Friday, January 10, 2003

News Feed 20100705

Financial Crisis
»Italy: Drugs: Sharp Decline in Consumers (-25%) Due to Crisis
»Italy: Trade Balance With Non-EU Countries Down
»Obamaville! Tent City in President’s Hawaii Backyard
»Spain: 5-Yr Bond Auction a Success But Yield Rises
»Turkey’s Gross Foreign Debt Stock USD 266.6 Bln
»With the US Trapped in Depression, This Really is Starting to Feel Like 1932
»NASA Chief: Next Frontier Better Relations With Muslim World
»Nation of Islam Leader Accuses Jews of ‘Anti-Black’ Behavior, Asks for Dialogue
»Obama’s New Mission for NASA: Reach Out to Muslim World
»Sestak Would be ‘Most Anti-Israel’ Member of Senate
Europe and the EU
»EU’s Dream Candidate Wins Polish Election
»Food Safety: EU Opens Talks With Turkey
»Germany: Opt-Out Scheme for Left-Wing Extremists Planned
»Insults Illegal Under New Law in France
»Italian Police Foil Mafia Bid to Muscle in on Expo 2015
»Italy-Spain MPs, Europe Must Support Southern Women
»Italy: New Routes From Verona to Palermo and Catania
»Italy: Wiretap Law Worrying for Press Freedom, European Publishers
»Last Section of Ljubljana-Zagreb Highway Opens
»Obama’s Roots Traced to Swiss Villager
»Spain: Women Wearing Burka to be Fined 600 Euros in Lleida
»Sweden: Left Party Changes Name to “Welfare Party”
»UK: Couple Threatened With Social Services Because Their Children Ride Bikes to School
»UK: Swimmers Plunged Into Dark After Council Covers Swimming Pool Windows ‘To Protect Muslim Women’s Modesty’
»Wilders’ Security Stepped Up After Officials Smuggle in Gun
»Wilders’ Security Breached
Mediterranean Union
»Andalusia-Morocco ‘War’ Over EU Deal
»Awards: France: Dominique Baudis Wins “Mediterranee”
»Italy-Syria: Damascus Closer With Sea Highways
»Italy-Syria: Proposal From Damascus for Culture Week
»Italy: CNEL Congress on Free Trade Zone in Rome
»Italy-Egypt: New CNR-Accademia Research Deal
»Syria-EU: 5.7 Mln for Iraqi Refugees Children Teachers
North Africa
»Egypt: Trendy Restaurant Bans Women With Headscarf
Israel and the Palestinians
»Caroline Glick: Standing Down the Hanging Jury
»Israel: Gaza Blockade, Soon List of Banned Goods
»Obama Pushes New Demands on Israel
»Sapienza Master’s for Israelis and Palestinians
Middle East
»Activist: Iranian Mother of Two to be Stoned to Death
»Iranian Passenger Jets ‘Refused Fuel’
»Iraq: Car Bomb Explodes in Kirkuk, Chaldean Archbishop’s Residence Hit
»Lebanon: Stones Thrown Against UNIFIL Patrol, Press
»Ponytail for Men Gets the Chop in Iran
»Raid: Gov’t Source, Israel Not to Apologise to Turkey
»Syria: 400 Kurdish Separatists Arrested
»Where is the World? Why is West Not Doing Anything in Face of Upcoming Stoning of Iranian Woman?
South Asia
»Afghanistan: Haqqani Militants Present New Threat in Border Region
»India: Kerala: Hand Severed of Christian Professor Accused of Blasphemy
»India: Alleging Blasphemy, Fanatics Hack Lecturer’s Hand
»Indonesia: Jakarta, Moderate Muslim Organizations Against Militant Islamic Radicals
»Kazakstan: Bocelli Sings for President on 70th Birthday
»Pakistani Lawyer Petitions for Death of Mark Zuckerberg
»Australia: Abbott Takes Hardline on Asylum Seekers
»Obama’s ICE Chief Opposes Immigration Enforcement
Culture Wars
»Schoolbook Hunky-Dory With Islam, But Skunks Jesus?

Financial Crisis

Italy: Drugs: Sharp Decline in Consumers (-25%) Due to Crisis

(ANSAmed) — ROME, JUNE 22 — In Italy, the number of drugs users fell by 25.7% in 2009 compared with the previous years. In 2008 this number reached 3,934,450, falling to 2,924,500 in 2009. Total consumption of drugs also decreased, inverting a trend that had been going on for years. The reason behind this turnaround is probably the economic crisis, which has reduced the availability of money. These figures emerged from the annual report to the Parliament on drugs use, presented today to the Prime Minister’s Office by Undersecretary Carlo Giovanardi. The decline in consumption is true for the general population and for the group of students (in the age between 15 and 19), and for all types of narcotics. Looking at the past 12 months, a substantial decline is recorded for the use of cannabis (-9%) in the general population, while among students the use of all kinds of drugs decreased except stimulants. In both groups the move towards “poly-consumption” (mixing drugs or taking drugs together with alcohol) continued. Students take more cocaine than the general population (1.6% consumed it in the past 30 days against 0.4%), and much more cannabis (12.3% against 3%). Regarding the general population, the occasional use of heroine declined while the frequent or daily use of this drug remained stable. The occasional consumption of cocaine fell as well.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Trade Balance With Non-EU Countries Down

(ANSAmed) — ROME, JUNE 21 — The trade balance between Italy and non-EU countries in May fell to -1,416 million euros from the 464 million euro surplus recorded in May 2009, ISTAT reports. In May 2010, compared with the same month in 2009, exports between Italy and non-EU countries increased by 15.8% and imports by 35.5%. Compared with April 2010, after seasonal adjustment, exports increased by 1.5% and imports by 3.2%. In the March-May 2010 period, compared with the previous quarter, exports increased by 5.8% and imports by 12.5%. In the January-May 2010 period, compared with the same period in 2009, export climbed substantially (+10.4%), as did imports (+18.5%). The trade balance over the first five months of 2010 reached -9,151 million euros, worse than the 4,355 million euro deficit recorded in the same period in 2009. Excluding energy, the trade balance with non-EU countries shows a surplus of 11,524 million euros, still less than in the same period in 2009 (+13,092 million euros). (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Obamaville! Tent City in President’s Hawaii Backyard

Homeless settlements springing up all across America

In the face of persistent unemployment, homelessness is once again becoming a visible problem for the United States — with tent cities springing up in President Obama’s own Hawaii backyard, Jerome Corsi’s Red Alert reports.

In what Corsi called an embarrassment to the White House, a sprawling “Obamaville” tent city has appeared on 50 acres of Navy and city land directly behind Waipahu High School.

The following is a YouTube video posted in March that shows some Hawaii homeless encampments found by a mission team:…

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Spain: 5-Yr Bond Auction a Success But Yield Rises

(ANSAmed) — ROME, JULY 1 — Spain has managed to place 3.5 billion euros in 5-year bonds on the market and achieved the target set, reported Spain’s Central Bank in noting that the demand was 1.7 times higher than the supply, reported Bloomberg. The bonds were placed with a average interest of 3.657% compared with the 3.532% offered in May for the same stocks. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Turkey’s Gross Foreign Debt Stock USD 266.6 Bln

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, JULY 1 — Turkey’s gross foreign debt stock was USD 266.6 billion as of the end of first quarter of 2010. Turkey’s net external debt stock was USD 149.5 billion dollars in the same period. A statement by the Turkish Central Bank, as reported by Anatolia news agency, said “the share of private sector debt is 63.5% with USD 169.2 billion nominal amount and the share of public sector debt in total debt is 31.8% with USD 84.9 billion nominal amount. Rest of the debt stock covers the external liabilities of the Central Bank of Turkey with a portion of 4.7% corresponding to USD 12.5 billion.” Majority of public sector external debt consists of long term external debt, it said. “The external debt stock of central government was USD 74.5 billion as of the end of first quarter of 2010. USD 41.9 billion of the amount is the debt stock of bonds issued in the international financial markets,” it said. The statement said other than the central government, the outstanding external debt of public institutions, which are local administrations, funds, public banks and other non-financial public units, was 10.4 billion USD as of end of first quarter of 2010. “As of end of first quarter of 2010, short term private sector external debt was USD 48.1 billion. The share of banking sector in this amount was 54.8% with USD 26.3 billion nominal amount,” it said. The statement said the long term external debt of private sector was USD 121.1 billion as of the end of first quarter of 2010 and non-financial institutions had the biggest share in long term private sector external debt with USD 87.9 billion nominal amount. Long term CBRT’s external debt was USD 10.9 billion and short term liabilities was USD 1.7 billion as of the end of first quarter of 2010, it said. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

With the US Trapped in Depression, This Really is Starting to Feel Like 1932

The US workforce shrank by 652,000 in June, one of the sharpest contractions ever. The rate of hourly earnings fell 0.1pc. Wages are flirting with deflation.

“The economy is still in the gravitational pull of the Great Recession,” said Robert Reich, former US labour secretary. “All the booster rockets for getting us beyond it are failing.”

“Home sales are down. Retail sales are down. Factory orders in May suffered their biggest tumble since March of last year. So what are we doing about it? Less than nothing,” he said.

California is tightening faster than Greece. State workers have seen a 14pc fall in earnings this year due to forced furloughs. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is cutting pay for 200,000 state workers to the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour to cover his $19bn (£15bn) deficit.

Can Illinois be far behind? The state has a deficit of $12bn and is $5bn in arrears to schools, nursing homes, child care centres, and prisons. “It is getting worse every single day,” said state comptroller Daniel Hynes. “We are not paying bills for absolutely essential services. That is obscene.”

Roughly a million Americans have dropped out of the jobs market altogether over the past two months. That is the only reason why the headline unemployment rate is not exploding to a post-war high.

Let us be honest. The US is still trapped in depression a full 18 months into zero interest rates, quantitative easing (QE), and fiscal stimulus that has pushed the budget deficit above 10pc of GDP.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


NASA Chief: Next Frontier Better Relations With Muslim World

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in a recent interview that his “foremost” mission as the head of America’s space exploration agency is to improve relations with the Muslim world.

Though international diplomacy would seem well outside NASA’s orbit, Bolden said in an interview with Al Jazeera that strengthening those ties was among the top tasks President Obama assigned him. He said better interaction with the Muslim world would ultimately advance space travel.

“When I became the NASA administrator — or before I became the NASA administrator — he charged me with three things. One was he wanted me to help re-inspire children to want to get into science and math, he wanted me to expand our international relationships, and third, and perhaps foremost, he wanted me to find a way to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science … and math and engineering,” Bolden said in the interview.

The NASA administrator was in the Middle East last month marking the one-year anniversary since Obama delivered an address to Muslim nations in Cairo. Bolden spoke in June at the American University in Cairo — in his interview with Al Jazeera, he described space travel as an international collaboration of which Muslim nations must be a part.

“It is a matter of trying to reach out and get the best of all worlds, if you will, and there is much to be gained by drawing in the contributions that are possible from the Muslim (nations),” he said. He held up the International Space Station as a model, praising the contributions there from the Russians and the Chinese.

However, Bolden denied the suggestion that he was on a diplomatic mission — in a distinctly non-diplomatic role.

“Not at all. It’s not a diplomatic anything,” he said.

He said the United States is not going to travel beyond low-Earth orbit on its own and that no country is going to make it to Mars without international help.

Bolden has faced criticism this year for overseeing the cancellation of the agency’s Constellation program, which was building new rockets and spaceships capable of returning astronauts to the moon. Stressing the importance of international cooperation in future missions, Bolden told Al Jazeera that the moon, Mars and asteroids are still planned destinations for NASA.

           — Hat tip: CB2[Return to headlines]

Nation of Islam Leader Accuses Jews of ‘Anti-Black’ Behavior, Asks for Dialogue

CHICAGO — Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan has written the leaders of more than a dozen major U.S. Jewish groups and denominations seeking “repair of my people from the damage” he claims Jews have caused blacks for centuries.

Farrakhan sent the letter along with two books from the Nation of Islam Historical Research Team that the 77-year-old minister said prove “an undeniable record of Jewish Anti-Black behavior,” starting with the slave trade and Jim Crow laws.

“We could charge you with being the most deceitful so-called friend, while your history with us shows you have been our worst enemy,” he wrote.

Farrakhan has long accused Jews of wrongdoing in speeches, but he has rarely addressed Jewish groups so directly in writing.

The Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish civil rights group which distributed copies of the letter, said in a statement Tuesday that Farrakhan’s “anti-Semitism is obsessive, diabolical and unrestrained. He has opened a new chapter in his ministry where scapegoating Jews is not just part of a message, but the message.”

In the letter, dated last Thursday, the Chicago-based Nation of Islam leader said he sought a dialogue with Jews. He sent the letter to groups including the Orthodox and Reform movements, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and the American Jewish Committee, a New York-based advocacy and humanitarian nonprofit that spearheads inter-religious dialogue.

“This is an offer asking you and the gentiles whom you influence to help me in the repair of my people from the damage that has been done by your ancestors to mine,” he writes. “Your present reality is sitting on top of the world in power, with riches and influences, while the masses of my people … are in the worst condition of any member of the human family.”

In the past, Farrakhan’s most inflammatory comments have included referring to Judaism as a “gutter religion” and calling Adolf Hitler “wickedly great.” Recently, he has railed against the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which he claims is conspiring to trap the U.S. in a war with Iran.

Farrakhan echoed similar comments last Saturday in an Atlanta speech titled, “Who Are the Real Children of Israel?”

He did not respond to several messages seeking comment Tuesday. Farrakhan has over the years denied claims of anti-Semitism, arguing his remarks are often taken out of context and that criticism of Jews in any light automatically earns the “anti-Semite” label.

           — Hat tip: TV[Return to headlines]

Obama’s New Mission for NASA: Reach Out to Muslim World

By: Byron York

In a far-reaching restatement of goals for the nation’s space agency, NASA administrator Charles Bolden says President Obama has ordered him to pursue three new objectives: to “re-inspire children” to study science and math, to “expand our international relationships,” and to “reach out to the Muslim world.” Of those three goals, Bolden said in a recent interview with al-Jazeera, the mission to reach out to Muslims is “perhaps foremost,” because it will help Islamic nations “feel good” about their scientific accomplishments.

In the same interview, Bolden also said the United States, which first sent men to the moon in 1969, is no longer capable of reaching beyond low earth orbit without help from other nations.

Bolden made the statements during a recent trip to the Middle East. He told al-Jazeera that in the wake of the president’s speech in Cairo last year, the American space agency is now pursuing “a new beginning of the relationship between the United States and the Muslim world.” Then:…

           — Hat tip: Brutally Honest[Return to headlines]

Sestak Would be ‘Most Anti-Israel’ Member of Senate

Candidate target of protest for his ties to Muslim extremist group CAIR

PHILADELPHIA — Democratic nominee Joe Sestak would be “the most anti-Israel member” of the U.S. Senate, pro-Israel activists contended as the race for the Pennsylvania Senate seat erupted in controversy over the candidate’s ties to a Muslim extremist group, the Council on American-Islamic Relations.


Sestak is also the focus of controversy for his claim that the Obama administration offered him an unspecified federal position in return for dropping his primary challenge to Specter. Congressional Republicans are demanding an investigation into possible bribery charges against Obama administration officials.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

EU’s Dream Candidate Wins Polish Election

EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS — The candidate from the ruling Civic Platform party, Bronislaw Komorowski, won Poland’s presidential election on Sunday (4 July) in a result set to bolster the country’s pro-European credentials.

Mr Komorowski came first with around 53 percent, beating social conservative Jaroslaw Kaczynski, on 47 percent, according to the three main exit polls.

The 58-year-old historian, aristocrat and former anti-Communist activist is set to be inaugurated in mid-August to become Poland’s fifth head of state since the fall of Communism in 1989.

The outcome is a victory for the younger, urban class of Poles in northern and western Poland, who have prospered over the past 20 years and who see the country’s future in terms of further EU integration, market liberalisation and reconciliation with Germany and Russia.

Mr Komorowski backs the centre-right Civic Platform’s plan to cut Poland’s budget deficit to the EU limit of 3 percent of GDP by 2012, to press ahead with further privatisation and with a measured pace of entry into the eurozone.

The softly-spoken politician has also indicated he will follow Prime Minister Donald Tusk on foreign policy, such as pulling Polish soldiers out of Afghanistan, heralding a new period of stability in Polish politics after three years of head-butting between Mr Tusk and the late president Lech Kaczynski, Mr Jaroslaw Kaczynski’s twin brother.

“Differences are normal. But I get the feeling that the pain of our division is too great. I am appealing for us to do everything we can to build not divisions, but a feeling of unity,” Mr Komorowski said on Sunday, in recognition of the fact that almost half the country backed Jaroslaw Kaczynski.

Mr Kaczynski congratulated Mr Komorowski, but noted that his own strong support bodes well for upcoming local elections and for the next general elections, due in autumn 2011, in the middle of Poland’s chairmanship of the rotating EU presidency.

“There are so many [of our supporters], we can say, Poland has changed. Our task is to use this strength,” he said. “To be conquered but not to yield — that is true victory. To conquer and to rest on one’s laurels — that’s a disaster,” he added, quoting the historic Polish patriot Jozef Pilsudski.

The election was held following the death in April of Lech Kaczynski and 94 other Polish officials, many of them elite figures in the Kaczynski twins’ Law and Justice party, in a plane crash in Smolensk, Russia.

Analysts said in Polish media on Sunday that the Polish centre-left Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) could hamper the Civic Platform’s economic agenda by calling in its political debt. In the second round, the SLD threw its support behind Mr Komorowksi.

Experts also warned that the Civic Platform could become prone to infighting after losing its common enemy in the figure of the veto-wielding, traditionalist late president.

           — Hat tip: Henrik[Return to headlines]

Food Safety: EU Opens Talks With Turkey

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, JULY 1 — The European Union (EU) opened accession negotiations with Turkey on food safety, veterinary and phytosanitary policy chapter on Wednesday, as Anatolia news agency reports. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, State Minister and EU chief negotiator Egemen Bagis, and Agriculture and Rural Affairs Minister Mehdi Eker attended the intergovernmental conference at the European Council during which entry talks on food safety chapter were launched. Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos of Spain, holding the rotating presidency of the EU, and European Commissioner for enlargement Stefan Fule represented the EU in the intergovernmental conference. Spain had said it wanted to open negotiations with Turkey on four chapters when it took over the rotating presidency of the union six months ago, on January 1, 2010. However, it worked hard to launch talks on at least one chapter when it could not overcome political obstacles of some member states. Spain even broke a record by reducing the chapter opening process to ten days instead of months after Turkey fulfilled required criteria. Thus, Turkey has opened negotiations with the EU on 13 chapters since October 2005. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Germany: Opt-Out Scheme for Left-Wing Extremists Planned

The German interior ministry is planning to introduce a plan to help activists leave the extremist left-wing scene, mirroring the scheme it has already developed to help neo-Nazis opt out.

According to a report in news magazine Focus, the interior ministry has written a strategy paper proposing that the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, or Verfassungsschutz, widen its help programme for right-wing radicals to “include left-wing radicals and Islamist extremists.”

The scheme, which has been trying to rehabilitate right-wing radicals since 2001, includes a hotline, which will be set up in the autumn.

The programme for the Islamist scene is to be called “Hatif”, an abbreviation for “out of terrorism and Islamist fanaticism,” and will be implemented soon. Hatif also is Arabic for telephone.

Crime statistics indicate that left-wing violence is gaining ground in Germany, especially in larger cities like Berlin and Hamburg, and there have been growing calls from conservative politicians to treat it as a threat as big as right-wing extremism.

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

Insults Illegal Under New Law in France

Husbands could be jailed for insulting their wives under a controversial new law in France.

The law makes it illegal for partners to insult each other or threaten physical violence, according to the UK Telegraph.

Under the new legislation offenders could face up to three years in prison and a fine of $NZ135,000.

The law, which applies to both married couples and cohabiting partners, has been unanimously approved by French MPs.

But it has been slammed by French magistrates who argue that it would be too difficult to determine what constitutes an insult in court.

“This is just a poster law pushed through to please women’s rights lobbies — but it’s inapplicable in practice and if anything will increase conflicts in families,” said Virgine Duval, national secretary of French magistrates’ union USM.

“Men who beat their wives can exploit the new law by saying: ‘Yes but I was the victim of psychological violence’.”

Upon introducing a draft of the legislation in November last year, French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said it was a “national cause”.

“[It will allow authorities to deal with the most insidious situations, which don’t leave a mark to the naked eye but can mutilate the victim’s inner self,” he said.

           — Hat tip: Johnny Dissidence[Return to headlines]

Italian Police Foil Mafia Bid to Muscle in on Expo 2015

Two operations land big blow against Calabrian Mob

(ANSA) — Rome, July 1 — Interior Minister Roberto Maroni complimented Italian police after two big operations against the Calabrian mafia Thursday, one of which stopped the ‘Ndrangheta mob muscling in on business for the 2015 Universal Exposition in Milan.

Officers said they arrested 15 people and seized assets worth eight million euros in raids that started at dawn targeting a satellite ‘Ndrangheta clan operating in Milan and the surrounding area.

The clan specialised in loan sharking, they said, preying on entrepreneurs in dire straits before investing the profits in real estate, shops and other enterprises. Police added that the clan had obtained permits to set up a “mini casino”, a disco and a restaurant at the town of Pero near Milan as part of the urban renewal projects for Expo 2015.

The massive fair, whose theme will be Feeding the planet, energy for life, is expected to attract 20 million visitors to vast array exhibits from all over the world. “Today is an important day because an extraordinary anti- ‘Ndrangheta operation was carried out in Milan, the first against attempts to infiltrate the Expo,” said Maroni.

“These clans’ method is to use loan sharking to take over shops and businesses at low prices and infiltrate the healthy section of the economy”.

The minister added that Calabrian mobsters had been active in Milan since the 1970s following large scale migrations of people from the south looking for work.

Maroni said earlier this year that the Mafia is eager to get its hands on the billions of euros in public works projects leading up to the Milan Expo. Central government has set aside some three billion euros for it, while the city of Milan is putting up 4.5 billion.

The minister said then that the government was taking preventive measures, with a ‘white list’ of above-suspicion contractors who will be awarded as many tenders as possible and the set up of an independent watchdog to monitor the Expo’s building works.

BUNKER Police said suspected clan boss Francesco Valle, who was among the people arrested, had set up a ‘bunker’ with the latest security equipment and video surveillance technology at a farmhouse near Milan where the victims of the loan sharking were received. They said the permits for Expo-related enterprises had been obtained with the help of a local councillor in Pero.

A Ferrari and a Cadillac, meanwhile, were among the assets seized in a separate operation in Calabria itself in which six people suspected of extortion, robbery, usury and other crimes were arrested.

“My praise goes to prosecutors and police for the operations in Reggio Calabria and Milan which led to the arrest of many members of the ‘Ndrangheta and the seizure of assets gained from illegal activities worth many millions of euros,” said Justice Minister Angelino Alfano.

“It’s another clear signal to mafia organizations that the state is determined to eradicate their illegal activities and their attempts to undermine our society and healthy competition in our country”. The ‘Ndrangheta is now believed to be Italy’s richest and most powerful mafia, moving past Cosa Nostra in Sicily thanks to its domination of the European cocaine trade.

Despite working through the 1980s and 1990s to build its empire, forge ties to local politicians and make itself ever more impenetrable, it was not as well known as Cosa Nostra and its Campanian cousin Camorra until a headline-grabbing massacre in the German town of Duisburg in August 2007.

The Italian government cracked down hard on the ‘Ndrangheta after that incident and, more recently, after race riots in the town of Rosarno in which the mob is believed to have been involved.

The word ‘Ndrangheta comes from an ancient Greek term meaning honour or virtue.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy-Spain MPs, Europe Must Support Southern Women

(ANSAmed) — ROME, JUNE 22 — The governments of Europe and the European Union must make a clear political and financial commitment to support the sexual and reproductive health and the rights of women in the South of the world. The request was made by the Italian parliamentary work group named “Global health and women’s rights” and the Spanish inter-parliamentary work group named “Population, development and reproductive health” that met today in the Senate in Rome. In a joint statement, the two groups asked Europe and national governments for “additional finances equal to 12,800 million dollars per year and the effective availability of consumable goods and equipment for sexual and reproductive health in health facilities”. The meeting between groups, both bipartisan, took place one week from the G8 summit and was set up with the technical assistance of Aidos (Associazione italiana donne per lo sviluppo) and the Spanish State Federation for family planning. A statement by the organisers reported the participation of Senate vice president Emma Bonino, who emphasised the “troublesome lowering of political attention at European level”, as well as in Italy. Aidos president Daniela Colombo stated that “We need to start anew from the Cairo Agenda for Population and Development that was signed on behalf of Italy by the 1994 Berlusconi government, which is often forgotten. The Millennium development objectives drew attention away from the need to integrated gender policies and human rights into development policies”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: New Routes From Verona to Palermo and Catania

(ANSAmed) — ROME, JUNE 22 — New flights between the airport of Verona and Catania and Palermo were presented today in Verona by Air Fly President and Managing Director Giuseppe Gentile, Air Fly Commercial Director Andrea Gilardi and Catullo Spa President Fabio Bortolazzi. The new Air Fly routes are an addition to the company’s flights to Rome, Naples and Bari. The Verona-Catania flight will begin on July 12 on a daily basis (two per day starting on July 26). The Verona-Palermo flight will begin on July 26 on a daily basis. With five destinations and 56 flights per week, Air Italy recorded 136,665 passengers in 2009, and is aiming for 155,000 passengers in 2010 and 175,000 in 2011. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Wiretap Law Worrying for Press Freedom, European Publishers

ENPA says it is ‘disturbed’

(ANSA) — Rome, July 5 — An Italian government bill on the reporting of wiretaps is a major threat to press independence, the European Newspaper Publishers’ Association (ENPA) said Monday.

If passed the new legislation would impose stiff fines on publishers and journalists who report information about pre-trial investigations.

“The situation in Italy is extremely worrying,” said Valdo Lehari, the president of ENPA, which represents over 5,200 national, regional and local newspapers from 25 European countries.

“European publishers are disturbed by any restriction, whether political or legal, that affects journalism, editorial freedom or press freedom”. The bill has encountered a wave of hostility from opposition parties and journalists.

National journalists union FNSI staged a demonstration in Rome and several other cities last week and plans a 24-hour news blackout on Friday to protest against the so-called ‘gag’ law. Should the bill pass parliament in its current form, FNSI has vowed to take the matter to the European Court of Justice.

Italy’s privacy watchdog chief Francesco Pizzetti has also expressed reservations, saying the bill “moves the balance between press freedom and privacy completely in favour of privacy… and this can justify the alarm of those who see a risk to press freedom”.

Pizzetti also warned that imposing fines on publishers could lead to them having greater involvement in choosing the content of what is published.

The government has denied there is any intention to ‘gag’ the press, arguing the bill will bring Italy into line with other Western countries and prevent the publication of wiretaps that invade privacy but have no bearing on probes.

“Sometimes the press reports everything the magistrates leak to it, while not realising there may be an ulterior motive,” Maurizio Gasparri, the Senate whip for Premier Silvio Berlusconi’s People of Freedom (PdL) party, said last week.

Law enforcement agencies and magistrates have also spoken out against the measure as it would make it harder to obtain authorisation for wiretaps and restrict their duration.

Terrorism and mafia probes are excluded from the measure but prosecutors argue that many mafia cases stem from the investigation of lesser crimes.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Last Section of Ljubljana-Zagreb Highway Opens

(ANSAmed) — LJUBLJANA, JULY 1 — The last twenty kilometres of the highway connecting Ljubljana with the Croatian border, opened yesterday, reported the Slovenian press. The 21-kilometre Pluska-Hrastje section between Ljubljana and Novo Mesto in western Slovenian belongs to the Slovenian State Highways Company (DARS). Its opening to traffic will make it possible to avoid the long queues which formed especially during the high season for tourism. The route from Trieste to Zagreb and from there to Belgrade or Dalmatia is therefore now entirely on highways with two or more lanes. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Obama’s Roots Traced to Swiss Villager

A Swiss village has laid claim to Barack Obama’s roots — the latest European location to throw its name into the multicultural mix that is the United States president.

After three months of combing through town records, a Swiss archivist has traced Obama’s family tree to a villager from western Switzerland.

While the ancestor in question — Hans Gutknecht — was already confirmed by archivists to have lived in the French Alsace village of Bischwiller in 1720, experts suspected he might have originated from Switzerland. Now, his baptism record from the village of Ried bei Kerzers has been unearthed.

A rustic German-speaking village near the capital Bern, Ried bei Kerzers is quintessentially Swiss. Set among wheat fields, its quiet streets are lined with huge, long-roofed farmhouses and pristine gardens.

Still largely a farming village to this day, it boasts one shop, a church and a lone petrol pump.

In the past the Gutknecht name was common in the region around Ried bei Kerzers and when speculation arose in recent years about a possible tie to Obama, a number of local Gutknechts came forward claiming the president as their own.

It was the village council that decided to end the “mystery” forever, by putting its genealogist, Hans Herren, on the case. Through a process of elimination of different Gutknecht branches he traced the line down to a family in nearby Fräschels. The family tree ends with their 12-year-old boy, Obama’s distant cousin.

At the same time, Herren tracked down the 1692 baptism certificate for one Hans Gutknecht — Obama’s seventh-great grandfather on his mother’s side. He emigrated to France in the early 1700s and his son later moved to Pennsylvania in the US, changing his name to Goodnight. The findings have been authenticated by the Fribourg cantonal archive department.

“ I’m proud. I think he’s a great guy. “

Honorary citizen

The research and the resulting family tree have been assembled into a bound press pack, ready for a media launch by the village to present the findings on July 13. The American embassy in Bern was invited to the event but declined saying they could not officially attend as it was a private matter, says Heinz Etter, president of the village council.

“Then I wrote to the president. The council decided it wanted to make him an honorary citizen and wanted to present the document to him,” says Etter over coffee in the village’s only cafe. Needless to say, there has been no reply from Washington.

Elizabeth Thomas is another resident in the cafe musing over the impact of their Obama ties.

“It’s a funny thing. People are talking about it. Some believe it, some don’t,” she says. Overall, it is having a positive effect in the village, she adds.

“In a village like this, you can imagine that people are on the right politically, when you talk about black people and so on. But when you say, maybe you have a connection to Obama, then…” her voice trails off.

“I’m proud,” says another resident, Martin Schindrig, outside his glass atelier on the main street. “I think he’s a great guy. I know that people in the village were really happy about his election. That was only possible in the US. I can’t imagine having a black president here.”

“America is a land of immigrants, it’s nice that it’s still the case,” he continues.

Good news for Democrats

Obama records details of some of his Kenyan roots in his book, Dreams of My Father, and in recent years the family tree on his mother’s side has been traced back to Germany, France and Ireland, with each new excited find provoking references to Obama wearing lederhosen or jokes about his name being O’Bama.

Ried bei Kerzers’ discovery was picked up by Alain Chardonnens, a pro-Obama history lecturer from Fribourg who wove the development into a book he has written on the president’s first 100 days in office.

He told that further evidence of Obama’s Swiss roots would help silence opponents who make an issue out of his origins and conspiracy theorists who insist he was not born within the US.

“It was very important for him and for the Democratic Party in 2008. The Republicans attacked his Arab name, Hussein. The Democrats also wanted to show the white voters that Obama also had white origins and that he was an American like everyone else.”

Today, the discovery of his Swiss roots will be “good news” for the Democrats, he noted. “We are coming up to the [US election] mid-terms. The Tea Party is still attacking Obama. His birth certificate is still under attack. This brings new proof that he is an American just like everyone else.”

But he says that’s where the benefits will probably end.

“I think for the village residents it is a great source of pride. But besides that, what else can you do about it?” he asks, joking that the village could erect a statue of Obama in the village or try to become a twin town with Washington DC.

“There certainly won’t be any economic impact. There will not be any political impact. It just flatters the pride of the residents.”

According to Heinz Etter, the village’s 1,064 residents are taking their newfound fame in their stride.

“[After finding out about the connection] we went back to work. We aren’t going to stop working because of this. Nothing has changed.”

Obama’s Swiss Family Tree

Hans Gutknect (1692-1762) of Ried bei Kerzers married Anna Barbara Kiefer. They moved to Bischwiller in France and had a son called Christian (1722-1795) who later emigrated to the United States, married Maria Grünholtz and changed his name to Goodnight.

Next in line was their son Samuel Goodnight who married Magdalena Berkeimer and had a daughter named Catherine who married Jacob Dunham.

Their son, Jacob Dunham, married Louise Eliza Stroup, and also named their son Jacob William Dunham.

He married Mary Ann Kearney who gave birth to Ralph Waldo Emerson Dunham.

He married Ruth Lucile Armour. Their son, Stanley Dunham — Obama’s maternal grandfather — married Madelyn Payne.

Their daughter, Ann Dunham married Barack Hussein Obama and had a child Barack Hussein Obama, the current US president.

Archivist Hans Herren also traced Obama’s family tree to a 12-year-old boy.

The grandson of Hans Gutknecht’s brother Peter had five children, one of which, Benedict, had a son Gottlieb, whose great-great granddaughter Dora married Albert Meyer and had a son, Stefan Meyer, whose grandson in turn is the youngest member of the family line.

The Fribourg cantonal archives certified the findings, stating that they resulted from “solid and well documented work” by Hans Herren.


Kenyan roots

Barack Obama is the son of Ann Dunham, an American anthropologist who died in 1995, and Barack Obama Senior, a Kenyan government economist who died in 1982.

Obama has a half-sister Maya Kassandra from Ann Dunham’s second marriage to Lolo Soetoro. Obama developed a close relationship with his Hawaiian-based maternal grandparents Madelyn and Stanley Dunham after moving to the island from Indonesia.

He has several half-brothers and sisters in Kenya: Malik, Abo, Auma, George Hussein Onyango and Bernard Obama and Mark and David Ndesandjo. He has three half-uncles, Said, Yusuf and Omar Obama and a half-aunt Zeituni Onyango.

His paternal grandfather Hussein Onyango Obama died in 1979. Hussein’s second wife, Habiba Akumu Obama, was Obama’s paternal grandmother. He later married Sarah Obama, who raised Barack Obama Senior.

In his book, Dreams of My Father, Obama retraces his Kenyan roots, and writes about travelling to the country to meet his relatives and learn more about his ancestors. There he hears stories about his great-grandparents, Obama and Nyaoke, and great-great grandfather Opiyo.

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

Spain: Women Wearing Burka to be Fined 600 Euros in Lleida

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, JUNE 30 — The Catalan town of Lleida, the first in Spain to ban the burqa in public areas, will punish those caught wearing the total Islamic veil with a fine of up to 600 euros. The punishment features in a proposal to modify the ruling on civic behaviour and cohabitation, which was voted by a commission and will be approved on Friday by the Town council. According to today’s La Vanguardia, the ruling will limit or forbid access to and use of services or town structures for people who wear the burqa or who complicate identification and visual communication. Persistent offenders will face fines between 30 and 600 euros. The mayor of Lleida, Marta Camps, said that the spirit of the measure “is not punishing, but rather educational” and that, in the first instance, only a verbal warning will be issued. Meanwhile in Cunit (Tarragona), where the ban has already been approved, Fatima Bumlaqi, a 26 year-old Moroccan woman, is the only woman to cover herself with a niqab in the street. “Over the last few weeks, she has preferred not to leave the house, she is afraid and does not want to break the law,” explains her husband, Mustafa Briqa, 46, in an interview with El Pais. The man says that Fatima, “who does not know what to do and does not want any problems”, told him that she plans “swap the burqa for a peaked hat and dark glasses”. The man criticises the fact that, before approving the ban — with the votes of Socialists and of the People’s Party — nobody from the town administration or from social services had talked to the woman. “If she wears a hat and dark glasses, she will not offend anyone,” says Mustafa Briqa. “You have to respect the law, but a woman must go around covered up,” he adds. Fatima, who married Mustafa at the age of 16, comes from near Kenitra, a military city of 400,000 inhabitants north of Rabat. She does not work and looks after her three children at home. Her husband, a labourer, has been unemployed for over a year. “Fatima will remove her burqa,” he ensures, “it will not be a problem, we just want to feed our children”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Sweden: Left Party Changes Name to “Welfare Party”

The Left Party has changed its name, albeit temporarily, in order to profile its core issues and arrest the long-term slide in voter support and deflect criticism of party leader Lars Ohly.

“Our V [from Vänsterpartiet] today stands for the Welfare Party [Välfärdspartiet],” Ohly told on Monday. “We want to create the world’s best welfare system without profit interests. This is our most important election issue.”

Ohly sees his party as welfare’s strongest defenders, even against its coalition partners, the Social Democrats and Green Party.

While the Left Party gains some credit for its ideological consistency, its party leader remains a problem, according to a media and public opinion analysis from Retriever and Synovate which indicates that party could gather the votes of only one in 20 in the autumn election.

The news comes as the Left Party kicked off Almedalen Week (Almedalsveckan or Politikerveckan i Almedalen) with its name change announcement, stating that it wants to be known as the “Welfare Party” for the duration of the election campaign.

Almedalsveckan is an important annual political event in the first week of July described as a “rock festival for politics” that takes place in and around Almedalen, a park in Visby on the island of Gotland.

In launching the novel initiative, Ohly also took the opportunity to attack the government. In the last two years, at least 25,000 jobs have disappeared into welfare, Ohly said. He also singled out unemployment, labour market exclusion and a lack of jobs for young people.

“It is a gigantic failure,” he said.

According to the Synovate survey, the best thing about the Left Party is that it champions the disadvantaged and supports gender equality, according to both current and potential voters.

However, voters in general are more skeptical about the Left Party than the other parties. To win new voters, the party must change its fiscal ideology, as well as its party leader the report argues.

“The media and voters agree that Lars Ohly is problematic,” wrote Kajsa Bergvall, chief analyst at Retriever, in the report.

Three of four voters do not see the party as an alternative, lower than the figures for the other parties on average.

Like other parties with low poll numbers, the Left Party is fighting a strong headwind. The party has attracted some attention recently for its foreign and defence policy, especially after it called on Sweden to leave Afghanistan.

Elsewhere, Liberal Party MP and foreign affairs spokesperson Fredrik Malm, accused the Left Party of funneling millions of kronor in development aid to leftist authoritarian and totalitarian regimes around the world from 2005 to 2009 in an editorial in the Dagens Nyheter daily on Monday.

He cited the Partido Comunista Colombiano, a non-reformed Marxist-Leninist party in Colombia, as well as Laban ng Masa, an alliance of revolutionary groups on the far left in the Philippines, as recipients of financing through the Left’s international forum (Vänsterns internationella forum, VIF) and called on Lars Ohly to explain why the party supports dictatorships.

Each party has a parliamentary aid organisation which receives annual support from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Styrelsen för Internationellt Utvecklingssamarbete, SIDA) for development cooperation. The total annual budget is 75 million kronor.

According to Malm, the Left Party is sponsoring a new political party formed by Laban ng Masa that supports an armed communist rebellion, PLM, with 640,000 kronor in 2009-2010.

Furthermore, at a conference in Manila in 2007 funded by VIF with Swedish tax revenue, seven leading Left Party members were on the guest list, as well as Cuba’s ambassador to the Philippines and representatives from the Chavez regime in Venezuela.

Malm also accused the Left Party of “plowing” 150,000 kronor of Swedish tax money into the current dictatorship in Vietnam for nine months in 2007.

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

UK: Couple Threatened With Social Services Because Their Children Ride Bikes to School

Boris Johnson today slammed ‘barmy’ health and safety rules after a London couple were threatened with being referred to social services for letting their children cycle to school.

Oliver and Gillian Schonrock let their son and daughter, five and eight respectively, make the one-mile trip from their home on their own.

They say it helps to teach the youngsters independence, self-confidence and responsibility.

But other parents and teachers at £12,000-a-year Alleyn’s Junior School in Dulwich, south east London, are said to think the practice is irresponsible and dangerous.

Headteacher Mark O’Donnell has met with Mr and Mrs Schonrock and told them the school is under an obligation to consider the children’s safety and has a legal responsibility to notify the council if they fear it is being put at risk.

Irresponsible? Oliver and Gillian Schonrock have been reported to Children’s Services for letting their son and daughter ride their bikes to school.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: Swimmers Plunged Into Dark After Council Covers Swimming Pool Windows ‘To Protect Muslim Women’s Modesty’

A council has sparked anger after officials blacked out windows on a glass-panelled swimming pool to protect the modesty of Muslim women.

Darlaston Leisure Centre in the West Midlands’ town of Walsall, was hailed for its ‘ultra-modern’ design when it opened ten years ago.

But now council staff have covered 250 windows with dark-tinted film following complaints from Muslim swimmers.

Dispute:The swimming pool in Darlaston, near Wolverhampton, West Midlands, where some users are unhappy by the council’s decision to cover windows with an opaque film

No looking please: The clear glass panes towards the bottom of the pool’s outer wall have been covered in a frosted film to prevent people outside looking in

But other users say the move has plunged the pool into almost permanent darkness and branded it ‘political correctness gone stark-raving mad’.

Pauline Poole, 65, a retired legal secretary from Walsall, said: ‘I returned to swimming after having a cataracts operation some months ago and was looking forward to looking out on some lovely trees while swimming.

‘What I found was a situation that reminded me of how it felt like before my operation, like looking at a horrible cloudy view.

‘If it was done for a minority of people, then why was there no vote on it?’

Retired building surveyor John Ewart, 63, from Walsall, added: ‘I cannot believe this council has agreed to something so loony.

‘The whole thing smacks of political correctness gone stark raving mad.

‘A lot of the people who swim are elderly or retired and they now have to swim in the gloom.’

A worker at the pool, who did not want to be named, said: ‘The windows were covered up and it’s probably cost a few hundred pounds.

‘Several customers complained it made the pool dark and dingy but we didn’t have a choice.’

The council initially refused to replace the windows with frosted glass because it was too expensive.

Today, the council defended the decision, saying they had ‘listened to the concerns of users’.

Councillor Anthony Harris said: ‘I’m pleased that we’ve been able to make these modifications because not only does it show we’re listening to the views and concerns of our users but also because it enhances the privacy of swimmers.’

A spokeswoman for Walsall Council said the complaints had predominantly come from the Muslim community but that non-Muslim women had also objected.

She said: ‘We received a request from the Muslim Community to protect the modesty of swimmers.

‘There were also requests made by some non-Muslim users as well.’

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Wilders’ Security Stepped Up After Officials Smuggle in Gun

Undercover security officials have managed to smuggle a gun into rooms in parliament used by Geert Wilders’s team of MPs, the Telegraaf reports on Monday.

In total, four tests were carried out after Wilders had complained his security was not up to scratch. Two tests succeed, two failed, the paper says, without going into details.

Security around Wilders and PVV MPs has now been stepped up.

           — Hat tip: Flyboy[Return to headlines]

Wilders’ Security Breached

Special agents have succeeded in smuggling a firearm into the heavily-guarded offices of Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party in the parliament buildings in The Hague. A source confirmed the operation, which took place several weeks ago, in Monday’s edition of the Dutch daily De Telegraaf.

The newspaper report says the operation was carried out by the Special Security Assignments Brigade (BSB), a special unit of the Military Police. The test was carried out following a complaint from Mr Wilders that his security was inadequate.

A total of four attempts were made. Two were successful, two failed. Security at the parliament buildings has reportedly been tightened up since.

Visitors to the Dutch parliament pass through similar security as at airports. Coats and bags have to be handed in to cloakroom staff. Keys, wallets, belts and small bags are put in trays and run through an x-ray machine, while the visitors walk through a metal detector. Once through security, a guide takes them to the debating chamber. Party offices are off-limits and only accessible with special passes.

           — Hat tip: Flyboy[Return to headlines]

Mediterranean Union

Andalusia-Morocco ‘War’ Over EU Deal

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, JUNE 21 — The fruit and vegetable sector in Andalusia is mobilising to prevent a new agriculture deal, negotiated by the EU with Morocco, from being signed. The accord is awaiting ratification and it is planned to take effect in 2011. A deal that rekindles fears of farmers on the south shore of the Mediterranean that these accords, in reality, may wind up backfiring. Even though, underlined the Spanish media, the majority of Morocco’s tomato and strawberry production comes from Andalusia-based companies, creating a rather contradictory situation. The organisations in the sector in Spain have criticised the lack of existence of sufficient border control to monitor the entrance of Moroccan products into Europe and unfair competition. “Morocco, an opportunity or a threat?” was the title of a story published today in El Pais, which underlined that in the last year the presence of Andalusian companies in Morocco increased sharply. According to data from the Ministry of the Environment and Rural and Marine Affairs, 80% of strawberry production and 50% of tomato production in Morocco is turned out by Andalusian companies. Strawberry and tomato production are mainly affected by the deal renegotiated between the EU and Morocco. For tomato production, the agreement calls for a progressive increase to the amount of imports from Morocco to be taxed at a lower rate by 52,000 tonnes progressively starting in 2010-2011 until 2014-2015. Overall, in four years, imports would increase from 253,000 to 285,000 tonnes. For strawberry production, the agreement allows for an import quota to the EU of 3,600 tonnes exempt from customs taxes starting on April 1, and a reduction to customs taxes by half for 1,000 tonnes, from May 1-31. The current deal calls for a 100-tonne allowance for the month of April to which a lower rate is applied compared to the normal customs tax on imports of 7.7%. According to the Euroarab Foundation for Higher Studies, located in Granada, protests by farmers from Andalusia on the trade agreement between Morocco and the EU is based on “half-truths”, since the interests of producers on both sides of the Strait of Gibraltar mainly overlap and must “become complementary”. Secretary of State for the Environment and Rural and Marine Affairs, Josep Puxeu, cited by El Pais, assured that the new trade agreement between the EU and the North African country will benefit Andalusian agricultural businesses. (ANSAmed).

2010-06-21 16:50

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Awards: France: Dominique Baudis Wins “Mediterranee”

(ANSAmed) — PARIS, JUNE 21 — The president of the Arab World Institute in Paris, Dominique Baudis, with ‘Les amants de Gibraltar’, is the winner of the 26th Prix Mediterranee. The award was created in 1984 by André Bonet, founder and president of the Mediterranean Centre for Literature in Perpignan, and has been under the aegis of the Cultural Council of the Union for the Mediterranean, chaired by Renaud Muselier, since last year. The Mediterranean prize for foreigners has been awarded to Amos Oz for ‘Scenes de vies villageoise”, and ‘Albert Camus, fils d’Alger’, by Alain Vircondelet has received a special mention by the jury that is chaired by writer André Brincourt (president of the Renaudot Award). There are several famous names on the jury: president of honour Jean d’Ormesson of the Academie francaise, Tahar Ben Jelloun, Amin Maalouf, Jean Daniel, Dominique Fernandez, just to mention a few. The award ceremony will take place tomorrow evening in the Marigny Hotel, part of the ‘Marigny Tuesdays’. After the ceremony, there will be a debate with guests like Henri Guaino, advisor of President Sarkozy, on literature and the place of the book in the Mediterranean area. An historic novel and spy story, ‘Les amants de Gibraltar’ explores the intrigues behind the conquest of Spain by the Arabs. It is based on an idea of some historians on the involvement of Byzantine empire Justinian II: in an attempt to preserve his empire, he reportedly urged the Muslims to cross the Strait of Gibraltar. (ANSAmed).

2010-06-21 15:44

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy-Syria: Damascus Closer With Sea Highways

(ANSAmed) — DAMASCUS, JUNE 21 — There is already a sea highway between Syria and Italy, with the direct connection by ferry between the Port of Tartous and Venice via Alexandria, Egypt, inaugurated on May 20. But the “interconnection” project between the south shore of the Mediterranean and Europe — which Italy supports, underlined Foreign Undersecretary Stefania Craxi, who is on a visit to Damascus — is broader and plans for similar initiatives in Livorno, Genoa and Ravenna. There are also plans for “green corridors” in the works, which are maritime connections to facilitate the trade of agricultural products and strengthen railway infrastructure. ‘Visemar one’, a 63-hour trip once a week that transports 400 passengers, 200 trucks and 80 automobile, in addition to cargo, is only the vanguard of Bashar al Assad’s “new Syria” project, which has already started to transform Damascus from an isolated and scarcely reliable party (also due to alleged dealings with Hezbollah and Hamas fundamentalists) into a strategic partner with Europe and a regional economic hub, also thanks to its newly-obtained observer status in the WTO. Parallel to the connection with Venice, similar projects with Livorno, Genoa and Ravenna are being examined. However, an overall bilateral maritime cooperation agreement, which is currently being examined, is still lacking. “The Italian government supports initiatives to turn Syria into a regional commercial and infrastructural hub, projected towards Italy and Europe,” said Stefania Craxi at the end of her encounters with Transport Minister Yarub Sleimar Badr and Vice-Premier in charge of economic issues Abdullah Al Dardari. Priorities, for the Syrian government, include projects to expand the ports of Tartous and Latakia, the modernisation of the railway connecting Damascus and Aleppo — with the use of Pendolino technology — where a pre-feasibility study was carried out by Italferr, part of the Italian state-run railway group, and the creation of a railway connection to Jordan, managed by a joint venture between Italferr and Syrian companies. The energy sector also represents a strategic issue for Syria and Italy. Ansaldo Energia (Finmeccanica group) is already present in a consortium with Greek company Metka with a 650-million euros contract for the construction of a power station in Deir Ali, which will be functional in 2013. An offer to assign a second 850-million euros contract for the construction of the Deir Al Zour power station is also currently being evaluated. Ambitious, but still far off, is the idea to build and oil pipeline and a gas pipeline costing 3.5 billion euros that would connect the Rumaylah oil field in Iraq to the Mediterranean, through Syria, for which Saipem (ENI group) has already made contacts. Italy, concluded Craxi, acts as a door to Europe because it is perceived “as a friendly country whose diplomacy is not invasive and whose economic system is ready to collaborate”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy-Syria: Proposal From Damascus for Culture Week

(ANSAmed) — DAMASCUS, JUNE 22 — “A Syrian cultural week in Italy” and a parallel iniziative for Italian culture in Syria are the proposals by Damascus’ Culture Minister Turky Mohammad al Sayed during the meeting today with Italy’s undersecretary for Foreign Affairs, Stefania Craxi, who is on a visit to Syria. “We will work on it,” Craxi promised, “perhaps linking the project to an economic promotion event” to raise the profile of Syria in Italy. “Work concerning culture is also important for the country’s economy and we will work towards this productive logic”. Stefania Craxi pointed out that Syria is the main beneficiary of Italian cooperation in the field of archaeology. There are currently 12 Italian missions across the country, as well as big plans for the restoration of the citadel of Damascus and of large museum complexes. “We must be proud of the things that we have achieved together, and given back to humanity,” Craxi said. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: CNEL Congress on Free Trade Zone in Rome

(ANSAmed) — ROME, JUNE 22 — ‘Mediterranean, free trade zone’ is the topic of today’s conference in Rome, organised by the National Council for Economy and Labour (CNEL). A statement reads that CNEL “has decided to deal with this argument, because 2010 is the year of free trade in the Euro-Mediterranean area. This year, according to the Barcelona process, the economic and financial chapter that started with the Barcelona declaration in 1995 had to be completed. But this process no longer exists. It has been replaced by the Union for the Mediterranean, which in turn is not moving forward. The completion of the free trade area has been postponed by a year, and probably to a later date”. Therefore CNEL “has thought it necessary to reflect on the Mediterranean paradox, considering the considerable growth of some partner countries of the area”. The priority, therefore, “regarding the foreseeable consequences which the free trade zone will have on the integration process, particularly based on the treaties between European Union and Arab States”, is to reach an agreement to favour cooperation among Arab States and with Europe. “The agreement of Agadir”, the statement concludes, “could lead to the creation of a free trade zone that is extended to Europe, to the Mediterranean countries, but also the Arab members of the pan-Arab area. A necessary step to overcome the differences in ‘animus cooperandi’ between Europe and the Arab world”.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy-Egypt: New CNR-Accademia Research Deal

(ANSAmed) — CAIRO, JUNE 21 — A new scientific agreement between CNR and Accademia on Egyptian scientific and technological research will be signed next Monday in Cairo and will be enforced soon after. The agreement could lead to the launch of a network of laboratories specialising in the restoration and conservation of antique books and old photography. The agreement is part of the cooperation programme for development of education and scientific research between Italy and Egypt, which includes initial financing of 1.35 million euros. Collaboration between the CNR and its Egyptian counterpart will be focussed mainly on the agro-biological and cultural heritage sectors. The agreement to be signed on June 28 could pave the way for collaboration concerning new technology for the restoration of books and old photos. Last year, during the Italian-Egyptian year of science and technology, courses and seminars were held that could lead to the restoration and conservation of precious volumes housed in the library of the University of Cairo and in the capital’s Coptic Museum. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Syria-EU: 5.7 Mln for Iraqi Refugees Children Teachers

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, JUNE 21 — The Syrian ministry of Finance just received the amount of 5.7 million euros from the Eu, to reimburse salaries of teachers who are working in schools with a high number of Iraqi refugee children. According to the Enpi website (, this first financial transfer is part of a larger 10 million euros project: “Emergency support to the syrian education sector affected by a large influx of iraqi refugees in Syria”. “Our support — affirmed the Head of the European Union delegation to Syria, Vassilis Bontosoglou — to teachers, working with iraqi refugee children, is part of a larger and comprehensive Eu programme to assist Syria in her efforts to host iraqi refugees”. Since 2007, the European Union has contributed over 60 million euros to help iraqi refugees and the syrian population hosting them in a variety of ways. The Eu-funded support projects focus on education, health care, waste management and assisting victims of trafficking.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

North Africa

Egypt: Trendy Restaurant Bans Women With Headscarf

(ANSAmed) — CAIRO, JUNE 30 — An increasing number of venues in Cairo are banning women wearing headscarfs from sitting down and ordering. This time, writes the Arab daily edited in London, Asharq Al-Awsat, an incident occurred in a well-known restaurant in the Egyptian capital, the name of which was not disclosed. “The restaurant does not welcome women wearing the headscarf,” an attendant answered the women who wanted to book a table for the evening. There is no law in Egypt forbidding women wearing headscarfs from entering the venues, but owners of the most fashionable and expensive haunts — where a meal costs at least 100 Egyptian pounds, around 17 dollars — often impose the ban, even to female Muslim tourists. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

Caroline Glick: Standing Down the Hanging Jury

In Britain today, hating Israel has become a valid criminal defense. This week five criminal defendants charged with destroying property valued at some $285,000 at the EDO MBM arms factory in Brighton during a January 2009 break-in were found innocent of all charges. They were found innocent despite the fact that all five admitted to having committed the crime. As the Guardian reported, the defendants boasted in online forums at the time of the incident that their crime was premeditated. It took place during the IDF’s campaign against Hamas in Gaza. Their declared aim was to, “smash up,” the factory. And they achieved their goal.

The jury found the five innocent because the jurors accepted as a valid defense the defendants’ claim that they vandalized the EDO MBM plant because they wanted to prevent Israel from carrying out war crimes in Gaza. EDO MBM does business with the IDF, therefore, the defendants claimed and the jury agreed, it deserved to be attacked…

           — Hat tip: Caroline Glick[Return to headlines]

Israel: Gaza Blockade, Soon List of Banned Goods

(ANSAmed) — JERUSALEM, JULY 1 — Israel is soon to complete a list of goods banned from entering the Gaza Strip for security reasons. The news was released by the coordinator of Israeli government activity in the Palestinian Territories, Eitan Dangof, in a meeting with foreign ambassadors, who this morning visited the crossing of Keren Shalom to observe first-hand the relaxing of the blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip, which the Israeli government has announced in the last few days. The deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, Danny Ayalon, denied that there is a humanitarian crisis in Gaza because of the blockade and said that ten thousand tonnes of food now enter the Gaza Strip every day. “The only humanitarian issue in Gaza is that of Ghilad Shalit [the Israeli soldier who has been held prisoner by Hamas for the last four years],” Ayalon said. The UN and other international organisations say that Israeli restrictions have so far hindered the reconstruction of Gaza, after the damage it suffered during more than three weeks of military action conducted by Israel against Hamas in January 2009, and have aggravated the economic crisis and the difficulty of living conditions for over 1.5 million Palestinians. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Obama Pushes New Demands on Israel

Expected to press Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in White House meeting

TEL AVIV — President Obama is poised to pressure Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to freeze all Jewish construction in eastern Jerusalem and to extend a 10-month construction freeze on the strategic West Bank that is set to expire in September, according to sources in Netanyahu’s office.

Netanyahu is scheduled to arrive in Washington later today for a meeting with Obama in the White House tomorrow.

According to sources in Netanyahu’s office, aides to the Israeli leader were made aware of Obama’s expected demands in recent planning meetings with U.S. officials.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Sapienza Master’s for Israelis and Palestinians

(ANSAmed) — JERUSALEM, JUNE 22 — An institutional collaboration programme between Israeli and Palestinian universities, coordinated by La Sapienza University in Rome, was established today by the Italian Cooperation in Jerusalem, which promoted the initiative with the support of UNESCO. Intended for 20 young Palestinian and Israeli graduates, the Master’s programme (in its third edition) will involve topics concerning cooperation in humanitarian affairs, international relations, public health, economics, environmental protection and cultural patrimony. After an initial period of academic study on site, the programme includes a subsequent phase of specialisation lasting two months in Italy at the Sapienza University in Rome. Opened by the director of the local technical office, Gianandrea Sandre (and coordinated by professors Manuel Castello and Massimo Caneva), the encounter at the Italian Cooperation office in Jerusalem was attended today by representatives of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Haifa and Tel Aviv University, and the Palestinian Al-Quds University. This programme, explained a statement, is part of the Italian Cooperation’s new strategy, directed by the Minister Plenipotentiary Elisabetta Belloni, “who is creating more incentives for the role and the presence of the academic world in the activities of the development cooperation head office”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Middle East

Activist: Iranian Mother of Two to be Stoned to Death

(CNN) — An Iranian human rights activist warns Sakineh Mohammadie Ashtiani, a mother of two, could be stoned to death at any moment under the terms of a death sentence handed down by Iranian authorities.

Only an international campaign designed to pressure the regime in Tehran can save her life, according to Mina Ahadi, head of the International Committee Against Stoning and the Death Penalty.

“Legally it’s all over,” Ahadi said Sunday. “It’s a done deal. Sakineh can be stoned at any minute.”

“That is why we have decided to start a very broad, international public movement. Only that can help.”

Ashtiani, 42, will be buried up to her chest, according to an Amnesty International report citing the Iranian penal code. The stones that will be hurled at her will be large enough to cause pain but not so large as to kill her immediately.

Ashtiani, who is from the northern city of Tabriz, was convicted of adultery in 2006.

She was forced to confess after being subjected to 99 lashes, human rights lawyer Mohammad Mostafaei said Thursday in a telephone interview from Tehran.

She later retracted that confession and has denied wrongdoing. Her conviction was based not on evidence but on the determination of three out of five judges, Mostafaei said. She has asked forgiveness from the court but the judges refused to grant clemency.

Iran’s supreme court upheld the conviction in 2007.

Mostafaei believes a language barrier prevented his client from fully comprehending court proceedings. Ashtiani is of Azerbaijani descent and speaks Turkish, not Farsi.

           — Hat tip: Vlad Tepes[Return to headlines]

Iranian Passenger Jets ‘Refused Fuel’

Iran says that Britain, Germany and the United Arab Emirates are refusing to provide fuel to Iranian passenger planes.

The move, which has not been confirmed, follows unilateral sanctions imposed by the US, the Isna news agency reported.

Iran is facing tougher sanctions designed to impede the development of its nuclear programme.

Tehran says its nuclear industry is for peaceful purposes but Western powers fear it is trying to develop a bomb.

“Since last week, our planes have been refused fuel at airports in Britain, Germany and UAE because of the sanctions imposed by America,” Mehdi Aliyari, secretary of the Iranian Airlines Union, told the news agency.

He said the national carrier Iran Air and Mahan Airlines had both run into refuelling problems.

“Refusing to provide fuel to Iranian passenger planes by these countries is violation of international conventions,” he added.


Iranian lawmaker Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh said Iran would retaliate.

“Iran will do the same to ships and planes of those countries that cause problems for us,” Isna quoted him as saying.

However, a spokeswoman for the Abu Dhabi Airports Company (ADAC) told Reuters that it was continuing to supply Iranian jets with fuel.

ADAC manages the airports for the cities of Abu Dhabi and Al Ain in the UAE.

The UN Security Council has imposed a fourth round of sanctions on Iran “We have contracts with Iranian passenger flights and continue to allow refuelling,” she said.

A spokesman for the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority told the BBC that such a move would be down to individual fuel companies.

Germany’s Transport Ministry said the refuelling of Iranian planes was not banned under EU or UN sanctions.

However, he could not comment on whether any individual providers were refusing to fuel Iranian aircraft.

The US sanctions prohibit the sale or provision to Iran of refined petroleum products worth more than $5m (£3.3m) over a year.

Paul Reynolds, World affairs correspondent for the BBC News website, said it might be that fuel companies are worried that their sales over a year might add up to $5m, in which case they could face a possible ban on doing business in the US.

An Iranian aviation official said Iranian airliners were filling up with as much fuel as possible inside Iran.

But they were also having to refuel in countries along their route not imposing a ban, a move which the official said was doubling costs.

The new US sanctions, signed into law by President Barack Obama last week, penalise foreign companies that trade with Iran.

Last month, the UN Security Council voted to impose a fourth round of sanctions on Tehran for failing to halt its nuclear enrichment programme.

           — Hat tip: AP[Return to headlines]

Iraq: Car Bomb Explodes in Kirkuk, Chaldean Archbishop’s Residence Hit

Kurdish imam, head of the local Sunni community assets office, target of attack. He was wounded along with his bodyguards. The blast destroyed the doors and windows and damaged the cathedral of the archdiocese. AsiaNews sources: political instability means a” difficult July” in Iraq.

Kirkuk (AsiaNews) — A car bomb exploded Saturday morning near the residence of the Chaldean archbishop of Kirkuk in northern Iraq, causing damage to the building and the cathedral. According to preliminary reports, the target of the attack was an imam of the Kurdish PUK, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, who was wounded in the attack. AsiaNews sources in Iraq speak of a “difficult July” for the country, gripped by a political stalemate which — after four months from the elections — has failed to lead to the formation of a new government.

An eyewitness said that yesterday, at about three o’clock in the afternoon, a car packed with explosives blew up just 50 meters away from the Chaldean archbishopric of Kirkuk. The target of the attack was the Head of the assets Office of the local Sunni community, who had recently left the office on his way home. He is a Kurdish religious leader linked to the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and was injured in the attack. His bodyguards were also wounded.

Christian sources for AsiaNews confirm damage to the Archbishop’s residence: The bomb destroyed doors and windows and also damaged the nearby cathedral. Despite the incident, the faithful packed the building for Mass on Sunday evening.

A “July difficult” is being forecast for Iraq because of widespread political instability, and the inability to form the new government. Parliamentary elections were held on 7 March that were won by secularist former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi. The outgoing Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki denounced fraud and launched a series of negotiations to gain a majority in Parliament, which provides the mandate for the formation of the new government.

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

Lebanon: Stones Thrown Against UNIFIL Patrol, Press

(ANSAmed) — BEIRUT, JUNE 30 — Almost a year down the line, the residents of several villages in the south of Lebanon have returned to violently protest against UN mission soldiers deployed in the region (UNIFIL), injuring a French UN soldier. According to what has been reported today by the media in Beirut, residents of Adaysse, Taybe, Shaqra, and Frun — all villages in the central eastern of the area under UNIFIL responsibility — yesterday blocked the roads in the area and threw stones against the French and Spanish UN soldiers, who were deployed in patrols. In July 2009, a violent hail of stones was launched against French and Italian UNIFIL soldiers during an inspection in a supposed Hezbollah arms deposit which had exploded the day before. According to the Lebanese press, the anti-Israeli Shia movement Hezbollah, which has widespread support in the south of the country, stated that the UNIFIL movements were not coordinated with the Lebanese army. The UNIFIL has so far not released any official statement on the alleged incident, whilst the Hezbollah MP Ali Fayyad has said that the residents of the south “had been surprised by the heavy military presence” of UNIFIL in their villages, describing the deployment as “without precedents” and “provocative”. Daily newspapers al Akhbar and Assafir, which are close to Hezbollah, have for their part stated that the UN troops were practising for the prevention of the launch of Hezbollah rockets towards the north of Israel. UNIFIL sources quoted by Assafir have instead stated that the manoeuvres were aimed at checking “the maximum capacity of deployment in a new day of operations.” Other UN mission sources, quoted by an-Anhar, the anti-Hezbollah Beirut-based daily, however reassured that “the peacekeepers are in close contact with the Lebanese army and that they do not carry out any movement with coordination from both parties.” (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Ponytail for Men Gets the Chop in Iran

TEHRAN (AFP) — Iran’s culture ministry has given its blessing to a number of “Islamic” haircuts for men, with ponytails failing to make the list, the ILNA news agency reported on Monday.

ILNA and other agencies carried pictures of mostly clean-shaven male models sporting short hair, some styled with gel, in a “journal of Iranian hairstyles approved by the ministry of (culture and Islamic) guidance.”

“The proposed styles are inspired by Iranians’ complexion, culture and religion, and Islamic law,” said Jaleh Khodayar, who is in charge of a “Modesty and Veil Festival” later this month where they are to be promoted.

“We are happy that the Islamic republic of Iran’s government has backed us in designing these hairstyles,” she said, adding that a catalogue of haircuts for men would soon be published.

Iranian police carry out regular morality crackdowns, arresting and warning women in figure-hugging short coats and flimsy headscarves as well as men sporting spiky hair and tight, low-slung jeans.

The Islamic veil is mandatory in Iran, which has sought to keep defiant urban youths properly covered since the establishment of the Islamic republic over 30 years ago.

Several barber shops have reportedly been shut down and penalised in recent years for offering “decadent Western cuts.”

Conservative clerics have called for firmer action against un-Islamic dressers and hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came under fire last month for expressing opposition to a tough police crackdown on immodest attire.

           — Hat tip: SF[Return to headlines]

Raid: Gov’t Source, Israel Not to Apologise to Turkey

(ANSAmed) — JERUSALEM, JULY 5 — Israel does not intend to apologise to Turkey for the raid by its marines on the flotilla of pacifists, nine of whom were killed, on May 31. These are the indications that have leaked this morning from Government sources in Jerusalem prior to an official Israeli reaction. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Syria: 400 Kurdish Separatists Arrested

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, JULY 1 — Syrian security forces have arrested 400 people as part of a vast anti-terrorism sweep-up operation against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which is also active in Syria. So reported Anadolu news agency. The operation was conducted in a number of cities in the country including Aleppo, Kamishli, Afrin, Al Hasaka and Al Raqaa. All of those arrested are accused of belonging to the PKK, which in Syria is considered a terrorist organisation (as it is in Turkey, the US and the UK). Among the crimes the Kurdish militants are charegd with are illegal collection of funds to finance the PKK, attempting to divide Syria and set up an independent Kurdish state and ethnically and religiously split the Kurdish community residing in Syria. In order to crack down on PKK activities, Syrian authorities have also decided to apply harsh punitive measures against Syrians of Kurdish origins who have supplied logistical support to the rebels. As part of its struggle against the PKK, last week Syrian security forces killed 11 Kurdish rebels in armed clashes in a number of different places in the country.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Where is the World? Why is West Not Doing Anything in Face of Upcoming Stoning of Iranian Woman?

Sakineh Ashitani has been sentenced to death by stoning in Iran. The image of the miserable woman being led to her death, the hurling of the stones, the saliva dripping from the beards, and the madness in the eyes of the people around her cannot be dismissed as some natural anomaly.

The Iranian adulteress will be finding herself in the same situation faced by previous “sinners” in Iran. We can assume that some Westerners will take a few minutes to click their tongues with unease. Yet we know that the day after we shall wake up to find no commotion whatsoever. We’ll wake up to silence.


Iran: Children appeal for help in saving mother from execution / Dudi Cohen

Woman convicted of having sex with two men who murdered her husband sentenced to death by stoning. Her children write letter distributed in nine languages in desperate bid to save her life

After all, everyone understands that there are more important people than another stoned woman in Iran. There’s Israel, and the occupation, and the debate over sanctions and commercial ties with Tehran; and so, the bodies in Iran keep piling up, while the people who on other occasions know how to ask tough questions suddenly grow silent.

The paradox is that Iranian brutality in fact provides a clear reflection of all the silent states that don’t care at all about human life, but rather, only concern themselves with future profits.

Just try to examine the real attitude of this world’s main institutions to Iran, a state where you can be stoned over espionage, violating religious laws, protesting against the government, homosexuality, or just for spiting Ahmadinejad or the Ayatollahs.

Where is Obama?

A few weeks ago, Iran became an official member of the UN’s Women’s Rights Commission, a group established after World War II in order to turn this world into a better place. Now let’s not pretend that UN voters did now know that Iran, the latest senior member of the commission, is not exactly a women’s rights fan.

So while officials in Tehran engage in debates on whether a woman has the right to end her life under a barrage of small stones while she’s buried chest-high, or maybe she has the right to ask for larger stones to be hurled at her, the very same Iran is tasked with protecting global women’s rights in New York.

And will our just world, that is, the Western states whose tax funds sponsor the meetings of the women’s rights commission, do anything about it? Will these states veto Iran’s membership in the commission? And will the US, headed by the most pro-human rights president in its history, embark on a loud campaign against the injustice and immediately cut its funding to the commission? We can assume that the answer is “no.”

After all, these days there is so much work to be accomplished in respect to the Iranian flotilla to Israel; who has time for yet another stoned adulteress? Or as the Persians say, one woman here, one woman there, who cares, as long as law and order is maintained. Otherwise we would just be a bunch of barbarians.

YouTube: Iranian mother of two to be stoned to death

Iranian mother of two to be stoned to death — 5 July 2010

CNN reports July 5th 2010.

An Iranian human rights activist warns Sakineh Mohammadie Ashtiani, a mother of two, could be stoned to death at any moment under the terms of a death sentence handed down by Iranian authorities.

Ashtiani, 42, will be buried up to her chest, according to an Amnesty International report citing the Iranian penal code. The stones that will be hurled at her will be large enough to cause pain but not so large as to kill her immediately.

Ashtiani, who is from the northern city of Tabriz, was convicted of adultery in 2006.

She was forced to confess after being subjected to 99 lashes, human rights lawyer Mohammad Mostafaei said Thursday in a telephone interview from Tehran.

           — Hat tip: TV[Return to headlines]

South Asia

Afghanistan: Haqqani Militants Present New Threat in Border Region

Kabul, 5 July (AKI) — By Syed Saleem Shahzad — As US general David Petraeus takes control of NATO operations in Afghanistan, he is facing daunting opposition on several fronts. Petraeus took control at the weekend after the bloodiest month since fighting started in 2001 with 102 soldiers killed by insurgents.

The Haqqani network, an independent insurgent group which traverses Afghanistan and Pakistan, has strengthened its relations with local warlords and presents one of the biggest threats to allied forces.

The network, led by Maulavi Jalaluddin Haqqani and his son Sirajuddin Haqqani, is closely allied with the Taliban.

Working with local warlords, the network has stepped up its activities in the Afghan province of Paktika, particularly in the district of Orgun, from where NATO forces launch action against militants’ cross border operations.

On Saturday, NATO forces installed fresh troops in the mountainous village of Mara Kanduo only 45 kilometres from the border.

As the soldiers, comprising Afghan and the NATO forces, were taking positions in their respective posts, a group of militants belonging to the Haqqani network encircled the soldiers and opened fire.

The exchange of fire continued for two hours. There is no independent confirmation of casualties but militant sources claimed 30 Afghan soldiers were killed.

In a separate ambush on the town of Margha in Paktika province, militants belonging to the Haqqani network fired missiles at the US base and then encircled the base and launched more attacks with small weapons.

The latest attacks came as the US was preparing to send a high-level counterterrorist group to Pakistan in a bid to keep up the pressure on militant groups.

The Pakistani government has denied media reports that it has reached out to the Haqqani network, a former ally, to secure its participation in negotiations with the Afghan government.

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

India: Kerala: Hand Severed of Christian Professor Accused of Blasphemy

The victim is a college professor who “insulted Muhammad” in an exam questionnaire. Islamic extremism is growing in Kerala: many schools face pressures on the use of the veil. The condemnation of national Muslim organizations. Sajan K. George: Sharia is not law in India.

Ernakulam (AsiaNews) — A group of unknown assailants severed the hand and the right arm of a university professor accused of defaming Mohammed months ago. The execution took place yesterday morning in Muvattupuzha, Ernakulam district (Kerala). Sajan K George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians condemns this “barbaric act” and recalls that “Sharia is not the law of India.”

According to the police, Prof. TJ Joseph, was returning with his family from Sunday service when a group of people in a Maruti Omni van drew up beside him stopping him close to home. After forcing Joseph to get out of his car, they attacked him with knives and swords, then cut off his hand and right arm throwing them away after about 200 meters.

The professor was immediately transported to a hospital in Muvattupuzha and then to another specialized in surgery, where doctors are trying to mend his severed hand. The professor has also suffered deep wounds to his body and is in need of plastic surgery.

Joseph, Kerala, a professor at Newman’s College, Thodupuzha, is free on bail. Last March he had prepared a questionnaire for examinations in the private college and according to the Muslims had included questions offensive to Muhammad.

Due to a series of protests by Islamic groups, he was suspended from school. Later, Joseph publicly apologized for his “unintentional error”. Joseph’s mother said that in recent months her son continued to receive threats.

Meanwhile, the police found the van of the attackers, empty, and “the vehicle registration number is false,” said police inspector P.P. Shams. Some of the detained are activists of the Popular Front of India, a right wing Muslim group, formerly called the National Development Front, which is very strong in Kerala.

Joseph’s sister, Mary Stella, says that “the assailants destroyed the window of our car and pulled out my brother to execute him. My poor mother, who was in the car with us, witnessed the crime”.

The Minister of Education, M.A. Baby has condemned the incident, expressing his displeasure because some have turned the issue of the exam questionnaire into a matter of religious conflict.

Sajan K. George, president of the Global Council of India (Gcoi), condemned the “barbaric act” and demands that “the attackers are brought to justice soon. I hope that — as usually happens — the complaint will not disappear in police records because of threats from Islamic militants in Kerala. “

Sajan K. George gives voice to the whole civil society which “expresses sorrow for these attacks by Muslims against Christians in Kerala. It should be noted that Islamic law is not the law of our country”.According to the Gcoi president Kerala is witnessing a growth of Islamic extremism: “Christian schools are often targeted on the headscarf issue or another issue and unfortunately many schools succumb under pressure. The design of these militants is to provoke peaceful Christian communities and provoke a civil war. The rapid growth of the Muslim population and their influence in elections is increasing safety concerns for Christians throughout the country”.

The attack against Joseph has been condemned by several Muslim organizations, including the Indian Union Muslim League (Iuml) and the Jama’at-e-Islami, which calls for a significant response against the culprits. Panakad Hyderali Shiyab Thangal, supreme leader of Iuml, has asked that the perpetrators be prosecuted harshly. And referring to the questionnaire compiled by Joseph, said: “An error can not be corrected by another mistake”.

The indicted questionnaire however did not include anything that could be construed as against the Muslim religion. The authorities of Newman College, told AsiaNews that in the test, Prof. Joseph tells the story of a fishmonger who, despite hard work, becomes increasingly poor. The monger’s name is Mohammad In his desperation, he spoke to God and also asked his brother why his fortunes were dwindling. His brother told Mohammed:”Why are you calling God, God, God….” Students were asked to specify the punctuation of the narrative.

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

India: Alleging Blasphemy, Fanatics Hack Lecturer’s Hand

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: In a horrific instance of Talibanism, Muslim fanatics in Kerala on Sunday chopped off the right hand of a college lecturer, accusing him of setting a question paper with a derogatory reference to the Prophet.

Lecturer T J Joseph was returning home from church with his mother and sister around 8.30 am in Muvattupuzha in Ernakulam district when he was accosted by the attackers. “We had just got into our car when a van pulled up in front. Around eight people armed with swords and knives emerged and pulled out Joseph after smashing the windscreen.

They then chopped off his right hand and stabbed him in the left thigh,” said Joseph’s sister, Mary Stella, a nun.

“When we tried to prevent them, they attacked me and and our mother before exploding bombs and fleeing.”

A police team recovered the severed hand from the compound of a house about 200m away. The 52-year-old lecturer was rushed to a private hospital where his condition is serious.

Police recovered the van in which the fanatics reached the scene. Two men, said to be activists of the Popular Front, a new incarnation of the hardline National Democratic Front, have also been taken into custody. Special police squads are searching sensitive areas in and around the town. “Personnel from this district and neighbouring places are working as a team and we’ll nab the assailants soon,” said IG B Sandhya.

In March this year, Islamic outfits had carried out protests against Joseph, who was a lecturer in the church-run Newman college in Thodupuzha in Idukki district over a portion in the Malayalam question paper for an internal examination for BCom students. They claimed that the question paper insulted the Prophet. The college later suspended Joseph who had set the questions and a criminal case was registered against him. The case is pending trial.

Reacting to the incident, state home minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan told reporters in New Delhi that the police would probe if any communal or terrorist outfit was involved. The BJP alleged that the home department could not evade responsibility for the growth of terror outfits in Kerala. “This is a direct consequence of the soft attitude adopted by the Left and Congress towards terrorist outfits,” said BJP state chief V Muraleedharan.

           — Hat tip: TV[Return to headlines]

Indonesia: Jakarta, Moderate Muslim Organizations Against Militant Islamic Radicals

Muhammadiyah want FP Islamic extremists legally dismantled. Nahdlatul Ulama leaders want only those who foment hatred targeted.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) — A moderate Muslim organization is demanding that the radical Islamic group FPI is dismantled. The FPI (Islamic Defender Front) is known for its violence against religious minorities, especially against Christians, and wish to establish Sharia law in Indonesia.

Protests in the Muslim world have increased since early June, when some FPI activists’ forcibly removed three members of the Indonesian Democratic Party Struggle (PDIP) from a public health event in Banyuwangi, East Java. In recent days, the FPI has threatened the Christian community of Bekasi, forming a paramilitary group to prepare for possible attacks against Christians.

Yunahar Ilyas, one of the leaders of Muhammadiyah, says that “FPI is a legal organization and as such should comply with the law. The mass gatherings are fine, but enough with the violence”. According to Ilyas, the FPI should be dismantled through collective legal action. Moderate Islamic organization Muhammadiyah works in education and social areas and supports the free personal interpretation of the Koran.

A lawsuit against the FPI is also sought by Masdar Farid Mas’udi, one of the leaders of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the largest Sunni Islamic organization engaged in society. Unlike Muhammadiyah, the

Mas’udi believes it is useless to dismantle the FPI because the same members would form another immediately afterwards with the same purposes. “I believe — says Mas’udi — it is more effective to take legal steps against those FPI figures that foment hate and violence against minorities.”

Muhammadiyah and NU have also accused the government of doing nothing to stop the violence.

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

Kazakstan: Bocelli Sings for President on 70th Birthday

Astana, 5 July (AKI) — Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli sang Nessun Dorma at Kazakhstan’s president Nursultan Nazarbayev’s 70th lavish birthday celebrations in the capital, Astana. Seven national presidents and the King of Jordon were in attendance for three days of circuses, theatre, ballets, and fireworks.

Khan Shatyr, a giant indoor park capable of holding 10,000 people, with a tropical beach and amusement park was also inaugurated as part of the celebrations.

Former British prime minister Tony Blair was scheduled to attend, but cancelled at a day’s notice.

The celebrations alone have cost more than 10 million dollars, according to organisers.

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

Pakistani Lawyer Petitions for Death of Mark Zuckerberg

Police probe Facebook chief over ‘Draw Muhammad’ contest

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is being investigated by Pakistani police under a section of the penal code that makes blasphemy against Muhammad punishable by death.

BBC Urdu reports — according to a Google Translation — that Pakistan’s Deputy Attorney General has launched a criminal investigation against Zuckerberg and others in response to Facebook hosting a “Draw Muhammad” contest on its site late last month. On May 19, Pakistani authorities blocked access to Facebook over the contest, and this ban was lifted on May 31 after Facebook removed the page in Pakistan and other countries.

Asked to comment, a Facebook spokeswoman told us the company does not comment on legal matters.

Last month, according to English-language Pakistani newspaper The News International, a Pakistani High Court judge summoned the police after lawyer Muhammad Azhar Siddique filed an application for a First Information Report (FIR), claiming that the owners of Facebook had committed a heinous and serious crime under Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code. In essence, an FIR launches a criminal investigation. But no charges have been filed.

According to the paper, Section 295-C of the penal code reads: “Use of derogatory remark etc, in respect of the Holy Prophet, whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable for fine.”

So, peace be unto Muhammad. But not unto Mark Zuckerberg.

According to two reports — one at, a kind of citizen journalism site run by Privacy International, and another at Pro Pakistani, a Pakistani Telecom and IT news site that lifted the news from BBC Urdu — the Deputy Attorney General has indeed lodged an FIR against Zuckerberg, fellow co-founders Dustin Moskovitz and Chris Hughes, and “Andy”, the German woman who initiated the Draw Muhammad contest under a pseudonym.

According to Pro Paskistani, petitioner Muhammad Azhar Sidiqque said he’s waiting for the police to contact Interpol about making arrangements for the arrest of Facebook’s owners and “Andy”. The site also says that the Deputy Attorney General told the High Court that Pakistan’s United Nations representative has asked to escalate the issue in the UN General Assembly.

           — Hat tip: Vlad Tepes[Return to headlines]


Australia: Abbott Takes Hardline on Asylum Seekers

Asylum seekers who arrive in Australia without their documents or identification will not be granted refugee status under a coalition government.

The move is part of a series of measures to toughen Australia’s border security that will be unveiled on Tuesday by Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, the Herald Sun newspaper says.

Assessors would lose the power to approve refugee applications at Christmas Island, and the immigration minister would have to power to intervene and refuse any application under the new policies, the newspaper said.

Temporary protection visas and off-shore processing of refugees would also be re-introduced, it said.

The announcement comes as new Prime Minister Julia Gillard prepares to announce Labor’s new response to the boat people issue.

“The coalition is concerned about the subjective nature of determining the refugee status of asylum seekers who are unable to present identity documentation,” a policy document viewed by the Herald Sun said.

“While the coalition recognises applicants may never have had such documentation, or it may have been destroyed against their will or confiscated, there are also cases where such documentation has been deliberately discarded.

“Where an assessor can reasonably form the view that an applicant has destroyed or disposed of their identity documentation, a coalition government will direct our assessment officers to make a presumption against refugee status.”

           — Hat tip: Nilk[Return to headlines]

Obama’s ICE Chief Opposes Immigration Enforcement

The Obama Administration recently appointed a police chief — who believes in illegal alien sanctuary city policies — to command an immigration enforcement program that entails federal agents working with local police departments on cases involving illegal aliens.

As part of the Homeland Security Department’s anti-terrorism mission, the new director for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Office of State and Local Coordination is now Harold Hurtt, an outspoken critic of immigration enforcement on the local level such as Arizona’s new immigration enforcement law.


In his new post, Hurtt will receive a salary $180,000 a year plus benefits to oversee outreach and communication between federal immigration staff and local law enforcement agencies. He is charged with strengthening the collaboration between local police and federal immigration officials in an effort to combat a crisis that has rocked practically every major U.S. city and many small municipalities, according to Judicial Watch officials.

Homeland Security officials are promoting Hurtt as “a respected member of the law enforcement community” who will be an “invaluable asset to ICE’s outreach and coordination efforts.”

However, the reality is quite different, say proponents of tough immigration enforcement. Chief Hurtt is on record opposing immigration enforcement and as police chief protected the most violent of criminals. Hurtt has even testified before Congress that local police should not assist with immigration enforcement, say officials at Judicial Watch.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Culture Wars

Schoolbook Hunky-Dory With Islam, But Skunks Jesus?

Parent: ‘Class presents version of history that never occurred’

Parents of Florida high-school students are outraged because they say a world-history textbook used in many of the state’s schools portrays Islam and Muhammad in a favorable light.

Members of the public raised concerns with Florida’s Sarasota County School Board about “World History: Patterns of Interaction,” published by Holt McDougal.


The Sarasota chapter of ACT! for America, a citizen-action network, claims the textbook “has an anti-Western, anticapitalist, anti-Christian, anti-Jewish bias.”

“Conversely it promotes Eastern and Middle Eastern cultures, promotes Islam as a religion, promotes socialism and fails to address world history in a historically accurate manner,” the group said in a statement.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]