,000 Deutsche marks on a Mary icon, DM43,000 on what was likely a counterfeit Piransi engraving, DM70,500 on a fancy crucifix. Thousands were also spent on wine, which was forbidden in the home.

Knott’s report does not make any conclusions over whether Mixa, as head of the board of trustees of the Catholic Orphanage Foundation, or the actual head of the Schrobenhausen home, was responsible for the purchases. But he confirmed that many of the bills were signed by Mixa.

“The priests’ council shares the concerns of many about the credibility of the church,” the diocese said in a statement on Tuesday, adding that they supported a thorough investigation of the accusations.

One unnamed member of the priests’ council told daily Süddeutsche Zeitung that many council members were asking when, not if, Mixa would be removed from his post.

“This bishop is no longer tolerable,” he told the paper, adding that there had been a “massive loss of trust” among church members.

Mixa’s alleged conduct is just the latest in a series of scandals to hit Germany’s Catholic church. The institution has been embroiled in a crisis over recent months as victims of widespread sexual and physical abuse continue to come forward. Most cases date back years or even decades, a fact that has politicians debating a possible extension to the statute of limitations on such crimes.

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

German Abuse Victim Accuses Catholic Church of Failing to Investigate

Despite hotlines and leaders’ promises, many victims of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church remain disappointed. In Aachen, Germany, an alleged sexual abuse victim claims Church authorities have failed to follow up on claims that he was sexually molested by a priest right up until 2007.

Heinrich Mussinghoff, the Roman Catholic bishop of the western German city of Aachen, is relentless when it comes to investigating abuse cases. “We make sure that such deeds are thoroughly investigated, and we punish the culprits if they are found to be guilty,” he said in an Easter Vigil sermon. “We pay attention to the victims and offer humane, therapeutic and pastoral support.”

Christopher, 19, lives in his diocese. He claims that he endured several years of sexual abuse at the hands of Georg K., a Catholic priest, up until 2007. It is one of the most recent cases in the Catholic Church in which serious accusations have been made.

But Christopher says he has seen no evidence of the Church’s alleged “investigation” and “support” to date. “I want Father K. to finally be punished, and to be prevented from having access to any other children,” he says. He accuses Mussinghoff and the German Bishops’ Conference, the Catholic Church’s leadership body in the country, of doing more for his tormentor than for him. “I have lost confidence in getting any help from the Catholic Church,” he adds.

German Government and Catholic Church in Talks

The German bishops bickered for months and suppressed the sex scandals in their ranks. But now even Pope Benedict XVI is promising “transparency” and an uncompromising investigation into the crimes, as well as calling for “penance” and “atonement.” And this Friday, when the German government holds round-table talks for the first time with representatives of the church and society, the word “reconciliation” will be on the agenda. The discussion will also focus on “recognizing the suffering of the victims.”

But how believable can such promises be? Is the church truly prepared to come to terms with its sex problem? Or will its characterization of the press’s reporting on the issue as “gossip” come back to haunt it given that its strong words have hardly been followed by convincing actions?

Despite the church’s efforts — which have come in the form of telephone counseling hotlines, advice centers, officials appointed to address abuse cases and verbose statements in which the church expresses its dismay — many victims’ hopes for justice are turning into disappointment. The hotline installed by the Bishops’ Conference shortly before Easter was so overloaded from the start that only a few hundred out of thousands of attempted callers were in fact connected to counselors.

Abuse Victim: ‘Investigations Are Avoided if at all Possible’

Many of those who overcame their own reluctance to break the silence in recent weeks are now disappointed by the response. They feel palmed off with empty phrases, boilerplate e-mails or answering machines. “There is no uncompromising investigation going on,” Alexander Probst, who was sexually abused when he was a member of the famous Regensburg Domspatzen Catholic boys choir, said on a prominent German talk show two weeks ago. “Investigations are avoided if at all possible,” Probst said. Instead the church is trying to ride out the scandals, he claimed.

In this vein, many a bishop is seeking to downplay sex abuse as a problem of past decades, in which violence against children was supposedly “normal.” The bishops also point out that there were more abuses in those days because there were more priests. But current cases don’t fit into this picture.

One of these current cases is that of Catholic priest Georg K.. On Jan. 8, 2010, abuse victim Christopher’s parents reported to the diocesan office in Aachen. “Our son was sexually abused by Georg K. for years,” they claimed. But the parents say the have yet to receive a response from the relevant officials.

The alleged misdeeds would not fall under a statute of limitations, either. The presumed culprit is known, and the diocese is responsible for the priest. Evidence could be obtained, and other victims and witnesses could be found.

Case Remains Unreported

Nevertheless, Mussinghoff — who is also the deputy to the chairman of the German Bishops’ Conference, Chairman Robert Zollitsch — and his diocese have not reported the case. And because the church apparently did nothing, despite Bishops’ Conference guidelines, the victim’s family, following the advice of a group called the Initiative Against Violence and Sexual Abuse of Children and Youth, went to the police.

“Because the church has not lived up to its promises, despite the parents’ complaint and despite months of debate over sexual abuse, those responsible must step down, starting with Heinrich Mussinghoff, the Bishop of Aachen,” said Johannes Heibel, the initiative’s spokesman.

The public prosecutor’s office in the western city of Krefeld has now launched an investigation into charges of serious abuse and sex games involving children under the influence of alcohol and drugs, as well as pornographic photos and videos.

Georg K. is believed to have seriously abused Christopher starting at the age of 10. Other children were apparently also victims. Several years ago, a pastor and parishioners made the diocese aware of dubious parties with ministrants and of minors using the sauna in the parsonage.

Priest Allowed Boys to Smoke and Drink, Gave Them Gifts

Mussinghoff’s staff spoke with K., who denies the sex abuse to this day and claims the allegations are the result of “machinations.” But it appears that they did not investigate the charges thoroughly enough in the community and among its youth. In 2007, they transferred the priest, without further ado, to a German parish in Johannesburg, South Africa, but neglected to provide officials there with the details of K.’s past.

The alleged incidents in K.’s parish were nothing if not reprehensible. Abuse victim Christopher has now told investigators that the pastor systematically used false pretenses to secure the trust of underage boys. Another victim reports: “In his parsonage and on outings, he let us do things that we weren’t allowed to do at home: smoking, alcohol, hashish. He gave away mobile phones, game consoles and notebook computers.”

But apparently Father K. expected something in return. After a party at the parsonage, where a great deal of alcohol was consumed, the pastor allegedly fondled S., an underage boy, in front of witnesses and then placed the boy in his bed. Christopher also reports a similar experience: “He gave me drugs to make me defenseless. We smoked hashish in the parsonage garden and burned bowls of incense so the neighbors wouldn’t notice.” There was pizza and beer after one youth event, when Christopher was 12, and the boys were allowed to drink schnapps until late at night. “I had no experience with alcohol and I was no longer in command of my body,” says Christopher.

Part 2: Victim Recalls Priest’s Sex and Porn Obsession

“Georg K. carried me into the parsonage and put me in a bed. First he took off all my clothes, and then he undressed. Then he laid on top of me and abused me.” According to Christopher, the pastor was obsessed with sex. “K.’s computer was filled with pornography, and he he was active in the relevant online forums. As a child, I had to assume the role of a partner.” He mentions sex toys and that there was always lubricant on the night stand. To this day, Christopher hates all lotions and creams, and he even avoids suntan lotion. “I always felt incredibly dirty and taken advantage of. After being abused, I always had to take long showers to rid myself of that feeling.”

The young man believes that there are still many other victims. He recalls the priest’s collection of pubic hair, which he kept in precisely organized plastic jars in a desk in his private study. Christopher also says that K. made videos and digital photos of sex acts. “The people from the diocese ought to come here and finally talk to everyone,” says Christopher.

When his father reported Christopher’s abuse accusations to Heiner Schmitz, the head of the personnel department in the diocese, in January, Schmitz apparently replied: “Oh, and I was under the impression until now that these were merely rumors and that there was no truth to them.”

Church Didn’t Respond to Accusations

The young man’s family doesn’t understand why no one from the diocese has even made the effort to have a conversation with them. And despite the reports of porn videos on the pastor’s computer, the Krefeld public prosecutor’s office has not ordered a search of his apartment near Aachen, which he still maintains, or sought to obtain an arrest warrant. “The defendant has all the time in the world to destroy evidence,” complains one of the victims.

Father K. is far away in South Africa. Nevertheless, both the diocese and the German Bishops’ Conference, where the priest has been employed since 2007, will not be able to rid themselves of the problem quite that easily.

Shortly before Easter, there was an altercation in the German parish of St. Bonifatius in Johannesburg. Peter Lang, the head of the foreign office of the German Bishops’ Conference, was visiting the parish to attend its annual meeting. The matter of Father K. was raised, but only as a secondary issue. Nevertheless, a number of parents present — who had also filed a legal complaint over his alleged molestation of children receiving communion in 2008 — had a strong need to finally discuss their concerns with someone.

“What I find so sad and disappointing is that when the five sets of parents needed support, asistance and guidance, where did it come from?” said one of the affected fathers. “Not the Church! … Not a word from anyone here or from the Church. Not a phone call to ask how the boys were. No contact to ask how they were coping. Not a question, do you need any help. Not a word. …. Where were you?”

Accused Priest May Work Again

A parish official put an end to the discussion by pointing out that it was not on the agenda, and the parents of the affected children left the church auditorium. Lang did not object and did not speak with the parents again. Instead, he offered to speak with anyone in the parish and said that he wanted to visit the accused priest.

Because the priest’s contract in Johannesburg has already expired, he will not return to the parish. Despite the accusations in Germany, however, a decision has not yet been reached as to whether he will be assigned to work as a pastor again.

In the case of Father K., Bishop Mussinghoff has not lived up to the promises of his Easter Vigil sermon. “We’ve only received a phone call from the father. The boy, as the victim, should have contacted us directly,” says a spokesman of the Aachen diocese, commenting on the accusations. “We shouldn’t be contacting him.”

Even After Conviction, Pedophile Priest Worked for Church

The case of Georg K. isn’t the first time Mussinghoff has been confronted with the issue. Most recently, he was involved in a case in Krefeld that had many similarities to the Georg K. abuse allegations. But no one seems to have learned anything from it. The Krefeld priest had also invited underage boys to use his sauna, and in the end it was discovered that he was part of a local pedophile ring with connections to the European pedophile community. The priest, a church educator and a senior official in the city administration were apparently involved.

“In light of these experiences among senior leaders in the diocese, the first suggestions of Georg K.’s sauna activities should have sounded alarm bells in the diocesan office,” says Johannes Heibel of the Initiative Against Violence and Sexual Abuse of Children and Youth, who is sharply critical of the church turning a blind eye to the abuse allegations.

But the Aachen diocese’s treatment of the pedophile priest in Krefeld was lenient at the time. Even after his conviction, the man continued to work for the church for a long time. Despite another relapse, and after being removed from the clergy, he worked in the archives of the Aachen Cathedral. “That,” says 19-year-old Christopher, “is not something I want to see happen with Georg K.”

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

Italy: Montezemolo Leaves Fiat Chair to Agnelli Heir

(ANSAmed) — MILAN — Luca Cordero di Montezemolo stepped down on Tuesday as chairman of Fiat, passing the helm of the Italian industrial giant to John Elkann, heir to the automaker’s founding Agnelli family. A formal announcement will be made at a press conference later on Tuesday. Montezemolo, who is also Ferrari chairman, took over as Fiat chairman in May 2004 following the death of Umberto Agnelli, the brother of Gianni Agnelli who led the company fro the mid-1960s to his death in 2003. Montezemolo’s tenure at the top was always seen as a transitional arrangement to allow time for Elkann, the son of Gianni Agnelli’s daughter Margherita, to mature and work his way up the corporate ladder Elkann, 34, was already vice chairman at Fiat and recently became chairman of its parent company Exor. News of the change in command at Fiat sent the company’s stock soaring on the Milan stock exchange where by mid-session it was gaining over 3.3%. Montezemolo, 62, will stay on the Fiat board and maintain the chair at Ferrari, which he has held since 1991. The change at the top of Fiat came one day before CEO Sergio Marchionne unveils his new five-year business plan for Fiat as well as Detroit No.3 Chrysler, where it holds management control and a 20% stake. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: PM Provokes Debate After Receiving Communion

Rome, 20 April (AKI) — Prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has provoked a debate in overwhelmingly Catholic Italy after accepting communion at the funeral of famous actor Raimondo Vianello this week. Berlusconi, who divorced his first wife and married his second wife, Veronica Lario, in a civil ceremony, reportedly received communion at the funeral.

The left-leaning daily, Il Fatto, published a photo of the prime minister taking communion at the funeral on Saturday with the caption, “Communion for a divorcee, a sacrament made to order”.

“Even for divorcees who remarry, the sacrament of communion is absolutely forbidden,” said the newspaper led by Antonio Padellaro. “This was reaffirmed by both Pope Wojtyla (the late Pope John Paul II) and Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI).”

Italian media seized the issue and some people were seeking a clarification from the church about the issue which has embarassed the Italian Bishops’ Conference.

Lawyers for Berlusconi and Lario, his second wife, are due to appear in court before the end of April in a bid to finalise their multi-billion euro divorce settlement.

Unnamed official sources said they did not want to provoke a new debate, apparently after the damaging sex abuse scandal engulfing the church.

They also stressed that when a public figure such as Berlusconi stood in line for communion it was difficult for any priest to say no.

“The priest had trouble because there he was in front of him,” the diocese of Milan reportedly said. “We will find a way to explain to the faithful what happened.”

It is not the first time that Berlusconi found himself at the centre of this debate. Two years ago the same issue was raised when the prime minister attended mass for the opening of a new belltower for the church of San Lorenzo.

“Excellency, why don’t you change the rules for we who are separated and allow us to take communion?” he asked the bishop of Tempio Pausania.

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

Italy: Montezemolo Denies Political Ambitions

Turin, 20 Rome(AKI) — As Fiat chairman Luca Cordero di Montezemolo announced his resignation on Tuesday, he rejected speculation that he was considering a political career. Responding to questions at a media conference in Turin, Montezemolo said he would concentrate on his work as chairman of Ferrari.

“I am not going into politics,” Montezemolo said. “I intend to continue with my work at Ferrari.”

He said that running Ferrari was a great challenge that still stimulated him and he would continue that role.

Fiat called a surprise media conference on Tuesday to announce that John Elkann, grandson of the former Fiat chairman Giovanni Agnelli, would become the new Fiat chairman. Agnelli died in 2003.

“I thank my family for trusting me. I’m proud of myself and happy. I am thinking about my grandfather and how this would have made him happy, too,” Elkann told the media.

At the age of 22, Elkann was selected by his grandfather and appointed to the Fiat board to replace his cousin, Giovanni Alberto Agnelli, who died of cancer at the age of 33.

The announcement was made ahead of a meeting with analysts on Wednesday when Fiat will announce its new business strategy.

Elkann is also the chairman of IFIL, the Agnelli investment holding company which owns 30 percent of the Turin-based car giant. His new appointment is still to be approved by the board.

Under Montezemolo’s seven-year chairmanship, Italy’s biggest manufacturer rebounded from near bankruptcy in 2004 to become one of the world’s top carmakers.

Last year Fiat took control of American car giant Chrysler in a bankruptcy restructuring sponsored by the US government.

Although chief executive Sergio Marchionne is credited with strengthening Fiat’s business and raising its profile by making the company more efficient and introducing new models, he must respond to Elkann who heads the holding company IFIL which is Fiat’s biggest shareholder.

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

Muslim Brotherhood Meeting in Amsterdam

AMSTERDAM, 22/04/10 — An international meeting of the notorious Muslim Brotherhood will take place in Amsterdam next month, De Telegraaf reported yesterday.

The conference is being organised by the Federation of Islamic Organisations in the Netherlands (FION) in the RAI on 28, 29 and 20 May. The organisers say they are targeting a “positive dialogue between Muslims and Dutch political, intellectual and religious activists, in the hopes of clearing up misunderstandings in relation to Muslims,” according to the newspaper.

The conference has as its title: ‘Islam in Holland, meditation on the present and future horizons’. De Telegraaf writes that the Muslim Brotherhood is organising one programme unit. A FION spokesman denies this but acknowledges that “persons affiliated to the brotherhood may be present.”

De Telegraaf also reports that one of the organisations behind the congress is the International Support Organisation, a subsidiary of the International Union of Muslim Scholars, which is headed by Sheik Yusuf al-Qaradawi of Qatar. He is known as extremely radical and as having issued fatwas approving suicide attacks.

The AIVD warned in its annual report presented on Tuesday against the Muslim Brotherhood, which according to the secret service “works for ‘re-Islamisation’ of the Muslim community in Europe according to (ultra) orthodox teachings.” Although the Muslim Brotherhood “mainly appears to work for the creation of a Muslim-friendly climate in Europe, it is conceivable that the very orthodox interpretation of Islam could come to be at loggerheads with the principles of the democratic rule of law.”

           — Hat tip: Steen[Return to headlines]

Netherlands: MPs Call for Emergency Debate on Islam Conference

MPs have called for an emergency debate with justice minister Ernst Hirsch Ballin about a debate on the future of Islam in the Netherlands, due to take place at the end of May, the Telegraaf reports.

According to the Telegraaf, MPs are concerned about the involvement of a organisation known as the Muslim Brotherhood in the conference.

According to the Dutch security service AIVD, the brotherhood strives to encourage European Muslims to adopt an ultra orthodox version of Islam in which Islam determines all aspects of life.

The aim of the conference, entitled Islam in Holland — Meditating on the Present and Future Horizons, is to encourage ‘positive methodological dialogue between Muslims and Dutch political, intellectual and religious activists, hoping to clarify opinions and remove misunderstandings around controversial or critical issues’ according to the organisers.

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

Switzerland: Will Good News Drive Out Bad?

An image-boosting campaign by Switzerland’s Catholic Church is instead being seen by many as an attempt to distract attention from a child sex scandal.

The “More Good News” campaign, which has already been postponed once in the wake of revelations across Europe of paedophilia involving priests, will try to convince people to become — or remain — one of the faithful.

But voices inside and outside the Church are divided. Norbert Brunner, president of the Swiss Bishops Conference, says the Church risks a “crash landing” with the campaign, which is now set to begin on May 16.

According to the campaign team, the ambiguity in the title is not an accident: “More Good News” is not only an allusion to the Christian Gospel but also a call for more positive news “in a media world in which news is measured by conflicts and scandals”.

More than 5,000 posters proclaiming “More Good News” have been printed and sent to the country’s 2,000 parishes.

The Church considers good news, in the media sense, successful church activities or notable events in a parish. One such piece of news on the campaign website is the “19 girls and boys who took their First Communion in the parish of Niederhelfenschwil-Zuckenriet”.

An example of “international Good News” quoted by the campaign is the Pope’s recent decision to forgive John Lennon for saying — in 1966 — that the Beatles were “bigger than Jesus”.

While some might consider this a little late, it’s considerably quicker than the almost 400 years it took for the Catholic Church to formally apologise in 1992 for its treatment of Galileo and admit that the earth does in fact go round the sun.

Beatles drummer Ringo Starr said he was astounded, saying he thought the Church would have more pressing concerns at the moment than forgiving pop bands.

Diversion or deception?

Indeed, the Catholic Church is facing one of its gravest crises in decades as a sexual abuse scandal sweeps Europe, with Pope Benedict XVI himself accused of playing a central role in a cover-up.

In Switzerland, church leaders say about 70 people have reported that they were victims of abuse by priests in the past 15 years.

The Vatican has responded by saying the Pope would not be distracted by “idle chatter”, but last week it was forced into a climb-down after a senior cardinal caused an international outcry by linking homosexuality with paedophilia.

Many Swiss bloggers and readers of newspapers online have reacted angrily to the “Good News” campaign.

“Diversion or deception? It will be nothing else,” wrote one. “What does the Catholic Church have to offer people nowadays other than an old, uptight worldview? Only when this is relaxed will we be able to talk of Good News. Everything else is just a diversion from the Church’s real problems.”

Xaver Pfister, spokesman for the Catholic Church in canton Basel City, also thinks that under the circumstances the campaign in unwise.

“When you read ‘Good News’, you think of the abuse cases. People might talk about ‘Good News’, but only ‘Bad News’ comes out,” he said.

Smoke screen

But Werner de Schepper, vice president of the Swiss Bishops Conference’s media commission — a spin doctor of divinity, as it were — has a totally different view.

“The timing of this campaign is perfect! It’s about the still explosive, revolutionary message of the Good News of the Gospel,” he said.

De Schepper sees the “More Good News” campaign partly as a criticism of the secular media and of society, but also of the church.

“I want to work for a church that leaves space for good news and against a church that has obviously hidden cases of abuse behind a smoke screen of good news for decades.”

Another online contributor agreed that “a lot more good happens in the Catholic Church than one hears about” and that this should be reported more. But they believed the timing of the campaign was wrong.

“The most important thing now is to clean up the problems. So long as cases of abuse are not dealt with satisfactorily, campaigns are pointless.”


Pfister agrees. He finds de Schepper’s view that one should be taken aback by the media’s bad-news-is-good-news attitude too abstract. What’s more, for him the story about First Communion “isn’t Good News”.

He calls, above all, for transparency. He cites the recent example of the abbot of a monastery in Einsiedeln in canton Schwyz who said on television that the Catholic Church would only go to the authorities in a case of abuse if the victim agreed.

This statement has since been “clarified” by the Swiss Bishops Conference: in future they planned to report such cases to the authorities immediately.

In the current situation, Pfister would like the church to orient itself inwards. “It should let the many unsure Catholics know how it is dealing with the abuse cases.”

Genuine good news must be created, he said, and for that, transparency is necessary. Pfister pointed to Pope Paul VI (1897-1978), who said the Church had to be a glass house inside which one could see everything — a place where there was nothing to hide.

Instead, he said, the Church was an “ancient, sluggish institution”.

Etienne Strebel, (Adapted from German by Thomas Stephens)

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

The Euro Project’s Knockout Flaw

by Paul Belien

The European Union (EU) has temporarily solved the crisis involving the euro, the EU’s common currency, by bailing out Greece. Temporarily, because no one believes the problems are over.

Greece, teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, is one of the 16 countries which use the common currency. To stop its financial problems from dragging the euro down, the 15 other eurozone countries worked out a €45bn emergency funding plan. They declared that they were prepared, together with the IMF (which is to guarantee a third of the sum), to give Greece a €30bn credit line if interest rates become too high for Athens to borrow the necessary funds on the financial markets. In return, Greece has promised to cut its budget by 10% of its GDP in the next three years. The deal has temporarily restored the markets’ confidence in the euro.

There are at least three reasons for skepticism.

First, it is simply impossible for Greece to cut its budget by 10% of its GDP in three years without having the option of devaluating its currency to make its products cheaper on the international markets. The Economist argues that the €45bn rescue plan has “merely bought time — three years, in effect, to contain the adverse consequences of a possible Greek default.” The magazine states, moreover, that Greece is in need of a rescue plan closer to €75bn.

Second, Greece is not the only eurozone country facing default. The budgetary situation in the other PIGS (Portugal, Italy, Greece, Spain) and Ireland is equally precarious; that in France and Belgium is not much better. How are countries which might soon need help themselves, expected to help Greece? The blind cannot lead the blind. The main reason why France and Belgium agreed to help Greece is because they count on receiving help themselves when in need. Everyone, however, is expecting help from the same country: Germany.

The German newspaper Handelsblatt commented bitterly: “For the Germans it is no longer a question of whether they must pay, but how much.” Public opinion in Germany is just as embittered. Joachim Fels, head of research at Morgan Stanley, warns that the Greek debt crisis is setting off a chain of events that may prompt German withdrawal from the eurozone. “Obviously, we have not reached the end game yet. However, with the latest developments, such a break-up scenario has clearly become more likely,” he wrote in a note to clients.

George Soros even thinks that not just the euro, but also the EU itself risks breaking up. “The Germans have always made the concessions needed to advance the European Union, when people were looking for a deal. Not anymore,” he told the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera. “That’s why the European project has stalled. And if it can’t go ahead from here, it will go backwards. It’s important to understand that if you don’t make the next steps forward for the euro, the euro will go to pieces and the European Union, too,” he said.

Third and most important, however, is the basic flaw of the euro project…

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

UK: Britain’s Barmiest Bike Lane That is Wider Than the Car Lane

Perhaps the brains behind it were anticipating an explosion in pedal-powered traffic.

But Britain’s widest cycle lane has only succeeded in baffling motorists — because cars no longer fit in the tiny space left for them.

The 6.5ft-wide cycleway takes up more than half the available space on Constitution Hill in Poole, Dorset, forcing drivers to squeeze their vehicle into the remaining 4.5ft.

Safety experts have raised fears that such confusing markings could force drivers to veer on to the wrong side of the road.

The lane runs up a steep hill and planners say it will encourage drivers to give more room to bikers who begin to wobble as the incline increases. It also allows fast cyclists to overtake.

But motorists say that most cyclists usually dismount and walk up the hill.

One driver said: ‘It’s utterly ridiculous. The cycle lane is wide enough to stage the Tour de France.’

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: Chocks Away for World’s Biggest [Electric] Model Aircraft

This giant model plane was one of the few aircraft to head up into UK skies during the six-day airspace lock-down caused by the Icelandic volcano.

The Boeing B-50 bomber is so big it holds the title as the world’s largest electric model aircraft, It is classified as a light aircraft and is licensed by the Civil Aviation Authority.

Built by Tony Nijhuis in his garage the aircraft is a scale version of the US bomber and has a 20ft wingspan and weighs just over seven stones.

It took Mr Nijhuis, from Hastings, East Sussex, two years to make the radio-controlled plane that he calls the ‘jolly green giant’ and cost him £8,000.

The 46-year-old model-maker has spent 30 years making model aeroplanes and decided to create an electric version of the 1950s bomber from scratch.

It has 96 batteries that power four electric motors which drive the aircraft to 40mph along a 50m runway before it takes off.

It can then fly for eight minutes in the air before it has to descend so the batteries can be recharged.

Made from balsa wood and plywood, the plane also has workable bomb bay doors and pneumatic landing gear.

It is restricted to 400ft, but after the volcanic ash cloud grounded aircraft Tony has been making the most of the empty skies.

The plane is 7:1 scale model and has entered the record books after being launched.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: How the Lib Dems Would Release 60,000 Convicts

One of the many remarkable feats performed by Nick Clegg in last Thursday’s leaders’ debate was to escape the television studio with the public believing he is somehow tough on crime.

Like his performance on immigration — in which he promised to end the ‘chaos in the system’, while neatly glossing over his plan to grant amnesty to hundreds of thousands of foreign migrants living here illegally — it was a masterclass in deception.

Of course, he was quick to talk about how ‘angry’ he was with the mess that successive Labour and Tory Governments have made of the justice system and of how he would flood the streets with 3,000 extra police, paid for by scrapping the ID card scheme.

And there was a neat, heavily-spun sound bite about how our prisons have become ‘overcrowded colleges of crime’.

But there was no dwelling upon the real ideology behind his party’s law and order policy: a desire to keep as many criminals as possible out of the prison system.

So what’s the reality in this oh-so politically-correct idealism?

The fact is, if the Lib Dems had their way almost 60,000 convicts who would otherwise be in jail would be walking the streets free.

Among them would be 285 sex offenders, 3,565 burglars, 446 drug dealers and traffickers, two kidnappers, 102 people convicted of knife offences and 4,742 people convicted of serious violence.

These criminals would be the beneficiaries of the devastating paragraph tucked away in the innocuously titled Your Community chapter of the party’s manifesto.

This reads: ‘We will … Introduce a presumption against short-term sentences of less than six months — replaced by rigorously enforced community sentences, which evidence shows are better at cutting reoffending.’

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: Homeowner Puts Huge Banner on House After Anonymous Letter Blasts it as Eyesore

A bizarre row has prompted one man to hit back at neighbours with a huge banner telling them to mind their own business.

Tom Garvey took the unusual step after receiving a poison pen letter criticising the state of his front garden.

In it, the anonymous writer accuses him of having the ‘worst’ house on the Coventry street after he left a mattress and some rubble on the front garden.

Mr Garvey, who is renovating his home, was so incensed by the letter that he paid £40 for a professional sign telling the mystery letter writer where to go.

The huge banner, illustrated with a V-sign, reads ‘F.A.O. The Letter Writer. Mind Your Nose! My House, My Choice’ and was hung on the front of his house, facing a busy main road.

Mr Garvey, 33, said the furore was sparked by renovations he was carrying out on the home he shares with his partner and young family.

He said: ‘Originally I was going to have an extension done in the back garden and I knocked my outside toilet down.

‘I was clearing out a lot of rubbish in my back garden and I threw out a mattress.

‘Afterwards I received this letter saying mine was the untidiest house in Holyhead Road.

‘It’s not like that, I’m just trying to make the place look a bit better and I was only putting the mattress there until I could have it taken away.

‘It’s got nothing to do with anyone else and if someone had something to say to my face I would have had it out with them there and then.

‘But instead they just sent an anonymous letter. This was my way of hitting back.’

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: It’s Time for Voters to Wake Up and Get Real

There can be only one credible explanation for the utterly irrational outpouring of support for the Liberal Democrats after a mere 90 minutes of X Factor-style TV politics: the public, disgusted by the near moral bankruptcy of the last Parliament, is looking for revenge.

In significant numbers, voters’ only interest in this most important of elections for a generation is giving the bloodiest of noses to a political class which, for many years, has been taking them for fools.

And, because of a brilliant propaganda coup, the LibDems have painted themselves as the clean, honest party with a fresh, untarnished leader in Mr Clegg.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

As this paper reveals today, Mr Clegg and many of his MPs have been some of the worst expenses offenders. LibDem donors have been tainted by criminality.

And the party that promises to return integrity to Parliament is itself stuffed to the rafters with lobbyists and ex-lobbyists like Mr Clegg, many of whom worked for firms promoting policies that are antipathetic to the LibDems’ now declared beliefs.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: Labour Ready to Let in the EU Snoopers

British citizens face being subjected to secret EU ‘Big Brother’ spying missions.

Labour is supporting plans for a dramatic expansion in the powers available to fellow member states who accuse UK nationals of committing even the most minor crimes while visiting.

Under the plans, other countries could get the right to demand surveillance on a UK resident who has returned home, and access to his or her bank records.

They could also be entitled to demand British police take a suspect’s DNA or other samples.

Civil liberties groups across the continent are furious at the proposals, designed to bolster the controversial new European Evidence Warrant — a partner to the deeply controversial European Arrest Warrant.

Cases to which the arrest warrant has been applied include a man accused of the ‘theft of a dessert’ in a Polish restaurant.

Under the proposed new regime, such a person could be placed under surveillance or have his bank records accessed to check that he had paid for the dessert, critics say.

Minutes of a parliamentary committee show Labour is quietly backing the idea. Home office minister Meg Hillier said: ‘We would in principle support a new and comprehensive instrument based on mutual recognition that covers all types of evidence’.

Last night Tory justice spokesman Dominic Grieve said: ‘Giving states which do not afford citizens the same legal protections as the UK the right to demand DNA samples, intercept communications or snoop on the personal data of British citizens is a worrying development.

‘In supporting this proposal, Labour is yet again showing its relish for surveillance and disdain for civil liberties’.

The new evidence warrant will allow magistrates or judges in one EU state to authorise searches of a person’s property in another state, and seizure of evidence.

But a European Commission Green Paper proposes going much further by enabling authorities in any member state to engage in ‘real time’ interception of communications in another EU state, monitor a person’s bank account, and demand bodily samples, DNA or fingerprints.

In this country, police may require a DNA sample only from someone who is under arrest for a serious enough offence to warrant a jail term.

Concerns about the proposal are based on the way the European Arrest Warrant has been abused.

The campaign group Fair Trials International said it had led to people from all over Europe being sent to other EU states for the most minor offences, or jailed after unfair trials.

In 2008, nearly 14,000 warrants were issued across Europe, with 351 people extradited from the UK alone.

One case involved a carpenter who fitted wardrobe doors and then removed them when the client refused to pay him.

In another, Polish authorities requested the extradition of a suspect for theft of a dessert.

There are also fears that the proposed new regime could place enormous pressure on UK police, already struggling to cope with the number of European Arrest Warrant requests they are receiving.

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

UK: Maid Who Claims She Was Treated Like a Slave ‘Was Taken on Day Trips and Given Expensive Clothes’

A maid who claimed a wealthy couple treated her like a slave was taken on day trips and given expensive clothes, a tribunal heard today.

Yoyoh Binti Salim Udin is suing her former employers Firas Pasha and his wife Lina Chamsi because she claims she was forced to work 16 hours per day and banned from leaving the house.

But today Jonathan Goldberg QC, representing the couple, said in fact she was included in barbecues and parties and taken on family outings while at their holiday home in Huddersfield.

The employment tribunal hearing in central London was shown photographs of Ms Udin smiling while on visits to her employers’ friends and family.

Mrs Chamsi-Pasha gave her designer clothes and a Karen Millen handbag, and Ms Udin, 39, was allowed to go to her native Indonesia for six weeks in October 2007 where she was having a new house built.

Ms Udin told the hearing that she returned to the UK because she ‘wanted to work’ and ‘needed money’, and that she was sending part of her salary to family members.

Mr Goldberg asked her: ‘Was there anything to stop you staying in your new house in Indonesia if you wanted to?’

She replied: ‘No, there was no problem.’

He said that she had chosen to sleep in the dining room of the Chamsi-Pashas’ home in South Kensington rather than being forced to do so as she maintains.

She claims that in February last year Mrs Chamsi-Pasha strip-searched her when a pair of earrings went missing.

Speaking through an interpreter, she told the hearing: ‘It hurt me. There was nobody to help me and the door was locked and the phone was being hidden.’

The humiliation drove her to attempt suicide by drinking acid and she is now unable to swallow, and was on a drip throughout the hearing.

But Mr Goldberg questioned whether she wanted to die because she drank one teaspoon of toilet cleaner in a quarter of a glass of water.

He said: ‘Did you actually want to kill yourself or something less?’

She replied: ‘I just wanted to die.’

Mr Goldberg added: ‘Why did you have just a teaspoonful of acid and add water?’

Ms Udin said: ‘Because it’s too strong.’

She claims that Mrs Chamsi-Pasha accused her of swallowing the missing earrings and said: ‘Your family has to die.’

Ms Udin told the hearing through the interpreter: ‘She said if she went home at the airport she would be chased by police dogs because she was a thief.

‘And if she went home her children would kill her because she was a thief.’

Mrs Chamsi-Pasha claims that the 39-year-old stole scarves, CDs and jewellery, which were found in her cupboard.

Ms Udin admitted she was a thief to the couple’s daughter Yasmin, but later said that was not true.

Born in West Java, Ms Udin came to London to work in the Pashas’ five-bedroom flat in the autumn of 2004.

Mrs Pasha, who she referred to as ‘Madam’, gave her three sets of uniforms.

Ms Udin said: ‘They were all second-hand and I felt sad to be given these old clothes. I felt like a beggar.’

She was also given her own cup and plastic bowl to wash her clothes in, the hearing was told, adding: ‘I was told to use these things and not to share the family’s items.’

At the flat, she had her own bedroom and bathroom but said she would often be woken in the middle of the night to tend to the couple’s youngest son when he wet the bed.

When the family moved, Ms Udin said she slept in the children’s bedroom on a foam mattress on the floor.

Then at a third address in late 2008, she said: ‘Here I slept in the dining room. At first I was not even given a mattress, only a thick blanket.’

They also spent time at a ‘large’ family home in Huddersfield but Ms Udin said even when there were bedrooms free she did not have her own room.

After rising at 6.30am, she started on the chores with ‘virtually no help’, the tribunal heard.

She would sometimes stay up until 2am if there were guests, more often staying up until around 11.30pm.

Ms Udin said in her statement: ‘If I was ill I would have to work through and would be criticised for coughing, especially when I was cooking.

‘I had very little rest during my day and would estimate that my days were generally about 16 or 16.5 hours long, and sometimes longer.’

She said: ‘Madam would often spend much of the day at home, resting, reading or watching television.

‘She would shout for me to bring her something from upstairs or from another part of the flat and I would serve her as required.’

Mrs Pasha also made specific demands about washing, she said, adding: ‘I was to use one plastic washing bowl for washing underpants, another for washing shoes and another for Madam’s headscarves and other clothing.

‘Madam required that I wash everyone’s underpants and socks by hand before they were washed in the machine. Everything had to perfect at all times.’

After one invitation to eat with the family on her first night, she said she could not recall ever being asked to eat with them at the table at home, despite herself cooking all the meals.

During moves she would be expected to lift and carry heavy things, the tribunal heard.

The maid was paid £195 a month first, receiving rises up to £260 a month later. She said: ‘I did not know when I agreed to this, that there was a minimum wage in England.’

She was allegedly scalded by Mrs Pasha for stacking plastic washing bowls together in the bathroom and told to keep hers separate,saying: ‘This made me feel bad, as though I was below them, and dirty.’

She said: ‘When she was cross with me Madam would shout. On one occasion early on in my employment Madam slapped me on the hand.

‘She was really angry because I was cooking spring rolls and she wanted triangular ones, whereas I had made rectangular ones.

‘During my employment I was forbidden from leaving the house alone. Madam told me that if I went out the police might catch me.’

She accused Mr Pasha, who often worked away, of being ‘unfriendly and frequently angry’.

Miss Udin is suing her employers for race discrimination, constructive dismissal, unpaid wages and compensation for a breach of employment rights including rights in relation to working time.

Mr and Mrs Pasha deny her claims.

The hearing was adjourned until tomorrow.

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

UK: Mosque in Bradford With Four Minarets Wins Prize

Bradford’s Madni mosque, in northern England, has beaten 50 others to win the title of “Europe’s most beautiful minaret,” the European parliament was told Tuesday.

The mosque in Bradford, which has a large Muslim population, was only inaugurated in 2008.

Its four minarets won the prize from a shortlist including mosques in Stockholm, Rome. Oslo and Granada in Spain, said the prize organizers COJEP international, a youth charity started by Turkish immigrants in France, which is a partner of the OSCE and the Council of Europe.

A “multiconfessional, multiethnic,” jury, including a Jewish rabbi, a Swiss protestant theologian and an Anglican priest, looked in total at 53 minarets in 13 countries before making their choice.

Only those under 50 years of age were eligible for the contest “we refused all ‘historic’ minarets like those in Andalucía, Bosnia or Paris because we wanted the competition to remain linked to recent Islamic immigration,” said COJEP spokesman Veysel Filiz.

The jury made their decision on the basis on aesthetic considerations but also the way the minaret works in the urban environment it is built into.

“The idea of the competition was to show that minarets shouldn’t be vehicles of fear and prejudice,” said Filiz.

Mosques should be visible from afar “because Islam in Europe must function in a transparent fashion and the mosques be open to society.

“If Islam is hidden in caves, we can’t know what it said in the pulpits,” he stressed.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

UK: Nine Out of Ten Expats Are So Glad to be Gone

The grass really is greener for expats. Nine out of ten say their quality of life has improved — earning more and enjoying better conditions than they would have in Britain.

On average, pay for managers and professionals who choose to work abroad is up to £20,000 higher than they would get here.

The findings from a study by NatWest underline the reasons why emigration among Britons has reached record highs.

It suggests that the attractions for talented and able workers of quitting Britain are strengthening during the recession as private sector wages stagnate and public services threaten to deteriorate.

More than 200,000 British citizens left the country to live abroad in 2006, followed by another 169,000 in 2007. But in 2007 only 75,000 Britons who had been living or working in a foreign country chose to return — again a record low.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: New NHS Uniforms Could be Scrapped After Nurses Complain of ‘Unbearable’ Rashes

They were meant to make nurses, ward sisters and midwives instantly distinguishable for patients.

But new colour-coded NHS uniforms could now be scrapped after staff complained they caused painful rashes, it emerged yesterday.

Scores of health workers have reported skin irritation after putting on the tunic-style outfits, which are colour-coded according to their role.

They are being rolled out across Wales at a cost of nearly £1.5million in the hope of making it easier for patients to spot which staff member is in charge of their ward.

Yesterday, however, the plan was put in serious jeopardy as urgent tests were ordered on the ward clothing, which is made from cotton and polyester and dyed blue or green.

One of those who has been issued with the uniform said: ‘Ten colleagues and myself have developed the most unbearable rash since wearing these new uniforms.’

The nurse, who didn’t want to be named, added: ‘Advice we have received from dermatology is to stop wearing them to give our skin a chance to recover and to wear our old uniforms.

‘I will be wearing my old uniform and my constant scratching will hopefully ease so I stop frightening my patients.’

Similar problems have been reported in Scotland, where standardised uniforms for nurses are also being introduced.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: Nuns on the Run: Sisters Forced to Move After 100 Years as Yobs and Schools Disrupt Their Quiet Lives

For more than a century, they have enjoyed a peaceful haven from the outside world.

But now a group of nuns are being forced to find a new home — because the noise of modern life is ruining their tranquil existence.

The Carmelite sisters say rowdy teenagers and the growth of two schools close to their retreat have disrupted life at their monastery in West Derby, Liverpool.

Flo Clucas, executive member for finance at Liverpool city council, said the nuns’ way of life made them an easy target for youths who regularly ‘gave them a rough time’.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: Wealthy Couple ‘Forced Maid to Work 16 Hours a Day and Made Her Sleep on the Floor’

A wealthy Muslim couple treated their maid like a beggar, paying her as little as £5 a day and forcing her to sleep on the floor, an employment tribunal was told.

Indonesian Yoyoh Binti Salim Udin often worked more than 16 hours a day at the couple’s luxury London flat and was not allowed out on her own.

The final straw came when she was strip-searched after being accused of stealing some earrings and then locked in the flat.

She is suing her employer Lina Chamsi Pasha and her husband Firas, claiming race discrimination, constructive dismissal, unpaid wages and compensation for a breach of employment rights including rights in relation to working time.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Bosnia: Violent Protests by War Veterans, Injuries

(ANSAmed) — SARAJEVO, APRIL 21 — Several thousand veterans of the Bosnia war (1992-95), from all over the Federation are protesting in Sarajevo and Mostar against cuts in their benefits relating to a stand-by agreement with the International Monetary Fund. In Sarajevo, before the government seat of the Federation, and despite an impressive gathering of security forces, some protesters broke the cordon and began launching stones against the palace’s windows and trying to gain entrance, provoking the launching of tear gas by police. About fifteen protesters were injured in skirmishes, two of them seriously, according to medical sources. The veterans’ benefits, for which Parliament approved more stringent criteria, amount to 40 per cent of the Federation’s budget. In support of the Sarajevo protesters, veterans stopped traffic on two access roads to the city.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Bosnia: Srebrenica; RS Still Contests Genocide, Dispute

(ANSAmed) — SARAJEVO, APRIL 21 — The Office of the High Representative in Bosnia (OHR) has strongly criticised the Government of the Republika Srpska (RS, Serb-led entity in Bosnia) headed by Milorad Dodik, for having denied the 1995 Srebrenica genocide, and for deciding to proceed to revise the list of victims of the massacre, about 7,800, which was drawn up in 2004 by a commission nominated by the then Government of the RS. “The RS Government’s conclusions on April 19 represent a disgraceful attempt to dispute the genocide which took place in Srebrenica, and to deliberately distort historically and legally established facts”.”There can be no political, legal or moral justification for the conclusions reached by the RS Government”, which, is said in the OHR press release, denies what was established by the Court of Justice in The Hague and by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and represents a “spreading of disinformation with the intent of masking the truth’“. The OHR recalls that the remains of 6,414 victims of the massacre have so far been officially identified and that many others, exhumated from common graves, are awaiting identification. The majority of victims are buried in the memorial and cemetery at Potocari, near Srebrenica, and other are buried elsewhere as requested by their families. According to the OHR, “the acceptance of the fact that the genocide occurred is essential for the health of a society, particularly that in whose name the crime was committed”, therefore, it invites the Serb-Bosniak Government to “review its conclusions and to accept the facts”.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Serbia: 1:961 Villages Without Any Inhabitants

(ANSAmed) — BELGRADE, APRIL 21 — Today, there are 1.961 villages in Serbia without any inhabitants, while 200 villages have no inhabitants who are under the age of 20, reports daily Blic. Out of the total of 4.800 villages in Serbia, each fourth is disappearing. This means that in a decade and a half, 1.200 villages will disappear from the map. Branislav Gulan, associate of the Serbian Chamber of Commerce, who carried out latest big survey on Serbian villages, says that the Serbian village is characterized by increased poverty amongst older people who remain living in the villages. Today, mostly old people live in the villages. These people are, at the same time, the last inhabitants of these villages. When they die, these villages will remain empty, said Gulan. The newest survey on social exclusion in rural areas of Serbia, which has been carried out last year by the NGO Secons, shows that there are reasons for abandoning villages. This survey has been carried out in 1.621 households in 203 villages. Results of the survey reveal that over 38% of village households in Serbia face poverty, 37,8% are not able to satisfy basic needs, while 4,8% faces poverty and poor living conditions. The situation is worst in southeastern Serbia, where as much as 43,1% of households are poor, while the percentage of households facing poverty in Vojvodina is 22,1. The most endangered are children under 14, agricultural and single households. In the majority of Serbian villages, electricity, telephone, sewage, internet, cable television, even asphalt, still remain a luxury.(ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Serbia-Montenegro: Minors to Travel Without Passports

(ANSAmed) — BELGRADE, APRIL 21 — Serbian and Montenegrin Interior Ministers Ivica Dacic and Ivan Brajovic agreed that minors from the two countries will be able to travel across the common border without passports until October 1, reports Tanjug news agency. The agreement was signed on the sidelines of the Migration, Asylum, Refugees Regional Initiative (MARRI) forum underway in Becici. The ministers also conferred on cooperation between Serbian and Montenegrin police in the case of the Saric brothers drug gang. The conference is also attended by interior ministers of Albania and Macedonia and officials from Croatia and Bosnia. The conference focuses on regional cooperation in the sectors of migration, asylum, border management, visas, consular cooperation, return of refugees, integration in the European Union and other topics. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Mediterranean Union

Mediterranean: EU Planning an ‘Eco-City’

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, APRIL 21 — Demographic boom and new cities springing up like mushrooms: this is the outline traced by most southern-shore countries of the Mediterranean, attempting to tackle a new ‘eco-friendly’ development model’, that is, friendly for the environment. The EU project ‘New Medina’, launched last week, springs from this perspective, and will last three years. Protagonists of the initiative are the new urban centres of Sidi Abdellah (Algeria), Chrafat (Morocco) and Shorouk (Egypt), and leader is San of Marne-la-Vallee Val Maubuee in France. ‘New Medina’ has its roots in the new Ciudad Programme, within the ambit of the European Neighbourhood Policy tool (ENPI). Its objective? To create an exchange of useful experiences between various countries involved, including project partners such as Latium Region in Italy and European New Towns Platform in Belgium. To be initiated are conferences, training courses and new specialist networks, on issues such as renewable energy and transport. Prototype of a ‘green’ development for other cities will be Shorouk, near Cairo, in Egypt. Started in 1995, it has today 100 thousand inhabitants, but the number is expected to treble during the next five years. For this reason the Egyptian government Authority for new urban communities has had it included in the EU project. “In Shorouk we are implementing the plan for an eco-friendly waste management system”, says engineer Khaled Mahmoud Abbas, from the Egyptian government Authority for new urban communities, within the ambit of this project. The idea is to make it into a model for other centres. In Egypt, we now have 3 million people living in the new cities, and we expect the number to become 14 million by 2022. The country’s entire population is 80 million inhabitants, but the estimate is that it will reach 140 million by 2050”. This cause for preoccupation requires the sustainability of this great urban development, which has been going on since 1976. “Altogether, up to now almost half a billion Euros has been spent for the city of Shorouk”, states Abbas, “with 70% public and 30% private investments, destined to housing, infrastructures and services. The final objective is to make the city fully self-sufficient and to attract new private investments”. The overall budget for the “New Medina” project is 710 thousand Euros (80% covered by the EU), of which 53 thousand Euros will go to the Egyptian partner. “What we expect from the “New Medina” project”, explains the Egyptian engineer, “is an exchange of information, on the various types of issue-management, from different perspectives and cultures”. According to Abbas “the factor differentiating us from the Europeans is the fact that we are making the desert habitable and thereby we have a different kind of success story with respect to them. A challenge for us, like France, is to be able to collect water in an efficient way”. Water, energy, transport, waste: will be some of the major Issues to be tackled for the new cities and to which the new Local realities will be to respond, on this occcasion, with respect For the environment. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Towards Euro-Mediterranean Education Area

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, APRIL 21 — A new round of discussion for the Union for the Mediterranean at the next conference of Euro-Mediterranean Ministers on higher education, research and education. The event, reports the website of ENPI (, will be held in Brdo (Slovenia), on April 25 and 26. In fact the Euro-Mediterranean University, founded in June 2008, is in Piran, Slovenia. Gregor Globic, Slovenian Minister for Research, writes on the website that the event “will be an opportunity to make progress in the creation of a Euro-Mediterranean area for higher education and research”. The idea is to resume the activities that were developed after the conference in Cairo in June 2007 and to “adopt a plan of action”, said Globic, “with some immediate priorities, to make important progression in the coming years”. There is a risk of failure however, considering the experience of the recent Euro-Mediterranean conference on water in Barcelona on April 13. No agreement was reached in Barcelona on a joint water strategy due to Israel’s veto and those of other countries on the name to use for the occupied Palestinian, Syrian and Lebanese Territories. This problem must be solved to make the Brdo conference, and any other regional initiative, a success. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

PNA: Fayyad Forecast, State Proclamation in 2011

(ANSAmed) — JERUSALEM, APRIL 21 — Palestinian Premier Salam Fayyad has said that preparations are under way to proclaim the constitution of a Palestinian State in the West Bank in summer 2011, even if negotiations with Israel should fail. In an interview today in Y-Net, the on-line edition of Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth, Fayyad said that his Government is committed to developing infrastructures for the future state. “I hope”, he said,” that the successes we achieve by summer 2011 will give us the lever to end the (Israeli) occupation”, also due to ample support provided by the international community”. “We”, he continued, “do not reject the negotiated way to set up our State, but should this not meet with success we must prepare an alternative to translate our dreams into reality”. In his opinion Israel will benefit from “peace and security” by the constitution of a Palestinian State. Among his Government’s successes Fayyad remarked on the fact of its having been able to re-establish order and security in administrated areas. The Premier said he has verified that the Palestinian positions have the consensus of the international community, as highlighted by the position taken by the (US, EU, Russia and UN) Quartet and by the attendance of UN and EU representatives to a conference in the Palestinian village of Bilin on the issue of non-violent popular resistance against the settlements and the Israeli wall being built in the West Bank. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

U.S. Promises Arabs No More Jewish Construction

JERUSALEM — The Obama administration pledged to the Palestinian Authority it will secure an extension of a freeze on Jewish construction in the West Bank and a de facto freeze in eastern Jerusalem, a top PA leader told WND.

Under intense U.S. pressure, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in November announced a 10-month halt to all Jewish construction in the West Bank in an attempt to jumpstart talks aimed at creating a PA-led state. Netanyahu had publicly claimed the settlement moratorium was temporary and that new construction would resume after the freeze expires in September.

The Obama administration is also demanding a total halt to all Jewish construction in eastern Jerusalem as a precondition to jumpstart talks. Netanyahu has refused an official freeze, but almost no new Jewish construction in eastern Jerusalem has been approved since last month.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

U.S.-Trained Forces Caught Aiding Hamas

Terror group’s moves indicate plot to take over strategic West Bank

JERUSALEM — Members of the U.S.-backed Fatah organization recently were caught aiding Hamas in the establishment of a military wing in the strategic West Bank, according to security sources in the Palestinian Authority.

The Obama administration has backed a Fatah-led state in the West Bank. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in November announced a 10-month freeze of Jewish construction in the territory in an attempt to jumpstart talks aimed at creating a West Bank PA state, a move that would first see an Israeli retreat from the area.

Following Israel’s evacuation of the Gaza Strip in 2005, Hamas seized the coastal territory, forcibly expelling the U.S.-trained Fatah security forces of PA President Mahmoud Abbas. Now, recent occurrences indicate Hamas is attempting to set the stage for an eventual West Bank takeover.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

US Warn Israel: With us or Against us

(ANSAmed) — TEL AVIV, APRIL 21 — Israeli Premier Benyamin Netanyahu must choose whether to accentuate the contrast with US President Barack Obama’s administration or relaunch the peace process. This was declared today in an interview to military radio by former US Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk, currently adviser to George Mitchell, Obama’s Middle East envoy. In the radio interview, and also in an article published in the New York Times, Indyk revealed United States irritation toward Netanyahu. “If Israel is a superpower and does not need the protection of the United States, which also isolates and puts pressure on Iran, then so be it, may it do what it thinks best, said Indyk, but if it needs the United States, then it also has to give due consideration to American interests”. Indyk says that Netanyahu now needs to decide if he wants a confrontation with Obama, or if he will support his Middle East policy, also at the cost of repudiating rightist partners in his government coalition. Meanwhile, discordant opinions are coming from the Israeli government. Defence Minister and Labour Party leader, Ehud Barak, said he is much in favour of re-launching the peace process in the region, also by drawing up a “couragious” initiative by Israel. Should this not occur within the next few months, say Labour Party sources, it could mean a de-commitment of its Ministers. On his part, Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister, Dany Ayalon (of the radical rightist party Israel Beitenu, headed by Avigdor Lieberman), instead underlined that Israel is not willing to make new concessions to the Palestinians to convince them to return to the negotiation table, nor to accept external pressures. According to Ayalon, also anyone intending to set a maximum two-year deadline for the constitution of an independent Palestinian State is mistaken. Words which rang like criticism of American policy in the Region. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Middle East

Hezbollah With Syrian Missiles ‘Of Great Concern’

Israeli minister promises response to launch would return attacker ‘to Stone Age’

A U.S. defense agency says it cannot confirm yet a claim by Israeli President Shimon Peres that Syria is arming Lebanon’s Hezbollah with long-range SCUD missiles, but another Israeli minister has warned if such an attack develops, his nation’s response would be to return Syria to “the Stone Age,” according to a report from Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin.

In response to a G2 Bulletin inquiry, U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency spokesman Lt. Commander Sean Kelly said the agency’s analysts cannot confirm that Syria is delivering SCUD missiles in Lebanon to the Hezbollah. He also could not confirm whether Hezbollah units are being trained in Syria on the use of SCUDs.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Iranian Missile May be Able to Hit U.S. By 2015

U.S. Defense Department report also says Iranians have gone to great lengths to protect its nuclear infrastructure from physical destruction including using buried and hardened facilities.

“With sufficient foreign assistance, Iran could probably develop and test an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of reaching the United States by 2015,” says a new 12 page unclassified report prepared by the Department of Defense on the Iran Military Threat.

The report says Iran’s military strategy is designed to defend against external or “hard” threats from the United States and Israel. “Iran’s nuclear program and its willingness to keep open the possibility to develop nuclear weapons is a central part of its deterrent strategy,” according to the report.

Iran continues being a disruptive force inside Iraq, it alleges.

“Iran continues to provide money, weapons and training to select Iraqi Shia militants despite pledges by senior Iranian officials to stop such support,” the report says. “Iran also offers strategic and operational guidance to militias and terrorist groups to target U.S. Forces in Iraq and undermine U.S. interests.”

It also outlines what Defense Secretary Robert Gates has called Tehran playing a “double game” inside Afghanistan.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Iraq: Stalemate in Baghdad, Between Vote Recount and the “Needs” Of Powerful Neighbours

Failure to determine the winner in last month’s election and taking into account the wishes of not only the United States but also Iran and Saudi Arabia are making it hard to form a new government.

Baghdad (AsiaNews) — Iraqi security forces recently scored a major success against al-Qaeda’s network at a time when the country is still grappling with uncertainty over last month’s parliamentary elections, whose winner has yet to be announced. Whichever faction wins, it must not upset anyone, not the United States nor influential neighbours like Iran or Saudi Arabia.

Outgoing Prime Minister Mr Maliki announced that the Iraqi al-Qaeda leader Abu Ayyub al-Masri and Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, who led an affiliate group called Islamic State in Iraq, are dead. The two men died during a raid near Tharthar Lake, a rural region west of Baghdad, considered a base for Bin Laden’s network. According to a press release by the US military in Iraq, their deaths are “potentially the most significant blow to Al Qaeda in Iraq since the beginning of the insurgency.”

Election results not yet clear

The country remains at a political stalemate. Elections officials on Monday ordered a partial recount of last month’s national election results (for votes cast in Baghdad). In its first session after the poll, the Election Commission accepted complaints from Mr Maliki’s State of Law Alliance. This action could have major consequences for the outcome.

After the initial count, the Sunni-backed secular Iraqiya bloc led by former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi was ahead by two seats (91 versus 89).

The new tally should take about a week. Only when all appeals have been exhausted will election results go to the Supreme federal Court for certification. Once that is done, the process of forming a new cabinet could start with parliament called within 15 days.

Pressures and overtures from Tehran

Whoever is the winner will have to take into account the “needs” of foreign powers, not only of the United States but also and especially those of Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Last week, various Iraqi leaders visited Tehran, including Iraq’s president, Kurdish Jalal Talabani, and radical Shia leader, Muqtada Sadr.

Allawi and Maliki are members of the Shia majority. Both know very well the role religious parties will play in forging a working coalition in parliament, which will be called to elect a new head of state.

Allawi himself, who has strong Sunni backing, cannot afford to antagonise Tehran, especially if the Shia bloc forms a coalition with the Kurdistan Alliance, which includes most Kurdish parties.

For this reason, the former prime minister made some overtures in the direction of the Islamic Republic. During a recent visit to the Iranian capital by an Iraqiya delegation, he had his representative say that he would not allow Iraqi territory and air space to be used for an attack against Iran.

Through its ambassador in Baghdad, Iran responded by saying that the new government should include Allawi’s alliance, and that means having Sunnis included. Such a statement reflects a shift in position by Tehran, which was previously in favour of a Shia-only government.

Neighbouring Arab states’ influence

The region’s Arab states also play a role in Iraq’s power games. Countries that had a hands off approach like Saudi Arabia (which has not yet reopened its embassy in Baghdad), now must take a stand, especially since United States will start to draw down its forces in September.

In Riyadh, President Talabani held personal talks last week with King Abdullah and other regional leaders.

Allawi too had flown to Saudi Arabia on the eve of the vote. Saudi leaders have always looked upon him with better goodwill than his rival Maliki, who is closer to Tehran.

For Iran and Saudi Arabia, Iraq remains “an important playing field in their competition for regional power and prestige,” said Alireza Nader, an Iraq specialist at the Washington-based Rand Corporation.

“However, history has shown that Iran and Saudi Arabia (as major regional powers) are also careful not to let their rivalry boil over into overt conflict,” Nader added.

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

Italy: Berlusconi to Hariri, Contingent Stays in Lebanon

(ANSAmed) — ROME, APRIL 21 — Italy has confirmed its commitment to the UNIFIL mission “to control Hezbollah activities” in the south of Lebanon at the Israeli border, and confirms its “closeness” to Lebanon, the country with which we have a “sincere and real friendship”, also “through the development of our cultural and commercial relations”. Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi received Lebanon’s Premier Saad Hariri at the Prime Minister’s office. While Lebanon has been accused by Israel that Hezbollah is being rearmed by Syria, Hariri has launched an appeal to find a solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “now” and “together”. Hariri thanked the Italian government and people for “accepting to send more than 2000 men and women” to Lebanon, and for the role Italy has played since 2006, when it hosted the diplomatic conference which “paved the way for resolution 1701” which ended the 34-day war against Israel. But now is the moment (“there is no better time”, he warns) to find a solution for the entire region. “We are facing a real opportunity for peace” Hariri continued, “a peace based on the right for Palestinians to return to their own State, with Jerusalem as its capital, and on Israel’s withdrawal from the Golan Heights and the Lebanese Shebaa farms”. The Lebanese Premier said that he appreciates the words spoken by Berlusconi “with force and passion” one month ago in Sirte at the Arab League summit, when he asked the international community to make the Middle East one of its priorities, and invited Israel to freeze the construction of settlements and to give back the Golan Heights. “Peace can win” said Hariri, “but we must act together”. According to Berlusconi Saad Hariri “has taken the inheritance of his father Rafic (murdered five years ago), whom I had the honour to call my friend”, in his commitment “to the good of the country”, and has “shown great courage as government leader of a country that has been torn by domestic problems and conflicts with its neighbours”. But also, the Premier underlined, a country that “has not suffered from the global economic crisis, it has in fact seen a growth of more than 8%”. The relations between Lebanon and Italy are “very good”, not only on military but also on civilian level. Italy is one of the country’s main donors for reconstruction after the 2006 conflict and the coordination of EU donors for the environment, decentralisation and local development has been entrusted to the Italian Development Cooperation. Berlusconi guarantees his commitment “having the EU put Lebanon higher on the agenda than it was in the past”.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Syria: Anti-Smoking Law in Force, Start of New Era

(ANSAmed) — DAMASCUS — The tables are vacant, the chairs empty and an unusual silence greets visitors to Rawda, Damascus’ historic cafe, while all this morning’s customers a packed into the open courtyard, with their mouthpieces for the hubble-bubbles between their lips and a cup of steaming tea between their fingers. Smoking is allowed only outside today because across the country, the law banning smoking in public places has come into force. Keeping itself apace with the main European countries and stealing a march on their regional neighbours, Syria has broken the untouchable taboo in this part of the Arab world, where cigarettes, cigars, pipes and water have for decades now spelt virility and success for men and emancipation and charm for women. Tobacco is an ostentatious luxury, alongside the glass of whisky drunk even at mealtimes. Mangers of bars and restaurants who do not enforce the law will face fines of up to 750 euros, while transgressing clients will escape with one of just 30 euros. This comes as a real shock for a country with a daily light-up of ten million cigarettes and five million people, a quarter of the population, addicted to nicotine. Smoking among young Syrians is rising steeply. Lung cancer is among the most frequent causes of death in Syria. these worrying signs have been taken to heart by the country’s authorities — President Bashar al Assad does not smoke, neither did his father and predecessor, Hafez — but there has been division over recent months between concern for the nation’s health an the income from excise. According to the national tobacconists’ association, Syrians spend around 500 million euros a year on cigarettes and related products, a good 8 percent of their average gross income. “This marks a new era”, said Health Minister Rida Said, noting that “managers of public places now have six months to adapt to the regulations”. But scepticism reigns in the nation’s bars and restaurants: at Aroma, one of the more modern places in Abu Rummane, the exclusive street housing foreign embassies, one client protests civilly: “We come here to drink tea, have a chat and to smoke. With this law they want to meddle in our private lives”, he says. Back at Rawda, where the interior is devoid of its usual smoky haze, owner Ahmad Kozorokh shakes his head: “We are adapting, but the atmosphere is rather sad like this”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

UAE: Contested Islands; Minister, Iran Occupation Like Israel’s

(ANSAmed) — DUBAI, APRIL 21 — The Iranian occupation of the islands of Abu Musua and Greater Tunb and Lesser Tunb is like the “Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights, the south of Lebanon, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip”. This is the parallel drawn by the UAE Foreign Minister during a speech at the Federal National Council, the UAE parliament, in which he repeated “it doesn’t matter what it takes, the three islands must return to the UAE sooner or later.” The news was reported by the daily newspaper, The National. The three islands, which are just a few squared kilometres of rocks but which are rich in energy sources and strategically situated at the entrance to the Strait of Hormuz, from where 40% of world oil flows, have essentially been occupied by Iran since 1971. From the early 1990s, the government in Tehran accelerated matters and built infrastructure which affirmed its sovereignty. “I don’t want to compare Iran to Israel but the occupation of Arab territories is occupation, make no mistake about it,” said Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al-Nahayan, making reference to the term used by Iran in declining, just a few days ago, the UAE’s invitation to set up a joint parliamentary commission to discuss the three islands. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

UAE: Dubai: Yes to Foreign Lawyers in Appeal and Cassation

(ANSAmed) — DUBAI, APRIL 21 — Foreign lawyers will be able to return and work in Dubai in the courtrooms of the Court of Appeal and the Court of Cassation. The decision was made by the Civil Court of Dubai, annulling a previous decision by the Justice councillorship. The news was reported by Gulf News. In October 2008, an administrative order was adopted, signed by the director general of the councillorship, Ahmad Bin Hazim, which stated that non Emirates lawyers (mostly Arabs) could not represent cases and clients in the second and third step of trial proceedings. However, in order for the sentence to be “irrevocably” effective, the definitive verdict of the Court of Cassation is required. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

United Nations — Gulf: UN Calls on Gulf States to Respect the Rights of Women and Immigrants

According to UN human rights chief, it is time for region to overhaul local legal framework. Current laws discriminate against women, who are prevented from making choices about themselves and their country, and against immigrants who are at the mercy of employers.

Jeddah (AsiaNews/Agencies) —United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanethem (Navi) Pillay called on Gulf states to change rules that restrict women’s and foreign workers’ rights. In her view, women should have greater control over their own lives and foreign workers should not be subject to the current sponsorship system, which leads to abuses by employers.

In a press conference held at King Abdullah University for Science and Technology in Jeddah, Ms Pillay tackled two of the most contentious issues in the region. However, her statement about women’s rights found little coverage in local media.

Speaking about women, who are tied down by a tradition that treats them as incapable of conducting any activity that is legally relevant, Pillay said, “Discriminatory barriers continue to hamper women’s right to shape their own lives and choices, and fully participate in public life and be part of public debates that influence the direction of a nation”. For her, “These barriers must be removed.”

Some Muslim states have already improved women’s rights via “dynamic interpretations of Islamic traditions.” In these countries, governments and Islamic legal experts have “demonstrated that far from being innovations, such legislation was compatible with Islamic jurisprudence and, indeed, stemmed from it.” In view of this, the practice of requiring women to have a male guardian—father, brother or husband—should be “put to rest.” Women should be able to go out as they please.

Speaking about the sponsorship, or kafala, system, she said changes were necessary. Under the system, work permits are conditional on contracts.

What is more, “Reports concerning this region consistently cite ongoing practices of unlawful confiscation of passports, withholding of wages and exploitation by unscrupulous recruitment agencies and employers,” she said.

“Some [foreign workers] are held in prolonged detention after they escape abusive employers and may be unable to obtain access to judicial recourse and effective remedies for their plight,” she added.

The rich Gulf States have attracted tens of millions of mostly blue-collar migrants from Asian countries, many of whom work in construction or as domestic workers.

Under the sponsorship systems, local employers and companies can hire large numbers of migrants who are dependent on them for food and shelter. Violence against employees is not rare.

Local governments have been debating the issue for some time. In some countries, plans are underway to overhaul existing labour laws to grant workers some rights.

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

US Won’t Promise Won’t Shoot Down Israeli Planes

Iyar 7, 5770, 21 April 10 04:33( In a meeting with students at West Virginia University, a young pilot asked the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the U.S. Army, Mike Malen, to comment on rumors that if Israel decides to attack Iran, its fighters will need to cross Iraq’s airspace to reach their targets. The U.S. military has described this airspace as ‘closed to flights’. If so, would American forces shoot down Israeli planes flying over Iraq?

Malen’s reply: “We have a strong exceptional relationship with Israel. I spent much time with my colleagues in Israel. And so we have a very clear understanding of where we are. Beyond that, I just would not want to get into speculation about what might happen and who might do what. Frankly, I do not think it serves any purpose. I hope that the issue will be resolved in the way which will never have to answer a question like this. “

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

South Asia

Indonesia: Jakarta, Constitutional Court: Blasphemy Law is Legitimate

The judges rejected the appeal of NGOs and human rights activists, including former President Gus Dur. The court rules that the norm is “necessary” to prevent “misleading” cult practices, although some points should be “clarified”. A law enacted to hit the Ahmadis and other religious minorities in the country.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) — The Indonesian Constitutional Court confirmed the legitimacy of the blasphemy law and considered unfounded the complaint lodged by NGOs, human rights activists and leading figures of the country, including former president Abdurrahman “Gus Dur “Wahid. In its ruling, the panel chaired by the Chairman Mahfud MD explained that the “issue” under N 1/PNS/1965 is “still very necessary to prevent any misleading practice of worship.”

The verdict of the Indonesian Council- better known as the Mahkamah Konstitusi, MK — was handed down late yesterday afternoon. Outside the building, the authorities deployed hundreds of soldiers in riot gear, to prevent incidents of violence of Islamic extremists. The President of the Constitutional Court, confirming the validity of the blasphemy law, added that it “does not violate basic human rights” in matters of faith and practice of worship, but states that “some points [of the norm ] should be clarified” .

The Indonesian Constitution of 1945 recognizes six religions at the “official” level: Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism. Other faiths, including the Ahmadis are outlawed and not allowed to practice their religion. The blasphemy law, in particular, seems to be geared specifically against the Ahmadiyya community, a Muslim current considered heretical because it does not recognize Muhammad as the last prophet and which is persecuted in other Muslim countries including Pakistan.

Government officials and Islamic fundamentalist groups have used the blasphemy laws as an excuse to denounce the existence of small Ahmadi community. The worst violence occurred in the regency of Bogor and Kuningan, both in the province of West Java, where there is a large community of “heretical” Muslims. In the past crowds of extremists, backed by fundamentalist groups including the Islamic Defender Front (FPI) attacked and destroyed dozens of buildings, schools and homes belonging to Ahmadis.

Human rights activists and several NGOs have denounced the unconstitutionality of the blasphemy law, which they say violates freedom of worship. They denounce paragraph 1 that authorizes the state to intervene in matters of faith, while it should remain the “free choice” of each individual. Among the personalities who have joined the appeal to the Constitutional Court include former Indonesian president Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid, Dawam Rahadja and Musdah Mulia, experts on Islamic affairs.

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

Kyrgyz Islamists Eye Chaos With Eager Eyes

Lazily fingering a string of prayer beads outside a mosque in southern Kyrgyzstan, Ayubkhan smiles when asked about the violence, which wracked his country earlier this month.

A member of Islamist group Hizb-ut-Tahrir, he said he had no doubt of what the violent images flashing across his television screen meant for him and for his group’s vision of a pan-Central Asian Islamic caliphate.

“I thought to myself: so, it has begun,” he said.

Amid the power vacuum, which has followed the violence Hizb ut-Tahrir, effectively banned in Kyrgyzstan and most Central Asian countries, is waiting to reap the long-term benefits the turbulence will bring to its cause.

Ayubkhan agreed to speak with AFP on condition the interview be conducted in a car to avoid police surveillance. He said he was confident that the interim government that took over from ousted President Kurmanbek Bakiyev would continue to alienate the Kyrgyz people and deliver him more converts.

“What is good for us is that (interim leader Roza Otunbayeva) and the interim government are going to repeat the mistakes of Bakiyev and break the hopes of the people and make them desperate,” he said. “This will make them more receptive to our ideas.”

Thousands of protestors took to the streets of this strategically vital ex-Soviet state earlier this month in bloody clashes that forced out Bakiyev, leaving at least 84 dead and nearly 2,000 injured.

No clear indication

While the interim government formed by former Foreign Minister Otunbayeva has restored order to the Russian-leaning north, it has so far struggled to assert its authority in the religiously conservative south.

“So far, there is no clear indication that (Hizb-ut-Tahrir) benefited from this revolution,” said Alisher Khamidov, a Washington-based analyst and expert on the group. “However, it is clear that the disarray in the government structures, in particular in the security services, means that harsh treatment of religious dissent has slowed down and this can potentially provide (them) a breathing space,” he added.

In the race to capture the hearts and minds of Muslims in Central Asia, which followed the collapse of the Soviet Union nearly two decades ago, perhaps no Islamist group has made further inroads than Hizb-ut-Tahrir.

Founded in the Middle East in 1953 by judge Taqiuddin al-Nabhani, the group’s message of Muslim unity found strong resonance in the region’s Fergana Valley, the scene of bloody ethnic clashes in the last days of the Soviet empire.

Although legal in the United States, Britain and other European countries, Hizb-ut-Tahrir is proscribed in Central Asia and Russia. Bakiyev took a hard line against the group, which does not advocate violence, portraying it as a violent terrorist organization.

“(Bakiyev) beat us. He imprisoned us. But Hizb ut-Tahrir didn’t suffer at all. Now Roza Otunbayeva’s people are following the steps of Bakiyev. They will make the same mistakes,” Ayubkhan said.

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

Latin America

Hillary Clinton Scorns ‘Entrenched’ Cuba

Cuba’s leaders do not want to normalise ties with the US because then they would lose their excuse for the state of the country, says Hillary Clinton.

Cuba’s response to recent US efforts to improve relations had revealed “an intransigent, entrenched regime” in Havana, said the US secretary of state.

The Cuban authorities have long blamed a 48-year US trade embargo for holding back the country’s development.

The US says the embargo will remain until Cuba improves human rights.

Relations between Washington and the communist government in Havana have soured in recent months after early expectations of an improvement under the Obama administration.

The BBC’s Michael Voss in Havana says initial hopes of improved relations are receding with both sides resorting to much stronger and less diplomatic language.

‘Very sad’

Mrs Clinton said the response of Cuban President Raul Castro and his brother, ex-leader Fidel Castro, to US efforts to improve ties proved they had no interest in political reform or ending the sanctions.

“It is my personal belief that the Castros do not want to see an end to the embargo and do not want to see normalisation with the United States, because they would lose all of their excuses for what hasn’t happened in Cuba in the last 50 years,” she said in a speech at Kentucky’s University of Louisville.

“I find that very sad, because there should be an opportunity for a transition to a full democracy in Cuba and it’s going to happen at some point, but it may not happen any time soon.”

Earlier this month, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez held a meeting with Cheryl Mills, Mrs Clinton’s chief-of-staff, in one of the highest level contacts between the two countries for years.

US officials said the two “did not agree on very much” at the talks, which were held in New York on the sidelines of a UN forum on aid for quake-hit Haiti.

‘New crusade’

The recent death of the jailed dissident hunger striker, Orlando Zapata, brought widespread international condemnation and has focused attention on Cuba’s human rights record.

The authorities here have responded by going on the offensive.

In a televised speech last weekend, President Raul Castro accused the US, Europe and the Western media of waging an unprecedented publicity war against the island.

“The empire and its allies have launched a new crusade to try to demonise Cuba and to destabilise the country,” a front page editorial in the communist party newspaper Granma added.

The authorities have now called for a massive May Day mobilisation to denounce the West and in support of the revolution.

           — Hat tip: Fausta[Return to headlines]

U.N.’s Ballooning $732 Million Haiti Peacekeeping Budget Goes Mostly to Its Own Personnel

The United Nations has quietly upped this year’s peacekeeping budget for earthquake-shattered Haiti to $732.4 million, with two-thirds of that amount going for the salary, perks and upkeep of its own personnel, not residents of the devastated island.

The world organization plans to spend the money on an expanded force of some 12,675 soldiers and police, plus some 479 international staffers, 669 international contract personnel, and 1,300 local workers, just for the 12 months ending June 30, 2010.

Some $495.8 million goes for salaries, benefits, hazard pay, mandatory R&R allowances and upkeep for the peacekeepers and their international staff support. Only about $33.9 million, or 4.6 percent, of that salary total is going to what the U.N. calls “national staff” attached to the peacekeeping effort.

Presumably, the budget also includes at least part of some $10 million that the U.N. has spent on renting two passenger vessels, the Sea Voyager (known to some U.N. staffers as the “Love Boat”) and the Ola Esmeralda, for a minimum of 90 days each, as highly subsidized housing for some of its peacekeepers and humanitarian staff. The tab for the two vessels, which offer catered food, linen service and comfortable staterooms and lounges, is about $112,500 per day.

Under a cost-sharing formula, the U.S. pays a 27 percent share of the entire $732.4 million peacekeeping tab for Haiti during this 12 month period, or about $197.7 million.

The ultimate size of the peacekeeping bill for Haiti this year has been a source of much concern among the three dozen or so of the U.N.’s 192 members who pick up roughly 96 percent of the U.N.’s overall peacekeeping bill.

That concern rose sharply about a month ago, when U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s office issued an updated peacekeeping estimate that used a $700 million figure strictly as a placeholder for the final Haiti post-quake number.

The new figures take some of the uncertainty out of that estimate, but even so, the U.N. was taking no chances of raising concerns higher with its new tally; rather than take a new vote on the expanded peacekeeper budget, the U.N. Secretariat simply issued its revised tally as an extension of the previous $611 million allotment it had voted for Haiti.

The Haitian peacekeeping budget is relatively unique among U.N. efforts, because there was no civil war or widespread bloodletting to inspire the original peacekeeping force, which arrived in 2004. Instead, the mission has mainly been intended to bolster political order in a society crushed by hurricanes, political turbulence, and grinding misery.

The revised peacekeeping tab is over and above the roughly $15 billion in short- and long-term aid that the international community — led by the U.S. and European Union — pledged to Haiti at an international donor’s conference last month.

It is also over and above the $773 million in humanitarian aid raised from donor nations and private citizens in a “flash” appeal in the days after the Jan. 12 earthquake — which is about half the total hoped for by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs when it raised the appeal.

Moreover, the revised Haiti peacekeeping budget only covers a period that ends in about 10 more weeks — on June 30, 2010 — at which time, Ban’s office will have to formulate another peacekeeping estimate for the stricken island, not to mention the remainder of its global peacekeeping effort.

Given the temporary nature of this year’s sudden 20 percent boost in Haiti peacekeeping costs, there is some possibility that next year’s budget will mark a decrease from the $732.4 million figure.

Since the U.N. installed peacekeepers on the island in 2004, however, the budgeted cost of peacekeeping has roughly doubled, from an original $372.8 million.

[Return to headlines]


Australia: UN Urges New Approach to Asylum Seekers

New York, 20 April (AKI) — The United Nations refugee agency has urged Australia to look for alternatives to detaining asylum seekers who pose no health or security risk to the public, after the government announced plans to reopen a remote facility to house them.

Last week the Australian government said it would temporarily freeze asylum applications from Afghans and Sri Lankans arriving by boat, and that it planned to reopen the remote Curtin air base in the northwest to house them.

More than 1,800 asylum-seekers have arrived in Australia by boat since the beginning of the year, mostly from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan.

While the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said it recognised constraints over the capacity of the detention centre on Christmas Island, the choice of the isolated air base as a detention centre would make the provision of essential social services very challenging.

“The combination of mandatory detention, suspension of asylum claims and the geographical isolation of detention facilities such as Curtin Air Force Base in Western Australia — all without any effective judicial oversight — is a deeply troubling set of factors,” UNHCR regional representative Richard Towle said in a statement.

“These measures are likely to have a negative impact on the health and well-being of people affected by the latest announcements, particularly those already suffering from torture or trauma before arriving in this country,” the statement said.

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

Australia: Abbott Unveils ‘Asylum Seeker’ Billboard

The coalition is turning to street tactics to take advantage of voters’ dissatisfaction with the Rudd government over an influx of asylum seekers.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott joined coalition colleagues in Perth on Wednesday to unveil a mobile billboard, measuring three metres by six metres, which will show a running tally of boat arrivals since the Rudd government took office.

The billboard, launched in the seat of Stirling which opposition border protection spokesman Michael Keenan holds by a slim margin of 1.3 per cent, will travel to metropolitan areas in Western Australia.

Even before the launch the billboard was already in need of updating, after another asylum seeker boat — the 112th since Prime Minister Kevin Rudd came to power — was intercepted by the navy on Tuesday night.

The boat, carrying 46 passengers and two crew, was intercepted by HMAS Wollongong near Cape Leveque, 220km north of Broome.

“It’s sadly typical of what’s been happening since the Rudd government changed a policy that was working,” Mr Abbott said.

“When I left my hotel this morning we had had 111 unauthorised boats, by the time I got here half an hour later we’d had confirmation of a 112th boat.”

But a spokesman for Home Affairs Minister Brendan O’Connor said the number of boat arrivals was higher under the former coalition government.

“I’m sure they didn’t have their mobile banner around in 1999 when they had 86 boats, or 2000 when they had 51 boats, or 2001 when they had 44 boats and 5000-odd people on those 44 boats,” he said.

The latest asylum seeker boat to arrive in Australian waters — the 44th this year — will be escorted to Christmas Island where detention facilities are already overflowing.

It comes after a poll earlier this week showed a huge swing towards an Abbott-led coalition, in terms of who voters think would best handle the issue of asylum seekers.

Support for the coalition on the issue has almost doubled from 23 per cent to 44 per cent since November last year.

Mr Abbott used the latest arrival to push his case that a coalition government could curb the number of boat arrivals.

“The coalition government will do what’s necessary to restore control of our borders. John Howard did it in the past, we can do it again,” Mr Abbott said.

The government has attempted to stem the flow of asylum seekers to Australia by suspending the processing of claims for new arrivals from Afghanistan and Sri Lanka.

All new single male arrivals from those two countries will eventually be held at a detention centre at Curtin in Western Australia, once the facility is operational.

Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said the suspension would do nothing to halt boat arrivals.

“We’ve had seven now arrive since that announcement,” he said.

           — Hat tip: Nilk[Return to headlines]

DHS Official: Virtual Border Fence a ‘Complete Failure’

The Homeland Security Department today said its virtual border fence has been a “complete failure,” and is trying to figure out how to proceed on the troubled $2 billion project.

Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Alan Bersin told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee that some individual pieces of surveillance technology in the SBInet program have worked. But integrating them together into a comprehensive system — which was to be the heart of the SBInet program — has proven to be more complicated than current technology can handle, Bersin said.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Finland: Filipino Nurses Arrive

Filipino nurses are a much-needed addition to healthcare staff in many countries. Over 20 nurses arrive in Finland on Thursday and Friday this week.

A SMALL gap in the healthcare labour market is being filled with the arrival this week of 25 nurses from the Philippines. Twenty will be working in Helsinki while five are on their way to Tampere. They will be employed in surgery and inpatient care.

The ongoing project is the result of collaboration between health care providers, the university of applied sciences Laurea and the international recruiter Opteam. Opteam has been recruiting and training Filipino nurses for the Finnish market for a number of years.

“The Government Institute for Economic Research just released a report saying that over the next four years the social and health care workforce needs 35,000 persons,” says Opteam CEO Mika Eskola. “Even if those numbers are only 20 per cent correct it still means we need an enormous amount of workers.”

It takes almost a year to recruit and train the nurses. Just to be fluent in Finnish the nurses study 5 hours a day, 6 days a week, for 9 months. Normally those recruited have 3-5 years of experience, and Opteam also looks for nurses who have had prior experience working abroad. The nurses must have the same level of professional proficiency as any person in the Finnish Nursing Degree Programme.

“Now the nurses will be going to different places, getting settled,” says Eskola. “They go to Kela and the Registrar, for instance. We co-operate with Tapiola Bank so they will all have Visa Electron cards waiting for them. We get the apartments through SATO. It is great to collaborate with these two large companies.”


Lehtikuva — afp photo — romeo gocad

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

Finland: Ombudsman: Russians’ Skill Set Often Ignored

Russian speakers make up the largest immigrant group in Finland—and their numbers are growing. However, Russian speakers’ skills are often discounted, according to a recent study by the Ombudsman for Minorities. The minority group also often complains of prejudice.

About 50,000 Russians live in Finland. Last year they were the largest group of immigrants seeking residence permits. The Ombudsman for Minorities Johanna Suurpää says Russian speakers are a significant resource in Finland, adding more should be done to promote their well-being.

According to the study, Russians often feel like they’re on the outskirts of society. They complain of a lack of information in Russian about what is happening in Finland. Furthermore, they want to see improvements in Finnish and Russian language instruction. The immigrants also complain of discrimination at the workplace.

The study points out the obvious: negative attitudes and stereotypes about Russian speakers still exist. Suurpää says part of this is due to historical events. Russian-speakers are also often portrayed as a threat in the media and public forums.

Ombudsman: Russians Are a Resource

Suurpää says it ought to be clear that Russian speakers’ language, culture and professional skills are a significant resource to Finland. Although Finns understand this, the language and cultural knowhow of Russian immigrants are often not taken advantage of.

Employers in East Finland in particular realise the importance of speaking Russian. Because of this, there have been talks of increasing Russian-language instruction in schools. However, Suurpää says the discussion has failed to take note of the significant skills Russian-speakers living in Finland already possess.

For example, many young Russians are completely fluent in Finnish and Russian. According to Suurpää, more support should be given to promote bilingualism in early childhood.

           — Hat tip: KGS[Return to headlines]

Have British Jobs Gone to British Workers?

Throughout the election campaign the BBC’s expert team of journalists is examining the key claims made by politicians and assessing what their policies and promises mean to you.

Welcome to Reality Check. Today I’m looking at whether Labour has created “British jobs for British workers” since 1997.

One of the most contentious parts of the debate on immigration is the effect on jobs.

Famously, Gordon Brown talked about creating “British jobs for British workers” . But shadow immigration spokesman Damian Green says the statistics show that Labour “has left British workers in a worse position than when he took office 13 years ago”.

The UK Independence Party and the British National Party also often focus on the economic impact of immigration: on wages, productivity and jobs.

So what’s the truth? We’ve been using Office of National Statistics (ONS) data to create a new set of numbers which casts some light on this difficult debate. It’s not the whole truth — as usual, there are plenty of health warnings and caveats.

This analysis doesn’t begin to resolve larger questions about the impact of immigration on our society — or the wealth of the nation as a whole. But in the debate about immigration and jobs, it’s a big step in truth’s direction.

Job number rise

Start with an easy one: how many of the new jobs created in the UK since 1997 have gone to “foreigners”?

The pedantic answer is we can’t possibly know — there is no exact record of the jobs created since 1997, still less a register showing who those jobs went to.

But of course, we can look at the number of jobs held by British-born and non-British born people — and see how each number has changed since Labour took power.

The data show that the number of jobs in the UK has risen by 2.12 million since the first quarter of 1997. At the same time, the number of UK-born people in work has risen by 385,000, and the number of non-UK born in work has risen by 1.72m.

So, roughly speaking, you can say 81% of net jobs created in the UK since 1997 have gone to people who were not born in the UK.

Of course, many of the non-UK born workers might be British citizens — they might also have been in the country for decades. That is one big caveat to the numbers which we can’t do anything about.

I should also say, for complicated reasons, we’re not including workers over the legal retirement age. But that shouldn’t change the picture dramatically.

Ageing population

So, on the face of it, UKIP and the Conservatives are right to talk of a shortage of “British jobs for British workers” — the vast bulk of net job creation since 1997 is accounted for by workers not born in the UK.

But Britain is an aging society: our population isn’t growing very fast. It’s worth asking whether there were, in fact, British workers available to do all those new jobs. That is where our new data set comes in.

We’ve estimated what happened to the number of UK-born, working age people in Britain since 1997. It turns out that it has only risen by 348,000 since 1997. Whereas the non-UK born, working age population has risen by 2.4 million.

For some, that large number will confirm that Britain has been “swamped” by foreigners over this period. But it is worth noting that on these estimates, people not born here have actually been less successful at finding formal employment than the people that were.

On balance, the number of jobs for British-born people has risen by more than the rise in the British- born population of working age since 1997. Whereas only about 73% of non-UK born people entering the workforce have found a formal job.

I suspect the clue is in the word “formal”. Many of the others may have found jobs that don’t end up in the official statistics.

Recession impact

Still, it looks like there’s been net job creation for “British workers” since 1997. In fact, the employment rate for UK-born people of working age at the end of 2009 was 0.4% higher than at the start of 1997.

The recession has made a big dent on that number. At the start of 2008, the UK-born employment rate was 2.4% up on 1997 — and the number of “British jobs for British-born workers” had risen by nearly 950,000 since Labour took office.

However, it is true that workers not born in the UK have been much less affected by the downturn: in fact, the number of non-British born people in work has actually risen by about 16,000 since the recession began. And, though we hear about large numbers of Central and Eastern Europeans going home, the non-UK born population has risen since the recession began — by another 200,000.

So, to recap: workers not born in the UK have been the beneficiaries of the bulk of net job creation since 1997. But the UK-born population did not rise in line with the number of new jobs, and a person of working age who was born in the UK is actually slightly more likely to be in work today than they were in 1997, though the recession has hit them much harder than workers who were born elsewhere.

Low birth rate

But there are two more pieces of the jigsaw: emigration, and what has happened to UK-born unemployment and inactivity. The numbers let us say something about the first piece — so far we’ve having less luck with the second.

One reason why the native working age population did not rise very much after 1997 is that the British people weren’t having many babies in the late 70s and 80s, when the new workers of the 90s and noughties were born. But another reason is that large number of British-born people have left the country.

Since 1997, there has been net migration out of the country by 988,000 British-born people. Put it another way — for every net job created for British born people in the UK since Labour took office, two and a half people who were born here have left the country.

Unfortunately, we don’t have an age breakdown for these migrants. Only some of those people will have been seeking work; many are likely to have been going abroad to retire. Those people wouldn’t have been in the market for a job. But critics of Labour’s policy may think that number makes for a good headline.

Finally, UKIP and others might say we’re missing the point. They would say it’s all very well to compare the rise in the working age population with the rise in people in work.

But there were millions of British-born people who were unemployed or economically inactive in 1997. In their view, immigration has helped to keep those people out of work.

Wage levels

Here’s the argument — because employers could fill vacancies using East Europeans, they weren’t forced to train up British-born workers to do the job — or tempt them into the workforce with higher pay.

That is actually what Gordon Brown first talked about, shortly before becoming prime minister: “Training British workers to do British jobs.”

Many economists would say that there wasn’t a fixed number of jobs in the economy, to be allocated between foreigners and the native-born. Whether employers create jobs depends on the productivity of the workers on offer — and the wage.

In the absence of all those hard-working, cheap immigrants, it’s possible that a good share of the jobs created since 1997 might not have been created at all.

If the economists are right, that would still mean that immigration had helped keep wages lower than they would otherwise have been, at least for the workers who compete with these new arrivals.

National income would definitely be higher as a result of immigration, and probably living standards (income per head) as well, though that increase is probably much smaller because there are now more “heads”.

We’ll never be sure which side is right on the economic costs and benefits of mass immigration. We can’t rewind to 1997 and play the tape again, only this time with tighter controls.

But we can say that the vast bulk of net job creation since 1997 appears to have benefited workers not born in the UK.

On balance, job prospects for British-born people have risen slightly since 1997, but those workers have been hit much harder by the recession than workers born outside the UK.

And the increase in jobs for native-born workers has been dwarfed by the number of British-born people, of all ages, who have left the country.

           — Hat tip: 4symbols[Return to headlines]

Culture Wars

Italy: First Abortion Pill Issued in North

Milan, 20 April (AKI) — A 30-year-old woman has become the first in northern Italy to take the controversial abortion pill. The RU486 pill was issued at Milan’s Niguarda hospital on Monday and will be given to another Italian woman later this week.

“The patient asked for an alternative to surgical abortion, and she was well within the limit of 49 days,” the head of the Niguarda hospital’s obstetrics and gynaecology department, Mario Meroni, told Adnkronos.

He was referring to guidelines, from the Italian pharmaceutical authority AIFA, authorising the administration of RU486 in hospitals under medical supervision as an alternative to surgical abortion up to the 49th day of pregnancy.

“So we administered the RU486 pill to the patient yesterday and today she is under observation,” Meroni added.

Doctors in in the southern city of Bari earlier this month performed the first chemical abortion on a 25-year-old woman, days after RU486 became available in Italian hospitals.

“Another patient who is also well within the 49-day limit, will be administered the pill in the next few days. She has already been examined and has signed all the necessary documents giving her consent for us to go ahead with the procedure, “ Meroni continued.

“She’s a very young girl and comes from the Lombardy region,” he added.

Patients undergoing chemical abortions with the RU486 pill are required to remain in hospital until the complete expulsion of the embryo.

“International literature tells us that approximately 65 percent of patients need to stay in hospital for four days,” Meroni concluded.

The RU486 pill is a highly emotive issue in overwhelmingly Catholic Italy, one of the last countries in Europe to introduce the drug.

The Vatican has censured RU486 and about 70 percent of Italian doctors say they are unwilling to perform abortions on religious grounds.

Two newly elected conservative governors, Roberto Cota in the northern Piedmont region and Luca Zaia in the northeastern Veneto region have openly opposed the abortion pill being made available in local hospitals.

Abortion has been legal in Italy since 1978 in the first 90 days of pregnancy and until the 24th week if the life of the mother is at risk or the foetus is malformed.

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

U.S. Congressman Backs ‘Hate Crimes’ Lawsuit

Tells pastors law is ‘unprecedented move to criminalize our thoughts’

DES MOINES, Iowa — U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, sent an unsolicited letter to a group of Christian activists and pastors to support their efforts in suing Attorney General Eric Holder over the “hate crimes” law that President Obama signed into law late last year.

“As a member of the House Committee on the Judiciary, I worked hard to stop this legislation,” King writes. “Like you, I believe this ‘Hate Crimes’ Act is unconstitutional and marks an unprecedented move to regulate and criminalize our thoughts.”


The Hate Crimes Act was dubbed by its critics as the “Pedophile Protection Act,” after an amendment to explicitly prohibit pedophiles from being protected by the act was defeated by majority Democrats. In fact, during congressional debate, supporters argued that all “philias,” or alternative sexual lifestyles, should be protected.

Robert Muise, the lead attorney on the case, told WND the law also elevates people who “engaged in a certain class of deviant behavior to a protected class as a matter of federal law and policy.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Confirmed! Global Warming is ‘Settled’ — as a Scam

‘Climategate’ author unveils evidence of ‘every deception imaginable’

Al Gore’s insistence that global warming is “settled science” has been used to defend claims humanity is on the edge of destroying the world. Now author Brian Sussman, whose book “Climategate” is being released Thursday — Earth Day — agrees it’s “settled,” as a scam.

Sussman unveils in his book evidence that the move to restrict carbon dioxide emissions, tax a multitude of energy programs and create a “Big Brother” that would limit household energy use, among other programs is a move to give government unlimited control over people.


Earth Day is all the evidence of deception needed, said Sussman. First celebrated in 1970 on the 100th anniversary of the birth of communist leader Vladimir Lenin, it was founded by Sen. Gaylord Nelson, D-Wis.; former Stanford student body president Denis Hayes; and author and Stanford professor Paul Ehrlich.

“Lenin’s core political philosophy was linked at the hip with these newly fangled environmentalists who maintained that America’s government must be altered, its economy planned and regulated, and its citizens better controlled,” writes Sussman. “The environment would be the perfect tool to force these changes, and the most efficient way to gain converts would be through the public school system — the earlier the better.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Neanderthals May Have Interbred With Humans

Genetic data points to ancient liaisons between species.

Rex Dalton

Archaic humans such as Neanderthals may be gone but they’re not forgotten — at least not in the human genome. A genetic analysis of nearly 2,000 people from around the world indicates that such extinct species interbred with the ancestors of modern humans twice, leaving their genes within the DNA of people today.

The discovery, presented at the annual meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on 17 April, adds important new details to the evolutionary history of the human species. And it may help explain the fate of the Neanderthals, who vanished from the fossil record about 30,000 years ago. “It means Neanderthals didn’t completely disappear,” says Jeffrey Long, a genetic anthropologist at the University of New Mexico, whose group conducted the analysis. There is a little bit of Neanderthal leftover in almost all humans, he says.

The researchers arrived at that conclusion by studying genetic data from 1,983 individuals from 99 populations in Africa, Europe, Asia, Oceania and the Americas. Sarah Joyce, a doctoral student working with Long, analyzed 614 microsatellite positions, which are sections of the genome that can be used like fingerprints. She then created an evolutionary tree to explain the observed genetic variation in microsatellites. The best way to explain that variation was if there were two periods of interbreeding between humans and an archaic species, such as Homo neanderthalensis or H. heidelbergensis.

“This is not what we expected to find,” says Long.

Using projected rates of genetic mutation and data from the fossil record, the researchers suggest that the interbreeding happened about 60,000 years ago in the eastern Mediterranean and, more recently, about 45,000 years ago in eastern Asia. Those two events happened after the first H. sapiens had migrated out of Africa, says Long. His group didn’t find evidence of interbreeding in the genomes of the modern African people included in the study.

The researchers suggest that the population from the first interbreeding went on to migrate to Europe, Asia and North America. Then the second interbreeding with an archaic population in eastern Asia further altered the genetic makeup of people in Oceania.

The talk at the anthropology meeting caught the attention of many researchers, some of whom have been trying to explain puzzling variations in the human genome. “They are onto something,” says Noah Rosenberg, an anthropological geneticist at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, who heard the talk.

A test of the New Mexico team’s proposals may come soon. Svante Pääbo and colleagues at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, announced early last year that they had finished sequencing a first draft of the Neanderthal genome, and they are expected to publish their work in the near future. Pääbo’s earlier studies on components of Neanderthal genomes largely ruled out interbreeding, but they were not based on more comprehensive analyses of the complete genome.

Linda Vigilant, an anthropologist at the Planck Institute, found Joyce’s talk a convincing answer to “subtle deviations” noticed in genetic variation in the Pacific region.

“This information is really helpful,” says Vigilant. “And it’s cool.”

The paleontological record also is producing fossils that complement such interbreeding theories. Pääbo’s team and Russian colleagues recently reported the mitochondrial genome of an archaic human from the Altai Mountains — in southern Siberia near ancient Asian trade routes1.

The ancient mitochondrial DNA came from a piece of finger bone, which the groups haven’t identified by species. It could be Neanderthal, a new Homo species or some other archaic form — like H. erectus, who spread to Oceania by 1.8 million years ago.

The Pääbo team reported that the bone was from an individual that lived 30,000—48,000 years ago in Denisova Cave, near where both modern humans and Neanderthals then dwelled. But the age of the bone has been questioned by researchers, who say the cave’s sediments may have been reworked, making the bone’s layer older.

At the anthropology meeting, Theodore Schurr, a molecular anthropologist at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, said the genetic model showing interbreeding raises questions about the range of species, like H. heidelbergensis. He noted that human skeletons found at Lake Mungo in New South Wales, Australia, have robust features, which may represent the result of interbreeding; they are dated to more than 20,000 years ago.

Keith Hunley, another member of the New Mexico group, said the team is now moving to publish its results in the near future.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]