Friday, January 10, 2003

News Feed 20100426

Financial Crisis
»Cyprus: Dark Clouds Loom Over Real Estate, Market Report
»Financial Reform: The Final Con Game
»Greece: Frattini to Germany, Save Common Enterprise
»Greece: Bond Yields Highest Since 1998
»Greece: Strike in Piraeus, Protests Tomorrow
»Greece: PAME Unionists Occupy Employment Ministry
»Portugal: Record Growth in Yield on Bund
»Progress Towards Approving Emergency Loans to Greece
»America’s Man-Handler-in-Chief
»Chuck Norris: Lambs to the Slaughter, Part 1
»Florida: Parvez Ahmed Critics Focus on CAIR Controversy
»Multiple Pedestrians Ignore Dying New York Hero
»Obama Abandons Climate Bill in Congress, Will Have EPA Regulate CO2 Instead
Europe and the EU
»Absence of Ethnic Violence in the Netherlands Explained
»Amnesty Urges Belgium Not to Ban Muslim Face Veil
»An Essay on the “Neurotic Theatre of Catholic Nationalism” In Poland
»Bernheim: 85, Bitter on Leaving Italy’s Generali
»Cyprus Works to Stop Human Trafficking, President Says
»Danish People’s Party Leader Depicted as Nazi
»Denmark: One Dead in Jewellery Robbery
»France: Proposed Burqa Ban Will Also be Imposed on Tourists
»French Minister Says Veil Ban Key to Coexistence
»Germany: Merkel to Defend Afghanistan Mission
»German Bishop Steps Down
»Germany: Integration Official Rejects Call for School Crucifix Ban
»Greece: Frattini; No to Rigidity But Step Forward From Greece
»Italy: Government Approves Gas Market Reform
»Italy: Industrialists: Gas-Reform Crucial for Business
»Italy: Aid Group May Sue UK Newspaper for Slander
»King Accepts Resignation of Belgian Government
»Lynxes Clawing Back a Bit of German Wilderness
»Rwandan Perpetrators Living in Europe Scot-Free
»Spain: Suspended for Veil, Schoolgirl Returns in Hood
»Sweden: Youth Gang Forces Malmö Pre-School Closure
»Switzerland: A Top Migration Official Has Come in for More Criticism Over His Claims That the Majority of Nigerians Wanting Swiss Asylum Are Involved in Criminal Activities.
»UK: Infantile and Horribly Offensive — the Fo’s Insult to the Pope is a Dismal Reflection of What Britain’s Become
»UK: More Than 7,000 Parents Hit by Truancy Convictions as Courts Punish Soaring Levels of School Absenteeism
»UK: Remember That Ash Cloud? It Didn’t Exist, Says New Evidence
»UK: Revealed: Oxford Graduate Who Wrote Offensive Memo About Pope Will Keep His Job as Civil Servant
»UK: the 7/7 Victim Who Survived for 45 Minutes After Blast. Could 17 Lives Have Been Saved?
»Vatican: Kung’s ‘Ecclesiastical Engineering’ Not Enough
»Vatican: Calls for Pope Trial Dismissed as Publicity Stunt
»Kosovo: Serbian Telephones Cut, Tadic Criticises Eulex
»The Suicide of Multiethnic Sarajevo?
Mediterranean Union
»Italy: Egypt Expected to Get 449 Million Euro EU Grant, Minister
North Africa
»Algeria: Women’s Associations Create Hassi Massaoud Committee
»Morocco: Al-Qaeda Cell Dismantled
»Press: Arab Journalists Report on Press Freedom
»‘We Refuse to be Muslims by Force’ Say Egyptian Christian Twin-Boys After Losing Court Case
Israel and the Palestinians
»Gaza: Hamas Police Stop Hip Pop Concert
»Obama’s 5 Big Lies About Israel
»‘Shalit Never to be Released’, Hamas Shocking Video
Middle East
»2010: Active Year for Islamic Finance in Kingdom
»Costa Crociere Targets Arab Tourism Market
»Defence: Turkey, Syria to Hold Joint Military Exercises
»Internet: Pay-for-News Idea Doesn’t Work, Ahmad (Al Jazeera)
»Iran: Tehran Candidates Itself for UN Post in Defence of Women’s Rights
»Iran: Daughter Writes to Jailed Human Rights Activist
»Norwegian Professor Denied Entry Into Turkey
»S. Arabia: Work on Industrial City Sudair Begins
»The West Should Use Resolution 1701 to Roll Back Hizbullah’s Effective Take-Over of the Lebanese Government
»Turkey’s Search for Natural Gas in Iran Goes on
»Turkey: 7 Sentenced to Life for Attack That Killed 44
»Yawn! Iran May be Able to Build a Missile Capable of Striking the US by 2015
»Yemen: British Ambassador Escapes With His Life as Suicide Bomber Blows Himself Up Yards From Armoured Car
»A Cruise Missile in a Shipping Box on Sale to Rogue Bidders
»Frank Gaffney: Arsenal of Roguery
»Genetically Modified Soy Linked to Sterility, Infant Mortality
South Asia
»Afghanistan: Poisoned… Or Victims of Mass Hysteria? Dozens of Afghan Schoolgirls Mysteriously Fall Ill After ‘Strange Odour’
»Afghanistan: Taliban Denies Responsibility for School Gas Attacks
»The “Zionist Hindu Crusader” Alliance Marches on
Australia — Pacific
»Koran Caution for Australian Tax Laws
Sub-Saharan Africa
»Spanish Frigate Sinks Ship Off Somali Coast
Latin America
»Ken Timmerman in Newsmax: Experts Warn of Escalating Chavez Threat
»White Woman Raped by Black Men in Haiti, Blames White Patriarchy
»Finland: Politicians React in Immigrant Workers Debate
»UK: Lib Dem Immigrant Amnesty ‘Gives 2.2m the Right to Stay’
»UK: The Master Forger Aged 76 Who Has Helped Up to 15,000 Stay Illegally in Britain
»Buzz Kill! Is This ‘Bee Armageddon’?
»Disastrous Computer Models Predictions From Limits to Growth to Global Warming
»Hawking: Aliens Are Out There, Likely to be Bad News

Financial Crisis

Cyprus: Dark Clouds Loom Over Real Estate, Market Report

(ANSAmed) — NICOSIA, APRIL 26 — A serious stock overhang, weakening occupational and investment demand, and the consequences of a worsening Greek banking situation do not bode well for the Cypriot real estate market, made worse as speculative supply kept being added long after demand had begun to weaken, an analyst report has concluded. “We are convinced the Cyprus property market faces further downward price adjustments on top of those already recorded,” said Savvas Savouri, partner and chief economist at Toscafund Asset Management LLP in a market report. “Spain’s ongoing problems should be seen as a warning of what awaits Cyprus. Whilst the investment outlook for vacation and retirement related real estate is a worry across all of continental Europe, in the Cypriot market participants do not seem to have awoken to the threats,” Savouri noted in his report, an advance copy of which was obtained by the Financial Mirror. “Whilst we hold concerns for vacation and retirement real estate across all of Europe, for Cyprus our alarm is heightened by the pervasive influence of Greek banks. Their arrival was of course at first favourable, bringing as they did capital that made its way into the property sector. However, their involvement when Greece itself is facing serious economic challenges risks making a bad situation worse. As Greek banks become ever more distressed from their domestic and Balkan-wide loans, Cyprus will be unable to avoid being sucked of liquidity. From already depressed levels Cyprus faces downward property price corrections,” Savouri warned. Selling or filling tourist and retirement property in Cyprus now means competing against Spain, Croatia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Lebanon and even Dubai and Florida. Outside the eurozone there is a growing likelihood that Croatia, Turkey and Bulgaria will become ever more competitive relative to Cyprus. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Financial Reform: The Final Con Game

There are those who have been talking about a single global regulator for years and as a result of the 2008 Credit Crisis, there have been calls to protect you and me from future banking crises through new financial reform. However, we had better consider its real impact. It is not about protecting you and me it is about changing the national regulatory laws of America to conform to a world governmental system and globalizing the last barrier separating individual nation-states. It is about a major power grab of America’s financial assets. As a result of the high stakes, we should ask if Republicans are being told they had better vote for financial reform so we don’t have another September/October, 2008? All of a sudden Senators McConnell and Shelby have had a sea change and are willing to work together on changing our banking system. It is a ruse, a con game when they say they are making the system safer. Let us review some necessary points.

As we consider the events of the past 18 months, we are confronted with a great deal of action, uncertainty, negativity, and pillaging of wealth. In order to understand where we are today and where we are going, we need to review the chicanery of the past eleven years.

One of the keynote events was the repeal of the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act in 1999 which we were told was necessary for banking modernization. In June 1999 then Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin said, “Reforming international financial institutions, strengthening the international financial architecture and maintaining open markets are not simply questions of economics but politics.” That same year, after a great deal of media and stock market hype and hysteria, Congress passed the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act-GLB which tore down all the protections that the Glass-Steagall Act had put in place, including the separation of commercial banking from investment banking to protect the investor. It also allowed for U.S. banks to become “financial conglomerates” meaning they could expand their services to sell insurance, stocks and bonds and perform the once outlawed investment banking services, which opened the doors for derivatives, now at the heart of the problem.


Hank Paulson, our second treasury secretary from Wall Street, had issued his “Blueprint for a Modernized Financial Regulatory System” in March, 2008. It called for a total revamping of all of America’s assets that were not under control of the Federal Reserve: the entire mortgage industry, banks that were not regulated by the Fed, credit unions, state chartered thrifts, and the insurance industry. The Fed was at the center of all the newly proposed commissions. In other words, a total take over of financial assets not under their control was at stake.

Is anyone putting two plus two together? The Federal Reserve is a private corporation so they do not issue an annual report and no one knows who their shareholders are. This company controls the entire monetary system of the United States which means they create the ups and the downs in the stock market and business cycle. They control credit. If they want to destroy the small businessman, they just stop issuing credit—like they are doing now. The Paulson Blueprint was blatant about them seizing control over all the other major financial assets they don’t control.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Greece: Frattini to Germany, Save Common Enterprise

(ANSAmed) — LUXEMBOURG — Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini has launched an appeal to Germany for it to get past its resistance towards an anti-crisis plan for Greece. “We are very concerned. I believe that if the risk of Greece hits other countries (Portugal has been raised as a possibility), this means that it is the common enterprise that we must save,” said the head of the Foreign Office in summing up yesterday evening’s debate in Luxembourg between the foreign ministers of the PPE, of which Frattini is the coordinator. “Since we are all together in this common enterprise, it is clear that we must necessarily be united. Even if some hold doubts, solidarity must prevail: it is in our interest and more than a moral duty it is a need,” said Frattini. The minister underscored that the EU-IMF plan for aid to Greece “is not a bailout, but the consolidation of the walls of Europe and the euro, and is therefore a bailout for all of us. In the middle of the crisis we realised that aid measures must be allowed and we came to this conclusion even without looking at Greece: there have been large-scale attenuations in European rigidity concerning State aid”. “However, this is not State aid: it is a system shoring up the euro. Or, to be more precise, it is reinforcement of integration: it works exactly towards what the prohibitions on aid were aiming at. If at this time we didn’t do what we must, meaning help out Greece, we would be creating the conditions under which we would be seeing more aid and not less in the future,” said Frattini.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Greece: Bond Yields Highest Since 1998

(ANSAmed) — ROME, APRIL 26 — Yields on Greek government bonds are still at a 12-year high (since 1998) after Athens officially requested the activation of the 45-billion-euro EU-IMF aid package on Friday. Two-year bond yields rose by 23 basis points to 11.16%, and those on ten-year ones rose by 12 basis points to 8.93%. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Greece: Strike in Piraeus, Protests Tomorrow

(ANSAmed) — ATHENS, APRIL 26 — Maritime transport from the Athens port Piraeus has been ground to a halt this morning by a strike against the government’s announcement that it intends to lift restrictions on coastal trade from non-European cruise ships. The Pan-Hellenic Federation of Maritime Workers has opted to block the departure of all Greek ships for 24 hours in protest against the consequences on employment levels that deregulation in the sector would have. A similar protest is set to take place on May 1 as well. Greek laws in force prevent large passenger ships from beginning and ending a cruise in the Greek port, while the legislative review announced by Premier Giorgio Papandreou is believed to have the potential to bring in 800 million more euros in revenues for the tourism sector, hit hard by the global crisis. The maritime protest is coming on the heels of last week’s one by Piraeus port workers belonging to the communist union Pame, in concomitance with the 24-hour strike called by the public-sector workers union Adedy against the austerity plan. Tomorrow will see protests against the government’s decision to make use of EU-IMF funds by the public-sector union Adedy. A partial halt to urban transport will also be seen tomorrow due to the demonstration announced by employees in the sector, who will be refraining from work from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.. The private-sector union Gsee has not taken part in the latest protests but is weighing a possible national strike, most likely at the beginning of May.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Greece: PAME Unionists Occupy Employment Ministry

(ANSAmed) — ATHENS, APRIL 26 — Dozens of communist militants and PAME unionists have today occupied the Employment Ministry in Piraeus, requesting a meeting with the Minister, Andreas Loverdos. The occupants are representing workers in the hotel sector, reports say. This afternoon, Loverdos is due to meet representatives of the private sector union GSEE, according to media reports. (ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Portugal: Record Growth in Yield on Bund

(ANSAmed) — ROME, APRIL 26 — The yield that Portuguese ten-year state bonds must offer compared with the German bund has soared to a record 203 basis points, on the basis of the historic series available to the Bloomberg agency. It is the most substantial rise since February 1997.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Progress Towards Approving Emergency Loans to Greece

BRUSSELS, April 26 (Reuters) — Euro zone governments say they stand ready to provide Greece with 30 billion euros of emergency three year loans, while the International Monetary Fund may provide some 10-15 billion euros more.

But how soon Greece gets the money depends on legal procedures in each of the 15 other euro zone countries and the IMF. Greece has limited time because it needs to pay back 8.5 billion euros in maturing debt on May 19.

Below is an overview of how much donors would contribute, dependent on their shares in the capital of the European Central Bank, and the legal hurdles the loans face:

IMF — up to 15 billion euros; IMF officials have said the Europeans want IMF financing not to exceed a third of any total aid package.

When a member country seeks an IMF loan, the Fund dispatches a mission to reach an agreement with the country on an economic programme. An IMF mission began talks in Athens last week. The IMF has declined to give an end date for the talks, but has said it can move quickly if needed.

Once a programme is agreed, IMF loans need the approval of the IMF management and board.

GERMANY — 8.4 billion euros. By adopting accelerated parliamentary proceedings, Germany could approve a law to bail out Greece on Friday, May 7, according to Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble.

Any legislation for Greek aid would need a simple majority in a vote by the lower house of parliament. It may also require approval from the upper house, depending on what kind of bill the government drafts.

If upper house approval is required, it could only delay the passage of the bill by calling for mediation to amend it. Were the amended bill to be rejected by the upper house again, the lower house could overrule the upper house.

The opposition Social Democrats (SPD) have threatened to hold up the fast-track process to permit further debate on the Greek aid, which most German voters are opposed to. However, the party is not opposed to aid for Greece in principle.

FRANCE — 6.3 billion euros. The package needs approval by both houses of parliament. The bill is set to be given fast-track treatment and the government hopes it will be passed into law by May 10. Some 3.9 billion euros can be mobilised in 2010. The rest would come later. President Nicolas Sarkozy’s centre-right allies say they support the bill. Opposition leftist parties have said nothing, suggesting they won’t create any problems.

ITALY — 5.5 billion euros. The contribution will be authorised by a government decree, which comes into force immediately after it is approved by the cabinet. The decree needs to be approved by both chambers of parliament within 60 days. An Italian Treasury official said last week that the government was readying the decree but gave no details on the timeframe.

SPAIN — 3.7 billion euros. Needs to be approved in parliament to be disbursed although the government has not yet provided any date for when it will be presented for approval and Deputy Prime Minister Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega said last week the country was ready to release the money for Greece when needed.

NETHERLANDS — 1.8 billion euros. Approval is needed from the both houses of parliament, though a majority of MPs have already said they would back the aid plan. The finance ministry says it will notify parliament the aid is needed after the EU and IMF complete their review in Greece. As soon as the next day the government will submit a supplementary budget bill to parliament with the aid request. It is expected that parliament could act on the bill in as soon as a couple of days.

PORTUGAL — 770 million euros. Finance Minister Fernando Teixeira dos Santos has said the loan for Greece would be presented to parliament for approval. No date has been set yet for when that will happen.

FINLAND — 550 million euros. The loan, part of a supplementary budget proposal, is due to be discussed by parliament in early May. There has been no indication from the majority 4-party coalition that the loan would not be approved.

SLOVENIA — 144 million euros. The aid is expected to be approved by parliament in late May or early June. The government had said all procedures needed to give aid would be finished by the end of June at the latest. The ruling coalition is expected to back the Greek aid legislation in parliament which should be sufficient even if opposition parties vote against it.

           — Hat tip: Henrik[Return to headlines]


America’s Man-Handler-in-Chief

Barack Obama is an opponent of the free-market system, Is seeking to impose government control over every single aspect of American life.

Back in 1994, Republicans swept both houses of Congress and shifted the balance of power back from Bill Clinton’s leftward tilt. Their backlash was largely a result of Clinton’s push for nationalized health care.

A lot of pundits are making all manner of comparisons between then and 2010, but, as I see it, the main distinction between then and now is that Bill Clinton was fundamentally a proponent of the free-market system, while Barack Obama is an opponent of it, seeking to impose government control over every single aspect of American life he disagrees with, a very long list indeed.

There’s no sign he’s going to stop. He is, after all, a community organizer at heart. So, what exactly does a community organizer do?

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Chuck Norris: Lambs to the Slaughter, Part 1

(Editor’s note: This is Part One of a three-part series on the threat to the Second Amendment and Americans’ firearm freedoms.)

Right now, Washington is scheming and scamming to erode then erase the Second Amendment from our Constitution. And it will accomplish it through the signing of international treaties on gun control, bypassing the normal legislative process in Congress, tightening regulations upon firearm and ammunition manufacturers, using the anti-gun financing of tycoons and ultimately confiscating all firearms under the guise of terrorism patrol and enforcement. Without public debate and cloaked in secrecy, gun control will covertly come upon us like a thief in the night. One day, we will wake up to discover that the U.S. has signed a global treaty that will prohibit any transfer of firearm ownership, force reductions in the number of firearms privately owned and eventually eradicate the planet of guns for law-abiding citizens. Of course, the criminals will still illegally have their guns. And on that day, if you do not comply with that global treaty, you will be fined and face imprisonment. This is not a fictitious story or false warning. As sure as government health care has been shoved down our throats, so will the barrels of our guns. And left with little defense, we will go as lambs to the slaughter.

I believe the political stars are aligning right now for just such a “perfect storm” of domestic disarmament: via the election and work of an anti-gun president, the disarmament passions of the Washington elites and the United Nations, the appointments of gun prohibitionists from the White House to the Supreme Court, and the funding of an anti-Second Amendment movement by billionaire progressives like George Soros.


It was no surprise when Obama was elected that the nation was consumed with other domestic issues and had selected a president with one of the most anti-firearm records in American history. During his presidential campaign, the National Rifle Association, or NRA, outlined more than two dozen ways that Obama has fought against America’s Second Amendment firearm freedoms over the years. So much so, that the NRA graded Obama’s (and Hillary Clinton’s) voting records among other presidential candidates as an “F.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Florida: Parvez Ahmed Critics Focus on CAIR Controversy

Supporters say claims against him as a former CAIR leader are unfounded. Those opposed point to group’s distinction — it’s on list of 300 under suspicion.

As opposition mounts to Parvez Ahmed’s nomination to a city commission, a controversial civil rights group is in the crosshairs.

What Ahmed considers evidence of devoted public service, critics have branded dirty laundry.

Ahmed, a finance professor at the University of North Florida, has written papers and participated in numerous panel discussions about the Middle East conflict. He took the volunteer chairmanship of the Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, and spent three years leading CAIR’s national board.

Ahmed, 46, views his contentious nomination to the Jacksonville Human Rights Commission as an extension of his commitment to peace and civil rights.

After a delay prompted by questions about his character, Ahmed’s nomination is scheduled for a full vote by the City Council on Tuesday. He has received support from colleagues, including UNF President John Delaney, and Mayor John Peyton has stood by his appointment.

The controversy centers on Ahmed’s ties to CAIR, which detractors claim has been linked to Hamas, a militant Palestinian organization designated as a terrorist group by the U.S. government.

Supporters of CAIR say the claims are unfounded, noting that many Muslim organizations have taken similar criticism since the terrorist attacks of 9/11. CAIR, they say, would not still be operating in Washington, D.C., if it were tied to extremist groups.

But the people opposing Ahmed’s nomination say he and other CAIR officials have never formally renounced Hamas.

“The reality is, CAIR has been part of a conspiracy to fund and provide materials to Hamas,” said Guy Rodgers, executive director of ACT! for America, an “anti-radical Islam” group based in Pensacola. “If it occurred before Parvez was chairman, why doesn’t he stand up and renounce it all?”

Ahmed said he’s confident that CAIR has no ties to any terrorist organization. And he has stressed his opposition to attacks in the Middle East that have killed innocent civilians.

“My values and principles have always been to advocate peaceful resolutions to conflict, and advocate peace and justice for all people,” he said.

Meaning of ‘unindicted’

CAIR was founded in 1994 to combat anti-Muslim discrimination and promote civil rights for American Muslims.

John Esposito, a Georgetown University religion professor and author of “The Future of Islam,” met the founders when they were starting up in Washington, D.C.

“It was a small operation, very much concerned with issues of discrimination against Muslims in the workplace and in the neighborhoods, and the ability to build Islamic centers and mosques,” said Esposito, also director of the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown.

CAIR’s reputation was like that of any young civil rights organization — with leaders aggressively pursuing justice in discrimination cases, he said.

ACT! for America and the Anti-Defamation League disagree, claiming CAIR was founded as a front for Hamas. The ADL sent a letter to the City Council last week opposing Ahmed’s nomination.

Leaders of the ADL, a well-known advocacy group fighting anti-Semitism, say they’ve asked CAIR many times to renounce what they view as anti-Semitic positions, and the group has refused to do so.

“You will see a statement addressing terrorism in general terms … They do a semantic dance around condemning groups designated as terrorist organizations,” said Oren Segal, director of the ADL’s Center on Extremism in New York.

CAIR’s public troubles began in 2007, when the organization, along with more than 300 other individuals and Muslim groups, were listed by the government as “unindicted co-conspirators” in a terrorism-funding trial. The legal term applies to people who are not charged with crimes but could be under suspicion, allowing evidence of their conversations to be introduced by prosecutors.

The list didn’t include any information about how each person or agency may have been connected to the Holy Land Foundation, the group whose leadership was on trial and was later convicted of financing terrorism.

“Do you know what ‘unindicted’ means?” asked Ibrahim Hooper, communications director for CAIR. “It means unindicted.”

Hooper said CAIR filed lawsuits and briefs seeking to have its name removed from the list, all unsuccessful.

“How do you un-ring a bell? It’s impossible,” he said. “Obviously, Muslim-bashers have exploited this to the maximum.”

It was during this time that Ahmed was national chairman of CAIR’s board. He stepped down in 2008, citing a disagreement over the direction of the organization.

The allegations against CAIR played no role in his decision to leave, he said, although he knows the organization and his own reputation were tainted by the “co-conspirator” label.

“That does not reflect that myself or the organization were related to terror or condone anything,” Ahmed said. “To the contrary, my statement has been clear. I have condemned violence against Palestinian civilians and also against Israeli civilians. Violence in not something that this group condones.”

‘Founded to defend Muslims’

Esposito said the accusations against Ahmed, whom he knows from Ahmed’s work at CAIR, is not an unusual experience for any Muslim who chooses to be politically active in the post-9/11 era.

Numerous websites are devoted to attacking even moderate Muslim academics like Ahmed, he said, and even donating to a Muslim organization can be seen as a perilous choice.

“The average Arab or Muslim worries, ‘If I give money to an organization, will it harm me and my children in the future?’“ Esposito said.

“Will I get a knock at the door from an agency wanting to question me? If I try to get a job in the government, does that mean people will come after me?”

Yvonne Haddad, a Georgetown professor who teaches about Islam and Christian-Muslim relations, said she watches CAIR closely and has attended some of their events. Her research focuses on the modern American experience for Muslims, and how it compares to the discrimination that Jewish and Catholic Americans felt a century ago.

She believes CAIR does much of the same work for its people as the ADL or the NAACP.

“Basically, they were founded to defend Muslims, and they sort of emulate the Jewish group. That’s their goal,” said Haddad, who is not Muslim and does not know Ahmed. “If the government had the goods on them, they would’ve tried them or shut them down by now.”

Ahmed says much of the opposition — all strangers, he points out — use one sentence taken out of context from a lengthy scholarly paper or one phrase out of a long speech on the Middle East as examples of his alleged bias.

On his personal blog, Ahmed speaks often of how to prevent young Muslims from turning to extremism and how to find common ground in the world’s faiths.

“This is a caricature of my life’s work,” Ahmed said. “The rhetoric does not match the reality.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Multiple Pedestrians Ignore Dying New York Hero

(April 24) — A homeless man who was stabbed while saving a woman from a knife-wielding attacker lay dying in a pool of his own blood for more than an hour while several New Yorkers walked past without calling for help.

Surveillance video obtained by the New York Post shows that some passers-by paused to gawk at Hugo Alfredo Tale-Yax early Sunday morning and yet kept on walking.

One man came out of a nearby building and took a cellphone photo of the victim before leaving. Another leaned over and vigorously shook the dead man before walking away. But most people never stopped.

Firefighters arrived more than an hour and 20 minutes after Tale-Yax collapsed. By that time, the 31-year-old was dead.

“They needed to help and call the police. I don’t get it,” resident Ramon Bellasco, 46, told the Post.

The incident happened at 7:21 a.m. almost a week ago at 88 Road and 144th Street in the borough of Queens, but police didn’t have a clear idea of what happened until recently.

Tale-Yax is seen on the grainy video approaching a man who was threatening a woman with a knife. The man turned and stabbed Tale-Yax but most of the action is out of the security camera’s field of vision. Both the stabber and the woman then fled in different directions and Tale-Yax stumbled a few paces before collapsing face-down on the sidewalk.

Within a minute or so, the first of a long series of people begins walking by Tale-Yax without going to his aid.

Police told the Post they received four 911 calls at around the time of the attack reporting a woman screaming, but found nothing. They said they received no other 911 calls.

The incident is reminiscent of the rape and murder of Kitty Genovese, also in Queens, in 1964. In that case, dozens of people witnessed some or all of the attack and yet no one did anything to stop it.

No arrests have been made in the latest slaying, and police have been unable to identify the woman Tale-Yax was trying to help.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Obama Abandons Climate Bill in Congress, Will Have EPA Regulate CO2 Instead

The recent announcement of the Democrat’s switch of focus from Cap and Trade energy legislation to immigration reform is simply an administrative slight of hand.

Barack Obama and the rest of his co-conspirators in Washington including Rahm Emanuel, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid know full well that a hard fought political battle in Congress over an energy bill was unnecessary. Instead they have given the EPA their blessing to unilaterally determine CO2 limits for the nation.

On April 2 I wrote a piece titled Forget Cap and Trade: EPA Regulation of CO2 Emissions Will Begin in 10 months that illustrates Obama’s plan to use the EPA to bypass congressional approval to regulate all energy use in America.

According to EPA press releases on March 29 and April 1 the “final determination” that CO2 is a greenhouse gas has been made and stationary source emitters including power plants, factories and eventually most family homes “will be required to get Clean Air Act permits that cover greenhouse gases” starting January 2011.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Absence of Ethnic Violence in the Netherlands Explained

While other Western countries have been the scene of ethnic riots, the Netherlands remained quiet. According to one new study, the Dutch have their police to thank for it.

By Sheila Kamerman

How has the Netherlands managed to escaped large-scale ethnic riots, researcher Otto Adang and two of his colleagues wondered. On Monday, Adang, who teaches public order and threat control at the Apeldoorn police academy,presented his findings to the acting minister of home affairs, Ernst Hirsch Ballin. The report titled Are we different? tries to explain why the rise in immigration and tensions accompanying it hasn’t led to an explosion.

The importance of knowing what lies behind the absence of ethnic riots in the Netherlands is important, said Adang, because some have warned they could happen any moment. “With reason,” Adang said about this alarm. “In a heavily polarised society, riots can easily break out.”

Other Western countries have already seen their share of race riots. As recently as 2005, heavy rioting gripped the outer neighbourhoods of France’s major cities, but the first ethnic riots there took place in the 1970s. The UK, Belgium and the US have also been the scene of some violent ethnic rioting.

Many incidents

The Netherlands has some ethnical tensions of its own. In recent years, incidents could have easily escalated into more serious turmoil. A neighbourhood in the city of Gouda remained a hotbed of unrest long after a bus driver had been threatened and his colleagues refused to traverse the neighbourhood in 2008.

In Amsterdam’s Slotervaart neighbourhood, emotions ran high after a Moroccan-Dutch man was shot and killed by a police officer in the same year after he had stabbed both her and a colleague. Earlier this year, confrontations between youths of Moroccan and Moluccan descent rocked the rural town of Culemborg. The list of ethnic incidents goes on.

“The reason for these ethnic riots lies largely in segregation and social-economic deprivation,” Adang said. “Large scale immigration is a relatively recent phenomenon. We have ethnic neighbourhoods of course, but we don’t have ghettos like the US or the UK do. The Dutch social security system prevents extreme poverty.” But that is not the only reason ethnic tensions may be milder in the Netherlands. Based on his research, Adang has concluded the police also plays an important part.

Grosso modo, two models for police action exist. In the repressive model, the police simply upholds the law by cracking down on violations. This type of police action is mainly directed at symptoms, not at underlying causes. The police force is an outsider in neighbourhoods and it approaches residents as a group.

In the second model of police action, police officers are familiar with a certain neighbourhood. Officers invest time and effort in their contacts with local residents and social organisations. They get in touch with mosques and social workers; they know the local priest and participate in neighbourhood meetings occasionally. In this model, police officers also uphold the law, but only through targeted action. Police officers are familiar with the peculiarities of ethnic groups, allowing police to respond adequately to problems.

No dumb luck

In the Netherlands, the police adopted the latter, network-oriented, approach as early as the 1980s. This helps to quell incipient riots, said Adang. “When trouble arises, they can fall back on their relationshipsAs a police officer, you have your sensors out in society. You can prevent escalation by using your network. It was more than dumb luck that we have avoided ethnic riots.”

According to Adang, investing in local work is the way to go. He wants this to get more attention both within the police and from politicians. Some experts he interviewed study said they could not rule out ethnic riots from taking place in the Netherlands in the future. At the same time, the tendency in recent years has been to emphasise repression and upholding the law, Adang said. “Upholding the law is good. The police has cracked down on crime and anti-social behaviour. Nobody is against that,” he said in favour of this policy.

“But addressing people based on their group-membership instead of their behaviour doesn’t work well. A police officer busy writing tickets and meeting targets can only spend part of this time maintaining relationships. The sense of balance is lost.” The problem here, Adang said, is that there is no direct pay-off. “Connections only become valuable when trouble arises.”

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

Amnesty Urges Belgium Not to Ban Muslim Face Veil

Amnesty International has urged the Belgian Parliament not to pass a draft law which would prohibit the wearing of the full face veil anywhere in public.

But parliament’s vote on the issue, which was due on Thursday (22 April), has been delayed by the collapse of the country’s government on the same day.

Belgium had looked set to be the first European country to outlaw the veil. While the political crisis has held up the issue, Amnesty hope that politicians will choose not to introduce a ban once the political situation is resolved.

“A general ban on the wearing of full face veils would violate the rights to freedom of expression and religion of those women who choose to express their identity or beliefs in this way,” said Claudio Cordone, Amnesty International’s Interim Secretary General.

But Cordone emphasised that, “At the same time the Belgian authorities must make sure that all women who wear the full veil do so without coercion, harassment and discrimination.”

If the law comes into force, those who violate it could either be fined between 15 and 25 Euros or be imprisoned for between one and seven days, or both. People wearing masks because of the nature of their work or because they take part in festivals would be exempted.

Over the last few months there has been growing public debate in Europe on the wearing of full face veils, such as the niqab or the burqa, by Muslim women.

Last week, the French government announced that it would shortly be putting a similar draft law before Parliament.

International human rights law guarantees people the right to freedom of expression and freedom to manifest their religion or beliefs. Amnesty says that these freedoms extend to the way in which people choose to dress.

The organisation adds that states must therefore not impose generally applicable requirements that women dress or do not dress in a certain way, and they must protect women from the imposition of such requirements by third parties, including families and communities.

“Women must not be compelled to wear a headscarf or veil, either by the state or by individuals; and it is wrong for them to be prohibited by law from wearing it,” Claudio Cordone said.

“However, some clearly defined restrictions on the wearing of full face veils for the purposes of public safety will be legitimate. For example, it will be perfectly legitimate for women to be asked to lift their veils for identity checks.”

Amnesty International emphasise that they do not believe that a general ban on the wearing of full face veils in public is “necessary or proportionate for any legitimate objective”.

           — Hat tip: Holger Danske[Return to headlines]

An Essay on the “Neurotic Theatre of Catholic Nationalism” In Poland

Süddeutsche Zeitung 22.04.2010

The paper prints an essay by the writer Olga Tokaczuk on the “neurotic theatre of Catholic nationalism” which has overtaken her country in the wake of the tragedy in Smokensk. And she is fiercely critical of the Catholic Church for assuming control of the funeral service. “As administrator of most of the national symbols and monuments, the Catholic Church controls all access to them, which gives it unlimited potential for political and social manipulation. The decision to bury the Kazcynszkis in the crypt of the Wawel cathedral was a demonstration of feudal power, an unambiguous gesture, which took place without any consultation of wider society and with blatant disregard for the growing social and political divide.”

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

Bernheim: 85, Bitter on Leaving Italy’s Generali

French financier Antoine Bernheim, stepping down from the helm of Generali on Saturday, charged he was forced out of the Italian insurance giant by foes who used his advanced age as a pretext.

“It appears that today, at age 85, I am an old man in his dotage,” Bernheim said in an emotional speech to shareholders.

“It is sad to leave a company after 40 years,” he said in the emotional speech lasting more than an hour, indicating however that he was prepared to accept a position as honorary chairman.

Bernheim is to hand over the reins of Europe’s third largest insurer to Cesare Geronzi, head of Italy’s leading investment bank Mediobanca.

The Parisian joined the board of Generali in 1973, chairing it from 1995 to 1999 and since 2002.

Shareholders must approve the nomination of 75-year-old Geronzi by Mediobanca — the largest shareholder of Generali with a stake of 13.2 percent — before the board can make him chairman.

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

Cyprus Works to Stop Human Trafficking, President Says

(ANSAmed) — NICOSIA, APRIL 26 — Cyprus President Demetris Christofias has said that he and the government “will continue our efforts with unrelenting intensity and interest” until the phenomenon of the trafficking of persons is eradicated, as daily Famagusta Gazette reports today. Cyprus is a destination country for a large number of women from Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, Russia, Latin America, and the Philippines trafficked for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation. Recent trends indicate an increasing number of women trafficked to Cyprus from Latin America, Morocco, and Syria. Addressing an event at the Presidential Palace against the trafficking of persons, President Christofias noted that the trafficking of persons “has become the third largest and fastest developing criminal industry in the world.” Cyprus authorities have again come under the international spotlight for their inability to effectively combat human trafficking and the sexual exploitation of women. In 2008, most identified victims of sex trafficking in Cyprus were fraudulently recruited to Cyprus on three-month “artiste” work permits to work in the cabaret industry, on “barmaid work permits” to work in pubs, or on tourist visas to work in massage parlors disguised as private apartments. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Danish People’s Party Leader Depicted as Nazi

A Facebook group’s depiction of prominent nationalist party members as Nazis has been criticised by Socialist People’s Party MPs

Several MPs for the Socialist People’s Party (SF) have found themselves in an embarrassing situation on Facebook, when a group on the internet networking site, of which they were members, posted illustrations of leading politicians from the Danish People’s Party, wearing Nazi uniforms.

Danish People’s Party (DF) leader Pia Kjærsgaard and party vice-president Peter Skaarup were reportedly shown giving straight-arm salutes and wearing the Third Reich iron cross symbol. The illustrations have since been removed from the website.

The Facebook group is called ‘Denmark’s Lions — resistance movement against DF’s obsession with power’ and reportedly has around 32,000 members.

It isn’t the first time — or probably the last — that Kjærsgaard and her fellow members of the nationalist-oriented DF party have been compared to Nazis by those considered left-of-centre.

But most would agree the designation on Facebook was inappropriate — including the Socialist People’s Party members who were, according to them, unwitting parties to the prank.

‘I sincerely apologise for it and add that I do not share those viewpoints,’ said MP Steen Gade. ‘I’ve sent a letter to DF saying that I’m sorry if my membership in the group gave the impression that I legitimise this sort of thing.’

Gade said he did not follow the group’s activities and was not aware of the depictions. Fellow SF parliamentary member Kamal Qureshi said he had no idea which Facebook groups he was registered in and was also not aware of the drawings.

According to the founders of the ‘Denmark’s Lions’ group, it was only a few individual group members that were behind the drawings and the action was ‘misguided’.

‘The initiative-takers of the website aren’t responsible for a handful of the Facebook group’s supporters having illustrated DF members through a few drawings in such an insulting, mocking, ridiculous, tasteless and utterly wrong fashion,’ said the group’s founders, Flemming Chr. Nielsen and Rune Engelbreth Larsen, in a press release.

‘We absolutely do not support this type of crude characterisation.’

Yet although the Socialist People’s Party MPs have apologised for their Facebook group association, DF apparently has no problem with its own comparison of SF group chairman Ole Sohn with former Nazi Party chairman Frits Clausen, which according to news bureau Ritzau appears on DF’s homepage.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Denmark: One Dead in Jewellery Robbery

An armed robbery in the city’s Amager district resulted in the killing of the getaway car’s driver by police

One of the men involved in an armed robbery of a jeweller in the city’s Amager district was shot and killed by police on Saturday.

Eight people in all have been arrested in connection with the crime, which took place at around 10am at the Aveny jewellery shop on Amagerbrogade street. Two were arrested on Saturday and the other six were found on Monday at a flat located near the Bella Center conference hall.

An officer who attempted to stop the getaway car was hit and dragged several metres by the vehicle. His partner then fired, killing the driver.

The wounded officer was taken to Rigshospitalet where he was treated before being released.

According to police the man killed had Chilean identification papers on him and the remaining suspects — one of whom is a woman — are also thought to be Chilean, reports public broadcaster DR.

A spokesman for the police said that although they are not ‘100 percent certain’ that the Chileans are behind the crime, evidence found at the suspects’ apartment was incriminating.

No further information on the arrests had been released by police as of Monday morning, as authorities are still in the process of determining whether the evidence gathered is sufficient to press charges.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

France: Proposed Burqa Ban Will Also be Imposed on Tourists

One day after French President Nicolas Sarkozy lent his support to a strict public ban on full veils; his government has announced its intention to also impose this law on tourists as well as residents.

REUTERS — France’s government on Thursday announced it would apply a proposed ban on face-covering Islamic veils to visiting tourists as well as residents, even as sceptisim mounted over the legality of the plan.

Junior family minister Nadine Morano said visitors would have to “respect the law” and uncover their faces, prompting critics to speculate whether Saudi luxury shoppers would be forced to unveil themselves on the glitzy Champs-Elysees. “When you arrive in a country you have to respect the laws of that country,” Morano said on France Info radio. “If I go to certain countries I’m also forced to respect the law.”

French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Wednesday backed a strict public ban of the veil, commonly referred to in France as the burqa, eschewing more moderate proposals that focused on limits in state institutions such as schools and town halls.

The draft bill will be presented to the cabinet next month.

“Why should we accept (the veil) on the bus and not in the town hall?” Morano said. She repeated Sarkozy’s line that the veil hurts the dignity of women and equality between the sexes.

Prime Minister Francois Fillon said on Wednesday he was ready to take on a “legal risk” by supporting the ban, which could be challenged in the European Court of Human Rights on the grounds that it violates freedom of religion.

France’s highest court has already warned the government that a complete ban could be unlawful.

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

French Minister Says Veil Ban Key to Coexistence

French Justice Michele Alliot-Marie on Sunday defended a government plan to ban the full Islamic veil in public, saying it is necessity for coexistence in France despite complaints from Muslims that it is an affront to their human rights.

“The first principle in France is religious freedom, respect for all religions and freedom of everyone to practise their religion. That is why we allow the construction of religious buildings all over the country,” she told AFP in an interview in Jordan.

“A second thing to remember is that the Koran does not demand that women wear full veil — all senior Muslim leaders in France say this regularly,” she said of Islam’s holy book.

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

“The second major principle in France is the rejection of communitarianism. The law treats everybody equally, and that’s the basis of the unity of the republic,” said Alliot-Marie, in Jordan for talks on legal cooperation.

“Before implementing the law, there will be a stage to educate people and explain why we want to do this.”

She said the ban would help women integrate into society.

“Yes, we believe it will help them integrate. They can’t stay at home all the time. And if their husbands prevent them from going out, then this is an illegal act that is punishable by law,” she said.

The planned ban has been condemned by Muslim leaders outside France as an attack on religious freedom, although French politicians insist they are fighting to protect women’s rights and French secular traditions.

In France the political repercussions were highlighted as Muslims in the city of Nantes complained of being stigmatised after a woman was fined for driving while wearing a veil.

“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, and the incident is gaining political momentum.

French Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux has asked his colleague Eric Besson in immigration to inquire into the woman’s husband, alleging that he may belong to a radical group and may be a polygamist with four wives and 12 children.

The Paris government has said a bill would be presented to ministers in May, seeking to ban the niqab and the burqa from streets, shops and markets and not just from public buildings.

It says only around 2,000 Muslim French women currently cover their faces. The niqab, which covers the face apart from the eyes, is widely worn on the Arabian peninsula and in Gulf states.

Last month, the State Council — France’s top administrative authority — warned against a full ban on the veil, suggesting instead an order that women uncover their faces for security checks or meetings with officials.

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

Germany: Merkel to Defend Afghanistan Mission

Following the deaths of seven German soldiers in Afghanistan within two weeks, Chancellor Angela Merkel will deliver a speech to the parliament robustly defending the war, a top official announced Monday.

The speech to the Bundestag on Thursday would make it clear that the policy of fighting Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan remained firmly in place, Chancellery Chief of Staff Ronald Pofalla told broadcaster ZDF.

“The price is terrible,” he admitted, adding that the mission remained, as before, “exceedingly dangerous.”

The news came as the Office of the Federal Prosecutor announced it was winding up its investigation of the Kunduz airstrike that was ordered by a German commander and killed dozens of civilians.

The investigation of commander Georg Klein decided no breach of international or German law had taken place. The decision effectively gives greater certainty to German troops stationed in Afghanistan that they will not be pursued for war crimes.

Pofalla, meanwhile, said Merkel wanted to use the address to make clear “that we are still pursuing the policy of a ‘handover of responsibility’ and that we value tremendously the work of our soldiers.”

The government wanted to stay the course in its Afghanistan policy, despite public shock over the two recent attacks by Taliban fighters that have left seven German soldiers dead.

“We don’t intend to change that position,” he said.

Merkel made similar addresses to parliament following the German-ordered Kunduz air strike last September that killed dozens of civilians and ahead of the January Afghanistan conference in London.

Four Bundeswehr soldiers were killed and five seriously wounded last Thursday when Taliban fighters hit their armoured vehicle with a rocket launcher. Another three Germans were killed and eight injured on Good Friday when their convoy was ambushed.

The German troops stationed near Masar-i-Sharif in the northern province of Baghlan as part of the international ISAF force held a memorial on Sunday the remains of the four recently killed soldiers.

All four soldiers came from southern Germany, where there will be another service held on Friday. Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg will attend the service.

At the Masar-i-Sharif memorial service, Bundeswehr Chief of Staff Volker Wieker and the commander of the German troops in Afghanistan, Brigadier Frank Leidenberger stressed that the soldiers would keep fighting.

“The fact remains: We won’t back down. We will fight on. And we will win,” said Leidenberger.

Wieker warned that it was part of the Taliban’s “strategic goal” to influence the debate in Germany about the Bundeswehr deployment.

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

German Bishop Steps Down

The Inflation of Victimhood

A Commentary by Jan Fleischhauer

“Mixa Steps Down” reads the headline. Relief at the bishop’s resignation was widespread. But what happens next?

Bishop Walter Mixa, who submitted his resignation Thursday amid accusations of violence and financial irregularities, had to go. But the Catholic Church is mistaken if it believes that it has earned itself some breathing space. The abuse debate will not be silenced.

For 12 weeks now, the Catholic Church in Germany has been rocked by an abuse scandal. Now a German bishop has quit his office. But Bishop Walter Mixa’s exit was not because of sexually abusing minors, but rather because of a few slaps in the face and the sloppy use of church funds.

Sources in the Catholic Church talked of “relief” at Mixa’s departure, while Alois Glück, president of the Central Committee of German Catholics, also described Mixa’s resignation as a “great relief.”

But this raises the question: Relief from what, exactly? Is it a relief to have finally got rid of someone who has long been seen as a burden, given his loose tongue and his conservative attitudes? Or is it a relief to make a reconciliatory gesture to an enraged public which is demanding concrete action on the abuse crisis?

Too Far

Anyone who is familiar with the world of German bishops and their immense respect for the opinion of the secular public would tend to assume that the bishops were mainly thinking of their own precarious situation when they urged their brother to abandon his office.

But anyone who knows the course that these kinds of scandals normally take, can only advise the bishops that their hopes of calming the situation are in vain: Things have simply gone too far.

The abuse debate has now reached a level in which anyone asking questions about the scale of the abuse is seen as playing down the scandal. Those monitoring the subject have long lost count of how many victims there really are. Does the figure run into the thousands or the tens of thousands? And where is the line between unpleasant but minor losses of control, on the one hand, and scandalous crimes, on the other? It’s a line that has been constantly blurred during the recent debate.

The victim discourse is too tempting — both for the victims and also for their audience. The event that makes someone into a “victim” is often used to explain everything which happens afterwards. One can absolve oneself of responsibility for unavoidable defeats and setbacks — even an entire life which maybe did not work out quite as one had hoped.

Devaluating Real Abuse

So now every insult and criticism has been retold in the public domain, where it receives an attentive ear. It is inappropriate to question a victim about the plausibility of their experiences, as that would humiliate them a second time. As a result, certain events, which might otherwise be considered unpleasant but unremarkable parts of growing up, get labeled as traumatic.

This inflation of victimhood leads to a creeping devaluation of real abuse cases, which doubtless do exist in shameful numbers. Where everything is given equal importance, individual cases lose their significance.

Meanwhile, the threshold of what constitutes humiliation or even abuse is being lowered. In the 1970s, a slap in the classroom was seen as a minor loss of control — but today it can be considered reason enough for a prolonged course of therapy. The insidious thing about this kind of debate is the vagueness of many of the allegations, which makes the outcome of current investigations unpredictable. Much depends on how a suspected perpetrator behaves: If he is adept at using the current buzzwords, he has a much better chance of getting off the hook than the fool who commits himself to a position too early. Many observers think that Mixa would still be in office today if he had promptly admitted to one or two slaps, combined with a few words of apology.

There might be some truth to this assumption. But it doesn’t make the situation any better.

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

Germany: Integration Official Rejects Call for School Crucifix Ban

Germany’s Integration Commissioner Maria Böhmer on Monday rejected calls by Lower Saxony’s new social minister for a ban on crucifixes in schools, saying they were part of the country’s national identity.

The conservative Christian Democrat Böhmer told broadcaster Deutschlandfunk that crucifixes are part of “centuries-old Christian traditions in Germany” and an “expression of our tradition and understanding of values.”

Böhmer’s remarks came in response to calls by Aygül Özkan — who will become Germany’s first woman Muslim minister at the state level this week. The minister-designate told Focus magazine over the weekend that schools should be secular areas.

“Christian symbols do not belong in state schools,” she said, adding that she also supported a ban on headscarves in educational institutions.

Özkan told the magazine she had negotiated with Lower Saxony’s state premier Christian Wulff, also from the CDU, to incorporate responsibility for integration into her new job, taking it from the Interior Ministry.

Böhmer told Deutschlandfunk that she approved of Wulff’s decision to add Özkan to his cabinet, calling it “really trend-setting.”

The 38-year-old intends to shake things up in the state, and has also called for fellow Turkish-Germans to make more effort to integrate.

A successful manager, Özkan joined the CDU in 2004 and quickly rose through the regional ranks of the party to reach the Hamburg city council in 2008.

The debate over religious symbols in schools came as federal and state integration officials planned to gather in Oldenburg on Monday.

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

Greece: Frattini; No to Rigidity But Step Forward From Greece

(ANSAmed) — LUXEMBOURG, APRIL 25 — “I am concerned over some rigidities that Germany has shown, though Greece does have to take a credible step forward,” said italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini in speaking in Luxembourg to journalists on Germany’s request for a three-year plan for Greece. “Italy has been able to bring in a three-year financial plan by blocking and reinforcing its public finances, so why shouldn’t Greece do the same?,” asked Frattini. “We must find a balance: on one hand we cannot ask for something impossible, while on the other we must not cherish any doubts — if the common enterprise is in difficulty, we have to save the walls of the structure since we are all in this together.” (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Government Approves Gas Market Reform

(ANSAmed) — ROME, APRIL 23 — The Italian cabinet today approved the decree on measures to favour competition in the gas market. The measure, according to a statement issued by the Ministry of Economic Development, includes an increase of gas storage in order to import “substantial volumes of natural gas when prices are low and use them when they are not”. In essence, the decree foresees in the presence of importers with a dominant position in the market, that is Eni, which create new storage capacity or expand existing capacity, part of a programme of the Ministry of Economic Development based on projects that are on their way of being approved. Industrial end clients as well as all companies can participate in the construction of the new infrastructures. Also operators that invest in storage capacity can benefit from the measures described in the decree, signing long-term contracts with industrial clients, which in that case will also take advantage of the benefits. The new storage capacity that is not assigned to industrial clients can be offered to all clients, including the thermoelectric sector. An alternative to the expansion of storage capacity, the imported gas can be sold. The mechanisms that have been introduced to pay the benefits of the new infrastructures in advance, the Ministry explains, “allow industrial clients to stock the gas bought at low prices on other markets”. “The development of storage capacity and the construction of new import infrastructures, gas pipelines and regasifiers in line with the government’s energy policy” the statement concludes, “will allow Italy to become Europe’s gas hub”. The draft decree will be presented to the parliament commissions before it is issued.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Industrialists: Gas-Reform Crucial for Business

(ANSAmed) — ROME, APRIL 23 — The legislative decree on gas, which was passed on first reading by Italy’s cabinet today, “involves infrastructure development with price reduction to boost the country’s competitiveness”. Economic Development Minister, Claudio Scajola stressed that “the measures we have approved permit the development of essential works for the gas market, bringing their benefits forward so that they kick in already next winter”. Industrialists have reacted positively: the text passed today, Confindustria commented, “marks an important step forward for the competitiveness of Italy’s industrial system, especially for manufacturing companies”. In the view of the industrialists’ federation, it hits three important targets on the head: it develops storage infrastructure, promotes market competition between smaller and bigger businesses, and it puts Italy in a position to become a hub for southern Europe. Confindustria was particularly impressed with the abandonment of the antitrust ceiling-setting mindset, and the introduction of a new system that has less rigidity than the present one, based on market “thresholds” bound to concrete measures to promote competition. Storage development will allow large volumes of gas to be brought in from abroad during periods of high supply and low price, “It is in fact the crucial key for opening a bourse in natural gas”. The building of new storage capacity, furthermore, “may guarantee the chance to benefit from these advantages soon to industrial customers and their federations, starting from the coming heating period, with positive economic knock-on effects”.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Aid Group May Sue UK Newspaper for Slander

Milan, 26 April (AKI) — The Italian medical charity Emergency may sue The Sunday Times newspaper for slander following its report that three of its workers had confessed to colluding in a plot to assassinate a governor in southern Afghanistan. The Milan-based organisation’s vice president Alessandro Bertani told Adnkronos International (AKI) by telephone on Monday that the British newspaper report published on 19 April was “without any foundation”.

Emergency said on Friday it was considering filing a lawsuit against Italian newspapers, Il Giornale, and, Libero , which had followed up the British report.

Bertani said that the two Italian newspapers “continued what constituted a slanderous campaign” after Emergency had denied The Sunday Times report.

“We don’t exclude extending the lawsuit to the foreign newspaper,” he said. “Not only is what the Times reported serious, but it is without any foundation.”

“It would help to apologise. We never even received a call from the Times,” Bertani said.

Alice Macandrew, a spokeswoman for The Sunday Times’ parent News Corporation in London, declined to comment when contacted by AKI.

Emergency workers Matteo Dell’Aira, Marco Garatti and Matteo Pagani were arrested on 10 April for allegedly taking part in a plot to kill Helmand governor Gulab Mangal, an accusation they have denied.

They were freed on 20 April and three days later returned to Italy. Bertani said his organisation wants to be “awarded damages” for slander.

At a media conference on Friday Dell’Aira said that he and his colleagues were targeted as part of a campaign to discredit the organisation for exposing civilian casualties in the war between US-led forces and Taliban insurgents.

Since 1999, Emergency says it has provided medical assistance to over 2,500,000 Afghan citizens, through its three hospitals, a maternity centre and a network of 28 first aid posts.

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

King Accepts Resignation of Belgian Government

BRUSSELS — Belgium King Albert II accepted the government’s resignation Monday after negotiations failed to resolve a long-simmering dispute between Dutch- and French-speaking politicians over a bilingual voting district in and around Brussels, the country’s capital.

The king had waited since last week to see if last-ditch talks could keep the coalition government of Prime Minister Yves Leterme together. But late Monday, it became clear the differences between the linguistic groups were too deep. Elections could now be called in early June.

“I regret that the necessary dialogue to achieve a negotiated settlement did not produce the result we hoped for,” Leterme said in a statement.

The Royal Palace said that “the King has tasked the government to continue in a caretaker capacity.”

Belgian governments have a long tradition of teetering on the brink of linguistic collapse. For half a century, they have brokered ever more complicated compromises to keep the country from falling apart at the expense of giving the linguistic groups more autonomy. Yet the endless bickering has not stopped the nation of being among the most prosperous in Europe.

Rarely, though, has a dispute been as intractable as this one. Amid the global financial crisis, many have warned that such an impasse could sap international economic confidence in the country.

And the crisis comes at an inopportune moment: Belgium will take over the rotating presidency of the European Union on July 1.

Leterme highlighted the work that had been achieved to shield the country from the global economic crisis, reform the judiciary and prepare for the EU presidency, when the Belgian prime minister will be for six months one of the most visible European politicians.

“This work needs to be continued,” said Leterme.

Speculation had been that the five coalition parties would keep trying to break the stalemate at least until Thursday, when the next session of parliament was planned, but that did not happen.

“We wanted a negotiated solution but it was quickly clear that there was no political will,” said Alexander De Croo, head of the Dutch-speaking Liberals.

The current coalition took office March 20, 2008, following a political impasse over a related linguistic spat that lasted a record 194 days.

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

Belgium is divided into Dutch-speaking northern Flanders and French-speaking southern Wallonia and bilingual Brussels in between. The language rules determine which 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 because it violated the separation of Dutch- and French-language regions. The district includes Brussels, which is officially bilingual, but also encompasses 20-odd towns in Dutch-speaking Flanders around the capital.

           — Hat tip: Henrik[Return to headlines]

Lynxes Clawing Back a Bit of German Wilderness

Go for a walk in the stunning wooded Harz region and you could end up face-to-face with a wild lynx. Hannah Cleaver reports on the efforts to reintroduce the tuff-eared cats to German forests.

The dog whined and then barked before bounding to the fence and jumping up, straining against its lead, seemingly unsure how to react to the cat on the other side.

Rather than fluffing up its tail and disappearing into the woods, the cat leapt towards the fence too, racing up and down, ready to play.

“The dog would have the short straw if they were put together,” said Ole Anders, the man in charge of the enclosure.

“They might be about the same size, but Pamina’s claws are five centimetres long and razor sharp, and although she would want to play, things could quickly turn nasty and the dog really wouldn’t have a chance.”

Her almost tabby coat glossy in the spring sunshine, Pamina’s elegant whiskers and sleek face are so very catty, it is tempting to ignore the parts which mark her out as a lynx.

But she stands at nearly hip height, her legs are sturdy and tipped with very big paws, her tail is chunky and only about a quarter the length one might expect — and of course her ears are elongated by the signature tufts of fur on the top.

Pamina and her companion Tamino, as well as another pair, Atilla and Bella, can be seen in large enclosures just outside Bad Harzburg in Germany’s central Harz mountain range. There are public feeding sessions twice a week when people are welcome to come and see them at close quarters.

They cannot be released, having become too tame to fend for themselves in the wild. Pamina, for example, was raised with an Alsatian, hence her enthusiasm for visiting dogs. Their relatives in the mountains are more difficult to spot, but are a quiet success story of wildlife management in the region.


There are some 60 wild lynxes living in the Harz, said Anders, who leads the reintroduction and monitoring project. They live alone, hunting in the evening and at night, snacking mostly on deer, but also smaller mammals such as rabbits and even mice.

Oversized paws make snowy weather an advantage as the lynxes do not sink in as much as their prey. And their powerful legs are used to sprint and leap — they are not long-distance runners, more likely to sneak up and attack from relatively close quarters.

Although lynx jaw lines are generally defined by the shaggy sideburns of fur that contribute to their characteristic profile, their musculature is very powerful, and they kill with one sustained bite to the neck.

Lynxes used to be relatively common across Europe, including Germany. But the wild spaces which they need were reduced in size and although they do not have the bad reputation of wolves, they were hunted to extinction. The last one in Germany is thought to have been killed in 1818 during an organised hunt — an engraved stone was even later erected to mark the spot and can still be seen near Lautenthal.

The reintroduction programme is the result of cooperation between the Harz National Park, the state governments of Saxony-Anhalt, Lower Saxony and Thuringia, as well as the Lower Saxon state hunter forestry associations.

Anders managed to get all these bodies to support the idea and in 2000 he and the lynx team started releasing the first of 24 adult lynxes over the following six years. They came from wildlife parks and zoos in Germany, Sweden and Finland.

Anders said he was optimistic that having gained the broad support of the hunting community, the population would thrive. Currently one or two are found dead each year — often hit by cars. And despite their shyness, they are also seen in the region with around 200 sightings reported to the lynx team each year.

The last fatality was found in March — a male which Anders said looked as if it had died as a result of a fight with another lynx, a very rare occurrence.

The Harz lynxes have been breeding since 2002, when the first babies were observed, and now he and his team see evidence of between 10 and 16 cubs each year.

Anders said that although the current Harz population seemed healthy enough, it would need genetic variety from outside to remain so in the longer term.

He monitors a handful of the lynxes, which have been kitted out with collars carrying radio transmitters, and now a couple with GPS transmitters. These enable Anders and his colleagues to work out what territories the lynxes have and to track their movements and thus behaviour.

There are encouraging signs of exploration, with one monitored lynx having moved away, as far as Kassel area in the neighbouring state of Hesse. But the Harz population is still isolated and Anders’ animals would need to travel pretty far to meet other lynxes further south and east.

Happily for the Harz lynxes, the undeveloped former course of Iron Curtain passes straight through their domain and down to the Czech border. Anders will be watching the data from GPS and radio collars, fingers crossed that some of the more adventurous of his charges will head south to meet some Bohemian friends.

More Information

Pamina and other lynxes can be found by visiting the Haus der Natur in Bad Harzburg. It has a well laid-out and child-friendly display about the cats and other woodland creatures.

From there either hike or take the electro-bus to the lynx enclosure, where on Wednesdays and Saturdays public feeding takes place at 2:30 pm.

External links:

More information (in German) “

A map of lynx populations “

Haus der Natur in the Harz “

Hannah Cleaver (

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

Rwandan Perpetrators Living in Europe Scot-Free

Several perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide have found refuge from prosecution in Europe. Evidence against one Dutch national is now mounting.

By Koert Lindijer and Dick Wittenberg

Nobody knows how many there are. There could be hundreds or even thousands of Rwandans with blood on their hands who have found refuge in Europe. They got away after the genocide in their country, just like many Nazis who fled to Latin America after the Second World War.

Rakiya Omaar, the director of African Rights, a London-based human rights organisation, told NRC Handelsblad there are “a substantial number of genocide suspects” in the Netherlands alone. Omaar, who has been compared to the Austrian Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal, believes the Dutch are not doing enough to prosecute these people. “The Netherlands is an important political and ideological base for Rwandan mass murderers.”

20,000 killed in Mugani bloodbath

Omaar’s organisation has brought one particular case to the attention of the Dutch authorities. In 2007, the Dutch public prosecutor’s office was informed of the accusations against major Pierre-Claver K. Next week, African Rights will publish a 50-page report on his involvement in the brutal murder of at least 20,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus around the Catholic parish in Mugina. K., who has since obtained Dutch citizenship, denied the accusations in the report, titled Commanding Genocide in Rwanda, Living in The Netherlands, and said he believes the accusations are politically motivated.

The report will be published on the commemoration of the Mugani massacre, which took place between April 21 and April 26 1994. Dozens of survivors, some of whom were only children when the bloodbath took place, told African Rights what happened during those days. “The whole church was awash with blood and bodies were lying everywhere,” a witness named Euphrasie recalled. “I couldn’t imagine the priests ever daring to say mass there again.”

The killing spree in Mugani was part of the Rwandan genocide that left 800,000 people dead. The mass killing was no act of primitive tribalism, but a systematic attempt to exterminate the Tutsi population. The Hutu majority, incited by a radical elite that spread ideas of Hutu supremecy, almost succeeded in its mission. Three out of every four Tutsis, ten percent of the Rwandan population, were killed between April and July of 1994. According to African Rights, K. was part of that radical elite.

Stayed amongst the corpses

In the report, a woman named Claudette recalled how her children were murdered in the massacre. After 5-year-old David, 3-year-old Rebecca and 1-year-old Nyiranteziryayo were killed. Claudette herself was hit on the head with a massue, a club studded with nails, and fainted. “The day after the massacre, the killers came to finish off those who they had not quite managed to kill,” she is quoted as saying. “They picked up the bodies of people whom they suspected were still alive. They tried to make them stand to see whether they could stand on their own or whether the bodies would fall like trees. (…) When they came over to me, I pretended that I was dead. They picked me up and I fell down as if I was dead. They went away thinking that I was just another corpse. We stayed amongst the corpses for two days.”

The African Rights’ report basically tells the story of a hero and a mass murderer. The hero was Mugina’s mayor, bourgmestre Callixte Ndagijimana, who tried to prevent the bloodshed and protected Tutsis. He had violent members of a Hutu militia arrested and arranged food supplies consisting of maize, rice and beans for refugees from the surrounding region who poured into Mugani when they heard the mayor was able to stave off the genocide.

Imagine themselves safe from prosecution

The villain was Pierre-Claver K., a Mugina native and a special government envoy at the time. He initially gave the refugees’ reassurances about their safety, but testimonies in the report reveal he was two-faced. He forced Ndagijimana to release the arrested militias, which he had armed, and he was personally involved in the murder of the bourgmestre. After the assassination of the refugee’s guardian, the killers had free reign.

In the genocide’s aftermath, Hutu foot soldiers flocked to Democratic Republic of Congo. Many in the elite moved West, to France and Belgium especially, where they blended in with the local Rwandan communities. Some chose other countries in Europe or North America, often under a false name. Sometimes, Tutsis survivors who had fled the country later encountered their tormentors, who had also moved abroad. In 2001, Janvier Gasasira bumped into the man who had murdered his family on a Brussels’ metro. He reported him to the police and the killer was sentenced to 12 years in prison as a result.

But for years, many perpetrators abroad imagined themselves safe from prosecution. Rwanda was busy enough with the hundreds of thousands of suspects still in the country. The legal system of the small African nation had been been destroyed in the genocide and had to be rebuilt from scratch. Its judges were either killed or themselves involved in the bloodshed.

One man convicted

The United Nations set up a special tribunal in Arusha, Tanzania, to prosecute the ringleaders of the genocide. Western countries initially did little bring those who got away to justice.

But suspects such as major K. now have reason to be concerned. In 2005, a special unit was set up by the Rwandan justice department to track suspects abroad. The unit also offers assistance to countries who want to investigate cases in Rwanda. It has thus far given the Dutch prosecutors information regarding 16 Rwandan suspects living in the Netherlands. A number of them are on the list of 93 most wanted perpetrators that Rwanda compiled in 2006. The Netherlands does not extradite to Rwanda, but it has handed over one suspect to the tribunal in Arusha. In 2008, a Rwandan man was convicted of torture in a Dutch court.

But the number of convictions in Europe is marginal compared to the thousands of suspects still at large, said Rakiya Omaar. She said she found it “incomprehensible” K. had not yet been arrested in the Netherlands. She recalled a statement the Dutch justice minister, Ernst Hirsch Ballin, made two years ago: “The Netherlands can’t be a safe haven for war criminals.” Asked to comment, the prosecutor’s office in the Netherlands said that statement still stands. It refused to respond to the accusations in the African Rights report, or other individual cases, as a policy “in the interest of the investigation and privacy”.

Tell the world what happened

Meanwhile, some Rwandan genocide suspects continue to destabilise their home country. They are supporting the armed opposition, financially or through websites, and they downplay the genocide, they same way fugitive Nazis tried to belittle the Holocaust.

Omaar, herself from Somalia, was working for African Rights in London when news of the Rwandan genocide got out in 1994. She travelled there immediately to investigate the massacre. She recalled visiting a hospital where even the incubators were riddled by bullets. Right there, she made it her mission to ensure the victims of the genocide would not be forgotten.

According to Omaar, the survivors in Mugina have lost all hope Pierre-Claver K. will ever by prosecuted. They feel abandoned by the international community for a second time. Then, the West did nothing to stop the genocide that could have been prevented. Today, it is offering a refuge to murderers. “The survivors want the world to at least know who the perpetrators were and what happened,” Omaar said.

           — Hat tip: Zenster[Return to headlines]

Spain: Suspended for Veil, Schoolgirl Returns in Hood

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, APRIL 26 — Naywa Malha, the 16 year-old Spanish schoolgirl of Moroccan descent who was sent home from school a week ago for wearing the Islamic headscarf to class, today returned to the Camilo José Cela Institute in Pozuelo (Madrid) with her head covered by the hood of her jacket. The agency Europa Press says that the girl returned to the school escorted by her classmates (in order to avoid waiting journalists) to take part in a school trip. Tomorrow, the girl’s family says, Naywa is planning to resume lessons, but has no intention to remove her headscarf, the hijab. It is also thought that the girl has no desire to change schools, with only two months left of the academic year. The school council of Camilo José Cela decided last week not to change internal rules forbidding pupils from attending lessons with any sort of headdress. For this reason, the school asked the girl to remove her headscarf within the establishment, or to change school completely. The decision by the school’s council ratified that taken previously by the staff council, which had decided against changing the rules. The girl’s family has already announced that the will take legal action, with a petition lodged at the regional court, after the appeal against the school’s decision, which was put forward by Naywa’s father, was rejected by the regional assessor for schools. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Sweden: Youth Gang Forces Malmö Pre-School Closure

A pre-school in Malmö’s Rosengård district was shut down on Monday morning in the interests of staff safety following an extended period of threats and harassment from a gang of local youths.

Henrik Wolter, a health and safety representative for the Swedish Teachers’ Union, took the decision to close the pre-school with immediate effect following consultation with district leaders.

The 34 children who attend the Herrgården pre-school have been moved temporarily to a school in Käglinge in south-east Malmö, but district chief Eva Ahlgren expects the children to move to a new location in Rosengård on Wednesday. In the longer term, places have been set aside for the children at a pre-school affiliated with Rosengård School, which is currently being extended.

“The closure of Herrgården’s pre-school was necessary. Staff have been repeatedly exposed to fighting and harassment. On one occasion a glass bottle was thrown from a window at one of the employees,” said Ahlgren.

She added that she had not previously been aware of the problem.

The pre-school is located in an area at the centre of a housing standards scandal last year when its run-down apartment complexes were found to be riddled with mould and cockroaches.

Herrgården has also served as a flashpoint for many of the disturbances that have plagued the predominantly immigrant suburb of Rosengård in recent years.

Around the pre-school lie shards of glass while the front of the building is marked by a bullet hole, the source of which is unknown.

“This is caused by gangs of criminal youths, or idiots as I usually call them,” Andreas Konstantinides, chairman of the Rosengård district council, told the online edition of the Svenska Dagbladet daily.

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

Switzerland: A Top Migration Official Has Come in for More Criticism Over His Claims That the Majority of Nigerians Wanting Swiss Asylum Are Involved in Criminal Activities.

An anti-racism organisation said that Alard du Bois-Reymond, director of the Federal Migration Office, should resign over the comments and the death last month of a Nigerian before a deportation flight. Du Bois-Reymond has defended his stance.

The Platform for Reflection on Anti-Black Racism said in a statement on Monday that the comments were based on prejudice and called for an independent investigation into the death.

The Nigerian man, a convicted drug dealer, had refused to leave the country and was on a hunger strike. He died shortly before a deportation flight.

For Amnesty International Switzerland, which met on Sunday, du Bois-Reymond’s comments were “unacceptable”. It wants independent observers to be on hand for deportation flights.

Speaking on public radio on Monday, du Bois-Reymond said that he had based his assertions — made in a newspaper interview earlier this month — on facts, namely that 99.5 per cent of Nigerian asylum requests had failed. This was because people came to do illegal business and not for asylum, he said.

But the new director, who has worked in Africa, said he had some sympathy for young people coming to Switzerland for economic reasons.

He went on to defend Swiss asylum policy. “Humanitarian action only works if there is a strict application of the rules,” he said.

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

UK: Infantile and Horribly Offensive — the Fo’s Insult to the Pope is a Dismal Reflection of What Britain’s Become

By Melanie Phillips

Has someone been slipping some kind of illegal substance into the Foreign Office officials’ tea?

In preparing for the Pope’s visit to Britain later this year, British diplomats circulated a memo which put forward a bizarre and highly offensive list of ‘ideal’ ways in which Benedict XVI might occupy his time in Britain, as well as other events to mark his visit.

These included launching a range of ‘ Benedict’ condoms and inviting the Pope to open an abortion clinic or bless a gay marriage.

The diplomats also suggested he might launch a helpline for abused children, apologise for the Spanish Armada or sing a song with the Queen for charity.

Such gratuitous mockery has now created an acute diplomatic embarrassment for the British Government.

It has been forced to make a grovelling apology to the Vatican which, not surprisingly, takes an exceedingly dim view of this affair.

Indeed, the Pope’s advisers are reportedly regretting that he ever agreed to come to Britain at all.

For not only is he at the centre of raging criticism over the way the Church has dealt with paedophile priests, but he is being threatened with public protests and even arrest by militant atheists.

Given that he is also being accused of attempting to poach disaffected members of the Church of England, the papal visit is clearly a deeply sensitive matter requiring the maximum diplomatic skill.

Yet the response by the representatives of Her Majesty’s Government has been effectively the equivalent of an obscene gesture.

So what on earth has got into the normally bland-to-a-fault Foreign and Commonwealth Office?

Apparently, the proposals were made by a group of junior officials, one of whom has now been hauled over the coals. This raises more questions than it answers.

How junior is junior? The Vatican insists these officials were more senior.

The disciplined official is said to have been ‘transferred to other duties’. Other duties than what, precisely, apart from insulting the Pope? Why haven’t all the officials involved been sacked?

After all, how can diplomats who have shown such an astonishing lack of judgment or propriety, not to say an eye-watering absence of diplomatic skills, continue to be employed in their country’s foreign service?

If they’d proposed something like this about South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma or Syria’s President Assad, for example, does anyone doubt that their heels would not have been seen for dust?

So, at the highest levels in the Foreign Office — which are said to be ‘appalled’ — it would appear that insulting the Pope doesn’t really matter as much as insulting the corrupt or the tyrannical.

In any event, what does this say about the FCO that it employs people who do such a thing? Once upon a time, it recruited the brightest in Whitehall who had to pass a demanding entrance test to qualify.

Yet apart from their insults, these officials appeared to believe — vacuously — that the singer Susan Boyle was a more influential person for the Pope to meet than the Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols, the most senior Catholic in Britain.

Some in the Catholic Church are dismissing all this as a joke, a kind of internal office prank that somehow got out of hand.

On first reading, this is certainly how it seems. After all, surely no one could have put forward in all seriousness suggestions which read like a Monty Python sketch.

One retired diplomat, commenting on the furore, has written that those who have been shocked by this document are suffering from a ‘sense of humour failure’, since this was merely the kind of in-joke that is made all the time among diplomats.

The only thing wrong with it was that, through some oversight, it was circulated too widely.

The orthodoxy is a world view in which minorities are axiomatically to be respected while Christianity is treated with contemptBut given that the Foreign Office is desperately apologising and the Vatican is now thinking of calling off the visit altogether, to call this a ‘sense of humour failure’ would seem to reflect precisely the kind of supercilious Foreign Office cynicism revealed by the document itself.

In any event, this doesn’t seem to have been an email which was sent around by accident. It was a document that was sent to a senior Foreign Office official, 10 Downing Street, the Department for International Development and the Northern Ireland Office.

And when you look at its covering note, it seems even less likely that it was meant as a joke. For it says these suggestions were ‘the product of a brainstorm which took into account even the most far-fetched of ideas’. In other words, however far-fetched they were, these ideas were apparently being offered for serious discussion.

This appears to have been a different kind of brainstorm altogether. For these suggestions could not have been more carefully and deliberately designed to be as offensive and insulting as possible. Something like this could not have happened in the past, when a very different type of mandarin — stuffy, upper-class, punctilious to a fault — typified the Foreign Office.

Such a type was hardly ideal. But then, like the rest of the Whitehall establishment, the FCO moved from one extreme to another.

A concerted effort began to recruit from beyond the ranks of the privileged — in other words, those who had a reliable standard of education because they had been to the best schools — in favour of those from every kind of disadvantage. For whom, of course, the standard had to be lowered.

Even among those educated at good schools and Oxbridge, however, the general collapse of educational and moral standards has meant public service is now populated by a certain type of young official who is callow, shallow and politically correct to a fault.

Among such people, the orthodoxy is a world view in which minorities are axiomatically to be respected while Christianity is treated with contempt. The Catholic Church in particular is to be despised because of paedophile priests and its ban on contraception and abortion.

For sure, there are troubling aspects of this papacy which should legitimately be questioned. But the double standard here — quite apart from the insolence — is breathtaking.

Can you imagine a group of officials making such suggestions, light-hearted or not, about Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists or other minorities associated with the Third World?

Of course not. But the Catholics are fair game.

This world view is by no means confined to the Foreign Office, but is widespread in fashionable circles, where bullying of Christians is rife.

While the Vatican’s failure to deal with paedophile priests offers real cause for concern, the hysteria this has provoked is wildly disproportionate.

Compare the threats to arrest the Pope with, say, the absence of similar loathing directed towards Margaret Hodge, who has been able to serve for years as a government minister despite her failure to deal with the paedophile ring at Islington council when she was its leader.

Even if the diplomats’ paper was meant to be a joke, the fact that our supposedly brightest civil servants think like this is a dismal commentary on the state of the nation, its educational standards and its values.

It shows how flippancy and shallowness coexist with a brutalised arrogance. Among those who purport to be the most liberal, educated and enlightened, minds are actually closed and display a vicious illiberalism and gross absence of respect for other points of view, particularly mainstream European religious faiths.

No wonder the Pope is having second thoughts about visiting Britain. Diplomats are popularly scoffed at for telling lies abroad for the good of their country.

But now it would seem that they are intent on showing the world the most ugly face of Britain.

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

UK: More Than 7,000 Parents Hit by Truancy Convictions as Courts Punish Soaring Levels of School Absenteeism

More than 7,000 parents a year are being convicted over their children’s truancy, figures show.

The Government’s own statistics have revealed absenteeism is reaching record levels.

They show the number of parents prosecuted and sentenced for their children skipping school has soared fivefold in just seven years.

But critics have accused Labour of failing to get a grip on the underlying causes of truancy, including low levels of academic achievement and poor behaviour.

Since tough truancy sanctions were introduced in 2001, more than 32,500 parents have been convicted, with nearly 100 jailed for up to three months.

Yet figures show that truancy is still rising, with it hitting a record high during the last school year when 67,000 children skipped lessons every day — an increase of nearly 2,000 on 2007-08.

The most recent figures, released by the Ministry of Justice under the Freedom of Information Act, reveal 9,506 parents were taken to court in 2008 for failing to ensure their children go to school.

Of these, 7,291 were found guilty. The most common penalty was a fine of up to £2,500.

A total of 391 were made to undertake community service, while 11 were immediately imprisoned.

This compares with 2001, when just 1,961 were prosecuted and 1,595 found guilty. Pugh

Between 2001 and 2008, a total of 32,567 parents have been convicted. Figures for 2009, available in the autumn, are expected to show a continuation of the rising trend.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: Remember That Ash Cloud? It Didn’t Exist, Says New Evidence

Britain’s airspace was closed under false pretences, with satellite images revealing there was no doomsday volcanic ash cloud over the entire country.

Skies fell quiet for six days, leaving as many as 500,000 Britons stranded overseas and costing airlines hundreds of millions of pounds.

Estimates put the number of Britons still stuck abroad at 35,000.

However, new evidence shows there was no all-encompassing cloud and, where dust was present, it was often so thin that it posed no risk.

The satellite images demonstrate that the skies were largely clear, which will not surprise the millions who enjoyed the fine, hot weather during the flight ban.

Jim McKenna, the Civil Aviation Authority’s head of airworthiness, strategy and policy, admitted: ‘It’s obvious that at the start of this crisis there was a lack of definitive data.

‘It’s also true that for some of the time, the density of ash above the UK was close to undetectable.’

The satellite images will be used by airlines in their battle to win tens of millions of pounds in compensation from governments for their losses.

The National Air Traffic Control Service decision to ban flights was based on Met Office computer models which painted a picture of a cloud of ash being blown south from the Eyjafjallajokull volcano.

These models should have been tested by the Met Office’s main research plane, a BAE 146 jet, but it was in a hangar to be repainted and could not be sent up until last Tuesday — the last day of the ban.

Evidence has emerged that the maximum density of the ash was only about one 20th of the limit that scientists, the Government, and aircraft and engine manufacturers have now decided is safe.

British Airways chief Willie Walsh always insisted the total shutdown went too far.

‘My personal belief is that we could have safely continued operating for a period,’ he said.

Mark Tanzer, chief executive of Britain’s ABTA, which represents British travel agents and tour operators, said about 100,000 stranded British travellers should have been returned home by Monday morning.

About 35,000 more will remain marooned until Friday, the group said.

‘While most flights are back to normal, and most stranded British passengers will be back by the end of this weekend, there is still quite a high level of disruption in some destinations.

‘In some areas of the world, there is a significant lack of air capacity to enable British people to be returned quickly,’ Tanzer said.

Many Icelandic airports are closed and though authorities say Eyjafjallajokull is now producing much less ash, they confirmed no signs of the eruption ending.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

UK: Revealed: Oxford Graduate Who Wrote Offensive Memo About Pope Will Keep His Job as Civil Servant

An Oxford graduate who sent a ‘seriously offensive’ email suggesting the Pope should open an abortion clinic ahead of the pontiff’s visit to Britain will keep his job in the civil service, it emerged today.

Steven Mulvain, 23, who once listed ‘drinking a lot’ as a hobby, emailed the document, which also included the suggestion of launching a range of ‘Benedict’ condoms, to Downing Street and three Whitehall departments.

It is believed that Mr Mulvain, who lives in East London, escaped punishment because he was given authorisation to send the memo by a more senior civil servant, who has since been ‘transferred to other duties’.

However, the shock e-mail threatened to plunge the Pope’s state visit into jeopardy with ‘dark forces’ within the Foreign Office casting a shadow over the trip, Vatican officials declared yesterday.

A well-placed aide in the Vatican said: ‘This could have very severe repercussions and is embarrassing for the British Government — one has to question whether the action taken is enough. It is disgusting.’


A senior Vatican source said: ‘There are clearly dark forces within the British Government.

‘While some are very eager for the visit to go well, there are others who are opposing it. This runs the risk of the trip being remembered for the memo and nothing else.’

The aide added: ‘The Pope went to Turkey, a Muslim country, and had no problem at all. He visited Israel, no problem, and Jordan, an Arabic country, without any difficulty. However in Britain, which one would expect to see as a tolerant and democratic country, the climate is very different.’

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: the 7/7 Victim Who Survived for 45 Minutes After Blast. Could 17 Lives Have Been Saved?

Seventeen of the victims of the July 7 suicide bombings survived for some time after the initial devastating blasts on the London transport network, it has emerged.

The revelation came as the distraught family of a woman killed in the explosions questioned whether the emergency services could have saved her after learning she lived for 45 minutes after the blast.

For five years, relatives of Iranian-born Behnaz Mozakka assumed she had died instantly only to learn two weeks ago she was among 17 of the 52 innocent victims of the four bombers to have survived the initial explosions.

Details of how the 47-year-old biomedical officer as Great Ormond Street Hospital had been conscious after the blast and even spoken to a police officer emerged at a pre-inquest hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice in Central London.

Gareth Patterson, representing her relatives and three other bereaved families, argued that the inquests for those killed should investigate whether the emergency services could have saved more lives.

Their demands came as lawyers for other bereaved families told the hearing the UK authorities had breached obligations to protect citizens by not acting on details they had about the 7/7 bombers before the attacks.

They argue MI5 and the police knew a ‘significant’ amount about the British-based bombers ahead of the attacks and that the forthcoming inquests should examine whether the deaths could have been avoided.

The terror cell leader Mohammad Sidique Khan and fellow bomber Shehzad Tanweer had both been part of surveillance operations on terror suspects in the months before the attacks on three Underground trains and a bus.

Coroner Lady Justice Hallett is holding a three-day legal hearing to decide what form the inquests — expected the begin in October — should take.

A document detailing how 17 — a third — of the victims of the 2005 London bombings did not die instantly, and naming the cases, has been submitted to the hearing.

Mrs Mozakka, a mother-of-two, from Finchley, north London, was on her way to work at Great Ormond Street when she became one of the 26 victims of Bucks-based Jamaican-born bomber Jermaine Lindsay, 19, who blew himself up on a Tube train between King’s Cross and Russell Square.

Mr Patterson said Mrs Mozakka’s family is ‘entitled’ to an inquiry into why she apparently failed to receive ‘timely treatment’.

He said: ‘For five years they believed that she died instantly. For the first time they have discovered that their wife and mother remained alive for 35 to 45 minutes after the explosions…

‘They want to know what happened to her in the crucial minutes after the explosion. There is reason to believe there may have been failings.’

He added: ‘She was found breathing and talking but seemingly the police officer moved on to the next person. We need to know who did he tell because clearly every second counted.’

In documents submitted to the court, he continued: ‘It is not clear what steps, if any, were taken to give her timely medical treatment in order to preserve life.’

Another survivor, John McDonald, has written to the inquiry to ask whether a victim he comforted for 40 minutes before the emergency services arrived at Edgware Road might have survived if help had arrived sooner.

Documents submitted by Hugo Keith, QC, counsel for the inquiry, said that 17 people at all four bomb sites survived for ‘at least a period after the explosions.’

He said: ‘Ultimately, it will be necessary to address the question of whether any alleged failings (relating to emergency response) were direct causes of any of the deaths.’

The Coroner must decide exactly what will be heard at the hugely sensitive hearings and consider whether the inquests for the four suicide bombers should be combined with those for their victims.

The bereaved families oppose the hearings being held together, saying it would cause them great distress.

Christopher Coltart, representing seven of the bereaved families, stressed the inquests should be a wide-ranging investigation of whether the atrocities could have been avoided.

He said: ‘In the 15-month period or so leading up to the bombings in July 2005, MI5 and the police were between them in possession of a significant amount of information about the bombers, two of them in particular, Mohammad Sidique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer.

‘If, we submit, appropriate, available and proportionate action had been taken at an earlier stage, it may have been possible that the events of July 7 could have been avoided.

‘The failure to take such action places the state in breach of its obligations to the citizens of this country under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights to protect the lives of those who live in this country.

‘As a result there should now be a full and public investigation of what went on.’

He rejected arguments by the Home Secretary that these issues have already been investigated by other inquiries, in particular that of the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC).

MI5 argues that the material involved is so sensitive that it would be ‘contrary to the public interest’ for it to be aired openly at the inquests.

But Mr Coltart questioned how effective the ISC inquiry was, and pointed out that it was impossible to know whether it addressed important questions because its hearings were held in private.

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

Vatican: Kung’s ‘Ecclesiastical Engineering’ Not Enough

(AGI) — Vatican City, 22 Apr. — In an open letter to Swiss theologian Hans Kung, published today by the ‘Osservatore Romano’, the newspaper states that the attention of the Swiss theologian, who has repeatedly attacked the pope, “emphasizes mainly if not exclusively, structural reform. One must, however, wonder whether it will be only ecclesiastic engineering that will solve the problem of Christian testimony?” The Vatican newspaper asks the great dissenter, acknowledging his extensive cultural production, “why in the name of complexity should one not pay homage to the pope who carries forward evangelical renewal of the hearts preferring it to structural change.” .

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

Vatican: Calls for Pope Trial Dismissed as Publicity Stunt

(AGI) — Hole See, 23 Apr — The Vatican’s chief legal, Fr. counsel Jeffrey Lena, challenged requests by one Church paedophilia victim to have pope Ratzinger sit in US docks. Lena described the request as totally “baseless” and as “a public relations stunt”, submitting that the allegations levelled at the pontiff are decades old and “have already been dismissed by US courts in the past.” With reference to the specific case in hand — one involving Fr. Lawrence Murphy — Lena submitted Rome “was informed of the goings-on only decades later and played no part in causing the damage.” The Roman Catholic Church, the lawyer priest quipped, “is no multinational and priests are not its employees.” .

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


Kosovo: Serbian Telephones Cut, Tadic Criticises Eulex

(ANSAmed) — BELGRADE, APRIL 26 — Serbian president Boris Tadic has aimed harsh criticism at the European mission in Kosovo (EULEX) for the tacit support given to Kosovo authorities’ decision to dismantle a number of relay stations owned by Serbian mobile phone companies. ‘I am astonished by EULEX’s reaction, which is calmly looking on as human rights are violated, since EULEX is responsible for the security of citizens,” Tanjug quoted Tadic as saying. “We will be seeing very difficult talks with EULEX over this issue, and we will not abandon for a single instant the Serbian population in our province.” The president also announced “the widest possible international action” to enable the Serbian population in Kosovo to be able to use Serbian mobile telephony once again, and requested action by international institutions to this end. According to the media in Belgrade, at least 100,000 Serbians in Kosovo have been left without mobile telephone connections in various regions of Kosovo. EULEX spokesperson Irina Gudeljevic — quoted by Tanjug — said that the European mission considers the cutting off of telephone connections operated by Serbian companies permissible since the latter had been run by illegal providers. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

The Suicide of Multiethnic Sarajevo?

By Nenad Pejic

Two events in Sarajevo this week illustrate the huge failures of the Bosnian Federation government. The funeral of Bosnian Army General Rasim Delic, convicted of war crimes by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), was treated as a state funeral with the full participation of the country’s Islamic and secular leadership. And the April 21 protests in the capital over the government’s economic policies and benefit cuts ended up with 100 citizens injured.

Sarajevo has always been proud of its multiethnic culture and argues that this diversity is the root of the country’s strong contribution to world culture. Bosnia-Herzegovina’s artists have been recognized by a Nobel Prize in literature, as well as by the Oscars and prominent festival victories in film.

But the country endured the 1992-95 war and became the site of the worst war crimes of post-World War II Europe. Sarajevo was transformed from a multiethnic example into a universal symbol of human cruelty.

Slowly but surely, Sarajevo is losing its multiethnic image.

In June 2000, Bosnian leader Alija Izetbegovic gave me what turned out to be his last television interview. (The full interview in Bosnian is available here.) As the head of the country in 1991, Izetbegovic had to choose between allowing the war between Serbia and Croatia to be waged on the territory of Bosnia, and waging a war for Bosnia’s independence. He chose the latter with the support of the majority of Bosnian citizens.

However, he started the war as president of Bosnia and ended it as president of just one ethnic group — the Muslims. In 1992, 19 percent of the Bosnian Army was non-Muslim. By 1995, that figure was just 3 percent.

I asked Izetbegovic if he felt responsible for this. “Yes, I consider it my failure,” he told me. “But how much I am responsible for this — that’s another issue.”

The events of the war period persuaded many Bosnian Muslims to argue for the creation of a Muslim state and a Muslim army. It is estimated that some 3,000-4,000 foreign mujahedin joined Bosnia’s army during the war. Militarily, their contribution was small, but their presence was symbolically important.

Muslim Reconstruction

Similarly, after the war, Middle Eastern countries contributed economic aid that was used to build mosques. Economically, this was insignificant to the country’s postwar recovery, but its symbolic effect was enormous.

I asked Izetbegovic why he didn’t use Middle Eastern assistance to build factories or other infrastructure. “They would not give money for factories,” he said. “They would only support building mosques.”

Saudi Arabia has admitted to spending $1 billion on “Islamic activities” in Bosnia between 1992 and 1998. The King Fahd Center in Sarajevo alone cost the Saudis $9 million.

The aid was granted under the condition that it be used to support Wahhabism, an ideology that was unknown in Bosnia before the war, Sarajevo University professor Edina Becirevic told RFE/RL.

In Sarajevo itself, the Islamic festival marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan has become a de facto state holiday. Christmas is a holiday, but offices and shops stay open, whereas everything comes to a halt on Eid al-Fitr (called Bayram in Bosnia). Images of Santa Claus have been banned from the capital’s 24 public kindergartens.

Muslim religious education has also been introduced to Sarajevo kindergartens, despite the protests of parents from all the country’s ethnic communities. A new mosque has been built in the Sarajevo neighborhood of Ciglane, which has always been known as the home of influential and wealthy people from all backgrounds. Again, the protests of locals were not heeded.

Bosnian writer Zeljko Ivankovic last year published a novel called “Tattooing Identity.” Excerpts from the book appeared just as street protests were erupting in Iran following that country’s disputed presidential election. Iranian diplomats in Sarajevo denounced the publication as unwarranted criticism of the government in Tehran, saying that Ivankovic’s work amounted to “a public lynching of Muslims” and “part of the psychological and propaganda war against the Islamic world.”

Bosnian NGOs and rights organizations have been quick to defend Ivankovic, but the country’s top authorities have been silent. Evidently, the Iranian Embassy knew it could use such undiplomatic language with impunity in Bosnia.

The director of Sarajevo’s international theater festival has been called “immoral” because the festival was held during Ramadan this year and because festival posters featured female nudity. Because of this scandal, in the future the dates of Sarajevo’s international film festival will be “coordinated” with Ramadan, the festival’s director, Mirsad Purivatra, says.

“We need to adapt to the surroundings,” he added, saying that the dates of various festivals have been similarly shifted in Turkey and Morocco. But those who remember multiethnic Sarajevo are dismayed by comparisons with those majority Muslim states.

Missed Opportunity

Muslims in Sarajevo and across Bosnia have many reasons for becoming much closer to Islam than they had been historically. There is a strong sense among them that they have been abandoned by the West — a feeling bolstered by factors including the 1992 UN Security Council’s ban on exporting arms to Bosnia and the UN’s failure to secure protected zones (which led to the Srebrenica massacre).

But giving up its multiethnicity means suicide for Sarajevo. The biggest chance Sarajevo had after the war has already been missed. Then, the world was ready to help rebuild the country, but offered no suitable projects.

Local government proved inefficient and citizens were increasingly hired because of their ethnicity rather than their qualifications. Mosques sprang up, and Wahhabism grew increasingly influential. Non-Muslim ethnic groups were suppressed and crime and corruption flourished. Intellectuals who argued for a society based on guaranteed civil rights rather than ethnic privileges were increasingly marginalized.

Although formally the laws and regulations of Sarajevo seem to promote a multiethnic society, the real situation is quite different. Public events have been shaped by the values of one ethnic group, despite the fact that they are supported by the taxes of all citizens. Resistance to this Islamization has become notably weaker. Bosnian Muslims are being increasingly drawn to Islam, and although Bosnia remains a secular state, it is becoming a less and less secular society.

While some might think that this process in Sarajevo will end in the formation of a Muslim state, in reality it will lead to the collapse of the state altogether, a further dissolution that could have disastrous consequences for Muslims.

But Bosnia cannot expect the international community to build a functional multiethnic state for them. Doing so is Bosnia’s responsibility and that responsibility must be borne first of all by the country’s largest ethnic group — the Muslims.

Treating a war criminal as a hero sends the wrong signal and emphasizes Sarajevo’s preoccupation with ethnic one-upsmanship. And the violent protests against economic policy are just a taste of the likely outcome of that dead-end strategy.

           — Hat tip: Steen[Return to headlines]

Mediterranean Union

Italy: Egypt Expected to Get 449 Million Euro EU Grant, Minister

(ANSAmed) — ROME, APRIL 26 — Enjoying the best facilities to be offered to a non-EU member, Cairo is expected to get 449.3 million euros in grant under a memorandum of understanding to be signed between Egypt and the EU within the framework of the 2011-2013 national project. Negotiations on the memo is expected to start in 2010, Egyptian Minister of International Cooperation Fayza Abul-Naga said Monday in press statements ahead of leaving for Luxemburg to attend the sixth session of the EU-Egypt Association Council, due to open on Tuesday, MENA reported. The sixth session of the EU-Egypt Association Council will follow up the progress realized so far in implementing the EU-Egypt Association Agreement in light of bilateral cooperation priorities set by the EU-Egypt Action Plan (AP). The AP is part of the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP). Under the 2011-2013 National Indicative Program — which is part of the ENP, Egypt and the EU are expected to sign a memo for the former to get 449.3 million euros as a non-refundable grant. The grant will support Egypt’s efforts to carry out reforms in vital sectors, including education, transport, electricity, energy, trade, agriculture, food security, environment and water, Egyptian Minister of International Cooperation Fayza Abul-Naga said. The grant will also buttress Egypt’s efforts to develop shanty areas and combat poverty, she added. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

North Africa

Algeria: Women’s Associations Create Hassi Massaoud Committee

(ANSAmed) — ALGIERS, APRIL 26 — Fifteen Algerian human rights associations announced the creation of a Committee for Defense and Solidarity (CDS) after several women were attacked in Hassi Massaoud, in the country’s South. “Our initiative’s goal is to express our solidarity to women who have been beaten and robbed and who have endured every kind of violence”, Cherifa Boutta stated during a press conference in Algiers. In March and April several women were assaulted by groups of masked and armed men “who terrorized their victims in isolated places, sometimes following them to their homes”. According to the organizations, in most cases, these women were “women who work in Hassi Massaoud for foreign oil companies as cleaning ladies or family cooks, and they often live on their own or with their children in slums”. During the press conference an episode dating back to July 2001 was brought up, when in Hassi Massaoud’s El Haicha neighbourhood 300 armed men attacked about a hundred women, “subjecting them to the worst atrocities.” (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Morocco: Al-Qaeda Cell Dismantled

(ANSAmed) — RABAT, APRIL 26 — A cell of presumed terrorists linked to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb has been dismantled in the last few weeks by Moroccan security services. The news comes from the press agency MAP, which quoted the country’s Interior Minister. A Ministry statement says that 24 men who were about to carry out attacks and sabotage “against Moroccan interests and against security forces” have been arrested. The terror cell recruited men to send to Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and Sahel-Sahara countries, where a fresh outbreak of terrorism has been recorded, particularly dangerous in this case for its ties with the smuggling of drugs and weapons. The Ministry said that at the time of their arrest, “the 24 men had guns and ammunition they had obtained after attacking a police officer in Casablanca”. Four of the arrested men have previous convictions for terrorism, while the identities of the other 20 have not been released. According to security forces, quoted by the agency MAP, the arrests occurred across a number of areas in Morocco between March and April. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Press: Arab Journalists Report on Press Freedom

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, APRIL 26 — In meeting in Tunis, the General Secretariat of the Federation of Arab Journalists (FAJ) said that it would be publishing a report on press freedom in the Arab World by June. According to the TAP agency, FAJ would be focusing on the “freedom of the press and of journalists” with special attention given to the “specific situations of certain unions” in order to “find adequate solutions to the difficulties encountered.” The report, which will be published after the next FAJ meeting in May in Cairo, “will include,” in the words of the Federation’s chairperson, Ibraim Nafa, “the Federation’s point of view on western reports on this issue, reports which too often supply erroneous information.” (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

‘We Refuse to be Muslims by Force’ Say Egyptian Christian Twin-Boys After Losing Court Case

by Mary Abdelmassih

(AINA) — On March 30 an administrative judicial court in Egypt dismissed a lawsuit filed by Mrs. Camilia Lutfi, mother of the Coptic Christian twins boys Mario and Andrew, against the Interior Minister, and the director of the Civil Status Department for refusing to re-instate the Christian religion on their birth certificates, and invalidate those which were forcefully changed to “Islam” in 2005 by their father Medhat Ramsis Labib, who had converted to Islam.

After his conversion, Andrew and Mario became Muslims in what is called “Islamization by dependence,” by which children follow the religion of a converted parent (to Islam only) until they reach the age of puberty (fifteen), because Islam is “the best among all religions,” according to Egyptian Court rulings.

The purpose of Lutfi’s litigation was to restore back to her twins their identity as Christians, before reaching the age of 16 in June, when they will have their national ID cards issued. Camilia said that because of the developments in their case, her worst nightmares would materialize, in which they would have Islam as religious affiliation on their ID cards. “If they change to Christianity after that, they will be considered apostates,” she told Freecopts advocacy. She expressed her surprise at the intransigence of the judiciary in dealing with the issue of her sons, especially after they have already reached the legal age of 15-years, when they can choose their own religion. “The boys have lived this tragedy for the last ten years, through no fault of their own.”

ElYoum 7 Newspaper reported that 15-years-old Mario and Andrew were extremely disappointed with the court verdict, saying “faith is not by force, we want to remain Christians and we do not wish to become Muslims.” Both boys are practicing Christians and were consecrated last year as deacons in their regular church in Alexandria.

The court explained in its verdict, which was issued on April 14, that Camilia Lutfi has not presented a verdict from a relevant court (it did not say which court) proving the change of her sons’ religion from Islam to Christianity. “How come that when their father changed their religion from Christianity to Islam, he required no court verdict, and now that they want to revert back to Christianity, the court requires a verdict?” she told Freecopts.

Although the mother’s lawyers presented to the court a portfolio containing 15 different certificates proving they are Christians, contradicting what was written on their birth certificates, the court said in its reasoning that it does not recognize the validity of a certificate issued by the Church as a document of change of religion from Islam to Christianity, as “churches by law are not competent to issue such certificates.” The courts only accept certificates of religion change from Al-Azhar (the Muslim theology school in Cairo). Moreover the Court said that there is no law to force the Interior minister and the Civil Status Department chief to change the religion of the boys on their documents without a court ruling to this effect.

Camilia criticized the judiciary in Egypt for being biased, based on her personal experience. “I do not believe the recent verdict has been taken solely by the judges. I feel there is a higher authority which orders the judges to decide in a certain way, even if it goes against the documents in front of them,” she told Freecopts.

Mario and Andrew were born on June 24, 1994 to Christian parents, sea captain Medhat Ramsis and tax inspector Camilia Lutfi, but in February 2000 their father converted to Islam to marry a Muslim woman. In 2005 Medhat changed their twin boys birth certificates to show that they are Muslims, born to a Muslim father and a Christian mother.

The case of Mario and Andrew caught the attention of the media in May 2007, after they challenged the Ministry of Education which forced them to sit in for the Islamic Religion exams at school, where students are obliged to pass in order to be promoted to a higher class. They refused to answer the questions. On his answer sheet Andrew wrote “I am Christian” and Mario wrote “My religion is Christianity.” They failed the exam and had to re-take it, but again insisted on writing these single phrases. Due to public pressure, the Minister of Education exempted them from passing those exams until their case was finalized by the court. On national television they declared: “We do not want to be Muslims. We are born Christians, will remain and die as Christians.”

After a five-year legal battle, Lutfi won a landmark victory in June 2009 when Egypt’s Court of Cassation gave her the right to retain custody of Andrew and Mario. The Court also affirmed, for the first time, the right of a non-Muslim mother to retain custody of her child until the age of fifteen, as stipulated by Egypt’s Personal Status Law, even when the child’s father converts to Islam and the state automatically changes the child’s religion as a result. Previously it was only until the age of seven, which is considered the age of “religious maturity” by the Hanafi school of Islamic jurisprudence (6-20-2009).

At a press conference held on Thursday April 22, Lutfi said that the refusal of the judiciary to establish the religion of her children as Christians is a blow to the principles of citizenship, and a “disregard” for Christianity and Christians. She called on President Mubarak to protect the freedom of religion by issuing laws “to tie down the hands of the judiciary in deciding on these issues without a legal basis.” She also addressed a message to the President of the State Council saying that all judgments regarding conversion to Christianity take as a starting point that Islam is the State religion, and the State guarantees freedom of religion but ends up by “insulting Christianity and those wishing to convert to Christianity.”

During the press conference, Camelia also called on the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar to issue a Fatwa (Islamic religious edict) to remind the authorities of the Quranic verse “Let there be no compulsion in religion.”

Dr. Awad Shafik Awad, international attorney based in Switzerland and President of the Confederation of Coptic Human Rights Organizations in Europe, stated his intention to refer the case of Mario and Andrew to the international courts, after all stages of litigation in Egypt have been exhausted. He said that the recent court’s refusal to prove the Christian faith of the twin boys was “unjust and has nothing to do with the law.”

Coptic attorney Ramsis elNaggar stated that his law firm represents thousands of Christian children who were forced to become Muslims following the conversion to Islam of one of their parents, and tried in vain to revert back to Christianity.

In 2007 the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights issued a joint report with Human Rights Watch entitled ‘Prohibited Identities: State Interference with Religious Freedom’, regarding involuntary “conversions..” It quoted 89 cases of Egyptians whose religious affiliation in official documents was changed by the state to Islam against their will — and in some instances without their knowledge — after their fathers converted to Islam. Moreover, the Interior Ministry has refused to change their religious affiliation to Christianity when they reached the age of fifteen, in violation of the law. The report highlighted the far-reaching consequences for the daily lives of those affected, including choosing a spouse, educating one’s children, or conducting the most basic financial and other transactions (report).

Last month before the court dismissed their case, CBN News carried out an interview with Mario and Andrew, bringing their fight to retain their Christian identity and the fear of being considered as apostates and getting killed to the international public (video).

Renowned Coptic activist and writer Magdi Khalil calls for the non-application of Islamic Sharia law on Christian families in Egypt, saying that the case of Mario and Andrew represents the situation of the Copts under Sharia. The Egyptian Personal Status Law for Muslims and non-Muslims of mixed religions or denominations is based on the Sharia law according to the Hanafi school of Islamic jurisprudence,”which discriminates against fundamental human rights, and against women in general as lawyer Ms Safaa Zaki describes it,” he said. Khalil warns about a wider application of the Second article of the Egyptian Constitution which stipulates that the principles of Islamic Sharia law are the main source of legislation. “If Sharia is applied to all the laws, this would be a real catastrophe to the secular state, for Muslims and Christians alike and a bomb ready to explode,” he said.

[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

Gaza: Hamas Police Stop Hip Pop Concert

(ANSAmed) — GAZA, APRIL 26 — Three young Palestinian artists, members of hip pop group “B Boy”, who were about to entertain hundreds of concert-goers who gathered in Gaza’s cultural center a-Shawa on Saturday afternoon, stayed on stage only a few seconds. After the start of the show, a Hamas police unit immediately broke in the building, announcing “Show is over.” Six among the event organizers were arrested and questioned. They were released some hours later, after promising they will previously ask the authorities for permit to organize similar shows in the future. The episode was revealed by local humanitarian organization Pchr-Gaza. According to the organization the Hamas police behaved arbitrarily in this circumstance. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Obama’s 5 Big Lies About Israel

In preparation for his attempt to impose a final solution on Israel, Obama is spreading a variety of lies through the media and his spokesmen about Israel. And by exposing those lies, we can best get at the truth. Netanyahu Must Choose Between Obama and his Right Wing

What Obama’s people would like you to believe here is that all it would take to restore good relations with the Obama Administration is for Netanyahu to reject the “extremists” and do what Obama tells him to do.

But in fact the vast majority of Israelis support Netanyahu’s position that Jews have the right to live anywhere in Jerusalem, and oppose Obama’s position that Jews have no right to live or build homes in parts of Jerusalem that were seized by Jordan in 1948 and ethnically cleansed of Jews.

Netanyahu’s real choice is between Obama and the vast majority of his country’s voters. By demanding that he turn his back on them and do what Obama says, the real demand here is for Netanyahu to completely disregard Israel’s democracy, and betray his own electorate, and enact Apartheid in Jerusalem. This will supposedly appease Obama. And all Netanyahu has to do is disregard the Israeli people’s wishes in favor of DC’s wishes.

So Netanyahu must choose between Obama and democracy. And the media is blasting him because he chose democracy over Obama.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

‘Shalit Never to be Released’, Hamas Shocking Video

(ANSAmed) — JERUSALEM, APRIL 26 — Hamas has warned Israel’s “Zionist society” that the soldier Gilad Shalit, who since June 2006 has been in their hands, will never be freed if the Israeli government does not agree to all the conditions set down by the Islamic movement in power in the Gaza Strip. The warning came yesterday in a video produced for propaganda purposes in the very days in which Israel has carried out a humanitarian gesture by allowing the urgent transport to an Amman hospital of the daughter — who is in a coma — of the Interior Minister, Fathi Hamad, of the de facto Hamas government in Gaza, the sworn enemy of the Israeli state. In what clearly seems psychological warfare, Hamas has prepared a short animation film addressing “the Zionist society and not its elected leaders, who see nothing outside of their personal interests and who are therefore postponing the finalisation of an agreement — still possible — which would return Shalit to his family in exchange for Palestinians being held (in Israel)”. Hamas also warned that is intends to imprison a large number of Israelis “so that the Zionist government will be forced to create a ministry for imprisoned Zionist soldiers.” The footage shows Noam Shalit, the soldier’s father, having aged twenty years, while he turns to this imaginary minister with a photo of his son in prison. “I am saddened,” replied Noam Shalit, “ that Hamas is using psychological warfare instead of negotiating a prisoner exchange.” Shalit, warned Hamas, risks ending up the same as Ron Arad: the Israeli pilot who crashed in Lebanon in 1986 and was taken prisoner by a Shia militia, and of whose whereabouts nothing is known more than twenty years later. Hamas’s move has come after the latest mediation by Germany at the beginning of the month to bring in an agreement between Israel and Hamas on a prisoner exchange. Israel seems willing to free about a thousand Palestinians in exchange for the soldier but refuses to release a few dozen prisoners — on whom Hamas insists — responsible for the killing of many Israelis. Meanwhile, on Saturday Israel briefly conceded a pause in the unyielding isolation it has put the Gaza Strip under in order to allow the daughter in a coma of one of its bitterest enemies to be transferred via helicopter to Amman after receiving emergency treatment in the Israeli hospital Soroka in Beersheva. The woman, the 21-year-old Ilham Hamad, daughter of Hamas Interior Minister Fathi Hamad, wife of one of the military heads of the Islamic movement and mother of three children, had fallen into a coma during nasal septum surgery in a Jordanian field camp in Gaza. Following urgent consultations involving the royal Jordanian family and the Israeli premier, Israel agree to the transfer and authorised the arrival of the Jordanian helicopter and emergency treatment in Soroka. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Middle East

2010: Active Year for Islamic Finance in Kingdom

The Kingdom, in terms of pool of funds, is the largest player in the global Islamic finance market, although its industry, like elsewhere, is subject to traditional bottlenecks, scarcity of human capital resources and underdeveloped market awareness.

There is no doubt that the Saudi market is underpinned by its economic fundamentals — that the Kingdom is the world’s largest oil producer and exporter. In addition, while the official foreign reserves held by the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency (SAMA) are just under half a trillion US dollars, private liquidity in the Kingdom is estimated at $1.2 trillion.

The Kingdom has also weathered the storm of the current global financial crisis, with 2009 real GDP growth estimated at 0.2 percent and expected to accelerate to 3.2 percent in 2010. According to Omar Al-Jaroudi, chief executive officer of SHUAA Capital Saudi Arabia, for instance, “The Saudi government’s timely and appropriate fiscal and monetary policies have helped to support growth and the stability of the financial system. The key drivers behind our macro view are a sustained global recovery and the associated higher oil prices, continued expansionary fiscal policy and the resumption of local bank lending, easing financing constraints on the private sector. We forecast nominal GDP will reach SR1.5 trillion this year.”

The room for optimism in the Islamic finance sector is underlined by a number of developments. Bank AlJazira, which has converted all its activities to Islamic banking, for instance, has recently received approval from the SAMA to set up a Takaful (Islamic insurance) company. The bank’s Takaful Ta’awuni Division will be spinned off into a standalone Takaful joint venture with the UK’s Prudential PLC, one of the world’s largest insurance and asset management companies.

The Jeddah-based Islamic Development Bank (IDB), on the other hand, has recently approved its first financing facility — a $120 million co-financing as part of a larger Islamic financing facility for the strategic Jubail Refinery and Petrochemical Project (JRPP) in Saudi Arabia.

The project, which has a total capital cost of $12.8 billion and which is scheduled to be completed in four years, is owned by Saudi Aramco Total Refining and Petrochemical Company (SATORP), a joint venture between Saudi Aramco (62.5 percent) and Total of France (37.5 percent). Technip of Italy is acting as the technical and project coordinator. The facility marks a growing involvement of the IDB Group in financing Saudi utilities and corporates, especially in trade and project finance. The Kingdom is by far the largest equity subscriber to the IDB.

The timing of the project, stressed the IDB, “is strategically important, indicating that Saudi Arabia in particular and the region in general, have remained resilient to the economic crisis and back on track for growth”.

Two other major developments include the recent launch of “the world’s first Shariah-compliant portfolio based on the Fundamental Index(r) methodology” developed exclusively for Saudi Economic Development Company (SEDCO) Group in Saudi Arabia by Swedish based investment manager IPM Informed Portfolio Management (IPM).

           — Hat tip: Holger Danske[Return to headlines]

Costa Crociere Targets Arab Tourism Market

(ANSAmed) — DUBAI — Services tailor-made for Arab clientele and the upcoming opening of a branch office in Dubai are the two new elements presented by Costa Crociere during a press conference onboard the ship “Deliziosa”, inaugurated in Dubai in February, which prove the company’s growing interest in the Arab world, and that of the latter in cruise lines. “The aim is to invest in Dubai, the Arabian Gulf and the Middle East not only as a regular destination but also as a reservoir of cruise ship passengers,” said Gianni Onorato, Costa Crociere general director. A prayer hall — one for men and another for women — typical Middle Eastern dishes, as well as menus, instructions and signs written in Arabic, entertainment and native Arabic speakers as assistance personnel are some of the initiatives taken to meet the needs of the market in the region it has been targeting since 2006. With 14 ships in service and two ordered from Fincantieri, Costa Crociere has also announced the opening of a branch office in Dubai, entrusted to Al-Ketby Consultacy, in order to optimise its presence and investment in the area. During the 2006-2007 season, Costa Crociere took about 44,000 passengers to Dubai. In the winter of 2009-2010, in part thanks to consolidated collaboration with the tourism and commerce councillor’s office in Dubai (DTCM), it handled 140,000.(ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Defence: Turkey, Syria to Hold Joint Military Exercises

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, APRIL 26 — Turkish and Syrian soldiers will hold joint drills this week to enhance border security cooperation, Turkhish press reports quoting the Turkish General Staff as saying Monday. The announcement came as yet another sign of the flourishing ties between the two neighbors who came to the brink of war in the late 1990s after decades of hostility. The three-day exercises, starting Tuesday at two border outposts on the Turkish side of the frontier, aim to “boost cooperation and confidence between the land forces of the two countries and raise border units’ level of training and ability to work together,” the statement said. Turkey has significantly improved ties with Syria in recent years, much to the annoyance of Israel, its once close ally with whom relations have badly deteriorated. The Syrian and Turkish militaries held joint exercises in April last year, stirring criticism from Tel Aviv. In 1998, Ankara threatened military action if Damascus continued to shelter Abdullah Ocalan, leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union. Tensions eased after Syria expelled Ocalan, paving the way for improved ties. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Internet: Pay-for-News Idea Doesn’t Work, Ahmad (Al Jazeera)

(ANSAmed) — MILAN, APRIL 26 — Paying for online news? A choice that “does not work”. This was the stance taken by Arab network Al Jazeera, the Qatar news giant’s manager of the new media Moeed Ahmad explained. “We” he said, “think that what Rupert Murdoch wants does not work, rather, we work in order to make information increasingly free and accessible to all.” “Our idea,” underlined Ahmad, speaking at an encounter organised by Promos, the special internationalisation agency of the Milan Chamber of Commerce, “is to keep everything open. Our objective is not only to provide news, but to offer tools so that people can analyse the facts. This could not take place if people had to pay for information. And mainly young people are not willing to pay”. This has been their practice for the past three and a half years with the creation of the new media division, the channel that is increasingly focussing on new instruments for the spread of news and information, from micro-reporting via twitter, extensively exploited for example during the Gaza war, to videos downloaded in real time on You Tube, from Facebook, to podcasts, to the use of geo-referenced news on online maps. “With the knowledge,” underlined Ahmad, “that the role of professional journalists cannot be replaced.” The strategy being pursued by the Qatar-based network is not anti-economic from a publishing standpoint, according to Ahmad: “If we load news content onto Youtube,” concluded, “for example, we are able to reach a more vast public. Afterwards many of these users will come directly to us: contacts on our website continue to increase”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Iran: Tehran Candidates Itself for UN Post in Defence of Women’s Rights

Withdrawal of the candidature to the UN Commission on Human Rights. Perhaps because of lack of votes. The Islamic country is among the most violent against women. Mullahs in Tehran: Women without the veil spread adultery and produce earthquakes.

Tehran (AsiaNews / Agencies) — The authorities of the Islamic Republic confirmed yesterday that they no longer wish to become members of the United Nations Council for Human Rights. Except that, at the same time, Tehran has proposed itself as a member of the Commission for the protection of women’s rights. The news was greeted with relief by governments and activists that opposed the nomination of the regime, but also with some hilarity at the idea of its wanting to assume the role of a defender of women.

Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Mehmanparast Ramin, , said the decision to withdraw from the Council for Human Rights was taken jointly with other Asian countries, thus presenting a single candidate. According to a western diplomat quoted by Reuters, Tehran backed down when it became clear it could not secure enough votes to get a seat.

The Council for Human Rights has 47 countries and has its headquarters in Geneva. Tehran is under fire from the international community for its systematic violation of fundamental human freedoms. American UN mission spokesman, Mark Kornblau, expressed satisfaction: “It ‘a step in the right direction for the Council. The presence of countries like China and Saudi Arabia in it, has contributed over the years to discredit the image of the UN body.

The Islamic Republic had tried to join the Council in 2006. But its candidacy failed as a result of pressure from the United States.

However in a move that smacks of provocation, Iran has put itself forward as a candidate for the Commission to protect the rights of women. The mullahs’ regime is one of the toughest in the world towards women, who live in a state of semi-segregation. The are daily arrests and violence against women who are not “adequately covered” or who act in “a non Islamic way”. At Friday prayers April 16 last, the mullah of Tehran Sadigo Kazem said that women who do not wear the hijab are responsible for the spread of adultery and “increase the risk of earthquakes (the Iranian capital is subject to seismic phenomena, ed).

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

Iran: Daughter Writes to Jailed Human Rights Activist

Tehran, 26 April (AKI) — As jailed Iranian author and human rights activist Emad Baghi celebrated his 48th birthday in prison this week, his daughter Maryham Baghi published an open letter to her father calling for his freedom. Baghi is the founder and head of a leading prisoners’ rights group in Iran, and the author of twenty books, six of which have been banned in Iran.

He was arrested on 27 December last year.

“Your sin is that you demand tolerance and patience, peace and friendship, respect for human generosity, the right to life and not imprisoning even opponents,” Maryham Baghi said.

“Why is the path to freedom, serenity and peace so rocky, dark and narrow? Don’t be saddened, father. This shall pass too.”

Baghi has spent several years in prison over the past decade for campaigning against the death penalty. Since 1995 he has appeared in court or been summoned by the intelligence ministry 55 times, according to one human rights group.

“Your book, The Right to Life, was written in two volumes but ended like many of your other books, which never received a publication permit or were banned, never reaching readers in Iran although they reached readers in Lebanon and Egypt,” Maryham Baghi said.

“How wonderful it would be if they could be read in Iran. How much you wanted the culture of peace and tolerance to be institutionalised in Iran.”

In her letter, his daughter expressed regret that her father was not released from prison even for a short time, to attend her wedding.

“The ceremony began while we were still waiting for you. They had said you had to come with prison clothes with tied hands and guards,” she wrote.

“You sent a telephone message through a cell mate: ‘Tell my wife Fatemeh that I will celebrate the wedding of my daughter Maryam here. I know they don’t want me to be present in their happiness this way.’“

Maryham Baghi said due to “unwanted self-censorship” she could not write everything she wanted to say to her father.

“I am sorry that because of unwanted self-censorship, I am forced to leave some of the stories of the days without you for another time,” she said.

“Perhaps it will have to wait until you come and I can recite in your ears what has happened and what they have done to us.”

Baghi said her husband Mohammad was also arrested and later released before their wedding but she spoke about the growing support for human rights and democracy in Iran.

“Father, if in the past the sound of only a few seekers of freedom and rights was heard, now the voices have increased. With the imprisonment of one voice, thousands of voices of freedom rise from everywhere.”

Baghi said the number of people considered enemies of the government was increasing every day and it was unfair for him to be considered an “enemy”.

“Your voice is the beacon of freedom and Justice. Then why do they consider you an enemy?” she asked.

She expressed deep sadness on behalf of herself and her family over his imprisonment.

“Everyone says that our experience with your imprisonments have become normal for us but it has never become normal; only our previous injury has become deeper and our wound has become older and now we are more afflicted than ever,” she said.

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

Norwegian Professor Denied Entry Into Turkey

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, APRIL 26 — The chairwoman of a Norwegian civic commission monitoring human rights in Turkey has said she was denied entry into the country for political reasons, daily Hurriyet reports today quoting Scandinavian sources. Kariane Westrheim said she was detained at the airport in Istanbul on Saturday and put on a plane back to Scandinavia. She said Turkish officials accused her of “supporting separatists” and being “very critical toward Turkish politics.” Westrheim is the chairwoman of the European Union Turkey Civic Commission, an organization that monitors Turkey’s compliance with EU’s accession criteria. She is also a professor at the University of Bergen and has published research about the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, and Turkey’s conflict with the Kurds. The PKK is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey as well as the United States and the European Union. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

S. Arabia: Work on Industrial City Sudair Begins

(ANSAmed) — RIYADH, APRIL 26 — The governor of Riyadh has given the go-ahead for building works onn the Industrial City of Sudair, 120 kilometres north of Riyadh. In the city, which will have a surface area of 264 million square metres, and will feature 300 newly-built industrial establishments geared towards creating 70,000 new jobs and attracting investments worth about 150 billion rial (roughly 40 billion dollars). A statement from the Italian Trade Commission in the Saudi capital says that houses, universities, schools and hospitals will be built near the industrial area, in the hope of bringing about a residential area through which to channel internal immigration of those arriving from the country’s outer regions, a move that would lighten the demographic weight on Riyadh. The project’s first phase is already being carried out over an area of 8 million square metres and a a cost of 900 million rial (240 million dollars). (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

The West Should Use Resolution 1701 to Roll Back Hizbullah’s Effective Take-Over of the Lebanese Government

By Jonathan Spyer *

The summoning by the United States of Syrian Deputy Chief of Mission Zouheir Jabbour for a review of Syrian arms transfers to Hizbullah is the latest evidence of the serious basis to the recent tensions in the north.

Syria has continued to deny recent reports suggesting that it permitted the transfer of Scud-D ballistic missiles to Hizbullah.

But the issue of the Scuds is only a significant detail within a larger picture, which has been emerging into clear view since August 2006. This is the reality in which UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which ended the war between Israel and Hizbullah in 2006, has been turned into a dead letter by the “resistance bloc” of Iran, Syria and Hizbullah.

It is worth recalling that Resolution 1701 was hailed as a significant achievement for diplomacy at the time. The resolution was supposed to strengthen the basis for the renewed Lebanese sovereignty that seemed possible after Syrian withdrawal in 2005.

Its provisions are quite clear. The resolution calls for the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon, so that… there will be no weapons or authority in Lebanon other than that of the Lebanese state.” It also explicitly prohibits “sales or supply of arms and related materiel to Lebanon except as authorized by its government.”

Hizbullah and its backers calculated, correctly, that neither the government of Lebanon, nor the United Nations, nor the “international community” would be able or willing to enforce these clauses.

The UN has itself admitted the severe inadequacy of arrangements along the Syrian-Lebanese border…

           — Hat tip: Barry Rubin[Return to headlines]

Turkey’s Search for Natural Gas in Iran Goes on

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, APRIL 26 — Turkey and Iran continue to hold negotiations for an agreement on energy, as Anatolia news agency reports. Sources said that Iran, which previously offered three fields close to South Pars, in Iran, now is making an offer to Turkey two fields where the production of natural gas is guaranteed. A senior official from the Turkish Petroleum Corporation (TPAO) told the Anatolia news agency that great amounts of investments are needed in Iran in the field of energy.” We are conducting talks with Iranian authorities by taking into consideration the profitability of TPAO activities in Iran,” the TPAO official said. “We are seriously bargaining with Iran. At times, the talks seem to end but we go on with discussions. We are making slow progress in talks with Iranian energy authorities,” the TPAO official underlined. Investments to search for natural gas in South Pars have virtually come to an end due to the U.S. embargo. Several companies have begun leaving the South Pars region, the TPAO official stressed. Asked how the TPAO may continue investments in the region at a time of U.S. embargo, the official said that “it is TPAO’s wish to see that all problems associated with Iran are resolved and Iran is reintegrated into global politics. We can then continue our works in Iran”. Iran and Turkey, in July 2007, had signed a memorandum of understanding on the marketing of Iranian natural gas to Europe via Turkey. The South Pars/North Dome field is a natural gas condensate field located in the Persian Gulf. It is the world’s largest gas field, shared between Iran and Qatar. This gas field covers an area of 9,700 square kilometers, of which 3,700 square kilometers (South Pars) is in Iranian territorial waters and 6,000 square kilometers (North Dome) is in Qatari territorial waters. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Turkey: 7 Sentenced to Life for Attack That Killed 44

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, APRIL 26 — A Turkish court in the Anatolian city of Corum has sentenced seven people to lifetime in prison for an attack on an engagement ceremony last year that killed 44 people, Anatolia news agency reported. The court in central Turkey on Monday also sentenced another defendant to a 15-year prison term for his involvement in the attack. In the attack on May 4, 2009, masked gunmen stormed the ceremony in the village of Bilge, in Turkey’s Southeast, killing the betrothed couple, the imam presiding over the ceremony and many of the guests. The dead included six children and three pregnant women. Authorities at the time blamed the attack on a family feud. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Yawn! Iran May be Able to Build a Missile Capable of Striking the US by 2015

by Barry Rubin

Iran may be able to build a missile capable of striking the United States by 2015, according to a new U.S. Department of Defense report.

I was wondering how to follow up that sentence in this article but by accident, in cutting and pasting the text of the Reuters story, the “Related News” items accidentally came with it. These are other recent Reuters stories on this issue. So what is more telling than just to list them:

U.S. open to Iran nuclear fuel deal despite doubts

Mon, Apr 19 2010

Turkish minister in Iran to discuss nuclear row

Mon, Apr 19 2010

U.S. considers options to curb Iran’s nuclear program

Sun, Apr 18 2010

Pentagon’s Mullen: diplomacy first in options on Iran

Sun, Apr 18 2010

In other words, the four most recent articles are all about how the Obama Administration policy is still trying to engage Iran and make a deal or how America’s former ally, Turkey’s government, has gone over to the other side.

How about this one:

“The United States said on Monday it was still willing to discuss a nuclear fuel swap deal with Iran, but only if Tehran takes clear steps to address international concerns about its nuclear program….[Turkey’s Foreign Minister] Ahmet Davutoglu told reporters he had discerned a change in the Iranian stance over the past several months during which he said he visited Tehran about a half-dozen times.”

Oh, right! Let’s spend a few months going back to the nuclear fuel swap deal which Iran raised last September in order to sabotage the sanctions’ train so successfully.

Or this story:…

           — Hat tip: Barry Rubin[Return to headlines]

Yemen: British Ambassador Escapes With His Life as Suicide Bomber Blows Himself Up Yards From Armoured Car

The British ambassador to Yemen narrowly escaped an attack by a suicide bomber while travelling to work this morning.

Timothy Torlot’s armoured car had been travelling through a neighbourhood in the eastern part of Sana’a, the capital, when the explosion happened.

A British embassy spokesman said the ambassador was unhurt.

It is believed the attacker, a young man apparently dressed in school uniform to disguise himself, was wearing an explosives belt and that he was killed in the blast.

Three people were wounded in the attack. Two were security officials in a police car escorting the ambassador’s motorcade, the third was a bystander.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


A Cruise Missile in a Shipping Box on Sale to Rogue Bidders

Defence experts are warning of a new danger of ballistic weapons proliferation after a Russian company started marketing a cruise missile that can be launched from a shipping container.

It is feared that the covert Club-K missile attack system could prove “game-changing” in fighting wars with small countries, which would gain a remote capacity to mount multiple missiles on boats, trucks or railways.

Iran and Venezuela have already shown an interest in the Club-K Container Missile System which could allow them to carry out pre-emptive strikes from behind an enemy’s missile defences.

Defence experts say the system is designed to be concealed as a standard 40ft shipping container that cannot be identified until it is activated.

Priced at an estimated £10 million, each container is fitted with four cruise anti-ship or land attack missiles. The system represents an affordable “strategic level weapon”.

Some experts believe that if Iraq had the Club-K system in 2003 it would have made it impossible for America to invade with any container ship in the Gulf a potential threat.

Club-K is being marketed at the Defence Services Asia exhibition in Malaysia this week.

Novator, the manufacturer, is an advanced missile specialist that would not have marketed the system without Moscow’s approval. It has released an emotive marketing film complete with dramatic background music.

It shows Club-K containers stowed on ships, trucks and trains as a neighbouring country prepares to invade with American style military equipment.

The enemy force is wiped out by the cruise missile counter attack.

Russia has already prompted concern in Washington by selling Iran the sophisticated S-300 anti-aircraft missile system that would make targeting of Iranian nuclear facilities very difficult.

“This Club-K is game changing with the ability to wipe out an aircraft carrier 200 miles away. The threat is immense in that no one can tell how far deployed your missiles could be,” said Robert Hewson, editor of Jane’s Air-Launched Weapons, who first reported on the Club-K developments.

“What alerted me to this was that the Russians were advertising it at specific international defence event and they have marketed it very squarely at anyone under threat of action from the US.”

Reuben Johnson, a Pentagon defence consultant, said the system would be a “real maritime fear for anyone with a waterfront”.

“This is ballistic missile proliferation on a scale we have not seen before because now you cannot readily identify what’s being used as a launcher because it’s very carefully disguised.

“Someone could sail off your shore looking innocuous then the next minute big explosions are going off at your military installations.”

           — Hat tip: Vlad Tepes[Return to headlines]

Frank Gaffney: Arsenal of Roguery

Sixty years ago, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt announced to the nation in one of his famous “fireside chats” that America must be “the great arsenal of democracy.” It was a visionary and, at the time, controversial declaration that a nation dead-set against becoming entangled in the war then-consuming Europe must nonetheless help arm democratic nations fighting for their survival. This initiative proved critical to Britain’s defense in the run-up to Pearl Harbor, at which point the United States became decisively not just the Free World’s armory, but its savior.

Today, we find another country putting its formidable military-industrial complex in the service of others around the globe. The arsenal is Russia’s, the recipients are virtually without exception the world’s most dangerous enemies of freedom. This practice is making a mockery of President Obama’s much-touted “reset” of relations with the Kremlin — including, notably, the new, bilateral START Treaty. It also increases exponentially the dangers associated with his policy of “engaging” rogue states, a practice that is simply affording them time to buy ever-more-advanced and -deadly weapons from Moscow…

           — Hat tip: CSP[Return to headlines]

Genetically Modified Soy Linked to Sterility, Infant Mortality

“This study was just routine,” said Russian biologist Alexey V. Surov, in what could end up as the understatement of this century. Surov and his colleagues set out to discover if Monsanto’s genetically modified (GM) soy, grown on 91% of US soybean fields, leads to problems in growth or reproduction. What he discovered may uproot a multi-billion dollar industry.

After feeding hamsters for two years over three generations, those on the GM diet, and especially the group on the maximum GM soy diet, showed devastating results. By the third generation, most GM soy-fed hamsters lost the ability to have babies. They also suffered slower growth, and a high mortality rate among the pups.

And if this isn’t shocking enough, some in the third generation even had hair growing inside their mouths — a phenomenon rarely seen, but apparently more prevalent among hamsters eating GM soy.

The study, jointly conducted by Surov’s Institute of Ecology and Evolution of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the National Association for Gene Security, is expected to be published in three months (July 2010) — so the technical details will have to wait. But Surov sketched out the basic set up for me in an email.

He used Campbell hamsters, with a fast reproduction rate, divided into 4 groups. All were fed a normal diet, but one was without any soy, another had non-GM soy, a third used GM soy, and a fourth contained higher amounts of GM soy. They used 5 pairs of hamsters per group, each of which produced 7-8 litters, totally 140 animals.

Surov told The Voice of Russia,

“Originally, everything went smoothly. However, we noticed quite a serious effect when we selected new pairs from their cubs and continued to feed them as before. These pairs’ growth rate was slower and reached their sexual maturity slowly.”

He selected new pairs from each group, which generated another 39 litters. There were 52 pups born to the control group and 78 to the non-GM soy group. In the GM soy group, however, only 40 pups were born. And of these, 25% died. This was a fivefold higher death rate than the 5% seen among the controls. Of the hamsters that ate high GM soy content, only a single female hamster gave birth. She had 16 pups; about 20% died.

Surov said “The low numbers in F2 [third generation] showed that many animals were sterile.”

The published paper will also include measurements of organ size for the third generation animals, including testes, spleen, uterus, etc. And if the team can raise sufficient funds, they will also analyze hormone levels in collected blood samples.

Hair Growing in the Mouth

Earlier this year, Surov co-authored a paper in Doklady Biological Sciences showing that in rare instances, hair grows inside recessed pouches in the mouths of hamsters.

“Some of these pouches contained single hairs; others, thick bundles of colorless or pigmented hairs reaching as high as the chewing surface of the teeth. Sometimes, the tooth row was surrounded with a regular brush of hair bundles on both sides. The hairs grew vertically and had sharp ends, often covered with lumps of a mucous.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

South Asia

Afghanistan: Poisoned… Or Victims of Mass Hysteria? Dozens of Afghan Schoolgirls Mysteriously Fall Ill After ‘Strange Odour’

Dozens of schoolgirls have fallen ill in recent days after reporting a strange odour in their classrooms in northern Afghanistan.

The illness has prompted an investigation into whether they were targeted by militants who oppose education for girls or if they are victims of mass hysteria.

The reports from three schools within two miles of one another in Kunduz province raised alarm in a city threatened by the Taliban and their militant allies.

The latest cases occurred today when 13 girls became sick, Kunduz provincial spokesman Mahbobullah Sayedi said. Another 47 complained of dizziness and nausea the day before, and 23 fell ill last Wednesday.

All complained of a strange smell in class before they fell ill.

‘I came out from the main hall and I saw lots of other girls scattered everywhere,’ Anesa, a nine-year-old who was taken to hospital briefly today, said. ‘Then suddenly, I felt that I was losing my balance and falling.’

None of the illnesses was serious and the girls were only in hospital for a short time.

The health ministry said blood samples were inconclusive and were being sent to Kabul for further testing to determine the cause of the illnesses.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Afghanistan: Taliban Denies Responsibility for School Gas Attacks

Kunduz, 26 April (AKI) — The Taliban has denied responsibility for gas attacks over the weekend that caused more than 50 schoolgirls in northern Afghanistan to lose consciousness or fall ill.

“We strongly condemn such an act that targeted innocent schoolgirls by poisonous gas,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said, according news reports.

In three separate incidents at schools in the city of Kunduz on Saturday and Sunday, teenagers reported being overcome by fumes.

Officials were swift to blame the Taliban, which banned girls from schools when it ruled Afghanistan and which has more recently been linked with acid attacks on female pupils.

President Hamid Karzai’s spokesman Waheed Omer said insurgents intent on spreading fear were to blame for the incidents.

“Whoever prevents children from going to school is an enemy of Afghanistan and its prosperity,” he said.

The Taliban have been blamed for similar attacks, as well as spraying acid on the faces of female students.

Local doctor Mohammad Qasam Khamoosh, who treated girls from two schools, said “unknown gases” were responsible for the mass illnesses, according to CNN.

Girls were not allowed to attend school during the Taliban’s rule. Girls’ schools have been open in the region since 2001.

Khamoosh said authorities were able to gather a sample of the gas, which has been sent off for testing.

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

The “Zionist Hindu Crusader” Alliance Marches on

Documents captured from radicals and terrorists in Pakistan warn darkly about a new axis of evil in the world: a ‘Zionist Hindu Crusader’ alliance bringing Israel, India, and the United States together in a war on Islam. They are wrong about the last part; all three countries want peaceful relations with Islamic countries based on mutual recognition and respect. The alliance isn’t a closed club, and Islamic countries are welcome to join. Otherwise, however, the radicals have a point. The deepening relations between the United States, India, and Israel are changing the geopolitical geometry of the modern world in ways that will make the lives of fanatical terrorists even more dismal and depressing (not to mention shorter) than they already are. Israel and the United States are both in a better long term position than many Americans sometimes think; one of the main reasons is an Indian-Israeli connection that most Americans know nothing about.

Americans often underestimate Israel: we underestimate Israel’s ability to conduct a foreign policy independent of US support and we underestimate Israel’s long term prospects for success in its region. Indeed, Americans often talk about Israel as if we were the Jewish state’s only real friend — and that Israel is completely dependent on American goodwill.

That’s not true historically and it’s not true today. The Soviet Union (through its Czechoslovakian satellite regime) provided Israel with the arms that gave it the decisive advantage in its War of Independence. The British and French armed and supported Israel in the 1956 Suez War. France provided Israel with the core of its nuclear technology and France supplied Israel with the Mirage jets which destroyed the Arab air forces at the outset of the Six-Day War. During all this time the United States government did not provide Israel with much help; no Israeli prime minister was even invited to Washington until 1964 when Levi Eshkol met with President Lyndon Johnson.

While the United States today is unquestionably Israel’s most important ally and partner, we are not the only game in town. The United States isn’t the country where Israel enjoys its highest favorable ratings; according to a survey carried out for the Israeli Foreign Ministry in 2009, India is the country where people like Israel the most. According to the survey, 58 percent of Indians supported Israel; 56 percent of Americans in the survey felt that way.

What makes that more surprising is that India is the country with the third-largest number of Muslims in the world. An estimated 160 million Muslims live in India, 13.4 percent of the total population. Even Muslims in India are (relatively) pro-Israel; in 2007 a delegation of Indian Muslims led by a group representing the 500,000 member All India Association of Imams met in Jerusalem with Israeli President Shimon Peres on a visit intended to advance the ‘democratic understanding’ of Israel among Indian Muslims.

The relationship isn’t just about good wishes. India has the largest (reported) defense budget of any developing country; Israel is India’s largest supplier of arms. As two of the leading IT countries in the world, India and Israel also collaborate on a variety of high tech projects, some with military implications.

Although both India and Israel were born at the same time — a collapsing British Empire was hastily liquidating its overseas commitments — for many years they had little to do with each other. Britain’s inglorious scuttle from imperial responsibility left festering issues for both countries: Palestine and Kashmir. It was a strategic objective of Indian foreign policy to keep the Kashmir question away from the United Nations, and in particular to avoid a united Islamic bloc on the question. Siding with Israel seemed a good way to trigger exactly the hostility India wanted to avoid. Later in the Cold War period, India’s close relationship with the Soviet Union encouraged a distance between India and America’s close Middle Eastern ally. As a result, as a leader of the Non-Aligned Movement, India was one of Israel’s toughest opponents, voting consistently with the Arabs to isolate Israel in international bodies (informally, ties were often closer, especially in business).

In one of the least-noted but perhaps more important shifts of the post Cold War world, that has all changed. Currently, Israel isn’t just popular in India. It is India’s largest supplier of high-tech weapons and the growing cooperation between the two countries is spreading into both economic and political fields. There is a strategic compatibility in their interests. Economically, the marriage of Indian and Israeli high-tech know how with India’s enormous force of educated, English-speaking labor, its vast internal market, and Israel’s marketing experience and connections with the advanced industrial economies make for a natural complementarity. Israel welcomes the rise of Indian economic and political influence in the Middle East and East Africa. Both countries view the activities of radicals in Pakistan and their use of Pakistan and Afghanistan for wider regional ambitions with deep concern.

There’s another connection. The United States increasingly favors the emergence of India as a world and regional power. In the context of the Middle East and Africa, Americans see India as a stabilizing, anti-extremist force. More broadly, while the United States isn’t (and shouldn’t be) operating a policy of containment against China, the growing prosperity and power of India in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East is an important positive factor in maintaining the kind of international order the United States wants to see. That means, among other things, that the United States is likely to look with more favor on transfers of technological know how and the sales of advanced weapons systems from Israel to India than from Israel to China. This preference reinforces the ties between the two most successful democracies to emerge from British colonialism in modern Asia.

The growing Israel-India connection is only beginning to make itself felt. Long term, the relationship provides Israel with another great power ally to supplement its relationship with the United States. >From both a geopolitical and an economic point of view, the relationship with India helps assure Israel of a long-term future in the region. As India develops and its power grows, the Gulf Arabs, Iran (a natural long-term ally for both India and Israel once it moves beyond the delusional and dead-end geopolitical agenda of its current government), and countries like Sudan and Somalia will increasingly feel its influence. India and Israel, with the quiet blessing of the United States, can also do more to promote economic development and democracy in East Africa — a region that has historically had close links to India and which is of great strategic importance to Israel.

This “Zionist Hindu Crusader” alliance is a nightmare scenario for radicals and terrorists in the Islamic world. The emergence of closer relations between the American global superpower, the regional Israeli military, and technological superpower, and the rising superpower of India is a basic challenge to the worldview of the extremists. The radicals have imagined a world in which the west and especially America is in decline, Israel faces a deep crisis, and a resurgent Islamic world is emerging as a new world-historical power.

Suppose none of that is happening. Suppose instead that both the United States and Israel are going to prosper and grow, based in part on their economic relationship with India. Suppose that Israel’s extraordinary culture of high-tech innovation will be energized by the relationship with India so that Israel’s technological and scientific lead over its neighbors continues to grow over time. Suppose that Indian power will be returning to the Gulf and East Africa, and that not only Pakistan but the Arab world will be increasingly focused on accommodating the rise of a new regional, and ultimately global, superpower. Add to this that immense natural gas discoveries off Israel’s coastline are revolutionizing the country’s long term economic position and security strategy.

In that kind of world the arguments and the ideas of religious radicals won’t make much sense to most people. On the other hand, the economic dynamism created by the explosive growth of the Indian economy (assuming of course that the trend toward double-digit GDP growth continues) will offer the Arab world (and Pakistan) new opportunities for rapid economic development of their own. At the same time, the growing diplomatic and political influence that a rising India will have in the region will add new weight to American efforts to help the region move toward peace and reconciliation. In this kind of world, Islamic radicalism can’t deliver and its basic assumptions look shallow and unconvincing.

India has some unfinished business at home and in the neighborhood before it can fully emerge as the kind of power it hopes to become. The benefits of economic growth need to be felt more widely and long-festering social tensions and issues need to be addressed. More Indians need more access to more education and more personal and intellectual freedom. Relations with Pakistan need to improve; nothing would improve India’s security at home or enhance its ability to play a major regional role as much as reconciliation with Pakistan (And nothing could be worse for India than the continued descent of Pakistan into the horrors of terrorism and civil strife). India must also keep up with China in the race to develop; one area in which it lags considerably behind is infrastructure, and unless India finds a way to accelerate the construction of roads, power plants, port facilities and to provide for the orderly and rapid development of land for industrial sites it will have a hard time matching China’s awesome surge forward.

It will take time for India to overcome these obstacles, but in the last twenty years it has managed to double its economic rate of growth while changing the fundamental orientation of its foreign policy after the Cold War. These are the marks of a country led by serious people who understand their long-term interests, have a clear view of the world, and are prepared to move with great determination to secure their vital interests. They are, in other words, good people to have on your side.

Israel’s strategic relationship with India—warmly embraced by both countries and cheered on by the United States,— may well turn out to be one of the most important international connections in the twenty-first century. That it receives so little attention in the US and abroad illustrates the difficulty of understanding the twenty-first century with ideas and assumptions forged in the twentieth. India is no longer a relatively minor power and it is no longer anti-American and anti-Israel. Those are big changes; attention must be paid.

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

Australia — Pacific

Koran Caution for Australian Tax Laws

AUSTRALIA will check our tax laws to ensure they don’t offend the Koran and prevent our access to the $1 trillion Islamic financial market.

The toughest restrictions are linked to Islamic law, or Sharia, which prohibits the payment of interest, known as riba, and bar investment in gambling and alcohol products.

However, the most complex issue relates to finding compatibility between Western tax systems, which concentrate on the details of a transaction, and Islamic “instruments’ which looks at the “economic substance” and can have another outcome.

At stake is the vast network of the Islamic banking and insurance market worth almost $1 trillion and calculated to soon expand to reach $5 trillion.

“Accessing this major source of capital could assist Australian businesses to diversify their funding base in the future,” Corporate Law Minister Chris Bowen said.

Assistant Treasurer Nick Sherry yesterday announced the launch of the tax law review during a visit to the United Arab Emirates.

“This is not about special treatment or concessions for Islamic finance or its providers, but about ensuring that our system doesn’t unfairly disadvantage or preclude such instruments and, in doing so, deprive Australia of capital, jobs and growth,” Senator Sherry said.

“Islamic finance is a rapidly growing part of the global financial system and Australia is in an excellent position capitalise on that growth, but we have to identify if our tax system doesn’t unnecessarily prevent that from happening.”

The review will be conducted by the Board of Taxation.

           — Hat tip: Nilk[Return to headlines]

Sub-Saharan Africa

Spanish Frigate Sinks Ship Off Somali Coast

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, APRIL 26 — Yesterday during a patrol in the Indian Ocean, the Spanish frigate Victoria intercepted and sunk a pirate ship off the Somali coast. According to Defence Ministry sources, it is the second ship neutralised over the past two weeks. The ship which raised suspicion was a whaling vessel used as support for two pirate launches which attacked fishing boats and merchant ships halted at sea. The ship was intercepted by a helicopter from the Victoria and, following an inspection by Spanish soldiers, arms and “other materials suspected of being used in acts of piracy” were seized. According to orders from Operation Atlanta, the whaling vessel was sunk and the eight crew members were taken onto the Victoria, to then be released on the Somali coast. According to reports this morning from the daily paper ABC, lacking an answer to the question as to who could put the pirates on trial and where the trials would be held, European Union ships taking part in patrols of the area simply destroy the material on the vessels used for piracy off the Somali coast. Over two hundred pirates have been arrested and later released over the past few months. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Latin America

Ken Timmerman in Newsmax: Experts Warn of Escalating Chavez Threat

Latin America experts are warning about the growing threat from Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, citing new evidence of Chavez’s expanding ties with Iran and Hezbollah and other terrorist groups.

The Venezuelan president also has demonstrated his willingness to buy elections throughout the hemisphere to empower enemies of the United States, several experts said in presentations Thursday during a conference that the Center for Security Policy sponsored on Capitol Hill.

“Today, Venezuela airports are being freely used by drug cartels to export drugs to Europe and the United States,” said Luis Fleischman, senior adviser for the center’s Menges Hemispheric Security Project. “Chavez has helped the FARC fight against Colombia, [while] Hezbollah cells have increased their fund-raising and other activities in the area.”…

           — Hat tip: CSP[Return to headlines]

White Woman Raped by Black Men in Haiti, Blames White Patriarchy

[Comment from Fjordman: This is a really interesting case study in the Marxist brainwashing of whites, and of white women in particular. A white woman is raped by black men in Haiti — and blames white patriarchy for this.]

Black men have every right to the anger they feel in response to their position in the global hierarchy, but their anger is misdirected. Women are not the source of their oppression; oppressive policies and the as-yet unaddressed white patriarchy which still dominates the global stage are. Because women—and particularly women of color—are forced to bear the brunt of the Black male response to the Black male plight, the international community and those nations who have benefitted from the oppression of colonized peoples have a responsibility to provide women with the protection that they need.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]


Finland: Politicians React in Immigrant Workers Debate

Politicians clarify their positions on work-based immigration following the SDP’s hard-line declaration.

Statements by SDP MP Eero Heinäluoma opposing employment-based immigration have stirred up a minor political storm, with politicians on all sides clarifying their party positions on the sensitive issue.

Responding to the emerging SDP platform on employment-based immigration, Centre Party Chair and Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen said that the statements made by the SDP’s Eero Heinäluoma were offensive.

Commenting from a party convention in Lappeenranta, Vanhanen said that the SDP was playing the politics of confrontation. “It is distasteful to see the SDP trying to stir up political sentiment,” Vanhanen said.

The PM said that Centre Party candidates would not campaign on an anti-immigrant platform. “We will not participate in inciting voters,” Vanhanen declared.

Zyskowicz Defends Government Policy

Speaking to YLE, National Coalition Party MP Ben Zyskowicz also commented on the SDP position on work-based immigration.

“First, Heinäluoma is wrong in stating that government policy is to bring people from abroad to work. Second, citizens from other EU countries can already freely enter Finland to work,” Zyskowicz pointed out.

Zyskowicz also rejected accusations from True Finns Chair Timo Soini, who said that National Coalition Party policy on immigration was unclear.

Zyskowicz said that work-based immigration is welcome in Finland, since it is a law-abiding country where established terms and conditions of work ensure that workers can take care of themselves and their families.

Green League’s Sinnemäki: SDP Echoing True Finns’ Rhetoric

Green League Chair and Labour Minister Anni Sinnemäki took aim at Heinäluoma’s assertion that racism in Finland would be fueled by foreign workers snatching jobs from Finns.

“I think it’s rather odd to claim that incoming foreigners would cause an increase in racism. It doesn’t seem like a logical conclusion,” said Sinnemäki.

The Green League chair said the claims that government was luring foreign workers into Finland simply don’t hold water.

“The government is changing certain bureaucratic practices, which have to do with applicants from outside the EU seeking open positions. If for example a Russian doctor were to find work in a remote health centre, the goal is that the bureaucracy would not be as complex as it was before,” she explained.

Sinnemäki said that the recent hard line positions on immigration championed by SDP Chair Jutta Urpilainen and Eero Heinäluoma indicate that the party has taken up the immigration rhetoric practiced by the True Finns.

Left Alliance Astounded

Paavo Arhinmäki, Chairman of the Left Alliance said that he was amazed by the position outlined by SDP MP Eero Heinäluoma.

Arhinmäki said that the majority of foreign workers in Finland came from the EU, based on the free movement of labour across the economic and trade grouping. He pointed out that Heinäluoma himself could not deny this fact.

According to Arhinmäki, the core of the problem remains that immigrant labour is often abused by employers who pay lower wages and engage in tax evasion.

He called on Heinäluoma to address the core of the problem, which is businesses that take advantage of cheap labour, and the policies that facilitate them. “Blaming unemployment on immigrants will not improve the situation,” he added.

Criticism from Within

For his part, Teemu Hirvonen, Deputy Chairman of the Social Democratic Party’s Youth League distanced himself from the anti-immigration platform put forward by Heinäluoma.

Hirvonen said that there was no need to create friction between Finns and immigrant workers. He pointed out that Finland still has relatively few immigrants. And he noted that the ageing population means that in the future the country would need to replenish its workforce with workers from abroad.

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

UK: Lib Dem Immigrant Amnesty ‘Gives 2.2m the Right to Stay’

Nick Clegg’s immigration policy was denounced as ‘laughable’ yesterday as it emerged that up to 2.2million people could benefit from his party’s controversial ‘amnesty’.

The Lib Dems are promising a one-off amnesty for illegal immigrants who have been living in Britain for a lengthy period.

But Mr Clegg yesterday admitted he ‘cannot tell’ how many migrants and their families would benefit from the hugely controversial policy — which is under fire from refugee groups as well as Labour and the Tories.

A report by the MigrationWatch think tank has estimated there are 1.1million illegal immigrants in the UK, twice previous Government estimates.

With each beneficiary bringing in one family member or spouse, this could mean up to 2.2million could be granted legal rights to stay.

JAN MOIR: War of the wives: Guess who wears the trousers in Casa Clegg!

Sir Andrew Green, chairman of MigrationWatch, said: ‘It is shocking that the leader of one of the main political parties should be so poorly informed about an issue of enormous concern to the public.

‘As a result Lib Dem policies on immigration can only be described as laughable.’

Mr Clegg appeared to make a number of slips when quizzed about his party’s policies on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.

He was forced to admit that his regional immigration policy, which would allow workers to enter the country to work in named parts of the UK only, would not prevent them from moving around.

Mr Clegg also conceded that the regional policy would not affect the families of immigrants — who would be free to live where they choose.

He said: ‘We’re not suggesting that where the family lives should be determined by the work permit of the person who is taking up the job.

Shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling said: ‘The Lib Dems’ proposed amnesty for illegal immigrants would be a disaster for Britain. All the evidence from other countries is that amnesties don’t work.

‘The Lib Dem approach would send a message to the world that you can come to Britain illegally and get away with it. And their policy to send immigrants to specific regions is simply unworkable and unwanted. Just who on earth do they think is going to police the movement of immigrants between one region and another?’

Home Secretary Alan Johnson said: ‘Even Nick Clegg is beginning to admit that his party’s immigration plans are flaky and unworkable.

‘He was forced to concede that his regional migration policy was unenforceable, admitting that if migrants moved around the country, no action would be taken against them, and that even if they worked in one place, they and their family could live in another.

‘And in a dangerous signal to those thinking of coming to Britain illegally, Nick Clegg refused to rule out granting an amnesty not just for illegal migrants but for their partners and families too.’

Refugee Action, which campaigns on behalf of asylum seekers, said: ‘We would have concerns about the concept of a blanket amnesty. It is absolutely vital that we begin to rebuild public confidence in the asylum system and immigration system, and an amnesty of this kind, however well intentioned, would undermine efforts to rebuild public trust in how we manage migration.

‘We have real difficulty in understanding how the proposed regionalisation policy would actually function in practice. Restrictions on employment for those who have been granted formal migration status would directly impact upon their viability within the employment market, and their capacity to contribute to the economy. It would also create a bureaucratic minefield.’

The MigrationWatch study updates two previous analyses of the size of the illegal immigration population by the Home Office in 2005 and the London School of Economics in 2009 for the Mayor of London.

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

UK: The Master Forger Aged 76 Who Has Helped Up to 15,000 Stay Illegally in Britain

A forger has cost the taxpayer ‘millions’ after producing fake visas and passports for thousands of illegal immigrants that were so good they even fooled the Home Office.

Abdullah Azad, 76, was paid thousands of pounds by immigrants, some of whom were given British citizenship on the back of bogus documents he created.

Some had entered legally on work permits or student visas and innocently believed he would help them stay through official channels. Others knew he was working illegally.

Experts believe many could have claimed benefits on the back of his forgeries.

Azad, of Disbury, Manchester, used bogus Home Office stamps, letters and endorsements, as well as college stamps and letters and national insurance number cards.

He even posed as former Manchester Lord Mayor Afzal Khan and wrote to local MP Graham Stringer for help with a case.

When the Serious and Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) raided Azad’s ‘welfare centre’ in Moss Side in 2007 they found cash, 400 foreign passports and 5,000 families’ files relating to up to 15,000 people.

Most of his clients have never been traced.

A SOCA source said: ‘Azad’s files were grouped under family names, each of which had two or three people in, perhaps more, suggesting he could have helped 15,000 with bogus details, many of whom cannot be traced and are not known to the Home Office. He has cost the taxpayer millions.’

Father-of-two Azad was jailed for five years at Manchester Crown Court on Friday after admitting 34 specimen charges, including 19 offences of forgery, 13 offences of assisting in unlawful immigration, providing immigration services when not qualified and possessing a stamp for use in fraud from 2003 and 2007.

Sandip Patel, prosecuting, said those with forged documents ‘had access to numerous privileges, state benefits, employment and unfettered continuous residence’.

The court heard that one man, Tariq Chaudhry, was able to become a naturalised British citizen two years ago using a bogus ‘indefinite leave to remain’ stamp Azad had supplied.

Mr Chaudhry was one of many clients who believed Azad was a genuine immigration lawyer.

One witness, a Pakistani national named in court as Mohammed Ahmed, paid £3,100 to Azad in 2003 believing he could help him and his Filipino wife stay in the country legally.

The couple only found their documents were fake when the factory they worked in was raided by immigration officials.

The court heard that nearly £18,000 in cash was seized by SOCA and workers later testified they had been asked to bank cheques for as much as £37,000. Azad was jailed in 2002 for a similar passport scam.

When he was released Councillor Khan gave him a job doing administration and community work.

The fraudster repaid the favour by passing himself off as the councillor in a letter to Mr Stringer, asking him to intervene in the case of a man facing deportation.

Mr Khan said: ‘He was someone who had enjoyed standing in the community and I gave him some work to do because I felt sorry for him. I thought that after going to prison the first time he would have learnt his lesson, so I feel very saddened by this.’

Mr Stringer said: ‘I put down a couple of early day motions about him because he was bent as a nine bob note.’

Azad was given a suspended sentence in 2008 for providing immigration services when not qualified. He has had a stroke and has prostate cancer.

Bunty Batra, defending, said his client was a dying man who had started out wanted to help people before becoming greedy.

Sentencing, Judge Roger Thomas QC said Azad was at the centre of an ‘industry’, adding that he had made the plight of vulnerable people ‘worse’ and had a ‘streak of dishonesty’.

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]


Buzz Kill! Is This ‘Bee Armageddon’?

Nature’s most valuable workers mysteriously vanishing out of thin air

What is devastating the world’s honeybees?

In what appears to be a honeybee mystery of Armageddon proportions that has baffled scientists and beekeepers, more than one-third of the nation’s bee population is mysteriously disappearing — and researchers warn the unexplained phenomenon threatens one-third of the American diet.

Entire colonies of honeybees are abandoning hives and food stores, including honey and pollen. In collapsed colonies, adult bees mysteriously disappear, and there is no accumulation of dead bees. Even hive pests such as wax moths and hive beetles are nowhere to be found around affected colonies. Likewise, other honeybees are reluctant or unwilling to rob the abandoned hives of honey.

Only days before a honeybee colony collapses, according to Bee Culture Magazine, the colony appears to be strong and fully functional.

Then, it explains, the affliction travels like a wave through a beeyard.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Disastrous Computer Models Predictions From Limits to Growth to Global Warming

Every time history repeats itself the price goes up. — Anonymous

No matter what political committees try to absolve corruption of climate science of the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), they cannot hide the complete failure of the computer models to make a single accurate prediction. Leaked emails from the CRU received media attention, but the emphasis must shift to the computer models. They gave the IPCC Reports far more credibility than they deserved by producing simple graphs and crude maps of a warmer world with increasingly, expanding and threatening red (hot) areas that avoided the need for scientific understanding.

What was more dramatic than the infamous hockey stick? The combination of the flat handle achieved by eliminating the Medieval Warm Period and the upturn of the blade in the 20th century with Phil Jones’ undisclosed data was visually dramatic. The propagandists in Hollywood who produced Gore’s movie understood this.

Computer climate models give unwarranted scientific credibility for people who don’t understand them. As Pierre Gallois explained, “If you put tomfoolery into a computer, nothing comes out of it but tomfoolery. But this tomfoolery, having passed through a very expensive machine, is somehow ennobled and no-one dares criticize it.” Dr David Frame, climate modeler at Oxford University said, “The models are convenient fictions that provide something very useful.” But climate models are not convenient fictions. They do not produce anything useful other than to deceive and scare the public. IPCC models are part of continuum of the exploitation of useless computer models to promote environmental extremism and political agendas.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Hawking: Aliens Are Out There, Likely to be Bad News

Come on you Indians, let’s not wave at the galleons!

“To my mathematical brain, the numbers alone make thinking about aliens perfectly rational… If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn’t turn out very well for the Native Americans.”

The 68-year-old, who is paralysed by motor neurone disease, has been working on his documentary for the last three years, reportedly exercising firm editorial control. The Times reports that the show will feature speculative scenes of alien life in extraterrestrial habitats, including some — for instance the possible hot oceans of Europa, moon of Jupiter — in our own solar system.

Logically enough, Hawking reportedly considers that most alien life would be on the same general order as the life which has existed on Earth for almost all the time it has been a living planet — microbes or simple animal forms.

But with a hundred billion galaxies each with potentially a hundred billion stars, Hawking considers that intelligent life is entirely possible — even, perhaps, intelligent life with technology so advanced as to be able to travel across interstellar distances. He considers it an extremely unwise move for primitive present-day humanity to attract the attention of such voyagers — by such efforts as the controversial practice of beaming out “Active SETI” signals, for instance.

“We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet,” he argues. “I imagine they might exist in massive ships, having used up all the resources from their home planet. Such advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads, looking to conquer and colonise whatever planets they can reach.”

The idea of wandering alien raiders in massive starships — possibly “generation ships” making centuries-long hops from star to star at small fractions of the speed of light — is a common science-fictional one. Under some scenarios it might be possible for the ship and its technology to be primitive enough that the aliens might have a need for “resources” present on Earth — enriched uranium, perhaps, though there would probably be many easier ways of obtaining this than making an interstellar voyage.

Alternatively, in the case of aliens having originally evolved on an Earthlike world, it might simply be their goal to seize and colonise ours, as Prof Hawking says — regardless of the status of their homeworld, they might like to have another. The mere fact of their being able to get here across interstellar distances would tend to suggest they might be technically capable of overcoming humanity and exterminating or enslaving us — or confining limited numbers of us to reservations, if they were relatively kind aliens.

Given that those parts of humanity with resources to spare show no serious interest in developing space travel capabilities of our own*, it would seem that Prof Hawking is right and we’d do well to keep our heads down lest we draw the attention of some race a bit more interested in the universe around it.

Professor Hawking’s views on aliens aren’t new — he expressed much the same ideas to your correspondent during a discussion at the Cambridge Union, 20 years ago. The actual news today is the forthcoming documentary.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]