Friday, January 10, 2003

News Feed 20100428

Financial Crisis
»Fed Keeps Short-Term Interest Rates Near Zero
»Greece: Securities Regulator Bans Short-Selling
»Greece Turning Viral Sparks Search for EU Solutions
»Greece Under Pressure, Merkel Does Not Relent
»IMF Tells German Lawmakers Greece Needs Up to Eu120 Billion
»Let Greece Default on Its Debt
»Majority of Germans Oppose Greek Bailout
»Merkel’s Cabinet Meets on Greece as Pressure for Action Grows
»Portugal: Government and Opposition Join Forces
»S&P Cuts Spain’s Rating One Notch on Economic View
»S&P Downgrades Spain’s Debt Rating
»Stocks Drop as Sovereign-Debt Crisis Spreads; Greek Bonds Slump
»Stocks Plummet as Market Wakes Up to “Real Crisis, “ Says Peter Schiff
»Trichet in Berlin as Germans Balk at Greek Rescue
»U.S. Senate: Goldman Sachs Planned Meltdown Profit
»Automatic Organ Donation Legislation Proposed in New York
»Did Obama Hide Damning Health-Care Report?
»Ex-First Lady Suggests She and George W. Bush May Have Been Poisoned
»Judge Orders UW to Allow Ayers Speech
»Montana to Feds: Hands Off Our Rights
»Regulators Approve First Offshore Wind Farm in U.S.
»Revolution Muslim Stooge Zachary Chesser at Pro-Hamas DC Rally on 12/30/2008
»Under Financial Overhaul, FTC Could Gain Enforcement Power Over Internet
Europe and the EU
»As Stocks Slump, European, IMF Officials Push Germany on Greece
»Europe Marked by Contradictions on Values and Religion
»Far-Right Party Calls for ‘Dissolution’ Of Belgium
»Greece: Cruise Line Avoids Ports After Strike
»How to Become a Real Muslim
»Is Britain Heading for a Greek Tragedy? £15bn Wiped Off UK Shares as Party Leaders Refuse to Come Clean Over Spending Blackhole
»Italy: Energy Focus of Putin-Berlusconi Summit
»Italy: Girl Linked to UK Case ‘Stabbed and Suffocated’
»Italy: Police Target Largest Cement Maker in Mafia Raids
»Italy: Finance Police Uncover 6,100 ‘Front’ Operations
»Italy: New Expo Park to Feature Water, Gardens and Island
»Italy: Unemployment: Highest in Sicily, Rising Among Young
»Parents Who Smack Their Children Should be Prosecuted, Says Europe Human Rights Body
»Sarkozy Congratulates Hungary’s Orban
»Spain: Suspended for Hijab, Girl Begins in New School Today
»Spain: Majority Against Headscarf, But Support Cross
»Tunisia: Released Journalist; Tunis, Sentence Was Right
»UK: Boy, Two, Left in Tears as Nursery Staff Confiscate His ‘Unhealthy’ Cheese Sandwich
»UK: Farce as Motorist Reports Vandalism to Police Station and is Told to Phone Call Centre
»UK: Gordon Goes Back to Grovel in Person to Life-Long Labour Grandmother He Called a ‘Bigot’ For Complaining About Immigration
»UK: Gordon Brown Calls Campaigner ‘Bigoted Woman’
»UK: Traveller Couple Terrorised Vulnerable Families Out of £2m Pretending They Were Dangerous IRA Members
»UK: Young Mother Goes Blind ‘After Doctors Diagnose Deadly Brain Condition as Headache — Six Times’
»Vatican: Catholics Total Almost 1.2 Billion
»Vatican: Priest Celibacy Not ‘Untouchable’
»Work on Nuclear Power Stations to Start Within Three Years, Pledges Berlusconi
»Bosnia: Srebrenica, Bosnian Serbs Do Not See it as Genocide
»EU: Frattini: Candidate Status to Serbia by Mid 2011
»EU: Frattini: Albania and Bosnia Probably Visa-Free in October
»Italy-Serbia: EU; Tadic to Frattini, Thank You for Support
»Italy Backs EU Membership for Serbia
North Africa
»Cinema: Algeria Has Not Resolved the Issue of Identity
»Egypt: 26 People Convicted for Links With Hezbollah
»Tunisia: Pilgrimage to Dherba Synagogue, Maximum Alert
Israel and the Palestinians
»East Jerusalem: No Freezing on Construction, Mayor
»Gaza: Arab Bank Fires Employees, Fears for Future
Middle East
»Emirates: 6 Convicted for Financing Taleban
»Iran: Pasdaran: An Opposition Leader “Could be Killed”
»New Rape Allegations From Siirt Shake Turkey
»Saudi Arabia Set to Need 4 Mln More Jobs by 2020
»Skype Looks to Middle East, States Sceptical
South Asia
»Afghanistan: Ross Kemp Captured the Moment ‘Friendly Fire’ Bomb Killed Three British Soldiers
»Doctors Sterilise Uzbek Women by Stealth
Far East
»North Korean General “Rewarded” For Sinking Cheonan
»Vietnam: 35 Years After Fall of Saigon
»European Council Criticises Italy
»Pro-Illegal Demonstrator Says Illegals Will Kill Americans With Pickaxes
»Spain: Catalonia Studies Host Certificates
Culture Wars
»Muslims Want Franklin Graham Censored Again
»Tony Perkins: I See ‘Hostility’ Toward Christianity
»‘2nd Face’ On Shroud Points to Supernatural Origin
»Hewlett-Packard to Buy Palm for $1.2 Billion
»Talc Link to Raised Womb Cancer Risk: Once a Week Use Increases the Threat by 24 Per Cent

Financial Crisis

Fed Keeps Short-Term Interest Rates Near Zero

The Federal Reserve on Wednesday kept short-term interest rates near zero and maintained, as it has for months, that rates would stay at that level for “an extended period.”

Despite intense market speculation, the central bank disclosed nothing about the fate of the $2.3 trillion balance sheet it accumulated as it acquired mortgage-backed securities in an effort to prop up the housing market.

The Fed reiterated its expectation that the benchmark fed funds rate would remain “exceptionally low,” as it has since December 2008, for “an extended period,” despite growing concerns among policy makers that the stance was too constraining.

[Return to headlines]

Greece: Securities Regulator Bans Short-Selling

(ANSAmed) — ROME, APRIL 28 — The Greek securities and investments board has banned short-selling on the Athens bourse for two months, the regulator reports, quoted by Bloomberg. The decision was taken after yesterday’s downgrade by S&P of Greece’s rating to “junk”. Short-selling is a financial operation in which shares that are not directly owned by the seller are sold to one or more others.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Greece Turning Viral Sparks Search for EU Solutions

April 28 (Bloomberg) — European policy makers may need to provide as much as 600 billion euros ($794 billion) in aid or buy government bonds if they are to stamp out the region’s spreading fiscal crisis, said economists at Goldman Sachs Group Inc., JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc.

With Greece’s budget turmoil infecting markets from Rome to Madrid, economists are urging German Chancellor Angela Merkel, European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet and other officials to come up with unprecedented measures. Other steps could see governments guaranteeing bonds and the ECB abandoning collateral rules or reviving unlimited lending to banks, the economists said.

Bonds and stocks plunged across Europe in the past week as Merkel’s government delayed approving a rescue plan for Greece and Standard & Poor’s downgraded Greece, Portugal and Spain. As OECD head Angel Gurria likens the crisis to the Ebola virus, Europe may need to come up with a plan equivalent to the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program deployed by the U.S. after the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc.

“It is perhaps time to think of policy options of the last resort in the current sovereign crisis,” said David Mackie, chief European economist at JPMorgan in London. “It may now be time for the euro area to do something much more dramatic in order to prevent the stress from creating another broad-based financial crisis which pushes the region back into recession.”

Virus Spread

The extra yield that investors demand to hold Portuguese 10-year bonds over bunds rose 59 basis points to 277 points yesterday, the most since 1997, before slipping 3 points today. The spread on Spanish debt increased to the most in more than a year yesterday and the spread on the bonds of Italy, the euro region’s third-largest economy, was the highest since July. The premium on Greek bonds surpassed 8 percentage points.

“This is like Ebola,” Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development Secretary General Gurria told Bloomberg Television today. “It’s threatening the stability of the financial system.” The World Health Organization calls Ebola “one of the most virulent viral diseases known to humankind.”

The first stage of an enhanced rescue would be for the euro area and International Monetary Fund to boost the size of the Greek lifeline package from the 45 billion euros initially discussed for the first year, said Erik Nielsen, chief European economist at Goldman Sachs.


Talks between the European Union, the IMF and the Greek government are likely focused on assistance in the first year of between 55 billion euros and 75 billion euros with an announcement by early next week, Nielsen said yesterday. That would ensure Greece doesn’t have to access the market for the next year or so, he said.

IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn told German lawmakers today that Greece may need a total of as much 120 billion euros, Green Party lawmaker Juergen Trittin said in a statement. Trichet emphasized the importance of quickly handing out funds if talks in Athens by Greek, EU and IMF official conclude this weekend.

“The rapidity of the decision is absolutely essential,” he told reporters.

Within three hours of the officials speaking in Berlin, S&P announced it had cut Spain’s credit rating to AA, putting it on par with Slovenia. S&P yesterday reduced Greece’s rating to junk and pared Portugal’s by two steps to A- from A+.

Greek Junk

A Greek agreement may not be enough to end a crisis that’s ricocheting through all euro-region markets and governments may have to come up with a blanket plan for the bloc as a whole, said Mackie. He calculates that in a worst-case contagion scenario, supporting Spain, Portugal and Ireland and Greece may require aid worth 8 percent of the gross domestic product of the rest of the region. That’s equivalent to about 600 billion euros.

“This is a big number, but the region has the fiscal capacity to backstop both banks and these countries,” said Mackie. Governments also could guarantee each other’s debt for a limited period such as three years, an “attractive form of support because no money is needed up front,” he said.

The ECB may also have a role to play even if the crisis has its roots in fiscal policy. With Greek debt now rated as junk by S&P, the Frankfurt-based central bank may need to dilute its collateral rules again so as it can keep accepting the country’s bonds when making loans, said economists led by Juergen Michels at Citigroup Inc.

‘Nuclear Option’

Under current rules, Greek bonds will be ineligible at money-market operations if Fitch Ratings and Moody’s Investors Service cut them to junk as well.

“The collateral rules may have to be changed soon again in order to maintain the eligibility of Greek bonds,” Michels’ team said in a note to clients today.

The central bank could eventually start accepting all government debt regardless of its rating and revive last year’s policy of lending unlimited amounts for periods up to a year so as to support the region’s banks, said Jacques Cailloux, chief European economist at Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc.

What Cailloux calls the “nuclear option” of the ECB purchasing government bonds is also attracting attention among economists. While the ECB is prohibited from buying assets directly from authorities, it can do so on the secondary market.

“We need 300 billion euros of purchases and then the problem goes away overnight,” said James Nixon, co-chief European economist at Societe Generale SA.

‘Extremely Unrealistic’

Obstacles to a sweeping bailout package abound. The EU’s structure means no one elected politician is responsible for ensuring Greece’s survival and Trichet, the only major official solely responsible for the euro, has no authority to disburse taxpayers’ funds.

In Germany, Merkel has delayed approving the release of funds for Greece in the face of voter opposition and an election in North Rhine-Westphalia in May 9.

German politicians and central bankers may also oppose government bond purchases by the ECB as that would run counter to the country’s tradition of fiscal conservatism since World War II.

That option is “extremely unrealistic,” said Marco Annunziata, chief economist at UniCredit Group in London. It “would be seen, correctly, as direct monetary financing of excessive fiscal deficits. German opposition to such a move would be even stronger than to fiscal bailout operations.”

‘Growing Risk’

There is even a “growing risk that the euro-zone breaks up” as indebted nations are forced to retrench and political tensions mount, said Jennifer McKeown, an economist at Capital Economics Ltd. in London.

European policy makers continue to play down speculation of contagion, with ECB Executive Board member Juergen Stark saying today that Greece should be seen as a “unique case.” Leaders will wait until around May 10 before meeting again to discuss Greece, EU President Herman Van Rompuy said today in Tokyo. He also said there was “no question” of Greece restructuring its debt.

Some economists are optimistic that market turmoil will ultimately force politicians and central bankers to do what’s necessary to rescue the euro region.

Eric Kraus, a strategist at Otkritie Financial Co. in Moscow, said he’s buying Greek bonds on the bet policy makers will eventually strike back.

“Sooner or later those morons in Brussels and Berlin will realize that they are playing with fire, have already been burned, and will have to stop feeding the flames,” said Kraus, who works at a brokerage part-owned by Russia’s second-biggest bank. “Then we should see a very nice bounce.”

           — Hat tip: REP[Return to headlines]

Greece Under Pressure, Merkel Does Not Relent

(ANSAmed) — ROME, APRIL 28 — There are no sunny spells in Greece’s immediate future, whilst there are also doubts over Portugal, underlined by the reserve that the rating agencies continue to show towards the country as they continue to cut their ratings. Germany’s position of extreme caution seems to be further confirmed by Chancellor Angela Merkel, who today repeated that Germany wants to respect its obligations in terms of the stability of the Eurozone but she demands that, on the part of the Athens government, there is “a programme that is demanding” but above all accepted. This is the only way, Merkel said, that the balance can be consolidated and market confidence can be restored. The Chancellor’s statements came at the end of a day during which appeals came from all over Europe for solidarity with the Greece, and thus to the confidence of the stability of the Eurozone countries. Even if the director of the IMF, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, said that the euro is moving “towards a grave situation” and the German Economic Minister, Rainer Bruederle, raised up to 100 billion euros in three years the “crossbar” of aid which must reach Greece from whomever takes it on. Meanwhile Italy is doing its first sums with regard to exposure to the Greek credit system. Generali has quantified it as 749 million euros, Banca Popolare 91 million. Sanpaolo admits to holding — at the end of 2009 — government bonds issued by countries considered to be at risk — Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain — for a total of 1.5 billion. Unicredit is talking about an exposure that is “not significant”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

IMF Tells German Lawmakers Greece Needs Up to Eu120 Billion

April 28 (Bloomberg) — International Monetary Fund Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn told German lawmakers in Berlin today that Greece may need as much as 120 billion euros ($159 billion) in aid, Green Party parliamentary spokesman Michael Schroeren said by phone today.

           — Hat tip: REP[Return to headlines]

Let Greece Default on Its Debt

Commentary: Painful actions now could pay off later for investors

NEW YORK (MarketWatch) — The Greek debt fiasco could end surprisingly well for investors on both sides of the Atlantic.

If you sense there’s a catch, you are right. The best way out of this mess is for Greece to man up to its deficit problems by defaulting on its sovereign bonds, withdrawing from the European monetary union, reviving and devaluing the drachma, and beginning the financial equivalent of a twelve-step program to cure its debt addiction.

While that result might sound bad for investors, it really isn’t. As long as Greek debt holders receive some reasonable return of capital in the process, as I suspect they would, they can move on from this mistake to invest in other distressed but not doomed credits with greater potential for return. Read about Greece, Portugal debt downgrades.

Then they can turn the page on this unfortunate chapter in financial history, much like General Motors and Chrysler debt holders did in the United States in March 2009, and it will be game on for an expansion of the global credit and equity bull market.

As WJB Capital Group credit analyst Brian Reynolds often points out, it’s not the quality of debt that matters, it’s the quality of debt holders. Credit busts do not emerge as a result of borrowers’ actions, but rather when overleveraged credit owners are forced to sell for big losses. Conversely, credit booms arise when debt investors are willing and able to purchase new distressed bonds after occasionally accepting small losses on minor holdings.

No one to take credit

Last year around this time, the global credit and equity boom kicked off when U.S. auto company debt holders were able to exit their obligations with barely a scratch following a government compromise that was long in coming. They moved on to buy distressed bank and industrial credit at massive discounts from which they were ultimately able to reap fantastic gains. The positive effects of this chain of events are still powering the current rally.

The problem with this scenario transpiring in Europe now is that it depends on a few bad actors finally doing the right thing.

Start with the top European politicians. German and French leaders Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy have been highly reactive to the Greek crisis, and have only managed to forge a series of bad compromises that have split and angered their electorates. Each time that they issue a joint communiqué expressing support we have seen their views undermined by contradictory statements back home. That undermines investor confidence that a lasting solution can be arranged. Read commentary on euro zone’s demise.

EU leaders must find the courage to lose a little face and simply let Greece out of its crippling euro obligation. Like the great political philosopher Sting once said, “If you love someone, set them free.”

Next are the Greek politicians. They must stand before the world and acknowledge that they can’t pay back their debts, now or in the future from new borrowings, and declare the sovereign equivalent of bankruptcy. The longer they delay, the more that bond vigilantes will force their hand via antisocial activities like selling the debt and purchasing credit default swaps, which have the effect of forcing up interest payments and exacerbating the country’s fiscal strain. Read about Greek central banker’s call for spending cuts.

Rough road, but a recovery

Greece needs to recognize that default is not the end of the world. The sun will keep shining over the Aegean. Plenty of countries have done it over the past few centuries without incurring the long-term wrath of markets. Worriers always point to the highly negative consequences that transpired when Argentina defaulted in 2002, as Buenos Aires became a pariah shut out from international credit markets. The default led to the loss of a 1:1 currency peg between the Argentina peso and the U.S. dollar that resulted in a quick devaluation, and that in turn generated horrific domestic inflation and crushed the nation’s debt-fueled prosperity.

But Argentina was an extreme example of default pain. Argentine debt holders received only around 35 cents on the dollar, while credit experts tell me that Greek debt holders would do a lot better, receiving 70 to 75 cents on the dollar. See full story on turmoil in Greek stock market.

And if Greece were to launch a devaluation and economic austerity plan similar to the one enacted by Boris Yeltsin in Russia following Moscow’s default in 1998, authorities believe that it could return to international debt markets in just a couple of years. If they allowed counterparties to exchange Greek euro notes for much cheaper drachmas, they could give their export businesses a huge boost, draw in tens of thousands more tourists, and create an economy in which foreign risk-takers would want to invest by the middle of the decade. Read about euro weakness, U.S. dollar strength, in wake of Greek debt crisis.

The Greek politicians would squawk that they couldn’t borrow. But for Athens not to borrow is not such a bad thing. “They need to wean themselves off debt,” said credit derivatives expert Satyajit Das in an interview.

If the Greeks try instead to survive off EU and International Monetary Fund loan guarantees, analysts believe they will find itself in the impossible situation of needing up to $25 billion a year more every year. That would require leaders to slash the number of public jobs and infrastructure by more than half, shrinking the economy and withering tax revenues down to a fraction of current levels.

That approach creates what academics call a “debt spiral,” a lethal condition that could lead to civil unrest, impoverishment of the middle class, extreme instability and a contagion that could imperil Europe. Ultimately the EU will realize it’s a lost cause and expel Greece when it’s too late.

In short, it’s time for all parties to accept the mistakes of the past, stop sharing needles like debt junkies, and move on. It won’t be easy to do it now, but it’ll be harder to do later.

If you want to speculate on the potential for this to occur, it’s a little early yet to buy European stocks or debt in large quantities. But if you’re patient, the governments with the best credit, fiscal soundness and opportunity for leadership are in Vienna and Stockholm. The exchange traded funds for those countries are iShares Austria /quotes/comstock/13*!ewo/quotes/nls/ewo (EWO 19.57, -0.18, -0.91%) and iShares Sweden /quotes/comstock/13*!ewd/quotes/nls/ewd (EWD 26.27, +0.44, +1.71%)

           — Hat tip: Henrik[Return to headlines]

Majority of Germans Oppose Greek Bailout

Fifty-seven percent of Germans think giving aid to Greece would be a “bad decision,” according to a survey published Tuesday, highlighting the level of public opposition to a bailout in Europe’s biggest economy.

Only 33 percent are in favour, the poll by Dimap commissioned by Germany’s Die Welt daily and French television news channel France 24 showed. The survey

of 1,009 people was carried out in mid-April.

After months of fighting to finance its national debt, Greece formally applied on Friday for a bailout from its eurozone partners and the International Monetary Fund worth up to €45 billion ($60 billion).

But German Chancellor Angela Merkel, with a key state election to fight on May 9 and public opposition to a bailout strong, has insisted that Athens first demonstrate how it plans to get its public finances in order.

As Europe’s biggest economy, Germany would be the biggest contributor to any aid, providing around €8.4 billion in a €30-billion package from eurozone countries.

Influential voices in the media also took a sharp line in opposing a bailout for Greece, accusing the state of profligate spending and cooking the books.

Bild, the mass-circulation daily, carried the front-page headline: “Why

should we pay for Greeks’ luxury pensions?”

The Greek government “tricked, camouflaged and fooled for years in a way that would make the gods on Olympus blush …. With all respect to the world’s oldest democracy, if you lie once, no one will believe you. Particularly when it’s about money.”

The paper sent its reporter to Athens in a stunt to hand out drachmas, Greece’s currency before it joined the euro in 2001. “The old notes were virtually ripped out of his hands,” Bild said.

Others attacked Merkel’s strategy of talking tough and then gradually relenting.

“Merkel drives the markets crazy,” said the Financial Times Deutschland, adding that her emergency statement on Monday where she sought to calm sentiment had fallen on deaf ears.

“The big bluff failed — the players blinked and sweated, wobbled and negotiated, and now the gamblers want to see the cards,” said the Tagesspiegel daily.

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

Merkel’s Cabinet Meets on Greece as Pressure for Action Grows

April 28 (Bloomberg) — Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Cabinet met to debate help for Greece as Europe’s growing debt crisis tests her refusal to rush German approval of aid.

Key ministers stayed on after the weekly Cabinet session in Berlin today to discuss disbursing Germany’s 8.4 billion euro ($11 million) share of a European Union-International Monetary Fund bailout. A government spokesman declined to provide further details.

Merkel is insisting Greece commit to several years of deficit reduction as a cut in the nation’s debt rating to junk yesterday drove up borrowing costs from Italy to Portugal and Ireland and boosted indicators of corporate credit risk around the world.

Action “has to be done now, has to be done very fast,” Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development Secretary General Angel Gurria said in an interview today with Bloomberg television in Berlin before he was due to meet Merkel. “It’s not a question of the danger of contagion. Contagion has already happened. This is like Ebola. When you realize you have it you have to cut your leg off in order to survive.”

European stocks slid for a second day and the cost to insure against bond losses rose. Greek two-year note yields soared to 21.4 percent. The euro traded near a one-year low against the dollar.

Trichet, Strauss-Kahn

European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet and IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn are due to brief German lawmakers in separate, private talks at the Finance Ministry today. Trichet, Strauss-Kahn and Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble will then make statements at about 2:30 p.m. Berlin time, the ministry said. Merkel, who is also scheduled to meet with Strauss-Kahn, will make a statement at 4:45 p.m.

As members of Merkel’s governing coalition and the opposition call for an orderly approval process of German aid in parliament, polls show a majority of Germans oppose helping fellow euro-area member Greece and Merkel faces a state election in North Rhine-Westphalia on May 9.

The government “plans to heave a law through parliament in just three days that costs billions now and probably more later,” Carsten Schneider, the opposition Social Democratic Party’s budget spokesman, said on ZDF television. “That requires clean, correct handling, and without that there will be no SPD support.”

Schaeuble said Germany and fellow euro-region countries are firming up the aid package “to send a clear signal that we won’t let Greece go under,” Handelsblatt cited him as saying in an interview published today.

Merkel’s Cabinet could send a bill to parliament that would reach the upper house by May 7, becoming law before May 19, he said, according to the newspaper.

A draft law laying out emergency financial help for Greece asks that German loans up to a maximum of 8.4 billion euros be made available to uphold the stability of the euro.

The government will give quarterly reports to parliament’s budget committee on the “proper use” of the aid by Greece, according to the draft circulated to lawmakers.

           — Hat tip: REP[Return to headlines]

Portugal: Government and Opposition Join Forces

(ANSAmed) — LISBON, APRIL 28 — The government and opposition in Portugal “have decided to join forces” to “re-establish trust in the Portuguese economy”. So announced Premier José Socrates, who underlined that certain measures of the austerity plan “will be anticipated”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

S&P Cuts Spain’s Rating One Notch on Economic View

Standard & Poor’s cut its ratings on Spain by one notch to AA from AA-plus Wednesday, saying a longer-than-expected period of low growth could undermine efforts to cut the budget deficit.

The outlook is negative, reflecting the possibility of another downgrade if Spain’s fiscal position worsens more than S&P currently expects, the agency said in a statement.

“In our opinion, Spain is likely to have an extended period of subdued economic growth, which weakens its budgetary position,” Standard & Poor’s said.

“We now project that real GDP growth will average 0.7 percent annually in 2010-2016, versus our previous expectations of above 1 percent annually over this period,” S&P said.

The rating action sent the euro currency sharply lower, to one-year lows against the dollar, as Spain became the third euro periphery country to receive a downgrade by Standard & Poor’s this week. Greece and Portugal were downgraded on Tuesday.

Analysts have said that because Spain is a considerably larger economy than debt-riddled Greece and Portugal any worsening of its creditworthiness could create yet bigger headaches for the euro zone as it deals with Athens’ crisis.

“Indeed, Spain is the 800 pound gorilla in the room. Greece and Portugal are small countries, but Spain is about five times their size with regards to GDP,” said Win Thin, Senior Currency Strategist, at Brown Brothers Harriman in New York.

“The move was not surprising given the downgrades to other countries this week,” said Tullia Bucco, an economist at Unicredit. “Spain is under pressure to ensure it makes serious fiscal consolidation steps in an environment of weak growth.”

Standard & Poor’s has now downgraded Spain during the global economic crisis. The other two, Moody’s and Fitch, maintain Spain on their top ratings.

“It seems to be one (downgrade) after the other. Only a few months ago it looked like it was contained to Greece and in the last 24 hours we are seeing the contagion effect having a firm grip across Europe,” said Manoj Ladwa, senior trader at ETX Capital.

           — Hat tip: REP[Return to headlines]

S&P Downgrades Spain’s Debt Rating

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, APRIL 28 — Standard & Poor’s rating agency has today downgraded Spain’s debt rating from AA+ to AA and given it a negative outlook, according to Spanish media. The news comes the day after the decision by S&P to lower Portugal’s rating from A+ to A-, due to the “structural weakness” of the economy, the deterioration of public finances and the scarce outlook for growth. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Stocks Drop as Sovereign-Debt Crisis Spreads; Greek Bonds Slump

April 28 (Bloomberg) — Stocks extended a global slide and commodities dropped, while yields on Greek two-year notes jumped to a record 26 percent and the euro traded near a one-year low against the dollar as sovereign-debt concern spread.

The MSCI World Index of 23 developed nations’ stocks fell 0.8 percent at 12:36 p.m. in London. Greece’s ASE Index rebounded 1.8 percent as the securities regulator banned short- selling on the Athens bourse. Portugal’s PSI-20 Index dropped the most since October 2008. The extra yield investors demand to hold Greek 10-year bonds instead of benchmark German bunds surpassed 8 percentage points. Nickel and copper fell. Futures on the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index rose 0.3 percent.

Stocks, commodities and the euro tumbled, while Treasuries rallied yesterday when S&P lowered Greece’s debt rating to junk and Portugal by two steps. European Central Bank President Jean- Claude Trichet and International Monetary Fund Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn will meet German politicians in Berlin today to promote a financial rescue plan. The euro rebounded amid speculation that the IMF will provide more aid to Greece.

“The danger is that the authorities lose control of the situation and that sovereign yields rise to levels that make a bailout for Greece even more difficult,” Gary Jenkins, a strategist at Evolution Securities in London, wrote in a note. “Unless we see some stabilization soon, a number of governments may find it very difficult to access the markets at a yield that makes any financial sense for them or, in some cases, at all.”

Stocks pared their decline as European Union spokesman Amadeu Altafaj told reporters in Brussels today that “Greece’s needs will be met in time.”

Two-Year Note

The yield on Greece’s two-year note has risen almost fivefold this month on concern euro-region support for the country will come too late to prevent a default. The yield soared almost 600 basis points at one stage today. Ireland’s jumped 90 basis points to 4.64 percent, Portugal’s increased 93 basis points to 6.24 percent and Spain’s rose 20 basis points to 2.26 percent.

Credit-default swaps on Greece, Portugal and Spain advanced to records, according to CMA DataVision. Contracts on Greece climbed 42 basis points to 865.5, Portugal jumped 20 to 406 and Spain increased 2 basis points to 211, CMA prices show.

“It’s not a question of the danger of contagion. Contagion has already happened,” Angel Gurria, secretary general for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, said in a Bloomberg television interview today in Berlin. “This is like Ebola. When you realize you have it you have to cut your leg off in order to survive.”

Stocks Slump

The Stoxx Europe 600 Index fell 0.8 percent, extending yesterday’s 3.1 percent slide. Spain’s IBEX 35 tumbled 1.6 percent while Italy’s FTSE MIB Index lost 1.6 percent. Banco Comercial Portugues SA, whose rating was also cut yesterday by S&P, plunged as much as 17 percent in Lisbon. Banco Santander SA, Spain’s largest bank, fell 2.2 percent in Madrid. Nobel Biocare Holding AG plummeted 17 percent in Zurich after saying first-quarter revenue fell. Royal Dutch Shell Plc gained 3 percent in London after reporting a surge in profit.

In Athens, National Bank of Greece SA, the nation’s largest lender, rose 7.9 percent, paring some of yesterday’s 10 percent plunge. The Hellenic Capital Market Commission banned short- selling of stocks on the Athens stock exchange effective today through June 28, citing “the extraordinary conditions prevailing on the Greek market.” The ASE Index is down 21 percent this year.

Using Options

The VStoxx Index, which gauges the cost of using options to protect against declines in the Euro Stoxx 50 Index, rallied as much as 20 percent.

The MSCI Asia Pacific Index fell 1.9 percent as financial stocks declined. Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group Inc sank 2 percent in Tokyo. Canon Inc., a camera maker that counts Europe as its largest market, slumped 2.5 percent. Billabong International Ltd., an Australian surfwear maker that gets 23 percent of its revenue in Europe, sank 3.4 percent in Sydney.

The advance in U.S. futures indicated the S&P 500 may regain some of yesterday’s 2.3 percent slide, the biggest since February. Companies in the S&P 500 may increase profits 29 percent this year and 19 percent in 2011, the biggest two-year advance since 1998, estimates from more than 1,500 analyst compiled by Bloomberg show. Wellpoint Inc. and Dow Chemical Co. are among 48 companies on the benchmark gauge that report earnings today.

The MSCI Emerging Markets Index dropped 1.6 percent. Russia’s Micex Index lost 1.5 percent and Hungary’s Budapest Stock Exchange Index fell 1.6 percent.

Euro Weakens

The euro advanced 0.3 percent to $1.3213. It dropped 1.6 percent yesterday, the biggest one-day decline since April 27, 2009. The pound weakened 0.5 percent versus the dollar and 0.8 percent against the euro after former Bank of England policy maker Timothy Besley said the U.K. economy remains in a “fragile state.”

Treasuries fell, with the 10-year yield rising 4 basis points to 3.72 percent, before the government sells $42 billion of five-year notes today. The yield on the 10-year German bunds rose 9 basis points to 3.03 percent, according to Bloomberg generic data. The Federal Open Market Committee’s two-day meeting concludes today in Washington. It is expected to keep interest rates at zero to 0.25 percent in a statement at about 2:15 p.m.

Nickel for delivery in three months slumped as much as 4.5 percent to $24,750 a metric ton on the London Metal Exchange. Copper and aluminum also declined. Europe will account for about a fifth of global demand for copper this year and about a quarter of nickel consumption, Barclays Capital estimates. Crude oil fell 0.3 percent to $82.16 a barrel, after U.S. stockpiles rose to their highest since May 2009.

           — Hat tip: Henrik[Return to headlines]

Stocks Plummet as Market Wakes Up to “Real Crisis, “ Says Peter Schiff

Rather than resolved the crisis, all we’ve done is papered over problems in the banking system with “phony accounting” and “dug ourselves deeper into debt,” says Schiff, a longtime deficit hawk.

The crisis of 2008 was merely the “overture” to the “real crisis” Schiff (still) sees coming: “The real crisis is going to be a currency crisis, a funding crisis, a sovereign debt crisis — and that’s when we have to pay the piper,” he says. “We’re in very bad shape. Sovereign credit risk in the U.S. is just as great — if not greater than [in] Greece.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Trichet in Berlin as Germans Balk at Greek Rescue

April 28 (Bloomberg) — European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet is on a diplomatic mission to Berlin as Germany’s reluctance to bail out Greece helps fan a fiscal crisis now burning around the euro region’s periphery.

Trichet and International Monetary Fund Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn will brief German parliamentary leaders in Berlin around noon today about the $60 billion aid package for Greece, which has met with opposition in Europe’s biggest economy. The joint European Union-IMF package would require Germany to stump up the biggest individual loan to Greece.

“It’s a sales pitch in front of an audience that needs it,” said Jacques Cailloux, chief European economist at Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc in London. “The lawmakers probably need it spelled out that this is not about financing luxury pensions in Greece. Not helping Greece will unfortunately have a direct impact on the euro-area economy and German jobs.”

Standard & Poor’s yesterday cut Greece’s credit rating to junk status and slashed Portugal’s two notches, intensifying a bond market sell-off across the southern euro region amid concern that debt-ridden countries will struggle to refinance their loans. The crisis has highlighted the absence of a common fiscal policy to cement Europe’s monetary union, frustrating Trichet’s efforts to promote a “common destiny” for its 16 members.

‘Why do we have to pay?’

“Why do we have to pay for Greece’s luxury pensions?” Germany’s biggest-selling tabloid newspaper, Bild Zeitung, asked on its front page yesterday. Almost 60 percent of Germans don’t want to help Greece, Die Welt newspaper reported, citing a survey of 1,009 people.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble asked Trichet and Strauss-Kahn to speak with lawmakers to “facilitate direct insight into the actions as they stand.”

Trichet, Strauss-Kahn and Schaeuble will brief reporters on the talks at 2:30 p.m. in Berlin, a finance ministry spokeswoman said. Trichet declined to comment on the S&P downgrades yesterday.

In Greece, Prime Minister George Papandreou will speak around 8 p.m. local time at a conference entitled “Shaping the Agenda: In the face of a crisis for Greece and the EU.”

Trichet, who once called himself “Mr. Euro,” has been powerless to stop the currency’s 12 percent slide against the dollar in the past five months as politicians haggle over aid for Greece. While he presides over interest rates for the region, he has no say over how taxpayers’ money is spent.

IMF Money

Trichet’s appearance with Strauss-Kahn to promote the joint package comes less than two months after he dismissed the IMF’s financial involvement in a rescue package as inappropriate. Trichet argued that money from the fund would show Europe is incapable of solving its own crises.

“Trichet can only give his opinion,” said David Milleker, chief economist at Union Investment in Frankfurt. “The ECB can’t do anything else. It’s up to the politicians now.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is facing a crucial state election on May 9, which could explain some of her reluctance to write a check for Athens, said Juergen Michels, chief euro-area economist at Citigroup Inc. in London.

“We’ve never been in a situation like this before so it’s not that unusual to have national interests supersede those of the euro area,” he said.

Merkel’s Audience

Merkel drew applause from an audience in North Rhine- Westphalia this week when she said that “Greece must do its homework” before getting any aid.

The problem is the crisis is now rapidly spreading, undermining confidence in the euro and even fueling speculation it could splinter.

“The most frustrating point in all of this is that those who followed the rules must now help out those who didn’t,” Cailloux said.

Portugal, Ireland and Spain are “conspicuously vulnerable” and may need funding, former IMF chief economist and Harvard Professor Kenneth Rogoff said in an interview this week.

Euro-region members are considering holding a summit to discuss releasing aid to Greece, an official from the Spanish EU presidency, who declined to be named in line with policy, said yesterday.

In the meantime, “it’s crucial for Trichet to regain his stature by reminding lawmakers that they are all in the one boat,” said Michels.

Trichet on April 12 said the ECB wants “the governments of the euro area to live up to their responsibility.”

“Their countries share a common destiny,” he said.

           — Hat tip: REP[Return to headlines]

U.S. Senate: Goldman Sachs Planned Meltdown Profit

‘You’re going short against the very security (you’re selling) … many of which are described as crap by your own sales force internally,’ said Levin, chairman of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.

‘How do you expect to deserve the trust of your clients, and is there not an inherent conflict here?’

Levin said Goldman Sachs and other leading investment banks behaved ‘like a polluter dumping poison into a river’.

He said the bank’s conduct was ‘unseemly’ and ‘brings into question the whole system of Wall Street’.

And he said accused Wall Street firms of selling securities they wouldn’t invest in themselves. That’s ‘unbridled greed in the absence of the cop on the beat to control it,’ he said.

But Goldman Sachs investors came looking for risk and risk is what they got, the unrepentant Blankfein told the hostile panel.

Bosses at the bank came out fighting as they defended themselves against accusations of fraud — but neither Democrats nor Republicans were buying it, accusing the bank of being both ‘the bookie and the house’.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Automatic Organ Donation Legislation Proposed in New York

The New York Organ Donor Network is pushing legislation (Senate Bill S4999) to create an automatic legal presumption that a citizen who dies is willing to have his or her organs donated. Under current law, a person must affirmatively choose to have their organs donated, either when obtaining or renewing a drivers license or through other organ donor registration programs. If the new law passes, all applicants for a New York drivers license will be presumed to consent to having their organs harvested unless they affirmatively opt out of the program.

Before 2001, signing up to be an organ donor at the time of obtaining a drivers license was not even an option in New York, and the family could still override the organ donor request upon the person’s death. In 2008, signing up as an organ donor at the DMV became legally binding, but the person must still choose to become an organ donor. Under the new law, anyone obtaining a New York drivers license would be presumed to be an organ donor unless they actually opt out of the program.

The New York Organ Donor Network is pushing the bill as part of April’s “National Donate Life Month,” Lawmakers sponsoring the legislation say that only 11 percent of eligible New Yorkers are organ donors, compared to the national average of 43 percent. There are currently 10,000 New Yorkers on the waiting list for organs. The New York Donor Network has set a goal of adding an additional one million New York organ donors to the Donate Life Registry by the end of 2012. The New York Donate Life Registry currently only has two million names.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Did Obama Hide Damning Health-Care Report?

‘Everyone here went into lockdown, people were too scared to go public’

Following release of an official report that estimates “Obamacare” will cost $311 billion more than advertised and could force 14 million Americans off their employer-provided insurance, a new allegation has surfaced that the White House knew of the unflattering analysis weeks before the health-care bill was passed and intentionally hid it from Congress.

According to a controversial article in the American Spectator, the Medicare and Medicaid Office of the Actuary delivered the damning report to the Department of Health and Human Services weeks before Congress voted on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, but HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius refused to review it until after the vote.

“The reason we were given was that they did not want to influence the vote,” an unnamed HHS source reportedly told American Spectator.

“We know a copy was sent to the White House via their legislative affairs staff,” the HHS staffer reportedly said, “and there were a number of meetings here almost right after the analysis was submitted to the secretary’s office. Everyone went into lockdown, and people here were too scared to go public with the report.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Ex-First Lady Suggests She and George W. Bush May Have Been Poisoned

Laura Bush has finally opened up publicly about the mysterious car accident she had when she was 17, a crash that claimed the life of a high school friend on a dark country road in Midland, Tex.

In her new book, “Spoken From the Heart,” Ms. Bush describes in vivid detail the circumstances surrounding the crash, which has haunted her for most of her adult life and which became the subject of questions and speculation when it was revealed during her husband’s first presidential run. A copy of the book, scheduled for release in early May, was obtained by The New York Times at a bookstore.


Ms. Bush also suggests, apparently for the first time, that she, Mr. Bush, and several members of their staff may have been poisoned during a visit to Germany for a G8 Summit.

They all became mysteriously sick, and the president was bedridden for part of the trip.

The Secret Service investigated the possibility they were poisoned, she writes, but doctors could only conclude that they all contracted a virus.

After noting several high-profile poisonings, she wrote, “we never learned if any other delegations became ill, or if ours, mysteriously, was the only one.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Judge Orders UW to Allow Ayers Speech

While William Downes was a captain in the U.S. Marine Corps during the Vietnam War, William Ayers was bombing U.S. government buildings as co-founder of a militant anti-war group called the Weather Underground.

Downes, now a U.S. district judge, made special note of those contrasting backgrounds when he ruled Tuesday against the University of Wyoming’s decision to ban Ayers from speaking on campus.

“This court is of age to remember the Weather Underground. When his group was bombing the U.S. Capitol in 1971, I was serving in the uniform of my country,” Downes said. “Even to this day, when I hear that name, I can scarcely swallow the bile of my contempt for it. But Mr. Ayers is a citizen of the United States who wishes to speak, and he need not offer any more justification than that.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Montana to Feds: Hands Off Our Rights

Lawmakers suggest Congress should be on trial in gun law dispute

Lawmakers in Montana are suggesting that the courts should be deciding whether Congress has overstepped its authority in a dispute over a state exemption from federal regulations for guns made and sold inside state boundaries.

“Should Congress enact a law that appears to conflict with the guidance in the [Montana Firearms Freedom Act], the courts may then determine whether Congress has acted within the scope of its delegated powers as limited by later amendments,” an amicus brief on behalf of Montana legislators, said. “The courts may then determine the extent to which Congress’s enactment has abrogated the state’s execise of power within the same sphere.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Regulators Approve First Offshore Wind Farm in U.S.

After nine years of regulatory review, the federal government gave the green light Wednesday to the nation’s first offshore wind farm, a sprawling project off the coast of Cape Cod.

The approval of the 130-turbine farm gives a significant boost to the nascent offshore wind industry in the United States, which has lagged behind far Europe and China in harnessing the strong and steady power of ocean breezes to provide electricity to homes and businesses.

[Return to headlines]

Revolution Muslim Stooge Zachary Chesser at Pro-Hamas DC Rally on 12/30/2008

[see link for video]

This is exclusive footage of the “man” who threatened to kill Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the creators of South Park, for daring to depict the mass-murdering pedophile known to Muslims as the “Prophet” Mohammed on a recent episode.

Zachary Adam Chesser lives with his mom in Fairfax County, VA. He played football and was on the crew team at one of the best high schools in the country, and rumor has it that he fellated members of the local Dar-Al-Hijrah mosque and assorted well-hung prison converts behind the school dumpsters,

He now likes to be called Abu Talhah Al-Amrikee, which is Arabic for “has microscopic penis and lives with Mom.”

He attended Oakton High School in Vienna, Fairfax County, Va. He also attended George Mason University.

An unnamed source said that he might end up like Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi if he isn’t careful.

This footage is from late December 2008 when the Marxist-Leninist “anti-war” group International A.N.S.W.E.R. held an “emergency” rally in Washington, DC in support of Hamas’ missile campaign against Israeli civilians.

           — Hat tip: Steen[Return to headlines]

Under Financial Overhaul, FTC Could Gain Enforcement Power Over Internet

The Federal Trade Commission could become a more powerful watchdog for Internet users under a little-known provision in financial overhaul legislation that would expand the agency’s ability to create rules.

An emboldened FTC would stand in stark contrast to a besieged Federal Communications Commission, whose ability to oversee broadband providers has been cast into doubt after a federal court ruled last month that the agency lacked the ability to punish Comcast for violating open-Internet guidelines.

The version of regulatory overhaul legislation passed by the House would allow the FTC to issue rules on a fast track and permit the agency to impose civil penalties on companies that hurt consumers. FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz has argued in favor of bolstering his agency’s enforcement ability.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

As Stocks Slump, European, IMF Officials Push Germany on Greece

European and International Monetary Fund officials converged in Germany on Wednesday to try to halt the spread of a deepening Greek debt crisis that one official compared to the Ebola virus.

With Greece straining to manage its debt payments and at risk of a default, efforts were focused on persuading the German government to move forward with a $40 billion European aid package to help the country pay its bills. The IMF will contribute another $20 billion — and perhaps substantially more, the Financial Times reported.

Germany has approved the package in theory but has been demanding clearer plans from Greece over how it will cut government spending in future years and restructure its economy.

The possibility of a Greek default sent stock markets into a second day of declines across Asia and Europe, and prompted Greek regulators to restrict trading in an effort to halt the fall in local equity markets. Interest rates on some Greek bonds spiked to levels more akin to consumer credit cards after Standard & Poor’s downgraded the country’s credit rating to junk level.

The situation has raised the risk that investors may shun other heavily indebted European governments, straining the 16-country area that shares the euro as a common currency as well as the broader European economy. Portugal’s debt was also downgraded but remains investment grade.

European Commission President Jose Barroso, traveling in Tokyo, tried to reassure bond markets and investors that help will be available before a late May deadline for Greece to repay some of its investors.

“The European Commission is making solid and rapid progress with the European Central Bank, the IMF and Greek authorities to finalize the Greek adjustment program,” Barroso said. “The commission expects this work to be finalized in the coming days. In my mind, there’s no doubt Greece’s needs will be met in time.”

Other top officials, including IMF managing director Dominique Strauss-Kahn, were conferring in Germany over how to halt the collapse in confidence over Greece’s finances. Angel Gurria, secretary general of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, likened the situation to the fast-spreading Ebola virus in a television interview in which he urged faster action to aid Greece, Bloomberg news reported.

“It’s not a question of the danger of contagion. Contagion has already happened,” Gurria said. “This is like Ebola. When you realize you have it, you have to cut your leg off in order to survive.”

In Brussels, a European Commission spokesman said that a restructuring of Greece’s debt — a step that might involve losses for the country’s bondholders — was not under discussion.

“Debt restructuring in a euro-area member state is not an option and is not part of the talks in Athens,” commission spokesman Amadeo Altafaj said at a news conference, Reuters reported.

The junk rating assigned to Greece Tuesday is unusual for a developed nation. Stock markets on both sides of the Atlantic tumbled about 2 percent or more after the downgrade, which fanned investors’ doubts that the proposed economic reforms in Greece will go far enough to prevent the country from spiraling into even deeper trouble…

           — Hat tip: Henrik[Return to headlines]

Europe Marked by Contradictions on Values and Religion

(ANSAmed) — MADRID — A Europe marked by contradictions in its relations with religion emerges from the European Mindset report, commissioned by the BBVA Foundation on European identity, vision and values. The report is based on an opinion poll carried out in 12 EU countries, Turkey and Switzerland. In EU countries, 52.6% of the population refuses the wearing of the Islamic veil, as compared to the exhibition of crucifixes in classrooms which is accepted by 54.4% of those interviewed. The report emphasizes that religion remains an element of division in Europe and that religious values continue to represent a key reference, like ethical principles or family structure. In commenting these results, BBVA Foundation Director, Rafael Pardo, reported by El Pais, underlined that “there are external religious signs which are already a part of the culture of various societies and the majority of people accept those pertaining to the Christian religion”. The study also shows that in forming a judgment concerning the veil, there is no significant influence of ideology, religion, sex or class of interviewees. Young people and highly educated people are also the most permissive on the use of the Muslim veil in class. Behind the average European’s opinion are to be found great differences, for example, between Denmark, in which the greatest number of people are in favour of exhibiting religious symbols, and Bulgaria, France or Germany, in which the greater number of people are contrary. On the other hand, 68% of Europeans (68%) declare their affiliation to some religion, even if the level of religious participation varies a lot. Spain is placed in an intermediate position with a medium-low level of religious participation; on the other hand, as concerns religious affiliation, 72% of the Spanish declare they belong to some religion. On euthanasia, the average European acceptance levels out at 6.3 points over 10, reaching 6.8 in Spain, but is higher in Belgium or Switzerland, the only European country where helping someone to commit suicide is not a crime. Abortion divides European public opinion the most: just over half of the Spanish are in favour of abortion, which provokes a greater refusal in countries where religion is more practiced, such as in Catholic Poland, Orthodox Greece or Muslim Turkey. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Far-Right Party Calls for ‘Dissolution’ Of Belgium

Flemish nationalist party Vlaams Belang on Tuesday called for the “dissolution” of Belgium, as King Albert II sought to patch up a breakdown between Flemish and French-speaking coalition partners.

“The profound political crisis Belgium has run into clearly proves the Belgian model is a complete failure,” said a statement from Filip Dewinter, chairman of the far-right Vlaams Belang in the Flemish parliament.

“The disease is Belgium and the only remedy is Flemish independence,” he added, saying his party had introduced a bill in the Flemish legislature — one of three in the federal kingdom of Belgium — to prepare negotiations for Flanders to become “the successor state” to Belgium.

He said Flanders, the larger and more prosperous Dutch-speaking partner in a country constructed by European superpowers in 1830, would “remain a partner” in the European Union and the NATO military alliance.

Militants from the party created a stir in the Belgian federal parliament on Thursday when the long-running political crisis first hit a new peak after King Albert accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Yves Leterme.

They sang the Flemish regional anthem in the assembly, wearing badges with “Split Belgium” written on them.

Belgium’s government collapsed last week when a coalition party pulled out in protest at the slow pace of negotiations on devolving more federal powers to the Dutch- and French-speaking regions, which have long been at odds.

Opinion polls show that most people from the relatively prosperous Flanders region do not want to break away from poorer Wallonia. Belgium’s third region is the officially bilingual Brussels capital area.

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

Greece: Cruise Line Avoids Ports After Strike

(ANSAmed) — ATHENS, APRIL 28 — The shipping company that owns the cruise ship Zenith has decided to remove Greece from its programmes after the protest on Monday in which the departure of the ship was delayed for a long period, causing inconveniences for its 970 passengers. The protest was an initiative of workers of the Pame union and of the federation of Greek seamen (PNO), both close to the Greek communist party. The decision has already been notified to the association of Greek tourist companies, which speaks of a loss of income of more than 10 million euros and the loss of 400 new jobs. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

How to Become a Real Muslim

by Kenan Malik

A media reliant on scandal has colluded with self-promoting but marginal Muslim clerics to create a cycle of self-reinforcing myths around the Mohammed cartoons, writes Kenan Malik. The fear of causing offence has helped undermine progressive trends in Islam and strengthened the hand of religious bigots.

In Ireland seven people are arrested over an alleged plot to kill Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks, who had depicted the Prophet Mohammad with the body of a dog in the newspaper Nerikes Allehanda. In Aarhus, a Somalian axeman tries to hack down Kurt Westergaard, the most controversial of the Jyllands-Posten cartoonists. In London, Faisal Yamani, a Saudi lawyer threatens to use Britain’s notorious libel laws to sue ten Danish newspapers that published the cartoons in the name of all 95,000 “descendants of Mohammed”.

Five years after Jyllands-Posten published its now-notorious caricatures, the reverberations are still being felt. And not just by the cartoonists. The threats and violence that continue to surround their publication have had a chilling impact upon writers, publishers, gallery owners and theatre directors. Two years ago, the American publishing giant Random House dropped The Jewel of Medina, a breezy, romantic tale about Aisha, the Prophet Mohammad’s youngest wife, after fears that it might prove offensive. When, last year, Yale University Press published The Cartoons that Shook the World, Jytte Klausen’s scholarly study of the cartoon controversy, it refused, much to her disgust, to include any of the cartoons. When the free speech magazine Index on Censorship, published an interview with Klausen about Yale’s decision, it too refused to show any of the cartoons.

“You would think twice, if you were honest,” said Ramin Gray, the Associate Director at London’s Royal Court Theatre when asked he would put on a play critical of Islam. “You’d have to take the play on its individual merits, but given the time we’re in, it’s very hard, because you’d worry that if you cause offence then the whole enterprise would become buried in a sea of controversy. It does make you tread carefully.” In June 2007, the theatre cancelled a new adaptation of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, set in Muslim heaven, for fear of causing offence. Another London theatre, the Barbican, carved chunks out of its production of Tamburlaine the Great for the same reason, while Berlin’s Deutsche Oper cancelled a production of Mozart’s Idomeneo in 2006 because of its depiction of Mohammed. Three years ago, the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague removed an exhibition of photos by the Iranian artist Sooreh Hera that depicted gay men wearing masks of Muhammed. “Certain people in our society might perceive it as offensive”, said Museum director Wim van Krimpen. De Volkskrant, a leftwing Dutch newspaper, praised the museum for its “great professionalism” in excising the images. Hera herself received death threats. Tim Marlow of London’s White Cube art gallery suggested that such self-censorship by artists and museums was now common, though “very few people have explicitly admitted” it.

For many, all this suggests a fundamental conflict between the values of Islam and those of the West. The American writer Christopher Caldwell in his controversial book Reflections on the Revolution in Europe, published last year, argues that Muslim migration to Europe has been akin to a form of colonization. “Since its arrival half a century ago”, Caldwell observes, “Islam has broken — or required adjustments to, or rearguard defences of — a good many of the European customs, received ideas and state structures with which it has come in contact.” Islam “is not enhancing or validating European culture; it is supplanting it.”

This idea of a “clash of civilizations” was first mooted twenty years ago in the wake of the Salman Rushdie affair by the historian Bernard Lewis and popularised a few years later by the American political scientist Samuel Huntingdon. Today, it has become almost common sense. “All over again”, as the novelist Martin Amis has put it, “the West confronts an irrationalist, agonistic, theocratic/ideocratic system which is essentially and unappeasably opposed to its existence.”

Yet, even as he goes along with the clash of civilizations thesis, Caldwell reveals its inadequacies. “What secular Europeans call ‘Islam’“, he points out, “is a set of values that Dante and Erasmus would recognize as theirs”. On the other hand, the modern, secular rights that now constitute “core European values” would “leave Dante and Erasmus bewildered.”

In other words, what we now regard as “Western values” — individual rights, secularism, freedom of speech — are modern values, distinct from those that animated European societies in the past. And it’s not just medieval Europeans who would reject contemporary European values. Many contemporary Europeans do too. The British writer Melanie Phillips is militantly hostile to what she sees as the “Islamic takeover of the West” and what she calls “the drift towards social suicide” that comes with accepting Muslim immigration. Yet she is deeply sympathetic to the Islamist rejection of secular humanism, which she thinks has created “a debauched and disorderly culture of instant gratification, with disintegrating families, feral children and violence, squalor and vulgarity on the streets.” Muslims “have concluded that the society that expects them to identify with it is a moral cesspit”, Phillips argues. “Is it any wonder, therefore, that they reject it?” Caldwell, too, thinks that while the West’s current encounter with Islam may be “painful and violent”, it has also been, “an infusion of oxygen into the drab, nitpicking, materialist intellectual life of the West”, for which we need to express our “gratitude”.

There is, in other words, no single set of European values that transcends history in opposition to Islamic values. Nor indeed is there a single set of western values today. The very values against which radical Islamists rail — the values of secular humanism — are the very values that so disgust some of Islam’s greatest critics.

If there is no such thing as a set of “European values” that transcend time, the same is true of “Islamic values”. Islam, like all religions, comprises both a set of beliefs and a complex of social institutions, traditions and cultures that bind people in a special relationship to a particular conception of the sacred. Over the centuries, those institutions and cultures have transformed the reading of the Qur’an and the practice of Islam. Religions, like all social forms, cannot stand still. Islam today can no more be like the Islam of the seventh century than Mecca today can look like the city of Mohammed’s time.

Islam has been transformed not just through time but across space too. The spread of the faith from the Atlantic Coast to the Indonesian archipelago and beyond incorporated peoples who fitted into Qur’anic scripture many of their old religious and social practices. What Pakistani Mirpuris see as traditional Islam is very different from that of North African Bedouins. And what British Mirpuris see as traditional is different from the traditions of Mirpuris still in Mirpur. “The key question”, the French sociologist Olivier Roy points out, “is not what the Koran actually says, but what Muslims say the Qur’an says.” Muslims continually disagree on what the Qur’an says, he adds dryly, “while all stressing that the Koran is unambiguous and clear-cut.”

Even a tradition as seemingly deeply set and unyielding as the one at the heart of the controversy over the Danish cartoons — the prohibition on the pictorial representation of the Prophet Mohammed — is in truth neither deeply set nor unyielding. Far from Islam having always forbidden representations of the Prophet, it was common to portray him until comparatively recently. The prohibition against such depictions only emerged in the 17th century. Even over the past 400 years, a number of Islamic, especially Shiite, traditions have accepted the pictorial representation of Muhammed. The Edinburgh University Library in Scotland, the Bibliotheque National in Paris, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Topkapi Palace Museum, Istanbul, all contain dozens of Persian, Ottoman and Afghan manuscripts depicting the Prophet. His face can be seen in many mosques too — even in Iran. A seventeenth-century mural on the Iman Zahdah Chah Zaid Mosque in the Iranian town of Isfahan, for instance, shows a Mohammed whose facial features are clearly visible.

Even today, few Muslims have a problem in seeing the Prophet’s face. Shortly after Jyllands Posten published the cartoons, the Egyptian newspaper Al Fagr reprinted them. They were accompanied by a critical commentary, but Al Fagr did not think it necessary to blank out Mohammad’s face, and faced no opprobrium for not doing so. Egypt’s religious and political authorities, even as they were demanding an apology from the Danish Prime Minister, raised no objections to Al Fagr’s full frontal photos.

So, if there is no universal prohibition to the depiction of Mohammad, why were Muslims universally appalled by the caricatures? They weren’t. And those that were, were driven by political zeal rather than theological fervour.

The publications of the cartoons in September 2005 caused no immediate reaction, even in Denmark. Only when journalists, disappointed by the lack of controversy, contacted a number of imams for their response, did Islamists begin to recognise the opportunity provided not just by the caricatures themselves but also by the sensitivity of Danish society to their publication.

Among the first contacted was the controversial cleric Ahmed Abu Laban, infamous for his support for Osama bin Laden and the 9/11 attacks. He seized upon the cartoons to transform himself into a spokesman for Denmark’s Muslims. Yet however hard he pushed, he initially found it difficult to provoke major outrage in Denmark or abroad. It took more than four months of often hysterical campaigning, and considerable arm-twisting by Saudi diplomats, to create a major controversy. At the end of January 2006, Saudi Arabia recalled its ambassador from Denmark and launched a consumer boycott of Danish goods. In response a swathe of European newspapers republished the cartoons in “solidarity” with Jyllands-Posten.

It was only now that the issue became more than a minor diplomatic kerfuffle. There were demonstrations and riots in India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Iran, Nigeria, Palestine, Afghanistan and elsewhere. Danish embassies in Damascus, Beirut and Teheran were torched. But, as Jytte Klausen has observed, these protests “were not caused by the cartoons, but were part of conflicts in pre-existing hot spots” such as northern Nigeria, where there exists an effective civil war between Muslim salafists and Christians. The violence surrounding the cartoon conflict, Klausen suggests, has been “misreported” as expressions of spontaneous violence from Muslims “confronted with bad pictures”. That, she insists, “is absolutely not the case”. Rather “these images have been exploited by political groups in the pre-existing conflict over Islam.”

Why did journalists contact Abu Laban in the first place? The Danish press described him as a “spiritual leader”. He was in fact a mechanical engineer by trade, and an Islamist by inclination. His Islamic Society of Denmark was closely linked to the Muslim Brotherhood but had little support among Danish Muslims. Out of a population of 180,000 Danish Muslims, fewer than a thousand attended the Society’s Friday prayers.

Abu Laban was, however, infamous for supporting the attack on the Twin Towers. From a journalistic viewpoint, it made sense to get a quote from someone so controversial. But politically, too, it made sense. For western liberals have come to see figures like Abu Laban as the true, authentic voice of Islam. The Danish MP Naser Khader tells of a conversation with Toger Seidenfaden, editor of Politiken, a leftwing newspaper highly critical of the caricatures. “He said to me that the cartoons insulted all Muslims”, Khader recalls. “I said I was not insulted. He said, ‘But you’re not a real Muslim’.”

In liberal eyes, in other words, to be a real Muslim is to find the cartoons offensive. Once Muslim authenticity is so defined, then only a figure such as Abu Laban can be seen as a true Muslim voice. The Danish cartoons, as Jytte Klausen observed, “have become not just a tool for extremism but also created a soap opera in the West about what Muslims ‘do’ with respect to pictures’. Or, as Naser Khader has put it, “What I find really offensive is that journalists and politicians see the fundamentalists as the real Muslims.” The myths about the Danish cartoons — that all Muslims hated the cartoons and that it was a theological conflict — helped turn Abu Laban into an authentic voice of Islam. At the same time, Abu Laban’s views seemed to confirm the myths about the Danish cartoons.

The template for this kind of mythmaking was the Salman Rushdie affair. More than twenty years on from the fatwa, we have come to accept almost as self-evident the idea that the worldwide controversy was sparked by the blasphemies in The Satanic Verses, which all Muslims found deeply offensive. It is not true.

The Satanic Verses was published in September 1988. For the next five months, until the Ayatollah Khomeini issued his fatwa on Valentine’s Day 1989, most Muslims ignored the book. The campaign against the novel was largely confined to the Indian subcontinent and to Britain. Aside from the involvement of Saudi Arabia, there was little enthusiasm for a campaign in the Arab world or in Turkey, or among Muslim communities in France or Germany. When the Saudi authorities tried at the end of 1988 to get the novel banned in Muslim countries worldwide, few responded except those with large subcontinental populations, such as South Africa or Malaysia. Even in Iran the book was openly available and was reviewed in many newspapers.

As in the controversy over the Danish cartoons, it was politics, not religion, that transformed The Satanic Verses into a worldwide event of historic proportions. The novel first became an issue in India because the Jamaat-e-Islami, an Islamist group against which Rushdie had taken aim in his previous novel Shame, tried to use the novel as political leverage in a general election campaign. From India, the anti-Rushdie campaign spilled into Britain, where the Jamaat had a network of organizations, funded by the Saudi government. From the 1970s Saudi Arabia had used oil money to fund Salafi organisations and mosques worldwide to cement its position as spokesman for the umma. Then came the Iranian Revolution of 1979 that overthrew the Shah and established an Islamic republic. Tehran became the capital of Muslim radicalism and Ayatollah Khomeini its spiritual leader, posing a direct challenge to Riyadh. The Satanic Verses became a weapon in that conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Riyadh had made the initial running. The fatwa was an attempt by Iran to wrestle back the initiative.

The Rushdie affair was a watershed in Western political and cultural life. It was through the Rushdie affair that many of the issues that now dominate political debate — multiculturalism, free speech, radical Islam, terrorism — first came to the surface. It was also through the Rushdie affair that our thinking about these issues began to change. The controversy over The Satanic Verses was primarily a political, not religious, conflict. But having accepted the myths that the controversy over The Satanic Verses was driven by theology and that all Muslims were offended by the novel, many liberals came to the conclusion in the post-Rushdie world both that the Islamists were the true voice of Islam and also that in a plural society social harmony required greater restraints on free speech.

“Self-censorship”, the British Muslim philosopher Shabbir Akhtar suggested at the height of the Rushdie affair, “is a meaningful demand in a world of varied and passionately held convictions. What Rushdie publishes about Islam is not just his business. It is everyone’s — not least every Muslim’s — business.”

Increasingly, western liberals have come to agree. Whatever may be right in principle, many now argue, in practice one must appease religious and cultural sensibilities because such sensibilities are so deeply felt. We live in a world, so the argument runs, in which there are deep-seated conflicts between cultures embodying different values, many of which are incommensurate but all of which are valid in their own context. For such diverse societies to function and to be fair, we need to show respect for other peoples, cultures, and viewpoints. Social justice requires not just that individuals are treated as political equals, but also that their cultural beliefs are given equal recognition and respect. This is the philosophy of multiculturalism. And in the multicultural world, the avoidance of cultural pain has come to be regarded as more important than what is often seen as an abstract right to freedom of expression. As the sociologist Tariq Modood has put it, “If people are to occupy the same political space without conflict, they mutually have to limit the extent to which they subject each others’ fundamental beliefs to criticism.” In the post-Rushdie world, liberals have effectively internalised the fatwa.

The consequence of all this has been that liberals have come to support the most reactionary figures within the Muslim community. Rushdie’s critics no more spoke for the Muslim community than Rushdie himself did. Both represented different strands of opinion within Muslim communities, just as Naser Khader and Abu Laban do. Rushdie gave voice to a radical, secular sentiment that in the 1980s was deeply entrenched. Rushdie’s critics spoke for some of the most conservative strands. Their campaign against The Satanic Verses was not to protect Muslim communities from unconscionable attack from anti-Muslim bigots but to protect their own privileged position within those communities from political attack from radical critics, to assert their right to be the true voice of Islam by denying legitimacy to such critics. And they succeeded at least in part because secular liberals embraced them as the “authentic” voice of the Muslim community.

The United Kingdom Action Committee on Islamic Affairs (UKACIA), the principal anti-Rushdie campaign in Britain, was comprised largely of organizations inspired by radical Islamism. These groups came to form the core of the Muslim Council of Britain, which was set up in 1977 and quickly became accepted by policy makers and journalists as the voice of British Islam.

“The overwhelming number of organizations that the [British] government talks to”, says sociologist Chetan Bhatt, an expert on religious extremism, “are influenced by, dominated by or front organizations of the Jamaat-e-Islami and the Muslim Brotherhood. Their agenda is strictly based on the politics of the Islamic radical right, it doesn’t represent the politics or aspirations of the majority of Muslims in this country.”

Indeed it doesn’t. Polls have consistently found that only around 5 per cent think that the MCB represented them. But the official support given to such organizations in the post-Rushdie era has distorted perceptions of Muslims communities in Britain and to a certain degree, Muslim self-perceptions too. And not just in Britain. There has been, Naser Khader suggests, a similar process in Denmark. “Just months before the cartoon controversy, the Prime Minister had invited Abu Laban to a conference on terrorism. People like me kept saying, ‘They only represent a few people’. But nobody listened. The government thought if they talked to someone who looked like a Muslim, then they were talking to real Muslims. I don’t look like what they think a Muslim should look like — I don’t have a beard, I wear a suit, I drink — so I’m not a real Muslim. But the majority of Muslims in Denmark are more like me than they are like Abu Laban.”

When I was growing up in the 1980s, the concept of a “radical” in a Muslim context meant someone who was a militant secularist, someone who challenged not just racism but the power of the mosques too. Someone like me. Today, of course, it means almost the opposite — a “radical” is a religious fundamentalist. Why the shift? Largely because of disenchantment with the secular left, on the one hand, and the institutionalisation of multicultural policies, on the other. Disenchantment with secular politics, the disintegration of the Left, and the abandonment by the Left of the politics of universalism in favour of ethnic particularism, has helped push many young, secular Asians towards Islamism as an alternative worldview. At the same time, the emergence of multiculturalism, and of identity politics, has helped create more tribal societies and eroded aspirations to a universal set of values.

Within Muslim communities these developments have helped undermine progressive trends and strengthened the hand of religious bigots. Secular Muslims have come to be regarded as betraying their culture, while radical Islam has become not just more acceptable but, to many, more authentic. As the secular tradition has been squeezed out, the only place offering shelter to disaffected youth has been militant Islam.

Liberal multicultural policies have not created radical Islam, but they have helped create a space for it in western societies that previously had not existed. They have also provided a spurious moral legitimacy to Islamist arguments. Every time a politician denounces an “offensive” work, every time a newspaper apologizes for causing offence, every time a journalist tells someone like Naser Khader that he’s not a “real” Muslim, they strengthen the moral claims of the Islamists. There will always be extremists who attempt to murder cartoonists or firebomb newspaper offices. There is little we can do about them. What we can do is refuse to create a culture that emboldens such people by accepting their voices as somehow legitimate.

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

Is Britain Heading for a Greek Tragedy? £15bn Wiped Off UK Shares as Party Leaders Refuse to Come Clean Over Spending Blackhole

Another £15billion was wiped off British shares today as the financial chaos in Greece sparked fears of a new crisis in the UK unless drastic action is taken to reduce the country’s debt.

The growing Greek disaster provoked fresh fears about the perils of a hung parliament if no party wins an overall majority next week.

And it piled further pressure on party leaders on the campaign trail about the savings they will have to make to re-balance Britain’s finances after the election.

Despite economists urging all the main parties to stop deceiving voters and come clean about inevitable huge tax rises and spending cuts, they are still refusing to give any more detail.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Italy: Energy Focus of Putin-Berlusconi Summit

Cooperation consolidated in gas and nuclear sectors

(ANSA) — Milan, April 26 — Cooperation in the energy sector was at the center of a summit here on Monday between Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

The two government chiefs also agreed on the need to restore trade between Italy and Russia to its level before the recent global economic downturn.

An agreement was signed on the sidelines of the meeting between the Italian and Russian research ministries to carry out a joint study on nuclear fusion.

Also signed was a memorandum of understanding between Italian energy giant ENI and Russia’s Inter Rao Ues to cooperate in the nuclear sector, including the building of new and innovative power plants and improving energy efficiency and distribution in Russia and Eastern European countries.

During a joint press conference which followed their summit, Putin said that there were no delays nor technical problems with the Italo-Russian South Stream project to bring Russian gas to Europe bypassing Ukraine.

The project, Putin told the press, will be completed in the second half of 2015, while Berlusconi added how it will begin “in the first six months of 2012”.

According to Putin, there is “technically nothing new” involved in the project and he recalled how ENI and Russia’s Gazprom together built the Blue Stream pipeline under the Black Sea which brings 16 billion cubic meters of Russian gas a year to Turkey.

The South Stream pipeline will also run under the Black Sea to then travel through the Balkans before splitting into two to bring gas to northern and southern Europe. Thanks to the South Stream pipeline, Berlusconi observed, “countries like Bulgarian and Romania, as well as Italy, will never again be at risk of being left in the cold and dark”. The Italo-Russian project was developed after a dispute between Russia and Ukraine interrupted gas supplies to Europe. South Stream is currently an equal partnership between ENI and Gazprom, but French energy giant EdF wants to join with a share Putin said on Monday would be in the neighborhood of 20%, more or less in line with the 10% and 20% previously been cited by insiders. According to recent press reports, bringing GdF into the project had created friction, always denied, between the Russian and Italian partners. Last month, the Russian economic daily Kommersant explained that at the center of the dispute was the question of which partner would cede some of their quota in South Stream to the French and thus see its influence in the project reduced. During their press conference, Berlusconi also said that Italy remained committed to obtaining gas also from Africa and that “we do not intend to leave Africa in Chinese hands”. Italy already gets significant amounts of gas from North Africa and other countries on the continent are now interested in exploiting their reserves. China has made major investments in Africa, primarily seeking access to its prime resources, including oil, minerals and lumber. “If a continent like Africa wants to seek and exploit gas reserves we cannot leave it in Chinese hands alone, because at present it would appear that only they are there,” Berlusconi said.


During their press conference, Berlusconi said the economic crisis and subsequent recession in Italy “reduced trade between Italy and Russia by 30%,” while Putin put the drop at 38%. “We need to take steps to restore the level of our trade and we have everything we need to do this,” the Russian government chief observed. “Everyone thinks that energy is the basis of our trade, and for the most part it is. But it is not the only area where we cooperate,” Putin added, citing such sectors as automaking, aviation, aeronautics and chemicals. Although the two government chiefs are also personal friends, Putin made it clear at their press conference that “relations between Italy and Russia are not just the personal ones between Putin and Berlusconi” but are above all based on “reciprocal state interests”. He then added that “of course friendship does help a lot”. Berlusconi had earlier said he was tied to the Russian prime minister “by many years of esteem, friendship and affection”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Girl Linked to UK Case ‘Stabbed and Suffocated’

Salerno, 27 April (AKI) — Italian schoolgirl Elisa Claps whose skeletal remains were discovered in a church in the southern city of Potenza in March, was stabbed repeatedly in the chest and suffocated, according to information leaked from a pathology report on Tuesday. Danilo Restivo, an Italian suspected of murdering Claps in 1993, has also been linked to the brutal murder of mother-of-two Heather Barnett in England in 2002 and the disappearance of another Italian woman in northern Italy in 2003.

Investigators believe Claps (photo) died on 12 September 1993, the same day she disappeared at the age of 16. She was last seen on that day at Potenza’s Santissima Trinita church, and her body was found in the eaves of the church.

Restivo has admitted meeting Claps at the church the day she vanished.

He reportedly told police he asked her to be his girlfriend but she turned him down, saying she had a boyfriend in Sicily. He has denied harming her and said he gave her a present for passing her exams.

Restivo, who is married and now lives in the southern city of Bournemouth in England, has always denied any involvement in the murder of Claps or Barnett.

He still lives in the same street where Barnett was stabbed, beaten around the head, mutilated and left to die in her home.

Investigators believe Claps was murdered during attempted sexual violence.

The pathology report on Claps will be released on 9 May and prosecutors have 60 days to submit the findings of DNA and other tests on 100 ‘specimens’ recovered from the church.

The specimens reportedly include parts of Claps’ shin and collar bones and thorax.

Claps’ mummified remains were reportedly first discovered in January by cleaners at Santissima Trinita together with the curate.

The church’s priest Don Ambrogio and Potenza’s bishop Agostino Superbo denied knowing her body was in the church until its ‘official’ discovery two months later by workmen on 17 March.

Restivo moved to Bournemouth after Claps vanished. Detectives in the English county of Dorset have been working with Italian detectives for the past six years on whether Barnett’s gruesome murder in Bournemouth in 2002 is connected to the Claps case.

The cases were linked after Restivo moved into a house across the road from Barnett after serving a sentence in Italy for perjury for lying to police about an injury he sustained on the day Claps disappeared.

Dorset police did not confirm or deny to Adnkronos International reports in a local Italian paper earlier this month that Barnett and Claps’ bras had been cut open at the front in the same way.

Barnett’s mutilated body was found in her home with her breasts cut from her body and strands of hair cut from unidentified women had been placed in her hand.

Prior to Barnett’s murder, a number of women in Bournemouth had complained to police that strands of their hair had been cut by Restivo as they travelled by bus in the town.

It emerged that women in Potenza had reported the same problem to police before Claps disappeared.

Restivo was stopped by police in a Bournemouth park soon after Barnett’s murder. A bag he was carrying reportedly contained rubber gloves, scissors, a knife, a balaclava, large plastic sheets and a set of clothes identical to those he was wearing.

“We are continuing our normal contact with the Italian police and other authorities and we will continue to assist them if and when asked,” the Dorset police told AKI in an emailed statement.

Restivo’s lawyer Mario Marinelli on Monday rejected his client’s involvement in any of the murder cases.

“Clearly this is pure conjecture which goes beyond the fantasy of the media and investigators,” he said.

Last Friday, it was reported that Dorset police found photos on Restivo’s computer of another young Italian woman, Erika Ansermin, who disappeared on 20 April, 2003 in Aosta in northern Italy.

Dorset police did respond to a request from AKI for a comment on their reported discovery of the photos of Ansermin.

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

Italy: Police Target Largest Cement Maker in Mafia Raids

Palermo, 27 April(AKI) — Italy’s largest cement producer has been accused of fraud and links with the mafia. Calcestruzzi, a subsidiary of the cement maker Italcementi, is alleged to have eliminated rival bidders from public works contracts and fraudulently sold low-quality cement.

In a nationwide operation on Tuesday, finance police and Carabinieri paramilitary police arrested 14 people including several senior managers at the firm in the province of Caltanissetta in central Sicily, and impounded seven Sicilian earth-moving businesses.

Several of people have been accused of mafia association and fraud.

“With mafia support, customers were supplied with low-quality concrete…while the company gained a monopoly of concrete supplying in Sicily,” investigators said.

The managers are alleged to have paid part of Italcementi’s profits to the mafia.

According to local anti-mafia investigators, three men — Giuseppe Madonia, Francesco La Rocca and Giuseppe Giovanni Laurino — who have already been jailed for mafia association played “a prominent role” in the scheme.

In Tuesday’s operation, police said the three would face new charges in their prison cells.

Calcestruzzi’s chief executive officer was arrested in 2007 as part of an investigation into suspected collusion with the Sicilian mafia.

Italcementi has been under ‘court-appointed management’ for more than two years.

Investigators said the mafia forced public and private customers to buy the company’s products and eliminated “bothersome” competition to ensure Calcestruzzi had a monopoly in eastern Sicily.

Italcementi workers are alleged to have altered computer records to cover up the sales of products with expired sell-by dates, according to investigators.

Italcementi had 5 billion euros of sales last year, with 938 million euros stemming from business in Italy.

Nobody from Italcementi was available for immediate comment.

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

Italy: Finance Police Uncover 6,100 ‘Front’ Operations

Rome, 21 April(AKI) — Italian finance police have stepped up their fight against tax fraud and identified 6,100 people suspected of creating ‘front’ operations to evade tax. In an interview with Adnkronos, the agency’s commander, Cosimo D’Arrigo said 6,100 individuals were suspected of transferring 2.7 billion euros to offshore accounts in 2009.

The number of suspects was 31 percent higher than in 2008.

D’Arrigo said police under his command have also intensified their fight against offshore bank accounts and are investigating 1,660 cases.

“The investigations involve financial institutions and illegal companies with partners in tax havens, as well as consultants, lawyers and financial intermediaries…that bring together foreign banks and clients, thus becoming white collar workers at the service of a crime ring,” D’Arrigo told Adnkronos.

Italy’s main tax collection agency in March said it had recovered 9.1 billion euros in 2009 in its battle against tax evasion.

Total revenues collected for the year were 32 percent higher than the previous year when a record 7 billion euros were recovered, according to the country’s tax agency, Agenzia dell’Entrate.

Prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s government has increased its efforts to crack down on tax dodgers.

But critics accuse the government of encouraging illegality by offering amnesties to tax evaders who repatriate funds from offshore accounts, granting massively discounted tax rates for the money.

D’Arrigo said the financial police have seized 307 million euros worth of tax evaders’ property, five times as much as 2008.

He said 2,300 people were reported for crimes related to bankruptcy last year.

A previous Berlusconi government decriminalised all but the most serious false accounting offences.

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

Italy: New Expo Park to Feature Water, Gardens and Island

Master plan for 2015 Expo presented in Milan. Here are the details

There will be a canal-girt island with a long boulevard onto which all the participating nations will face in a spirit of equality. The exhibition area will extend over 110 hectares with six events spaces, an 8,000-seater amphitheatre, 12 service and refreshment areas, a large botanic garden and a San Siro stadium-sized lake some 97 metres across. The Expo site will foreground water and vegetation, and the theme embraces both: “Feed the planet, energy for life”. The master plan’s secrets, which prompted Vicente Loscertales, the secretary of the Bureau International des Expositions, to describe the project as “visionary”, will be revealed today at 11 am at the Teatro Strehler.

The starting point. The Pero Rho site, with its pavilions, public spaces, woodland, lakes and greenhouses. As managing director Lucio Stanca noted, this international exhibition “will be completely different from past events because it proposes a theme and invites all participating nations to take their cue from it. We will not see individual pavilions setting out their stall any way they want to. Instead, there will be an overall picture”.

Exhibition democracy. Each of the 140 participants (130 nations and ten international regions) will have its own standard-sized site facing onto the 1.5 kilometre-long World Avenue. Perpendicular to the World Avenue is the 325 metre-long Roman city-style Cardo, which will host Italy and its regions. In the centre is Piazza Italia, where the host nation will meet the world, and the hospitality space, Palazzo Italia.

The points of the compass. Greenhouses and fields will be in the north east, near the entrance. To the south, there will be an amphitheatre covering 8,800 square metres with seating for 8,000. It will be used for open-air rock and operatic concerts, and for official ceremonies. Finally, to the west there will be a covered performance centre with a 2,000-seater auditorium, a theatre, a multimedia space and workshops.

The view will be seamless with farm areas, refreshment spaces, gardens, canals and arenas all set amid the green. Then there are the numbers: the total area is 110 hectares and there are five bioclimatic zones, 100 Expo Village constructions looking onto the canal — reminiscent of Milan’s QT8 district — with 320 apartments and four kilometres of Waterside Path for strollers and cyclists.

The project will be presented today to a packed Teatro Strehler. Among those present will be Milan’s mayor, Letizia Moratti, Lucio Stanca, the presidents of the Lombardy regional authority, Roberto Formigoni, and provincial authority, Guido Podestà, the president of the Milan chamber of commerce, Carlo Sangalli, Expo president Diana Bracco, the minister of education, Mariastella Gelmini, and the minister of tourism, Michela Vittoria Brambilla. With them will be the master plan’s authors, architects Stefano Boeri and Ricky Burdett. The third author, Jacques Herzog, will deliver a video message.

Annachiara Sacchi

English translation by Giles Watson

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

Italy: Unemployment: Highest in Sicily, Rising Among Young

(ANSAmed) — ROME, APRIL 28 — Sicily, Sardinia and Campania are Italy’s regions with the highest unemployment rate (13.9%, 13.3% and 12.9% respectively), while Trentino Alto-Adige and Valle D’Aosta (3.2% and 4.4%) have the lowest. This emerged from the report on employment in 2009 released today by Italian statistics office ISTAT. Sicily in 2009 had the highest unemployment rate of women and men, Trentino-Alto Adige had the lowest rate for both sexes. Calabria is the only region in the south of Italy where unemployment did not increase compared with 2008. ISTAT also reports that unemployment among juveniles increased: from 21.3% in 2008 to 25.4% in 2009. Also in this case the highest unemployment is found in the south of Italy, particularly in Sardinia, Sicily and Basilicata (44.7%, 38.5% and 38.3% respectively). Lazio is the only region in the centre-north with a higher unemployment rate than the national average. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Parents Who Smack Their Children Should be Prosecuted, Says Europe Human Rights Body

Parents who smack their children should be prosecuted for assault, a European human rights group said last night.

The Council of Europe is calling for a complete ban on smacking across the continent, saying even the smallest slap can leave psychological damage.

One official even compared parents who smack to men who violently beat their wives.

The Council says that Britain lags behind other countries who have initiated a ban.

It claims that one of the reasons that the UK has not put in place a ban is because of the ‘traditional parent-child relationship’ here which they claim is one of authority.

But the call from Europe to outlaw smacking provoked fury from parents’ rights groups, who said it was wrong for Governments to try to dictate what parents could do in their own homes.

Norman Wells, director of the Family Education Trust said: ‘The Council of Europe is failing to recognise that parents are authority figures in their children’s lives.

‘It is parents, and not national governments, who bear the responsibility of caring for children, nurturing them, and correcting them where necessary.

‘As with any other authority figure, parents need to have sanctions at their disposal when their children misbehave, and they must be free to exercise their discretion and judgment with respect to their use.

‘In a free society it is vital that parents should be allowed to bring up their children in a reasonable way, in line with their convictions.

‘Generations of parents have proved the benefit of moderate smacking to correct their children’s behaviour, and research continues to show its positive effects when used in the context of a loving home where children are respected and cherished.

‘It has become a contentious issue only because of a vocal minority who are determined to undermine the authority of parents.’

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Sarkozy Congratulates Hungary’s Orban

French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Monday congratulated Hungary’s right-wing leader Viktor Orban after his party won a historic two-thirds majority in weekend elections.

Sarkozy, whose father is Hungarian-born, said the election win conferred a “special responsibility” on Orban as Hungary is to take over the presidency of the European Union in 2011.

“Hungary’s European commitment and its unity will be of the utmost necessity during this period, for the good of Hungary and of all of Europe,” Sarkozy said in a letter to Orban released by his office.

France wants to pursue “the deepening of our bilateral relations in all areas — political, economic, commercial and cultural — in the spirit of the Franco-Hungarian strategic partnership that allows us to look to the future in a friendly and confident manner,” he added.

Orban’s Fidesz party won 263 of the 386 seats in parliament, marking the first time that a political party single-handedly garnered a two-thirds majority, which would empower it to change the constitution.

The elections ended eight years of Socialist rule in Hungary and marked Orban’s comeback. The 46-year-old politician was prime minister from 1998 to 2002.

“After these years spent in the opposition, you have been able to build a political dynamic that today allows you to lead the government with the support of a large part of your citizens,” wrote Sarkozy.

The French leader, who does not speak Hungarian, paid a brief visit to Budapest in September 2007 and addressed members of parliament.

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

Spain: Suspended for Hijab, Girl Begins in New School Today

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, APRIL 28 — Najwa, the 16 year-old schoolgirl forced to leave the Camillo José Cela secondary school in Pozuelo (Madrid) because her Islamic headscarf was forbidden by school rules, today began lessons in a different school in the same town, where the hijab is allowed. The EFE agency said that the girl arrived at the ‘Gerardo Diego’ secondary school at about 8.15 this morning, accompanied by her father, Mohamed Malha and her mother, Fatima, who like her daughter wears the hijab. The story of the girl, who was suspended from her school a week ago, has caused great controversy in Spain. Another school in Pozuelo, the San Juan de la Cruz institute, has changed its own school rules in the last few days, so as not to admit the girl with the headscarf. Speaking to the media, the country’s Education Minister, Angel Gabilondo, has guarded against the risk of creating ghettos. While he admitted that “an interesting debate has been opened on the constitutionality of internal regulations in schools”, which have the last word on the effective rules to be followed within the walls of the school, he added that he was concerned that the case could set a precedent for “placing in one school rather than another all those who think in a certain way”. Parents associations, teachers and unions in Madrid are asking for a decision on the admission of the girl to be taken on a general level by in a higher legal context. Najwa’s lawyer, Ivan Jimenez-Aybar, who lodged an appeal with the regional administrative court against the decision by the Camillo José Cela school to send her home, maintains that such decisions “cannot be left to the discretion of individual schools”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Spain: Majority Against Headscarf, But Support Cross

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, APRIL 28 — The majority of Spaniards, independently of ideology, age and social status, are against the wearing of the hijab, the Islamic headscarf, in schools, while almost half accept the presence of crucifixes in classrooms. The results come from a survey carried out throughout Europe, the European Mindset report, which was commissioned by the BBVA Foundation on the subjects of identity and European vision and values. The findings were published today in the Spanish press. The report, which was carried out at the end of 2009, is not related to the case of the Spanish schoolgirl of Moroccan descent, Nejwa Malha, who was sent home from a school in Pozuelo for wearing the hijab. The report shows that 49% of Spaniards and 54% of Europeans approve of crucifixes being worn, while only 24% of those interviewed in Spain and 26% in Europe are against the idea. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Tunisia: Released Journalist; Tunis, Sentence Was Right

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, APRIL 28 — Tunisia in a semi-official message to France, has underlined that the conviction of dissident journalist Taoufik Ben Brik, who was released yesterday, had valid legal, not political grounds. Last evening a source, authorised by the Tunisian Foreign Ministry, responded to a statement issued by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner regarding Ben Brik’s release. “The Foreign Ministry” the statement reads, “agrees with French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner that the excellent relations between Tunisia and France make it possible to discuss any issues that regard both countries, without exception. It is therefore important to point out to Mr Kouchner that the crimes for which Mr Ben Brik was convicted had nothing to do with freedom of press or of opinion. Mr Ben Brik has been found guilty of attacking, injuring and damaging the goods of a woman. In the presence of witnesses he has beaten her hard, damaged her vehicle and has insulted her”.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

UK: Boy, Two, Left in Tears as Nursery Staff Confiscate His ‘Unhealthy’ Cheese Sandwich

When little Jack Ormisher opened his packed lunch, he was delighted to find inside a cheese sandwich his mummy had made for him.

But before he could tuck into the meal, staff at the nursery he attended snatched it away — leaving him in tears.

Apparently, the sandwich broke their ‘healthy eating’ rules. Instead, the two-year-old was offered fruit and vegetables.

Later when Jack’s father arrived to pick him up from the Westfield Children’s Centre in Pemberton, near Wigan, staff told him that if his son wanted sandwiches in future they must include lettuce or tomato.

Jack’s mother, Dorothy Gallear, 32, was so incensed she has now enrolled him at a different nursery.

‘I think it is absolutely pathetic and these people are playing Big Brother with people’s lives,’ she said yesterday. ‘The attitude of the nursery was ridiculous. They were looking down their noses at me.

‘When I told people at his new nursery what had happened all over a cheese sandwich some laughed with shock and others were horrified.’

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: Farce as Motorist Reports Vandalism to Police Station and is Told to Phone Call Centre

When vandals damaged Andy Bevan’s car, he thought he was doing the sensible thing by visiting his local police station to report the attack.

But to his astonishment, he was told he could not register the crime in person — and had to make a telephone call instead.

A community support officer handed Mr Bevan, 57, a card and asked him to ring the number on it.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: Gordon Goes Back to Grovel in Person to Life-Long Labour Grandmother He Called a ‘Bigot’ For Complaining About Immigration

A humiliated Gordon Brown was forced to drive to a voter’s house today to apologise, hours after he was caught out calling her a ‘bigoted woman’.

The Prime Minister had to tear up his schedule to visit Gillian Duffy, 65, after his gaffe threatened to totally undermine Labour’s election campaign.

Mr Brown had already apologised to the life-long Labour voter, who had quizzed him about immigration levels, by phone after realising his comment was recorded on tape.

But in farcical scenes, he later went to her terraced home in Rochdale, Lancashire, to speak to her in person to try and mitigate the damage.

He emerged looking chastened after an agonising 40 minutes to face the hordes of media massed on the drive.

‘I am mortified by what has happened. I have given her my sincere apologies. I misunderstood what she said. She has accepted that there was a misunderstanding and she has accepted my apology,’ he said.

‘If you like, I am a penitent sinner. Sometimes you say things that you don’t mean to say, sometimes you say things by mistake and sometimes when you say things you want to correct it very quickly.

Despite the frantic damage-limitation exercise, the slip-up risks delivering a potential mortal blow to Mr Brown’s hopes of staying in Number Ten.

His attack on the pensioner was recorded because the Prime Minister failed to realise he still had his Sky News microphone on after the impromptu meeting.

Sky broadcast the remarks within minutes as the leader headed to his next stop, a Radio 2 studio interview with Jeremy Vine.

When he arrived he was forced to listen to the comments on a tape. Mr Brown held his head in his hands as the conversation was replayed and he realised the enormity of his gaffe.

To compound the disaster, his obvious dismay was again being filmed and broadcast live for the world to see.

Mrs Duffy had spotted the Prime Minister in the street during his visit to Rochdale and took the chance to lambast him about Labour’s record.

She told him she had always supported Labour but was unhappy about immigration levels, the national debt, tuition fees and welfare policy.

‘My family have voted Labour all their lives — my father even sung Red flag — but now I am ashamed of saying I’m Labour, she said.

She told the Prime Minister: ‘You can’t say anything about immigrants. All these eastern Europeans — where are they coming from?’

The complaint left Mr Brown furious and as he climbed into his car to be swept to his next meeting, he appeared to punch one of the seats.

‘That was a disaster — they should never have put me with that woman. Whose idea was that? It’s just ridiculous,’ he said.

Asked what she had told him, he replied: ‘Everything, she was just a bigoted woman.’

The episode will compound a reputation the Prime Minister already has for having a bad temper and bullying and blaming subordinates when things go wrong.

The gaffe could not have come at a worse time for Labour as it continues to trail third in the polls with just eight days of the campaign left to go.

It is the latest in a series of blunders to befall Mr Brown’s faltering campaign and comes days after he switched strategy to take a more high-profile role.

Yesterday his family policy launch was overshadowed when children’s cartoon figure Peppa Pig pulled out of a Labour press conference and he was mocked for appearing with an Elvis impersonator last weekend.

Labour sources have stressed that Mr Brown re-doubling his efforts to meet ‘real people’ on the campaign trail amid claims he has largely only met Labour supporters.

It will also prompt new claims that the Government are still ignoring public concerns about immigration despite voters deeming it second only in importance to the economy.

Shadow Chancellor George Osborne said: ‘We have found out the Prime Minister’s internal thoughts. I think they speak for themselves. The Prime Minister has got a lot of explaining to do. The thing about general elections is that they reveal the truth about people.’

Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg added: ‘Everybody in every walk of life will mutter things underneath their breath they wouldn’t want people to know about.’

‘In an election campaign, you have got to give as good as you get but treat whatever questions you receive with the respect they deserve. I think saying something clearly fairly insulting to the lady in question is not right, it’s not right at all.’

Mrs Duffy had already filled out her postal vote for Labour and had it waiting to send on her mantelpiece before she met the Prime Minister.

She was left totally baffled by the attack and said she was ‘very upset’.

She said: ‘He is an educated person. Why has he come out with words like that? He’s calling an ordinary person who has asked him questions that normal people would ask him. And he’s calling me a bigot? I am [a life-long Labour supporter]. I will not be sending my postal vote.’

On her doorstep this afternoon, the Prime Minister battled to explain his reaction and claimed he had not understood her fully.

‘I wanted to come here and say to Gillian I was sorry, to say that I made a mistake, but to also say I understood the concerns she was bringing to me and I simply misunderstood some of the words that she used,’ she said.

‘I’ve made made my apology. I have come here, its been a chance to talk to Gillian about her family and about her relatives and about her own history and what she has done.

‘Most of all, it is a chance for me to apologise and say sorry and to say that sometimes you do make mistakes and you use wrong words and once you’ve used that word, and you’ve made a mistake, you should withdraw it and say profound apologies, and that is what I have done.’

The pensioner’s home was mobbed by the media but she stayed inside and Labour aides said she would not be saying anything further.

It is unclear who was to blame for the Prime Minister not unplugging his microphone and whether it is up to his aides to make sure it is turned off and returned to broadcasters.

Tony Blair in 1997 would only ever wear a Labour microphone to avoid exactly this type of mistake being caught on tape by the media.

Mrs Duffy said she had thought Mr Brown was ‘very nice’ after their chat but that she was not planning to vote at all now. ‘I thought he was understanding, but he wasn’t, was he?’

She had called for an apology but said she did not really want to speak to the Prime Minister again. ‘I want to know why those comments I said there, why I was called a bigot?’

On the Jeremy Vine show, Mr Brown insisted he blamed himself for the error but bizarrely said he was ‘being helpful to the broadcasters’ with the microphone as he rushed into his car.

‘They have chosen to play my private conversation with the person who was in the car with me,’ he said.

Labour desperately tried to claim that he had just been ‘letting off steam’ but Lord Mandelson, the party’s campaign chief, admitted there was no excuse.

‘It’s very regrettable that he did, there’s no justification for it. I’m afraid these things happen in politics, they happen in life. The right thing to do is what he did — to apologise,’ he said.

‘Politicians are human and they have these conversations, they have these encounters, they get into a car and say things in the heat of the moment. Sometimes you say things you simply do not mean, the moment you say them you regret it.’

He described the Prime Minister as ‘a man not just of political conviction but of a deep sense of moral purpose as well and compassion and fellow feeling for other people’.

‘That is why it will so upset him that in the heat of the moment he has in a sense betrayed those views and given a completely different impression. He feels mortified by the hurt to Mrs Duffy,’ he said.

‘Of course people will judge him, one way or the other but I can tell you he’s feeling now extremely sorry. It’s not because he’s been caught out. He doesn’t have these private feelings, it’s not what he believes.’

The Prime Minister’s Conversation With Gillian Duffy

Gillian Duffy: The thing that I can’t understand is why am I still being taxed at 66 years old because my husband’s died and I had some of his pension tagged on to mine?

Gordon Brown: Well we are raising the threshold at which people start paying tax as pensioners. But yes, if you’ve got an occupational pension you may have to pay some tax but you may be eligible for the pension credit as well, you should check.

Gillian Duffy: No, no I’m not. I’ve checked and checked and they said no, they can’t do it.

Gordon Brown: Well you should look at it again just to be sure, absolutely sure.

Gillian Duffy: Yes, yes they’ve told me. I’ve been down to Rochdale council to try and get it off my tax.

Gordon Brown: You know we’re linking the pension to earnings in two years’ time, we’ve got the winter allowance as you know which I hope is a benefit, the winter allowance.

Gillian Duffy: I agree with that, it’s very good, but every year I talk to people my age and they say they’ll be knocking it off, it will be going. It will be.

Gordon Brown: We’re keeping it. We have done the bus passes, we have done the free eye tests, free prescriptions.

Gillian Duffy: But how are you going to get us out of all this debt Gordon?

Gordon Brown: Because we have got a deficit reduction plan to cut the debt in half over the next four years. We’ve got the plans, they’ve been set out today. Look I was a person who came in…

Gillian Duffy: The three main things what I had drummed in when I was a child was education, health service and looking after people who are vulnerable. But there’s too many people now who aren’t vulnerable but they can claim, and people who are vulnerable can’t claim, can’t get it.

Gordon Brown: But they shouldn’t be doing that, there is no life on the dole for people any more. If you are unemployed you’ve got to go back to work. It’s six months…

Gillian Duffy: You can’t say anything about the immigrants because you’re saying that you’re… but all these eastern Europeans what are coming in, where are they flocking from?

Gordon Brown: A million people have come from Europe but a million British people have gone into Europe. You do know that there’s a lot of British people staying in Europe as well. Look, come back to what were your initial principles: helping people — that’s what we’re in the business of doing. A decent health service, that’s really important, and education. Now these are the things that we have tried to do. We’re going to maintain the schools so that we can make sure that people have that chance to get on. We’re going to maintain the health service so that…

Gillian Duffy: And what are you going to do about students who are coming in then, all this that you have to pay, you’ve scrapped that Gordon.

Gordon Brown: Which one?

Gillian Duffy: To help people who go to university.

Gordon Brown: Tuition fees?

Gillian Duffy: Yes.

Gordon Brown: Yeah but look we’ve got…

Gillian Duffy: I’m thinking about my grandchildren here. What will they have to pay to get into university?

Gordon Brown: You’ve got 40% of young people now going to university, more than ever, so you’ve got to have some balance. If you get a degree and you earn twice as much after you get the degree then you’ve got to pay something back as a contribution. But there are grants for your grandchildren, there are grants, more grants than ever before. You know more young people are going to university than ever before, and for the first year the majority of people going to university are women — so there’s big opportunities for women. So education, health and helping people, that’s what I’m about. That’s what I’m about.

Gillian Duffy: Well congratulations, and I hope you can keep it up.

Gordon Brown: It’s been very good to meet you, and you’re wearing the right colour today. How many grandchildren so you have?

Gillian Duffy: Two. They’ve just come back from Australia where they’ve been stuck for nine, 10 days with this ash crisis.

Gordon Brown: But they got through now? Yeah we’ve been trying to get people back quickly. But are they going to go to university? That’s the plan?

Gillian Duffy: I hope so. They’re only 12 and 10.

Gordon Brown: Oh they’re only 12 and 10. But they’re doing well at school?

Gillian Duffy: Yeah yeah, very good.

Gordon Brown: A good family. Good to see you.

Gillian Duffy: Yeah. And the education system in Rochdale — I will congratulate it.

Gordon Brown: Good. And it’s very nice to see you. Take care. Good to see you all. Thanks very much.

Gordon Brown gets in car.

Gordon Brown: That was a disaster…should never have put me with that woman. Whose idea was that?

Aide: I don’t know, I didn’t see her.

Gordon Brown: Sue’s I think. Just ridiculous.

Aide: Not sure that they’ll go with that one.

Gordon Brown: They will go with that one.

Aide: What did she say?

Mr Brown: Everything, she was just a sort of bigoted woman who said she used to be Labour.

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

UK: Gordon Brown Calls Campaigner ‘Bigoted Woman’

The Prime Minister was heard describing an exchange he had with a female voter on the campaign trail today as a “disaster”, calling her a “bigoted woman”.

Gordon Brown has been caught unawares calling a Labour-supporting pensioner who confronted him on the election campaign trail a “bigot”.

Gillian Duffy, a 66-year-old widow, told the Prime Minister that she was concerned about immigration from Eastern Europe.

Mr Brown chatted to her for five minutes and appeared to end the conversation amicably, telling her she came from a “good family”.

But he was unaware that his microphone was still on as he got into his car and sped away, and was heard berating his staff for allowing the encounter.

He told an aide: “That was a disaster. Should never have put me with that woman. Whose idea was that?”

When the aide said they did not know who was responsible, the Prime Minister snapped: “ridiculous”.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: Traveller Couple Terrorised Vulnerable Families Out of £2m Pretending They Were Dangerous IRA Members

A ruthless married couple funded a luxury lifestyle by telling vulnerable families they were linked to the IRA to con and terrorise them out of almost £2 million.

Travellers Dennis McGinley, 30, and his wife Bianca, 25, terrified victims from across the country into handing over a fortune and spent it on plush caravans and a fleet of luxury cars.

The biggest losers were a North Yorkshire farmer who was defrauded out of £1million and a father and son who lost £800,000.

Police said the victims had been involved in business deals with travellers and Dennis McGinley then came along making demands, purporting to represent interests associated with the IRA.

Two companies were stripped of their assets and closed and victims were forced to travel around the UK making cash and banking payments for McGinley.

Yesterday McGinley was jailed at Leeds Crown Court for eight years and his wife for three-and-a-half years after they admitted conspiracy to defraud.

In total the couple, from a travelling family based in Taunton, netted more than £1.9million over a three year period and splashed out on a Porsche 911, a Lamborghini, a Bentley Continental and a BMW X5.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: Young Mother Goes Blind ‘After Doctors Diagnose Deadly Brain Condition as Headache — Six Times’

A young mother has gone virtually blind after NHS doctors diagnosed her with headaches six times — missing the fact she had a potentially fatal build up of fluid on the brain.

It was only when Rachel Mulhall, 19, went to see a private consultant that her condition was diagnosed.

The delay in diagnosis has cost Ms Mulhall 80 per cent of her sight which doctors say may never return, according to the mother-of-one.

Ms Mulhall first went to see her GP last July after developing a headache which she says felt like something ‘crushing’ her head.

She saw a further five medics over the next month at Medlock Vale Medical Practice in Droylsden, Greater Manchester, Tameside Hospital and Manchester Royal Infirmary, all of whom diagnosed headaches and sent her home.

In desperation her parents arranged for her to see a private consultant at the Alexandra Hospital in Cheadle, Manchester.

On the same day Ms Mulhall, whose vision had been deteriorating for days, woke up completely blind.

‘My vision started to go a bit grey and blurry and I was being sick,’ said Ms Mulhall, who is mother to one-year-old Morgan.

‘I could just see objects but I couldn’t see colour. I couldn’t see the TV, I couldn’t use my phone.

‘I was trying to say something and my speech was coming out all slurred and different words were coming out.

‘We knew there was something wrong so we rang a private doctor. That was the day Morgan woke me up crying and I was totally blind.

‘I could hear her but I couldn’t see where she was. I had to feel my way to my front door and to my neighbour next door and she rang my dad.’

Doctors diagnosed a life-threatening build up of fluid on the brain and said if she had not been operated on within a couple of days she could have been left permanently blind, brain-damaged or even dead.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Vatican: Catholics Total Almost 1.2 Billion

Vatican City, 27 April (AKI) — As the Catholic Church struggles to contain the impact of the clerical sexual abuse scandal across several countries, the Vatican has released new data showing a dramatic increase in Catholics in Africa and Asia. According to the Vatican, the total number of Catholics around the world rose 11.5 percent to 1.166 billion between 2000 and 2008.

The biggest increases were recorded in the Third World — with a 33 percent rise in Africa and a 15.6 percent rise in Asia.

The Vatican said the number of faithful was backed up by a rise in clerics in Africa and Asia — up by 33 percent and 24 percent respectively.

The figures are contained in the latest Church’s statistical yearbook released by the Vatican on Tuesday.

They showed barely any increase in Europe in the same period and there is widespread speculation that allegations of sexual abuse by priests and lay brothers in the United States, Germany, Ireland, Switzerland, and Italy may drive more people away from the Church.

Between 2000 and 2008 the number of Catholics in Europe rose a “generally stable” 1.17 percent, according to the Vatican study.

Looking at the overall European population, the number of Catholics decreased by 2.5 percent comprising a total share of 24.31 percent.

In the Americas, which includes staunchly Catholic Latin America, the Catholic population expanded by 10.93 percent

The Vatican has come under fire for its poor response to the widespread accusations of clerical abuse.

Recent media reports from Germany said thousands of Catholics have turned their back on the Catholic Church with the scandal and the reinstatement of four other ultra-conservative bishops.

Only one in six German Catholics say they believe in the Church since the scandal, according to a March poll by Stern magazine.

A recent CBS News poll released showed more than two thirds of Americans think that Pope Benedict XVI has done a bad job in handling the crisis.

His favourability rating among US Catholics has fallen to 27 percent from 40 percent in 2006.

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

Vatican: Priest Celibacy Not ‘Untouchable’

Madrid, 27 April(AKI) — Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican’s second highest ranking official, said the vow of celibacy may be open to review in an interview with Spanish television. “It is not that it is untouchable,” the Vatican secretary of state told Catalan public television, before adding “there are married priests in the Catholic as well as oriental church.”

The interview was posted on the TV network’s website Tuesday.

But clerical celibacy is a “positive and fruitful tradition”, said Bertone (photo), who took part in the beatification ceremony of a priest in Barcelona on Sunday.

“It is the non-respect of celibacy that brings with it serious risks and that then has very painful consequences,” he said.

Bertone insisted that there was no link between celibacy and the paedophilia as the Catholic Church is besieged with accusations of clerical abuse.

“There is no direct link between celibacy and the deviant behaviour of certain priests,” he said in an interview published in the Catalan newspaper Vanguardia.

“On the contrary, it is precisely the failure to remain celibate that gradually degrades the life of a priest, until he ceases to be an example, a gift, a spiritual guide for others,” he said.

The Catholic scandal involves accusations of sex abuse by paedophile priests in several countries including Germany, Austria, Italy and Ireland. The Vatican has come under fire for its response to the incidents.

Bertone previously provoked outrage this month by linking paedophilia and homosexuality.

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

Work on Nuclear Power Stations to Start Within Three Years, Pledges Berlusconi

Putin’s “semi-private” visit. Memoranda on nuclear power and Abruzzo signed

MILAN — There was an “affectionate welcome” for Vladimir Putin, to whom Silvio Berlusconi “has been bound for many years by respect, friendship and affection”. The Italian premier was greeting his Russian counterpart at the start of the Villa Gernetto media briefing that followed the two leaders’ talks. At the top of the agenda was the delicate subject of energy.

NUCLEAR FUTURE — Mr Berlusconi said: “We talked a lot about the future of energy in the world and signed an agreement that could mark a turning point for nuclear energy. The project could bring about a step change in energy production for future generations” (a reference to the memorandum of agreement for collaboration in view of the construction in Russia of the “Ignitor” experimental thermonuclear reactor). The PM then made his announcement — work on Italy’s first nuclear power station “will begin within three years” — and assured listeners that economic development minister Claudio Scajola intends to get started before the end of the legislature. “Before we decide on a site for a nuclear power station, Italian public opinion must change”. Mr Berlusconi added: “We need to carry out a vast campaign of persuasion regarding the safety of the new power stations. In France, local communities take to the streets to get power stations, which create a lot of jobs. They compete to have them”.

RAI TV MESSAGE — Hence the idea for a public service message on RAI TV. “I talked it over with executives from the state-owned broadcaster and we are working on a project to gather the testimony of French citizens living near power stations, and to air it in Italy. The job will take more than a year but it is necessary”, said Mr Berlusconi. Andrea Lepore, who is in charge of Greenpeace’s anti-nuclear campaign, commented: “It’s bizarre that Berlusconi should choose the anniversary of Chernobyl to launch his nuclear propaganda campaign on RAI television”. “This is yet another propaganda announcement for nuclear power and it shows how difficult it is for Berlusconi to get Italians to accept a wrong-headed, uneconomic decision”, added the Democratic Party’s (PD) Ermete Realacci.

REACTIONS — There were plenty of reactions to Mr Berlusconi’s nuclear announcement. Laura Puppato, the PD’s environment policy spokeswoman, said: “Berlusconi should get more information. There is no environmentalist extremism refusing to tolerate nuclear power. There’s only common sense, linked to an international scenario that is investing all its resources in renewable energy. The EU reckons that uranium stocks will last for 50 or 60 years”. Claudio Saroufim, the environment spokesman for the Workers’ Communist Party (PDCL)-Left Federation, quipped: “Three years to start work on the first power station? Let’s hope the government falls before then”. Massimo Donadi, leader of the Italy of Values (IDV) group in the Chamber of Deputies, said: “No power stations will be built in Italy. On 1 May, the IDV starts collecting signatures and the referendum will sweep aside this colossal nuclear swindle”. Meanwhile, the referendum on building power stations and stockpiling nuclear waste in Sardinia has been put back to the autumn. On 1 April, the region’s referendum office approved the text submitted by the committee, which collected more than 16,000 signatures. Voting is likely to take place in October.

ENI — Returning to the meeting’s energy discussions, there was an announcement in the context of Italian-Russian co-operation that ENI could expand its collaboration with Gazprom beyond Europe, for example to Africa. Mr Berlusconi said: “We will continue along the road of Gazprom-ENI collaboration [committing a minor gaffe when he referred to “the Soviet Union” instead of “Russia” — Ed.] and I think that there could be collaboration with non-European countries. The entire continent of Africa is opening up to foreign companies and we would not want to leave China to soak up this new potential on its own”.

CRISIS — Mr Berlusconi pointed out: “Sadly, we have recorded an almost 30% drop in movements between Italy and Russia, a dip that is related to the crisis. We hope that the recovery can take commercial exchanges back to the 2008 level”. Mr Putin expressed a hope that Russia and Italy could return to pre-crisis levels of economic co-operation. At the media briefing, the Russian prime minister said: “We need to take active steps to restore our level of co-operation. We’ve got what it takes. In the aftermath of the world crisis, exchanges fell by 38%. Normally, energy is viewed as the foundation of co-operation, and for the most part that is the case, but it is not the only thing we do together”. The reference was to Italo-Russian collaboration in the engineering, chemicals and aerospace sectors.

L’AQUILA — Despite the crisis, Moscow announced it was setting aside 7.2 million euros for the restoration of Palazzo Ardinghelli and the church of San Gregorio Magno. Remarking on this 7.2 million-euro “gesture of friendship”, Mr Berlusconi told Mr Putin that “he should feel under an obligation to accept the invitation to attend the first mass when the church of San Gregorio Magno at L’Aquila is re-opened. And he will come”.

LIBERAL UNIVERSITY — The meeting was held at Villa Gernetto, which is planned to be the home of the university so close to Mr Berlusconi’s heart. The prime minister explained to reporters that work on the university was making progress and that a large number of internationally influential politicians had been contacted to teach there. He added: “I would like the first professor to start a course to be Vladimir Putin”. A smiling Mr Berlusconi said: “I have asked him and from his reply I can tell that he would not be averse to the idea”.

SOCHI 2014 — Mr Berlusconi then assured his friend of Italy’s support in organising the Winter Olympics: “We hosted a Winter Olympics at Turin with great success, and for Sochi 2014 we are willing to hand on all our experts’ experience to the experts of the Russian Federation. We put it at their disposal with immense joy. We have also discussed other events that Russia intends to host, including the football World Cup”.

MARRIAGES — Finally, Mr Berlusconi replied to a question on what is needed to make “political marriages” work. “I’m an expert in many fields, in town planning, publishing, sport and public administration, but I haven’t had happy results in my marriages and I refrain from offering suggestions on the subject. It takes two to quarrel but you only need one for a divorce, as I was told by someone you know”. Mr Berlusconi’s last remark was clearly a reference partly to his marital vicissitudes with Veronica Lario and partly to his recent political problems with Gianfranco Fini.

English translation by Giles Watson

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


Bosnia: Srebrenica, Bosnian Serbs Do Not See it as Genocide

(ANSAmed) — BELGRADE, APRIL 27 — The Serbs of Bosnia continue to consider that there was no genocide in Srebrenica and that the resolution that condemns the massacre that was adopted by the parliament in Belgrade at the end of March is in no way binding. In an interview today with Serbian daily newspaper Vecernje Novosti, the Premier of the Republika Srpska (RS, the entity of Bosnia and Herzegovina with a Serb majority), Milorad Dodik, criticized Serbia for adopting a document in which genocide is evoked and for not having treated the other crimes perpetrated in the Balkans in the same way. “The Republika Srpska will continue to fight for the declaration of the truth, because admitting to genocide would mean its end,”said Dodik. In this opinion, “pressed by the High Representative of the International Community in Bosnia, the government of the Republika Srpska was forced to produce a report on Srebrenica in 2004, quoting events and figures that were subsequently revealed as being imprecise.” Dodik says that this report in fact speaks of some 7,000 victims instead of 3,500. “We have information on the basis of which over 5,000 people who appear on this list are alive, and information that indicates that more than 250 people buried in the village of Potocari (near Srebrenica) were in reality not killed in Srebrenica,” said the Bosnian Serb Premier. “No-one wants to make light of the crime committed, but we want to eliminate the manipulation,” he added. “Our position is clear” went on Dodik. “If anyone should offer us entry into Europe in exchange for the admission that there was genocide in Srebrenica, I won’t accept it.” (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

EU: Frattini: Candidate Status to Serbia by Mid 2011

(ANSAmed) — BELGRADE, APRIL 27 — Italy fully supports an acceleration of the process giving Serbia the status of candidate to EU integration and hopes that this will be reached at the latest by the middle of 2011. This is according to Italy’s Foreign Minister, Franco Frattini, who was speaking to the daily newspaper Blic and begins a visit to Belgrade today. Frattini said that Italian diplomats were working flat out to ensure the opening up of the Stabilisation and Association Process (SAP) between the European Union and Serbia, an important step on the route towards EU access. Italy believes that Belgrade meets all the requirements asked of the role Serbia would play in Europe, according to Frattini. He added that the abolition of visas for Serbian citizens heading to EU countries and the unblocking of the transitory trade agreement with the EU, both decided last December, were two decisive steps on the road towards Serbia’s European integration. Frattini then alluded to the EU-Balkans conference scheduled for June 2 in Sarajevo, underlining that the occasion represents a great opportunity for confirmation that the future of the Western Balkans lies within the European Union and a chance to sustain the advance of all countries in the region towards EU access. The Belgrade newspaper says that Frattini’s visit to Serbia is the most important visit by an Italian politician ahead of the upcoming visit to Belgrade by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

EU: Frattini: Albania and Bosnia Probably Visa-Free in October

(ANSAmed) — LUXEMBURG, APRIL 27 — “The Italian wish for an announcement during the Sarajevo conference on the Balkan area in June may come true”, said Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini. He referred to the possibility of a liberalisation of visas for Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina. “This way a final decision can be made in October” Frattini added from Luxemburg, “and by autumn the visa free regime could be guaranteed to Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina as well”. Frattini will go to Serbia today for a visit that will also take him to Kosovo.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy-Serbia: EU; Tadic to Frattini, Thank You for Support

(ANSAmed) — BELGRADE, APRIL 28 — The President of Serbia, Boris Tadic, thanked Italy in yesterday’s meeting in Belgrade with Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini for its “great support” to Serbia’s European integration. Tadic and Frattini — the presidency wrote in a statement — said that relations between the two countries are at a “high level”. President Tadic, the statement continues, underlined that Minister Frattini has supported the liberalisation of visas and the police reform in Serbia, evidence of his belief in “Serbia’s sincere intensions to become a full EU member”. Minister Frattini arrived yesterday afternoon in Belgrade, where he had a meeting with President Tadic over dinner. Today he will meet Serbia’s Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic and the Vice Premier in charge of European integration, Bozidar Djelic. Later this morning he will go to Pristina for meetings with the Kosovar leaders.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy Backs EU Membership for Serbia

(ANSAmed) — BELGRADE, APRIL 28 — Italy strongly backs Serbia’s ambition to join the European Union and thinks Belgrade should more quickly to present its request for membership status, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said on Wednesday. Speaking here at a joint press conference with his Serb counterpart, Vuk Jeremic, Frattini explained that the request should be presented before the summer so a decision on its membership status can be made by Hungary when it takes over the EU rotating presidency for the first half of 2011. At the same time, he added, efforts must be made to get an Association and Stabilization Agreement (SAA) for Serbia, a key step towards EU membership, back on track. Once drafted the SAA must be approved by all EU members and Frattini said “Italy wants to be the first country to ratify it once it gets a green light from the European Commission,” the EU executive. During the press conference, Frattini said that the question of the breakaway Serbian region of Kosovo should not be regarded as an obstacle for Serbia joining the EU. After stating that additional conditions cannot be tacked on for membership, Frattini said “we appreciate the practical and flexible approach shown by (Serb) President Boris Tadic and Foreign minister Jeremic and we are certain Serbia will act in a constructive way to find a solution acceptable to both sides”. Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia in 2008 and Italy was among the first countries to recognise it as a sovereign republic. Serbia has never accepted the declaration and has been backed by Russia, which has used its veto power on the UN Security Council to block UN recognition. The EU, which has not adopted an officials stance on Kosovo, has organised an conference on the Balkans in Sarajevo on June 2 and Frattini has been in the region twice this month to convince countries with EU ambitions to participate, including Kosovo which he will visit later on Wednesday. However, Foreign Minister Jeremic said at the press conference that Belgrade does not want Kosovo to be represented in Sarajevo unless the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) is also. UNMIK was set up in 1999 under Security Council Resolution 1244 which, among other things, recognised the sovereignty and territorial integrity of what remained of the former Yugoslavia after the Helsinki Final Act, to which Serbia is now the recognized successor state and that at the time included Kosovo. “Serbia has always had a constructive approach to the (Kosovo) question. However, certain lines cannot be crossed including those established in Resolution 1244 which said Kosovo cannot be represented in any seat anywhere in the world in a way which is in contrast to the resolution,” Jeremic said. Nevertheless, the foreign minister added that Serbia was convinced that “with a common commitment and constructive approach we can find a solution which will allow us all to be in Sarajevo”. In order to overcome this obstacle, Frattini has been pushing for the June 2 conference to use the so-called ‘Gymnich format’, in which participants, usually foreign ministers, meet informally around a table in which they represent themselves and not their countries. Frattini said at the press conference that he will try to convince Kosovar authorities to accept this format when he is in Pristina Wednesday afternoon. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

North Africa

Cinema: Algeria Has Not Resolved the Issue of Identity

(ANSAmed) — PARIS — Almost half a century after independence, Algeria is still trying to resolve the piercing issue of its identity. This conclusion was made by Malek Bensmail, author of a documentary acclaimed by French critics for its rigour, beautiful images that stand out ever more due to the luminosity of the Aures mountains, and the power of its evidence. In cinemas from today, ‘China’s still faraway’ takes its enigmatic title from the phrase of the prophet: “Search for knowledge as far as China if necessary” and was filmed in the village considered to be the birthplace of the Algerian revolution, Ghassira, in the north west of the country. On the night of October 31, 1954, the fight for independence exploded throughout the country with some 70 attacks by the National Liberation Front. A group attacked a car in Ghassira carrying the local caid (the most influential person in the village) and a French couple, who were teachers at the village school. Guy Monnerot, 23, was killed and his wife was seriously injured. Almost half a century later, the school is still there and it is the heart of the documentary. Bensmail spent many months in Ghassira, filming over a class at length, focussing on the difficulties that pupils have in learning classical Arabic “which has somehow become the language of power”, the Algerian dialect, the Berber language of the region of the pre-Saharan Atlantic marked by a strong Berber culture, and French which is indispensable for moving on to secondary education. A real muddle for the poor schoolchildren who speak only dialect at home and which certainly doesn’t help them find identity. “School is the Gordian knot of the problem of the evolution of a country,” underlines Bensmail who allows the story and the memory to filter as if by chance: a stele opened where the attack took place, people who try to remember who was there that night, an old man who gets worked up behind a grille and months after being filmed tells the camera how he shot Monnerot. Exciting moments such as the tales of ex pupils of the young teacher who became the symbol of the fight for independence, who talk about a story that is different to the one that the teacher teaches in line with state programmes. In this magnificent landscape that has an austere beauty, there is general poverty, abandonment of the region, dreams that have evaporated, the harsh reality of women’s condition summed up in the character of the caretaker Rachida, the most beautiful character in the film. In a five-minute sequence which takes your breath away, Rachida talks of a life full of misery and suffering, without anger or tears, but without joy, because, as she puts it, “I have never had a single day of joy.” So far none of the ten documentaries filmed by Bensmail in the last 15 years about the social and institutional reality of his country have been officially shown in Algeria. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Egypt: 26 People Convicted for Links With Hezbollah

(ANSAmed) — CAIRO, APRIL 28 — An Egyptian court has convicted 26 people for planning terrorist attacks in Egypt and for links with Lebanese group Hezbollah. The judge Adel Abdel Salam Gomaa, from the special court for state security, sentenced the men — Libyans, Palestinians, Egyptians and one Sudanese national — to prison terms of between 6 months and 25 years. The announcement of their detention by Egyptian authorities has increased tension between Egypt and Hezbollah.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Tunisia: Pilgrimage to Dherba Synagogue, Maximum Alert

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, APRIL 28 — The Ghriba synagogue, in the village of Er Riadh on the island of Djerba (in Southern Tunisia’s Gulf of Gabes) will host a pilgrimage between April 30 and May 2 for at least 5,000 Jews coming mainly from North African countries. Celebrations in Africa’s oldest Jewish place of worship (the synagogue was built over 2,500 years ago) will mark the 33rd day after the Jewish Easter. The opening ceremony for the celebrations will feature an address by Tunisia’s Chief Rabbi, Haim Bittan. Some commentators say that the presence at the ceremony of Tunisia’s Tourism Minister, Slim Tlatli, reinforces the climate of fraternity and friendship that exists among Tunisia’s various religious and social groups. Proof of this comes from the figure of Roger Bismuth, a Tunisian Jew, parliamentarian and founder of the group that bears his name, which specializes in the food, chemical, electrical and services industries. The build-up to the event, however, has not been entirely positive. On April 14, Maya Jribi, general secretary of the Progressive Democratic Party (PDP) was reported by the Palestinian news agency Paltoday as having asked the government “to ban Israelis from coming to Djerba”. Such stances aside, though, security measures have been stepped up significantly over the last few days. Nobody has forgotten the attack on the Synagogue on April 21 2002, which claimed 21 lives, mostly German tourists. Responsibility for the attack was claimed by Al-Qaeda.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

East Jerusalem: No Freezing on Construction, Mayor

(ANSAmed) — JERUSALEM, APRIL 28 — No freezing on Jewish construction projects in East Jerusalem has been decided, the mayor Nir Barkat has said during a visit to the United States. Barkat denied reports that appeared in the press, which said that the Prime Minister, Benyamin Netanyahu, had quietly ordered Jewish building sites to be frozen in order to overcome tensions with the United States and to allow the launch in the near future of indirect talks with the Palestinians. “You cannot stop the growth of a city as dynamic and as full of life as Jerusalem,” said Barket, according to military radio. “We will continue to build in Jerusalem, for both the Jewish and Arab populations”. Barkat said that American criticism of the building projects in East Jerusalem — which was heightened by the visit to the city of U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden — had an effect on Israel of “a slap across the face”. There was a period of reconsideration but now, he concluded, the crisis seems to have been overcome. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Gaza: Arab Bank Fires Employees, Fears for Future

(ANSAmed) — GAZA — The forthcoming redundancy of about seventy Arab Bank employees, out of a total of one hundred, has caused shock in Gaza. Local sources say that the Arab Bank’s decision has brought concern to the local population, amid fears that other credit institutes might also reduce their presence in the Gaza Strip. It would seem that measures have been taken as a result of difficulties linked to the continuing blocking off of the area. A number of important banks are present in Gaza, including Falastin Bank, the Islamic-Palestinian Bank, the International Palestine Bank, Cairo-Amman Bank and Jordan Bank. Meanwhile, Arab Bank employees have sent an appeal to King Abdallah of Jordan, in the hope that he might intervene to cancel the redundancies.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Middle East

Emirates: 6 Convicted for Financing Taleban

(ANSAmed) — DUBAI, APRIL 28 — Sentences of up to 4 years in prison for collecting money to finance terrorist activity have been handed out by the supreme federal court of the United Arab Emirates to 5 local men and one Afghan. The sentence marks the first ever conviction of Emirati nationals over terrorist charges, Gulf News says. The six men, who had maintained their innocence, were found guilty of collecting and sending money for Taleban activity and of attempting to set up a fundamentalist group designed to impose stricter observance of the principles of Islam. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Iran: Pasdaran: An Opposition Leader “Could be Killed”

According to the newspaper loyal to Ahmadinejad, the attack will be carried out by the reformers themselves, who instead see in the news a possible preparation of public opinion. The article takes place shortly after the announcement of Karroubi of a demonstration for June 12. 101 journalists in prison.

Tehran (AsiaNews) — An Iranian opposition leader “could be killed.” This is the claim being made by Javan, the Revolutionary Guard, or Pasdaran, daily newspaper. It attributes the assassination to the reformers themselves, who plotting with the CIA and Mossad, want to use the assassination as a tool to revive the “green” movement. The article, published Sunday, has greatly worried the opposition. “The Green Voice of Freedom”, sees it as an attempt to manipulate public opinion in preparation for possible violent acts.

The article also comes almost simultaneously with the announcement made by Karroubi in an interview with Der Spiegel, that the opposition has asked permission to organize a demonstration on June 12, the anniversary of the disputed re-election of President Ahmadinejad Mahomoud . Moreover, the “green” camps notes intensifying rumours in government press regarding Karroubi’s ‘poor health’. Rumours which the leader’s wife, Fatemeh, believes indicate the intention to move against her husband.

Announcing the event in June, Karroubi said that “people should know that we continue our struggle. That is not against the Islamic Republic, but the implementation of the Constitution which guarantees freedom of thought and democracy. “ An objective that is far from easy, since, as pointed out by another opposition leader, Mir-Hossein Mousavi (pictured), “we no-longer have any newspapers”.

Besides the fact that, according to opposition sources, there are an estimated 101 journalists being held in Iranian prisons, almost all arrested last year on, many of which we have no news.

Radio Zamaneh reports that Mousavi also stresses the need to “update our methods” and “find new ways” to raise awareness that “Islam does not beat people, does not stop people, does not defame people, it does not put people in chains or create restrictions. We must continue to inform people”, he adds, “of all these “problems” through virtual media, meetings, families and interviews”.

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

New Rape Allegations From Siirt Shake Turkey

Siirt province in Southeast Turkey draws the country’s attention once again for sexual crimes against minors. The media coverage exposing alleged abuse of teenage girls has brought to light a story from last year about eight children at one boarding school allegedly committing rape. The government responds, saying the media is wrong to report such an old story

Blood-chilling allegations against eight children raping two toddlers at a boarding school in Siirt have shocked the country just a week after accusations of broad sexual abuse of teenage girls in the same province came to light.

Last week’s media coverage of school abuse in the province helped reveal the alleged rape at a boarding school in the Southeast Anatolian province’s Pervari district one year ago.

Eight male students ranging in age from 11 and 14 were alleged to have carried out the sexual attacks last year against a 2-year-old boy and a 3-year-old girl.

The boarding school in Pervari is part of the Regional Boarding Schools, or YIBO, network and is designed for children with insufficient economic means.

The students allegedly attempted to kill both toddlers; while the girl succumbed to her injuries, the boy survived with severe injuries.

The eight students allegedly gained access to the toddlers by threatening their cousin who was also a student at the boarding school.

Siirt Gov. Necati Sentürk said Monday that the alleged perpetrators were in their houses with their families but were not under arrest.

Government responds

Education Minister Nimet Çubukçu accused the media Monday of sensationalism, saying it isn’t necessary for the press to focus on a story that occurred a year ago.

Criticizing the media’s coverage of the story, Çubukçu said the press should have run it only if the authorities had neglected to take action, which was not the case.

She also said she could see no use in reporting on the story a year afterward given that the rehabilitation of some of the alleged perpetrators was already complete.

Threats against girl

In her testimony, the 14-year-old female cousin of the toddlers said that while the class was planting trees, two of the alleged perpetrators approached her, demanding to take her picture. When she refused, the boys allegedly pushed her to the ground, pulled off her sweatpants and took her picture while the other one restrained her.

The boys then allegedly use the photographs to blackmail the girl, asking her to bring her young cousins to them.

The girl said she was afraid because of the photographs and first brought her 2-year-old cousin to the boys, who allegedly raped him next to the Serkani River before trying to drown him in the river. The boys left, assuming the toddler was dead.

Meanwhile, the father of the small child informed police that his son was missing on April 15, 2009, resulting in a police search.

The boys went to the place where they had left the child and, upon seeing that he was still alive, brought him to the town center purporting to have found him.

Later, the same group allegedly demanded that their classmate bring a small girl and the student brought her 3-year-old cousin, who was allegedly raped and murdered by the students.

Gov. Sentürk, informing the press about the incident, said police had detained nine suspects after the event, three of whom were arrested, with the rest being placed in state care and sent to a state orphanage.

The students stayed there until Nov. 23, 2009, before being returned to their families. The three arrested children, meanwhile, were released pending trial on March 22, 2010, the governor said.

Sentürk said the local court did not yet have the results of the forensic report.

According to Dogan news agency, however, the forensic report showed the suspects were aware of the results of their behavior.

The investigation against the alleged perpetrators, meanwhile, is still ongoing, private news channel NTV reported Monday.

Experts speak out

Meanwhile, an expert on the issue said the alleged perpetrators might be former victims of abuse as well.

Professor Rüstem Ertan, from the sociology department of Dicle University in Diyarbakir, said the background of the suspects should be examined deeply as well, he told private new channel CNNTürk.

“The defendants might be victims of other [similar] events as well,” he said, adding that the age group of youth studying in boarding schools should be deeply examined.

Lawyer Türkay Asma, the second president of the Association for the Prevention of Child Neglect and Abuse, told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review that the Forensic Medicine Institute is required to prepare a report on the psychiatric status of the children to determine whether they are aware of the act they committed. At the same time, she said it was crucial that a child psychiatrist be present during the suspects’ examination.

Professor Dr. Burhanettin Kaya, general secretariat for the Psychiatric Association of Turkey, also said it was highly important that the minors be subject to a decent psychiatric examination at the Forensic Medicine Institute.

“Even if children between the ages of 11 and 15 are aware they are carrying out an act of a sexual nature, they still may not evaluate it as a crime,” Kaya said.

Considering the probability of the children being sent to prison after trial, Kaya said he agreed with Asma, adding that the very concept of prison should be questioned because jail time might actually “reinforce the crime rather than rehabilitate” the children because minors can be subjected to violent acts while imprisoned.

According to data from the Psychiatric Association of Turkey, research made among 16,000 children in Turkey revealed the rate of subjection to abuse was 33 percent.

The research showed that factors such as poverty, unemployment, a lack of social support, domestic turmoil and violence or too many children in one family increased the possibility of minors being subjected to abuse.

A committee from the main opposition Republican People’s Party, or CHP went to Siirt for both incidents.

New detentions

Meanwhile, three more people were taken into custody in the ongoing investigation into the alleged rape of seven girls in Siirt by dozens of people over two years, adding to the 15 people who are already under custody with the same allegations.

The girls were also students at a YIBO and were allegedly raped by the deputy principle of the school, among others.

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

Saudi Arabia Set to Need 4 Mln More Jobs by 2020

(ANSAmed) — RYADH, APRIL 28 — Saudi Arabia will need to provide four million more jobs by 2020 to meet demands from a rapidly growing population, officials have said, as Arabian reported. Ali Al-Ghufais, governor of the Technical and Vocation Training Corporation (TVTC), told the Saudi Gazette there was already tremendous pressure on the jobs market. “By the year 2020, we need to provide four million more jobs,” he told the paper. Official figures, quoted by the paper, by the Ministry of Planning show that by 2020 the kingdom’s population will reach 33.5 million — 29.7 million Saudi nationals and 3.8 million expatriates. Al-Ghufais said government training programmes would be able to generate up to four million jobs to satisfy the predicted demand. Recruitment programmes by the Ministry of Labour in the oil and gas and industrial sectors was helping to meet current unemployment, he concluded.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Skype Looks to Middle East, States Sceptical

(ANSAmed) — DUBAI, APRIL 28 — Skype, the internet telephone and messaging services, is looking to the Middle East and the Gulf with a strategic plan to include partnerships (to be signed soon) with service suppliers in individual countries, the chance to install the application on mobile phones in the area and the opening of a local office, a proposition made attractive by the demographic curve and the high number of foreigners. The plan is being outlined by Skype’s director for the Middle East and Africa, Ruzbeh Pasham who was quoted by The National daily. The world’s most popular Voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP) service already serves 560 million clients and was used for 12% of international phone calls made in the world in 2009. However, it is seen as a threat to national telephone services in a number of countries in the area and is still banned in Kuwait, Oman and the United Arab Emirates. In the UAE, though, there are some geographical areas in which connections are possible and the telecommunications authority, while it has upheld the ban on Skype, has authorised two telephone operators — Etisalat and Du — to activate VOIP applications. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

South Asia

Afghanistan: Ross Kemp Captured the Moment ‘Friendly Fire’ Bomb Killed Three British Soldiers

Ross Kemp captured the moment three British soldiers were killed by a ‘friendly fire’ American bomb blast in Afghanistan.

The soldiers would not have died if a radio operator had been supplied with a headset, an inquest heard yesterday.

Privates Aaron McClure, 19, Robert Foster, 19, and John Thrumble, 21, were blown up as their unit sustained heavy fire from the Taliban.

But it was a 500lb bomb launched by an American F15 jet which killed the young men after their colleague called on U.S. forces for assistance.

In extremely hostile conditions, forward air controller Sergeant Mark Perren appealed for urgent aerial support against the Afghan insurgents.

But, deafened by enemy mortars, the lack of a headset meant he could not hear properly.

The inquest heard he gave the Americans the correct eight- digit coordinate for the airstrike, but replied ‘Roger’ after they were incorrectly repeated back to him.

The lack of the headset last night led to renewed criticism of the Government over the way British troops are equipped.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Doctors Sterilise Uzbek Women by Stealth

WHEN her baby died soon after delivery, Gulbahor Zavidova, 28, a poor farmer’s wife, longed to be pregnant again. After months of trying she and her husband visited a doctor who told her she could never have another child because she had been sterilised.

The procedure had been performed immediately after she gave birth, by doctors who did not ask her consent. On learning she could not bear children, her husband left her.

“Not a day passes without me crying,” she said. “I was outraged when I found out what they had done. How could they do such a horrible thing without asking me?”

According to human rights groups, tens of thousands of young women like Zavidova have been sterilised without their consent in the authoritarian former Soviet state of Uzbekistan.

Uzbek sources say the measure was ordered by Islam Karimov, the president, who has ruled with an iron fist for 20 years. The policy is aimed at keeping down the country’s poor population — with 28m people, it is Central Asia’s most densely populated state.

Activists say mass sterilisation began in 2003, but was eased after two years following an outcry. It is said to have restarted in February this year, when the health ministry ordered doctors to recommend sterilisation as an “effective contraceptive”. Critics claim every doctor was told to persuade “at least two women” a month to have the procedure. Doctors who failed faced reprisals and fines.

“We estimate that since February, about 5,000 women have been sterilised without consent,” said a local human rights campaigner who fears detention if she is named.

[Return to headlines]

Far East

North Korean General “Rewarded” For Sinking Cheonan

Seoul opens an investigation into the promotion to four-star general of Kim Myong Guk. He was demoted after the skirmish at sea last November that caused the destruction of a ship from the North. The sinking of the South Korean ship would have determined his return to favour.

Seoul (AsiaNews / Agencies) — The order to scuttle the Cheonan — the South Korean corvette that sank last March 26 in waters of the Yellow Sea, causing 46 victims — was given by a former North Korean general, who has regained his position after the surprise move. This is the new line of investigation opened by the authorities in Seoul, after the images displayed by the North Korean state television, showing the senior officer Kim Myong-Guk wear a uniform with four stars on the collar.

Last January, the senior officer Kim (pictured), who heads the Army operations centre of Pyongyang, was downgraded to three star general. An intelligence official in Seoul confirmed the investigations started “on the grounds of the promotion”, which could be linked to” the sinking of Cheonan, but there are currently no formal conclusions.

According voices inside the regime, the loss of the pip is linked to the confrontation between vessels of the two armies along the inter-Korean maritime border, which occurred last November. Gunfire caused the destruction of a coastguard vessel of the North Korean navy.

Intelligence experts in Seoul suggest that the sinking of Cheonan — a 1200 ton battleship — was caused by a North Korean submarine, or a torpedo manned by a kamikaze. To date, no official accusations have been made against the north, but investigations seem to lead towards Pyongyang, as instigators and perpetrators of the attack.

Last weekend the General Kim Myong-Guk — flaunting his four stars — appeared on television with the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il, near a military base camouflaged by the vegetation.

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

Vietnam: 35 Years After Fall of Saigon

As Richard Nixon observed in a speech given long after his retirement: “No event in American history is more misunderstood than the Vietnam War. It was misreported then. It is misremembered now.” Arguably, most misreported and most misremembered is the post-Tet of 1968 time period of the war and the media treatment of the Vietnamese effort to fight their own battles as the American drawdown continued. Misremembered and misreported are the facts that our Vietnamese allies, with the assistance of American airpower, had largely defeated the northern invaders during the Easter Offensive of 1972. Snatched from the jaws of victory, American negotiators traded away hard-fought battlefield gains for empty communist promises while Congress later turned the fiscal screws to our allies when victory, or at least freedom from northern domination, might have been theirs.


For the left-behind 17 million citizens of the Republic of Vietnam, which ceased to exist the moment the U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet retired over the eastern horizon, memories of that day are far different. While April 30, 1975, really did signal the conclusion of American involvement, all that changed for our discarded former allies was the manner of struggle and degree of difficulty. There would be no moving on. The new communist masters would impose a different kind of peace. It would be peace with retribution, peace with subjugation, peace with no forgiveness and peace with maximum pain.

America’s investment in Vietnam was significant. Aside from the tens of billions of dollars spent to fight the war, 58,000 men paid the ultimate price. Several times that number were wounded, and every man who endured combat has been marked forever by that experience.


The South Vietnamese paid an especially heavy price for being the American lapdogs and lackeys they were accused of being by many in the media, the northern communists and anti-war American college students. In the military of the Republic of Vietnam, more than 220,000 men were killed in action and more than a million were wounded. Civilians, of course, paid an even higher price with more than 1.5 million killed — the highest percentages killed by the communists during their final invasion in 1975. The number of wounded and displaced civilians, many times the number killed, will never be accurately assessed.


With all the pain and suffering the war in Vietnam caused, it is important to focus on the gain, and gain there was. The American and free-Vietnamese effort in Vietnam, however flawed the outcome, did buy time for the rest of Asia’s economies to grow free of the communist threat. The dominoes were kept upright. Lee Kwan Yew, founding prime minister of Singapore, was perhaps most strident in his observations at the conclusion of the Vietnam War: “It was the Americans who stopped the Chinese and Vietnamese communists from spreading insurgency into Cambodia and Thailand … Because Americans were resolutely anti-communist and prepared to confront them, Nehru, Nasser and Sukarno could afford to be nonaligned.”

Vigorous free-market economies throughout all of Asia today, in part, owe their successes to the American and free-Vietnamese blood investment that blunted what otherwise then might have been an unstoppable communist juggernaut. Investors the world over who now, without a thought, profitably invest billions in the emerging markets might ponder what the face of Asia would look like had Americans not shown up in force in the 1960s to stand beside a people who really were hoping to live outside of communist domination.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


European Council Criticises Italy

(ANSAmed) — STRASBURG, APRIL 28 — The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) denounces the “maltreatment” suffered by migrants during the operations in which they are sent back by the Italian authorities. In the report that was released today, the CPT analyses seven of these operations carried out between May 6 and July 31 2009, in which migrants were sent back to Libya and Algeria. This is the way some operations are described in the report: migrants are left on the deck of a ship with little water and no food or cover for up to 12 hours, after a journey that has lasted days and that has dehydrated them, leaving them in a state of confusion and sometimes coma. Some of them — the report continues — are potential asylum seekers, or people who have received temporary documents from the UNHCR. There are also pregnant women and children. In some cases people had to be taken to hospital due to the maltreatment, others saw all their possessions being taken from them, never to be given back. “In most cases we didn’t receive the information directly, because we couldn’t go to Libya, but the witness reports agree on many details” said Jean-Pierre Restellini, member of the CPT delegation that visited Italy. Restellini underlined: “After 20 years of working for the CPT, I think I know to distinguish between facts and lies”.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Pro-Illegal Demonstrator Says Illegals Will Kill Americans With Pickaxes

Americans for Legal Immigration PAC is releasing a video clip today that shows an illegal alien supporter in Arizona claiming that shovels and axes will be used against Americans just prior to the riot where police officers and American citizens were assaulted by the mob protesting SB 1070.

“We will not stop! We will take up our shovels and pickaxes and we…we will use them against you! Believe that!” screams an opponent of Arizona’s tough new bill addressing illegal immigration.

Several organizers supporting the opponents of the bill can be seen trying to stop illegal alien supporters from accosting American citizens that support SB 1070.

Despite intense efforts by illegal alien organizers and police to keep the angry crowd back, a large Hispanic male in a red sport jersey that reads “Warner 13”ries to push past handlers and another voice screams “(garbled) you can’t argue with a puto!”

The Urban Dictionary defines a puto as a “Spanish word for a male prostitute. sometimes it´s offensive for homosexuals. in Mexico it is used for cowards and traitors”

Americans for Legal Immigration PAC (ALIPAC) is circulating this video to the nation via national press release today. The video is also being sent to ALIPAC’s 30,000 national supporters for comment and circulation with encouragements for activists to send copies to state and Federal lawmakers.

ALIPAC is also issuing an advisory to law enforcement agencies across America in anticipation of the May 1 illegal alien protest scheduled nationally by Congressman Luis Gutierrez and the National Council of La Raza (The Race).

“We just want to make sure that our police agencies in these towns and cities where similar groups of angry illegal alien supporters plan to gather on May 1, are fully and properly informed,” said William Gheen of ALIPAC. “We are asking our supporters to make sure their local police are aware of the riots, assaults on police, assaults on Americans, and murderous slogans advocating armed rebellion documented in this video, as well as others coming out of Arizona.”

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Spain: Catalonia Studies Host Certificates

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, APRIL 28 — Catalonia will be the first Spanish autonomous region to pass a law on immigrants, introducing “host certificates”, having legal validity within the aregional government and local administration jurisdiction. The regulation was anticipated today by daily newspaper La Vanguardia, and will impose a knowledge of the Catalan language on new incoming foreigners, by means of basic courses lasting 135 hours organised by the Generalitat; notions on the labour market, on Catalan society and the regulatory framework. The certificate will facilitate the obtainment of the Municipalities report to certify acquisition of social roots and the obtainment of citizenship, as it may be used as proof in the courts; it will promote renewal of temporary residence permits, as well as job-seeking. Catalan government sources say the objective of the new law is to promote the integration of immigrants and the extension of first care facilities throughout the region’s territory. The only condition to access these care facilities, to be set up in all the Municipalities with over 20,000 inhabitants, is to be enrolled in the municipal register, so that even irregular immigrants, without residence and work permits or who have received expulsion orders, will be able to avail themselves of these care facilities, as already happens for the health and education services. The law, to be passed shortly, will be applied progressively, starting 2011 and will reach full implementation in 2016, with a planned investment of 306 million euros. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Culture Wars

Muslims Want Franklin Graham Censored Again

‘Our nation’s founders wouldn’t have tolerated it, and neither should we’

Muslims have demanded that Christian evangelist Franklin Graham be booted from yet another National Day of Prayer service, prompting officials with the National Day of Prayer Task Force to condemn as “ridiculous” the idea that religious leaders should be excluded from public events because of their faith statements.

The controversy began when the Army disinvited Graham, president and CEO of Samaritan’s Purse and son of famed evangelist Billy Graham, from a prayer service at the Pentagon. Graham said his invitation to be honorary chairman at the May 6 event was revoked after Muslim members of the military complained about his description of Islam after the 2001 terrorist attacks as “a very evil and wicked religion.”

Muslim activists then announced they were trying to get him barred from a National Day of Prayer event scheduled with members of Congress, too.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Tony Perkins: I See ‘Hostility’ Toward Christianity

Family Research Council chief confirms ‘politically correct’ options diminishing

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, says he sees more and more limits being placed on what is “politically correct” for Christians to do.

“I see an environment being created that is hostile to Christianity,” he said. “Two months ago, I was disinvited to speak at Andrews Air Force Base. Just last week … Franklin Graham [was] disinvited to pray at the Pentagon on the National Day of Prayer.”

He said that “shows that this isn’t about political activity. It’s not about public policy positions. It really comes down to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

“We’ve seen the circle being drawn smaller and smaller in terms of what’s politically correct,” Perkins said.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


‘2nd Face’ On Shroud Points to Supernatural Origin

Another image of crucified man revealed during restoration

Scientists examining the Shroud of Turin since the restoration that began in 2000 have found a “second face” on its reverse “hidden side,” a discovery they believe adds evidence to the argument it is not a medieval painting or photographic rendering.


The researchers, other words, found a “doubly superficial” face image on both the front and back sides such that “if a cross-section of the fabric is made, one extremely superficial image appears above and one below, but there is nothing in the middle.”

The shroud, therefore, they concluded, was not created by paint soaking through the linen or by a photographic image printing through to the reverse side, because the front and back facial images are not identical and the center fibers show no image creation whatsoever.

Fanti and Maggiolo concluded the shroud image was created by a “corona discharge,” understood as a radiant burst of light and energy that scorched the body image of the crucified man on the topmost fibers of the shroud’s front and back sides, without producing any image on the centermost of its linen fibers.

“Imagine slicing a human hair lengthwise, from end to end, into 100 long thin slices; each slice one-tenth the width of a single red blood cell,” writes Daniel Porter, editor of “The images on the Shroud of Turin, at their thickest, are this thin.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Hewlett-Packard to Buy Palm for $1.2 Billion

Hewlett-Packard said on Wednesday that it would acquire Palm, the struggling cellphone maker, for $1.2 billion in cash.

Palm had begun exploring a sale as it continued to struggle in the marketplace. While the company has won acclaim for webOS, its new smartphone operating system, its new products like the Pre and the Pixi have failed to draw customers away from rivals like Apple and Research in Motion.

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Talc Link to Raised Womb Cancer Risk: Once a Week Use Increases the Threat by 24 Per Cent

Using talcum powder just once a week to keep fresh can raise the risk of womb cancer by up to 24 per cent, a study has claimed.

It warned that powder particles applied to the genital area can travel into a woman’s body and trigger inflammation, which allows cancer cells to flourish.

Around 40 per cent of women are thought to use talc regularly as part of their personal hygiene routine.

Previous studies have linked talcum powder use with ovarian tumours.

However, this is the first research to suggest that it could also cause womb, or endometrial, cancer, a disease that kills around 1,000 women a year in England and Wales.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]