Friday, January 10, 2003

News Feed 20100422

Financial Crisis
»Greece: EU: Need to Prepare Measures for Coming Years
»Greece: Anti-Austerity Plan Strike by State Employees
»Greece: EU Puts 2009 Deficit at 13.6% But Could Rise
»Mow-Down Long Island Teen Has a Sick Way of Looking at Bright Side of Death
»Passenger on Flight to NY Held in Puerto Rico
Europe and the EU
»Algeria: Deal With Russia for Supply of 16 Su-30 Fighters
»Belgium at War as Flemish Hit Out at ‘Invasion of French Speakers’
»Finland: Government Endorses Building of Two New Nuclear Reactors
»Germany: Church Asks Bishop Mixa to Take a Break
»Irish Bishop Resigns in Sex Abuse Scandal
»Italy: Fiat Spins Off Automotive Division
»Italy: Montezemolo Steps Down as John Elkann Takes Over Fiat Chair
»Italy: Fiat to Sell Industrial Unit on Stock Market
»Italy: Curtain Falls on First Ferrara Jewish Book Fair
»Netherlands: Boycott Goldman Sachs, Left Wing MPs Say
»Ports: Greece Looking to End Restrictions on Non-EU Ships
»Romanians Low Drinkers
»Spain: Franco: Public Prosecutor Wants Garzon Lawsuit Archived
»Spanish Ambassador Voices Support for Turkey’s EU Drive
»Sweden: Dyslexic Irishman Denied SFI Assistance
»Sweden: Court Awards Damages After Genital Mutilation Test
»UK: Six Held in Bristol After Party Leaders’ Debate Clashes
Mediterranean Union
»Egypt and Morocco, EU Funds New Project on Renewables
North Africa
»Egypt: Site of First Nuclear Station to be Announced
»Lawyers of Christmas Eve Murder Victims Request Change of Judge in Egypt
Israel and the Palestinians
»Israeli No to US Call for Jerusalem Building Freeze
»Israel Deports West Bank Prisoner to Gaza
Middle East
»Emirates: Unmarried Live-in Partners, Arrested
»H. Clinton: Path to Appoint Ambassador Still Valid
»Jordan: Two Rockets Shot at Israel, No Casualties
»Lebanon: Real Estate; Home Prices +200-400% in 5 Years
»Saudi Arabia: Hospitals Struggling to Cope With Car Victims
»Syria Missiles to Hezbollah; H.Clinton, Very Concerned
»Top Kuwaiti Businessman Urges More Transparency
»US Navy Seal Cleared in Iraq Abuse Case
South Asia
»Afghanistan: Girls Inhale ‘Poison’ At Kunduz School
»Afghanistan: Italian Soldiers Fire at Enemy Positions
Sub-Saharan Africa
»Somalia: Turkish Navy Arrests 12 Pirates
»Italy: Acli: Casablanca HQ for Moroccan Immigrants
»Raft Found in Aegean by Greek Coast Guard
Culture Wars
»Abortion: Spain; Consumption of ‘Day-After Pill’ Doubles

Financial Crisis

Greece: EU: Need to Prepare Measures for Coming Years

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, APRIL 22 — The EU Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs, Olli Rehn, has confirmed that the objective of Greek deficit reduction for 2010 is 4%. In the light of the most recent Eurostat figures, the Commissioner underlined that “there is an urgency for Greece to intensify the preparation of structural reforms and corrective measures for the next few years”. “Eurostat figures on Greece’s deficit and debt in 2009 underline the need for an efficient and complete implementation of fiscal consolidation measures decided for this year, with the aim of reducing deficit by 4%. The figures also show that there is an urgent need to intensify the preparation of structural reforms and additional measures for the next few years,” Rehn said in a statement. Rehn also pointed out that today’s Eurostat figures represent “a necessary step forward for the normalisation of Greece’s statistical system and for making national accounts credible. Every burden from the past must be removed from the course. Today’s figures underline the need for powers of control to be given to Eurostat, as suggested recently by the EU Commission,” continued the EU Commissioner. Eurostat today announced that Greece’s 2009 deficit was higher than predicted, reaching 13.6%, compared to the 12.9% announced to Brussels by the government in Athens. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Greece: Anti-Austerity Plan Strike by State Employees

(ANSAmed) — ATHENS, APRIL 22 — State employees are on strike today in Greece for the fourth time this year, in protest against the austerity plan that their union, Adedy, has denounced as being “the largest attack on our rights since the fall of the military junta”. The 24-hour strike, which is in addition to yesterday’s 48-hour one by workers belonging to the communist union Pame — which brought the Piraeus port to a halt — is happening at the same time as talks which began yesterday in Athens between Giorgio Papandreou’s government and EU-IMF functionaries over conditions for the distribution of 45 billion euros in aid. The protest has brought hospitals, schools and state offices to a halt, but has not paralysed the key sector of transport. Urban and intercity services are not affected, since those working in the sector do not belong to the Adedy union, and air traffic controllers have postponed their protest in order to prevent the protest from rendering the difficulties already being experienced by air traffic more severe after the problems caused by ash from the volcano in Iceland. The other large union, the public sector employees one Gsee, is not taking part in the strike: a decision which has led to harsh criticism from the communist party (KKe), though it has threatened to call one if the upcoming talks with the government do not bring in results. According to unions, the stringent measures concerning finances — wanted by the EU and the markets — will not help Greece to get over the crisis but will instead inflict a harsh blow to the weakest sectors of the population, beginning with retirees. The extreme left has protested against the measures, while the extreme right (ND) has mostly criticised the use of IMF funds.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Greece: EU Puts 2009 Deficit at 13.6% But Could Rise

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS — Greece’s 2009 deficit was higher than expected, with Eurostat putting the figure at 13.6% compare with the 12.9% one provided by Athens to Brussels. However, the figure may rise even more: according to the European office of statistics, there is still uncertainty which could lead to a revision — most likely upwards — of between 0.3% and 0.5% of GDP. The figure was published while talks go underway since yesterday in Athens between Giorgio Papandreou’s government and EU-IMF functionaries over conditions for the distribution of 45 billion euros in aid. Meanwhile greek state employees are on strike today for the fourth time this year, in protest against the austerity plan that their union, Adedy, has denounced as being “the largest attack on our rights since the fall of the military junta”. The 24-hour strike is in addition to yesterday’s 48-hour one by workers belonging to the communist union Pame, which brought the Piraeus port to a halt. The protest has brought hospitals, schools and state offices to a halt, but has not paralysed the key sector of transport. Urban and intercity services are not affected, since those working in the sector do not belong to the Adedy union, and air traffic controllers have postponed their protest in order to prevent the protest from rendering the difficulties already being experienced by air traffic more severe after the problems caused by ash from the volcano in Iceland.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Mow-Down Long Island Teen Has a Sick Way of Looking at Bright Side of Death

She mowed down a helpless, elderly woman while driving a van high on drugs, but a twisted Long Island teen still claimed to see a bright side to the horrific crash.

“The thing that made me not feel so bad was, she was old,” hellcat Kayla Gerdes, 18, told investigators after she was busted for killing 69-year-old Rebecca Twine Wright as the retired doctor trimmed her lawn Tuesday, a source told The Post.

Gerdes, of Freeport, claimed to once be a model. And she was so self-absorbed in the hours after the wreck that she told cops interviewing her she wants “to see a newspaper of the news, to see what I look like.”

Just moments after the crash on the tree-lined Hempstead block, the teen showed more concern about being late for a court date than she did for the woman whose broken body was crumpled on the ground, according to court documents.

Gerdes, who cops said was high on the powerful painkiller OxyContin, stepped from the wrecked vehicle and demanded that that a passer-by help her get to the courthouse.

“I’m late for court. You have to take me to court!” she exclaimed, according to a criminal complaint. She was due to appear for allegedly stealing her mom’s jewelry, even though she was driving in the opposite direction of the Nassau County courthouse in Mineola.

Her passenger and boss, Brian Steele Jr. — who appeared to be oblivious to the carnage — bellowed at her that she wrecked his car two weeks ago and lamented that “he has to pay for this now.”

He has not been charged.

Gerdes changed her tune as she was hauled off to her arraignment yesterday, uncontrollably wailing to the cameras about the slain gardening enthusiast and mother of two.

“I didn’t mean to do it . . . I’m so sorry, it was a mistake!” she screamed. “The car went out of control and I was pressing the brake and it wouldn’t go!”

During her outburst yesterday, Gerdes also admitted to popping pills.

“I was on prescription drugs. Leave me alone!” she said, sobbing, “I’m sorry” over and over.

Gerdes’ lawyer, John R. Lewis, said her statements to police about Wright didn’t paint the whole picture of how upset his client was after the wreck, which left a gaping hole in the victim’s home.

“She started crying, ‘Oh, my God, is she a mother?’ “ he said.

Gerdes was held in lieu of $200,000 bond on manslaughter charges.

The van she was driving belongs to a roofing company she worked for.

Her boss, Steele, was driving at first, but Gerdes demanded to take the wheel because he wasn’t going fast enough, police said.

           — Hat tip: Takuan Seiyo[Return to headlines]

Passenger on Flight to NY Held in Puerto Rico

“Potential Person of Interest” Removed From Africa-to-NY Flight for Further Questioning

U.S. authorities detained a passenger on an Africa-to-New York flight during a fuel stop in Puerto Rico on Thursday, officials said, without disclosing why the person was held or giving any details. (AP)

(CBS/AP) U.S. authorities detained a passenger on an Africa-to-New York flight during a fuel stop in Puerto Rico on Thursday, officials said, without disclosing why the person was held or giving any details.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency issued a statement identifying the passenger only as a “potential person of interest,” who was removed from the Delta Air Lines flight for further questioning and remained in custody. Spokeswoman Jenny Burke declined to provide details.

Delta said it received a request from the government to board and remove the passenger during the refueling stop in Puerto Rico.

There was no incident on board the plane, passengers were not in any danger and the flight continued to New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport afterward, said Delta spokeswoman Susan Chana Elliott.

Flight 215 was traveling from Dakar, Senegal, in West Africa to John F. Kennedy International Airport when it diverted to San Juan, Puerto Rico, to refuel. Such a diversion is not unusual for a full flight that runs into trans-Atlantic headwinds and was not related to the passenger, Elliott said.

Customs Border Protection released a statement about the detainment:

“This morning, Delta Airlines Flight 215 from Dakar Airport (DKR) in Senegal to John F.. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) was boarded by CBP during a routine refueling stop at San Juan Luis Munoz Marin International Airport (SJU) due to a potential person of interest. The passenger was removed from the flight for further questioning and remains in CBP custody.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Algeria: Deal With Russia for Supply of 16 Su-30 Fighters

(ANSAmed) — ALGIERS, APRIL 22 — Russia is to supply 16 Sukhoi-30 MKA fighter jets to the Algerian armed forces, in a contract worth one billion dollars. The news was released by the press agency APS, who quoted a high-powered Russian source. A month ago, Algeria and Russia signed a contract worth 500 million dollars for the supply of a short and medium-range anti-aircraft system of 38 parts. In the last five years, Algeria has allocated astronomical amounts for national defence, signing deals with a host of countries such as the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, Italy and France. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Belgium at War as Flemish Hit Out at ‘Invasion of French Speakers’

By Vanessa Mock in Brussels

A fierce row over suburban flight by French speakers into officially Flemish-speaking towns near Brussels is threatening to topple the Belgian Government.

A leading Flemish party has threatened to pull the plug on the coalition Government if no deal is reached by today — a move which could trigger fresh elections.

The dispute is ostensibly about the complex reorganisation of 54 communes which encircle Brussels but it has degenerated into a bitter turf war between the two language groups. Some local politicians have even been accused of promoting de facto apartheid after French-speakers were barred from buying property in Flemish towns.

“I will fight this until the bitter end,” vowed Alexia Philippart de Foy, who had her offer on a house in Rhodes-Saint-Genèse turned down by Flemish authorities. “It cannot be the case that someone who is 100 per cent Belgian is barred from buying a house in her own country.”

Ms Philippart de Foy, a businesswoman in her thirties, is one of the victims of this quintessentially Belgian dispute. The contested area, known as Brussel-Halle-Vilvoorde, has been a seeping wound ever since Belgium was clumsily carved up along language lines in 1963. It has already helped to topple the government four times in the past three years as politicians have locked horns over reforms to carve up the area into distinct Flemish and French voting and administrative districts.

Although the nitty gritty of these reforms is incomprehensible to most Belgians, it has stoked simmering tensions between the two communities. The picturesque, sleepy village of Gooik, just 20 kilometres south of the officially bilingual, but mostly French-speaking capital, is a classic example. Flemish residents there speak of an “invasion” of French-speakers which must be stopped.

“We want to preserve the Flemish character of this beautiful town,” says Gooik’s Mayor, Michel Doomst. “We don’t want it to be overwhelmed by people who speak other languages.”

The jovial Mr Doomst counts on the support of many of Gooik’s 11,000 residents, many of who resent the influx of French-speakers. One elderly man walking his dog explained: “The Flemish here feel squeezed out because more and more people are coming down from Brussels to live here, because houses are cheaper and it’s leafier. But they don’t always want to adapt by learning Flemish.”

Standing outside the Vrede or “peace” café, others spoke in harsher tones. “Why can’t they just leave us alone? The French-speakers are so imperialistic, imposing their language everywhere,” one woman fumed. “This here is a Flemish area that should be kept Flemish.” One 19-year-old trainee teacher adds: “Most people of my generation don’t really care but it doesn’t go down at all well with my grandparents if they walk into their local bakery and find their new baker only speaks French.”

Mayor Michel Doomst has now taken matters into his own hands and has imposed his own informal mechanism to deter French speakers from moving in. “We have a system of offer incentives in order to give precedence to people who have a clear link with this commune. And yes, that means Flemish people.” Even residents who put their houses on the market are “encouraged” to sell to Flemish people, he says, though he refuses to spell out what this encouragement might entail.

Down the road in Flemish Rhodes-Saint-Genèse, the deterrents are more formal. Authorities have imposed a decree called Wonen in eigen streek (Live in your own area) which sets out clear conditions for would-be property buyers.

French-speaking politicians also have their own administrative ammunition to hand in this tug-of-war, and there seems to be little hope of the issue being resolved. Yesterday parties from both sides met for marathon talks at a secret location to discuss a deal put forward by Jean-Luc Dehaene, a former prime minister who has been appointed to find a way out of the impasse.

Belgium’s 11 million people have somehow learned to live with the strong undercurrent of political tension that nearly split the country apart three years ago. One French-speaking man said: “It’s very sad that the politicians have let it get this far.”

           — Hat tip: TV[Return to headlines]

Finland: Government Endorses Building of Two New Nuclear Reactors

Government endorsed the construction of two new nuclear reactors on Wednesday. The proposal grants licences to the firms Fennovoima and TVO. The plan was presented by Minister of Economic Affairs Mauri Pekkarinen.

According to Finance Minister Jyrki Katainen, Finland will become completely self-sufficient in electricity production due to the move.

However, Minister of Labour and Green League Chair Anni Sinnemäki expressed disappointment in the nuclear reactor proposal. She said that Finland should depend on renewable energy sources, for example. Sinnemäki added that nuclear technology is precarious and risky, and therefore other sources should be considered.

Parliament is to make the final decision on construction.

The Fennovoima nuclear reactor would be built in either Pyhäjoki or Simo. A decision is expected by the end of the year. Officials are still trying to determine where to dispose nuclear waste. German energy company E.ON owns about one third of Fennovoima. Other owners include Atria, Kesko, Outokumpu and SOK, as well as local energy companies.

TVO plans to build its nuclear reactor at Olkiluoto where the company’s third nuclear reactor is currently being built. TVO owners include Pohjolan Voima and Fortum.

Energy company Fortum, which was not granted a licence, had proposed building a nuclear reactor in the town of Loviisa. The government is a majority owner of the company.

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

Germany: Church Asks Bishop Mixa to Take a Break

The head of Germany’s Catholic Church has asked embattled Augsburg Bishop Walter Mixa to step aside from his duties until investigations into claims he beat children and misused Church funds can be completed.

In a statement released Wednesday, Robert Zollitsch, chairman of the German Bishops’ Conference, said both he and the Munich Archbishop Reinhard Marx had spoken frequently with Bishop Mixa in recent days.

“We’ve contemplated with him how he can help calm the current difficult situation in the Augsburg diocese and whether a period of spiritual reflection and physical distance could help him to bring about an atmosphere of greater objectivity during the necessary clarifications he has requested,” Zollitsch said.

Furthermore, some distance could help Mixa regain his strength after several difficult weeks and consider recent events in greater peace, Zollitsch said.

Mixa, who is bishop in the Bavarian city of Augsburg, has faced weeks of mounting claims that he hit and beat children while he was a teacher at Schrobenhausen children’s home during the 1970s and 1980s. Eight people who lived at the home have come forward with claims that he beat them with his fists, a stick and even a carpet beater.

After weeks of flat denials, Mixa recently admitted he could “not rule out a cuff or two around the ear 20 years ago” and added that “I very much regret that today.”

An investigation by lawyer Sebastian Knott has also found that Mixa, as head of the board of trustees of the Catholic Orphanage Foundation, may have spent the institution’s money on art, wine and jewellery.

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

Irish Bishop Resigns in Sex Abuse Scandal

‘I should have fought the prevalent culture,’ Moriarty says

(ANSA) — Vatican City, April 22 — Pope Benedict XVI has accepted the resignation of an Irish bishop after two damning reports of child sex abuse and cover-ups over decades in the heavily Catholic country, the Vatican said.

James Moriarty, a former bishop in Dublin and now ex-bishop of Kildare and Leighlin, apologised to victims, saying “I should have fought the prevalent culture (of covering up)”.

“We remain fully aware of the need for constant vigilance to ensure that the Church is the safest place possible for children,” he added.

“Victims went unheard for too long,” Moriarty said.

Benedict has now accepted the resignation of three Irish bishops while three others have asked to resign in the wake of two reports last year, one condemning decades-long sex abuse in Church-run schools and institutes across Ireland and the other detailing sex abuse and cover-ups in the Dublin diocese.

At Easter, Benedict sent a letter to Irish Catholics apologising for decades of abuse and cover-ups and assuring cooperation with the police.

Separately Thursday, a German bishop, Walter Mixa of Augusta in Bavaria, tendered his resignation after accusations of physical abuse.

Meanwhile in Wisconsin, a victim of a priest who abused some 200 deaf boys at a school there from 1950 to 1974 started legal action against the pope in his previous role at the head of the Vatican’s doctrinal watchdog, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The unidentified victim of the late Father Lawrence Murphy is suing the pope, his former and current No.2 Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone and former Vatican secretary of state Angelo Sodano for fraud and negligence in allegedly not responding to letters from the victim to the Vatican in 1995.

The victim claims the Holy See never replied to his calls for Murphy to be defrocked.

He also called for “secret” Vatican lists of predator priests to be made public. Earlier this month, Milwaukee Archbishop Rembert Weakland said he too had failed to convince then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who ran the doctrinal office from 1981 until his election as Pope Benedict in 2005, of the need to defrock Murphy.

The New York Times recently reported that Ratzinger did not reply to a plea from Murphy himself to be defrocked.

The future pope, in a 1996 letter sent to Milwaukee and obtained by the NYT recently, said he was taking this line “ for the good of the Church”.

The Vatican claims it only heard of the case in 1998, four months before Murphy died.


Sex abuse scandals involving priests erupted in the United States in 2002, where several dioceses have since gone bankrupt because of huge settlements paid to victims. They later spread to Australia and, recently, to several European countries including Austria, Netherlands, Norway, Germany and Italy.

Friday’s legal action is not the first aimed at the pope from the USA.

On April 1 a lawyer representing sex abuse victims asked a Kentucky court to call Benedict to testify, claiming the Vatican “encouraged silence”.

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

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

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

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

The Vatican for weeks said there was an “ignoble” media campaign to smear the pope, dismissing the reports as “idle chatter”, and at Easter Benedict said that “Jesus did not respond when he was insulted”.

In an apparent change of strategy the Vatican made public tough new paedophilia rules it has been using since 2003, and said Benedict would now be able to defrock priests personally.

But the change in direction was blown off course when Secretary of State Bertone said there was a link between paedophilia and homosexuality.

The Vatican later ‘clarified’ that he had only been referring to cases inside the Church.

During a visit to Malta last weekend Benedict had a tearful meeting with abuse victims.

On Wednesday, in his first direct public reference to the scandals, he said he had promised them more “action” on the issue, without going into specifics.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Fiat Spins Off Automotive Division

New five-year business plan unveiled

(ANSA) — Turin, April 21 — Fiat on Wednesday announced it will spin off its automotive division within the next six months by creating a new entity for its farm and construction vehicle division CNH and bus and truck-maker Iveco.

The announcement was made by CEO Sergio Marchionne during the unveiling of the group’s new five-year business plan and came a day after Luca Cordero di Montezemolo stepped down as Fiat chairman and passed the helm of the group to John Elkann, heir to the company’s founding Agnelli family.

Fiat Group Automobiles will thus remain in the original Fiat Spa group together with the automotive part of Powertrain — the division which develops and produces engines and transmissions — and Fiat’s components sector.

“For years investors have been asking us to spin off our automotive division and now that we have completed our restructurization program there is no reason to keep such different sectors together,” Marchionne said. “As two separate companies each will be able to make the best choices and act independently. In this way the automotive group can compete on equal footing with other constructors and develop common, cost-saving projects with Chrysler,” he explained.

Fiat obtained 20% and management control of Chrysler in 2009 and once certain benchmarks have been met, including producing its own cars in the US, can expand this first to a maximum of 35% and later, once government bailout loans have been repaid, to 50% or more.

Last week, Marchionne said Fiat expected to boost its stake in Chrysler to 35% within the next two years.

CNH and Iveco, together with the remaining part of Powertrain, will become Fiat Industrial, a new company which will be listed on the Milan stock exchange.

According to Marchionne, this new group “can continue its recognised role in the farm and heavy machinery sectors. CNH is the world Number Two in the farm sector, Number One from a geographic standpoint, while IVECO just needs to break into the US market”.

The operation, for which Marchionne said he saw no significant obstacles, will be set up between May and the end of June for approval by the Fiat board by October to allow for a listing in November. Confirmation of the spinoff, which had been widely expected, had an immediate effect in Milan where Fiat’s shares leapt 3.5% with 11.1% of the group’s stock capital changing hands.

Fiat’s new business plan, Marchionne observed, “represents a unique chance to break with the past and embark in a new era.

This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity”. During the presentation of the new plan, Marchionne, who is also Chrysler’s CEO, said that before the end of 2014, Fiat and Chrysler together will sell a total of six million vehicles, “the minimum needed to be a competitive global player”.

“Our partnership with Chrysler was a fundamental step for Fiat’s future because it will allow us to achieve an adequate critical mass to obtain major savings, increase the volume of sales of individual platforms, exploit every possible joint savings and expand our geographic presence,” he explained.

Despite’s expansion abroad, the CEO said Fiat’s roots “are and will remain in Italy,” where by 2014 the group plans to produce 1.4 million vehicles a year, up from 650,000 in 2009, with 65% for export compared to 40% in 2009.

Over the next five years Fiat will invest 26 billion euros worldwide, plus an additional four billion euros for research and development, bringing the total to 30 billion euros, Marchionne said.

“This is an enormous investment, equal to two thirds of Fiat’s global business,” he added.

The new plan also calls for Fiat launching ten new models and redesigning six of its cars by 2014, while Alfa Romeo will unveil seven new cars and redesign two other models. During the presentation, Marchionne also touched on labor relations and said existing union accords were “inadequate” for the goal of the new business plan, adding “we need to redefine them”.

The success of Fiat’s plan, the CEO explained, depends on the flexibility of the group’s labor force and of management.

“This is indispensable because the plants can operate only if they do so at full capacity,” Marchionne said.

It was important that unions accept the new plan, the CEO added, “because a Plan B already exists and it’s not pretty”.

“I remember hearing horror stories about American unions but I can tell you, that once we worked things out and agreed on a plan, they never objected to what I did in the company’s interest. An open mind and the desire to move forward are fundamental and I hope it will be the same here,” Marchionne said.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Montezemolo Steps Down as John Elkann Takes Over Fiat Chair

Gianni Agnelli’s grandson will have full powers: “I wish my grandfather was here”

TURIN — In a surprise move on the eve of the presentation of the group’s industrial plan, Luca Cordero di Montezemolo has ceded the chairmanship of Fiat, with a full mandate, to Gianni Agnelli’s heir, John Elkann, an appointment ratified by Wednesday morning’s board meeting. At the age of 34, the scion of the house of Agnelli will hold the group’s three main positions: the chairs of Fiat, the Exor investment company and the Giovanni Agnelli e C. limited partnership. The 4 pm media briefing called at the Lingotto by Fiat’s top brass was totally unexpected but rumours all pointed in one direction: a new incumbent as chairman. The development triggered a sustained rise of more than 9% in the share price, which closed at 10.42 euros as more than 10% of Fiat equity changed hands and when the market opened on Wednesday, shares rose by 1.15% to 1.54 euros. Fiat’s parent company, Exor, also moved ahead in early trading, rising by +1.01% to 14.07 euros. The possible spin-off of the group’s auto division drove up the company’s value by 1.2 billion euros.

TRANSITION LEADER — The official announcement arrived at 2.30 pm. Mr Montezemolo hands in his resignation at the board meeting called, before today’s Investor Day, to approve the first quarter results. “My role as transition leader has come to an end”, explained Mr Montezemolo at the media briefing. He will continue to sit on the Fiat board and will remain in charge of Ferrari. Mr Montezemolo said: “Sergio, John and myself are still a team. We have different roles and responsibilities but are united by respect, affection and friendship”. There is no connection with a possible spin-off nor is there any disagreement over the strategic plan which, Mr Montezemolo said, is “extremely ambitious, important and decisive, opens a new page in Fiat’s history and has my complete approval”. Neither does Mr Montezemolo have any plans to join the political fray, as some rumours in the capital suggest. He was at pains to point out that he will never take part in politics, at least in this life. “If I come back in another life, we’ll see, but for now that’s the way it is”. Mr Montezemolo spoke about his years at the top of Fiat. “I took over as chair three days after accepting the same position with Confindustria and if I hadn’t been asked by the family, to whom I have felt deeply attached since I was in short pants, I wouldn’t have accepted. At that time, there was no family member whereas today John is a leader and the company is no longer on the brink of bankruptcy. Today, Fiat is healthy and competitive. It has grown at all levels and in all sectors, thanks to the efforts of Sergio Marchionne and of all the men and women who work here. The conditions of May 2004 no longer obtain. My job is done”. “These have been years of intense collaboration”, Sergio Marchionne agreed. “I arrived from abroad and I needed strong support to get back into the Fiat environment. Luca provided it most generously”.

GIANNI AGNELLI — The first thoughts of John Elkann, Fiat’s eighth chairman, were for his grandfather, who had indicated Mr Elkann to take over the throne of the Turin-based empire. “I would have loved him to be here. I think of him at this time”, said a visibly moved Mr Elkann. He was only 21 when he joined Fiat’s board of directors, taking the place of the prematurely deceased Giovanni Alberto Agnelli. “[John] represents the Agnellis’ continued presence in Fiat”, Gianni Agnelli said at the time, investing his grandson with the task of staving off the break-up of the dynasty. Thirteen years have passed and the young Agnelli who does not bear the family surname has gradually worked his way up the ladder. First he was appointed vice-chairman of Fiat at the age of 27, when his uncle Umberto died, Luca Cordero di Montezemolo became chairman and Sergio Marchionne stepped in as CEO. Mr Elkann has now reached the peak of his ascent. He said: “Tomorrow is an important day for Fiat and for me. A new era is beginning. I am very proud and happy to have this huge responsibility. I am grateful to the family and to the many other people who have encouraged me in these past years”. Pragmatically, he then changed the subject to the future. Mr Elkann told his closest associates “I’m thinking about a list of priorities”. Like his great-great-grandfather and his grandfather, John Elkann, who is the son of Margherita Agnelli and the writer Alain Elkann, will hold the reins of the entire group. He already chairs Exor, the Agnellis’ investment company and will now take over Fiat and the limited partnership, the three key positions in the Agnelli universe. This is nothing new: “Senator Gianni Agnelli held all these positions, although at that time the limited partnership did not exist, while my grandfather chaired the limited partnership, IFI and Fiat”, pointed out Mr Elkann. Gianluigi Gabetti, Gianni Agnelli’s adviser and the man who has been closest to Mr Elkann over the years, declared “full confidence for the task he is called to perform in his new role”, in which “he will share the enlightened guidance, daily commitment and mighty effort of my friend Sergio”. John Elkann’s appointment to the top role in Fiat is a response to those who feared the family’s progressive disengagement on the eve of the presentation of a plan that will set out the group’s objectives for the next few years.

English translation by Giles Watson

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

Italy: Fiat to Sell Industrial Unit on Stock Market

Turin, 21 April (AKI) — Fiat will separate its industrial business and sell it on the stock market by the end of the year as chief executive officer Sergio Marchionne aims to create a global automaker which manufactures 6 million cars a year starting in 2014.

At a Turin meeting with analysts on Wednesday to outline the company’s new business plan, Marchionne (photo) said the separated farming and construction equipment business would be named “Fiat Industrial,” with an initial stock sale planned by the end of this year.

Revenue from the carmaking unit will rise to 51 billion euros from 26.3 billion euros in 2009, the company said today in a presentation. Group sales will total 93 billion euros by 2014.

Marchionne told analysts that the company believes “the time is right” carry out the spinoff.

“There is no longer any reason to keep together two sectors that operate from such diverse industrial and financial logic. The existing structure no longer serves any useful purpose,” he said.

Fiat plans to double car production in Italy to 1.4 million vehicles in 2014 from the current 650 thousand, Marchionne said.

Earlier Wednesday, Fiat said its first-quarter net loss narrowed to 25 million euros from 410 million euros a year earlier.

Fiat plans to merge Chrysler with its Lancia brand while positioning the US division’s Jeep sport-utility vehicle unit as a global brand.

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

Italy: Curtain Falls on First Ferrara Jewish Book Fair

(ANSAmed) — ROME, APRIL 22 — Thirteen thousand books by Jewish authors or dedicated to the Jewish world, dozens of meetings, screenings, debates, concerts, walks through the Jewish areas and, especially, an invaluable exhibition on the history of the Jewish book in Italy. The first edition of Ferrara’s Jewish Book Fair, which came to an end last night, was completely sold out, showing that its organisers had the right idea. The chairman of the National Museum of Judaism and of the Holocaust (MEIS), professor Riccardo Calimani, was very satisfied with the results of the first running of a Fair that he desperately wanted, describing this desire as “a gesture of confidence, throwing one s heart beyond the obstacles, with no safety net”. From April 17 to 21, Ferrara displayed everything that the ample landscape of Italian books on Judaism and Jewish authors have to offer. What used to be a niche market has now exploded. Organisers say that a bookshop set up for the occasion in the former convent of San Paolo had its 13,000 volumes raided. But the intimate and profound links between the Jewish world and books were later illustrated in the exhibition that runs until April 30 in the main room of Ferrara’s town hall. Given over to the history of the Jewish book in Italy, the exhibition — which is curated by Gadi Luzzatto Voghera Esposti — allows visitors to admire, amongst other items, very rare sixteenth century manuscripts and incunabula (books printed between the 15th and 16th centuries). “The first Hebrew book in the world was printed in Rome around 1470 thanks to letter or word matrices produced by local craftsmen,” Calimani recalled. As part of the events in Ferrara, a competition was announced for the design of a new MEIS to be built in the city. “This is a move that has been awaited for some time and marks a fundamental moment in the effective realisation of the new National Museum,” commented Calimani. A place, he remarked, not only designed to preserve memory, but especially for cultural exchange and proposal, a real laboratory. “In the same way that this first fair showed itself to be an important laboratory,” he said. In the new MEIS in Ferrara, but not only, “a series of multi-sided talks and encounters with figures from international culture can be organised,” concluded chairman Calimani. The second Jewish Book Fair — sponsored by the Ministry of Cultural Heritage, by the Province and City of Ferrara and by the Union of Jewish communities in Italy — is scheduled for Spring 2011. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Netherlands: Boycott Goldman Sachs, Left Wing MPs Say

The Dutch government is being urged to break its ties with US merchant bank Goldman Sachs, currently at the centre of a major fraud investigation, the Volkskrant reports on Wednesday.

Socialist and Labour MPs have urged the cabinet to boycott the company, which is being accused of deliberately misleading investors about controversial mortgages.

‘The government should do business in a socially-responsible way,’ Labour MP Paul Tang is quoted as saying.

In the Netherlands, Goldman Sachs is involved in trading Dutch state debt.

Too early

But Liberal MP Frans Weekers told the paper finance minister Jan Kees de Jager should first talk to the British and American financial sector regulators before taking a decision.

However, ‘if what I read is true, there is every reason to reconsider the relationship between the government and Goldman Sachs,’ he said.

A spokesman for the finance ministry said it was still too early to act. ‘We will first wait for the outcome of the British and American investigations and then decide if the results are relevant to the work Goldman Sachs does for us,’ he said.

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

Ports: Greece Looking to End Restrictions on Non-EU Ships

(ANSAmed) — ATHENS, APRIL 22 — The Prime Minister George Papandreou announced that Greece would lift restrictions imposed on the coastal navigation of non-European cruise ships. The decision, which could bring the country 800 million euros worth of extra revenue, was announced by the Prime Minister during a speech to the federation of Turkish businesses (FETE), as part of measures aimed at reviving tourism, which is struggling badly following the global crisis. Papandreou explained that discussions will begin in the next few months with all parties involved, with talks aimed at ending restrictions on coastal navigation for cruise ships. Greek law forbids large non-European ships from beginning or ending cruises in Greek ports. The idea of getting rid of such restrictions had already been mooted by the centre-right government of Costas Karamanlis, before it was overrun by the crisis. Shipowners are traditionally against liberalisation for fear that this might create a competition that damages the sector. According to the latest available figures (relative to 2008), Greece is the second favourite destination for European cruise tours with 4.2 million passengers, and has the fourth highest number of boardings, with 472,000 passengers. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Romanians Low Drinkers

Romanians drink less alcohol than other Europeans, according to the Eurobarometer made public today (Weds) by the European Commission.

The Eurobarometer on alcohol consumption in Europe shows that although seven out of ten Romanians had drunk alcohol in the last twelve months, only 13 per cent drank alcohol on a daily basis, while the average European percentage is 14.

Also, 30 per cent of Romanians said they had restrained from alcohol drinking in the last year, which is 6 per cent more than the average EU percentage.

Forty-nine per cent of Europeans said they drink alcohol 1-3 times a week.

Romanians — three in four — confessed they don’t know what the legal drink drive limit is.

The poll showed that the Danish are Europe’s biggest alcohol consumers, with 93 per cent of them have drunk alcohol in the last year, followed by Sweden (90 per cent) and the Dutch (88 per cent). The lowest alcohol consumption percentage is registered in Portugal (58 per cent), followed by Italy (60 per cent) and Hungary (64 per cent).

14 per cent of the respondents said they would drive after drinking more than two glasses of alcohol in the previous two hours, while 62 per cent said they wouldn’t do that.

The study was carried out on 27,000 Europeans in October last year.

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

Spain: Franco: Public Prosecutor Wants Garzon Lawsuit Archived

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, APRIL 22 — Today, the Spanish Supreme Court Public Prosecutor’s office presented a request to archive the lawsuit against the Audiencia Nacional judge Baltazar Garzon for an investigation on crimes during Franco’s dictatorship, opposing the start of the trial. The request, reported by El Mundo’s website, underlines that the allegations of abuse of powers against Garzon by Falange and far-right wing associations Manos Limpiae and Libertad e Identidad “lack procedural legitimacy” and the Pubic Prosecutor’s office sees sufficient evidence to take the judge to court. In the meantime more than 100,000 citizens signed a petition in the judge’s defence and the signatures were presented today by organisations of victims of Franco’s to the Audiencia Nacional, while a manifestation in support of Garzon is in preparation for Saturday, in Madrid’s Cibeles square. Furthermore, human rights organization Human Right Watch urged European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and the European Union member States to express “their opposition to possible sanctions against the Spanish judge for investigating crimes committed during Franco’s dictatorship”. From Brussels, Human Right Watch’s EU-relations office manager Lotte Leicht, interviewed by Europa Press agency, remarked that “Garzon fought for a just compensation of the victims of human rights violations abroad and is now being punished for trying and do the same thing in his country.” (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Spanish Ambassador Voices Support for Turkey’s EU Drive

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, APRIL 22 — European Union term president Spain’s ambassador to Turkey expressed today his country’s support for Turkey’s membership in the European Union, Anatolia news agency reports. “We hope that Turkey’s accession negotiations will make quick progress in the near future. We want to see Turkey, which is home to a rich cultural heritage, as a member in the Union in the shortest possible time,” Joan Clos told reporters during a visit to the southern province of Hatay. Turkey’s accession negotiations started in October 2005 and the country has opened 12 chapters in talks over a total of 35 EU policy areas. Eight of these chapters have been suspended following an EU resolution in 2006 pending Turkey’s full implementation of an additional protocol to its customs union agreement with the EU. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Sweden: Dyslexic Irishman Denied SFI Assistance

When Alan Newsome moved to Stockholm five years ago he signed up for a Swedish for Immigrants (Svenska för Invandrare- SFI) course, only to find that as a dyslexic he was denied support and was forced to quit.

“I couldn’t keep up, so I had to quit. I am currently studying a Master’s programme at Uppsala University so it is not a question of intelligence,” Newsome told The Local on Tuesday.

Frustrated with what he saw as insufficient understanding for his condition, and a lack of action after more than 40 telephone calls to various teachers and SFI managers, he decided to seek the help of the Discrimination Ombudsman (DO) hoping to establish his right to assistance.

But DO told the 40-year-old Irishman that despite the fact that this right is enshrined in the 1994 national curriculum for non-compulsory education — the rules which govern SFI — he had no such right as an SFI student with dyslexia.

Patrik Edgren, the research officer at DO who handled Alan Newsome’s case, told The Local on Tuesday that he information he supplied was wrong.

“My response to Alan Newsome was incorrect — I should have told him that he had no right according to the discrimination act but that he does under the schools law,” Edgren explained.

If the local municipality does not provide the support that the schools law requires then the matter should instead be addressed to the Swedish Schools Inspectorate (Skolinspektionen), Edgren said.

Madeleine Edström, a vice principal for SFI in Stockholm, argued however that it was less a question of rights than resources.

“Of course the municipality has an obligation to provide support, but we have no way of diagnosing whether a student has dyslexia with regards to SFI education,” she told The Local on Tuesday.

When told that Alan Newsome has a valid diagnosis from Ireland she continued:

“There simply aren’t any qualified special needs teachers, not that are qualified to teach SFI anyway.”

Edström conceded that while not all practising SFI teachers in Stockholm hold qualifications to teach SFI, all are required to have a university level teaching qualification and have completed studies in Swedish as a second language.

“If they are not fully qualified then they can be employed but must be given a plan (for further training). One of the schools did have a special needs teacher once but she found another job,” Edström said.

Alan Newsome explained that at his current seat of learning, Uppsala University, he is provided with the assistance he needs to complete his course successfully, without the need for a special needs teacher.

“It is not high tech stuff — just a question of talking books or computer programmes,” he said, arguing that the teaching methods at SFI did not cater to his learning disability and that his school was not prepared to amend teaching materials accordingly.

“It really is a very basic way of teaching with no visuals, all verbal, and you are not allowed to use the PC programmes outside of SFI premises — due to licensing issues,” he said.

Madeleine Edström conceded that the material used at SFI level is not available in talking book form.

“The book simply isn’t made as a talking book, some of the teachers do use material that has a CD accompaniment though,” she said.

When asked whether other material could be found within the field of Swedish language teaching, for Swedish children with dyslexia for example, Edström replied:

“Yes but those are for Swedish children, with Swedish as their mother tongue — on a level far too advanced for an SFI course.”

Despite the problems in recruiting teachers and finding suitable teaching material, Madeleine Edström argued that had Alan Newsome’s case been brought to her personal attention then she would have acted to ensure that he be given the support that he needs, and that the curriculum requires.

“We may not have specialist teachers, but we have plenty of teachers willing and able to give extra help. We have a lot of dyslexic pupils studying SFI,” she said.

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

Sweden: Court Awards Damages After Genital Mutilation Test

Uppsala Municipality has been ordered to pay 60,000 kronor ($8,400) to the family of a girl of Somali origin who was forced to undergo an examination to check whether she had been circumcised.

Uppsala social workers forced the then 10-year-old girl to submit to the examination to see whether she had been subjected to genital mutilation (circumcision) while on a family holiday in Kenya in 2004. The girl was collected by police from school shortly after returning from a visit to relatives.

The girl’s family took their case to the Discrimination Ombudsman (DO) which ruled in 2007 that the social workers’ suspicions constituted discrimination.

Discrimination Ombudsman Katri Linna concluded in her 2007 ruling that the suspicions “were based entirely on the fact that the parents have Somalian heritage.”

The decision to examine the girl was taken despite the fact that the parents had told their district nurse and social workers that they were opposed to female circumcision and that they were going to Kenya with the sole purpose of seeing their relatives.

The examination showed that the girl had not been circumcised.

In taking the municipality to court, DO argued that officials had made no effort to gather evidence that would enable a proper decision to be reached. The girl herself was not given a chance to explain her situation and she was not offered any extra support.

“The social services’ actions were based on the family’s ethnicity. The child’s rights and the rule of law were set aside,” Linna said.

The municipality argued in return that the girl’s family showed reluctance to cooperate in the social services’ investigation, but the district court rejected this explanation.

The family’s ethnic origin “permeated the municipality’s entire management of the case”, the court argued in its ruling in favour of DO.

The girl’s parents will each receive 15,000 kronor, and the girl 30,000 kronor. DO had sought 100,000 kronor for each of the parents and 150,000 kronor for the girl.

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

UK: Six Held in Bristol After Party Leaders’ Debate Clashes

Police in Bristol made six arrests ahead of the second televised debate between the three major party leaders.

The arrests — all for public order offences — were made as several hundred protesters from different interest groups converged on the city centre.

Protesters from anti-war groups clashed with English Defence League protesters at one point — although the encounter was non-violent.

The debate was held at the Arnolfini arts centre in the docks.

Mounted police and dogs were deployed to the strip of land between Pero’s Bridge and the gallery in an attempt to keep the groups apart.

A huge security operation was mounted in Bristol because of the debate.

Other protesters in the city for the debate came from a fathers’ rights group, a pro-Palestinian group, an anti-hunting group and various anti-capitalism organisations.

           — Hat tip: ICLA[Return to headlines]

Mediterranean Union

Egypt and Morocco, EU Funds New Project on Renewables

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, APR 22 — Promoting energy efficiency and renewable sources in Egypt and Morocco: it’s the aim of the Freeme project launched by PlaNet Finance ngo, thhrough microfinance. The project, which has a total budget of 1.35 million euros and has a duration of three years, has been funded at 75% by the European Union, with the support of the Microfinance Program of the Global environment Fund Morocco. The project should benefit 4.800 people and raise awarenes of around 2 400 microentrepreneurs and low-income households. Freeme is organised around four main activities: strengthening the institutional capacities of local and international stakeholders; supporting microentrepreneurs and small distributors to commercialize energy efficient equipments and develop local energy or renewable energy services (photovoltaic panel installation, solar heater, etc.); designing adapted financial models and creating a “Microfinance Energy” fund; raising populations and decision-makers’ awareness of the advantages linked to renewable energies and energy efficiency services.(ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

North Africa

Egypt: Site of First Nuclear Station to be Announced

(ANSAmed) — ARISH, APRIL 22 — Minister of Electricity and Energy Hassan Younis on Thursday said that the site of building the first nuclear station in Egypt will be announced soon. In press statements in this Sinai city, Younis added that study on sites marked for the first Egyptian nuclear station, including al-Dabaa site, has been completed. The remarks made on the sidelines of inaugurating power projects in the city. The total electricity budget for the 2010/2011 fiscal hit 16 billion EGP (circa 2,16 miliardi di euro), he added, noting that electricity has been supplied to around 99 percent of Egypt’s population.(ANSAmed).(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Lawyers of Christmas Eve Murder Victims Request Change of Judge in Egypt

by Mary Abdelmassih

(AINA) — Lawyers representing the Christian victims of the Nag Hammadi Christmas Eve massacre announced that they will request a change in the panel of judges at the Supreme State Security Emergency Court in Qena , due to the illegal measures taken by the court and the adjournment without reason of the trial.

The court session at the Qena Court started at midday on April 18, 2010 amid heavy security and was attended by the media. The three defendants, Mohamed el-Kamouny, Qurashy Abu-Haggag and Hendawy Hassan, pleaded not guilty.. Qurashy, who had previously testified that he was present with el-Kamouny in the car during the shootings, has retracted his testimony, claiming that it was made under police pressure.

Shortly afterwards, the presiding judge, Mahmoud Al Husseiny, postponed the trial for the third time, until May 16, without any of the parties requesting an adjournment. The court also announced two serious decisions, namely, that lawyers representing the victims would be barred, and only the defendants’ defense would be allowed to attend the future court sessions. In addition, relatives of the victims, the media and the NGOs would also be barred from being present at court.

Dr. Awad Shafik Awad, Coptic team member told Katiba Tibia News “I am stating it openly, the presiding judge, Mahmoud Al Husseiny, is not fit at all to rule over this case. If we cannot change him through the courts, we will do it through the media, nationally and internationally.”

He said that the case has been dragging on for 4 months, while the death penalty should have been given by the court from the very first session, especially that for the second time forensics examination has confirmed that the bullets retrieved from the bodies of the seven dead victims and the seventeen wounded in the Nag Hammadi Christmas Eve Massacre came from the automatic weapon use by the defendant Mohamed el-Kamouny in the crime. “The judge procrastinates all court measures, meaning that we have come back to square one in the trial,” said Dr. Awad. “We cannot accept more postponements. This is not acceptable at all.”

Coptic team attorneys are angry because the defense asked the court to bar them and the court accepted. “The judge took this decision of barring us from attending the court sessions in our absence, which is completely illegal,” said Coptic attorney Maged Hanna Kirrollos. “We either change the court or we will sue the district chief for issuing this flawed decision.”

Commenting on this decision, Awad said “Nabih el Wahsh, the No.1 attorney in defense of el-Kamouny, does not want us to attend, they want to cook the case alone together.”

Many observers accuse the presiding judge of conspiring with the defense to delay the case, prompted by some tactics used by the Islamist attorneys of creating havoc in court.

At one time the court erupted into chaos after Nabih el Wahsh, assaulted Coptic lawyer George Sobhy inside the court, by hitting him on the mouth. In another instance, El-Wahsh started what appeared to be a pre-arranged quarrel with one of his colleagues, in order to get a court postponement until after May 4, “because they have a litigation in front of the high administrative court on that day, in which they requested the transfer of the Nag Hammadi case to a normal criminal court and not a State Security one,” said activist Janet Abdelallim to Coptic News Bulletin “This way they would have a free hand in the case to turn it into any direction they want.”

In an interview with Al Mehwar Egyptian TV, Nabih el Wahsh said frankly that he was please that the “deal was successful,” meaning the agreements he reached with the judge (video).

Activist Fathi Farid, who was singled out by the presiding judge to be thrown out of court, criticized the judge for “obviously following instructions from Security. This country is not ruled by law, but by State Security and they can make the trial go on for 10 years and still look like a ‘just’ trial.”

Coptic attorney Dr. Ihab Ramzy told Al Mehwar TV the court’s decision to bar the lawyers representing the victims of Nag Hammadi came as a reaction to the request of change of the court panel at Farshout “due to bias,” presented the day before by the defense team of Girgis Baroumy, the Copt accused of allegedly having sexually assaulted a Muslim minor girl in Farshout in November 2009. The trial of Baroumi is adjourned until further notice (AINA 4-10-2010).

Those who are well acquainted with the Egyptian justice system are not surprised at the postponement, they believe that the court in Nag Hammadi is awaiting an indictment of Girgis Baroumi, in order to give al-Kamouny a lighter sentence or even an acquittal. Al-Kamouny and the Egyptian authorities claim that the alleged rape in Farshout sparked the massacre of the Christians in Nag Hammadi, as they came out of church after celebrating the Coptic Christmas Eve on January 6, 2010 (AINA 1-7-2010).

“Where is the justice done for the blood of our boys,” said Dr.. Awad, who is an international attorney based in Switzerland and President of the Confederation of Coptic Human Rights Organizations in Europe. “If the Egyptian courts cannot give justice to our sons, the victims of Nag Hammadi, then we will take the case to the international criminal court. I have declared this openly to all the media and to the State Security.”

Outspoken Coptic activist Wagih Yacoub said: “We demand from the Egyptian State with all its organs, including the President, to stop all conspiracies against the Copts and their rights, to put to sleep the Nag Hammadi case and send it to oblivion.” He said that the Copts will never forget the blood of the victims and will not accept that the Nag Hammadi massacre would have the same fate as Al-Kosheh Massacre of 2000, when 21 Copts were slaughtered in cold blood and not one Muslim was indicted. “The Copts will not accept less than the death penalty for the murderers,” he added.

[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

Israeli No to US Call for Jerusalem Building Freeze

(ANSAmed) — JERUSALEM, APRIL 22 — Sources at Israeli premier Benyamin Netanyahu’s office have this morning confirmed the news given in a Wall Street Journal article which reported that Israel had rejected US president Barack Obama’s request to freeze building activities in East Jerusalem. Israel’s response had been sent to Washington over the past few days and confirms the line expressed by premier Netanyahu, who in a recent interview with the US TV network ABC had said that the idea of freezing Jewish building in East Jerusalem was in no way acceptable. The newspaper also reported that diplomatic sources in Washington had said that they did not consider the position expressed by Netanyahu as definitive. The latter was instead said to have shown greater openness to the requests by the US meant to convince Palestinians to resume peace talks: such as the release of prisoners, the removal of checkpoints, the grating of wider responsibilities to the Palestinian Authority for security and an agreement to begin concrete discussions on the borders of a future Palestinian state in the West Bank as well as the permanent political set-up of Jerusalem. In addition, according to head Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, President Obama’s Middle East envoy George Mitchell is expected to return to the region today as part of US efforts to relaunch peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, initially as proximity talks. The news has not yet been confirmed by other sources. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Israel Deports West Bank Prisoner to Gaza

(ANSAmed) — RAMALLAH, APRIL 22 — A Palestinian prisoner originally from the West Bank was deported against his will yesterday by Israeli authorities to the Gaza Strip at the end of his prison term. As MAAN reported, this is the first application of the new, controversial Israeli military directives that facilitate expulsion from the West Bank of “infiltrators”: meaning Palestinians without identity papers considered valid by the Israeli state. The man deported is Ahmad Sabbah, who had just finished serving a 10-year prison sentence in an Israeli penitentiary. According to MAAN, members of his family had been awaiting him in his hometown of Tulkharem, but at the last moment they found out that on the man’s release Israeli forces had been forcibly taken him to the Gaza Strip, the enclave under the Islamic radicals of Hamas since 2007 and since then under a tight blockade by Israel. It is a “cruel and discriminatory” decision”, commented the former detainee on his arrival in Gaza. “This is a true war against prisoners,” he added. The measure has also been criticised by some political representatives of the Palestinian Authority (PA), who over the past few days have denounced the new Israeli military orders against “infiltrators” as illegal and arbitrary — as have Arab and European governments.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Middle East

Emirates: Unmarried Live-in Partners, Arrested

(ANSAmed) — DUBAI, APRIL 22 — They’ve been arrested for living together without being officially married: an Arab man and an Asian woman, parents of a 2 and a 4-year old, are the first victims of the moral values campaign launched in the Sharjah emirate, local press announces. Sharjah’s emirate, north of Dubai, is the third most important emirate in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Federation, in a total of seven. Contrasting with the lively and progressive Dubai, Sharjah respects a stricter interpretation of the sharia, the Islamic law, that punishes out-of-marriage relationships with up to 100 whip strokes. It is more likely, though, the couple’s lawyer claims, that the two partners will face a trial ending with a detention, whose duration will not be more than a year. Once out of custody the couple will be expelled and go back to their countries. Being parents of two children only worsens their legal situation because having children out of marriage is also considered a crime. Sharjah’s police, the The National newspaper reports, is conducting a home-by-home search asking for not only ID and residence documentation, but also marriage licenses. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

H. Clinton: Path to Appoint Ambassador Still Valid

(ANSAmed) — TALLINN, APRIL 22 — Even if the USA expressed “deep concern” about Syria’s possible role in the transfer of missiles to terrorist group Hezbollah, the United States of America “believe it’s important to support the diplomatic process to appoint an ambassador in Syria”, USA Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said during a press conference in Tallinn after the NATO meeting. Clinton remarked that the USA would like to “see a more constructive role” taken by Syria in the Middle East, and added that the American administration believes that it can only gain from having a diplomatic representative in Damascus, even if Syria took actions that Clinton defined as “deeply disturbing”. The Republican Party opposes the appointment of Robert Ford as new American ambassador in Syria, and its opposition only grew stronger after news that Damascus is providing Lebanon’s Hezbollah with Scud missiles leaked out. Five years ago the USA recalled their ambassador in Damascus after the deadly terrorist attack against former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, but the Obama administration chose to dialogue with Syria and the return of a USA ambassador in Damascus is part of this strategy. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Jordan: Two Rockets Shot at Israel, No Casualties

(ANSAmed) — AMMAN, APRIL 22 — Two rockets shot from Jordan this morning at the Israeli coastal area of Eilat have exploded on Jordanian territory near the Aqaba port on the Red Sea but did not cause any casualties, eyewitnesses reported to ANSA. According to reports from the Aqaba correspondent of the pan-Arab TV channel Al Jazeera, of the two rockets shot one fell to the sea while the other exploded in an outlying area of the Jordanian port. Local police have meanwhile surrounded the area of the explosion, while reports from Amman say that investigators are working to shed light on the incident. This morning authorities from the Hashemite kingdom immediately denied the news from Israel concerning the shooting of rockets, saying instead that it had been an accidental explosion. Today’s attack is the second one this year from Jordan against an Israeli objective, after a few months ago an Israeli diplomatic convoy was hit by a roadside bomb while it was heading towards the Jordan Valley. The last shooting of rockets from Jordanian territory at Eilat instead dates back to August 2005, when a Katyusha hit a warehouse at the airport but did not cause any casualties. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Lebanon: Real Estate; Home Prices +200-400% in 5 Years

(ANSAmed) — BEIRUT, APRIL 22 — In the last five years apartment prices in Lebanon have increased by between 200-400 per cent, according to data reported during an annual finance and real estate forum held in Beirut. The Italian Trade Commission (ICE) office in Beirut reported on the event, which included the participation of 250 professionals from the sector in addition to former ministers and MPs. Real estate investments amounted to around 7-10 million dollars per year in 2008 and 2009, compared to an annual GDP of 33 billion dollars. In the first two months of 2010, increases in the number of construction permits totalled 37%. As for financing in the real estate sector, those who attended the forum, according to a statement from the ICE office in Beirut, reported differences between the local market, where investors and buyers use their own funds, and international markets, where receiving a loan is the general practice. This structural difference partially explains the reasons why Lebanon and the real estate sector in particular, avoided the global collapse which began in the United States. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Saudi Arabia: Hospitals Struggling to Cope With Car Victims

(ANSAmed) — RYADH, APRIL 22 — Saudi Arabian hospitals are struggling to cope with the huge number of people injured in road traffic accidents, top officials have warned. According to Arabian, about one third of all hospital beds in the kingdom are occupied by road accident victims as Ali Al-Ghamdi, professor of traffic and transport engineering at King Saud University, told a press conference in Jeddah. The former chairman of the National Traffic Safety Committee estimated the annual cost of road accidents to be SR26 billions (nearly 6,9 billions dollars), about four percent of the country’s gross domestic product. According to a report issued by the General Directorate of Traffic, an average of 16 people die on the roads of Saudi Arabia each day. In 2008-2009, nearly a third of accidents in Riyadh were due to drivers jumping traffic lights, followed by 18 percent due to illegal u-turns.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Syria Missiles to Hezbollah; H.Clinton, Very Concerned

(ANSAmed) — TALLINN, APRIL 22 — The United States has expressed “directly to the Syrian government in the strongest possible terms its concern over the possible” transfer of Scud missiles to Hezbollah in Lebanon. These are the words of the U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking in a press conference in Tallinn, during NATO’s council on foreign relations. Clinton declined to answer journalists who asked her if the U.S. had proof of Iranian involvement in the export to Syria of missiles, weapons and technology that could then have been transferred by the Syrians to Hezbollah, a group considered by the United States as a terrorist organisation. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Top Kuwaiti Businessman Urges More Transparency

(ANSAmed) — KUWAIT CITY, APRIL 22 — Ali Al-Ghanim, chairman of Kuwait Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI), said no country in the world could witnessed a civilised progress unless it was committed to principles of transparency, as Arabian reports. “Transparency is the number one enemy of corruption and corruption is the prime enemy of transparency,” he said. Kuwait, he added, “lacks genuine transparency so we support efforts of Kuwait Transparency Society because this issue is about present and future of Kuwait”. Al-Ghanim added that transparency was the key word to secure full implementation of Kuwait’s multi-billion-dollar development plan. Speaking after Kuwait’s Transparency Forum, Al-Ghanim also stressed that the government of Kuwait had approved an ambitious development plan but it would not be successful unless it was transparently implemented. Abdullah Al-Naibari, head of the Transparency in Revenues projects, added that governance was badly needed in government-owned companies because they were using public funds. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

US Navy Seal Cleared in Iraq Abuse Case

BAGHDAD (AP) — A U.S. Navy SEAL was cleared Thursday of charges he covered up the alleged beating of an Iraqi prisoner suspected of masterminding the grisly 2004 killings of four American security contractors.

A six-man Navy jury found Petty Officer 1st Class Julio Huertas not guilty of dereliction of duty and attempting to influence the testimony of another service member. The jury heard too many differences between the testimony of a sailor who claimed he witnessed the Sept. 1 assault at a U.S. base outside Fallujah, Iraq, and statements from a half-dozen others who denied his account.

Huertas said he would rejoin the SEALs, the Navy’s elite special forces, as soon as possible. His was the first trial of three SEALs accused in the assault of Ahmed Hashim Abed and its alleged cover up.

The case has drawn fire from at least 20 members of Congress and other Americans who see it as coddling terrorists to overcompensate for the notorious Abu Ghraib prison scandal. Thursday’s verdict was met by anger and sad shrugs from Iraqis who said they no longer expect to see U.S. troops held accountable for atrocities or other abuses.


Huertas did not take the stand to defend himself, but is expected to testify in Keefe’s trial, which begins Friday at the military base in Baghdad. Lombardi said Huertas is expected to offer few, if any, details of the case, and will testify that he was cleared of the same charge that Keefe also is accused of: dereliction of duty. Many of the same witnesses in Huertas’ trial also will testify in Keefe’s, although a new jury will be seated.

Only McCabe, of Perrysburg, Ohio, was charged with assaulting Abed, and his is the only trial to be held at the Virginia Naval base where the three SEALs are stationed. His trial is scheduled to begin May 3.

[Return to headlines]

South Asia

Afghanistan: Girls Inhale ‘Poison’ At Kunduz School

Kabul, 21 April (AKI) — At least 12 female students were hospitalised in Afghanistan on Wednesday after inhaling a poisonous substance sprayed at a school in northern Afghanistan.

The 12 students of the Fatima Zahra Girl School, and a teacher and an assistant were mysteriously poisoned, Hamayon Khamush, director of the hospital in Kunduz city, was quoted as saying by Xinhua.

The Taliban’s strict form of fundamentalist Islam prohibits girls from attending school.

To defend their ideology, Taliban militants have attacked girl students with gas and acid.

In May last year 90 girls were hospitalised in Kapisa province, north-east of the capital, after someone sprayed toxic chemicals in the classroom.

A similar gas attack reportedly took place on Tuesday in Shina, a suburb of Kabul, where over a dozen girl students had to be sent to hospital after exhibiting symptoms of poisoning.

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

Afghanistan: Italian Soldiers Fire at Enemy Positions

(AGI) — Herat, 21 Apr. — Italian soldiers of Task-Force North fired six 120 mm mortar rounds against a position where they received rocket fire. Seven rockets hit the Forward Operating Base sat Bala Murghab, north of Herat, over the previous 48 hours without inflicting casualties. Afghan and American forces sharing the base with the Italians. The Italian mortar fire neutralized the threat after the launch site was identified by U.S. troops and it was ascertained there were no civilians in the area. ..

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

Sub-Saharan Africa

Somalia: Turkish Navy Arrests 12 Pirates

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, APRIL 22 — The Turkish navy has arrested 12 suspected pirates in the Indian Ocean, thwarting two separate attacks against commercial vessels, the Turkish military said today. Eight of the suspects were captured yesterday when the frigate Gelibolu chased down two skiffs “believed to be preparing for an attack” on a Liberian-flagged vessel, 640 nautical miles (1,185 kilometers) northeast of the Seychelles, the statement said. In a second operation yesterday, the frigate seized another skiff that had launched an attack on a Malta-flagged vessel in the same region, arresting four suspects, it added. Since 2008, an international flotilla of warships has been patrolling the Gulf of Aden, one of the globe’s busiest maritime trade routes, to stop Somali pirates from hijacking commercial vessels. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Italy: Acli: Casablanca HQ for Moroccan Immigrants

(ANSAmed) — ROME, APRIL 21 — Casablanca-based Moroccan civil rights association, Maan Maroc-Italie (maan is the Arab word for ‘together’), which works alongside the Acli aid society, aims to help Moroccan citizens who immigrate legally into Italy by informing them of visa procedures and organising language and civil education courses to aid their integration. And for those who return to Morocco from Italy, there is information on pension matters and other claims that can be made from the Italian state. Among its founders are Moroccan-born activists with the Acli aid organisation who have learned their profession in Italy, who have decided to act to help their country set up its own services for migrants and its more needy citizens. The project sees the participation of the Christian Charitable Association of Italian Workers in Arab Countries, and it “takes on a special relevance in the light of today’s intercultural and interreligious challenges”. The association’s headquarters are just a short walk away from the Italian Consulate, and today saw the opening of a seminar on “Migration from Morocco to Italy” in presence of the Chair of Acli, Andrea Olivero and the Italian Consular General in Morocco, Nicola Lener. In 2008 Italian diplomatic representatives in Morocco issued almost forty thousand visas. Of these, almost half 24,864 related to the uniting of family members. Morocco is at the top of the list of countries in terms of family visas issued by Italy’s consulates abroad (19% of the total). The Moroccan community in Italy is the country’s third larges foreign community with 406,000 registered presences at the end of 2008, and a 2009 estimate of 450,000. In the latest campaign in September, 36,112 applications by domestic workers were made by people from Morocco (12% of the total and second only to those by Ukrainians). Italy’s population of legally-registered Moroccans will most likely reach 500,000 by the end of 2010.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Raft Found in Aegean by Greek Coast Guard

(ANSAmed) — ATHENS, APRIL 22 — The Greek Coast Guard has intercepted and come to the rescue of a ship under a Ukrainian flag carrying 32 illegal immigrants, none of whom were carrying identity papers. Three of the people onboard were arrested — all foreigners, including one woman — on charges of human trafficking. The ship, which had been coming from the Turkish coast, was sighted about 15 miles off Alonissos, an island in the Cyclades archipelago. The ship was towed into the Volos port, where the immigrants will be lodged into the local immigrant holding centre. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Culture Wars

Abortion: Spain; Consumption of ‘Day-After Pill’ Doubles

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, APRIL 21 — The open sale, without prescription, of the ‘day after’ pill in Spain’s pharmacies has seen it almost double its consumption, according to figures supplied by consulting company IMS Health, a report in today’s El Pais says. Before its liberalisation, in September 2009, 37,138 pills were dispensed by pharmacies on receipt of a medical prescription. In the following month, when free sale to the public started, 69,414 pills, almost 87% more, were sold. Revenues from sales of the pill also nearly double, going from 443,000 euros to 824,000. Market research confirms that the increase was not confined to the month of October, when some Spanish pharmacies were stocking up, but average monthly consumption stands at 63,400 pills, or around 2,000 per day. This is an unprecedented figure, given that until October last year, consumption had not risen above 30,000 pills per year, when they could only be obtained with a medical prescription, at hospital casualties or family planning clinics. The IMS survey shows how there was an increase of 206% in pill use between September 2009 and February this year 2010 when compared to the same period a year earlier. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]