Friday, January 10, 2003

News Feed 20100508

Financial Crisis
»Greece: PM Tribute to Victims, Austerity to Proceed
»Italy: Banks Face ‘Modest’ Risk From Debt Crisis
»Manipulation, Not Error, Behind Market Plunge
»Obama Working to Keep Fed’s Secrets
»Arizona to Eliminate Speed Cameras on Highways
»Communists Given Invitations to Enter US
Europe and the EU
»Belgium Risks Break-Up and ‘Kosovo’ Situation
»Even Traffic Lights Are an Issue in the Belgian Language Dispute
»FPÖ and Spanish Party Sign Friendship Agreement
»France: Four New Metro Stations in Marseilles
»The Copenhagen Protocol: How China and India Sabotaged the UN Climate Summit
»The Netherlands, Italy in Dispute Over Cheap Gas
»UK: Cheerio to Those Cheats: Cheerful Jacqui Smith Heads Casualties of Expenses Fiasco
»UK: Fiasco That Would Shame the Third World
»UK: Harrods Department Store to be Sold
»UK: Nick Clegg: The Media Star Who Flopped in Real Politics
»UK: One Teenager in Five Leaving School Unable to Read or Do Maths
»UK: Polling Station Pantomime: Thousands Could Sue After Lockouts in Key Marginals
»UK: War Criminal Attacked in Prison
»UK: Why Solar Hot Water Panels Are the New Double Glazing: They Don’t Work Much of the Time and Take 100 Years to Pay for Themselves…
»Water: Malta: French Ondeo Systems Install Remote Meters
»Italy First Partner of Albania
»Turkey is Rediscovering Balkans, Says Croatia Envoy
Mediterranean Union
»EU Boosts Euromed Paper Industry Partnerships
North Africa
»Algerian Government Ready to Take Over Orascom Capital
Israel and the Palestinians
»Israel ‘Committed to Peace’ Says Peres
»Italy-Israel: President or Rome Province Visits Tel Aviv
»Obama Administration Continues to Supply Israel With Advanced Weapons
»PNA: Italy Promotes Human Rights Protection Project
Middle East
»Arab States to Establish a Terrestrial Network
»Iraq: Archbishop Condemns Deadly Christian Attacks
»Syrian President in Turkey for Talks on Israel
»The Return of Uncle Joe
Australia — Pacific
»Budget Spending Targets Radicals: Report
»New Zealand: Global Warming Fears Seen in Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Patients
Sub-Saharan Africa
»2-Month Ban on Mauritanian Industrial Fishing
»Africa: First Arab Language Satellite Channel Launched
»Nigeria: Petition: Yerima Marriage to 13yr Old Child
»Arizona Governor Hits Back Against Obama Border Remark on Youtube
»Finland: Major Unemployment Differences Among Immigrant Groups
»Firm Sues Sweden Over Dislodged Muslim Lawyer
»Italy: Police Smash Fake Residency Permit Scam
»Tom Tancredo: The Next Arizona Earthquake
»UN Blasts Sweden Over Egypt Expulsion
Culture Wars
»Denmark: Gay Adoption on the Lawbooks
»Flag Wars! Teen Gets 3-Day Cinco De Mayo Suspension

Financial Crisis

Greece: PM Tribute to Victims, Austerity to Proceed

(ANSAmed) — ATHENS, MAY 7 — Greek Premier Giorgio Papandreou paid tribute today to the victims of the massacre on Wednesday during a protest in Athens against the austerity measures of the government. Papandreou placed a red rose in front of the Marfin Egnatia Bank where three employees, two women, one of whom was four months pregnant, and a man, lost their lives following an incendiary attack presumably committed by anarchists. Also today, the victims’ funerals took place, while police continue with investigations to identify those responsible. After the approval by Parliament of the austerity plan and more protests and clashes, the unions are continuing to prepare for another 24-hour strike next week. But the premier repeated that “there is no alternative” and that they will proceed. Together with the rage against the measures passed by the government, anger is mounting against the man who 85% of Greeks consider to be “the main individual responsible” for the financial situation: former Premier Costas Karamanlis. After being absent for months, he reappeared yesterday in Parliament to vote against the austerity plan. Karamanlis, who for some time has avoided appearing in public, along with several of his former ministers, due to fears about the anger of the Greek people, and who yesterday was in semi-hiding sitting in one of the last rows in Parliament, is becoming increasingly openly criticised in the press, by politicians and factions of his New Democracy (ND, right-wing) party. Yesterday, Papandreou accused him in Parliament of pushing the country into the abyss, “falsifying” figures on the deficit, and he exclaimed: “Where is Karamanlis? Why is he hiding? Why doesn’t he speak?” President Karolos Papoulias asked for “those responsible for the crisis to be punished” and Papandreou announced the formation of a Parliament-led investigation: a difficult move for the premier who still hopes bringing ND together with his party to break the political isolation on the economic policy. But to do this it will be necessary to convince new party leader Antonis Samaras to break with Karamanlis, throwing him out of ND and allowing him to stand trial. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Banks Face ‘Modest’ Risk From Debt Crisis

Milan, 7 May (AKI) — Italy faces only a “modest” risk from Europe’s spreading debt crisis, according to a major international debt-rating agency. Moody’s Investors Service updated its comments on Friday, a day after saying that Italy’s banks were among the countries most at risk from the effects of the Greek debt crisis.

“The effort required for the country to keep the debt under control seems relatively modest compared to other European countries where corrections are brutal,” the ratings agency said in a report presented in Milan Friday.

“Italy seems to be relatively stable. The situation is manageable.”

Moody’s on Thursday said the Greek fiscal crisis could spread to banks in Italy, Portugal, Spain, Ireland and the United Kingdom.

Italy’s central bank reacted by saying that the country’s lenders are “robust” enough to weather “tensions, even of considerable intensity.”

There are “fundamental differences” among European economies as is reflected in our ratings, Moody’s senior-vice president Kristin Lindow said at Friday’s Milan conference.

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

Manipulation, Not Error, Behind Market Plunge

The major media say the chaos on Wall Street was the result of a “trader error, possibly a typo,” as the Washington Post put it. Some reports claim the culprit was a “fat finger” on a computer somewhere that pressed the wrong key. But Zubi Diamond, author of the Wizards of Wall Street, says these claims are all lies. “What happened in the market on Thursday is a typical example of pure market manipulation” by unregulated hedge short sellers.

His book, whose subtitle refers to the scam that elected Barack Obama, warns that the same hedge fund short sellers were behind the financial crash of 2008 that paved the way for Obama’s election to the presidency.

Diamond says the historic market plunge on Thursday was “due to computerized hedge fund short selling because there is no protection for the invested capital in the equity markets. There is no uptick rule, no circuit breakers and no trading curbs. Our market is primed for manipulation.”

Diamond is referring to financial regulations, which have been repealed, designed to prevent market manipulation.

Diamond has been adamant in his view that the financial reform bill being pushed by Obama and liberal Democrats on Capitol Hill will do nothing to solve this problem and regulate the hedge fund short sellers.

“No one will come on TV to tell the truth,” he complained. Instead, he says representatives and apologists for the hedge fund short sellers, who operate as the Managed Funds Association (MFA), “go on TV and provide false explanation of what happened.”

Diamond says these false explanations include claims of trader error and computerized glitches.


Diamond said that one stock, Accenture, with the ticker symbol ACN, dropped from $44 dollars to .01 cent per share within 15 minutes, and recovered back to $41.00 dollars. Apple computer ticker symbol AAPL dropped 60 points in 15 minutes. It went from $258 down to $199 and then recovered to $248. All of this happened within a 15-minute period.

All of this is possible, he says, because there is no uptick rule, no circuit breaker and no trading curbs. All of these regulations were repealed, meaning that the risk and fear of investing have been transferred solely to the common investors “as the hedge fund short sellers operate with impunity looting the invested capital of American families,” he explains.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Obama Working to Keep Fed’s Secrets

Amendment endangers plans for look into money-control procedures

Texas Republican Rep. Ron Paul says an amendment in the U.S. Senate is endangering a plan supported overwhelmingly in the U.S. House that calls for an audit of the Federal Reserve, the private organization that sets interest rates and money policy affecting everyone in the United States.

For decades those decisions have been made behind closed doors, and Paul has been trying to open the door and allow some light to fall on the procedures.

He has pointed out even though the Federal Reserve “can enter into agreements with foreign central banks and foreign governments,” the General Accounting Office “is prohibited from auditing or even seeing these agreements.”

“Why should a government-established agency, whose police force has federal law-enforcement powers, and whose notes have legal-tender status in this country, be allowed to enter into agreements with foreign powers and foreign banking institutions with no oversight? Particularly when hundreds of billions of dollars of currency swaps have been announced and implemented, the Fed’s negotiations with the European Central Bank, the Bank of International Settlements, and other institutions should face increased scrutiny, most especially because of their significant effect on foreign policy,” Paul has said.


The pushback against Paul’s proposal originated in the Oval Office, according to reports.

The New York Daily News said the original plan was shot down by the White House because Obama wants to protect the Fed’s current levels of privacy. The opposition had come from Deputy Treasury Secretary Neal Wolin, who said the audit plan posed problems.

So Sanders’ proposal was changed, according to Paul, to strip language demanding an audit and insert softer language that “exempts monetary policy decisions, discount window operations, and agreements with foreign central banks.”

Paul said, “This is of particular concern when several countries such as Greece, Portugal, and Spain are seeking IMF help in the midst of their financial crises, because American taxpayers provide fully 17 percent of all IMF funding,” Paul said.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Arizona to Eliminate Speed Cameras on Highways

Arizona is ending a groundbreaking and contentious program that put speed cameras along Phoenix-area freeways and in vans deployed across the state.

Opponents have argued the cameras open the door for wider “Big Brother” surveillance and are more about making money than safety. The program has been the target of an initiative measure proposed for the November ballot.

Even Gov. Jan Brewer has said she doesn’t like the cameras, and her intention to end the program was first disclosed in her January budget proposal. That was followed by a non-renewal letter sent by the Arizona Department of Public Safety this week to the private company that runs the program.

Scottsdale-based Redflex said Thursday that the 36 fixed cameras will be turned off and the 40 vans taken off highways on July 16, the day after its state contract expires.

[Return to headlines]

Communists Given Invitations to Enter US

Communists are no longer infiltrating our country; they’ve been invited in as our guests. The 4/30/2010 Statesman Journal (SJ) headlines said that the Nordic choir at North Salem High School was preparing to sing praises to the former South Africa President and Nobel Peace Prize winner Frederik Willem deKlerk. The soloist was asked about possible jitters. She said she’d just picture herself among the many groups of South Africans who fought against apartheid.

The only African-American in the Nordic choir, sang and played Nelson Mandela as part of the presentation. “One thing I remember reading about him is that he gets up every morning and makes a big fruit bowl for breakfast, then makes his bed, then works out on his treadmill,” said the young man. “I try to do the same every day. I feel honored to play him.” This, dear folks, is the brainwashing your innocent, vulnerable children are getting in most public schools — deliberate dumbing down of America.


Revisionist history books choose to overlook how Winnie Mandela put rubber tires around dissenters to the communist regime, doused them with gasoline and set them on fire in the public square as a warning to anyone who dared object to the dictators. An 8/16/1987 article in the SJ talked about how Oregon should be alert to the red menace — real or not and quoted again a 11/11/1960 SJ editorial that said: “First, we must teach our teachers about communism and its fallacies. Then we must be sure our youngsters are allowed to pit democracy against communism in the classroom.”

Another 8/16/1987 article in the SJ told about a peace activist, piano tuner and card-carrying Communist by the name of Ed Hemmingson receiving a $20,000 settlement from the Oregon State Fair because Fair officials ordered him in 1981 to move his booth to a site with less foot traffic after three men with blackened faces and wearing military-style fatigues picketed the booth with signs that read, “Commies Go Home” and “Commies Stop Here.” And then a 2/3/1988 SJ article told how Hemmingson, from Albany, Oregon. a “community organizer” for the Communist Party, had received a $5,000 settlement from Oregon State University when they removed him from one of its buildings for distributing political leaflets. He said he planned to use the $5,000 settlement to promote peace. What an oxymoron!


Dimitry Manuilski, an instructor at the Lenin School of Political Warfare in Moscow said in 1939, “Today, of course, we are not strong enough to attack. Our time to attack will come in thirty to forty years…the Western world will have to be put to sleep. So we shall begin by launching the most spectacular peace movement on record. There shall be electrifying overtures and unheard of concessions. The capitalist countries, stupid and decadent, will rejoice to cooperate in their destruction. They will leap at another chance to be friends. As soon as their guard is down, we shall smash them with our clenched fist.” Did readers notice all the clenched fists at the May 1st Communist rallies?

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Belgium Risks Break-Up and ‘Kosovo’ Situation

A former Belgian prime minister has warned that national elections next month could lead to the break up of Belgium and a potentially explosive “Kosovo” situation in the heart of Europe.

Bruno Waterfield in Brussels

Mark Eyskens, an economics professor and the country’s Christian Democrat premier in 1981, said that Belgium stood on the brink of disaster.

Bitter fights for political control between Belgium’s Flemish-Dutch speakers and francophone Walloons caused the collapse of the Belgian government two weeks ago, forcing early elections, to be held on June 13.

Opinion polls published earlier this week, showed that separatist Flemish parties, who support secession and the creation of an independent Flanders in the north of Belgium, were close to winning a majority of Dutch speaking voters.

Mr Eyskens, 76, predicted that victory for the separatists would lead to a breakaway Flanders “for the simple reason that French-speaking people and the inhabitants of Brussels would never accept” a constitutional separation.

He warned Flemish nationalists that in the event of an “unhappy and unfriendly” break-up, the remaining “petite Belgique” would block European Union membership for Flanders, leaving the new state isolated and struggling for international recognition.

“Independence for Flanders is likely to make Flanders a type of Kosovo,” he said.

Mr Eyskens ruled out a violent Balkans style break up of Belgium but nevertheless stressed that the resulting diplomatic war and economic fallout from a split would be disastrous.

“In Belgium blood never runs, saliva runs much more. But it is saliva which can cost us dear because we are a very vulnerable country economically,” he said.

The former Belgian prime minister, of Flemish origin, forecast that a Flemish separatist majority would instantly create a Greek style economic “catastrophe” for Belgium, which has one of Europe’s highest levels of public debt.

“The separatists risk undermining Belgium’s financial credibility, with extremely serious and negative consequences for the economic future,” he said.

Opinion polls published on Thursday found that the separatist New-Flemish Alliance, or NVA, had the largest share of the vote in Flanders, with 23 per cent, for the first time. Other nationalist parties, including the far right Vlaams Belang had 16.5 per cent.

           — Hat tip: TV[Return to headlines]

Even Traffic Lights Are an Issue in the Belgian Language Dispute

The bilingual electoral district that encompasses the, mainly French-speaking, capital and the Flemish villages surrounding it caused the collapse of the Belgian government. How do people living there feel?

By Jeroen van der Kris in Kraainem

Belgian flags were flying from buildings in Kraainem, one of the municipalities on the edge of Brussels. French-speaking residents here had hoisted them to express their concern over the future of their country. Their call for unity seems an odd one at a time when politicians on both sides of the language divide are fighting in the streets. The offices of the national government that fell last month are just 20 minutes away from here, but they might as well be located on an other planet. People in this green and affluent town of 13,000 say there are no tensions between the Dutch and French-speaking population. They often drink a glass of wine with their neighbours, regardless of the language they speak.

But at the political level, emotions run high in Kraainem, part of the multilingual electoral disrtict surrounding Brussels. Kraainem is part of Flanders, but most of its residents speak French. The people here voted in a French-speaking mayor in 2006, but the Flemish government has been stalling his official appointment since. The mayor had sent out letters in French prior to the election, something he wasn’t allowed to do, according to Flemish politicians.

Four police officers guarded the entrance of the town hall during meetings of the local council last week. Their presence is standard procedure, as Flemish nationalists have disrupted the meetings with in the past. Five Flemish council members sat on the one end of the hall, their 18 French-speaking counterparts on the opposite side. All were required to speak Dutch during meetings in this municipality, but not everybody was able to.

Accusations of arrogance

The meeting dealt with a subsidy request for an Indian development project. “We don’t object,” a Flemish member said. “But the application was written in French. We at least need a Dutch copy.” A French-speaking city executive explained the proposal had been written by students from Kraainem. After some insisting from the Dutch-speaking side she promised she would have the letter translated by civil servants.

A council member questioned this choice. “Would it be too much to ask the student to write it themselves? You are going against article 30 in the constitution here. If this happens, we will have to turn to the provincial authorities.” A fellow Flemish member agreed, calling the executive’s attitude arrogant.

“And you are not arrogant,” she countered sarcastically.

A new eruption followed as the meeting neared its end. A French-speaking council member submitted a motion asking the government to have the municipality of Kraainem merge with the bilingual capital. The five Flemish members got up and marched out of the hall. The motion was accepted by the remaining council members with applause.

After the meeting, members of both sides were chatting on the front steps. They gave an explanation for the show thad had taken place inside: there had been two TV cameras present. Mayor Arnold d’Oreye de Lantremange pointed to a van of the French TV station RTBF. “That B is for Belgium,” he said. “But the V in VRT is for Vlaams (Flemish).”

‘Nibbling’ at French-speakers’ rights

The next day, Dominique Houtart (75), a former banker and one of the French-speaking council members was keen to explain the differences between French speakers and the Flemish. During a ride around the town, he pointed to a green area. “My family has owned this land since 1800. So don’t let the Flemish fool you into thinking we are new here,” he said.

The language border between Flanders and Wallonia was drawn in 1962. People in the Dutch-speaking north can only vote for politicians from Flemish parties. Residents of the southern part of the country only have Walloon parties. But the Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde electoral district is the exception to this rule. People living in the 35 Flemish municipalities surrounding Brussels can vote for parties from both sides in the bilingual capital.

Kraainem is a special municipality in a special area. French-speakers have a little more rights — ‘facilities’ — here than in other Flemish towns, but Flemish politicians are trying to tinker with them, said Houtart. He calls it grignotage, nibbling. “They are like squirrels.”

“Before, you only had to make a single request to file your taxes in French. Nowadays, you have to renew the request every single year. Organisations can receive millions in subsidies from the Flemish government if they focus on their Flemish character. French-speaking organisations can only get subsidies from the municipality. We are allowed to have a French school here, but now the Flemish government wants to inspect it,” Houtart said.

Ban on referenda

“I think it is fairly simple: why don’t we hold a referendum about where Kraainem belongs?” he proposed. “But the Flemish have put it in the constitutions that no referenda can be held on subjects regarding the language problem.”

In Kraainem, even the poles of the traffic lights are a matter of content. From Houtart’s care, one could see the poles were striped red and white, as they are in Brussels. Anywhere else in Flanders, the poles would be black and yellow. The official explanation is easier visibility, but black and yellow also happen to be the colours of the Flemish flag. Houbart laughed at the observation. “A Flemish council member has already raised this issue.”

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

FPÖ and Spanish Party Sign Friendship Agreement

The Freedom Party (FPÖ) and the Spanish party “Platform for Catalonia” (PFC) have signed a friendship agreement, FPÖ leader Heinz-Christian Strache announced today (Fri).

Strache and PFC leader Josep Anglada I Rius said at a Vienna press conference today that both parties supported an end to mass immigration and the “Islamisation” of Europe, social justice and a “Europe of Fatherlands” based on the principle of federalism rather than centralism.

Strache added that both parties also backed the support of “traditional” families and the right of self-determination for all the peoples of Europe.

Anglada said he was convinced that his party’s programme would become popular throughout Spain.

Strache claimed that German newspapers’ characterisation of the PFC as radically right and racist was “absurd and defamatory” just as many had tried to create “a false picture” of the FPÖ.

He added that the PFC had “vehemently” rejected racism and had nothing to do with totalitarian ideology.

Strache said the two parties would cooperate in sponsoring some joint events and work together to oppose Turkey’s accession to the European Union.

FPÖ General Secretary Harald Vilimsky added that the PFC did not support the secession of Catalonia from Spain.

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

France: Four New Metro Stations in Marseilles

(ANSAmed) — PARIS, MAY 5 — The Mayor of Marseilles Jean-Claude Gaudin today opened four new underground stations, the first since 1984. The work, which started in 2005 and cost about 417 million euros, has enabled the extension of 2.5 kilometers of line one toward the north-east, up to La Fourragere quarter. It is an extension which is essential to the city’s development and to improve living conditions for the citizens of Marseilles, said the city Mayor, where the presence of immigrants, especially from the Maghreb, is particularly high. The new stations will serve Saint-Bernabé quarter, now 12 minutes from the Saint-Charles railway station, whereas Fourragere quarter is 10 minutes from the Old port. The new section should enable to decrease car traffic volume toward the city centre. The Marseilles underground, started in 1973, has two lines covering a total of 21.1 kilometers with 28 stations. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

The Copenhagen Protocol: How China and India Sabotaged the UN Climate Summit

By Tobias Rapp, Christian Schwägerl and Gerald Traufetter

What really went on at the UN climate conference in Copenhagen? Secret recordings obtained by SPIEGEL reveal how China and India prevented an agreement on tackling climate change at the crucial meeting. The powerless Europeans were forced to look on as the agreement failed.

At some point his patience was at an end, as depleted as the oxygen in the small conference room. He could no longer keep still, not even for a second.

The words suddenly burst out of French President Nicolas Sarkozy: “I say this with all due respect and in all friendship.” Everyone in the room, which included two dozen heads of state, knew that he meant precisely the opposite of what he was saying. “With all due respect to China,” the French president continued, speaking in French.

The West, Sarkozy said, had pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent. “And in return, China, which will soon be the biggest economic power in the world, says to the world: Commitments apply to you, but not to us.”

Sarkozy, gaining momentum, then said: “This is utterly unacceptable!” And then the French president stoked the diplomatic conflict even further when he said: “This is about the essentials, and one has to react to this hypocrisy!”

A hush came over the room. Even the mobile phones stopped ringing. It was Friday, Dec. 18, 2009, at about 4 p.m. That was the moment when the world leaders meeting in Copenhagen abandoned their efforts to save the world.

The Summit within the Summit

The world’s most powerful politicians were gathered in the “Arne Jacobsen” conference room in Copenhagen’s Bella Center, negotiating ways to protect the world’s climate. US President Barack Obama was perched on the edge of a wooden chair with blue upholstery, talking to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. The blue turban of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was bobbing over the tops of a few hastily assembled potted plants. The meeting was soon dubbed the “mini-summit of the 25.”

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi was there, representing the African continent, and Mexican President Felipe Calderon was standing nearby. Only one important world leader was missing, an absence that came to symbolize the failure of the climate summit: Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao.

Instead, Obama was sitting across from China’s deputy foreign minister, He Yafei. It was a diplomatic affront that would be mentioned during the course of the meeting.

Even three months after the noteworthy events at the climate summit in Copenhagen, the Chinese leader still seemed to feel a need to publicly justify his absence in the room at the time. And those who were present are still not entirely clear as to what was actually agreed during the negotiations.

Since the Copenhagen showdown, international climate politics have faltered like a mortally wounded animal — something that can also be observed at the meeting taking place this week at the Petersberg conference center outside Bonn, Germany.

Reconstructing the Decisive Meeting

The public was kept almost completely in the dark about the hectic crisis meeting that took place behind closed doors in Copenhagen and dragged on for 10 hours. The Chinese are said to have openly warned their Danish hosts against indiscretions.

Now, for the first time, SPIEGEL is in a position to reconstruct the decisive hour-and-a-half meeting on that fateful Friday. Audio recordings of historical significance, in the form of two sound files that total 1.2 gigabytes in size and that were created by accident, serve as the basis for the analysis. The Copenhagen protocol shows how the meeting Gordon Brown called “the most important conference since the Second World War” ended in a diplomatic zero. As if viewed through a magnifying glass, the contours of a new political world order become visible, one shaped by the new self-confidence of the Asians and the powerlessness of the West.

“What are we waiting for?” Chancellor Merkel says in English, hoping to bring the faltering negotiations back on track. Meanwhile, more than 100 other world leaders, people who apparently had no say in the matter, were getting bored in the plenary chamber next door. They apparently believed, erroneously, as it turned out, that the 25-member mini-summit would produce some sort of document.

In fact, an oppressive mood had already spread through the halls of the congress center. The motley collection of environmental activists had been locked out of the conference by then, leaving only their abandoned booths standing in the no man’s land of the world’s supposed saviors.

‘Any Objections’

Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen opened the meeting in the Arne Jacobsen room. Even though he was the host, Rasmussen lacked experience in the rules of engagement on the international stage, and he seemed a little disoriented in the maze of international climate politics. He said that a draft agreement had been worked out which reflected the concerns of the participating countries. “I think we have to now ask if there is some major objections,” he said quietly in his not-quite-perfect English.

With little assurance left in his voice, he turned over the microphone to one of his legal advisers, who rattled off the corrections of mistakes that had crept into the hastily written draft agreement.

When has it ever been the case at an international conference that world leaders had to concern themselves with such minor details? “I don’t think anything like this has ever happened, and I’m not sure whether something like this will ever happen again,” says UN chief negotiator Yvo de Boer.

Environment ministers and bureaucrats had presented their bosses with a 200-page bundle of documents, because they had been unable to agree on emissions levels, reduction measures and control measures. When the heads of state and government arrived on Thursday, they were shocked by the chaos their subordinates had left for them after 10 days of negotiations.

Part 2: ‘We Need Some More Time’

On Thursday evening, Denmark’s Queen Margrethe hosted a gala dinner for world leaders at the parliament building. On the sidelines of the event, the Chinese leader heard a rumor that the US government had scheduled an important round of negotiations without inviting him personally. Wen Jiabao was offended and withdrew to his hotel room, where, to the irritation of the other leaders, he remained for much of the remainder of the conference.

Instead, he sent his negotiator He Yafei to the nightly meeting of world leaders. Together, they asked the Danish host to reduce the maze of documents to a few, key pages. They still contained bold statements, such as the goal of a 50-percent reduction in global CO2 emissions by 2050 (compared with a 1990 benchmark). That kind of a commitment would have required that the United States, China and India also agree to cut their greenhouse gas emissions in half. At that point, Achim Steiner of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) was still rejoicing over the potential agreement, saying: “This isn’t a train wreck. It really has teeth!”

With a success of this magnitude, the European leaders, especially Angela Merkel, would have been able to return home for the Christmas holidays with their heads held high.

Playing for Time

But now, on Friday afternoon, the Chinese negotiator looked at the document from the previous evening and said: “Mr. President, given the importance of the paper, we do not want to be rushed… We need some more time.” Yafei is one of his country’s top diplomats, a cosmopolitan man with frameless glasses who has a better command of the English language than many of the world leaders who were sitting at the same negotiating table.

He Yafei was playing for time and constantly requesting interruptions, because he needed to confer with his prime minister, Wen Jiabao. Merkel upped the pressure, saying: “So we just have to go.”

There were still two important placeholders, X and Y, in the draft agreement. They marked the spots where the percentage targets for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, for the industrialized nations and emerging countries respectively, were to be entered. “We cannot go over and say nice things but x and y wait please one year or so,” Merkel said. The German chancellor was determined to secure a commitment from China and India to participate in the climate protection efforts.

But China and India were unwilling to make that commitment. Behind the backs of the Europeans, they had apparently reached their own agreement with Brazil and South Africa. “We have all along been saying ‘Don’t prejudge options!,’“ said a representative of the Indian delegation*, prompting Merkel to burst out: “Then you don’t want legally binding!”

This, in turn, prompted the Indian negotiator to say angrily: “Why do you prejudge options? All along you have said don’t prejudge options and now you are prejudging options. This is not fair!” Chinese negotiator He Yafei stood by this remark.

Breach of Process

British Prime Minister Brown, speaking in a sonorous voice, tried to mediate. “I think it’s important to recognize what we are trying to do here,” he said. “We are trying to cut emissions by 2020 and by 2050. That is the only way we can justify being here. It is the only way we can justify the public money that is being spent to do so. It is the only way we can justify the search for a treaty.”

Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg pointed out that it was the Indians who had proposed the inclusion of concrete emissions reductions for the industrialized nations in the treaty.

But India had made an about-face within hours and was no longer interested in his own proposal. An unidentified member of the group was outraged, saying: “I am surprised that our Indian friend would say that an amendment by the Indian environmental minister this morning is no longer there. This is a breach of process.”

Merkel took one last stab. The reduction of greenhouse gases by 50 percent, that is, limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius, was a reference to what is written in the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report. Then she directed a dramatic appeal at the countries seeking to block the treaty: “Let us suppose 100 percent reduction, that is, no CO2 in the developed countries anymore. Even then, with the (target of) two degrees, you have to reduce carbon emissions in the developing countries. That is the truth.”

Refusing to Give In

Of course, Chinese negotiator He Yafei knew perfectly well that Merkel was right, which was precisely why he could not possibly agree with her proposal. It would have meant that China was required to check its economic development. Double-digit growth figures would no longer be an option for the Asian giant.

The Chinese diplomat refused to give in to the Europeans’ demands, saying: “Thank you for all these suggestions. We have said very clearly that we must not accept the 50 percent reductions. We cannot accept it.”

This was the point where Sarkozy, who had had enough, accused the Chinese of hypocrisy. As one of the attendees recalls: “There was a sense that we had reached a logjam, an abyss.”

Finally, the politician spoke up whose claim to being the most powerful man in the world would soon be based solely on his many nuclear weapons: US President Barack Obama. By that point, hardly anyone in the room dared to even bite into the soggy mozzarella sandwiches that were constantly being served.

Part 3: Obama Stabs the Europeans in the Back

Like the Europeans, the US president was also intent on securing a commitment to protect the climate from the new economic superpowers, China and India. “I think it is important to note that there are important equities that have to be considered,” he said, with a distinctive note in his voice that suggested the foresight of a statesman.

Obama reminded his fellow leaders that the industrialized nations are also dependent on the will of their citizens to contribute to saving the climate. “From the perspective of the developed countries, in order for us to be able to mobilize the political will within each of our countries to not only engage in substantial mitigation efforts ourselves, which are very difficult, but to also then channel some of the resources from our countries into developing countries, is a very heavy lift,” Obama said. Then, speaking directly to China, he added: “If there is no sense of mutuality in this process, it is going to be difficult for us to ever move forward in a significant way.”

Finally, Obama addressed the diplomatic snub the Chinese prime minister had delivered with his absence: “I am very respectful of the Chinese representative here but I also know there is a premier here who is making a series of political decisions. I know he is giving you instructions at this stage.”

But then Obama stabbed the Europeans in the back, saying that it would be best to shelve the concrete reduction targets for the time being. “We will try to give some opportunities for its resolution outside of this multilateral setting … And I am saying that, confident that, I think China still is as desirous of an agreement, as we are.”

‘Other Business to Attend To’

At the end of his little speech, which lasted 3 minutes and 42 seconds, Obama even downplayed the importance of the climate conference, saying “Nicolas, we are not staying until tomorrow. I’m just letting you know. Because all of us obviously have extraordinarily important other business to attend to.”

Some in the room felt queasy. Exactly which side was Obama on? He couldn’t score any domestic political points with the climate issue. The general consensus was that he was unwilling to make any legally binding commitments, because they would be used against him in the US Congress. Was he merely interested in leaving Copenhagen looking like an assertive statesman?

It was now clear that Obama and the Chinese were in fact in the same boat, and that the Europeans were about to drown.

The Chinese negotiator confidently rejected Obama’s criticism, saying: “I am speaking not on behalf of myself, but on behalf of China.” Then he took on the French president’s gaffe, and said: “I heard President Sarkozy talk about hypocrisy. I think I’m trying to avoid such words myself. I am trying to go into the arguments and debate about historical responsibility.”

History Lesson

He Yafei decided to give the group a lesson in history: “People tend to forget where it is from. In the past 200 years of industrialization developed countries contributed more than 80 percent of emissions. Whoever created this problem is responsible for the catastrophe we are facing.”

What a humiliation it was for Chancellor Merkel. Photos were taken later on that showed her wearing a pink silk blazer, but with her face looking gray and exhausted. She attempted to show the world a dignified façade, speaking of a “new world climate order” that had been reached in Copenhagen. But speaking privately after the meeting, it was clear that she was furious about its failure. She swore to herself that she would not risk the same kind of humiliation again. The chancellor was deeply disturbed by the Chinese and Indian show of power, as well as by Obama’s maneuvering.

She must have felt very lonely in that room, with its mustard-colored walls. And the Chinese game wasn’t over yet. “I have a procedural question,” He Yafei said. “I kindly ask for a suspension of a few minutes for consultation. We need some time of consultation.” What he meant was that he wanted to make a phone call to his prime minister.

“How long?” Merkel asked.

The chairman, Rasmussen, made the decision. “We meet again (at) half past four. Forty minutes.”

Decisions Made Elsewhere

But the meeting did not reconvene. The key decisions were made elsewhere — without the Europeans. The Indians had reserved a room one floor down, where Prime Minister Singh met with his counterparts, Brazilian President Lula da Silva and South Africa President Jacob Zuma. Wen Jiabao was also there.

Shortly before 7 p.m., US President Obama burst into the cozy little meeting of rising economic powers.

At that meeting, everything that was important to the Europeans was removed from the draft agreement, particularly the concrete emissions reduction targets. Later on, the Europeans — like the other diplomats from all the other powerless countries, who had been left to wait in the plenary chamber — had no choice but to rubberstamp the meager result.

‘Too Complicated’

There is one politician who thought a great deal about his experiences in the Arne Jacobsen room in December 2009: Mexican Environment Minister Juan Elvira Quesada. His country will host the next major climate summit this November.

In Copenhagen, Quesada learned that the existing procedure is ineffective. “When more than 190 countries are supposed to reach a consensus, it’s simply too complicated,” he says.

At the November meeting in Cancun, he says, he would prefer not to even touch the document that was painstakingly drafted in that small group of world leaders. “If we were to simply move forward with the Copenhagen paper, it would be a disaster.”

*Eds Note: In the print edition of DER SPIEGEL, the comments from the Indian negotiator were attributed to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Merkel’s Chancellery attributes this and following comments to a low ranking Indian negotiator.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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

The Netherlands, Italy in Dispute Over Cheap Gas

The Netherlands and Italy are embroiled in a high-profile row about cheap gas exports, the Financieele Dagblad reports on Friday.

The paper says the Netherlands wants to end the special deal for Italy established in the 1960s in an effort to stop Italy buying cheap gas from Moscow.

The Netherlands has been increasing the price since the 1980s. But now Dutch gas export firm GasTerra wants Italian oil firm Eni which imports the gas to pay at least ‘€1bn’ extra for gas bought since 2005, the paper says, basing its claims on inside sources.

The Netherlands exports some 10 billion m3 of gas to Italy a year.


The dispute is currently under arbitration in Switzerland and neither side will officially comment, the paper says. ‘We are required to keep this confidential,’ a GasTerra spokesman said. Sources say the dispute is being discussed at government level.

GasTerra is 50% in the hands of the Dutch state. Eni is 30% owned by the Italian state, which also owns a golden share allowing it to veto important decisions.

The Netherlands has also been in price disputes about long-term gas contracts with Germany and France, the paper says.

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

UK: Cheerio to Those Cheats: Cheerful Jacqui Smith Heads Casualties of Expenses Fiasco

Brazen MPs who attempted to defy public anger over their expenses abuses were punished at the ballot box.

Disgraced former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith was among those who finally paid the prize for the sleaze which engulfed the Commons.

The clear-out heralded a record influx of new MPs, with 231 preparing to descend on Westminster — the highest number of untried parliamentarians since World War II.

Miss Smith crashed to an embarrassing defeat in her Redditch constituency despite enlisting the last-minute support of former Prime Minister Tony Blair.

The Labour MP claimed more than £116,000 over six years designating her sister’s spare room in London as her main home and had to make a public apology after her husband Richard Timney claimed two porn films on her taxpayerfunded expenses.

Miss Smith fought back tears after her humiliating defeat to the Conservatives was announced.

Hers was the most high-profile of the expenses scalps, but former ministers Tony McNulty, Shahid Malik, Phil Hope, Vera Baird and Ann Keen also found themselves out of office after making controversial claims.

All of the MPs will be entitled to controversial ‘golden goodbyes’ worth up to £65,000 to help them adjust to life in the real world.

Former Health Minister Mr Hope, who handed back £42,000 to taxpayers after making excessive claims on his small London flat, lost his Corby seat to Tory chick-lit author Louise Bagshawe.

Mr McNulty, who used his parliamentary expenses to allow his parents to live rent-free in his constituency home, was ousted from Harrow by Tory Bob Blackman.

Communities Minister Mr Malik — who was forced to repay public money he had claimed for council tax, a 40in plasma television and a £730 massage chair — saw his 4,500 majority wiped out by the Conservatives’ Simon Reevell in Dewsbury.

Mrs Keen, a former Health Minister, lost her Brentford and Isleworth seat to Conservative Mary MacLeod.

Mrs Baird, who tried to charge taxpayers for the cost of a Christmas tree and decorations, lost to Liberal Democrat Ian Swales in Redcar with a massive 22 per cent swing.

For the Tories, David Heathcoat-Amory — who was forced to pay back £30,000 for excessive gardening and cleaning claims following the audit of MPs’ expenses — narrowly lost out to the Liberal Democrats in Wells.

Liberal Democrat Richard Younger-Ross, forced to pay back more than £4,000 he claimed for a stereo system — was defeated by the Tories in Newton Abbot.

However, Hazel Blears was comfortably re-elected as an MP in Salford and Eccles after standing down last year as Communities Minister.

She had been ordered to pay £13,332 capital gains tax she had avoided on the sale of her second home after Gordon Brown called her behaviour ‘totally unacceptable’.

Millionaire environmentalist and Tory poster boy Zac Goldsmith won his acrimonious battle with the Liberal Democrats in Richmond Park.

Mr Goldsmith, 35, overturned sitting MP Susan Kramer’s prized 3,700 majority to take the affluent South-West London seat comfortably with a 4,091 majority.

The old Etonian, a divorced father of three, survived the disclosure that he had been a ‘non-dom’ to win the seat after one of the most illtempered clashes of the general election.

His supporters shouted ‘Zac, Zac, Zac’ when the result was announced at 6am. Mr Goldsmith hugged his socialite sister Jemima — former wife of Pakistan cricketer Imran Khan — and was cheered by his mother Lady Annabel, widow of the billionaire Sir James Goldsmith.

However, other aspirant Tory highflyers hand-picked by David Cameron suffered humiliating defeats.

Annunziata Rees-Mogg — whom Mr Cameron once urged to change her name to Nancy Mogg in an attempt to ‘de-toff ‘ her — failed to win the West Country seat of Somerton and Frome.

The daughter of former Times editor Lord Rees-Mogg lost out to Liberal Democrat MP David Heath.

But her brother Jacob won Somerset North East with a majority of nearly 5,000.

Two prominent black candidates lost out. Shaun Bailey failed to win the key marginal seat of Hammersmith and farmer Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones was unsuccessful in Chippenham.

The party was, however, celebrating the election of its first female Asian and first openly lesbian candidate.

Priti Patel won the safe seat of Witham in Essex with a massive 15,000 majority and businesswoman Margot James won Stourbridge.

A spokesman said that 48 Tory female MPs would be entering Parliament — nearly triple the party’s previous 18 women MPs.

The number of ethnic minority candidates has also risen from two to 11.

A string of high-profile MPs lost their seats in shock results — including the LibDem Lembit Opik.

He was ousted from ‘safe’ Montgomeryshire by just over 1,000 votes —a swing of nearly 14 per cent to the Tories.

Mr Opik, 45, had perhaps become best known for his relationships with weather presenter Sian Lloyd and later to Cheeky Girl Gabriela Irimia.

Miss Irimia said in an email: ‘I was very sad to hear that Lembit has lost his seat. This Should Never Have Been Allowed To Happen!!!!’

Voters turned on Peter Robinson, leader of the Democratic Unionist Party and Northern Ireland’s First Minister, over the scandal of his wife’s affair with a 19-year-old. Mr Robinson, 61, lost Belfast East after a stunning 22.9 per cent swing to the Alliance Party.

Labour heavyweight Charles Clarke, 59, was booted out of Norwich South by the LibDems. The former Home Secretary, a fierce critic of Gordon Brown, lost to Simon Wright by 310 votes.

But Mr Brown’s closest Cabinet ally narrowly avoided becoming the night’s biggest casualty.

Rumours were rife that Ed Balls, 43, would lose Morley and Outwood.

But the Children’s Secretary beat his Tory rival by just over 1,100 votes —a result met with boos and chants of ‘off, off’.

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

UK: Fiasco That Would Shame the Third World

Hung parliament or not, the General Election produced one clear result on the night. All the TV pundits agreed that this was one of the most shambolic, incompetent and fraudulent elections Britain has ever witnessed.

From widespread allegations of postal-vote fraud, to the hugely unreliable electoral register, to the scenes of mutiny outside polling stations that were closed before hundreds had been able to vote, this was a disgrace to the democratic process.

These are abuses of process one might expect in a banana republic, not in the land that gave us the Mother of all Parliaments.

Having acted as an official observer in more than a hundred polls across the old Communist bloc, I have witnessed more incompetence and corruption than I care to remember. Yet this week’s British election has shocked even seasoned monitors like me. As one friend from Azerbaijan remarked archly to me yesterday, ‘At least in my country, we have managed chaos.’

What he meant was that while many corrupt governments around the world actively fiddle elections, in Britain we have witnessed fiasco rather than state-sponsored fraud…

           — Hat tip: Steen[Return to headlines]

UK: Harrods Department Store to be Sold

Department store Harrods is being sold to the Qatari royal family as current owner Mohamed al Fayed has decided to retire, an investment bank handling the sale said.

The new owners of the world-famous shop, who are reportedly paying a purchase price of £1.5bn, were chosen because they would “maintain the traditions of Harrods”.

Ken Costa, chairman of Lazard International which advised the al Fayed family on the deal, said: “After 25 years as chairman of Harrods, Mohamed al Fayed has decided to retire and to spend more time with his children and grandchildren. He has built Harrods into a unique luxury brand with worldwide recognition.

“In reaching the decision to retire, he wished to ensure that the legacy and traditions that he has built up in Harrods would be continued, and that the team that he has built up would be encouraged to develop the foundations that he has laid.

“Qatar Holding (QH) will become only the fifth owner of Harrods since its creation, in 1840. Qatar Holding was specifically chosen by the Trust as they had both the vision and financial capacity to support the long term successful growth of Harrods.

“Of paramount importance to Mohamed al Fayed was to ensure that the Harrods staff would find in QH an owner who would be supportive of their efforts to maintain the traditions of Harrods.”

Sky News city editor Mark Kleinman, who broke the story, said that the Qatari royal family had made an approach for the Knightsbridge store several weeks ago but Mr al Fayed rejected the offer.

However the owner of Fulham FC had then reconsidered the approach.

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

UK: Nick Clegg: The Media Star Who Flopped in Real Politics

After wowing voters and the media on the campaign trail, Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats suffered a battering in the polls. But Britain’s third party is still king-maker in a hung parliament.

In the end, the pre-election hype came to nothing for Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats.

On April 15, the 43-year-old Liberal leader surpassed expectations with his spectacular performance in the country’s first-ever televised debate, prompting analysts and ordinary Britons to speculate about the start of the end of two-party domination in British politics.

But following a lack-lustre performance on Election Night, Clegg conceded that he was disheartened by the official results. “This has obviously been a disappointing night for the Liberal Democrats,” he told party supporters in his home constituency of Sheffield Hallam Friday morning. “We simply haven’t achieved what we had hoped.”

Clegg managed to hold on to his seat, winning a comfortable 53.4 percent of the vote in the Sheffield Hallam constituency. In his speech before a cheering home crowd which included his Spanish wife Miriam, Clegg said it was “the greatest privilege” to be voted in once again.

A home victory was a sure win for the charismatic politician who was contesting his first general election as party chief. But on a national level, the official results did not mirror the pre-election opinion polls which, at one point during the campaign, lifted the Liberal Democrats into second place ahead of the ruling Labour Party.

With 615 of the 650 seats confirmed for Thursday’s general election, David Cameron’s Conservatives had secured 290 seats, while the Liberal Democrats grabbed just 51 seats, down from the 57 seats the party had in the sitting House of Commons.

Time for horse-trading and backroom deals

The short-lived “rise” of Britain’s third party is bound to dominate political chatter in the days to come as British politicians prepare for a period of frantic backroom negotiations and horse-trading.

But despite its poor showing the Liberal Democrats remains one of the key king-makers in the new parliament as the Conservatives and Labour must now deal out to smaller parties if they want to form a government.

The two main parties will be assisted by civil servants who have prepared briefing documents outlining key elements of party proposals and their costs.

Speaking to reporters in London Friday, shortly after official results showed a hung parliament, Clegg said he believed the Conservatives should try to form the next government.

“It seems this morning that it is the Conservative party that has more votes and more seats though not an absolute majority and that is why I think it is now for the Conservative party to prove that it is capable of seeking to govern in the national interest,” he said.

He added no details on whether his party would join hands with the Conservatives. But expect to hear more on this front in the days to come.

“I don’t think anyone should rush into making claims or taking decisions which don’t stand the test of time,” he said. “I think it would be best if everybody were just to take a little time so that people get the good government that they deserve in these very difficult and uncertain times.”

Guarded words from a once highflying candidate, now cut down to size.

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

UK: One Teenager in Five Leaving School Unable to Read or Do Maths

One in five teenagers leaves school illiterate and innumerate despite two decades of education reform, research shows. More than 100,000 lack the basic skills needed to function in society.

A study found there has been little or no change in the last 20 years in the proportion of youngsters rendered unemployable because they have such a poor grasp of words and numbers.

About 17 per cent of 16 to 19-year-olds are functionally illiterate, according to the study led by Professor Greg Brooks from the University of Sheffield.

‘People at this level can handle only simple tests and straightforward questions on them where no distracting information is adjacent or nearby,’ the study said.

‘Making inferences and understanding forms of indirect meaning, e.g. allusion and irony, are likely to be difficult or impossible.

‘This is less than the functional literacy needed to partake fully in employment, family life and citizenship and to enjoy reading for its own sake.’

Some 22 per cent of 16 to 19-year-olds are essentially innumerate, according to the study. This means they have ‘very basic competence in maths, mainly limited to arithmetical computations and some ability to comprehend and use other forms of mathematical information’.

The study adds: ‘While this is valuable, it is clearly not enough to deal confidently with many of the mathematical challenges of contemporary life.’

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: Polling Station Pantomime: Thousands Could Sue After Lockouts in Key Marginals

Britain is engulfed in the biggest voting scandal of modern times after thousands of people were locked out of the polls in at least 25 seats, some of them crucial marginals.

Lawyers warned that the fiasco opened the way for a series of court challenges which could leave the fate of a new government in the hands of judges for months to come.

There were even claims that every voter who had missed out on exercising their democratic rights could win £750 compensation.

Independent commentators and historians said the failures at the polls left Britain shamed in the eyes of the world.

The humiliation was all the deeper because the election was being monitored by a team of Commonwealth observers from countries including Bangladesh, Rwanda, Nigeria and Sierra Leone.

Voters were turned away from polling stations in towns across the country, including London, Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Sheffield and York.

In most cases voters in long queues were turned back when polling closed at 10pm. However, in Liverpool Wavertree, polling stations ran out of ballot papers and in Brent in North London the wrong papers were given to would-be voters.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: War Criminal Attacked in Prison

The first Bosnian Serb convicted of genocide for his role in the 1995 massacre at Srebrenica has been attacked in a British prison, sources said.

Radislav Krstic, 62, was taken to hospital after being attacked by three inmates at the high-security Wakefield Prison.

The former general is serving his 35-year sentence for aiding and abetting genocide after being transferred to the prison from The Hague in 2004.

Krstic’s forces helped organise the slaughter of thousands of men and teenage boys in Europe’s worst civilian massacre since the Second World War.

A West Yorkshire Police spokesman said: “Police were called to Wakefield Prison at lunch time today to an allegation of assault.”

He said the inmate was taken to hospital with “serious injuries”.

“West Yorkshire Police are currently investigating the matter,” he said. “Inquiries are at an early stage.”

A Ministry of Justice spokesman confirmed a prisoner was assaulted by three inmates at 11.30am.

Sources said Krstic was in a serious condition when he was taken to hospital but was returned to jail later.

They said Krstic sustained cuts to his neck.

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

UK: Why Solar Hot Water Panels Are the New Double Glazing: They Don’t Work Much of the Time and Take 100 Years to Pay for Themselves…

Once upon a time, Lee Comer was a plumber. But he has come a long way since those days. He is now a company director and lives in a beautiful thatched cottage in Dorset complete with its own stables.

How did he make his money? Answer: out of pensioners like Wendy Hammett.

Mrs Hammett, 66, a former secretary, paid Comer’s firm, Simplee Solar, more than £10,000 for solar panels at her bungalow outside Bournemouth.

The system, she was promised, would slash her gas and electric bills by 70 per cent. It was a lie.

‘It has ended up costing me more,’ she said. She is not alone. Other elderly customers of Simplee Solar suffered a similar fate.

In 2006, Comer and his partner Tom Callaghan were fined a total of £40,000 (with £27,000 costs) at Bournemouth Crown Court for supplying and offering goods to which a false trade description applied. That’s the legal term for cowboy tactics.

But this is not the real scandal. Today, Lee Comer is back in business — selling solar panels from exactly the same offices as Simplee Solar.

His latest business is called Staywarm Energy. It’s a modus operandi which is being repeated all over Britain.

Solar panelling, in fact, is the new double glazing.

To date, about 100,000 households in the country have solar thermal installations.

Over the next ten years, the figure, analysts predict, will reach 1million — a tenfold increase.

From next year, government grants will be available to anyone who wants to install them in their homes.

It’s one of the few areas of the economy which is expanding, fuelled by the soaring cost of gas and electricity as well as fears about global warming.

Hence the reason why salesmen such as Lee Comer are thriving.

The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) received a staggering 1,000 complaints about the sector last year.

The disturbing trend was underlined by a recent investigation by consumer watchdog Which? which found that ten out of 14 companies investigated exaggerated claims about the effectiveness and potential savings of solar panels.

In fact a typical system, which uses the sun’s rays to provide hot water, costs around £5,500 and will cut about 10 per cent (just £55 a year) from your bill.

Another way of putting it, of course, is that it would take 100 years — the so called ‘payback time’ — to recoup your £5,500 investment, based on current fuel prices.

In other words, the benefits are environmental, not financial — despite what you might be told by the man in a shiny suit on the doorstep, or in flyers through your letterbox.

Just to repeat; it will take you a century to get your money back on a £5,500 system — even if you haven’t been ripped off.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Water: Malta: French Ondeo Systems Install Remote Meters

(ANSAmed) — ROME, MAY 5 — The French company Ondeo Systems has been awarded the contract to install remote-control meters to measure water usage on the Island of Malta. With 400 thousand inhabitants, reports website, the French company, affiliated to Suez Environnement, accesses the biggest European meter-reading market. The technology for remote-control reading of 250 thousand water meters throughout the island will enable the day-by-day checking of water usage by Malta’s inhabitants. Moreover, reports SuezEnvironnement, it will be possible to monitor any water leakages. As it constantly suffers from water shortages, the arrival of about 1 million tourists during the summer time, remarks Econostrum, tends to aggravate the situation. The Suez Environnement Group already has a branch on Malta, called Degremont, a company which last year inaugurated a sewage treatment facility on the island of Gozo. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Italy First Partner of Albania

(ANSAmed) — TIRANA, MAY 5 — Italy is Albania’s first foreign trade partner with a clear advantage over Greece which keeps its second place. An analysis of data published by the Statistics Institute highlights that Albanian exports to Italy in March 2010 amounted to 52 million euros compared to 6.6 million euros to Greece. Whereas imports from Italy amount to about 73 million euros over goods for 41 million purchased by its southern neighbour. This same data states that Albanian exports to Italy represent 48.3 per cent of overall goods sold abroad, and 70 per cent of exports to EU countries. Whereas ‘Made in Italy’ goods entering the Albanian market last March represent 26 per cent of total world imports, and 40 per cent of EU imports. During the first quarter, Albanians purchased goods in Italy for a value of 197 million euros and sold goods for 142 million euros.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Turkey is Rediscovering Balkans, Says Croatia Envoy

Turkey and Croatia share responsibility in the Balkans for finding solutions to the problems facing Bosnia and Herzegovina. The three countries are cooperating on project-oriented programs, including constructing a north-south highway and restoring the municipal building in Mostar

‘Turkey is willing to cooperate with all sides and groups in Bosnia and Herzegovina,’ says Gordan Bakota, Croatian envoy to Ankara. DAILY NEWS photo, Selahattin SÖNMEZ,

After a long preoccupation with the Iraq war and EU accession talks, Turkey is re-engaging with the Balkans, according to Croatia’s envoy to Ankara.

“Turkey is simply now rediscovering the Balkans as a very important place,” Ambassador Gordan Bakota told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review in an interview Thursday.

Turkey was heavily involved in the region in the wake of the 1992 Bosnian war and made a significant contribution to supporting international efforts for peace.

“It is a fantastic opportunity to see Turkey engaged in regional affairs because Turkey is both an insider with a historical background in the Balkans, particularly in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and also a global country whose international standing is growing,” Bakota said.

Turkey’s shift toward the region, and its active involvement in efforts to ensure a peaceful settlement in Bosnia, has been described in some circles as a return to Neo-Ottoman policy. Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu is leading two mechanisms in the Balkans in an effort to improve dialogue between the major players on the Bosnian issue. The first involves Turkey, Bosnia and Serbia, and the other Turkey, Bosnia and Croatia.

Turkish-Croatian cooperation regarding Bosnia dates back to the war years, when Turkey’s former presidents, Turgut Özal and Süleyman Demirel, tried to manage the crisis and shared influence with Zagreb to find peace, the ambassador said.

Turkey’s absence from the Balkans since then can be explained by the important developments unfolding on the world scene at the beginning of the century, Bakota said, citing the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States, the Iraq war and the formal launch of Turkey’s accession negotiations with the European Union. Such issues, the ambassador said, naturally drew Turkey’s focus away from the Balkans.

Commenting on the current situation, the Croatian envoy said, “We are appreciating Turkish proposals to cooperate with us.” He also urged other international players, including the EU and the U.S., to engage in the constitutional process in Bosnia.

MAP status for Bosnia a ‘milestone’

One of the concrete results of the Turkish-Croatian efforts was last month’s NATO decision to provide Bosnia with a Membership Action Plan, or MAP, despite opposition from major powers. After the key summit, the foreign ministers of Turkey, Croatia and Bosnia held a second round of the trilateral mechanism in Ankara.

“I deeply appreciate the huge endeavors and activities of Turkey regarding the MAP, which was definitely a milestone. Croatia supported the MAP process, although some EU and NATO members were not very much in favor of starting that process until Bosnia fulfilled all of the necessary preconditions,” Bakota said.

“Croatia took the standpoint, along with Turkey, that the best possible encouragement of reforms in Bosnia and Herzegovina is [the creation of a] MAP,” the ambassador said.

Turkish role ‘recognized’

The Turkish approach toward Bosnia is drawing concerns from some EU member states, which argue that Turkey is holding the rights of Muslims in the country, also called Bosniaks, above those of other groups. “I think some of those concerns were dismantled because obviously Turkey is working vis-à-vis Bosnia and Herzegovina with Croatia,” Bakota said.

“Turkey is willing to cooperate with all sides and all groups in Bosnia and Herzegovina — Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats. I think this was recognized by many European countries and Washington too,” he said. The ambassador also noted that Turkish and Croatian perspectives on Bosnia are based on two major pillars: supporting Bosnia’s NATO and EU orientation and treating all peoples there equally.

Mostar ‘important signal’ for Bosnia’s future

Explaining the difference between the two Turkey-led mechanisms for Bosnia, Bakota said the first one, involving Turkey, Serbia and Bosnia, is focused on fixing oustanding issues between Serbia and Bosnia; the second one, involving his country, is more project-oriented and aimed at facilitating internal processes in the country.

As the constitutional process continues in Bosnia, amid uncertainties about whether progress will be made before or after the October general elections, Turkey and Croatia are trying to develop economic projects in the country. One project of the Turkey-Bosnia-Croatia mechanism involves building a highway, called Corridor 5C, connecting the northern and southern parts of Bosnia. Another is restoring the municipal building and music school in the city of Mostar, which is populated by both Bosniaks and Croats.

“If Mostar is a success story, it will be an extremely important signal for the future of Bosnia and Herzegovina,” said Bakota.

Although no date has yet been fixed, the ambassador also said the trilateral Turkey, Croatia and Bosnia mechanism will convene at either the prime ministerial or presidential level within the next three months.

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

Mediterranean Union

EU Boosts Euromed Paper Industry Partnerships

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, MAY 7 — The paper industry is a sector with opportunities for enterprises of the two shores of the Mediterranean, especially in the field of mechanical supply. Developing industrial and commercial partnership is the aim of the Paper Med project, funded by the Eu in the framework of the Invest in Med programme, which will gather forty entrepreneurs in the paper industry in Tetouan, Morocco, on 11 and 12 May. The objective of the meeting — according to the Enpi website ( — is to boost commercial agreements and acquired knowledge on key topics to set up business in Morocco. Eu enterprises will meet Algerian, Moroccan and other Mediterranean countries enterprises to develop potential collaborations. The Invest in Med is a Euro-Mediterranean network of organisations, funded by the Eu with a budget of 9 million euros, committed to investment promotion and trade facilitation, strengthening Sme collaboration and exchange of best practices. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

North Africa

Algerian Government Ready to Take Over Orascom Capital

(ANSAmed) — ALGIERS, MAY 4 — Algeria is prepared to buy telephone company Djezzy from Orascom Telecom Algerie (Ota), said Minister of Post and Communication Hamid Bessalah. The Minister added that the owners of Ota (part of the Egyptian Naguib Sawiris group) have failed to obey Algerian legislation and the terms of the concession in their decision to sell the company to a South African firm. “The Algerian government plans to exercise its right of pre-emption on the entire capital” the Minister added. “Therefore we ask Ota, which is an Algerian company, to turn to the State to discuss the terms of the investment in compliance with the concession”. Bessalah did not rule out the possibility of Naquib Sawiris himself contacting the Algerian government. “We think that Sawiris should state his intention to apply Algerian law, to contact the government and to break off all negotiations on a sale to others”, the Minister added. One month ago Orascom announced the payment of 587 million USD to the Algerian tax authorities, “an unacceptable overrating of the revenues of the Algerian branch office”. In addition to this sum, Orascom had to pay a penalty of 74 million dollars, of which the company paid 49 million so far. Payment of the remaining 25 million has been suspended, waiting for a court’s decision. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

Israel ‘Committed to Peace’ Says Peres

Jerusalem, 7 May (AKI) — Israeli president Shimon Peres told visiting US envoy George Mitchell on Friday that Jerusalem was committed to reaching a Middle East settlement and the creation of a sovereign Palestinian state beside Israel. But according to Israeli media reports he stressed that security must be a central focus of these talks.

Mitchell arrived in the region earlier this week for the launch of the first peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians in more than 18 months.

During their meeting, Peres (photo) told Mitchell that Israel considered security at the top of the agenda for the upcoming talks.

Mitchell also held talks with Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman and was due to go to the West Bank city of Ramallah to meet Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas.

Mitchell will “not get any answers from the Palestinian leadership” when he meets with Abbas on Friday, presidential spokesman Nabil Abu Rudaineh told the Palestinian service, Maan.

The US envoy, who arrived in the region on Wednesday, has already met Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Palestinian leaders want the backing of the Palestine Liberation Organisation before committing to the indirect talks.

Mitchell was expected to meet Abbas late Saturday or early Sunday to hear his official views on the talks.

The Palestinian Authority has said it will not enter direct talks unless Israel completely stops construction of settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

In November, Israel announced a 10-month suspension of new building in the West Bank, under heavy US pressure.

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

Italy-Israel: President or Rome Province Visits Tel Aviv

(ANSAmed) — ROME, MAY 6 — A delegation of the Province of Rome, led by President Nicola Zingaretti, will visit Tel Aviv. On Sunday the group will visit several innovative infrastructures for the environment, for waste processing and recycling. The delegation (which includes councillor for the environment Michele Civita and the president of the Maccabi federation Vittorio Pavoncello) will visit several cutting edge installations for waste recycling and efficient water usage, and will have meetings with Israeli politicians and entrepreneurs of leading companies in the use of alternative energy. “We were pleased to accept the invitation of these companies” explained the president of the Province of Rome, Nicola Zingaretti. “We believe that meeting others and studying what they have done is the best way to improve ourselves and to be able to apply this knowledge in Italy as well. The provincial administration has invested more than 500 million euros in sustainable development: the ‘Province of Kyoto’ plan is certainly a demonstration of this focus. It is a strategic project for the promotion of initiatives for sustainable growth and environmental protection”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Obama Administration Continues to Supply Israel With Advanced Weapons

by Barry Rubin

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I have repeatedly pointed out that as of now the Obama Administration has never put any material pressure on Israel. There are wild rumors and irresponsible materials floating around to the contrary. They aren’t true. As proof, for example, take the article by Barbara Opall-Rome in Defense News, May 3, 2010, “U.S. Backs Israeli Munitions Upgrades.” She writes of “ever-expanding bilateral security ties unharmed by the unusually high-profile political rift” that took place temporarily.

In fact, the United States is equipping Israel with GBU-39 Small Diameter Bombs for its F-15I fighter-bombers and this will be followed by the same system on F-16I planes. These 250-pound bombs are called bunker busters because they are smart bombs that will go through more than six feet of reinforced concrete.

In addition, Israel has equipped F-15Is to carry the 5,000-pound-class GBU-28 Hard Target Penetrator, designed to burrow 100 feet into earth or 20 feet into concrete.

The Israel Air Force is also receiving the Laser-Guided Joint Direct Attack Munitions (LJDAM), developed by Boeing Integrated Defense Systems and Israel’s Elbit Systems and able to direct smart bombs more accurately.

To put it bluntly, GBU-39s can be used against simpler installations like arms-smuggling tunnels dug by Hamas between Egypt and the Gaza Strip along with Hizballah field fortifications…

           — Hat tip: Barry Rubin[Return to headlines]

PNA: Italy Promotes Human Rights Protection Project

(ANSAmed) — RAMALLAH, MAY 7 — A initiative got underway recently for a structure formed within the Ministry of Justice of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) and financed entirely by Italy, to promote the diffusion, the culture and the protection of human rights through regulations decreed by Palestinian institutions. The initiative, sponsored within the framework of the Italian Development Cooperation’s projects, is the result of an agreement signed on April 29 between the Italian Consulate General in Jerusalem, the Cooperation and the PNA Ministry of Justice. The project, a statement reads, plans for the creation of an office consisting of five Palestinian officials and coordinated by a local coordinator. The structure, which will be headquartered in Ramallah at the ministry, will be a sort of ‘megaphone’ for the spread and concrete implementation of issues associated with universal human rights. Courses and seminars held by jurists and international experts are also planned. “This is an innovative idea,” explained the director of Italian Cooperation in Jerusalem, Gianandrea Sandri, “we wanted to experiment with an inverse approach: for the first time, we are starting from the inside, from the central nervous system of the state institutions, with the idea of strengthening their role and position.” A significant aspect is also represented by the involvement of private organisations through an informational campaign that includes the creation of an interactive website. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Middle East

Arab States to Establish a Terrestrial Network

(ANSAmed) — CAIRO, May 3 — There are efforts exerted to activate a study on establishing a terrestrial internet network among Arab states to be an alternative to the naval cables, Director of strategic planning in the Lebanese Communication Ministry Majeed Abdel-Rahman told reporters Monday. Abdel-Rahman, who is also the chairman of the 27th Arab Permanent ICT Committee that kicked off today at the Arab League HQ, said that these cables may be used to directly connect the internet among Arab countries without sending the data to the head office in the US first. This study was delayed, he said, adding that it has started since 2005 upon a Jordanian proposal and was supported by International Telecommunication Union (ITU). The private sector must be encouraged to take part in this issue because it will have a rewarding financial income and is important for reducing internet prices in the Arab world, he said. The ICT committee meetings will run for four days and will take up flurry of issues on crystallizing Arab communication strategy, internet and reducing prices of calls among Arab countries, Abdel-Rahman said. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Iraq: Archbishop Condemns Deadly Christian Attacks

Mosul, 7 May (AKI) — The head of the Syrian Catholic Church in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul has condemned a brutal attack that left four Christians dead. Archbishop Basilios Georges Casmoussa told Adnkronos International (AKI) that the bomb attack which killed four and reportedly injured more than 180 others was “inhumane and inconceivable”.

Three buses of Christian students were targeted in the brugal car bomb attack, on a highway outside Mosul, capital of Nineveh province, on Sunday.

Casmoussa told AKI the attack was designed to provoke “civil war and terror” and was the latest in a long series of attacks that Christians had suffered in the region.

“This was not a casual incident,” Casmoussa said.

He said it was unclear who was responsible for the attack and he called for a national inquiry into the incident.

“But it will not be enough for the authorities to tell us they have arrested those responsible, without knowing anything more about it,” Casmoussa said. “If the state is not willing to carry out justice, we are calling for an international committee of inquiry to be established.”

The archbishop said that local Christian students were “terrified” after Sunday’s attack which demonstrated that they were under attack.

He appealed to both the national government in Baghdad and the provincial government and security forces to protect Christians.

“We have asked indirectly as soon as the central government is formed, and takes control of the country’s affairs to protect us from evil doers,” he said.

Up to 3,000 Christians on Monday protested in Hamdaniyah, a Christian area, from where the bombing’s victims had been travelling to the University of Mosul.

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

Syrian President in Turkey for Talks on Israel

Turkish President Abdullah Gül (R), his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad (2R) and their wives Hayrunnisa Gül (L) and Asma al-Assad seen on a balcony of the Ottoman-era Çiragan Palace before a meeting in Istanbul. AP photo.

The presidents of Turkey and Syria have met to discuss ways to revive the stalled peace talks with Israel and to boost bilateral ties.

Ankara mediated several rounds of indirect negotiations between the Mideast rivals in 2008, but the discussions made no significant headway. Syria suspended the talks in response to Israel’s military offensive in Gaza.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad sat down with Turkish President Abdullah Gül in Istanbul on Saturday to consider how to restart the talks. Assad has repeatedly said that there is no Israeli partner willing to achieve peace.

Syria has demanded the full withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Golan Heights as a condition for peace. Israel’s current government rejects preconditions.

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


The Return of Uncle Joe

Crisis-Stricken Russians Nostalgic for Stalin

By Christian Neef and Matthias Schepp

Moscow plans to celebrate the Soviet Union’s victory over Hitler’s Germany with a spectacular parade on Sunday. But this year a shadow has been cast over the festivities by a row over whether posters of Stalin can be hung in the city. Five decades after his death, Russians are still arguing over whether the dictator can be a positive role model.

Maloye Pizhalino is a small village 200 kilometers (125 miles) west of Moscow. A handful of houses, most of them empty, are scattered among the birch trees, and the Volga River flows sluggishly through the valley below.

The godforsaken village doesn’t even appear on any maps anymore. Its only remaining connection to the outside world is a dirt road. Anyone who managed to find a better life elsewhere moved away years ago, and even the kolkhoz, the local collective farm, has long been bankrupt.

The only sign of life is the cheerful music coming from the windows of house number 8.

Inside, a bizarre scene is unfolding in the middle of the abandoned settlement. Three old people are dancing inside the house. Vladimir Mirozhichenko, 86, who once fought at the front, wears an insignia that reads “We will triumph” and a portrait of Josef Stalin on his blue jacket, as well as two medals, the Red Star and a decoration “For the Capture of Kaliningrad.” Valentina Trubinova, 70, also has various medals decorating her vest. She represents the Moscow Committee of War Veterans.

Finally, there is Anatoly Projdakov, the owner of the house, who turns 80 today. The guests are there to celebrate his birthday. Projdakov has spent half his life in Maloye Pizhalino, and he also served as a child soldier in the region, as part of a regiment that fought the Germans.

‘Our Great Commander-in-Chief!’

“Here, in the battle of Rzhev, which was worse than the one near Stalingrad, we fought the 9th German Army for 15 months. We had to defend the position at all costs,” says Mirozhichenko, who still has a piece of shrapnel lodged in his chest. “But Moscow doesn’t want to remember this battle, because it cost the lives of 1.5 million soldiers. And because we lost it.”

The old people sigh over the gloomy memory, but then they begin to argue over who was at fault for the disaster. One of them mentions the name Georgy Zhukov, the commander of the Red Army’s Western Front, while another says it was the fault of General Ivan Konev, who was in charge of the adjacent Kalinin Front. The three old people agree that both men made huge mistakes.

But one name isn’t mentioned — that of the man who sent entire armies to their deaths in the region, even dispatching soldiers without guns into the deadly firefight. That man was the commander-in-chief of the Soviet military, Josef Vissarionovich Stalin.

In fact, the name Stalin is only mentioned when the three sit down for a festive meal, and then it sounds as if he had had nothing to do with the horrors of the war. “To Josef Vissarionovich, our great commander-in-chief!” Mirozhichenko proclaims. “To the organizer of the great triumph!” the others add.

Bitter Dispute over Stalin Images

On May 9, Russia celebrates the 65th anniversary of victory in what it calls the Great Patriotic War. Some 90,000 soldiers will march across Red Square in a parade, the likes of which Moscow hasn’t seen in a long time. The country’s military will participate with its latest missiles and 150 aircraft, as will soldiers representing Russia’s former allies in World War II, the Americans, the British and the French.

Josef Stalin will also take part, and not just in the memory of the three old people in Maloye Pizhalino.

There has been a bitter dispute in Moscow for weeks over whether the city should be allowed to display images of the generalissimo to mark this anniversary and, if so, in which locations. Mayor Yuri Luzhkov had announced his intention to have posters of Stalin mounted in front of the Bolshoi Theater, at Gorky Park and Victory Park, and at the sites where the people’s militias congregated during the war.

A display of this magnitude hasn’t happened since 1961, when Stalin’s embalmed remains were taken from the mausoleum on Red Square and buried in a simple grave near the Kremlin wall. It was the same year Communist Party leader Nikita Khrushchev began his drive to remove his predecessor’s influence from the public sphere, by changing the names of cities and places that had been named after Stalin.

Explosive Effects

The effects of Luzhkov’s idea were explosive, and not just in Russia. US President Barack Obama canceled his attendance of the ceremonies, supposedly because of the Stalin posters. According to a German diplomat, Chancellor Angela Merkel called Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to insist that he intervene in the Moscow city government.

But Stalin’s genie had been released from the bottle long ago, and the headstrong mayor’s poster campaign only served to stoke the flames of a debate that had been raging for months.

Some interpreted Luzkhov’s decision as a long overdue act of liberation, and several other cities copied his idea. Vladivostok, in the far east of Russia, already began decorating its streets with photos of Stalin last week, and other cities that intend to follow suit include the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk, Voronezh in southern Russia and the industrial city of Kirov in central Russia. In Volgograd, the former Stalingrad, there is even a soft drink on sale featuring Stalin on its label.

Even the parliament in liberal St. Petersburg debated over whether the “brilliant commander-in-chief” should be allowed to become part of the cityscape again. Members of the city council argued that under Stalin’s leadership, Russia “rose from the ashes and became a major power.” But the governor of the district rejected the idea. Now a private initiative has leased advertising space on city buses to display images of Stalin.

The local parliament for the Moscow region is even spending 45 million rubles, or more than €1 million ($1.3 million), to coin new copies of old war decorations, including a “J.V. Stalin” medal bearing the image of the former Kremlin chief and “coated with at least 0.012 mm (0.0005 inches) of silver.”

Part 2: Like Germans Glorifying Nazis

Stalin opponents, however, are outraged and horrified. For the human rights organization Memorial, the Luzhkov decision is a “sacrilege.” And a group of notable intellectuals calls the efforts “tasteless” and “idiotic,” pointing out that honoring Stalin in modern-day Moscow is akin to Germans today “glorifying leading Nazis.”

Stalin was “a complete failure as commander-in-chief” and had the deaths of millions of Soviet citizens on his conscience, writes the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta. Alexander Avdeyev, Russia’s culture minister, classified him as an “executioner” who was to blame for the fact “that our country lost almost an entire century in its development.” And both human rights organization Memorial and the anarchist group Autonomous Action announced their intention to remove the Stalin icons or to put up opposing posters of their own.

How can the son of an alcoholic shoemaker and a cleaning lady from the Georgian city of Gori, whose body has been buried at the Kremlin for 57 years, still divide an entire people today?

Cruel and Vindictive

Josef Stalin was a psychopath, pathologically suspicious, cruel and vindictive. He ruled the Soviet realm with an iron fist for three decades, exposed 190 million people to his social experiments and made terror part of the rhythm of life for an entire country.

Stalin drove 20 to 25 million people to their deaths. He allowed farmers to starve to death and exterminated almost the entire elite, even signing the death warrants of some of his closest war comrades with the stroke of a pen. Mussolini believed that the Kremlin leader was secretly a fascist. Nevertheless, Stalin was a hero in the eyes of his subjects. His propagandists were so adept at portraying Stalin as the red czar that half the country wept when he died in 1953.

And now, half a century later, do the Russians still believe in his genius? There is no doubt that Stalin is back in vogue.

More than a dozen new statues of Stalin have been erected in Russia in the recent past, in addition to the more than 200 that still existed in the country: in the Siberian diamond-mining town of Mirny, at High School No. 2 in Chelyabinsk in the Ural Mountains, and in the Siberian village of Kureika, where Stalin spent his exile under the czar.

‘Stalin Raised Us to Be Loyal’

Once again, Moscow residents can read the phrase “Stalin raised us to be loyal to the nation” when they walk into the Kurskaya metro station in Moscow, where a frieze bearing the inscription has now been restored. And anyone who is interested can visit the website of notorious Stalin apologists or, in any bookstore, choose among dozens of works of lightweight Stalin literature, arranged next to the shelves of bestsellers, with titles like: “Stalin’s Great War,” “Stalin’s Terror: The Great Lie of the 20th Century” or the five-volume work “200 Legends About Stalin.”

Volume 14 of Stalin’s “Collected Works,” which were no longer published after 1951, is now on the market again. There is even an 800-page book that contains all the information that was meticulously recorded in notebooks in Stalin’s outer office, such as the names of people who went in and out of the general secretary’s office, together with the exact times of their arrival and departure. A new schoolbook goes so far as to praise Stalin as an effective manager.

Stalin critics, on the other hand, are having a tough time of it. A grandson of the dictator is suing the liberal radio station Ekho Moskvy for €258,000 in damages, because the broadcasters claimed that Stalin approved the executions of 12-year-olds in the 1930s. And in Arkhangelsk, a history professor was arrested for investigating the mass deportations under Stalin and — absurdly — charged with having violated the “private sphere of Soviet citizens.”

No Public Outcry

There was no public outcry in either case. According to a survey by the Levada Center, an independent polling organization, almost one in three Russians regards the former Kremlin leader “with respect” or “with sympathy,” while 2 percent of respondents even said that they regarded Stalin “with enthusiasm.” Some 38 percent said they were indifferent to the former dictator, while opponents of Stalin were in the minority.

Does this explain why the chairman of the organizing committee for the May 9 celebration — none other than President Dmitry Medvedev’s chief of staff — initially decided that Stalin posters could not be displayed for the commemorative event, but then caved in? The organizers were “strictly against it,” says his spokesman, but points out that his office, unfortunately, lacks the authority to dictate to Moscow residents how they should decorate their city. At the end of last week, there were rumors that the controversial images might be displayed in only a few prominent places.

On Wednesday, the city government put up small posters of Stalin around Moscow, the news agency Reuters reported. Some of the posters were within exhibits about World War II, while others were displayed outside museums.

The mayor responded to his critics by saying that May 9 is a day to honor war veterans, and they happened to have fought in Stalin’s name. But, he added, it was also a day “for our children, so that the memory of the great victory remains in their hearts and minds” — and to that end, it was important that they know the name of the man who was commander-in-chief at the time.

Part 3: Reclaiming the Soviet Era

Their victory over Nazi Germany is sacred to the Russians, and it remains a unifying force, even after 65 years. In polls, a majority consistently calls it the most important event of the 20th century. And next to the space flight of astronaut Yuri Gagarin, it is the only historical event that Russians see in a positive light. As sociologist Boris Dubin explains, this is because the symbol of victory has a unifying force that is “capable of integrating the entire 20th century” into a single narrative. And the name Stalin happens to be part of “reclaiming the Soviet era as something of our ‘own,’“ as Dubin puts it.

But the Stalin renaissance isn’t just part of a larger dispute over what Russia was and what it is today. In fact, it has even more to do with the question of what Russia will become in the future — and whether someone like Stalin can become a central mythic figure once again.

But how can a society that doesn’t even have a clear picture of Stalin come to terms with these issues? Since the Kremlin leadership had the dictator’s remains removed from the mausoleum on that October night in 1961, it has avoided a debate over his place in history.

‘National Catastrophe’

The Medvedev/Putin dual leadership has done little to change this. Admittedly, the president in October spoke of a “national catastrophe of Stalinist repression.” But then, in December, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin defended his view that Russia underwent fundamental change under Stalin, when it was transformed from an agrarian to an industrial country. “Nobody can today throw stones at those who organized and led us to victory,” Putin said.

It was only in Katyn, where he joined Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk in early April to commemorate the 1940 murders of members of the Polish elite by the Soviet NKVD secret police organization, that Putin admitted that Stalin had had a “personal responsibility” for the mass murders. The Kremlin placed Katyn files, which had already been known about for a long time, on the Internet last week, but it was done in conjunction with the tragic death of Polish President Lech Kaczynski near the site and by no means suggests the beginnings of a process of de-Stalinization.

Instead, the Kremlin chose to hide behind Moscow’s mayor and the war veterans in the controversy over the Stalin posters. The actor Sergei Yursky called that approach “dangerous,” saying that the leadership was still unwilling to define exactly who Stalin was.

As a result, the veterans are allowed to go on cultivating their distorted picture of the former commander-in-chief. Stalin apologists can still go unpunished as they declare their supposed moral superiority over Stalin’s victims, who they insist are enemies of the people who were legitimately sentenced. Meanwhile, a growing number of young people worship the dictator as a “man of action” — even though they never experienced his rule personally.

Disappearance into the Gulag System

The family of Veniamin Marokov, 77, who lives in the provincial city of Lipetsk 400 kilometers southeast of Moscow, was among the victims of Stalinism. Marokov was only six when his father was convicted of spreading “counterrevolutionary propaganda” and disappeared into the gulag system.

During the war, when his classmates boasted about the heroic acts of their fathers, Marokov lied and told his friends that his father died in the war. The truth was that he never returned from the gulags. He was only the first of four victims of repression in his family.

Two uncles, one of them a priest, were deported. Marokov has a clear memory of a night in August 1941, when secret police burst into the apartment and took away his grandmother Yelizaveta, who was 60 at the time. “My mother almost went mad with grief, and she was constantly sending pardon requests to Moscow,” he recalls.

When the Soviet Union disintegrated in 1991, Markov gained access to official files which confirmed a suspicion his family had long harbored. The files contained photos taken by the secret police showing the haggard face of his grandmother, her lips pressed together and her gaze turned toward the ground.

He learned from the reports that Yelizaveta’s daughter-in-law Tatjana had denounced his grandmother. She had told Stalin’s investigators that the old woman had “waited impatiently for the Germans to enter Moscow in 1941” and was strictly opposed to her son joining the Red Army to fight against Hitler. Yelizaveta was convicted of anti-Soviet agitation and sent to a camp. She survived, however, and after the war ended up living with her daughter-in-law under one roof again.

Such family accounts are common, says Marokov, but adds that very few people talk about their memories.

Part 4: ‘No One in Our Family Had to Suffer Under Stalin’

That’s one version of the truth. But Anastasia Gromova sees things differently.

“My mother’s parents were farmers in the Kaluga region. They came to Moscow in 1934, after having been recruited to work at the big Hammer and Sickle steel mill,” she says. “No one in our family had to suffer under Stalin. My great-grandfather on my father’s side was supposedly shot in the Far East, but in reality he drank himself to death. There is such a huge amount of exaggeration when it comes to Stalin.”

Gromova is a modern woman. The 28-year-old works as an event manager in Moscow, and has just returned from trips to Argentina and India. If she didn’t express her views openly in a LiveJournal blog, no one would ever imagine that she is the personnel director of the “Socialist Movement of Soviet Citizens.”

She says she cannot forget how her father lost his job as a mechanical engineer after the fall of the Soviet Union, and how the family lost its entire savings in the 1998 economic crisis.

No Better than the Gulags

No one helped the family at the time, says Gromova. She spent a long time searching for a political direction. First she was a liberal, she says, then an anarchist, and now she is a Stalinist.

“Why do we need a state?” she asks. “So that it will guarantee the basic conditions for business and security for the people. It did these things under Stalin, but it no longer does so today.”

Don’t the facts contradict those who are constantly getting upset about Stalin’s regime, Gromova asks? “There were 35,000 police officers in Moscow in the 1940s. Today there are 100,000, but the number of murders is more than 10 times as high.”

And what about the repression and Stalinist terror? Not even one in four inmates in the gulags was a political prisoner, Gromova claims, and points out that courts also make mistakes in the United States. “People say to me, you would talk differently if you had been incarcerated in one of the Stalin camps yourself. But then I say to them: Just drive 20 kilometers out of Moscow and you’ll see how people live today. No better than they did in the gulag in those days.”

Chronic Corruption

The new Stalin debate stems largely from the conviction that Russia needs a strong leader again, particularly now that the global crisis has exposed the weaknesses of the Russian economy. The Putin system has reached its limits, says Vladislav Inozemtsev, director of the Moscow-based Center for Post-Industrial Studies. “We are in a situation of serious stagnation and we don’t know how to get out of it.”

Even President Medvedev uses talks about Russia’s “primitive raw materials economy” and “chronic corruption,” and says: “Our economy ignores the needs of people. Russia’s influence in the world isn’t as great as we would like it to be.”

Stalin used similar words 79 years ago. “We are 50 to 100 years behind the advanced countries. We must make good this gap in 10 years,” he said in 1931, before prescribing a course of brute industrialization for his country. He had smelting works and steel mills built, the railroads electrified and canals dug, and he drove the Russians to work faster. The Soviet Union became a major power.

The only way to modernize Russia is by authoritarian means, and the country needs another dictatorship — albeit a “good dictatorship” — to do so today, listeners recently heard on Ekho Moskvy. For a brief moment, it became clear what currently has the Russian elite so preoccupied, namely the question of whether liberal reform or stronger government intervention is needed.

The Price of Progress

Could it be that Stalin isn’t just being rehabilitated by his supporters, but also because of Russia’s new difficulties?

“You could say that his guilt lies in the fact that he didn’t try to complete the great leap without bloodshed,” argues political scientist Sergei Chernyakhovsky. Gorbachev tried it, he says, but no one is calling him a hero today. For Chernyakhovsky, the only successful leaders are those who are able to successfully solve a challenge of historic proportions. Stalin, he says, mobilized people in such a way that, for them, “Monday already began on Saturday.” “Nothing comes from nothing,” says Chernyakhovsky. “And there is a price to pay for progress.”

Such views still encounter resistance. Why, then, didn’t the Americans need a Stalin to become a superpower, asks journalist Alexander Bangerski? The initial conditions in Russia and the United States were about the same 200 years ago, he adds. “Why did Russia need mass shootings and the gulag, just to achieve far more modest results than its rival?”

For the average citizen who lives outside the pocket of affluence in Moscow and St. Petersburg and still barely ekes out a living, the situation is clear. The polling agency VCIOM found last year that 54 percent of Russians surveyed believed that Stalin’s abilities to run the country were very high or higher than average. And when asked whether the grand objectives and quick results justified the sacrifices the Russian people made during the Stalin era, one in three respondents said “absolutely” or “yes, to a certain extent.”

Part 5: ‘In Those Days, People Like Putin and Medvedev Would Have Been Shot’

“Finally, finally, public opinion has turned around again after a phase of anti-Stalinism,” says historian and writer Yuri Mukhin, who runs the leading Stalin website. According to Mukhin, Stalin tried to maintain his connection to the people, while the current elite merely get richer at the people’s expense. “The Russians would understand,” says Mukhin, slipping into the language of the Stalin era, “that in those days, people like Putin and Medvedev would have been shot.”

Mukhin is very popular, because most Russians don’t know how brutal the Stalin dictatorship really was. They are just as skeptical about the figures relating to the great terror as they are about reports on the Katyn massacre.

Is it really that difficult to discover the truth about Stalin? Oleg Naumov can provide one answer to this question. He is the director of the Russian State Archive of Socio-Political History, the former central party archive of the Soviet Union.

He spreads out his treasures in his office not far from the Kremlin. One of the pieces is Stalin’s red party book, where bears the number 000 0002 and was issued on May 29, 1936, which contains receipts for the leader’s membership dues. According to the record, in 1948 he earned a monthly salary of 10,000 rubles and paid 300 rubles a month in party dues.

Locked Away

Another piece is a copy of Lenin’s work “The State and Revolution,” in which Stalin scribbled notes in red, including on the cover. He made a particularly large amount of notes in the section dealing with control over the class that is to be oppressed. Also using a colored pen, the Kremlin leader corrected secret maps of the front in January 1945, when the Red Army was on the outskirts of Kaliningrad.

Naumov’s “Fund 558” contains 16,174 files, including a collection of Stalin’s documents locked away in two windowless concrete towers. Only a decade ago, the Kremlin gave him another 1,700 documents from the so-called Presidents’ Archive. “No one knows exactly how many of Stalin’s documents are still in existence,” says Naumov.

How can a country investigate its past under such conditions? To make matters worse, many documents, most of them containing sensitive information about Stalin’s foreign policy, are still classified. Naumov has a few hundred of them in his collection.

Doesn’t the law require the release of the documents after 30 years? The archive director smiles. It isn’t automatic, he says, adding that the relevant commission is completely overwhelmed by its task of examining these documents. Only recently, says Naumov, representatives of the FSB, Russia’s domestic security agency, stopped the release of a speech by the later NKVD director Nikolai Yezhov to intelligence agency employees in 1934. The FSB officials noted that the speech “still revealed far too much about the operational work of his agency.”

Time to Look at Stalin’s Legacy

Nevertheless, the opening of the archive is expected to continue. Naumov has signed an agreement with Yale University, under which Americans and Russians will jointly establish an electronic archive of all non-classified Stalin documents within three years.

The time has come to take a serious look at Stalin’s legacy, the archive director believes. He is convinced that it will promote the truth: the truth about the camps, Katyn, the war and the Battle of Rzhev — no matter what happens on May 9.

Perhaps Russia will find out who Josef Vissarionovich Stalin really was, after all.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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

Australia — Pacific

Budget Spending Targets Radicals: Report

Millions of dollars will be spent trying to halt the spread of radical Islam as part of a big-spending Federal Budget package to bolster national security.

Tuesday’s election-year Budget will include hundreds of millions of dollars for national security as Labor tackles concerns it has gone soft on border protection following the flood of asylum seekers in recent months, News Ltd says.

The government will announce “preventative” measures to counter the growth of radical terrorist cells across Australia.

While the government will be careful not to demonise Muslims with its policies, it’s understood new programs will target the potential spread of radical extremism in the nation’s jails, News Ltd says.

Some states already have their own programs, aimed at stopping the rise of radical Islam in prisons, but the Budget is expected to outline a national scheme, with religious classes and better contact between inmates and their families.

           — Hat tip: Nilk[Return to headlines]

New Zealand: Global Warming Fears Seen in Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Patients

A recent study has found that global warming has impacted the nature of symptoms experienced by obsessive compulsive disorder patients.

Climate change related obsessions and/or compulsions were identified in 28% of patients presenting with obsessive compulsive disorder. Their obsessions included leaving taps on and wasting water, leaving lights on and wasting electricity, pets dying of thirst, leaving the stove on and wasting gas as well as obsessions that global warming had contributed to house floors cracking, pipes leaking, roof problems and white ants eating the house.

Compulsions in response to these obsessions included the checking of taps, light switches, pet water bowls and house structures.

“Media coverage about the possible catastrophic consequences to our planet concerning global warming is extensive and potentially anxiety provoking. We found that many obsessive compulsive disorder patients were concerned about reducing their global footprint,” said study author Dr Mairwen Jones.

[Return to headlines]

Sub-Saharan Africa

2-Month Ban on Mauritanian Industrial Fishing

(ANSAmed) — PARIS, MAY 3 — Mauritania has ordered a two-month ban on industrial fishing in its territorial waters, applying a period of biological rest aimed at regenerating marine life. The first phase is to last until the beginning of July, with the second in September and October. For small-scale fishing, a one-month ban will be in place from May 15. The Fishig Minister says that move will create an environment conducive to the regeneration of fish resources, the way in which they are managed, and the protection of the natural habitat, with waters hugely exploited and sacked by “pirates” who continue to elude capture by Mauritanian marine authorities. The decision has gone down well with experts, given that developing species have been fished since March, when they should have been spared. The ban concerns 300 boats operating in Mauritanian waters, of which over 150 European vessels that practice deep-sea fishing. In 2008, Mauritania agreed a new partnership agreement with the European Union, which allowed European vessels to fish in waters rich in octopuses and lobsters in particular, in exchange for tens of millions of euros every year. (ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Africa: First Arab Language Satellite Channel Launched

(ANSAmed) — NAIROBI, MAY 7 — Its name is Al Qarra, and it means “The Continent”. It is the first Arab language all news African satellite channel, debuting May 20, reports on-line site “Ethiopian Review” quoting Algerian press agency ‘Aps’. The channel is based in the Mauritius Islands. The broadcast includes news programmes dealing with the day’s hot topics. The channel, the site reports, wants to promote the development of relationships between Arab Middle East and Gulf countries and the African continent and will use the contribution of correspondents in the various African capitals. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Nigeria: Petition: Yerima Marriage to 13yr Old Child

A coalition of Nigerian women’s groups, activists and academics signed and delivered a Petition to the Senate calling for an investigation into the marriage of Senator Yerima to a 13 year old Egyptian girl. They also asked for Yerima to be suspended. Whilst the Nigerian government is busy complaining to the BBC over the TV documentary “Welcome to Lagos” for damaging Nigeria’s image, the same gutless government is refusing to condemn and suspend one of it’s members for marrying a 13 year old. Instead they have asked the coalition of women to take the matter to court making them complicit in this crime. If this was anywhere else given the seriousness of the matter, we would expect a statement from the President — Silence.

“Section 22 prohibits betrothal of a child under the age of 13. Today one of our senators, Senator Yerima, who is a member of the highest law making body in the country, is committing the same offence that attracts the penalty of five years imprisonment or N500,000 fine or both.

“If we have a man like Senator Yerima, what happens to our bill on child abuse? We are calling for his withdrawal because it is a shame that Senator Yerima should contract marriage with a thirteen year old.

“This year, the one he married when she was fifteen would be seventeen this year. If we allow this to go on, by this time next year, he would be marrying a six-year old girl.

“We want the people of Zamfara State to start the process that would recall him from the senate. We are not afraid.”

As I wrote a few days ago, I believe only 13 states have actually signed the Child Rights Act, whilst many of the Sharia northern states claim it is anti their religion and culture [I’m not sure if Zamfara State is one of the states on or not].

In 2005, The Supreme Council for Shari’ah in Nigeria (SCSN) made an official protest against adopting the Child Rights Act and again in 2008 the Kano House of Assembly said the Act was against the religion and culture [of the north].

“Gafasa, in an interview with THISDAY, also said that the Act is “ Against the wishes of Kano and entire Northern part of the country as its against our religion and culture”

The Petition’

The attention of the Nigerian Human Rights Community has been drawn by media reports on a marriage which reportedly took place recently between Senator Ahmed Sani Yerima and a purported 13-year old Egyptian child at the National Mosque in Abuja, paying the sum of $100,000.0 (one hundred thousand U.S. dollars only) as ‘dowry’. The said media include: The Punch, THISDAY, LEADERSHIP, NEXT, NATIONAL LIFE and TRIBUNE.

Following these publications which, to date, have not been refuted, the human rights community in Nigeria and beyond has expressed concern and consternation at the alleged actions of the Distinguished Senator which are considered both condemnable and patently illegal, especially as they relate to Nigeria’s statutory and case law as well as its international status. The allegations include, but are not limited to the fact:

1. That the said Senator Yerima “enticed” a 13 year old Egyptian child into marriage

2. That the said marriage could not be formalised in Egypt for reasons of child marriage being prohibited under their Law.

3. That a sum of $100,000.00 (about N15m) was paid by Senator Yerima as ‘dowry’.

4. That about 30 members of the said Egyptian child’s relatives were in Nigeria at the Senator’s expense for the said wedding

5. That the Senator is alleged to have married in 2006 or thereabouts, a 15 year old (Hauwa’u) who, Senator Yerima also allegedly caused to drop out of school at JSS 3, as his fourth wife.

6. That Senator Yerima recently divorced the same Hauwa’u (now 17 years old and nursing a child for him) to make room for yet another marriage, again, with a 13 year old Egyptian child.

These allegations have far reaching consequencies especially for the following reasons:

1. A seeming violation of Section 21 of the Child Rights Act 2003, which is applicable in Abuja where the said marriage purportedly took place. The Child Rights Act forbids marriage with anyone under 18 years and criminalises same with a fine of N 500,000 or 5-year jail term, or both.

2. A seeming violation of Nigeria’s obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child an International Human Rights Instrument to which Nigeria is a party.

3. The treatment of women and girls who by the Senator’s actions in reference, not only dehumanises them but also has implications for truncating the education of female minors thereby jeopardizing their future and healthy livelihoods.

4. The implications for immigration and the scourge of human trafficking considering allegations of wrongful entry of the child bride and 30 members of her family into Nigeria.

Based on these and the need to hold all Nigerians accountable for their actions and inactions particularly when such actions involve violations of Nigeria’s domestic and international obligations for the promotion and protection of the rights of citizens; the Senate is being urged to kindly, as a matter of urgent national interest, to:

1. Cause these allegations to be thoroughly investigated with a view to establishing the actual names of the child-bride, her age and the circumstances of her entry into Nigeria;

2. Establish the legality or otherwise of this action, considering the high personal status of Senator Yerima , his status in society as a lawmaker and leader, and the negative effect of such acts on the image of Nigeria

3. Cause its findings and decisions to be made public for the same reason as indicated in (b) above.

Your Excellency Sir, it is indeed, in the interest of the Senate to ensure that these allegations are thoroughly investigated, as it cannot be acceptable that the distinguished and hallowed Chamber of the Senate be a safe harbour for impunity by its highly placed members.

Your Excellency, xxx submits most respectfully that it is your responsibility to ensure that the

Senate and its reputation are protected of any real or percieved wrong doing. Nigerians who are

signatories to this petition look up to your person and office to assure them of the Constitutional

guarantees of protection for all citizens irrespective of any leanings.

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


Arizona Governor Hits Back Against Obama Border Remark on Youtube

Gov. Jan Brewer took a swipe at President Barack Obama on Friday, releasing a YouTube video that criticizes the commander in chief for making light of the Arizona’s border struggles.

The piece, which was released by Brewer’s election campaign, flashes statistics about border-related crime, then cuts to video of Obama’s remarks at the recent White House Correspondents’ Dinner.

In the snippet, Obama is at the podium and says, “We all know what happens in Arizona when you don’t have ID. Adios, amigos,”

His remarks, which were in reference to SB 1070 — the state’s tough new immigration law — and Republican Sen. John McCain’s assertion that he has not been identified as a maverick, drew laughter from the crowd.

The Brewer campaign video then fades to a stark black screen that says, “No one in Arizona is laughing. Do your job and secure the border.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Finland: Major Unemployment Differences Among Immigrant Groups

Significant differences exist in the employment situation for immigrants of different nationalities in Finland. The highest rates of unemployment are found among Somalis, Iraqis and Afghans who arrived as refugees. Annika Forsander, who is Director of Immigration Affairs for the City of Helsinki, is especially critical of employer discrimination against Somalis.

Figures from Statistics Finland show that unemployment rates vary greatly according to nationality. Refugees top the list of those without jobs. For example, the rate of unemployment for Somalis, Iraqis and Afghans is over 50%. That they ended up in Finland, in many cases, was a matter of chance and finding a way into the job market can take years.

The Director of Immigration Affairs for the City of Helsinki, Annika Forsander, is dismayed by the position of Somalis in the Finnish capital. In other countries, Somali immigrants have integrated well into society.

“Discrimination is clearly the big reason why Somalis have not been able to enter the job market. Of those who have been here 15 to 20 years, half have completed degrees in Finland. Not even that helps,” says Forsander.

Language skills are often used as an excuse by employers to turn down foreign job applicants.

“If someone has been able to complete a degree using Finnish, it is hard to accuse him or her of lacking language skills,” Forsander points out.

The rate of unemployment among native, ethnic Finns is 8.7%. There are some smaller groups of foreign residents whose unemployment rate is even lower. For example, unemployment among Indians and Nepalese is 7%. Also, immigrants from other Western countries do well in the job market.

According to Annika Forsander, foreigners in this category have usually moved to Finland for jobs.

“For example, among the Indians there are many who come to work in the IT sector, and also many entrepreneurs,” Forsander explains.

Unemployment among Finland’s largest foreign community, Russians, is around 28%. As a group, the Russian community is very heterogeneous.

Because of difficulties in finding a job, resident foreigners often start their own business.

The most entrepreneurial group is Turks. One third of residents of Turkish origin run their own businesses. Among native Finns, that figure is only 10%.

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

Firm Sues Sweden Over Dislodged Muslim Lawyer

A law firm is suing the Swedish state for discrimination after one if its lawyers, a Muslim woman, was removed from a case following a complaint from a Christian asylum seeker.

The woman’s employer, Salmi & Partners, was outraged after the Supreme Migration Court ruled on Thursday to have the woman taken off the case.

“It’s just pure discrimination. We’re going to demand 100,000 kronor ($13,000) from the state for this violation,” said Ismo Salmi at the firm.

Salmi & Partenrs has also vowed to request leave from the Supreme Administrative Court to appeal the verdict.

The lawyer at the centre of the row was appointed last autumn by the Migration Board to represent an Egyptian man seeking asylum in Sweden. The man, a Christian, said he and his family were seeking asylum on grounds of persecution by Muslims in their home country.

On realising that his legal counsel was to be a Muslim woman, the man asked to be assigned a different lawyer.

The Migration Board refused his request, arguing that the lawyer’s religion did not constitute sufficient grounds for a switch. The man then turned to the Migration Court of Appeal, where he stated that he did not trust his lawyer, a veil-wearing Muslim woman, to best represent his interests.

The appeals court however reached the same conclusion as the Migration Board and declined to allow the asylum seeker the right to be assigned a new lawyer.

But the Egyptian man appealed again. This time, the Supreme Migration Court ruled in his favour, giving him the right to be assigned a lawyer who was not a Muslim.

Explaining its verdict, the court wrote that the man’s grounds for seeking asylum were such that “his reaction to the situation is understandable.”

At Salmi & Partners, Ismo Salmi said if the ruling were allowed to stand there was a serious risk that other law firms would think twice about employing lawyers who wore Muslim veils, as to do so might reduce their chances of getting work from the Migration Board.

“It’s unbelievable that a superior court in Sweden can make a ruling like this. It’s an incredible violation,” he said.

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

Italy: Police Smash Fake Residency Permit Scam

Roma, 7 May (AKI) — Finance police in the Italian capital Rome on Friday arrested a Moroccan immigrant suspected of faking residency permits. The suspect charged customers between 1,000 and 1,500 euros for a fake residency permit and up to 150 euros for a counterfeit ID card, according to investigators.

“The arrest followed an investigation coordinated by Rome prosecutors and involving finance police from Rome and Milan,” police said in a statement.

“Eight other individuals were identified during the investigation who are suspected of belonging to a criminal organisation which supplied clients (to the Moroccan).”

The Moroccan allegedly abetted immigrants living in Italy illegally, some of whom were already suspected of having committed serious crimes, police said.

Investigators in a month-long probe uncovered a counterfeiting racket operating across the country, police said.

The scam faked all types of documents allowing immigrants, including individuals with criminal records, to move between Europe and North Africa using different IDs.

The Moroccan allegedly operated out of a garage equipped with security cameras, to which access was gained through a series of gates and reinforced steel doors.

When police raided the garage, they seized blank driving licences, identity cards and passports. They also confiscated hundreds of photocopied documents being used a ‘templates’ in which to insert data, forms and documents in Arabic.

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

Tom Tancredo: The Next Arizona Earthquake

If opponents of the new Arizona law on illegal immigration think it is radical to actually enforce federal immigration laws, they are surely going to get ulcers over Arizona’s next innovation.


What angers the critics of the new Arizona law is the expectation that Arizona will actually enforce this state law. To opponents of immigration law enforcement, this is a dangerous and un-American concept.

The co-author of SB1070, Sen. Russell Pearce, is the former Maricopa County deputy sheriff who also wrote the successful 2004 referendum ballot measure, Proposition 200, as well as several other immigration-related laws since then. The man has a track record of success: All of those earlier laws have been upheld in state and federal courts.

Pearce has another bill in the legislative pipeline that will make SB1070 look like a lollipop next to a firecracker. It aims to blow the lid off K-12 educational spending on children who are not citizens. It does not seek to deny them an education; it merely requires that the cost of that education be calculated and made public.


SB1097 requires the state Department of Education to “collect data from school districts on populations of students who are enrolled in school districts and who are aliens who cannot prove lawful residence in the United States.”

The second thing the bill requires is that the state Department of Education submit a report to the legislature summarizing the data and estimating the cost to educate those students who cannot prove lawful status.

Bingo. When implemented — after withstanding a year or two of court challenges — the public will then know the true cost of providing public education to the children of illegal aliens.

A citizen might wonder why such data are not collected already. The answer is that school officials and the public officials who oversee them — school boards and state legislators — do not want to have that data. Why? Because then the public would have that information.

Education costs is only one example of a dirty little secret: Where immigration policy is concerned, ignorance is bliss. The open-borders lobby believes illegal aliens should have the same rights and entitlements to public benefits as citizens and legal immigrants. So, the logic goes, it is better not to have that information available to lawmakers and the public. Knowing too much about the true costs of illegal immigration stirs up controversy.

If the added cost of educating illegal aliens is only 3 or 4 percent of the school budget, citizens might not be too concerned about that cost. But what about school districts where it is 15 percent or 20 percent or 30 percent? In that case, some citizens might want to reduce that cost. How would you do that? One way would be to reduce the population of illegal aliens through more vigorous enforcement of immigration laws.

But that’s not the only way. Citizens — that is, voters — could tell the schools to stop providing that free public education to illegal aliens.

You’ve heard that would be unconstitutional? Well, that’s a myth.

While it is true that the 1982 Plyler decision did forbid schools from denying a public education to children who are illegal aliens, the court did not say such a denial is unconstitutional. The court merely said Texas had not proved its case that providing that education placed an undue hardship on the public treasury.

That may have been true in Texas in 1982, but is it true in Arizona in 2010? Is it true anywhere in Texas, Arizona, California, Nevada, Colorado, Oklahoma, Utah or Georgia in 2010?

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UN Blasts Sweden Over Egypt Expulsion

Sweden breached the rights of an Egyptian man when it deported him to his home country where he was later tortured, the United Nations Committee on Torture ruled on Friday.

“The committee has found that… the guarantees given by Egypt were not enough to assure that Mr. Ahmed Agiza was not at risk of torture,” the committee said in a statement from Geneva.

The committee had already condemned Sweden in 2005 for having expelled Agiza despite international laws that governments should not send suspects to countries where they are likely to be tortured.

The Egyptian was deported in December 2001 along with another man, Mohammad

al Zery. Both were asylum seekers and suspected of involvement in an extremist

organisation linked to the Al-Qaeda network.

After Sweden’s intelligence agency Säpo ordered that both men be expelled, they were handed over to US agents, put on a plane leased by the Pentagon and flown to Egypt.

The pair claimed they were mistreated during their transfer to Cairo and then tortured during their detention in Egypt.

In Egypt, Agiza received a 25-year prison sentence for terrorism which was later reduced to 15 years. Zery was freed by an Egyptian military court.

Sweden agreed in July 2008 to pay more than €300,000 (then $470,000) to Zery after admitting that he was wrongly expelled.

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

Culture Wars

Denmark: Gay Adoption on the Lawbooks

Five Liberals crossed the floor to secure a majority for gay adoptions.

Homosexual couples who live in a registered partnership in Denmark are now able to adopt children following the passage of a resolution in the Danish Parliament today.

The resolution, proposed by Liberal Alliance Political Spokesman Simon Emil Ammitzbøll, was carried after five members of the ruling Liberal Party crossed the floor to vote with the opposition.

“I am delighted that we are now a step closer to equal rights for homosexuals and heterosexuals,” Ammitzbøll says.

“Homosexual couples can be just as good parents as heterosexuals — being a good parent is neither about sexuality, religion nor finances but about loving and caring for children,” he adds.

Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen (Lib) and Justice Minister Lars Barfoed (Cons) have previously said that homosexual adoption is not government policy.

Edited by Julian Isherwood

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

Flag Wars! Teen Gets 3-Day Cinco De Mayo Suspension

Student wouldn’t let Mexican colors fly higher than the Stars and Stripes

A high school sophomore in Texas says he has received a three-day suspension for taking down a Mexican flag that was hung in is school higher than the Stars and Stripes.

Nick Morris is a student at Klein Collins High School in Spring, Texas, a northern suburb of Houston. On May 5, or Cinco de Mayo, the date many Mexicans in the U.S. commemorate a historical victory over the invading French army in 1862, Morris noticed a Mexican flag hung in the school’s main hallway.

According to his own admission before school authorities, Morris tore down the flag and, upon being unable to find its owner, threw it in the trash.

“I told them — I was just straight up with them — I said, ‘Yes, I did take down the flag,” Morris explained to radio host Michael Berry on AM 740 KTRH radio in Houston. “I told them it was flying in the middle of the hallway. I said, ‘That’s not right; you don’t fly a foreign flag inside a school.”


Now, Morris says, he’s been issued a three-day in-school suspension for his act and told to pay for replacement of the flag.

Morris also says that school administrators questioned what he “had against Cinco de Mayo” and that many of his schoolmates have labeled him as racist.

For Morris, however, his motivation wasn’t a disdain for Mexicans or the Mexican flag, but a defense of American patriotism.

“Cinco De Mayo is a great holiday,” Morris told the radio host. “I have no problem with red white and green everywhere; it’s student speech, it’s what America basically is. I said, ‘The only problem I did have is when you fly the flag of a neighboring country in a public school.’“


But while Morris has also clarified the flag was merely hung in a hallway and not on a pole or over the American flag, he does contend the Mexican flag was displayed disrespectfully, since it was posted higher than the Stars and Stripes.

“I told them it was higher than the American flag. I said there is one American flag in this building; it’s lower than the Mexican flag,” Morris said in his radio interview. “I took a tape measure and measured; that flag was 4 feet higher than [both] the American and Texas flag.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Nicholas Packwood said...

Re: "War criminal attacked in prison"

One of Radislav Krstic' attackers was reportedly Indrit Krasniqi who, lest anyone forget, was a monster. The Serbs would have done the world a favour had he been killed before he had the change to take up residence in the UK.