Friday, January 10, 2003

News Feed 20100425

Financial Crisis
»France, Germany Push for Tough Line on Greece
»Germany Could Refuse Aid to Greece
»Moral Hazard Ahead: Beware
»Blacks, Media and the Tea Parties
»US Counsel Sought on Getty Bronze
Europe and the EU
»Belgium: Bishop Resigns After Admitting to Sex Abuse
»Berliners Fear ‘Little Baghdad’
»Catholic Nuns Also Abused Children
»France — From Paris to Brussels, Move to Ban the Burqa
»France: Sarkozy Promises ‘War Without Mercy’ For Paris Suburbs
»French Muslims Feel Stigmatised in Veil Row
»Germany: Bishop Resigns Amid Claims of Violence and Financial Irregularities
»Germany: Catholics Ready for Church Exodus, Poll Finds
»Germany: Revolt of the Sun Kings
»Hungary: Centre-Right Set to Win Majority in Legislative Second Round
»Italy: ‘Adopt an Italian Child’ Campaign
»Italy: Morocco: Tanger Free Zone Grows, Chance for Companies
»Language Spat Splits Belgian Government
»Montenegro: EU: Moratinos Ensures Spain’s Support
»Spain: School Ban on Headscarf, Appeal to Constitutional Court
»Spain: Francoism; Falange Excluded From Garzon Trial
»Sweden: Liberal Leader Meets Embattled Malmö Jews
»Swedish Catholic Church Hid Sex Abuse Claims
»The Ash Cloud That Never Was: How Volcanic Plume Over UK Was Only a Twentieth of Safe-Flying Limit and Blunders Led to Ban
»UK: Nationalist Demonstrators Gather in Pub
»Vatican: Church Rejects Sex Abuse Victim’s Lawsuit
»Veil — Spain’s Bishops Find Symbols Belong to Freedom
»Serbia-Croatia: Defence Agreement Harmonized
»Spain Interested in Investing in Serbia
North Africa
»‘Rogers’: First Work of Egyptian Blogger Ahmed Nagi
»Tunisia: Sanctions for Fisheries Violations Strengthened
»Tunisia: Tribute to Italian Victims Battle of Takrouna
Israel and the Palestinians
»Israel Learning From France on Burqa, Draft Law Soon
»Poll: Obama Gets Thumbs Down on Israel
Middle East
»Beijing Trying to “Water Down” Sanctions Against Tehran
»Cars: Lebanon to Reduce Duties on Hybrid Models
»India — Islamic Veil: Urgent Need to Interpret the Koran to Restore Dignity to Women
»Iran Strikes Secret Nuclear Mining Deal With Zimbabwe’s Mugabe Regime
»Iranian Nuclear Scientist Seeks Asylum in Israel
»Saudis, Worried by Iran, Inch Toward Nuclear Power
»Syria: Ebla Gas Plant Opened
»The Hypocrisy of Child Abuse in Many Muslim Countries
»Turkish Man Acquitted for Giving Daughter Name ‘Kürdistan’
»Under-Fire Ukraine President Defends Russia Deal
Far East
»Chinese Military Seeks to Extend Its Naval Power
»Immigration ‘At Limit’ Says UKIP
»Italy: Migrant ‘Language Test’ Draws Angry Response
»UK Home to 1m Illegal Immigrants
»Red LEDs Improve Nutritional Value of Leafy Green Vegetables

Financial Crisis

France, Germany Push for Tough Line on Greece

France and Germany said on Sunday that the Eurozone should take a tough line on Greece in exchange for financial aid, with French Economy Minister Christine Lagarde (pictured) saying Athens must be held accountable for “unsuitable economic policies”.

REUTERS — European heavyweights Germany and France vowed on Sunday to take a hard line with Greece in exchange for financial support as doubts emerged over whether a 45 billion euro aid package was sufficient to prevent a default.

Greece bowed to intense pressure from financial markets on Friday, requesting funds from the European Union and International Monetary Fund (IMF) in what would be the first bailout of a member of the 11-year-old single currency bloc.

The debt-saddled country has announced billions of euros in austerity measures, including tax hikes and public sector wage cuts, but must now agree additional steps to satisfy the EU and IMF, and ensure the aid flows.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble warned Greece that a tough restructuring of its economy was “unavoidable and an absolute prerequisite” if Berlin and the EU were to approve the aid Greece has requested.

“The fact that neither the EU nor the German government have taken a decision (on providing aid) means the response can be positive as well as negative,” Schaeuble told the Sunday edition of German daily Bild.

“This depends entirely on whether Greece continues in the coming years with the strict savings course it has launched. I have made this clear to the Greek finance minister.”

Schaeuble’s French counterpart Christine Lagarde promised to hold Greece accountable for “unsuitable economic policies” that pushed its 2009 budget deficit to 13.6 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) and its debt to 115 percent of economic output.

She described the aid package as a “cocktail of indulgence and great strictness”, telling the Journal du Dimanche weekly that Greece’s partners would closely monitor its progress in restoring order to its creaking finances.

“We will (release the aid) according to their needs and in the case of default on repayment, we will immediately put the foot on the brake,” Lagarde said.

Germany and France are due to provide about half of the 30 billion euros in aid the EU has tentatively pledged for Greece. The IMF is expected to put up the remaining 15 billion.

Doubts on aid package

Only days after Greece requested the aid, however, doubts were emerging over whether the package was large enough to calm market fears of a debt default.

Those fears have pushed the yield on Greek 10-year bonds above 8.7 percent, a whopping 567 basis points over the rates on benchmark German Bunds.

This has made it prohibitively expensive for Athens to service its mountain of debt. Greece’s formal request for aid on Friday did little to ease market pressures.

Speaking to reporters in Washington at the weekend, Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty acknowledged that some European and G20 countries believed the aid was inadequate.

“There is concern about making sure that the package is enough so that it’s a one-time event,” he said.

There are also worries about public opposition to further austerity steps in Greece. Greek riot police fired teargas at protesters who held an impromptu march through central Athens on Friday to protest austerity.

A poll released on Saturday showed that roughly two-thirds of Greeks believe Prime Minister George Papandreou’s socialist government was either too slow to react or handled the economy poorly as the country’s fiscal crisis deepened.

Centre-left newspaper Eleftherotypia said the “spectre of Hungary” was haunting Papandreou’s government. Voters in Hungary booted out the socialist government this month after it tried to push through painful IMF-ordered budget cuts.

Kathimerini, a centre-right newspaper, said Greece was entering a tough and unpredictable period.

“It may turn out for the better, or it may turn us into what the Anglo-Saxons call ‘a failed state’,” it said in an editorial.

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

Germany Could Refuse Aid to Greece

Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble said in an interview published on Sunday that Germany could refuse Greece’s plea for emergency loans to rescue it from a mountain of debt.

“The fact that neither the European Union nor the German government has taken a decision means: it could be positive or negative,” he told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper.

“It depends alone on whether Greece in the coming years continues along the saving course on which it has embarked. The Greek finance minister said that as well.”

Greece appealed Friday for tens of billions of euros in unprecedented help from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund to grapple with its dire debt crisis.

The EU said it did not see any “obstacles” and would rapidly respond to the request to activate a three-year debt rescue worth up to about €45 billion in the first year at concessionary interest rates of about five percent.

But German Chancellor Angela Merkel drew a line in the sand Friday, saying that aid to Greece was not automatic and depended on a demonstrable threat to eurozone stability and Athens producing a credible austerity plan.

Germany, the biggest economic power in the 16-nation eurozone, would likely be asked to contribute around €8.4 billion to any rescue package, in the form of a loan by the KfW public bank guaranteed by the federal government. Any aid would also require the approval of parliament.

But the issue was already driving a fresh wedge through Merkel’s fractious centre-right coalition, with the pro-business Free Democrats sceptical about any Greek bailout amid strong public opposition to aid for Athens.

The Christian Social Union, the Bavarian sister party to Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic Union, went further, calling for Greece to consider leaving the eurozone entirely.

And a group of eurosceptic academics have pledged to challenge any German state aid for Greece before the Federal Constitutional Court, the Welt am Sonntag newspaper reported.

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

Moral Hazard Ahead: Beware

Obama again wants to give the fox (known more commonly as the Federal Reserve System) more power to oversee the existing hen house (regulations).

Under the proposed regulations, the Federal Reserve gains the authority to supervise all firms that could pose threat to financial stability — not just limited to financial institutions. The automotive industry, the airline industry, any major industry can pose a threat to financial stability. The Fed gains expanded authority to oversee payment, clearing and settlement systems and over-the-counter derivative transactions will be regulated in a more transparent way. We all know how much more transparent government has become under Obama. The Federal Reserve System will now have authority over market infrastructure, in other words. And, the Fed’s emergency lending authority will be revised upward for better accountability.

Better accountability? Please! The Federal Reserve System is a private corporation that acts as an unneeded middleman between the people’s money and our Treasury. Owned by banks and bankers (with many foreign investors) who profit from bank losses, the Fed is totally unnecessary. It does nothing the Treasury could not do. Talk about a conflict of interest waiting to happen!

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Blacks, Media and the Tea Parties

I am exhausted. I returned home after performing at tea parties in 42 cities from Searchlight, NV to Washington DC in 19 days while on Tea Party Express III tour. I’m black conservative singer/songwriter, entertainer, author and spokesperson Lloyd Marcus.

I wish to share with you how the liberal mainstream media has dealt with my participation on the Tea Party Express III tour.

Liberal mainstream media all but call me an Uncle Tom. Their reports imply that I am a token black too stupid to realize I am being used by the tea party movement. In typical liberal mainstream media arrogance, they are totally blind to the blatant racism of their reporting.

Because I do not fit the liberal mainstream media’s “all blacks must vote Democrat and believe America is racist and unjust” template, I must be an idiot. As a matter of fact, because I am a black man who loves his country and proclaims America is the greatest land of opportunity on the planet for all who choose to go for it, much of liberal media considers me dangerous and even wishes me harm.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

US Counsel Sought on Getty Bronze

‘Major US legal studio’ wanted in Greek statue case

(ANSA) — Ancona, April 23 — The government of the Marche region is set to retain US legal counsel to back its bid to recover a priceless Ancient Greek statue from the Getty Museum in Los Angeles.

Cultural authorities in the Adriatic region said they were “all the more determined” to get the so-called ‘Getty Bronze’ back after a local judge on Wednesday rejected an appeal from the US museum against a February confiscation order by another judge.

Marche Culture Councillor Pietro Marcolini “is personally taking steps to flank regional lawyers with a major US legal studio,” a statement from the Marche government said.

This would provide the knowledge of US law needed in the case, it said.

Despite Wednesday’s blow for the Getty in the long-running dispute, the LA institute still has an appeal pending before Italy’s highest appeals court, the Court of Cassation.

The 4th-century BC ‘Statue of a Victorious Youth’ is believed to be the handiwork of Lysippos, perhaps the most acclaimed of ancient Greek sculptors, who grew to fame under the patronage of Alexander the Great.

It was fished out of the sea off the Marche town of Fano 46 years ago. Italian and US experts have voiced doubts that Italian art police will be empowered to get the statue back.

Legal experts say the Cassation Court may find in the Getty’s favour while art experts point to accords between the US institute and the Italian culture ministry which have spawned a series of loans and projects.

Immediately after February’s confiscation order, Italian Culture Minister Sandro Bondi instructed a top heritage official, Sandro Resca, to “follow the case with particular attention” in the light of a 2008 accord whereby the Getty returned contested works in exchange for boosted collaboration on digs and restoration of antiquities.

The statue was not part of the deal, which returned art treasures including a famous 5th-century BC statue of Aphrodite.

In February a judge in Pesaro ruled the statue had become state property the moment it came up out of the Adriatic in 1964 and could not have been sold afterwards without breaking Italian laws on antiquities.

The Getty Museum has consistently fought past Italian attempts to recover the statue.

Italian culture officials claim the art dealers who sold it to the Getty smuggled the statue out of the country.


The statue has been contested ever since the Getty bought it for some four million dollars in 1977 — almost 800 times the $5,600 the fishermen sold it to Italian dealers for in 1964.

It remains unclear how the piece came into the museum’s collection, where it re-emerged after disappearing for some 13 years and, according to one expert, changing hands across the Atlantic at least twice.

American industrialist J. Paul Getty, whose collection laid the groundwork for the LA museum, was reportedly hesitant about the purchase, which went ahead after he died in 1974.

The 2008 exchange deal with the Getty was the third between Italy and major US institutions.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts also agreed to return key parts of their classical collections in return for loans of equivalent value.

Princeton University has since inked a similar deal for the return of eight Etruscan and Greek artefacts.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Belgium: Bishop Resigns After Admitting to Sex Abuse

Vatican City, 23 April (AKI) — A Belgian bishop has resigned after admitting he sexually abused a child earlier in his career. Bishop Roger Vangheluwe of Bruges said he “profoundly” regretted his acts and said he had stepped down because his position was “no longer tenable”.

“When I was still a priest, and for a certain period at the beginning of my episcopate, I sexually abused a minor,” the 73-year-old bishop said in a letter released by the Vatican and read at a media conference in Brussels on Friday.

“The victim is still marked by what happened. I have repeatedly recognised my guilt towards him and his family, and I have asked forgiveness, but this did not pacify him, as it did not pacify me.”

The Vatican said on Friday that Pope Benedict XVI had accepted Vangheluwe’s resignation.

“I profoundly regret what I did and offer my most sincere apologies to the victim, to his family, to all the Catholic community and to society in general,” the bishop said in his letter.

Belgium’s Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard said the Catholic Church recognised the gravity of the problem and was taking action.

“We are facing a particularly serious situation,” Leonard said. “It is vital that, out of respect for the victim and his family, and out of respect for the truth, he should resign from office. This is what he has done.”

“The Church thus underlines the importance of not procrastinating in such cases,” he said. “We hope to contribute to the rehabilitation of the victim.”

It “rigorously” wanted transparency not “silence and concealment”, Leonard stated.

Vangheluwe’s resignation showed the Belgian Catholic Church wanted to “resolutely turn a page on a very painful” topic, he concluded.

The bishop’s resignation was the latest in a series to be offered or accepted by bishops amid a wave of paedophile accusations against clergy in the Catholic Church.

The pope on Thursday accepted the resignation of James Moriarty, the third Irish bishop to stand down over the clerical child abuse scandal that has shaken the overwhelmingly Catholic country.

Germany’s Bishop of Augsburg, Walter Mixa on Thursday tendered his resignation. He has been accused of beating children at a Catholic children’s home in the 1970s and 1980s and has not been accused of sexual abuse.

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

Berliners Fear ‘Little Baghdad’

Neighbors in German Capital in Uproar over Iraqi Building

By Candice Novak

This week in Berlin, the Iraqi ambassador to Germany threw a party celebrating his country’s “new embassy” in the well-heeled Dahlem District. The villa won’t serve as Iraq’s official embassy, but its presence has been enough to prompt two legal complaints from neighbors.

Residents in Berlin’s posh Dahlem district have a new neighbor that many in the area would prefer hadn’t moved in.

The situation reached a climax after the Iraqi officials sent out an invitation to a party on Thursday, with the attendance of distinguished guests including Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, according to a report in the Berliner Zeitung newspaper, to celebrate the “opening of the new Iraqi Embassy.” It prompted two neighbors to file not-in-my-backyard legal complaints with a court in the city, in turn inspiring the newspaper to run its story under the headline “Fears of Little Baghdad.”

Officially, the building isn’t the new Iraqi Embassy — the structure dedicated for that purpose is located some 4 kilometers away. But Iraqi officials have long been dissatisfied with the existing embassy, which the ambassador has described as “old and rotten” and unfit for guests. And neighbors fear it will become the equivalent of an embassy, anyway.

‘Bullets Won’t Be Stopped By a Garden Fence’

Indeed, some in Dahlem are clearly uncomfortable with the presence of a diplomatic outpost of such a politically sensitive country. Both Oman and Morocco both have embassies in the area, but they have long been accepted as a part of the neighborhood. With Iraq still highly vulnerable, residents fear the presence of senior diplomats from the country could make their neighborhood more open to an attack and drive down real estate prices.

“If there are shots fired, the bullets won’t be stopped by a garden fence,” a 49-year-old banker who lives near the villa told the newspaper. The banker said he had commissioned a study into the presence of the Iraqi diplomatic facility in the neighborhood which found that real estate prices could drop anywhere between 5 and 35 percent.

After learning of Thursday’s event, the man filed for a temporary injunction in a local administrative court, but it was rejected. City officials said there had also been a second legal complaint.

Many remember a bizarre incident in 2002 in which Iraqi asylum seekers living in Germany took the former Iraqi ambassador to Germany hostage in the official Iraqi embassy. No one was hurt in the incident, but it is not the kind of thing neighbors in the prosperous district are interested in seeing repeated.

Of course, a one-time incident like that is unlikely to generate much sympathy with the courts. In their legal complaints locals adopt a more technical argument — they claim that the Iraqi-owned building which opened this week is located in a residential zone — a position city officials dispute. Mathias Gille, a spokesperson for the Berlin’s Department for Urban Development, told SPIEGEL ONLINE the building is not zoned strictly for residential use. “We say this for two reasons: the house stands on the edge of the residential zone, but not in it, and it hasn’t been used as a residence since 1946,” he said.

‘Ambassadorial Uses’

The local court also threw out Thursday’s complaints partially because Iraqi Ambassador Al-Hashimy promised the building would not be used as an embassy, stating that the building on Riemeisterstrasse will continue to serve as the main Iraqi Embassy. But the Berliner Zeitung claims the official used the word “embassy” when describing the building in a speech to guests on Thursday.

So will the beautiful new estate, purchased by the Iraqi government four months ago, serve as an unofficial embassy?

A government source acquainted with the case said Friday that German authorities had “recently been made aware of the Iraqi Embassy’s intention” to use their new estate for “ambassadorial uses,” which the official said was approved by the city’s Department for Urban Development. But that doesn’t make it an embassy — at least not officially.

The spokesperson for the embassy, Amir Musawy, was vague when he told the Berliner Zeitung that, perhaps the building could be used for other diplomatic purposes — or as a residence for Iraqi ambassadors. He also defended the presence of Iraqi ambassadorial activities in Dahlem, stating that the estate — and its watchmen — would, if anything, make the area safer.

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

Catholic Nuns Also Abused Children

So far, reports of abuse within the Church have focussed almost exclusively on male clerics. But many young children also suffered at the hands of Catholic nuns.

By Joep Dohmen

In the late 1950s, the Roman Catholic Hospital of Our Dear Lady Mother of in Eindhoven was hell for Petra Jorissen. The reason it was had a name: sister Johanetty. “We will break that little will of yours, break it,” she would squeal, as she forced the remains of a meal Jorissen had just thrown up back down her throat.

Jorissen, now a 59-year-old journalist, recalled how the sister would also come to her room at night. “When I heard the squeaking of her lacquered men’s shoes I immediately knew it was her,” Jorissen said. “Only after she had come to my bed would she turn on her flashlight. By then, she had always carefully closed the curtains surrounding it.” The sister would then fondle her genitals.

The nun did not ruin her life, Jorissen said, although she still sees her “devilish face” flash in front of her eyes at least once a day. She is not looking for financial compensation, she said. “But I do hope that there will be an inquiry into the pedagogical practices of female clerics in the 1950s and 60s.”

So far, most media reports of abuse within the Catholic Church have focussed exclusively on male perpetrators. But there has also been abuse by female clerics, particularly in children’s homes.

Sadistically motivated abuse

Since NRC Handelsblad and RNW started publishing testimonies from victims of abuse within the Catholic Church, 29 women have come forward. Ten women reported being abused by male priests, while 19 women said they were the victim of clerics of their own sex. Of all the reports of maltreatment by nuns, some 40 percent concern child abuse.

All the women told how physical love and tenderness were absent from the children’s homes and institutes maintained by sisterly orders. Most homes knew a harsh and repressive climate, which lead to humiliation and wanton violence, sometimes sadistically motivated.

The hospital where Petra Jorissen stayed in the 1950s was run by the Sisters of Love. Jorissen was not the only one to point out this order. The Sisters ran dozens of hospitals, orphanages and hospices in the Catholic parts of the Netherlands.

Merapi Obermayer lived in the Maria Boarding School in Amersfoort. She still remembers the names of the five nuns who tormented her. Feliciana was the worst, she recalled. One time, the nun kicked her down a flight of marble stairs without warning. She called her names, such as “bastard” or “God’s mistake”. The boarding school is closed now, and the nuns are dead, including sister Hendrina, who did try to be nice, said Obermayer.

Screaming, beating, forcefully grabbing children by the arm or making them stand in the corner for even the most minor offences were all common practice in the 1950s and 1960s. Pedagogical principles of the era allowed for physical punishment, in school as well as at home.

The majority of the reports of abuse by nuns, however, concern sexual abuse and violence that exceed even the more lenient norms of the time. A 16-year-old nurse in training, at the Heerlen Midwives’ School, was forced to have sex with a nun repeatedly over a period of eight months. When the school got wind of what was going on, the girl was expelled. “Bye bye education, bye bye future,” the victim, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, recalled. The nun was allowed to stay.

‘Gestapo nuns’

In the 1940s, the Kollenberg orphanage in Sittard was run by German Carmelites. “Gestapo nuns,” is what Ben Jaspers called them, as he described their reign of terror. “Bedwetting was punished by pinching and twisting ears or sometimes pulling children along by their ears. We were constantly humiliated. Bedwetters were forced to stand absolutely still, wearing nothing but their dirty underwear, over their head.” Jaspers said he was afraid to sleep at night, fearing he might wet his bed again.

At a sanatorium run by Franciscans in Bunde, naughty children were put in a tub filled with ice cold water, a punishment applied in other places as well. Josefine Klaassen returned to Bunde recently. “I remember standing there,” she recalled. “Looking up at that church tower. I felt fear, sadness and helplessness come over me. As if it hadn’t been 50 years since, but only 50 days.”

Excessive violence was common in many children’s homes, and child protective services did nothing to stop it. Ben Jaspers described how two screaming German nuns forced a five-year-old to eat cold porridge. They would hold him down and bang on the back of his head. One nun would force open his mouth and pinch his nose. The porridge would go in, and the child would vomit. The nuns would force him to eat his own sick. The scene would repeat itself, accompanied by more tears.

The violence did not have to be excessive to remain etched in a victim’s childhood memory. Late in the 1950s, father Paduinus walked the halls of Huize Bethlehem children’s home wearing comfy slippers. He was a god to the nuns. He smoked cigars, and girls who were busy scrubbing the floor on their knees had to catch any ash he spilled. Girls that didn’t were punished by the mother superior. “As a 14-year-old child, that hurt me,” one girl who refused to catch the priest’s ash recalled. “I think about it often: abuse of power. That is what it was.”

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

France — From Paris to Brussels, Move to Ban the Burqa

Sarkozy wants to ban the full-face veil across France. A draft bill is set to reach the French parliament in mid-May. Belgium will soon vote to ban wearing the burqa and niqab in public. AsiaNews proposes again Father Samir’s thoughts on the matter.

Paris (AsiaNews) — French President Nicolas Sarkozy said that he is favour of banning the burqa from France’s territory. The ban will cover not only public institutions like schools, hospitals and transport, but also public establishments and places like offices, markets, banks, and restaurants.

A draft proposal should be ready for consideration by the French cabinet early May. If it is adopted, it will be submitted to parliament by the middle of the month.

The law would include a total ban on full-face veils or similar articles of clothing. Its supporters expect the new law to survive any constitutional challenges. French Prime Minister François Fillon said that in any event his government is ready to take a risk on the matter. Wearing the burqa would thus be an individual right limited to the private sphere.

The Belgian parliament is currently debating a similar law. If it were passed, it would make Belgium the first European country to ban wearing the burqa and the niqab in public.

Even though the draft bill has been criticised by human rights activists, it was approved by the Home Affairs Committee of the Belgian Chamber of Representatives.

According to the law, violators would be subject to a fine of 15-25 Euros and could be liable to a prison sentence of one to seven days.

AsiaNews has already addressed the burqa issue, thanks to the contribution of Fr Samir Khalil Samir, a Jesuit priest and Islam expert (see his article, “An anti-burqa law to renew Islam in Europe,” in AsiaNews, 8 February 2010).

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

France: Sarkozy Promises ‘War Without Mercy’ For Paris Suburbs

French President Nicolas Sarkozy promised to crack down on violence, drugs and truancy in France’s impoverished suburbs during a visit on Tuesday to Trembray-en-France, the scene of a brutal bus attack last month.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said his government would step up security and take tough measures to tackle drug dealing and truancy during a visit to the crime-plagued district of Seine-Saint-Denis, just north of Paris.

“No city, no neighbourhood, no building in Seine-Saint-Denis will escape the rule of law,” Sarkozy declared to a crowd gathered at the local municipal building.

Sarkozy’s visit came weeks after a crowded bus was attacked in the suburb of Tremblay-en-France in Seine-Saint-Denis and a gang of hooded youths threw Molotov cocktails at the bus. The driver managed to get all the passengers safely off the bus.

But the incident led bus drivers to briefly boycott routes in the troubled suburb.

The bus attack came days after police made a drugs bust in Tremblay-en-France, in which they seized several kilogrammes of cocaine, heroin and cannabis, and almost a million euros in cash.

On Tuesday, Sarkozy visited two bus depots in Seine-Saint-Denis. In an address to bus drivers, Sarkozy stressed that, “the violence in public transport and in schools in Seine-Saint-Denis must end”.

Security measures

The tougher law-and-order measures included the provision of about 600 additional video surveillance cameras and doubling the number of state inspectors to crack down on illegal businesses in the housing projects.

Sarkozy also said that the stopping of government subsidies to families who fail to send their children to school would become systematic and announced the creation of special schools for pupils who seriously disrupt school-time.

Pandering to the Right voters

While President Sarkozy has been eager to demonstrate his commitment to appoint non-white French people to senior government posts, commentators highlighted the president’s change in tone on Tuesday, and speculated on his eagerness to please voters on the political right.

Sarkozy’s ruling UMP party is still reeling from an embarrassing defeat in recent regional elections — a poll that was also marked by the comeback of the far-right National Front party.

Dozens of protesters at Tremblay-en-France’s municipal building, mostly immigrant residents complaining about their treatment by local officials, were kept at bay with special security and extra police.

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

French Muslims Feel Stigmatised in Veil Row

Muslims in the French city where a woman was fined for driving in an Islamic veil complained of being stigmatised by the affair on Sunday as the political repercussions rumbled on.

With the government planning to ban the full Islamic veil in public, the fining of the French woman took a political turn when a minister threatened to punish her Muslim husband for offences including polygamy.

“The Muslims of Nantes… are worried by this systematic stigmatisation which goes against the values of the Republic,” the collective of Nantes mosques said in a statement.

The association “considers that the stopping of a driver is a judicial procedure and is angry at how such an event has been turned into being all about Islam.”

The woman has challenged the fine as a breach of her human rights.

President Nicolas Sarkozy’s government said last week it would push ahead with a ban on wearing a full-face veil in public, despite a warning from state legal experts that such a law could be unconstitutional.

In this context, the Nantes incident gained political momentum and dominated the news this weekend.

France’s interior minister, Brice Hortefeux, alleged the woman’s husband may belong to a radical group and may be a polygamist with four wives and 12 children and guilty of welfare fraud.

Hortefeux wrote to Immigration Minister Eric Besson asking him to look into the allegations and said the man could be stripped of his French nationality if they proved true.

Hortefeux’s move was praised by members of the right-wing governing UMP party and criticised by opposition figures such as Communist Party leader Marie-George Buffet, who called it a “bad-taste political operation”.

The deputy mayor of Nantes, Socialist lawmaker Jean-Marc Ayrault, said the state authorities had known about the polygamy allegations for some time. “Why are they pretending just now to have discovered the situation?” he said.

The state prosecutor in Nantes, Xavier Ronsin, told AFP on Sunday that so far no charge had been lodged against the husband but an investigation could be launched if there were grounds to suspect fraud.

Hortefeux wrote that the husband was born in Algeria and acquired French nationality by marrying the woman in 1999.

Polygamy, being married to more than one person at the same time, is a jailable offence in France, but only civil marriages conducted by a state official count — not religious marriage ceremonies.

It was not clear on Sunday whether the veiled woman’s husband was joined to his other alleged wives by civil marriage or by religious rites such as Muslim weddings.

As to whether the man could be stripped of his French nationality, a source close to the investigation said that French law allowed this only in the case of serious crimes against the state such as terrorism, not for polygamy.

Naturalised citizens can however have their nationality revoked if they are found to have obtained it fraudulently.

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

Germany: Bishop Resigns Amid Claims of Violence and Financial Irregularities

On Thursday the Catholic Church in Augsburg confirmed their bishop, Walter Mixa had sent a letter of resignation to the pope. Mixa has been accused of violence against children and there are investigations into financial irregularities. News of his resignation has been welcomed by almost everyone, even the Church itself.

Walter Mixa, the Bishop of Augsburg, Germany has tendered his resignation, his office confirmed on Thursday. In his request to the pope, the 68-year-old said he would be resigning both from his bishopric in Augsburg and as the Bishop of the Bundeswehr, the German armed forces. The ongoing public discussion about his character over the past few weeks had weighed heavily upon priests and the faithful in his bishopric, his letter said. The Augsburger Allgemeine and the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspapers reported Thursday that the letter had been sent the previous evening.

With his resignation Bishop Mixa wanted to prevent further damage to the Church and to make a new start possible, the press release from the bishopric of Augsburg stated.


6 PhotosPhoto Gallery: German Bishop Offers Resignation

“Today I ask again for forgiveness from all those whom I may have treated unjustly, and all those I have caused to grieve,” Mixa said in his letter to the pope. “I take these steps with unshakeable trust in God’s mercy and hope confidently that our Father in Heaven guides the Church in Augsburg into a good future. I thank my brothers in priestly service and all of the believers for their loyalty and their solidarity and wish them all God’s blessing.”

Bishop Accused of Punching Children

Mixa also promised to help with a further, full explanation of all the accusations leveled against him. It seems certain that the pope will accept his resignation. Mixa actually submitted his resignation to the pope once before, when he was unsuccessful in becoming leader of the Catholic Church in Germany.

Previously, Munich’s Süddeutsche Zeitung had reported allegations that the Augsburg bishop had beaten youth who lived at an orphanage in the Bavarian town of Schrobenhausen when he was priest there in the 1970s. The paper has six declarations under oath of incidents of physical abuse, including slaps and punches to the head. “He punched me in the face with full force,” the paper quotes a former resident, Jutta Stadler, now 47, as saying.

Despite the fact that Mixa had earlier denied any violence at all toward children, over the past few weeks the bishop had come to admit that, as a priest earlier in his career, he may have slapped some children in an orphanage. He played the slaps down as simply playful fisticuffs, something that was completely normal at the time. It was only on Tuesday that he was clear about asking for forgiveness.

Orphanage Funds Spent on Art, Wine and Carpets

Besides the accusations of violence against children, there are now also other complaints about Mixa. During his time as parish priest and head of the board of trustees for the orphanage’s foundation, a considerable amount of money was allegedly spent on expensive art works, carpets, wine, furniture and Mixa’s bishop’s ring. He is accused of misappropriation of the orphanage foundation’s funds. Under pressure to clarify the expenditures, Mixa convened an investigation earlier this week. Now a Munich law firm appointed by the Church is working together with the local government to probe the allegations.

German Family Minister Kristina Schröder welcomed the Augsburg bishop’s letter of resignation. On Thursday the politician, a member of Angela Merkel’s ruling Christian Democrats (CDU), said in an interview on German public television station ZDF that she could understand the criticism being leveled at the bishop and that she respected his decision to step down.

Alois Glück, president of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZDK), described Mixa’s resignation letter as an inevitable consequence of current events. The various accusations had seen the Church leader lose his credibility and had become a burden for the entire Catholic Church, Glück told German public radio station Deutschlandfunk.

‘A Relief for the Catholic Church’

“This is a relief for the Catholic Church in Germany, it had become a heavy burden,” Glück said on Thursday on Bavarian public radio station Bayerischen Rundfunk. Bishop Mixa had maneuvered himself into a difficult situation, Glück said. “A very open attitude from the beginning might have allowed things to develop differently.” It was a “personal tragedy,” he noted.

Glück was also of the opinion that the pope would accept Mixa’s resignation. “Anything else would be inconceivable,” he said. Glück said the Church is currently suffering from a “huge loss of confidence, the likes of which have not been seen for hundreds of years.”

On Wednesday, Robert Zollitsch, chairman of the German Bishop’s Conference, the governing body of German Catholics, publicly suggested that Mixa take a temporary leave of absence from his post, a step that is unprecedented in the recent history of the Catholic Church in the country. It is not implausible that Zollitsch’s suggestion would have been coordinated with the Vatican.

Zollitsch also said that he and Munich Archbishop Reinhard Marx had spoken to Mixa several times in recent days. “Together we considered how, in this difficult time for the bishopric of Augsburg, he could contribute to calming the situation down. And whether a time of spiritual retreat and geographical distance might not be helpful in encouraging an atmosphere of greater objectivity while the necessary clarifications — the clarifications that he also wants — are worked through,” Zollitsch said. Taking time out would allow Mixa “to gather his strength after several very heated weeks and to consider the events in peace,” Zollitsch explained.

Pope Vows to Bring Abusers Within Church to Justice

Calls for Mixa’s resignation had recently been getting louder and the pressure upon him and on the Catholic Church had grown. Even representatives of local parishioners as well as the ZDK had distanced themselves from the bishop, who belongs to the more conservative camp of Catholics and who, over the past few years, has been one of the staunchest opponents of liberal elements within modern Catholicism.

On Wednesday, the pope reaffirmed the Church’s intention to take action against the sexual abuse of minors from within its ranks. As a result of his meeting with eight men who were victims of sexual abuse in an orphanage on the Mediterranean island of Malta over the weekend, the pope said, “I shared with them their suffering and emotionally I prayed with them, promising them action on the part of the Church.”

The visit to Malta was the pope’s first international trip since the sexual abuse scandal that has tipped the Catholic Church into crisis, broke in Germany. A statement from the Vatican said that, after his meeting with the sexual abuse victims in Malta, the pope had “assured them that the Church is doing, and will continue to do, all in its power to investigate allegations, to bring to justice those responsible for abuse and to implement effective measures designed to safeguard young people in the future.”

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

Germany: Catholics Ready for Church Exodus, Poll Finds

Nearly a quarter of Germany’s 25 million Catholics are considering turning their backs on their Church in the wake of the child abuse scandals, a survey published Friday found.

The poll of more than 1,000 Catholics by the Forsa Institute published by daily Bild, found 23 percent of Church members said they were thinking of leaving.

Even among those who described themselves as devout, 19 percent were considering walking away, the poll found.

The findings come as the Church faces its gravest crisis of modern times, with decades-old claims of child sexual abuse by priests surfacing in Germany and around the world. The scandal has this week forced the resignation of Augsburg Bishop Walter Mixa, who was accused of beating children at an orphanage, though not of sexual abuse.

At the heart of the anger is the belief that the Church is not handling the child abuse affair openly. Just 16 percent of Catholics polled said they believed Church leaders were dealing with the abuse crisis transparently, compared with 77 percent who said it was not transparent.

Just under a quarter (24 percent) of people thought child abuse was more common in the Church than it was elsewhere in the community, compared with 14 percent who felt it was less common and 52 percent who believed it was the same.

Exactly half believed there was a link between celibacy and child abuse, while 44 percent said there was no link.

Yet a massive 81 percent believed celibacy for priests should be abolished, compared with just 12 percent who believed it should be kept.

The disillusionment was felt most deeply by younger Catholics. Among those aged 18 to 29, just over a third (34 percent) were thinking of quitting. Some 28 percent of those aged 30 to 44 were considering walking away, as were 32 percent of 45 to 59-year-olds and 6 percent of those aged 60 or older.

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

Germany: Revolt of the Sun Kings

Solar Industry Fights to Save Subsidies

By Frank Dohmen, Nils Klawitter and Wolfgang Reuter

Government subsidies for solar energy in Germany have reached absurd proportions, as ordinary consumers pay out billions to support solar power. Now plans to reduce the subsidies are encountering massive resistance from the industry and a number of German states, which benefit from the current arrangement.

Stuart Brannigan believes that the subsidization of solar power practiced in Germany is extremely exaggerated. Brannigan, a British citizen, says that it’s “absolutely necessary” that it be drastically reduced in size.

It’s a surprising remark, considering that Brannigan is the European managing director of Yingli Green Energy, a Chinese solar energy company which largely has German government subsidies to thank for the fact that it has been able to grow from a small business into a major player in just six years. Brannigan hasn’t exactly made any friends in the photovoltaic sector, especially not in Germany, with comments like this.

Yingli opened up shop in 2004 as a small photovoltaic business, producing solar cells, in Baoding south of Beijing. At the time, the company was manufacturing 6 megawatts worth of solar panels a year — enough for the roofs of houses in a few villages.

The company now boasts annual sales of more than $1 billion (€740 million). Yingli is a sponsor of the upcoming football World Cup in South Africa. It is referred to in the media as a “solar giant.” And Germany is the reason why it is a giant.

Guaranteed Prices

Almost half of Yingli’s production is shipped to Germany, which is an attractive market for solar producers, largely because of the Renewable Energy Sources Act (EEG) enacted in 2000. The law guaranteed a price of up to €0.57 ($0.76) per kilowatt-hour for electricity derived from solar power that was fed into the grid. The so-called feed-in tariff has since been reduced to a maximum of €0.39, which is still six times the normal producer price. But Brannigan can live with the new reductions. The cuts may actually benefit Yingli in particular, because other producers can’t compete with China’s low wage costs.

Nevertheless, says Brannigan, “Germans can be proud of this law.” Without the help of lawmakers, he says, Germany would hardly have seen such dynamic development of renewable energy sources. What was once a niche industry has turned into a sector with global importance. The solar industry is responsible for almost 80,000 jobs in Germany alone.

But lawmakers have overshot the mark by far, at least when it comes to subsidies for solar energy. Anyone who installs solar panels benefits from guaranteed feed-in tariffs for the next 20 years. That means that, over a 20-year period, Germany’s electricity customers will pay a total of around €14 billion in subsidies — just for the solar panels that were installed in 2009. And that cost is likely to rise in the future, because Germans are mounting more and more solar collectors on their roofs. Economists estimate that all the solar panels installed by 2013 will cost German consumers more than €70 billion. Thanks to the generous subsidy program, crops on some fields have been replaced with arrays of shimmering, bluish modules mounted on automated stands and tilted toward the sun. And all of this is being done for an amount of electricity that meets only 1.1 percent of German demand.

The German government has also recognized that the system cannot continue in its current form. In addition to an annual reduction of about 10 percent in feed-in tariffs, in place since 2009, the subsidy program will be drastically reduced by another 16 percent on July 1.

‘Wave of Bankruptcies’

The industry is horrified. Solar manufacturers have taken out full-page ads in newspapers, addressed directly to “Dear Chancellor Merkel,” begging her not to touch the EEG.

Frank Asbeck, CEO of the German photovoltaic giant Solarworld and an unofficial solar industry spokesman, fears a solar eclipse and sees a “wave of bankruptcies” headed for the industry. In the wake of the 2009 crisis, he says, the solar sector is still on shaky ground, with most companies still in the red — except, of course, Solarworld.

In fact, Asbeck has created the only fully integrated solar company in Germany. Solarworld handles everything from silicon processing to manufacturing modules to recycling old products. In Freiberg, a town in the eastern German state of Saxony where Solarworld has its production plant, Asbeck is known as the “Sun King.”

He has developed a highly automated production system in this former silver mining center, where 1,200 employees produce as much as 6,000 workers do at Yingli. Asbeck estimates that the Germans have about an 18-month technological head start over the Chinese. But whether that advantage still exists is debatable. “We too use European equipment,” says Brannigan, noting that he spent about $350 million on such equipment in 2009.

Part 2: Germany’s Market Share Declining

The EEG was long a blessing for the industry, particularly German solar producers. The guarantee of sales created a market and spurred on the industry to introduce series production. But the modules did not become significantly less expensive, at least not until the Chinese and the Taiwanese put the Germans under pressure by flooding the market with cheaper products.

As a result, the German producers’ share of the market for solar cells and modules is steadily declining. In 2007, one in five solar cells installed anywhere in the world came from Germany. Today it’s only 15 percent, and Germany’s market share continues to decline.

Even with the compensation for electricity fed into the grid continuing to shrink, falling material costs have kept the production of solar panels extremely attractive to this day. Some systems promised returns of up to 30 percent. The industry grew accordingly, and so did the costs for ordinary electricity consumers.

According to figures compiled by the German Environment Ministry, consumers subsidize every job in the solar industry to the tune of about €150,000 a year. However, the solar publishing group Photon last year estimated the subsidy to be €218,000.

Good Image

Unlike subsidized coal, however, solar energy has a good image. It is seen as environmentally friendly and future-oriented. For this reason, politicians have consistently shied away from making sharp cutbacks. Even now, the government is still sidestepping the issue. Only a few weeks ago, it postponed the 16-percent cut, which had originally been planned for April, until the summer.

It’s true that renewable energy provides us with clean electricity, and with rising commodities prices and increasingly scarce resources, it could even become cheaper than conventionally generated electricity in the foreseeable future. But we haven’t reached that point yet.

On the contrary, the current system of high subsidies leads to social inequality, because anyone who doesn’t own a house that can be equipped with glittering solar panels is paying for the environmental investments of affluent dentists or attorneys.

“In 2010, a large household with an annual electricity consumption of 7,000 kilowatt hours will pay at least €100 in solar power subsidies alone,” says Holger Krawinkel of the Federation of German Consumer Organizations.

Supporting the Sunny States

There subsidies are also problematic for another reason. Ultimately, citizens in Germany’s cloudier northern states and poorer eastern states are paying for the solar systems being installed in the prosperous and sunnier southern states.

Last year, about 40 percent of all German solar arrays were installed in Bavaria. Of the roughly €14 billion in subsidies that the EEG guarantees owners of systems installed in 2009, about €5.5 billion will go to Bavaria.

Not surprisingly, Bavarian Governor Horst Seehofer is sharply opposed to reductions in solar subsidies, despite having criticized the subsidies as being far too high only a few months ago. In particular, Seehofer is trying to prevent the planned elimination of the subsidy for solar arrays installed in open fields, a lucrative business for more and more Bavarian farmers. Meanwhile, the environmental experts within the center-right Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) and pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP) — the parties that make up Germany’s coalition government — are deeply divided over the issue, on both the federal and state level.

There are many indications that the case will end up before the mediation committee of the two houses of the German parliament, the Bundestag and the Bundesrat, which represents the states. If only one of the eastern German states, where much of the solar industry is located, refuses to play along, the CDU/CSU and the FDP will lose their majority. Saxony-Anhalt has already threatened to use its veto.

Smaller than Reality

The messy situation and the excessively high subsidies have a lot to do with a simple trick the industry has been playing on politicians for years: It simply made itself smaller than it really was.

The EEG law calls for the feed-in tariffs to be reviewed and adjusted at regular intervals. In the past, members of the Bundestag have consistently used industry projections of newly installed solar output per year as the basis for these calculations. And it was precisely these projections that were always relatively low (see graphic). So low, in fact, that what would have been an appropriate reduction in the rates didn’t seem necessary.

In 2007, the Environment Ministry, using existing figures for 2009, assumed that electricity from solar energy had to be subsidized to the tune of about €2 billion, because the industry associations had projected the installation of new modules that would provide about 600 megawatts of power. The real number was 3,800 megawatts, with costs of about €14 billion over the next 20 years.

Even energy expert Hermann Scheer, a member of the German parliament for the center-left Social Democrats who is one of Germany’s most prominent solar proponents, now says that the subsidies “cannot continue in their current form.” But he also warns against taking overly abrupt steps. Scheer is now proposing a gradual reduction with smaller cuts, which he argues can also bring about the 30-percent reductions in cost over the next two years that many experts are calling for. According to Scheer, the industry didn’t do itself any favors with its efforts to shrink the numbers. “I have always warned against underestimating the real new installation figures.”

Back to Its Old Tricks

But now the industry is already back to its old tricks. The industry, especially Solarworld CEO Frank Asbeck, is putting up fierce resistance — apparently with success. Under a plan proposed by Environment Minister Norbert Röttgen (CDU), those who consume the electricity produced by their own systems will be able to largely minimize the reduction in feed-in tariffs. Sources at competing solar companies call this move “pure Asbeck.” Asbeck, for his part, concedes that the industry association, BSW, introduced a similar proposal into the discussion with the environment minister.

At first, there was a joint plan to promote the subsidy for solar arrays installed in open fields, but Asbeck isn’t as interested. US competitor First Solar’s thin-film photovoltaic modules are often less expensive for use in open fields. For that reason, Asbeck is focusing on rooftop installations, and Solarworld is already selling an assembly kit for personal use. It consists of a battery and a solar module, so that customers can consume up to 100 percent of the electricity generated.

Asbeck’s friend Scheer believes that the new provision for personal use is unnecessary. He says that it allows new loopholes to develop that can no longer be monitored. He also points out that this sort of thing isn’t even necessary. According to Scheer, solar technology is an excellent technology. It doesn’t trouble him that its share of electricity generation is so tiny, despite the massive subsidies. He believes that solar energy’s time will come. In 10, 20 or 30 years, says Scheer, this technology could be responsible for significant portions of the power supply.

Asbeck has the same goal in mind. He has just spoken with Larry Hagman, who once played the villain J.R. Ewing on the television series “Dallas” and is now being recruited to appear in a commercial for Solarworld. “He’s a real environmentalist,” says Asbeck. In the proposed advertisement, Hagman is sitting in a rocking chair, as J.R. Ewing. When his brother and family rival Bobby appears in the frame, J.R. says: “It was a great idea that we got out of that dirty oil business just in time.” “And then he laughs in that cackling way,” says Asbeck.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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

Hungary: Centre-Right Set to Win Majority in Legislative Second Round

Hungarians look likely to hand a crucial two-thirds parliamentary “supermajority” to the centre-right Fidesz party in the second round of legislative elections on Sunday.

REUTERS — Hungary’s centre-right Fidesz party looked poised to win a two-thirds parliamentary majority in Sunday’s second-round election, giving it the power to enact deep reforms and kickstart the recession-hit economy.

Having secured an outright majority in the 386-seat parliament by defeating the ruling Socialists in the first round on April 11, Fidesz now has a chance to win another 52 mandates in a run-off to garner a legislative “supermajority”.

That would enable Fidesz, last in power between 1998 and 2002, to implement reforms such as streamlining the bloated local government system and making dual citizenship easier to get for millions of ethnic Hungarians in neighbouring countries.

The last time any government secured a two-thirds mandate was in 1994 when the Socialists teamed up with the liberal Free Democrats.

The other parties with seats in the next Hungarian parliament already are the Socialists with 28, far-right Jobbik with 26 seats, and green LMP which has five seats.

Fidesz, running on a joint ticket with the small Christian Democrats, won 206 seats in the first round and now stands a chance of forming the first non-coalition government with a two-thirds mandate in Hungary’s 20-year post-communist history.

“We now have the opportunity to create an unparalleled unity and, with it, initiate changes unprecedented in both their scale and swiftness,” Viktor Orban, set to be Hungary’s next prime minister, told the newspaper Magyar Nemzet on Friday.

“The entire country feels that it can now make history and this sentiment is a tremendous driving force.”

Since Fidesz won the first round of elections two weeks ago, Hungarian government bond yields have fallen by about 30 basis points and the forint has outperformed its regional peers, boosted by the prospect of a strong government.

A survey by think tank Nezopont Intezet this week showed 72 percent of respondents were happy about the outcome of the first round of elections and 57 percent said a two-thirds majority for Fidesz would benefit the country.

But with the economy just emerging from downturn and unemployment running at a 16-year high, expectations for swift and tangible change will be immense, leaving Fidesz little time to celebrate.

Investors holding billions of euros in government bonds will also expect a clear road map on how Hungary plans to put its public debt — the highest in central Europe at around 80 percent of GDP — on a firm downward path at a time when worries over Greece are keeping markets on edge.

Fidesz has pledged more jobs, less bureaucracy and lower taxes to revive the economy but with a history of high deficits and the budget under the microscope of international lenders, the room for fiscal stimulus will be limited.

“There is no room for unfounded tax cuts. It would just increase risk of a sell-off in the forint,” said analyst Lars Christensen at Danske Bank. “However, tax cuts combined with labour market and pension reforms would be very positive.”

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

Italy: ‘Adopt an Italian Child’ Campaign

Italians have lost their humanity, African NGO says

(ANSA) — Milan, April 23 — An African NGO has launched an ‘adopt an Italian child’ campaign as a way to help the ‘sad Italian people’.

Poveri Voi (Poor You) was founded in 2008 by Tanzanian Ronaldo Samako and claims to be a non-political and non-profit active in social work.

In its ad campaign, which will be launched here next week, the NGO cities as candidates for adoption the cases of “Giuseppe, seven years old, who has never learned to laugh” and “Maria, 14, who dreams of being famous”.

“We decided to act immediately because tomorrow it could be too late for too many young Italians. In agreement with the Italian institutions and with the Church, we will offer aid to young Italians,” Samako said in a statement The main purpose of the African NGO is to find a solution to social unrest and unease among young Italians which in modern society has driven them to “alcoholism, anorexia, depression, drug addiction, consumerism and an unhealthy desire to become celebrities,” he added.

All this, Samako observed, “is leading Italians to a progressive and dramatic dehumanization”.

To combat this, Poveri Voi said it was ready to organize meetings, courses, concerts and cultural events as recovery tools to help children in need of support.

This along with arranging long-distance adoptions and visits to Africa.

On the NGO’s website (, Samako observed “Italians are sad and confused, they have lost their humanity.

Together we can give them a smile for the future”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Morocco: Tanger Free Zone Grows, Chance for Companies

(ANSAmed) — MILAN, APRIL 22 — The target is to expand the Tanger Free Zone, a free exchange area managed by Moroccan state agency TMSA and situated in the country’s North, from current 1,000 hectares to 5,000, covering an 80 kilometre radius, with new industrial development areas, including one dedicated to car production. It’s the intention of the heads of the Free Zone, visiting Milan to present to an audience of 80 businessmen the opportunities in this development project where the presence of Italian companies is still limited. The meeting was organized by Promos, Milan’s Chamber of Commerce internationalization agency. Created in 1999, the Free Zone “today counts 475 companies and generates 10% of Moroccan exports on its own”, explained Omar Chaib, general manager of Tanger Free Zone, “with a value of 1.5 billion euros”. Italian companies are at the moment just 13, especially in the paramedical and textile sectors, but we would like more of them.” If France today accounts for 44% of foreign investments in Morocco, followed by Spain, Italy only accounts for 3.2% of this amount. Among the advantages for the companies that set up shop in the free exchange zone are tax-free circulation, production, consumption, imports and exports, the fact that goods coming in or going out are not subject to laws regarding foreign trade control and the exchange freedom valid for industrial and commercial operations and services abroad. Sources from Promos explain that now, because of the Moroccan area development, where with the completion of the Tanger Med harbour one of the biggest commercial harbours in the world will be created, negotiations for a strategic partnership uniting Milan and Lombardy, Genoa and its harbour with Tanger are underway. “Our goal,” explains Promos manager Pier Andrea Chevallard, “is also to replicate in Morocco, starting with Tanger, Tunisia’s experience, where we have 800 Italian companies on the territory.” (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Language Spat Splits Belgian Government

Belgian Premier Yves Leterme, left, leaves the royal palace in Laeken, near Brussels, after he met King Albert II, Thursday, April 22, 2010. Leterme’s government collapsed Thursday after negotiations broke down to resolve a long-simmering dispute between Dutch and French-speaking politicians over a bilingual voting district. (AP Photo/Yves Logghe)

Belgium’s King Albert II steps into his car, after Premier Yves Leterme met him at the royal palace in Laeken near Brussels, Thursday, April 22, 2010. Belgian Premier Yves Leterme’s government collapsed Thursday after negotiations broke down to resolve a long-simmering dispute between Dutch and French-speaking politicians over a bilingual voting district. (AP Photo/Yves Logghe)

BRUSSELS — Belgian Premier Yves Leterme’s government collapsed Thursday after negotiations broke down to resolve a long-simmering dispute between Dutch- and French-speaking politicians over a bilingual voting district.

Dutch-speaking Liberals, one of Leterme’s five coalition parties, quit the Cabinet, accusing its Francophone counterparts of blocking a deal to break up the Brussels-area district the constitutional court ruled illegal in 2003.

Leterme offered King Albert the resignation of his government.

The Belgian monarch did not immediately accept it, but began consultations with key politicians on the way forward. That may take several days, Parliament President Patrick Dewael told reporters.

In a statement, the royal palace called a political crisis “inopportune.”

It said it could harm “Belgium’s role in Europe and at an international level” — a reference to fear that the political deadlock could drag into the second half of 2010 when Belgium holds the EU’s rotating presidency.

That is not an unreasonable fear. Leterme’s government took office March 20, 2008 after a political impasse over a similar and related linguistic spat that lasted a record 194 days.

Linguistic disputes — rooted in history and economic differences — have long dominated politics in this country of 6.5 million Dutch-speakers and 4 million Francophones.

Belgium is divided into Dutch- and French-speaking regions, which determines what single language is used on everything from mortgages and traffic signs to election ballots and divorce papers.

In 2003, the Constitutional Court ruled the bilingual Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde voting district illegal since it violates the separation of Dutch- and French-language regions. It comprises officially bilingual Brussels but also 20-odd towns in Dutch-speaking Flanders around the capital.

Dutch-speaking politicians have long complained the district lets Francophones — who have moved from Brussels into Dutch-speaking suburbs — vote for French-speaking parties in the capital.

Leterme’s alliance of Christian Democrats, Liberals and Socialists — split into Dutch and French-speaking camps — took office March 20, 2008. They agreed to resolve the voting district issue by Easter of 2010, a deadline that was missed.

Leterme’s government fell apart when he asked for another extension of the deadline.

“We are the end of our rope,” Guy Vanhengel, a Flemish Liberal said Thursday. “I think that efforts to come to a negotiated settlement are not succeeding.”

Belgium has three main regions: Dutch-speaking Flanders in the north, economically-lagging Francophone Wallonia in the south, and officially bilingual — but largely French-speaking — Brussels in the middle. The three regions have in the past 25 years acquired ever more autonomy.

As King Albert met with political leaders at the royal palace, about 15 members of the far-right Flemish Interest party sang the Flemish anthem and briefly hoisted a banner in the empty parliament chamber. It read: “Time For An Independent Flanders.”

Flemish parties want their prosperous part of the country to be even more autonomous, notably by shifting taxes and some social security measures from the federal to the regional level. They also want more self-rule in transport, health, labor market and justice areas.

Francophone parties say enough powers have been devolved since the mid-1980s and accuse Dutch-speakers of trying to cut loose Wallonia, troubled by desolate smokestack landscapes and an excessive jobless rate.

It is that tense backdrop that feeds the debate over the contentious voting district.

           — Hat tip: TV[Return to headlines]

Montenegro: EU: Moratinos Ensures Spain’s Support

(ANSAmed) — PODGORICA, APRIL 22 — Spain’s full support for the integration of Montenegro into the EU has been underscored by Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, who yesterday in Podgorica engaged in talks with Montenegrin leaders. In meeting with journalists at the end of a meeting with Foreign Minister Milan Rocen, Moratinos — whose country holds the EU presidency until the end of June — said that Montenegro had made remarkable progress towards European Union integration. “The future of Montenegro is in the European Union, and Spain will do everything it can to support it, even after the end of its term as EU president,” said Moratinos.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Spain: School Ban on Headscarf, Appeal to Constitutional Court

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, APRIL 22 — The Muslim Federation of Spain is to report a secondary school in Pozuelo (Madrid) to the Constitutional Tribunal after the school decided to send home a 16 year-old girl of Moroccan descent and of Spanish nationality who arrived wearing the hijab, the Islamic headscarf covering only the hair, for violating school rules. The announcement was made by the Federation’s secretary Yusuf Fernandez, who was speaking to the agency Europa Press. Fernandez called the decision “an aberration”, that “violates and tramples on” the rights sanctioned by the Constitution. As a result the Muslim Federation “will engage in a battle that it will fight right up to the last instance of the Constitutional Court”, given that it is illegal to deny “a manifestation of religious freedom, neither to Catholics nor to anyone else.’ (ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Spain: Francoism; Falange Excluded From Garzon Trial

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, APRIL 23 — Spain’s Falange party will not bring civil action against Audiencia Nacional judge Baltazar Garzon in a trail that sees him accused of abuse of power due to his opening of an investigation into crimes during the Franco regime, reported legal sources cited on El Mundo’s website. Supreme Court Judge Luciano Varela, the investigating magistrate in the case, excluded the extreme right-wing party from the prosecution, which had presented the case against the judge together with Manos Limpias, Libertad and Identitad, because they did not correct the accusatory statements in which it was asked for them to eliminate judgements of value and ideologies expressed on Garzon and to stick to the facts. Thus, the Supreme Court judge believes that Garzon’s right to defence could be damaged. Varela also left an opening for a request of a possible criminal responsibility against Falange for its action in the trial. Falange called for an up to 20 year suspension from practicing his profession for Garzon. The trial, which is in the opening stages, will continue based on the accusations made by the other two extreme right-wing associations. Yesterday the Supreme Court prosecutor’s office called for the case to be archived and not sent to trial, as they believe that the three accusations against Garzon pertaining to the trial on victims of crimes during the Franco regime, “lack procedural legitimacy” and do not contain sufficient evidence to put the judge on trial. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Sweden: Liberal Leader Meets Embattled Malmö Jews

Education minister Jan Björklund met with representatives of the Jewish Community in Malmö on Saturday to discuss a recent rise in the level of harassment and threats faced by Jews in the southern city.

The Liberal Party chief said city leaders needed to do more to tackle the problem after police statistics showed a doubling in 2009 of the number of hate crimes registered against Jews.

“The fact that Jews are choosing not to continue living in Malmö creates unpleasant historical associations. It’s a worrying situation,” said Björklund.

The minister laid part of the blame for developments in Malmö at the feet of Mayor Ilmar Reepalu (SocDem), who Björklund said had made ill-advised comments that had fuelled anti-Jewish sentiment in the city.

The meeting with Björklund was one of several the Jewish Community has had of late with top Swedish politicians.

“The fact they’re meeting us sends an important signal,” said spokesman Fredrik Sieradzki.

Community members told Björklund about Jewish children who did not feel safe at their pre-schools and families who had elected to leave Malmö to escape persecution and harassment.

Fredrik Sieradzki spoke of a rabbi who is subjected to harassment on an almost daily basis.

“This can be in the form of verbal attacks and threats. It has also happened that he has been chased.”

The community previously felt its concerns were met with silence from city leaders.

“But now I think the message has been received,” said Jehoshua Kaufman.

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

Swedish Catholic Church Hid Sex Abuse Claims

The Catholic Church in Sweden has known for twenty years of claims that two young girls were sexually abused by a priest in the 1950s and 1960s, Dagens Nyheter reports.

Members flee Church of Sweden in droves (1 Dec 09)

In 1990 one of the two sisters, now in her sixties, contacted the former bishop of Stockholm, Hubertus Brandeburg, to inform him of the girls’ abuse at the hands of a priest. At the time the church was investigating other charges relating to the same priest, including accusations from the girls’ mother that she and the priest had a sexual relationship from 1958 to 1990.

“He became irritated and I became angry. The answer I got was pretty much, ‘we’re conducting our own investigation within the church and it’s not something we’re planning to talk about,” the woman told Dagens Nyheter.

Bishop Brandenburg died last year.

The woman also got in touch with a Catholic newspaper in Sweden, which she said did not take her allegations seriously.

In 2003 the woman contacted the current bishop, Anders Arborelius, to tell him about the priest’s sexual relationship with her mother and his sexual abuse of the two girls.

She later wrote an email to the church detailing the same accusations, to which she received a reply advising her to seek out a conversational therapist.

At the beginning of last week, with church sex abuse scandals back in the news worldwide, the woman contacted Bishop Arborelius again. This time, the Catholic Church publicly acknowledged the accusations and vowed to launch a full inquiry.

“I was treated very well by Bishop Anders. He means well and he’s understanding. But I didn’t get an answer as to why they’ve only started talking about this now,” she told Dagens Nyheter.

The accused remains a priest but has been transferred to different parishes several times since the 1960s, a pattern typical for clergymen accused of abuses. The findings of the investigation into the charges against him are to be forwarded to the Vatican and could result in him being dismissed from the clergy.

The priest refused to comment on the accusations or the investigation when contacted by Dagens Nyheter.

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

The Ash Cloud That Never Was: How Volcanic Plume Over UK Was Only a Twentieth of Safe-Flying Limit and Blunders Led to Ban

The Mail on Sunday can today reveal the full extent of the shambles behind the great airspace shutdown that cost the airlines £1.3 billion and left 150,000 Britons stranded — all for a supposed volcanic ash cloud that for most of the five-day flights ban was so thin it was invisible.

As the satellite images of the so-called ‘aerosol index’ published for the first time, right, demonstrate, the sky above Britain was totally clear of ash from Iceland’s Eyjafjallajoekull volcano.

Inquiries by this newspaper have disclosed that:

  • Attempts to measure the ash’s density were hampered because the main aircraft used by the Meteorological Office for this purpose had been grounded as it was due to be repainted.
  • Computers at the Met Office, which earlier forecast a ‘barbecue summer’ last year and a mild winter for this year, produced a stream of maps predicting the ash would cover a vast area, eventually stretching from Russia to Newfoundland. But across almost all of it, there was virtually no ash at all, and none visible to satellites.
  • Though there was some ash over Britain at times during the ban, the maximum density measured by scientists was only about one twentieth of the limit that scientists, the Government, and aircraft and engine manufacturers have now decided is safe.


As the days went by without the restrictions being lifted, we became more and more concerned that the policy was based on theoretical models which had little grounding in reality.’


The European Commission has claimed it occupied only a ‘ sideline’ observational role in all of this. This is misleading. The contingency plans did begin with the ICAO, but the authorities that agreed to them include the European Union, all its member state governments and their safety agencies.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: Nationalist Demonstrators Gather in Pub

The March for England demonstration has now gathered in a Brighton pub.

The 200-strong march which claims to be a non political event celebrating St George’s Day has caused outrage amongst some groups who have organised counter demonstrations.

The march began at Brighton station at 12pm and is being closely watched by officers from Sussex Police.

The MFE members have now gathered in the King & Queen pub in Marlborough Place, Brighton.

Argus reporter Becky Evans is outside the pub, she said: “There are teams of anti fascist demonstrators shouting from behind a barrier. They are from a group called Brighton Unity.

“Three large police vans are parked up keeping an eye on the two groups.

“The March for England members are inside the pub now but it’s just a case of seeing what happens when they come out.”

A spokesman for Sussex Police said: “There has been around half an hour of disruption as they made their way from the station to Victoria Gardens.

“They are now mostly inside the pub and we are keeping an eye on things.”


A number of clashes between nationalist marchers and anti-fascist protestors have been reported.

It is believed three people have been arrested so far on public order offences and for breaching the peace.

A Sussex Police spokeswoman said there had been a number of minor “skirmishes” as the marchers left the King and Queen pub.

She added that there was still a “police presence” at Victoria Gardens.

           — Hat tip: ICLA[Return to headlines]

Vatican: Church Rejects Sex Abuse Victim’s Lawsuit

Vatican City, 23 April (AKI) — The Vatican on Friday rejected a lawsuit to be lodged against Pope Benedict XVI and other senior Vatican officials for failing to defrock a Catholic priest accused of sexual abuse in the United States. The plaintiff is an alleged victim of the priest, Father Lawrence Murphy, sacked in 1974 after being accused of molesting minors at a school for the deaf in the state of Wisconsin.

“The case against the Holy See and its officials is completely without merit,” the Vatican said, referring to a statement issued by Jeffrey Lena, the Vatican’s lawyer in the US.

“With regard to Murphy himself, the Holy See and its officials knew nothing of his crimes until decades after the abuse occurred, and had no role whatsoever in causing the plaintiff’s injuries.”

The statement sympathised with the victims of Murphy’s sexual abuse and acknowledged they had been wronged.

There had been legitimate lawsuits filed by abuse victims, the statement said.

But the federal lawsuit announced on Thursday proposed against the pope, his second-in-command Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone and Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals, were not in that category, it said.

“Instead, the lawsuit represents an attempt to use tragic events as a platform for a broader attack. If necessary, we will respond more fully to this lawsuit in court and at the appropriate time.”

At a media conference in the midwestern city of St Paul on Thursday, Murphy’s alleged victim’s lawyer, Jeff Anderson said he sent certified letters to the Vatican in 1995 asking for Murphy to be defrocked but that he received no response.

Last month, The New York Times newspaper alleged that Benedict, who as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger headed the Vatican’s disciplinary body from 1981-2005, prevented Murphy being tried in a Catholic court.

Bertone, who was Ratzinger’s deputy at the Vatican’s disciplinary office, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, halted the planned canonical trial after Murphy wrote a pleading letter Ratzinger asking for his “assistance in this matter”.

German newspaper Die Zeit reported earlier this month it was in possession of documents showing that correspondence over Murphy’s case had been handled by Bertone, who raised numerous obstacles to the planned trial.

At his weekly general audience on Wednesday, the pope said he was taking “action” over abuse against children by priests.

Several bishops — one in Belgium and three in Ireland — have resigned over the sex abuse scandal.

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

Veil — Spain’s Bishops Find Symbols Belong to Freedom

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, APRIL 23 — In the row that has erupted over the schoolgirl suspended from lessons at Madrid’s Pozuelo High School, because she wore a Moslem veil to school, the voices of Spain’s bishops has been heard today. In their opinion, religious symbols do not belong “to the private sphere”, but are part of the religious freedom guaranteed by the Constitution. In a statement to the media, and cited by the Europa Press agency, the Spokesperson for Spain’s Bishops’ Conference, Juan Antonio Martinez Camino, pointed out that “Article 16.1 of the Constitution establishes the general principle that persons and institutions have the right to display their faith, with public order being the only limitation”. Concerning the case of the student at Pozuelo, who refuses to go to a different school, despite the school rule that bans the wearing of any head-covering in class, the bishops’ Spokesperson stressed that there can be no “simplistic solution”. Nor does the Church offer technical solutions, but, the representative continued, “Technical solutions for the regulation of school councils should take the basic rights of all into account”, especially that “of displaying one’s own religion or faith, with public law and order being preserved”. As in the case of crucifixes in schools, the Bishops’ Conference maintains in the case of the veil that saying “religious symbols belong to the private sphere goes against Spain’s Constitution”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Serbia-Croatia: Defence Agreement Harmonized

(ANSAmed) — BELGRADE, APRIL 23 — Serbia’s and Croatia’s secretaries for defence, Dusan Spasojevic and Pjer Simunovic, harmonized a defence agreement in Zagreb, which should be signed by the two countries’ ministers of defence, reports Tanjug news agency. Serbia’s Defence Minister Dragan Sutanovac was also officially invited to visit Croatia, according to the Serbian Defence Ministry’s website. Spasojevic and Simunovic discussed the two countries’ military cooperation and agreed that it could be improved. Both sides stressed the importance of regional cooperation in defence, describing it as a significant factor in regional stability and adding that the two countries have cooperated well as part of regional security initiatives. Spasojevic met with Croatia’s Secretary for Foreign Affairs Davor Bozinovic as well to discuss issues related to the security and political situation in the region and the Western Balkans’ European integration. “The two agreed strongly that it is necessary to cooperate as intensively as possible in the region and integrate the Western Balkans into the EU as soon as possible,” says the Serbian Ministry of Defence. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Spain Interested in Investing in Serbia

(ANSAmed) — BELGRADE, APRIL 23 — Spain is interested in investing in Serbia’s transport infrastructure and renewable energy sources and food industries, Jorge Andreu, an economic adviser of the Spanish Embassy in Belgrade announced, reports BETA news agency. In the Serbian Chamber of Commerce at a presentation on the Spanish economy, he said that the possibility of the two countries also cooperating in the machine and tools industry and in aviation technology also existed. “The infrastructure and industry sectors in Spain are among the best in the world,” said Andreu and added that Spain was strengthening competition in the world market. Andreu recalled that in Serbia the Spanish company FCC, through his own firm Alpine, was taking part in the construction of Corridor 10, and that the firm Ineco was conducting a feasibility study related to building a metro in Belgrade. He said that Spain’s current investment in Serbia was huge and mainly directed at the wood, food and chemical industries, as well as tourism. “Spain can contribute to the Serbian economy and through direct investments in companies which are not privatized,” said Andreu. He said that the two countries could also found a joint company in the food industry, stating that Spain was the world’s leading producer of olive oil, fruit and vegetables, and was the world’s second largest wine producer.(ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

North Africa

‘Rogers’: First Work of Egyptian Blogger Ahmed Nagi

(ANSAmed) — ROME, APRIL 23 — From the internet, a place where people can freely express their thoughts, to writing novels: this choice was made by the young Ahmed Nagi, born in 1985, confirmed blogger and editor of ‘Akhbar Al Adab’, the prestigious cultural magazine run by senior member of Egyptian writers, Gamal Al-Ghitani. The novel that will be released these days by the small publisher Il Sirente, in the series ‘AltriArabi’, is called “Rogers”. Published in Egypt in 2007, Rogers is the second successful novel of an Egyptian blogger, after ‘To be Abbasel Abd’, written by Ahmed el Aidi, the writer who is considered to be the forerunner of this new form of ‘metropolitan’ literature which had a mixed reception by critics and conservative writers. It is hard to explain the plot of Rogers, the publishers admit: because the five chapters and the stories they contain could easily be taken apart and put together in many different combinations. Starting with Pink Floyd’s album ‘The wall’, “Nagi has created a book that is part of the modern metropolitan reality, but that stays in touch with legendary and mythical elements”. The protagonist of Rogers is a former soldier in a mysterious war against the masochists who looks back on his life from the time he was in school until the final victory, avoiding the traditional chronological order but following the rhythm and mental associations one has when listening to ‘The wall’. The two works are in fact closely related by their tempo that is based on this album. Stories, desires, visions caused by hashish and alcohol catapult the reader into unreal places and fantastic situations. ‘The wall’ represents incommunicability, alienations and madness. The young blogger wants to sketch an allegory of a community built on the hypothetical construction of an oppressive and insurmountable wall which surrounds individuals. A book, Il Sirente comments, “for those who are open to discover the fantasies, utopias and ideals but also the frustrations of a 20-year-old Egyptian man”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Tunisia: Sanctions for Fisheries Violations Strengthened

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, APRIL 23 — An intensification in the administrative sanctions for foreign fishing trawlers discovered working in the territorial waters of Tunisian. This is what is provided for in a bill, approved yesterday by the Chamber of Councillors, according to which the fines will range between 30,000 and 300,000 dinars (15,500 — 155,000 euros approximately). The current fines range between 1,000 and 100,000 dinars (516-51,650 euros approximately). The intensification also regards (but to a lesser extent) Tunisian fishing boats. This is also to guarantee the respect of rules on biological rest. Commenting on the project, Abdessalem Mansour, Minister for Agriculture, Water Resources and Fisheries, underlined that the new law aims to amend and complete the 1994 law, which limits fishing in Tunisian waters to Tunisian fishermen, whilst foreign boats are allowed to operate there only for research and training purposes. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Tunisia: Tribute to Italian Victims Battle of Takrouna

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, APRIL 23 — A memorial ceremony for the victims of the last battle of the Italian army in Tunisia, in 1943, will be held tomorrow in Takrouna. Italian ambassador Pietro Benassi will place a laurel wreath at the memorial stone for the event. He will also inspect the guard of the Tunisian army. At the ceremony, organised by the Military Office of the Italian embassy in Tunis, besides a representation of the military attache’s of the diplomatic representations in the country and a representation of Italian paratrooper associations (‘La Folgoré in particular distinguished itself in the battle), also a representation of the 66th infantry regiment currently stationed in Lebanon will be present. The 66th infantry is the heir of the division that courageously in Takrouna. (ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

Israel Learning From France on Burqa, Draft Law Soon

(ANSAmed) — JERUSALEM, APRIL 23 — A draft law that aims to ban the full Muslim headscarf, or burqa, in Israel will be presented soon to Knesset (Parliament) by Marina Solodkin, an MP of centrist opposition party Kadima. In an interview with Maariv, Solodkin, who recently returned from a trip to France, praised the initiative by President Nicolas Sarkozy against garments such as the burqa, which — in the MP’s view — “represent a humiliation for women and have absolutely nothing to do with religious morals”. The Kadima MP added that she does not harbour any anti-Islamic sentiments. The ban for women in Israel to travel covered from head to toe must be implemented, in her opinion, both for Muslims and Jews, referring to the sect led by the so-called ‘Taliban Mother’, an orthodox Jew who hides her face behind numerous layers of veils. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Poll: Obama Gets Thumbs Down on Israel

One third of Americans approve of how President Obama is handling the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, according to a new poll.

Washington (CNN) — Only a third of Americans approve of the way President Obama’s handling the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, according to a new national poll.

A Quinnipiac University survey released Thursday morning indicates that 35 percent of the public gives the president a thumbs up on how he’s dealing with the situation between Israel and the Palestinians, with 44 percent saying they disapprove, and just over one in five unsure.

This stands in contrast with how Americans feel about Obama’s overall handling of foreign policy, with 48 percent approving and 42 percent saying they disapprove.

According to the poll, two-thirds of Jewish voters disapprove of how the president’s handling Israeli-Palestinian relations, with 28 percent saying they approve. Jewish voters were big backers of Obama in the 2008 presidential election, with exit polls indicating that nearly eight of ten backed the Democratic candidate.

Two-thirds of people questioned in the survey say that the president should be a strong supporter of Israel but, by a 42 percent to 34 percent margin, voters say Obama’s not a strong supporter of Israel.

Relations between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government and the Obama administration have soured in recent months over Israel’s continued housing construction in East Jerusalem.

Israel seized East Jerusalem from Jordan during the Six Day War in 1967, and considers it part of its sovereign capital — a claim not recognized by the international community.

Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the future capital of their state.

The Quinnipiac University poll was conducted April 14-19, with 1,930 registered voters questioned by telephone. The survey’s overall sampling error is plus or minus 2.2 percentage points.

—CNN Deputy Political Director Paul Steinhauser contributed to this report

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

Middle East

Beijing Trying to “Water Down” Sanctions Against Tehran

China has proposed amendments to US-drafted sanctions. The mainland is Iran’s biggest trading partner, and depends on its energy supplies. The United States does not exclude the military option. Turkey offers to mediate.

New York (AsiaNews/Agencies) — The resolution that would impose new sanctions against Iran over its nuclear programme is in trouble. As expected, China wants to water it down. For its part, Iran has been on a diplomatic offensive to sway non-permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, like Lebanon and Uganda, and has already secured the “understanding” of Brazil and Turkey. The latter has also offered to mediate the dispute.

Beijing’s reluctance to impose more sanctions is understandable. China relies on Iran for 11 per cent of its energy needs and last year became Tehran’s biggest trading partner

The proposed new sanctions, drafted by the United States, approved by the United Kingdom, France and Germany and accepted by Russia would impose strict limits on investment in Iran’s oil and gas industry. China is directly involved in that sector.

According to reports from the United Nations, China is resisting tough sanctions. Conversely, the United States is turning up the pressure.

“We are not taking any options off the table,” Geoff Morrell, the US Defence Department’s press secretary said Wednesday.

The comments came as officials faced a flurry of questions after Michele Flournoy, the US undersecretary of Defence for policy, reportedly said that a strike against Iran would be a “last resort”.

Asked about Flournoy’s reported remarks Geoff Morrell said US strategy over Iran’s nuclear programme remained unchanged.

“It clearly is not our preference to go to war with Iran, to engage militarily with Iran. Nobody wishes to do that, but she [Ms Flournoy] also makes it clear it’s not off the table.”

Yesterday, China proposed changes to a US-drafted resolution in a private meeting. Sanctions, diplomatic sources say, would focus on Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, which controls companies and organisations that are linked to weapons proliferation.

Sanctions would extend the existing arms embargo to include the importation of light weapons and would curtail new investments in Iran’s lucrative energy sector.

The draft resolution would also strengthen financial measures that now call on all countries “to exercise vigilance” in entering into new trade commitments with Iran, including granting export credits, guarantees or insurance, and it would add new names of individuals and entities to a list of those subject to an asset freeze and travel ban for their proliferation-related activities.

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

Cars: Lebanon to Reduce Duties on Hybrid Models

(ANSAmed) — BEIRUT, APRIL 23 — Lebanon will this year lower its import duties on hybrid cars, announced the country’s Ministry of the Environment and Finance Ministry. The Italian Trade Commission (ICE) office in Beirut writes in a statement that duties on cars averaged 28% in 2009 in a country in which, according to some experts, 70-80% of air pollution is caused by vehicles. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

India — Islamic Veil: Urgent Need to Interpret the Koran to Restore Dignity to Women

Asghar Ali Engineer, Indian Muslim, joins the recent debate sparked by the full veil. It is part of a wider area that concerns the rights of women. He advocates a “direct approach ‘to the sacred text, and a departure from the Arab tradition, which keeps women in conditions of inferiority, claiming” their dignity and freedom of choice. “

Mumbai (AsiaNews) — The proposal by French President Nicholas Sarkozy to ban the full veil in France has aroused controversy in the Muslim world, in France and abroad. The debate is part of a broader category that covers women’s rights in the Islamic world, often duscussed by AsiaNews.

Inspired by the participation of Saudi Arabian poetess Hissa Hilal, in a contest in the UAE — which was a resounding success with the public and sparked a fierce debate — Asghar Ali Engineer, Indian Muslim and head of the Centre for the Study of Society and Secularism Mumbai, publishes a discussion on the topic entitled: “Muslim women between tradition and modernity.”

Recently in a poetic recital on T.V. in Saudi Arabia a Muslim poetess Hissas Hilal burst out against the strict control regime for women in her country. It was voice of protest and very bold protest at that, perhaps unthinkable in her regimented society. It was of course in verses of her poem. Speaking through a veiled face she spoke about Islamic preachers, “who sit in the position of power”, but are “frightening” people with their fatwas and “preying like a wolf “ on those seeking peace.

What is equally important is that she got loud cheers from the audience and won her a place in competition’s finals. It also brought her death threats. Posted on several militant web sites. The Saudi regime is controlled by salafi ulama in religious matters; they are adamant on retaining strict control over women in the name of Islamic traditions. Women are denied their rights and free choice according to their conscience.

This may not be the condition in all Islamic countries but traditional Muslim societies impose several restrictions and still are not ready to relax them. For example the kind of hijab many Muslim women wear covering their faces, looking at the world only through two eye holes, remains controversial among Muslim scholars, theologians and modern intellectuals. The question is what is to be done?.

No one can deny the fast pace of change in the globalised world and it is becoming increasingly challenging to retain present controls exercised on women in traditional societies. This controversy has been going on ever since modernity asserted itself since 19th century. Many reforms took place in Muslim countries and women won a degree of liberation.

However, the later twentieth, early twenty-first century saw a re-emergence of traditional Islam, particularly salafi Islam. No society registers linear progress and progressive measures, in turn bring more challenges. The reasons, not to be discussed here are both economic and political, apart from social and cultural. This complex nature of tension between tradition and modernity is both a challenge and an opportunity.

What is important in this debate, which is often ignored in these debates, is that what we practice in the name of Islam is more cultural than religious or scriptural and also that we depend too much on tradition while defending or opposing the restrictions applied on women. A good example of this is a recent book published from Pakistan on “Chehre ka parda wajib ya ghair wajib” (Face Veil — Compulsory or Not) compiled by Prof. Khurshid Alam. It is a very scholarly debate between two learned scholars one defending and the other opposing the face veil.

However, the book depends entirely on contradictory traditions of the prophet Mohammad and his companions cited by various medieval scholars. You find in abundance both kinds of traditions (hadith) insisting on the face veil or thinking it unnecessary and both the scholars use these traditions to strengthen their position. This approach only reinforces traditional cultural Islam.

We should not ignore the fact that the most of the traditions (except those on moral, ethical or pertaining to ibadat (matters of worship) reflect Arab culture on one hand, and medieval west Asian or central Asian culture, on the other. The jurists have also maintained that Arab Adat (customs and traditions) could become part of Shari’ah law and many Shari’ah laws incorporate the Arab ‘adat.

In the book I am referring to, there is very little direct approach to the Qur’an or fresh reflections on the relevant Qur’anic verses. Let Muslim jurists and scholars realize that Arab ‘adat are far from divine and should not necessarily form the basic structure of the Shari’ah law. Today we must change this cultural base through direct reflections and fresh understanding of the Qur’anic verses relevant to women. This attempt would establish individual dignity and freedom of choice for women. Freedom of conscience is an important doctrine of the Qur’an and so is the individual dignity. The Qur’an is far more in harmony with human dignity and freedom that the traditional medieval cultural practices.

This approach will, in no way, injure the divine nature of Shari’ah and also would liberate it from its traditional cultural basis incorporating patriarchal values of Arab culture rather than the divine spirit of the Qur’an. This would liberate Muslim women and give them sense of dignity and freedom reducing tension between tradition and modernity. This opportunity should not be lost causing more agony to women and creating the dilemma of choice for them. Most of the Muslim women want to follow their religion and also enjoy certain benefits of modernity. The Muslim scholars and jurists should end this agony.

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

Iran Strikes Secret Nuclear Mining Deal With Zimbabwe’s Mugabe Regime

Iran has struck a secret deal with Zimbabwe to mine its untapped uranium reserves in a move to secure raw material for its steadily expanding nuclear programme.

The agreement was sealed last month during a visit to Tehran by a close aide to Robert Mugabe, the Zimbabwean president who last weekend celebrated 30 years in power, The Sunday Telegraph has learned.

In return for supplying oil, which Zimbabwe desperately needs to keep its faltering economy moving, Iran has been promised access to potentially huge deposits of uranium ore — which can be converted into the basic fuel for nuclear power or enriched to make a nuclear bomb.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Iranian Nuclear Scientist Seeks Asylum in Israel

An Iranian nuclear scientist has asked for asylum in Israel, Deputy Minister Ayoub Kara, of the Druze community, said Saturday.

“My office has received a request from an Iranian scientist who is currently staying in a friendly country, by means of an Israeli Jewish woman of Iranian birth,” Kara revealed in a interview panel appearance in Ramat Gan. “I am making an effort to assist in this matter because I believe in helping anyone to remove the strategic and nuclear threat upon the enlightened and democratic world.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Saudis, Worried by Iran, Inch Toward Nuclear Power

Saudi Arabia last week announced the establishment of a renewable energy complex, confirming the country’s interest in nuclear energy.

The King Abdullah City for Nuclear and Renewable Energy, set to be established in Riyadh, will, according to a royal decree, be tasked with the research and application of nuclear technology and oversee all aspects of a nuclear power industry, the official Saudi Press Agency reported.

In an effort to diversify the country’s oil-based energy industry, Saudi Arabia has been experimenting with alternative energies such as solar power. Nuclear power is a growing focus area.

Analysts say, however, that politics may have played a major role in the Saudi decision to focus on nuclear technology, as the kingdom’s leaders feel increasingly threatened by the specter of a nuclear Iran.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Syria: Ebla Gas Plant Opened

(ANSAmed) — ROME, APRIL 23 — The new gas plant in Ebla, Homs, in the heart of Syria, has begun to work. The plant, opened yesterday by President Bashar Al Assad, will have an extracting capacity of 2.5 million cubic metres of gas per day. According to the website, in view of the increase in production of the country’s natural gas and oil, the Syrian Minister for Oil and Mining, Sofiane Allao, announced the desire to open new prospecting plants and to renovate several refineries that already exist. The Syrian government has also launched an international call for tenders for the opening of eight new exploration plants situated throughout the country. Other calls for tenders, concludes the website, relating to the start up of prospecting activities in the Mediterranean will be launched over the course of 2010. By mid-2011, Syria intends to increase from its current 28 million cubic metres of gas per day to 36 million cubic metres. Investments in the energy sector total 24% of the total of Syrian investments, namely some 4.1 billion euros, as well as the approximate 2.46 billion euros of foreign direct investments. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

The Hypocrisy of Child Abuse in Many Muslim Countries

Child marriage and pederasty are tolerated in Muslim societies where homosexuality is strictly condemned

Some Muslims are fond of condemning western morality — alcoholism, nudity, premarital sex and homosexuality often being cited as examples. But Muslims do not have a monopoly on morality. In the west, child marriages and sex with children are illegal. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for many Muslim countries.

I recently saw the documentary on the Dancing Boys of Afghanistan. It exposed an ancient custom called “bacha bazi” (boy for play), where rich men buy boys as young as 11 from impoverished families for sexual slavery. The boys are dressed in women’s clothes and made to dance and sing at parties, before being carted away by the men for sex. Owning boys is considered a symbol of status and one former warlord boasted of having up to 3,000 boys over a 20-year period, even though he was married, with two sons. The involvement of the police and inaction of the government means this form of child prostitution is widespread.

The moral hypocrisy is outrageous in a country where homosexuality is not only strictly forbidden but savagely punished, even between two consenting adults. However, men who sodomise young boys are not considered homosexuals or paedophiles. The love of young boys is not a phenomenon restricted to Afghanistan; homosexual pederasty is common in neighbouring Pakistan, too. In my view, repression of sexuality and extreme gender apartheid is to blame.

And in the Middle East, it’s young girls who are considered desirable and men are able to satisfy their lusts legally through child marriages. In Yemen, more than a quarter of girls are married before the age of 15. Cases of girls dying during childbirth are not unusual, and recently, one 12-year-old child bride even died from internal bleeding following sexual intercourse. In another case, a 12-year-old girl was married to an 80-year-old man in Saudi Arabia.

So why is the practice of child marriage sanctioned in Muslim countries? Unfortunately, ultra-conservative religious authorities justify this old tribal custom by citing the prophet Muhammad’s marriage to Aisha. They allege Aisha was nine years old when the prophet married her. But they focus conveniently on selected Islamic texts to support their opinions, while ignoring vast number of other texts and historical information, which suggests Aisha was much older, putting her age of marriage at 19. Child marriage is against Islam as the Qur’an is clear that intellectual maturity is the basis for deciding age of marriage, and not puberty, as suggested by these clerics.

Whatever one’s view on the prophet’s marriage, no faith can claim moral superiority since child marriages have been practised in various cultures and societies across the world at one time or another. In modern times, though, marrying children is no longer acceptable and no excuse should be used to justify this…

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

Turkish Man Acquitted for Giving Daughter Name ‘Kürdistan’

A father who faced jail time for registering his daughter’s name as “Helin Kürdistan” was acquitted on the charge by a Diyarbakir court, only to be sentenced to nearly 10 years in prison for another crime.

A criminal complaint was filed against Sanliurfa resident Ahmet Atis after he named his daughter, born in 2008, “Helin Kürdistan.” Acting on the complaint, prosecutors charged him with “making propaganda for a terrorist organization.”

He said he had no intention of making propaganda when naming his daughter and denied the charge against him during a hearing in the Diyarbakir Court of Serious Crimes.

The prosecutor also said there was not enough evidence against the suspect for the crime in question. The case was consequently dismissed in the first hearing and Atis was acquitted by the court, Dogan news agency reported Thursday.

The same court, however, sentenced Atis to eight years and four months in prison for a second case.

The defendant was sentenced for attending a demonstration held on April 4 on the occasion of the birthday of Abdullah Öcalan, the convicted leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Worker’s Party, or PKK, and throwing stones at police officers.

The PKK is recognized as a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.

For the second crime, prosecutors charged Atis with “committing a crime in the name of a terrorist organization,” “behaving against the law for the purposes of gathering and demonstration marches” and “making propaganda for a terrorist organization,” for which a total sentence of 20 years was demanded by the prosecution.

In defense, Atis’s lawyer, Muzaffer Demir, said his client’s face was clear in only one of the photographs shot during the demonstration and that there was no evidence of him shouting illegal slogans or throwing stones at the police.

“In the expert report, it says, ‘When the photograph is zoomed into [the face of the suspect] there are similarities.’ There cannot be such a thing in criminal justice,” Demire said.

Despite this defense, the court sentenced Atis to prison for the three aforementioned crimes.

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


Under-Fire Ukraine President Defends Russia Deal

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych defends a deal with Russia that extends the lease of a Russian naval base by 25 years in exchange for Kiev receiving a huge discount on gas imports. Yanukovych’s pro-Western foes vow to use all means to annul the agreement in parliament

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (L) and Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych speak during a news conference after they signed documents in Kharkiv. AFP photo.

President Viktor Yanukovych on Thursday defended a deal to allow a Russian base to stay in Ukraine until 2042 that has been slammed by his opponents as a surrender of Ukrainian sovereignty.

Yanukovych and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev had agreed to extend the lease of the Russian Black Sea Fleet base in Crimea for another 25 years after 2017, in exchange for Kiev receiving a discount of 30 percent on gas imports.

“With our economy in such a grave state, this decision will give a serious push forwards for our economy,” Yanukovych said at a news conference in Kiev a day after the signing of the deal. “We have reinforced the certainty about the future of our country. We have launched the basis for coming out of the crisis and starting the economic recovery.”

The surprise agreement, signed by the two presidents in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, was seized on by Yanukovych’s opponents as evidence the pro-Kremlin president was selling out Ukrainian interests to Moscow. His defeated rival in presidential elections, Yulia Tymoshenko, vowed to use all means to annul the agreement in parliament while the Our Ukraine party of ex-president Viktor Yushchenko called for Yanukovych to be impeached.

“This is a fight for Ukraine. Today we have to decide if Ukraine is a truly independent state or simply a territory with a coat of arms, flag and borders, but without an international voice,” said ex-speaker Arseniy Yatseniuk.

Yanukovych however said Ukraine’s goal of EU integration and its policy of maintaining an equal balance with East and West remained unchanged after the fleet agreement. “Our strategic aims are not changing. Ukraine will integrate into the European Union,” he said. “My aim is that in the triangle of EU-Russia-U.S., Ukraine will find its place and its national interests. We have to find an equilibrium.”

While Ukrainian media agreed the accord between Russia and Ukraine was historic, it warned it was controversial and may further split a country rocked by bickering between the Kremlin-friendly authorities and pro-Western opposition.

“A sudden friendship and the Black Sea fleet: a breakthrough or failure?” said Ukrainian daily Gazeta Po-Kievski. “You don’t have to go to a fortune teller — these decisions will become the cause of a new and possibly long-term confrontation in Ukraine.”

The Russian press hailed the agreements as an historic rapprochement after years of bad blood. “Agreed like brothers,” gushed newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta. “Rapprochement on all fronts,” announced the official mouthpiece of the defence ministry, Krasnaya Zvezda. “Naval love for 40 billion dollars,” quipped Moskovsky Komsomolets, a mass-circulation daily known for its close ties to the Kremlin.

The deal marked a dramatic turnaround in Russian-Ukrainian ties after the relationship became so bad under Yanukovych’s predecessor, the fiercely pro-Western Yushchenko, that Medvedev refused to do any business with him.

Analysts say the deal is unprecedented and was agreed by the two countries in record time, coming just two months after Yanukovych was elected president on pledges to improve ties with Russia.

Vedomosti business daily, citing a Russian official familiar with the talks, said the end result was “unexpected” and was not discussed at a ministerial meeting on the eve of the signing. Before the Kharkiv meeting, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin hosted his Ukrainian counterpart Mykola Azarov for last-minute talks to iron out the remaining issues before the signing.

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

Far East

Chinese Military Seeks to Extend Its Naval Power

YALONG BAY, China — The Chinese military is seeking to project naval power well beyond the Chinese coast, from the oil ports of the Middle East to the shipping lanes of the Pacific, where the United States Navy has long reigned as the dominant force, military officials and analysts say.

China calls the new strategy “far sea defense,” and the speed with which it is building long-range capabilities has surprised foreign military officials.

The strategy is a sharp break from the traditional, narrower doctrine of preparing for war over the self-governing island of Taiwan or defending the Chinese coast. Now, Chinese admirals say they want warships to escort commercial vessels that are crucial to the country’s economy, from as far as the Persian Gulf to the Strait of Malacca, in Southeast Asia, and to help secure Chinese interests in the resource-rich South and East China Seas.

In late March, two Chinese warships docked in Abu Dhabi, the first time the modern Chinese Navy made a port visit in the Middle East.

The overall plan reflects China’s growing sense of self-confidence and increasing willingness to assert its interests abroad. China’s naval ambitions are being felt, too, in recent muscle flexing with the United States: in March, Chinese officials told senior American officials privately that China would brook no foreign interference in its territorial issues in the South China Sea, said a senior American official involved in China policy.


Japan is anxious, too. Its defense minister, Toshimi Kitazawa, said in mid-April that two Chinese submarines and eight destroyers were spotted on April 10 heading between two Japanese islands en route to the Pacific, the first time such a large Chinese flotilla had been seen so close to Japan. When two Japanese destroyers began following the Chinese ships, a Chinese helicopter flew within 300 feet of one of the destroyers, the Japanese Defense Ministry said.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Immigration ‘At Limit’ Says UKIP

Slough cannot cope with any more immigration — that is the view of the constituency’s UK Independence Party candidate Peter Mason-Apps.

Liberal Democrat Chris Tucker said the main problem was the government had failed to keep up with the town’s population, leading it underfunded.

Fiona Mactaggart, Labour, said more needed to be done to help improve English language skills in the town.

Conservative Diana Coad said rules on immigration needed to be tightened.

Mr Tucker told the BBC: “I think overall, immigration is a positive good news story for Slough. I am proud to live in a town where all the communities get on well.

‘Seriously underfunded’

“I think it’s the speed of the change in population over the last 10 years which has been the real problem.

“It’s just that the government statisticians don’t seem to be able to keep up with the change, so the town is being underfunded quite seriously.”

Ms Mactaggart agreed that immigration was positive, using bilingual children as an example.

“The important thing is not that the child starts with another language… but that they get access to English quickly,” she said.

“We have increased the number of English as a foreign language courses in Slough and we do need to make sure that mums can read with their children in English.”

Ms Coad said: “It’s certainly very overcrowded, there’s no doubt about that.

“I think most people in Slough want to know that those in genuine fear of their lives have somewhere to go to, but we also feel the country is very, very crowded and there’s a strain on the infrastructure, housing, schools, GPs, jobs, everything.

“You can’t go on like this forever because the fact is the government have presided over runaway migration.

“The Liberal Democrats are talking about an amnesty for half a million migrants and I heard Lord Ashdown saying that it works but it doesn’t because they did it in Spain and the US and it simply encouraged more people to come in.”

Mr Mason-Apps said: “The feedback I am getting from Slough people… is that they are finding it’s a problem at the moment and they are feeling swamped and certainly the schools are having difficulties.

“I think there has got to be a sensible control and this is the problem. Because the EU really controls our immigration in the end, none of the three major parties’ policies could control immigration effectively.”

• The candidates standing for election in the Slough constituency are: Conservative: Diana Coad; Green: Miriam Kennet; Labour: Fiona Mactaggart; UK Independence Party: Peter Mason-Apps; Liberal Democrat: Chris Tucker.

           — Hat tip: Steen[Return to headlines]

Italy: Migrant ‘Language Test’ Draws Angry Response

Rome, 23 April (AKI) — A controversial proposal by Italy’s anti-immigrant Northern League to force migrants to pass an Italian test before they can open a store has provoked fierce opposition. The opposition Democratic Party and a Catholic migrant welfare group condemned the move on Friday.

The measure is one of several proposed by the Northern League in its hardline stance against illegal immigrants and step up integration.

It is contained in amendments to a decree on business and consumer incentives proposed by Northern League MP Silvana Comaroli, to the lower house of parliament’s business and finance committee.

Monsignor Giancarlo Perego, director-general of Migrantes, a Catholic welfare group, criticised the proposal on Friday saying it was destined to fail.

“If this is a proposal connected to the government’s planned integration measures, it makes no sense,” Perego said. “It’s important to understand the meaning of the proposal.”

“If it interferes with regional and national measures already in place, it is clear it is senseless and destined to fail.”

Perego’s criticism was echoed by opposition Democratic Party senator Roberto Di Giovan Paolo, secretary of the parliament’s European affairs committee.

“The League wants an Italian exam for foreigners who want to open a shop?” he said. “An Italian course with an exam would be really useful for many League members.”

Last year the Italian parliament a controversial security law making illegal immigration a criminal offence punishable with jail, fines of up to 10,000 euros and deportation.

The law also provided for citizen crime patrols and tripled the amount of time illegal immigrants could be detained in holding centres from two to six months.

Anyone renting housing to an illegal immigrant faces up to three years in prison under the security law.

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

UK Home to 1m Illegal Immigrants

More than 1m illegal immigrants are living in Britain — double the government’s most recent estimate, according to a study.

The report warns that a proposed amnesty for illegal immigrants could add a total of 2.2m to the population because each of the 1.1m “regularised” illegals would be entitled to bring at least one spouse, child or other family member into Britain.

The report is a direct challenge to Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, who has proposed an amnesty for long-term illegal residents who have been here for 10 years.

The study for MigrationWatch, a think tank that lobbies for stricter immigration controls, updates earlier studies from the Home Office and the mayor of London.

It points out that the latest Home Office study is based on figures from the 2001 census. It also challenges the formula for calculating the number of people who overstay their visas every year. The report says that the number of overstayers each year could be as many as 60,000 rather than the 10,000 implied by estimates.

Frank Field, Labour’s former welfare minister and co-chairman of the parliamentary cross-party group on balanced migration, welcomed the study’s findings.

“These are some of the immigration figures the three main parties didn’t want published before the election and it shows the danger of the Lib Dem loose talk of offering an amnesty,” he said.

Government ministers and left-wing think tanks have previously questioned research by MigrationWatch, saying that it was biased. But this weekend independent academics pointed out that the study’s estimate of 1.1m illegals was only 237,000 above the upper estimate of 863,000 produced last year by the London School of Economics (LSE) for Boris Johnson, the mayor of London. They said that study was based on figures to 2007, and therefore three years out of date.

           — Hat tip: Steen[Return to headlines]


Red LEDs Improve Nutritional Value of Leafy Green Vegetables

Kaunas, Lithuania — Searching for ways to improve the nutritional quality of leafy green vegetables, Lithuanian researchers have found success with new technology that features high-density photosynthetic photon flux generated by a solid-state illuminator. The technology, which can be applied in greenhouses for preharvest treatment of leafy vegetables, was found to decrease concentrations of harmful nitrates while allowing some beneficial nutrient levels to increase. The research results were published in a recent issue of HortScience.

The researchers experimented with a solid-state illuminator to provide short-term preharvest light treatment of lettuce, marjoram, and green onions. The vegetable plants were grown to harvest time in a greenhouse under daylight with supplementary lighting provided by standard high-pressure sodium lamps. A subsequent 3-day treatment within a phytotron under light-emitting diodes resulted in the reduction of nitrate concentration by 44% to 65%.

According to Giedre Samuoliene, lead author of the report, the technology is different from the usual practice of using high-pressure sodium lamps; solid-state illuminators limit the amount of radiant heat, allowing a high intensity of photosynthesis. Additionally, the technique allows for short-term treatment of plants rather than for full-cycle growth.

In vegetable leaves exposed to light generated by the solid-state illuminator, nitrate concentration was reduced by two to three times in comparison with those kept under high-pressure sodium lamps. The highest nitrate reduction rate was observed in hydroponically grown lettuce; after a 3-day treatment under red LEDs, tests showed a 65% relative decrease of nitrate concentration. The relative decrease of nitrates was similar in all species tested. “The results of our study indicate that nitrate content in lettuce, marjoram, and green onions can be considerably reduced by several times using short-term preharvest treatment under purely red light with high PPFD”, stated Samuoliene.

A significant outcome of the research is the finding that leafy vegetables can be produced under normal lighting conditions, while the health quality can be improved with a relatively short treatment using an advanced solid-state illuminator. The new technology may be expensive, but can prove economically viable in terms of production costs and the benefits of vegetables with added nutritional value. Since the treatment is conducted only over 10% of the overall growth cycle, the capital cost limitations for the application of solid-state lighting in horticulture are mitigated.

The researchers noted that the technology may be particularly practical for leafy vegetable production in northern countries where greenhouse plants are often grown under poor lighting conditions.

           — Hat tip: Zenster[Return to headlines]