Friday, January 10, 2003

News Feed 20100529

Financial Crisis
»France: PC Sales Recover
»Iraq: A New Pastoral Ministry Against the Iraqi Exodus, Terrorism and Economic Crisis
»Italy: Fitch Cuts Spain’s Rating Down From ‘Triple A’
»New Home Sales Set to Plunge in Former Bubble Markets
»UK: The Growing CGT Rebellion: Fear of Tax Grab Sparks Mass Sale of Homes and Shares
»Václav Klaus: When Will the Eurozone Collapse?
»Bill Clinton (Unintentionally) Explains to US How Obama Administration Ideology in the West Makes the World Worse
»Phoenix-Area Hospitals Fight Highly Toxic ‘Supergerm’
Europe and the EU
»Bee Burglars: Hive Thefts on the Rise in Germany
»First Photovoltaic Solar Station in France
»French Motorways the Safest in Europe
»Greece: 16.7 Million for Projects in Southern Aegean
»Greece: EIB: 400 Mln for Hellenic Petroleum
»Greece: Veropoulos Group to Invest 25 Mln in Skopje
»Infrastructure: Greece, Call for Construction Logistic Centre
»Infrastructure: Greece; Crete, 54 Mln Allocated to Road Network
»Italy-Slovenia Sign Nuclear Safety Agreement
»Italy: Mafia Accused of Lottery Extortion Racket
»Italy: Swiss-Based Firms ‘Avoided €112 Mln in Taxes’
»Italy: Businessman Accused of ‘Evading €112 Mln in Taxes’
»Italy: Fiat Plans to ‘Transform’ Local Vehicle Industry
»Muslim Preacher of Hate is Let Into Britain
»Serbia: EU Citizens Free to Travel Without Passports
»Spain: Punish Defence of Anorexia, Minors’ Guarantor Says
»Spanish Town Bans Burka in Public Buildings
»Sweden Sheltering Terrorist Cleric: Uzbek TV
»The (Naked) Nobel Brotherhood and Vigeland’s Strange Art in Oslo
»The Far Right in Europe: The Discreet Power of Danish Populists
»UK: English Defence League: Inside the Violent World of Britain’s New Far Right
»UK: Fears of Taser Overuse as Children and the Elderly Are Targeted by Police Stun Guns
»UK: Google Street View Secretly Took Your Wi-Fi Details… And Will Use the Data to Target Ads at Mobile Phones
»UK: Jaguar Land Rover Announces Production in China and India as British Factory Faces the Axe
»UK: Muslims Must Refuse to Rise to EDL Provocation
»UK: Young. British. Female. Muslim.
»Croatia: Kutjevo Revives Myth of Panduri
»EU-Balkans: Accession Will Take Longer, Croatian Press
»Serbia: Customs Has Collected Eur936 Million So Far
»Zagreb European Flower Capital for a Week
Mediterranean Union
»‘Casa Tunisia’ to be in Mazara Del Vallo
»EuroMed Training in Marseille on Illegals
»Tunisia: 240mln Euros From European Neighbourhood Policy
North Africa
»Archaeology: GB Returns Exhibits to Libya
»Egypt: Italians Rescue Mevlevi Dervish Symbol
»Libya: Boniver: Tripoli Asks for Quicker Schengen Visas
Israel and the Palestinians
»Gaza: Activist Flotilla Delays Departure
»The Gang of Cooperatives That Boycott Israel
»When Bibi Meets Barack: What Will Happen in Their Upcoming Meeting
Middle East
»EU to Hold Nuclear Conference With Arab League in Jordan
»Lebanon: Building Permits +56% in First 4 Months 2010
»Mother’s Example Boosts Girls’ Education in Eastern Turkish Village
»Stop Plunder of River Jordan to Save Dead Sea
»Syria: No to Electric/Hybrid Car Taxation
»The Mevlevi Dervishes of Konya
»Russia: Controversy Around the Feast of Saints Cyril and Methodius, Celebrated by Both State and Church
South Asia
»India: Death Toll Rises in ‘Maoist’ Train Attack
»India: Infant Mortality Drops 5 Per Cent in India
»Indonesia: West Aceh Police Checkpoints and Raids Against Jeans and Tight Skirts
»Pakistan: Sect Leaders Demand Protection After Deadly Attacks
»Pakistan: UN Rights Experts Call for Religious Freedom
»Pakistan: Eighty Dead in Gun Battles at Mosques as ‘Islamic Militants’ Attack Worshippers in Lahore
Far East
»Behind the Axis: The North Korean Connection
»China: Foxconn Suicides: Families Seek Compensation From the Firm
»Chinese Factory Under Scrutiny as Suicides Mount
»Japan — United States: Tokyo, The U.S. Base Remains on the Island of Okinawa
Sub-Saharan Africa
»I Fervently Pray That the World Cup Will Bring Real Hope to This Benighted Country. So Why the Heavy Heart?
»Calif. College Offers Scholarship to Illegal Immigrants
»Immigration Rallies Drawing Crowds to Phoenix
»Italy: Turin Migrants Sense Shifting Mood
»Libya-Italy Measures Stop Traditional Routes
Culture Wars
»Abortion: Spain, RU486 at Home Against Hospital Collapse
»Abortion: Spain; Doctor Will Decide in Absence of Parental OK

Financial Crisis

France: PC Sales Recover

(ANSAmed) — PARIS, MAY 28 — The recovery in France, after the economic crisis, has been newly confirmed by date relating to personal computer sales which, in first quarter 2010, recorded a 30.6% increase from the same period last year. This success mainly involves portable PC producers (+44%) such as Acer, leader in France, holding 25% of market share, followed by HP (23%), and Asus (10,5%). In second quarter, the PC market in France should continue to mark a positive trend, even if volumes will be inferior to first quarter results, considered exceptional. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Iraq: A New Pastoral Ministry Against the Iraqi Exodus, Terrorism and Economic Crisis

It is the most important and urgent pastoral program of the new bishop of Erbil in Kurdistan. Bishop Warduni: Facing the economic crisis. The diocese of Baghdad comes to the aid of other dioceses.

Baghdad (AsiaNews) — A pro-active spirit, hope and initiatives to reach out to the local community. The Chaldean church in Iraq continues its struggle despite the threats posed by political instability, insecurity and religious persecution. And in this struggle for survival, pastoral ministry and catechesis plays a central role.

The north of the country, the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region continues to be a place of refuge for Christians fleeing from the more dangerous cities of Baghdad and Mosul. Here the Church gathers its strength and faces, without playing the victim, the challenges to its survival. This is also the spirit in which last May 24 Mgr. Bashar Warda, 40, took up his new position as the Chaldean archbishop of Erbil. The Redemptorist replaces Mgr. Rabban Al-Qasr who since 2007 governed as Apostolic Administrator. In 2001, Fr Warda was appointed director of the Cultural Centre of Babel College, where he also taught. He is director of the Chaldean Patriarchal Seminary in Ankawa in Erbil and professor of moral theology of the local institute of religious sciences. Mgr Warda has long been committed to rethinking a new pastoral plan that addresses the needs and problems that have arisen in aftermath of the persecution and forced exodus of the faithful.

This is the greatest challenge to the Chaldean Church in Iraq, which is concentrating its efforts to be closer to its pastors and strengthen catechesis to combat the aggressive evangelization carried out by the Protestant sects in the country. Bishop Shlemon Warduni, patriarchal vicar of Baghdad, said that despite the economic crisis that afflicts Iraq along with the rest of the world, “the Chaldean Church and the patriarchal diocese of Baghdad are doing well and continue to pay priests salaries without difficulty”. To best support the catechesis in Baghdad and help in the rest of Iraq, the Patriarchate is studying projects that ensure more revenue “for the good of his Church and all its needs,” says Warduni.

The community, which over the past five years has seen a significant haemorrhaging of faithful towards Europe, Australia and the United States, the appointment of a new bishop “is always a moment of joy”, as some Chaldeans in the north told AsiaNews. The diocese in 2005 had about 2,500 families today it is home to 7200 Ankawa alone. (LYR)

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

Italy: Fitch Cuts Spain’s Rating Down From ‘Triple A’

(ANSAmed) — ROME, MAY 28 — Fitch has cut Spain’s creditworthiness rating, with the country losing its ‘triple A’ tag with the rating agencies. Fitch has revised Spain’s rating to ‘AA+’ from the ‘AAA’ it previously enjoyed as the country’s process of economic adjustment may turn out to be “more difficult” than previously estimated.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

New Home Sales Set to Plunge in Former Bubble Markets

May 28 (Bloomberg) — New home sales in Phoenix and Las Vegas, two U.S. markets hardest hit by foreclosures, are set to plunge as a federal tax credit for homebuying expires, according to data from real estate researcher Metrostudy.

A sample of subdivisions in both cities showed sales contracts for new homes “pulled back sharply in May and contract cancellations spiked,” Houston-based Metrostudy said in an e-mail. Would-be buyers canceled about 40 percent of new home contracts in San Diego in May, up from 10 percent in April, the company said. Data on new signings in that city weren’t immediately available.

Sales indicators fell after April 30, the last day for homebuyers to sign contracts in time for a federal tax credit of as much as $8,000 for first-time purchases and $6,500 for certain “move-up” buyers. The deadline may have hurried customers to snap up properties when they otherwise would have waited, said Brad Hunter, chief economist based in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, for Metrostudy.

CBH Homes, a Meridian, Idaho-based builder whose average house price is about $145,000, countered the post-tax credit slump with a one-month “Tax Credit After Party.” It’s offering as much as $8,000 in savings for signing a contract in May.

“Think you missed out on the tax credit? THINK AGAIN,” the company says on its website.

“Buyers have a certain mindset,” Holly Haener, director of sales and marketing for CBH, said in a telephone interview. “They want to see that savings.”

Phoenix Falls

In Phoenix, contracts in the subdivisions surveyed by Metrostudy fell almost 49 percent for the week ended May 24 from the same period a year earlier, Hunter said. More than 8 percent of Phoenix households received a notice of default, auction or foreclosure in 2009, ranking the city the eighth worst in the country, according to Irvine, California-based research company RealtyTrac Inc.

Signed contracts in Metrostudy’s Las Vegas subdivisions dropped 12 percent for the week ended May 24 from a year earlier. They climbed 220 percent in the last week of April, an indication of buyer interest in capturing the tax credit before it ended, Metrostudy said.

Las Vegas had the highest rate of foreclosure filings in the U.S. last year, with 12 percent of households receiving a notice, according to RealtyTrac.

U.S. Property Sales

The tax credit helped push U.S. new home sales up 15 percent in April to the highest annual pace since May 2008, the Commerce Department said May 26.

“We had this large spike before the tax credit expiration and now we see the downside of that,” Hunter said in an interview. “Based on this research, it seems that a post-credit pullback is under way.”

Larry Seay, chief financial officer of Meritage Homes Corp. of Scottsdale, Arizona, said demand has dropped across the company’s markets, which include Phoenix, Denver, Houston, Las Vegas, and Orlando, Florida.

“The tax credit during the first four months of the year did positively impact sales,” Seay said. “We’re seeing a bit of a fall since then.”

Meritage is prepared to weather any temporary decline because it is selling a greater proportion of lower-cost properties.

Companies should avoid price cuts or incentives that drive down already slim margins, said Jason Forrest, president of Fort Worth, Texas-based Shore Forrest Sales Strategies, a consultant for builders.

“The solution is to create a strategy and a sales message,” Forrest said.

           — Hat tip: Takuan Seiyo[Return to headlines]

UK: The Growing CGT Rebellion: Fear of Tax Grab Sparks Mass Sale of Homes and Shares

Homes are flooding on to the property market and shares are being dumped by worried investors who hope to dodge the Government’s controversial plans to hike Capital Gains Tax.

The country’s biggest estate agency group, Countrywide, said the number of homes put up for sale in the past week was 34 per cent higher than the week before and 68 per cent higher than this time last year.

Investment experts believe plans to increase the tax on profits made on ‘buy to let’ properties and share portfolios are a key element of the great rush to sell.

Directors and chief executives of some of Britain’s leading companies — including Rolls-Royce — are also quietly selling large blocks of shares.

Homes are flooding on to the property market by owners hoping to dodge the Government’s controversial plans to hike Capital Gains Tax

Ministers are considering raising the Capital Gains Tax (CGT) rate for the money made on such investments from 18 per cent to 40 per cent.

That change — expected in the emergency Budget on June 22 — could double the tax bill on a £200,000 gain to around £75,000 after allowances.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Václav Klaus: When Will the Eurozone Collapse?

To summarize, the European monetary union is not at risk of being abolished. The price of maintaining it will, however, continue to grow. The Czech Republic has not made a mistake by avoiding membership in the eurozone so far. And we are not the only country taking that view. On April 13, 2010, the Financial Times published an article by the late Governor of the Polish Central Bank Slawomir Skrzypek — a man whom I had the honor of knowing very well. Skrzypek wrote that article shortly before his tragic death in the airplane crash that carried a number of Polish dignitaries near Smolensk, Russia. In that article, Skrzypek wrote, “As a non-member of the euro, Poland has been able to profit from flexibility of the zloty exchange rate in a way that has helped growth and lowered the current account deficit without importing inflation.” He added that “the decade-long story of peripheral euro members drastically losing competitiveness has been a salutary lesson.”4 There is no need to add anything more.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]


Bill Clinton (Unintentionally) Explains to US How Obama Administration Ideology in the West Makes the World Worse

by Barry Rubin

Bill Clinton, former U.S. president, spoke at Yale University and said some interesting things. There is a positive side to his remarks about international affairs-especially in terms of good intentions (a very American characteristic)-but he also revealed some of the very dangerous thinking that’s making the world worse, not better.

The globe, he said, is now “too unstable … too unequal and … completely unsustainable.”

I’m tempted to point out that there have been plenty of times, actually far more of the time, when the world was even more unstable and unequal. But let that go.

What’s Clinton’s solution?

“A non-zero sum game is when both parties can win….If you want it to change, you have to find a way for everyone to win.”

This is noble and very rational. It is also, in some respects, insane. No, not everyone can “win” because each individual, group, and nation defines for itself what winning means. And there are contradictions, which lead to what we call conflict and war.

On one level, what Clinton is saying is that America has to get everyone to redefine their own thinking and think like “us.” This is one of the oldest American conceptions around the world, one which liberals traditionally liked to ridicule. (One famous example was making fun of a Republican senator who said during China’s pre-Communist era that this country would progress ever upward until it reached the level of Kansas City.)

And after all, if we are so “multicultural” why can’t we understand that people in, say, Bosnia or on the island of Ireland, or in Pakistan, or a hundred other places have totally different beliefs and goals?

On another level, Clinton is implying that prosperity will solve everyone’s problems, that if you stuff enough material goods into the craws of all they will be happy. That’s another concept that liberals have historically ridiculed and identified with conservatives.

And of course there is another problem because for purposes of environmentalism and to fight man-made global warming (whether or not this is a real threat), the Obama Administration and other Western governments are proposing policies that would slow down development. That’s why countries like India and China are so opposed to these plans.

Clinton also reveals his (and the dominant) underlying philosophy when he states:…

           — Hat tip: Barry Rubin[Return to headlines]

Phoenix-Area Hospitals Fight Highly Toxic ‘Supergerm’

Maricopa County health officials have confirmed that a relatively new, extremely toxic strain of bacteria has been found in hospitals and other health-care facilities in the Valley.

The germ, known as Clostridium difficile, has long plagued the medical profession and is blamed for an increasing amount of illness in patients.

But this is the first time the new strain, known in medical circles as “NAP1,” is believed to have been linked to patient illness and deaths in Arizona, health officials said. It carries at least 20 times as much toxin as the original strain.

According to the county, at least 10 patients have fallen severely ill from this new type of C. diff since early March. Two of those who were infected have died, though the germ has not been named conclusively as the cause of death. All the patients were elderly and suffered from health problems.

“Assuming this continues to evolve, it is going to be a real pain for our health-care communities,” said Dr. Bob England, director of the Maricopa County Department of Public Health.

Like other “supergerms,” all strains of C. diff are resistant to powerful antibiotics, and the infection is difficult and expensive to treat. The germ causes pronounced diarrhea and, in severe cases, can lead to inflammation of the colon, which can be fatal.

Healthy and younger people usually don’t get C. diff. Most cases occur in health-care facilities, and those represent only a small fraction of the tens of millions of admissions to U.S. hospitals and nursing homes every year. But the number of cases has risen sharply over the past decade, to nearly 500,000 in 2007, according to the latest data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Arizona Republic first learned of an ongoing C. diff outbreak last month after filing a state Public Records Law request to obtain a health alert issued by the Arizona Department of Health Services.

The alert contained no information about how the outbreak started, which hospitals were involved or how many patients were affected. County officials maintained that they were not obligated to provide that information.

This week, officials with the county Public Health Department and Banner Health, a non-profit group, met with a reporter and an editor from The Republic. Banner revealed that Banner Baywood Medical Center in Mesa had identified the strain after seeing some patients become very ill.

The hospital alerted the county to the problem in early March.

“If there’s a cluster, an outbreak, we want to report that,” said Dr. John Hensing, executive vice president and chief medical officer at Banner Health, a Phoenix-based non-profit health-care group.

Banner officials say they believe that most, if not all, patients came to Banner Baywood with an active C. diff infection, rather than contracting it at the facility. Some arrived from long-term-care facilities and nursing homes or went to the emergency room after falling sick at home.

The patients were elderly, suffered from other health problems and had been on extensive antibiotics. Prolonged antibiotic use can heighten a patient’s susceptibility to C. diff because the drugs can kill off the body’s “good” bacteria, allowing it to flourish.

Arizona, like many other states, does not track incidences of C. diff.

But a Republic analysis of hospital-discharge records shows that from Jan. 1, 2008, to Dec. 31, 2009, patients at Arizona hospitals were identified as having a C. diff infections more than 15,400 times.

The bug is becoming a major problem for hospitals because it spreads easily. Traditional cleansers and hand sanitizers fail to neutralize its spores, which are often spread through fecal-oral contact. The best ways to deter C. diff is with bleach and aggressive hand-washing.

Banner said officials at Baywood took immediate steps to control the outbreak, including isolating patients who exhibited symptoms of illness.

They also sanitized surfaces and equipment throughout the hospital with bleach and instituted new hand-washing protocols for all patients, including those too sick to get out of bed.

Nurses now bring them bottles of water so they can scrub their hands with soap without getting up, officials said.

They believe they have the outbreak under control.

This is not the first time Banner Baywood has dealt with a spike in germ-related infections.

In April 2008, hospital officials noticed a spike among post-surgical patients. Nineteen cases involved a supergerm known as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA. Seven infections were tied to the E. coli bacterium, and about a dozen others were caused by various other bacteria, according to the hospital. The facility implemented a series of aggressive procedures over several months to eliminate the problem.

County public-health officials say it’s likely that this strain will continue to crop up in community and health-care facilities.

Officials from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention agree. The CDC said Tuesday that the NAP1 C. diff strain has been spreading rapidly since it was first identified in health-care settings in six states from 2000 to 2003.

It has now been officially identified in 39 states, although it’s likely throughout the country, CDC officials said.

“Do I think it just got here? No. But this is the first time it was reported to public health,” said Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine, medical epidemiologist for the county’s Public Health Department. “So, I would start operating under the assumption that every strain we see is this new strain.”

           — Hat tip: Takuan Seiyo[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Bee Burglars: Hive Thefts on the Rise in Germany

Forget cars or televisions — in Germany, it’s bee theft that’s on the rise. In recent years, the pilfering of bee colonies has almost doubled. And after a particularly hard winter, many expect the numbers to continue rising.

Stealing cars is mundane by comparison; picking pockets is downright quaint. In Germany, bee colony theft appears to be the new trend.

According to the Hamburg-based insurance firm Gaede & Glauerdt, who underwrite apiarists, the number of bee thefts reported nationwide rose by over 85 percent, from 2007 to 2008, to over 300 incidents.

While the numbers for 2009 have yet to be collated, the cold winter has led many to suspect that the numbers will continue to rise. Between 20 and 30 percent of bee colonies in Germany did not survive the winter. Grabbing a colony from a colleague is certainly cheaper than buying a new one.

Caught in the Act

Over the past few years, the Apicultural State Institute at Hohenheim University in Stuttgart, which specializes in agricultural studies, has had 72 bee colonies stolen from various locations. And in Bavaria, a honey producer even stole queen bees from his own beekeeping collective.

This spring the Apicultural State Institute set three camera traps — shortly afterwards the cameras caught a 71-year-old, hobby beekeeper from Nürtingen in the state of Baden-Württemberg, in the act of bee abduction.

To counter the increasing bee thievery, some apiarists have installed GPS devices in their hives so that they can track the colonies’ whereabouts online, in case of theft. Others have taken to using honeycombs in unique sizes so that their bees cannot be so easily placed into other hives.

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

First Photovoltaic Solar Station in France

(ANSAmed) — PARIS, MAY 26 — France this morning opened its first “solar” railway station. The station has a photovoltaic roof which reduces energy consumption by 64%, lowering greenhouse gas emissions by 84%. The new station of Acheres, in Yvelines, near Paris, has received the official HQE certification, which stands for “high environmental quality”. It has cost 3.2 million euros and produces the equivalent of 25% of the energy it consumes. The station has also reduced water consumption by 25%. The president of the regional council of Ile de France, Jean-Pierre Huchon, who has opened the station, also announced the launch by the French Railways of the first three ecological “modular platform roof” projects. The roofs will be used for small stations with low levels of comfort. Photovoltaic panels on the roofs will produce enough energy to light these stations. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

French Motorways the Safest in Europe

(ANSAmed) — PARIS, MAY 25 — French motorways are the safest in Europe, while the national and departmental road network lacks in terms of safety. It is the result of a study published by the Automobile Club and presented in Strasbourg by its director general, Roger Braun, who says that team technicians who carried out the study were impressed by the level of general safety. Since 2003, the roads in a number of European countries have come under close examination from the independent European organisation EuroRap, but France had not yet been studied. The examination was carried out with vehicles following three typical routes, with the roads assessed according to safety, from one star (high risk) to five stars (low risk). Other stretches of road examined include a 1,362 kilometre route from Brussels to Barcelona made up entirely of motorway, almost all of which recorded a four-star rating. Another study looked at national and departmental roads from Brussels to Bayonne and Perpignan, with the verdict that 150 kilometres of the route (14%) was worthy of a single star. A third road, 1,406 kilometres of small touristy roads in Provence, recorded the worst results, with over half of the streets registering fewer than three stars, meaning that they must be considered dangerous. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Greece: 16.7 Million for Projects in Southern Aegean

(ANSAmed) — ATHENS, MAY 26 — The Greek authorities have allocated 16.7 million euros to carry out 21 projects on the Dodecanese and Cyclades islands. The news was announced by the regional authorities of the southern Aegean. The allocation, the Italian Trade Commission (ICE) office in Athens writes, was approved within the framework of the 2010 public contracts programme. The projects regard the sectors of transport, healthcare, culture, tourism and environment. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Greece: EIB: 400 Mln for Hellenic Petroleum

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, MAY 26 — The European Investment Bank (EIB) will lend 400 million euros to Hellenic Petroleum to boost production of the more environmentally friendly fuels through the modernisation of its refinery in Elefsina. “We are significantly increasing our loans to deal with the impact of the financial crisis on Greece and on the European economies”, said Plutarchos Sakellaris, vice president of the EIB. “Loans for cleaner energy form a substantial part of our supply”. According to Sakellaris, “there is no doubt that this type of investment represents a vital link in the innovation chain, creating jobs and increasing the level of jobs”. The modernisation of the Elefsina refinery is part of the company’s 1.2 billion euro investment plan. “It is the most extensive industrial investment ever made in Greece” said Tassos Giannitsis, chairman of Hellenic Petroleum. “It increases competition, creates new jobs, produces better products from an environmental viewpoint, boosts export and lowers import, improving the environmental performance of the refinery by cutting all emissions. The project is in line with the plans for the completion in the second half of this year”.(ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Greece: Veropoulos Group to Invest 25 Mln in Skopje

(ANSAmed) — ATHENS, MAY 26 — The Veropoulos group, one of the most important Greek supermarket chains, will this autumn invest 25 million euros to open a shopping mall in the city of Skopje. The Italian Trade Commission (ICE) office in Athens reports that the group, which is very active in the Balkans, had a turnover in 2009 of almost one billion euros, 0.8% more than in 2008. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Infrastructure: Greece, Call for Construction Logistic Centre

(ANSAmed) — ATHENS, MAY 26 — The Greek Ministry of Infrastructures and Transport will call for tenders in the coming days for the construction and management (for a period of 40 years) of a large logistic centre in Thriasio Pedio, in the industrial area to the west of Athens. The news was announced by the responsible Minister, Dimitris Reppas. The Minister, the Italian Trade Commission (ICE) office in Athens writes, also announced his intentions to build a new international airport in Irakleio, on the island of Crete, one of the most popular tourist destinations. He is also considering to modernise some of the country’s railroads.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Infrastructure: Greece; Crete, 54 Mln Allocated to Road Network

(ANSAmed) — ATHENS, MAY 26 — The local administration of Irakleio (Crete) has approved an allocation of 54 million euros for the construction of a 19-kilometre road axis, which will connect several badly served areas of the hinterland with two other important roads (Irakleio-Biannos and Irakleio-Pyrgos). The Italian Trade Commission (ICE) office in Athens writes that the aim is to contribute to the development of the area, making it more exploitable to Crete’s inhabitants. The programme will be financed with funds from the IV Strategic Plan of Development 2007 — 2013. (ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy-Slovenia Sign Nuclear Safety Agreement

(ANSAmed) — TRIESTE, MAY 24 — Italy and Slovenia have today signed an “agreement on safety” and “on mutual information” regarding nuclear energy. The deal was signed in Trieste by the Environment Ministers of the respective countries, Stefania Prestigiacomo and Roko Zarnic. Prestigiacomo said that “it is a similar agreement to that signed previously with France” while “others with Austria and the United States will follow. We want to actively return to nuclear energy and therefore having certain and precise information in case of emergency appears important”. The agreement was also signed by the heads of the national agencies for nuclear safety and states that the two countries will be able to exchange information that might be useful in reducing the effects of a potential nuclear accident 24 hours a day. The accord states that “the country in which an accident occurs commits to informing the other country of the nature, the time and the location of the accident.” Italy and Slovenia are currently cooperating on defining more effective counter-measures in case of “radioactive alarm”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Mafia Accused of Lottery Extortion Racket

Avellino, 26 May (AKI) — Italian lottery winners appear to be the latest targets of extortion by the Naples mafia. Police on Wednesday arrested five suspected mafia bosses who allegedly extorted money from winning ticket holders in the southern Campania region.

The suspects identified and targeted several individuals who won from 6 to 33 million euros through a syndicate in the January 2008 draw, according to investigators.

The suspects used threats and intimidation to extort money from the lottery winners — mainly labourers and craftsmen, investigators said.

The cash was allegedly used to support jailed Cava-Genovese mafia clan members and their families.

Wednesday’s arrests were carried out by Carabinieri military police on the orders of anti-mafia magistrates in Naples and following an 18-month investigation.

The suspects are believed to be prominent members of the Cava-Genovese clan, which operates in the Vallo di Lauro and Partenio areas near Avellino and on the outskirts of Avellino.

Police also arrested the son of jailed Naples mafia boss Modestino Genovese, Marco Antonio.

He is accused of threatening a local businessman who refused to hire a young man ‘recommended’ by the Cava-Genovese clan.

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

Italy: Swiss-Based Firms ‘Avoided €112 Mln in Taxes’

Como, 27 May (AKI) — Two Italian clothing and textiles companies based in Switzerland avoided taxes totalling 112 million euros, tax police in the northern city of Como said on Wednesday. The companies’ administrator was reported to police for failing to complete tax returns on their earnings.

Investigators said that bank account checks and the directors’ frequent trips to Switzerland and various Italian cities clearly established the “stable presence” of the companies in Italy.

Data supplied by a Swiss firm whose Telepasses were mounted on the directors’ company cars provided incontrovertible proof of their movements, investigators said.

French prosecutors handed Italian finance police the names of 7,000 potential tax evaders for investigation, it was reported last week.

The entire list, which is understood to include a total of 120,000 offshore accounts, was handed to police by Herve Falciani, a former employee of the HSBC’s Swiss private banking business.

Italy’s Agenzia dell’Entrate tax agency recovered 9.1 billion euros in 2009 in its fight against tax evasion.

Total revenues collected for the year were 32 percent higher than the previous year when a record 7 billion euros were recovered, the agency said in March.

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

Italy: Businessman Accused of ‘Evading €112 Mln in Taxes’

Florence, 28 May (AKI) — Italian tax police are investigating a Florence businessman who is believed to have evaded paying 112 million euros in taxes. The businessman allegedly transferred his residency to Spain, and set up a business using a Spanish firm called Florentia Trade in breach of Italian laws.

Police on Friday said the unnamed businessman failed to declare his total income which totalled 536 million euros to avoid the required tax payments totalling 112 million euros.

Between 2003 and 2007 the company was allegedly part of a complex network of businesses that carried out various types of fraud across Europe.

“The company was managed and administered by the businessman who even after moving to Barcellona in December 2004, always lived in Florence and ran the company from Italy,” police said in a statement.

In the course of their investigation, police seized two properties and a car.

French prosecutors last week handed Italian finance police the names of 7,000 potential tax evaders for investigation.

The entire list, which is understood to include a total of 120,000 offshore accounts, was handed to police by Herve Falciani, a former employee of the HSBC’s Swiss private banking business.

Italy’s Agenzia dell’Entrate tax agency recovered 9.1 billion euros in 2009 in its fight against tax evasion.

Total revenues collected for the year were 32 percent higher than the previous year when a record 7 billion euros were recovered, the agency said in March.

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

Italy: Fiat Plans to ‘Transform’ Local Vehicle Industry

Turin, 28 May (AKI) — Fiat’s plan to double its Italian vehicle production is a transformative strategy to make the manufacturer’s domestic factories a base for auto exports, company chief executive officer, Sergio Marchionne, said on Thursday.”It shows the company is working to strengthen its presence in Italy, transforming it into a strategic base for production, investment and exporting,” Marchionne said.

Fiat plans to double production in Italy to 1.4 million vehicles from the current total of 650,000 by 2014.

By that time, the company has forecast the value of sales from its carmaking unit will rise to 51 billion euros from 26.3 billion euros in 2009.

Group sales, which includes industrial and farm equipment, are expected to total 93 billion euros by 2014.

The car giant has earmarked 700 million euros over the next five years for investment in the Pomigliano plant near Naples where Fiat plans to produce 350,000 vehicles of its Panda model annually.

The launch of the new Panda assembly line is set for the second half of 2011.

Italy’s biggest manufacturer plans to cut costs and increase efficiency through the closure of some plants such as its Termini Imerese plant in Sicily.

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

Muslim Preacher of Hate is Let Into Britain

THE home secretary, Theresa May, is facing a stiff test of the Conservative party’s claims to oppose radical Islam after her officials chose to allow a misogynist Muslim preacher into Britain.

Zakir Naik, an Indian televangelist described as a “hate-monger” by moderate Muslims and one Tory MP, says western women make themselves “more susceptible to rape” by wearing revealing clothing.

Naik, who proselytises on Peace TV, a satellite television channel, is reported to have called for the execution of Muslims who change their faith, described Americans as “pigs” and said that “every Muslim should be a terrorist”.

In a recent lecture, he said he was “with” Osama Bin Laden over the attacks on “terrorist America”, adding that the 9/11 hijackings were an inside job by President George W Bush.

In opposition, David Cameron and other senior Tories led criticism of the Labour government for allowing radical preachers into Britain to stir up hatred on lecture tours. While in opposition, Cameron also campaigned to get Yusuf al-Qaradawi, an Egyptian radical, banned from Britain.

Cameron and May now face a political test over Naik, whose inflammatory comments have led some moderate Muslims to call him a “truth-twister”.

One well-placed insider said: “Zakir Naik is a nasty man who makes al-Qaradawi look like a participant at a teddy bears’ picnic. He shouldn’t be allowed into the country to stir up hatred.”

The Home Office indicated that it was not planning to ban Naik, however.

Although Naik makes it clear he does not support specific acts of terrorism, his inflammatory speeches have included one, currently on YouTube, in which he states: “Beware of Muslims saying Osama Bin Laden is right or wrong. I reject them … we don’t know.

“But if you ask my view, if given the truth, if he is fighting the enemies of Islam, I am for him.

“I don’t know what he’s doing. I’m not in touch with him. I don’t know him personally. If he is terrorising the terrorists, if he is terrorising America the terrorist … I am with him. Every Muslim should be a terrorist.”

According to reports in the Indian media, his organisation, the Islamic Research Foundation in Mumbai, was where Rahil Abdul Rehman Sheikh, suspected of being commander of a series of train bombings in Mumbai, and other alleged terrorists spent much of their time before the attacks.

The American terror suspect Najibullah Zazi, arrested last year for planning suicide attacks on the New York subway, is said to have been inspired by Naik’s YouTube videos. There is no suggestion Naik had any knowledge of terrorist plotting.

The UK Border Agency said: “Each case is considered on its own merits. When assessing a visa application, we will consider the previous conduct of the individual and we will ensure the UK does not provide a platform for the promotion of violent extremism.

“We reserve the right to revoke someone’s visa if they are found to be promoting extreme views which are contrary to UK values.”

Naik will be appearing at Wembley Arena in London and in Sheffield on his British tour. When he last came to Britain in 2006, his visit was condemned by David Davies, the Tory MP for Monmouth, who described him as a “hate-monger”.

A doctor by profession, Naik has distinguished himself from dozens of other “mad mullahs” through his intellect and his ability to recite verbatim extended sections of the Koran.

Peace TV has a huge following in the Muslim neighbourhoods of Mumbai, Naik’s native city. He has been named as the third most popular spiritual guru in India.

Last year he was ranked 82nd in a list of India’s most powerful people.

Since the 9/11 attacks, he appears to have developed a particular hatred of America. He is reported to have said: “The pig is the most shameless animal on the face of the Earth. It is the only animal that invites its friends to have sex with its mate.

“In America, most people consume pork. Many times after dance parties, they have swapping of wives. Many say, ‘You sleep with my wife and I will sleep with your wife’. If you eat pigs then you behave like pigs.”

Sermons of malice

“Western society has actually degraded [women] to the status of concubines, mistresses and social butterflies, who are mere tools in the hands of pleasure seekers and sex marketeers”

“People who change their religion should face the death penalty”

“It is a blatant secret that this attack on the twin towers was done by George Bush himself”

“If he [Osama Bin Laden] is terrorising the terrorists, if he is terrorising America the terrorist … I am with him. Every Muslim should be a terrorist”

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

Serbia: EU Citizens Free to Travel Without Passports

(ANSAmed) — BELGRADE, MAY 28 — The Serbian government has today resolved to authorise citizens of EU countries — as well as those of Switzerland, Norway and Iceland — to enter and travel within Serbia without the need for a passport, but just with an identity card. As announced at a press conference held in Belgrade by Premier Mirko Cvetkovic and Interior Minister Ivica Dacic, this is a further signal of Serbia’s willingness to integrate with Europe. Last month, with the disruption to air traffic caused by the cloud of volcanic ash from Iceland at its height, Serbia authorised EU citizens to travel within the country without the need for a passport. In the view of Minister Dacic, such a decision will contribute to strengthening mutual trust and call forth positive reactions from politicians and citizens of the countries concerned.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Spain: Punish Defence of Anorexia, Minors’ Guarantor Says

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, MAY 25 — “My friends Ana and Mia” is the now commonly used Internet formula to describe the phenomena, especially among adolescents. But the two are not good friends. They are the names used by dozens of web pages , which have increased by 470% in the last two years, to refer to anorexia and bulimia. “Because food is like art… it is there only to be admired” is just one of the internet pages that attract users, 95% of whom are female and often very young, with tips on quick diets, medicine and slimming laxatives, and sometimes directly promote fasting and ways of avoiding the watchful eye of parents regarding how much they eat. In some cases, experiences of self-harming and suicide attempts are exchanged. In order to fight a phenomenon that has taken on alarming proportions, the Youth Defender of the Community of Madrid, Arturo Canalda, has put forward a reform of the penal code, to include the crime of defending anorexia and bulimia, which would create a legal tool with which to shut down, upon the orders of the judiciary, the web pages that have the role of decoy for aspiring anorexics or repentant bulimics, as emerged from the conference entitled ‘The role of Internet in the education of young people’, which was held yesterday in Madrid. According to a report by the technological investigation department of the national police force, there are currently around 400 web sites and forums in Spanish alone that encourage practices that can lead to eating disorders, with women between the ages of 12 and 28 accounting for 95% of visitors. “These pages have a decisive impact on minors,” warned Arturo Canalda, who also pointed out that there are currently no legal tools with which to close this sort of Internet site. The Youth Defender has sent amendments of the text for the reform of the penal code, which is currently being studied by the Congress of Deputies, in the hope that the defence of anorexia and bulimia might be considered a crime, as is the case with paedophilia. Canalda also insisted on the need for parents and schools to instill values into minors, so as to tackle the inappropriate content they receive from the virtual world. On the subject, Leonardo Cervera, author of the book ‘What our children do on the Internet’, highlighted the lack of protection for minors using the Web, who are exposed not only to inappropriate relationships, but also to cyber-intimidation and cyber-abuse. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Spanish Town Bans Burka in Public Buildings

The Spanish town of Lerida has become the first in the country to ban the Burka in municipal buildings.

The town council voted to prohibit the “use of the veil and other clothes and accessories which cover the face and prevent identification in buildings and installations of the town hall.”

The vote, by 23 to one with two abstentions, is the first of its kind in Spain, a country where Islamic veils and the body-covering burqas are little in evidence despite a large Muslim population.

The move is aimed at promoting “respect for the dignity of women and values of equality and tolerance,” the town hall said in a statement.

The Islamic veil has sparked intense debate in many European countries, with Belgian deputies last month backing a draft law banning the garment in all public places, including on the streets, in a first for Europe.

France’s cabinet has also approved a draft law to ban the full-face veil from public spaces, opening the way for the text to go before parliament in July.

The issue is a relatively new one for Spain, an overwhelmingly Roman Catholic country which has seen the number of immigrants living within its borders soar from around half a million in 1996 to 5.6 million last year, out of a total population of 46 million people.

Moroccans make up one of the largest immigrant communities.

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

Sweden Sheltering Terrorist Cleric: Uzbek TV

A cleric based in Sweden has been accused by Uzbek state television of instigating a suicide attack on the US embassy in 2004, as well as directing a series of high-profile killings last year.

A documentary that aired on Thursday night said Obidkhon Nazarov, a once-popular preacher in Uzbekistan who fled to neighbouring Kazakhstan in the late 1990s, had flown to Sweden with the help of “foreign secret services” in 2005.

“Although Nazarov was wanted by Uzbek law enforcement, including Interpol, he could freely fly away from Almaty airport with the help of invisible hands… and found safe shelter in Sweden,” the documentary said.

From Sweden “he is still trying to set up his jihad group” that has planned terrorist attacks in Uzbekistan, it said.

Nazarov was granted refugee status by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in 2006 and in recent years has been living openly in Sweden, where he has criticised the Uzbek authorities.

The former imam of Tokhtoboy mosque in the Uzbek capital Tashkent, Nazarov has previously denied links to extremists in Uzbekistan, a majority-Muslim former Soviet republic in Central Asia.

In the attacks last June, a deputy director of a religious school and a number of senior anti-terror officials were killed.

More than 90 people were arrested afterwards and most were jailed following closed trials, according to human rights groups.

The documentary showed several defendants testifying against Nazarov, and it said the murders were Nazarov’s latest attempt to destabilise Uzbekistan after his previous attempt in 2004.

That year dozens of people were killed in a series of attacks and suicide bombers struck the US and Israeli embassies.

           — Hat tip: KGS[Return to headlines]

The (Naked) Nobel Brotherhood and Vigeland’s Strange Art in Oslo

What do the Nobel Peace Prize Medal and the Vigeland Sculpture Garden have in common? Nudity (and the same artist)!

Have you ever noticed the artwork on The Nobel Peace Prize Medal?

Yes, it really does depict three naked men with their hands on each other’s shoulders. The inscription reads: Pro pace et fraternitate gentium — translated “For the peace and brotherhood of men”.

The Nobel Peace Prize Medal was designed by Gustav Vigeland, a Norwegian sculptor.

Have you heard of Vigeland Sculpture Park in Oslo, Norway? The park covers 80 acres (320,000 m2) and features 212 bronze and granite sculptures created by Gustav Vigeland, mainly completed between 1939 and 1949. He personally sculpted every figure out of clay and individual craftsmen were contracted to fabricate the pieces into what they are today.

These works of art reside along an 850 meter-long axis divided into six sections: The Main Gate, The Bridge, The Children’s Playground, The Fountain, The Monolith Plateau and the Wheel of Life.

This popular tourist site includes sculptures of a man “playing” with babies…naked, an elderly and younger man…naked, a young girl with pigtails…naked, an old man hitting a young boy…naked, a man “chasing four geniuses” which are babies….naked, a boy standing in front of a man…naked, a lizard clutching a man and a woman…naked, a swarm of babies dog piled…naked, boys fighting…naked, a standing man lifting a dead man…naked and much more…naked.

Additionally, there is a monolith (obelisk style) inside the park which depicts bodies stacked up one on top of each other…naked. This is meant to represent “man’s desire to become closer with the spiritual and divine. It portrays a feeling of togetherness as the human figures embrace one another as they are carried toward salvation.” Is that the feeling you get when you see this sculpture?

The Wheel of Life “is a symbol of eternity and is here executed as a garland of women, children and men holding on to each other.” Ouch!! Despite the work on the Wheel of Life being technically challenging, Vigeland was pleased with the result and is quoted as saying “I have never been as accomplished as I am now.”

The statue of the old couple, or two old ladies, one with hand over mouth, appearing to hold back the other….naked definitely needs a quote from the artist. If this is a depiction of the cycle of life, what phase is that one exactly?!

[Return to headlines]

The Far Right in Europe: The Discreet Power of Danish Populists

In less than a decade, the Danish People’s Party has risen from the rank of a small movement to that of a fully accredited member of the political establishment. While it has always theoretically formed part of the opposition, it has nonetheless succeeded in exerting a growing influence on the government in Copenhagen, explains De Groene Amsterdammer.

The bridge-tunnel between Copenhagen and Malmö is remarkable feat of engineering, but for the many Danes forced to live in Sweden who cross it to commute to jobs in Copenhagen, the Öresund bridge is a symbol of social exclusion. Every day they are obliged to pay a toll to enter their own country, where they cannot live because they have a foreign spouse. Danish immigration law is notoriously strict, especially for asylum seekers.

Marriage with a foreign partner aged under 24 is not recognised, and a points system has now been established for immigrants wishing to obtain a residence permit. Immigrants must provide evidence to show that they have “actively participated in Danish society” for at least one year. And Danes with foreign spouses are obliged to prove that as a couple they have a combined attachment to Denmark which is greater than their “combined attachment to any other country.”

It was on this basis that tax inspector Bolette Kornum was denied permission to move back to Copenhagen with her Egyptian husband: the immigration service ruled that they had a greater attachment to Egypt. Bolette speaks Arabic, her husband had no family in Denmark, and they had lived together for several years in his native country. Go and live in Egypt was the official response.

“All my life I have paid my taxes, and now I am not welcome in my own country,” says Kornum, who counts among the population of 6,000 families that live on the other side of the Öresund bridge — a situation which she insists “destroys people’s lives.”

Pressuring the government

With only a small number of left-wing movements continuing to oppose it, Denmark’s harsh immigration law benefits from a tacit consensus between virtually all of the country’s political parties. The promoter of this legislation, the Danish People’s Party (DF), which has become a permanent and influential presence on the country’s political landscape, is no longer considered to be an extreme-right party, nor is it rejected as such. But how has succeeded in shaping public policy?

In 2001, when the DF won 12% of the vote in general elections, it was widely seen as a pariah in political circles, where it was vilified by the left, and systematically taken to task for its populist rhetoric and its anti-immigration stance. However, the outcome of the election, a typically Danish minority coalition between conservatives and liberals, paved the way for its rise to power. In return for shoring up the centre-right government in parliament, the DF demanded the implementation of draconian anti-immigration measures.

The members of the coalition were convinced that they had obtained a bargain that would enable them to govern while cutting the ground from under the feet of the DF, but the reality was quite the opposite. In fact, they had been manipulated. The DF was now free to exercise its influence on two parties that depended on its support, while refusing to form part of the government.

It was an ingenious strategy: “Effectively sheltered from executive responsibility, it became the most professionally managed of all the political parties and made use of the best communications consultants. It is now the most efficient political machine in Denmark,” affirms Politiken political columnist Peter Mogensen.

Left-wing, anti-Islamic and Europhobic

On the occasion of annual budgetary negotiations, the DF has been able to use its veto to obtain tactical victories that are easy “to sell” to its electorate: i.e. the construction of a hospital in a region with a lot of potential DF voters, or a much vaunted one-off payment for over-65s. On social issues, the DF is largely situated on the left and supports the preservation of the welfare state.

It is openly anti-Islam and anti-immigration, but a strong proponent of measures to benefit pensioners and the handicapped. In the field of external relations, it is Europhobic and an outspoken opponent of Turkish accession to the EU, but at the same time staunchly pro-Israeli. Its procedures are marked by a rigorous discipline designed to prevent any infighting, and to root out racists and neo-Nazis, who are regularly expelled from the party.

Party leader Pia Kjærsgaard has come a long way since she founded the DF in 1995. Initially antipathetic and highly critical of other parties with whom she sought to enter into conflict, she has since adopted a conciliatory approach: “She is very careful to avoid offending parliamentary colleagues,” notes Henrik Kaufholz, a director of the Danish investigative journalists association.

Taking advantage of the shelter offered by the minority government, over the last ten years the DF has built a reputation as a reliable and influential political partner. It has also expanded its voter base to the point where it can now count on the support of 14% of the electorate. But regardless of the number of votes it obtains, the DF can already claim that several of its ideas have now been adopted by Denmark’s mainstream political parties.

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

UK: English Defence League: Inside the Violent World of Britain’s New Far Right

Undercover Guardian investigation reveals plan by English Defence League to hit racially sensitive areas in attempt to provoke disorder over summer

MPs expressed concern tonight after it emerged that far-right activists are planning to step up their provocative street campaign by targeting some of the UK’s highest-profile Muslim communities, raising fears of widespread unrest this summer.

Undercover footage shot by the Guardian reveals the English Defence League, which has staged a number of violent protests in towns and cities across the country this year, is planning to “hit” Bradford and the London borough of Tower Hamlets as it intensifies its street protests. Senior figures in the coalition government were briefed on the threat posed by EDL marches this week. Tomorrow up to 2,000 EDL supporters are expected to descend on Newcastle for its latest protest.

MPs said the group’s decision to target some of the UK’s most prominent Muslim communities was a blatant attempt to provoke mayhem and disorder. “This group has no positive agenda,” said the Bradford South MP, Gerry Sutcliffe. “It is an agenda of hate that is designed to divide people and communities. We support legitimate protest but this is not legitimate, it is designed to stir up trouble. The people of Bradford will want no part of it.”

The English Defence League, which started in Luton last year, has become the most significant far-right street movement in the UK since the National Front in the 1970s. A Guardian investigation has identified a number of known rightwing extremists who are taking an interest in the movement — from convicted football hooligans to members of violent rightwing splinter groups.

Thousands of people have attended its protests — many of which have descended into violence and racist and Islamophobic chanting. Supporters are split into “divisions” spread across the UK and as many as 3,000 people are attracted to its protests.

The group also appears to be drawing support from the armed forces. Its online armed forces division has 842 members and the EDL says many serving soldiers have attended its demonstrations. A spokeswoman for the EDL, whose husband is a serving soldier, said: “The soldiers are fighting Islamic extremism in Afghanistan and Iraq and the EDL are fighting it here … Not all the armed forces support the English Defence League but a majority do.”

Following the British National party’s poor showing in this month’s local and national elections anti-racist campaigners say some far-right activists may be turning away from the ballot box and returning to violent street demonstrations for the first time in three decades. Nick Lowles, from Searchlight, said: “What we are seeing now is the most serious, most dangerous, political phenomenon that we have had in Britain for a number of years.. With EDL protests that are growing week in, week out there is a chance for major disorder and a major political shift to the right in this country..”

In undercover footage shot by Guardian Films, EDL spokesman Guramit Singh says its Bradford demonstration “will be huge”. He adds: “The problem with Bradford is the security threat, it is a highly populated Muslim area. They are very militant as well. Bradford is a place that has got to be hit.”

Singh, who was speaking during an EDL demonstration in Dudley in April, said the organisation would also be targeting Tower Hamlets. A spokesman for the EDL confirmed it would hold a demonstration in Bradford on 28 August because the city was “on course to be one of the first places to become a no-go area for non-Muslims”. The EDL has already announced demonstrations in Cardiff and Dudley.

The former Home Office minister Phil Woolas said: “This is a deliberate attempt by the EDL at division and provocation, to try and push young Muslims into the hands of extremists, in order to perpetuate the divide. It is dangerous.”

The EDL claims it is a peaceful and non-racist organisation only concerned with protesting against “militant Islam”. However, over the last four months the Guardian has attended its demonstrations and witnessed racism, violence and virulent Islamophobia.

During the election campaign David Cameron described the EDL as “dreadful people” and said the organisation would “always be under review”.

A spokesman for the Home Office said that although the government was committed to restoring the right to “non-violent protest … violence and intimidation are wholly unacceptable and the police have powers to deal with individuals who commit such acts. The government condemns those who seek to spread hatred.” He added: “Individual members of EDL — like all members of the public — are of course subject to the law, and all suspected criminal offences will be robustly investigated and dealt with by the police.”

[JP note: A stupid article by a stupid paper.]

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

UK: Fears of Taser Overuse as Children and the Elderly Are Targeted by Police Stun Guns

Tasers are being used on elderly people and children, figures revealed on Friday.

Hundreds of teenagers and more than 40 pensioners have been fired at or threatened by police armed with the electric stun weapons.

Among those hit with a 50,000-volt shock were a frail 89-year-old man and a girl aged just 14.

The figures raised fears the weapons may be being overused.

Critics warned they were ‘potentially lethal’ and could be more dangerous when targeted against vulnerable people.

Each gun delivers a powerful electric bolt along copper wires linked to two darts which can travel up to 25ft.

It overrides the central nervous system and causes uncontrollable muscle contractions, making the suspect collapse.

National police guidance suggests officers should be ‘vigilant’ when considering whether to stun a child.

But figures released under the Freedom of Information Act showed that 59 under-18s were shot at over a 30-month period.

More than 120 others, including a boy of 12, had the weapon aimed at them by police.

The statistics for older people are no less shocking. A total of 18 over-60s were hit by tasers and a further 24 were targeted or had a gun drawn on them between July 2007 and December last year.

The oldest was an 89-year-old war veteran who was threatening to cut his throat with a piece of broken glass.

North Wales police said he was ‘Tasered’ for his own safety. The retired carpenter, who was apparently suffering from the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, was left traumatised.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: Google Street View Secretly Took Your Wi-Fi Details… And Will Use the Data to Target Ads at Mobile Phones

Google is facing renewed privacy concerns after it secretly mapped every single wireless internet connection in Britain — including those in millions of homes — to help it sell advertising and other services.

The move was part of the search engine’s controversial Street View project, which drew widespread criticism after it photographed people’s houses and published the images on the internet.

Now it has been revealed that the firm had failed to disclose that it was simultaneously building a massive database of individual home wi-fi networks across the UK and in other countries.

As Google’s distinctive fleet of cars, fitted with roof-mounted cameras, cruised Britain’s streets over the past three years photographing every house and public building, antennae inside were also pinpointing the wi-fi hotspots.

There were earlier reports that Google had admitted accidentally collecting some emails from ‘open’ wireless networks. But The Mail on Sunday today reveals how — and why — the company has collected details of all wi-fis, even those protected by security.

Last night the firm, one of the world’s most powerful companies and worth £28billion, admitted that it should have been ‘more transparent’ about the full extent of the project and pledged to stop mapping any new personal wireless networks in future.

But it said it would not delete the information it had already obtained from the Street View project which now covers almost every road in Britain.

Personal wireless equipment — known as a router — allows people to access the internet from anywhere in their homes without plugging laptops and other devices into a telephone point.


Details of this secret side of the Street View project emerged this month after German regulators demanded details of the data Google was collecting on its citizens as it mapped the country for its version of Street View. google street view

It was only then that the California-based multinational revealed that it was mapping people’s wi-fi networks and in some cases had inadvertently downloaded people’s personal information, including emails and web browsing history.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: Jaguar Land Rover Announces Production in China and India as British Factory Faces the Axe

Jaguar Land Rover today announced plans to build cars in China for the first time — just as it prepares to close one of its three factories in Britain.

The decision has been made by the company’s Indian owners TATA, which has put two leading German motor industry executives in charge of running one of the UK’s traditional automotive ‘crown jewels’.

The luxury car company said it was likely to begin building Land Rovers in China — as well as in India — but ‘did not rule out’ building Jaguars there too.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: Muslims Must Refuse to Rise to EDL Provocation

By ignoring planned EDL demonstrations and looking toward dialogue to dispel myths, Muslims can facilitate cohesion

The Guardian’s investigation into the English Defence League (EDL) was a fascinating insight into the motivations and aims of the far-right anti-Islamic group. Some of the comments by individuals justifying their involvement with the EDL were hardly a surprise to those of us used to the mythologising and half-truths that get bandied about every time Islam is discussed. The level of hate and fear has, sadly, become a typical reaction from some who will use any excuse to roll up their sleeves and get stuck into a spot of Muslim-bashing.

That familiar cry of “we want our country back” has been directed over centuries against the Jews, the Irish, African-Caribbeans, South Asians, eastern Europeans and so on. Many of these groups continue to bear the brunt of casual racism exposed by the Guardian piece but Islam seems to be firmly on the frontline.

Only this week, a Facebook group whipped up a frenzy of anti-immigrant feeling, which rapidly metamorphosed into anti-Muslim ranting by claiming that the police were attempting to ban the flying of the English flag for fear of upsetting minorities. Of course, the rumour was complete nonsense and stemmed from a letter advising a pub in Croydon to ban football club shirts to minimise confrontation between fans of rival teams. Nothing to do with Muslims, immigrants or the flag, yet almost 160,000 people believed the story and were up in arms about them Muslims with their mosques and their burqas.

It’s the ease with which a kernel of truth associated (or not) with Muslims can be blowtorched, twisted out of all recognition and sculpted into something quite unrecognisable from the original that is so disturbing. And it’s such hysteria that serves to fuel the anti-Islamic sentiment expressed by those EDL members featured in the Guardian.

Islam, and consequently Muslims, seem to have become a dirty word — only a couple of weeks ago I was on a bus in south London on which a rather flustered weekend dad was trying to control his unruly young son. “You

er,” screamed the boy as his father attempted to stop him from licking the window of the bus. “Don’t you dare swear at me you little shit,” the dad spat back. “Muslim. You love Muslims you do, you Muslim,” was the youngster’s bizarre retaliation. I didn’t know whether to laugh or despair as the father hissed at his child to “shut the


It’s fair to say that Muslims have a PR problem and I’m the first to admit that it’s not as if some from our ranks haven’t fuelled this anger and suspicion. Going all the way back to the Salman Rushdie affair, on to the London bombings, radicalisation, Danish cartoons, not to mention the cartoon-fest on Facebook, the actions of a few Muslims have proved severely damaging. Such notoriety has fomented and unified anti-Muslim sentiment unrestricted by race, background and political persuasion.

One particularly inflammatory incident involving Muslims in recent times involved a group of extremists protesting during a parade in Luton for soldiers returning from Iraq and is thought to have been a catalyst for the creation of the EDL. What was less widely reported was that the Muslim extremists numbered only a handful and were not representative of the views of the large Muslim community in Luton. In fact, the extremists were prevented from repeating their provocative demonstration by other Luton Muslims — who literally drove them out of town.

The EDL claim they are not anti-Muslim and merely anti-militant Islam, although the line is evidently blurred. However, if that really is the case perhaps they would wish to offer their support to the many Muslim grassroots initiatives, as well as intellectual and theological forums striving to challenge extremism. These positive steps rarely grab the headlines in the way that stories about reactionary Muslims do. Perhaps that is much of the problem.

The overwhelming majority of Muslims living in the UK have better things to do than pursue the Islamification of this country and certainly are not keen on the idea of replacing the British constitution with Shariah law by 2040, as if that was even remotely on the cards — considering only 3% of the population of the UK is Muslim. When the EDL faithful wax lyrical about the Islamisation of England I have some difficulty understanding what exactly they mean.

Once the old wives’ tales and misinformation are stripped away from their arguments, it is hard to see how Islam is directly and negatively impinging upon their lives. Muslims are a pluralistic and eclectic community with a vast array of individual perspectives that cannot be reliably generalised, never mind brought together to form any sort of movement for Islamisation.

The fact that the EDL is planning a summer of anti-Islamic demonstrations in cities with significant Muslim populations, including Bradford where I currently live, is certainly worrying. The likelihood of counter-demonstrations heightening racial tension and stirring up trouble is also ominous. But Muslims must counter the anti-Islamic momentum by refusing to react, and turning their focus towards transparency and dialogue in an attempt to dispel myths, address concerns and facilitate integration and cohesion.

As troubling as the rise in anti-Islamic sentiment and the casual Islamophobia that comes with it is, there is some solace to be gained in the fact that the British National party performed poorly in the general election. If the EDL is heralding a sharp shift in the political mood to the right, present evidence may prove disappointing for them. If it’s a summer of violence and clashes with local Muslims on the streets they are hoping for, let’s disappoint them on that front too.

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

UK: Young. British. Female. Muslim.

Thousands of young British women living in the UK decide to convert to Islam — here are some of their stories

It’s a controversial time for British women to be wearing the hijab, the basic Muslim headscarf. Last month, Belgium became the first European country to pass legislation to ban the burka (the most concealing of Islamic veils), calling it a “threat” to female dignity, while France looks poised to follow suit. In Italy earlier this month, a Muslim woman was fined €500 (£430) for wearing the Islamic veil outside a post office.

And yet, while less than 2 per cent of the population now attends a Church of England service every week, the number of female converts to Islam is on the rise. At the London Central Mosque in Regent’s Park, women account for roughly two thirds of the “New Muslims” who make their official declarations of faith there — and most of them are under the age of 30.

Conversion statistics are frustratingly patchy, but at the time of the 2001 Census, there were at least 30,000 British Muslim converts in the UK.. According to Kevin Brice, of the Centre for Migration Policy Research, Swansea University, this number may now be closer to 50,000 — and the majority are women. “Basic analysis shows that increasing numbers of young, university-educated women in their twenties and thirties are converting to Islam,” confirms Brice.

“Our liberal, pluralistic 21st-century society means we can choose our careers, our politics — and we can pick and choose who we want to be spiritually,” explains Dr Mohammad S. Seddon, lecturer in Islamic Studies at the University of Chester. We’re in an era of the “religious supermarket”, he says.

Joanne Bailey

Solicitor, 30, Bradford

“The first time I wore my hijab into the office, I was so nervous, I stood outside on the phone to my friend for ages going, ‘What on earth is everyone going to say?’ When I walked in, a couple of people asked, ‘Why are you wearing that scarf? I didn’t know you were a Muslim.’

“I’m the last person you’d expect to convert to Islam: I had a very sheltered, working-class upbringing in South Yorkshire. I’d hardly even seen a Muslim before I went to university. In my first job at a solicitor’s firm in Barnsley, I remember desperately trying to play the role of the young, single, career woman: obsessively dieting, shopping and going to bars — but I never felt truly comfortable.

“Then one afternoon in 2004 everything changed: I was chatting to a Muslim friend over coffee, when he noticed the little gold crucifix around my neck. He said, ‘Do you believe in God, then?’ I wore it more for fashion than religion and said, ‘No, I don’t think so,’ and he started talking about his faith. I brushed him off at first, but his words stuck in my mind. A few days later, I found myself ordering a copy of the Koran on the internet.

“It took me a while to work up the courage to go to a women’s social event run by the Leeds New Muslims group. I remember hovering outside the door thinking, ‘What the hell am I doing here?’ I imagined they would be dressed head-to-toe in black robes: what could I, a 25-year-old, blonde English girl, possibly have in common with them?

“But when I walked in, none of them fitted the stereotype of the oppressed Muslim housewife; they were all doctors, teachers and psychiatrists.. I was struck by how content and secure they seemed. It was meeting these women, more than any of the books I read, that convinced me that I wanted to become a Muslim.

“After four years, in March 2008, I made the declaration of faith at a friend’s house. At first, I was anxious that I hadn’t done the right thing, but I soon relaxed into it — a bit like starting a new job. A few months later, I sat my parents down and said, ‘I’ve got something to tell you.’ There was a silence and my mum said, ‘You’re going to become Muslim, aren’t you?’ She burst into tears and kept asking things like, ‘What happens when you get married? Do you have to cover up? What about your job?’ I tried to reassure her that I’d still be me, but she was concerned for my welfare.

“Contrary to what most people think, Islam doesn’t oppress me; it lets me be the person that I was all along. Now I’m so much more content and grateful for the things I’ve got. A few months ago, I got engaged to a Muslim solicitor I met on a training course. He has absolutely no problem with my career, but I do agree with the Islamic perspective on the traditional roles for men and women. I want to look after my husband and children, but I also want my independence. I’m proud to be British and I’m proud to be Muslim — and I don’t see them as conflicting in any way.”

Aqeela Lindsay Wheeler

Housewife and mother, 26, Leicester

“As a teenager I thought all religion was pathetic. I used to spend every weekend getting drunk outside the leisure centre, in high-heeled sandals and miniskirts. My view was: what’s the point in putting restrictions on yourself? You only live once.

“At university, I lived the typical student existence, drinking and going clubbing, but I’d always wake up the next morning with a hangover and think, what’s the point?

“It wasn’t until my second year that I met Hussein. I knew he was a Muslim, but we were falling in love, so I brushed the whole issue of religion under the carpet. But six months into our relationship, he told me that being with me was ‘against his faith’.

“I was so confused. That night I sat up all night reading two books on Islam that Hussein had given me. I remember bursting into tears because I was so overwhelmed. I thought, ‘This could be the whole meaning of life.’ But I had a lot of questions: why should I cover my head? Why can’t I eat what I like?

“I started talking to Muslim women at university and they completely changed my view. They were educated, successful — and actually found the headscarf liberating. I was convinced, and three weeks later officially converted to Islam.

“When I told my mum a few weeks later, I don’t think she took it seriously. She made a few comments like, ‘Why would you wear that scarf? You’ve got lovely hair,’ but she didn’t seem to understand what it meant. My best friend at university completely turned on me: she couldn’t understand how one week I was out clubbing, and the next I’d given everything up and converted to Islam. She was too close to my old life, so I don’t regret losing her as a friend.

“I chose the name Aqeela because it means ‘sensible and intelligent’ — and that’s what I was aspiring to become when I converted to Islam six years ago. I became a whole new person: everything to do with Lindsay, I’ve erased from my memory.

“The most difficult thing was changing the way I dressed, because I was always so fashion-conscious. The first time I tried on the hijab, I remember sitting in front of the mirror, thinking, ‘What am I doing putting a piece of cloth over my head? I look crazy!’ Now I’d feel naked without it and only occasionally daydream about feeling the wind blow through my hair. Once or twice, I’ve come home and burst into tears because of how frumpy I feel — but that’s just vanity.

“It’s a relief not to feel that pressure any more. Wearing the hijab reminds me that all I need to do is serve God and be humble. I’ve even gone through phases of wearing the niqab [face veil] because I felt it was more appropriate — but it can cause problems, too. When people see a white girl wearing a niqab they assume I’ve stuck my fingers up at my own culture to ‘follow a bunch of Asians’. I’ve even had teenage boys shout at me in the street, ‘Get that s*** off your head, you white bastard.’ After the London bombings, I was scared to walk about in the streets for fear of retaliation.

“For the most part, I have a very happy life. I married Hussein and now we have a one-year-old son, Zakir. We try to follow the traditional Muslim roles: I’m foremost a housewife and mother, while he goes out to work. I used to dream of having a successful career as a psychologist, but now it’s not something I desire. Becoming a Muslim certainly wasn’t an easy way out. This life can sometimes feel like a prison, with so many rules and restrictions, but we believe that we will be rewarded in the afterlife.”

Catherine Heseltine

Nursery school teacher, 31, North London

“If you’d asked me at the age of 16 if I’d like to become a Muslim, I would have said, ‘No thanks.’ I was quite happy drinking, partying and fitting in with my friends. Growing up in North London, we never practised religion at home; I always thought it was slightly old-fashioned and irrelevant. But when I met my future husband, Syed, in the sixth form, he challenged all my preconceptions. He was young, Muslim, believed in God — and yet he was normal. The only difference was that, unlike most teenage boys, he never drank.

“A year later, we were head over heels in love, but we quickly realised: how could we be together if he was a Muslim and I wasn’t? Before meeting Syed, I’d never actually questioned what I believed in; I’d just picked up my casual agnosticism through osmosis. So I started reading a few books on Islam out of curiosity. In the beginning, the Koran appealed to me on an intellectual level; the emotional and spiritual side didn’t come until later. I loved its explanations of the natural world and discovered that 1,500 years ago, Islam gave women rights that they didn’t have here in the West until relatively recently. It was a revelation.

“Religion wasn’t exactly a ‘cool’ thing to talk about, so for three years I kept my interest in Islam to myself. But in my first year at university, Syed and I decided to get married — and I knew it was time to tell my parents. My mum’s initial reaction was, ‘Couldn’t you just live together first?’ She had concerns about me rushing into marriage and the role of women in Muslim households — but no one realised how seriously I was taking my religious conversion. I remember going out for dinner with my dad and him saying, ‘Go on, have a glass of wine. I won’t tell Syed!’ A lot of people assumed I was only converting to Islam to keep his family happy, not because I believed in it.

“Later that year, we had an enormous Bengali wedding, and moved into a flat together — but I certainly wasn’t chained to the kitchen sink. I didn’t even wear the hijab at all to start with, and wore a bandana or a hat instead. I was used to getting a certain amount of attention from guys when I went out to clubs and bars, but I had to let that go. I gradually adopted the Islamic way of thinking: I wanted people to judge me for my intelligence and my character — not for the way I looked. It was empowering.

“I’d never been part of a religious minority before, so that was a big adjustment, but my friends were very accepting. Some of them were a bit shocked: ‘What, no drink, no drugs, no men? I couldn’t do that!’ And it took a while for my male friends at university to remember things like not kissing me hello on the cheek any more. I’d have to say, ‘Sorry, it’s a Muslim thing.’

“Over time, I actually became more religious than my husband. We started growing apart in other ways, too. In the end, I think the responsibility of marriage was too much for him; he became distant and disengaged. After seven years together, I decided to get a divorce.

“When I moved back in with my parents, people were surprised I was still wandering around in a headscarf. But if anything, being on my own strengthened my faith: I began to gain a sense of myself as a Muslim, independent of him. Islam has given me a sense of direction and purpose. I’m involved with the Muslim Public Affairs Committee, and lead campaigns against Islamophobia, discrimination against women in mosques, poverty and the situation in Palestine. When people call us ‘extremists’ or ‘the dark underbelly of British politics’, I just think it’s ridiculous. There are a lot of problems in the Muslim community, but when people feel under siege it makes progress even more difficult.

“I still feel very much part of white British society, but I am also a Muslim. It has taken a while to fit those two identities together, but now I feel very confident being who I am. I’m part of both worlds and no one can take that away from me.”

Sukina Douglas

Spoken-word poet, 28, London

“Before I found Islam, my gaze was firmly fixed on Africa. I was raised a Rastafarian and used to have crazy-long dreadlocks: one half blonde and the other half black. Then, in 2005, my ex-boyfriend came back from a trip to Africa and announced that he’d converted to Islam. I was furious and told him he was ‘losing his African roots’. Why was he trying to be an Arab? It was so foreign to how I lived my life. Every time I saw a Muslim woman in the street I thought, ‘Why do they have to cover up like that? Aren’t they hot?’ It looked oppressive to me.

“Islam was already in my consciousness, but when I started reading the autobiography of Malcolm X at university, something opened up inside me. One day I said to my best friend, Muneera, ‘I’m falling in love with Islam.’ She laughed and said, ‘Be quiet, Sukina!’ She only started exploring Islam to prove me wrong, but soon enough she started believing it, too.

“I was always passionate about women’s rights; there was no way I would have entered a religion that sought to degrade me. So when I came across a book by a Moroccan feminist, it unravelled all my negative opinions: Islam didn’t oppress women; people did. Before I converted, I conducted an experiment. I covered up in a long gypsy skirt and headscarf and went out. But I didn’t feel frumpy; I felt beautiful. I realised, I’m not a sexual commodity for men to lust after; I want to be judged for what I contribute mentally.

“Muneera and I took our shahada [declaration of faith] together a few months later, and I cut my dreadlocks off to represent renewal: it was the beginning of a new life. Just three weeks after our conversion, the 7/7 bombings happened; suddenly we were public enemy No 1. I’d never experienced racism in London before, but in the weeks after the bombs, people would throw eggs at me and say, ‘Go back to your own country,’ even though this was my country.

“I’m not trying to shy away from any aspect of who I am. Some people dress in Arabian or Pakistani styles, but I’m British and Caribbean, so my national dress is Primark and Topshop, layered with colourful charity-shop scarves. Six months after I converted, I got back together with my ex-boyfriend, and now we’re married. Our roles in the home are different, because we are different people, but he would never try to order me around; that’s not how I was raised.

“Before I found Islam, I was a rebel without a cause, but now I have a purpose in life: I can identify my flaws and work towards becoming a better person. To me, being a Muslim means contributing to your society, no matter where you come from.”

Catherine Huntley

Retail assistant, 21, Bournemouth

“My parents always thought I was abnormal, even before I became a Muslim. In my early teens, they’d find me watching TV on a Friday night and say, ‘What are you doing at home? Haven’t you got any friends to go out with?’ The truth was: I didn’t like alcohol, I’ve never tried smoking and I wasn’t interested in boys. You’d think they’d have been pleased.

“I’ve always been quite a spiritual person, so when I started studying Islam in my first year of GCSEs, something just clicked. I would spend every lunchtime reading about Islam on the computer. I had peace in my heart and nothing else mattered any more. It was a weird experience — I’d found myself, but the person I found wasn’t like anyone else I knew.

“I’d hardly ever seen a Muslim before, so I didn’t have any preconceptions, but my parents weren’t so open-minded. I hid all my Muslim books and headscarves in a drawer, because I was so scared they’d find out.. When I told my parents, they were horrified and said, ‘We’ll talk about it when you’re 18.’ But my passion for Islam just grew stronger. I started dressing more modestly and would secretly fast during Ramadan. I got very good at leading a double life until one day, when I was 17, I couldn’t wait any longer.

“I sneaked out of the house, put my hijab in a carrier bag and got on the train to Bournemouth. I must have looked completely crazy putting it on in the train carriage, using a wastebin lid as a mirror. When a couple of old people gave me dirty looks, I didn’t care. For the first time in my life, I felt like myself. A week after my conversion, my mum came marching into my room and said, ‘Have you got something to tell me?’ She pulled my certificate of conversion out of her pocket. I think they’d rather have found anything else at that point — drugs, cigarettes, condoms — because at least they could have put it down to teenage rebellion.

“I could see the fear in her eyes. She couldn’t comprehend why I’d want to give up my freedom for the sake of a foreign religion. Why would I want to join all those terrorists and suicide bombers?

“It was hard being a Muslim in my parents’ house. I’ll never forget one evening, there were two women in burkas on the front page of the newspaper, and they started joking, ‘That’ll be Catherine soon.’ They didn’t like me praying five times a day either; they thought it was ‘obsessive’. I’d pray right in front of my bedroom door so my mum couldn’t walk in, but she would always call upstairs, ‘Catherine, do you want a cup of tea?’ just so I’d have to stop.

“Four years on, my grandad still says things like, ‘Muslim women have to walk three steps behind their husbands.’ It gets me really angry, because that’s the culture, not the religion. My fiancé, whom I met eight months ago, is from Afghanistan and he believes that a Muslim woman is a pearl and her husband is the shell that protects her. I value that old-fashioned way of life: I’m glad that when we get married he’ll take care of paying the bills. I always wanted to be a housewife anyway.

“Marrying an Afghan man was the cherry on the cake for my parents. They think I’m completely crazy now. He’s an accountant and actually speaks better English than I do, but they don’t care. The wedding will be in a mosque, so I don’t think they’ll come. It hurts to think I’ll never have that fairytale wedding, surrounded by my family. But I hope my new life with my husband will be a lot happier. I’ll create the home I’ve always wanted, without having to feel the pain of people judging me.”

[JP note: Pathetic. Who is Sarah Harris, the author of this puff piece? Who is Louise France, editor of the Saturday Timescolour supplement? Why is there no mention of the fact that the Muslim Public Affairs Committee (see Catherine Heseltine entry) is a virulently anti-semitic organization, recently criticised by some Labour MPs amongst others? Link to the MPAC UK website here]

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]


Croatia: Kutjevo Revives Myth of Panduri

(ANSAmed) — ROME, MAY 26 — The extremely old ‘Vallis de Honesta de Gotho’ abbey, founded by Cistercian monks in 1232 with an ancient cellar within it (in which even today excellent wine is produced), as well as the historical visit by Marie Therese of Austria in 1741 and — most especially — the various stories that tell of the “racy” meeting between the Hapsburg empress and the Baron Franz von der Trenck, a reckless officer who founded the well-known Panduri regiment, paramilitary unit specialised in border wars. For the entire month of May, every corner of the city of Kutjevo in Slavonia, the easternmost region of Croatia, commemorates the passing through of the Great Empress of Austria. Every year in this period, the Croatian town dives into a past of almost three hundred years ago in celebrating the visit made by the enlightened sovereign by holding historical commemorations, military parades and performances by musical bands. Since the XIII century, when French Cistercian monks founded the abbey, Kutjevo has been an important centre for wine production. Vines are planted in the abbey and wines are made, thereby making the monastery’s wine cellar the oldest in the world. It is a cellar which was highly esteemed, it would seem, by the empress of Austria — according to a number of stories. It was inside this very cellar that Maria Teresa and the Baron Von der Trenck are said to have locked themselves up for seven days, getting drunk on wine and leaving over 150 marks on the walls as a sign of their amorous passion. And so, since that far-off 1741, every year until the end of May visitors to Kutjevo — a city surrounded by rows of grapes, fields and orchards — can relive the scene of the encounter that the empress, who governed for 40 years, had with the Hapsburg colonel who founded the Panduri Corps, a formation which initially included Croatian and Serbian mercenaries highly skilled in guerrilla tactics, who were later incorporated into the Austrian army. The cellar of the ancient Cistercian abbey is connected by way of underground tunnels to the Kutjevo Castle, in front of which theatrical performances are held in which scenes from daily life in the 1700s are held. In addition to the production founded by the monks, now the entire city and region around Kutjevo play host to the most important wine makers of Croatia, including Enjingi, Krauthaker and Mihalj. However, this zone of Slavonia does not only offer enjoyable discoveries from a wine-related point of view. Horse lovers can also pay a visit to 200-year-old Lipizzaner horse farms, or have a look at the famous equestrianism school. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

EU-Balkans: Accession Will Take Longer, Croatian Press

(ANSAmed) — ZAGREB, MAY 24 — The EU Foreign Ministers will not be able to make any concrete promises regarding the integration of the Balkans in the EU, at the conference on the Western Balkans scheduled on June 2 in Sarajevo. So says the Croatian newspaper Jutarnji today, after reading the draft of the conference’s final statement. In the document, the newspaper writes, the important progress made by the Balkan countries will be praised, without making any concrete promises or optimistic predictions. The conference will be used to make a clear statement that the EU will not continue its past enlargement by accepting only partially prepared countries, and that the road is still long for the Western Balkans. Even the accession of Croatia, which hopes to close the negotiations by the end of this year and to join the EU early in 2012, may be postponed to 2013, according to Jutarnji list, which adds that it is unlikely that the other countries will join before 2020. Serbia, if all goes according to plan, will start negotiating in 2012, but its accession will take a long time. The newspaper points out that the number of EU member States that insist that countries can only join if they are 100% ready is growing. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Serbia: Customs Has Collected Eur936 Million So Far

(ANSAmed) — BELGRADE, MAY 26 — Serbian customs authority has collected RSD95.5 billion (around EUR936 milliion) in 2010 so far, which is 1.21% more than in the same period last year, reports FONET news agency. This figure does not only include the revenue from customs duty, but also the VAT and excise duties charged in import. Serbian customs authority also boasts good performance in prevention of smuggling, but also points out the need for additional investments in equipment. Serbian customs authority has only one big patrol boat for preventing smuggling in river routes, and the control is conducted on a stretch of 1,000km, where the Danube river accounts for 600km.(ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Zagreb European Flower Capital for a Week

(ANSAmed) — ROME — Black ‘sepia’ photographs, postcards fixing the images of a remote past, when Zagreb celebrated its past, recalling the Middle Ages, when every Patrician house had its show garden, blooming with many-coloured flowers. A tradition which time has not cancelled and lives on today, in ‘Floraart’, an international gardening show which will turn Zagreb, from tomorrow to May 31, into the European flower capital. The show takes place on the shores of the Bundek lake, in Novi Zagreb (New Zagreb, that is the new part of the Croatian capital), near the River Sava, where the organisers proudly say, it will be possible to appreciate infinite combinations of colours and perfumes of various flowers, and also unusual flower arrangements. Shows such as ‘Floraart’, this year in its forty-fifth edition, are a well-established feature in Zagreb’s past, so much so that already in 1891 a show was held that deserves to be recalled today. A tradition now reflected in the beauty of the Maksimir Park and horseshoe-shaped gardens of Lenuci, joining the seven oldest and most attractive squares in Zagreb. ‘Floraart’ is not only a show attended by Croatian exhibitors, but also by exhibitors from many countries. It is the occasion too, for many competitions on interior and exterior design, the most interesting flower creations, the art of floral decorations, and the choice of the most beautiful floral details. The organisers, in any case, wanted ‘Floraart’ not only to celebrate the art of cultivating gardens or parks, but also the occasion for cultural events to present in the best possible way its long tradition in the organisation of urban gardens, parks and green areas, as well as continuous care for the upkeep of public parks. This year too ‘Floraart’ statistics are interesting. The exhibition covers about thirty hectares of open land and two thousand metres, and has 150 exhibitors. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Mediterranean Union

‘Casa Tunisia’ to be in Mazara Del Vallo

(ANSAmed) — MAZARA DEL VALLO (TRAPANI), MAY 24 — “By year-end 2010, in Mazara del Vallo, ‘Casa Tunisia’ (Tunisia House) will be set up, a location where the relationship between our land and the North African country may be cemented even more. Where we will organise exhibitions, conferences and other various cultural events”. It was announced by the Mayor of Mazara del Vallo, Nicola Cristaldi, after having given honorary citizenship to the Consul General of Tunisia in Palermo, Abderrahaman Ben Mansour. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

EuroMed Training in Marseille on Illegals

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, MAY 27 — The Eu funded project Euromed Migration II is holding a training session on the fight against illegal migration in Marseille, focusing on the presentation of international and european standards. According to the Enpi website (, the training is working in particular on the law of the Sea, the principle of “non-refoulement” in international and european law and the question of its applicability in high waters and Eu policy in the matter. Selected concrete experiences both in the Eu and in the partner countries (Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Occupied Palestinian Territory, Syria, Tunisia), are also presented. The project Euromed Migration II aims at strengthening cooperation in the management of migration so as to build up the mediterranean partners’ capacity to provide an effective, targeted and comprehensive solution to the various forms of migration. It assists them in creating mechanisms to promote opportunities for legal migration, support for measures to promote the linkage between migration and development and the stepping up of activities to stamp out people trafficking and illegal immigration. (ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Tunisia: 240mln Euros From European Neighbourhood Policy

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, MAY 25 — By the end of the year, Tunisia will receive 240 million euros in the field of the European Neighbourhood Policy, which will be allocated to financing four projects considered to be priorities. They will concern employment, the programme to support integration of the Tunisian economy into the European economy, the programme to support businesses and justice. The financing has undergone an increase of 6% compared to the amounts allocated in the period 2007-2010 in the field of the European Neighbourhood Policy. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

North Africa

Archaeology: GB Returns Exhibits to Libya

(ANSAmed) — TRIPOLI, MAY 27 — After over fifty years, some ancient finds (from between 200 and 500 B.C.) have been sent back to Libya from Great Britain. During the protectorate — from 1943 to 1951 — some British soldiers had taken them to their home country. The restitution took place in the renovated Governor’s Palace in central Tripoli, now home to the Libyan Museum, where the new Archaeology Minister Salah Agab celebrated the event with an official ceremony in the presence of the press and diplomatic representatives, during which he welcomed “the courageous decision by Anglo-Saxon families, who of their own free will decided to return the priceless objects”. Among the latter is a terracotta Roman lamp representing Bacchus and the bow of a ship in bronze from the Hellenic era (200 B.C.), which had previously been exhibited at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. Other objects returned include ancient lamps, coins and pieces of mosaics. During the ceremony another important restitution by Italy — which occurred in 2008 — was remembered: that of the “Cyrene Venus”, a splendid, headless statue from the II century A.D., discovered by a number of Italian archaeologists in 1913 during the colonial domination.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Egypt: Italians Rescue Mevlevi Dervish Symbol

(ANSAmed) — ROME, MAY 24 — The restoration and conservation of one of the vastest monuments of historic Cairo, the Mevlevi Dervishes (around 8 thousand square metres) and the training of three generations of Egyptian craftsmen and technicians: these are some examples of Italia’s contribution in Egypt to the enormous project of the Italian Egyptian Centre for Restoration and Archaeology (Ciera), founded by professor Giuseppe Fanfoni, presented this morning in Rome, on the occasion of the signing of the scientific and cultural cooperation protocol signed by Bibliotheca Alexandrina (the Library of Alexandria), the Museum of Antiquities in Alexandria and the Cultural Association World Wide Artists Gallery. In thirty years of work, part of the impressive Mevlevi complex were restored through several digging campaigns carried out by archaeologist Fanfoni since 1978. This shows that collaboration between Italy and Egypt is not only possible, but that it can lead to very good results. At the foot of the Citadel of Salah Ed-Din, close to the mosque of Sultan Hassan, in the Hilmiyah district, prof. Fanfoni explained on the sidelines of the event, “the monumental area includes: the Qusun-Yashbak-Aqbardi palace (14th and 16th century, owned by the emirs Qusun, Yashbak and Aqbardi, each expanding the original structure); the madrasa of Sunqur Saq’di (14th century, example of Mameluke Baharite architecture); the mausoleum of Hasan Sadaqa (14th century), the Samà Khana (theatre) — built by the Mevlevi Dervishes -; the ‘tekeyya’, that is the monastery of the Dervishes (of which construction started in the 16th century). These five buildings tell the story of the diversity of the Muslim faith, recovered from the dust and rubble by the Italian team at a high cost. “So far, of the around 8 thousand square metres, around four have been restored” said Fanfoni. The madrasa Suqur Sàdi, the Samà Khana, the Monastery and the addition to the palace made by Aqbardi. Among the jewels that can be seen today, the ‘theatre’ is one of the most unique and precious buildings in the world. The hall, where the mystical brotherhood carried out its ritual dance to establish contact with God, “was abandoned by the last members of the Sufi brotherhood in 1942”, Fanfoni explained. But the best example of cooperation between Egypt and Italy is perhaps the school-site founded inside the Centre where hundreds of Egyptian craftsmen, technicians and workmen have been trained already. Some of them are now working in Egyptian universities, in the Antiquity Service or as assistant of the Centre’s director. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Libya: Boniver: Tripoli Asks for Quicker Schengen Visas

(ANSAmed) — TRIPOLI, MAY 26 — Libya has asked to be put on the same level as other countries in the region of the North Africa which obtain a Schengen visa within 48 working hours, whilst in Tripoli it is necessary to wait up to 10 days. A “pressing” request in this sense has been put forward today by the Libyan Deputy Foreign Minister and interlocutor with the EU, Abdelati al-Obeidi, to Margherita Boniver, president of the Schengen-Europol and immigration parliamentary committee, who is today in Libya leading a delegation. Boniver pointed out that Italy had “repeatedly” insisted on equalising the treatment of Libya with that of its neighbours, but that it had not yet obtained the necessary unanimity, as regards Schengen, to satisfy Libya’s legitimate ambitions. The meeting with the Libyan Deputy Foreign Minister, said Boniver, gave Tripoli the opportunity to urge Italy to extend the recent agreement on issuing of visas for diplomatic passports, recently signed by the Foreign Ministers, Franco Frattini and Musa Kusa, also to other categories, such as students and ill people who require appropriate care.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

Gaza: Activist Flotilla Delays Departure

(ANSAmed) — NICOSIA, MAY 28 — An international flotilla organised by pro-Palestinian NGOs, which had been due to set off for the Gaza Strip today, despite warnings from Israel, has decided to postpone its departure to tomorrow, according to reports from the organisers. “We have twice changed our plans because the Israelis were threatening to seize the Turkish vessel and so we decided on postponing the gathering of all the ships,” Audrey Bomse, one of the organisers of the Free Gaza movement, said. Another problem, Ms Bomse added, has been a technical fault affecting one of the vessels. Seven ships laden with humanitarian aid gathered today in international waters off Cyprus to head for Gaza and to attempt to break the blockade imposed by Israel around the Palestinian enclave governed by the radical Islamic movement Hamas. Among those on board are some activists from Italy.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

The Gang of Cooperatives That Boycott Israel

Il Giornale, 25 May 2010

There is a recently published book, that I’m sorry has not yet been translated into Italian, entitled “The Israel Test” and the author, George Gilder, a distinguished economist who enjoys international fame, explains that the world owes Israel an unbelievable amount of gratitude in terms of science, agriculture, medicine and software. The world would be much worse without the help of this small country engaged in its daily struggle for survival. Some understand this, and have thus passed the Israel Test. That said, many others because of their obtuse ideology are not able to pass the test: this is the case of Coop — Italy’s National Consortium of Consumer Cooperatives, and Conad* (Italian retail brands which operate two of the largest supermarket chains in Italy, ndr), who dutifully folded under pressure by a group of NGOs and other associations, named “Stop Agrexco”, who have asked them to boycott Israeli products imported by the company Agrexco (Israel’s foremost agricultural exporter, ndr), because 0.4% of these products are not marked with the seal of leprosy as in the dreams of NGOS, as they might come from the territories of Judea and Samaria.

This has made it necessary in the eyes of the fanatics within Coop and Conad to remove from Coop’s historic shelves all Israeli products. It does not matter, as we would like Bersani (leader of Italy’s center-left Democratic Party, ndr) to say aloud to his friends of the left-wing cooperative, that in order to grow those fruits and vegetables for sixty years Israelis — all Israelis — have broken their backs to no end or that they have taught the entire world how to use drip irrigation and have given lessons on how to make essential products flourish even in the desert. What matters in front of a monster called a settler? The same who in Gaza, as someone perhaps remembers, left the greenhouses full of flowers and cherry tomatoes, which were handed over to the Palestinians and immediately destroyed by Hamas’s rage.

The farmers of the West Bank for Coop must starve with their families like the Ukrainian peasants in the days of Stalin. Israeli products are polluted, for the cooperatives, by “human rights violations”, as declare those of the group “Stop Agrexco”: but it would be interesting to know if Chinese products or those of many eastern countries, as well as those of the Middle East and of Africa have been put to the same “human rights” test. If this is not occurring, there is reason to believe that the problem isn’t with Israeli products, but instead with Israel itself.

Coop’s “quality director”, Dr. Mario Zucchi, professes to “having carefully considered” the request of the “Stop Agrexco”, which during last Palestinian Earth Day “coordinated its actions” in various Coop and Conad supermarkets: among those NGOs that took part are Attac, Pax Christi, Federazione della Sinistra (Federation of the left), Fiom-Cgil, Forum Palestina, Un Ponte Per (the one of the two Simone, the Italian aid workers kidnapped in 2004 in Iraq and released thanks to diplomacy) and they don’t lack the support of also two Jewish anti-Israel groups, always useful, Eco (Jews against the Occupation), and Women in Black.

Without knowing anything about these Italian groups, we can instead confirm that NGO’s in general boycott, the lobbies against the relationship between the EU and Israel and for divestment are very well funded: this is demonstrated in a report by NGO-Monitor, which tells us that “Al Haq” (a Palestinian NGO) received 461 thousand dollars in 2008 from the Netherlands, “Al Mezan” got more than 500 thousand from Switzerland, Sweden, the Netherlands and Denmark, “Alternatives” received 2 million from Canada, the “Coalition of Women for Peace”, a European organization, dished out 247 thousand, “Trocaire” in the UK got 640 thousand and so on. There are activists who never sleep, full time boycotters who dedicate their time to carrying out a relentless campaign of delegitimization vis-a-vis Israel and accuse it of all the worst crimes, apartheid, crimes against humanity… the ultimate goal is the abolition of the Jewish State.

There are those who do not want to realize it, but the harshest Italian Left has for some time now ventured on this rocky road, it is an old story. But that the great, historic supermarket chains are allies to the crime of symbolically and theoretically condemning Israel to starvation, this is a painful novelty. What’s more, to boycott Israel consistently means throwing trash on an avalanche of important and vital inventions. Who has the courage, especially after recent discoveries, to throw away that blood test that charts in order to cure multiple sclerosis, the device that restores the use of paralyzed limbs, the new invention that helps children burdened with sleep-related breathing disorders, recent cures for Alzheimer’s, DNA repair or the elimination of the manifestations of Parkinson’s disease. If one wants to boycott Israel with coherency, he needs to remove the phone, whose modern advancements are the work of Motorola’s Israeli offices, and also the computer, whose astonishing developments were designed by Intel in Israel…and this is solely a small segment of reality.

Therefore, come on boycotters! Coop and Conad remain in the world of leftist lies with the shame of refusing the magnificent contribution that Israel gives to the world. I, for myself, will never buy any product of these chains and ask all my friends to do the same.

* For the sake of accuracy, Conad, after this article has been published, denied the boycott of Israel, while “Stop Agrexco” said they accepted. We wait for further clarification. Coop stayed on its position keeping the boycott.

Translation by Amy K. Rosenthal

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

When Bibi Meets Barack: What Will Happen in Their Upcoming Meeting

by Barry Rubin

Why was Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu suddenly invited to meet with President Barack Obama next week? There are three very different reasons.

One is the Obama Administration’s realization that its harsh policy toward Israel has been mistaken and has yielded it no diplomatic benefit. Another is he knowledge that this policy is very unpopular among Americans in general as well as American Jews in particular. With November elections coming up, the White House wants to cut its losses.

There is also, however, a third reason which relates to substantive issues. The White House wants to hear from Netanyahu what his views and plans are regarding negotiations with the Palestinians. The Obama Administration is eager for progress on indirect talks, hopeful of moving to direct talks (which Netanyahu very much wants to do), and is also looking at longer-range possibilities.

My view is that Netanyahu should stress the following: Israel wants peace and is willing to agree to a two-state solution. But here’s what we want in return, so go to the Palestinians and see what they are willing to give in exchange for an independent state.

At this point, he explains the need to recognize Israel as a Jewish state; demilitarization of any Palestinian state (which I would call “nonmilitarization,” meaning that it keeps existing security forces but doesn’t build separate, conventional armed forces); that any agreement will permanently end the conflict and all Palestinian claims; and that all refugees must be resettled in the state of Palestine. He must also explain in detail what Israel wants in terms of security guarantees.

To a lesser extent, Netanyahu can discuss his views on borders. But his task is to break the pattern in which only Palestinian demands are considered and debated. In this context, the question is only what will Israel give, never what it will get in exchange.

This is a reasonable set of demands and one that the Palestinian Authority (PA) would be able to meet if it were a “normal” political entity seeking a permanent two-state solution.

Unfortunately, the leadership-and even more those who stand behind them in Fatah-wants to wipe Israel off the map and get everything. But that’s a lesson that the Obama Administration has to learn for itself…

           — Hat tip: Barry Rubin[Return to headlines]

Middle East

EU to Hold Nuclear Conference With Arab League in Jordan

(ANSAmed) — AMMAN, MAY 25 — The European Union is organizing a conference with the 22 Members of the Arab League, to discuss possible cooperation in the chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear fields, according to an official statement. By supporting this initiative, the European Union hopes to contribute to a culture of security and safety, ultimately benefiting in increased security and safety for people, said the statement made available to ANSAmed. The two day conference is expected to start on Wednesday and allow officials exchange views on developing peaceful nuclear technologies, according to Jordanian officials. Participants will include high-ranking experts and policy-makers from Members of the Arab League, as well as from the European Union, EU Partners and international organisations active in this field. The European Union will present a major initiative to establish regional Centres of Excellence in different regions of the world. These networks will provide a flexible framework where interested countries may unite forces to mitigate risks associated with CBRN agents and materials. The Centres of Excellence will support exchange of best practices and early warning systems to optimise resources at national and regional level. Cooperation includes capacity building, adequate regulation and training, countries of the region will be able to share needs and improve coordination. Cooperation under a Centre of Excellence may also include areas bio-safety/security, nuclear safety/security, developing appropriate mechanisms to deter trafficking and illicit funding, the enhancement of export controls, as well as promoting engagement of scientists on security and safety issues. Participants to the conference will review current problems and responses in the region, and explore the possibility of establishing such a Centre of excellence in the Middle East-north Africa-Gulf region. The European Union is ready to accompany such a process with a full assistance package, including funding of specific projects nationally or regionally, facilitating access to best standards worldwide, and the provision of scientific and technical cooperation in the desired fields. Beneficiaries of this cooperation may include a whole array of specialists, including national policy-making and regulatory bodies, law enforcement agencies, judges, or the scientific community, concluded the statement.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Lebanon: Building Permits +56% in First 4 Months 2010

(ANSAmed) — BEIRUT, MAY 28 — In the first 4 months 2010, according to data from the Engineers’ Association of Beirut and Tripoli, reported by the ICE (Italian Trade Commission), building permits approved in Lebanon were for 5.1 million square metres, with a 56.5% increase compared to the same period in 2009. From a geographic point of view, the Mount Lebanon area has weighed 55.0% on total permits issued, followed by northern Lebanon with 15.2%, southern Lebanon with 14.6%, Beirut with 8.6% and the Bekaa Valley with 6.3%. Confirming this extremely positive trend in the Lebanon’s building sector, is also data relating to cement deliveries which, in first quarter 2010, marked a 17.7% increase. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Mother’s Example Boosts Girls’ Education in Eastern Turkish Village

An eastern village where girls were typically pulled out of school after the fifth grade just a decade ago now has full enrollment of female students thanks to the model set by one local mother.

When her oldest daughter, Dilek, was a schoolgirl 10 years ago, Cahide Vanli broke with tradition in Açikyol village and sent her to the regional boarding school in Muradiye, some seven kilometers away.

Today, all girls in the 70-house village, located close to the Muradiye district of the eastern province of Van, continue their education past the first few years.

“Up until 10 years ago, the girls in the village would stay home after the fifth grade. I made great efforts for the education of my daughter and brought her to the district and put her in a dormitory,” said Vanli, the mother of three daughters and three sons. “After elementary school, she also went to high school, but I could not send her to university due to our [financial] situation.”

In addition to covering Dilek’s educational expenses by working in farming, Vanli also had to make great efforts to convince her husband, Hamdi Vanli, to allow the girl to become the first in the village to continue her schooling.

“I am pleased to have sent my children to school despite the tough conditions. Right now, one of my daughters and one of my sons are attending university and my youngest child is in the eighth grade,” she said, adding that Dilek and her two other siblings got married after high school. “All I want is to see my daughters express themselves independently without the need for their partners when they go anywhere, even in something as simple as going to the hospital.”

A model for others

Vanli’s decision paved the way for the continuation of girls’ education in Açikyol, as other villagers started to allow their daughters to go on to further schooling as well.

“Meeting women, I explained to them the benefits of getting an education,” Vanli said. “As a result of my initiatives, now all the girls in the village receive an education.”

Today, Vanli happily reported, 75 of the 128 students at the local school are girls.

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

Stop Plunder of River Jordan to Save Dead Sea

(ANSAmed) — TEL AVIV, MAY 28 — If the Dead Sea is to be saved from the slow process of drying out with which it is being threatened, rather than the giant project involving a canal connecting it to the Red Sea, as has been outlined by a World Bank study, it would suffice to put an end to the plunder of waters from the River Jordan, especially on the part of Israel and of Syria. This is the finding of a study conducted by the ecological research group, ‘Friends of the Earth-Middle East’, an institution based in Tel Aviv with separate branches in Bethlehem (West Bank) and Amman. The Dead Sea-Red Sea project would be expensive and would have a devastating impact on biodiversity in an area that is unique for its religious, historical and naturalistic worth, the environmentalists claim. Without taking into account that the project is stuck at a simple “feasibility study” level commissioned by the World Bank. To carry it through, “something in the order of five billion dollars would be needed and twenty years of time”, says Gideon Bromberg, Director of ‘Friends of the Earth-Middle East’. The organisation argues that a much more cost-effective solution should be favoured, and one that is much more heedful of the environment, such as intervention on the causes of the drying out of the River Jordan, which links the Dead Sea to the Sea of Galilee, whose impoverishment is having a negative effect on both basins. An intervention on the river — which is a strategic one for the region and dear to the memories of Christians, Jews and Moslems — would be technically simple, in Bromberg’s view, even though it would require will, a willingness to compromise, bureaucratic flexibility and a sense of solidarity. In fact, it would involve pumping 400,000 cubic metres of water from clean sources into the Jordan, which once carried 1.3 billion cubic metres of water and fed a fertile flood plain, but which is in many places little more than a highly saline slimy trickle. At the same time, the drain on its life-blood by which 98% of its waters are currently siphoned off, without any regulatory control, for agricultural and domestic use, would have to be stopped. According to the Tel Aviv based researches, it is Israel that helps itself to the lion’s share, “deviating 46.47%”, a part of which goes to the far from insignificant Jewish settlements (illegal developments, in the eyes of the international community) on the West Bank. Syria is in second place, taking 25%, while Jordan takes around 23%, leaving a modes 5% for the Palestinian Territories. The about-turn suggested by ‘Friends of the Earth’ would involve a new water-saving strategy accompanied by a new share-out of the spoils, substantially reducing the amount taken by Israel, followed by that of Syria, while the amount going to the Palestinians would be increased. The ecologist group intends to promote this strategy by putting pressure on the Israeli government — which would not benefit from seeing the Jordan “reduced to a puddle” as well as on the World Bank. In this they are pointing to “change of mind-set” that still has some way to go.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Syria: No to Electric/Hybrid Car Taxation

(ANSAmed) — ROME, MAY 25 — Syria more attentive to environmental issues. In fact, Syrian President Bashar-el-Assad, has recently issued a decree for the tax-exemption of electric and hybrid cars. The objective of this measure, reports website, is to promote the importation of ‘clean’ cars in view of a renewal of the still too obsolete car fleet of the Middle Eastern country.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

The Mevlevi Dervishes of Konya

(ANSAmed) — ROME, MAY 24 — The Sufi brotherhood — the mystic movement of Islam — of the Dervishes was founded in the 13th century by the great Turkish mystic Mevlana Caleddin Rumi. The members of the brotherhood, on their difficult road to ascesis and salvation, have to give up all forms of luxury. In the field of mysticism the term ‘dervish’ (from the Persian ‘door seeker’) has taken on the meaning of people looking for the passage, the doorway, from the material world to a heavenly paradise. The Samà (in Turkish ‘Sema’), the ‘dance of ecstasy’, which the Mevlevi Dervishes perform, symbolises the spiritual ascent — the mystical journey from human being to God — in which the being fades away to return to Earth. A group of musicians and singers (metrep) participate in the rite, as well as the Maestro (shaykh of the Mevlevihane), the dance leader and the dancers. All are dressed in white with a black cape. The Mevlevi centre of deviation is in Konya, Turkey, a city in the inlands of Anatolia, where the founder lived and taught. Outlawed, like all Dervish orders, in 1925 after the rise of Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey who did admire Mevlana, the Mevlevi were rehabilitated in 1950. However it took until the ‘80s to see a real rebirth. To commemorate Caleddin Rumi, a large mausoleum has been built in Konya, the resting place of his remains and those of other great Dervishes. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Russia: Controversy Around the Feast of Saints Cyril and Methodius, Celebrated by Both State and Church

In the last few years, the commemoration of the inventors of the Cyrillic alphabet has drawn rulers’ attention, including those of Ukraine and Belarus. Sumptuous ceremonies by the Orthodox Church and government’s involvement have led some to see the celebration as embodying the ills of the country.

Moscow (AsiaNews) —Moscow was clogged with huge traffic jams yesterday because of Alphabet Day, causing many workers on their way to work to complain. A one of a kind event, the festivity was established in 1991 to honour Cyril and Methodius, 9th century Orthodox saints who devised the Cyrillic alphabet, and celebrate Slavic writing and culture. Its growing importance also marks the growing symbiotic relationship between the Russian state and the Russian Orthodox Church

The Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I came to Moscow for the occasion, in a sign of closer ties between the two Patriarchates. He and Kirill co-celebrated the liturgy at Saint Saviour Cathedral.

A throng of 40,000 people, children, students and parents, descended on central Moscow, waving Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusian flags, sporting banners reading, “Think About Russia’s Future.”

But not everyone saw yesterday’s event in a positive light; for some, it is the symbol of the ills that trouble the country.

“Such sumptuous celebrations fix the image problems,” said Alexei Mukhin, an analyst with the Centre for Political Information, “but the fact that they disrupt the work of public transportation and increase state spending is absolutely ignored.”

The feast day of Cyril and Methodius has never been so lavishly celebrated in the recent past. Roman Lunkin, director of the Centre of Religion and Law, said the church has pushed the state to increase the role of the holiday.

“Shortly after his election [in January 2009], Kirill announced that it would become a national holiday instead of a local one. Recently it has been said that the holiday should be celebrated abroad, too,” Lunkin said.

Prime Minister Putin has always said that Russian civilisation should be revived, and the church can play a significant role in this. However, Patriarch Kirill recently dismissed allegations that he wants the Russian Orthodox Church recognised as “state Church”.

“The Church is separated from the state,” he told To Vima, a Greek newspaper, “but not from the people.” In his view, for top officials to turn to the Orthodox religion is not “a political step” but a deliberate move in search of “God’s help and leadership”.

Whatever the case, religion and politics are increasingly crossing paths in Russian public life.

The day dedicated to the monks who secure the evangelisation of Russia not only gave the government an opportunity to show off its social and economic achievements, it also gave Kirill an opportunity to welcome the Ecumenical Patriarch and repay him for the hospitality he received whilst visiting Turkey.

Bartholomew arrived in Moscow on Saturday on an official visit until 31 May. Given the relative long duration of his visit to Russia, Bartholomew appears set on deepening the dialogue with his Muscovite host.

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

South Asia

India: Death Toll Rises in ‘Maoist’ Train Attack

Kolkata, 28 May (AKI/IANS) — The death toll from the train collision in eastern India rose to 71 on Friday. About 200 others were injured when a Mumbai-bound passenger train was derailed in an apparent act of sabotage and rammed by a goods train in West Bengal.

The Calcutta-Mumbai train derailed overnight in West Bengal where a section of track had been removed.

The state police chief said about half a metre of track was missing where the train jumped the tracks and that Maoists had claimed responsibility for the attack.

It was the third major attack on trains by leftist rebels since February this year. They claim to be fighting for the poor and the landless in eastern and central India.

Railway officials said the bodies of 71 persons had been recovered from the train wreckage late Friday.

“The toll could rise,” West Bengal home secretary Samar Ghosh said in Kolkata, nearly 155 km from the accident.

Several hours after the accident, scores of passengers remained trapped in the mangled wreckage of the train that derailed just a few hours after it left Kolkata.

Many passengers were seriously injured as a goods train coming from the opposite direction rammed the derailed train.

The Indian Air Force and other security agencies launched a massive rescue operation and helicopters and medical team pressed into service at the accident site.

Police found two posters attributed to the Maoist-backed People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCPA) apparently claiming responsibility for the sabotage.

Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee said unambiguously from the accident site that “it is a bomb blast case”.

“It appears to be a case of sabotage where a portion of the railway track was removed. Whether explosives were used is not yet clear,” home minister P. Chidambaram said in a statement.

The accident took place even though West Bengal and four other states — Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Orissa and Jharkhand — were on high alert.

Maoist guerrillas had announced a “black week” from midnight on Thursday to protest against an ongoing security operation against them.

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

India: Infant Mortality Drops 5 Per Cent in India

In 2010, under-5 mortality is expected to drop to 7.7 million worldwide. In 1990, it stood at 12 million. The Catholic Church is the second largest health care provider in India. It runs 5,000 health care facilities, 70 per cent in the poorest and remotest areas of the country.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) — Under-5 mortality has dropped by 4-5 per cent annually in India, this according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) of the University of Washington, which recently released a study of 187 countries, covering the 1970-2009 period.

Scientists expect 7.7 million children under five to die this year, down from nearly 12 million in 1990. They include 3.1 million neonatals, 2.3 million post-neonatals and 2.3 million deaths of children aged one to four.

Worldwide under-5 mortality has been cut by 35 per cent since 1990 with an annual average drop of 2 per cent. This still falls short of the 4.4 per cent deemed necessary to meet the United Nations target of cutting infant mortality by two thirds by 2015.

At present, only 31 developing countries are on track to meet the Millennium Development Goal of reducing child deaths by 66 per cent between 1990 and 2015. However, scientists note a significant improvement across the board.

In 1990, 12 countries had an under-5 mortality rate of more than 200 deaths per 1,000 live births. Today, no country has an under-5 mortality rate that high, despite persistent large-scale poverty and deprivation.

For its part, India has met UN targets. The study found that 20 fewer children per 1,000 live births (before the 28th day) are dying now compared to 1990. In the case of post-neonatal deaths, India is now losing 15 fewer lives per 1,000 live births than it did in 1990. Among children aged 1 to 4 years, nearly 30 fewer children are dying now than 20 years back.

Sister Georgina, director of the Holy Cross Hospital in Ambikapur, Chattisgarh (central India), spoke to AsiaNews about the role of the Church, through its health care services, in cutting neo-natal and child mortality.

The nun, who has been involved in the health care sector since the late 1960s, founded the Raigarh Ambikapur Health Association (RAHA).

“In those days, 1968, we had to travel on foot to the most interior areas to provide medical help to the villagers who were steeped in ignorance, poverty, malnutrition and superstition”.

“We established 96 health centres in remote rural areas—which were absolutely inaccessible. With no government support, we were able to bring medical care and reduce infant mortality.”

“The Church,” she said, “is the second largest health care provided after the government”.

It runs 5,000 health care facilities, 70 per cent of which are located in some of the remotest and most inaccessible corners of the country; inspired by Mother Teresa, whose motto was “Caring for the poorest among the poor”.

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

Indonesia: West Aceh Police Checkpoints and Raids Against Jeans and Tight Skirts

Since yesterday, police special forces for the implementation of sharia on women and girls of the city of Meulaboh to cover the offending clothing with tunics in accordance with Islam. Police bring more than 20 thousand coats to be distributed free in public places. Controversy of moderate Muslims and human rights activists.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) — The women of the District of West Aceh can no longer wear jeans or tight skirts, considered indecent and against Islam. From yesterday in the city of Meulaboh, Wilayatul Hisbah (special police for the enforcement of Sharia), are patrolling the streets forcing people wearing the offending clothing to wear a tunic tailored to Islamic rules. The restrictions also affect men, who can not wear shorts in the tropical country.

Ramli Mansur, head of the district, said: “To enforce the Sharia, for the next days the special police will carry out raids against women who offend Islamic law.” He adds that agents have purchased more than 20 thousand coats to be distributed in public places and created a series of checkpoints along the roads to the city to stop travellers.

The manoeuvre is the result of the new rules for the application of Islamic law introduced in December 2009. It has attracted the criticism from moderate Muslims and human rights activists, who see the application of Islamic law as a form of terrorism.

The province of Aceh, a famous tourist destination, is also the province where Sharia law is applied. In recent years the majority of Islamic restrictions were applied at the behest of Islamic religious authority. The current governor Irwandy Jusuf is a former leader of Free Aceh Movement Group (GAM), a movement for the independence of the island and over the years has always opposed the application of Sharia in the province. (M.H.)

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

Pakistan: Sect Leaders Demand Protection After Deadly Attacks

Lahore, 29 May (AKI) — Leaders of Pakistan’s minority Ahmadi sect demanded greater government protection Saturday as they buried the victims of a deadly Taliban attack on two of the group’s mosques. At least 80 people were killed and 100 others wounded on Friday when the prayer halls packed with hundreds of worshippers were attacked in the eastern city of Lahore.

Two teams of gunmen, including some in suicide vests, stormed the mosques and sprayed bullets at worshippers in near simultaneous attacks.

According to Pakistani daily Dawn, at least seven men, including three suicide bombers, were involved in the attacks but only two of the militants were captured.

It was the first time militants have deployed gun and suicide squads and taken hostages in a coordinated attack on a religious minority in Pakistan.

Shia Muslims have borne the brunt of individual suicide bombings and targeted killings for years, although Christians and Ahmadis have also faced violence.

Ahmadis have experienced years of state-sanctioned discrimination and occasional attacks by radical Sunni Muslims in Pakistan, but never in such a coordinated way.

The Friday attacks took place in the Model Town and Garhi Shahu neighbourhoods of Lahore, Pakistan’s second-largest city.

The assault at Model Town was relatively brief, and involved four attackers spraying worshippers with bullets before exploding hand grenades, said Sajjad Bhutta, Lahore’s deputy commissioner.

Several kilometres away at Garhi Shahu, the siege lasted around four hours.

Luqman Ahmad, 36, was sitting and waiting for prayers to start when he heard gunshots and then an explosion.

“It was like a war going on around me. The cries I heard sent chills down my spine,” Ahmad said. “I kept on praying that may God save me from this hell.”

After police commandos announced the attackers had died, he stood to see bodies and blood everywhere.

“I cannot understand what logic these terrorists have by attacking worshippers, and harmless people like us,” he said.

An initial investigation found that one detained suspect was from southern Punjab but had studied at a religious school in Karachi, Punjab’s law minister said.

Religious muslim leaders have accused Ahmadis of defying the basic tenet of Islam that says Mohammed was the final prophet, but Ahmadis argue their leader was the saviour rather than a prophet.

Under pressure from hardliners, the government in declared the Ahmadis a non-Muslim minority in the 1970s. They are prohibited from calling themselves Muslims or engaging in Muslim practices such as reciting Islamic prayers.

A US-based Ahmadi spokesman, Waseem Sayed, said the community abhors violence and was deeply concerned about the attacks. He estimated Pakistan, a country of 180 million, had around 5 million Ahmadis.

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

Pakistan: UN Rights Experts Call for Religious Freedom

New York, 29 May (AKI) — Three United Nations human rights experts have called on the Pakistani Government to ensure the safety of religious minorities after the violent attacks on the Ahmadi minority in the eastern city of Lahore on Friday.

The independent experts — Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief Asma Jahangir, Independent Expert on minority issues Gay McDougall and Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions Philip Alston — report to the UN Human Rights Council.

In a statement they said that numerous early warning signs had not been properly heeded before the deadly attacks on the two prayer halls.

“Members of this religious community have faced continuous threats, discrimination and violent attacks in Pakistan,” the experts said in a joint statement on the attack, which was also condemned by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

The attacks occurred during Friday prayers, when gunmen armed with grenades attacked two Ahmadi mosques in the city of Lahore. At least 80 people were killed and scores of others were injured.

In Pakistan and elsewhere, Ahmadis have been declared non-Muslims and have been subject to restrictions and in many instances institutionalised discrimination.

This emboldens opinion makers who wish to fuel hatred and perpetrators of attacks against religious minorities, the experts said.

“There is a real risk that similar violence might happen again unless advocacy of religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence is adequately addressed,” they stressed.

“The government must take every step to ensure the security of members of all religious minorities and their places of worship so as to prevent any recurrence of today’s dreadful incident,” they declared.

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

Pakistan: Eighty Dead in Gun Battles at Mosques as ‘Islamic Militants’ Attack Worshippers in Lahore

Islamic militants are locked in gun battles with Pakistani security forces after storming two mosques packed with worshippers.

At least 80 people were killed, and 125 wounded in what is believed to be the worst attack ever against the Ahmadi sect and saw for the first time pro-Taliban militants using gun and suicide squads side-by-side against civilians in Pakistan.

Up to 2,000 worshippers are believed to have been in the two Ahmadi mosques in Lahore, Pakistan’s second city, when two groups of at least seven gunmen and three suicide bombers struck as the traditional Friday prayers ended in the Model Town and Garhi Shuha neighbourhoods.

Last night the Tehrik-e-Taliban Punjab wing, which last year claimed responsibility for an attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in the city, said it carried out the dual raids.

Witnesses said gunmen ran into the mosques, which are 10 miles apart, throwing grenades at worshippers and opening fire indiscriminately.

Luqman Ahmad, 36, was sitting and waiting for prayers to start when he heard gunshots and then an explosion. He quickly lay down and closed his eyes.

‘It was like a war going on around me. The cries I heard sent chills down my spine,’ Ahmad said. ‘I kept on praying that may God save me from this hell.’

Last night with gun battles continuing, fears grew that the death toll would rise significantly.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Far East

Behind the Axis: The North Korean Connection

by Jonathan Spyer

North Korean spokesmen reacted furiously last week to claims by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman that Pyongyang is supplying weapons technology to Iran and Syria. Representatives of the regime of Kim Jong-Il described Lieberman as an “imbecile.” The official Korean Central News Agency in a memorable phrase accused the foreign minister in an official statement of “faking up sheer lies.”

The indignant denials notwithstanding, recent studies indicate that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, as North Korea is officially known, is indeed playing a crucial but little remarked upon role in facilitating the arming of the Iran-led regional axis, including in the area of weapons of mass destruction. The North Korean role is multifaceted, and evidence has emerged of direct links to terror organizations such as Hizbullah and extensive strategic relations with both Iran and Syria…

           — Hat tip: Barry Rubin[Return to headlines]

China: Foxconn Suicides: Families Seek Compensation From the Firm

Alienating work conditions held responsible. The company insists that it is the working conditions in all Chinese factories. While media and public opinion are uncertain, Beijing begins investigations into the causes of suicides.

Beijing (AsiaNews / Agencies) — Foxconn insists that the spate of suicides among its workers (13 attempted suicides and 11 deaths alone in 2010) is a result of social problems and not alienating work conditions and refuses to compensate victim’s relatives. But the victim’s families are insisting that responsibilities be investigated. Public opinion has bgun to question the Chinese model of development.

The Taiwan Company, a world leader in the manufacture of electronic and computer parts, insists that the working conditions in the Longhua (Shenzhen) factory are the same as those in many companies in China. A spokesperson expressed “understanding” for the great loss the families of suicide victims and offered “decent consolation money,” but clarified that “we have not broken any law. We will not pay any compensation”.

The victims are young people from poor rural China, who came in search of a better future for themselves and their families, who have now been left without the main breadwinner. Their angered relatives, say that although suicides occur in factories around the country, this does not eliminate the responsibility of Foxconn, given the working conditions (shifts of 12 consecutive hours with 30 minutes to eat and 10 minutes to go to the bathroom, forbidden to even talk among the workers, a strict almost military discipline even in the dorms and cafeteria, a ban on discussing orders of superiors and severe public rebukes) and the chain of suicides.

Chinese law provides for the obligation of compensation for accidents at work, but there are no specific provisions for the suicides. In 2009, the company offered 300 thousand Yuan to the parents of Sun Danyong, who committed suicide after being suspected of having stolen a prototype iPhone.

Now Foxconn is promising salary increases of approximately 20% to 200 thousand of the 400 thousand factory workers. But analysts point out that behind the story of these poor suicide victims, much more is at stake: the Chinese system of authorities and multinational companies who invest their wealth in the exploitation of migrant workers treated like animals for poor wages (the wage is at Foxconn is about 900 Yuan per month, about 90 Euros) is now under attack

Beijing knows this and is running for cover: a team led by Yin Weimin, Minister of Human Resources and Social Security has been at work in the factory since yesterday, to determine the causes of suicide. Even the Shenzhen City Hall has sent an inspection team. Meanwhile, the Office for Labour and Social Security and the Chinese Trade Union talk of creating local offices to address the distress of young workers. No authority has yet spoken of reviewing conditions and working hours. In addition, the Chinese government has asked all Chinese media to tone down reports on working conditions at Foxconn and reduce the space given to news about suicides.

Meanwhile, in Taipei rights activists protested outside the headquarters of Foxconn, demaning more humane working conditions for Chinese workers.

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

Chinese Factory Under Scrutiny as Suicides Mount

The massive Foxconn factory in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen is known for assembling famous electronic goods like Apple’s iPhone and iPad. But in recent months it has gained a darker image, as a place where distraught workers regularly throw themselves to their deaths. The latest fatality came on Tuesday morning, when a 19-year-old employee died in a fall in the company’s Shenzhen compound, according to the state-run Xinhua news service. He was the ninth worker this year to have died in a fall from factory buildings on Foxconn’s properties in Shenzhen; two have survived suicide attempts, according to state-media reports. Another teenager, who the company revealed this month died after jumping from a company building in Hebei province in January, brings the total employee death toll from falls to 10 this year.

The string of deaths has drawn attention to the labor practices of a highly successful Fortune 500 company that has 420,000 workers on its payroll in Shenzhen alone. Two dozen activists protested outside the company’s Hong Kong offices on Tuesday, calling on Foxconn to improve working conditions and raise wages. The Taiwan-owned company, which is an arm of the Hon Hai Group, has defended the treatment of its workers. “A lot of things cannot be said at this point, but we are quietly doing our job,” CEO Terry Gou told a business forum on Monday. With over 900,000 employees globally in the Hon Hai Group, Gou acknowledged the difficulties of employee management. “But,” he said, “we are confident we will get things under control shortly.” (See portraits of Chinese workers.)

Working conditions at Foxconn’s factories have been under scrutiny for years. The attention was heightened in 2009 when 25-year-old employee Sun Danyong, who had been accused by management of losing an iPhone prototype, jumped to his death from his apartment in Shenzhen. Chinese press reports said Sun, who grew up in a poor village in Yunnan province and attended the top-rated Harbin Institute of Technology, might have been physically abused by company security guards searching for the missing device.

Like Sun, the Foxconn workers who died this year have all been young, ranging in age from 18 to 24. The cases all differ, but there are common themes. “They feel a sense of pressure — pressure to make more money, pressure to work harder, pressure from family or difficulties in personal relationships,” says Geoffrey Crothall, an editor for the China Labour Bulletin, a Hong Kong—based workers rights’ group. Experts say suicides can happen in clusters, with people in a group influenced by earlier incidents. (See pictures of China’s internal migrants.)

The dead have all been migrant workers, and for many Foxconn was their first job. The company pays most of its assembly-line workers in Shenzhen the city’s minimum wage of $130 a month, and many work significant overtime hours in order to maximize their incomes. “The work [at Foxconn] is long, monotonous and boring,” says Liu Kaiming, a labor researcher and executive director of the Shenzhen-based Institute of Contemporary Observation. “The speed is very fast and you can’t slow down, for 10 hours a day at the minimum. You can see how someone could easily become numb and turn into a machine.”

After hours, many workers live in on-site dormitories, where heavy staff turnover makes long-lasting personal connections impossible. That combination — long workdays and a minimal social safety net — leaves vulnerable young workers with few places to turn, says Liu. “Foxconn has 420,000 people; in the U.S. that would be a big city. Even in China that would be a big city, but it’s a city without any families. Everyone is working. They live in a dormitory for seven months and don’t know their own roommates’ names.”

[Return to headlines]

Japan — United States: Tokyo, The U.S. Base Remains on the Island of Okinawa

The agreement reached after a phone call between Prime Minister Hatoyama and President Barack Obama. It will be moved from the urban area to the coastal region of Henok, in the south. Criticism of the mayor of the city: the prime minister has “betrayed the people of Okinawa.”

Tokyo (AsiaNews / Agencies) — The military base remains on the island of Okinawa, despite the firm opposition of the local population. It has been agreed between Japan and the United States, ending a dispute that has jeopardized diplomatic relations between two historic allies. In the joint statement explaining that the Futenma air base military will move — as under the 2006 draft — from the current urban area to the coastal region of Henok, in the south.

The announcement was made today — just days before the deadline set for May 31 — following a phone call between Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, and U.S. President Barack Obama. Last year, the Japanese Prime Minister, on coming to power, had claimed a “more equal” relationship between Tokyo and Washington. However, unable to find a satisfactory solution he was forced to give in to his U.S. ally.

Consensus for the executive has dropped from approximately 70% of last year, to 20% in recent days. Susumu Inamine, Mayor of Nago (the city that includes the territory of Henok) and staunch opponent of the Marine base, accuses Hatoyama of “betraying the people of Okinawa” and is maintaining his staunch opposition: no negotiations with Tokyo.

For some time the U.S. air base in Okinawa has raised the protests of the islanders, who complain about noise, environmental pollution, the risk of accidents and collisions. In addition there are tensions with the U.S. service personnel, which in some cases border on violence: in 1995, three Americans raped a local girl of only 12 years of age.

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

Sub-Saharan Africa

I Fervently Pray That the World Cup Will Bring Real Hope to This Benighted Country. So Why the Heavy Heart?

Arriving at Cape Town airport — renovated at enormous expense for the World Cup, which kicks off here in less than a fortnight — my eye was caught by a newspaper story.

Headlined ‘Be good — just for four weeks, pleads Zuma’, it was a rather desperate-sounding appeal from South Africa’s President, urging the many villains in his crime-ravaged country to suspend the murder, rape and plunder, if only for the duration of the tournament.

It didn’t sound much to ask. After all, this is the first time an African nation has been trusted to stage the planet’s biggest sporting spectacle, and more than 400,000 visiting fans plus a global TV audience of 26 billion will be watching to see whether it measures up to the task.


Barricaded behind a high wall in his smart, white Cape Town suburb, however, Smiley van Zyl, a 55-year-old skincare company owner, has one question: ‘How does jacking up World Cup security for a few weeks help people like me?’

More than 18 months ago, his wife of 33 years was shot dead by a car hijacking gang as she waited for the electronic gate at their home to open.

It tells us much about South Africa’s justice system that the first time her 25-year-old alleged killer was supposed to appear in court, officials forgot to collect him from prison.

And, incredibly, it has since been revealed that he was on bail at the time of the shooting — even though he faced 156 charges, including a string of armed robberies and attempted murder.

I’m told that most accused are able to obtain bail for a few rand no matter how serious the offence. Many then abscond, or bribe police officers to ‘lose’ their files so the case has to be dropped.

The townships are run by ruthless gangs such as the one thought to have killed Mrs van Zyl.

The suburb of Athlone is dominated by two of the most notorious: the Americans, an old established mob, and their upstart young rivals the Playboys.

They are battling to control the trade in two drugs that are endemic here, a form of crack cocaine called ‘unga’, and ‘tik’ the local name for crystal meth.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Calif. College Offers Scholarship to Illegal Immigrants

A public community college in California has set up a scholarship fund for immigrant students — including illegal immigrants. The $2,500 scholarship has sparked anger by some, including at least one lawmaker who is threatening to cut off federal funding to the school.

Orange County’s Santa Ana College says the controversial new memorial scholarship will be funded by private donations and honors former student Tan Ngoc Tran, a student leader and immigrant-rights activist who transferred to Brown University before she was killed by a drunk driver on May 15.

Students eligible for the new scholarship must have a 3.0 or higher grade point average, demonstrate a financial need and must also be trying to become an American citizen. Those eligible include students holding green cards, students who have permanent residency — and illegal, undocumented immigrants.

The scholarship was announced by the Santa Ana College Foundation at an informal memorial service for Tran held at Santa Ana College on Wednesday, said Laurie Weidner, spokeswoman for the Rancho Santiago Community College District, which governs Santa Ana College.

Weidner repeatedly emphasized to that no public funds would be used for the scholarship.

But Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., whose district includes the taxpayer-funded Santa Ana College, says that isn’t quite true — because the scholarship diverts resources from Americans in need of education funds.

“The fact that a public employee of a public college is seeking to circumvent immigration laws is problematic,” he told “The fact that it’s being associated with a public institution means there’s public funds involved: If you have a fund being operated by public employees, it’s public.”

He said he could not believe that a college would announce such a scholarship at a time when the majority of Americans has increased concerns about security threats along the U.S.-Mexico border.

[Return to headlines]

Immigration Rallies Drawing Crowds to Phoenix

PHOENIX (AP) — Organizers of a boycott of Arizona over the state’s new immigration law called for a one-day suspension Saturday as they bused in people from across the country for a rally at the state Capitol.

Supporters plan a rally of their own at a Tempe baseball stadium, encouraging like-minded Americans to “buycott” Arizona by planning vacations in the state.

The dueling events are expected to draw thousands. In San Francisco, groups planned to protest at the Arizona Diamondbacks’ game against the Giants Saturday evening.

Critics of the law, set to take effect July 29, say it unfairly targets Hispanics and could lead to racial profiling. Its supporters say Arizona is trying to enforce immigration laws because the federal government has failed to do so.

The law requires that police conducting traffic stops or questioning people about possible legal violations ask them about their immigration status if there is “reasonable suspicion” that they’re in the country illegally. Reasonable suspicion is not defined.

“Arizona has become the testing ground for the most draconian and anti-immigrant legislation in the country,” said Pablo Alvarado, executive director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network.

Some opponents of the law have encouraged people to cancel conventions in the state and avoid doing business with Arizona-based companies, hoping the economic pressure forces lawmakers to repeal the law.

But Alfredo Gutierrez, chairman of the boycott committee of Hispanic civil rights group Somos America, said the boycott doesn’t apply to people coming to resist the law. Opponents said they had secured warehouse space for 5,000 people to sleep on cots instead of staying in hotels.

They’re calling on President Barack Obama to order immigration authorities to refuse to take custody of illegal immigrants turned over under Arizona’s law.

Supporters of the law sought to counteract the economic damage of boycotts by bringing supporters into the state.

“Arizona, we feel, is America’s Alamo in the fight against illegal and dangerous entry into the United States,” said Gina Loudon of St. Louis, who is organizing the “buycott.”“Our border guards and all of Arizona law enforcement are the undermanned, under-gunned, taxed-to-the-limit front-line defenders trying to hold back the invasion.”

The law also makes it a state crime to be in the country illegally or to impede traffic while hiring day laborers, regardless of the worker’s immigration status.

           — Hat tip: Takuan Seiyo[Return to headlines]

Italy: Turin Migrants Sense Shifting Mood

Change comes slowly in Italy and just as the industrial city of Turin is establishing itself as the country’s most progressive urban administration tackling integration issues, the tide of immigration may be starting to recede.

Evidence is anecdotal for the moment, but it appears that at least among the Moroccan community — the largest group of non-European Union immigrants, numbering some 30,000 in Turin — people are packing their bags and going home.

The economic crisis is biting and jobs are much harder to find. On top of that, new legislation makes it harder for immigrants to renew their residence permits, and the xenophobic Northern League, a hardline coalition ally in the centre-right government, is resurgent following its sweeping gains in regional elections last month.

Abdelaziz Khounati, the Moroccan president of an Islamic association that has the green light to build a mosque in Turin, reels off a list of cities where the Northern League has blocked similar projects, sometimes threatening to walk pigs across the land to desecrate it.

“First the League campaigned against the southern Italians who migrated to Turin decades ago, then it was foreigners in general. Now it is Muslims,” he says, standing in the large empty building, part of which used to be a Chinese-run clothing workshop, where the new Misericordioso (Merciful) mosque is taking shape.

It will be only Italy’s second formally recognised mosque after Rome’s, funded by the Moroccan government. For the moment Muslims across Italy worship in “cultural centres”, sometimes no more than a garage or a basement.

“We stand for an open, integrated, multicultural society where all people’s rights are respected,” he says. An Islamic cultural centre will be opened next to the mosque, promoting studies, social initiatives and inter-faith dialogue.

“The mosque has been a war of nerves,” says Ilda Curti, city councillor for integration under Sergio Chiamparino, Turin’s popular leftwing mayor, as she describes how the Northern League has tried but ultimately failed to exploit legal loopholes to block the city-backed project.

Turin, described by the United Nations as a best practice model in Italy, has focused on integration in schools and runs a scheme giving immigrant youths the chance to work as volunteer social workers, bending the rules to ensure they keep their residency.

But Ms Curti says difficulties in obtaining Italian citizenship are also driving away young and talented immigrants who have come through school but now face insurmountable barriers. The “medieval corporativism” of many professional associations makes citizenship a condition of membership.

The Northern League’s victory at the polls last month — where it defeated the centre-left administration in Turin’s surrounding region of Piemonte — is further bad news for immigrants. The League intends to strip non-Italians of their access to unemployment benefits, a feature unique to Piemonte, even though some have been paying their taxes for years.

Mohammad Mouharba was among the first wave of migrants in 1989, when Italy offered jobs and residence permits. Mr Mouharba now runs a popular bakery specialising in Arab and Italian pastries on the edge of Porta Palazzo, Europe’s largest open-air market where many fruit and vegetable stalls are run by Moroccans.

People he has known for years are going home, unable to renew their residence permits. “They expel you if you have no work. This is inhumane,” he says. “With the League it will get worse.”

His two children, aged 18 and 15, have Italian citizenship and are “more Italian than Moroccan”, he says. “But you always remain an immigrant here.”


The San Salvario model

Whereas Turin’s Porta Palazzo neighbourhood has been unable to shake off its bad reputation, La Stampa reports that San Salvario, which was once though of as “a magnet for immigrants” characterised by “poverty, drug dealing and slumlords,” is increasingly viewed as a model for social integration. According to the Turin daily, “urban redevelopment and the commitment of local residents motivated by a strong sense of belonging” have transformed the neighbourhood. Today “there are still plenty of immigrants working in San Salvario, but the number who actually live there has declined now that the cost of homes in the area has climbed in response to an influx of young professionals, artists, craftsmen, and the opening of new restaurants and leisure facilities.” However, La Stampa notes that immigrant communities are still defined by professional specialisations along national lines: “Romanians predominate in construction, Egyptians in the restaurant industry, and Peruvians in home-help and care-giver jobs.”

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

Libya-Italy Measures Stop Traditional Routes

(ANSAmed) — TRIPOLI, MAY 27 — The start-up of new measures fight irregular immigration set up by Rome and Tripoli has led to “a transition phase” where “there are as yet no new alternative routes to Libya”, even if there are rumours of a new route across Israel, ‘obviously very dangerous and not susceptible for use on a large scale”. Tracing this picture of the situation is a privileged observer, Laurence Hart, Representative of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) which operates throughout the Libyan territory. Hart — who had the opportunity of an exchange of information with the delegation of the Parliamentary Committee for Schengen-Europol led by Margherita Boniver on a visit to Tripoli — says that “it is clear that rejections have aggravated the problem of overcrowding in the centres”. However, the IOM exponent said he is convinced that “violations of human rights by Libya in the irregular-refugee centres, alleged by various International organisations do not respond to a strategy of the Libyan Government, but are linked to the problem of overcrowding and to what is at times “a not very rational management’“ of the centres. “There is certainly in Libya”, said Hart, “a political will to exercise a control over the territory and along the coast and there is also the fact that the country is negotiating a cooperation agreement with the EU and consequently wants to show its reliability”. Libya has a “pragmatic approach”, said Hart. As it did not sign the 1951 Geneva Convention, Libya therefore does not contemplate the right of asylum, and does not have procedures or structures for its recognition, however, it follows a pragmatic approach toward certain Sudanese and Palestinians: it assigns them a “stay permit” not dissimilar to that given to so-called economic migrants. With the help of the international agencies Libya, said Hart, is attempting to “rationalise the running of 18 centres on its territory”, for example, by reserving some only for women, such as the one in Zawia, or others only for classification purposes such as Twisha. With regard to the new Libyan law which defines the crime of trade in irregulars, the IOM representative mentioned this “very important step forward”. Even though, he remarked, “the problem remains its application, that is, the measure in which the Government will be able to apply it”.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Culture Wars

Abortion: Spain, RU486 at Home Against Hospital Collapse

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, MAY 26 — The Healthcare councillor’s office of Catalonia will start to promote the use of the RU-486 pill as means of voluntary termination of pregnancy at home, to avoid the collapse of the hospital system when the abortion reform comes into force on July 5. The pill can be used until the end of the seventh week of pregnancy. The new law on sexual and reproductive health, which legalises abortion within the 14th week of pregnancy, for the first time includes the option of voluntary interruption of pregnancy — so far in 98% of cases carried out in private clinics — in public institutes, the same as other kinds of treatments. This means that, according to the estimates of the Healthcare councillor’s office quoted today by El Periodico de Catalunya, in Catalonia alone more than 26,000 gynaecologic interventions per year will be added to the current number. Facing a level of demand which the Catalan public structures are not able to deal with, the councillor’s office has decided to offer the RU486 pill to women who want to interrupt pregnancy within the seventh week. This reduces demand for gynaecologic interventions by 50%. RU-486, according to the sources, will be distributed in the 42 existing sexual and reproductive assistance centres in the region, to which people have access through their general practitioner and where women who decide to abort can count on gynaecologists, psychologists and obstetricians for the correct use of the pill and its side-effects. The goal is to promote pharmacological abortion: “A bloodless instrument” according to Joaquin Calaf, head of gynaecologic and obstetric assistance of the Sant Pau hospital in Barcelona, “which women can use at home. It is much less aggressive than an operation, if the pill is taken in the seventh week of pregnancy”. Many of the consulted gynaecologists agree with the move, which should be approved by the council on May 28. “It is clear that the public hospitals are unable to deal with the number of abortions”, head of the general planning direction of the Healthcare councillor’s office Dolores Costa admitted, quoted by the newspaper. Women who use RU486 must take two substances: mifepristone and prostaglandine, which two days later causes the expulsion of the foetus. In order to deal with demand for voluntary abortion, the Generalitat offers women who ask for an interruption of pregnancy within the 7th and 14th month the possibility of an operation in public hospitals and in clinics operating within the national health service.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Abortion: Spain; Doctor Will Decide in Absence of Parental OK

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, MAY 25 — In Spain, doctors will decide if minors aged 17 and 16, who want to have an abortion, may do so without their parents’ consent. This provision is contained in a draft regulation to implement the law on sexual and reproductive health and abortion, approved on February 24 last, which comes into force next July 5. The regulation, cited today by El Pais, states that minors of 16 and 17 years of age may have an abortion, like all other women, by the 14th week of conception, on presentation of a paper giving the informed consensus of at least one parent. In those cases where minors attach a “serious conflict” caused by the decision to have an abortion, standing in the way of obtaining the consensus of a parent or tutor, then it will be the doctor’s decision to authorise the abortion or not, after having requested a report on the situation of the interested parties from a psychologist or a social worker. The regulation to implement the law clarifies one of the greatest items of contention of the abortion reform law, which had been the cause of perplexity and reservations in hospital doctors. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]