Friday, January 10, 2003

News Feed 20100606

Financial Crisis
»Italy: Economic Growth Ahead of Eurozone Average
»Italy: Magistrates to Strike Against Pay Cuts
»Italy: Bipartisan Opposition to EU Ultimatum
»Spain: Gates Upset With Government for Development Cuts
»Two N.J. Men Arrested at JFK Airport Before Boarding Plane to Join Islamist Terrorist Group, Authorities Say
Europe and the EU
»“Why Do They Hate Us?”
»Czech Republic: Apartheid Begins in the School
»Germany / Austria: Divided by a Common Language… But United in Cholestrol.
»Germany: Religious Muslim Boys More Violent, Study Says
»Italy-Slovenia: Friuli Council Says No to New Koper Port
»Italy: Ecological Crime ‘Worth €20.5 Bln’
»Rightist Group Jolts Sweden’s Tolerant Self-Image
»Sarkozy Charts New Course for Franco-African Relations
»Slovenia-Crotia: Turk Hopes for Yes Vote in Border Referendum
»The Thin Blue Line of Jihad
»Where to for the European Left?
»UN: Tribunal Reviews Sentence of Yugoslav Officer
North Africa
»Egypt to Strip Men Married to Israelis of Citizenship
Israel and the Palestinians
»Are These the Photos That Prove Israeli Soldiers Were Attacked by Activists When They Stormed Flotilla?
»Imam Unmosqued: Ground Zero Booster Tied to Sea Clash
»Israeli Government Office Links to Video Mocking Flotilla
Middle East
»Coastal Turkish Town Angered by Animal Killings
»Instant Online Divorces Receive Clerical Approval in Turkey
»Report: Erdogan Considering Visiting Gaza to ‘Break Blockade’
»Turkish Regime Changes Sides, West Averts Eyes
South Asia
»Pakistan: PM Looks for Stronger Trade Links With EU
»The Plight of Hindu Minority in Islamic Republic of Pakistan
Far East
»Hong Kong — China: Hong Kong Police Sets Conditions for Returning the Goddess of Democracy
»Japan: Japanese Exports Up, Fuelled by Demand in China and Asia
»Philippines — Saudi Arabia: Filipino Nurses in Riyadh Against the Centre of Assistance to Migrants: They Have Abandoned US
»Illegal Immigrants Intercepted Off Spanish Coast
»WHO Scandal Exposed: Advisors Received Kickbacks From H1N1 Vaccine Manufacturers

Financial Crisis

Italy: Economic Growth Ahead of Eurozone Average

Brussels, 4 June (AKI) — Italy registered higher economic growth than the average for the 16 countries that use the euro currency as Europe’s fourth-richest country sluggishly emerges from the worst recession in more than six decades.

Italy posted 0.5 percent economic growth during the first three months of 2010 compared to the eurozone’s 0.2 percent expansion, the European statistics agency, Eurostat, said in a statement on Friday.

A 2.5 percent increase in exports drove European growth, Brussels-based Eurostat said.

Italy’s first quarter growth compares with 0.1 percent for France, Germany’s 0.2 percent expansion and a 0.3 rise in the United Kingdom’s gross domestic product.

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

Italy: Magistrates to Strike Against Pay Cuts

Justice Minister Alfano calls action ‘political’

(ANSA) — Rome, June 4 — Justice Minister Angelino Alfano on Friday branded as “political” a strike called by magistrates to protest pay cuts for their sector included in the government’s austerity budget.

“The strike by magistrates is a political strike. The government is asking magistrates to make sacrifices the same way it is asking other public employees to do,” the minister said.

At the same time, however, Alfano said he recognised that entry level magistrates would pay an excessive individual price in the pay cuts and promised to try and rectify the situation.

Magistrates called a strike on Thursday on the grounds that they were being excessively penalised by the budget measures and that there had been no opportunity to negotiate the cuts with the government.

According to the National Magistrates Association (ANM), the government measures “in no way tackle the cause of budget overruns which we have repeatedly drawn attention to”.

“Magistrates are well aware of the economic crisis the country is going through and intend to fulfill their duties as citizens and taxpayers. However the measures approved by the government are unjustly punitive for their sector and for all public employees,” ANM said in a statement. They also protested over the fact that magistrates were being considered “not as a resource but as a cost or, even worse, as a waste of money for the judicial system”.

The ANM pointed out that young magistrates were being severely “punished” by the pay cuts and this would drive young people away from seeking a career in the judiciary.

The ANM cited an example that under the new measures a public employee, whether it be a magistrate or administrative official, who earned a salary of 150,000 euros a year would see their pay cut by 3,000 euros or 2% a year, while an entry-level magistrate with a starting salary of 40,000 euros would lose some 10,000 euros or 25% of their pay.

The ANM and other sector association meet on Saturday do decide on a date for their strike.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Bipartisan Opposition to EU Ultimatum

Raising retirement age for women considered ‘unfair’

(ANSA) — Rome, June 4 — The European Union’s ultimatum to Italy to raise the retirement age for women so it is the same as the one for men has has run into bipartisan opposition in parliament.

The European Commission recently told Italy to either raise the retirement age for women in the public sector, so it is the same as the one for men, or find itself again before the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

The retirement age for women in the public sector is currently 60 compared to 65 for men but in 2008 the ECJ ruled that Italy had to impose the same retirement age for men and women.

“In view of the current job market situation in Italy, making the retirement age the same for men and women would be unfair and strongly penalise women,” Barbara Saltamartini, responsible for equal opportunities in Premier Silvio Berlusconi’s People of Freedom (PdL) party, said on Friday.

“The government is correct to insist on the need to at least make the age adjustment gradual,” she added.

According to Saltamartini, “if one really wants to tackle the question of women in the workplace then the problem which needs to be examined is not when they should leave but how to get them in and remain there in such a way as to enable them to also play a role in the family”.

“Women must be guaranteed the right to both having a family and a career through a more equal distribution of family responsibilites and more available social services,” she added.

The Senate whip for the opposition Democratic Party, Anna Finocchiaro, agreed and said on Friday that it was unthinkable to raise the retirement age for women because the proposed austerity budget did not offer sufficient support for women.

“This measure makes even further cuts to family services and as long as the welfare system in Italy forces women to take on two jobs, one of which is not paid nor recognised, it is unthinkable to raise the retirement age for women,” Finocchiaro explained.

Another PD MP, Rosa Villecco Calipari, observed that “we make less than men, our career prospects are less than those for men, the female employment rate in Italy is among the lowest in Europe and we are the ones who have to take care of our children and elderly relatives. True equality between men and women has a long way to go in Italy”.

Speaking out in favor of raising the retirement age for women was the head of Italy’s powerful industrial employers association Confindustria, Emma Marcegaglia, who said “the idea that women go into retirement later doesn’t worry me at all”.

“For us (employers) the problem of financing pensions is a real one. In a country which has one of the highest life expectancies, especially for us women, it is a problem which needs to be tackled”. Speaking in Brussels on Friday, the European commissioner for social policy, Laszlo Andor, said it was imperative that the Italian government make the retirement age the same for everyone “as soon as possible”.

He added that it was “unfortunate that such a decision had to be taken by a government in the middle of an economic crisis”.

Andor will join the European justice commissioner, Viviane Reding, for a meeting on Monday with Labor Minister Maurizio Sacconi to examine the retirement age question.

“There is still time to avoid a conflict (between Italy and the EU). And I think the best way to do this is to stick by the rules,” Andor said. In its latest letter, the European Commission reportedly also asked Italy to explain the delays in applying the 2008 ruling despite repeated calls to do so and new legal action initiated against Italy for its failure to comply with the ECJ’s decision.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Spain: Gates Upset With Government for Development Cuts

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, JUNE 4 — “Painful, disappointing and absolutely unascertainable”. So said Bill Gates, the philanthropist and founder of Microsoft, who today reacted to cuts on development aid announced by the Spanish government to help squeeze public deficit back inside parameters defined by Brussels. Speaking in Barcelona during a meeting of the Catalan foundation, Instituto di Salud Global, of which he is a member, Gates said that the Madrid government’s contribution to development had always been “an international example”, showing “their efficiency with a real impact, particularly in agriculture, in the countries in question”. Although he is aware of Spain’s economic difficulties, the Microsoft boss said that he was disappointed with the government’s decision. Gates, who through the foundation of the same name commits money and effort into eradicating endemic illnesses such as malaria and polio in developing countries, first praised the efforts made in the past by José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who in a few years doubled development aid, before criticising him. “These are exceptional situations but I feel disappointed, because the government has always ensured that its aid was being well spent and especially now that the funds were beginning to have an impact on a global level,” Gates commented. The Spanish government had committed to giving 0.7% of GDP in development aid until the end of the current term. Gates showed that he was well informed on the nature of the cuts, ensuring that the public finance restructuring plan approved by the government includes a 5% cut in aid this year and an 11% cut for next year, which are respectively worth 300 and 500 million euros. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Two N.J. Men Arrested at JFK Airport Before Boarding Plane to Join Islamist Terrorist Group, Authorities Say

NEWARK — Two New Jersey men intent on killing American troops were arrested Saturday as they boarded flights to link up with a virulent jihadist group in Somalia, authorities said.

The men, both North Jersey residents, were charged with conspiring to commit an act of international terrorism through a group tied to Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda network, according to officials familiar with the details of the arrests.

Mohamed Hamoud Alessa, 20, of North Bergen, and Carlos Eduardo “Omar” Almonte, 24, of Elmwood Park were apprehended at John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens before they could board separate flights to Egypt, where they were to start journeys to Somalia. The men were arrested by teams of state and federal law-enforcement agents who have been investigating the pair since October 2006, according to the officials, who requested anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss the operation publicly.

Late Saturday night, the state homeland security agency confirmed a police action at the airport but gave few details.

“Two individuals were arrested at JFK in connection with an ongoing investigation. At this time, we can provide no further details because the investigation is ongoing. The arrests do not relate to an immediate threat,” said Jose Lozano, a spokesman for the state Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness.

U.S. Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Rebekah Carmichael issued a similar statement just after midnight, , saying “the arrests do not relate to any known immediate threat to the public or active plot against the United States.”

About 90 minutes earlier, shortly after 10:30 p.m., FBI agents sealed off Alessa’s street in North Bergen. The local police department would say only that an investigation was in progress. FBI agents, North Bergen police and the New York Police Department descended on the home on 81st Street as neighbors looked on. According to property records, Alessa’s parents, Mahmoud and Nadia Alessa, rented the top floor of their house amid a quiet row of middle-class homes. As agents poured in, lights went on throughout the house.

Just over 10 miles away, in Elmwood Park, over a dozen cars with agents and police arrived at Almonte’s home about 11 p.m. Neighbors emerged from their homes as the racket from the raid broke the silence of quiet Falmouth Avenue. Again, agents turned on lights throughout the house, from the basement to the attic. They also could be seen looking around the exterior with flashlights and also searched the detached garage. Neighbors of Almonte declined to comment, but a couple who appeared to be family members showed up around 11:30 and greeted the agents as if they knew them.

The older man was escorted into the house and could be seen embracing one of the FBI agents in the kitchen.

Throughout the night, agents brought out about a dozen white cardboard boxes and loaded them into an FBI van. At 1:30 a.m., an agent carried out the central processing unit of a personal computer, wrapped in red tape.

Well past midnight, neighbors could be seen sitting outside their houses to watch the ongoing raid.


Neither Alessa nor Almonte is married. Both are American citizens, said the anonymous officials.

The men are scheduled to appear Monday in U.S. District Court in Newark.

The arrests were the culmination of Operation Arabian Knight. Details were still sketchy Saturday night, but authorities said the suspects have been under surveillance for some time and were being shadowed by an undercover New York City cop who managed to infiltrate their circle of friends and keep tabs as they consumed jihadist videos and literature, bought airline tickets and prepared to travel overseas.

Officials said the suspects were not planning an imminent attack in the New Jersey-New York area but were believed to be joining with the terrorist fight against Americans in Somalia.

Authorities said the men planned to wage jihad as part of a Somalia-based Islamist terror group called al Shabaab, an organization of several thousand fighters spread through Somalia’s southern region. Al Shabaab, whose full Arabic name means “Mujahideen Youth Movement,” has had ties to al Qaeda since 2007, according to national security experts.

Last year, federal authorities in Minnesota charged 14 men connected to a plot designed to entice young Americans to join up with al Shabaab. And, in February, the New York Times reported the group announced it was joining forces with the ‘‘international jihad of Al Qaeda.”

As in the Minnesota case, investigators believe Alessa and Almonte were recruited by others, who are also now coming under scrutiny. “We hope this will lead to a spider web of arrests,” said one official briefed on the case.

Officials said the New Jersey suspects were believed to have led fairly normal lives in North Jersey but then started acting strangely and gravitating toward anti-American sentiment. Their families aided in the investigation after growing worried about the beliefs and actions of the men, officials close to the probe said.

The arrests come on the heels of last month’s attempt to set off a car bomb in Times Square and, before that, the Christmas Day incident in which a 23-year-old Nigerian tried to blow up an airliner by setting off explosives inside his underwear. Both attacks were unsuccessful.

Saturday night’s arrests had been planned for days, officials said, as agents tried to determine the best possible time and place to apprehend the men without interfering in their planning or tipping them off. In order to prove the suspects had “intent” to commit an act of terror, federal prosecutors in New Jersey insisted that the men be allowed to go to the airport and begin the boarding process. That way, there would be less of a chance they could later say they had changed their mind or grown uneasy with their plans.

By early Saturday morning, agents had worked out a strategy of following the men to the airport and tracking them through their security check-in, officials said. After that, they planned to quietly get the men out of public view so their arrests could not be seen by any associates who might have been following them. The men were allowed to make it to the jetway boarding ramps before agents took them into custody.

The arrests and planning were coordinated by the Joint Terrorism Task Force, a multi-agency group that includes agents of the FBI, state homeland security office, New York Police Department, Port Authority police and an assortment of federal security agencies. The investigation began as two separate probes after the FBI and New Jersey homeland security detectives received individual tips about the men, officials said.

In the months leading up to their planned travel, authorities said, Alessa and Almonte saved thousands of dollars, conditioned themselves physically through tactical training and dry runs at paintball fields and acquired gear and apparel to be used once they joined up with al Shabaab in Somalia. The men boasted that they wanted to wage holy war against the United States both at home and overseas, said investigators.

The prosecution of Alessa and Almonte is being led by New Jersey’s new U.S. attorney, Paul Fishman. In a meeting with The Star-Ledger’s editorial board last month, Fishman hinted there were serious national-security investigations on the verge of becoming public, though he declined to say anything more.

“There are cases in the pipeline that are of huge significance,” Fishman said.

           — Hat tip: Vlad Tepes[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

“Why Do They Hate Us?”

Shortly after September 11th, a frequent refrain among the American commentariat was: “why do they hate us?” Americans had always seen themselves as a benevolent power, and found themselves confused by the sight of jubilant crowds in Gaza or Lebanon, celebrating the destruction of lower Manhattan. Juxtaposing these with dated images of protesters burning US flags in Seoul or Paris, the viewer could be left with an impression of rising ‘anti-Americanism’ in a world that veered between envy and ingratitude.

These days, however, it is Europeans as much as Americans who can ask themselves why they attract so little respect in the world. Whereas once a Chinese white paper declared Europe ‘the world’s rising superpower’, in recent weeks a chorus of international commentators has begun to deride Europe’s pretensions to international leadership. Kishore Mahbubani, the Dean of Singapore’s Lee Kwan Yew School of International Affairs, charges that Europe no longer understands ‘how irrelevant it is becoming to the rest of the world’, while Richard Haass, the president of the US Council on Foreign Relations, has publicly declared ‘goodbye to Europe as a high-ranking power’. And these are hardly voices from the wilderness or the lunatic fringe. Mahbubani is Dean of one of Asia’s rising policy institutes, and Haass is a longstanding nonpartisan diplomat.

So why are European countries riding this wave of derision? After all, Europeans, moreso than Americans, have the right to see their continent as a fundamentally benign influence. Europe is a peaceful juggernaut, a bumbling assortment of nation-states whose foreign engagements seem limited to disbursing development aid and hosting long if slightly meandering conferences. We have our internal problems, but not such as to merit the contempt of elites in New Delhi, Beijing or Cairo. Yet long gone seems the time, just 6 months ago, when Al-Jazeera could run a documentary entitled ‘Europe: a fast-track superpower’.

So, why has the cheering so quickly turned to sneering? I do not think it can be dismissed as mere envy: outsiders are not simply jealous of European wages, holidays, and pensions. Nor do I think it is despair at Europe’s torturous process of internal decision-making, despite how often these make the headlines in a post-Lisbon Europe.

Instead, then, I would suggest a more inconvenient truth. Countries across the world have long resented western meddling and moralising, and have found the confidence to talk down a Europe whose global influence is no longer taken for granted.

As an example of our limited soft power, consider that when I ask people around the world, what ‘Europe’ means for them, I am always surprised how little they mention social democracy, or human rights, or even ‘the good life’. Overwhelmingly, the most common response is a memory of European colonial rule, and an abiding sense of our satisfied self-superiority. While Europeans mark history by 1918, 1945, and 1989, the rest of the world still remembers 1842, 1857, and 1884, and always will. Many opportunities have come and gone to draw a line under the past, yet many see Europe as a closed fortress offering few opportunities for integration or innovation.

Can Europe move on from this past? The answer is yes, but if Europe is to become the multilateralist leader that we desire it to be, urgent rebranding is required. The first step would be to project a more inclusive image, of a continent open to new people and new ideas: in America, the election of a Kenyan’s son to the presidency may have done little to erase the inequalities of the US inner city, but in a single stroke, it has allowed the country to reinvent and renew itself as a global nation. Europe has successful migrants, but it is a sad fact that there was more ethnic diversity in Stalin’s politburo than in today’s European Commission.

Second, we can try to tell a consistent story to the outside world. Our preferred narrative is a very Christian tale of fall and redemption, a story about a continent ravaged by centuries of war and conquest that, from the rubble of 1945, decided to make peace with itself and divest its colonial ambitions. If only we could tell this story credibly, the European Union might grow into the multilateral leader to which it aspires. But every time we must face the outside world, the mask just keeps on slipping; the old national rivalries and machinations are there to see, ugly and protruding around the edges. When the moment comes to reform the UN Security Council or voting rights in the Bretton Woods institutions, we dig in our heels and bury our heads in the sand: I honestly do not think the Germans realise how ridiculous they look demanding another European Security Council seat when there is not yet space for India. Likewise, much is made of Europe’s Common Foreign and Security Policy, but in the Africa missions — the only substantive engagement outside of the European neighbourhood — it is difficult to mistake the post-colonial machinations of French, Belgian and British interests.

Next, we would also do well to break with the belief that respect will be earned through doling out ever larger sums of foreign aid, especially when such sums are tied to an unending moralising discourse. What the wretched of the earth want is not our money, but our respect. We pay out aid unrelentingly, but barely consider whether the money is spent effectively, or the distortions we introduce into local politics, and this demonstrates an even greater contempt than to give nothing at all. We have yet to learn the lesson of China’s diplomatic success in Africa, which is that developing nations are less interested in process than achieving results.

Finally, Europe must stop hiding behind the United States, and begin taking responsibility for its own decisions. Yet this cannot happen as long as Europe is run by a centre-right gerontocracy that seems more comfortable clinging to the Atlantic past, than in adjusting to our multipolar present. Our leaders spend their days determined to preserve token participation in NATO, obsessing over President Obama’s will-he-won’t-he participation in the joint EU-US summit, and scrabbling over their de jure powers in the Bretton Woods institutions, when they need to realise that the rules of the game are changing, and the old networks are rapidly losing their influence. Ironically, the Americans seem to understand this better than ourselves these days.

So if these are the challenges facing the European Union, what are the prospects for achieving the change we need? That will be the topic of my next entry.

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

Czech Republic: Apartheid Begins in the School

A third of Roma children in the Czech Republic attend special schools for the mentally handicapped. A situation against which a number of associations are speaking out, and which ends up backfiring on the state when it has to foot the social and economic bill.

Michal Komárek

According to recent estimates by the World Bank, Roma cost the Czech Republic no less than 16 billion crowns (€650m) a year. Though it isn’t so much the Roma themselves, we should add, but their maladjustment to society. The experts say this phenomenon is chiefly due to the below-average level of education most Romani children receive, after which they have no chance whatsoever of landing a decent job. And the state is losing money because unemployed Roma do not create any economic value or pay taxes, though they do draw social security benefits. The World Bank figure does not allow for such “incidental costs” as the mediocre quality of life for socially excluded Roma, mounting social tensions, ethnic conflicts, crime and so on and so forth.

For nearly 20 years now, national and international NGOs have been sounding the alarm about the disproportionate number of Roma children placed in special schools, a fact corroborated by the first sociological survey ever commissioned by the Czech education minister. 30% of Roma children attend schools for the mentally handicapped, as against roughly 2% for the country’s “white” pupils, which corresponds to the worldwide average. The vast majority of the remaining Roma children attend “Gypsy schools”, where the results are not much better than in the schools for the mentally retarded.

Local populations press for segregation

In Brno, the local population is well aware of the scholastic segregation. But the town council, which runs Brno’s public education system, is completely oblivious to this reality. According to one councillor, there are no “classes for Roma” and “classes for whites”; the children attend the school corresponding to their place of residence. And the locals are pressing for even more segregation: “white” families in Brno, as elsewhere in the country, are simply of the opinion that Gypsy kids are more stupid and unrulier than their own children — and more inclined to violence. And as the authors of one petition put it, “It’s bad enough we have to live with them, at least we shouldn’t run in to them at school….”

The segregationist pressure is linked to another reality: every year, nearly a third of Roma children fail to get into a “Gypsy” primary school and, after being diagnosed “mentally retarded”, are assigned to so-called “specialised” schools. This is peculiar to the Czech Republic, which has four times more children attending special schools than Austria, and a hundred times more than Sweden. The percentage of “mentally retarded” Czech Roma is ten times the average. There are two possible explanations: either Czech Roma are less intelligent than those in other countries, or our society is racist and systematically relegates them, from childhood on, to a second-class status.

Cold economic calculation

For over 30 years psychologist Petr Klíma has been working in a child counselling centre, of which he is now the head. It is centres like his that recommend placement in “special schools”. Based on his experience, “Roma kids fail the tests en masse. I’m not inventing, it’s a fact: 80% of them are borderline mentally retarded.” Klíma feels Roma families ought to be grateful that special schools exist, thanks to which their children can acquire the rudiments of literacy.

Throughout the Czech Republic, dozens of centres dole out the same recommendations as Klíma. “I truly think the vast majority of my colleagues make these recommendations entirely in good faith,” says Jana Zapletalová, psychologist and director of a counselling institute. “We need to change that. But it will not be easy.” To her mind, a change of method begins with an overhaul of primary schools. It absolutely vital to increase their budgets in order to create smaller classes , train teachers, hire assistants and give pupils individual attention. Let’s not forget the economists’ cold calculations that the Czech Republic loses 16 billion crowns (€640m) every year owing to an education system that turns out thousands of jobless Gypsies. Viewed from this angle, investing billions of crowns in improving the education system would seem a wise economic choice that promises a net return on investment.

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

Germany / Austria: Divided by a Common Language… But United in Cholestrol.

They speak the same language, or nearly, share a troubled past and increasingly watch the same TV shows. But they have a hard time putting up with each other, and yet can’t live without each other either. Germans and Austrians are one of the most baffling odd couples in Europe.

Filip Ganczak

What’s the difference between a German and an Austrian? The German wants to understand Austrians, but can’t; the Austrian understands Germans, but doesn’t want to. That’s just one of many jokes about Austro-German enmity. This year’s publication in Austria of Streitbare Brüder (Quarrelsome Brothers) has rekindled the gabfest over the rough relations between the two neighbours.

“When a foreigner takes me for a German, it’s almost an insult. I wouldn’t mind being from any country, from Canada, Norway, the Czech Republic or Chile, but not from Germany,” snipes Austrian writer Franzobel, who doesn’t mince words when it comes to his northern neighbours: “They don’t get our jokes, they take everything seriously, they think they’re always right.”

Vast majority welcomed Anschluss

The German tabloid Bild doesn’t go easy on Austrians either, and lists 30 reasons to deride them, e.g.: “Your flag is red, white and red so you can’t hang it upside down. The most famous Austrians are either dead or they’ve emigrated, like Arnold Schwarzenegger.” The Austro-German opposition reflects the old dichotomy between the Austrian and the Prussian. The former is a Catholic traditionalist, courteous and amiable. The latter is a stiff Protestant, arrogant and excessively formal, with an obnoxious penchant for lecturing the whole world.

Back in the 18th century, Frederick the Great snatched almost the whole of Silesia from the Austrians. In 1866, at the Battle of Sadowa [aka Battle of Königgrätz], Wilhelm I ‘s Prussian army crushed Franz Joseph’s imperial forces. But after World War I and the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Austrians, reduced to living in a small state along the Danube, yearned to be incorporated into Germany. So it’s no wonder that, scarcely 20 years later, the vast majority welcomed the Anschluss, their country’s annexation by the Third Reich, with glee.

Germans refuse to learn the “language”

After the Nazis were defeated and their atrocities brought to light, on the other hand, Germanitude beat a hasty retreat. The Austrians tried to dodge any blame for the recent bloodbath, recounts Hannes Leidinger, co-author of Streitbare Brüder. The reconstructing country nursed its neutrality; its political establishment, along with the Viennese press, knocked themselves out building up the myth of Austria as Hitler’s first victim — as though they’d forgotten where the Führer was born. Austrians want to persuade the world that Hitler was German and Beethoven Austrian. Germans couldn’t care less, according to another joke about the Teutonic neighbours.

The Viennese weekly Falter quips that the Germans, who make up the biggest immigrant community in the country after the Turks, are just as reluctant as the latter to integrate into Austrian society because they refuse to learn the language. As matter of fact, the Austrian idiom does differ in many ways from the German spoken in Berlin or Hannover. Austrian Palatschinken isn’t a kind of ham [Schinken in German], but a crêpe. Plum jam, or Pflaumenmus up north, goes by a Slavic moniker down south: Powidl.

Never vacation in Austria again

After the war, the authorities in Vienna made a point of setting themselves linguistically apart from big brother across the border. In 1949 German as such actually disappeared from the Austrian school curriculum for several years: it was still taught, of course, but officially termed the “language of instruction”. Nowadays, Austrian German is gradually losing its distinctive traits, partly owing to satellite and cable TV: many Austrians prefer German networks like RTL and SAT 1 to their ORF. Austrian singers wisely make an effort to learn standard pronunciation, a prerequisite for conquering the alluring German market.

“Never vacation in Austria again!” exhorted Bild in 1994 after German tennis player Michael Stich got booed by an Austrian crowd. But the call to boycott the destination didn’t work: 40% of tourists to Austria are from Germany. “Without foreign holidaymakers, the Alpine republic would be an economic crisis zone,” admit the authors of the book. Per capita GDP in Austria (close to €37,000) is now higher than in Germany (less than €33,000). The days when Austrians bought used cars in Germany are gone. They’re the wealthier ones now, and their economy was not as hard hit as Germany’s. So the bottom line is the feuding neighbours can gibe and jeer at each other all they like, they’re condemned to put up with each other.

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

Germany: Religious Muslim Boys More Violent, Study Says

A study that shows boys growing up in religious Muslim families are more likely to be violent seems set to reignite the debate over religion and integration, a media report said on Sunday.

The study, which involved intensive questioning of 45,000 teenagers from 61 towns and regions across the country, was conducted by Christian Pfeiffer of the criminal research institute of Lower Saxony.

Pfeiffer said he was dismayed by the results, and told the Süddeutsche Zeitung he was a strong critic of political campaigns which painted foreigners as criminals — such as those led by Roland Koch and Thilo Sarrazin.

Pfeiffer’s work took into account the level of education and standard of living in the families of the children — aged between 14 and 16 — who were questioned. He also asked them how religious they considered themselves, and how integrated they felt in Germany.

Pfeiffer said that even when other social factors were taken into account, there remained a significant correlation between religiosity and readiness to use violence. There were some positive correlations too he said, noting that young religious Muslims were much less likely than their non-Muslim counterparts to drink alcohol — or to steal from shops.

The increased likelihood to use violence was restricted to Muslim boys Pfeiffer said — Muslim girls were just as likely to be violent as non-Muslim girls.

This led him to conclude that there was not a direct link between Islamic belief and violence — but an indirect one. He pointed to Christian teachings which justified domestic violence and male dominance of society for a long time.

His researchers asked the teenagers a range of questions about their ideas of manliness, for example whether they thought a man was justified in hitting his wife if she had been unfaithful. They also asked about what media and computer game violence they were exposed to, as well as whether their friends were involved in crime or violence.

The results showed that Muslim boys from immigrant families were more than twice as likely to agree with macho statements than boys from Christian immigrant families. The rate was highest among those considered as very religious, Pfeiffer said. They were also more likely to be using violent computer games and have criminal friends.

Added to that, the more religious Muslim boys felt the least integrated into German society, with only 14.5 percent of the very religious Turkish boys (the largest group of Muslims in the study) saying they felt German, although 88.5 percent had been born here.

Pfeiffer said he thought the responsibility for the macho culture lay with Imams in Germany, who he said usually come from abroad and often cannot speak German or have much understanding of the culture.

“We have to prevent attempts at integration from being destroyed by Imams who preach Turkish provincial stories and a reactionary male image,” said Pfeiffer.

He also called for Germans to reconsider how they treat Muslims, saying that since the September 11 attacks in 2001, there had been a damaging loss of trust.

“Exclusion starts already when the Muslim child is not invited to a birthday party,” he said.

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

Italy-Slovenia: Friuli Council Says No to New Koper Port

(ANSAmed) — TRIESTE, JUNE 4 — The Council of the regional government of Friuli Venezia Giulia has today voted against an assessment of the environmental impact of the project to build a new international port at Koper-Capodistria(Slovenia). In April 2006, Slovenia’s Ministry of Transport launched a national plan to upgrade the international port at Capodistria. In January this year, Italy’s Environment Ministry expressed its desire to take part in a cross-border environmental impact assessment involving the regional government. The latter has expressed its opposition “to the state of affairs of the documentation”, thus reserving the right to re-examine further documentation as it becomes available in line with European Community regulations”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Ecological Crime ‘Worth €20.5 Bln’

Rome, 4 June (AKI) — Illegal waste disposal, construction and other kinds of ecological crimes generated 20.5 billion euros for the mafia in Italy in 2009, according to one of the country’s largest environmental groups. In a report released on Friday, Legambiente said unauthorised dumping of toxic and conventional waste headed the list of crimes.

Its findings were included in the report entitled “The Eco-Mafia Business is the Only One Immune to the Economic Crisis”.

Legambiente said that the income generated by illegal ecological activity was unaffected by the global economic downturn which caused Italy’s overall economic output to fall by 5.1 percent last year.

“Despite the economic crisis it was stable at 20.5 billion euros in 2009,” the Rome-based group said.

According to the report, the illegal disposal of waste rose from to 5,217 in 2009 from 3,911 the previous year. The incidence of illegal dumping was most prevalent in the southern Campania region surrounding Naples, which is home to the powerful Camorra crime families.

Lazio, the region surrounding the Italian capital, Rome, followed Campania.

Organised crime clans run lucrative businesses that dispose of toxic industrial waste, while the mafia’s management of conventional waste was estimated to be worth 7 billion euros last year, according to Legambiente.

The report details a number of other crimes such as dog fighting, unauthorised horse racing, underground butchering and the clandestine trafficking in rare and protected species — all of which were said to generate 3 billion euros.

Italian president Giorgio Napolitano called for greater accountability in a statement that accompanied the report.

“New methods must be used to more efficiently oppose the eco-mafia that can adequately keep up with an evolving criminal phenomenon that is constantly becoming more sophisticated and aggressive,” Napolitano said.

For some time Italian authorities have accused the Camorra, of dumping huge amounts of industrial waste in the Campania region’s landfill sites and profiting from its control of the toxic waste industry.

In 2008 the European Union started legal action against Italy after rubbish went uncollected for months in the same region turning some districts into a sprawling garbage heap. The crisis started in late 2007 after landfills were closed.

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

Rightist Group Jolts Sweden’s Tolerant Self-Image

From his party’s office in the basement of a Stockholm parking garage, Jimmie Akesson is running for Parliament, preaching sharp cuts in immigration and calling Islam the greatest threat to Swedish society.

That message until now has gained little traction in Sweden, but polls are predicting gains for Akesson’s far-right Sweden Democrats that could give them a king-maker role in national elections this year if neither mainstream bloc wins an outright majority.

It’s an unnerving scenario for Swedes and their self-image of being more tolerant of outsiders than the rest of Europe. Opinion polls show the Sweden Democrats could get 4 to 6 percent of votes in the September election, enough to win 15-20 seats in the 349-member Riksdag and potentially throw Swedish politics into disarray.

But by law a party needs at least 4 percent to get into the legislature, and the Sweden Democrats could well fall short. Also, paradoxically, their poll numbers are up at a time when another survey show the number of Swedes worried about excessive immigration is declining.

All the same, the mainstream parties which hitherto simply ignored the far right are being forced to say where they stand. The center-left says it won’t govern with the Sweden Democrats under any circumstances. The incumbent center-right hasn’t put it quite that strongly, but sounds very reluctant to line up with the far right.

Akesson, the clerkish 31-year-old leading the Sweden Democrat charge, insists voters are more disenchanted with liberal immigration laws than they admit out loud. “In Sweden, if you voice criticism against the immigration policy, you are viewed as a racist or xenophobe,” Akesson said. “It’s difficult to get people to stand up and say ‘Here’s what I think.”‘

“Our self-image is that of a tolerant country,” said Lena Sundstrom, a Swedish writer who has studied the hardening attitudes toward immigrants in neighboring Denmark. Swedes, she says, draw national pride from such achievements as gender equality, and the brand names they have exported worldwide — Volvo cars, Ikea furniture.

And even though one in every four residents or their parents were born in a foreign country, and an estimated 300,000 Muslims live in the otherwise Christian but secularized country of 9.35 million, it hasn’t swept any nationalist movements to prominence. Denmark, by contrast, has a minority nationalist party whose king-maker power imposed curbs on immigration, making it a role model for the Sweden Democrats.

The other Nordic neighbors, Norway and Finland, also have such parties in their legislatures, advocating strong controls on immigration. So do other western European countries including Italy, Switzerland, Austria, Belgium and the Netherlands.

Swedes occasionally debate the pros and cons of banning burqas or minarets, or pressuring immigrants to learn Swedish, as has happened in some European countries, but these ideas have never gone beyond talk.

“Swedes in general are a very tolerant people,” Akesson acknowledges. “But I’m convinced that a large part of the Swedish electorate believes that the immigration policies have been too lax and far too generous.”

Over the years, that generosity has given jobs to migrants from southern Europe; haven to victims of Chilean dictatorship; escape from Iran’s ayatollahs; safety for Kurds, Bosnians and Kosovars, and more recently, Iraqis and Somalis.

Sweden now has more immigrants from Iraq than from neighboring Norway and Denmark combined, according to government statistics. Last year alone it admitted more than 100,000 immigrants, including 10,000 Thais, 8,700 Somalis and 8,500 Iraqis, those statistics show.

A survey of 9,000 people by the SOM institute at Goteborg University last month showed the proportion of Swedes who believe the country has admitted too many immigrants fell from 52 percent in 1993 to 36 percent last year. No margin of error was given.

In some cities immigrants are nearly 40 percent of the population, and in certain neighborhoods nearly 90 percent. What worries many Swedes is the clustering of immigrants in neighborhoods with nicknames such as “Little Baghdad.” Few native Swedes ever set foot in these districts, viewing them as dangerous slums infested with criminal gangs and Islamic fundamentalists.

Critics say the extent of those problems are often exaggerated by the Sweden Democrats, but there is no doubt that Sweden is becoming increasingly segregated. In the Stockholm suburb of Rinkeby, aka “Little Mogadishu,” a 20-year-old Somali woman in a black head scarf says: “Not even a non-Muslim dares to walk around with a short skirt in Rinkeby.” She doesn’t give her name for fear of neighbors’ reaction.

The Sweden Democrats say immigration has become an economic burden, draining the welfare system and channeling jobs to newcomers who work for lower wages. Akesson says he fears Sweden is adapting to the Muslim minority instead of the other way around and has written of Islam’s impact on Swedish society as “our biggest foreign threat since World War II.”

He mentions cases of public schools that have stopped serving pork and no longer celebrate the end of the school year in church. Akesson also points to attacks against artist Lars Vilks, who drew the prophet Muhammad with a dog’s body. Last month furious protesters chanting “God is Great” in Arabic disrupted Vilks’ guest lecture at Uppsala University and vandals tossed firebombs at his home.

The party’s views have provoked fierce reactions. Some high schools have prohibited party members from handing out flyers on school grounds. In 2007 the party struggled to find a venue for its annual meeting when several conference centers turned it down, citing security concerns. Police say the party is exposed to “systematic threats” from activists, and the it keeps the address of the Stockholm office secret.

The Sweden Democrats emerged from an explicitly racist movement called “Keep Sweden Swedish” in the late 1980s. They have since expelled extremist members, and made their first political mark in 2006 elections when they won seats on municipal councils and fell just short of getting seats in Parliament. “Swedishness is not in your skin color or in any part of the body. It’s in your values and how you behave,” Akesson said.

The party has changed its logo from a burning flame to a liverwort flower. In Akesson’s office, the most overt nod to national sentiment is the tropical fish in the aquarium. They are yellow and blue — the colors of the Swedish flag.

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

Sarkozy Charts New Course for Franco-African Relations

AFP — France and Africa opened new venues for cooperation on Tuesday to reshape global diplomacy, boost trade, battle climate change and fight pirates.

At a two-day summit in the Riviera city of Nice, France shifted its focus away from its traditional west African allies and engaged with the continent as a whole, reaching out to economic powerhouses South Africa and Nigeria.

“This summit is a new step,” Sarkozy told reporters after meeting with the 38 African leaders for his first Africa-France summit since taking office in 2007.

The French president waded into the heated debate over United Nations reform, backing Africa’s call for more seats at the Security Council and also a voice at the Group of 20 club of rich economies.

“How can we accept a world where 25 percent of the population lives in Africa and yet it does not have a permanent seat at the Security Council?” Sarkozy said.

“This is an anomaly, an injustice and a source of imbalance,” said the president who pledged to push for change to give Africa more of a say, in particular when France takes the helm of the G20 next year.

Describing global governance as a “critical point” for Africa, South African President Jacob Zuma said leaders had agreed to discuss at their next African Union summit a French proposal to seek two Security Council seats with 10-year mandates.

That would be an intermediary step on the way to satisfying Africa’s long-standing demand for two permanent Security Council seats with veto powers.

“We cannot have institutions that were established in the 1940s, when there were fewer countries and colonialism,” said Zuma.

“Those rules are outdated.”

While global governance topped Africa’s list of demands, France put strong emphasis on economic ties, inviting more than 200 French and African heads of companies to the summit.

The push on the economic front comes as France has taken a back seat to China, Africa’s biggest trade partner, which has injected billions over the past decade to tap into raw materials needed to fuel its hungry economy.

French oil giant Total, nuclear behemoth Areva and other firms launched a solar power project for southern Africa to generate badly-needed electricity with state-of-the-art French technology.

“France has technology and we can put it to good use for Africa, instead of having aid budgets that never fulfil their promise,” Sarkozy said.

No figures were released on new French investments but Sarkozy made clear that France was back in force on the trade front.

“France and Africa are overflowing with projects,” he said.

Talks also touched on climate change, with Africa and France calling on developing countries to make good on their promises of 30 billion dollars in aid, made at the Copenhagen summit in December.

Part of the funds are earmarked for battling deforestation in the Congo basin, home to the world’s second largest rainforest after the Amazon of Brazil.

Africa is “not the cause nor the victim of climate change,” said Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, Africa’s negotiator on climate change, adding that he had yet to see the funds promised at Copenhagen.

France also pledged to help Africa combat piracy, terrorism and drug trafficking, with Sarkozy stressing that Africa “cannot cope on its own.”

East African countries do not have the naval forces needed to eradicate piracy from Somalia’s coastal waters, he said while lamenting the “terrorism that is poisoning the Sahel region.”

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Slovenia-Crotia: Turk Hopes for Yes Vote in Border Referendum

(ANSAmed) — LJUBJANA, JUNE 4 — “I hope that the citizens of Slovenia will vote yes in the referendum, because I think the arbitration agreement signed with Croatia is good and fair and will give both countries a realistic hope of overcoming the border dispute”. Speaking to ANSA, the President of Slovenia, Danilo Turk, has been commenting on the referendum which will be held this Sunday. In it Slovenia’s citizens will be called upon to say whether or not the country should ratify an arbitration accord made with Croatia one year ago to define their land and sea borders. “I think that Slovenia will be in a position to attain its aims through the accord. These are to bring the border back to how it was on June 25 1991, at the time of the declaration of independence”. The Slovenian President stressed that a victory for the No vote would not have negative repercussions. “I do not foresee an internal crisis: the government has already said that it will carry on with its work,” he said, before adding that there will be the need for a period of reflection to analyse what to do next. “The problem will not go away and we will still need to find the solutions within the definite framework of an accord. No other alternatives exist”, he noted. Even a year’s blockage to any solution that would be imposed by a No vote does not bother the President, who highlighted how the arbitration process would not be able to begin until Croatia receives an invitation to accede to the European Union, and this will take some time. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

The Thin Blue Line of Jihad

[Dated but still very worthwhile — Z (Hat tip: Takuan Seiyo)]

The Telegraph reports that the National Association of Muslim Police has attacked government policy on countering Islamic extremism. In evidence to a parliamentary committee investigating Islamic extremism, the NAMP attacked

the Government’s anti-terrorism strategy, warning that it is an ‘affront to British values’ which threatens to trigger ethnic unrest… that ministers were wrong to blame Islam for being the ‘driver’ behind recent terrorist attacks. Far-Right extremists were a more dangerous threat to national security… that Muslims were being ‘stigmatised’ by the Government’s attempts to tackle terrorism, which was adding to ‘hatred’ against entire communities.

…The memorandum warned that Muslims were subjected to ‘daily abuse’ due to the strategy. ‘We must not diminish our British values further by continuing to allow such behaviour and policies to continue unchecked.’

This is an extremely alarming development.

First, a general point. The very idea that police officers form themselves into interest groups of any stripe whatever should be anathema to the ethic of policing. That applies equally to Black, Gay, Jewish or One-Legged Transgendered Red-Haired Police associations. Police officers should serve the entire community equally, and should have no agenda but that professional commitment of equal public service to all. The idea that they identify themselves as an interest group is simply wrong, and the police service should never have allowed this to develop.

The memorandum by the National Association of Muslim Police, however, is of a different order of magnitude altogether.

To take their least serious point first: the idea that there is no Islamic threat and that the real threat to Britain comes from the ‘far right’ is demonstrably ludicrous. The ‘far right’ poses no threat to Britain other than some low-level thuggery. The Islamist threat to Britain is very great indeed. Dozens of Islamist plots aimed at murdering thousands of people have been thwarted, and the security service say between 2000 and 4000 British Muslims are radicalised to potential acts of terrorism. This terrorism is part of a global holy war being waged in the name of Islam. While many British Muslims support neither the aims nor the tactics of this holy war, an insupportable number do. For Muslim police officers to deny this is extremely disturbing. It means they have bought into the radical narrative of systematic denial and deceit.

But the NAMP went much, much further than this. They attacked government policy; worse, they attacked government policy aimed at protecting the lives and safety of British citizens; worse still, they suggested that British Muslims should resist that policy, and implicitly threatened disorder if it were not changed.

Let us pinch ourselves: these are British police officers, subject to the same disciplinary and professional codes as any other police officers. Yet their call for action to ‘check’ counter-terrorism policy, and the implicit threat of violence if it is not so checked, suggests that rather than helping form the line of defence against the Islamist threat, these police officers must be considered to be part of that threat.

On its website, moreover, NAMP recommends that British Muslims reporting crimes should also ‘report any such actions to the Islamic Human Rights Commission’. Let’s think about the implications of this for a moment. The IHRC is an extremist organisation with links to Iran. The NAMP is therefore advising British Muslims to use an extreme Iran-linked Islamic jihadi front organisation, which threatens the security of this nation, as a parallel law enforcement mechanism in Britain. The attempt to set up parallel Islamic institutions and jurisdiction in Britain is a core element of the Islamist attempt to suborn and take over this country.

The irony of this frightening situation is extreme. The government has bent over backwards to avoid associating Islam with terrorism. In an attempt to peel moderate Muslims away from the radicals, it has poured more than £140 million a year into ‘moderate’ Muslim groups. It has positively fallen over itself to encourage the recruitment of Muslim police officers in the belief that that this would persuade British Muslims that the government had no problem with them, only with the radicals in their midst. Yet these are precisely the policies which the NAMP claims have led to ‘hatred against Muslims’ which ‘has grown to a level that defies all logic and is an affront to British values’.

Thus the fruits of appeasement. Rather than taming jihadi extremism in Britain, the cowardice of politicians has merely resulted in fracturing the thin blue line that protects us — and turning it into a potential weapon of the jihad.

           — Hat tip: Zenster[Return to headlines]

Where to for the European Left?

In power in the countries worst hit by the economic crisis — Spain, Greece and Portugal — left-wing parties have been forced to implement austerity packages that closely resemble those chosen by conservative counterparts in Germany, France and the United Kingdom. Not surprisingly, their grassroots supporters are none too pleased.

Marc Lazar

Will the reformist left be one of the many victims of the austerity packages adopted in several European countries? On the one hand, the question should be asked because three of the seven left-wing governments in EU member states — Greece, Spain and Portugal — have been forced to deploy harsh measures which are only marginally different from those in place in Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom and France, where centre-right or right-wing parties hold sway. On the other, although it is critical of social aspects of the right-wing response to the crisis, and although it occasionally hints that it would make a better job of cleaning up the current financial mess, in countries where it occupies the opposition benches, the left often appears to be in agreement with the philosophy underlying government cutbacks.

Regardless of what we think of the alleged long-term benefits that austerity will bring, there is no denying its immediate and painful cost. The cutbacks have already resulted in a significant increase in social unrest, because the poorest and most vulnerable groups in the population — temporary workers, young job seekers, pensioners, and lowly paid civil servants — who traditionally vote for the Left, are in the front line of those affected. Trade unions in Greece, Spain and Portugal are now actively opposed to the policies adopted by their governments, and this will not only undermine support for left-wing parties, but could also contribute to a disaffection with politics in general, which will result in lower voter turnouts and an increasing mistrust of government in underprivileged sections of the population.

Keynesianism is back

And let’s not forget that political apathy of this kind could lead to a growing protest vote for extremists, especially far-right parties, who target easily identifiable scapegoats, for example immigrant communities — a trend which in exceptional circumstances could even lead to violence. Finally, it will likely reinforce the widespread sentiment that there no longer any difference between the left and the right. At a time when the radical left, which is intensifying its critique of capitalism, has accused it of betraying the interests of its supporters, the reformist left will have to clarify its position on four essential issues which are the main focus of debate in left-wing politics.

First and foremost, it will have to clarify its stance on social and economic policy. The Third Way advocated by Tony Blair in the 1990s heralded a partial assimilation of economic liberalism combined with a will to take advantage of the opportunities offered by globalisation but tempered by a drive to limit the damage to the social fabric that globalisation also engenders. More recently, we have seen the emergence of a trend towards realignment with Keynesianism and the increased intervention of government in the economy — and this is also true of the British Labour party — and at the same time, the goals of sustainable development and the establishment of a green economy have been accepted by virtually all left-wing parties.

Europe a bone of contention

However, this consensus is troubled by a number of divergences, in particular with regard to monetarist policy, with some on the left arguing for sustained public spending to relaunch investment and economic growth, while others have accepted the need for austerity but want to raise taxes on high incomes and financial transactions to fund social measures. The exact nature of these social measures is currently the subject of a debate between the proponents of policies that aim to provide sustained support for the least well-off members of society — along the lines of the “care” policy advocated by the Secretary of the French Socialist Party, Martine Aubry — and those who prefer to provide their fellow citizens with resources that will encourage more personal initiative and development.

The third bone of contention is the issue of Europe, which is increasingly taken to task by critics who claim that it is no longer relevant or effective. The left is divided between an influential minority that wants to prioritise national interests, and the proponents of a real European political power with the capacity to steer the economy, coordinate fiscal and social policy, and regulate competition between member states. Finally, at a time when democracy may be under threat, the left intends to restore confidence in the nature of political process. Exactly how this goal will be achieved is once again the subject of a debate between the advocates of a revitalisation of classical representative democracy and those who wish to explore options offered by participatory democracy.

Italian left mired in compromise

So is the reformist Left divided? Yes, it is. But the negative effect of public exposure of these controversies will be limited if they quickly give rise to original proposals and initiatives that constructively address the major social and economic challenges now faced by our societies. At the same time, nothing can be worse than terrible silence of the Italian Democratic Party (PD), which is all the more extraordinary when we consider that it was founded with the goal of bridging a divide, which is not just between the left and right, but between different reformist sensibilities and a wide range of conservative approaches.

That idea has now been lost in an exhausting battle waged by oligarchs determined to hold on to positions of power. The PD has become mired in compromise in a hopeless attempt to avoid antagonising centrist and right-wing members within its ranks. But what has become of the Italian left, which has not only lost its political power, but also the inventive spirit of the 1960s and 1970s, which, in seeking to establish a common platform for the Italian Communist Party, the Italian Socialist Party and the trade unions, inspired left-wing parties all across Europe?

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


UN: Tribunal Reviews Sentence of Yugoslav Officer

The Hague, 3 June (AKI) — The United Nations war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia on Thursday for the first time in its 17-year old history re-examined a final verdict against a former Yugoslav Army officer Veselin Sljivancanin, sentenced for aiding the killing of Croatian prisoners of war in November 1991.

Sljivancanin, who was a security officer in the Yugoslav Army brigade that conquered the eastern town of Vukovar after a three month siege, was sentenced to five years in jail in 2007 for failing to prevent the killing of 194 prisoners in the night between 20 and 21 November 1991 at Ovcara farm near Vukovar.

But the court’s appeals panel in May last year increased the sentence to 17 years, saying Sljivancanin should have known about the withdrawal of the military police that guarded prisoners and should have prevented the killings.

The prisoners were killed by local Serb paramilitaries following the withdrawal. Brigade commander, general Mile Mrksic, who had ordered the withdrawal of military police, has been sentenced to 20 years in jail.

Sljivancanin’s defence lawyers on Thursday presented a witness, former brigade chief of staff Miodrag Panic, who testified that Mrksic hadn’t informed Sljivancanin or anyone else of military police withdrawal.

“I didn’t know about that decision, I didn’t hear that he (Mrksic) talked about it to Sljivancanin and that’s why I’m before you, before God and people, to state that fact,” Panic said.

The lawyers argued that Panic’s testimony was a “new fact”, unknown during the trial, which justified re-examination of the verdict.

But prosecutor Paul Rogers said that Panic was lying to shake off responsibility of himself as an accomplice and to show Sljivancanin and the army in “better light”.

The appeals panel, chaired by the judge Theodore Meron, will make a decision on Sljivancanin’s appeal at a later date.

Since it was founded in 1993, the court has indicted 161 individuals, mostly Serbs, for crimes allegedly committed in 1991-1991 war that followed the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia.

More than 60 have been sentenced to over 1,000 years in jail. But two more indictees, including Bosnian Serb general Ratko Mladic, are still at large.

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

North Africa

Egypt to Strip Men Married to Israelis of Citizenship

CAIRO (AFP) — A Cairo court on Saturday upheld a ruling to strip Egyptian men married to Israeli women of their citizenship in a case that has highlighted national sentiment towards Israel.

Judge Mohammed al-Husseini, sitting on the Supreme Administrative Court, said the interior ministry must ask the cabinet to take the necessary steps to strip Egyptian men married to Israeli women, and their children, of their citizenship.

The court said that each case should be considered separately, in a ruling that cannot be appealed.

The ruling reflects Egyptian sentiment towards Israel, more than 30 years after Egypt signed an unpopular peace deal with the Jewish state.

Before reading the verdict, Husseini said the case would not apply to Egyptian men married to Arab Israeli women.

“The case for (Egyptian) men married to Israeli Arab women is different to those married to Israeli women of Jewish origin because (Israeli Arabs) have lived under Israeli occupation,” Husseini told the court.

“The court’s decision is taking into account Egypt’s national security,” the judge said.

Lawyer Nabil al-Wahsh said he originally brought the case to court in order to prevent the creation of a generation “disloyal to Egypt and the Arab world.”

Children of such marriages “should not be allowed to perform their military service,” he said.

The number of Egyptian men married to Israeli women is thought to be around 30,000, according to Wahsh. Only 10 percent of them are married to Arab Israelis.

“This ruling is for the benefit of Egypt, a nation of leadership, history and civilisation,” Wahsh said. “It is for the protection of Egypt and Egypt’s youth and its national security.”

“The decision comes as Israel continues its assault on those who love peace. The latest example is the aggression against the aid boat which was heading towards the blockaded Gaza Strip,” he added.

On Monday, Israeli naval commandos raided a humanitarian flotilla carrying aid to the blockaded Gaza Strip, in a bungled operation that left nine pro-Palestinian activists dead and scores injured.

A lower court ruled last year that the interior minister must look into the cases of Egyptian men married to Israeli women, and their children, in order to “take the necessary steps to strip them of their nationality.”

The interior and foreign ministries had appealed the case, saying it was for parliament to decide on such matters.

Thousands of Egyptians, particularly a large number who lived in Iraq and returned after the 1990 Gulf War over Kuwait, moved to Israel in search of work and married Israeli women.

In 1979, Egypt became the first Arab country to sign a peace deal with Israel.

           — Hat tip: KGS[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

Are These the Photos That Prove Israeli Soldiers Were Attacked by Activists When They Stormed Flotilla?

Dramatic pictures of bloodied Israeli troops being overpowered by pro-Palestinian activists on the stormed Gaza aid ship emerged yesterday.

Images from the Mavi Marmara show them in distress — one appearing to depict a commando at the mercy an angry mob with blood pouring from a stomach wound.

The photos, taken by an unidentified person on the ship, have caused anger in Israel and came as Iran promised a military escort for cargo ships attempting to break the blockade of Gaza. Ratcheting up the tension in the region, Iran’s feared Revolutionary Guard offered to protect any more maritime convoys bound for the disputed territory.

Ali Shiraz, a representative of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said: ‘Iran’s Revolutionary Guard’s naval forces are fully prepared to escort the peace and freedom-convoys to Gaza with all their powers and capabilities.’

Two more ships are expected to sail from Lebanon this week and any direct Iranian intervention would be considered an act of extreme provocation by Israel.

The pictures, published yesterday in the Turkish newspaper H¸rriyet, appear to contradict claims from activists that they did not attack Israeli troops in the botched raid on May 31 which killed nine people.

Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev seized on the publication of the photos and claimed they showed ‘that our boarding party in fact did face deadly violence from the hardcore Islamist activists on the boat from the fundamentalists’.

An Israeli commando, who claims he shot dead six of the activists in the seizure of the boat, said he landed to find three of his men lying wounded and an activist pointing a loaded pistol at the head of one of his soldiers.

‘When I hit the deck, I was immediately attacked by people with bats, metal pipes and axes,’ the commando told the Jerusalem Post newspaper. Israel has suffered worldwide condemnation over the raid and the latest pictures will come as a timely boost for its version of events.

But the PR battle over the attack took another twist yesterday as a member of the Turkish group IHH, which organised the flotilla, said the images showed activists ‘intervening’ or ‘tending’ to the injured soldiers.

The charity, which said it took the pictures, is banned in Israel because of its close ties to the Hamas militant group.

Meanwhile, the Israeli government last night rejected an offer from the United Nations for an international commission to investigate the deadly raid on the flotilla which killed nine people.

‘The clear intent of this hostile group was to initiate a violent clash with IDF soldiers.’

Mr Netanyahu did not say where the information came from. But Israeli military officials have claimed there is strong evidence that the men who fought the soldiers were hired mercenaries.

The organisers deny the allegations.

Videos released by the army have shown a crowd of men attacking several naval commandos as they landed on a ship from a helicopter, beating the soldiers with clubs and other objects.

The army has displayed pictures of knives, slingshots and metal rods confiscated from the crowd, and other video seized from reporters and security cameras on board the ship appear to show a group of young man brandishing clubs and other weapons ahead of the arrival of the soldiers.

UN Secretary General Ban Kimoon had proposed that Geoffrey Palmer, a former prime minister of New Zealand, would lead the probe along with representatives from Turkey, which lost eight people in the raid.

But Michael Oren, the Israeli ambassador to America, said Benjamin Netanyahu’s administration had the ability and the right to investigate its own military.

Yesterday a group of Malaysian activists were deported from Israel after trying to sail to Gaza on Irish-owned ship the Rachel Corrie. The Irish aboard the ship are expected to be deported today after two nights in custody.

Israel and Egypt clamped a tight security cordon around the Palestinian enclave after Hamas seized control of the area in a bloody fighting with their Fatah rivals in July 2007.

Yesterday’s announcement by Iran represents a dramatic step-up in the rhetoric from Tehran. The Revolutionary Guard, with their own navy, air force and command structure, are seen as fiercely loyal to the values of the Islamic Republic.

‘If the supreme leader issues an order for this then the Revolutionary Guard naval forces will do their best to secure the ships,’ Khamenei’s spokesman added. ‘It is Iran’s duty to defend the innocent people of Gaza.’

           — Hat tip: Vlad Tepes[Return to headlines]

Imam Unmosqued: Ground Zero Booster Tied to Sea Clash

The imam behind a proposed mosque near Ground Zero is a prominent member of a group that helped sponsor the pro-Palestinian activists who clashed violently with Israeli commandos at sea this week.

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is a key figure in Malaysian-based Perdana Global Peace Organization, according to its Website.

Perdana is the single biggest donor ($366,000) so far to the Free Gaza Movement, a key organizer of the six-ship flotilla that tried to break Israel’s blockade of the Hamas-run Gaza Strip Monday.

Nine passengers aboard the largest ship died in clashes with Israeli commandos, and a new confrontation loomed today, when another Free Gaza Movement ship was due to reach Gaza waters in defiance of Israel.


SHIP-HEAD: Using convincing props yesterday, West Bank protesters restage Israel’s attack of relief ships bound for the Gaza Strip.

Efforts to reach Imam Abdul Rauf yesterday for comment were unsuccessful.

Deborah Burlingame, the sister of the American Airlines pilot whose hijacked plane struck the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, said the indirect ties of the imam to the protesters who confronted Israeli forces Monday were not surprising.

“I think it goes to show he is not the man he represents himself to be. We have two Imam Raufs,” she said.

“We have the anti-Israel, anti-democratic imam, and we have the smiling, soft-spoken moderate Muslim who says ‘Why can’t we all get along?’ “

The Free Gaza Movement is a charity that has made nine seaborne aid missions in the past two years to break the Israeli blockade.

In the latest effort, the group’s ship, the MV Rachel Corrie, which sails under an Irish flag, had made it about 35 miles off the Gaza coast last night before it was intercepted.

Israeli ships were shadowing the vessel, but it had not been boarded. Earlier yesterday, the Irish government said it had reached an accord with Israel to avoid another showdown, but the activists aboard rejected the deal.

Irish diplomats said that under the agreement, the ship would have docked at the Israeli port of Ashdod for inspection of its cargo under the supervision of UN officials.

Israel agreed to transfer all the content, except weapons and war materials, to Gaza, accompanied by two Free Gaza members, according to the agreement. But the activists said they would only allow a security check at sea.

“We will never stop at Ashdod,” said Free Gaza Movement spokeswoman Greta Berlin.

           — Hat tip: Vlad Tepes[Return to headlines]

Israeli Government Office Links to Video Mocking Flotilla

Jerusalem (CNN) — The Israeli government’s press division is apologizing for circulating a link to a video that mocks activists aboard a ship headed to Gaza earlier this week that was blocked by an Israeli raid.

“Due to a misunderstanding on our part, earlier (Friday) we inadvertently issued a video link that had been sent for our perusal,” according to a statement from Israel’s Government Press Office, which distributed the link to media outlets.

“It was not intended for general release,” the statement said. “The contents of the video in no way represent the official policy of either the Government Press Office or of the State of Israel.”

The video, titled “We Con the World” — set to the tune of the 1985 hit, “We are the World”— was put together by Caroline Glick, a former member of the Israel Defense Forces and columnist for the Jerusalem Post.

In the video, up to a dozen members of the so-called “Flotilla Choir” — some wearing a variation of traditional Arab dress — sing satirical verses, such as: “There’s no people dying, so the best that we can do is create the biggest bluff of all.”

On her blog, Glick, who briefly appears in the video, says, “We produced a clip in English. There we feature the Turkish-Hamas ‘love boat’ captain, crew and passengers in a musical explanation of how they con the world.”

“We think this is an important Israeli contribution to the discussion of recent events and we hope you distribute it far and wide,” she adds.

Nine Turkish citizens were killed Monday after violence erupted on one of six ships in a flotilla carrying humanitarian aid to the Palestinian Gaza Strip. A number of other people were wounded. Israel said the passengers initiated the attack; the passengers blamed the troops.

That incident drew widespread condemnation and cast a spotlight on the dynamics of the Gaza crisis. On Saturday, Israel intercepted the final boat that was part of the flotilla, though the incident aboard the Irish-owned MV Rachel Corrie ended peacefully about 22 miles off the Gaza coast.

Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev dismissed the the video link, saying, “The GPO sends out lots of articles. It doesn’t mean they like it.”

Regev said he first noticed the video on the New York Times website.

“I called my kids in to watch it because I thought it was funny,” he said. “It is what Israelis feel. But the government has nothing to do with it. The GPO distributes non-government items, things that we think that show our side of the story.”

It was not the first time the Israeli GPO stirred controversy with its public communications on the Gaza flotilla.

Prior to the storming of the Turkish ship, the GPO sent an e-mail to journalists sarcastically recommending that while covering “alleged humanitarian difficulties,” journalists should dine at one of Gaza’s few restaurants.

“We have been told the beef stroganoff and cream of spinach soup are highly recommended,” the e-mail said.

The message included an internet link to an old promotional video for the restaurant. The e-mail drew criticism from the foreign press and pro-Palestinian activists.

In an interview with the Jerusalem Post, GPO director Danny Seaman defended the communication, arguing that foreign media coverage of Gaza was not balanced.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Middle East

Coastal Turkish Town Angered by Animal Killings

MURDER: The corpses of four cats and one dog found near garbage containers have infuriated animal lovers.

A massacre against cats and dogs has shaken Datça, a district in Turkey’s southwestern province of Mugla along the Aegean coast.

The corpses of four cats and one dog found near garbage containers have infuriated animal lovers, who have documented the remains on camera.

The animals were reportedly killed with poisoned fish, said Sarper Arsoy, a board member of Datça’s animal lovers association.

“However, we are investigating the issue. Up to now, we have found the corpses of four cats and a dog. These are only the ones we could see. Residents say that the number of missing animals is much higher,” Arsoy said.

“Is such unscrupulousness possible? There are two mother cats among the dead. The kittens are now left alone. I doubt the humanity of the people capable of doing this,” said Arsoy.

Solmaz Alpay, 62, a retired teacher and owner of one of the poisoned cats, could not help crying after the incident.

“We have launched a campaign to protect street animals and prevent their uncontrolled reproduction, titled ‘Fix, Vaccinate and Keep Alive.’ I vaccinated one of the killed cats just 15 days ago. I undertook its care for days,” she said. “When I learnt that it was poisoned, I was terribly saddened and ashamed of being human. The picture I saw shows that not animals but humanity has died. What a shame!”

Meanwhile, the dog killed was owned by Halil Teker, 23. As he watched the corpse of his dog being delivered in a sack, Teker said he had been looking after the dog for the last six years.

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

Instant Online Divorces Receive Clerical Approval in Turkey

Though people who download pirated music and films are running afoul of Islamic law, those who want to divorce their spouses over instant-messaging services are in the clear, Turkey’s highest religious authority has said.

Hamza Aktan, the head of the High Council of Religious Affairs, addressed religious aspects of the use of technology in recent remarks, the Anatolia news agency reported Wednesday.

According to Aktan’s high-tech religious rules, thou shalt not use one’s neighbor’s wireless Internet connection without permission, nor shalt thou attempt to break other’s passwords. Even if one’s neighbor allows their Internet connection to be used, he added, Islamic law looks askance at such sharing without the approval of the service provider.

Apart from networks that are open to the public, the use of individual networks with or without permission is against the law, Aktan said.

“Regardless of style or method, whenever a program, an audio or visual file is used without paying the price the copyright owner demanded, the conduct becomes a violation of rightful due, which is a cardinal sin in Islam,” he added.

According to Aktan, those who disguise their identities, introduce themselves as someone else or lie about their professions or their locations online are “beguiling the addressee,” an act strictly forbidden in Islam. In addition, he said, taking men’s and women’s photographs without their permission and sharing them on the Internet is a violation of rights and accordingly against Islamic propriety.

Marriage via 3G, divorce through MSN

Technology, however, can facilitate weddings and divorces under religious rules, according to Aktan, who said, “As long as all the preconditions and obligations required by Islam are fulfilled,” a religious wedding ceremony performed by the use of a 3G telephone is acceptable.

However, he immediately added, “If a religious wedding is preferred rather than having a proper secular wedding, this means an escape from responsibility,” suggesting such a decision may perhaps indicate “an attempt at polygamy; or the inclination to have a short-term relationship and then break up easily.”

“In order to prevent the abuse of religious weddings for such intentions, we do not perform religious weddings unless a secular wedding was performed first,” he said.

Though a secular marriage can be ended only through the proper legal procedure, the official added, religious ones require only that the husband say he divorces his wife — something Aktan said was possible to do over the telephone or through online chat platforms such as MSN.

“As long as the phrase is spoken, termination is valid,” he said. “It does not matter in which medium the message is formulated.”

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

Report: Erdogan Considering Visiting Gaza to ‘Break Blockade’

Turkish PM may visit Gaza, ask Turkish Navy to accompany another aid flotilla, according to Lebanese newspaper; Turkish military opposes cutting security ties with Israel.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is weighing the possibility of traveling to the Gaza Strip in order to “break the Israeli blockade,” the Lebanese newspaper al-Mustaqbal reported on Saturday, according to Army Radio.

Erdogan reportedly raised the idea in conversations with close associates and even informed the United States of his intention to ask the Turkish Navy to accompany another aid flotilla to Gaza. The Americans asked Erdogan to delay his plans, in light of tensions on the region, the Lebanese report said.

According to the report, Erdogan is under intense political pressure to cancel security agreements with Israel. The Turkish military establishment, however, strongly opposes the idea of cutting security ties with Israel.

Erdogan has fiercely criticized Israeli for Monday’s raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla, in which nine people, all Turkish citizens, were killed.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Turkish Regime Changes Sides, West Averts Eyes

by Barry Rubin

This article is based on one commissioned and published by PajamasMedia. I have added additional material to this more extensive version. Turkish readers: see a special note to you at the end.

Why have Israel-Turkey relations gone from alliance to what seems to be the verge of war?

The foolish think that the breakdown is due to the recent Gaza flotilla crisis. The merely naive attribute the collapse to the December 2008-January 2009 Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip.

Such conclusions are totally misleading. It was already clear-and in private every Israeli expert dealing seriously with Turkey said so-well over two years ago. For example, the Justice and Development (AK) party government did not permit a single new military contract with Israel since it took office. The special relationship was over. And the cause was the election in Turkey of an Islamist government.

After all, Turkey needed Israel as an ally when a secular government in Ankara regarded Iran, Syria, and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq as the main threats. Once there was a government which regarded Iran and Syria as its closest allies, Israel became a perceived enemy.

When the Turkish armed forces were an important part of the regime, they promoted the alliance because they saw Israel as a good source for military equipment and an ally against Islamists and radical Arab regimes. But once the army was to be suppressed by those who hated it because of the military’s secularism and feared it as the guardian of the republican system it sought to dismantle, the generals’ wishes were a matter of no concern and depriving them of foreign allies was a priority of the AK party government.

And when Turkey thought it needed Israel as a way to maintain good relations with the United States, the alliance was also valuable. But once it was clear that U.S. policy would accept the AK and was none too fond of Israel, that reason for the alliance also dissolved. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced, “It’s Israel that is the principal threat to regional peace.” Not Iran, Israel.

At first, this outcome was not so obvious. The AK Party won its first election by only a narrow margin. To keep the United States and EU happy, to keep the Turkish army happy, and to cover up its Islamist sympathies, the new regime was cautious over relations with Israel. Keeping them going served as “proof” of Turkey’s moderation.

Yet as the AK majorities in election rose, the government became more confident. No longer did it stress that it was just a center-right party with family values. The regime steadily weakened the army, using EU demands for civilian power. As it repressed opposition and arrested hundreds of critics, bought up 40 percent of the media, and installed its people in the bureaucracy, the AK’s arrogance, and thus its willingness to go further and throw off its mask, grew steadily.

And then, on top of that, the regime saw that the United States would not criticize it, not press it, not even notice what the Turkish government was doing…

           — Hat tip: Barry Rubin[Return to headlines]

South Asia

Pakistan: PM Looks for Stronger Trade Links With EU

Brussels, 4 June (AKI) — Pakistani prime minister Yousaf Raza Gillani was meeting leaders from NATO and the European Union in Brussels on Friday in a bid to strengthen political and economic cooperation. EU officials said the 27-nation bloc intended to launch a five-year plan that would include a strategic dialogue between the two sides and a boost in trade.

On Thursday, Gillani met Jerzy Buzek, president of the European Parliament and the heads of parliamentary Committees.

Last year bilateral trade between the EU and Pakistan totalled 7 billion euros.

Pakistan currently enjoys preferential treatment for 80 per cent of its exports to the EU.

Gillani is representing the country at the second Pakistan-European Union summit.

The European Union is Pakistan’s largest trading partner and both have a common stake in the stability, reconstruction and development of Afghanistan.

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

The Plight of Hindu Minority in Islamic Republic of Pakistan

by Amir Mir

LAHORE: Pakistani human rights activists are perturbed by the erosion of minority rights, particularly the alarming frequency with which cases of forcible conversion of the country’s Hindu nationals are surfacing.

In a latest case of forced conversion, the head of a religious seminary in Rahim Yar Khan district of Pakistani Punjab first abducted a minor Hindu girl and then stopped her from meeting her parents, saying the girl had converted to Islam and no longer wanted to meet her “non-Muslim relatives”.

According to Mehnga Ram, the father of the 13 year old Hindu girl, his daughter Radha was abducted in December 2009 and since then she is not being allowed to see her parents. “Since her abduction, we have knocked on every door stretching from the president of Pakistan to the chief minister of Punjab, but to no avail. In fact, local police, including the district police officer of Rahim Yar Khan are supporting those who had abducted Radha”.

He adds: “The police authorities are neither registering a first information report (FIR) against the accused, nor are they taking any action to recover the girl from the custody of Abdul Jabbar”. Mehnga Ram said his daughter had been missing since December 21, 2009, and the family had searched for her everywhere. Eventually, he said, some locals informed him that the girl was in the possession of the head of the Darul Aloom in Khanpur.

“We went to the Abdul Jabbar, the head of the madrassa, and others and requested them that our girl be returned to us. They initially denied that Radha was in their custody, but later admitted the fact only to then tell us that they could not allow us to meet our daughter since she had converted to Islam and did not want to see any of her non-Muslim relatives,” the father said, adding that he then went to the police, seeking an FIR against the culprits, but the police refused, saying the girl had converted and the family should just forget the matte”.

However, Radha was not the only one to have converted to Islam in recent days. As a matter of fact, a total of 57 Pakistani Hindus converted to Islam in the Sialkot district of Punjab in a short span of two weeks (between May 14 and May 19, 2010) under pressure from their Muslim employers in a bid to retain their jobs and to survive in the Muslim-dominated society. As many as 35 Hindus converted to Islam on May 14, another 14 on May 17 and eight on May 19, 2010. All the 57 Hindus who have converted actually belong to the Pasroor town of Sialkot.

Mangut Ram, a close relative of some of the new converts, who lives in Sialkot, said that these Hindus had to embrace Islam because they were under pressure from their Muslim employers. He said four Hindu brothers along with their families lived in the village of Nikki Pindi. Two of them and their families embraced Islam on May 14 in the local Haidri Mosque in the village. Mangut Ram said that Hans Raj, Kans Raj, Meena/Kartar and Sardari Lal along with his with nephews and sons worked at an eatery in Karachi. He said some Muslim people from his village also worked in Karachi.

According to Mangut Ram, his co workers often spoke against Hindus in Karachi where his family worked. “The owner of the shop where I worked said that after a few months of his employing me the sales dropped drastically because people avoide purchasing and eating edibles prepared by Hindus. Many people opposed the large presence of Hindu employees at his shop and my boss felt pressured to change the situation,” he added. Ram said Sardari Lal and his brother Meena/Kartar had worked at the sweets shops for several years and made a decent living that allowed them to support their families. He said other Muslims employees of the nearby shops discriminated against them and persecuted them. The shop owner was forced to think about their future at his establishment. “That was when the two brothers and their families decided to embrace Islam in order to keep their jobs and be secure,” he added.

Ram confirmed that 13 family members of Sardari Lal, 12 members of Meena/Kartar, their nephew Kans Raj’s son Boota Ram along with three adults and several children of these families embraced Islam on May 14, 2010. “I don’t blame them, Sardari Lal, has succeeded in saving his job and can support his family,” Ram said. He said that Sardari Lal’s older brothers Hans Raj and Kans Raj remained Hindus. Hans Raj too has said that he might consider converting to save his job. He said that life was ‘just easier if one was Muslim’ and he wouldn’t be discriminated against. Ram said that 14 Hindus of the Tapiala village had embraced Islam on May 17 because they were extremely poor and could not get jobs because no one would employ the large Hindu family. He said that another relative of his, Parkash, who lived in the village of Seowal, along with his eight family members had embraced Islam in order to save their lands. “After embracing Islam Parkash Ram usually came to the village and wept before me, he told me that Muslim neighbours had been mistreating him and had forced him to convert,” Mangut Ram said.

Ansar Buney, chairman of the Ansar Buney Welfare Trust, is dismayed over the state of affairs: “It’s heart-rending to see forced conversion of Hindus to Islam, since the Pakistan that Mohammad Ali Jinnah had envisioned granted absolute religious freedom to the minorities”. He then asks, “Have you ever heard of an Indian Muslim girl being forced to embrace Hinduism?”

I.A. Rehman, director of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, links the erosion of minority rights to the process of Islamisation that the military regime, under President Zia-ul-Haq, initiated in the eighties. Pakistan was declared an Islamic republic, its social and political life was influenced by the Islamist agenda; the Hindus have had fewer privileges and rights since then. A leading Pakistani NGO Aurat Foundation’s Nuzzhat Shirin too blames Islamic fanaticism for the ordeal of Hindus. “It’s Muslims winning by intimidation. It’s Muslims overcoming a culture by threatening it”.

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

Far East

Hong Kong — China: Hong Kong Police Sets Conditions for Returning the Goddess of Democracy

Statues measuring several metres are seized. Police says they would be returned if safety regulations are respected. Pro-democracy alliance activists take to the street dressed like the Goddess, threatening to surround North Point Police Station.

Hong Kong (AsiaNews/Agencies) — Hong Kong government authorities are discussing with pro-democracy activists ways to return two statues of the Goddess of Democracy, seized before a march was held on 30 May to commemorate the Tiananmen Square massacre. The event was organised by the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China (see Catholics in Hong Kong and Card. Zen demand the truth about the Tiananmen massacre).

In a statement last night, a government spokesperson said that the art pieces would be returned “under condition that the police’s relevant requirements will be followed”.

The Leisure and Cultural Services Department of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region said that it would require the Alliance to get insurance and approval from registered engineers to guarantee that any object taller than 1.7 metres on 4 June meets safety standards. The confiscated statues measure several metres.

Alliance activists appear unwilling to accept any political conditions though. For Alliance Deputy Chairman Lee Cheuk-yan, “If the government refuses to release it, then beware: we will surround the North Point police station at 6 pm on June 3 to demand their release.”

In the meantime, in a challenge to police, the Alliance last night displayed a 4.5-metre painting of the Goddess of Democracy in Times Square. Several activists dressed like the statue staged a protest.

The original Goddess of Democracy was a ten-metre statue made of foam and papier-mâché over a metal armature, set up in Tiananmen Square on 30 May 1989. It was destroyed following the crackdown on 4 June.

However, copies of the statue have been used to commemorate that date in Hong Kong ever since.

Activists want the statues seized by police this year to be returned so that they can be displayed in Victoria Park on the eve of the anniversary.

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

Japan: Japanese Exports Up, Fuelled by Demand in China and Asia

In April, Japanese exports jump by 40.4 per cent. This is the fifth consecutive month of growth, especially in cars and high-tech. Demand is especially strong in Asia, less in Europe.

Tokyo (AsiaNews/Agencies) — For a fifth straight month, Japan’s exports expanded in April, by 40.4 per cent, fuelled by brisk overseas demand for cars and high-tech goods, this according to figures released today by the Finance Ministry.

Japan’s auto exports in April more than doubled from a year earlier, with semiconductor shipments up 35.5 per cent.

Japan’s auto exports to the United States and Asia, including mainland China, rose significantly. Auto shipments to the European Union also surged 49.7 per cent year-on-year.

Experts are broadly optimistic about Japan’s prospects. In their view, data show strong recovery of the world economy, partly because it involves demand for basic items used in everyday life whose purchase customers can put off to better times.

Cars and high-tech are vital: Japan leads the world in both in terms of output, development and innovation.

A strong recovery in these sectors will boost investment and employment, stimulating domestic consumption.

Japan’s imports also rose in April, by 24.2 per cent to 5.1 trillion yen, leaving it with a healthy trade surplus of 742 billion yen.

Other analysts note however that exports to Europe involve orders from previous months; they have taken a wait-and-see attitude in view of the debt crisis in the Euro zone.

With sales to Europe increasing “only” 19.8 per cent, less than in previous months, Japan is turning towards Asia, which accounts for 56 per cent of its total shipments. Hence, the European crisis does not appear to be dampening Japan’s recovery. In fact, exports to mainland China alone jumped 41.4 per cent.

A slowdown in exports to Europe is also the consequence of a stronger yen, which gained about 14 per cent against the euro this month, raising the cost of Japanese goods in Europe.

Overall, Japan’s annualized growth GDP rose 4.9 per cent in the first quarter of the year.

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

Philippines — Saudi Arabia: Filipino Nurses in Riyadh Against the Centre of Assistance to Migrants: They Have Abandoned US

Head of Overseas Workers Employment Assistance Administration in Riyadh under accusation. Instead of helping abused nurses he demands they return to work. The 30 women were repatriated in March and worked for Annasbah, a Riyadh company known for ongoing abuses against employees. Now fears for the fate of 30 other companions still blocked in the Saudi capital.

Manila (AsiaNews / Agencies) — More than 30 Filipino nurses, for years victims of abuse in the Saudi company Annasbah, in recent days have accused the assistance office of the Overseas Workers Employment Administration (OWWA) in Riyadh of complicity with employers. The women repeatedly applied to the service centre run by Filipinos to obtain permission to return home, but were ignored and forced to return to work without any medical assistance. After months of waiting they had to pay for their return from their own pockets to pay. Now they fear for the fate of 30 other companions who are still in Saudi Arabia.

Eppie Bellamar, one of the survivors, said: “Instead of helping us the Filipino Foreign Workers Administration of Riyadh prolonged our agony, leaving in the hands of our exploiters, and now it is doing the same with our companions who are still in Saudi Arabia”. Together with the other nurses she has compiled a list of charges against Burayag Nestor, Head of the Owwa Service in Saudi Arabia.

The document lists the “five deadly sins” committed by Burayag: the delay in the repatriation process for failing to put pressure on Annasbah for the issuing of visas, the absence of food and medical assistance for sick nurses, forcing the women to pay of one thousand Euros for the return ticket, instead of requiring repayment from the company. Burayag also asked the nurses to stop their protests and to return to work.

Annasban is a well known Saudi company active in the hospital service and uses Owwa services to find Philippine migrant workers to employ in its structures. In recent years it has often been accused of exploitation and inhumane working conditions with the partial complicity of the head of the Owwa in Riyadh. They are responsible for providing assistance to migrants and to report any abuses by businesses to the Philippine government.

In January, 88 nurses began a hunger strike to protest against the company and assistance to migrants office who had refused repatriation to a colleague who became ill during service, the a request that was judged inappropriate. To date, the Philippine authorities have not issued any official statement against the company, which continues to recruit the thousands of migrants who leave the country every day.

According to the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) from 2007 to 2008, migration to the Middle East has seen an increase of 29.5% because of the wide availability of employment opportunities it remains among the top choices of migrants. And this despite the terrible working conditions, the risk of forced conversions and sexual abuse suffered by women.

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


Illegal Immigrants Intercepted Off Spanish Coast

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, JUNE 3 — Illegal immigration to the Spanish coasts is on the rise again, now that the summer is approaching. Last night three boats were intercepted with a total of 38 migrants on board, all Algerians, off the coast of Cartagena (Almeria). The boats had been spotted by patrol boats of the Guardia Civil and the Coastguard, according to sources of the police and the regional prefecture. The first boat was intercepted 12 miles south of Cabo Tinoso and carried 12 people. It has been escorted to the port of Cartagena. The other two boats were spotted 24 miles off the coast of Cabo del Agua. These have been escorted to the same port. The migrants have received assistance from Red Cross volunteers and have been transferred to temporary shelters, waiting to be repatriated. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


WHO Scandal Exposed: Advisors Received Kickbacks From H1N1 Vaccine Manufacturers

(NaturalNews) A stunning new report reveals that top scientists who convinced the World Health Organization (WHO) to declare H1N1 a global pandemic held close financial ties to the drug companies that profited from the sale of those vaccines. This report, published in the British Medical Journal, exposes the hidden ties that drove WHO to declare a pandemic, resulting in billions of dollars in profits for vaccine manufacturers.

Several key advisors who urged WHO to declare a pandemic received direct financial compensation from the very same vaccine manufacturers who received a windfall of profits from the pandemic announcement. During all this, WHO refused to disclose any conflicts of interests between its top advisors and the drug companies who would financially benefit from its decisions.

All the kickbacks, in other words, were swept under the table and kept silent, and WHO somehow didn’t think it was important to let the world know that it was receiving policy advice from individuals who stood to make millions of dollars when a pandemic was declared.

WHO credibility destroyed

The report was authored by Deborah Cohen (BMJ features editor), and Philip Carter, a journalist who works for the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in London. In their report, Cohen states, “…our investigation has revealed damaging issues. If these are not addressed, H1N1 may yet claim its biggest victim — the credibility of the WHO and the trust in the global public health system.”

In response to the report, WHO secretary-general Dr Margaret Chan defended the secrecy, saying that WHO intentionally kept the financial ties a secret in order to “…protect the integrity and independence of the members while doing this critical work… [and] also to ensure transparency.”

Dr Chan apparently does not understand the meaning of the word “transparency.” Then again, WHO has always twisted reality in order to serve its corporate masters, the pharmaceutical giants who profit from disease. To say that they are keeping the financial ties a secret in order to “protect the integrity” of the members is like saying we’re all serving alcohol at tonight’s AA meeting in order to keep everybody off the bottle.

It just flat out makes no sense.

But since when did making sense have anything to do with WHO’s decision process anyway?

Even Fiona Godlee, editor of the BMJ, had harsh words for the WHO, saying, “…its credibility has been badly damaged. WHO must act now to restore its credibility.”

Yet more criticism for WHO

The BMJ isn’t the only medical publication criticizing WHO for its poor handling of conflicts of interest. Another report from the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly also criticized WHO, saying: “Parliamentary Assembly is alarmed about the way in which the H1N1 influenza pandemic has been handled, not only by the World Health Organization (WHO), but also by the competent health authorities at the level of the European Union and at national level.” It went on to explain that WHO’s actions led to “a waste of large sums of public money, and also unjustified scares and fears about health risks faced by the European public at large.”

[Return to headlines]