Friday, January 10, 2003

News Feed 20100622

Financial Crisis
»Germany Urges U.S. To Focus on Debt Cuts
»New York Raises Cigarette Tax Again
»Regulators Adopt Plan to Curb Bank Exec Pay Abuses
»Switzerland: Manager-Employee Salary Gap Still Growing
»8 of 15 Experts Consulted by Obama Administration on Offshore Drilling Were Not Informed of Moratorium — And Now Oppose it
»‘Allahu Akbar!’ Shouted as Christians Cuffed
»Chinese Breaking Into Classified Network
»Dear Mr. President … From Jon Voight
»Fiat Faces Challenge With Jeep
»General McChrystal Summoned to White House Over Magazine Interview
»How the Ultimate BP Gulf Disaster Could Kill Millions
»Jimmy Carter Worries Supreme Court Could Affect His Interaction With Terrorists
»Judge Blocks Obama’s Moratorium on Deep-Water Oil Drilling, A.P. Reports
»McChrystal Accuses Obama Buddy of Covering ‘His Flank’
»Opposition Grows to Stalin Bust at D-Day Memorial
»Time to Consider Secession?
»Woman Who Has Sex With Boy Honored as ‘Person of Month’
Europe and the EU
»75-Year-Old Nun Hired for a Top Financial Job in Italy
»Austrian Favourite Croatia Tops European Road Death Toll
»Belgium: Jews Deserting Antwerp
»Czech: Military Presents Pandurs Vehicles to Public at Show
»Dutch Police Use ‘Decoy Jews’ To Stop Anti-Semitic Attacks
»EU: Inspectors Sent to Investigate Blue Mozzarella
»France: Tons of Bushmeat in Paris, Study Finds
»French Minister Furious About L’Oreal Stink
»Germany: Secret Mixa File Details Alcohol and Sexual Abuse
»Holland: Confused and Divided
»Islam, Islamism and Islamophobia in Europe
»Italy: €97 Bln in Offshore Funds ‘Reported’
»Italy: Four Arrested Over ‘Toxic’ Chinese Goods
»Italy: Mayor Invites Mel Gibson to Buy Castle
»Netherlands: ‘Radical Moroccans Orchestrated PvdA Coup in Amsterdam’
»Pace Warns of Rising Islamophobia in Europe
»Spain: Tensions Rising at Borders of Ceuta and Melilla
»UK: Shamed Police Chief Ali Dizaei Loses Bid to Appeal Against His Four-Year Jail Term
»UK: Schoolboys Throw Acid in Stranger’s Face in ‘Horrific’ Random Attack After He Refuses to Give Them Cigarette
»Bosnia: Shelling of Sarajevo ‘Worse Than Beirut and Vietnam’
North Africa
»Algeria: Court Blocks ArcelorMittal Factory Strike
Israel and the Palestinians
»Caroline Glick: The High Price of Coalition Stability
»What’s Really Happening in Gaza; What’s Really Not Happening in the West Bank
Middle East
»As EU Suffers: Turkish Trade Focuses on East
»Christians in the Middle East. Who’s Coming, Who’s Going
»Danger Signs in Turkey’s Strategic Depth
»Israel Gas Discoveries Set Off Lebanon Row
»Lebanon: More Security Near Sidon After Christians Threatened
»Turkish Troops Hunt Down Kurdish Rebels
»Turks: Serbs and Arabs…
South Asia
»Afghanistan: US Military ‘Payments’ Reach Taliban
»Pakistan Police Arrest German Man in Burka
»Top US General in Afghanistan Apologizes for Remarks Criticizing Obama
»Uzbekistan: Uzbek Authorities Force Christians, Including Jehovah’s Witnesses, To Go Underground
»Nebraska Town Restricts Illegal Immigration

Financial Crisis

Germany Urges U.S. To Focus on Debt Cuts

The congressional battle over adding more government stimulus spending versus deficit reduction spilled overseas Monday as the German government publicly rebuked the Obama administration over its red ink and said countries now must focus on controlling debt.

It’s the same sort of pushback President Obama has been getting from critics at home as he calls for a second round of stimulus spending, which he argues is needed to spur private job creation at a time when unemployment hovers near 10 percent nationwide.

But he’s increasingly being opposed by Republicans and some Democrats at home, and German officials’ comments signal a looming fight over deficits as the world’s leaders gather in Toronto next week for a summit of the leaders of the world’s biggest economies, with the Group of Eight summit of industrial powers kicking off Friday in Canada.


“It’s urgently necessary for monetary stability that public budgets return to balance,” German Economy Minister Rainer Bruederle said at a press conference Monday, according to Bloomberg News. “This is something we should also tell our American friends.”

His comments were echoed at a separate press briefing Monday by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble, who said national debt levels must be brought under control to reassure nervous global financial markets…

[Return to headlines]

New York Raises Cigarette Tax Again

The new law, part of an emergency budget measure to keep the government running, adds another $1.60 in state taxes to every cigarette pack sold starting on July 1, pushing the average price of a pack to about $9.20.

The average price in New York City, which imposes its own cigarette taxes, will be even higher, nearly $11 a pack.


…starting on Sept. 1, the state will begin collecting — or try to collect — [again] taxes on cigarettes sold on Indian reservations to off-reservation visitors, an issue that led to violent protests during the early 1990s.

One Indian chief has said that trying to collect taxes would be considered an act of war…

[Return to headlines]

Regulators Adopt Plan to Curb Bank Exec Pay Abuses


Many banks’ practices have been found wanting for failing to curb risk taking based on an in-depth analysis by regulators, the Fed said. It has directed individual banks — which weren’t identified — to take steps to fix their policies.


The regulators won’t actually set compensation. Instead, they would review — and could veto — pay policies that could spark too much risk taking by executives, traders or loan officers.

As part of that process, the regulators will be conducting additional reviews of bank-compensation practices and making sure that they address shortcomings.

[Return to headlines]

Switzerland: Manager-Employee Salary Gap Still Growing

The gap between the salaries of managers and employees is widening despite the economic crisis, according to the employees’ association, Travail.Suisse.

In a study published on Monday, the organisation said the difference in salaries had widened by 18 per cent in 2009, and by 70 per cent since 2002.

“The constant rise in managers’ pay puts at risk the Swiss model of economic success, which is based on trust, decency and a functioning social partnership,” says the study, which looked at 27 companies.

The economic crisis had only a passing effect in closing the gap, the study says. The difference in pay decreased in a few companies which were affected by the crisis, but the gap continued to widen in areas like pharmaceuticals, where the crisis was not felt at all, or in banks, where it is no longer acute.

“No lessons have been learned,” the study claims.

It calls for “fundamental changes”, in particular that the staff should be represented on the board. Other demands are that bonuses should be limited and taxed above SFr1 million ($877,000), and that other special payments should be banned.

The current study on the subject is the sixth to have been conducted by Travail Suisse, the umbrella organisation for 170,000 employees.

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


8 of 15 Experts Consulted by Obama Administration on Offshore Drilling Were Not Informed of Moratorium — And Now Oppose it

Eight of the 15 experts consulted by the Interior Department for a report about oil drilling safety on the Outer Continental Shelf — a report commissioned by President Barack Obama — said they disagreed with the report’s call for a six-month halt on current deepwater offshore drilling operations. The recommendation to halt deepwater drilling was added to the text of the report without their knowledge only after they had reviewed the text.


“There is an implication that we have somehow agreed to or ‘peer reviewed’ the main recommendation of that report,” the eight experts wrote. “This is not the case.”

They added that “the scope of the moratorium on drilling which is in the executive summary differs in important ways from the recommendation in the draft which we reviewed.”

[Return to headlines]

‘Allahu Akbar!’ Shouted as Christians Cuffed

Four Christians were arrested and thrown out of a public Arab festival in Michigan — and at least two people claim a crowd cheered “Allahu Akbar!” while the Christians were led away in handcuffs for doing nothing more than engaging in peaceful dialogue and videotaping the event.

Nabeel Qureshi, David Wood, Paul Rezkalla and 18-year-old Negeen Mayel attended the 15th annual Dearborn Arab International Festival on June 18 in Dearborn, Mich., where an estimated 30,000 of the city’s 98,000 residents are Muslim.

The American Arab Chamber of Commerce announced the event was expected to draw “over 300,000 people from across the country, Canada and the Middle East.” The festival covers 14 blocks and is free and open to the public.

Qureshi and Mayal are former Muslims who are now Christians. Mayal’s parents emigrated from Afghanistan. Wood is a former atheist. All are from a Christian group called Acts 17 Apologetics.

In the following video after the arrest, Qureshi said his group took “extra precautions” to prevent disruptions by not handing out pamphlets and to speak only to people “who first approached us”:

[article includes must-watch embedded videos — Z]

“This was to limit accusations of instigation and disruption,” he explained. “We knew people have a tendency to accuse us of being disruptive, of inciting and instigating. So we wanted to make sure we did absolutely nothing of the sort.”

Qureshi said people at the festival recognized his group from its visit in 2009. Last year, the Acts 17 Apologetics team was escorted from the grounds while being allegedly assaulted by security personnel and several attendees. The following is the group’s footage of the incident:

This year, Qureshi said some attendees who recognized them “would come up to us, accusing us, threatening us, saying we were racists, saying they were going to hurt us and yelling curses and insults at us.”

However, he said his group was able to engage in civil conversations with many people who initiated discussion. But then the group was arrested by local police. Each of the four are now free on bond.

“Paul, David, Negeen, and I went to the festival to see and comment on the situation,” Qureshi wrote on his blog. “Thankfully, we recorded every second of our activity at the festival.”

According to his post, the video footage was confiscated by police. Versions posted online had been removed at the time of this report.

“[W]e will post footage when the police give us back our cameras,” he wrote.

Qureshi recounted his experience:

At one point, we came across a festival volunteer who seemed to take issue with us simply being at the festival. We could tell he had a problem with us, and so we asked “What are we doing wrong?” He said, “Put the camera and microphone down, and I’ll tell you.” (By the way, there was more to this conversation, but when you see the footage, I think you’ll see I’m being fair in my summary.) So I obliged, handing the microphone to David and asking him to not record the man. I then approached him and said, “No camera, no mic, tell me what we’re doing wrong.” He said “Get away from me!” (or something to that effect). Again, I obliged, and walked away.

About 20 minutes later, to shouts and cheers of “Allahu Akbar!” we were all being led away from the festival in handcuffs. From the brief description we were given by the police of why we were being arrested, it sounds like the festival volunteer said we surrounded him and didn’t give him an opportunity to leave, thereby “breaching the peace.” This is as blatantly false as an accusation can get.

Wood told Atlas Shrugs’ Pamela Geller, “We followed the rules, and still got thrown in jail. They flat out lied about us. We can prove they lied with the video footage (just like last year), but the police took our cameras and won’t let us have the footage. There’s major oppression of anyone who criticizes Islam.”

Qureshi told Geller, “[W]e repeatedly affirmed our love for all Muslims. Whenever I was asked, ‘Why would you love me?’ I said ‘Because Jesus loves you, and he told me to love you.’ No hating, no disturbing, no harassing. It remains only to be concluded that we were arrested simply for being Christian preachers at the Arab Festival in Dearborn.”

One witness named Steven Atkins, a resident of Toronto, Canada, said, “I never thought I would see this in America.”

“When Dr. Quereshi was arrested I heard people clapping and applauding, and some said ‘Allahu Akbar,’“ he said. “It was an intense discussion, but it was not unruly. … There was no threat of violence.”

Atkins added, “It’s becoming more restrictive here than in Canada.”

Dearborn Police Chief Ron Haddad, an officer who was recently appointed to serve on the Homeland Security Advisory Council, told the Detroit Free Press the four Christians were arrested for disorderly conduct.

“We did make four arrests for disorderly conduct,” Haddad said. “They did cause a stir.”

Haddad told the paper he’s not taking sides, but he said officers must keep the peace at the event that draws 300,000 people over three days.

“Everyone’s space should be respected,” he said. “It’s Father’s Day weekend. … People are here to have a good time, and it’s our job to ensure security.”

However, a blog called the Facts About Islam, dedicated to “clearing up falsehoods leveled at Islam,” argued that the group had planned to get attention and stir up trouble prior to attending the festival.

“A lot of people may not know David Wood was planning this for a while. He was looking for trouble,” the blogger said in a video reaction to the arrests. “His intention was to go there with his video camera, incite, provoke Muslims into inflammatory behavior so he could have his propaganda crew of video footage of Muslims behaving badly so he could feature this on his blog and get views. That’s all he wanted. He got his sensational video footage. It’s not the type of video footage he was after. Nevertheless, it’s sensational.”

He accused them of being “insincere” and “not looking to preach the gospel.”

“He did this under the guise of preaching the gospel,” the blogger said. “He was looking for trouble. He got his trouble.”

He said before the 2010 event, Wood declared, “Muslims have threatened us with death if we return to the festival, so now we definitely have to show up,” and, “We hope the dialogues at the Arab festival are peaceful, but we need cameras in case Muslims decide to kick our heads in.”

The man said Wood and his crew were “causing trouble” at the 2009 festival and were “choked out.”

“So this time, they top it by getting arrested,” he said.

He added, “Christians need to wise up and stop allowing people — insincere people — to exploit their naivety and innocence.”

In a separate case WND reported earlier, a federal appeals court granted an emergency motion allowing another Christian, Pastor George Saieg, to hand out information about his faith at the same festival.

A three-judge panel from the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals granted the motion requested by the Thomas More Law Center on behalf of Saieg, a Sudanese Christian.

According to the law center, Judge Paul Borman had affirmed the city’s ban on handing out Christian material near the festival. It was last year when Dearborn police threatened Saieg with arrest if he handed out information on Christianity near the event.

At that time, the Thomas More Law Center filed a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the restriction. Saieg and his volunteers for many years had passed out literature in Dearborn without incident before the crackdown in recent years.

“It’s ironic that while Americans recently applauded the free speech exercised by hundreds of thousands of Muslims on the streets of Iran, the city of Dearborn was restricting the free-speech rights of Christians on the city’s public streets and sidewalks,” said Richard Thompson, chief counsel for the center.

The appellate judges, in their announcement, stated, “The loss of a First Amendment right, ‘for even minimal periods of time, unquestionably constitutes irreparable injury.’“

“This factor weights in favor of injunctive relief for Saieg,” the ruling said.

           — Hat tip: Zenster[Return to headlines]

Chinese Breaking Into Classified Network

Invaders could be reviewing U.S. operational plans

The Chinese may have been able to develop computer algorithms that will penetrate military computers at the secret level, according to alerts about a “Spear Phishing attack” issued recently to users of a military system, says a report in Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin.

In one case, users of military computers at the secret, or collateral, level told of a false report of an outbreak of war in Asia beaming across military networks.

“So, it appears they’re into our systems at least at the collateral level,” one military computer user said of the Chinese.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Dear Mr. President … From Jon Voight

An open letter from actor Jon Voight to President Obama:

June 22, 2010

Dear President Obama:

You will be the first American president that lied to the Jewish people, and the American people as well, when you said that you would defend Israel, the only Democratic state in the Middle East, against all their enemies. You have done just the opposite. You have propagandized Israel, until they look like they are everyone’s enemy — and it has resonated throughout the world. You are putting Israel in harm’s way, and you have promoted anti-Semitism throughout the world.

You have brought this to a people who have given the world the Ten Commandments and most laws we live by today. The Jewish people have given the world our greatest scientist and philosophers, and the cures for many diseases, and now you play a very dangerous game so you can look like a true martyr to what you see and say are the underdogs. But the underdogs you defend are murderers and criminals and want Israel eradicated.

You have brought to Arizona a civil war, once again defending the criminals and illegals, creating a meltdown for good, loyal, law-abiding citizens. Your destruction of this country may never be remedied, and we may never recover. I pray to God you stop, and I hope the people in this great country realize your agenda is not for the betterment of mankind, but for the betterment of your politics.

With heartfelt and deep concern for America and Israel,

Jon Voight

[Return to headlines]

Fiat Faces Challenge With Jeep

Auburn Hills, 21 June (AKI/Bloomberg) — With its new Jeep Grand Cherokee, Fiat faces a challenge that has bedevilled all of Jeep’s previous corporate masters: how to appeal to mainstream drivers without alienating off-road enthusiasts.

Fiat, which acquired Jeep after taking a controlling stake in Chrysler last year, wants to make the brand sufficiently middle-of-the-road to sell 800,000 vehicles a year worldwide by 2014, up 61 percent from 2008.

The 2011 Grand Cherokee, which began shipping yesterday, features luxury touches — leather seats, interior wood trim — and can drive in 20 inches of water without stalling.

“The Grand Cherokee is a sign we’re moving toward a broader appeal,” Mike Manley, head of the Jeep brand and Chrysler’s international operations, said in an interview.

The redesigned Jeep is the first major new model Chrysler has introduced since Fiat took control and is crucial to the company’s turnaround plans.

“Jeep is arguably one of the most important brands for the company because of its global appeal, and Grand Cherokee is the Jeep that makes them the most money,” said Rebecca Lindland, an analyst at IHS Global Insight, in the US state of Massachusetts.

“This is a company that is coming out of a major surgery and every setback is a threat to survival. This is really, really important that they get it right.”


The new Grand Cherokee has 4 inches of extra leg room in the rear and 17 percent more cargo space than the previous version, which was last redesigned for the 2005 model year. The vehicle has onboard television and converts into a Wi-Fi hot spot. It starts at 30,995 dollars (25,010 euros), about 500 dollars cheaper than its predecessor. The priciest version costs 42,995 dollars.

Jeep has frustrated a string of owners since its 1941 debut as an all-purpose vehicle for the U.S. Army — something Richard Truesdell, a self-styled Jeep historian and editorial director of the Automotive Traveler website, calls the “Jeep jinx.”

From inventor Willys-Overland Motors through Kaiser Jeep, American Motors, Renault, Chrysler, DaimlerChrysler, Cerberus Capital Management and now Fiat, each new landlord tried, with varying degrees of success, to break out of the rut dug by the original military model.

Over the years, Jeep’s stewards churned out convertibles, pickups, work trucks, delivery models and about 20 precursors to the Grand Cherokee, starting with a 1946 wagon.

‘People Complain’

“Anytime Jeep tries to move away from its roots, people complain,” said Patrick Foster, who wrote the 1998 book “The Story of Jeep.” “People didn’t complain that Toyota moved away from its car roots when it made SUVs.”

Jeep sales peaked in the US at 554,466 in 1999, a year after Daimler acquired Chrysler and released a new Grand Cherokee. Last year, sales fell to 231,710 as Chrysler went through the 12.5 billion dollars, US -backed bankruptcy that left Fiat in control. Jeep sold about 300,000 Grand Cherokees in 1999 and 50,328 in 2009, according to forecaster IHS Global Insight.

Jeep’s previous owners failed to anticipate the stampede to carlike SUVs such as Honda Motor’s Pilot and Ford’s Escape, said Dennis Pietrowski, managing director of RDA Group, a market researcher.

Jeep defectors cite low fuel economy and rough ride and handling when explaining their decision to move on, he said.

Quality Woes

Quality also hurts Jeep’s ability to compete with luxury models from Toyota’s Lexus or Honda’s Acura, Pietrowski said. Jeep placed 27th out of 33 brands in J.D. Power and Associates’ ranking of initial quality released last week.

The challenge is to make sure the latest iteration stands out in a group of rival SUVs that now includes about 20 models, Jeep chief Manley said.

Chrysler wants to make Jeep the “No. 1 SUV brand again,” Manley said, and is determined not to let the Grand Cherokee become a “niche” vehicle.

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

General McChrystal Summoned to White House Over Magazine Interview

THE top US commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, has been ordered to the White House to explain his criticism of the President and his senior advisers in an interview in Rolling Stone magazine.

“McChrystal has been directed to attend (Wednesday’s) monthly meeting on Afghanistan and Pakistan in person to explain to the Pentagon and the commander in chief his quotes in the piece about his colleagues,” a White House official said.

In a profile in Rolling Stone, General McChrystal critcised Vice President Joe Biden, who has been sceptical of the general’s war strategy, and imagined ways of “dismissing the vice president with a good one-liner.”

McChrystal also told the magazine that he felt “betrayed” by the US ambassador to Kabul, Karl Eikenberry, in a White House debate over war strategy last year…

[Return to headlines]

How the Ultimate BP Gulf Disaster Could Kill Millions

Disturbing evidence is mounting that something frightening is happening deep under the waters of the Gulf of Mexico—something far worse than the BP oil gusher.

Warnings were raised as long as a year before the Deepwater Horizon disaster that the area of seabed chosen by the BP geologists might be unstable, or worse, inherently dangerous.

What makes the location that Transocean chose potentially far riskier than other potential oil deposits located at other regions of the Gulf? It can be summed up with two words: methane gas.

The same methane that makes coal mining operations hazardous and leads to horrendous mining accidents deep under the earth also can present a high level of danger to certain oil exploration ventures.

Location of Deepwater Horizon oil rig was criticized

More than 12 months ago some geologists rang the warning bell that the Deepwater Horizon exploratory rig might have been erected directly over a huge underground reservoir of methane.

Documents from several years ago indicate that the subterranean geologic formation may contain the presence of a huge methane deposit.

None other than the engineer who helped lead the team to snuff the Gulf oil fires set by Saddam Hussein to slow the advance of American troops has stated that a huge underground lake of methane gas—compressed by a pressure of 100,000 pounds per square inch (psi)—could be released by BP’s drilling effort to obtain the oil deposit.

Current engineering technology cannot contain gas that is pressurized to 100,000 psi.

By some geologists’ estimates the methane could be a massive 15 to 20 mile toxic and explosive bubble trapped for eons under the Gulf sea floor. In their opinion, the explosive destruction of the Deepwater Horizon wellhead was an accident just waiting to happen.

Yet the disaster that followed the loss of the rig pales by comparison to the apocalyptic disaster that may come.

A cascading catastrophe

According to worried geologists, the first signs that the methane may burst its way through the bottom of the ocean would be fissures or cracks appearing on the ocean floor near the damaged well head.

Evidence of fissures opening up on the seabed have been captured by the robotic submersibles working to repair and contain the ruptured well. Smaller, independent plumes have also appeared outside the nearby radius of the bore hole itself.

According to some geological experts, BP’s operations set into motion a series of events that may be irreversible.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Jimmy Carter Worries Supreme Court Could Affect His Interaction With Terrorists

Former President Jimmy Carter has voiced concern that Monday’s Supreme Court ruling on “material support” to terrorist groups may criminalize his “work to promote peace and freedom.” Arguing that there can be no peace in the region without those groups’ participation, Carter has reached out to Hamas and Hezbollah, rejecting criticism that doing so could be viewed as legitimizing their violent activities.

[Return to headlines]

Judge Blocks Obama’s Moratorium on Deep-Water Oil Drilling, A.P. Reports

A federal judge in New Orleans issued an injunction against a six-month moratorium on new deep-water oil and gas drilling projects that was imposed by the Obama administration after an explosion on a drilling rig led to a vast oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the Associated Press reported.

The White House said the administration would appeal the ruling.

Ruling in favor of oilfield services companies whose business suffered under the moratorium, District Judge Martin Feldman said that the Interior Department failed to provide adequate reasoning for the moratorium, and instead merely seemed to assume that one rig failure meant all deep-water drilling posed an imminent danger.

[Return to headlines]

McChrystal Accuses Obama Buddy of Covering ‘His Flank’

Commander levels unprecedented criticism over handling of war on terrorists

Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, has leveled an open and unprecedented attack on the current U.S. ambassador, Karl Eikenberry, whom he accuses of betraying him by firing off cables to Washington critical of the U.S. war strategy.

Eikenberry, a former Army lieutenant general, sent two cables last November, apparently without McChrystal’s knowledge.

Not only did the cables criticize McChrystal’s recommendation of a proposed troop buildup out of concern that it would make the Karzai government too dependent on the U.S., but they complained about Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his government and the state of its military.


Critics complained that Eikenberry, while at the Pentagon, undermined a very well-defined policy toward limiting certain militarily critical technologies to China at a time when the Clinton administration sought to liberalize those controls to improve commercial trade for major contributors.

Eikenberry translated that policy approach of pushing for the liberalization of export controls in so-called special mission areas that defined U.S. strategic concerns over China then and now.

The special mission areas for which technologies were to be limited included anti-submarine and electronic warfare, nuclear weapons and their delivery system, aerospace and power projection.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Opposition Grows to Stalin Bust at D-Day Memorial

Opponents of the recently installed bust of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin at the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Va., are not backing down and have started a worldwide petition.

The petition, which was started last week, calls on the officers and board of directors at the National D-Day Memorial Foundation to remove the bust. It had received 616 confirmed signatures as of Monday afternoon, with confirmation pending on more than 200 other signatures.

The Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, with assistance from the Joint Baltic American National Committee, intends to marshal public opinion against the board’s decision, said Karl Altau, the committee’s managing director. Mr. Altau said that while no goal has been specified, 10,000 signatures would be “terrific.”


Mr. Altau said he has seen a strong response, especially from the countries hardest hit by Stalin’s dictatorship, such as Hungary, Poland and such former Soviet republics as Estonia, Latvia and Georgia…


Bedford lost the most men per capita of any U.S. community during World War II. The town’s National Guard unit was in the front of the first wave of the D-Day attack on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944, and 21 Bedford men were killed — about two-thirds of the men the town of 3,200 people sent overseas to fight the war.

[Note: Petition is here;]

[Return to headlines]

Time to Consider Secession?

By Terrence Aym

These are turbulent times. However, rarely in human history has there ever been a period when times have not been turbulent.

Times of uncertainty can be fraught with danger, yet that very danger brings with it the seeds of great opportunities. As Americans we have had a certain familiarity with this lesson of history for it was specifically at such a time that the United States of America was founded. Despite that uncertainty, or perhaps because of it, during the ensuing centuries the United States became the greatest nation on the face of the Earth.

This year American citizens will celebrate the 234th birthday of the Founding. Unfortunately, too many Americans alive today have forgotten the knowledge our founders acquired through their sweat, blood and sacrifices. Yet that knowledge still exists for all to see. It is embedded within the principles upon which our nation was built—principles we as a people forget or ignore only at our own great peril.

Over the years numerous pundits have defined America as many things, yet at its root America is an idea and the embodiment of a philosophy. And yes, it is a dream. It’s a dream that all in their personal way strive to attain. The seed of this dream is nourished by individual liberty. This dream embraces a dynamic vision that ever expands, ever grows, ever evolves as we too must evolve or surely perish from the face of this Earth.

The patriots of the TEA Parties today seek to reclaim that dream, embrace it, nurture it and set it before ourselves again.

This moment we share together in American history is a great moment. Our time reverberates with echoes from the past. We strive to reassert our liberty, reclaim our heritage and reinvigorate our inalienable rights as a free people.

In the unanimous declaration of the thirteen united States of America the first patriots proclaimed:

“Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new guards for their future security.”

My fellow patriots, we recognize the long train of abuses against individual liberty that, in some cases, stretches back almost one hundred years. Our Constitution was crafted to protect us from abuse. It is really nothing more than a compact with our government—a government instituted to serve at our pleasure; we do not serve it.

That sacred compact has been violated by the men and women we entrusted to govern for us, violated in the most egregious way through their apathy, ignorance, political ambition, misplaced altruism and a wanton disregard for individual rights and property rights.

Therefore, we seek no Constitutional redress from that government. The time for redress has passed. The government has become terribly corrupted. Its very existence now corrupts. It has mutated into a Frankensteinian antithesis of our Founding Fathers’ vision.

We have not abandoned our government; it has abandoned us.

Ironically, we find ourselves in the same position as that of our country’s founders. We are fighting against despotism—not as a colony against a repressive England, but as Americans against a government our forefathers instituted with the best of intentions. It is a government that has, sadly, gone terribly astray.

My fellow patriots, it is our right and our duty to throw off such a government and in its place reconstitute the individual above the State. We must divest ourselves of the collectivist shackles the State at all levels. It has sought to bind us with creeping tyranny. We must replace the poisoned political well with the clear sweet waters of respect for the individual and the sanctity of our God given rights. To do less means we are all lesser men and women.

I argue that all thinking and God fearing Americans stand for these principals and have already joined the cause for liberty. Our cause is just: the freedom of the individual and the eventual return of an American government to the limited powers and authority granted by the people as defined in our compact, the Constitution of the United States of America.

We the people consent to be governed only by a government that stays its heavy hand and limits itself to that authority which has already been explicitly defined. All other powers are reserved to the people and the sovereign states. Until that can once again be implemented and enforced, I invite all free people of like minds to consider initiating grass roots political movements in the several states towards the goal of secession.

Let this idea sweep across our land like a prairie fire.

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

Woman Who Has Sex With Boy Honored as ‘Person of Month’

City celebrating rapist teacher to sheer horror of some locals

An Alabama city is coming under heavy fire from some local residents for celebrating a convicted sex offender — a female teacher who admitted to raping a 15-year-old male student — as its “Person of the Month.”

The controversy involves Pelham, Ala., a city of approximately 21,000 people, which is honoring Emily Morris for promoting a fundraiser at the city’s high school to help battle cancer.

But just five years ago, when she was a resident of Pelham, Morris was arrested on a variety of charges for allegedly having intercourse with a teen boy at Leeds High School where she taught. The state of Alabama has listed her as a sex offender.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

75-Year-Old Nun Hired for a Top Financial Job in Italy

A 75-year-old Italian nun snared a key job in Italian finance today when she was named vice-president of a foundation that is the biggest shareholder in one of Italy’s largest banks.

Sister Giuliana Galli was voted “by a large majority” into the position at Turin-based Compagnia di San Paolo, according to a statement from the foundation, which has a 10 per cent stake in banking group Intesa Sanpaolo.

As vice-president, she will bear considerable influence along with other shareholder foundations on steering the bank’s strategy.

Sister Galli, who has a degree in sociology and a Masters in behavioural sciences from the University of Miami, took her vows at the age of 23 and in 2001 set up a charity offering psychological assistance to migrants.

[Return to headlines]

Austrian Favourite Croatia Tops European Road Death Toll

Austrians’ favourite summer holiday destination Croatia has been revealed as the most dangerous country when it comes to fatal traffic accidents.

Traffic Club Austria (VCÖ) said today (Mon) 150 in one million residents died on roads in the country last year. The body added Poland had the second-highest death rate with 143 motorists in one million citizens killed, while Bulgaria comes third with 139.

Austria — where 633 people died in traffic crashes in 2009 — reached a midfield position in European comparison with 76 death cases in one million residents.

The Netherlands (41), Sweden (43), Great Britain (43) and Switzerland (45) have been found the safest European countries in this regard.

Around 18 per cent of Austrians planning to take the car on holiday are expected to drive to Croatia this summer season, according to research by Austrian motorists union Arbö. The body said this makes the country the most popular destination neck-and-neck with Italy.

VCÖ also announced Austria has the second-highest rate of traffic accidents injuries in Europe. The body said the ranking is topped by Slovenia where 4,510 crashes per one million residents injuring motorists occurred in 2009. Austria is second with 4,455 cases, followed by Belgium (3,916), Germany (3,791) and Croatia (3,671).

The lowest number of accidents in which people were injured was registered in Denmark with 757 incidents per one million residents. Bulgaria (1,058) and France (1,193) also did well in the European comparison.

Austrian Times

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

Belgium: Jews Deserting Antwerp

De Standaard, 21 June 2010

‘Jews are deserting Antwerp’, headlines De Standaard. The Belgian newspaper predicts that in fifty years there will be no more Jews living in the city. Due to an increase of Anti-Semitism, many young Jews are leaving the city to study in London, New York or Israel, where “working with a skullcap (kippah) isn’t a problem”, and they never return. Furthermore, it has become more difficult for them to start a career in Antwerp since the Jewish community has lost its dominant position in the diamond trade and hasn’t found a new economic alternative yet. De Standaard comments: ‘Only the poor Hasidic Jews stay and they refuse to adapt.’

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

Czech: Military Presents Pandurs Vehicles to Public at Show

Strasice, West Bohemia, June 19 (CTK) — The Czech military has presented to the public the Pandur armoured personnel carriers (APCs) at the army day Bahna for the first time Saturday, the event’s organiser Stefan Kaleta said.

He said the military wants to show people both its most modern and historical combat equipment.

The Pandurs have been used by Czech military since 2009.

Some 40,000 to 50,000 people arrived at the Brdy military grounds for the army day.

Some 60 persons have been prepared the event from December. About 1150 soldiers, including troops from Austria, Britain, Poland and the United States, and 500 pieces of military equipment participated in the programme.

The five-hour programme started with Gripen fighters, Alca subsonic fighters and helicopters flying overhead.

Apart from Pandurs, Dingo and Iveco armoured vehicles could be seen, special military Land Rovers, T 72 tanks, the Arthur radar.

The military day, organised in cooperation with the Military Museum in Rokycany, west Bohemia, culminated with the presentation of an operation of the rapid reaction unit.

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

Dutch Police Use ‘Decoy Jews’ To Stop Anti-Semitic Attacks

Dutch police are to use “decoy Jews”, by dressing law enforcers in Jewish religious dress such as skullcaps, in an effort to catch anti-Semitic attackers.

Lodewijk Asscher, Amsterdam’s mayor, has ordered the new decoy strategy to cut the number of verbal and physical attacks on Jews, amid fears that anti-Semitic “hate crime” is on the rise.

“Jews in at least six Amsterdam neighbourhoods often cannot cross the street wearing a skullcap without being insulted, spat at or even attacked,” according to local reports.

Amsterdam police already disguise officers as “decoy prostitutes, decoy gays and decoy grannies” in operations to deter street muggings and attacks on homosexuals or the city’s red light district.

Police in the Dutch city of Gouda have claimed the use of officers disguised as apparently frail old age pensioners has helped cut street crime.

“If we receive several reports of street robbery in a certain location, we send out the granny. That soon quietens things down,” said a spokesman.

Secret television recordings by the Jewish broadcasting company, Joodse Omroep, broadcast at the weekend, have shocked Amsterdam, a city which prides itself on liberalism and which is home to the Anne Frank museum.

The footage showed young men, often of immigrant origin, shouting and making Nazi salutes at a rabbi when he visited different areas of the Dutch capital.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

EU: Inspectors Sent to Investigate Blue Mozzarella

Brussels, 21 June (AKI) — The European Union has sent food inspectors to Germany to look into why thousands of mozzarella balls produced for the Italian market turned blue after being exposed to air. “The situation is under control,” said Frederic Vincent, spokesman for John Dalli, European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy.

“Everything is under control and the (European) Commission will do its best to resolve the situation,” Vincent said.

Italian police on Saturday seized around 70,000 balls of mozzarella in the northern city of Turin after consumers noticed the white cheese turned blue when the package was opened. Italian agriculture minister Giancarlo Galan ordered a scientific investigation to be conducted by his ministry’s laboratories to investigate the contamination.

Coldiretti, an agricultural body which represents Italian farmers and cheese producers, said half the mozzarella sold in Italy is made with foreign milk and it was important for the health of Italian consumers to be protected from any potential risks.

State broadcaster RAI said on Saturday that a customer had contacted police after noticing the mozzarella, made in Germany for an Italian company, turned blue after contact with air.

Many merchants in Turin received similar complaints about the cheese.

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

France: Tons of Bushmeat in Paris, Study Finds

PARIS — The traders sell an array of bushmeat: monkey carcasses, smoked anteater, even preserved porcupine.

But this isn’t a roadside market in Africa — it’s the heart of Paris, where a new study has found more than five tons of bushmeat slips through the city’s main airport each week.

Experts suspect similar amounts are arriving in other European hubs as well — an illegal trade that is raising concerns about diseases ranging from monkeypox to Ebola, and is another twist in the continent’s struggle to integrate a growing African immigrant population.

The research, the first time experts have documented how much bushmeat is smuggled into any European city, was published Friday in the journal Conservation Letters.

“Anecdotally we know it does happen … But it is quite surprising the volumes that are coming through,” said Marcus Rowcliffe, a research fellow of the Zoological Society of London and one of the study’s authors.

In the Chateau Rouge neighborhood in central Paris, bushmeat is on the menu — at least for those in the know.

Madame Toukine, an African woman in her 50s, said she receives special deliveries of crocodile and other bushmeat each weekend at her green and yellow shop off the Rue des Poissonieres market. She wouldn’t give her full name for fear of being arrested.

“Everyone knows bushmeat is sold in the area and they even know where to buy it,” said Hassan Kaouti, a local butcher. “But they won’t say it’s illegal.”

For the study, European experts checked 29 Air France flights from Central and West Africa that landed at Paris’ Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport over a 17-day period in June 2008.

Of 134 people searched, nine had bushmeat and 83 had livestock or fish.

The people with bushmeat had the largest amounts: One passenger had 112 pounds (51 kilos) of bushmeat — and no other luggage. Most of the bushmeat was smoked and arrived as dried carcasses. Some animals were identifiable, though scientists boiled the remains of others and reassembled the skeletons to determine the species.

Experts found 11 types of bushmeat including monkeys, large rats, crocodiles, small antelopes and pangolins, or anteaters. Almost 40 percent were listed on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

Based on what officials seized — 414 pounds (188 kilos) of bushmeat — the researchers estimated that about five tons of bushmeat gets into Paris each week.

They also noted that penalties for importing illegal meats are light and rarely imposed. Under French law, the maximum penalty is confiscation of the goods and a $556 (450 euro) fine. Of the passengers searched in the study, only one person with bushmeat actually was fined.

Bushmeat is widely eaten and sold in Central and West Africa, with Central African Republic, Cameroon and Republic of Congo being the main sources. It varies whether it is legal. It is typically allowed where people are permitted to hunt, as long as their prey aren’t endangered and they can prove the animals were killed in the wild.

A bushmeat ban is enforced in Kenya, but it is legal in most parts of the Republic of Congo, where hunters may stalk wildlife parks that aren’t heavily guarded. Even after several outbreaks of the deadly Ebola virus linked to eating bushmeat, the practice remains widespread.

Scientists warned eating bushmeat was a potential health hazard.

“If you have intimate contact with a wild animal — and eating is pretty intimate contact — then you could be exposed to all kinds of diseases,” warned Malcolm Bennett, of Britain’s National Centre for Zoonosis Research at the University of Liverpool, who was not linked to the study.

Bennett said bushmeat had a higher risk of bacteria like salmonella and might also be carrying new diseases. The virus that causes AIDS originated in monkeys, and the global 2003 SARS outbreak was traced to a virus in bats and civets.

Nina Marano, chief of the quarantine unit at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said similar underground markets for bushmeat exist across America.

“We have to be culturally sensitive and recognize this is important for some African communities,” she said. “But there are no regulations for the preparation of meat from wildlife to render it safe.”

The scale of Europe’s illicit bushmeat trade suggests the emergence of a luxury market. Prices can be as high as $18 per pound (30 euros per kilo), double what more mundane supermarket meats cost.

“It’s like buying the best cut of organically grown beef,” Rowcliffe said, adding that bushmeat like giant rats and porcupine, which he has tasted, has a strong, gamey flavor.

           — Hat tip: Kitman[Return to headlines]

French Minister Furious About L’Oreal Stink

A French minister lashed out Monday at “charlatan” critics who accuse his wife of turning a blind eye to tax evasion as she helped manage the 16-billion-euro fortune of France’s richest woman.

“They are charlatans, because it is false!” said Labour Minister Eric Woerth, a high-flyer in President Nicolas Sarkozy’s right-wing government who in a previous post led a major crackdown on tax evasion.

He was repeating his vehement denial of any wrong-doing by his wife after the French opposition demanded he be investigated for his ties to L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt, who was taped allegedly plotting tax evasion.

“I have nothing to be ashamed of. My wife has nothing to be ashamed of,” an indignant Woerth told France 3 television, adding that the accusations were “vile and disgraceful.”

“The role of my wife was to invest the L’Oreal dividends paid each year to Mrs Bettencourt… in a fully transparent and fully legal manner,” said Woerth, who has already threatened to sue two of his most outspoken critics.

Woerth, a star in Sarkozy’s government who was known as “Mr Clean,” on Monday announced that his wife, Florence Woerth, would quit her job at the firm handling the 87-year-old billionaire’s financial affairs.

Bettencourt has been at the centre of a political storm since last week when secret tapes revealed she had allegedly conspired to hide money in Swiss bank accounts while making donations to friends in Sarkozy’s UMP party.

Transcripts of tapes published on the Mediapart news website suggest Bettencourt funnelled 80 million euros into Swiss bank accounts and planned to move the funds to Singapore after France signed a tax deal with Switzerland.

Bettencourt’s butler secretly recorded the conversations between the cosmetics billionaire and her financial adviser in her villa in the posh Paris suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine between May 2009 and May 2010.

The butler’s tapes are the latest twist in a long-running family feud between the billionaire and her daughter, who claims Bettencourt is mentally unfit after she gave more than a billion euros to a photographer friend.

The photographer, Francois-Marie Banier, is to stand trial in two weeks to answer charges, pressed by Bettencourt’s daughter, that he took advantage of the ageing heiress but judges may delay the hearings to examine the tapes.

Socialist deputy Arnaud Montebourg declared that the link between Woerth, his wife and Bettencourt created “the impression of a revolting type of collusion.”

Woerth “was in charge of scrutinising the most important taxpayers in France … of fighting tax evasion,” said Montebourg, “and at the same time he had a personal interest in one of France’s biggest fortunes.”

“This is a criminal offence,” he said. “There should be an investigation.”

Woerth has also come under fire from European parliament deputy Eva Joly, a former investigating judge famous for uncovering corruption, who charged that the minister was in an “unbelievable” conflict of interest.

The minister, who is currently tasked with leading the government’s delicate pension reform, has threatened to sue both Montebourg and Joly, who he has called “professional slanderers.”

The French Communist party on Tuesday called on Prime Minister Francois Fillon to suspend Woerth until he can “prove his innocence.”

But Fillon told parliament that his labour minister was an “honest man who has done no wrong” and who continued to have his “full confidence.”

Bettencourt on Monday announced that she would declare all of her foreign assets to comply with French tax laws.

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

Germany: Secret Mixa File Details Alcohol and Sexual Abuse

Secret documents contain serious allegations of alcoholism and sexual abuse against controversial former Augsburg bishop Walter Mixa, media reports said on Monday.

The Catholic Church file, which describes alcohol abuse and sexual assaults on young priests, was seen by Pope Benedict XVI before he accepted Mixa’s resignation in early May, daily Süddeutsche Zeitung reported.

The resignation followed accusations that he beat children at a Catholic orphanage in the 1970s and 1980s and later misused Church money.

In the file, witnesses from the Bavarian bishop’s inner circle described him as a “severely alcoholic man” who had to drink throughout the day. Other witnesses described sexual attacks on young priests during his time as a parish priest, when he would “go to confession the next morning before he celebrated mass,” daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported on Sunday.

The new allegations come to light following Mixa’s demands last week that the Vatican review his case. He has also returned to his quarters bishop’s palace in Augsburg in defiance and accused other high ranking officials of the Church, Archbishop Reinhard Marx, as well as the country’s top Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, of not behaving a “brotherly” manner and pressuring him to resign over the case.

Meanwhile Mixa’s lawyer Gerhard Decker told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung that the press would not be likely to see the file available to the Vatican.

“It was such with the abuse reports against my client that led to proceedings: One calls on the other as a witness and in the end it was all a misunderstanding,” he told the paper.

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

Holland: Confused and Divided

By Joost LagendIjk

Ten days ago, national elections were held in the Netherlands. The result that got by far the most attention in Turkey and all over the world was the success of the extreme right Freedom Party, headed by populist politician Geert Wilders. Against the hopes and expectations of many observers, including your columnist, the party did better than the polls indicated and got 15 percent of the votes, more than doubling their result in the last elections.

Almost 1.5 million Dutch citizens felt attracted by a party that is known for its strong anti-Islamism, its nationalist and anti-European rhetoric and its populist opposition to all established parties. Since last week, the soul-searching in the Netherlands has moved to a higher gear. The key questions are: How is it possible that so many people voted for this party and how to deal now with this reality? Should they be given a chance in government or can the Netherlands, in the middle of an economic crisis, not afford to have a party in power that many consider to be undemocratic and that will damage the country’s image abroad?

First a few remarks on the election results. Since the elections of 2002, we know that there is a part of the electorate of around 20 percent that is extremely unhappy with all the main parties and that is willing to vote for a populist party that positions itself outside the system. In 2002 it was the party of the charismatic Pim Fortuyn, killed just before the elections, that managed to attract these votes. Four years later, after the Fortuyn party made a mess out of it, most of these floating votes went to a left populist party and to the Wilders party that had just started.

This time around, the Freedom Party was the only alternative for those voters who wanted to cast a protest vote. In other words, we are confronted with a phenomenon that has been there for some time and that will, most probably, not disappear soon. These are citizens that are basically angry with the world. They do not feel represented by the political elite, they feel insecure amidst the global economic turmoil and they blame the presence of Muslim migrants for the changes in their neighborhood they do not like. They are afraid of what might happen next and long back for a past that was mono-cultural and that could be protected against outside forces by a strong national government. This is not a specific Dutch situation. We can see this combination of fear and anger being expressed at the ballot box in other parts of Western Europe as well. It happened in France with Le Pen, in Austria with Haider, in Belgium with the strong performance of Flemish nationalists and in Denmark where an anti-migration party has been supporting a minority government for years now.

How to deal with these parties? Many different strategies have been tried. In Belgium all other parties refused to cooperate in government with them and, looking at the election results of last weekend, this strategy was successful because the extremists lost out to a more moderate version of Flemish nationalism. In Austria they tried the opposite by taking them on board, hoping that would strongly diminish their populist appeal. It worked in the short run to get Haider out, but today we are faced with two extreme right parties that got almost 25 percent of the votes.

After one week of coalition negotiations in the Netherlands, it seems there is no big appetite to have the Wilders’ party in power. Most probably we will have either a combination of the three classic center parties or a four party coalition including the progressive liberals and the Greens. Whatever the outcome, Mr. Wilders will remain a powerful reminder that Dutch society is confused and divided about its future.

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

Islam, Islamism and Islamophobia in Europe

Intolerance towards Islam and Muslims has been increasing in recent years alongside “Islamism”, a religiously disguised form of political extremism. The Council of Europe should serve as the pan-European forum for discussing common strategies for strengthening democratic stability faced with Islamism and Islamophobia.

Social exclusion and cultural discrimination of Muslims must not be tolerated. Islamism cannot be combated by banning symbols of extremism and gender inequality. Inter-religious education should be supported by member states. Institutions of higher education and research in Europe should provide Islamic studies. Contacts between Muslim and non-Muslim Europeans and Muslims in North Africa, the Middle East and Asia should be facilitated, in particular among young people, students and teachers.

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

Italy: €97 Bln in Offshore Funds ‘Reported’

Rome, 21 June (AKI) — Italians who stashed funds in off-shore bank accounts declared 97 billion euros under a tax-evasion amnesty between September 2009 and April of this year, the Bank of Italy said in a statement published Monday on its website.

According to the Bank of Italy (photo), 11.4 billion euros were declared during the period from January to April this year, when the amnesty was extended.

Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s tax amnesty aims to shore up the country’s finances. Critics accuse the government of encouraging tax dodging because tax evaders are granted low tax rates on the their funds and are not prosecuted.

A total of 66.79 billion euros were held in Swiss bank accounts, of which 27.74 billion euros was sent back to Italy, the Bank of Italy said in the statement.

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

Italy: Four Arrested Over ‘Toxic’ Chinese Goods

Rome, 22 June (AKI) — Italian police on Tuesday seized around 10,000 tonnes of imported Chinese footwear and garments allegedly made with highly toxic materials. Police seized the goods from a vast warehouse in Casal Morena south of the capital, Rome.

Four people were arrested and another was reported to police over the seized items, which laboratory tests found to contain highly toxic materials, investigators said.

Italian companies and their brands face growing competition from cheap, health-endangering imitations produced by manufacturers in China and other countries.

In March, Italian tax police seized over a million counterfeit designer garments and 80,000 rolls of fabric from Chinese importers outside the city of Florence.

The Chinese-run business based in the city of Prato, north of the city, is alleged to have imported poor quality fabrics and used cheap labour to make fake designer clothes, bags and other items.

In April 2008, the luxury fashion brand, Gucci, and the Turin-based chocolate company, Ferrero Rocher, won landmark court cases against Chinese competitors that were producing fake copies of their goods.

A Chinese court ordered the shoemaker Senda to pay the French-owned Gucci 180,000 yuan (16,000 euros) in damages for copyright infringement.

Ferrero Rocher was awarded 70,000 euros in damages after winning a case against Chinese firm Montresor for producing fake chocolates.

China’s Supreme Court ordered a Chinese firm to stop producing its ‘identical’ “Tresor Dore” chocolates.

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

Italy: Mayor Invites Mel Gibson to Buy Castle

San Lorenzo del Vallo, 22 June (AKI) — The mayor of the small Italian town of San Lorenzo del Vallo is encouraging Hollywood star Mel Gibson to purchase an ancient home there. The director of “The Passion of the Christ” could enjoy the privacy of a large 600 year-old castle, according to mayor Luciano Marranghello.

“It’s a building from the 1500’s with Spanish architecture because it was built following the marriage of the Spanish Mendoza and noble woman Lucrezia della Valle, who came from the town,” Marranghello told Adnkronos in an interview.

Gibson became enchanted with southern Italy after filming “The Passion of the Christ” in a medieval town in the southern Basilicata region.

The star is looking to buy a house in the region of Calabria, in Italy’s deep south, Italian gossip web site reported on 16 June.

The castle has 13 thousand square metres of land surrounding it guaranteeing privacy, said Marranghello.

San Lorenzo del Vallo is further south in the Calabria region, has 3,500 inhabitants and is close to the Tirenno sea.

“And we guarantee an incredible welcome with our traditional local cooking,” lobbied Marranghello.

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

Netherlands: ‘Radical Moroccans Orchestrated PvdA Coup in Amsterdam’

AMSTERDAM, 22/06/10 — Conservative Muslims have press-ganged aggressive young Moroccans into seizing power via intimidation in Amsterdam’s Nieuw West district, according to De Volkskrant newspaper.

In the district elections on 7 December 2009, Ahmed Marcouch was put forward by the national Labour (PvdA) leadership as candidate PvdA leader of Nieuw West. Although he is Moroccan, many other Moroccans considered him too liberal. They put forward their own Moroccan candidate, Achmed Ba’adoud, who indeed defeated him.

The Osdorp, Slotervaart and Geuzenveld/Slotermeer districts in Amsterdam were merged to form the Nieuw-West borough in May. The three branches of the PvdA merged in June 2009 ahead of the three districts’ merger. Ba’adoud began his campaign of intimidation at that time, according to De Volkskrant.

Ba’adoud supporters looked over the shoulders of Marcouch voters, according to a number of bystanders. “I saw youths that are not politically active, or to put it more strongly, who loathe politics. They were plucked off the street to intimidate (voters). They were hostile and said that they hate Marcouch. Three people put me under pressure to vote for Ba’ adoud,” one source said.

The newspaper says Ba’adoud was supported by “the multicultural events industry”, subsidised job-finders and ethnic welfare workers. Youngsters were told that Marcouch was a homosexual, that he collaborates with white unbelievers and is pro-Israel, according to a member of the Moroccan community.

A PvdA committee headed by former Amsterdam PvdA leader Walter Etty is investigating the irregularities, De Volkskrant added. He is to report his findings this month.

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

Pace Warns of Rising Islamophobia in Europe

Europe’s largest intergovernmental human rights watchdog has warned that intolerance toward Islam and Muslims in Europe has been increasing in recent years and urged immediate action to stem violence against Muslims.

In a report titled “Islam, Islamism and Islamophobia in Europe”, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) noted with deep concern that in many of the Council of Europe’s 47 member states, Muslims feel socially excluded, stigmatized and discriminated against, stressing that they become victims of stereotypes, social marginalization and political extremism because of their different religious and cultural traditions.

PACE made recommendations to the Council of Europe saying, “Discrimination against Muslims must not be tolerated in Europe, as it violates the European Convention on Human Rights.” “Freedom of religion of Muslims must be fully guaranteed, but this freedom must not be used to deny other fundamental freedoms and human rights, in particular the right to life by non-Muslims, the right to non-discrimination by women or minorities, the right to freedom of expression and the right to freedom of religion by non-Muslims,” it also added.

The report lambasted some member states where far right-wing parties have changed their traditional hostile campaign against immigration and foreigners and now exploit the public fear of Islam. The PACE report underlined: “Their political campaigns encourage anti-Muslim sentiments and the amalgamation of Muslims with religious extremists. They advocate the fear of Europe being swamped by Muslims.” It listed political parties such as the French National Front, the Dutch Party for Freedom, the Belgian Vlaams Belang and the Swiss People’s Party, which have been very successful in running campaigns against Islam and largely contributed to the stigmatization of Muslims.

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

Spain: Tensions Rising at Borders of Ceuta and Melilla

(ANSAmed) — MADRID — Tensions are rising at the borders of the Spanish enclaves in Morocco, Ceuta and Melilla. Since last weekend a committee that claims the “liberation” of the enclaves started putting up banners reading “Occupied cities”. According to El Pais, posters with “occupied” written on it in Spanish, French or Arabic appeared last weekend on the access roads to Findeq, a few kilometres from the border of Ceuta, after in April similar banners were spotted at the Moroccan customs house at the border of Melilla. Spanish diplomatic protests to remove the banners have failed. The first to follow the example of the Melilla customs house was the mayor of Beni Enzar, a town with 25,000 inhabitants close to the enclave’s border, who has decided that all the Municipality’s documents must include the statement “occupied city”. He has also tried, so far in vain, to get other Moroccan municipalities to follow his example. At the border of Beni Enzar, the main access road to the city of Melilla, a few dozen Moroccan citizens demonstrated last Friday against the visit by the President of the People’s Party, Mariano Rajoy, to a regional conference of his party in the Spanish enclave. The border had to be closed for more than two hours due to the protest. The spokesman of the city of Melilla, Daniel Conesa, has asked the Spanish central government to take diplomatic steps to ask the Moroccan authorities to ban demonstrations that lead to the closing of the border. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

UK: Shamed Police Chief Ali Dizaei Loses Bid to Appeal Against His Four-Year Jail Term

DISGRACED police chief Ali Dizaei has been refused permission to appeal against his conviction and sentence, it can revealed today.

When the Iranian-born Scotland Yard Commander was jailed for four years earlier this year for fitting up an innocent man, his lawyers immediately announced plans to appeal.

However the Daily Mail can disclose that a senior judge has now ruled that Dizaei has no grounds to launch an appeal against the verdict or punishment.

The decision — confirmed by the Crown Prosecution Service — is a huge to blow to Dizaei who, according to prison sources, remains in denial about his crimes.

Legal sources said the reasons put forward for Dizaei’s appeal last week were ‘weak in the extreme’.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: Schoolboys Throw Acid in Stranger’s Face in ‘Horrific’ Random Attack After He Refuses to Give Them Cigarette

Three schoolboys were being hunted by police today after acid was hurled into a man’s face when he refused to give them a cigarette.

The victim suffered burns in the ‘horrific random attack’ which took place at around 3.30pm yesterday.

He told police he had seen three young men wearing school uniform walk past him before they threw the substance at his face.

Shortly afterwards, the 45-year-old felt something ‘eating away’ at his skin and drove himself to Plymouth’s Derriford Hospital

The man, who had been walking back to his car at the time of the attack after a business visit, suffered burns and scarring to the left side of his face.

Staff are still considering whether he should be transferred to a specialist burns unit in Bristol.

He is likely to need months of treatment.

Police today appealed for witnesses and said that ‘some sort of acid’ had been used in the assault.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Bosnia: Shelling of Sarajevo ‘Worse Than Beirut and Vietnam’

The Hague, 21 June (AKI) — The shelling of the Bosnian capital Sarajevo by Serb forces during the 1992-1995 war was worse than relentless shellings in Beirut and Vietnam, a prosecution witness at wartime Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic’s trial said Monday in the Hague.

Up to 12,000 people were killed by Bosnian Serb forces in the 44-month siege of Sarajevo during Bosnia’s bloody war.

Karadzic has been charged with masterminding the siege.

“Sarajevo was at that time exposed to continued artillery fire and sniper attacks,” said prosecution witness and Australian general John Wilson, who served in Vietnam and in Lebanon.

“Vietnam, southern Lebanon and Beirut weren’t anywhere to near Sarajevo, comparing the intensity of fire.”

Wilson was a UN military observer in Sarajevo from March to June 1992, said Bosnian Serb forces shelled Sarajevo “unselectively, disproportionally and at random”.

Karadzic has been indicted on eleven counts genocide, war crimes and crimes of humanity allegedly committed by Bosnian Serb forces under his command. He was arrested in Belgrade in 2008 and denied the charges against him.

Cross-examined by Karadzic, who is defending himself, Wilson conceded that Muslim forces were making provocations by firing at Serb positions from the city, but he said Serbs responded disproportionally.

Asked by Karadzic whether he knew that Serbs were also allegedly persecuted and ethnically cleansed in Bosnia, Wilson said he had heard about the ethnic cleansing of Muslims, but wasn’t aware that it was happening to Serbs as well.

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

North Africa

Algeria: Court Blocks ArcelorMittal Factory Strike

(ANSAmed) — ALGIERS, JUNE 22 — The court of El Hadjar has ordered the suspension of an all-out strike called by unions yesterday morning at the ArcelorMittal steelworks in Annaba, east of Algiers. The announcement was made by the company’s head of communications, Mohamed Guedha. The strike began yesterday morning at 05:00 after weeks of pay negotiations. The union had requested the application of an agreement reached by the Federation of mechanical workers with the state company Translob, which owns 30% of the steel plant, which would have benefited the 6,200 workers. ArcelorMittal produces 715,000 tonnes of steel every year. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

Caroline Glick: The High Price of Coalition Stability

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his colleagues are doing their best to put a pretty face on an ugly situation. After nearly three weeks of deliberations, Netanyahu and his government caved in to massive US pressure to ease, if not end, Israel’s blockade of Hamas-controlled Gaza.

On Sunday the government announced that all economic sanctions on Gaza will be immediately lifted. Henceforth, Hamas-controlled Gaza will have an effectively open economic border with Israel. Israel will only prohibit the transfer of military material. Even dual-use items, like cement, will be allowed in if international officials claim that they are to be used in their humanitarian projects.

Netanyahu and his colleagues argue that these new concessions have now given Israel the international legitimacy it needs to maintain its naval blockade of the Gaza coast. But this is untrue. Even as he welcomed Netanyahu’s latest capitulation, US President Barack Obama made clear that he expects Israel to continue making unreciprocated concessions to Hamas…

           — Hat tip: Caroline Glick[Return to headlines]

What’s Really Happening in Gaza; What’s Really Not Happening in the West Bank

1. A Bit More on the Gaza Strip Diplomacy

2. I’m Looking and I Don’t See Any Palestinian State-Building Going On

A Bit More on the Gaza Strip Diplomacy

By Barry Rubin

Elsewhere, I have explained in great detail the changes in Israeli policy as well as the implications of Western policy in the Gaza Strip: economic normalization meaning also normalization of the existence of a Gaza Hamas-ruled statelet.

Israel, seeing that there is not going to be any “rollback” to remove Hamas from power has basically accepted a containment startegy of limited the military weaponry and capability of Hamas. Thus, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu explained:

“The cabinet decision is the best one for Israel because it eliminates Hamas’ main propaganda claim and allows us and our international allies to face our real concerns in the realm of security.”

This is true as far as it goes except now Hamas merely switches to other supply matters—the quantity of goods, defining certain things as having no military value, demanding export rights—and even more important it forces Israel to drop its goal of bringing down the regime. As I noted earlier, this is not really a concession because, sadly, it was already clear that this was impossible given Western protection of the Hamas government.

But these countries are not finished yet in trying to improve the population’s situation while actually helping Hamas…

           — Hat tip: Barry Rubin[Return to headlines]

Middle East

As EU Suffers: Turkish Trade Focuses on East

An assessment of Turkey’s trade relations has displayed that the Turkish economy is gradually moving its focus toward the east. While the non-EU trade volume trend of Turkey is gradually rising, the trade volume with the European Union is declining, according to a study carried out by the European Parliament Directorate-General for External policies of the Union. The study was published on April.

The report, presenting an overview of the current state of the economic and trade relations between the EU and Turkey, evaluated the trade openness of Turkey, asking the question of “Is Turkey more open to the East or West?”

The top trading partners of Turkey in the EU are Germany, France, Italy, the UK and Spain while the non-EU top trading partners are Russia, China, the United Arab Emirates, the United States and Iran. The non-EU five has taken over the lead in 2008, according to the study.

“Trade between Turkey and Middle Eastern countries is also rising but still at very moderate levels,” the study said. “Historically, trade with these countries was neglected, and Turkey had its face turned to the West, not East. The trade with the United Arab Emirates, Iran and Syria has increased.”

A slight downturn in trade with the EU-15 seems to be offset by trade with Near and Middle Eastern countries, namely the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Jordan, Palestine, Israel, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia. But the trade volume with these countries is no match for EU trade levels.

Trade with members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, or OIC, is also rising. “We may predict the trade openness with the OIC is not that great compared to that of the EU-27 trade of Turkey,” the study said. “The figures indicate that while trade with OIC countries is rising, trade with the EU-27 has shown a slight downward trend in the recent years.”

Reintegration with neighbors

The study suggested Turkey should continue to reach out to neighboring countries and its region as new export destinations. “Complementarities with the EU should be studied better and target destinations should be evaluated accordingly,” it said.

The study welcomed Turkey’s neighborhood policy and its reintegration with its neighbors. “The individualized approach of the EU together with the membership perspective has motivated Turkey recently to pursue economic reforms, a ‘zero-problem foreign policy’ and finally, opening up and reintegrating with neighbors,” it said. “However, the EU has to play a difficult political game so as not to discourage the slowest progressing tendencies and so they remain attached to European values and do not revert to periods of instability.”

Prof. Dr Hasan Selçuk from the University of Marmara’s Faculty of Economics noted the abundance of new bilateral agreements signed between Turkey and the Eastern countries. “As long as you open the borders, as long as you lift or stretch out visa regimes, trade will naturally increase with these countries,” he told Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review on Friday.

“I do not think the rise in trade with Eastern countries means a shift in the axis of Turkey,” Selçuk said. “Sure, political preferences of the government have had an influence on the rise of trade with the East. But also, the demands of Turkey’s neighbors have increased and Turkey took the necessary steps to grab the trade opportunity. If there is more demand for trade from the EU countries, Turkey would surely be eager to respond,” he said, referring to lingering economic problems within the European Union.

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

Christians in the Middle East. Who’s Coming, Who’s Going

The old communities are becoming few and far between. But from Asia and Africa millions of new faithful are coming, mainly, to the Gulf and Saudi Arabia. Where, however, religious freedom is still a myth

ROME, June 21, 2010 — Few have noticed it. But amongst the 10 thousand faithful, that is practically the total number of Catholics in Cyprus, who participated at the mass celebrated by Benedict XVI on June 6th at Nicosia, most of them were not Cypriots, but Asians, Africans, and South Americans.

The Pope himself, in his homily, addressed a particular salute to the immigrants coming from the Philippines and Sri Lanka.

As a matter of fact, together with the Indians they represent half of the 30 thousand immigrants on the island, 60 thousand if you also count the illegal ones.

A good number are Catholics. They crowd the small churches. They baptize their children. They are the new and less known image of the Church’s presence not only in Cyprus, but in some areas of the Holy Land and of the Middle East.

Cyprus which is part of the European Union is one of their much sought after destinations. Once arrived in Turkey, the immigrants get off and move on without any difficulty to the Northern part of the island occupied by the Turks. From there, they easily cross the boundary to the Republic of Cyprus, which is considered a part of the journey towards our European countries.

Extending our perspective to the entire area, it occurs that while the Pope calls a Synod and invokes Christians of the Middle East — descendents of the ancient Churches of the area between the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf — to not abandon their lands because of hostile pressures, like many are doing in the regions where new Catholics are arriving from far away countries.

This immigration flow is so vast, that often the newcomers are more numerous than the local Christians. However, unexpectedly the draft of the Synod of Bishops for the Middle East, held in Rome in October, barely considers this phenomenon, in paragraphs 49 and 50.

Turkey is a case of its own, but still enlightening. Here in the last century the Christian presence has been wiped out. Only the bishops and priests coming from Italy are able to assure the survival of very small Catholic communities. The names of the last martyrs speak for themselves: the priest Andrea Santoro and the bishop Luigi Padovese who was killed just before the Pope’s visit to Cyprus.

The bishop of Smyrna and of Anatolia, Ruggero Franceschini, in succeeding to Padovese, called on voluntaries and priests to leave Italy on a “mission” to Turkey, in order to assure and maintain the Catholic presence in the country.

But concerning the more general phenomenon of new Christian immigrants in the Middle East, what is most surprising is that it is actually happening where Islam first started, that is Saudi Arabia , where there are 2 million Catholics, and in the Gulf countries.

Regarding the Arabian Peninsula, here is an up to date analysis of the changed religious scenery. The author is a major expert of the field: Giuseppe Caffulli, director of the reviews and website of the Custody of the Holy Land and author of “Fratelli dimenticati. Viaggio tra i cristiani del Medio Oriente”, Àncora, Milan, 2007.

This analysis was published on the last number of “Vita e Pensiero”, the review of the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore.



by Giuseppe Caffulli

Paradoxes of our time. It is at least three decades that the land which gave birth to Islam and the Prophet is top on the chart of the areas in the world where Christianity is at its maximum increase. However, it is not an increase due to conversions. In these lands the possibility to embrace the Christian faith still continues to be illegal. The increase finds its origins in a massive migration flow which concerns all the countries of the Gulf.

In Saudi Arabia, on an overall population of 27 million and half of inhabitants, the estimate of immigrants is of 8 million. If you extend your perspective to the Arab Emirates (UAE, a federation of seven emirates: Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Al-Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah e Umm al-Qaiwain, found along the central-east coast of the Arabian peninsula), the picture is even more impressive: of nearly 6 million inhabitants, the local population does not cover more than12-14%.

Parts of these immigrants, above all coming from the Far East, are Christians belonging to the entire confessional range. Today, according to the numbers Catholics are the majority of Christians present in the Arabian Peninsula.

Immigration in Saudi Arabia and in the countries of the Gulf (other than Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, the phenomenon concerns Bahrain, Oman e Qatar) is due to the oil boom. From the sixties, the forever growing demand of crude oil and the need to exploit in an ongoing massive manner the oil wells, necessarily required the employment of manpower coming from abroad. The first foreign workers employed in this new economic miracle mainly come from nearby Yemen, a country that with its 23 million, is still considered today the real demographic giant of the region.


Until the eighties, the Yemeni workers in Saudi Arabia are over a million. The remittances of these immigrants represent an important part the Yemeni Balance of State. The scenario radically changes with the first Gulf War. The Yemeni government sides with Saddam Hussein (who invades Kuwait) and suddenly Riyadh and Sana’a become enemies. In 1991 at least 800 thousand Yemeni workers are expelled because considered a threat to national security. Since then no Yemeni worker can obtain a work permit from Saudi Arabia. Embittered and unemployed, the expelled Yemeni workers become victims of another Saudi policy: the exportation of the Islamic Sunni Wahhabi doctrine. In Yemen with the multiplication of Koranic Wahhabi schools (wanted and financed exactly by Saudi Arabia) there is a significant growth of the involvement of the young Yemeni in the Jihadi organizations, with a sinister relapse on International Islamic terrorism. A third of the prisoners of the American base of Guantanamo are Yemeni. The family of Osama Bin Laden, head of Al Qaeda is Yemeni.

Huge flaws open up in the Saudi Arabian economic system (and likewise in the other countries of the Gulf, equally lined up in foreign policy with the West) due to the expulsion of the Yemeni workers. From the early nineties the government of Riyadh is obliged, in order to guarantee the production level of crude oil (today oil still represents 88% of the revenues of the State and 90% of the exportations), to encourage the immigration of a forever growing number of foreign workers coming from countries of the Far East, above all India, the Philippines, Pakistan.

The acceleration of the economy of the Gulf countries (in 2008 the Emirates have had a increase of the Gross domestic product of 6,8%;Saudi Arabia of 4,2%) makes the Arabian peninsula one of the areas with strongest levels of immigration on the planet, with planning of large infrastructures and with an imposing growth of the real estate business sector.


The Arabian Peninsula is under the jurisdiction of the Apostolic Vicariate of Arabia, the largest ecclesiastical district of the world: six nations that cover over 3 million square kilometers (Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Oman, Qatar e Yemen), with a population of over 60 million people. Held since 2005 by Paul Hinder, a Swiss Capuchin, who succeeded his brother an Italian Bernardo Gremoli, the Apostolic Vicariate of Arabia is more than a hundred years old (the office of Aden dates back to 1888).

The current office is at Abu Dhabi, modern capital of the Emirates and can count on sixty one priests and on one hundred nuns coming from six different religious orders. As well as pastoral assistance, the Church runs 8 schools (for a total number of 16 thousand students, 60% of which are Muslims), orphanages and homes for the disabled. Until a few decades ago, the Apostolic Vicariate of Arabia mainly dealt with the pastoral assistance of a few thousand foreigners working in the peninsula: embassy personnel, employees and officers of foreign firms.

From the nineties, with the arrival of foreign workers, everything changes. There are no official numbers, but the estimates of the Vicariate of Abu Dhabi (according to the approximate data supplied by the embassies), indicate at least 1 million 400 thousand Filipinos only in Saudi Arabian territory, 85% of which are Catholics. The exact number of Indians is unknown. But it is likely that the number of Catholics in the Saudi kingdom may be nearly 2 million.

According to the latest data, the inhabitants of the Arab Emirates are about 6 million, of which 5 are foreign workers. The overwhelming majority of immigrants professes the Muslim faith (about 3 million 200 thousand), but Christians would be over 1 million and half, of which 580 thousand Catholics. A good number is Arab mother tongue (over 100 thousand, 12 thousand only at Abu Dhabi) and they come from Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Palestine and Irak. There are tens of thousands of Eastern-Rite Catholics: Maronites, Melechites, Armenians, Syrians, Syro-Malabars, Syro -Malankarans… The celebrations are held, other than in English and Arab, in Malayalam, Konkani, Tagalog, French, Italian, German, Sinhalese and Tamil.

In Bahrain, on a population of about one million inhabitants, 65 thousand are Catholics. In Oman, on a population of 3 million 200 thousand inhabitants, 120 thousand are Catholics. In Qatar, where in 2008 the first Catholic church was consecrated, on a population one million 200 thousand inhabitants, 110 thousand are Catholics. It is difficult to supply reliable data on the entire phenomenon. According to journalistic sources, in the United Arab Emirates there would be about 750 thousand workers coming from India, 250 thousand from Pakistan, 500 thousand from Bangladesh. One million immigrants are made up of Iranians, Afghans, Malaysians, Indonesians, Chinese and Japanese. Half a million would be Filipinos. Another half million would be formed by Africans and South Americans. It is not easy even for the local Christian churches to supply reliable data because of great mobility of the Catholic population (some workers have very brief work permits). Many Catholics work at times in areas that are very far from the local parish or from the Christian community, or live in work camps that prevent free movement.


The working condition of foreign workers in Saudi Arabia is not rosy. In Saudi Arabia, one of the most repressive regimes of the world , everyday Christian workers have to put up with — that is, besides the economic crisis which has marked a decrease in numbers of job offers and decrease in remuneration — with the religious police (mutawwa), that does not tolerate public manifestations of faith. A situation which is constantly denounced by international organizations that promote human rights and religious freedom. It often happens that false accusations concerning Christians involved in keeping the faith in their communities are brought to the attention of the police (as was the case of Brian Savio O’Connor, sent to prison in 2004 because found in possession of Bibles and religious books).

Unlike other contexts, foreign workers in Saudi Arabia and in the Gulf countries do not integrate themselves. They are in these territories with the intention to, sooner or later, go back home or immigrate to the USA, Canada or Australia. There is also a law that prevents the renewal of residence permits for workers over the age of 60. As a result, the Church of Arabia does not have a stable nucleus. It is formed by a majority of young faithful that in best cases stay for five, ten, maximum twenty years.

There are also serious situations of social disparity. Few between Christians are wealthy, a great number are poor and have no social security. The lower class workers have very little tutelage, even if the UAE, at the beginning of 2009, signed an agreement with Manila’s government in order to offer more guarantees to Filipino workers. There is even a real traffic of workforce, workers that are illegally brought into the Gulf by criminal organizations. Then there is also women’s trade for prostitution, especially coming from the Philippines and East Europe. Most of them are deceived by a job offer and find themselves slaves. Those who are able to escape often find refuge in Catholic charitable organizations, that supply psychological and legal aid for those who wish to go back to their own countries.

However, the crisis is concerning the Arabian peninsula, slowing down the economy. After years of 1% inflation rate, in 2008 in Saudi Arabia there was an incredible increase in prices which determined an over 11% inflation rate. Riyadh’s government is trying to resolve this crisis with a “Saudization” project. In the future they would like to limit the entrance of new immigrant workers (so as to favor in other words also the expulsion of the illegal workers) in order to replace them with local ones. Forced by the crisis, many Saudis are going back to jobs that until a short time ago were considered unworthy and too tiring and therefore left to foreign workers. This “Saudization” has also a religious implication that is to limit the entrance of Muslim Shiite immigrants, the Muslim current that has always been in contrast with the Sunni one which is majorly practiced in the Arabian Peninsula.


In Saudi Arabia, religious freedom is a sore spot. According to the yearly report on religious freedom published in 2009 by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, Saudi Arabia can be considered amongst those countries that stir “particular concern,” along with Myanmar, China, North Korea, Eritrea, Iran, Irak, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sudan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam.

Regarding Saudi Arabia, the report does recognize some limited reform and some shy attempt towards inter-religious dialogue. However, the government still to this day forbids any form of public religious expression that is not part of the Sunni Muslim doctrine and that does not observe the particular Wahhabi interpretation of Islam. Furthermore, the Commission accuses the Saudi authorities of internationally supporting groups that promote “an extremist ideology which contemplates, in some cases, violence against the non-Muslims and against Muslims of a different current.”

In the Emirates and in other countries of the Gulf, the scenario is slightly different. There is a substantial situation of religious tolerance, even in a picture of well defined rules. Witnesses of this opening are the parishes that the Apostolic Vicariate of Arabia has founded in the area: a parish in Bahrain, one in Qatar and seven in the Emirates: more precisely two at Abu Dhabi, two at Dubai, one at Sharjah, one at Al-Fujairah and one at Ras al-Khaimah. There are four parishes in Oman, two of which at Muscat. Then there are four communities in Yemen, a country that has made some progress but where you can still recall the episodes of violence against Christians (like the murder of three nuns of Mother Teresa on July 27, 1998).

Every Emir is substantially free to decide his own religious policy and Christians find themselves living in different conditions according to the political reality in which they are working. Religious freedom and tolerance of worship cannot be compared with the West: everything is concentrated within the parish areas, without the possibility to expose symbols outside and without the possibility to carry out any public activity. But the Arabian church, that by word of its Bishop defines itself as “pilgrim”, that operates in the Emirates and in the Gulf countries has a relatively privileged situation. Vice versa, in Saudi Arabia pastoral assistance is practically impossible to get. The millions of faithful that live on the other side of the iron curtain are sometimes reached, in some incredible manner, by a priest in disguise who assures the consecration of the Eucharistic bread which will then be distributed by the lay of the various communities.


The main emergency of the Arabian church on a pastoral level is connected to the lack of structures. There are parishes with 40 thousand and even 100 thousand faithful. Often it is impossible to welcome all the faithful who wish to assist the celebrations or ask for pastoral assistance. It is difficult to manage the interests and sensitivities of the diverse ethnic groups — at least 90 — without provoking tensions or misunderstandings. The number of priests is limited and it is really difficult to snatch new visas for them to increase. It is not even easy to find priests suitable for a mission in such an area: one of the fundamental requirements is the knowledge of various languages. Moreover faithful live scattered, far from parishes; most work in villages located in the middle of the desert, or on oil platforms, in areas where it is impossible to get to. Most of them do not have means of transport or are not able to buy a ticket or do not get permission to leave from their employers. It is a crucial point — as Paul Hinder often notes — to protect these faithful from the temptation of being taken in by Islam. Something which actually happens: if you are a Muslim you find a better job and a better salary, conversion therefore is looked upon as the easy way towards social promotion.

What fate will these Christian workers have in the next years? Difficult to say. In the meantime their numbers depend on the difficult political and economical situation which is concerning the area. The world in which they live in — one must not forget — is totally based on Islam. To such an extent that it is difficult to imagine an opening towards human rights and religious freedom, even though the huge amount of non Muslim workers in the Arabian Peninsula is a fact that cannot be ignored or denied. Sooner or later someone will have to consider not only the economic needs of these Christians on the move.

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

Danger Signs in Turkey’s Strategic Depth

By Ergin Yildizoglu

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu believe that a new, independent and self-confident Turkey is emerging whose destiny under their leadership is to become a regional superpower, reclaiming the historical and cultural heritage of its Ottoman and Muslim roots. This, they believe, will provide their nation with a “strategic depth” in the Greater Middle East.

Erdogan has recently become extremely popular in the Arab world as a result of foreign policy moves stemming from the doctrine of “strategic depth”, the idea that Turkey must use its unique geography and history to its foreign policy advantage, which was first formulated for Turkey by Davutoglu in his opus magnum of the same title. But not everybody is convinced that Erdogan’s newly found esteem has the substance to be translated into sustainable geopolitical gains or even a regional leadership capable of speaking for the Muslims and the Arab world.

It is very difficult to know whether the “strategic depth” base of Turkey’s foreign policy is a foundation for building something new and better, conducive to greater stability and peace in the region, or whether it is simply pulling Turkey into the vortex of time-worn and extremely complex conflicts and problems of the Middle East with which it is not properly equipped to deal. To put it another way, it is not yet possible to see with any certainty if Erdogan and Davutoglu are waving triumphantly in a sea of “strategic depth” or gradually drowning in it.

From Davos to Jerusalem via Gaza

A closer look at the dynamics behind the Erdogan’s recent popularity in the Arab world on the one hand and, on the other the growing concerns of many foreign policy analysts in the West about Turkey’s turning away from its tradition allies and national-secular modernization, and moving towards the Muslim Middle East, reveals two distinct trajectories.

One trajectory is to lend support to Iran’s diplomatic struggle to defend its right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes. The other is lending support for the Palestinian cause, but particularly to Hamas in the context of Israel’s blockade of Gaza by deploying increasingly vitriolic verbal attacks, bordering on anti-Semitism, against the Israel’s foreign policy.

Early concerns about the Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) new foreign policy orientations had emerged when Erdogan invited Hamas officials for talks in 2006 to Ankara despite the objections of Turkey’s close allies, US and Israel administrations. But many observers believe that the real turning point came at Davos in 2009, when Erdogan practically called President Shimon Peres a murderer and stormed out of a panel discussion in the World Economic Forum. This instantly made him a hero in the Arab world.

Joint military exercises between Israel and Turkey that had been held for many years were later canceled by Turkey. Later, Turkey cooperated with Brazil to strike a uranium-swap deal with Iran and then, to the dismay of US and European Union, joined Brazil in the United Nations Security Council to vote against stepping up sanctions on Iran. In between these two developments, came the tragic incident where nine civilians, including Turkish nationals, were killed by Israeli commandos boarding the Mavi Marmara, which was carrying humanitarian aid destined for Gaza. Turkey’s attempt to break Israel’s Gaza blockade further enhanced Erdogan’s popularity in the Arab world.

As for Erdogan, not only has he increased the intensity of his verbal attacks against Israel but also extended them to include US by suggesting that those who lend support to Israel were also responsible for its crimes. Forgetting that he had once during the Iraq war declared himself as the joint chief of the Greater Middle East Project, he asked “what America is doing in Iraq… in Afghanistan”. Furthermore, it seems that he is now unleashing his anger against domestic opponents by fueling anti-American and Israeli sentiment. Recklessly, he has begun to accuse his critics of being the propaganda tool of international media controlled by the Israeli lobby.

Davutoglu was also busy in promoting Turkey as the champion of the Palestinian cause. He reportedly promised during a closed session of The Turkish Arab Business forum In Istanbul last week that “Jerusalem is going to be the capital [of Palestine] very soon. And we are going to pray there together.”

Now what?

Many experts argue that the AKP has moved so far away from the West in general and from the US and Israel in particular that it is already on a course to join with the Syria, Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas axis. Voices in the US Congress are being raised about punishing Turkey. Neo-conservative political analysts who had introduced Erdogan to the world and supported him enthusiastically during the first Bush administration, have gone beyond having second thoughts about him. They are fuming with disappointment and anger. Some have even suggested that Turkey should be expelled from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Arguments and concerns, though containing some elements of truth, are gross exaggerations, some verging on the hysterical. The real situation is more likely that Erdogan and Davutoglu wanted to increase their domestic political capital through foreign policy success in the region.

At the beginning they counted on US support and prestige in the region. But they quickly realized that amid waning US prestige and power to influence developments in the region, and an emerging power vacuum with the absence of Saddam Hussein’s regime, that Iran was rising as a major force capable of shaping developments in the Muslim world. Erdogan and Davutoglu then began to rely on their own devices; the doctrine of “strategic depth” and the guaranteed support of people on Arab streets for any one confronting Israel in the region.

However, the more they relied on these devices, the more they entered uncharted waters. First, Erdogan and Davutoglu watched with great disappointment the recent Hamas declaration stating that Egypt was the only acceptable intermediary between Palestinian factions. This declaration made clear that the Arab world was not going to let Turkey interfere in its internal affaires and may be linked to emerging concerns among the Arab leaders.

Arab leaders reportedly perceive recent developments in the region as manifestations of hegemonic rivalry between Turkey and Iran. They are also not happy that competition between Turkey and Iran progressively has exposed their own political impotence in opposing Israel’s policies and also undermined their regimes’ legitimacy in the eyes of their own people.

To make a bad situation worse, Tehran decided to up the ante, in order not to lose its Hezbollah and Hamas portfolio to Turkey, by threatening to send its own blockade-breaking flotilla to Gaza. The Iran flotilla would certainly exacerbate the political and diplomatic crises between Israel and Turkey and increase the risk unfolding a military confrontation.

Erdogan and Davutoglu seem to have destabilized Turkish foreign policy in more than one way. The traditional links with the Western allies have noticeably weakened. The political elite in the Arab world are becoming less and less receptive to the idea of Turkish leadership in the Middle Eastern affairs. Erdogan and Davutoglu may be realizing, with horror, that they are about to join a game of “Chicken” with Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, who appears forever ready to go one step further than Turkey in confronting Israel.

Turkish foreign policy ship under the helmsmanship of Erdogan and Davutoglu is now sinking in “strategic depth”. The vessel is still salvageable, and the voyagers can be rescued. But the capacity of the captains to manage the required operations is increasingly coming under scrutiny.

Dr Ergin Yildizoglu is a university lecturer at Ankara University.

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

Israel Gas Discoveries Set Off Lebanon Row

Israeli companies have announced two important natural gas finds in the past 18 months that may hold 24 trillion cubic feet of gas, but the offshore discoveries are a potential source of friction between Israel, Lebanon and Greek Cyprus. Lebanese officials say the gas may extend into their waters, urging their own prospecting

Natural gas discoveries off Israel have sparked a debate with Lebanon over potential resources in the eastern Mediterranean and prompted Greek Cyprus to seek clarification on maritime boundaries.

Noble Energy and Israeli companies controlled by billionaire Isaac Tshuva have announced two finds in the past 18 months that may hold 24 trillion cubic feet of gas, more than twice the U.K.’s gas reserves. Greek Cyprus is seeking clarification on water borders as Lebanon officials have said the gas may extend into its waters and urged its own prospecting.

“We’re engaged in an ongoing dialogue with Cyprus in order to reach an agreement based on international practice and good neighborly relations,” said Yigal Palmor, a spokesman at Israel’s Foreign Ministry. “As for Lebanon, they don’t even acknowledge that they should talk directly with us, so their claims are not based on good faith.”

The dispute adds to tension for Israel, already criticized for the raid on a ship carrying aid to the Gaza strip. Israel and Lebanon are technically at war and have no diplomatic relations. Israel, which is seeking to wean itself off oil and coal imports from as far away as Mexico and Norway and has bought gas from Egypt in the past decade, has said the finds may allow it to start exporting gas.

“We will not allow Israel or any company working for Israeli interests to take any amount of our gas that is falling in our zone,” Lebanon Energy Minister Gebran Bassil said by telephone on June 17, adding that it warned Noble not to work close to its economic zone. “It’s the responsibility on the one hand of the Israeli government and on the other hand of Noble.”

Bassil said the government and lawmakers “should move quickly on starting the exploration of offshore gas.”

No legal framework:

“We’re in touch with Israel regarding the demarcation of the exclusive economic zone,” a Greek Cyprus Foreign Ministry official, who declined to be named, said by telephone. “There has been no agreement so far as there is no appropriate legal framework in Israel.”

The finds, Leviathan and Tamar, lie about 130 kilometers (81 miles) and 90 kilometers, respectively, off Israel, according to Israel’s National Infrastructure Ministry. Delek Drilling-LP, one of the fields’ partners, said on June 15, in response to reports, that the licenses are in waters where Israel has authority.

The Leviathan prospect is owned 39.7 percent by Noble, 15 percent by Ratio Oil Exploration 1992 LP, 22.7 percent by Delek Drilling-LP and 22.7 percent by Avner Oil & Gas Ltd.

A coastal state is entitled to explore for oil and gas in its economic zone, which extends 200 nautical miles (370 kilometers), according to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. A halfway point is used when the distance between countries is less than 400 nautical miles. Haifa, in northern Israel, is about 148 nautical miles from Cyprus, which is located north of Leviathan.

Lebanon’s claim may be complex because its border with Israel is indented, making it harder to establish where Israel’s sea boundary ends and Lebanese waters begin, said Robbie Sable, a professor of international law at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University. Cyprus is “a more straightforward case” since the licenses are closer to Israel, there’s very “little to dispute” between the two countries, he said.

Legal disputes between states over the maritime zones where gas is located usually begin with negotiations, said Norman Martinez, a lecturer at the International Maritime Law Institute. When negotiations fail, the parties may agree to other means of settlement such as arbitration, he said. Most end up in the international court of justice, he said.

Israel has a signed agreement with Jordan on the border in the Gulf of Eilat, and has unwritten agreements with Egypt and the Palestinian Authority. There’s no such agreement with Lebanon. In cases of dispute, it is usual practice to hand the decision to arbitrators, which are listed by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea of 1982. Israel is not a signatory to the convention.

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

Lebanon: More Security Near Sidon After Christians Threatened

(ANSAmed) — BEIRUT, JUNE 22 — Lebanese police have stepped up security measures, increasing patrols around the city of Sidon, south of Beirut, where leaflets threatening Christians have been handed out, inviting them to leave their homes within the next week. The threat, that the local Sunni religious authorities have denounced and that the Shia movement Hezbollah has termed “stupid”, features in leaflets that appeared in a number of Christian villages east of Sidon, which urge Christians “to save their lives, evacuating the area within a week, or otherwise suffering the consequences”. Security sources told the newspaper An Nahar that the leaflets are “amateurish and infantile”, because the Muslim slogans that feature in them are full of grammatical mistakes and errors in Islamic terminology. The head of Hezbollah’s political office, Mahmoud Qomati, spoke after a visit to the Christian religious authorities in Sidon, saying that the threat was “stupid”, while the Sunni Grand Mufti, sheikh Rashid Qabbani, said in a statement that “co-existence between Muslims and Christians will remain an example to follow”. However, the head of internal security forces for southern Lebanon, General Mounzer al-Ayubi, has said that patrols east of Sidon will be strengthened. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Turkish Troops Hunt Down Kurdish Rebels

Elite commando units rappelled down from helicopters, and mechanized infantry units blocked escape routes of Kurdish rebels in a major operation along the Iraqi border on Monday. Turkey’s military chief did not rule out a cross-border offensive against rebel hideouts in northern Iraq.

“It is our duty to find and eliminate terrorists wherever they are,” said Gen. Ilker Basbug, head of the military, in response to a question about the possibility of a major incursion. He said the military has been using drones, bought from Israel, over northern Iraq to monitor rebel positions over the past 10 days.

Turkish warplanes often have bombed Kurdish rebel hideouts there, and troops have crossed the border to hunt down the rebels. The last major ground incursion into Iraq was in February 2008, but the rebels made a comeback after the troops withdrew.

[Return to headlines]

Turks: Serbs and Arabs…

While chatting with a Serbian colleague before attending a press conference by the Gazprom CEO, I told her that I found many similarities between Serbs and Turks. We tend to avoid seeing the mistakes we commit and instead put the blame on the outside world. I was surprised when she told me that a Turkish TV series broadcasted by Fox TV in Serbia, which is owned by a Greek company, has become a big success in the country. “Serbs watch it and say ‘look how Turks are like us,” she said. At one stage another Turkish series was also a hit in Greece. Can you imagine? Turkish series, made specifically for Turkish audiences, can appeal both to those living in the Middle East and the Balkans. That in itself shows the cultural diversity of Turkey.

Yet Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s vision seems to be limited solely to the Arab world. “A Turk cannot do without an Arab,” Erdogan said, adding that “We are like meat and bones with the Arabs.” While talking about the improving relations with the Arab world, Finance Minister Mehmet Simsek asked, “Why should we not go back to our roots?” I did not know that Turks’ roots lay in the Arab world.

I can understand up to a certain point criticisms voiced by the current Justice and Development Party, or AKP, of the previous government’s indifference to the Arab world. Yes, at one stage we turned our back to the Middle East. But the examples given by the Prime Minister to show what he thinks of Turkish “disdain” of the Arabs goes beyond rational thinking. He criticized Turks for naming their dogs “Arab.”

The dog in the garden owned by my neighbors in my previous house was named “Arab” for the simple reason that he was black. My uncle, who is in his mid 80’s, and who has been living in the United States for more than half of his life, uses old Turkish. He used to call African-Americans “Arabs.” That there is a misconception that equates “black” with “Arab” should change — and is in fact changing — can’t be contested. I am not an expert on languages. But I do not believe that equating “Arab” with “black” stems from a negative connotation about Arabs in general.

My cat’s name is Bekir. It’s a common male name. According to the rationale of the prime minister, I must hate all people carrying the name Bekir. But most people have pets because they love animals. Why would someone name something it likes with a name that supposedly carries a negative connotation?

The only explanation I have for the Prime Minister’s comment is that for certain sects in Islam, dogs are not liked. And this again proves that the prime minister’s main reference in life is “religion.”

The AKP circles’ main explanation of its engagement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the human tragedy suffered by the Palestinian people. If it was the case, then the government would not have remained indifferent to human suffering in Kyrgyzstan. Is it because Uzbeks and Kyrgyz do not pray five times a day?

I believe Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu disclosed the real reason behind the government’s policy by saying, “Jerusalem will one day become a capital, and we shall all one day pray in Mescid-i Aksa.”

The AKP is no longer talking about the Palestinian problem, but about the problem in Gaza. While advocating the rights of Hamas, no one is talking about the Palestinian Authority, or PA. Is it due to the secular nature of the PA? Is Hamas’ radicalism more appealing to the AKP?

If the main reference of the AKP is not religion, but a genuine desire to see the Palestinian suffering end, then it is high time to see Israel as not the sole cause of the problem. The government should tell the PA that the days when the actions of its leadership were not questioned are over. They should end the corruption that has cost them the trust of their people. The government should then turn to Hamas and say: “Look I have even dared to come to a point of breaking my ties with Israel. It is high time for you to curb your radicalism and accept the existence of Israel.” And it should direct at least one-fifth of the criticisms that it voiced against Israel to the disunified Arab world. Even if it is the case that the AKP has lost all hope about the Arab world and the PA, it just can’t solve the Palestinian problem with waging a war with Israel and supporting Hamas.

One last word on the Arab world. The reaction among the Arab societies towards the AKP should be carefully examined. If crowds are going to the streets to praise Turkey’s stands, it is not so much they are thrilled with the idea that Turkey will lead the Arab world to solve the Palestinian problem. They are doing it to show their reaction to the hypocrisy of their government. They can’t go to the streets of Cairo, chanting slogans against Mubarek. They know well that the answer will be violent oppression of protests. But they all know well that Mubarek can’t order his security forces to act against those changing slogans for Erdogan.

Some radicals within Arab society might genuinely applaud Erdogan, as they might see in him a real brother in arms. But I believe there are others who do so because it is a way to show their reaction to their rulers. What makes me say that is the popularity of Turkish TV series in Arab societies. Those series are not reflecting Turkey dominated by radical tendencies. They reflect a society that has a lifestyle that keeps religion in the private domain and avoids putting religion as a main reference of life.

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

South Asia

Afghanistan: US Military ‘Payments’ Reach Taliban

Washington, 22 June (AKI) — Investigators say the US military has been giving tens of millions of dollars to Afghan security firms who are channelling the money to warlords, including members of the Taliban.

Trucks transporting supplies to US troops allegedly pay the firms to ensure their safe passage in dangerous areas of Afghanistan.

If extortion payments are not made the convoys will be attacked, according to allegations contained in a US congressional document, that follows a six-month probe.

The convoys are attacked if payments are not made, according to allegations in the report released late Monday.

Trucks making deliveries of water, food, fuel and ammunition may be paying firms 4 million dollars every week (3.24 million euros), according to the report.

The congressional subcommittee that conducted the investigation says that payments are made to the Taliban and every governor, police chief and local military commander whose territory the convoys pass through.

One of the security companies in question is alleged to be owned by two cousins of the Afghan president Hamid Karzai.

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

Pakistan Police Arrest German Man in Burka

A German man wearing a burka and carrying a pistol was arrested in northwest Pakistan Monday after travelling from an area known as a hub for Al-Qaeda-linked militants, police said.

“A German man, wearing a burka, was intercepted at a checkpoint in Bannu while coming from Miranshah with a six-year-old girl,” local police station chief Farid Khan told AFP.

Two tribesmen travelling with him in the vehicle were also detained, he said.

Miranshah is the main town of lawless North Waziristan tribal district, a known hotbed of Taliban and Al-Qaeda linked militants.

Most women in the area wear a burka, which covers the body from head to toe, if they are out in public.

A pistol was also recovered from the man and he was handed over to an intelligence agency for further investigation, Khan said.

An American construction worker armed with a pistol and sword was arrested last week further north in the mountains of Chitral who purportedly told police he was on a mission to hunt down and kill Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.

Pakistani tribal areas bordering Afghanistan and adjoining northwestern districts are out of bounds for foreigners and they require special permission to visit these restive areas.

Washington has branded Pakistan’s northwestern tribal area a global headquarters of Al-Qaeda and officials say it is home to Islamist extremists who plan attacks on US-led troops in Afghanistan and on cities abroad.

Waziristan came under renewed scrutiny when Faisal Shahzad, the Pakistani-American charged over an attempted bombing in New York on May 1, allegedly told US interrogators he went there for bomb training.

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

Top US General in Afghanistan Apologizes for Remarks Criticizing Obama

The leading U.S. commander in Afghanistan apologized for a magazine profile that quotes him denouncing a top diplomat while his aides dismiss President Barack Obama and mock his deputies.

Tensions between General Stanley McChrystal and the White House are on full display in the unflattering article in Rolling Stone, although the general said in a statement late Monday that it was all a mistake.

“I extend my sincerest apology for this profile,” McChrystal said in a statement issued hours after the article entitled “The Runaway General” was released Monday.

“It was a mistake reflecting poor judgment and should never have happened.”

McChrystal, a former special operations chief, usually speaks cautiously in public and has enjoyed mostly sympathetic U.S. media coverage since he took over the NATO-led force last year.

But the Rolling Stone article appeared to catch him and his staff in unguarded moments.

In the profile, McChrystal jokes sarcastically about preparing to answer a question referring to Vice President Joe Biden, known as a skeptic of the commander’s war strategy and imagined ways of “dismissing the vice president with a good one-liner.”

“‘Are you asking about Vice President Biden?’ McChrystal says with a laugh. ‘Who’s that?’“ the article quotes him as saying.

“‘Biden?’ suggests a top adviser.’Did you say: Bite Me?’“

An unnamed adviser to McChrystal also says in the article that the general came away unimpressed after meeting with Obama in the Oval Office a year ago.

“It was a 10-minute photo op,” the general’s adviser says.

“Obama clearly didn’t know anything about him, who he was… he didn’t seem very engaged.

“The boss was pretty disappointed,” says the adviser.

McChrystal tells the magazine that he felt “betrayed” by the U.S. ambassador to Kabul, Karl Eikenberry, in a White House debate over war strategy last year.

Referring to a leaked internal memo from Eikenberry that questioned McChrystal’s request for more troops, the commander suggested the ambassador had tried to protect himself for history’s sake.

“Here’s one that covers his flank for the history books,” McChrystal tells Rolling Stone.

“Now if we fail, they can say, ‘I told you so.’“

Eikenberry, himself a former commander in Afghanistan, had written to the White House saying Afghan President Hamid Karzai was an unreliable partner and that a surge of troops could draw the United States into an open-ended quagmire.

NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen, through a spokesman, backed McChrystal.

“The Rolling Stone article is rather unfortunate, but it is just an article,” Rasmussen’s spokesman said in a statement.

“We are in the middle of a very real conflict, and the Secretary General has full confidence in General McChrystal as the NATO commander, and in his strategy.”

Tensions over strategy

The article seemed likely to exacerbate tensions between the U.S. command in Afghanistan and the White House.

McChrystal already received a dressing down from Obama after giving a speech last summer in which he appeared to criticize Biden’s argument in favor of fewer troops in Afghanistan.

As an Afghanistan strategy review was beginning, McChrystal had requested tens of thousands of reinforcements and although Obama in the end granted most of what he had asked for, the strategy review was a difficult time, the general told the magazine.

“I found that time painful,” McChrystal says. “I was selling an unsellable position.”

The profile argued that McChrystal has pushed through his vision of how to fight the war, sidelining White House and State Department heavyweights along the way.

His aides are portrayed as intensely loyal to McChrystal while dismissive of the White House and those who question their commander’s approach.

One aide calls the national security adviser, Jim Jones, a retired general, a “clown” who is “stuck in 1985.”

McChrystal also complains about a dinner with an unnamed French minister during a visit to France in April.

In a hotel room in Paris getting ready for a dinner with the French official, McChrystal says: “How’d I get screwed into going to this dinner?”

He also derides the hard-charging top U.S. envoy to the region, Richard Holbrooke.

“Oh, not another email from Holbrooke,” McChrystal says, looking at his messages on a mobile phone. “I don’t even want to open it.”

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

Uzbekistan: Uzbek Authorities Force Christians, Including Jehovah’s Witnesses, To Go Underground

Church members and religious groups complain that the state does not authorise them to operate on the basis of pretexts or by silently ignoring them. Without a permit, even meeting to pray can be punished. After many years, the Central Protestant Church is still fighting for its rights.

Tashkent (AsiaNews/F18) — “For more than a year our Church has been trying to establish” that the decision to strip us of our permit was illegal; however, “All the courts either say it is not within their competence or remain silent” on the matter, a member of Samarkand’s Central Protestant Church told the Forum 18 news agency. This illustrates how Uzbek authorities pursue a systematic strategy to deny religious groups the permit they need to exist, and then use it as a pretext to crack down on believers.

Under Uzbek law, religious groups are required to register and obtain a permit to legally operate and organise. Without a registration, religious activity is strictly forbidden, even in the privacy of the home. Anyone caught engaged in illegal religious activity can expect hefty fines or even prison.

Local sources told Forum18 that on 27 March 2009, the Central Protestant Church in Samarkand was stripped of its permit on the pretext that where they met for years was a residential property, unfit to serve as a church.

Since then, the Church has been entangled in a legal battle for its survival. One member said that the judges, including those of the Supreme Court, refuse to hear the case, claiming that it is not within their jurisdiction, or simply keep silent on the matter.

In fact, the Church had applied years ago to have the residential property reclassified as a place of worship without getting a response from the authorities in question.

According to Forum18, this is the seventh Protestant Church to lose its permit in four years at the hands of the Regional Justice Department in Samarkand. The others are the Samarkand Church, the Miral Church, the Seventh Day Adventist Congregation, the Esther Church, Grace Church and Namdemun Church.

Usually, new applications for registration have not been approved—a situation that has forced many groups to go underground. Case in point: the Samarkand’s Greater Grace Church applied for registration in 2000, a request that is still pending. Since then, Church members have been intermittently harassed and fined.

Even registered Churches are concerned that the authorities might strip them of their permit on any pretext. On 16 May, police raided the Protestant Church of Christ in Tashkent and arrested six members, who were held in custody for 15 days. Now, Church members fear they might lose their permit to operate.

Forum18 has called on Uzbek authorities to explain the situation, but has not received an answer yet, other than suggestions that the news agency address its questions to some other office.

The situation for Jehovah’s Witnesses is even worse. Of 30 communities that exist in the country, only one has been officially recognised, in the city of Chirchik, near Tashkent.

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


Nebraska Town Restricts Illegal Immigration

Nebraska city of Fremont has joined Arizona at the center of a national debate about illegal immigration after voters approve a ban on hiring or renting property to illegal immigrants. The measure is likely to face a long and costly court battle, with the American Civil Liberties Union saying it will try to block it before it even goes into effect

Voters in the eastern Nebraska city of Fremont on Monday approved a ban on hiring or renting property to illegal immigrants, the latest proposal in a series of immigration regulations taken up by communities around America.

About 57 percent of voters in Fremont supported the proposal, according to unofficial results that still must be certified by the election commissioner. The measure is likely to face a long and costly court battle, with the American Civil Liberties Union saying it will try to block it before it even goes into effect.

The town of about 25,000 people has watched as its Hispanic population surged in the past two decades, largely due to the jobs available at the nearby Fremont Beef and Hormel meatpacking plants. The city also has an enviably low unemployment rate that matches the Nebraska rate of 4.9 percent.

Nonetheless, residents worry that jobs are going to illegal immigrants who they fear could drain community resources. Proponents of the ballot measure collected enough signatures and fought in the Nebraska Supreme Court to put the question to a public vote.

Supporters say the measure is needed to make up for what they see as lax federal law enforcement. Opponents say it could fuel discrimination. Trevor McClurg said the measure is fair because it’s aimed at people who aren’t legally in the U.S. “I don’t think it’s right to be able to rent to them or hire them,” McClurg said. “They shouldn’t be here in the first place.”

Clint Walraven, 51, who has lived in Fremont all his life, said the jobs should go to legal residents who are unemployed — something he believes the ordinance would help fix. Discussions on the issue can get heated, he said, particularly if racism is mentioned. “It has nothing to do with being racist,” said. “We all have to play by the same rules. … If you want to stay here, get legal.”

Rachel Fleming said she voted against the measure, noting that the U.S. is a nation of immigrants. “This country has been founded on waves of immigration,” Fleming said. “I just think it’s (the ordinance) contrary to the spirit of the country.”

From about 165 Hispanics — both legal and illegal — living in Fremont in 1990, the total surged to 1,085 in 2000, according to census expert David Drozd at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. He said an estimated 2,060 Hispanics lived there last year.

The measure will require potential renters to apply for a license to rent. The application process will force Fremont officials to check if the renters are in the country legally. If they are found to be illegal, they will not be issued a license allowing them to rent. The ordinance also requires businesses to use the federal E-Verify database to ensure employees are allowed to work.

Communities that have passed such laws have faced costly legal bills and struggled to enforce them because of legal challenges. Hazleton, Pennsylvania, passed an ordinance in 2006 to fine landlords who rent to illegal immigrants and deny permits to businesses hiring them. The Dallas suburb of Farmers Branch also has tried for years to enforce a ban on landlords renting to illegal immigrants. Federal judges struck down both ordinances, but both are on appeal.

Even before the Fremont measure passed, the ACLU of Nebraska had said it would sue. “Our goal would be to bring an action to ensure that there is not even one day that the law can go into effect,” said Amy Miller, legal director for the ACLU of Nebraska.

Fremont City Councilman Scott Getzschman said he wasn’t sure when the ordinance would take effect if it’s not blocked by a judge. Once the Dodge County election commissioner certifies it, the City Council must accept the vote.

Getzschman didn’t support the measure but said he expects city leaders will respect the outcome of the election and defend the ordinance in court. The vote is the latest chapter in the tumult over illegal immigration across the country, including a recently passed Arizona law that will require police investigating another incident or crime to ask people about their immigration status if there’s a “reasonable suspicion” they’re in the country illegally.

Kansas City, Missouri-based attorney Kris Kobach, who helped write the Arizona law, has been working on the ordinance in Fremont. He is also running for secretary of state in Kansas.

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