Friday, January 10, 2003

News Feed 20100423

»South Park Can’t Stop Sharia Alone
Europe and the EU
»All Eyes on Rosenkranz as Clear Fischer Win Predicted
»Belgium Vote to Ban Burka is Scuppered at Last Minute as Government Collapses
»Belgium is Thrown Into Political Chaos
»Finnish Becomes Minority Language in Åland Islands
»France: ‘I Love Them All’: Underage Prostitute Who Slept With Franck Ribery and Two Other French Football Stars Breaks Her Silence
»France’s Model Muslim: ‘Imam for Peace’ Sows Discontent
»General Election 2010: Nick Clegg Says ‘Let Islam Prayer Call Ring’
»Germany: ‘Anyone Who Thinks Like Mixa Shouldn’t be a Bishop’
»Germany: Catholics Relieved by Mixa’s Resignation
»Greece: Papandreou Announces Use of EU-IMF Aid
»Italy: Premier and Speaker in Shouting Match
»Italy: Start for 80,000 Seasonal Workers
»Italy: Berlusconi 63. 3% Approval, PDL 38%, Fini Unmoved
»Italy: Fiat CEO Denies ‘Blackmailing’ Unions
»Italy: Berlusconi Abuses Top Ally in Public Row
»Netherlands: Court Clears Holocaust Cartoon Publication
North Africa
»Story of a Kamikaze in the Casablanca Attacks
Israel and the Palestinians
»Extremist Settlers, Obama Effigy to Burn in Bonfires
»Gaza: Hamas to Reject ‘Spies’ Thrown Out of Israel
»Missiles Fired at Israel ‘Miss Target’
»Mystery Over Netanyahu Plan for Temporary Palestinian State
Middle East
»Iraqi Priest Attacked by Peshmerga
»Nearly 100 Suspects in Child Abuse Case in Southeast Turkey
»Premier Rifai: Rocket Not Fired From Jordan
»Stakelbeck on “Kiddy Jihad”: Child Suicide Bombers
South Asia
»Bangladesh: Dhaka, Police Arrest the Leader of an Outlawed Islamic Movement
»Indonesia: “The Indonesians Are Stupid” Urban Warfare Explodes in Sumatra
Far East
»For South Korea, A Torpedo From the North Sank the Ship
»Vietnam: Da Nang: Forbidden to Bury the Dead. The Cemetery Will Become an Exclusive Neighbourhood
»Is Hitler is to Blame for Islamic Extremism? Fuhrer’s Call to Arab World to Destroy Jews ‘Inspired Fanaticism’, Says Book


South Park Can’t Stop Sharia Alone

by Diana West

The creators of South Park, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, get it.

They get the free-speech significance of the Danish Muhammad cartoons epitomized by Kurt Westergaard’s bomb-head Muhammad.

They even get it across.

“It’s so sad, the whole Muhammad, the whole Danish cartoon thing,” said Stone, Parker seated beside him during a joint interview with the entertainment website Boing Boing.

Don’t laugh. “Boing Boing” here goes where “elite” media fear to tiptoe, let alone tread. The subject was the 200th episode of South Park, which, in unusually clean if satirical fashion, focused on Islam’s fanatical, and, to Western sensibilities, ridiculous prohibitions on depictions and criticism of Muhammad, who is at one point presented in a bear suit disguise. (Now you can laugh.)

Stone continued: “It’s like, if everyone would have just, like, (done what they) normally they do in the news organizations, (and) just printed the cartoons…”

“Everyone would have rallied together,” interjected Parker.

“Now that guy (Westergaard) has to be hiding and all this (bleep) because everyone just kind of left him out to dry. It’s a big problem when you have the New York Times and Comedy Central and Viacom basically just (wimping) out on it. It’s just sad. I was, like, really sad about the whole thing.”

This — despite the grubby vall-speakish patois of the astronomically successful Hollywood postmodern — is a singularly powerful statement. It is powerful in its sincerity, and it is singular in its, well, singularity. No other American “name” I can think of, no one tops in pop culture, has spoken out against or even mentioned the Islamic threat to Western freedom of expression as exemplified by the Sharia dictates against “Muham-tooning.” Certainly no one has produced creative content about it. Rather, such dictates have been religiously followed — no pun whatsoever intended — just as though our society were itself officially Islamic. This makes South Park’s message the closest thing yet to a mainstream declaration of independence from Sharia. For rejecting both the threat of violence and the emotional blackmail emanating from Islam over critiquing Islam’s prophet, the two South Park creators deserve a medal.

“They’re courageous — no doubt that they are,” said Bill O’Reilly of Fox’s “The O’Reilly Factor” this week. He was discussing the Islamic death threats against Parker and Stone that, naturally, followed the recent South Park Muhammad episode. The threats came in a jihadist video (caption: “Help Us Remove this Filth”) portraying the writer-producers as likely victims of Islamic violence along with Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Salman Rushdie, Geert Wilders, Kurt Westergaard and Lars Vilks. A photo of the slain body of filmmaker Theo van Gogh, his head nearly cut off on an Amsterdam street in 2004 by a jihadist assassin, served as an example.

Rather than praise Parker’s and Stone’s courage, however, O’Reilly went on to disparage their judgment.

“Was it the smart thing to do in light of the Danish cartoonist and van Gogh?” he asked. “It’s harmless to me,” he continued about the episode in question. “But if you are a hardcore jihadist any mention of Muhammad in any kind of way, particularly if you poking fun at him, is a capital offense.”

According to whose law, Bill — Islam’s or ours? Or is our law now Islamic? Those are the question citizens of the Western world need to hear discussed. But not on the O’Reilly Factor.

“See, I would have advised them not to do it,” O’Reilly continued, “because the risk is higher than the reward.”

One reason there is such a high “risk” is because media people such as O’Reilly left Westergaard and now the South Park creators, as Parker put it, “out to dry.” All media in American should have reproduced Westergaard’s cartoon, just as all media in American should now applaud Parker and Stone for their defense of free speech against Sharia. Surely, it is O’Reilly’s responsibility as a leading broadcaster to do that small bit to keep the airwaves free.

Alas, this man of the folks doesn’t see it that way. “You don’t want to give in to the intimidating forces of evil,” he said. “But you got to deal with reality. And these people are killers and they will kill you.”

In other words, shut up about Muhammad, and everything will be fine — or at least Islamic.

           — Hat tip: Diana West[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

All Eyes on Rosenkranz as Clear Fischer Win Predicted

Incumbent president Heinz Fischer is expected to celebrate a landslide victory in Sunday’s presidential elections, but the main focus will be on the performance of his rival Barbara Rosenkranz.

The campaign of the Freedom Party (FPÖ) candidate has been shattered by a series of controversial statements by herself about Austria’s Nazi past. The mother-of-ten accused press of “riding an aggressive campaign” against her, while she branded Fischer a “core Socialist”.

Analysts said the right-wing party could have benefited from its chief Heinz-Christian Strache getting into the ring against Fischer. Strache would have had no chances of beating the former Social Democratic (SPÖ) MP either, but a running for president would have boosted his bid to end the SPÖ’s majority in Vienna at the upcoming city elections.

Analysts said that by achieving a respectable result in the 25 April presidential elections, Strache would have managed to dominate the headlines until autumn when the elections for the Vienna city parliament take place.

Elections for the city parliament have always been preceded by heated debates over topics such as multicultural conflicts and “lazy immigrants”. Despite Vienna coming first in various international life quality studies, the FPÖ could always be certain of the support of those who feel disadvantaged in society.

The chance to focus on issues like rich bankers / poor labourers in the presidential elections was there for the opposition party, but the bid of its candidate Rosenkranz was from the start overshadowed by her expressed doubts of the country’s “National Socialism prohibition law”. This ruling, in force since 1947, poses punishment for those who found or support neo-Nazi movements or show support for such mindset. It is considered as one of the most strict anti-Nazi rules in Europe.

Rosenkranz and other FPÖ officials said changing the law when it comes to its tough sanctions against young people should be considered. The party said “teenage follies” and “youthful sins” might be punished in an exaggerated way through the law.

The FPÖ’s candidate’s point of view caused public outcry, while she claimed media quoted her out of context. And the storm did not die down when Rosenkranz failed to clearly disassociate herself from war-era crimes. Asked whether she — as it has been claimed many times — doubted the existence of gas chambers at Nazi death camps, she said: “My knowledge and view of history is the one of a person who visited Austrian schools between 1964 and 1976.”

Rosenkranz referred to the controversial fact that curriculums at many Austrian schools failed to feature World War Two at that time. Greens leader Eva Glawischnig said she was “shocked” that someone was unable to answer “with a simple ‘no’“ to such a question, while Fischer said such mindset made it impossible for him to meet Rosenkranz in a live TV debate. And historians focusing on the right-wing scene explained Rosenkranz was speaking in “codes” those on the far-right would understand.

Rosenkranz was then forced to react since it seemed she was about to lose the support of the country’s leading newspaper. Kronen Zeitung publisher Hans Dichand praised the Salzburg-born MP as a “courageous mother who would be a good president”. His comment ended with his appeal: “Let’s vote her!”

The newspaper — which is read by almost three million of Austria’s eight million population — was in the past a key factor to success for many politicians, while it also managed to end promising political careers.

At a press conference Rosenkranz denied she ever doubted the existence of gas chambers and said she always condemned all sorts of war cruelties. Some of her critics nevertheless doubted the credibility of her words since she made these announcements just two days after the Kronen Zeitung appealed on her to do so in a comment by “Cato” a.k.a. Dichand. Tens of thousands of Austrians joined anti-Rosenkranz groups on internet social network websites.

Rosenkranz from then on refused to answer questions on the issue and blamed some journalists of trying to attack her personally. The political views of her husband Horst Jakob Rosenkranz — who published far-right magazine “Fakten” — also continued to play a role in newspapers’ coverage of the campaign as did the candidate’s ten children.

Rosenkranz said she saw herself as an “offer for conservative Austrians”. Analysts said she would have had the potential to win the votes of many People’s Party (ÖVP) supporters disappointed about their party’s decision not to nominate an own candidate. This estimation was however made before it emerged that none of her ten children — who all have ancient Germanic names — are baptised and that she herself had left the Catholic Church many years ago.

Political columnists claimed Rosenkranz was never Strache’s number one choice, but he — according to them — picked her due to the support by the Kronen Zeitung that seemed to be certain. Rosenkranz — a rather low-key MP for years — has been praised by the paper since 2005 when she was the only member of the federal parliament’s 183 MPs to vote against the European Union’s (EU) Lisbon Treaty in 2005.

Strache’s announcement that he saw a potential of 35 per cent for her was regarded as burden for her campaign since it was a rather unrealistic forecast. While Strache himself would have had the potential for 30 to 40 per cent, Rosenkranz is seen between 10 and 16 per cent in latest polls.

Sunday’s election is seen as a touchstone for the Austria’s right-wing minority who helped the FPÖ to come second in the 2000 general election before the party suffered dramatic losses. The current headwind could keep Rosenkranz below 10 per cent, while it cannot be ruled out that many Austrians switch to support her in a “now more than ever” attitude as has happened in various elections in the past.

Another key factor in Sunday’s election will be the question of how many people will stay at home. It is expected that those who support the policies of Fischer could decide not going to the polling booths since all pollsters see him between 70 and 80 per cent. Recent research revealed that 47 per cent of Austrians consider the presidential election as “rather unimportant”.

All these developments in the current campaign have sparked a debate over whether it would make more sense if the parliament or some sort of federal council elected the president in the future. The president is the country’s highest representative and the military’s Supreme Commander, but has comparably little political power although the post enables the politician to reject laws that already passed the parliament.

Fischer has been criticised throughout his six-year term for failing to clearly speak out about various important topics. Even some of his political companions admitted he would stick to the constitution too stubbornly in some cases.

The president reacted to the accusations by declaring today (Fri) that he will set up a “think tank of experts” in the presidential office that will consult him about important topics.

Fischer has for years been found to be the most popular Austrian politician, but many conservatives find it important to support the experienced 71-year-old due to his tight connections with the left wing of the SPÖ. He decided to “rest” his membership when he ran for president for the first time in 2004. But some ÖVP supporters now explained that it wouldn’t be the past six years that made them not vote for him but the 30 years before that.

Those speaking out in support of the parliament or some council electing the president to avoid a lengthy and in some ways obscure campaign said they felt confirmed by the running of Rudolf Gehring.

The head of the non-parliament Austrian Christians Party (CPÖ), who is seen around four per cent in polls, called for a “mothers income” so they did not have to put their children into kindergartens and day-care centres — since this could cause brain damage.

Gehring, who regards homosexuality as a “wrong track attitude” also said government ministers should hold a prayer before every meeting. And he warned his supporters that all people would soon have a chip implanted as part of secret international operations.

Catholic Church officials criticised his “instrumentalisation” of the Catholic belief for his campaign.

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

Belgium Vote to Ban Burka is Scuppered at Last Minute as Government Collapses

A law making Belgium Europe’s first country to ban the burka was scuppered at the last moment yesterday after the collapse of the coalition government.

MPs were hours from voting on proposals to outlaw full face veils when parliament was thrown into disarray with the resignation of prime minister Yves Leterme after only five months in office.

He pulled his Open VLD party out of the five-party coalition in a dispute over electoral boundaries.

Leterme, 49, called an emergency meeting of his cabinet early today afternoon to inform ministers that his second term in office was at an end, and left for the royal palace to tender his government’s resignation to King Albert.

The collapse prevented MPs from voting on a proposed law would mean women could be jailed for up to seven days for hiding their faces.

The legislation — which has widespread support among MPs — would have meant burkas, niqabs and other Islamic full face veils would be outlawed from public places.

The vote had been set to come a day after French president Nicolas Sarkozy said France would also vote on a ban.

His spokesman Luc Chatel said MPs would debate the proposal in mid-May, and if passed the garb could be outlawed in France by June.

In Belgium, the draft law had the backing of all five parties in the nation’s coalition government — until it fell apart today.

Without the backing of the centre-right Open VLD, the remaining four parties in government still have 76 of the 150 seats in the lower house of parliament but it would be hard to govern with such a slim majority.

Open VLD said it had lost confidence in the government because of its failure to resolve a dispute between French- and Dutch-speaking parties over electoral boundaries around the capital, Brussels.

Economists have expressed concern that political paralysis would harm the prospects of reducing Belgium’s budget deficit, which the government has forecast will be 4.8 per cent of gross domestic product in 2010.

Leterme became prime minister for a second time last November when Herman Van Rompuy left the post to become president of the European Union.

Even at the start of his second term political and economic analysts had warned that it could prove as unstable as his first nine months in power in 2008, when Belgium lurched from one crisis to another.

Belgium, home to European Union institutions and the NATO military alliance, can ill afford to let domestic problems drag on as in July it takes over the six-month EU presidency, an organisational role held by each member state in turn.

The future of the controversial burkha ban is now in doubt — but support for it among MPs remained widespread.

Centre-right MP Daniel Bacquelaine said: ‘The notion of recognising people in the street is essential to maintain public order.

‘It’s also a question of human dignity. The full face veil turns a woman into a walking prison, and we have widespread cross-party support to have this item outlawed.’

Leen Dierick, of the Belgian parliament’s interior affairs committee, said: ‘There is all-party public support for this.

‘The point is not outlawing religious freedom, but public security and the need to show one’s face in public.’

Belgain daily Le Soir said under the proposed law, women would be fined £110 for the first offence of wearing a burqa.

But if they refused to pay or were caught a second time, they would be jailed for a week.

There is also widespread support for a ban on burquas and niqabs in the Netherlands.

In Switzerland, the construction of minarets was recently banned.

In France, immigration minister Eric Besson has branded the garment a ‘walking coffin’.

President Sarkozy said last year described burkas as a ‘sign of debasement, adding: ‘They make women prisoners and deprive them of their identity.’

           — Hat tip: ICLA[Return to headlines]

Belgium is Thrown Into Political Chaos

Premier tenders resignation, but king says no; burqa-ban vote on hold

By John W. Miller

BRUSSELS—Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme tendered his resignation but was rebuffed by King Albert II, throwing this fractious nation into another round of political chaos and delaying a historic vote to ban the full-face veils worn by some conservative Muslim women.

Belgium was set to become the first European country to forbid the practice of wearing the burqa in public. The proposed law, which has been approved in committee, has broad support in Parliament and is expected to pass when the dust settles from the current crisis.

Mr. Leterme’s hand was forced Thursday morning when the Dutch-language Conservatives withdrew from his five-party coalition, leaving it without a workable majority. “We’ve lost confidence in the government,” said Alexander De Croo, president of the Conservatives.

The crisis comes at a poor time for Belgium, just 10 weeks before the country is scheduled to take over the European Union’s rotating presidency. The Belgian presidency is also a chance to showcase Herman Van Rompuy, a former Belgian prime minister and now the EU’s first-ever president. Mr. Leterme, 49 years old, had been busy organizing a promotional tennis match between national stars Justine Henin and Kim Clijsters.

Belgium is also grappling with managing its economic recovery, cutting its budget deficit and dealing with the flight ban following the volcanic eruption in Iceland.

Mr. De Croo and other members of Belgium’s Dutch-speaking majority charge that Mr. Leterme has offered too many concessions to Belgium’s French-language minority in a technical dispute over administration of the suburbs of Brussels.

The crisis left the prime minister no choice but to submit his resignation to King Albert II. But after a Thursday afternoon meeting, the king refused. “A political crisis would be inopportune and would do serious damage to the economic and social well-being of the citizenry and to Belgium’s role at the European level,” Mr. Leterme and the 75-year-old monarch said in a joint statement.

The parties will hold meetings on Monday to try to find a way out of the impasse. Possibilities include Mr. Leterme finding a compromise to rebuild his coalition, the emergence of a new prime minister, or national elections. Parliament will also reconvene on Monday, but a vote on the burqa ban isn’t likely until the political dust has settled.

At the heart of the dispute that forced Mr. Leterme to offer his resignation is a fight over the suburbs surrounding Brussels. A gaggle of small towns and villages numbering several hundred thousand people, these multilingual neighborhoods are in Flanders but are still tied to francophone-controlled Brussels via a common court and electoral system, thanks to a 1960s-era treaty.

Belgium’s Dutch-language majority is seeking to split this area from the core of Brussels. In practice, that would force the residents of those suburbs to use Dutch-language courts, and they could vote only for politicians running for office in Flanders. Most importantly, it would be a major symbolic victory for Flemish politicians who advocate ever more autonomy for Flanders. The two language groups also fight regularly over everything from taxes and school districts to football and what to write in history books.

It is an issue that has haunted Mr. Leterme ever since his party won power in elections in 2007. It took nine months for him to forge a coalition. He has now offered his resignation five times, although he has exited power only once, over his role in a state bailout of Fortis Bank.

Mr. De Croo had been threatening for weeks to quit the government unless French-language parties gave up the Brussels suburbs. “The Flemish parties are playing Russian roulette,” said Olivier Maingain, a member of the Francophone Democratic Front.

Despite the divisions, no major Belgian political party is advocating a breakup. The French-language group can’t afford to lose the financial support of Flanders, one of the wealthiest regions in the world. Flemish politicians oppose a divorce because they would lose political control of Brussels, because it would cost them geopolitical capital and because it would simply be too expensive. Belgium’s 97% ratio of debt to gross domestic product is the third-highest in the euro zone, behind Italy and Greece.

“Belgium is not dead, but there are increasing problems of understanding between the two sides,” said Pascal Delwit, a political scientist at the Free University of Brussels.

           — Hat tip: TV[Return to headlines]

Finnish Becomes Minority Language in Åland Islands

An influx of foreigners to the Åland Islands has ousted Finnish as the second main language on the islands after Swedish, reports the daily Helsingin Sanomat.

Today Åland attracts immigrants from Romania, Estonia and Latvia, causing the islands’ population to grow faster than those of Finland and Sweden. Many foreigners come to the islands in search of work, taking advantage of the area’s low unemployment rate of just three percent—compared to over nine percent nationwide.

The islands’ newfound multiculturalism is evident in daycare centres and schools as immigrants are often working age adults with children.

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

France: ‘I Love Them All’: Underage Prostitute Who Slept With Franck Ribery and Two Other French Football Stars Breaks Her Silence

The teenage call girl accused of sleeping with at least three French football stars when she was underage today broke her silence over the scandal announcing: ‘I loved them all’.

Zahia Dehar, now 18, said she was ‘shocked’ that the players were facing up to three years in prison for the crime.

She said that Franck Ribery, 27, Karim Benzema, 22, and Sidney Govou, 30, had all treated her ‘with utter respect’ and should be left alone.

It came as provocative pictures of the would-be model were released in Paris.

Ribery, believed to be a £40 million target for Chelsea, flew the young French Moroccan to a hotel in Germany, where he is currently a winger for Bayern Munich, last Spring.

He is then said by police to have paid her up to £2,000 for sex — something he continued to do back in France.

Miss Dehar was one of 18 girls quizzed during a police raid on the Café Zaman, a notorious brothel on the Champs Elysee, last week.

She has told vice squad officers that she had £2,000-a-night sex with all three players.

Prostitution is legal in France, but those selling sex must be over 18.

Miss Dehar, who lives in Paris, even celebrated her 18th birthday with Ribery — many months after their relationship started.

Ribery — who was sent off for a horror tackle last night playing in the Champions League semi-final against Lyon — told examining magistrates that he ‘saw the girl over a number of months in 2009’.

If found guilty the Muslim convert faces a maximum of three years in prison and a fine of up to £40,000.

‘Judge Andre Dando has yet to decide if Ribery is to be prosecuted but it remains a possibility,’ said a judicial source in Paris.

‘Ribery has admitted having sexual erelationship with the girl over several months, but denies knowing she was underage. He could be in very serious trouble at the worst possible time in his career.

‘The same goes for the other players if they are found to have been knowingly sleeping with an underage prostitute.’

Ribery is hoping to star in this summer’s World Cup finals in South Africa, and is also contemplating a lucrative move from Bayern Munich, to England, Spain or Italy.

He and the other three players were summoned to appear before Judge Dando after the swoop on the Zaman. It has now been shut by the authorities.

A man known as ‘Abou’ from a hit French reality TV show was questioned about his alleged role in acting as a ‘pimp’ to introduce players to the girls.

Ribery — bought by Bayern for £25million in 2007 — converted to Islam to marry his French Algerian wife Wahiba. The couple have two daughters.

Govou, a winger with Lyon, is single but has a five-year-old daughter with his ex-girlfriend, Pascale. The two men will meet in the Champions League semi-final on Wednesday in Munich.

Benzema, who plays for Real Madrid and is a target for Manchester United, is believed to be single.

Despite the new revelations, Sophie Bottai, Ribery’s lawyer, continued to deny that her client had slept with the girl.

‘This affair does not concern my client and could only, in the worst case, involve his private life alone,’ she said. Lawyers for Govou, and Benzema also deny any wrongdoing.

While international players for teams like England have frequently been involved in scandals involving sex and alcohol, this is the first time that the French have been connected with widespread sleaze allegations.

France was widely criticised last year for the way they qualified for the World Cup.

Thierry Henry, the former Arsenal star, was alleged to have handled the ball which set up a goal against Ireland which secured the draw France needed to go to South Africa, where the competition starts in June.

Zahia Dehar celebrated her 18th birthday on February 28th this year. A picture taken on the day shows her celebrating it with Ribery.

According to police files, Miss Dehar started working as a prostitute in March 2008. She was making up to £20,000 a month sleeping with wide range of rich clients, especially multi-millionaire footballers.

They would fly her to destinations like Dubai, putting her up in five star hotels. She is also known to have attended European Cup football ties involving English clubs.

Detectives said Miss Dehar has cooperated fully with their enquiries, and did not face criminal charges herself.

She is currently staying with friends in Paris. Despite the scandal, indications are that Ribery’s wife will stand by him. She has told his club that she will attend tonight’s European Cup tie against Lyon.

Miss Dehar told police: ‘I slept with the men, but I wasn’t truthful about my age.

‘I loved them all. They treated me with utter respect and should be left alone. They spoiled me, and looked after me. They were my men.’

Govou is said to have told detectives that ‘I was very surprised when she asked me for money.’

[Return to headlines]

France’s Model Muslim: ‘Imam for Peace’ Sows Discontent

By Ullrich Fichtner

What happens when a Muslim cleric embraces the values of the West? In France, President Sarkozy is using the teachings of one imam for his own purposes. Hassen Chalghoumi, who has backed calls for a burqa ban, now faces threats from his own community.

Hassen Chalghoumi is the best-known imam in France and easily the most controversial, even though he preaches peace instead of hate. Police cars are stationed in front of his mosque during Friday prayers, and he has two bodyguards with him at all times when he goes out in public. Sometimes, when it all becomes too much for him, he takes his wife and their five children and goes away for a week or two, in the hope that all the excitement over him and the ideas he preaches will calm down again,. But the tactic hasn’t worked so far, because the whole thing flares up again as soon as he returns home. Chalghoumi has led a hectic life in recent weeks.

There are 5 million Muslims in France, although there could even be as many as 8 million, no one knows for sure. Some have been there for a long time while others are recent immigrants. Within this population, there are believed to be 1,400 women who wear either the large full-body veil, the burqa, in black or blue, or the niqab, the full veil that covers the face apart from the eyes, although that number could also be as low as 400. In any case, Chalghoumi dared to publicly condemn the wearing of the full veil, and he welcomed the idea of outlawing it — something that may have been ill-advised.

Chalghoumi’s is a man who doesn’t reveal much about himself, while others seem to think that they know everything about him. What is indisputable is that he was born in Tunis in 1972, immigrated to France in 1996 and became a French citizen in 2000, or perhaps it wasn’t until two years later. Sometimes Chalghoumi contradicts himself, or he doesn’t remember the details correctly, or he is quoted out of context. It isn’t easy to figure him out, but it is easy to like him. He is a gentle person, a man with the grace of a professional dancer.

Journey Into a Different World

The imam lives in Drancy, a northern suburb of Paris with a population of 66,000, one of France’s poorest municipalities. Although it’s only a half-hour drive from downtown Paris to Drancy, it is a journey into a completely different world. The beauty of Paris ends on the Boulevard périphérique, the beltway surrounding the French capital. The drive soon passes through a completely different world of industrial estates, wasteland and cemeteries, past abandoned factories and railroad tracks covered with weeds. The first impression in Drancy is of the long lines forming in front of soup kitchens at midday.

It is from here that Chalghoumi has gradually become a figure of interest to the entire nation. The media, the government and even the president at the Elysée Palace first became aware of him when, in May 2006, he began saying pretty radical things. But that wasn’t because he was preaching against the status quo, the republic and its values. Instead, Chalghoumi was saying things that could have been copied from right out of the French constitution, sentences that were in conformity with the system and advocated peace.

At the time, he publicly acknowledged the horrors of the Holocaust, he reached out to France’s Jews, and he spoke of reconciliation and rapprochement — things that were unheard of for a Muslim cleric at the time. Chalghoumi soon came to be known as the “imam of peace.” Meanwhile, there was growing unrest within his own congregation. The tires of Chalghoumi’s car were slashed, and strangers ransacked his apartment. The imam of peace was sowing disagreement and reaping violence — in all likelihood from within his own community.

He had already completed his religious training when, in 1996, he arrived at Charles de Gaulle Airport in nearby Roissy, an immigrant like so many who had come before him and who would follow. At first, he lived in Bobigny, in the Seine-Saint-Denis district, which has some 100 mosques. There was plenty of work for someone like Chalghoumi, who had studied the Koran for four years at schools in Syria and Pakistan, and had already made the pilgrimage to Mecca. Until 2002, he worked half the day as an imam in Bobigny and the other half earning money as a FedEx warehouse worker in the turmoil of Charles de Gaulle Airport. This is where the contradictory versions of his life begin.

‘Unusually Radical Positions’

At the time, French intelligence classified him as an Islamist to the core, “who took unusually radical positions.” Informers told the authorities that Chalghoumi was calling on the faithful to engage in jihad and, during Friday prayers, was announcing that anyone who died in jihad would undoubtedly reach paradise. As if to prove these conclusions, Chalghoumi’s access card for Roissy Airport was confiscated “for security reasons” in August 2003. But this can mean a lot or nothing at all.

It was the time of the nascent Iraq war, not long after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, a time when many of those who prayed to Allah were considered vaguely suspicious. Many Paris airport workers lost their access cards at the time, simply because they were Muslims, because their beards were too long or because their passports contained Syrian stamps or visas for Algeria.

Chalghoumi doesn’t wear a beard, only a goatee. He denies the accusations that relate to his past, and he says that he was confused with other imams who delivered the hate sermons in Bobigny. He insists that he never called upon people to engage in jihad, and if he did, it was only in the way the concept was preached by the Prophet Muhammad: that every devout Muslim is called upon “to engage in perpetual jihad with himself.” And what about Roissy and his airport access card? “They took it away from me because I had traveled to Mecca several times,” says Chalghoumi, “but believe me: I have never had any problems with the police since my arrival in France.” Never? “Never.”

A Gift from Drancy’s Mayor

The meeting with Chalghoumi takes place on a cool working day at the mosque in Drancy. The mosque, built in 2008, stands on the edge of a large shopping mall called Avenir, the French word for “future.” When the faithful bow toward Mecca, there is a Carrefour hypermarket behind them, the shopping center’s large parking lot on one side and a railroad embankment in front. On Fridays, there are such large numbers of worshippers at the mosque, upwards of 1,500 people, wearing every conceivable North African traditional costume, that the prayer room becomes too small to contain the congregation. Volunteers place carpets on the ground outside for the countless faithful, who then worship under the open sky.

Inside the mosque, the floor in the large prayer room is covered with red wall-to-wall carpeting. Without the bookshelves in some of the corners and the mihrab, the prayer niche with its cheap arabesques, the space could just as well be a gymnasium or the lobby of a German administrative district office.

The building was a gift of sorts, from the new mayor of Drancy. He is a man of the “new center,” who accomplished the feat of driving the Communists out of town hall after they had been in power for more than 40 years, a pragmatist who flatly ignored France’s ironclad principle of the separation of church and state when he had the €1.8 million ($2.39 million) mosque built for the many Muslims in his city. It was also for the imam of peace, who had said that he wanted to shine a light on “sinister Islam.”

Chalghoumi meets with visitors in his small office on the upper floor of the mosque, a room furnished with a desk and upholstered furniture, its walls adorned with small rugs covered with surahs in gold lettering. His staff serves sweetened tea. Chalghoumi, a man with sad-looking eyes and wearing a white fez, shakes our hands and says: “I don’t have much time. Would you like to take a picture? If so, we should do that right away.”

Hardly waiting for an answer, he stands up, bounces out of the office and walks down to the prayer room. He knows what photographers want. Images are important to him — images of himself. They can’t be taken out of context as easily as words. And Chalghoumi is aware of his photogenic effect. He always appears in photos as a modest and unthreatening man, a good Muslim, the imam France has been waiting for.

‘Imam of the Jews’

Chalghoumi has been in the news a lot lately, appearing on the front pages of Le Parisien and Aujourd’hui en France, the country’s largest newspapers. There have been photos in Figaro and full-page portraits in Le Monde, Libération and the magazines. Chalghoumi also appears frequently on television, either as a subject on the evening news or as a guest on Grand Journal, a talk show on the Canal Plus channel that normally features cabinet ministers, Olympic medalists and Hollywood actors. Chalghoumi has become a star in his own right, a star of the republic: a good Muslim, one to be shown to the world and not one who constantly accuses and demands and challenges everything.

His current fame peaked at the end of January, when he said in a newspaper interview that he approved of a burqa ban. He and his small congregation have had no peace since then. Within days of the interview, 20, 30 or perhaps even 40 people loudly interrupted a sermon in Drancy and jostled for the microphone so that they could talk about the “imam of the Jews,” as they called him, and about an “imam who speaks in our name and betrays us,” and they demanded Chalghoumi’s resignation.

Part 2: Commitment to France and its Values

The incident caused a stir after associates of the imam, perhaps even his personal advisors, of which he has several, wrote a press release in which they claimed an “Islamist commando” had stormed and desecrated the mosque, and had threatened the imam. It was, on a small scale, the scenario France has feared for years, in which Islamist cells form in its cities, Koran fanatics fill the heads of Islamic youth on the cities’ outskirts with their messages of hate, a significant portion of immigrants want nothing to do with the French republic and Arabs begin attacking Arabs.

Chalghoumi fueled such fears even further when he said publicly that he was in mortal danger and had received death threats, a fear he continues to voice today. He says that the charge that he is an “imam of the Jews,” an imam who is losing his faith and betraying Muslims is tantamount to a death threat. His two bodyguards sit with us in his office during the interview. Later on, they accompany him to his Renault Clio parked in front of the mosque, and when they open the glass door, they glance quickly to both sides, as if they were expecting snipers on the railroad embankment or in the parking lot.

Chalghoumi’s enemies now gather in front of the mosque every Friday. They bring along big loudspeakers and collect signatures for his dismissal. Because the local authorities have forbidden them from agitating on the Carrefour parking lot, they now stand on the lawn directly in front of the mosque. On one occasion, they even staged a rally in front of the Drancy town hall where, speaking to 30 or 40 protestors, they raged against the mayor, Chalghoumi and Zionism.

Their leader, a sullen man named Abdelhakim Sefrioui, always wears a gray herringbone coat and a Palestinian scarf around his neck on cold days. He has called Chalghoumi and the mayor liars and said that “Islam is being attacked in the land of secularism” and accused the government of “secretly establishing mosques to destroy Islam from within.”

The Burqa Debate in an Agitated Climate

In a conversation on the bleak, cold square where a young Charles de Gaulle is immortalized in bronze, Sefrioui made even more claims. He said that because France is a friend of Israel, it is a friend “of terrorists who massacre children,” that Chalghoumi is a useful idiot who is helping to turn the Muslims into the “scarecrows of the republic,” and that that very republic has become “Jewified.” Jewified? “Oh yes, Monsieur, and that’s putting it far too mildly.” The young, bearded, shivering men in ankle-length robes standing around nodded in agreement.

Incongruously, the small rally, which also included as speakers veiled women and eyewitnesses of the alleged storming of the mosque, was repeatedly interrupted by wedding parties driving up to the town hall about every half hour. Algerian, Moroccan and Tunisian groups, in a loud, celebratory mood, accompanied by entertaining brass bands, marched past the ragtag group of angry protestors. North African women, dressed to the nines in Western clothing, including short skirts, and wearing red lipstick, danced across the square in front of the town hall, headed for the registry office, blissfully ignoring the shivering agitators.

Of course, the overwhelming majority of Muslims in France have about as much to do with Islam and the Koran today as French Christians do with Christianity and the Bible — in other words, not much. But France also happens to be caught in the stranglehold of the global economic crisis, President Nicolas Sarkozy’s government has fallen well short of keeping its promises, there are constantly new elections brewing and there is a lack of hot-button issues. The debate over the burqa and the fame of Imam Chalghoumi are products of this agitated climate.

A Communist member of the parliament launched the burqa debate last summer, and because he promptly found supporters in all parties in the National Assembly, a commission was formed and a new law was soon drafted. Supporters of the legislation invoked women’s rights, the republic and everything that is holy in France. Politicians were not overly concerned about the fact that hardly anyone had even seen women wearing burqas on the streets, and that all the commotion was perhaps excessive in light of the very small number of cases.

Suddenly everything seemed to fit together in a disquieting manner: That the government stirred up a debate over “national identity” almost concurrently with the burqa controversy, and that the Swiss voted against minarets at the end of November. For a Muslim in Europe, it could easily feel as if someone were playing a dirty game against Islam, and as if France might even welcome the opportunity to use the Muslims as scapegoats.

A Puppet of the Powerful?

The burqa debate died down for a short time. There were regional elections in mid-March, but they were a disaster for the president’s right-wing alliance, and now Sarkozy is personally leading the anti-burqa faction. Hoping to curry favor with the electorate as his popularity wanes, the president now wants the law against the veil to be “as strict as possible.”

Instead of rising up against this France that is noticeably attacking his religion, and instead of protesting against politicians who strive to win elections with anti-Islamic slogans, Chalghoumi, the model imam, has voiced and continues to voice his commitment to this France, to the republic. Once again, he is loudly applauded for this, but for his fellow Muslims the applause is coming from the wrong quarter. Within Chalghoumi’s own ranks, in Drancy and elsewhere, the applause subsided long ago.

“I want to be a republican imam,” says Chalghoumi. His words reflect, roughly, the title of the book he plans to publish, in which he intends to argue for a “European Islam” and a “French Islam.”

His spoken French is halting and at odds with his otherwise elegant appearance, but the gist of his sentences is as clear as glass. He speaks out “against sinister Islam,” against the hate, the violence and the Muslim Brotherhood that seeks to foment unrest among young people in the poor suburbs, the banlieues, and against extremists and Salafists. “We must brighten up once again the catastrophic image of our religion,” he says.

Many feel that Chalghoumi is going too far. On Fridays, in front of the mosque in Drancy, seemingly moderate, clean-shaven men wearing Western clothes accuse him of being a puppet of the powerful. They say he shouldn’t get involved in politics but should interpret the Koran; that he should settle the affairs of Muslims “among Muslims,” and not in a broader forum; and that he should not kowtow to the Jews as much as they say he does.

The Jews. They play an important role in Chalghoumi’s story. It is clear that many Muslims in France have problems with the Jews. Many in places like Drancy and Bobigny are sharply opposed to Israel, thousands of kilometers away, and many feel a vague sense of solidarity with the Palestinians. When there is trouble in the Gaza Strip, the number of cars torched in the banlieues of Paris rises. “In the minds of many of my fellow Muslims,” says Chalghoumi, “the Jews are still the billionaires, the usurers. It’s time to finally put an end to that.” This sentence makes perfect sense in France and elsewhere in Europe, but not in his community.

In January 2009, when the Israeli offensive was underway in the Gaza Strip and was responsible for disturbing images on French television, Chalghoumi, once again, demonstratively took an unexpected side. He didn’t condemn Israel. Instead, he said that Israel and the Gaza Strip were far away, and that the French had nothing to do with the Palestinian conflict. He said: “Where will we be if we import the entire world’s conflicts to France?” It was a position that closely resembled that of the Elysée Palace but was well removed from that of the Muslim community.

He made himself even more unpopular among Muslims when he said, four years ago in May, that the Holocaust was a “crime without comparison.” At the time, he was the first imam in France who dared to take such a radical position. He did so at one of the scenes of the crime, in Drancy itself, where, in the midst of a sea of gray buildings, there is still a large, gloomy U-shaped apartment building that the German Nazis and their willing French helpers used as a central internment camp for Jews before they were shipped to Auschwitz. After a number of large-scale raids on Jewish communities in Paris and elsewhere, more than 60,000 people, including 6,000 children, were sent from Drancy to the death camp.

An old railroad car still stands there as a reminder today, with stone monument erected in front of it. The apartments that once served as prison cells are occupied again today, and pigeons strut across the lawns. During a ceremony there, Chalghoumi spoke of his sadness over the crimes of the Holocaust. In closing, he said that the Jews and the Muslims, “the children of Israel and Ishmael,” are from the same family and are cousins. The courage of his remarks became clear a few days later, when his apartment was vandalized.

Since then, Chalghoumi has always been at the forefront when it comes to spreading a better, brighter image of Islam. There is no doubt that in doing so he represents the majority of practicing Muslims in France, just as it is clear that he has also stirred up a radical minority. “It will be a long battle,” he says, “but we will wage it.” It is a never-ending battle, and it already seems to have taken its toll on Chalghoumi.

‘I Am a Symbol’

He established a new conference of imams last summer, and the launch was attended by cabinet ministers, representatives of the Jewish community and diplomats from the US and other embassies. Chalghoumi has spoken at conferences of the European Parliament in Brussels, he gives toasts at dinners in the Jewish community, he has traveled through the Gaza Strip in the company of rabbis, he has been invited to champion his cause at the Elysée Palace, and both the president and later the prime minister have publicly taken him by the arm, praised him and said that they were proud of him and that he had their full support.

It’s a little as if the republic would have to invent Imam Chalghoumi if he didn’t already exist. This makes it easy for his enemies to spread malicious rumors about him and condemn him as an “agent of the system.” Chalghoumi himself plays into their hands with his speeches and interviews, which are always a little too perfect, a little too zealous and a little too compliant. “I am a symbol,” says Chalghoumi, not without a touch of pride. He likes to see himself in the role of the lonely pioneer. “The Drancy mosque is a symbol. And the enemies want to destroy us.” These are big words, too big, perhaps for an imam in a small city. They only egg on the resistance instead of placating it. Chalghoumi, the imam of peace, disturbs the peace. Perhaps this is necessary and is exactly what the culture war needs right now. But the mosque in Drancy, whose ministry is now regularly accompanied by dispatches from the press agencies, has also become a place of vulgar behavior and wrangling, a place of discord.

Chalghoumi’s enemies now appear at the mosque every Friday, and each time there are a few more than the last time. Some are now coming to Drancy from farther a field. They include skillful speakers who sometimes promote strange ideas, such as demanding that instead of Islam accommodating France, the country should accommodate Islam, because it is the one true faith. The protestors have recently taken to waving photos of the bodies of children in Gaza. They also claim to have collected more than 1,000 signatures supporting Chalghoumi’s dismissal. Perhaps his days as imam are numbered.

If so, the republic will lose its good Muslim, the model imam. Is he afraid? For himself? His family? “I’m just afraid for my congregation, for this mosque,” he says. Once again, his words are a little too perfect, even a little peculiar, because Chalghoumi says them in passing, as he hurries back out into his small world surrounded by the Carrefour supermarket, the parking lot and the railroad embankment, which is blocking the view toward Mecca.

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

General Election 2010: Nick Clegg Says ‘Let Islam Prayer Call Ring’

THE Lib Dem leader is in favour of mosques being able to broadcast calls to prayer from loudspeakers in towns and cities across Britain.

He says the Islamic “muezzin” cry should be ­allowed to ring out just like Christian church bells. He described it as “a joyful thing”.

His remarks emerged yesterday as another gaffe, just hours ­after he was exposed as saying British ­people have “a more insidious cross to bear than Germany over the Second World War”.

Mr Clegg spoke out two years ago after the Bishop of Rochester, Dr Michael Nazir-Ali, told of a “creeping”Islamification of Britain.

He also admitted that he was not a practising Christian. Tory MP Mark Pritchard said his views were “disturbing” for “someone who seeks to lead a country based on Judaeo-Christian principles”.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Germany: ‘Anyone Who Thinks Like Mixa Shouldn’t be a Bishop’

Walter Mixa has offered to step down from his office as bishop of Augsburg.

Embattled German Bishop Walter Mixa submitted his offer to resign to the Vatican on Wednesday amid allegations that he physically abused children and misappropriated church funds. German commentators welcome the move, saying it sparks hopes of greater transparency in the Catholic Church’s abuse investigation.

Week by week, the Catholic Church’s abuse scandal has widened, spreading across Europe and beyond. Within Germany, Bishop Walter Mixa has often been at the crux of the debate. The leading German bishop has been accused of hitting children decades ago. At first, he denied the accusations, but he eventually admitted that he might have slapped some children.

On Tuesday, Mixa apologized — but his words sparked more criticism than praise because they failed to specify just who he was saying sorry to. Adding to the blemish on his reputation, the bishop is also under investigation for having possibly misappropriated funds from a children’s home he used to oversee to buy such things as a tanning bed, expensive artworks and wine.

On Wednesday, Bishop Mixa wrote a letter to Pope Benedict XVI, offering to step down so as to enable a “new start” for his diocese in the Bavarian city of Augsburg and cooperate fully with investigators, according to the Associated Press. His move followed a highly publicized request from two German bishops, urging him to temporarily step down from his position until the investigations have run their course.

In Thursday’s newspapers, German editorialists welcomed news of Mixa’s offer to resign, saying his role as a representative of the church had become untenable among the flurry of accusations.

The conservative daily Die Welt writes:

“Right now, Mixa is ill-suited to play the role of pastor and head of a large diocese. He has continued to refuse to give candid explanations, preferring to hide behind vague pleas for forgiveness for everything and nothing. He has left it to the spokesman of his diocese to deal with any questions and has created the impression that he is unaware of the gravity of the charges against him and the depth of the crisis of confidence in the church. Or perhaps it just didn’t seem so important to him.”

“In doing so, Mixa has proved that he is incapable of serving his congregation in the way that the current disastrous situation requires. Mixa was adding to the church’s problems, but the fact that he has now apparently realized his mistake will help it overcome its crisis. Although his resignation deserves the greatest respect, it is still necessary to pursue and thoroughly investigate the charges against him.”

The center-left Berliner Zeitung writes:

“These days, in real life, the word ‘Catholic’ stands for physically abusive or lustful priests. People are leaving the church in droves…. In real life, Bishop Walter Mixa has been very, very slow, on the one hand, to understand that his office does not entitle him to beat children, spend donation money on art, kitsch and wine — and, on the other, to resign.”

The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

“It doesn’t happen every day that bishops speak about other bishops in public. It is even rarer for them to publicly criticize one another. And it is truly remarkable that two bishops have called on a third bishop to temporarily step down from office.”

“On Friday, a round table meeting devoted to dealing with cases of sexual abuse will start its work. On Monday, the bishops will propose new guidelines for dealing with cases of sexual abuse in the church. But they don’t want to proceed with Mixa on board. The whole affair and his behavior is still weighing on the church and damage the credibility of any of the bishops’ statements. In the light of possible errors among its members, they have taken responsibility and tried to make the behavior of their institution more transparent.”

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes (in an updated online version):

“Finally. Finally, Walter Mixa, the bishop on the edge, is stepping down. He is clearly not resigning because he has realized that he cannot reasonably perform the duties of his office as long as it is unclear how violently he … struck children in his care and how deeply he dug into the coffers of the local orphanage foundation. Rather, he is stepping down because the pressure on him has become too great.”

“Right to up the end, Walter Mixa has failed to understand that it is too late, that his confession mocks his colleagues’ honest attempts to bring transparency to the cases of abuse within the Roman Catholic Church. He has not understood that, by diverting money belonging to the poor to other causes, he damaged the spiritual foundation of his office.”

“Mixa is a man with two sides: There’s the side of the affable, conservative pastor; but there is also the unfathomable side of a man who high-handedly undercuts the religious message he is supposed to represent. That — and not his individual deeds — is the reason why Mixa is resigning. Anyone who thinks this way should not be a bishop.”

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

Germany: Catholics Relieved by Mixa’s Resignation

As Germany’s 25 million Catholics await word on whether the Vatican has accepted embattled Bishop Walter Mixa’s resignation, senior Church members on Friday expressed relief over — and respect for — Mixa’s decision to step down.

As the dust settled on the resignation tender of Germany’s most controversial bishop, many Catholics also expressed hope that Pope Benedict would respond quickly to the resignation offer so that the Church can put the episode behind it.

Following weeks of accusations that he hit and beat children at a Bavarian orphanage in the 1970s and 1980s, Mixa finally announced late Wednesday night he had offered the Vatican his resignation as Bishop of Augsburg and Catholic Military Bishop for the German Bundeswehr.

The beleaguered Church, facing a child abuse scandal of which Mixa’s case is just one tiny part, has overwhelmingly welcomed the resignation.

“The resignation of Bishop Mixa is a great relief. The situation was getting to be a serious burden for the Catholic Church,” Alois Glück, president of the Central Committee of German Catholics told daily Der Tagesspiegel.

Helmut Mangold, chairman of the Augsburg Diocese Council, which represents 1.3 million Bavarian Catholics, said he had been “shocked” that the resignation had come so quickly.

“But the pressure from the German bishops was very great,” he said. “When the Bishop decided to resign, I respected the move, which is the logical one. He would have needed good reasons to stay on.”

Mangold urged Pope Benedict XVI to make a speedy decision on the resignation offer, so that “the diocese can continue its work freely and in peace.”

That sentiment was echoed by the lay group Wir sind Kirche, which called on Benedict to settle the matter immediately for the good of the Church.

For Hamburg Auxiliary Bishop Hans-Jochen Jaschke, however, the resignation came a week too late.

“I felt the move was absolutely necessary and maybe in fact a week too late,” he told broadcaster ZDF on Thursday evening.

If the Church wanted to win trust, its representatives had to be “genuinely credible,” he said.

The post-mortem of the Mixa affair came as Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger called on an upcoming “round table” to come up with quick answers for the problem of child abuse, particularly regarding an overhaul of the system for dealing with abuse cases.

“Dialogue about prevention and an overhaul should be conducted with great earnestness across all party political interests,” she told the Hamburger Abendblatt daily.

Family Minister Kristina Schröder, meanwhile, called on the Church to commit itself to “clearer” guidelines for working with state prosecutors on child abuse cases.

DDP/DPA/The Local (

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

Greece: Papandreou Announces Use of EU-IMF Aid

(ANSAmed) — ATHENS — Greek Premier Giorgio Papandreou announced that Greece will resort to the EU-IMF support mechanism. Papandreou said that the decision responds to “a national need”. In a televised speech from the island of Kastelorizo, he said that he has already authorised Finance Minister Giorgio Papaconstantinou to proceed with the activation of the mechanism. The decision to resort to the EU-IMP support mechanism for 45 billion euros responds to “a national imperative” while faced with an assault of speculation, said Papandreou again, adding that he already authorised Finance Minister Giorgio Papaconstantinou to proceed with the activation of the mechanism. Thanks to “the help of our European partners”, it will be possible to put the financial situation back into order, he added, and to “build a new Greece”. The premier’s announcement arrived after a morning in which there was speculation on an imminent use of aid. The stock market reacted positively, increasing to gains of over 3% after starting the day off in negative territory. Papaconstantinou, who will be in Washington tomorrow for meetings with the IMF and a meeting with Dominique Strauss Kahn, met for a second time this morning with EU-IMF officials who are in Athens for several days. According to the press, the decision to resort to the support mechanism was reportedly made yesterday during a government meeting during which several ministers asked the premier to act along these lines. The spokesperson of EU Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn, said that the EU and IMF “will act rapidly and efficiently” and explained that the procedure will be activated soon, while specifying however that there are no current deadlines or dates that have been fixed. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Premier and Speaker in Shouting Match

Long-standing differences come to a head at party meeting

(ANSA) — Rome, April 22 — Long-standing differences between Premier Silvio Berlusconi and House Speaker Gianfranco Fini came to a head on Thursday when the two founders of the People of Freedom (PdL) party blew their top in public.

Speaking in front of nearly 500 delegates and with TV cameras rolling, the premier gave Fini an ultimatum, telling him he should resign as speaker if he wanted to set up his own faction in parliament and take a more active role in politics.

“The speaker of the House should not make political statements. If you want to do so, then you should quit,” Berlusconi told Fini, who had, until recently, been thought of as his likely successor.

At that point, Fini got up and shouted: “What are you saying? Otherwise, what will you do? Throw me out?” Berlusconi opened the meeting with a call for unity, saying that the PdL had won all elections held in the last two years and did not risk being overtaken by its Northern League ally. “You can’t say the party is not run democratically,” said Berlusconi, rebutting long-simmering charges by Fini and his lieutenants that the PdL is run like a “barracks”.

The PdL was officially founded last year by the merging of Fini’s right-wing National Alliance (AN) and Berlusconi’s Forza Italia (FI), after the two parties ran on a single ticket to win the April 2008 general elections.

The speaker is also fuming over the clout that the Northern League, which snatched two governorships in last month’s regional elections, now wields on the government’s agenda.

Speaking to his followers earlier this week Fini said it was undeniable that the League was “the power player at the moment”.

Addressing delegates, Fini listed his grievances but stressed that he had never questioned Berlusconi’s leadership nor planned to betray him or “row against the government”.

“But it’s childish to sweep the dust under the carpet,” he added, outlining a series of requests. He said the PdL must stop being a “photocopy of the League”, must allow more room for internal debate and should set up a committee to review planned reforms, including fiscal federalism, one of the League’s pet projects.

Fini’s speech was punctuated by verbal sparring with a very irate Berlusconi who grabbed the microphone several times to interrupt him.

Berlusconi shook hands with the speaker but then took the stage again to tell the assembly: “I thought I was dreaming…you’ve never made these requests before,” referring to a working lunch last week when Fini reportedly only told him he was planning to set up his own faction within the PdL.

He also took issue with several Fini loyalists, guilty in his view of disgracing the PdL during a row with Berlusconi sympathizers on a TV talk show.

After further tit-for-tats with Fini, Berlusconi ended by telling Fini: “your requests are not that important”.

Fini told reporters later he had “no intention of standing down as speaker”.

He had already made clear in a meeting with his followers on Tuesday that he had no plans to leave the party but would demand more say and the right to dissent.

A document supporting Fini’s stance was signed by 36 MPs at the House and 14 senators as well as by an undisclosed number of other MPs unable to attend.

However, a statement issued shortly afterwards by 75 ex-members of AN, including Rome Mayor Gianni Alemanno, Youth Policy Minister Giorgia Meloni and Public Works Minister Altero Matteoli, said there could be no going back on the decision to merge the two parties.

“We’re firmly convinced that the PdL represents the right and irreversible choice. We want to further strengthen the PdL by remaining in the party.” “The party embodies the standards and values of the centre right” and got the majority of votes in general elections in 2008 and the 2009 European and 2010 regional elections, they said.

Nevertheless, they urged the PdL to consider a number of issues raised by Fini and ensure “the utmost democracy within the party and respect for every stance”. Fini has also made clear that Berlusconi must be allowed to govern till the end of his mandate in 2013 because “that was what Italians decided” at the polls.

But, he said, the PdL “must be strengthened and not weakened”, that it should make moves to respond to the country’s economic needs and spearhead a drive to promote constitutional reforms that should be backed by the centre-left opposition.

Fini has publicly distanced himself from the League and Berlusconi on a number of issues since the centre-right coalition swept to power two years ago.

His recent and more centrist stances on these issues, including voting rights for immigrants and criticism of the government’s reliance on confidence votes to push its bills through parliament, have placed him at loggerheads with many ex-FI MPs as well as the League.

Northern League leader Umberto Bossi has told reporters his party is not ruling out the possibility of one of its men becoming premier should Berlusconi step down at the end of his mandate in 2013.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Start for 80,000 Seasonal Workers

(ANSAmed) — ROME, APRIL 22 — Yesterday sees the start for entry applications to Italy for 80,000 non-EU seasonal workers who will be working for the most part on the nation’s farms. Employers should now being the process of submitting online applications to the website The Decree Law on migratory flows of 2010 permits the entry of a maximum of 80,000 non-EU seasonal workers into Italy. The quota affects seasonal employees from Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Kosovo, Croatia, India, Ghana, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Ukraine as well as seasonal workers from the following countries that have signed, or are about to sign, agreements of cooperation over migration with Italy: Tunisia, Albania, Morocco, Moldavia and Egypt; non-EU citizens holding valid permits for seasonal work for the years 2007, 2008, 2009. The same provision also allows the entry of 4,000 non-EU foreing nationals who are resident abroad, who belong to the following categories: entrepreneurs carrying out business of interest to the Italian state, free-lance professionals, company directors and administrators of companies that are not cooperatives, artists of acknowledged world renown and high professional qualification engaged by public and private bodies, craft-workers from non-EU states who make a financial contribution to the investments made on Italian territory. The quota also includes the conversion of up to 1,500 residence permits for study training purposes into work permits as well the entry into Italy of 1,000 Libyan citizens. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Berlusconi 63. 3% Approval, PDL 38%, Fini Unmoved

(AGI) — Rome, 22 April — Closing his speech to the PDL national directorate, Silvio Berlusconi quoted an opinion poll according to which “the government has a 48% approval rating and if there were an election today the PDL would win 38%. However as regards myself, the prime minister has an overwhelming approval rating of 63%.” The members of the national directorate let out a great round of applause, but not Gianfranco Fini who, sat in the first row beside his spokesman, Fabrizio Alfano, kept his hands still.

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

Italy: Fiat CEO Denies ‘Blackmailing’ Unions

Labor flexibility key to new investments in Italy

(ANSA) — Turin, April 23 — Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne has denied he sought to ‘blackmail’ unions by linking investments in Italy to new labor accords.

“There is no blackmail. Mine was an invitation to take part in the realization of a project,” he told the press after meeting here with Piedmont Governor Roberto Cota.

Marchionne this week unveiled Fiat’s new business plan which includes some 20 billion euros in investments for Italy over the next five years.

This included some 700 million euros to move from Poland the production of its best-selling Panda model as part of a plan to double car production in Italy by 2014.

However, Marchionne made it clear that this and other investments could not be completed without an accord for greater flexibility with unions. “What is important is to strike an accord. Without an accord there can be no investment and there are 700 million euros waiting there for someone to reach an agreement,” he said on Thursday after illustrating Fiat’s plan to Industry Minister Claudio Scajola in Rome.

“Even if it will take five years to spend, we intend to invest (in Italy) more or less 20 billion euros. I believe unions can be happy with that,” the CEO said. During the unveiling of the new business plan on Wednesday, Marchionne said its success depended on the flexibility of the group’s labor force and of management. “This is indispensable because plants can operate only if they do so at full capacity,” he explained, and it was essential that unions accept the new plan “because a Plan B already exists and it’s not pretty”.

Many union viewed the prospect of ‘Plan B’ as a threat to force them to accept Fiat’s plan unconditionally.

Speaking on Friday, Marchionne observed that “flexibility is not something that you apply at one plant and not at another.

There needs to be a standard accord for all factories”.

“And we need to move quickly otherwise we can’t begin to invest,” he added.

“The first signals from unions have been encouraging. Let’s hope it keeps this way,” Marchionne said.

The plan to move Panda production to Fiat’s Pomigliano plant neat Naples, the CEO observed, “is the first question which needs to be resolved. Once we have gotten past this hurdle we can tackle the rest. But it’s important we move swiftly.

In an interview published on Friday in the Rome daily La Repubblica, the leader of Italy’s biggest trade union CGIL, Guglielmo Epifani, said “we are ready to negotiate with Marchionne because the CGIL has never been opposed to increasing the number of work shifts if this guarantees employment”.

“Negotiations need to take place and they will be tough because there are a lot of interests at stake. But this cannot be done under the threat of moving production elsewhere,” he added.

Marchionne, Epifani said, “has negotiated with American unions and negotiated with General Motors, now he has to negotiate with us”.

In an interview published in the Rome daily Il Messaggero, the head of Italy’s second-biggest union CISL, Raffaele Bonanni, said “we’re ready to sign an accord immediately”. “There was a risk Fiat would move production to the US, Brazil and Poland. Now not only will plants in Italy not be shut down but production will double,” he added.

“It’s logical that a company that wants to invest so much needs to have certain guarantees. But Fiat has also offered its own, like moving Panda production from Poland to Italy. This is a great opportunity,” Bonanni said.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Berlusconi Abuses Top Ally in Public Row

Rome, 22 April (AKI) — Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi called on his political ally Gianfranco Fini to resign on Thursday as their bitter rivalry exploded in an embarassing public row. At a People of Liberty party meeting in Rome, Fini, the speaker of the lower house, called on Berlusconi to allow more debate within the party on key issues.

“Political statements aren’t supposed to come from people who head non-partisan institutions,” Berlusconi said to Fini (photo).

Berlusconi was responding to a speech by Fini, who in 2008 merged his National Alliance party with the premier’s Forza Italia.

Fini, who was sitting in the front row, was caught by television cameras saying, “What are you going to do, sack me?”

When Berlusconi took the podium Fini stood up and interrupted his speech while shaking his finger at the premier.

“I have no intention of resigning as president of the lower house, let alone, leaving the party, “ Fini said.

In a day that the Italian media immediately labelled ‘the day of truth’, Fini said he did not want to “sweep the dust under the carpet”.

“I do not want to create a movement to win more power, I want only to express my other ideas, I am asking for a chance to talk about it,” Fini said.

“I don’t want to engage in controversy, I am not looking for power, but there is a risk that we are passing from democratic centralism to charismatic centralism,” he said.

Last October, Fini disagreed with Berlusconi’s criticism of the judiciary.

A month later he was recorded accusing the prime minister of confusing leadership with “absolute monarchy” in comments picked up by a microphone at a conference.

After regional elections three weeks ago, Fini accused Berlusconi of letting his Northern League ally dictate government policy.

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

Netherlands: Court Clears Holocaust Cartoon Publication

Judges in Utrecht have found the Dutch arm of the European Arab League not guilty of offending Jews for publishing a cartoon which suggested they invented the Holocaust.

The league first published the cartoon on its website in response to the Danish cartoons poking fun at Mohammed four years ago and then again last year. The organisation said the aim was not to insult anyone but to highlight double standards in society.

The court said that while the cartoon is tasteless and upsetting, the right to freedom of expression is more important, Nos tv reported.

The public prosecution department had called for a €1,000 fine.

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

North Africa

Story of a Kamikaze in the Casablanca Attacks

(ANSAmed) — PARIS — “Les etoiles de Sidi Moumen”, the latest book by Moroccan writer, painter and sculptor Mahi Binebine, tells the story of the journey of one of the young kamikazes who took part in the Casablanca suicide attacks on May 16 2003, and the social, religious and human malaise of the Moroccan shantytowns. Released in January by Flammarion, in addition to receiving positive reviews — it was recommended by 2008 Nobel prize-winner for literature J.M.G. Le Clezio — it will be turned into a film, directed by Moroccan, Nabil Ayouch. The adaptation of the book is one of the 15 projects chosen for their artistic quality by the Cannes Film Festival’s Cinefondation. The projects will be presented at the next edition of the event in May to seek financing. The full-length film will cost three million euros and should be filmed in November in Casablanca and Fes. At the beginning of the book, one would expect a Moroccan version of ‘City of joy’, but the shantytown-dwelling youngsters of Sidi Mounem get involved with an emir who offers Yachine and his gang of shoeless rascals who dream of becoming the best footballers of all time, “the keys to paradise”, which will open the door to hell for them. Binebine imagines what goes through the head of a youngster from a family of 13 brothers, who grew up in the dumps of one of the worst slums only 15 minutes from the economic capital of the country, clogged with over 100,000 people. “In Sidi Mounem, I discovered a Morocco that I did not know, which shocked me, a sort of Calcutta,” said the writer, who took five years “of pain and difficult writing to put an urban nightmare into black and white”. A childhood made up of robberies, bloody dealings, hashish, but also love for one’s mother, laughter, football, and then the descent into the underworld towards a misguided Islam synonymous of terror. A novel, not a political book, which speaks to the powers that be with a simple message, explained the author: take care of these youngsters, educate them, give them jobs, give them back their dignity. We are sitting on a powder keg, tomorrow there could be another tragedy. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

Extremist Settlers, Obama Effigy to Burn in Bonfires

(ANSAmed) — TEL AVIV, APRIL 23 — While Barack Obama’s special envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell is involved in another attempt to relaunch peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, a group of extremist settlers announced that effigies of the U.S. president will be burned in the bonfires traditionally lit by Jewish children for the Lag bàOmer holiday. “Obama has proven to be most anti-Semitic U.S. president ever,” said a spokesperson for a political group close to dissolved anti-Arab movement Kach. La bàOmer celebrates the Jewish revolt of 132 AD against the Roman Empire led by Bar Cochba. In remembrance of the event, children will organise bonfires next week in all of Israel. Dolls representing enemies of Israel like Adolf Hitler, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser and in recent years PLO leader Yasser Arafat and Lebanese Shiite leader Hassan Nasrallah have been traditionally thrown into the fires. Now, according to the extremist settlers, it is “Hussein Obamàs” turn. Hundreds of dolls that will be distributed to those who request them on Facebook have been produced for the occasion. The extremists have printed a poster (which will also be burned) depicting the U.S. president with the words: “Watch out! A PLO agent in the White House”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Gaza: Hamas to Reject ‘Spies’ Thrown Out of Israel

(ANSAmed) — GAZA, APRIL 23 — The de facto Hamas government in the Gaza Strip will not accept the entrance into the enclave of any Palestinians from the West Bank or Arab Israeli areas who have been deported by Israeli authorities based on new (and contested) military orders concerning so-called ‘spies’. ‘Premier’ Ismail Hanyeh made this statement today at Friday prayer services. Hanyeh explained that this will be a way for Hamas to prevent the execution of the these directives, which according to the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) and various Israeli human rights organisations, aim to make the deportation of Palestinians residing in Israel and the West Bank who are in possession of documents that are not (or not anymore) considered valid by Israeli government easier and potentially indiscriminate. Hanyeh’s statement comes two days after the first case of the alleged application of the new regulations against a former Palestinian detainee (whose family lives in Tulkarem, in the West Bank), who was transferred against his will to Gaza after being released from an Israeli prison. A controversy ensued yesterday due to an attempt to transfer another person to the Gaza Strip. This man was residing in Jaffa, Israel due to a marriage and the attempt to deport him was cancelled only after the man was refused entry by Hamas and due to the work of several humanitarian organisations. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Missiles Fired at Israel ‘Miss Target’

Eliat, 22 April (AKI) — Two rockets fired at the southern Israeli city of Eilat landed on the Jordanian side of the border on Thursday. Jordanian authorities confirmed the rockets landed in the port city of Aqaba.

No casualties were reported in the incident, which was being investigated by Israel’s Defense Forces, according to reports.

Israeli daily, The Jerusalem Post quoted Jordanian officials saying the rockets were fired from Jordan, while other reports said they came from Egypt’s Sinai Penninsula.

According to an initial inquiry, one of the rockets landed in an industrial zone of the Red Sea port and damaged a factory, the daily said.

Israeli military officials said the incident was under investigation and that there was no evidence to suggest either of the rockets hit Israeli territory.

Jordanian minister of state for information Nabil al-Shareef told the state news agency Petr: “A limited explosion took place in the early hours of the morning at a refrigeration warehouse at the northern edge of the city that caused minor damage.”

In 2005, a rocket fired from Jordan landed next to Eilat airport and two others missed a US Navy vessel docked at the nearby Jordanian port of Aqaba.

Earlier this month, Israel told its nationals holidaying in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula, across the border from Eilat, to leave at once, saying militants planned to kidnap Israelis.

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

Mystery Over Netanyahu Plan for Temporary Palestinian State

(ANSAmed) — JERUSALEM, APRIL 23 — According to daily newspaper Haaretz, Israeli Premier Benyamin Netanyahu is amenable to an interim agreement in the West Bank that would include the establishment of a Palestinian state within temporary borders and on the postponement of a subsequent phase of negotiations on the status of East Jerusalem. But his office has today denied the authenticity of the information via military radio. In a television interview yesterday, Netanyahu repeated that there would be no freeze to Jewish settlement building in Jerusalem East, something he was asked to do last month by US President Barack Obama. “If Israel withdrew from East Jerusalem,” he said, “Iran could come in,” in the same way as happened in southern Lebanon and in Gaza after Israel’s military withdrawals. But according to Haaretz, Netanyahu has developed new proposals with the intention of facilitating the mediation of the US. These include the establishment of a Palestinian state within temporary borders (in the West Bank) and a postponement of a subsequent phase of negotiations on the status of East Jerusalem, “together with the Israeli commitment” reports the newspaper, “to abstain from any provocation”; the definition of the points of dissent between Netanyahu and Obama; a hardening of US positions towards Syria and Iran. The Premier’s office has said that the information is “not correct”. His collaborators however added that Netanyahu “is effectively working on the development of various formulas” to relaunch the negotiations, without providing further details. Meanwhile George Mitchell, Obama’s envoy to the Middle East, will today go back and forth between Jerusalem and Ramallah in an attempt to relaunch the indirect talks between Israel and the PNA in the near future. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Middle East

Iraqi Priest Attacked by Peshmerga

The villagers near Mosul demand a public apology. An “isolated, but very serious” episode. The Kurdish military commander of the group promises that the guilty will be judged in court.

Baghdad (AsiaNews) — The Christians of Telleskuf are demanding an apology from the Democratic Party of Kurdistan, northern Iraq, after a bodyguard of Peshmerga attacked a priest last week. On April 16, the community of the town — not far from Mosul and the neighbouring semi-autonomous province of Kurdistan — held a protest calling for a public apology (see photo) from the Kurdish government, which depends on the peshmerga,: Local sources told AsiaNews — “A priest is considered a real authority and any offense against him is against the Church itself. “

The episode dates back to April 15 — according to online agency — when Father Thomas Faris Yacoub, on his journey home, passed near the headquarters of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (the formation of Kurdish President Massoud Barzani, ed). “At that moment I saw a guard throw a plastic cup full of water into the next room — says the priest — I asked him why he did it, seeing the place had just been cleared to reopen at the weekend” .

The response was swift and came from a fellow soldier, who began to insult and slap Fr. Faris, until the other peshmerga intervened to stop him. After the attack, one of the officers on duty made the priest enter the barracks to calm him down and apologize. Two hours later — Fr. Faris himself tells — The commander of peshmerga in person, with a small delegation, went to his house to make an apology and ensure that the guilty soldier would be tried by a special court.

The soldier attacked the priest despite being fully aware of who he had in front of him, because the priest was wearing his clerics. The fact has provoked a public outcry among the inhabitants of Telleskuf, but the situation has not degenerated thanks to the immediate apology from the top commanders of the Peshmerga.

With the peaceful demonstration last Friday, but the Christian community has sought to stress its indignation and concern for an act considered “isolated, but very serious.”

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

Nearly 100 Suspects in Child Abuse Case in Southeast Turkey

A scandal has been revealed in the eastern province of Siirt, where two students filed a complaint against nearly 100 men, including elders and classmates, for rape and abuse transpiring over nearly two years.

The Siirt governor announced Wednesday that two civil servants had been suspended in relation to the case.

The scandal came to light when student H.T., 14, and her four friends talked to a guidance counselor and complained that the vice headmaster, Fahrettin Kuzu, was sexually harassing them and forcing them to have sexual intercourse. The guidance counselor consulted another vice headmaster, and in the end, both decided that the incident should be taken to the authorities. Fahrettin Kuzu reportedly fled upon learning about the complaint, according to testimony by H.T.’s uncle Mehmet T.

After the incident was reported to officials on April 10, around 100 suspects were interrogated. Some 16 were arrested and 25 were taken into custody. The men, whose ages range from 14 to 70, include the vice headmaster, a soldier, a policemen, classmates, local business owners and elderly men who have performed religious pilgrimages and come from well-known families in Siirt.

During the course of the investigation, the number of the victims has risen to seven. In addition to H.T., her sister S.T., 16, and another pair of sisters are among the victims. They all go to the same school. The two girls taken under protection by the Social Services and Child Protection Agency first gave three names. However, when they finally felt secure under the guidance of psychiatrists, they added 25 additional names to the list. Together with the testimony of the other girls, the number of the suspects has risen to around 100. The general belief is that, although the girls know the names of the soldier and police officer, they are too scared to give them away.

Ten days have passed since the scandal broke, but there has been no news from the city concerning the process of the case because the prosecutor’s office and the police department were not releasing any information, categorizing the investigation as classified.

The people of Siirt were afraid that their identities would be revealed after they gave out the names of the abusers and did not want to contribute to giving their city a bad name, as many men of the village were in solidarity over this. Moreover, many in the school knew about the situation and some of the students openly mocked the sisters by singing songs with sexual innuendos.

Hürriyet reporter Gülen Aydin, upon her return to Istanbul, was requested by an officer at the Siirt police department to testify in a lawsuit filed against her by Master Sheikh, who she allegedly photographed without his permission and is purportedly one of the suspects. The next day the police officers called her again twice and repeated their demand, which caused Aydin to doubt whether some well-known locals were involved in the crime.

Two sisters sharing the same fate

H.T and her sister S.T. come from a very poor family, as their father, Mithat T., is a porter in the market. They have five siblings with the youngest being 8 months old. Their oldest brother was lost 10 years ago and never found. Upon his daughters’ legal complaint, the father could not afford an attorney, but Deniz Dogan was assigned to the case by the state. He also represents the other sisters.

The elder sister S.T. was reported to have been raped in the fifth grade, but fear has kept her from telling her story. As the news spread among the locals, the number of the abusers increased. The abusers claimed to have offered her money, candies or biscuits, amounting to no more than 3 to 5 Turkish Liras. S.T. had to drop out of school in 2009.

As H.T. grew up, the locals began to see her as they did her sister and imposed their demands on her as well. The vice headmaster was claimed to have even threatened her, as a result of which she complained about him to the guidance counselor.

Expert psychiatrist relates

Dr. Can Ger, an expert at the Mental and Neurological Disorders Education and Research Hospital in Bakirköy said sexual crimes have been gradually increasing over the last year, Hürriyet reported citing Anatolian news agency.

Speaking at a symposium in Antalya, Ger said there have been 22,936 victims in almost 18,000 cases concluded by 2006. “Given the fact that not all the sexual assaults come to light, the figures are enough to point out the extent that society suffers from this. We used to receive a sexual abuse case once in 15 days, now we have at least one incident per day,” he said.

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

Premier Rifai: Rocket Not Fired From Jordan

(ANSAmed) — AMMAN, APRIL 22 — Jordan says that it is “certain” that the rocket that hit a warehouse in Aqaba this morning, which resulted in an explosion, was not fired from its territory, said Jordanian Prime Minister Samir Rifai. “We are 100 per cent certain,” said Rifai, “that it was not fired from Jordanian territory, but from a site outside of our borders.” The premier then added that it was a ‘Grad’ type rocket that was fired, and an investigation is underway to understand which country it was fired from. This morning, witnesses spoke of two rockets launched towards the Israeli Port of Eilat, which both fell on Jordanian territory. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Stakelbeck on “Kiddy Jihad”: Child Suicide Bombers

My new report examines the growing phenomenon of child suicide bombers in the Islamic world.

From the West Bank to Pakistan to Iraq, terror groups are using children to carry out their deadly plans. And the West may not be far behind.

My report features Brooke Goldstein of the Children’s Rights Institute, whose award-winning film, The Making of A Martyr, broke new ground on this topic.

You can watch the story at the link above.

I’ll also be guest hosting for Frank Gaffney today on his excellent Secure Freedom Radio program. SFR is a nationally syndicated program focusing on national security issues.. Tune in from 3:30 to 4:30 pm on WTNT 570 AM in Washington, DC

[Return to headlines]

South Asia

Bangladesh: Dhaka, Police Arrest the Leader of an Outlawed Islamic Movement

Mahiuddin Ahmed, head teacher and coordinator of Hizb ut-Tahrir, is being held in detention under anti-terrorism rules. He was involved in a bomb attack and subversive activities. The group is present in 40 countries and aims at the creation of a caliphate.

Dhaka (AsiaNews) — Security forces in Dhaka arrested Mahiuddin Ahmed, head teacher and coordinator of the Islamist movement Hizb ut-Tahrir, outlawed in Bangladesh. The detention took place on April 20 last, while the man was inside his home in Green Road. He is accused of involvement in a bomb attack and subversive activities.

Nisarul Arif, deputy police commissioner, confirmed the arrest of Mahiuddin, associate professor at the Institute of Business Administration University of Dhaka, in connection with a bomb attack that occurred in the capital and subversive activities. Security forces have asked for a detention order of seven days to complete investigations. The court has arranged three by applying the domestic law on counter terrorism.

Mahiuddin Ahmed (pictured), leader of Hizb ut-Tahrir, was in theory under house arrest since October 22 last year, when the government outlawed the Islamic movement in the country. According to investigators, Mahiuddin and his group advocated the fighting of extremist group Jamaat-Shiba and other Islamic organizations banned in Bangladesh and abroad.

Interior Minister, Sahara Khatun, confirmed that the outlawed group led by Ahmed Mahiuddin conducted long series of activities “against the state, anti-government, against the people and democracy in the country.”

Hizb ut-Tahrir, an international pro-Islamic political movement, aims to unite all Muslim states into a single block, or caliphate, in which Shariah — Islamic law — is applied led by a caliph, a leader of the State elected by all Muslims.

Founded in 1953 in Jerusalem by Taqiuddin al-Nabhan, Hizb ut-Tahrir is present in over 40 countries and boasts a million members. It is very active especially in western countries, particularly Britain, some Arab countries and Central Asia, despite being outlawed by most governments

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

Indonesia: “The Indonesians Are Stupid” Urban Warfare Explodes in Sumatra

An Indian leader criticizes and insults Indonesians. Protests erupt with thousands attacking buildings and structures of the firm on the island of Batam. Thousands flee the island, to avoid involvement.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) — Violent protests have exploded Batam Island (Riau province, Sumatra) and caused an unknown number of dead and wounded. Now thousands are fleeing the island, sheltering in neighboring Singapore (about 20 minutes by boat) or other islands of Indonesia.

Many thousands of workers attacked and destroyed the buildings of the shipping company Drydock World Graha in the harbor, burning at least 27 cars, damaging and setting fire to buildings and facilities of the company.

The protests erupted in the town of Tanjung Uban early morning, when an Indian official used cruel and insulting words to reprimand his subordinates in Indonesia, with expressions like “Indonesians are stupid.” More than 8 thousand Indonesian port workers rallied immediately to protest against these insults, singing patriotic songs such as “Great Indonesia”. Protesters have began to burn and damage all in their path, under the eyes of police and naval forces who preferred not to intervene to avoid triggering a real guerrilla war.

Over 400 policemen and soldiers urgently evacuated 41 Indian nationals employees of the company, forcing them to leave Batam.

The Indonesia includes populations of very different culture, language and religion and a discussion can easily become a religious or cultural conflict. Recently in Poso (Central Sulawesi) and Ambon (Moluccas) severe sectarian violence exploded between Muslims and Christians, which caused thousands of deaths and damage to thousands of buildings.

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

Far East

For South Korea, A Torpedo From the North Sank the Ship

A source tells AsiaNews, “North Korea has a team of kamikaze on manned torpedoes, trained to attack South Korean warships. However, the United States hopes that the North can be brought back to the nuclear disarmament table. For this reason, no formal charges will be made.”

Seoul (AsiaNews) — South Korea’s military believes a torpedo fired from a North Korean submarine sank its navy ship last month. Alternatively, a suicide commando on a manned torpedo could have carried out the operation that sank ROKS Cheonan, a South Korean Navy corvette, on 26 March in the waters of the Yellow Sea, killing 46 sailors on board, this according to South Korean military sources.

“North Korean submarines are all armed with heavy torpedoes with 200kg warheads,” the military source said in a report to the government. “It is the military intelligence’s assessment that the North attacked with a heavy torpedo.”

The report is based on intelligence gathered jointly by South Korea and the United States

The cause of the incident has never officially determined. Initially, a torpedo launched by North Korea was blamed. The area where the warship was sunk has seen clashes in the past between the navies of the two Korean states. Another explanation is that the explosion might have been caused by a North Korean mine, possibly from the Korean War, or, alternatively, an internal blast causing a structural collapse in the ship.

After the stern was raised, experts said that the cause of the disaster was an external explosion, thus reviving eaerly reports about an attack from North Korea. However, North Korea has rejected any blame.

On Monday, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak told the nation in a tearful speech on television that he would find the “cause of the Cheonan’s sinking in full and in detail”. He did not however mentioned North Korea.

The incident comes at a time of heightened tensions between the two Koreas. The six-nation talks on North Korean disarmament have been stalled since 2008, whilst intra-Korean negotiations are going nowhere, especially since South Korea and the United States conducted joint military exercises. Statements by top US and South Korean officials about emergency scenarios for South Korea, the United States and China in case of a collapse of North Korea’s Communist regime have not helped either.

Probably this fear, a Korean source told AsiaNews, is the real reason “that will stop any real inquiry into the sinking. Washington is still hoping to bring Pyongyang back to the negotiating table, and an open accusation by Seoul would bury that hope forever.”

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

Vietnam: Da Nang: Forbidden to Bury the Dead. The Cemetery Will Become an Exclusive Neighbourhood

The project also provides for the expropriation of farmland and houses in the village of Con Dau. They, along with the parish church are the common property of the peasants. Threats to raze the church With bulldozers.

Da Nang (AsiaNews / EDA) — Municipal authorities of Da Nang have stopped the burial of the dead at the cemetery Con Dau to “free” space and turn it into land for construction. The project provides for the recovery of the cemetery and other farmland around the village of 2 thousand inhabitants, to build a “green”, luxury residential area, built thanks to foreign investment.

The parish cemetery has an area of 10 hectares and is located about one kilometre from the church. It has been functional for 135 years and previously was listed among the protected historical sites by the Hanoi government. There was some hint on March 10 last, when some security agents entered the cemetery and set a sign saying: “Absolute prohibition of burying the dead in this place.” At the protests of the faithful present, the chief of police blew up the contents of a tear gas cartridge in the face of one of the unfortunate victims, who is now unconscious.

The villagers flocked to the cemetery and have forced police to call an ambulance and pay for the care of the wounded man, who to date is still in hospital.

A week before a member of the Patriotic Front and two Religious Affairs Bureau officials visited the parish priest to tell him to warn the faithful that burials in the cemetery are now prohibited. The priest refused, explaining that the cemetery and church belong to the whole village and that there are ownership documents to prove it.

The faithful remain opposed to the project that wants to destroy their homes, land and the resting place of their ancestors. The government is pressing on however, threatening that by May they will send bulldozers to raze the parish.

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


Is Hitler is to Blame for Islamic Extremism? Fuhrer’s Call to Arab World to Destroy Jews ‘Inspired Fanaticism’, Says Book

The roots of Islamic extremism lie in Adolf Hitler’s call to the Arab world to destroy Jews during World War Two, a new book has argued.

‘Your only hope for rescue is the destruction of the Jews, before they destroy you!’ the Nazi leader declared in a 1942 radio broadcast.

It was one of 6,000 broadcasts the Nazis directed at the Arabs as their death camps were killing Jews by the hundreds of thousands in Europe.

‘Nazi Propaganda for the Arab World,’ by American scholar Jeffrey Herf, shows how Hitler and his aides relied on radio broadcasts to sew propaganda because most of the Arab world was illiterate at the time.

And although radio ownership was small it was commonplace for cafe’s and bazaars to draw large crowds to listen to broadcasts.

Professor Herf, who teaches history at the University of Maryland, says the roots of modern-day Islamic fanaticism can be traced back to these hate messages broadcast from Berlin.

One of Hitler’s main goals was to provoke an anti-Semitic uprising in Egypt. In one broadcast he said, ‘A large number of Jews who live in Egypt, along with Poles, Greeks, Armenians and Frenchmen have guns and ammunition.

‘Some Jews in Cairo have even asked the British authorities to set up machine guns on the roofs of their houses.’

The broadcasts were translated into Arabic by specialists employed by propaganda minister Josef Goebbels.

Die Welt in Germany called Professor Herf’s discovery of the 6,000 transmissions from 1939 until 1945 ‘nothing less than a sensation’.

Professor Herf said, ‘This propaganda campaign comprised an important chapter in the history of the war. The Arab language propaganda produced in wartime Berlin was a significant chapter in the longer history of radical Arab nationalism and militant Islam.’

The verbatim transcripts of the broadcasts were made by the American embassy in Cairo in wartime and classified until 1977 in Washington.

Two years ago Professor Herf became the first scholar to get access to them.

He added, ‘Islamic fundamentalism, like European totalitarianism in the 20th century, was and is a mixture of very old and very modern elements.

‘It is also a product of a mixture of some indigenous currents in the history of Islam with the hatred of democracy, liberalism and the Jews that were so central to National Socialism.

‘The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians would have been over long ago were it not for the uncompromising, religiously inspired hatred of the Jews that were articulated and given assistance by Nazi propagandists and continued after the war by Islamists of various sorts.’

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]