Friday, January 10, 2003

News Feed 20100526

Financial Crisis
»Crisis an Opportunity, Tremonti Says
»Dow Closes Below 10,000 for the First Time Since Feb. 8
»Greece: Vacationers Staying Away
»Greece: New Protests and Strikes Over Pensions
»Greek Gov’t Announces Harsh Measures in Tax Admin
»Italy: Cabinet Expected to Approve €24 Billion in Cuts
»Spain: Zapatero Confirms Tax on Rich People Soon
»Spain: Real Estate Mortgages Rise in March by 2.4 %
»The Euro Rescue Package Poses Incalculable Risks
»CAIR to Pakistan Terror Suspects: Clam Up
»Farrakhan: ‘God is Looking for Soldiers Ready for War With Satan’
»Heated Argument on Rig Before Blast…
»New York Community Board Supports Ground Zero Mosque
»Rifqa Bary Diagnosed With Cancer
»The Pure Heroin So Potent it Can Kill Before Users Even Take the Needles From Their Arms — Available for Just $10
»Two More Census Workers Blow the Whistle
Europe and the EU
»‘Bigamous’ Turkish Man Stripped of Swiss Nationality
»Bono, Geldof Group Blasts Italy on Aid
»Hello? Hello? Greek PM’s Phone Cut Off by Mistake
»Italy: Growing Number of Children Reported Missing
»Italy: PM Says Estranged Wife ‘Knows How to Save’
»Italy: Berlusconi to Stay as Long as Italy Needs Him
»Italy: Young Adults ‘Forced to Stay in Nest’
»Italy: Priest Arrested for ‘Having Sex With Minor’
»Italy: 24 Billion Euro Austerity Package
»Poland: Personal Items of Smolensk Victims to be Destroyed?
»Pope: Cyprus: Row Over Visit Between Orthodox Prelates
»Spain: OECD Improves Outlook on Growth and Employment
»Spain: First Leg Transplant Ever Authorised
»Switzerland: Catholic Convent Sheltered Jewish Refugees
»Vatican: Church Looked at ‘About 100’ Abuse Cases in Italy
»EU: Towards Visa Liberalisation Albania and Bosnia
»Kosovo: Surprise Visits by Serbian Officials Banned
Mediterranean Union
»InfraMed Fund Start-Up, Bassanini Presides
Israel and the Palestinians
»Greece-Israel: Joint Air Military Forces Exercise
»Israeli Missile Attack Drill, Sirens Ring Out
»Surprise Invitation, Obama Reaches Out to Netanyahu
Middle East
»BP’s Trade With Iran: From Environmental Disaster to National Security Threat
»Failed ‘US Bomber’ In Al-Qaeda Video
»Wealthy Arab People Choose Istanbul for Their Weddings
»Commander of Polish Air Force Was in the Cockpit Before Fatal Crash That Killed President Lech Kaczynski
South Asia
»Air India Staff Stage Strike Amid Press Gag
»India: Passport Racket Out in the Open After Air Crash
»Indonesia: Islamic Scholars Against Trans Working in Women’s Beauty Salons
»Thailand: Muslim Separatists Blamed for Bomb Attacks
Far East
»Concern Grows Over China’s Dominance of Rare-Earth Metals
»Korea: North Preparing the Crisis for Some Time
»South Korea and North Korea Prepare for War
Sub-Saharan Africa
»Outspoken South African Youth Leader Praises Robert Mugabe’s Land Grab Policy
»South Africa: Uproar Over M&G Prophet Muhammad Cartoon
»South Africa: Letter From the Editor of the Mail & Guardian
»South Africa: No Apology From Mail & Guardian
»South Africa: South African Paper Refuses to Apologise for Cartoon of Prophet Mohammed
»South Africa: Zapiro’s Cartoon: A Lesson in Democracy
»South Africa: So What’s the Big Deal With Drawing the Prophet?
»South Africa: Why I’m Crossing Swords With Zapiro
»‘Birthplace Sweden But Differences Remain’
»Feds Issue Terror Watch for Somalis Coming Across the Border—too Little Too Late
»ICE Busts California Flight School in Massive Visa Fraud Scheme
»Italy-Libya: Schengen Mission to Focus on Illegal Immigration
»Italy: Bangladeshi Migrants Detained by Police
»Italy: Northern League — “Good-Hearted Lads”
»Spain: The New Arizona
»Will Response to Arizona Immigration Law Limit L.A. Electricity?
Culture Wars
»Morocco: Elton John Due to Perform at Music Festival
»Do Clothes Make the Muslim? Buddhists Don’t Wear Burqas

Financial Crisis

Crisis an Opportunity, Tremonti Says

Modern regulations needed for today’s global market

(ANSA) — Paris, May 26 — The current economic crisis can be an opportunity and the way it is handled will determine whether it will have a positive or negative impact on European and international strategies, Italian Economy Minister Giulio Tremonti said on Wednesday.

Speaking at a forum held here by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Tremonti said “we are at a watershed in history, this is not a short-term economic event. The intensity of the phenomena we have witnessed is historic and is changing political and economic realities”.

The future after the current crisis, the Italian minister observed, “will be built on two pillars: a ‘technical’ and technological one as well as a ‘juridical’ one”.

“The great economic cycles have always had a link with technological advances, from the steam engine to the internal combustion one, from the computer to artificial intelligence.

But technological advances are not enough if imbalances in rules and regulations are not corrected,” he added.

The current economic crisis, Tremonti said, “brought to light how the market and the rules which should govern it became unglued. The former became global while the latter remained local. And this caused big problems”.

“Our era today is marked by two words: ‘globalization’ and ‘crisis’. For ten years we lived in the utopia of globalization, a golden age, and now we are closing this decade in crisis.

Whether this will have a positive or negative outcome will depend on us,” the minister explained. According to Tremonti the way out of the economic crisis “can be summed up in three words: correctness, transparency and integrity”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Dow Closes Below 10,000 for the First Time Since Feb. 8

Shares on American indexes could not hold on to gains Wednesday, slipping lower in the last hour of trading.

The Dow Jones industrial average closed below 10,000 for the first time since Feb. 8. The Dow declined 69.45 points, or 0.69 percent, to 9,974.30. The broader Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index dipped 0.57 percent and the technology heavy Nasdaq was down 0.68 percent.

[Return to headlines]

Greece: Vacationers Staying Away

Crisis Hits Greek Tourism as Cancellations Soar

By Manfred Ertel

The Greek tourism industry, which was hoped to contribute to the country’s recovery, is in crisis. Hundreds of hotels are for sale, and visitor numbers are in sharp decline. The cash-strapped government is hardly in a position to help.

The season got off to a late start this year. It is mid-May, there is bright sunshine in the skies over Greece, and Dimitris Fassoulakis is standing on the abandoned terrace of his hotel on the southern coast of Crete. The lobby and the restaurant are empty, and there is no one in the pool. “Pick a spot,” says the manager, spreading his arms widely.

Fassoulakis’s bungalows complex Valley Village, which is located on the green outskirts of Matala, a former hippie bastion, has 70 rooms and more than 200 beds, only eight of which are occupied at the moment. The vacation season in Crete normally begins in early April, sometimes even at the end of March. But this year the hotelier has only just opened his doors, with 50 of the 210 days in the season already gone before it has even begun.

“Owning a hotel is no longer a good business,” says Fassoulakis. He is now 41, his father Manolis built the complex and his two brothers are also involved in the business. If this weren’t the case, he would have sold it a long time ago. Only last year, Fassoulakis began renovation work, hired architects and obtained building permits. But now he lacks the funds to proceed, and loans are no longer being approved. “How are we supposed to continue?” he asks. The coming high season doesn’t bode well, either, with only 50 percent of rooms already booked — in the middle of the summer vacation period.

“You see the crisis and you hear it,” says another hotelier. “Normally there’s a lot of activity and noise on the street at this time of day.” Instead, one can hear the birds singing. It’s summer in Greece, and the tourists are staying away.

Cancellations Up

Reservations are down by an average of about 30 percent nationwide since last summer, and experts expect a large number of cancellations. The Association of Greek Tourism Enterprises (SETE) reported that in the first 24 hours after the general strike in early May, more than 5,800 reservations were cancelled in 28 Athens hotels. According to SETE calculations, at least 300,000 Germans will decide not to make their usual trips to Greece this year.

Dozens of conferences and major events have been cancelled in the country’s two largest cities, Athens and Thessaloniki, as well as in Crete and the northern Greek beach resort area of Chalkidiki. After the riots in the capital, some countries, like Romania, issued travel warnings for Athens.

More than 400 hotels are now officially for sale: 81 on the Ionian Islands, 48 on Rhodes, 50 on the Cyclades and 44 on Crete. The Greek vacation atlas, with names like Paros, Naxos, Andros, Milos, Santorini, Corfu and Kos, reads like one big bargain-basement sale. The Athens daily newspaper Kathimerini estimates the value of all properties currently on the market at more than €5 billion ($6.2 billion). They also include luxury hotels, the names of which have been concealed from the public.

Dependent on Tourism

Marred by general strikes, mass protests, burning banks and deaths, the vacation paradise hasn’t looked like one for weeks, at least not in the news. The Greeks themselves have less money to spend on vacation, while tourists have other options.

And then there are the ongoing stories of corruption, sleaze and fraud, like the massive tax debt of pop singer and actor Tolis Voskopoulos. Using tricks and deception, he managed to avoid paying €5.5 million on back taxes for 17 years. Until last week, the singer’s wife was the deputy minister for tourism in the administration of Prime Minister George Papandreou. She resigned because of her husband.

One in five jobs depends directly or indirectly on tourism, as does — or did, at least — 18 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. Some 850,000 people work in the tourism industry in Greece.

Hall Full or Half Empty?

“Tourism is our heavy industry,” says hotel manager Andreas Metaxas. “It’s a key economic sector next to agriculture and shipping.” The latter is also suffering as a result of the global crisis.

Metaxas, 49, is sitting in the garden of his five-star, 285-room hotel near Heraklion on Crete. “Our hotel is half-booked — half full, not half empty,” he says. This distinction is important to him, because “cancellations sound like an eternal alarm signal, one that says: Do not visit Greece under any circumstances.”

As vice president of the Greek hotel association, Metaxas is familiar with the problems in his industry, and unlike others, he also talks about them. He talks about the air traffic controllers who keep shutting down air traffic. Or the sailors’ union, which went on strike on May 1 and shut down all ferry traffic to the Greek islands, and, at the end of April, refused to allow about 1,000 passengers on a cruise ship in the port of Piraeus to board their luxury liner.

Metaxas invested €2.5 million in his extensive complex last winter and €5 million during the previous winter — for new bathrooms, a new swimming pool, more landscaping and better recreational options. “You need money to guarantee quality and a range of services. At the same time, you have to cut costs and reduce prices to keep old customers and gain new ones,” he says. “That borders on magic.”

Polishing Greece’s Image

He knows that the two things are incompatible, and that the crisis is still far from its peak in Crete. This spells disaster for the island, which derives 43 percent of its total economic output from tourism.

The industry is now hoping for assistance from the already overwhelmed government, as well as for new ideas from the government tourism organization, EOT, which has set up its own crisis team. An image campaign abroad could help, one that presents images of the other, hospitable side of Greece, the home of the sirtaki dance and tzatziki.

Even the campaign requires a budget, which could be a problem. The EOT already owes Greek and foreign media organizations about €100 million for past ad campaigns.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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

Greece: New Protests and Strikes Over Pensions

(ANSAmed) — ATHENS, MAY 26 — Greek unions have called new protests for next week and are getting ready to call a general strike against pension reform, while the government is giving off mixed signals concerning the contents of the ad hoc draft law and EU-IMF accords. The communist union Pame has called a strike for June 1, while the private sector confederation Gsee and that of state employees Adedy have announced one for June 5. Gsee, Adedy and Pame, according to what ANSA has learnt, are also prepared to call another general strike when the draft law on pensions will be debated in Parliament. Gsee president Yannis Panagopoulos announced that during a meeting tomorrow of union leaders he will be proposing non-participation in a meeting requested by Labour Minister Andreas Loverdos on pension reform, since, as he said in a letter sent to the minister, it is pointless to discuss “what has already been decided on with industrialists”. This morning’s press has criticized Loverdos for his statements over the past few days according to which the EU-IMF would have brought forward fresh requests on pensions, including the speeding up of reform from 2018 to 2015. Yesterday, government spokesman Giorgio Petalotis said that these requests were not included in the agreement signed with the EU-IMF, but Brussels firmly denied this, saying the opposite was true. Newspapers on the other hand, along with the centre-right opposition, believe Brussels, commenting that it is likely that not everything decided in the agreement had been included in the draft law, and interpreting Loverdos’s statements as an attempt to make people believe that the government is negotiating with Brussels what in reality it has no choice but to carry out.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Greek Gov’t Announces Harsh Measures in Tax Admin

(ANSAmed) — ATHENS — The Greek government has announced a purge of the tax administration, removing 20 high-ranking officials and putting dozens of employees under investigation for alleged corruption, illegal economic activities and tax evasion. In an effort aimed at “restoring the reputation of the tax administration”, as part of the fight against corruption and tax evasion, the Finance Ministry has also announced cross checks on the incomes of all its employees — some of whom owners of property incompatible with their economic possibilities. In a statement, the ministry noted that the 20 high-ranking functionaries had been replaced for not having ensured fair tax administration “in numerous tax offices across Greece”. Seventy employees have also been put under investigation after it was found that with an annual income of just over 50,000 euros, they owned property of between 800,000 and 3 million euros. Also to be investigated are alleged cases of corruption, smuggling and other illegal economic activities, the falsification of documents and negligence in relation to 50 reports (some anonymous and other not) against the employees of 31 tax offices, 10 customs agencies and other offices. In addition, 234 employees have been put under investigation for not having submitted tax declarations for the 2007-2008 period. Tax evasion costs the Greek tax office 15 billion euros per year and it has been calculated that a quarter of taxes are not paid due to bribes to tax office functionaries. Over the past few weeks, the parliament has passed an “anti-corruption law” which provides for a prison sentence and fines up to 1 million euros for tax evaders. Moreover, removal from office and confiscation of property will be inflicted on ministers, representatives, local administrators and state functionaries found guilty of corruption or embezzlement. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Cabinet Expected to Approve €24 Billion in Cuts

Rome, 25 May (AKI) — The Italian cabinet was expected to approve 24 billion euros in budget cuts late Tuesday on growing concern that the euro currency could falter after Greece nearly defaulted on its debt. The proposed cuts include a 10 percent salary reduction for politicians earning more than 80,000 euros a year, a public administration hiring freeze and a crack down on tax evasion.

Twenty-billion euros of the proposed funding cuts would come from austerity measures, while four billion euros would be raised from increased tax collection, Italian daily Il Messaggero reported.

The European Union has asked its 27 members to implement measures to curb public spending in a bid to prevent a repeat of the Greece’s debt crisis.

“The cuts are deep just like Europe wanted,” said Fabrizio Cicchitto, majority leader in the lower house of parliament, in a Tuesday interview with Sky Italia.

“The cuts will be spread equally and affect ministries, high salaries and political costs.”

European countries have committed to a 110 billion-euro bailout package to prevent Greece from defaulting on its debt.

That was followed by 750 billion euros in credit pledges from countries that use the euro to reassure investors that none of the 16 countries which use the currency will default on its debt.

The measures have not prevented investor jitters and the euro on Tuesday dropped to its lowest level against the yen since November 2001.

It also slid to a four-year low 1.2144 against the dollar on 19 May and has since traded slightly higher..

Italy’s 1.76 trillion-euro debt, the world’s fourth biggest, trails only that of the US, Japan and Germany.

Its public debt is forecast to rise from 115 percent of gross domestic product in 2009 to around 118 percent by the end of 2010.

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

Spain: Zapatero Confirms Tax on Rich People Soon

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, MAY 26 — The Spanish Government will “soon” pass a tax on higher incomes which will only involve “citizens in a higher income bracket”. It was confirmed today, before Congress, by Premier José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. Following questions by the leader of the opposition People’s Party PP), Mariano Rajoy, Zapatero clarified that “99.99%” of the population will be excluded from the new tax, but he did not clarify if the tax increase will concern personal income tax, property tax and individual personal income tax. On his part, Rajoy accused the government of generating lack of confidence and “great uncertainty” by the cuts approved for top civil servants, pensions freeze, VAT increase, which will come into force on June 1 and by the new levy; measures which “will affect consumers and growth and the generation of employment”. In his reply, the Socialist Premier recalled that the governments are having to take rapid decisions, so as to recover the markets confidence and that the Executive is studying the tax profile the new tax on rich people which will need to have. The PP has responded that it will not at Congress approve the measures for cuts of a further 15 billion in the public deficit by 2012, already approved by the Government, if it does not withdraw the pensions freeze. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Spain: Real Estate Mortgages Rise in March by 2.4 %

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, MAY 26 — The number of real estate mortgages rose by 2.4% in March compared with the same month in 2009, the third consecutive rise after those of 2.3% and 8.5% on an annual basis seen in January and February. According to the data released today by the National Statistics Institute, the average value of real estate mortgages reached 116,345 euros in March, 2.6% less than in the same month in 2009; while the capital lent was down by 0.3% on an annual basis, to 6.226 billion. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

The Euro Rescue Package Poses Incalculable Risks

Germany has made a huge mistake in backing an emergency rescue package for eurozone countries, argues president of the Ifo economic institute Prof. Hans-Werner Sinn.

The rescue package for the euro passed by parliament on Friday is contrary to German interests.

Analysis by the Ifo Institute for Economic Research at the University of Munich concludes that contrary to some contentions there is no systemic crisis of the single currency the euro. In fact, the euro is still overvalued in terms of purchasing power parity. Its true value lies at around $1.14. Also the inflation rate shows no indication that the currency is in danger, since at a current 1.5 percent it is clearly below the average rate of inflation that prevailed for the Deutsche mark.

It was not the euro that was endangered in the crisis but rather the ability of the European debtor states to continue to finance themselves on such favourable terms as Germany. In addition many banks, in particular in France, have great problems because the market value of their claims against the debtor countries were at the risk of falling further. For this reason the French especially pressured Germany to accept the rescue package.

With the euro rescue package becoming German law, Germany will de facto be assuming the liability for the debts of the other euro states. In addition to the direct budgetary risks, this guarantee has further problematic results for the German economy.

The foreign exchange markets have already realised that with the rescue package the risk for the euro has risen on the whole because now all countries are endangered. Since these measures have been announced, the value of the euro has clearly fallen. Before the decision, the market pressure had instead concentrated on the bonds of the debtor countries.

More serious than the possible burdens from German liabilities are the false signals for investments and hence the expected weakening of economic growth in Germany.

After joining the euro the southern Europeans profited from favourable interest rates and were able to finance an artificial economy boom on credit. Higher interest rates in comparison with Germany would have now ended the artificial boom. This effect will be prevented by the rescue package.

For Germany a mirror image of this argument applies. German savings have been flowing for years to southern Europe and to the US. Hardly any investments were made in the domestic economy and Germany slid into the bottom ranks in terms of economic growth.

Then the Greece crisis shook confidence regarding the creditworthiness of the debtor countries, which led to a correction in interest rates. For Germany this correction was advantageous, because it was to be expected that a greater portion of German capital exports — €166 billion as of late — would in future have remained in Germany and would have ensured more domestic growth, as we were accustomed to in the pre-euro era.

The new law will prevent this necessary correction, however, will continue to direct capital abroad and will prevent the so urgently necessary investments in Germany. Even with massive tax reductions for investors, we will not be able to prevent this from happening.

The rescue package is an incalculable risk for Germany and is sure to slow its growth.

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


CAIR to Pakistan Terror Suspects: Clam Up

D.C.-based ‘front group’ also advises mosques against helping FBI

A new Council on American-Islamic Relations notice to members advising them against cooperating with the FBI belies the group’s long-held argument that the FBI should restore relations with the group to help agents locate terrorists in the Muslim community.

The FBI severed ties to the so-called Muslim civil-rights group after prosecutors in 2007 implicated it in a criminal scheme to funnel millions of dollars to Hamas suicide bombers and their families. A federal grand jury in Washington is actively investigating CAIR.

The Washington-based nonprofit group last week issued an advisory warning to its Muslim members that the FBI was interrogating “members of the Pakistani-American community” in connection with the Times Square car-bomb case involving a Pakistani-American from Connecticut.


In fact, CAIR distributes a “Muslim community safety kit” at mosques that advises Muslims to “Know your rights.” Remember, it warns, if you are visited by agents:

1) You do not have to talk to the FBI. You have no obligation to talk to the FBI, even if you are not a citizen. Never meet with them or answer any questions.

2) You do not have to permit them to enter your home or office. … Even if they have a warrant, you are under no obligation to answer questions.

As a result, most mosques around the country “don’t cooperate with law enforcement,” the FBI official said.

Moreover, there is evidence CAIR is actually coaching Muslim terror suspects to mislead investigators and obstruct their terrorism investigations.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Farrakhan: ‘God is Looking for Soldiers Ready for War With Satan’

ST. LOUIS, Mo. ( — The efforts of the Nation of Islam members of Muhammad Mosque No. 28 in St. Louis were rewarded with a special visit from the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan on May 23 as they celebrated their move into a new building equipped to aid them in their efforts to better serve the community.

Minister Farrakhan called their acquisition of a new building “a job well done,” however, this was not a traditional dedication ceremony that many have come to expect when a building is opened. The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan said he came to give members of Muhammad Mosque No. 28 an assignment, as well as those spiritual and political leaders who came to hear his message.

The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan

“Those of you who like buildings, you are in the wrong place today, because this is not the most beautiful building in St. Louis. If you are about nice building then don’t come here,” said Min. Farrakhan. “I came to give you an assignment from this house that will show how this house is dedicated, what this house is dedicated to and for, and if the people in the house are not dedicated to that which the house is dedicated, you need to find you another place to go.”

Many religious buildings have become places where people come to be recharged, almost like a place to boost their spiritual immune systems, said the Minister. He did not come to dedicate a building like that, he came to talk to people interested in dedicating their lives to saving their people and who were not afraid to talk to the Black youth turned into warriors by time and circumstances.

“It is set down in the midst of our people who are suffering out there, who are dying out there, who are killing each other out there, who are dropping out of school out there, who have no jobs out there, this mosque is not set down here to be dedicated to just sitting down glorying in a building! The God that I serve, and that I am inviting you to serve is looking for soldiers who want to go to war with Satan!” said Min. Farrakhan. “This kind of house is dedicated to destroy Satan’s world and establishing the Kingdom of God on Earth!”

The mosque was packed with a standing room crowd. Two other overflow rooms on the main level were completely filled along with an overflow room downstairs in the basement of the building that was jam-packed. Each overflow room had a large flat panel screen and speaker setup broadcasting the Minister’s words live. After the inside was filled up, others sat outside under tents in the 92-degree heat, just to hear Minister Farrakhan’s words of guidance.

“Church and religions are getting weaker in their ability to transform human life,” said Minister Farrakhan adding that religious people in many cases become very judgmental, self- righteous and far removed from what is actually happening in the community.

If those who lead the church or the mosque or the synagogue are not involved in creating soldiers who are ready to fight a war against Satan, they will continue to remain “powerless in a world of evil.”

“When God comes, it is a time for war,” said Minister Farrakhan. “God does not come to play with Satan, he comes to make war with Satan.”

Minister Farrakhan said some pastors are afraid to teach a true gospel because the free-for-all atmosphere in the church is how they receive money. They are afraid to teach the true law of God, said the Minister.

“The law does not make you right. The law puts fear in you of doing wrong and makes you appear as if you are doing right,” said Minister Farrakhan. “Jesus is raising people into a demonstration of love that makes you live the law with ease.”

If you love your brother and sister, you will not do that which would hurt them, or destroy the brotherhood or sisterhood, the Minister said.

After ending his remarks, Minister Farrakhan received proclamations from St. Louis Aldermen Greg Carter and Sam Moore. He also received a picture from the Empowerment Network, a group of Black men who have survived prostate cancer. Then, Min. Farrakhan walked to each overflow room to greet those who viewed his message from the remote locations. A joyful crowd greeted him outside the mosque cheering as he delivered words of thanks and encouragement from the steps of the mosque.

A weekend of activities

The special weekend began on May 21, as Ishmael Muhammad, the National Assistant to the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, delivered the keynote address at an evening banquet at the New Northside Conference Center.

Ishmael Muhammad recalled the many times over the years coming to St. Louis to meet Min. Farrakhan, describing it as “a launching pad for Minister Farrakhan’s rebuilding of the Nation of Islam.” The banquet was in honor of those who sacrificed over the decades that the Nation of Islam has been active in St. Louis. He congratulated student minister Donald Muhammad and the laborers of the mosque and exhorted those in attendance to become more active in the work.

“There cannot be a new beginning until we are willing to take on a new spirit,” said Ishmael Muhammad. “It’s not the place that matters, it is the quality of the people who are in that house that are going to make the difference.”

“This is a great occasion from Muhammad Mosque No. 28 and for St. Louis, now the mosque must do its work,” said Akbar Muhammad, international representative of the Nation of Islam. “This is like a family reunion,” he added as he looked over all of the familiar faces of those who have helped spread Islam over the last nearly three decades.

Akbar Muhammad worked tirelessly while based in St. Louis, where he lived and made great progress not only for the Nation of Islam locally, but many national initiatives were developed in St. Louis. The Nation of Islam’s presence here began in 1977 in Akbar Muhammad’s basement in Brentwood, according to Brother Ralph Muhammad, of Muhammad Mosque No. 28B in East St. Louis.

Minister Farrakhan dedicated a mosque on May 31, 1981 in East St. Louis, and now, nearly 30 years later, he was back to celebrate the new property with the members of the Nation of Islam.

On May 22, members of the community got the first look inside the newly renovated Muhammad Mosque No. 28 on West Florissant Avenue. The building is located on the main thoroughfare and runs through a community called “Murderville.” Violent wars between young Bloods and Crips factions have caused numerous sadness and loss of life in the community. It is for that reason, many of those who came to the property for the open house said they were looking forward to seeing the members of the F.O.I. active in the community.

“It’s a very historical and significant day on a number of levels,” Zaki Baruti, president/general of the Universal African Peoples Organization (UAPO). “It signifies a spiritual rebirth here in this particular neighborhood which has been known as a neighborhood with a lot of violence and death taking place over the past few years. Hopefully it offers a beacon of hope and enlightenment for the masses of our young people here in the community,” said Mr. Baruti.

Mr. Baruti said he is sometimes critical of those who erect religious buildings without programmatic thrusts, and sees the establishment of Muhammad Mosque No. 28 as a sign that this is changing.

“Too many times the people who worship in the houses do not come out into the community to do hands-on work with our young people or hands-on work just with the various problems impacting our people, like a ‘pie in the sky’ kind of concept without any reality of dealing with the high incarceration rates of our people, the murder rate of our people, the unemployment of our people, the police assault on our people, all of the myriad of problems facing our people,” said Mr. Baruti. “It is as if the people of many religious affiliations turn a deaf ear to it and just come out on that particular day of worship to celebrate God, but in my humble opinion, they don’t celebrate God on a daily basis because if they did it on a daily basis, they would be out in the community making some significant changes,” he told The Final Call.

Jawed H. Siddiqui, M.D., a St. Louis area cardiologist who enjoys a long relationship with the Nation of Islam here said he was happy and excited about the opportunity for the Muslims in the Nation of Islam to have a center for all of their activities, spiritual, social, educational and economic.

“It is not just a place of worship, it is a center, all of the activities originate right here. We talk about social issues, we talk about problems, and we talk about sick and poor so we can help them,” said Dr. Siddiqui adding that he was an admirer of Minister Farrakhan and listens to his lectures often while driving.

“Farrakhan is one who is giving us courage. The Muslims are in trouble most other places in the world,” Dr. Siddiqui continued. “He is doing a fantastic and wonderful job.”

Chawn Kweli, co-editor of the New Black Panther Party’s newspaper was there with Amirah Sankofa, leader of the St. Louis Chapter of the NBPP. He said Min. Farrakhan remains relevant when other leaders have become disconnected from the younger generation of leaders and activists.

“I love what Minister Farrakhan had to say! On point! The general gave the instructions,” Mr. Kweli told The Final Call. “There is a disconnect between the youth and the elders, a disconnect between religious groups and organizations and the Minister knows how to speak the language and reach across the barriers. He is reaching those who need to be reached regardless to where they come from,” he added.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Heated Argument on Rig Before Blast…

KENNER, La.—More details emerged Wednesday about a disagreement between employees of rig operator Transocean Ltd. and oil giant BP PLC over how to begin shutting down the well just hours before it exploded in the Gulf of Mexico last month.

Testimony on Wednesday about the disagreement, in a hearing held by the U.S. Coast Guard and the Minerals Management Service, which jointly regulate offshore drilling, was likely to bring increased scrutiny to the decisions BP made aboard the rig the day of the explosion, April 20.

There was also likely to be more focus on whether Transocean should have done more to ensure proper procedures were carried out.

Douglas H. Brown, Transocean’s chief mechanic on the Deepwater Horizon rig, said key representatives from both companies had a “skirmish” during an 11 a.m. meeting on April 20. Less than 11 hours later, the well had a blowout, an uncontrolled release of oil and gas, killing 11 workers.

Mr. Brown said Transocean’s crew leaders—including the rig operator’s top manager, Jimmy W. Harrell—strongly objected to a decision by BP’s top representative, or “company man,” over how to start removing heavy drilling fluid and replacing it with lighter seawater from a riser pipe connected to the well head. Such pipes act as conduits between the rig and the wellhead at the ocean floor, and carry drilling fluid in and out of the well.

Removing heavy drilling fluid prior to temporarily sealing up a well and abandoning it is normal, but questions have emerged about whether the crew started the process without taking other precautionary measures against gas rising into the pipe.

It wasn’t clear what Mr. Harrell objected to specifically about BP’s instructions, but the rig’s primary driller, Dewey Revette, and tool pusher, Miles Randall Ezell, both of Transocean, also disagreed with BP, Mr. Brown said. However, BP was in charge of the operation and the BP representative prevailed, Mr. Brown said.

“The company man was basically saying, ‘This is how it’s gonna be,’ “ said Mr. Brown, who didn’t recall the name of the BP representative in question.

Mr. Brown said he didn’t normally pay close attention to drilling discussions during the 11 a.m. meetings, which detailed all events on the rig that day. But he said he recalled the dispute, and the cynical reaction of Mr. Harrell as he walked away afterward, in light of the April 20 accident.

Mr. Harrell “pretty much grumbled in his manner, ‘I guess that is what we have those pinchers for,’ “ Mr. Brown testified. He said it was a reference to the shear rams on the drilling operation’s blowout preventer, which are supposed to sever the main pipe in case of a disaster.

The blowout preventer failed to stop gas from rising to the surface, causing the explosion, BP has said.

Mr. Harrell hasn’t testified and declined repeated requests for comment. Donald Vidrine, listed on Transocean’s documents as BP’s “company man” on April 20, couldn’t be reached. Mr. Revette was among the 11 workers who were killed.

Mr. Vidrine was supposed to testify Thursday but dropped out, citing an undisclosed medical issue, according to a Coast Guard spokeswoman. Another top BP official who was scheduled to testify Thursday, Robert Kaluza, declined to do so, asserting his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, the Coast Guard spokeswoman said.

Mr. Kaluza’s lawyers, in a statement, said: “Bob did no wrong on the Deepwater Horizon, and we will make … sure that this comes out at the appropriate time.”

BP declined to comment on the testimony.

A Transocean spokesman said in a written statement: “The testimony certainly seems to suggest that [Mr. Harrell] disagreed with the operator’s instructions, but what those were and why he disagreed are matters that will ultimately be determined during the course of investigations.”

Mr. Brown, who suffered head injuries during the accident and had to be airlifted to a hospital in Mobile, Ala., also described his own version of the fear and disorder that overtook the rig after the explosion. The blast knocked him into a hole and left him dazed, he said.

When Mr. Brown traveled to the bridge to notify top officials about an injured co-worker, he said, the room was in chaos. And and when he went to the lifeboats, the man taking roll of the crew under the light of the flames consuming part of the deck appeared to be in shock. “This was a man who had known me nine years and was having trouble remembering my name,” Mr. Brown said.

Rig workers regularly conducted safety drills, and sometimes lowered empty lifeboats to the water for practice, but the tests almost always occurred at the same time, Sunday mornings, and never at night, Mr. Brown said.

He said some people were unaccounted for, and he wasn’t sure anyone went to look for them.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

New York Community Board Supports Ground Zero Mosque

A community board in New York has voted to support a proposal to build a mosque in a building just a short walk away from “ground zero,” the site of the devastating terrorist attack on September 11, 2001.

After hours of contentious debate on Tuesday, the board voted 29-1 in favor of the proposal, with 10 members abstaining.

Critics of the plan say it is disrespectful to the victims of the attack to build a Muslim religious space so close to a site destroyed by Islamist extremists.

But supporters, including the Manhattan borough president, say it is important to show tolerance for all religious groups and that the space will encourage a moderate interpretation of Islam very different from the extremist views behind the attack.

The board’s vote is only a recommendation, but is being seen as an indicator of community opinion.

The organization wishing to build the mosque must also obtain approval from the Landmarks Preservation committee, because the building it has bought and intends to modify was built in the 1850s and is under consideration to be classified as a “historic landmark.”

The mosque will include a prayer hall as well as space for community activities.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Rifqa Bary Diagnosed With Cancer

Teen age Christian convert Rifqa Bary now faces the daunting prospect of cancer treatment. Ironic as she is just months away from achieving liberty by reaching her majority in August. Read the Columbus Dispatch and Atlas Shrugs accounts, here and here [see links at URL].

Pastor Jamal Juvanjee, one of Miss Bary’s friends…indicated that the cancer had been detected within the past two weeks…given symptoms including severe vaginal bleeding. An outpatient exploratoy procedure will be conducted tomorow in Columbus, Ohio in view of her affliction.

[Return to headlines]

The Pure Heroin So Potent it Can Kill Before Users Even Take the Needles From Their Arms — Available for Just $10

A potent wave of cheap heroin which can kill users before they pull the syringe from their veins is spreading across America.

Drug smugglers are selling the ‘black tar’ substance for as little as £7 ($10) a bag, raising concerns that its cost will widen its appeal with addicts.

The heroin — named for its dark, gooey consistency — which is being grown in Mexico and Colombia and taken to the U.S., is so pure, it can kill unsuspecting users instantly.

Black tar and other forms of the drug are behind a rise in the number of drug overdose deaths as it attracts a new generation of users who are caught off guard by its potency.

In suburban Chicago’s Will County, annual heroin deaths have nearly tripled from 10 in 2006 to 29.

Patrick O’Neil, coroner in the town, said: ‘We found people who snorted it lying face-down with the straw lying next to them.

‘It’s so potent that we occasionally find the needle in the arm at the death scene.’

Authorities are concerned that the potency and price of the heroin could widen the drug’s appeal, just as crack did for cocaine decades ago.

The substance comes in the form of black tar or brown powder, and it has proven especially popular in rural and suburban areas.


Police are concerned about a growing heroin problem tied to Mexican street gangs from nearby Los Angeles.

Gang members make the quick drive up to deliver heroin straight to high school kids.

‘They tell them, “Just smoke it. It’s just like smoking a cigarette. It’s just like smoking marijuana”,’ Glendale police Sergeant Tom Lorenz said. Once the kids are hooked, ‘they’ve got a customer forever’.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Two More Census Workers Blow the Whistle

You know the old saying: “Everyone loves a charade.” Well, it seems that the Census Bureau may be playing games.

Last week, one of the millions of workers hired by Census 2010 to parade around the country counting Americans blew the whistle on some statistical tricks.

The worker, Naomi Cohn, told The Post that she was hired and fired a number of times by Census. Each time she was hired back, it seems, Census was able to report the creation of a new job to the Labor Department.

Below, I have a couple more readers who worked for Census 2010 and have tales to tell.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

‘Bigamous’ Turkish Man Stripped of Swiss Nationality

A Turkish man who was granted Swiss nationality after marrying a Swiss woman must now return his passport as he has a second family in his country of origin, a Swiss court said Tuesday.

The man, who was married for 26 years to the Swiss national, was found to have a partner in Turkey with whom he had two daughters when he was granted Swiss citizenship, according to a copy of the ruling.

In 2003, he had obtained Swiss citizenship thanks to this marriage to the Swiss citizen.

His wife, who is 20 years older, was aware of his second life in Turkey, but did not report it to authorities until about five years after the man became a Swiss citizen.

According to the court ruling, the man wanted to leave his Swiss wife and child in 1996 and move back to Turkey. However, the couple later decided that they would wait until he obtained Swiss citizenship before separating.

As Swiss authorities could withdraw his nationality if the couple were to divorce within five years of the granting of the citizenship, the couple waited until 2008 before filing their divorce.

In the meantime, the man was travelling regularly to Turkey to visit his second family, and was also providing financial support to them. He also had a third child with his Turkish partner in 2004.

The court papers also show that the man was able to travel often to his home country as he was not working, but instead drawing disability benefits.

“The appellant was virtually living a bigamous life, which is not allowed in Switzerland,” said the court.

In 2008, the Federal Office for Migration decided to strip him of his citizenship, a decision that has now been upheld by the Federal Administrative Tribunal.

In its ruling, the court said that what was relevant in the case was whether at the point when the citizenship was sought, the Turkish man and his Swiss wife “had the will on both sides to continue their relationship as a couple.”

“From what is set out here, it can be assumed that there was no such relationship in deed and truth,” said the court.

The man, who has since divorced the Swiss woman, married his Turkish partner in 2009.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Bono, Geldof Group Blasts Italy on Aid

‘Utter failure’ to meet Gleneagles pledge says pressure group

(ANSA) — London, May 25 — Italy came under fire from pressure group One on Tuesday, less than a year after criticism over its failure to meet African aid pledges made at the 2005 Group of Eight summit in Gleneagles, Scotland. The charity fronted by rock musicians Bono and Bob Geldof issued a scathing condemnation of the Rome government in its annual assessment of donor countries’ progress towards meeting aid commitments. “Italy is an utter failure as a member of the G7 and should not be considered as part of the collective commitment going forward,” said the report. “Italy exists in a category of its own as the only G8 country to have retreated on its commitments, actually cutting development assistance compared with 2004”. The 2005 summit saw the world’s seven most industrialized nations promise to double aid to Africa on 2004 levels to 50 billion a year by 2010. According to the report, donors are 61% of the way towards meeting this target but this is no thanks to Italy, which has brought “the rest of the G7 average down with it”, said One. The US, Canada and Japan have all “surpassed their modest targets”, while only London is on track to meet the “much more ambitious targets” set by the UK, France and Germany.

The UK government has already achieved 93% of its pledge, while Berlin and Paris have so far delivered around 25% of what they promised.

Rome promised to increase its development aid from one billion euros in 2004 to 3.838 billion euros by 2010.

Its levels of aid have instead dropped by around 270 million euros on 2005 levels, said the report, “bringing the total level of its increases delivered to a pathetic -6%”.

The charity reached a similarly damning verdict last year, when Italy held the rotating presidency of the G8.

Responding to the criticism in an interview with Bob Geldof published in Italian daily La Stampa last May, Premier Silvio Berlusconi vowed to remedy the situation.

“When a commitment is underwritten, then it must be kept and fulfilled. We are late, and must catch up with our pledges,” he said.

“I am sorry we did not respect our promises, we are sorry we reduced aid to Africa, and for this reason we have opened a debate within the government”. The premier promised to work with his economy minister on a recovery plan to put Italy back on track to meet its pledges by 2013.

There was no immediate reaction from the Italian government to Tuesday’s statement from One.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Hello? Hello? Greek PM’s Phone Cut Off by Mistake

Greek telecom engineers cut off the telephone line to the prime minister’s house while attempting to disconnect a customer who was behind in payments, the telephone company said on Wednesday.

The Athens phone number of the customer in arrears was the same as that of Prime Minister George Papandreou’s home number save for one digit, telecoms company OTE said in a statement.

Greece is suffering its worst financial crisis in decades and many are struggling to pay their bills as the government cuts wages and raises taxes to try to pay off its huge debt.

OTE is 20 percent owned by the state.

OTE’s chairman wrote a letter to Papandreou to explain the mistake and engineers went to the prime minister’s house immediately after they were informed of the problem.

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

Italy: Growing Number of Children Reported Missing

Rome, 25 May (AKI) — A growing number of children in Italy are disappearing from their homes and are at risk of sexual exploitation, according to a leading child welfare group. Telefono Azzurro said 222 children disappeared between January and March this year

The welfare group released a report entitled, “The disappearance and sexual exploitation of children and adolescents: what are the strategies and interventions?” on Tuesday.

The report, released to coincide with International Children’s Day, said police figures showed that 1,033 Italian and foreign minors had been reported missing during 2009.

The organisation expressed concern about the growing number of cases and said that most disappearances were of foreign children between the age of 15 and 18 years of age.

The organisation said its hotline, which operates under the interior ministry, received 6,498 emergency calls between May 2009 and May 2010. Of these calls, 188 were related to disappearances.

Italian president Giorgio Napolitano sent a message of support to the conference organised by Telefono Azzurro.

“The disappearance of a child or adolescent, even if only temporary, is a source of tremendous anxiety for families,” he said.

“So it is extremely important to act quickly, if we want to avoid dramatic results that occur after a voluntary disappearance of the removal of minors.”

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

Italy: PM Says Estranged Wife ‘Knows How to Save’

Rome, 25 May (AKI) — Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi says his estranged wife Veronica Lario, who is due to receive 300,000 euros a month in their divorce settlement, “knows how to save”. Berlusconi discussed his divorce with celebrated author Bruno Vespa in his latest book, Nel Segno del Cavaliere, a biography of the premier.

“Veronica is a woman who knows how to save and all her estate will be destined to our children,” he said.

In a statement released by Vespa, Berlusconi revealed that Lario will remain at her villa in Macherio and will continue to keep 20 people on staff, including security.

He described the divorce as a “fair transaction” but said he was “saddened” by the breakdown of their relationship after 19 years of marriage.

The billionaire also denied any conflict of interest as head of the government and as one of the country’s wealthiest entrepreneurs who controls a private media empire.

Lario filed for divorce last May after revelations that the billionaire media tycoon had attended the 18th birthday party of an aspiring model who said she called him “Daddy”.

A former actress, Lario had demanded 3.5 million euros a month from her husband, who owns Italy’s three biggest private television stations, as well as other media assets.

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

Italy: Berlusconi to Stay as Long as Italy Needs Him

(AGI) — Rome, 25 May — Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi announced that he will not leave politics and the end of his current mandate, “As long as Italians want me to lead them by their side to fight in the name of freedom and democracy, it is my duty to answer to so much trust and dedicate myself with all my energy.” He continued, saying, “I believe I have understood the voters, first and better than others. The Italians acknowledge this in may ways, even beyond the numbers of votes for our movement, as the surveys prove.”

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

Italy: Young Adults ‘Forced to Stay in Nest’

Italy ‘risks losing a generation’

(ANSA) — Rome, May 26 — More and more young Italian adults are living with their parents because they can’t afford to move out, according to a new report that prompted a top sociologist to warn Italy faced the risk of “losing a generation”.

The proportion of Italians stuck at home out of necessity rather than choice has tripled since 1983, national statistics agency Istat said in its annual report.

The statistics appeared to contradict a contention voiced by several ministers in Premier Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right government, most notably Civil Service Minister Renato Brunetta, who have accused young Italians of being ‘Bamboccioni’ or Mamma’s Boys who choose to stay in the nest to make their lives cosier, rather than trying to make their way in the world.

On the contrary, said sociologist Chiara Saraceno, the risks posed by a ‘lost generation’ with no prospects is “Italy’s real emergency”. Only children “who are lucky to be born into the right family” can be sure of avoiding the trap, said Saraceno, an internationally renowned expert on welfare systems.

“Young people with more qualifications and with a well-off family behind them go abroad, and get along. All the others are left behind”.

Saraceno, who is currently at a prestigious Berlin research institute, blasted both the centre-right government and the centre-left opposition for not realising how bad the situation was. “Unfortunately I can’t see an awareness of this emergency in the actions of the government or the attitude of the opposition,” she said.

“People keep talking about ‘Bamboccioni’, an expression I abhor because there are increasing numbers who don’t want to be in their current bind, but nothing is being done to invest in human capital”.

“Resources are falling and the social divide is widening”. The situation could be remedied with the right action, Saraceno stressed.

“It’s going to take years but you have to start somewhere”.

In its report, Istat said an increasing number of young adults are simply forced to stay with their families because they can’t find work or affordable housing. The number of 30-34-year-olds who are still living with their parents, despite wanting to move out, rose from 11.8% to 28.9% between 1983 and 2009.

The percentage of 25-29-year-olds in the same position almost doubled, from 34.5% to 59.2%.

Over the last six years, from 2003 to 2009, the percentage of 18-34-year-olds living at home because they really want to fell by some nine percentage points, Istat said.

In another worrying statistic, Istat said Italy has Europe’s highest rate of idle young people at risk of finding no gainful place in society, national statistics agency Istat said in its annual report Wednesday.

Some 21.2% of the 15-29 age bracket are now classified as Not In Education, Employment or Training (NEET), it said.

The NEETs rose by 126,000 to some two million in 2009 because of the economic crisis, with 85,000 more in the north and 27,000 more in the centre.

About a half of the two million are in the poorer south of Italy, Istat said.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Priest Arrested for ‘Having Sex With Minor’

Milan, 26 May (AKI) — A 73-year-old Italian priest has been arrested by police in the northern city of Milan after being accused of sexually abusing a boy over a three-year period when the victim was 13 years-old. Police on Monday arrested Domenico Pezzini, who had befriended the impoverished boy in a park near Milan.

According to investigators he provided the boy with money and helped him to study, while starting a three-year sexual relationship with him.

During a search of Pezzini’s home in Milan, police found a large collection of paedophile pornography, according to Italian news reports.

Pezzini is known as an activist in the Italian homosexual community and worked to build closer bonds between the community and the conservative Catholic Church, according to news reports.

The church has been engulfed in a vast scandal involving accusations of sex abuse by paedophile priests in countries including the United States, Germany, Austria, and Italy.

The Vatican has been accused of covering up abuse by not taking action to removing suspected paedophile priests or turning them over to police.

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

Italy: 24 Billion Euro Austerity Package

Italy Joins Europe’s Wave of Belt-Tightening

The Italian government has joined a European movement to slash public spending — to the surprise of many Italians. Until recently, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi had promised to avoid big budget cuts. But the euro must be defended, say Italian officials.

Italy’s government approved a €24 billion ($30 billion) austerity package Tuesday evening, less than two months after Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi claimed his country could survive the euro crisis without drastic cuts.

The package aims to reduce the nation’s budget deficit — which last year stood at 5.3 percent of its gross domestic product — to within the euro zone limit of 3 percent by 2012. It’s also meant to tame Italy’s public debt, which at 115.8 percent of GDP is the highest in the 16-nation euro zone.

About half the cuts involve a sharp reduction in funds paid by the central government to Italy’s regions and cities. Wage freezes and cuts for public-sector workers will save some €6 billion. Salaries for government ministers and parliamentarians will take a 10 percent shave, and the government will slow its hiring. Only one in every five government positions that come open between 2011 and 2013 will be filled, according to the Reuters news agency.

Average Italians won’t see their taxes rise, though taxes on stock options and private-sector executive bonuses will increase. The government will crack down on tax evasion, and introduce a measure called “construction amnesty” — a grace period for Italians who have built houses without proper zoning approval. The amnesty allows homeowners to pay a fine lower than the taxes owed on their property, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Berlusconi’s Volte-Face

Prime Minister Berlusconi said in early April that Italy could ride out the euro crisis without resorting to drastic measures. A deficit of 5.3 percent of GDP is, after all, not outrageous compared to other euro-zone nations. It’s modest compared to Greece’s 12.7 percent deficit, for example, and less than half the deficit levels in Ireland and Spain.

But on May 6 Berlusconi’s government revised its public debt estimate for 2010 upward — from 116.9 percent of GDP to 118.4 percent — which sparked a selloff on the Milan bourse.

A day later, Berlusconi made an appeal for leadership in the EU. “We are in a state of emergency, we need to take decisions,” he said at a summit in Brussels, according to Agence France-Presse.

Saving the Euro

The cuts follow similar austerity measures in Spain, Portugal, and Great Britain. Germany, after backing a massive €750 billion package of loans to ensure other EU governments can meet their debt payments, will have to decide in June how to slash €3 billion from its own budget.

The aim is to save the euro’s currency union from breaking apart despite pressure from financial traders skeptical of debt and deficit levels in Europe.

“It’s absolutely necessary to do our part for Europe; to contribute to the financial stability of monetary union and to economic growth,” Italian President Giorgio Napolitano said on Tuesday in Washington.

“The fairytale is over,” wrote La Repubblica, a pro-opposition paper, on Wednesday in reaction to the government’s about-face.

But early reaction from economists was positive. “The combination of these austerity measures with even a mediocre improvement in growth should be enough to bring the deficit below 3 percent of GDP by 2012,” said Deutsche Bank economist Gilles Moec, according to Reuters.

“This is an encouraging first step,” Raj Badiani, an economist at Global Insight Inc. in London, said in a research note quoted by Bloomberg. “However, we feel this should be a forerunner of a prolonged period of better fiscal management.”

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

Poland: Personal Items of Smolensk Victims to be Destroyed?

(Tupolev 154M crash — Smolensk Air Base — Russia)

The chief military sanitary inspector has ordered the destruction of 68 bags worth of personal items belonging to the victims of the Smolensk crash in April.

The decision goes against a court resolution handed down last week that stated that the belongings, mostly items of clothing, bullet-proof vests, and other personal effects, do “not constitute a common threat.”

Even though the court’s verdict is binding, administration procedures are still ongoing as to the destruction of the property, which military sanitary staff consider a biohazard and as such should be destroyed.

The case is being led by the Chief Military Sanitary Inspector Colonel Tadeusz Nierebinski. Administration procedures are due to give a final verdict in the first of half of June over the destruction of the items, which have been transported to a utilisation site in the south-eastern town of Rzeszow.

Relatives of the crash victims are waiting for the verdict, with one plenipotentiary saying that it is “too early” to be destroying the personal items of those who died.

However, Col. Nierebinski told TVN24 news that he understands the families’ grief, as he personally knew some of the people that died in the crash. “Nevertheless, I still have to responsible for the safety of anyone who ever touched these items,” Nierebinski concluded.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Pope: Cyprus: Row Over Visit Between Orthodox Prelates

(ANSAmed) — NICOSIA, MAY 26 — The primate of the powerful Cypriot Greek-orthodox church, archbishop Chrysostomos II, is angry and has come close to threatening to excommunicate those (including at least five bishops) who have said in clear terms that they don’t want appreciate the visit by Pope Benedict XVI to the island, because he is “a heretic”, in their words. Like last week, yesterday the primate reproached his followers — including five members of the Holy Synod (the government body of the orthodox Church) — because of their claim that they will boycott the Pope’s welcoming ceremony on June 4 in Pafos. In an attempt to ease the tensions, but also to call the rebels to order, Chrysostomos said that “there is democracy, freedom of speech and of expression in the Church. But one certainly cannot say the first thing that comes to mind”. He seemed to refer to the polemic bishop of Limassol, Athanasios, who was responsible for using the word “heretic”. “People can think what they want, but that doesn’t mean that they can offend a guest” the archbishop added, pointing out that he and the president of Cyprus, Demetris Christofias, actually invited the pope to come to Cyprus. He warned that those who protest against the Pope’s visit “place themselves outside the Church”. But Chrysostomos’s words don’t seem to have had the desired effect. Now two more orthodox groups have entered the scene, sending a letter to the Attorney General in which they ask to arrest Benedict XVI as soon as he puts a foot on the island, because — in their opinion — the Pope is closely involved in the cover-up of the paedophilia scandal that has hit the Vatican. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Spain: OECD Improves Outlook on Growth and Employment

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, MAY 26 — The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has improved its economic outlook for Spain both as concerns economic growth and as concerns unemployment. In its six-monthly report, cited by the agency Europa Press, the OECD predicts that this year GDP will drop by 0.2% compared with the 0.3% estimated in the November report, and that unemployment by the end of 2010 will be at 19.1%, compared with the 19.3% initially estimated, while in 2011 it will drop to 18.3%. In the six-monthly report on the economic outlook, the organism noted that the government had announced new measures to speed up tax consolidation in 2010 and 2011, the year in which it has been calculated that public debt would fall to 7%, compared with the 11.2% in December 2009. This “significant” deficit cut of 5.8 points, says the OECD, “must be put into practice”. Likewise, for the recovery of public finances, the organism supports the reform of the labour market to reduce the “very high” level of unemployment. According to the OECD, Spain’s deficit will be at 9.4% at the end of the year, a tenth more than what had been predicted by the government, and it will end 2011 at 6.9%, compared with the 8.8% which had been predicted by the government before the latest 15 billion euros in austerity measures by 2011. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Spain: First Leg Transplant Ever Authorised

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, MAY 26 — The La Fe hospital of Valencia has today received authorisation for the first leg transplant ever. Sources from the Ministry of Health say that the decision was taken today by the Transplant Commission of the Interregional Council of the National Health Service, meeting in Logrono, which gave the go-ahead to the request relating to a patient whose legs were amputated and who cannot wear prosthetic legs. The hospital will perform the transplant in collaboration with the Pedro Cavadas Foundation, which will direct the surgical team. The leg transplant is an experimental technique which is being authorised for the first time in Spain, where six transplants have already been carried out: three bilateral hand transplants, in the same hospital in Valencia and three face transplants, in a collaboration between the La Fe hospital and the Virgen del Rocio of Seville and the Vall d’Ebron in Barcelona. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Switzerland: Catholic Convent Sheltered Jewish Refugees

During the Second World War, a convent in canton Zurich sheltered a group of Jewish refugees. Not many people know the story, which was controversial at the time.

Brother Thomas Fässler made the discovery while working on his thesis for his theology degree. It covers the history of the Benedictine Abbey of Einsiedeln, from 1934 to the present.

“I work in the archive and sometimes I discover little stories that I can’t really use for my dissertation,” Fässler told

Yet it would be a shame if these stories went untold, the young monk believes.

“I stumbled upon the story of how Convent Fahr took in refugees during the Second World War — including Jewish women,” said Fässler.

The convent, located in Unterengstringen, belongs to the abbey in Einsiedeln.

For Fässler, the story came as quite a surprise, and he wasn’t the only one.

He turned to the Archives of Contemporary History at the Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETHZ). It has files on Jews who found shelter in Switzerland, but there are no references to the convent.

“The convent itself no longer seems to know much about this,” said Fässler.

It is uncertain whether the cloistered nuns even realised that most of their 14 refugees were Jewish.

“The refugees were housed in a separate building, so the sisters would have had very limited contact with them,” explained Fässler.

However, Sister Elisabeth Galliker, the convent’s former prioress, and former prior Father Anselm Knüsel were aware of the situation.

SFr5.50 a day

In a letter dating back to October 26, 1943, Knüsel wrote to the Swiss Army to say that the convent would be ready to take in 14 female refugees as of November 1 of that year.

The arrangement was that the military’s women’s aid service, or Frauenhilfsdienst, would give the convent SFr5.50 per person per day to cover room and board. The women themselves didn’t need to pay anything.

Two days later, the priest wrote another letter asking if the army could provide wool blankets as the convent didn’t have enough. The 14 blankets arrived by train along with the request to return the empty delivery bag.

The convent noted the names, ages, nationalities and creeds of the refugees; the Catholics were listed as such, and the Jews were listed as “hebr.” for “Hebrew”. This was not meant in an anti-Semitic or pejorative way.

“It was just for the information of the prior,” emphasised Fässler.

He says there is no evidence of any prejudice on the part of the sisters against the Jewish refugees.

“What’s interesting is that the sisters themselves were actually more tolerant than their environment.”


One document from the archive cites local people asking how the convent could possibly accept the arrival of the Jewish women.

In early 1944, the general adjutant wrote to the prioress to say that he had heard that instead of “poor women with many children”, the convent had received “Jewish women with few children but money, apparently”.

The prioress replied that originally it was thought that they would house Italian women and children. Later, the convent was asked whether it would be “unbearable” if there were a couple of Jewish women as well. As it happened Jewish women without children were there now, but this was absolutely no problem.

“Those in distress will find refuge here with us,” wrote the prioress.

In this rather anti-Semitic environment, it seems Convent Fahr was a safe haven.

“ The sisters were more tolerant than their environment. “ — Brother Thomas

Separate lives

The refugees lived apart from the nuns in an annex built onto St Anna’s Chapel. They were looked after by members of the women’s aid service. The convent was responsible for room and board, so the meals came from the convent kitchen.

“The only living witness, 93-year-old Sister Regula Wolf, was the nun who had the most contact with the refugees. She was the liaison between the refugees, the women’s aid service representative and the convent,” explained Fässler.

Most of the time, the refugees were on their own. To keep busy, they occupied themselves with handicrafts.

“Sister Regula taught the women to weave door mats using corn leaves; apparently, they enjoyed doing this,” said Fässler.


In 1944, the convent opened a school for female farmers. The refugees had to leave.

“From the beginning, there was a limit as to how long the refugees could stay. It was made clear that the convent planned to open the farming school in the spring of 1944,” said Fässler.

Whether the sisters knew anything about the fate of the Jews in the Second World War is hard for Fässler to evaluate.

“Based on what Sister Regula told me, the sisters knew hardly anything about it. As a strictly cloistered order, they were unaware of current affairs.”

Jean-Michel Berthoud in Einsiedeln, (Translated from German by Susan Vogel-Misicka)

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

Vatican: Church Looked at ‘About 100’ Abuse Cases in Italy

Vatican City, 25 May (AKI) — An Italian bishop says there have been about 100 cases of clerical sex abuse in Italy in the past 10 years that warranted church trials or other action. Mariano Crociata, the second-highest ranking in the Italian bishops conference, released the estimate at a news conference at the bishops’ assembly.

“It’s a number that gives you an idea of the situation,” he told reporters at the Vatican.

He declined to say how many of the cases resulted in any action against the priests who were investigated.

Crociata also said that Italian law did not require bishops to report suspected abuse to police.

The Catholic Church has been engulfed in a vast scandal involving accusations of sex abuse by paedophile priests in countries including the United States, Germany, Austria, and Italy.

The Vatican is accused of covering up abuse by not taking action to removing suspected paedophile priests or turning them over to police.

Crociata said said Italian law did not require the Catholic Church to report the suspect priests to police.

“Similar to other cases, Italian law doesn’t require the reporting of these cases,” he said.

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


EU: Towards Visa Liberalisation Albania and Bosnia

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, MAY 26 — Albanians and Bosnians are a step closer to the abolishment of visas for the Schengen area. After the green light in December for the citizens of Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia, the European Commission has prepared to do the same for Albania and Bosnia. The recommendation will be presented tomorrow by European Commissioner for Home Affairs, Cecilia Malmstrom. According to sources in Brussels, the decision of the European Commission depends on the capacity of the two countries to satisfy a series of conditions. The Member States and the European Parliament will take a decision on the question. (ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Kosovo: Surprise Visits by Serbian Officials Banned

Pristina, 26 May (AKI) — The European Union mission in Kosovo (EULEX) said on Wednesday it would ban entry to Serbian officials to Kosovo if their visits weren’t announced and approved in advance.

Since majority ethnic Albanians declared independence from Serbia two years ago, Serbian officials have been able to travel freely in the Serb-populated north, but EULEX said it would no longer be tolerated.

“In view of unannounced visits of Serbian officials to Kosovo, and in close cooperation with Brussels and the EU, EULEX has issued an order to Kosovo police to check with delegations from Serbia whether their visits were authorized,” EULEX spokeswoman Karin Lindale told media.

“If they have no permits, delegations should not be allowed to continue the trip,” she added.

Serbian minister for Kosovo Goran Bogdanovic urged EULEX to reverse its decision to ban unannounced visits to Kosovo by Serb officials.

“It is obvious that EULEX by this move has sided with Pristina, assuming the role of a lawyer of secessionists,” Bogdanovic said. “I demand that EULEX urgently withdraw this decision, or our cooperation and relations will be brought into question. Our patience and constructiveness have limits,” Bogdanovic said.

Serbia has retained parallel institutions in the Serb-populated north and isolated enclaves throughout Kosovo, but Kosovo authorities and EULEX have worked out a plan to put the entire region under Pristina’s control.

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

Mediterranean Union

InfraMed Fund Start-Up, Bassanini Presides

(ANSAmed) — PARIS, MAY 26 — The InfraMed Infrastructure Fund, the first financial tool of the Union for the Mediterranean (UFM), granted a first package of 385 million euros. The approval to the new fund, directly involving the Cassa depositi e prestiti (CDP Italian savings and loans bank), was signed today in Paris, where CDP and Caisse des depots francese (CDC) by 150 million each, European Investment Bank (EIB) by 50 million, Caisse de Depot et de Gestion del Marocco (CDG) by 20 million and Efg-Hermes (Egypt) by 15 million Euros, conferred the start-up capital. The Inframed investor board appointed as Chairman, Franco Bassanini, President of CDP. The fund, which will finance Mediterranean projects, has a target set at around one billion euros. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

Greece-Israel: Joint Air Military Forces Exercise

(ANSAmed) — ATHENS, MAY 26 — A Greek-Israeli military exercise, named ‘Minoas 2010’, is under way until June 3, within the framework of a military cooperation programme between the air forces of the two countries. The exercise will involve ten Israeli planes, which will be based temporarily in the Soda air base, on the island of Crete. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Israeli Missile Attack Drill, Sirens Ring Out

(ANSAmed) — JERUSALEM, MAY 26 — The shrill cry of sirens rang out this morning all across Israel as part of a preannounced drill held to prepare the country for missile attacks. To the sound of sirens at 11 am local time, the population was urged to go into shelters or to the nearest protected areas and stay for ten minutes. Radio and television stations interrupted programming to broadcast warnings to go into shelters. Initial reports would have it that only some of the population followed the instructions, and that there were areas on which the sirens were not heard. Today’s drill included simulated rescue and extraction operations for people trapped in the rubble of houses hit and coordination among rescue services. At the same time centres were opened for the distribution of anti-gas masks. An official cited by the daily paper Haaretz, however, said that in the deposits there are enough masks for 60% of inhabitants and that funds had not yet been set aside for the remaining 40% of the population. The drill, which got underway on Sunday and goes by the name of Turning Point, has this year reached its fourth edition and has taken on particular importance given the rapid rise in the number of rockets and missiles of various types now able to hit the country in the hands of Hezbollah, Hamas, Syria and Iran, against which conflict is held to be a possibility. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Surprise Invitation, Obama Reaches Out to Netanyahu

(ANSAmed) — JERUSALEM, MAY 26 — There’s a letter signed by Barack Obama for Bibi Netanyahu. It’s a surprise initiation to Washington delivered today to the Israeli Premier’s residence by the Chief of Staff of the White House, Rahm Emanuel: one of the most influential Jews in Obama’s America, at home all his life in Israel although now surrounded by the distrust — if not dislike — of a large part of the Israeli Right. The move, interpreted in Jerusalem as an offer of a thaw after the evident frictions of recent months and the unusual feeling of a diplomatic crisis in relations with the irreplaceable ally from across the ocean, came during a head to head that crowned the “private visit” by Emanuel to the region. Netanyahu accepted it immediately and is now expected in the US on Tuesday: just in time to get in before the PNA President Mahmoud Abbas, invited by Obama in an attempt to get the fragile proximity talks started under the mediation of the US. Emanuel’s mission is part of the framework as a key moment of the unfreezing operation started by the administration (also against a backdrop of rising common concerns caused by the Iranian nuclear programme) in relations with Netanyahu’s government. A system with strong right-wing connotations which has in recent months struggled to find a minimum of agreement with the new course of the White House. And in fact he didn’t hesitate to put himself in the way when Washington requested that there be a freezing of Jewish settlement building in the Palestinian territory, extended, beyond the settlements of the West Bank, also to East Jerusalem. Differences that remain to this day and that the American leadership seems now determined to defuse.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Middle East

BP’s Trade With Iran: From Environmental Disaster to National Security Threat

Frank Gaffney and Larry Kudlow discuss the national security implications of British Petroleum’s trade with Iran. While a BP rig exploded in the Gulf, the company was allowing the mullahs in Tehran to finance, among other things, its nuclear weapons project. The US military purchases hundreds of millions worth of oil from BP; under existing laws, the US has the right to cut ties with the petroleum company unless they stop doing business with the Islamic Republic.

[Return to headlines]

Failed ‘US Bomber’ In Al-Qaeda Video

Rome, 26 May (AKI) — The Nigerian man accused of a failed attempt to blow up a US passenger jet in December last year is featured in a new Al-Qaeda video released on Wednesday. Footage of Umar al-Farouk Abdulmutallab, who is currently in US custody facing terrorism charges, is included in the documentary-style video posted on jihadist websites.

He is accused of attempting to blow up a passenger jet above Detroit on 25 December 2009.

The 54-minute documentary also features former Guantanamo prisoner, Uthman al-Ghamdi, and Fahd al-Quso, a suspect in the 2000 USS Cole bomb attack, SITE intelligence reported.

Seventeen American sailors were killed, and 39 were injured in the suicide attack against the USS Cole in the Yemeni port of Aden in the deadliest attack against a US naval vessel since 1987.

The video, released by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, focuses on what it sees as American intervention in Yemen and the US role in airstrikes on suspected Al-Qaeda camps.

One of the leaders from the Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Anwar al-Awlaqi, last month claimed he had trained Abdulmutallab .

Al-Awlaqi also claimed he had trained radical Islamist Nidal Hassan, an American doctor of Palestinian descent who in November 2009 shot dead 13 people and wounded 30 others at the Fort Hood US military base in Texas.

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula was founded in January 2009 by a merger between two regional offshoots of the Islamist militant network in neighbouring Yemen and Saudi Arabia.

The group has vowed to attack oil facilities, foreigners and security forces as it seeks to topple the Saudi monarchy and the Yemeni government, and establish an Islamic caliphate in in the region.

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

Wealthy Arab People Choose Istanbul for Their Weddings

Arabs, whose interest in Istanbul has been growing significantly thanks to Turkish television series, have recently begun developing a wedding tradition on the Bosphorus shores. Those who hold wedding ceremonies in Istanbul have begun to constitute a great part of the wedding market in Turkey.

Arab sheiks marrying their sons and daughters in luxurious weddings at five-star hotels on the Bosphorus are spending millions dollars on such weddings and also choose Istanbul for their wedding shopping. They are interested especially in jewelry and special fabrics. Another particularity at these weddings is their extensive invitation lists.

The wedding market totals nearly $450 million in Turkey, according to Meltem Bayazit Tepeler, the founder of KM Events, a leading company in event, invitation and wedding planning in Turkey. After the economic crisis of last year, KM Events is experiencing a boom in wedding organizations this year, Tepeler said.

Lebanon, Greece, Russia, India and Saudi Arabia are places where the most important customers for the wedding sector in Istanbul come from, Tepeler noted. Istanbul has become a rising star in the Arab world, she said.

“Arab people love the comfort provided by Istanbul. They are traveling and shopping freely in the city. Having their wedding ceremonies in Istanbul is very attractive for them,” Tepeler said.

Talking about the latest wedding of an Arab sheik’s daughter at Dolmabahçe Palace, Tepeler said some 650 invited guests came to Istanbul from Dubai and Saudi Arabia just for the ceremony, which was closed to the press. “We showed Çiragan Palace, Küçüksu Palace, Beylerbeyi Palace and Dolmabahçe Palace as a possible wedding ceremony location for the sheik’s daughter. She chose Dolmabahçe and we organized an amazing wedding.”

“KM Events will also organize a wedding ceremony for a very important Lebanese family this year,” she added.

Having a wedding ceremony at a historical place or on the Bosphorus is very important for foreign people, Tepeler noted. Turkey is a perfect destination with its transportation facilities and cultural and historical infrastructure for Arabs, Russians, Greeks, Turkic Republics and Europeans, she said.

The Four Seasons on the Bosphorus in Istanbul is one of the favorite hotels for Arab wedding organizations. The hotel hosts often high level Arab guests, said Yesim Insel, banquet director of the hotel, adding that Arab guests are interested in long period accommodations and splendid weddings.

“We have had many top level guests whose names we can’t disclose. At the beginning of this spring, we organized special wedding ceremonies for two famous Saudi Arabian families.”

“After the wedding, both of the families noted how they liked the Four Seasons Bosphorus,” Insel said.

Great interest is seen in Turkey, especially in Istanbul, in wedding tourism, Insel noted. The hotel receives demands from different countries, from the United States and Canada to the United Kingdom and Greece, said Insel, adding that they have already filled their wedding calendar for July this year.

Wedding shopping

Via/Port in Istanbul, the largest outlet shopping center in Europe, welcomes a great number of visitors from many countries such as Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Dubai, the Turkic Republics, Iran, Kuwait, Jordan, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, Algeria, Libya, Russia, Germany and the Netherlands, according to Bülent Kural, general director of Via/Port.

“We observe a great interest especially from Arab countries. Each week, nearly 400 to 450 Arab tourist groups come. We expect that these figures will increase within June and July,” Kural said.

“Turkey offers some opportunities that Arabs cannot find in their own countries. There are also an increasing number of Arabs who visit Turkey to see the famous places and casts of Turkish television series.”

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


Commander of Polish Air Force Was in the Cockpit Before Fatal Crash That Killed President Lech Kaczynski

The commander of the Polish air force was in the cockpit of the official jet when it crashed in Russia killing president Lech Kaczynski and 95 others, it was revealed today.

Official confirmation that General Andrzej Blasik was on the flight deck will deepen speculation that the air force pilots were under excessive pressure to land in dense fog despite warnings of the dangers from air traffic control.

Polish investigator Edmund Klick finally admitted the truth weeks after the probe inquiry established the commander’s presence in the cockpit along with two pilots, a navigator and an engineer.

‘I will not deny there was a fifth person in the cockpit until the very last minute. I know who it was. Yes, it was General Blasik,’ he told Polish television.

Klich claimed the general came into the cockpit just minutes before the landing, but was not heard on black box recorders actively pressuring the pilots.

In contrast, Russian investigators have indicated further work is needed to decide whether the general’s presence was significant or not.

Klich claimed that on the black box tapes ‘there is no phrase suggesting any direct pressure, for example ‘we must land’.’

He admitted it was ‘very unusual’ for a top general to enter the cabin, but said Blasik had done so a few minutes before the tragedy to ‘find out what was going on.’

A second unidentified person left the Tupolev-154 cockpit ten minutes before the catastrophe on April 10 in which the president and 95 others, including many senior government and military officials, perished.

Kaczynski is known to have previously put pressure on his pilots to land in difficult conditions.

The plane was carrying the Warsaw elite to a ceremony marking the 70th anniversary of the slaughter of 22,000 Polish officers by Stalin’s secret police during the Second World War.

The dead president’s twin brother Jaroslaw is contesting the election to find his replacement on June 20.

Meanwhile, a report in Air Safety Week today said that preliminary probe findings suggest ‘pilot error’ as the likely cause of the crash .

Investigators say that the pilot ignored repeated warnings of poor visibility before flying below the recommended glide path for the plane, which then hit trees close to the runway at Smolensk military airport.

Passengers were also using mobile phones as the plane came into land, it was revealed.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

South Asia

Air India Staff Stage Strike Amid Press Gag

Mumbai and New Delhi, 25 May(AKI/IANS) Protesting a gag order and delay in the payment of salaries, over 15,000 crew members and maintenance engineers of Air India went on a flash strike all over India Tuesday, hitting the carrier’s operations. However, Air India maintained that flights were not affected from major cities.

“Flights from the major metro cities have not been affected, but there have been a few dislocations at some of the non-metro airports,” Air India said in an official statement.

“A section of ground employees of Air India walked out of their assigned duty stations in the morning and afternoon. The management has mustered all available resources to minimise the impact on the scheduled operations,” said an Air India spokesperson.

Answering a query on the cancellation of four flights from Mumbai, the spokesperson said: “While there have been four cancellations, some flights have been delayed or combined. The airline is making every possible effort to maintain normalcy in operations and ensure the highest standards of service to our valued passengers.”

The airline also tendered an apology to the passengers for dislocation in services. “The management would like to extend an unqualified apology to the passengers who have faced or may be facing inconveniences due to the dislocated operations,” said the spokesperson.

Several flights were cancelled due to shortage of manpower, according to union sources in New Delhi.

A union member said they had been trying to talk to the management for the past few months but to no avail.

“Time to time, they differ on our salary. The introduction of a new ground-handling policy will affect us, and due to shortage of cabin crew, flights are getting delayed. We are on an indefinite strike and till the management sorts out the matter we will remain on strike,” said Anand Prakash, general secretary of the Air Corporation Employees Union (ACEU) in the national capital.

A recent gag order asking employees not to talk to the media added fuel to the fire. The ACEU members decided to go on strike after the order.

“Among the issues that forced employees to go on strike were non-payment of salaries and a controversy over serving liquor on board,” said a protesting employee.

The airline appealed to its employees to come forward and join hands to strengthen the airline operations. “In this hour of crisis, the management earnestly appeals to all sections of employees to join hands to strengthen the airline and maintain high performance to show that Air India can cope up with any emergency,” said the Air India statement.

Despite the tragic air crash of an Air India Express passenger on Saturday in which 158 people died, the airline been able to operate 116 of the 123 scheduled flights on the network until 2.30 pm on Tuesday local time, the airline said.

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

India: Passport Racket Out in the Open After Air Crash

THIRUVANATHAPURAM: Last week’s air crash in Mangalore, in which 159 people were killed, has had an unlikely upshot; it has brought into focus a thriving fake passport racket, known locally as “Kasaragod embassy” , in Kerala’s northern district. It now transpires that at least 10 passengers onboard the ill-fated flight might have been travelling on forged documents , which has complicated their identification and insurance claims.

Sources said discrepancies were noticed in the passport details of nine deceased and one survivor, indicating that something might have been amiss. Some Malayalee travellers had Tamil Nadu addresses on their passports. The Kasaragod collector, superintendent of police and the additional district magistrate are now looking into the anomalies and trying to establish the real identities of the passengers.

But superintendent of police P Prakash said it was too early to confirm whether some passengers were travelling on forged papers. “The documents have to be verified in detail,” he said.

Kasaragod embassy, a term used for skilled forgers who manipulate passports by replacing the photo, first came to light in the 1980s and has been thriving due to the poverty and ignorance of migrants.

“They exploit poor migrants, who are mostly into casual labour. Sometimes sponsors in the Gulf refuse to return passports to their employees, while some lose their documents and cannot fly back. They then approach these passport makers, who give them forged documents for Rs 25,000-30 ,000,” said Vargheese Moolan, who heads the UAEbased Global Malayalee Foundation. There have also been instances in Saudi Arabia where Haj pilgrims have sold their passports and slipped into the countryside. “These passports also reach the racketeers,” said Moolan.

‘Fake passport racket centered in Gulf’

THIRUVANATHAPURAM: On being questioned about the fake passport racket and the fact that passengers on the Mangalore flight could have been travelling on forged documents a senior Crime Branch official said that checking the papers isn’t easy as even travel agents and immigration officials are involved.

“The agents are mostly in the district, but the operations are mainly carried out from the Gulf,” said former Kasaragod SP Ramdas Pothen. ADGP (intelligence) Siby Mathews said reports had been sent to the government and agreed that the racket existed for a long time.

“Passport officers can compound minor offences under the Passport Act, like furnishing wrong information, on Rs 12,000 payment. But on this pretext, some of them even compound cases where the offence amounts to forgery ,” he said, laying stress on the need for tough action to check the racket.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Indonesia: Islamic Scholars Against Trans Working in Women’s Beauty Salons

According to the Bahtul Masa’il, transsexuals and transvestites (waria) are men and cannot cut women’s hair unless they are related to them by blood or marital ties. The Muslim Clerical Council (MUI) prefers not to comment the matter. About 25 per cent of waria work in beauty salons. They call the ruling discriminatory that relegates them to “the margins of society”.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) — A group of Islamic experts from the al Bahtul Masa’il have issued a fatwa against transsexuals and transvestites. The scholars, who represent 125 pesantren in the provinces of Java and Madura Island, have decreed that transgendered people must be viewed as male and for this reason “cannot cut or prepare women’s hair” in beauty salons “to whom they are not linked by blood or marital ties.” Leaders from the Indonesian Muslim Clerical Council (MUI) chose instead not to comment the issue.

Pesantren are boarding schools run by Islamic scholars set up in the 1930s. There are thousands across the country, especially in Java, and are often involved in commenting issues or current news.

The Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) is the best-known pesantren organisation, but Bahtul Masa’il has made front-page news for a number of its initiatives, like its recent ban on pre-marital pictures and its fatwas against Facebook and pregnant women smoking.

This time, Java and Madura Island transvestites and transsexuals have become their target. According to Bahtul Masa’il, touching women’s hair is haram, i.e. forbidden, when done by men unrelated to the women by blood or marriage.

“Hair belongs to a woman’s most private organ and should be covered. That is why, no she-male should be allowed to touch any vital organ belonging to women who are not their wife,” said Abdul Manan. That is because under Islamic law, waria (transgendered people) are male.

The Indonesian Muslim Clerical Council (MUI) has chosen not comment the matter. Its leaders in West Java are playing down the issue, saying, “It is not a big thing to comment.”

In response to the fatwa, transsexuals and transvestites have organised protests, stressing that the ruling is discriminatory and might end up relegating to the “margins of society” a group of people already facing major hurdles in society.

According to figures released by Irma Subechi, from the Surabaya Transvestites Association, 25 per cent of 670 warias work in show business or beauty salons.

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

Thailand: Muslim Separatists Blamed for Bomb Attacks

Bangkok, 26 May (AKI) — At least two people were killed and scores of others were wounded in two bomb attacks in Thailand’s troubled south on Wednesday. Thai police said three people were injured seriously. The first bomb exploded in the town of Yala, in the province of the same name, just after 10.15 am local time.

Police and emergency workers immediately responded to attack and were among injured when a second bomb exploded nearby around ten minutes later.

Thai police blamed suspected Islamic insurgents for the bomb attacks.

More than 4,100 people have died during a separatist campaign largely conducted by Islamist militants across three southern provinces in the past few years.

Militias and security forces in the region have been accused of widespread abuses by rights groups since the campaign escalated in 2004.

The region was an autonomous Malay Muslim sultanate until it was annexed in 1902 by mainly Buddhist Thailand.

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

Far East

Concern Grows Over China’s Dominance of Rare-Earth Metals

Demand for the elements is expected to surge in tandem with hybrid-electric vehicles, wind turbines, and other green technologies.

A tightening supply of rare-earth elements such as neodymium, samarium, and dysprosium used in permanent magnets, catalysts, glass, polishing, and a broad range of other applications has caught the attention of policymakers in Washington, stimulated efforts to tap rare-earth deposits in North America and Australia, and spurred R&D on alternative materials.

The US and the rest of the world have relied on China for nearly all of their rare-earth supplies. But China has been curtailing its exports in recent years, conserving the elements for its own manufacturers. That has prompted fears of an impending shortage in the West.

“There’s no reason to panic, but there’s every reason to be smart and serious as we plan for growing global demand for products that contain rare-earth metals and other strategic materials,” said the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) David Sandalow, assistant secretary for policy and international affairs. “Strategies for addressing shortages of strategic resources are available, if we act wisely,” he told attendees at a March conference on rare earths. “We can invest in additional sources of supply. We can develop substitutes. We can reuse materials and find ways to use them more efficiently. We can consider use of stockpiles and strategic reserves.”

The Department of Defense (DOD) is currently assessing its dependence on foreign sources of rare-earth elements. In a 1 April briefing for the Senate Armed Services Committee, staff from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) noted that rare-earth elements are widely used in defense systems. Actuators for precision-guided munitions, for example, are specifically designed to the capabilities of Nd2Fe14B magnets, while the Aegis missile defense system’s radar, which is designed to last 35 years, has samarium—cobalt magnet components that will need to be replaced during that lifetime. A prototype hybrid-electric drive system for Aegisclass destroyers uses Nd2Fe14B magnets built in China, the GAO reported. The DOD’s internal assessment, which is to be completed by September, will include recommendations for mitigating possible interruptions in the rare-earths supply chain; stockpiling the materials could be one such option.

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy has convened an interagency task force to monitor the supply situation and recommend actions, if any. Cyrus Wadia, a senior policy analyst with the OSTP, says a national strategy on rare earths may emerge from the process, but he cautions, “We don’t want to put the cart before the horse; we want to be thoughtful about how we are approaching this.”

The House Committee on Science and Technology, which held a hearing on the issue on 16 March, is mulling possible legislation to ensure US access to a broader list of critical materials, including rare earths.

A near monopoly

China currently is the source of more than 95% of the world’s supply of rare earths, a class of 17 metals that includes the lanthanides with atomic numbers 57—71, plus scandium (Z=21) and yttrium (39). Since the 1970s, when its rare earths were exported mainly in concentrate form, China has moved up the value-added chain and now manufactures and exports rare-earth-containing products such as motors, computers, and batteries.

“What China is doing on rare-earth minerals mirrors what it is doing on a large number of other raw materials: reducing availability of supply for global customers and/or making purchases more expensive through the imposition of export duties, export licenses, et cetera,” Terence Stewart, an international trade lawyer, testified at the hearing. “The objective can be to encourage foreign investors to move investment to China to produce downstream products in the Middle Kingdom versus overseas, or to ensure low-priced supplies for sectors in China targeted for rapid industrial growth.”

Dudley Kingsnorth, a rare-earth industry analyst with Industrial Minerals Co of Australia Pty Ltd, estimates that Chinese production will total 110000 to 130000 metric tons of rare-earth oxides this year. Kingsnorth expects Chinese output to grow to between 170000 and 185000 tons in 2015. That’s well short of his forecast of global demand for that year, between 190000 and 210000 tons (see chart). The difference will have to come from other sources, given that Kingsnorth expects China to consume around 125000 tons of its output in 2015.

China has been restricting rare-earth exports since 2006, and those quotas were tightened for the first half of 2010, to 5978 tons, down from the 6685-ton limit in place for the first half of 2009, Kingsnorth says. China also imposes a 25% tax on exports of rare earths, a trade practice that contravenes World Trade Organization rules. Kingsnorth forecasts that production of rare earths will satisfy global demand in 2015. But he cautions that supplies of neodymium, dysprosium, and terbium will be very tight.

Ideal for hybrid vehicles

Although applications of rare earths are numerous and diverse, their largest single use is in permanent magnets, in which neodymium is combined with iron and boron to form the strongest magnets known. Compared with ferrite or alnico-alloy permanent magnets, Nd2Fe14B versions offer weight savings, smaller size, and better performance at elevated operating temperatures. Those features make rare-earth magnets the choice for the electric motor—generators that propel today’s hybrid-electric vehicles. A Prius motor—generator, for example, contains a kilogram of neodymium, plus smaller amounts of other rare earths: praseodymium, dysprosium, and terbium (see diagram). In addition, some 10 kg of the rare earth lanthanum is contained in the nickel—metal hydride battery of a typical hybrid.

Many wind turbine generators use rare-earth magnets. In addition to reducing mass aloft, the rare-earth magnets are well-suited for generating electricity at the low revolutions per minute that are typical of windmills. Such direct-drive turbines eliminate the need for gearboxes, which reduces maintenance costs, noted Steven Boyd, an engineer in the Department of Energy’s office of energy efficiency and renewable energy.

The magnets in the largest windmills made today can weigh 2 tons, though only about 12% of that mass is rare earths.

Rare-earth magnets also have enabled the miniaturization of computer hard drives. Karl Gschneidner, professor of materials science at Iowa State University and an authority on rare earths, says today’s laptops would be double or triple in size without Nd2Fe14B magnets.

Peter Dent is vice president for business development at Electron Energy Corp in Landisville, Pennsylvania, the only remaining US manufacturer of rare-earth magnets that produces its alloys in-house. The company serves a niche market for permanent magnets, made with samarium instead of the more common neodymium, that are capable of operating at temperatures up to 550 °C. Dent acknowledged that he worries whether samarium will be available five years from now.

New mines opening

Several forces are at play that could ease concerns over supply. As the OSTP’s Wadia points out, there is a big difference between reserves and production. “If we went back 15 years, it was the US that had the dominant share [of output]. In fact, a third of the estimated reserves of rare-earth elements are in this country,” he says. The owners of one shuttered US rare-earth mine say they are on track to resume production in 2012, if the required financing can be obtained. Mark Smith, CEO of Molycorp, which owns the Mountain Pass mine in southern California, confessed that for years after the mine’s 2002 closure in the face of low-cost imported Chinese rare earths, “we sat and whined and cried.” But then, Smith told the House hearing, he and his co-owners got to work devising new processing technologies to reduce production costs. The firm plans to produce 20000 tons per year of rare-earth oxides and to refine the material, provide alloying and magnet powder—metal manufacturing capabilities, and manufacture permanent magnets at the site.

But those ambitions highlight another problem caused by the Chinese monopoly: Little rare-earth expertise remains in the US. “I have 17 engineers and scientists competing with over 6000 scientists in China. And I can’t find any students from any university in the US that have any experience with a rare-earths curriculum today,” Smith lamented. Molycorp’s plans were set back early this year when DOE rejected the company’s request for a loan guarantee to help finance the project.

A newly developed mine at Mount Weld in Australia is scheduled to commence production next year at an annual rate of 10500 tons. And other rare-earth deposits have been identified in the US, Canada, Australia, and Greenland. But their development could take as many as 10 years.

Concerns going forward about supplies of rare earths have spurred research to find alternative materials for magnets and other applications. But Gschneidner, who since the 1960s has conducted research with rare earths at Ames Laboratory, a DOE-owned facility on the Iowa State campus, says efforts to find substitutes have been under way for 20 years, to little avail.

Wadia is more hopeful. “There are known substitutes today and others that will be discovered in the future. In very few cases are we constrained to one singular material solution for a certain technological functionality.” Additional R&D funding for alternative materials might be warranted and pursued, he says, if the interagency task force now delving into the rare-earths issue makes that recommendation. The task force will also be looking more closely at some “high-growth scenarios, such as what the neodymium and boron demand could be if we plan to deploy, say, 30 gigawatts a year of wind generation,” he says. Wadia could provide no timetable for the completion of that exercise.

The vehicles technology program at DOE devotes about $3 million a year to R&D, mostly at Ames, on alternatives to rare-earth magnets, says Patrick Davis, a program manager. Researchers are exploring the potential for induction motors and switch-reluctance motors. But lower efficiencies and greater bulk will likely keep them at a disadvantage to permanent-magnet motors for hybrid cars. They could be more attractive in all-electric cars, where more space will be available under the hood, notes Boyd.

Finding new permanent-magnet materials is the goal of one of the first 37 research projects that were selected for funding by DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency—Energy. The ARPA—E program is reserved for high-risk research that could produce breakthroughs if successful. George Hadjipanayis, a University of Delaware physicist and principal investigator of the $4.5 million, three-year effort, says three approaches will be taken in a bid to find materials that can double the field strength of Nd2Fe14B. Both rare-earth-free magnets and magnets requiring smaller amounts of rare earths will be investigated. A team at the University of Nebraska will search for ways to improve the magnetic properties of iron—cobalt alloys. Hadjipanayis says some theoretical studies have hinted that the addition of tungsten could alter the molecular lattice of the iron—cobalt alloy, improving its anisotropy. A second approach, to be carried out at Ames, will evaluate a wide range of elements, including lithium, zinc, manganese, and selenium, for combination with rare earths and a transition metal. If successful, the newly discovered magnetic materials could require significantly less of the rare earths.

Hadjipanayis will lead a third, bottom-up approach to discover nanocomposites that offer a higher density of magnetic energy than Nd2Fe14B. Models have predicted that a combination of materials such as rare-earth compounds and materials like iron—cobalt should perform dramatically better if they can be manipulated at a scale of 20 to 30 nanometers, he says. “The first challenge is to make the magnetic nanoparticles with a high coercivity. Challenge two is to make the iron—cobalt nanoparticles with high magnetization. And then we will try to assemble them in some two-dimensional and three- dimensional arrays and try to make a magnet out of them.”

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Korea: North Preparing the Crisis for Some Time

Sources tell AsiaNews that Kim Jong-il’s government is “on the verge of collapse because of its economic mistakes. It has caused the crisis to rally the population.” In Seoul, Clinton tells North to stop its provocations.

Seoul (AsiaNews) — The sinking of ROKS Cheonan “was an unacceptable provocation by North Korea and the international community has a responsibility and a duty to respond,” US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said during an official visit in South Korea.

At a press conference with Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan, the former First Lady said the crisis caused by the sinking of the naval vessel “requires a strong but measured response. But there is the longer-term challenge of changing the direction of North Korea” that must be taken into consideration. Sources in Korea tell AsiaNews “Pyongyang was preparing the crisis for some time”.

According to a humanitarian aid worker, who visits regularly the North, “the order to evacuate all South Koreans from the Kaesong demilitarised zone and the order issued to North Korea’s navy to fire on sight on all unidentified ships go back a few weeks. It is clear that Kim Jong-ill wants to use the crisis to rally his people and make them accept more sacrifices because the money is gone and he is afraid of an uprising.”

In fact, the country’s disastrous currency reform and its highly centralised economic policies have bankrupted the state. The end of food aid from South Korea has further cut into the country’s food supply. “The regime wants to blame Seoul and Washington for starving the population. Only this way, they can survive a dramatic situation.”

In light of this, Secretary Clinton has urged the world to act jointly. In Beijing yesterday, she tried to get China’s support. Beijing is North Korea’s sponsor, the only country that can exert pressure on the Communist regime and get it to change direction. Although Chinese authorities have refused Clinton’s request, they have left the door open to further dialogue.

In any event, Pyongyang has put its armed forces on alert, slamming Seoul’s “provocations”, issuing orders to its Navy to fire on sight against any naval vessel that crosses the Northern Limit Line, the maritime demarcation line between the two Koreas.

In the meantime, the United States and South Korea have begun joint naval and anti-sub exercises, a move that is bound to escalate tensions with the North.

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

South Korea and North Korea Prepare for War

[North and South Korea brace for war:]

Were war to occur between these two nations it would not be a 7 to 10 days dust up. These two societies know how to fight, and they know how to go for the jugular. and, they know how to keep at it, despite devastating loss.

There will be no calls on the telephone to warn the other guy to vacate his premises for the next day’s artillery barrage.

These are two militaries with fighting traditions, and they will close for “close quarters combat,” and it will be extremely intense, and very, very, very bloody.

Keep in mind that the united states has app. 28,500 troops stationed in south korea.

And, that north korea has baby nukes, “sputterers…”

[Return to headlines]

Sub-Saharan Africa

Outspoken South African Youth Leader Praises Robert Mugabe’s Land Grab Policy

The firebrand youth leader of South Africa’s ruling party, who has been tipped as the country’s next President, has praised Robert Mugabe’s land grab policy in Zimbabwe and compared himself to Nelson Mandela in an outspoken interview.

Julius Malema, who was disciplined by President Jacob Zuma for being ‘out of control’ by repeatedly singing anti-white songs and embarrassing the African National Congress, sought to defend his behaviour after being ordered to attend anger management classes and carry out community service.

In typically defiant tone, Mr Malema praised the eviction in Zimbabwe of almost 5,000 white farmers from their land in the last decade, although with a qualification that the policy ‘ was very good except the violent part of it’.

He added: ‘In South Africa we must use the democratic means to redistribute the land.

‘We’ve got a majority in parliament to make legislation that will give us power to expropriate land with compensation.’

Zimbabwe was once known as the ‘breadbasket’ of Africa for its ability to feed not only its own population but export large quantities of food to neighbouring countries.

Now, it relies on food aid and imports, a fact that appeared lost on Mr Malema who wore shirts printed with the face of Robert Mugabe during a recent visit.

Mr Malema is loathed by South Africa’s white population, who call him ‘Kiddie Amin’ in reference to Uganda’s former ruthless dicatator Idi Amin.


It was thanks to the support of Mr Malema’s powerful youth wing that Mr Zuma was catapulted to power in a coalition government.


The controversial politician first came to international prominence in February when he made a string of high profile appearances singing an old anti-apartheid township song which included the inflammatory phrase ‘Kill the Boer’ (farmer).


Mr Malema, who reportedly owns three properties and a string of luxury cars despite his modest political salary, said he might consider not singing the inflammatory phrase but insisted the economy remained racially divided.

‘I am fighting for the emancipation of blacks and Africans in particular, politically, socially and economically,’ he said.

‘There are racial divisions in this country and the economy continues to grow but the gap between the haves and have-nots continues to grow. It’s racialised.’

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

South Africa: Uproar Over M&G Prophet Muhammad Cartoon

It was a late night in court for the Mail & Guardian as the Council of Muslim Theologians on Thursday evening tried to stop the newspaper from publishing a Zapiro cartoon featuring the Prophet Muhammad.

An interdict was not granted, but on Friday morning M&G editor-in-chief Nic Dawes and other staff were fielding a flood of angry callers, and even death threats hit the newspaper’s office.

“You’ve got to watch your back” and “This will cost him his life” were some of the remarks made.

The cartoon followed the furore surrounding the Facebook page, “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day”, which was sparked by threats by a radical Muslim group against the creators of US TV series South Park for depicting the prophet in a bear suit.

Zapiro’s cartoon, published in Friday’s M&G, depicted the prophet reclining on a psychiatrist’s couch and bemoaning his followers’ lack of humour.

When Dawes first saw the cartoon he said he thought it “a gentle and irreverent poke” at the hysteria that had greeted the Facebook page. This week Pakistan ordered all internet service providers to block Facebook, as well as YouTube for carrying “un-Islamic content”.

Dawes recounted how he received a call from an attorney from the council at about 8.30pm on Thursday night — after the distribution process of the Friday paper had begun. “He asked for an undertaking that we would stop distribution of the paper and remove the cartoon.”

Dawes pointed out that this was impossible, and that in any event the M&G would not do so.

By 11.30pm the newspaper’s advocate had been pulled out of a dinner party and Dawes, along with the paper’s investigation unit, found himself in the South Gauteng High Court ready to defend the M&G’s right to freedom of speech.

However, the council, or Jamiatul Ulama as it is also known, failed to provide the necessary papers for the M&G to answer. It presented verbal evidence, but the judge ruled the interdict failed in terms of urgency, as the newspaper was already available in some outlets and the cartoon had already been published on the M&G Online.

It was a case of trying to close the stable doors long after the horse had bolted, the newspaper’s counsel pointed out.

Furthermore, the judge found that the newspaper’s rights had been compromised by not being provided with founding papers advising what the case against it was.

While the council pleaded with the judge not to throw the case out on technical grounds, she answered that “as a judge and as a Muslim I am bound by our Constitution and the rules of our courts”.

Earlier, the judge made a decision to not recuse herself, saying her own religious background wouldn’t influence her.

Violent backlash

The Council of Muslim Theologians is the same organisation that succeeded in preventing the Sunday Times in 2006 from republishing the controversial Danish cartoons of the prophet.

During Thursday’s application the council repeatedly raised the spectre of a violent backlash, saying that the timing of the cartoon was bad because of a possible threat to the Soccer World Cup.

It added that while it wouldn’t advocate violence, it couldn’t necessarily guarantee that there wouldn’t be any.

“We very much saw that as a threat, and our counsel vigorously objected,” said Dawes. The judge upheld the objection.

While the council was unhappy with the court’s decision, it agreed to meet Dawes to take the discussion forward.

“The M&G is a platform for debate,” Dawes emphasised, adding that everyone was welcome to engage in debate and discussion with the paper. “My view is no cartoon is as insulting to Islam as the assumption Muslims will react with violence.”

However, he also noted that had the cartoon been in any way Islamophobic, or crossed the line in terms of hate speech and racism, he would not have published it.

But Zapiro’s cartoons, he said, offend many people. Many noted that the award-winning South African political cartoonist, whose pen has repeatedly and poignantly exposed corrupt politicians and various hypocrisies in the public sphere, could have been far harsher if he wished.

As Dawes said: “If we had to pull every Zapiro cartoon that offended someone we wouldn’t have any Zapiro cartoons in the newspaper.”

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

South Africa: Letter From the Editor of the Mail & Guardian

The cartoon depicts the Prophet Muhammad reclining on a therapist’s couch and saying sadly “Other prophets’ followers have a sense of humour”.

When I first saw the image, and approved it for publication, it was clear to me that it was Zapiro’s contribution to the global debate around representations of the Prophet. This is an enormously complex and sensitive subject, but I felt that Zapiro had attempted to handle it with care. Unlike some other cartoonists who have tackled the same subject, he had not used Islamophobic imagery, nor had he mocked the prophet.

What the cartoon does do, is use humour to ask why the concerns of one religious group should be privileged above those of others, and above the freedom of expression rights enshrined in our constitution.

Zapiro’s talent for satirical analysis means that he causes offence from time-to-time — sometimes very profound offence. His very strong criticism of the Israeli occupation of Palestine, and of human rights abuses by the Israeli government, for example, angers many Jewish South Africans.

His depictions of the Pope in cartoons dealing with the policies and doctrines of the Vatican offend some of our Catholic readers, and his depictions of President Jacob Zuma have drawn not only anger from the President, but a multimillion-rand lawsuit.

It was against this backdrop that I made the decision to publish the cartoon. I understand that for many Muslims any representation of the Prophet, no matter how innocuous, is offensive and I genuinely regret any offence that the cartoon may have caused those who hold this belief dear. That regret does not, however, outweigh my duty to the principle of freedom expression. Zapiro expresses himself by drawing, and to deny him his pen would be to deny him his voice.

No hate speech

Of course the right to freedom of expression is not absolute. I would not have published a cartoon that amounted to hate speech or incitement to violence, both of which are debarred by the Constitution.

Nor would I have published the cartoon if I had felt that it was a gratuitous attack on Islam. Of course I understand that others may feel that that is precisely what it was, but I hope that they will accept that this was not the intention of the M&G.

Some have suggested that it was irresponsible of us to publish the cartoon, knowing that it would anger a section of the community, and might lead to violence. Counsel for Jamiatul Ulama argued this point strongly in a court bid to prevent distribution of today’s newspaper.

I take a different view. I believe that it is more insulting to Islam to assume that Muslims will react violently to a challenging image, than it is to publish such an image. I have complete faith that local Muslim community holds dear the same constitutional values as the M&G. I will be holding discussions with Muslim leaders in the coming days in order to listen to their concerns.

South Africa is home to a multitude of faith communities, as well as to strongly divergent secular viewpoints. We possess an extraordinary talent for having difficult conversations, and emerging stronger from them. I welcome that conversation; on our website, in the newspaper, and in direct interaction with our readers.

From the comments section:

Dear Editor

We the South African Muslim community is deeply offended by your cartoon mocking the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and depicting him negatively. It is evident that this publication is aimed to demonise the character and personality of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) who is followed by 1.5 billion Muslims globally and who is admired by millions of others all over the world. After all, what was the intention of this publication by depicting the Prophet negatively when it is a well known fact that he was a paragon of peace, mercy, tolerance and forgiveness?

The publication of this cartoon demonstrates contempt for the religious beliefs of the Muslim Community. This cartoon has abused freedom of speech by taking it to a dangerous, irresponsible and unacceptable level by showing disregard for the sensitivities of Muslims of South Africa. The Muslim community views the publication of such offensive material as a serious attack on the integrity of their religion, and as an attack on the global Muslim Community.

The media has a duty to act responsibly in sensitive issues of this nature and not to push the right to freedom of expression to ridiculous levels where the lines of distinction between profound and profane are virtually obliterated. Freedom of expression is not an absolute; it is limited by the requirement of not causing offence or inciting racial or religious hatred.

Sensible and responsible leaders around the world, including the pope, issued strong statements against the Danish cartoons some time back. The US Government also condemned these caricatures. “These cartoons are indeed offensive to the belief of Muslims,” State Department spokesman Kurtis Cooper said in answer to a question. “We all fully recognize and respect freedom of the press and expression but it must be coupled with press responsibility. Inciting religious or ethnic hatreds in this manner is not acceptable.”

The reason why Muslims are so angry is because this cartoon has violated fundamental teachings of their religion. Islam has traditionally prohibited images of humans and animals altogether — which is why much Islamic art is made up of decorative calligraphy or abstract arabesque patterns. Throughout history Muslims have cast out, destroyed or denounced all images, whether carved or painted, as idolatry.

Therefore, images of the Prophet are strictly forbidden in Islam, because it is forbidden and because this is deemed disrespectful to him, and for the very fear that his image could then be distorted and abused. Thus no records of any authentic image or portrait of the Prophet is to be found anywhere in the world throughout history. I hope you now understand the intensity of the feelings aroused in Muslims when this is done.

Muslims love the Prophet (peace be upon him) so intensely that this love supersedes their love of everyone else. When speaking or writing, his name is always preceded by the title “Prophet” and followed by the phrase: “Peace be upon him”, often abbreviated in English as PBUH. Attempts to depict him in illustration were therefore an attempt to depict the sublime — and so forbidden. To depict him in a series of mocking and provocative cartoons is the worst form of blasphemy imaginable. No Muslim can ever tolerate such disrespect.

The entire culture and value system of Islam is based on respect and reverence, such as respect for parents, wives, elders, religious symbols and so forth but for some respect means nothing at all. Such people satirise and mock anything and everything, including their own religion, all of which is done in the name of freedom of expression. They expect to also mock at others, in the name of freedom of expression. But Muslims, who are required by their religion to respect all of the Holy Prophets (peace be upon all of them), will not tolerate the mockery of any of the Holy Prophets. Hence when the Prophet (peace be upon him) was mocked in the cartoon, there is a furious reaction from Muslims..

Two things are wrong with the cartoon. Firstly, the illustrated depiction of the Holy Prophet (PBUH), and worse, the intention to ridicule the Prophet (peace be upon him) through it. This is an explosion waiting to happen. We view this as an example of the ignorance and arrogance that you have displayed.

Ismaeel Adam

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

South Africa: No Apology From Mail & Guardian

The Mail & Guardian newspaper says it will not apologise for a Zapiro cartoon it published on Friday depicting Prophet Muhammad.

The newspaper was due to meet with the Muslim Judicial Council (MJC) tomorrow to discuss the cartoon which has been greeted with outrage in the Muslim community. The cartoon shows Prophet Muhammad lying on a psychiatrist’s couch complaining: “Other prophets have followers with a sense of humour!”

MJC president Moulana Ighsaan Hendricks said they would discuss the matter further once the meeting had taken place.

Mail & Guardian editor Nic Dawes said they would be going to listen to what the MJC had to say, but said they would not be offering an apology.. “But we will express our regret for the distress we may have caused our readers,” he said. He confirmed that Zapiro would be present at the meeting tomorrow.

Muslims consider any depiction of Prophet Muhammad as offensive. Dawes said: “My view is no cartoon is as insulting as the assumption Muslims will react with violence.” In an online statement he said: “When I first saw the image, and approved it for publication, it was clear to me that it was Zapiro’s contribution to the global debate around representations of the Prophet. This is an enormously complex and sensitive subject, but I felt that Zapiro had attempted to handle it with care.”

Several Muslim organisations met yesterday to discuss the cartoon of the Prophet and said it was “blasphemous, insulting, insensitive and hurtful to the Muslim community. Organisations formed a committee, the United Muslim Forum of South Africa, who said they had a mandate to obtain an apology and appropriate assurances from the Mail & Guardian newspaper.

Hendricks said the organisation respected Zapiro’s right to freedom of expression, but that the cartoonist had to apply this with sensitivity to religious beliefs.

Zapiro was not willing to comment when contacted last night to discuss the matter.

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

South Africa: South African Paper Refuses to Apologise for Cartoon of Prophet Mohammed

A row that blew up last week in South Africa over another newspaper cartoon featuring the Prophet Muhammad shows no signs of dying down.

Nic Dawes, the editor of the Mail & Guardian, has made it clear ahead of his meeting today with the Council of Muslim Theologians that he will not apologise for running the cartoon last Friday. Drawn by Zapiro (the pen name of Jonathan Shapiro), it depicted the prophet reclining on a therapist’s couch and saying: “Other prophets have followers with a sense of humour!…”

The Muslim group, alerted on Thursday evening to the contents of the cartoon, tried to prevent its publication by launching a late-night high court action. Copies of the paper were already being distributed when the judge ruled in the paper’s favour.

Staff at the Mail & Guardian, a weekly tabloid regarded as a serious newspaper, have since received threats.

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

South Africa: Zapiro’s Cartoon: A Lesson in Democracy

Here’s a quick recent history in case you missed it.

  • April 2010: Creators of the irreverent cartoon series, South Park, receive death threats for depicting the Prophet Muhammad in an episode and elements of it are self-censored by the network.
  • April 26: A global desktop activist drive launches on Facebook: “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day” is set for May 20. Cue giant uproar in Muslim communities around the world, including Pakistan restricting access to Facebook, Flickr, YouTube and Wikipedia.
  • May 20: South Africa: Ridiculously astute and talented South African cartoonist Jonathan Shapiro delivers a gentle poke at Islamic over-reaction in Friday’s edition of the Mail & Guardian, depicting the prophet reclining in a psychiatrist’s chair bemoaning his followers’ lack of humour.
  • 11.30pm, May 20: Court room drama till the wee hours as the Council of Muslim Theologians attempts — and fails — to halt the newspaper’s distribution.

It was mayhem. M&G editor Nic Dawes was up till 2am with our legal team. The next day we were hit with a storm of angry letters and calls. Traffic volumes on this website went through the roof as the story went global. Lawyers were dragged out of dinner parties, people shouted at us, phones rang off the hook and Muslim leaders slammed our lack of sensitivity.

In other words, democracy happened. I staggered home after a long day of answering angry emails and moderating reams of comments on related articles. But I looked back proud of my country, our people and our Muslim community.

Remember the Danish cartoons in 2005? The Jyllands-Posten published 12 cartoons depicting the prophet. Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen described it as Denmark’s worst international crisis since World War II. It resulted in worldwide protests that often turned violent. Some put the death figure at over a 100 as police fired into various crowds.

Five years later, this was the first South African cartoon tackling the subject matter. With our national predisposition towards civil action and violence, things could easily have gone pear-shaped. Instead our national predisposition for dialogue proved stronger.

Could it be the legacy the Truth and Reconciliation Commission? I attended a retrospective on the TRC in 2008 at which journalist Max du Preez spoke about his travels to countries torn apart by ethnic violence. They could not believe his stories of how South Africans frankly and honestly discussed their problems with each other at the commission. Our dialogue isn’t perfect, but it’s there, which is more than can be said of a lot of nations.

And it’s not just the war-torn developing world. In the West, Islam is the new Russia. Europeans and Americans seem not to know what to do with their Muslim communities — unless they conform thoroughly to the country’s cultural milieu they’re generally left out of its mainstream life. We’ve never had that problem in South Africa.

When I lived in The Netherlands for a few months in 2005, I was surprised — and disturbed — by the ghettoisation of Muslims. They seemed marginalised and maligned. Coming from a country where Muslims have been part and parcel of our national identity for centuries, it was a strange sight.

Ahmed Kathrada stayed alongside Nelson Mandela on Robben Island, giving their lives for their country’s freedom. Fatima Meer, a committed Muslim and South African, was a lesson in conviction and courage, while Kader Asmal and Naledi Pandor are both highly respected politicians. The Grey Street Mosque in Durban is the largest in the Southern Hemisphere and the abiding faith of the Cape Malay Muslim communities is part of their celebrated culture and lifestyle..

Perhaps it’s because our Islamic community is so firmly and unashamedly part of who we are as a nation that we haven’t had the same tensions that plague other secular countries with a significant Muslim population.

In this case our often-fragile legal system proved successful. People used the system and followed the processes open to them to make their voices heard, and it worked. A decision was made in court — by a Muslim judge — and the Council of Muslim Theologians respected her decision. While the spectre of violence was raised a few times in some of their legal argument, and of course the obligatory anonymous death threats made, there has been no blood spilt on the streets or on our hands.

Critics have slammed the M&G for publishing the cartoon so close to the World Cup. Foreign media have latched on to the story as yet another swart gevaar-type news item that has characterised coverage of our country ahead of the tournament. But they’re missing the real success story here. As Dawes put it, “I know that Muslims share our constitutional values, and are capable of having the most robust, angry and painful conversations in rigorous and peaceful fashion”.

Calls for more discussion are being heeded and Jonathan Shapiro, the M&G and Muslim leaders will likely sit down sometime this week to talk things through.

Dawes noted that the “Muslim leaders with whom I have spoken have been unfailingly courteous and thoughtful, and I will be meeting with more of them in the coming days to hear their concerns, and communicate my own approach”.

As he put it, in a quote that defined the moment: “In my view no cartoon is as insulting to Islam as the assumption that Muslims are incapable of reacting to a challenging image with anything but violence.”

It did the rounds on Twitter instantly. Religious row and possible backlash? More like democracy in action.

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

South Africa: So What’s the Big Deal With Drawing the Prophet?

I can’t understand why the media, the West and everyone else who engaged in the “Let’s Draw Muhammad” contest recently couldn’t, in all their secular intelligence, attempt to first UNDERSTAND and then act instead of the other way round. I am also extremely disappointed with Zapiro for simply “jumping on the bandwagon” which is very unlike him. The Zapiro I’m used to has deep insight, sharp wit and gets to the heart of the issue at hand. Zapiro’s cartoon depicting the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) shows only deep ignorance … but I’ll analyse that later.

First, let’s get to the heart of the matter. Why are Muslims going crazy when this happens? Well, at the essence, we do not draw the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) or represent him in any way or form even though we do have detailed, verified and ratified descriptions of him because it is mentioned in the Qur’an not to fall into the trap of worshipping the Prophet instead of God. Secondly, Muslims believe in ALL of the prophets of God — Moses, Jesus, Noah, Jonah, Adam etc (peace be upon them all) and we don’t DRAW any of them.

But still … why is there so much passion in this issue? Well, look at the content. The depictions are ignorant and horrible. There is no mistaking the intent behind them. It represents some hard-line Iranian “Terrorist” Mullah rather than any insight into the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Muslims LOVE the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), I mean truly love. For Muslims he is the ultimate example of what a human being is supposed to be. We actually implement the idea that whenever we’re faced with any situation in life the question is automatically … “Well, what did the Prophet (pbuh) do?” You can’t underestimate this point, it leads to the next point in this issue.

Let’s make it personal. Take someone you truly love and would do anything for … say it’s your mother. Now, if someone was talking badly (or drawing nasty pictures) of your mother, but did it among themselves and, obviously, they have a right to say what they want. It’s all absolutely fine. But when someone comes up to you and waves it about in your face and swears your mother to your face, what would you do? Yes, it is the ultimate example we need to follow to hold our peace and deal with it in an intelligent and civilised manner (in fact this is what the Prophet (pbuh) himself would have done. But be realistic … your first move would be a punch in the gut of the offending perpetrator. This is the line between having the freedom to say what you want, but respecting the people around you.

Personally, this is the first time I’m writing about this because I can’t believe people’s stupidity and ignorance. In this day and age! For God’s sake (no pun intended) is everyone getting stupider? Why can’t anyone else see this? Regarding the drawings themselves, I refuse to join any action AGAINST them on Facebook and shout out slogans etc because that only fuels the fire of the same idiots who created the group in the first place. I’ve IGNORED them from the beginning and I implore all other Muslims to do the same, or even better, start telling these people who the Prophet (pbuh) was, his example and what he means to them. This is the perfect opportunity.

Finally, I pray … that intelligence dawns on both sides of this conflict. It’s a shame on humanity that BOTH sides are acting like this. Let’s grow up.

Muhammad Karim is a blogger on Tech Leader and a contributing author on Global Voices Online.

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

South Africa: Why I’m Crossing Swords With Zapiro

One of my prized possessions is a 1987 United Democratic Front calendar by Jonathan Shapiro, or Zapiro, which has accompanied me in almost every office I’ve occupied. It has served as a summary of most that I have valued in my participation in the Struggle, and a reminder of the power of the arts to communicate when intolerance shuts down other, more linear voices.

In the battle for ideas and a better life, there is a genre that pushes back boundaries, can be iconoclastic and subversive, surface truth and expose falsehood, and yet leave the powerful that are challenged perplexed, because no tangible law was broken. They feel subverted, but bear no external wounds.

This sense overwhelmed me on seeing Zapiro participate in the “Draw Muhammad Day”. I was perplexed. I can well imagine how delicious the prospect must be to take on one of the remaining boundaries in an increasingly post-modern world.

The prospect of “drawing Muhammad” is alluring to those who pride themselves on iconoclasm and subversion.

Put at the service of a higher purpose like extending the boundaries of free expression, the campaign to “draw Muhammad” has just the right mix of nobility that comes from extending the truth, and danger that comes from taking on a group of people who appear to have long ago traded reason for the more instant elevation to paradise.

So why would I, in my state of ambiguity, even dare to cross swords (or pens) with Jonathan Shapiro about a cartoon?

Maybe because I suspect that he identifies himself with higher purposes and that he is in a space of values that sets him apart from his contemporaries who initiated the campaign to “draw Muhammad”. Maybe it’s just useful to seize the opportunity to debate and tease out the complexities of an issue so as not to cede the ground to those who label, threaten and harm in a battle of higher purposes.

My participation in political struggle stemmed from, essentially, my convictions as a Muslim. But Muslims of my generation who joined the liberation movement to achieve a non-racial, democratic South Africa had to engage in a struggle against both apartheid and against the siren song of fundamentalism. This fundamentalist instinct is always close to the surface of those — in this case Muslims — who were both so hurt by the systematic emasculation of Islam through colonialism, as well as the one moment of exuberance at the humiliation of the West in Iran. In the scheme of things, apartheid’s most obscene manifestations have disappeared.

What remains to threaten the world is fundamentalism — not as the monopoly of Muslims — but as the property of all who have trouble living with uncertainty that comes from a more unequal world, where tradition and culture no longer transmit their values, where their identities are distorted and dignity defiled, their sovereignty compromised and their pride emasculated.

Fundamentalism is also the property of those who try to totalise a few truths and values they cling to, and try to maintain control over a few variables: waging war and doing harm; parading masculinity through controlling women’s place, dress and body; and isolating and totalising single values and virtues over all others.

What does all of this have to do with Zapiro’s cartoon? I raise this, I think, to invite Zapiro to understand the whole and to work at even higher purposes, and to fight real enemies. We need to distinguish the powerful from the victims. When we “draw Muhammad”, are we not helping powerful extremists by indignifying and mobilising already emasculated victims? For those who write, draw, speak and act with conscience, is our higher purpose today not to defuse the fundamentalist instincts — whether they sit in the Pentagon, wear explosives in Palestine, march into Gaza, peddle fast-food salvation or instant paradise, or make the poor invisible in the economic forums of the world?

We need to understand that we, too, are capable of advancing a fundamentalist agenda when we fail to advance rights, freedoms and values in relation to each other, and instead choose one or a few that we are closest to. We adopt unwittingly the mantle of those we challenge when such distinctions evade us.

You see, Islam doesn’t have a problem with depicting the Prophet as mad, bloodthirsty and womanising. It doesn’t have a problem with depicting the Prophet humorously. Islam has a problem with depiction! Every Muslim grows up either averse to or ambiguous about depiction. Some mosques still forbid photography. Muslims are ambivalent about the visual arts. Sculptures are no-nos. All of this emerges from Islam’s genesis in Mecca, when the Arabs had compromised faith in the One, Unseen God with a host of depictions in and around the Kaaba.

To this day, Muslim antipathy toward depiction persists because it detracts from purity of faith. The Islamic heartlands have been denuded of relics and artefacts in a sometimes overzealous interpretation of this. To not know this, and to want to wage war against the intolerant fundamentalist strain in the Muslim community by using as the weapon of choice the very thing — depiction — that Islam emerged against, is to perpetuate the very conditions in the Muslim world that have bred violence. Muslims are brought up not to visualise or imagine the Prophet, but to mould their lives on the practice of the Prophet.

Zapiro, therefore, assists in convincing the majority of Muslims, who are ordinary, peaceful, tolerant, joking and humorous, that maybe there is something in that siren song which attempts to seduce them with the idea that there is only hostility with a world that disrespects their precepts of faith.

Zapiro draws like a modern-day Othello: virtuous, faithful, honourable, loyal, trusting. To a fault, I think. All of these virtues, isolated and separated from a higher purpose and a bigger picture, elevated above a capacity for empathy, and wrapped in an inability to make distinctions between immediate and ultimate, victim and perpetrator, cause and effect, often results in being manoeuvred to implement your immediate noble values but destroying that which is ultimately more deserving of being nurtured.

We need to nurture a gentler, more caring and free world with an enormous capacity for humour, that comes from those who are secure in their sense of dignity.

We must resist the siren songs of fundamentalists of all kinds. By pushing the boundary of Muslim aversion to depiction, we disturb the equilibrium that holds us all in check.

As for Zapiro, I refuse to burn my 1987 UDF calendar.

Ebrahim Rasool is an MP and founder of World for All Foundation

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]


‘Birthplace Sweden But Differences Remain’

Swedish-born children of foreign-born parents are faced with challenges deviating from their counterparts for the duration of their lives, an new report from Statistics Sweden (SCB) shows.

The SCB report entitled “Born in Sweden — still different? The importance of parents’ country of birth,” has studied family and childbirth patterns, mortality and movements of persons born in Sweden who have foreign-born parents. Although differences in education and employment have been studied.

The report indicates that despite being born in Sweden, the group are less inclined to start families, suffer lower life expectancy, and display divergent housing and migration patterns from the national average.

“Women and men with parents from countries outside of Europe often choose a partner with the same background. They are less inclined to have children than children of Sweden-born parents,” the report states.

The group are more inclined to move overseas and not return and are more likely to live in lower income areas if they do stay in Sweden, SCB figures show.

Being the offspring of parents born outside of Sweden also impacts on how long a Sweden-born man or woman can expect to live.

“In certain ages the fatality risk is higher for those with two foreign-born parents. This is especially clear among among children and those aged 20-29,” the report states.

There are also differences within educational achievement and status in the workplace with children of foreign-born parents less likely to complete high school. They are shown to be less likely to achieve senior positions in the workplace and more likely to be employed in jobs for which they are overqualified.

The group of people born in Sweden of one or both parents born overseas is on the increase, with the number expanding from 300,000 in 1970 to over a million in 2008. Seven percent of Sweden’s population currently has one foreign-born parent and four percent have two.

“In the group where both parents are born outside of Sweden it has previously been more common with parents born in another Scandinavian country, but now the group with both parents born outside of Europe is larger,” said Lotta Persson at SCB to The Local on Wednesday.

Persson told The Local however that the group with one parent born overseas is still greater for those with a parent born in one of the other Scandinavian countries.

While Statistics Sweden figures subdivide the groups further into birth country, the group “children of foreign-born parents” (either one or both) in this report applies to a place of birth in any country outside of Sweden, including Scandinavia and Europe, unless otherwise stated.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Feds Issue Terror Watch for Somalis Coming Across the Border—too Little Too Late

Blulitespecial spotted this story today. Fox News is reporting that Somalis suspected of being linked to Al-Shabaab are coming across America’s porous borders and possibly forming sleeper cells—gee no kidding! We have been writing about this since 2008 because they are likely blending into the large Somali refugee populations in major cities. Only recently reader Khadra, who says she is a Somali born in the US, warned us too (be sure to read comments).

From Fox News:…

           — Hat tip: RRW[Return to headlines]

ICE Busts California Flight School in Massive Visa Fraud Scheme

The former owners of a California flight school have pleaded guilty in a massive visa fraud scheme in which they hired illegal immigrants as flight instructors — a scam that immigration officials say posed a “significant” threat to national security.

Andrew Burr and Christopher Watson, the former president and vice president of Anglo-American Aviation, pleaded guilty Thursday to misdemeanor counts of hiring unauthorized workers, part of a larger felony case against their company that was the culmination of a two-year investigation by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

ICE officials found that from 2001-2008, the company hired 11 illegal immigrants as flight instructors.

“The actions by the defendants in this case not only undermined the integrity of our nation’s legal immigration system, they also posed a significant national security risk,” said Joe Garcia, acting special agent in charge for the ICE Office of Investigations in San Diego…

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Italy-Libya: Schengen Mission to Focus on Illegal Immigration

Rome, 25 May (AKI) — A two day mission to Libya by members of the Italian parliament’s Schengen commission will focus on the issue of illegal immigration to Europe from the Mediterranean. On arrival in the North African country on Wednesday, the parliamentary delegation will hold talks with top Libyan officials. The delegation will on Thursday visit an immigrant holding centre and meet the International Organisation for Migration’s representative Laurence Hart.

“This is an extremely high-profile visit, politically and institutionally,” the commission’s president and ruling conservative People of Freedom party MP Margherita Boniver told Adnkronos International (AKI). She is heading the six-member delegation.

Boniver said the Italian delegation was invited to visit Libya by the foreign affairs secretary of the Libyan General People’s Congress, Suleiman Shuhumi.

“Libya is a crucial country for Italy in the fight against illegal immigration and owing to the excellent relations we enjoy since the historic friendship and cooperation pact we signed,” said Boniver,

Berlusconi in 2008 issued an historic apology for his country’s occupation of Libya before World War II. Under the pact signed in August 2008, Italy and agreed to pay the North African nation five billion dollars over 20 years in reparations.

Italy and Libya agreed to boost energy, economic, industrial and cultural cooperation. They also pledged to work more closely together to fight illegal immigration, terrorism and organised crime.

Joint coastal patrols have turned back thousands of migrants in the Mediterranean since the pact entered into force in March, 2009, drawing sharp criticism from the United Nations, rights groups, the Catholic Church and the Council of Europe rights watchdog.

Libya withdrew billions of dollars from Swiss banks after Gaddafi’s son Hannibal was briefly detained in a Swiss jail in July 2008. He and his wife were accused of beating their servants in Geneva.

In February, the country blocked entry to the country by the 25 European countries which have signed the Schengen treaty, including Switzerland.

Italy’s foreign ministry Franco Frattini worked with other European leaders to try and resolve the bitter diplomatic row over visas.

Schengen rules involve eliminating border controls with other Schengen members while simultaneously strengthening border controls with non-member states.

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

Italy: Bangladeshi Migrants Detained by Police

Rome, 25 May (AKI) — Italian police on Tuesday detained 35 Bangladeshis suspected of being illegal immigrants in a series of raids on apartment buildings in Rome. Police acted on tip-offs by local residents and are now investigating a possible illegal immigration racket in the Italian capital.

All the Bangladeshis were taken to Rome’s police headquarters for identification checks.

Eighteen of the Bangladeshis were arrested in an apartment building in the northern Rome suburb of Montesacro, where they were living in a few squalid rooms, police said.

Another 17 Bangladeshis were found in an apartment in a nearby street in Montesacro.

The current conservative Italian government and Rome’s mayor Gianni Alemanno have vowed to crack down on illegal immigration.

Several illegal Roma Gypsy camps have been demolished since Alemanno took office in April 2008.

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

Italy: Northern League — “Good-Hearted Lads”

Founded in the late 1980s in protest against abuses of power by “Roman” political parties, the movement lead by Umberto Bossi is Silvio Berlusconi’s most faithful ally in government. With a share of the vote that has increased from less than 4% in 2001 to more than 10% in the 2008 European elections, it’s likely to make further gains in regional elections to held on the 28 and 29 March.

Philippe Ridet

In what will most certainly be a foregone conclusion, on the evening of 29 March after the second round of voting, the populist anti-immigration Northern League party will take control of the region of Venice — a result that will mark a major milestone for the political grouping born 25 years ago under the mocking gaze of traditional politicians, which now runs 350 towns and 14 provinces north of the river Po.

Welcome to Zaia country

Polls show that the right-wing Northern League and people of Freedom list led by Agriculture Minister, Luca Zaia, has a 10- to 12-percentage-point lead over its centre-left rival. “I’m in the position of a football team that is five goals ahead. I only have to avoid making mistakes,” points out the minister in the car taking us from Conigliano, his native town in the province of Treviso, to Padua where he is to take part in a debate. Mr Zaia devotes a maximum of two days a week to his campaign, and never canvasses on Sundays: “The family is sacred,” he says, and he also needs time to look after his horses. So why bother with meetings and pressing flesh? Everyone knows the League in this region where the movement has systematically gained ground by insisting on putting the North first, and rejecting any threat to northern identity.

It is a platform that has proved remarkably successful with small business owners weary of seeing their taxes “squandered” to help the terroni (“bumpkins from the South”), their employees who fear that immigrants will take their jobs, farmers and wine growers outraged by the nit-picking rule-makers in Brussels, and craftsmen worried by the competition from China and emerging countries. In election after election, the League has gone from strength to strength, sidelining the Left and eventually rivalling — and even overtaking — its ally, the right-wing People of Freedom party. As one of the minister’s enthusiastic supporters puts it, “This is Zaia country.”

Creating a safe haven in an insecure world

At age 43, with slicked back hair and a nattily tailored suit, Mr Zaia is the leading light for a new generation of League politicians. Only a discreet flash of green — the Northern League colour — from his breast pocket handkerchief indicates his association with extreme politics. He tends to leave xenophobic speeches which are mainstay of his party’s identity — grumbling about migrants who should be “thrown back in the sea, and minarets” that “sully the fine landscape of Veneto,” or directing insults at the cardinal of Milan who has been dubbed “the imam” for preaching in favour of tolerance — to his colleagues. Nor will you hear him whistling the national anthem or banging on about “citizen patrols” and special operations to expel undocumented aliens — at least not in public. Leveraging his position as minister of agriculture, he has presented himself as a defender of “identity:” a more politically correct stance than the position focusing on the brutal rejection of others, which is the standard fare served by the three other Northern League ministers in the current government. And it is a position that has enabled him to mount an efficient campaign promote products made in Veneto.

“The traditional League themes like the fight against immigration and law and order are now treated as subheadings under the more general theme of territorial identity,” explains political analyst Stefano Bruno Galli. “It is a more generic platform that can appeal to the extreme right and the extreme left. Well before other political parties, the League realized that the end of ideology and the crisis in central government would mean that political allegiance would be increasingly defined by territorial concerns. Little by little, the party has emerged as a territorial agency that acts as a focal point for local interests.” As Professor of Political Science at the University of Urbino Ilvo Diamanti remarks, “The League has succeeded in devising a platform that presents territorial security and the defence of tradition as policies that can create a safe haven in an insecure world.”

We are good-hearted lads

The minister’s and future regional governor’s website manipulates and exploits this theme to the full. “Veneto first!” is the main slogan on his homepage. As to his first decision as governor: “We will immediately establish new federal structures. Local people have successfully governed this region for 1,000 years, so it is natural that it should provide the venue for a new experiment in autonomy. We have the capacity to manage new responsibilities like education, water, and energy,” explains Mr Zaia, who also points out that “the region does not receive much in return for the 90 billion euros in tax revenue it contributes to the state.”

Is this the expression of a siege mentality? “Absolutely not,” replies the minister, “we don’t want to withdraw from the world: we have to be ‘glocal’ that is global and local.” And will migrants receive better treatment when Luca Zaia takes over as regional governor? “I am not against immigrants, I am against ghettoes. Even the Church has understood that we are good-hearted lads.”

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

Spain: The New Arizona

Arizona’s tough new law on illegal aliens is making headlines, but mass arrests of suspected illegals are increasingly the order of the day in Spain, especially in the current recession.

Olga R. Sanmartín

Half the world is up in arms about Arizona’s new law allowing police to detain anyone even suspected of being an illegal alien on US soil. But the same thing is happening here in Spain. The police are on a crusade to catch undocumented immigrants, launching one massive raid after another in various Spanish cities. The dragnets have been roaming the country, by order of the interior ministry, ever since the recession set in and the nation of “papers for everyone” starting U-turning on immigration policy and public attitudes towards newcomers from overseas.

Nowadays, the “wetbacks” who take small boats across the “Rio Grande” of the Straits of Gibraltar or jump the barbed wire fence at Barajas or El Prat [Madrid and Barcelona airports, respectively] get treated to an Iberian brand of the Arizona dream: cops tracking them down in the metro, at international call shops, soup kitchens, schools, health care centres and NGOs, and taking them in solely on the basis of racial profiling. The government is facing opposition to this crusade not only from immigrants associations and social organisations, but also from the ranks of the police force itself, as well as lawyers, economists, researchers and academics, even members of the conservative People’s Party (PP). They all say the methods and attitudes have grown harsher over the past few years, amid a climate of mounting suspicion towards the immigrant population. This trend is largely due to the recession, the upcoming regional and municipal elections in 2011, and knock-on effects from our European neighbours.

Public opinion turning against immigrants

A couple of months ago the Racism and Xenophobia Observatory, a department of the Ministry of Labour and Immigration, put out a study warning that the recession is breeding a “mounting rejection” of foreigners. Likewise, the Fundación Ideas, affiliated with the Socialist Party (PSOE), recently said “we should be on the alert” for discriminatory attitudes and “take action before it is too late”. “The controversial decision of the Vic town council (in Catalonia, coalition between right-wing nationalists, socialists and left-wing separatists) to compile a register of illegal immigrants should be taken seriously, if only on account of the alarming amount of public support and even political backing for the proposal,” urges Fundación Ideas. Moreover, a 2008 study on “Youth and Immigration” by the Injuve Institute showed that 14% of teenagers would be inclined to vote for a racist party, as against 11% back in 2002.

Is public opinion increasingly turning against immigrants? “I think so,” says José Miguel Sánchez Tomás, a criminal law professor at Rey Juan Carlos University in Madrid. “In economic boom times we get swept up in a wave of solidarity, but things change when competition for jobs sets in.” Sánchez Tomás, a member of the Grupo Inmigrapenal association, detects “certain traces of xenophobia in the public administration”. Police officials don’t deny it, admitting that the controversial measures taken in Vic and Llavaneras (another Catalonian municipality) “are stirring up racism towards immigrants”. José María Benito, spokesman for the leading trade union (SUP) in the police force, which has denounced the large-scale raids, says, “We still have to carry them out. Though nowadays the police chiefs don’t put it in writing, the orders are issued orally.”

Immigrants are needed, now and in future

Sociologist Sebastian Rinken from the CSIC (a Spanish think tank) notes that “accusations of unequal treatment are spreading” and deplores the fact that “public debate nowadays often boils down to fairly simplistic arguments aimed at instrumentalising this perceived injustice for electioneering purposes”. Rinken regards these large-scale dragnets as “rapid and attention-grabbing ploys to appease the disenchanted”. “The point is not to take effective action, but to say, ‘Look, we are doing something.’ Though that’s not the right way to do it,” he adds.

“Spain has no clear-cut immigration policy,” concludes Pablo Vázquez, president of the Foundation for Studies in Applied Economics (Fedea). “The government has cracked down since the crisis, but nobody here is saying how many foreigners we want or on what terms we want them.” Like many others, Vázquez believes that the selfsame immigrants currently serving as the scapegoats of the recession “are needed, now and in future, for our economic recovery” — if, that is, the Arizona dragnet hasn’t whisked them away in the meantime.

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

Will Response to Arizona Immigration Law Limit L.A. Electricity?

[By Teresa Hansen, Editor in Chief, Electric Light & Power Magazine — Z]

Arizona’s new immigration law (SB 1070) has spurred much debate and heated discussion lately. Emotions and opinions on both sides of the issue are strong, and in some cases vicious. As an editor covering the electric utility industry, I wouldn’t have thought about covering immigration law in my commentary, at least not until May 18.

That’s the day Arizona Corporation Commissioner Gary Pierce wrote a letter to Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in response to threats from the city of Los Angeles to economically boycott Arizona. The boycott, which was approved by the city council May 12, banned official city travel to Arizona and prohibited new city contracts with Arizona-based firms. The boycott was in response to the stringent new Arizona immigration law, which critics have said could lead to ethnic and racial profiling.

Pierce said in his letter to Villaraigosa, who supported the city council’s boycott, that 25 percent of Los Angeles’ power is generated in Arizona power plants.

“If an economic boycott is truly what you desire, I will be happy to encourage Arizona utilities to renegotiate your power agreements so Los Angeles no longer receives any power from Arizona-based generation,” Pierce wrote. “I am confident that Arizona’s utilities would be happy to take those electrons off your hands. If, however, you find that the City Council lacks the strength of its convictions to turn off the lights in Los Angeles and boycott Arizona power, please reconsider the wisdom of attempting to harm Arizona’s economy.”

Los Angeles owns 21 percent of the 2,250-MW, coal-fired Navajo Generating Station in Arizona, which provides power to Los Angeles as well as areas of Nevada and Arizona. The 3,740-MW Palo Verde nuclear generating station 45 miles west of Phoenix also provides power to Los Angeles as well as other major cities in the area. The Los Angeles Department of Power and Water owns around 5 percent of the nuclear power plant.

Pierce closed the letter by saying “people of goodwill can disagree on the merits of SB 1070. A state-wide economic boycott of Arizona is not a message sent in goodwill.”

I feel confident saying that the Los Angeles city council will not take their resolution to the point of eliminating 25 percent of the city’s electricity supply just before summer. I question whether the group even thought about the city’s electricity supply when deciding an economic boycott of Arizona was a good idea. [emphasis added]

California has been somewhat of a frontrunner when it comes to championing causes—mostly environmental—that cause upheaval in the electricity industry. California has had legislation for more than three decades that bans new nuclear plants construction, even though the state continues to use power from existing plants in and out of state. In 2007, the California Public Utilities Commission approved rules requiring all investor-owned utilities to make sure that the fossil fuel-based power they generate or purchase is at least as clean as that produced by the latest generation of natural gas-fired turbines. This regulation affected in-state generators and those in states that sell electricity to California. And recently, the state regulators adopted a policy requiring coastal power plants—including the state’s two nuclear power plants—to phase out the use of once-through cooling systems.

California’s power generation regulations have created challenges for the state’s utilities and power suppliers for many years; controversy about its electricity supply is nothing new. Electricity supply controversy created by an immigration law, however, is unique, even for California.

So far, I haven’t seen a response from the mayor and city council to Pierce’s letter. I wouldn’t be surprised if they downplay it and maybe even reconsider the extent of the boycott. I would.

           — Hat tip: Zenster[Return to headlines]

Culture Wars

Morocco: Elton John Due to Perform at Music Festival

Rabat, 26 May (AKI) — Gay English pop-star Elton John was slated to go ahead with a performance on Wednesday at a music festival in Morocco, despite pressure from conservative Muslims. The country’s embattled gay community had vowed to prevent the concert from being cancelled.

Aziz Daki, the director of the Mawazine festival in the capital Rabat told the BBC that about 40,000 people are expected to attend John’s concert.

Earlier this month, openly gay John was banned from performing in Egypt purportedly for anti-religious remarks made this year that suggested Jesus was a “super-intelligent gay man” and accused Middle Easterners of being homophobic.

Morocco’s Islamist Justice and Progress party campaigned to prevent Elton John performing at the Mawazine concert.

Former Police frontman Sting, Latin rocker Carlos Santana, bluesman BB King, and west African reggae giant Alpha Blondy are among the international performers at the nine-day festival ending on 29 May.

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


Do Clothes Make the Muslim? Buddhists Don’t Wear Burqas

by Phyllis Chesler

Last week, Newsweek published yet another liberal opinion piece: Superficially but falsely even-handed, optimistic, pro-Arab and Muslim culture, pro-Judeo-Christian Western culture—safely middle-of-the-road. So “middle” that the reader does not really know what road she is on or where she is going. The journalist, Christopher Dickey, is writing about the new winner of the Miss America contest, Rima Fakih, who is an Arab-American Shiite Muslim with family roots in Lebanon.


This continues for another ten-eleven paragraphs. All things are true. Opposites exist. Contradictions abound. Therefore, nothing is true, there are no objective or universally moral truths. What exists is Dickey’s and the mainstream media’s point of view: He writes: “The fact is that most Arab and Muslim women, like people anywhere, are basically just trying to get by in the culture that’s been handed to them…

Does he include Al-Qaeda, Al-Shabaab, Islamic Jihad (in Palestine and Egypt), the Muslim Brotherhood, the Taliban, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jemaah Islamiya or the Islamist terrorists who perpetrated 9/11, 3/11, 7/7, 11/25 in this happy-go-lucky description of Muslims who are just like us?

…I believe in supporting anti-Islamist Muslims: the dissidents, the feminists, the pro-democracy activists, the secularists, etc. Alas, they are an endangered minority both in the West and in their countries of origin.

But really, how can Dickey so totally overlook the local, indigenous, tribal, cultural, and/or religious customs that define Islamic gender apartheid? How about those Islamist men who throw acid into the faces of young Muslim schoolgirls because they are wearing their Islamic Veils improperly? How about those civilians who honor-murder their daughters, sisters, and wives when they refuse to wear the Islamic Veil, who dare to leave a dangerously abusive husband, who are seen as too “Western?”

Dickey avoids these questions entirely. Instead, he focuses upon the false moral equivalence between the burqa and the bikini…

[Return to headlines]