Friday, January 10, 2003

News Feed 20100603

Financial Crisis
»America’s 7 Junkiest Cities
»Brussels Sets Out Plans to Regulate Credit Rating Agencies
»Opposition Mounts to Euro Adoption in Sweden
»Turkey’s Trade Deficit for April Doubles
»Doctor-Owned Hospitals Plan Suit on New Health Care Law
»In DC, Even the Spelling Bee Draws Protesters
Europe and the EU
»Bildt on Hand to Welcome Deported Swedes
»Female Judge and Clerk Shot Dead in Court in Belgium
»Immigrant on the Run After Murdering Belgian Judge and Legal Assistant in Courthouse in Row Over Housing Benefitby Paul Thompson
»Italy: Rome ‘Horse Ambulance’ To Help Tourist Steeds in Need
»Italy: Fishermen Strike Over EU Rules
»Italy: Knox in Court on Slander Charges
»Italy: No Adoption for ‘Racist’ Couples
»Italy: Paolo Berlusconi in Wiretap Leak Probe
»Netherlands: Wilders in Power Would Mean International Isolation: D66
»Sicily: Racist Couples Barred From Adopting
»Spain: Islamic Community, Veil Crusade for Political Reasons
»Sweden: Nuclear Plant Heads Propose Armed Security
»Will Belgium’s Unhappy Marriage End?
»Kosovo: Council of Europe, Concern Over Respect for Law
North Africa
»Egypt: No Surprises for PND in Shura (Senate) Elections
Israel and the Palestinians
»Blitz: Barak Congratulates Members of Commando
»Blitz: Israeli Attack State Terrorism, Mahmoud Abbas
»Blitz: Italy: Israel Can Investigate Credibly
»Blitz: Netanyahu, Terrorist Flotilla, Not Love Boat
»Blitz: Turkey-Israel Relations Never Same Again, Gul
»Blitz: Istanbul, Victims’ Funeral, Thousands Present
»Diplomats Seek Israeli Approval for Gaza Aid Vessel
»Islamist Activist Barred From Leaving Israel
»‘Israel Arrested Dutch Hamas Leader’
»Israel Orders Diplomats’ Families Out of Turkey
»Israel Obeyed International Law: Legally, The Gaza Flotilla Conflict is an Open-and-Shut Case
»Mitchell to Abbas, US for Access to Goods in Gaza
»NYT: Gaza Blockade Untenable for US Government
»Raid: Rachel Corrie Expected on Monday, Press
»Raid: Israel Discusses Setting Up Committee With USA
»Raid: Heroes’ Welcome for Turkish Activists
»Raid: Ban Calls for Immediate Lift of Gaza Blockade
»S.Craxi: Cooperation Work Ongoing in Territories
»Sweden: Organizer: Ship Deaths ‘Premeditated Murder’
Middle East
»Ankara Turns Its Back on Brussels
»EU Alarm Over Middle East Situation
»French Judge Says Turkish Charity Behind Gaza Flotilla Had Terror Ties
»Israel Military Ties Threaten AKP Support as Islamists Call for Stronger Reaction
»Jordan: Commissioner Fule Meets Women Victims of Violence
»Kuwait Bank Invests in Turkish Eye-Hospital Chain
»Mgr Luigi Padovese Assassinated in Southern Turkey
»Saudi Arabia: Scholars Call for ‘Jihad’ Over Israeli Raid
»Turkey Boosts Security for Jewish Residents Amid Protests
»Turkey Aims to Raise Trade Volume With Syria to $5 Bln
»Turkey Earns 1.1 Bln USD From Hazelnut Exports
»Turkey: Catholic Bishop Murdered in South
»Turkey Bishop Murder Suspect ‘Depressed’
»Turkish-Syrian Archaeologists Seek More Collaboration
»Turkish Parliament Calls for ‘Effective’ Measures Against Israel
»Without a Government, Iraqis Complain About the Lack of Water, Sanitation and Jobs
»Yemen: Foreigners Investigated for Al-Qaeda Links
Far East
»China: Honda Gives in and Raises Wages Following Foshan Strike
»Shanghaied: The Flip Side of China’s Economic Miracle
Australia — Pacific
»Scared Teen Calls Police to Stop Arranged Marriage
»France: ‘Sans Papiers’ Removed From Place De La Bastille

Financial Crisis

America’s 7 Junkiest Cities

NEW YORK ( — Think Greece and Spain are drowning in debt? Look a little closer to home. Seven U.S. cities recently had their municipal bonds downgraded below investment grade. Their debt is now junk, considered more worthless than that of the so-called PIIGS.

“America’s short-term budget crises, long-term growth perspectives and needs for austerity are similar [to Greece],” said Matt Fabian, managing director at Concord, Mass.-based consulting firm Municipal Market Advisors.

Last quarter, Moody’s Investor Services declared the debt issued by Harrisburg, Penn., and Woonsocket, R.I., to be junk, or below-investment grade. Meanwhile, Fitch Ratings currently has four other cities in the basement — Detroit and Pontiac, Mich.; Harvey, Ill.; and Littlefield, Texas — while Standard and Poor’s has one — Central Falls, R.I.

These seven cities are struggling under the weight of the recession. Residents are unemployed, and without a job, they can’t pay their property taxes, which are the foundation of local budgets. And cities’ operating expenses continue to soar; pension and debt payments don’t go away. And as their credit gets worse, the cost of borrowing for municipal projects — such as sewer plants and roads — just gets more expensive.

“The fiscal stress is severe in cities around the country, and it’s likely to stick around for at least a couple of more years,” said Chris Hoene, director of policy and research at the National League of Cities.

Things are particularly tough for Central Falls, R.I., a town of about 19,000 people near Pawtucket. Moody’s just slashed its rating to C — the lowest possibility before default — after the city was put under receivership last week. It now has a court-appointed lawyer managing its finances and future.

Central Falls cannot afford its pension fund and is facing deficits that could “be above 20% of budget in the current fiscal 2010 and fiscal 2011 due to state aid cuts and increases to pension costs,” according to S&P.

Four hundred miles southwest, things aren’t much better. Moody’s knocked the rating on Harrisburg, Penn.’s general-obligation bonds three notches to B2 — five steps below investment grade. To put that into perspective: Moody’s rating on Greece’s government debt sits at A3 — still investment grade. And while S&P has slashed Greece’s debt to the junk class last month, its rating is only one notch below investment. Fitch’s rating on the troubled nation’s debt still holds just above speculative grade.

The financial state of Pennsylvania’s capital is so fragile that city controller Dan Miller has been urging bankruptcy. That is a measure so rare and complex that only 245 municipalities out of over 80,000 have filed for Chapter 9 since 1937. Plus, to qualify, cities have to meet several strict requirements, including gaining an endorsement from the state proving insolvency to the court.

Still, the scenario is beginning to look more and more appealing as the city is insolvent and on the line for a nearly $300 million incinerator.

The city issued bonds for the trash plant on behalf of the Harrisburg Authority, a municipal agency. But last month the authority, which is carrying an estimated $282 million in outstanding debt, announced it would not make a $425,000 payment to bondholders in early May.

The city didn’t have the money, either, so another guarantor had to swoop in for the rescue.

“We’re not an open checkbook. We have high taxes to begin with, our residents are poor, and there’s not much growth in our city,” said Miller, who is a former city councilman. “If we go into Chapter 9, we can focus on reducing our debt. Even if we could cut it from $300 million to $100 million, we could find a way to afford that.”

But Linda Thompson, who has been mayor for just five months, thinks the city can pull itself out of the debt ditch without the nuclear option of bankruptcy, which is considered political suicide and a red flag for potential new businesses.

“We should look at all of our options and develop a plan before we decide that Chapter 9 is our only saving grace,” she said.

She’s most optimistic about reaching a forbearance agreement on the incinerator debt. But she is also considering selling the city’s assets, including the city’s parking garages, which bring in about $18 million annually — almost a third of the city’s revenue.

While most cities will make it through the slump without turning to bankruptcy, some will find it unavoidable.

“We’re at a tipping point,” said Jim Spiotto, a partner with Chicago-based law firm Chapman & Cutler. “In the past, the economy has declined and come back, and it has been a fairly quick process. But this downturn seems to be deeper, more painful and prolonged, and as a result we could have a number of more casualties.”

Most economists agree that for a robust recovery, the unemployment rate has to improve. Employers added significantly more jobs to payrolls in April, and are expected to do the same in May, but the unemployment rate still lingers above 9% as more job seekers return to the market. And as long as unemployment remains severely high, taxpayers will have a hard time paying their taxes.

“You can’t liquidate cities and villages like you can with corporations,” Spiotto said. Rather, it just allows them to restructure what they owe.

A bankruptcy typically gives cities leverage to talk down unsecured creditors, such as vendors that supply materials for road construction or other city operations. It also provides some room to maneuver in contractual labor commitments, which are the most costly to budgets, allowing cities to hit the reset button with unions representing government employees by bargaining pay rates. That’s what the city of Vallejo, Calif., did when it went bust in May 2008.

Bondholders, however, are usually paid in full because cities want to be able to keep borrowing money.

“A vast majority of outstanding debt will be paid down with tax revenue,” Fabian said. “When borrowing rates skyrocket, cities can just stop selling bonds. There isn’t an immediate trigger in muni land to default.”

City residents, however, have to bear the brunt of some the pain as the cities cut services, such as trash service, or lay off workers and boost taxes to manage spiraling deficits.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Brussels Sets Out Plans to Regulate Credit Rating Agencies

EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS — The European Commission has come forward with a list of amendments to revise EU rules on credit rating agencies, aiming to boost transparency and centralise supervision at the European level.

Under the proposals, the European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA) — a new body whose legislation is currently being negotiated by member states and the European Parliament — will take over the supervision of rating agencies in Europe from national authorities.

Announcing the plans at a press conference in Brussels on Wednesday (2 June), commission President Jose Manuel Barroso did not rule out the setting up of a European credit rating agency in the future. “We are looking at the idea,” he said, adding that any proposals for this would likely come forward in September.

“Is it normal to have only three relevant actors on such a sensitive issue where there is a great possibility of conflict of interest?” he said, referring to the US-based Fitch, Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s agencies. “Is it normal that all of them come from the same country?”

Credit rating agencies have attracted strong criticism for failing to identify the risk attached to certain financial products such as mortgage-backed securities in the US at the start of the financial crisis.

More recently they have been blamed for exacerbating market turmoil in the eurozone, with Standard and Poor’s downgrading of Greek bonds in April sending the country’s borrowing costs skyward, ultimately leading Athens to call for a bail-out.

The suggested amendments would force agencies operating in Europe to register with ESMA in the future, and also empower the authority with day-to-day supervisory tools to ensure agencies comply with EU rules. Failure to do so could result in fines or an agency losing its license.

Economic government

Germany and France have been among the leading voices calling for greater oversight of credit rating agencies. But another French proposal, the creation of an economic government for the 16-states sharing the euro currency, has created divisions among the EU’s top officials.

While European Council President Herman Van Rompuy appears to favour the idea of a formalised system of co-ordinating eurozone economic policy by potentially creating a new secretariat to aid the group’s leaders, Mr Barroso on Wednesday came out against it.

“You don’t reinforce the Growth and Stability Pact [EU budgetary rules] by diminishing the credibility of the community institutions and the community method,” he told journalists.

“It’s not with new institutions that we are going to do that,” he said, adding that they “could bring new confusion.”

Germany has also so far sounded a cautious note regarding the French idea.

Financial transaction tax

With roughly three weeks to go before G20 leaders meet in Canada to discuss progress in reforming the world’s financial system, Mr Barroso also indicated his personal support for a financial transaction tax, but cautioned it would be “extremely difficult” to secure a global agreement.

“It seems to me only reasonable that there should be a contribution from the financial sector for the common good,” he said, but conceded that banks could simply pass the tax on to customers.

The US has previously stated its opposition to the idea, with analysts warning the tax would not work without a global application.

           — Hat tip: Henrik[Return to headlines]

Opposition Mounts to Euro Adoption in Sweden

Opposition to joining the euro adoption is growing in Sweden, with an increasing number of people fearing that businesses would lose out if the country scrapped the krona and joined the single currency, a poll showed on Thursday.

A poll published in the newspaper Dagens Industri revealed that 61 percent of those questioned opposed membership of the eurozone, with only 25 percent in favour and 14 percent having no opinion.

The poll, carried out between May 27 and June 1 by the institute Novus Opinion, disclosed a sharp turnarond in public sentiment in the past year.

According to a similar poll conducted in May last year, 49 percent of those questioned backed euro adoption, with 44 percent opposed and 9.0 percent

expressing no opinion.

Results of the latest questionaire showed that the krona is seen as shielding the Swedish economy in a time of global economic crisis.

Thirty-five percent of the respondents believed that the euro would have put Sweden at a disadvantage in the worldwide meltdown that began in late 2008, against 21 percent who said the single currency would have been beneficial.

Sixteen percent had no opinion on the question and 27 percent held that the euro would have made no difference.

But Swedish business leaders appeared to take a more favorable view of the euro, with only 40 percent voicing opposition to its adoption.

Business leaders however represented only 5.7 percent of those questioned, according to Novus Opinion.

Sweden fell into recession during the crisis before returning to growth in the second quarter of 2009.

The economy expanded a stronger-than-expected 1.4 percent in the first quarter of 2010.

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

Turkey’s Trade Deficit for April Doubles

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, JUNE 1 — Turkey’s trade deficit widened in April from a year earlier, the sixth consecutive expansion as the economy accelerates out of recession, drawing in raw materials from abroad as daily Hurriyet reports today. The trade gap expanded to $5.5 billion from $2.6 billion in the period from a year earlier, the statistics agency in Ankara said on its website Monday. The deficit was forecast to be $5.6 billion, according to the median estimate of 11 economists surveyed by Bloomberg. The trade deficit is widening as economic growth picks up after four consecutive quarters of contraction. Gross domestic product expanded 6% from a year earlier in the last quarter of 2009 and is likely to grow more than 10% in the first three months of this year. “Vigilance” is required to prevent an unsustainable widening in the current-account deficit, the International Monetary Fund said on May 28. Exports rose 25.2% from a year earlier to $9.5 billion in April, the Turkish Statistics Institute, or TurkStat, said. Imports increased 47.4% to $14.9 billion. In April 2010, income from exports covered 63.4% of imports, while the figure was 74.7% in April 2009, reported Anatolia news agency. Turkish exports in the first four months rose 11.3% over the same period of last year and amounted to $35.66 billion and imports rose 36.6% and amounted to $53.26 billion. The foreign trade deficit in the January to April period increased 152.8% over the same period of 2009 and amounted to $17.6 billion. The foreign trade deficit during the period covering the January to April period in 2009 was $6.9 billion. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Doctor-Owned Hospitals Plan Suit on New Health Care Law

A group of physician-owned hospitals plans to file a lawsuit today asking a federal court in Tyler to halt the new health care law’s ban on Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements to future doctor-owned facilities.

Physician Hospitals of America, including the Texas Spine and Joint Hospital in Tyler, provided a copy of the suit. A spokesman said the suit would be filed this morning.

The Dallas-Fort Worth area has more than 22 physician-owned hospitals. Nationwide, there are 265, with an additional 29 set to open before Dec. 31, when the new law bars federal payments.

The law would also withhold federal reimbursements to physician-owned hospitals that expand after the end of the year — which would disrupt work under way at Texas Spine and Joint Hospital.

Congressional supporters of the measure said federal Medicare spending rises when doctors refer patients to hospitals where they have ownership. Traditional hospital trade associations support the move and say doctor-owned facilities siphon off well-insured patients.

The complaint alleges that two large hospital associations made a deal with Congress and the Obama administration last year acquiescing to lower Medicare reimbursements in exchange for the ban on payments to future physician-owned hospitals.

The latest suit would join several others filed since the health care law passed in March. Twenty states, including Texas, and the National Federation of Independent Businesses have sued to overturn the law’s requirement that individuals get health insurance or pay a fine.

This individual mandate, the states contend, violates constitutional protections for both the states and individuals.

Federal attorneys have said the suits are premature because the individual mandate provision does not take effect until 2014. They’ve also argued that the federal government has a right to require health insurance through its regulation of interstate commerce.

Texas is a party to the lawsuit filed in Florida by Florida Attorney General Bill McCullom.

           — Hat tip: Lurker from Tulsa[Return to headlines]

In DC, Even the Spelling Bee Draws Protesters

WASHINGTON — The nation’s capital always draws its share of protesters, picketing for causes ranging from health care reform to immigration policy.

But spelling bee protesters? They’re out here, too.

Four peaceful protesters, some dressed in full-length black and yellow bee costumes, represented the American Literacy Council and the London-based Spelling Society and stood outside the Grand Hyatt on Thursday, where the Scripps National Spelling Bee is being held. Their message was short: Simplify the way we spell words.

Roberta Mahoney, 81, a former Fairfax County, Va. elementary school principal, said the current language obstructs 40 percent of the population from learning how to read, write and spell.

“Our alphabet has 425-plus ways of putting words together in illogical ways,” Mahoney said.

The protesting cohort distributed pins to willing passers-by with their logo, “Enuf is enuf. Enough is too much.”

According to literature distributed by the group, it makes more sense for “fruit” to be spelled as “froot,” “slow” should be “slo,” and “heifer” — a word spelled correctly during the first oral round of the bee Thursday by Texas competitor Ramesh Ghanta — should be “hefer.”

Meanwhile, inside the hotel’s Independence Ballroom, 273 spellers celebrated the complexity of the language in all its glory, correctly spelling words like zaibatsu, vibrissae and biauriculate.

While the protesters could make headway with cell phone texters who routinely swap “u” for “you” and “gr8” for “great,” their message may be a harder sell for the Scripps crowd.

Mahoney had trouble gaining traction with at least one bee attendee. New Mexico resident Matthew Evans, 15, a former speller whose sister is participating in the bee this year, reasoned with her that if English spellings were changed, spelling bees would cease to exist.

“If a dictionary lists ‘enough’ as ‘enuf,’ the spelling bee goes by the dictionary, therefore all the spelling words are easier to spell, so the spelling bee is gone,” Evans said.

“Well,” Mahoney replied, “they could pick their own dictionary.”

[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Bildt on Hand to Welcome Deported Swedes

Sweden’s foreign minister was at Istanbul airport in the early hours of Thursday morning to assist Swedes deported following their participation in the Gaza aid convoy.

The plane carrying the remaining seven Swedes who had been in custody in Israel arrived in Istanbul at around 3am on Thursday morning and Bildt and embassy staff were on hand to help.

“There were a lot of practical issues about baggage, things which had been taken from them, and then the onward journey home, but we also had a chance to talk about it and what they had been through,” Bildt wrote on his blog, Alla Dessa Dagar.

The foreign minister praised the Turkish authorities for their work in bringing the Swedes home.

“We can thank the close cooperation with the Turkish government for the fact that it has gone fast. We have very positive and close links.

But Bildt warned that the issue remains a long way from a resolution and much remained to be done.

“First and foremost their possessions need to be returned, but then the political takes over. I will first open a dialogue with my foreign ministry colleagues around Europe over the demands which must be made for an independent investigation.”

The issue is set to be raise at the upcoming meeting of foreign ministers in Luxembourg on June 14th, Bildt said adding that the discussion will lead to the larger question of the blockade of Gaza.

Carl Bildt declined to clarify whether sanctions were planned against Israel following the attacks on the convoy which have so far claimed nine lives, with dozens more injured.

“Israel has been hit pretty hard by what has happened. They have created themselves a massive political problem — their key relationship with Turkey is in the balance, as well as relations with the EU,” Bildt said.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Female Judge and Clerk Shot Dead in Court in Belgium

A female magistrate and a court clerk have been shot dead in a courtroom in the Belgian capital.

A lone gunman opened fire in a building near the main Palais de Justice in Brussels at about 1115 (0915 GMT).

Belgian media identified the dead justice of the peace as Isabelle Brandon and clerk Andre Bellemans, who were presiding over a civil tribunal.

A search is under way for the gunman — who was reported to be injured — after he fled the scene on foot.

Officials said the attacker had attended a morning session, but no immediate details were given about his identity or possible motive.

“He was present at the outset of the hearing,” said Jean-Marc Meilleur of the Brussels prosecutor’s office.

“Toward the end of the session, he pulled a gun. Shots were fired, after which the killer fled.”

‘Critical level’

Police have sealed off surrounding streets, and issued warnings to shoppers and tourists to go indoors.

Justice Minister Stefaan De Clerck said this was the first time in Belgian judicial history that a magistrate has been killed in the middle of a court hearing, state broadcaster RTBF reported.

He said that security would be stepped up, but not to expect closed rooms and CCTV everywhere, as “justice should be about proximity to people”.

Lawyers and judges have held a minute’s silence for the victims in front of the Palais de Justice.

A lawyer who works at the court, Pierre Brimeyer, told AP: “We have been witnessing increasing levels of violence and tension in the Palais de Justice for years.

“Incidents have happened before and now we have reached a critical level.”

           — Hat tip: Henrik[Return to headlines]

Immigrant on the Run After Murdering Belgian Judge and Legal Assistant in Courthouse in Row Over Housing Benefitby Paul Thompson

Isabella Brandon, a Belgium Judge of the Peace who specialised in family matters, and André Bellemans, died instantly from wounds to the head.

The bloodbath took place just after lunch in an annex of the Palais de Justice in central Brussels, where security had recently been stepped up because of a high profile terrorist trial.

‘The man was screaming all kinds of threats when he marched up to the women and shot them both in the head a number of times with a rifle,’ said an eye witness.

‘He had been involved in an earlier case about housing benefit and clearly wasn’t happy with the judgment handed down.

‘He’s thought to have gone home to pick up his weapon and then returned to carry out the murder.

‘People inside the court were screaming and shouting throughout the drama. There was blood everywhere. Nothing could have been done to save them.

The man managed to pick up a nasty wound before running away out into the street. All buildings in the area have been locked down, with warnings on TV and radio. Police are trying to find him.’

The man had shot Judge Brandon in the head before using another weapon, thought to be an axe, on her assistant.

He said to have brought the axe down ‘heavily on the assistant’s back,’ said the eye witness.

The women, both in their 50s, were both married with children and were due to retire soon.

Belgium Justice Minister Stefaan De Clerck said it was the first time that a judge had been killed in a court, and that security was usually taken ‘100 per cent for granted.’

Announcing a national minute’s silence for the victims, he added: ‘What happened was a terrible shock. We are doing everything we can to find the killer and bring him to justice. This is an absolute catastrophe.’

Mr De Clerck said a recent trial involving alleged Islamic terrorists had seen x-ray machines and metal detectors installed at all entrances to the Palais de Justice.

However, Judge Brandon was sitting in a minor court in an annex next door, where security was more lax.

Judge Brandon specialised in matters including divorce, adoption and commitment to psychiatric institutions.

A Brussels police spokesman said: ‘We are looking for an Albanian immigrant in connection with this terrible shooting. All nearby buildings, including a local school, have been shut down. This man remains armed and dangerous.’

           — Hat tip: SF[Return to headlines]

Italy: Rome ‘Horse Ambulance’ To Help Tourist Steeds in Need

Buggy pullers’ health a concern with summer heat approaching

(ANSA) — Rome, June 1 — Rome is to lay on a special ambulance service for the horses that pull the city’s tourist buggies as part of efforts to step up protection of the animals’ health.

Local authorities say the ‘horse ambulance’ will help prevent repeats of the case of Birillo, a tourist-buggy puller who died in agony after an accident near the Colosseum over a year ago.

The vehicle will be equipped with special straps that make it possible to lift a horse for examination, ultrasound scanners and other diagnostic instruments and a well furnished stock of veterinary medicines.

The ambulance, which will be staffed by a vet and a veterinary nurse, will transport animals in serious need of attention to a special equine ‘emergency room’ at a Carabinieri police barracks in the city.

Rome has around 80 horses for the buggies popular with tourists for charming tours of its sites.

Their health and safety has long been a bone of contention between buggy drivers and animal rights campaigners who say working in Rome’s smog and traffic-choked streets is harmful and hazardous for the beasts.

A new set of city regulations for the buggies came into force in February, after concerns were raised by several horses being badly injured in the line of duty in recent years.

These included limiting the horses’ work-day to a maximum of eight hours, with mandatory breaks during the hottest hours of the day.

With Rome’s baking summer heat approaching, the council is also taking other measures to ensure the animals stay in fine fettle after renting the horse ambulance from a mounted section of the Carabinieri police.

Vets are about to start a series of examinations on all the horses, including blood tests and X-rays, which will be followed by regular check-ups every two months.

This work will be carried out by a team of three vets, rather than the single expert who has been monitoring their health up to now.

Animal rights campaigners, however, will not be satisfied until Rome at least passes regulations banning horse-drawn buggies from some particularly busy or arduous uphill areas of the centre.

The buggy drivers have countered that this is unnecessary as the time-honoured line of work is not inhumane on the animals, who they say the treat “like family”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Fishermen Strike Over EU Rules

Regulation poses ‘threat’ to clam spaghetti and livelihoods

(ANSA) — Rome, June 1 — Italian fishermen were up in arms on Tuesday over new European Union regulations they say threaten their livelihoods and one of Italy’s most popular pasta dishes, spaghetti with clams.

Fishermen nationwide went on strike, warning that EU rules aimed at protecting Europe’s fish stocks could cut catches by up to 50% and spell an end to the widespread consumption of razor and wedge clams. Fishermen in 13 of Italy’s 15 coastal regions grounded boats and staged demonstrations to protest the implementation of Regulation 1967/2006.

The new rules increase the minimum mesh size of drag nets to allow young fish to escape, prohibit fishing within a certain distance of the shoreline and restrict the use of a range of techniques such as drilling and explosives to capture clams. “We’ll lose up to 50% of our catch and with all the costs, we won’t be able to carry on,” warned a statement by Tuscan fishermen, who have said they will continue industrial action for the next 48 hours. The Impresa Pesca fishers union said the government had a duty to take action. “While the regulation may have long-term results, in the short and medium term it will unquestionably penalize Italian fishermen who use drag systems,” said Impresa Pesca Director Tonino Giardini. “This is why economic measures are needed in support of Italy’s fishing fleet, to compensate the sacrifices that will hit them”. Impresa Pesca said dishes using razor clams and wedge clams, known as ‘telline’, could disappear entirely from restaurants. A senator with the devolutionist Northern League, one of the majority coalition parties, said the rules were the latest example of European interference in Italian traditions.

“We can no longer be held hostage to a Europe of bureaucrats who evidently eat only red meat and couldn’t care less about our fish specialties,” said Piergiorgio Stiffoni. “The government must be alert at Brussels to avoid decisions on pea quality and cucumber length, or, as in this case, a decision that stops us all enjoying classic dishes such as squid ink spaghetti”. Responding to public outcry in recent days, Agriculture Minister Giancarlo Galan has announced a ‘crisis unit’ is being set up to address the issue.

He has promised a package of requests will be sent to the EU to request exemptions from some of the rules.

The regulation allows derogations from some of the rules if sufficient scientific evidence is presented to justify the request. On Tuesday, Galan said he would also meet with sector representatives on June 9 to hear their concerns and discuss the best way forward. The president of the Lega Pesca Union Ettore Iani, welcomed news of the meeting, describing it as “an important opportunity to relaunch the entire fishing sector”. But MEP Guido Milana, the vice-chair of the European Parliament’s Fisheries Committee and a member of the opposition Democratic Party, said Galan had ignored attempts to deal with the issue earlier. “It is surprising that he has wrongly declared that no steps were taken before now to avoid this happening,” said Milana, recalling that he had personally filed a written question on the issue in mid-March.

And AGCI Agrital, an association representing Italian fishing and farming cooperatives, said action could have been taken long before now. The association’s president, Giampaolo Buonfiglio, pointed out the regulation had been pending for seven years, having been the subject of extensive debate for three years before its approval in 2006. France, Buonfiglio recalled, was the only EU country not to vote in favour of it. Buonfiglio described the current media furore as “alarmism”, saying there was “zero risk” of clams disappearing from Italian menus. Smaller quantities would probably become more common, he added, but this was no bad thing given that “excessive increases” in recent years had “contributed to the depletion of fish stocks”. He said Galan should instead focus on minimizing the inevitable economic impact on fishermen, which he said AGCI Agrital and other sector associations had been unsuccessfully lobbying him about for years.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Knox in Court on Slander Charges

American said she was hit by police during murder probe

(ANSA) — Perugia, June 1 — American student Amanda Knox appeared in court Tuesday at a hearing on charges she slandered Italian police during her trial for the 2007 murder of her British housemate Meredith Kercher in Perugia. It was Knox’s first court appearance since she was sentenced last year to 26 years in jail for Kercher’s murder, along with her Italian ex-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito, who was given a 25-year sentence.

The 22-year-old American student said police hit her when trying to get an admission of guilt during questioning — an accusation the officers deny. Tuesday’s preliminary hearing was adjourned until October after Knox’s lawyers objected to the judge because she also presided over the preliminary stages of the murder trial.

Another court will decide in June whether the judge for the slander case should be switched.

“I didn’t want to accuse anyone. I just said what happened,” Knox said to her legal team during Tuesday’s hearing.

Knox was given a year more than Sollecito for having falsely accused a Perugia pub owner, Congo native Patrick Lumumba, of the killing in the early stages of the investigation.

Knox and Sollecito, 26, both deny the killing and are appealing against the jail terms, as is a third convicted murderer, Ivory Coast native Rudy Guede, who was tried in a separate fast-track procedure and is bidding to overturn a 16-year sentence.

DNA evidence that was already hotly contested in Knox’s and Sollecito’s first trial is expected to again be the focus of the appeals.

Seattle-born Knox, whose good looks led to her frequently being called ‘foxy Knoxy’ in the Italian media, was sporting a new short hairstyle on Tuesday which gave her a very different appearance to the one she had at the murder trial. “She had wanted to cut her hair for some time but she waited until after the (murder) sentence because she was afraid that was all that would be talked about,” Knox’s lawyer Maria Del Grosso told reporters.

“It’s important that the attention is on the judicial aspects of this affair and not Amanda’s appearance”. Del Grosso added that Knox had access to a computer in prison which enabled her to continue her university studies. She was also devoting her time behind bars to reading the works of Italian writer Alberto Moravia, she said. Leeds University exchange student Kercher, 21, was found with her throat cut on November 2, 2007 in the house she shared with Knox in the central Italian town of Perugia.

According to the prosecution, Sollecito and Guede held Kercher down as Guede tried to have sex with her as Knox threatened her with a knife, before delivering a fatal blow.

The knife was later found with Knox’s DNA on the handle, though the defence argued the traces were too small to be significant.

They also said the knife was too big to have inflicted the wounds found on Kercher.

No DNA from Knox was found at the crime scene but Guede’s was found there, as well as on the body. Sollecito’s DNA was only found on the clasp of Kercher’s bra, which had been cut in half, although defence lawyers claimed the crime scene had been contaminated. Under Italian law convicted criminals are entitled to two appeals. Knox’s and Sollecito’s first appeal is expected to get under way later this year.

The verdict against Knox caused a strong reaction in the United States where ‘pro-Amanda’ groups have rallied to support her appeal.

One of the United States’ top lawyers, Ted Simon, president of the National Association of Criminal Defence Lawyers, will flank her Italian defence team. Guede, now 23, had his sentence commuted from 30 to 16 years in his first appeal and his lawyers have taken his case to Italy’s Supreme Court in a third and final bid to prove his innocence.

Lumumba was released after 15 days in jail after an alibi confirmed he had been working in his city-centre pub on the night of the murder and police failed to find any evidence linking him with the crime scene.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: No Adoption for ‘Racist’ Couples

Supreme Court ruling welcomed by politicians, associations

(ANSA) — Rome, June 1 — Italian couples only interested in adopting white kids are not fit to become parents, the country’s highest appeals court said on Tuesday. The Court of Cassation said a lower court in the Sicilian city of Catania had been wrong to approve a couple’s desire to request children that weren’t black or non-European.

It strongly indicated that couples making such requests should not be allowed to adopt at all. “In such cases, the judge must not only eliminate any specifications relating to the child’s ethnicity, he or she must seriously consider whether such a request is compatible with someone’s suitability to adopt,” said Cassation Judge Maria Rosaria San Giorgio, who wrote the opinion. The court similarly ruled out the option of requests for “certain genetic characteristics”. It pointed out that all children awaiting adoption already had a “profoundly difficult” past and therefore had a greater need than other kids for parents of “particular sensitivity”. The judges stressed that social services should do everything possible to assist couples in welcoming a child that “does not look like them”.

It said potential parents should be helped to address their fears that “problems of xenophobia will threaten the child’s integration into local society and make it difficult for the child to adapt”.

The case was raised at the Court of Cassation by a children’s rights group, Amici dei Bambini (Ai.Bi, Friends of Children).

The organization has been battling for ten years to open up adoptions to children of all races, ever since a court in the central city of Ancona court said it was acceptable for a couple to rule out black kids.

Ai.Bi has long argued that couples treating kids as a “commodity” should not be allowed to adopt. The ruling was welcomed by sector association and politicians. The National Association of Adoptive and Foster Parents (ANFAA) stressed that parenting was about “love and education […] not skin colour”.

But ANFAA President Donata Novi Miucci acknowledged that some parents may be worried about raising children “in a hostile environment”, an apparent reference to general incidents of racism and violence involving foreigners. “Unfortunately, certain indications in Italy in recent times are very worrying and do not help with this kind of social responsibility,” she said. Cabinet Undersecretary Carlo Giovanardi said the decision was “correct”.

“It takes into account the fact that an order by public authorities cannot be based on racial discrimination while also recognizing the complex procedures involved,” he said. However, he said a couple’s inclination to adopt from one country did not necessarily entail “a negative judgment on other countries”. While countries such as Britain and the United States have a long history of dealing with in-country interracial adoption, in Italy the issue usually arises only in the course of international adoptions. Around 4,000 international adoptions take place each year in Italy, 60% of which involve kids from just five countries: Russia, Ukraine, Colombia, Ethiopia and Brazil. According to the last annual report of the Commission for International Adoptions, there has been a sharp drop in the number of adoptions from Vietnam, and a complete block on all adoptions from Nepal, Cambodia, Moldova and Bolivia.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Paolo Berlusconi in Wiretap Leak Probe

Premier’s brother allegedly accepted illegally obtained tape

(ANSA) — Milan, June 1 — The brother of Premier Silvio Berlusconi is under investigation here for accepting illegally obtained wiretap evidence, the contents of which which he later published in his newspaper Il Giornale, the Milan daily Corriere della Sera reported on Tuesday.

The wiretap in question recorded a conversation in July 2005 between the head of the one-time opposition Democratic Left (DS) party, Piero Fassino, and Giovanni Consorte, the former chairman of Unipol, an association of insurers historically linked to the DS, Italy’s former Communist Party.

At the time Unipol came close to taking over one of Italy’s leading banks, Banca Nazionale del Lavoro (BNL), and Fassino was recorded as saying “we have a bank!”. Paolo Berlusconi, a businessman and chairman of the company which publishes Il Giornale, was allegedly allowed to hear the tape, before it was even logged in as evidence, by Roberto Raffaelli, the head of the firm Research Control System (RCS) which had been contracted by investigators to make the wiretap.

Several weeks later, on December 24, Raffaelli and a businessman friend, Fabrizio Favata, allegedly went to Silvio Berlusconi’s private mansion in Arcore, outside Milan, and played it for the premier and, again, his brother and handed over a copy.

A transcript of the Fassino-Consorte conversation was published December 31 in Il Giornale.

Favata is reported to have confirmed to investigators both the encounter in Arcore and the fact that Paolo Berlusconi had heard the tape weeks before at the offices of Il Giornale.

The probe against Paolo Berlusconi is based on the assumption that he knew he was illegally obtaining the tape.

Sources at the Milan prosecutors’ office said on Tuesday that the premier was not implicated in the probe. According to Corriere della Sera, Paolo Berlusconi is also under investigation for accepting money under false pretenses because he allegedly took some 560,000 euros from Favata, on Raffaelli’s behalf, and promised to help RSC win a contract in Romania.

Favata was recently arrested on extortion charges. Investigators say he blackmailed Raffaelli for 300,000 euros by threatening to tell the press and police details on how the wiretap was leaked to Il Giornale.

On Monday a judge turned downed Favata’s request to be released on bail.

Berlusconi’s government has presented to parliament a bill to clamp down on wiretap leaks and their publication.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Netherlands: Wilders in Power Would Mean International Isolation: D66

Including Geert Wilders’ PVV in the next coalition government would lead to international isolation, Alexander Pechtold, leader of the Liberal democratic party D66, says in an interview with news website

‘It is incredible for a Liberal that [linking up with] the PVV is still considered an option,’ Pechtold said, referring to the VVD Liberal party leader’s refusal to rule out an alliance with the anti-Islam group.

‘Seventy percent of the Dutch economy revolves around exports. Shall we put Wilders in charge at the foreign affairs ministry and give [ former police officer] Hero Brinkman the justice job?,’ Pechtold said.

The D66 leader continued his attack on Rutte’s position on Wilders in morning tv show Goedemorgen Nederland.

Rutte should stop flirting with the PVV and state now that he would like to form a new coalition with D66, Labour and GroenLinks, Pechtold told the show.

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

Sicily: Racist Couples Barred From Adopting

AN Italian couple’s adoption bid was denied after they said in their application that they did not want “dark-skinned” children, local media reported overnight.

An appeal court in Sicily ruled that the couple were unfit to adopt children of any description, the reports said.

A child protection agency took the couple to court after they submitted an application in Catania, in eastern Sicily, saying they were “prepared to take in up to two children… regardless of sex or religion, but… not with dark skin”.

The court ordered a magistrate who reviews adoption requests to ignore such specifications, then took things a step further, ruling that any such “racist” couple should not be allowed to adopt at all.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Spain: Islamic Community, Veil Crusade for Political Reasons

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, JUNE 3 — The Islamic community in Catalonia has criticised the ‘crusade’ undertaken by several political parties against the Islamic veil, as an electoral manoeuvre to “gain votes and feed xenophobia”, before the regional elections set to take place in the region in the fall. Another six municipalities have decided to follow Lleida’s example, the first Spanish city to impose a ban on the burqa and the niqab in public areas, and they have placed the discussion on the agenda in their respective municipal council meetings. These include Cervera YTarraga (Lleida), Tarragona, Reus, Cunit and El Vendrell (Tarragona). The People’s Party (PP), Convergencia i Union (CiU) and the Socialist’s Party of Catalonia (PSC), together with the xenophobia political movement Plataforma per Catalunya, are promoting debates on the veil, according to reports in the media. In El Vendrell, where the immigrant population is 17%, compared to an average of 15% in Catalonia, high unemployment and the economic crisis have recently intensified social conflict. The motion to approve the ban on wearing the Muslim veil in municipal offices, institutions and schools promoted by CiU, could be approved with votes from Plataforma per Catalunya, led by extreme right-wing leader Josep Andlada. In Tarragona and Reus, the latter, considered to be an area with a high concentration of the most conservative brand of Islam, the initiative promoted by the PP and CiU calls for the veil to be banned even in the streets. A ban that could be imposed by law only by the central government. The socialist mayor of Cunit, Judith Alberich, called for regulation at the federal level. In Cervera y Tarrega, the offensive against the burqa and the niqab is being led by advisors of groups allied with Anglada’s party. For many representative of the Islamic community, which in Catalonia counts 250,000 people, the debate on the use of religious symbols is turning into “political demagogy”, since in Catalonia there are very few women who wear the full veil. For Abdennur Prado, the leader of the Islamic council, this is an “artificial” debate that serves only to “feed xenophobia and obtain votes”. One individual in favour of the ban, upon its approval in Lleida, was the president of the Arab cultural association Atlas, Omar Charah, who is against the burqa not only for safety reasons, but also due to the radical interpretation of Islam that its use represents. “In Catalonia, mainly in Lleida and Tarragona,” he observed, “a radical current Salafi Islam is spreading that makes integration and cohabitation with the Muslim community difficult”.”It is a cancer that should be eradicated,” he added. Justice Minister Francisco Caamano, in statements to the media assured that the veil does not pose any problem “in a tolerant society like in Spain”. The minister pointed out that the government “is working on a comprehensive vision” of the issue and is examining a modification to the law on religious freedom. A modification, which starts with the need “to defend the dignity of women, while the burqa and similar garments,” observed Caamano, “which do not allow for an individual to be identified, strike at the dignity of a human being”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Sweden: Nuclear Plant Heads Propose Armed Security

The heads of Sweden’s nuclear power plants have called for the installation of armed rapid reaction forces to be put in place in order to increase security.

The heads of Ringhals, Oskarshamn and Forsmark’s plants have proposed the idea in a letter to the Department of the Environment. The unit would be activated if the nuclear plants were to be exposed to acts of sabotage that could lead to a nuclear accident, the local Hallands Nyheter daily has reported.

The force will in “number and armament” respond to what a sabotage group can carry out. This requires an overhaul of legislation and the heads of the three plants want the possibility of a reaction force to be investigated.

The issue has been previously been discussed, when the Environmental Court lay down broad guidelines for the Oskarshamn nuclear power plant in 2006, according to Gösta Larsen, a spokesperson for Ringhals.

“It was not included in the verdict, but the question was discussed,” he said.

For the nuclear plants, this means that the authorities must demonstrate their engagement in some way.

“We have invested hundreds of millions of kronor in safety in the last five years at Ringhals,” said Larsen.

The investments have involved more alarms, security guards, controls and gates. If there is to be a rapid reaction force on standby outside the gates of the plants perimeter, then it is a matter for the society to control, Larsen said.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Will Belgium’s Unhappy Marriage End?

Despite the popularity of Flemish separatist parties, splitting Belgium could prove impractical.

LIER, Belgium — Flanders doesn’t feel like a breeding ground of radical nationalism and separatism that threatens the first break up of a western European nation since the 1940s.

On a fine spring morning in this historic, riverside city, shoppers were more concerned with quenching their thirst with the tangy local ale or scooping up bunches of fresh asparagus in a street market than with the looming elections that could decide whether Belgium remains viable as a united country.

Like other Flemish cities, however, Lier has been ringed with yellow-and-black billboards showing the silhouette of a roaring lion and a message in bold black letters: “Flemings 1st” — the slogan of one of three separatist parties who together are expected to win almost 40 percent of the Flemish vote in Belgium’s national elections on June 13.

“Belgium is a disease and Flemish independence is the remedy,” declared Filip Dewinter, a leading candidate for Flemish Interest, the most radical of the three nationalist parties.

As the growing support for the nationalists appears to be making Belgium ungovernable, the expected electoral success for the separatists could have an impact well beyond the country’s borders. Independence movements from Scotland to northern Italy, and Catalonia and the Basque Country in Spain could be looking to Flanders to lead the way.

Belgium is divided between 6 million Dutch speakers living mostly in the flat, northern lands of Flanders and 4 million French speakers concentrated in the southern region of Wallonia. In the middle, Brussels is officially bilingual, but Dutch speakers are estimated to compose less than 20 percent of the capital’s population.

Tensions between the two linguistic communities have long bedeviled Belgian politics, but in recent years the situation has worsened, undermining the much-vaunted spirit of compromise that has allowed Flemings and Francophones to govern the country together. Belgium was created in 1831 and ruled by a French-speaking aristocracy; since then Flemings have become the country’s more dominant economic and political group.

The government that collapsed in April was the fifth to fall since the last elections less than three years ago. The reason for the government’s downfall is a seemingly intractable squabble over Flemish efforts to roll back minority rights granted to Francophones living in officially Dutch-speaking suburbs around Brussels.

“The current Belgian structures just do not work anymore,” said Bart De Wever, leader of the New Flemish Alliance, the largest separatist party. “Everyone in Flanders has long known this. Now it’s time to turn words into action,” he said on the party’s website.

Strolling in the prosperous medieval centers of Flemish cities like Antwerp, Ghent or Bruges, with their chic boutiques and stylish cafes, it can be hard to grasp why politics in Dutch-speaking Belgium has taken such a radical turn. In Lier it was difficult to track down anyone voicing open support for the nationalists’ campaign to split with Belgium and replace the monarchy with a Flemish republic…

           — Hat tip: Henrik[Return to headlines]


Kosovo: Council of Europe, Concern Over Respect for Law

(ANSAmed) — STRASBOURG, JUNE 1 — By approving the report on Kosovo that will be voted on at the end of June during the Council of Europe’s next Parliamentary Assembly, the Committee for Political Affairs in the Assembly has expressed its concern over the country’s situation. Committee members are particularly concerned about the lack of respect for the law and the repercussions of the phenomenon on everyday life for citizens, which is at odds with the community to which they belong. The lack of respect for the law also has a negative impact on the confidence of citizens in the political system, Parliamentarians say. The report asks for the Committee of Ministers of the organisation, an executive organ, to increase the number of activities carried out in Kosovo. This is expected to be done by finding new ways of intervening pragmatically, flexibly and imaginatively, so as to better adapt Council of Europe mechanisms to the country in question. The Assembly, the report says, should begin dialogue with the representatives of all political forces that have been elected to Kosovo’s Parliament. All action should be carried out taking into consideration the legitimate interests and concerns of Serbia. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

North Africa

Egypt: No Surprises for PND in Shura (Senate) Elections

(ANSAmed) — CAIRO, JUNE 3 — An unsurprising result for the Egyptian National Democratic Party (PND), which in the midterm elections for a partial re-election of the members to the Shura Council, the Egyptian Senate, took a majority of 60 seats. In the election, the greatest opposition force in the country, the Muslim Brotherhood — which had 12 candidates running for office — did not win any seats. Voter turnout, wrote AFP, citing the president of the High Electoral Commission, Intissar Nassim, was 30%. Of the 88 available seats, President Mubarak’s party took 74 (14 were candidates appointed to office because they ran uncontested in their districts). Four seats, according to Nassim, were won by smaller political parties: Tagammou, Al-Ghad, Al-Guil and the Nasserian party. These elections, according to commentators, took place amidst a general climate of indifference characterised by episodes of violence and fraud. In the second round of elections — which will take place on June 8 — another 10 members will be elected to the Shura. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

Blitz: Barak Congratulates Members of Commando

(ANSAmed) — TEL AVIV, JUNE 2 — Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak today visited the military base of Atlit (Haifa) to congratulate the members of the navy commando that carried out the raid on the Turkish ship carrying pro-Palestinian activists. The blitz ended in the death of nine passengers, tens of people were injured. Barak, military radio specified, was accompanied by chief of staff General Gaby Ashkenazi and navy commander Admiral Eliezer Merom. “You have carried out the mission we have entrusted to you”, said Barak. “You have kept the flotilla from reaching Gaza. People should always remember that this is not North America or Western Europe, this is the Middle East: a region without mercy for the weak, where you don’t get a second chance if you don’t defend yourself. You have defended your lives. I have seen it and I have heard it from your commanders”. According to military radio, Barak wanted to visit the commandos himself after hearing that they were demoralised due to the harsh international criticism on the government over the blitz.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Blitz: Israeli Attack State Terrorism, Mahmoud Abbas

(ANSAmed) — BETHLEHEM (WEST BANK), JUNE 2 — The President of the Palestinian National Authority, Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), today accused Israel of “State terrorism”, referring to the bloody raid on a ship that was carrying pro-Palestinian activists and was headed for the Gaza Strip. “Our people were exposed to State terrorism when Israel attacked the freedom convoy. The entire world, together with the Palestinian people, is faced with this terrorism”, said Abu Mazen during the opening of an international conference in Bethlehem on investments in Palestine. The conference started with a minute of silence in remembrance of the nine pro-Palestinian activists where were killed in the blitz, which was carried out in international waters. “Just like the goal of the freedom flotilla was to break the blockade in Gaza, the goal of this conference is to break the blockade of the Palestinian economy”, the PNA President added. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Blitz: Italy: Israel Can Investigate Credibly

(ANSAmed) — SARAJEVO, JUNE 2 — Italy has voted against the resolution text approved by the UN Human Rights Council, which requests an international fact-finding mission over the Israeli attack on a flotilla of activists, because it considers Israel “a democratic state perfectly able to conduct a credible and independent investigation, which must not necessarily be an international one”. The comments come from the Foreign Ministry spokesman, Maurizio Massari, who explained that the Foreign Minister, Franco Frattini, was one of the first to ask for a credible and democratic investigation into the incident. Italy, he continued, fully agrees with the text in the statement approved yesterday morning by the UN Security Council, in which an “immediate, impartial, credible and transparent” investigation was called for.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Blitz: Netanyahu, Terrorist Flotilla, Not Love Boat

(ANSAmed) — TEL AVIV, JUNE 2 — The ship intercepted in high seas by Israeli commandos “was not a Love Boat, but rather a terrorist flotilla,” according to the Israeli Prime Minister, Benyamin Netanyahu. “We will continue to defend our citizens, it is our right and our duty,” he added, confirming that the Gaza blockade would be upheld, despite “the international attack of hypocrisy” against Israel. If Israel did not impose a marine blockade, Netanyahu continued, “Gaza would become an Iranian port”. For this reason, Israel is forced to inspect all ships headed for the Gaza Strip.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Blitz: Turkey-Israel Relations Never Same Again, Gul

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, JUNE 3 — The Turkish President, Abdullah Gul, has said that Turkey’s relations with Israel “will never be the same” after the attack on the Gaza-bound flotilla of pro-Palestinian activists. “Israel has made a mistake for which it will have to repent. The incident is a very serious one and its effects will be felt for some time [by public opinion],” Gul added. The attack on the convoy of pro-Palestinian activists, the Turkish head of state said, “is not an episode that we can forget, that we can be made to forget or that can be hidden. It has led to irreparable consequences and from now on, relations between Turkey and Israel will never be as they once were”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Blitz: Istanbul, Victims’ Funeral, Thousands Present

(ANSAmed) — ISTANBUL, JUNE 3 — Thousands of people came together today in Istanbul to pray for the victims of the Israeli raid on the pro-Palestinian flotilla to Gaza. They shouted slogans in support of Hamas and against Israel. The coffins of the nine victims — eight Turks and one Turkish American — have been carried, covered with the national flag, to the Fatih Mosque. The mosque, from the Ottoman era, is situated in an area of Istanbul with strong Islamic sentiments. “Down with Israel”, “Israel is the angel of death”, shouted the crowd in front of the Fatih Mosque, waving Turkish and Palestinian flags. Another slogan that was heard often was “We are soldiers of Hamas”, the Palestinian fundamentalist movement that has been in control of the Gaza Strip since 2007. According to television network NTV, there were 15,000 to 20,000 people on the streets, many of them wearing the Palestinian keffiyeh. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Diplomats Seek Israeli Approval for Gaza Aid Vessel

Jerusalem, 3 June (AKI) — European diplomats have been engaged in talks with senior Israeli foreign ministry officials to allow an Irish-owned humanitarian aid vessel to deliver supplies to the Gaza Strip, according to Israeli daily Haaretz. The Rachel Corrie was to have been part of the flotilla that was stopped by Israeli naval forces early Monday but was delayed due to technical problems.

The Israeli foreign ministry for the past few days has been exchanging messages with the group operating the ship to allow it to dock, according to the report. It is expected to arrive this weekend.

Ireland has also asked Israel to allow the Irish-owned ship to break the Gaza blockade.

The Rachel Corrie, named for the American pro-Palestinian activist who was run over by an Israeli bulldozer in Gaza in 2003, left Malta on Monday with about a dozen activists aboard and 1,000 tonnes of aid.

Its cargo includes cement, medical equipment, toys and printing paper.

“We don’t want to be heroes or martyrs, but we have to keep going ahead,” activist Jenny Graham told the Irish daily, The Belfast Telegraph.

The Rachel Corrie’s trip to Gaza is sponsored by two non-governmental organisations, from Ireland and Malaysia.

On board is Irish Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mairead Corrigan Maguire and former United Nations deputy secretary-general Denis Halliday. Also on board are a group of Malaysians sponsored by the former prime minister of Malaysia.

Nine activists were killed when Israeli naval commandos boarded six vessels in a humanitarian aid convoy on Monday.

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

Islamist Activist Barred From Leaving Israel

Jerusalem, 3 June (AKI) — Leader of the Islamic Movement Sheikh Raed Salah who took part in the Gaza humanitarian flotilla has been released from prison and placed under house arrest and temporarily barred from leaving Israel. Salah was released on Thursday three days after he was detained for his alleged role in the clashes that erupted during the Israeli raid in which nine people were killed (photo).

According to Israeli media reports, Ashkelon Magistrates’ Court ruled that Salah and three others who participated in the flotilla were released on bail of 150,000 shekels (38,600 dollars).

They are to remain under house arrest for five days and will be prevented from leaving the country for 45 days.

Police had requested a 10-day house arrest and to block them from leaving Israel for six months.

Salah, who heads the northern branch of the Islamic Movement, told the court prior to his release that Israeli navy commandos who stormed the Turkish-flagged Mavi Marmara had deliberately tried to kill him.

“IDF soldiers tried to kill me. They fired in the direction of someone else they thought was me,” he told the media.

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

‘Israel Arrested Dutch Hamas Leader’

AMSTERDAM, 03/06/10 — A Dutchman who was arrested by Israeli commandos on board a boat underway to Gaza is said by intelligence services to be a leader in terrorist organisation Hamas, De Telegraaf reports.

“Amin Abou Rashed is the leader of Hamas in the Netherlands”, said an intelligence source in the newspaper yesterday. “He appears in several intelligence reports under an alias, namely Amin Abou Ibrahim. He works for the notorious al-Aksa Nederland foundation, suspected of fund-raising for Hamas. He is also very active in the Palestinian Platform for Human Rights and Solidarity Foundation (PPMS),” De Telegraaf quotes the source as saying.

Rashed is also named in relation to the Holy Land Foundation, a ‘charitable organisation’ that was wound up in America for financing Hamas. As a member of a delegation in Cairo, he was received last year by the Dutch ambassador in Egypt.

The originally Palestinian Rashed has a Dutch passport and operates from Rotterdam. In his fight against Israel, he lost an arm earlier, according to the paper, which does not specify exactly how this happened.

Israel announced Tuesday evening that all arrested foreign activists will be released within two days. Among them are the 43 year old Amin Abou Rashed and a second Dutch national, Anne de Jong, 29.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Israel Orders Diplomats’ Families Out of Turkey

Israel ordered families of its diplomats to leave Turkey as relations between the two countries sunk to a new low after a deadly Israeli attack on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla Monday.

Israeli media reported Wednesday that the foreign ministry ordered the families of its diplomats in Turkey to leave because of the uproar over the deadly raid by the Israeli navy. The diplomatic mission itself would remain in Turkey, said Israel Radio and other stations and newspapers. The ministry would neither confirm nor deny the reports.

Turkey, which backed the Gaza aid mission, has been most vocal in condemning the raid, describing it as a “massacre.”

The fallout also expanded far beyond the region. Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said Nicaragua has announced it is suspending — though not severing — diplomatic ties with Israel because of the raid.

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

Israel Obeyed International Law: Legally, The Gaza Flotilla Conflict is an Open-and-Shut Case

By Alan Dershowitz

Although the wisdom of Israel’s actions in stopping the Gaza flotilla is open to question, the legality of its actions is not. What Israel did was entirely consistent with both international and domestic law. In order to understand why, the complex events at sea must be deconstructed.

First, there is the Israeli blockade of Gaza. Recall that when Israel ended its occupation of Gaza, it did not impose a blockade. Indeed, it left behind agricultural facilities in the hope that the newly liberated Gaza Strip would become a peaceful and productive area.

Instead, Hamas seized control over Gaza and engaged in acts of warfare against Israel. These acts of warfare featured anti-personnel rockets, nearly 10,000 of them, directed at Israeli civilians. This was not only an act of warfare, it was a war crime. Israel responded to the rockets by declaring a blockade, the purpose of which was to assure that no rockets or other material that could be used for making war against Israeli civilians were permitted into Gaza.

Israel allowed humanitarian aid through its checkpoints. Egypt as well participated in the blockade. There was never a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, merely a shortage of certain goods that would end if the rocket attacks ended.

The legality of blockades as a response to acts of war is not subject to serious doubt. When the United States blockaded Cuba during the missile crisis, the State Department issued an opinion declaring the blockade to be lawful. This despite the fact that Cuba had not engaged in any act of belligerence against the United States. Other nations have similarly enforced naval blockades to assure their own security.

The second issue is whether it is lawful to enforce a legal blockade in international waters. Again, law and practice are clear. If there is no doubt that the offending ships have made a firm determination to break the blockade, then the blockade may be enforced before the offending ships cross the line into domestic waters. Again the United States and other Western countries have frequently boarded ships at high sea in order to assure their security.

Third, were those onboard the ship simply innocent noncombatants? The act of breaking a military siege is itself a military act. And let there be no mistake about the purpose of this flotilla; it was decidedly not to provide humanitarian aid to the residents of Gaza, but rather to break the entirely lawful Israeli military blockade. The proof lies in the fact that both Israel and Egypt offered to have all the food, medicine and other humanitarian goods sent to Gaza, if the boats agreed to land in an Israeli or Egyptian port. That humanitarian offer was soundly rejected by the leaders of the flotilla, who publicly announced: “This mission is not about delivering humanitarian supplies, it’s about breaking Israel’s siege on 1.5 million Palestinians.”

It is a close question whether “civilians” who agree to participate in the breaking of a military blockade have become combatants. They are certainly something different from pure innocents, and perhaps they are also somewhat different from pure armed combatants.

Finally, we come to the issue of the right of self-defense engaged in by Israeli soldiers who were attacked by activists on the boat. There can be little doubt that the moment any person on the boat picked up a weapon and began to attack Israeli soldiers, they lost their status as innocent civilians.

Even if that were not the case, under ordinary civilian rules of self-defense, every Israeli soldier had the right to protect himself and his colleagues from attack by knife- and pipe-wielding assailants. Lest there be any doubt that Israeli soldiers were under attack, simply view the online video and watch the so-called peaceful activists pummel Israeli soldiers with metal rods.

Every individual has the right to repel such attacks by the use of lethal force. That was especially true in this case, when the soldiers were so outnumbered on the deck of the ship. Recall that Israel’s rules of engagement required its soldiers to fire only paintballs unless their lives were in danger.

Would any country in the world deny its soldiers the right of self-defense under comparable circumstances?

Israel’s critics fail to pinpoint precisely what Israel did that allegedly violates international law. Some have wrongly focused on the blockade itself. Others have erroneously pointed to the location of the boarding in international waters. Most have simply pointed to the deaths of so-called peace activists, though these deaths appear to be the result of lawful acts of self-defense.

There can be little doubt that the mission was a failure, as judged by its results. It is important, however, to distinguish between faulty policies and alleged violations of international law. Only the latter would warrant international intervention, and the case has simply not been made that Israel violated international law.

           — Hat tip: KGS[Return to headlines]

Mitchell to Abbas, US for Access to Goods in Gaza

(ANSAmed) — TEL AVIV, JUNE 3 — The United States intends to continue “to work with determination” so that the population of the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian enclave that has been under the control of the Islamic radical group Hamas since 2007, is able to receive everything necessary. This was indicated today by US envoy to the region George Mitchell in a meeting in the West Bank with moderate Palestinian National Authority (PNA) President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), as part of the continuation of proximity talks launched by the USA in an attempt to resume the peace process with Israel. Mitchell indicated that the current situation is not sustainable for the people of Gaza, but he did not make explicit referral to the blockade imposed by Israel on the Strip, which has again become the focus of a new wave of international criticism (also in the USA) after the bloody attack on Monday against a flotilla of pro-Palestinian activists bringing aid to the area. Making reference to the episode — widely condemned and called “state-sponsored terrorism” yesterday by Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) — Mitchell hoped that the incident would not slow proximity talks. He added that “the incidents underline the need for progress in negotiations”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

NYT: Gaza Blockade Untenable for US Government

(ANSAmed) — ROME, JUNE 3 — The Obama administration considers Israel’s blockade of Gaza to be untenable and plans to press for another approach to ensure Israel’s security while allowing more supplies into the Palestinian area, reports the New York Times on its website, quoting senior government officials. “There is no question that we need a new approach to Gaza,” said one official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “Gaza has become the symbol in the Arab world of the Israeli treatment of Palestinians, and we have to change that. We need to remove the impulse for the flotillas. The Israelis also realise this is not sustainable.” (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Raid: Rachel Corrie Expected on Monday, Press

(ANSAmed) — TEL AVIV, JUNE 3 — The ‘Rachel Corrie’ is behind schedule and is not expected in a contact zone with the Israeli blockade before Monday. The ‘Rachel Corrie’ is a ship carrying pro-Palestine activists from Ireland with a load of aid and the intention of challenging the blockade of the Gaza Strip. The news was reported by the online version of Haaretz on the basis of information released by the organisers. The ‘Rachel Corrie’, named in memory of a young American pacifist killed by Israeli forces in 2003 during a demonstration against the demolition of houses in the south of the Gaza Strip, was set to take part in the ‘Freedom Flotilla’ convoy which was raided on Monday in international waters by Israeli special forces with a death toll of nine. For technical and organisational reasons, it got behind. Onboard are western activists and it cannot be excluded that some more — perhaps even some Italians — may board in a Mediterranean port before it reaches the zone. The Israeli authorities have repeated that it does not intend to let the ship pass, but the promoters have confirmed their intention to push ahead, claiming that the blockade of the Gaza Strip is illegal and stating at the same time that it does not want to commit any act of active resistance in the event of another raid. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Raid: Israel Discusses Setting Up Committee With USA

(ANSAmed) — TEL AVIV, JUNE 3 — The Israeli Prime Minister, Benyamin Netanyahu, is working in close collaboration with the US administration to establish an internal commission to investigate the raid on the international pro-Palestine flotilla which left 9 people dead. The news was reported by several of the major Israeli newspapers, from Yediot Ahronot to Haaretz, against a backdrop of accusations of brutality and gratuitous violence carried out against the Israeli forces by many activists (including Italians) who were released just hours ago. According to the press, Washington is pushing for an “independent” commission. It is believed that an authoritative and “internationally renowned” jurist could lead the commission. Its members would be Israeli, but with the presence of several “American observers”. Israel on the other hand is against the plan for an international commission approved yesterday by the UN Commission for Human Rights in Geneva. The plan was voted against by the US (as well as by Italy and Holland) and was condemned by the Israeli Foreign Ministry yesterday evening. Open opposition to any international investigation was repeated today by two ministers from Netanyahu’s Likud party (right): the ex Chief of Staff Moshe Yaalon, one of the ‘hawks’ of the security cabinet, and the Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, more moderate, who suggested the immediate forming of a “parliamentary commission” within the Knesset “for the verification” of what happened, but he did not exclude that his country could be “unfortunately forced” to accept “other solutions for tactical reasons.” The Supreme Court of Israel, for its part, has rejected charges presented by several pacifist organisations and local left-wing organisations against those responsible for and those who carried out the raid, backing the theory that the Israeli special forces shot in “self defence”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Raid: Heroes’ Welcome for Turkish Activists

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, JUNE 3 Hundreds of Turkish pro-Palestinian activists caught up in the Israeli raid of the Gaza-bound flotilla have returned home at dawn today and received a heroes’ welcome from some 10,000 people who had been waiting for hours at the international Ataturk airport in Istanbul. Most of the 466 passengers onboard the three Turkish Airlines planes which landed after 2am local time, were Turkish, but there were also 5 Italians, as well as Britons, Spaniards, Dutch and Danes amongst them. Many of the people waiting at the airport waved Turkish and Palestinian flags and held up banners reading “Israel murdered”. Several of the demonstrators cut up an Israeli flag. A few hours earlier, on the runway at the military air base near Ankara, two military planes landed carrying 18 injured people (17 Turks and an Irish citizen), who were immediately taken to a hospital in the capital, where a small crowd had been waiting to welcome them. They too were waving Turkish and Palestinian flags. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Raid: Ban Calls for Immediate Lift of Gaza Blockade

(ANSAmed) — NEW YORK, JUNE 3 — “The blockade of Gaza must be lifted immediately,” because “it punishes innocent civilians.” UN chief Ban Ki-moon was speaking at a press conference at the UN HQ in New York. He also added that Israel “must supply all the details” that is has about the raid on the Gaza-bound flotilla “as quickly as possible.” Ban Ki-moon also said that he had been in contact with all the parties involved in the crisis: Palestinian, Israeli and Turkish leaders and “the key representatives of the UN Security Council.” In an emergency meeting after the raid, the Security Council hoped that a “credible and impartial” investigation would be begun, but they were immediately in disagreement over the nature of the investigation: the US said that an Israeli investigation would suffice, whilst the Arab front asked for the intervention of the UN. Ban Ki-moon said that “further consultation” would be required before deciding how to follow the UN Security Council’s request, also because yesterday the UN Human Rights Council (based in Geneva) acted independently by calling for an independent investigation to assess whether human rights violations had been committed. “We need to deal with the concerns of all the parties. Of course we need a quick response, but at the moment we are in the middle of consultations,” added the UN chief, making it clear that mediation between all the parties is proving difficult. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

S.Craxi: Cooperation Work Ongoing in Territories

(ANSAmed) — BETHLEHEM (WEST BANK), JUNE 2 — Italian cooperation work in the Palestinian territories is “proceeding, even though conditions remain complicated”, assured today Foreign Ministry undersecretary Stefania Craxi who was in Bethlehem (West Bank) today to join the opening of the International Conference for investments in the Palestinian Territories with the encouragement of PNA president Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen). Despite the international crisis unleashed by the Israeli blitz against the flotilla of pacifists that was delivering assistance to the Gaza Strip, the Bethlehem Conference, albeit in limited form, was held nonetheless. Stefania Craxi noted that “The Palestinian people wanted to offer a sign”. The undersecretary met with Tony Blair, the envoy of the Quartet (UN, EU, USA, Russia), to discuss potential projects to be carried out in the region which would be then submitted to interested investors. Blair, who often visits this region of the world, assured that he will “signal to Italy potential areas of action”. Craxi explained that Italian entrepreneurs and SMEs “have already started to invest in Palestine”. Italy made its contribution in Bethlehem presenting a “feasibility plan for the creation of an industrial area next to Jenin”.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Sweden: Organizer: Ship Deaths ‘Premeditated Murder’

The Swedish organizer of the Ship to Gaza has accused Israel of using disproportionate military force against a peaceful aid operation. Mattias Gardell said the Israelis had committed “premeditated murder” and were guilty of piracy.

Gardell, a professor of religious history at Uppsala University and the brains behind the expedition, returned to Stockholm on Thursday afternoon. He was accompanied by six other Swedes who had been held captive in Israel after their ship was boarded by Israeli soldiers.

The activists were met at Stockholm’s Arlanda Airport by a crowd of journalists and sympathizers. Members of the crowd presented flowers Gardell and his colleagues, and chanted “long live Palestine” and anti-Israeli slogans.

Against the backdrop of Palestinian flags, Gardell repeated his account of what he called the murder of nine “civilian humanists.” He described the action of the Israelis as “an incomprehensible bloodbath”, saying that the Israelis knew the ships’ cargo was harmless.

He also said that activists had picked up whatever implements they could find to wrestle Israeli soldiers to the ground:

“There were no weapons on board.”

Gardell added that he had not personally witnessed many of the events on the ship:

“Everyone has a partial picture. It was dark and chaotic,” he said, but claimed that he had formed a more complete understanding of what happened by talking to other activists in prison in Israel.

Asked whether he thought the flotilla had brought a Palestinian state closer he said:

“I hope that these nine people did not die in vain. I hope that it at least undermines the blockade of Gaza so that Palestinians can access the same human rights as everyone else.”

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Middle East

Ankara Turns Its Back on Brussels

The tension between Turkey and Israel after the fatal Israeli naval raid on the flotilla of pro-Palestinian activists goes far beyond a breakdown in the traditionally amicable relations between Ankara and Jerusalem. This is in fact the most acute crisis to date in what used to be the solid and productive relations between Turkey and the West.

Enzo Bettiza

In the aftermath of Israel’s disastrous raid on the Gaza-bound flotilla of pro-Palestinian activists, the extremely complex current situation has at its epicentre not only the disproportionate and absurd moves by Israel’s highly combative right-wing government. At the heart of the problem — which is more historical than short-term political in nature — is the largest and most powerful nation in the Middle East, Turkey. After all, most of the ships in the flotilla set sail from the Turkish coast and from Cyprus. The expedition was organised and funded mainly by IHH, a Turkish fundamentalist NGO. Its flagship was flying the Turkish flag, and the vast majority of the hundred-odd activists on board and the nine victims killed by Israeli naval commandos were Turks.

So word has it that after almost 60 years of economic, political and military alliances between the two countries, this raid marks the beginning of a war between Israel and Turkey. Actually, although indirect, it was the most visible and shocking nadir in the long-declining curve of Ankara’s relations with the state of Israel, its neighbour, but also with the West as a whole. What we are now seeing is a strong and vital country with a population of 80 million, which for decades served as NATO’s stronghold in the Middle East and whose army is considered second only to that of the US, turning its back on the North Atlantic world.

The Sirens of Islamic fundamentalism

Though the Turkish nation was technically Europeanised and secularised by Kemal Atatürk after World War I, its gradual metamorphosis and return to Islam began in 1989 with the collapse of Communism and the end of the Cold War. The dissolution of the rival blocs reopened the prospects, at once unexpected and ancestral, of Ankara’s hegemonic penetration into the Caucasus, Azerbaijan, and the Islamic republics of the ex-USSR. Its rapprochement with Syria and its initially cautious and later overt overtures to Iran subsequently completed this psychological, political and religious evolution from an unfinished Europeanisation process to a reforging of atavistic ties to Asia. The government, while retaining a prudent and secretive approach, began playing a tighter game in 2002 when the moderate Islamic Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power, led by the skilful and arrogant Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his team-mate Abdullah Gül, now prime minister and president respectively.

Erdogan immediately embarked on long and difficult negotiations for Turkish accession to the European Union, which the Americans — unlike many Europeans — endorsed as a way to keep the country within the NATO fold. But that was also the beginning of some extremely ambiguous wheeler-dealing. It wasn’t quite clear where Erdogan and his party aimed to steer post-modern Turkey. While the often fanaticised Anatolian populations were succumbing to the Sirens of Islamic fundamentalism, Machiavellian Erdogan made some commitments to Brussels and a number of pledges on civil rights issues that went against the grain of the national and nationalist tradition: viz. abolition of capital punishment, suspension of efforts to make adultery a criminal offence, kid-glove treatment of the Kurds, and reaching out to Armenian Christians struggling for acknowledgment of the genocide.

Erdogan, re-Asianising Turkey

Erdogan and Gül, who would appear in public accompanied by their scrupulously veiled wives, gave the impression not so much of desiring a rapprochement with Europe as of using Europe to divest themselves — by invoking European stipulations and demands — of the historical and parallel power of the Kemalists, who have been present in Turkish institutions and society since the 1920s. The commissioners and MEPs in Brussels deliberately and short-sightedly exported an excessive brand of democratic moralism: they had a tendency to look down on the generals and magistrates as a single caste that carried out coups, regardless of the fact that such coups during the 1980s put an end to confused and faltering parliaments and this for short transitional periods.

For Erdogan, it was indispensable to strike a hard enough blow to reduce their importance as the guarantors and guardians of Mustafa Kemal’s secular legacy, in order to turn back and, to a certain extent, re-Asianise Turkey, which would then become the leader of the Muslim countries in the region. He has made clever use of European rules to chip away at the Europeanism of the secular junta. It is not by chance that on 22 February he ordered the arrest of over 40 army dignitaries, 14 of whom were top brass. So it comes as no surprise that Erdogan should rally to the cause of the activists aboard the pacifistic flotilla’s flagship, condemning the Israeli raid as an “act of piracy” and “state terrorism”.

From Turkey

West is no longer best

The rise of the emerging countries — China, India, Brazil, Russia — is revolutionising the global geopolitical landscape. And in this new landscape, observes the Turkish paper Hürriyet, “Turkey, which is also growing fast, is showing increasing tendencies of going with ‘The Rest’, and less with ‘The West’.” “This is interpreted as ‘Islamicization of Turkish foreign policy’ by some in Europe and the United States,” adds Hürriyet, “but developments point to something much broader: anti-Americanism in particular, and anti-Westernism in general among Turks is increasingly palpable. Remaining committed to Turkey’s Western orientation in this climate is becoming a challenge for an elite minority. But Turkey’s drifting away from the U.S. and Europe is not something that worries mainstream Turks.” This trend goes hand in hand with an upsurge of self-assurance in the emerging countries, including Turkey, which has now “ found the confidence to talk down a Europe whose global influence is no longer seen as secure”.

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

EU Alarm Over Middle East Situation

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, JUNE 2 — The development of human rights and democracy in Middle Eastern countries is at the centre of the “Reform in the Arab world” conference, which is being held today at the European Parliament. “European governments legitimise totalitarian regimes in the Middle East with the excuse of alarm over terrorism and their own economic interests in the region,” said the political commentator, Fodil Boumala, director of the Oqool centre for strategic studies in Algiers, during a press conference. The problems are widespread especially in terms of freedom of expression. “Press control, the closure of internet sites and the total closure of free television channels” are problems common to almost all countries in the Middle East. The situation is even worse in some countries, such as Algeria, where “opinion crime figures in the penal code”. Another problem area is women’s rights. “The development of family rights varies significantly from country to country, with Tunisia the most advanced, and Saudi Arabia and Bahrain the most backward, with the rest in the middle,” said Munira Fakhro, a professor at the University of Bahrain and presidential candidate for the opposition party Waad. “Countries in the Persian Gulf are lagging behind the rest of the Arab world. They have a very weak civil society, where the state controls everything, and only Kuwait has a partial democracy with the direct election of two thirds of members of parliaments, with the rest appointed by the government. In other countries, it is worse,” Fakhro continued. For the last few months, to improve the development of human rights, the European Parliament has had an extra tool, namely the power to approve or reject international agreements signed by the EU, a power recognised by the Lisbon Treaty. “This means that there will be greater consideration of human rights in association agreements,” said Heidi Hautala, the chairman of the European Parliament’s sub-commission on human rights. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

French Judge Says Turkish Charity Behind Gaza Flotilla Had Terror Ties

(AP) PARIS (AP) — The Turkish Islamic charity behind a flotilla of aid ships that was raided by Israeli forces on its way to Gaza had ties to terrorism networks, including a 1999 al-Qaida plot to bomb Los Angeles International Airport, France’s former top anti-terrorism judge said Wednesday.

The Istanbul-based Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief, known by its Turkish acronym IHH, had “clear, long-standing ties to terrorism and Jihad,” former investigating judge Jean-Louis Bruguiere told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

Bruguiere, who led the French judiciary’s counterterrorism unit for nearly two decades before retiring in 2007, didn’t indicate whether IHH now has terror ties, but said it did when he investigated it in the late 1990s.

“They were basically helping al-Qaida when (Osama) bin Laden started to want to target U.S. soil,” he said.

Some members of an international terrorism cell known as the Fateh Kamel network then worked at the IHH, he said. Kamel, an Algerian-Canadian dual national, had ties to the nascent al-Qaida, Bruguiere said.

Among Kamel’s followers was Ahmed Ressam, an Algerian who was arrested in the U.S. state of Washington in December 1999 on his way to bomb Los Angeles International Airport as part of an al-Qaida plot.

“IHH had a role in the organization that led to the plot,” Bruguiere said, reiterating sworn testimony he made in a U.S. Federal Court during Ressam’s trial. Ressam is serving a 22-year prison sentence.

Bruguiere issued an international warrant for Kamel, Ressam’s former mentor, who was extradited from Jordan to France in 1999 and sentenced to eight years in prison on terror-related charges.

IHH vehemently denies ties to radical groups. The group is not among some 45 groups listed as terrorists by the U.S. State Department’s Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism. Nine people on board the IHH flotilla were killed by Israeli forces on Monday.

“We are a legal organization,” IHH board member Omer Faruk Korkmaz said late Wednesday in response to Bruguiere’s statements. “We have nothing to do with any illegal organization,” he said.

“We don’t know Ahmed Ressam or Fateh Kamel,” Korkmaz said. “We don’t approve of the actions of any terrorist organization in the world.”

French investigators found in the 1990s that “several members of Fateh Kamel’s network worked at the IHH as a cover,” Bruguiere said. “It was too systematic and too widespread for the NGO (non-governmental organization) not to know” their real goal, he said.

The former judge, renowned for tracking down convicted terrorist Carlos the Jackal, said he didn’t believe the IHH could have been infiltrated by terrorists without its knowledge.

“It’s hard to prove, but all elements of the investigation showed that part of the NGO served to hide jihad-type activities,” Bruguiere said. “I’m convinced this was a clear strategy, known by IHH.”

The judge said he was personally involved in a raid with French and Turkish police at IHH headquarters in Istanbul in 1998, where they found weapons, false documents and other “incriminating” material.

“It was clearly proven that some of the NGO’s work was not charity, it was to provide a facade for moving funds, weapons and mujahedeen to and from Bosnia and Afghanistan” — areas focused on by Islamic militants then.

In Istanbul, Korkmaz, of IHH, confirmed the late ‘90s police raid but denied that any weapons were found and said there was no evidence found of links to militancy.

Bruguiere would not specify how many members of Kamel’s terror cell worked at IHH or give their names, but he said one of the suspects, a man from Bosnia, appeared in another terror-related case as recently as 2005 — though there was no indication at the time that the man still had ties to IHH.

Elements within the charity supported jihadi operations in the 1990s, Bruguiere said, before adding: “I don’t know whether they continued to do so” more recently.

“But it seemed clear at the time that it was thanks to a measure of political backing within the Turkish government that it (IHH) could continue to operate,” despite the strong suspicions against it, Bruguiere said.

Bruguiere retired from the judiciary in 2007 when he took part in an election to become a lawmaker in the conservative party of French President Nicolas Sarkozy. He lost his bid.

Bruguiere, 67, is now the coordinator for the European Union in a terrorism finance tracking program jointly run with the United States.

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters on Wednesday that “we know that IHH representatives have met with senior Hamas officials in Turkey, Syria, and Gaza over the past three years. That is obviously of great concern to us.”

But, he said the U.S. could not “validate” that IHH has connections to al Qaida.

           — Hat tip: KGS[Return to headlines]

Israel Military Ties Threaten AKP Support as Islamists Call for Stronger Reaction

Turkey’s continued military ties with Israel have become the target of criticism by the country’s Islamists, who say the prime minister was not strong enough in his remarks condemning Israel’s attack on a Gaza aid flotilla.

“If the military relations between Turkey and Israel continue, the [ruling Justice and Development Party, or] AKP will lose support by creating more disappointment among its base,” said Mehmet Sever, the head of the Istanbul International Brotherhood and Solidarity Association, or IBS, an Islamist Turkish charity.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s speech to his party’s group meeting Tuesday, in which he blamed Israel for the deadly assault, was seen as “not strong enough” by the AKP’s Islamist base, according to Sever. Party supporters expect more action, he added.

“There is disappointment among the AKP grassroots as they were expecting more from the government,” Sever said. “But this incident is very recent and we must see what the government does next.”

Diplomatically speaking, he added, Erdogan’s speech was severe and on the mark, and has already had the effect of making Israel start to release those in custody.

“We are expecting the government to take more deterrent actions,” Necdet Kutsal, the editor in chief of Milli Gazete, which has close ties to the Islamist Saadet Party, told the Daily News. “We have learned that three military exercises with Israel were canceled. This is a good development.”

Though Kutsal agreed that Erdogan’s speech was too soft, he said it is important that all political parties stand firm with the same position.

The government should cancel its military ties with Israel and deport the Israeli ambassador immediately, Numan Kurtulmus, the head of Saadet Party, said at a press conference Wednesday.

Not all Islamist groups found Erdogan’s speech and the government’s reaction disappointing, however. “The AKP took the right steps in this period [after the attack]. The severest speech in United Nations history was made [and] Egypt opened the border gate,” Abdurrahman Dilipak, a columnist for the Islamist daily Vakit, told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review.

Saying that he believed the speeches by Erdogan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu were both important, and that the prime minister has great support from society, Dilipak also warned about the need for follow up. “This support depends on the following developments and keeping the promises that have been made. The next steps that will be taken may increase that support,” he said.

Dilipak said Turkey should have sent war ships to escort the aid flotilla, calling the failure to do so a security weakness, a position also held by Ali Bulaç, a columnist for conservative daily Zaman.

“If the government thought that Israel would not attack the aid ships, then it failed to evaluate the situation… If it expected that to happen and it did not take precautions, then it means hundreds of volunteers [on the aid ship] were put in a dangerous situation,” Bulaç wrote in his column Wednesday.

The columnist said Turkey could have sent two war ships to secure the protection of the aid vessels. Sever, however, disagreed, saying the humanitarian shipments were a civilian initiative and it would not have been right to have them accompanied by military vessels.

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

Jordan: Commissioner Fule Meets Women Victims of Violence

(ANSAmed) — AMMAN, JUNE 2 — European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy Stefan Fule visited today the EU-funded Jordan Women’s Union Shelter in Amman. During the visit, Fule met with some of the women benefiting from the shelter’s services, which include protection, legal, social and psychological counseling, and rehabilitative vocation training to vulnerable and abused women in Jordan. He also met with the shelter’s president, Amneh Zubi, and general manager, Nadia Shamroukh, who explained to the Commissioner about the services provided by the shelter and their importance for women victims of violence. Commissioner Fule expressed appreciation for shelter staff’s hard work, and remarked that in seeking to improve the lives of vulnerable groups, “lawmakers’ decisions need to be informed by those who volunteer to make change happen on the ground.” He highly commended the commitment and contribution of civil society to such crucial causes. The Jordan Women’s Union Shelter received a financial allocation from the EU of approximately 385,000, and supports women victims of violence in Jordan, irrespective of nationality or circumstance, by providing them with the necessary services to safely and successfully reintegrate into Jordanian society. The EU also supports the organisation in a regional project aimed at reforming the Family Laws in Arab countries. Commissioner Fule is on a two-day visit to Jordan, which concludes today. Commissioner Fle had met with King Abdullah II, with whom he discussed Jordan’s political and development priorities and ways to strengthen EU-Jordan relations. During his stay in Jordan, Fule also had the opportunity to meet with Prime Minister Samir Rifai, Minister of Transport Alaa Batayneh, Minister of Planning and International Cooperation Jafar Hassan, Minister of Public Sector Reform and Minister of State for Mega-Projects Imad Fakhoury, Minister of Industry and Trade Amer Al-Hadidi and Minister of Municipal Affairs Ali Ghezawi, among others. Discussions with various Jordanian interlocutors have served to familiarise Commissioner Fle with the top issues facing Jordan, laying the ground for better cooperation in light of Jordan’s bid for Enhanced Status with the European Union.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Kuwait Bank Invests in Turkish Eye-Hospital Chain

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, JUNE 2 — NBK Capital, a subsidiary of the National Bank of Kuwait, has acquired 30% of leading Turkish eye-hospital chain Dunyagoz for an undisclosed sum, as daily Hurriyet reports. The partners will now focus on expanding their network of 19 eye hospitals in Turkey and abroad, Dunyagoz Hospitals Group Chairman Eray Kapcoglu told reporters Tuesday in Istanbul. “Our plan is to invest approximately $20 million in five to six new hospitals in Turkey and expand our network overseas in the Balkans, the Turkic Republics, the Gulf Countries and Europe in the next 12 months,” said Kapcoglu, who founded the hospital chain in 1996. The locations for new hospitals are likely to be Izmir, Bursa, Kayseri, Gaziantep, Adana and Samsun, he said. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Mgr Luigi Padovese Assassinated in Southern Turkey

An aide stabbed the prelate to death. A pastor closely involved in ecumenical work and in the dialogue with Islam, he was getting ready to travel to Cyprus to meet the Pope. After Fr Andrea Santoro was killed, he spoke about the slain priest. The director of the Holy See Press Office comments the event.

Ankara (AsiaNews) —Mgr Luigi Padovese, bishop of Iskenderun, in Anatolia, was killed today around 1 pm. A priest friend had just met and spoken to him right after 12 o’clock. The prelate’s driver and aide, a Muslim who had worked for the prelate for some time, is thought to have attacked the bishop with a knife. Eyewitnesses said that the driver appeared “depressed, violent and threatening” in recent days.

Mgr Padovese, 63, was appointed Apostolic Vicar to Anatolia in 2004. Currently, he was the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Turkey.

He was closely involved in ecumenical work and in the dialogue with Islam as well working to revive Turkey’s Christian communities.

He had met Turkish authorities yesterday to discuss problems affecting Christian minorities. He was supposed to visit Cyprus tomorrow to meet Benedict XVI who is visiting the island where he will issue the Instrumentum Laboris for the Synod for the Churches of the Middle East.

This is not the first time that the Catholic Church in Turkey is the subject of threats, violence and death. In 2006, a Fidei Donum priest, Fr Andrea Santoro, was assassinated in Trabzon.

In 2006, during the memorial Mass for the murdered priest, Mgr Padovese said, “we forgive whoever carried out this act. It is not by destroying someone who holds opposing views that conflicts can be resolved. The only path that must be taken is that of dialogue, of reciprocal recognition, of closeness and friendliness. But as long as television programs and newspaper articles produce material that shine a bad light on Christians and show them as enemies of Islam (and vice versa), how can we imagine a climate of peace?” Always talking about Fr Santoro, he added, “Whoever wanted to erase his physical presence does not know that his witness is now even stronger.”

Fr Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office, said, “What has happened is terrible if we think about other examples of bloodshed in Turkey, like the murder of Fr Santoro a few years ago. [. . .] Let us pray that the Lord may reward him for his great service to the Church and that Christians not be discouraged,” but instead “follow his strong witness and continue to profess their faith in the region.”

           — Hat tip: SF[Return to headlines]

Saudi Arabia: Scholars Call for ‘Jihad’ Over Israeli Raid

Riyadh, 3 June (AKI) — Leading Muslim scholars and religious leaders in Saudi Arabia have called for jihad against Israel after the deadly raid on the Gaza humanitarian aid flotilla this week. In a statement distributed to Arab media, 70 of the country’s prominent religious leaders said Muslims had an “obligation” to take action and to help end the embargo on Gaza aid.

“We have to strike at the heart of Israel to drive them out of Muslim territories in a way that breaks the Gaza embargo,” the statement said.

“Dialogue and negotiations only increases violence by the Jews,” the statement said. “The only way to save our (Muslim) nation from attacks and humiliation is to return to the way of Allah.”

The Saudi scholars, who included the influential preacher Salman al-Awda whose sermons have influenced Islamist political thinkers at home and abroad.

The group condemned the attack carried out by Israeli naval forces against the aid flotilla and called on Arab governments to press for the release of all the activists who were arrested by Israel.

Almost all the 600 activists have been freed. But Israeli media reported on Thursday that Islamic Movement leader Sheikh Raed Salah remained under house arrest after he was detained for his alleged role in the clashes.

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

Turkey Boosts Security for Jewish Residents Amid Protests

Turkey has beefed up security to protect its Jewish minority and Israel’s diplomatic missions in response to increased tensions over Israel’s deadly raid on an aid ship dispatched by a Turkish NGO, Interior Minister Besir Atalay said Wednesday.

Security has been stepped up at 20 points in Istanbul alone, where there are several synagogues and centers serving 23,000 Jewish residents. Measures have been taken at residences, consulates and places of worship in the city, according to Atalay.

The move came as hundreds of Turks protested against Israel for the third day Wednesday. The interior minister said no harm had been done, or would be allowed to come, to any Jewish person during demonstrations staged in Turkey.

Turkish resentment of Israel has risen dramatically since Monday’s killing of nine people, including as many as seven Turks, on the aid ship. Following the deadly incident, Turkey recalled its ambassador to Israel and scrapped planned war games with Israel.

Despite Atalay’s reassurances, the Jewish community in Turkey is definitely worried, according to Ivo Molinas, the editor in chief of the Istanbul-based weekly publication Shalom, who said the anger in the country could turn very easily to anti-Semitism. “The rhetoric used by the prime minister has been very radical,” Molinas said.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has launched a series of harsh verbal attacks on Israel since Monday’s raid. More than 20,000 people demonstrated in Turkey after the attack on the Gaza-bound flotilla, many of them burning Israeli flags.

“But the prime minister also said Tuesday that he was against anti-Semitism. He says it during each crisis but he repeated it yesterday,” added Molinas, whose newspaper has a circulation of around 5,000. “Both him and the leaders of the opposition have said that all of this will have no effect on the Jews of Turkey.”

- — -

Compiled from Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Anatolia News Agency reports by the Daily News staff.

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

Turkey Aims to Raise Trade Volume With Syria to $5 Bln

(ANSAmed) — DAMASCUS, MAY 3 — Turkey aimed to rise its trade volume with Syria to USD 5 billion by 2012, Anatolia news agency reports quoting Turkish State Minister for foreign trade Zafer Caglayan. Caglayan, who paid a visit to Syria, told reporters that the Turkish-Syrian relations have been making progress. Some 250 Turkish businesspeople have nearly USD 700 million of investments in Syria, he said. Caglayan said Turkish businessmen should boost their investments in Syria which had several opportunities and Turkish companies were eager to invest in hotels, shopping malls and factories there. Caglayan had a meeting with Syrian Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs Abdallah al-Dardari and Economy & Trade Minister Lamia Asi in Damascus on Saturday. Following the meeting, Dardari said a Turkish-Syrian bank would be established in Syria by the end of 2010. (ANSAmed).

2010-05-03 09:57

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Turkey Earns 1.1 Bln USD From Hazelnut Exports

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, JUNE 2 — Turkey earned USD 1.1 billion of income from hazelnut exports in the first nine months of the export season that began in September 2009, as Anatolia news agency reports. The Black Sea Hazelnut and Products Exporters’ Association said Wednesday Turkey exported 178,823 tonnes of hazelnuts between September 1, 2009 and May 31, 2010 and earned USD 1.1 billion from its exports. Turkey exported 133,681 tonnes of hazelnuts to European Union (EU) member states, 20,504 tonnes to non-EU European countries, 14,993 tonnes to overseas countries, and 9,645 tonnes to other countries. In the same period of the previous season (September 1, 2008 and May 31, 2009), Turkey exported 201,290 tonnes of hazelnuts and earned JSD 956.6 billion. Exporting to almost 90 countries, Turkey has the biggest share in hazelnut production and export in the world. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Turkey: Catholic Bishop Murdered in South

Istanbul, 3 June (AKI) — A Catholic bishop has been stabbed to death in his home in the southern Turkish province of Hatay, according to the state-run Anatolian news agency. Luigi Padovese, who served in a diocese in the town of Iskenderun near the town of Antioch, was killed at his home, the agency said, without providing further details.

A source told the private TV network, NTV, that the 63-year-old priest, who had been living in Turkey since 2004, was stabbed by his driver.

After the attack Padovese was immediately transferred to hospital but later died of his wounds.

The bishop’s murder is the latest in a string of attacks in recent years on Christians in Turkey, where they comprise less than one percent of the population of 70 million.

In 2006, Catholic priest Andrea Santoro was murdered in the Black Sea town of Trabzon in an attack blamed on ultra-nationalists and a year later another priest in the western city of Izmir, Adriano Franchini, was stabbed and wounded in the stomach by a 19-year-old after Sunday Mass.

The same year, a group of men entered a Bible-publishing house in the central Anatolian city of Malatya and killed three Christians, including a German national. The five alleged killers are now standing trial for murder.

The killings — in which the victims were tied up and had their throats slit — drew international condemnation.

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

Turkey Bishop Murder Suspect ‘Depressed’

Msgr Padovese ‘had been helping driver with problem’

(ANSA) — Vatican City, June 3 — A Turkish man suspected of murdering the Vatican’s top bishop in Turkey Thursday had been suffering from depression, the prelate’s secretary said.

Bishop Luigi Padovese’s longtime driver Murat Altun is being questioned by police in connection with the fatal stabbing in the southeastern Turkish port of Iskenderun.

Padovese’s secretary, Franciscan missionary nun Eleonora de Stefano, told Catholic news agency Misna she had last heard from the 63-year-old cleric at around 13:00, when he was having lunch with Murat.

“Since Murat had been suffering from severe depression for at least two weeks, he had been seeing Msgr Padovese often, as he was trying to help him come out of it,” Sister de Stefano said.

Msgr Padovese had been set to leave for Cyprus Friday to attend a meeting of Middle Eastern Catholic representatives with Pope Benedict XVI but had not been feeling well himself, she said, and had asked her to annul his and Murat’s ticket to the island.

The governor of Haltay province, where Iskenderun is located, told a Turkish private TV station that Murat “was being treated for psychological problems”.

“On the basis of the first inquiries made by police, the murder does not appear to have had political or religious motives,” said Governor Mehmet Celalettin Lekesiz.

A Milan-born Capuchin friar, Msgr Padovese is the second Catholic priest slain in Turkey in six years, after a Rome-born missionary priest, Father Andrea Santoro, was killed by a teenager in his church in the Black Sea port of Trabzon in February 2006.

Padovese had been Apostolic Vicar of Anatolia since 2004 and was currently head of the Turkish bishops conference.

An academic who had held several posts at Vatican universities, he was considered an expert on Christian-Muslim dialogue and had been working on reviving Turkey’s dwindling Christian communities, the Vatican said.

On Wednesday he had met Turkish officials to discuss minority issues.

The slain bishop loved Turkey, as was apparent in a recent guidebook he wrote, the Vatican said.

At a funeral mass for Father Santoro, Msgr Padovese said: “We forgive those who committed this crime. It is not by annihilating those who think differently that conflicts are resolved”.

Interfaith dialogue was also the focus of the bishop’s last interview with Catholic news agency SIR, on May 26.

In it he stressed the need for Christian communities to unite and stake a claim to “full citizenship” in Muslim countries.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Turkish-Syrian Archaeologists Seek More Collaboration

Capitalizing on improving relations between Turkey and Syria, archaeologists gathered in Istanbul this week to share research in what the keynote speaker termed “a very encouraging and promising development.”

“Now that the borders are open and Syrians and Turks can cross without visas, I hope we can better understand the rise of, and the end of, the late Bronze Age kingdom,” said Dr. Aslihan Yener at the conference’s opening on Monday. “It’s an honor and pleasure to host a conference on Anatolia and Syria at the same time.”

Yener is a professor of archaeology at the Research Center for Anatolian Civilizations, a branch of Koç University and host of the conference at its headquarters in Istanbul’s Beyoglu district.

The academic was among 31 others presenting research Monday and Tuesday on recent archaeological finds in Syria and along Turkey’s border for the conference, titled “Across the Border: Late Bronze-Iron Age Relations between Syria and Anatolia.”

The focus was on the so-called palace economies that dominated the present Anatolia-Syria region during the Late Bronze Age thousands of years ago and the smaller principalities that replaced them during the Iron Age.

Speakers read papers to be published later in a volume in Peeters, an international scholarly journal. Topics of research ranged from artistic artifacts to stone tablets that document grain distribution. Each served to illuminate the chronology of events thousands of years ago in the Hittite Empire and emerging regional cultures.

“It’s surprising following six decades of research that there is little consensus on second millennium B.C. chronology,” Yener said. “We hope to make this clearer.”

Speakers from Germany, the United States and Turkey, among other countries, gave speeches that were accompanied by academic discussion.

The event finished Tuesday with a discussion on interactions between the Hittites, Assyrians, and Arameans — ethnic groups that dominated the region during the Bronze and Iron ages.

“We aim to more accurately contextualize the structural collapses at the end of the Late Bronze Age,” Yener said. “This [conference] provides a lot of new research and there’s a lot to digest.”

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

Turkish Parliament Calls for ‘Effective’ Measures Against Israel

The Turkish Parliament urged the government to implement “effective” measures against Israel over its deadly raid on aid ships bound for Gaza, in a declaration adopted unanimously Wednesday.

The declaration, which was adopted by a show of hands, also calls on the Turkish government to review its political and military ties with Israel.

The lawmakers urged Israel to lift the blockade on Gaza, issue an apology for the deadly raid on Gaza-bound aid ships that left nine activists dead and compensate victims.

Compiled from AP and AFP reports by the Daily News staff.

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

Without a Government, Iraqis Complain About the Lack of Water, Sanitation and Jobs

No government has been set up since elections in March. The economy is stuck; unemployment is rising. People complain that political elites are too distant from ordinary people and their urgent needs.

Baghdad (AsiaNews) — As Iraqis still wait for a new government to take over almost three months after the last elections, they are having to put up with increased security concerns and shifting political alliances. Every day, they also have to survive the effects of the political gridlock: violence, lack of basic services and endless red tape.

In an article dated 28 May, the Christian Science Monitor talked to ordinary Iraqis, and heard their complaints about all sorts of difficulties, whether permits or registrations or even cashing their pension.

Some are so upset that they view their vote in the last elections as “worthless”, blaming the situation on the wide gap that exists between politicians and the people.

In casual conversations, call-in radio shows or in newspaper cartoons, Iraq’s ruling elites are seen as Green Zone dwellers with 24-hour electricity, personal bodyguards, and little empathy for the suffering of ordinary folk.

For Bahaa al Araji, a Member of Parliament allied with militant Shia cleric Muqtada al Sadr, the delay in forming a government “has paralysed all avenues of life.”

For instance, he noted that 111,000 government jobs approved by the outgoing parliament have yet to be filled because the new parliament must set up an employment council to authorise hiring—bad news for a country where the unemployment rate hovers around 30-40 per cent.

“As for life for Iraqis in the meantime, real estate transactions and the trade markets have halted as a result of the anxiety Iraqis have regarding the new government,” Araji said. “Even socially, Iraqis are affected by the delay—they don’t know what tomorrow will bring.”

According to US Ambassador Chris Hill, US diplomats have not seen major government failures in performing its duties since the election; however, the lack of parliamentary oversight and the inability to launch new initiatives for the past three months are frustrating ordinary Iraqis.

Case in point, Baghdad’s central pension office, where elderly retirees recently filled out pension forms, only to be told that their applications could not be accepted. Various reasons were given, but the weary patrons blamed it on the power vacuum.

“I can’t find an official to complain to; there’s nobody to even receive our complaints—we haven’t had a government in months,” grumbled Moussa Mohammed, a retired army colonel.

Faiz Jalil Falih, 30, whose job is to help retirees fill out their applications, said that fewer of them show up because too many are scared to risk their lives coming to an office where they’ll only find delays.

“We continue to clean the streets by ourselves with or without a government; the electricity is still off with or without a government; water is still down with or without a government and, finally, security is bad with or without a government,” fisherman Tareq Hatif said.

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

Yemen: Foreigners Investigated for Al-Qaeda Links

Sanaa, 3 June (AKI) — An Australian mother was among several foreigners arrested by Yemen on suspician of having links to Al-Qaeda. According to the Arab TV network, al-Arabiya, British, French and American citizens were also arrested on security concerns as the country steps up action to fight the terror group.

Thirty-year-old Australian mother of two Shyloh Jayne Giddins was arrested in Sanaa two weeks ago and the Australian government on Thursday urged Yemen to allow her two young children to be flown home.

The Sydney woman had her passport cancelled eight weeks ago for national security reasons, according to Australian media reports.

Giddins, who has lived with her children — Amina, 4, and Omar, 7 — in Yemen since 2006, was interviewed by the country’s National Security Bureau on 14 May and arrested two days later in the capital, Sanaa.

Since then her children have remained under house arrest and her lawyers have expressed concern about their safety.

Yemeni authorities have refused to say what charges Giddins, a Muslim convert, may face or how long she may be detained.

Australian foreign minister Stephen Smith said on Thursday the Middle East country should return the children’s passports and allow them to leave.

“We believe the best outcome is for the children to be given their passports and for them to return to Australia and we’re urging that of the Yemeni authorities,” Smith told Sky News.

“We have made clear to them that we frankly see no reason why the children should not be allowed to return on their own passports to Australia.”

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

Far East

China: Honda Gives in and Raises Wages Following Foshan Strike

Workers complain that company officials beat them. Labour relations in China become tenser. Sociological profile of workers is changing. Most are from one-child families, want more and are not prepared to be treated like robots.

Beijing (AsiaNews) — Honda has presented an offer of higher wages to striking workers. Last week, the Japanese carmaker saw some of its plants in southern China forced to shut down following an unusual strike by its employees.

Most of the 1,900 workers in the Foshan, Guangdong parts plant accepted the carmaker’s offer of a 24 per cent, a Honda spokesperson said. However, about a hundred workers protested in front of the plant, claiming that they had been assaulted and beaten by company officials.

About half of the workforce in the Foshan plant is made up of student trainees from professional schools that are required to work for a certain period to earn their diploma. They are paid only 900 yuan a month (US$ 132), compared to specialised workers who get 1,380 yuan (US$ 200) a month.

Strikers demanded a flat raise of 800 yuan for everyone.

Negotiations are expected to end soon because strikes are illegal in China. In recent years however, work stoppages have been tolerated, especially in Guangdong, which is close to Hong Kong and the hub of China’s manufacturing sector.

Local employers said that salaries in the region doubled in the last five years.

The growing mass consciousness among industrial workers is worrying Beijing. For the authorities, it is a sign that the country might become less competitive in the international market. Honda and Foxconn investors agree.

Foxconn is the multinational company that recently experienced a rash of suicides among its employees.

“Gaining big profits from China is becoming harder,” said Satoru Takada, an analyst at Toward the Infinite World Inc. in Tokyo. “Other companies besides Honda may have the same problem.”

Developments at Honda and Foxconn are “closely monitored by foreign businesspeople on the mainland and overseas,” said Wang Xiangwei in an editorial in the South China Morning Post.

What is happening reflects “the emergence of a bigger and more complex theme—industrial relations.

“Over the past 30 years, multinationals have invested trillions of US dollars to set up shop on the mainland, making it a key part of the global supply chain. [. . .] Several factors have emerged to put labour issues higher on the agenda. The mainland’s demographic changes and one-child policy mean that the window for cashing in on the demographic dividend—the rise in economic output as the percentage of working people increases—is closing fast.

At the same time, “The composition of the work force is also changing. Young migrants from one-child families currently dominate the work force. They expect more than just a monthly salary, and their pampered upbringings make them unprepared to work under conditions in which they are treated like a robot.”

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

Shanghaied: The Flip Side of China’s Economic Miracle

By Wieland Wagner

German businessman Mohammad-Reza Mouazzen wanted to expand his heavy equipment company into China. But it didn’t take long before he realized that the country’s economic miracle has a dark underbelly.

Expo 2010 is underway in Shanghai, and the luxury bars along the Huangpu River are filled with the delegations of Western companies drinking toasts to the new partnerships they have just formed with Chinese companies. In March, this was also where the Chinese adventure of M.C.M., a construction machinery dealer from the southwestern German city of Mannheim, got its start. But now, despite initial high hopes for the deal, the company is struggling to stay afloat.

The head of M.C.M. has spread out a number of photos on a table in his hotel. They are among the few certainties that Mohammad-Reza Mouazzen, 62, can still cling to. One photo depicts a beaming Mouazzen, an Iranian-born German citizen, at a banquet with Chinese businessmen. It was the day after Mouazzen’s Chinese business partners, as he believed at the time, had shipped a used mobile crane, for which he had paid €100,000 ($122,000), to Iran, as their contract had stipulated.

Mouazzen has gray hair, is wearing a dark suit and, as he points out, is not a “baby.” For the past 30 years, he has been buying used heavy equipment in countries like Poland and Russia, and then selling it at a profit, often in Iran. It is a tricky business, which is why Mouazzen was careful to cover his bases during his first deal in China. He and his son Omid, 23, documented every step of the process with both photos and videos. One cannot say he behaved naively or negligently in Shanghai.

Still in Disbelief

Nevertheless, the two businessmen were “shanghaied,” so to speak, unscrupulously duped in a way Mouazzen has never experienced anywhere else. In early May, after Mouazzen had returned to Mannheim, he received a furious phone call from his client in Iran. Instead of delivering what was expected, a well-maintained crane, made by the Japanese company Kato and freshly overhauled at Mouazzen’s behest, the Chinese had shipped a rusty Mitsubishi — a wreck without an engine or a loading arm, weighing 12,590 kilograms (27,700 lbs.) less than the original crane.

Mouazzen places the photos of both cranes next to each other. He is still in disbelief. The two machines were photographed standing on the same container, which was marked YMLU 700754 6. Mouazzen photographed this number and the crane when it was being loaded in Shanghai. At the time, he and his son remained with the truck carrying the container in the Shanghai customs port until 1 a.m. Only after the truck had taken its place in the long line of other trucks waiting at the harbor did they return to their hotel, satisfied that everything was legitimate.

The container number is listed in the bill of lading. “No one questions what’s in the bill of lading,” says Mouazzen. “That’s how I’ve worked my entire life.” But his Chinese partners, he assumes, must have replaced the heavy container cargo on that same night: a daring logistical feat that they could only have been performed with the help of two large hoisting cranes — and hardly without accomplices in the Shanghai customs office.

But the dealer from Mannheim noticed nothing that night. In fact, he was overjoyed as he raised a glass to his new business relationship with the Chinese. An enormous market seemed to be opening up for M.C.M., because the majority of used building machines are offered for sale in China, primarily through the Internet. “We Chinese wish to learn from you,” the head of the company, which calls itself China Heavy Equipment, vowed solemnly. Mouazzen, who felt flattered at the time, says: “They treated me like a father.”

Serious Doubts

And because everything seemed to be going so perfectly in China, the visitors from Germany agreed to the next deal: the purchase of another used crane, this one made by the Japanese company Tadano, also for shipment to Iran. Mouazzen gave the Chinese a 60-percent down payment for the €110,000 crane, which he characterizes as “a wonderful machine.” For another €6,000, the Chinese promised to provide the crane with an air-conditioning system.

But when he returned to Germany, Mouazzen began receiving a flood of e-mails that raised serious doubts. China Heavy claimed that the crane’s entire electrical system had burned out during installation of the air-conditioning unit. As the customer Mouazzen, the Chinese wrote from Shanghai, would be responsible for the added costs. The Chinese partners demanded more than $40,000 for the repair and claimed it would take three months. When Mouazzen insisted on inspecting the machine in person, the e-mails became increasingly hostile.

China Heavy eventually sent its German customer a “letter of urgency,” in which it stated that if he did not react to the letter within eight hours, it would be “responsible for nothing.” But the flight to Shanghai alone would have taken Mouazzen about 11 hours, and besides, most European airports were shut down at the time because of volcanic ash. The Chinese apparently did not seriously expect that they would ever see their business partner again.

The small Mannheim business, which consists of Mouazzen, his son and three employees, is now struggling to survive. In addition to the money he had already paid for the cranes, Mouazzen owes his Iranian customers a 30-percent contractual penalty for the incorrect shipment. Even worse, says Mouazzen: “My reputation with business partners of many years is ruined.”

Now the Mouazzens are back in Shanghai. During their previous visits, they splurged on a suite, but now father and son are saving money by sharing a double bed. And instead of spending their time marveling at the glittering facades of this city of skyscrapers, they are struggling with the harsh realities of everyday business in China.

‘Why Don’t You Arrest These People?’

The Mouazzens have one of their first appointments with the police. The officers listen patiently to the foreigners’ story, but they do not seem surprised. In light of the overwhelming evidence — the photos of the cranes, the Chinese partners’ shipping container, the manifests, the contracts —, the Chinese agree that a “crime” was committed. “Well, then why don’t you arrest these people?” Mouazzen asks. The officers reply that they will conduct a thorough investigation of the matter, because their aim is to crack the entire ring of swindlers later on, in one fell swoop.

The Mouazzens spend one day after the next in Shanghai, in much the same way, achieving nothing. Instead, they discover that the crane they had already paid for is apparently being offered for sale on the Internet again.

Every day they spend in Shanghai costs them a lot of money. Their Chinese attorney alone charges €250 an hour. And with each passing day in China, Mouazzen loses potential contracts that his company urgently needs.

In their desperation, the Mouazzens begin conducting their own investigations. They discover, for example, that the address of their Chinese “partners” listed in the contract is incorrect. Suddenly no one is answering any of the mobile phone numbers the Mouazzens were given, and the interpreter, who attended every meeting, is supposedly in the hospital. The shipping agent who transported the crane to the port starts shouting at the Mouazzens when he sees them approaching from a distance. He claims that neither the truck nor its driver belonged to his company.

Finally, on the fifth day of their stay, the Mouazzens are sitting across the table from a representative of China Heavy. The meeting, held in their lawyer’s office, is a perfect example of the Chinese art of wearing down negotiating partners. The head of China Heavy has sent an assistant, the same person who had signed the contracts. But the attorney for the Chinese company controls much of the conversation. His name is Tony Hang, he is wearing black glasses, and he behaves as boldly as if he were the prosecutor in this case.

‘Do Not Call Us Cheaters!’

When the Mouazzens present their photos, Hang pushes them aside, saying that they are not evidence. Nevertheless, he says he would like photocopies, a request the Mouazzens deny. Then Hang launches into a debate over the model name of one of the cranes, which is different in China than it is in Japan. Finally, he pulls out the “letter of urgency” and says that his client had demanded that Mouazzen appear in Shanghai within eight hours. “But you didn’t show up!” he shouts.

The air becomes more and more stifling in the conference room, and Mouazzen begins breathing heavily. When his son berates the opposing party as “cheaters,” Hang shouts: “You do not call us cheaters! You are cheaters!” The representative of China Heavy looks on silently.

Mouazzen silences his son with a wave of his hand. There are beads of sweat on his forehead, his eyes are moist, and he still hopes that he can appeal to the Chinese on a human level. “Why did you do this to me, after I had brought so much money to China?” he asks quietly. “And why do you defend such people?” he asks the attorney. “You only harm your country by doing so.”

The parties eventually go their separate ways. The Mouazzens’ attorney, a young man who said very little during the meeting, smiles encouragingly at his clients and tells that the opposing party will undoubtedly get back to him soon. Mouazzen has already heard many variations on the same theme in Shanghai.

When the police fail to pursue his case, Mouazzen takes matters into his own hands and searches for his building crane in Shanghai, which, as he has already discovered, is being offered for sale on the Internet. He watches as the crane is loaded onto a truck. Then he instructs his attorney to ask the police to intervene. But the police refuse, claiming that the officer assigned to the case is now on vacation and that nothing can be done about the matter at the moment.

“What kind of a city is this,” Mouazzen asks, “where swindlers are simply allowed to go about their business?”

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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

Australia — Pacific

Scared Teen Calls Police to Stop Arranged Marriage

A LEBANESE family based in Sydney has been banned from taking their daughter to their home country for an arranged marriage.

The Federal Magistrates Court acted after the girl, aged 17, called Australian Federal Police from her home while her mother was out, saying she had been booked to fly out of Australia against her will.

The girl, who cannot be named, wanted police to put her name on an airport watch list so she could not pass through passport control without triggering an alarm.

The girl told police her mother, known in court documents as Ms Khyatt, 43, her stepfather, Mr Khyatt, 46, her father, Mr Kandal, and other family members supported her removal from Australia for the purpose of marriage.

She told police she might have to hang up at any time but gave them enough information about herself for police to apply to the Federal Magistrates Court to have her name placed on watchlists at Australian ports, preventing her removal from the commonwealth.

The order also prevents her mother, stepfather, and father, from “assaulting, threatening, harassing or intimidating” her.

Neither the parents nor the girl appeared in court, and it seems that the parents did not know that the girl had taken court action.

The case, known as Kandal and Khyatt and Ors, was heard on May 6, with the order made public on May 27. The court heard federal police were contacted by the girl and “formed the view that the child was quite frightened”.

“The child said words to the effect that she was being taken against her will by her mother and perhaps other family members to Lebanon to be married,” the AFP said in its application to the court.

“The child gave enough personal details to the federal police officer to enable checks of her identity.

“Australian Federal Police have dealt with this on a sensitive and appropriate level.”

The Department of Human Services has offered to house the girl, if necessary.

           — Hat tip: Nilk[Return to headlines]


France: ‘Sans Papiers’ Removed From Place De La Bastille

(ANSAmed) — PARIS, JUNE 3 — More than 150 illegal immigrants, who have spent days protesting on the steps of the Opera Bastille in Paris, were removed in a police operation this morning. The prefecture, which at dawn sent police jeeps and armoured vehicles with hundreds of officers in riot gear to the scene, says that “160 people occupying the steps of the Opera Bastille since May 27 have been evacuated”. Police sources say that the operation was carried out peacefully and that no arrests were made. However, Jean-Hubert Guidou, from a Communist union (CGT) that supports the “sans papiers” movement, said that there had been “about thirty arrests”. The immigrants were protesting against the lack of clear criteria for legal immigration procedures in France. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]