Friday, January 10, 2003

News Feed 20101127

Financial Crisis
»Archaeology Under Threat in UK
»EU Rescue Costs Start to Threaten Germany Itself
»Goldman Sachs Chief Says Euro Faces ‘Black Swan’ Moment
»Irish Relief Fleeting as ‘Day of Reckoning’ Nears
»Thousands Protest Against Irish Bailout (1)
»Thousands Protest Against Irish Bailout (2)
»Which EU Problem Child Will be Next?
»Feds Arrest Somali-Born Teen in Car Bomb Plot
»Feds: Somali-Born Teen Plotted Car-Bombing in Ore.
»Moderate Muslim Watch: How the Term “Islamophobia” Got Shoved Down Your Throat
»Oregon Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony Target of Muslim Terrorist
»Soros Sells Shares in TSA Contractor Making Naked Scanners
»Texas Businessman Settles Military Food Mislabeling Case for $15 Million
»Whooping Cough Outbreak Affects 66 Oklahomans
Europe and the EU
»Germany: Minister Slams ‘Macho’ Muslim Culture
»Iceland Elects Ordinary Folk to Draft Constitution
»Italy: Gap Opens in Fashion-Conscious Milan
»Italy: Police Arrest Academic and Businessmen in Suspected Chemical Scam
»Italy: Anti-Racket Association Urges Sicilian Regional Governor to Stand Down
»Netherlands: Wilders Complains About “Witch-Hunt”
»Netherlands: Escaped Criminal Demands Money From Prison
»Spain’s Socialists Likely to Suffer Big Losses
»‘Stay Indoors!’ Police Warn Britons to Stay Off the Roads as Temperatures Fall to Minus 10c and 15 Inches of Snow Falls
»UK: Asian Gangs, Schoolgirls and a Sinister Taboo: As Nine Men Are Jailed for Grooming Up to 100 for Sex, The Disturbing Trend Few Dare Talk About
»UK: Anti-Allah Outburst Earns EDL Supporter £200 Fine After Protest in Leicester
»UK: Asian Gangs, Schoolgirls and a Sinister Taboo: As Nine Men Are Jailed for Grooming Up to 100 for Sex, The Disturbing Trend Few Dare Talk About
»UK: A Bonus Bonanza for Enemy Combatants
»UK: ENI Bolsters London Energy-Trading Business
»UK: Labour Leader Ed Miliband Admits: ‘I’M a Socialist and I Am Not Embarrassed’
»UK: My Enemy’s Enemy
»UK: MCB Launches “Celebrating Faith” Brochure for This Year’s Interfaith Week Celebration
»UK: The Problem With White Girl: New Labour Neglect Emerging in Court
»UK: Whatever Happened to Freedom of Speech?
»Croatia: Ex-Soldiers Arrested on Suspicion of Torturing Prisoners
»Serbia: Church Accuses Ex-Kosovo Bishop of Schism
North Africa
»Egypt: Al-Azhar to Start Dialogue With Jewish Scholars
»Muammar Gaddafi’s ‘Cultural’ Tours to Libya for Italian Models Revealed in Diary
Israel and the Palestinians
»The Enemy Within: Life Under Hamas
Middle East
»Foreign Office Claims That British Policy Will Change “To Reflect Arab Concerns”
»In Lebanon’s Beirut, Shift of Turkish Axis is Welcomed
»Iran Completes Its Conquest of Lebanon
»Iran’s Nuclear Plant to Go on Line by Late January
»Lebanese PM Seeks Support in Iran Visit
South Asia
»Afghan Schoolbooks Teach Their Students Little of Value or Relevance
»Pakistan: The Christian Woman Facing Death Over a Work Squabble
»Shiite Deal Gives Militants New Afghan Access
Far East
»Breaking News: North Korea Places Surface-to-Surface Missiles on Yellow Sea Launch Pads: Report
»Genetic Tests May Prove Theory of China’s Lost Roman Legion
»Japan Spots Chinese Vessels Near Disputed Islands: Report
»N.Korea ‘Has 180,000 Special Forces Ready to Cross Into South’
Sub-Saharan Africa
»New Wikileaks Files ‘To Reveal American Criticism of Mandela’
»Italy Expels Moroccan Convicted of Terrorism
»UK: Immigrants Will Create 83,000 Extra Households Every Year for the Next 25 Years, Figures Show
Culture Wars
»Wales: Teenage Lesbian Terrified That She Will be Deported
»Could Space Farmers Grow Crops on Other Planets?
»Global Warming Has Slowed Down Over the Past 10 Years, Say Scientists
»Glowing Trees Could Light Up City Streets
»Saturn Moon Rhea’s Surprise: Oxygen-Rich Atmosphere

Financial Crisis

Archaeology Under Threat in UK

‘Perfect storm’ of proposed cuts throws field into crisis.

To cut its national budget deficit, the UK government has launched an austerity programme that will see research funding stay static for the next four years (see ‘UK scientists celebrate budget reprieve’). But archaeology is expected to be hit particularly hard, because the subject depends on a combination of public institutions run by several different government departments that are all seeing simultaneous budget reductions. “It seems like a perfect storm of factors is coming together,” says Mike Heyworth, director of the Council for British Archaeology, an educational non-governmental organization.

Although precise details of where the axe will fall are still emerging, the trend is already clear. At least 200 jobs will go at English Heritage, the government-funded body charged with managing the historic environment.

English Heritage receives about £130 million (US$205 million) per year in government funding, but this will be cut by 32% over the next four years, greater than the 24% savings demanded of its parent body, the government’s Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). As a consequence, new archaeological grants will be cut by a third.

“The cut to English Heritage’s grant from government will be exceptionally challenging to manage after years of funding decline,” said Kay Andrews, chair of English Heritage. “It will require us to make some tough decisions.”

In ruins

Museums will also face a squeeze from both local and national government. The DCMS has announced that it aims to transfer responsibility for the department’s non-national museums to “other bodies”. Four museums in the county of Hampshire are now to be run by volunteers, and Grantham Museum and Stamford Museum in Lincolnshire are to close. The Federation of Archaeological Managers and Employers has warned that in many parts of the country, there is now no museum space to store and preserve important finds uncovered by archaeological teams…

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

EU Rescue Costs Start to Threaten Germany Itself

Credit default swaps (CDS) measuring risk on German, French and Dutch bonds have surged over recent days, rising significantly above the levels of non-EMU states in Scandinavia.

“Germany cannot keep paying for bail-outs without going bankrupt itself,” said Professor Wilhelm Hankel, of Frankfurt University. “This is frightening people. You cannot find a bank safe deposit box in Germany because every single one has already been taken and stuffed with gold and silver. It is like an underground Switzerland within our borders. People have terrible memories of 1948 and 1923 when they lost their savings.”

The refrain was picked up this week by German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble. “We’re not swimming in money, we’re drowning in debts,” he told the Bundestag.

While Germany’s public and private debt is not extreme, it is very high for a country on the cusp of an acute ageing crisis. Adjusted for demographics, Germany is already one of the most indebted nations in the world.

Reports that EU officials are hatching plans to double the size of EU’s €440bn (£373bn) rescue mechanism have inevitably caused outrage in Germany. Brussels has denied the claims, but the story has refused to die precisely because markets know the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) cannot cope with the all too possible event of a triple bail-out for Ireland, Portugal and Spain.

EU leaders hoped this moment would never come when they launched their “shock and awe” fund last May. The pledge alone was supposed to be enough. But EU proposals in late October for creditor “haircuts” have set off capital flight, or a “buyers’ strike” in the words of Klaus Regling, head of the EFSF.

Those at the coal-face of the bond markets are certain Portugal will need a rescue. Spain is in danger as yields on 10-year bonds punch to a post-EMU record of 5.2pc.

Axel Weber, Bundesbank chief, seemed to concede this week that Portugal and Spain would need bail-outs when he said that EMU governments may have to put up more money to bolster the fund. “€750bn should be enough. If not, we could increase it. The governments will do what is necessary,” he said.

Whether governments will, in fact, write a fresh cheque is open to question. Chancellor Angela Merkel would risk popular fury if she had to raise fresh funds for eurozone debtors at a time of welfare cuts in Germany. She faces a string of regional elections where her Christian Democrats are struggling.

Mr Weber rowed back on Thursday saying that a “worst-case scenario” of triple bail-outs would require a €140bn top-up for the fund. This assurance is unlikely to soothe investors already wondering how Italy could avoid contagion in such circumstances.

“Italy is in a lot of pain,” said Stefano di Domizio, from Lombard Street Research. “Bond yields have been going up 10 basis points a day and spreads are now the highest since the launch of EMU. We’re talking about €2 trillion of debt so Rome has to tap the market often, and that is the problem.”

The great question is at what point Germany concludes that it cannot bear the mounting burden any longer. “I am worried that Germany’s authorities are slowly losing sight of the European common good,” said Jean-Claude Juncker, chair of Eurogroup finance ministers.

Europe’s fate may be decided soon by the German constitutional court as it rules on a clutch of cases challenging the legality of the Greek bail-out, the EFSF machinery, and ECB bond purchases.

“There has been a clear violation of the law and no judge can ignore that,” said Prof Hankel, a co-author of one of the complaints. “I am convinced the court will forbid future payments.”

If he is right — we may learn in February — the EU debt crisis will take a dramatic new turn.

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Goldman Sachs Chief Says Euro Faces ‘Black Swan’ Moment

Jim O’Neill, the new chairman of Goldman’s Asset Management division, said that “very extreme outcomes” were possible if Europe’s political leaders did not come together and “sing from the same hymn sheet”.

In an interview with The Sunday Telegraph, Mr O’Neill also revealed that the euro should carry a “risk premium” and that it was over-valued by at least 10pc.

He said that the only reason it was not weaker was because many of the eurozone’s problems were being masked by events in America and worries about weaknesses in the US economy.

Goldman Sachs Asset Management (GSAM) manages $823bn (£528bn) in funds that invest in equities, debt and currencies worldwide. Mr O’Neill said he wanted that figure to double in the next five years.

He said that looking at traditional debt fundamentals “you wouldn’t want to touch” any of the debt in developed-world members of the G20. There were better opportunities in emerging market economies.

“How can we call the likes of China, Brazil and Korea ‘emerging’ when they are the marginal driver of most things that are going on in the world?” he said. “We want to rebrand them as growth markets rather than emerging markets.”

Mr O’Neill’s opinions on G20 debt come at a worrying time for eurozone countries that will need to go to the markets next year to finance their debts. A Barclays Capital report on Friday revealed that Spain’s government and its banks would need to raise up to €73bn next spring.

“There are elements of the black swan concept that seem rather applicable to the EMU story,” Mr O’Neill said.

“You have to consider that very extreme outcomes could be possible. I’m generally a person that sees the glass half full, but there are aspects to this European situation that could involve some pretty ugly developments.

“The euro deserves a risk premium e_SEnD it is expensive compared to fair value. I think fair value for the euro is €1.20 against the dollar and anyone buying it 10pc above that is not very sensible.

“[The question is] how can you have a monetary union with such disparate countries without having some form of fiscal union? It’s a pretty good question. I think the evidence is growing that you actually can’t.”

Asked directly whether, looking over a five to 10- year horizon, he agrees with the argument that there will either be a break-up of the single currency or a fiscal union, he said:

“I think that is right. We won’t get an answer for many years and we will waver between them both but you will get greater evidence of [fiscal union]. People talk about a European monetary fund which effectively would have the ability to approve a budget plan before it was put to a country’s voters.”

He said that he expected to see a pick-up in the US economy and that the dollar could therefore strengthen. That would then would then exert downward pressure on the value of gold.

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Irish Relief Fleeting as ‘Day of Reckoning’ Nears

Borrowing costs for Europe’s most indebted nations are at record highs as Ireland’s capitulation in accepting a bailout of its banking industry stokes concern that other countries also will have to seek aid.

The average yield for 10-year debt from Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Italy reached 7.57 percent today, a euro- era record. The average premium investors demand to hold those securities instead of German bunds widened to as much as 492 basis points, the highest level of 2010. The average cost of insuring against default by the five nations using credit- default swaps reached a record 517 basis points on Nov. 23.

“It’s no longer taboo to speak about a restructuring,” said Johannes Jooste, a portfolio strategist at Bank of America Corp.’s Merrill Lynch Global Wealth Management in London, which oversees about $1.4 trillion for clients. “The fact that bond yields continue to rise and put pressure on countries that have to fund from the market makes investors less and less confident, and it’s bringing forward the day of reckoning.”

The Nov. 22 relief rally after Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen conceded that the nation needed financial support proved transient. Irish 10-year bond yields fell 4 basis points, before jumping 104 basis points as of 3:13 p.m. in London today, exceeding 9 percent for the first time since 1995. The euro’s respite was more fleeting; the bailout inspired a 0.8 percent gain for the currency before it slumped to a two-month low. It fell 0.9 percent to $1.3247 today.

Volatile Market

“When Ireland accepted help, the general feeling in the market was that this could restore some calm; that hasn’t been the case,” said Michiel de Bruin, who oversees about $35 billion as head of European government debt at F&C Netherlands in Amsterdam. “Authorities should be doing their utmost to calm the situation.”

Analysts at Morgan Stanley said in a Nov. 11 report that any move by Ireland to use the European Financial Stability Facility would boost the euro and be a “circuit breaker” for the European sovereign debt crisis. While Ireland has enough money to pay its debts until the middle of next year, it has requested a bailout from the European Union and International Monetary Fund amid concern the cost of rescuing its banks would overwhelm government finances.

Portuguese Finance Minister Fernando Teixeira dos Santos said in an interview published today that EU governments can’t impose a bailout on his country.

A majority of euro region officials and the European Central Bank are putting pressure on Portugal to accept aid that helps stop contagion spreading to Spain, the Financial Times Deutschland reported today. German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said the nation isn’t pushing Portugal to seek aid. An official at the office of Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates also denied the report.

Greek Kickoff

The most recent leg of the debt crisis that started a year ago in Greece kicked off after EU leaders agreed Oct. 29 to consider German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s demand for a crisis- resolution mechanism that forces bondholders to share the cost of future bailouts.

The average yield of 10-year bonds from Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Italy rose to 7.49 percent today from 5.93 percent a month ago. The Stoxx 600 Banks Index of European shares fell almost 7.8 percent in the past month.

Adding to the pressure is the ECB’s push to scale back liquidity support for banks.

“This tough stance is reigniting a euro debt crisis,” Greg Gibbs, a Sydney-based currency strategist at Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc, wrote in a research report dated Nov. 23. “The recent problems in Europe may relate to fears that weak banks in the periphery will lose access to cheap funding from the ECB, and their deteriorating position will in turn put more pressure on the sovereigns.”

[Return to headlines]

Thousands Protest Against Irish Bailout (1)

Thousands of demonstrators marched through the streets of Dublin to protest against the Irish government’s handling of the economic crisis.

Around 50,000 people turned out for the march through the Irish capital as protesters vented their anger at the four year austerity plan, which includes proposals to slash the number of public sector jobs and increase taxes.

The government hopes the measures will save €15bn (£12.7bn) over the next four years.

The rally was the first major demonstration since Ireland agreed to accept a €90 billion (£77 billion) loan from the European Union and International Monetary Fund to save the country from bankruptcy.

“People are very unhappy, and this is their last chance to protest before the budget,” said Pat Kenny, a 45-year-old postal worker and labour union official, distributing bright blue banners as the march began.

“But today is just the start of a campaign against the plan. This government doesn’t have a mandate to govern, they should allow for a general election and let the public say if they are in favour of the four-year plan.”

Thousands of marchers — led by a traditional pipe band — crowded along the banks of Dublin’s River Liffey, banging drums and blowing whistles.

Banners carried slogans including “It’s not out fault, we must default,” and “No country for young men,” a reference to the squeeze on jobs.

As part of the crisis negotiations, Ireland published a plan this week to slash €15 billion from its deficits over the next four years, with the harshest cuts and tax hikes earmarked for the next budget being published Dec. 7.

Prime Minister Brian Cowen has admitted that the slashing will lower the living standards of everyone in this country of 4.5 million.

But he insists Ireland has no choice given that the nation’s 2010 deficit is running at 32 per cent of GDP, the highest in Europe since World War II.

Saturday’s rally coincides with reports that the EU-IMF fund could charge interest rates of up to 6.7 per cent, higher than the 5.2 per cent that applied to Greece’s €110 billion bail-out in May.

Irish government officials insisted that the rate would be significantly lower than 6.7 per cent, while analysts said the package was likely to include a range of interest charges dependent on which countries or organisations were providing particular funds.

The union umbrella group organising Saturday’s protest march, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, said it would lobby up to the last minute for the government to minimise its planned cuts to welfare, pensions and other benefits.

Its activists distributed protest newspapers along Saturday’s parade route bearing the simple message “Stop!”

“It’s difficult to see any justification — either economic, social, or indeed moral — for what the government proposes to do, and we’ll oppose them in every way we can,” said David Begg, general secretary of the group.

Cowen’s 2011 budget will seek €4.5 billion in spending cuts and to raise an extra €1.5 billion in taxes.

He has pledged to dissolve parliament and hold an early national election in February or March — but only once all the spending cuts and tax hikes have been passed.

Labor union leaders and opposition leaders are demanding an election first.

Gerry Adams, leader of the Irish nationalist Sinn Fein party, said reports of high interest rates on the international bail-out taking shape demonstrate that Cowen’s government “cannot be trusted in any negotiations with the EU and IMF.

They have no mandate to negotiate such terms and impose such a burden on ordinary Irish taxpayers.”

Some have expressed surprise that Ireland’s public so far has staged few rowdy protests.

Greece suffered street violence in the run-up to its own bail-out, and Portugal — rated as most likely to follow the Greeks and Irish in taking bail-out funds — this week suffered a daylong strike that paralysed many public services.

Irish commentator and author Fintan O’Toole and Irish folk singers Christy Moore and Frances Black were due to address the crowd on Saturday.

Begg insisted the city centre protest — a march to the General Post Office, headquarters of the leaders of Ireland’s 1916 rebellion against British rule — would be peaceful.

But a commander of the security operation, police Chief Superintendent Michael O’Sullivan, said officers would be on guard for trouble. A police helicopter would keep watch and riot police would be deployed on standby.

“There are individuals and groups who seek to exploit such events for their own ends,” he said.

[Return to headlines]

Thousands Protest Against Irish Bailout (2)

More than 100,000 people gather in Dublin to demonstrate against four-year austerity plan to reduce debts

More than 100,000 Irish citizens took to the streets of Dublin today to protest against the international bailout and four years of austerity.

Despite overnight snow storms and freezing temperatures, huge crowds have gathered in O’Connell Street to demonstrate against the cuts aimed at driving down Ireland’s colossal national debt.

So far the march has passed off peacefully although there is a huge Garda presence with up to 700 officers on duty working alongside 250 security guards for the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.

Among the marchers there is deep anger that most of the more than €80bn (£67bn) from the EU and the International Monetary Fund will be given to shore up Ireland’s ailing banks.

Marching in the rally was Irish builder Mick Wallace who has had to lay off 100 workers due to the crash in the construction industry. Wallace said it was time the Irish became more militant.

“We should be more like the French and get onto the streets more often. Because our politicians go over to Europe and tell the EU that our people do not demonstrate, they don’t take to the streets. It’s time we changed that and openly opposed what is going on,” he said.

Placards carried by the marchers reflect the mood of anger and humiliation at having to be bailed out by the EU and IMF. One was designed to look like an estate agent’s billboard and read: “3,599 square miles For Sale. Full Planning Permission Granted”.

The protest has not halted at the GPO in Dublin, the scene of the 1916 rising where trade unionists and workers are denouncing the government’s cost cutting programme which will take €15bn out of the Irish economy over the next four years.

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

Which EU Problem Child Will be Next?

First came Greece, then there was Ireland. The EU is gaining experience in helping out their member states’ failed economies. But how long can that last? SPIEGEL ONLINE takes a country-by-country look at the nations on the brink.

Fear is spreading in Europe. How many countries are going to need bailouts — and how many billions of euros will that take? And is the entire euro alliance at risk?

After Greece had to be rescued with a spectacular aid action earlier this year and then Ireland earlier this week, it is no longer a quest of if another country will require a bailout, but when. Most experts are in agreement that Portugal will be the next country to require assistance, despite denials from Lisbon.

But what scares those who deal with euro policy the most is the situation in Spain. The €750 billion program set up by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund for dealing with the euro crisis may be enough to cover Greece, Ireland and Portugal without problems, but there could be problems if a bailout is needed for Spain, which is Europe’s fourth-largest economy.

On Wednesday, Spain’s government took pains again to assuage fears. “An abyss separates Ireland from us,” Deputy Finance Minister Jose Manuel Campa told the Spanish daily El Pais. However, his comments didn’t seem to move the financial markets. Interest yields on 10-year Spanish government bonds rose to over 5 percent for the first time since 2002. Speculators fear the risk of bankruptcy in the country has increased…

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]


Feds Arrest Somali-Born Teen in Car Bomb Plot

A Somali-born teenager plotted to carry out a car bomb attack at a crowded Christmas tree lighting ceremony in downtown Portland on Friday, but the bomb turned out to be a dud supplied by undercover agents as part of a sting, federal prosecutors said.

Mohamed Osman Mohamud, 19, was arrested at 5:40 p.m. just after he dialed a cell phone that he thought would blow up a van laden with explosives but instead brought federal agents and Portland police swooping in to take him into custody.

Mohamud yelled “Allahu Akhkbar” and tried to kick agents and police as the arrest came, according to prosecutors.

He was charged with attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction.

U.S. Attorney Dwight Holton released federal court documents Friday that show the sting operation began in June after an undercover agent learned that Mohamud had been in contact with an “unindicted associate” in Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier region.

Mohamud is a naturalized U.S. citizen who has been living in Corvallis.

According to a federal complaint, Mohamud was in regular email contact with the “unindicted associate’ in Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier starting in August 2009.

The complaint states that in December 2009 Mohamud and the “unindicted associate” used coded language in an email in which the FBI believes Mohamud discussed traveling to Pakistan to prepare for “violent jihad.”

The document says in the months that followed Mohamud made ‘multiple efforts” to contact another “undicted associate” to arrange travel to Pakistan but had a faulty email address for that person.

Last June an FBI agent contacted Mohamud “under the guise of being affiliated with the first associate.”

Mohamud and the undercover agent agreed to meet in Portland on July 30. At that meeting, the undercover agent and Mohamud “discussed violent jihad,” according to the court document.

Mohamud told the agent he wanted to set off explosives at the annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Portland’s Pioneer Courthouse Square, an event that occurred on Friday.

On Friday, an undercover agent and Mohamud drove to downtown Portland in a white van that carried six 55-gallon drums with detonation cords and plastic caps, but all of them were inert, the complaint states.

They got out of the van and walked to meet another undercover agent, who drove to Union Station, the Portland train station, where Mohamud was given a cell phone that he thought would blow up the van, according to the complaint.

Mohamud dialed the phone agents had given him, and was told the bomb did not detonate. The undercover agents suggested he get out of the car and try again to improve the signal, when he did, he was arrested, the complaint said.

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Feds: Somali-Born Teen Plotted Car-Bombing in Ore.

Federal agents in a sting operation arrested a Somali-born teenager just as he tried blowing up a van he believed was loaded with explosives at a crowded Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Portland, authorities said.

The bomb was an elaborate fake supplied by the agents and the public was never in danger, authorities said.

Mohamed Osman Mohamud, 19, was arrested at 5:40 p.m. Friday just after he dialed a cell phone that he thought would set off the blast but instead brought federal agents and police swooping down on him.

Yelling “Allahu Akbar!” — Arabic for “God is great!” — Mohamud tried to kick agents and police after he was taken into custody, according to prosecutors.

“The threat was very real,” said Arthur Balizan, special agent in charge of the FBI in Oregon. “Our investigation shows that Mohamud was absolutely committed to carrying out an attack on a very grand scale.”

White House spokesman Nick Shapiro said Saturday that President Barack Obama was aware of the FBI operation before Friday’s arrest. Shapiro said Obama was assured that the FBI was in full control of the operation and that the public was not in danger.

“The events of the past 24 hours underscore the necessity of remaining vigilant against terrorism here and abroad,” Shapiro said. “The president thanks the FBI, the Department of Justice and the rest of our law enforcement, intelligence and Homeland Security professionals who have once again served with extraordinary skill and resolve and with the commitment that their enormous responsibilities demand.”

A law enforcement official, who was not authorized to discuss the investigation publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity, told The Associated Press that federal agents began investigating the suspect after receiving a tip from someone who was concerned about the teenager. The official declined to provide more detail about the relationship between Mohamud and that source.

The FBI affidavit that outlined the investigation alleges that Mohamud planned the attack for months, at one point mailing bomb components to FBI operatives, whom he believed were assembling the device.

According to the official, Mohamud hatched the plan on his own and without any instruction from a foreign terrorist organization, and he planned the details, including where to park the van for the maximum number of casualties.

The affidavit said Mohamud was warned several times about the seriousness of his plan, that women and children could be killed, and that he could back out, but he told agents: “Since I was 15 I thought about all this;” and “It’s gonna be a fireworks show … a spectacular show.”

Mohamud, a naturalized U.S. citizen living in Corvallis, was charged with attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison. A court appearance was set for Monday.

Authorities allowed the plot to proceed in order to build up enough evidence to charge the suspect with attempt.

The alleged plot in Portland follows a string of terrorist attack planning by U.S. citizens or residents, including a Times Square plot in which Faisal Shahzad pleaded guilty to trying to set off a car bomb at a bustling street corner. U.S. authorities had no intelligence about Shahzad’s plot until the smoking car turned up in Manhattan.

Late last month, Farooque Ahmed, 34, of Virginia was arrested and accused of casing Washington-area subway stations in what he thought was an al-Qaida plot to bomb and kill commuters. Similar to the Portland sting, the bombing plot was a ruse conducted over the past six months by federal officials.

U.S. Attorney Dwight Holton released federal court documents to The Associated Press and the Oregonian newspaper that show the sting operation began in June after an undercover agent learned that Mohamud had been in regular e-mail contact with an “unindicted associate” in Pakistan’s northwest, a frontier region where al-Qaida and Afghanistan’s Taliban insurgents are strong. The person Mohamud had been in e-mail contact with was a friend living in Pakistan who had been a student in Oregon in 2007-2008, the official told the AP.

The two used coded language in which the FBI believes Mohamud discussed traveling to Pakistan to prepare for “violent jihad,” the documents said.

In June an FBI agent contacted Mohamud “under the guise of being affiliated with” the suspected terrorist.

An undercover agent met with him a month later in Portland, where they “discussed violent jihad,” according to the court documents.

As a trial run, Mohamud and agents detonated a bomb in Oregon’s backcounry earlier this month.

“This defendant’s chilling determination is a stark reminder that there are people — even here in Oregon — who are determined to kill Americans,” Holton said.

Friday, an agent and Mohamud drove to downtown Portland in a white van that carried six 55-gallon drums with detonation cords and plastic caps, but all of them were inert, the complaint states.

They left the van near the downtown ceremony site and went to a train station where Mohamud was given a cell phone that he thought would blow up the vehicle, according to the complaint. There was no detonation when he dialed, and when he tried again federal agents and police made their move.

Omar Jamal, first secretary to the Somali mission to the United Nations, condemned the plot and urged Somalis to cooperate with police and the FBI.

“Talk to them and tell them what you know so we can all be safe,” Jamal said.

Somalia Foreign Minister Mohamed Abullahi Omaar said his government is “ready and willing” to offer the U.S. any assistance it may need to prevent similar attempts. He said the attempt in Portland was a tragedy for Mohamud’s family and the “people he tried to harm.”

“Mohamud’s attempt is neither representative nor an example of Somalis. Somalis are peace loving people,” said Omaar, whose government is holed up in a few blocks of the capital, Mogadishu, while much of the country’s southern and central regions are ruled by Islamist insurgents.

Tens of thousands of Somalis have resettled in the United States since their country plunged into lawlessness in 1991, and the U.S. has boosted aid to the country.

In August, the U.S. Justice Department unsealed an indictment naming 14 people accused of being a deadly pipeline routing money and fighters from the U.S. to al-Shabab, an al-Qaida affiliated group in Mohamud’s native Somalia,

At the time, Attorney General Eric Holder said the indictments reflect a disturbing trend of recruitment efforts targeting U.S. residents to become terrorists.

Officials have been working with Muslim community leaders across the United States, particularly in Somali diasporas in Minnesota, trying to combat the radicalization.

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Moderate Muslim Watch: How the Term “Islamophobia” Got Shoved Down Your Throat

Salim Mansur, about whom I’ve been meaning to write for some time, kindly sent me a link to his interview with the Investigative Project on Terror:

Mansur, a Muslim born in India, made a powerful case that the U.S. government and Western mainstream media ignore the real danger to Muslims around the world: terror, intimidation, repression and genocide committed by their fellow Muslims.

The point he makes next is one I make all the time, though I have the sense I’m shouting into a wind tunnel:

The U.S. government and the media help facilitate this skewing of priorities, Mansur said, one which benefits Islamists at the expense of ordinary Muslims.

The Obama Administration is sending “a confused message,” by courting Islamist groups like the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), and the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) while shutting out non-Islamist Muslims.

According to Mansur, these groups, frequently quoted in the media as representatives of American Muslims, are often linked with radical organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood. As a result, Americans haven’t heard “clear, unambiguous, categorical” denunciations of suicide bombings from U.S. Muslim organizations attacks since September 11. These Muslim groups have also failed to speak out clearly against Sharia and the repression of women in the Islamic world.

“Neither CAIR nor ISNA — nor any of the other [Islamist] organizations, as far as I know, have come out and said that we as Muslims in the West have a different perspective on the question of Sharia…and we’re going to revise it,” he said.

Most Americans, I think, will recognize the name CAIR. The rest form something of an acrostic soup in their minds, though they should be household names — kind of like the TSA, another acronym for which we can ultimately thank the same people.

Genuinely moderate Muslims (once again, yes, they exist, and yes, there are many of them) are struggling desperately to make themselves heard over the roar made by these groups, which are lavishly funded by the Saudis and connected — ideologically, historically, and financially — to the most despicable extremists in the Islamic world. The extremists to whom they’re connected, not to put too fine a point on it, want Muslims like Salim Mansur dead. They want you dead, too. And these groups have succeeded in setting the political and cultural agenda in the West to a degree that should shock any thinking person.

The word “Islamophobia” is a nice example. Many of you, I’m sure, have felt a wash of annoyance upon hearing the word used to dismiss your concerns about what are obviously very real pathologies in the Islamic world. I find myself particularly vexed when the word is applied to me; for God’s sake, I’m sitting here in the heart of a city of 20 million Muslims, why would I be here if Islam itself gave me the vapors? The phrase “some of my best friends are Muslims” is more than a cliche in my case; most of my best friends are Muslims, all of my neighbors are Muslims, and the way I live my life would make no sense at all if I had a phobia — an “irrational intense fear” as the dictionary has it, one characterized by an “excessive and unreasonable desire to avoid the feared stimulus” — of Islam. I’d be like an arachnophobe hanging out in the woodpile, now, wouldn’t I?

I have a rational fear, however, of political Islam, particularly the Wahhabi and Iranian revolutionary strains, which pose a very real threat not only to me and to the West, but — as Mansur very correctly points out — an even greater threat to my friends and neighbors.

Now here’s a point you might deeply consider: The neologism “Islamophobia” did not simply emerge ex nihilo. It was invented, deliberately, by a Muslim Brotherhood front organization, the International Institute for Islamic Thought, which is based in Northern Virginia. If that name dimly rings a bell, it should: I’ve mentioned it before, and it’s particularly important because it was co-founded by Anwar Ibrahim — the hero of Moderate Islam who is now trotting around the globe comparing his plight to that of Aung San Suu Kyi.

Abdur-Rahman Muhammad, a former member of the IIIT who has renounced the group in disgust, was an eyewitness to the creation of the word. “This loathsome term,” he writes,

is nothing more than a thought-terminating cliche conceived in the bowels of Muslim think tanks for the purpose of beating down critics.

In another article concerning the many moderate Muslims whose voices have been drowned out by Saudi-financed Muslim Brotherhood front groups, Muhammad describes the strategy behind the word’s invention:

In an effort to silence critics of political Islam, advocates needed to come up with terminology that would enable them to portray themselves as victims. Muhammad said he was present when his then-allies, meeting at the offices of the International Institute for Islamic Thought (IIIT) in Northern Virginia years ago, coined the term “Islamophobia.”

Muhammad said the Islamists decided to emulate the homosexual activists who used the term “homophobia” to silence critics. He said the group meeting at IIIT saw “Islamophobia” as a way to “beat up their critics.”

Really imagine that scene: a bunch of Islamists admiring how astutely the queers — people who in their ideal world would be served with the lash or hanged — had portrayed their critics as mentally disturbed. Brilliant. Let’s take a leaf from them and then kill them. The association of anti-Islamism — the noblest form of liberal anti-totalitarianism — with gay-bashing rednecks in the grip of a psychosexual panic was not just one of those linguistic accidents of history, in other words. These guys were sitting there in Virginia and really thinking about the best way to exploit the weaknesses of the Western psyche. They came up with this word — and admit it, it’s clever; I challenge you to find a better one if you want to yank the West’s chain — and they marketed it with petrodollars, and now it truly does drive public discourse and policy the world over. I was asked when I was recently on a Turkish television news show whether the Tea Party was “Islamophobic.” That’s what they’re hearing here in Turkey, thanks to the IIIT. It’s not an indigenous Turkish concept, I assure you.

The fact that the IIIT was co-founded by Anwar Ibrahim, who is now on trial for sodomy — something of a homophobic charge, that — would be almost hilarious in its just-deserts irony if Anwar hadn’t succeeded in portraying himself as the moderate darling of Muslim moderation whose plight should now trouble the liberal conscience of the West, no matter his own role in exploiting it. Read the linked interview in full, if you have the time, and consider its many implications. Put your favorite parts in the comment thread.

This is another case — like the revelation that we’ve poured money into “secret” negotiations with some schmuck pretending to represent the Taliban — where our foreign policy incompetence is almost unimaginable. (It’s perfectly understandable to me when Turks say to me that this must all be an elaborate conspiracy and subterfuge, since everyone knows Americans aren’t that stupid. If only they were right.)

So Anwar Ibrahim — our moderate man in moderate Malaysia — is the moderate man behind this Orwellian effort to render the West incapable of objecting even verbally to political Islam. The gift of “Islamophobia” is just the beginning of the story. Researcher Rachel Ehrenfeld has written an outstanding investigative report about Anwar and the support he’s received in the West. It’s enough to make you weep.

She sent it to me in PDF form. I’ve read it. It is long, and it requires patience — she’s combed through a tremendous amount of documentary evidence, court filings, financial records, tax returns; she’s laboriously traced the whole sad sordid network. It probably represents months of research on her end. It took me a few hours carefully to read it. By the end you’re not in much doubt.

But you have to be willing to spend a few hours reading really to grasp the situation — and apparently, the world’s a bit short on time and just not that curious. Easier just to take Paul Wolfowitz’s word for it: Anwar is “one of the most wonderful human beings in public life anywhere,” he gushes. It’s men like him, he says, “who will lead change throughout the Muslim world.” Unfortunately, at this rate, he’s right.

Where is Ehrenfeld’s report, you ask? Where can you read it? You can’t. It’s never been published. Not much of a market for that kind of work, I’m afraid. Too Islamophobic.

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Oregon Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony Target of Muslim Terrorist

Mohamed Osman MOHAMUD, 19, was arrested by federal authorities last evening after he dialed a number on a cellular phone that was supposed to detonate a large bomb hidden in a van parked at a crowded annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Portland, Oregon. His intent was to kill as many people attending the ceremony as possible. Many of the attendees were young children and their families, packed into Pioneer Courthouse Square.

The “bomb,” however, did not detonate as the ingredients were inert, substituted for the real thing after the FBI learned of MOHAMUD’S murderous intentions. They successfully infiltrated the plot and derailed his plans well before the bomb could be constructed of real explosives.

As MOHAMUD dialed the telephone number at 5:40 p.m. Pacific time that would have killed hundreds or perhaps thousands of spectators at the Christmas tree ceremony, the FBI were lying in wait. When the “explosive” laden van failed to detonate, agents swooped in on MOHAMUD, when he began shouting “Allahu Akbar!” and struggled to get away from arresting officers.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Soros Sells Shares in TSA Contractor Making Naked Scanners

by Mark Hemingway

…I reported that George Soros owned 11,300 shares in the OSI Systems, Inc. — the company making the scanners for the TSA that produce near-naked images of people and have been the source of much controversy.

Well, now it appears Soros has sold off his small stake in the company. It would be nice if he did this as a response to public pressure, but it seems equally likely that as an investor he simply realized the political tide was turning against the company and the stock may drop as a result.

[Return to headlines]

Texas Businessman Settles Military Food Mislabeling Case for $15 Million

A Texas businessman has agreed to pay $15 million to settle federal allegations that he and his company cheated the government by selling old and potentially dangerous food to the U.S. military to supply combat troops serving in Iraq and elsewhere.

Prosecutors had alleged that Samir Mahmoud Itani and his company American Grocers Ltd. profited from the Middle East conflict by ripping off taxpayers and shortchanging U.S. soldiers in the mess hall. According to the government, Itani’s firm bought deeply discounted products whose freshness dates had expired or were nearing expiration. His workers then altered those dates and resold those supplies to the government for hefty markups, prosecutors alleged.

On Friday, Department of Justice officials announced that Itani, his wife, Suzanne, his brother Ziad and the company agreed to pay the penalty to settle the false-claim charges in this federal whistle-blower case.

Suzanne Itani, chief executive of American Grocers, said in a statement that the company denied any wrongdoing and that the settlement was a way to avoid lengthy litigation. She said that the company was “proud of the service and products it delivers to its customers” and that company officials “look forward to returning our full attention to serving our many loyal customers throughout the world.”

Samir Itani could not be reached for comment. According to property records, he owns a $2.2-million, 9,931-square-foot mansion with two elevators in an upscale Houston neighborhood.

Prosecutors said that Samir Itani, 51, and a tightknit group of family and business acquaintances sold at least $36 million worth of mislabeled food products to the government.

The shopping list was long and included potato flakes, salad dressing, produce, peanut butter, lobster and hamburger patties, according to the federal complaint. The supplies flowed out of Texas and to bases across the Middle East from about 2003 to 2006 during the Iraq war.

As the U.S. military presence grew in the Middle East, Itani’s business boomed. American Grocers shipped so much stale merchandise that the company bought paint solvent by the barrel and set up assembly lines to wipe out the old labels to make room for the phony dates, according to the complaint.

The Justice Department did not say whether any troops were sickened by the food supplied by American Grocers, or whether any of the food companies that sold items to Itani knew of any wrongdoing.

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Whooping Cough Outbreak Affects 66 Oklahomans

Oklahoma health officials are encouraging people to get whooping cough vaccinations during what federal officials say is the worst outbreak of the disease in 50 years.

Health officials say 66 Oklahomans have caught whooping cough and Laurence Burnsed,


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

Europe and the EU

Germany: Minister Slams ‘Macho’ Muslim Culture

Family Minister Kristina Schröder slammed on Friday what she sees as a growing tendency to violence stemming from a “macho culture” among young Muslim men.

The minister told daily Wiesbadener Kurier that while discrimination and disadvantage were partly to blame, there were also religious and cultural roots to this propensity to violence, which was revealed in two studies commissioned by her ministry due to be released on Friday.

“We must not construct any false taboos here: there is a macho culture among young Muslim men that glorifies violence and which also has cultural roots,” she said. “The tendency towards violence among young, male Muslims is clearly higher than among non-Muslim, native youths,” she said.

It stemmed from perceived slights upon their honour, which they defended with violence, Schröder said.

“Social disadvantage and discrimination are important factors, but they are not sufficient as an explanation,” she said. “There is a co-dependence between religiousness, macho norms and tendency towards violence.”

Her comments came amid an ongoing debate about immigration, integration and Islam in Germany. Former central banker Thilo Sarrazin kick-started the issue with the publication of his book, “Abolishing Germany — How we’re putting our country at jeopardy,” which argued partly that Muslim immigration was dragging Germany down.

Chancellor Angela Merkel later declared that multiculturalism had “failed utterly,” while Bavarian Premier Horst Seehofer went so far as to suggest immigration from Muslim countries should be stopped.

Schröder indicated that discussion of the issue had been hampered by political correctness. Religion was part of culture and culture shaped behaviour, she said.

“If someone made an issue of the disproportionate tendency to violence among young Muslims, it was always said that this was a blanket judgement. But that’s not the case,” she said.

It was also striking that there was a growing hostility towards Germans being reported, she said.

“German children are not infrequently bullied in schools just because they are German. We must put up with that no longer,” she said.

Schröder called for stronger efforts for the education of Islamic religious leaders in German universities — something the federal governments has already embarked on by creating university courses for Imams.

“We have to make those who shape values in the Muslim community responsible. That is first of all the Imams,” she said. “Then another picture of society, of the roles of men and women and of violence, would soon be communicated in the mosques.”

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Iceland Elects Ordinary Folk to Draft Constitution

Iceland’s getting a new constitution — and it’s really going to be the voice of the people.

The sparsely-populated volcanic island is holding an unusual election Saturday to select ordinary citizens to cobble together a new charter, an exercise in direct democracy born out of the outrage and soul-searching that followed the nation’s economic meltdown.

Hundreds of people are vying for the chance to be among up to 31 people who will form the Constitutional Assembly slated to convene early next year — a source of huge pride for Icelanders who have seen their egos take a beating in recent years.

“This is the first time in the history of the world that a nation’s constitution is reviewed in such a way, by direct democratic process,” says Berghildur Erla Bergthorsdottir, spokeswoman for the committee entrusted with organizing the Constitutional Assembly.

Iceland has never written its own constitution. After gaining independence from Denmark in 1944, it took the Danish constitution, amended a few clauses to state that it was now an independent republic, and substituted the word ‘president’ for ‘king.’ A comprehensive review of the constitution has been on the agenda ever since.

Pressure mounted for action after the nation’s economic collapse in 2008, an event punctuated by ordinary citizens gathering outside the Althingi, the parliament, banging pots, pans and barrels — a loud, clanging expression of fury.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Italy: Gap Opens in Fashion-Conscious Milan

Milan, 22 Nov. (AKI) — The Gap has expanded into Milan, the heart of European fashion. The American casual wear retailer on Monday announced it opened its first Italian flagship store on Milan’s Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, the northern Italian city’s premier shopping centre.

Situated near the city’s cathedral and popular Galleria Corso Vittorio Emanuele II indoor shopping area, the 3,500-square- metre Gap store’s casual wear will compete for customers in an area famous for luxury brands with prices that often run into the thousands-of-euros.

The company also has plans to open a Banana Republic store adjacent to the Gap store.

Stephen Sunnucks, head of the Gap’s European operations in a statement said his company’s “cool, modern American and Banana Republic’s affordable luxury designs” will be well received in Italy.

The San Francisco-based company’s Gap, Banana Republic, Old Navy, Piperlime, and Athleta brands had 2009 sales totalling 14.2 billion dollars.

The company has around 3,100 stores worldwide.

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

Italy: Police Arrest Academic and Businessmen in Suspected Chemical Scam

Cosenza, 23 Nov. (AKI) — Police on Tuesday in southern Italy arrested a university lecturer and several businessmen and consultants accused of fraud and other offences. The suspects allegedly received 31 million euros for chemical research projects aimed at boosting employment and training in the Calabria region, which were never carried out.

The arrested academic was named as 64-year-old Bruno De Cindio, a lecturer in chemical engineering at the University of Calabria. He was granted house arrest.

Prosecutors in the Calabrian town of Cosenza are also investigating several other academics at the University of Calabria over the alleged scam.

The funding channelled to the operation came from a multinational, Silvateam, based in Mondovi, near Cuneo in northern Italy.

The funds were paid by two Mondovi subsidiaries, Silva Extracts and Silvachimica and were earmarked for projects in the chemicals sector, police said.

The suspects allegedly pocketed 20 million euros, while Italian tax police seized the remaining 11 million euros.

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

Italy: Anti-Racket Association Urges Sicilian Regional Governor to Stand Down

Palermo, 24 Nov. (AKI) — Italy’s ‘Addio Pizzo’ anti-racket association has called on Sicily’s regional governor Raffaele Lombardo to resign. Prosecutors in the city of Catania are probing Lombardo for suspected mafia association.

“His behaviour… is seriously compromising the credibility of the entire Sicilian people,” the association wrote in a letter published in the Giornale di Sicilia newspaper on Wednesday.

“We can’t expect business people and shopkeepers to report mafia exortion to police if representatives of our political institutions don’t display exemplary conduct,” the association said.

Lombardo acknowledged ‘Addio Pizzo’s work in fighting the mafia’s exortion racket but said the association had been “manipulated” by his enemies.

Prosecutors in May questioned Lombardo concerning alleged impropriety in the construction of much-needed incinerators for the Sicily region.

Corruption and mafia infiltration of the waste disposal sector, as well as a lack of incinerators in the area, underlie the rubbish crisis which has angered residents in the province of Palermo in recent months.

Palermo’s uncollected garbage has received far less publicity than the crisis which has hit Naples and surrounding areas.

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

Netherlands: Wilders Complains About “Witch-Hunt”

THE HAGUE, 27/11/10 — Party for Freedom (PVV) leader Geert Wilders considers that the media is paying excessive attention to the pasts of his MPs. He said Friday after new revelations and rumours that he is “sick and tired” of it.

“The media’s digging into the past of PVV MPs is now beginning to look like a cheap witch-hunt. I will not go along with this. I will of course tackle cases where PVV MPs have made mistakes, but the hyped-up media can just go into the deep freeze for now, as far as I am concerned. I want calm to return and will therefore no longer react to every incident.”

De Volkskrant reported Friday that PVV MP Eric Lucassen has been pursued by legal bailiffs for seven years due to payment arrears and failure to comply with financial obligations. He is also said to be registered at social benefit administrator UWV as a basic benefit recipient.

Lucassen is not prepared to say much about his financial situation. But he says the report that he is a benefit recipient is “not true” and “a misunderstanding.”

The same newspaper also reported Friday that PVV MP Jhim van Bemmel has failed to disclose a job on the side as director of a number of trading companies to the Lower House. But this has been negated by the House. Van Bemmel did disclose the job on the side, but this was not put in the House register due to a ‘civil servant mistake’.

On Thursday evening, it was the turn of PVV MP Hero Brinkman. In 2001, when he himself was a police officer, he tried to escape an alcohol check-up by driving his car away through a built-up area, at 100 kilometres an hour with doused lights, TV programme Nieuwsuur revealed. He was arrested at home on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol. He made a settlement of 200 euros.

In recent weeks, PVV MPs have hit the headlines one after the other. Wilders cannot expel anyone, at least if he wants to keep the majority of one seat that the PVV has with the conservatives (VVD) and Christian democrats (CDA) as government coalition in the Lower House. Earlier, PVV MP James Sharpe did leave the House of his own volition, allowing Wilders to appoint a replacement.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Netherlands: Escaped Criminal Demands Money From Prison

GRONINGEN, 27/11/10 — A criminal is demanding money from the prison from which he escaped two years ago. He claims the TBS clinic, as it is called, is still looking after his savings.

The man was being held for serious offences in the Van Mesdagkliniek, a closed institute where convicted psychopaths are treated (TBS treatment). He managed to escape two years ago during a period of leave. He fled to Turkey, where he has since been living.

From Turkey, the man has demanded the clinic to transfer his savings to him, an amount of 2,863 euros. “To save up such an amount, my client for years assembled clothes-pegs for 1 euro an hour,” says his lawyer N. Heidanus.

The escaped criminal is demanding that the money be on his account by 8 December. Otherwise, he will apply for a summary injunction, Heidanus confirmed Friday.

A spokesman for the justice ministry said in a reaction that the man would only be able to have access to his money again if he reports back to the clinic. “If he does not do so, the clinic will look after it for him, in line with policy.”

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Spain’s Socialists Likely to Suffer Big Losses

In Catalonia’s elections, many see the beginning of the end of the Socialists’ grip on power in Spain.

Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero’s party is expected to suffer a big loss in the rich northeastern region’s weekend ballot — punishment for the country’s economic woes that could snowball into a string of setbacks culminating in defeat in national elections in 2012.

Catalonia has long sought an independent voice, but is here seen as speaking for a wave of national anger over Mr. Zapatero’s handling of a financial crisis that some fear will require Spain to seek a painful and humiliating bailout.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

‘Stay Indoors!’ Police Warn Britons to Stay Off the Roads as Temperatures Fall to Minus 10c and 15 Inches of Snow Falls

Freezing weather will grip Britain for weeks to come, forecasters warned tonight — with rain, sleet and snow expected across the country.

Some of the worst widespread early snow for 17 years has seen much of the country disrupted and police in affected areas are urging people to stay indoors.

Severe weather warnings have been in place, with Scotland and North East England experiencing the worst of the weather, and snowfalls of up to 40cm in some areas.

Trawscoed in Wales saw the mercury dip to -10.2C, while Dalwhinnie in the Scottish Highlands recorded -8.2c, and Glasgow -3.5c.

In England, Chesham in Buckinghamshire was among the coldest places at minus 7c. And at Preston in Lancashire the temperature fell to -5.8c.

There was also snow today across parts of Wales, the West Midlands and Cornwall and temperatures across the country struggled to rise above zero even in the major cities.

The M4 westbound in south Wales saw a 26-mile tailback last night, with the M25 and M40 also badly hit.

The unusual weather has been caused by high pressure over Greenland and low pressure in the Baltics, forcing cold winds from the north east across Europe.

Northumbria Police urged motorists to stay off the roads and advised people to dress in warm clothing.

A spokesman said: ‘Anyone going outside should consider whether their journey is critical and if they must venture out should dress appropriately.’

Tom Tobler of MeteoGroup, the weather division of the Press Association, said: ‘The temperature throughout the day has struggled to get above zero in many areas.

‘It will be a similar situation tomorrow, staying very cold, with Scotland seeing the majority of the snow showers. But there may be snow in some western areas as well.

‘Overnight it will be very cold, well below zero everywhere, going down to minus 7C quite widely.

‘The cold weather will stay during the week with a brisk easterly wind developing which will make it feel even colder and which might bring more snow showers.’

He said there could be a mix of rain, sleet and snow later in the week, adding: ‘People should be bracing themselves for more cold weather for the working week and beyond.’

But in Allenheads, Northumberland, skiers were praying for more snow on the village’s 100m ski slope.

However, an Allenheads ski spokesman said: ‘There is insufficient snow in Allenheads for skiing and the road conditions are bad so we are discouraging people from trying to get up to the slope.’

In Scotland, skiers were able to enjoy a day on the slopes today.

Two people were injured in a four-vehicle pile-up on the M1 near Sheffield, where an inch of snow was lying on minor roads.

All three lanes of the southbound carriageway between junctions 34 and 33 near the Tinsley viaduct at Sheffield were closed while emergency services tended to the injured.

The crash, involving a lorry and three cars, happened shortly before 8am and the Yorkshire Air Ambulance was called to the scene.

The East of England Ambulance Service also recorded a spate of traffic collisions, with cars skidding into ditches, lampposts, fences and fields.

Spokesman Gary Sanderson said: ‘We are all very aware that the freezing conditions have caused problems for motorists this morning.

‘Remember your safety is paramount, drive safely and please take care over the weekend.’

By mid afternoon the AA had dealt with 10,400 breakdowns — 80 percent up on a normal November Saturday.

The worst affected areas were Northumbria, Newcastle, Middlesbrough and Aberdeenshire.

‘We’re having to prioritise people stuck on the roadside,’ a spokesman said.

‘We’re advising people who have no choice but to travel to exercise extreme caution.

‘Even in areas without snow there is an ever present risk of ice.’

Flights at some airports were delayed — including at Jersey Airport where lightning hit the radar system overnight. There were also runway closures at airports including Luton, Newcastle and Inverness.

A number of sporting events were cancelled, including race meetings and FA Cup fixtures Hartlepool United vs Yeovil Town and Notts County vs Bournemouth.

The unusual weather has been caused by high pressure over Greenland and low pressure in the Baltic, forcing cold winds from the north east across Europe.

The cold snap was welcomed by skiers in Scotland who headed for the hills to enjoy the start of the season.

At Cairngorm Mountain resort near Aviemore in the Highlands around 1,500 people took to the slopes.

Spokeswoman Tania Alliod said: ‘We’ve had a super day. It’s an excellent start to the season as it’s still very early in the winter. The cold front is set to continue so we’re hoping it’s an early Christmas present for everyone.

‘We hope it will be great for Christmas and New Year.’

The Lecht resort in Aberdeenshire also had good conditions, though skiers could get in from the north only as the southern route was closed.

A spokeswoman said: ‘We’ve had a very nice day with light snow showers but not too cold and very light wind.

‘We didn’t get access open from the south but we hope tomorrow it will be open.’

The RSPCA was also bracing itself for a busy period.

The charity has urged pet-owners to keep dogs away from lakes or ponds which may have iced over and avoid shutting cats out of the house for long periods.

RSPCA wildlife scientist Sophie Adwick added: ‘Winter can be hard for wildlife and every year the RSPCA rescues lots of animals which are dehydrated, hungry and cold.

           — Hat tip: Bewick[Return to headlines]

UK: Asian Gangs, Schoolgirls and a Sinister Taboo: As Nine Men Are Jailed for Grooming Up to 100 for Sex, The Disturbing Trend Few Dare Talk About

At a pristine house on the outskirts of Derby, life is slowly getting back to some semblance of normality. The teenage girl living here is a college student who’s put photos of herself dancing and laughing with her friends on several social networking websites.

A few miles away, another teenager, only a little older at 18, won a prize last month for being an ‘inspirational’ student at her college. A third girl, a child of 14, has a loving mother who waves her off to a Derby school each morning from a terrace home with a manicured front garden and picket fence.

The three girls from decent families have, almost certainly, never met. Yet each has become caught up in what’s believed to be the biggest case of serial sex abuse ever uncovered in Britain. This week, nine men from Derby were jailed for a string of offences against these girls and 24 others whom they groomed for sex.

The gang — all but one of whom were Asian — roamed the streets in a BMW with blacked-out windows looking for girls. They plied them with vodka from bottles and plastic cups hidden under the seats, before raping or abusing them. They were not the only victims in Derby. Up to 100 girls may have been ensnared in this horror after being lured by the smartly-dressed gang into the car outside school gates, shops, coffee bars near the city’s railway station and a local park.

Over weeks and months, the girls were taken to houses in Derby and other towns before being raped by the gang and their friends, some of whom paid the men in cash.

In rundown flats with mattresses on the floor, the girls were locked into rooms and turned into sex slaves. If they protested or refused, they were threatened with being beaten with a hammer and even told they would be shot. The depraved sex acts were filmed on mobile phones and may have now been sold on through internet pornography sites.

As one of the girls, a 16-year old raped by the gang, said through tears this week: ‘They would take you out, buy you ice creams and a lovely, nice meal. There’s a part of you who thinks it’s really exciting: “I have met this lovely man.” You feel like they’re going to keep you safe. They then abuse every part of you.’

If this was a one-off, it would be deeply troubling indeed. The reality is, it’s not. Many schoolgirls — one just eight — living in towns and cities all over the north of England are falling prey to gangs who groom them to be sex slaves for themselves or other men.

The resulting court cases have marked similarities. A gang of five Asian men was jailed earlier this month for a total of 32 years for a string of sexual offences against girls aged between 12 and 16 in Rotherham, South Yorkshire. The judge, Peter Kelson QC, told the men they were ‘sexual predators’, adding: ‘You had what you regarded as your fun. Now you will take your punishment. All five of you were convicted of sexual activity with a child. The clue is in the title: a child.’

This case came just weeks after a privately-educated schoolgirl, forced into sex slavery at 14, bravely gave evidence in court against nine Asian men, who were jailed for her ‘sustained sexual abuse’ over many months.

The girl was picked up by the gang while walking through Rochdale, Greater Manchester. They took her to a nightclub, gave her vodka, and then drove her to a private house where three men had sex with her. For 11 days, missing from home, she was passed around ‘like a piece of meat’ from man to man before finally managing to escape.

The experience of all these young girls has an uncomfortable element to it. It is a subject that in politically correct modern Britain is almost taboo — rarely spoken about by the police, the courts or even the agencies that counsel the girls afterwards.

The simple fact is that the perpetrators are almost all Asian and from the north of England — and their victims white.

This week, the BBC reported the Derby case repeatedly on radio with barely a mention of the fact all but one of the gang members were Asian, or the fact the vast majority of the victims — 22 of the 27 mentioned in court — were white girls.In the city’s own newspaper, an eight-page investigation under the lurid headline in red capitals ‘Monsters in our Midst’ showed pictures of all nine gang members and printed their names, but failed to use the word Asian once.

At this point, it should be said loud and clear that the vast majority of Asian men are decent, law-abiding citizens and that rapists come from all racial and social backgrounds.

But as Emma, a 21-year-old who eight years ago became a sex slave in another northern town and now counsels other victims, told the Mail recently: ‘The truth is, most men running the gangs in the north of England are Asians of Pakistani origin. But very few of the authorities will say this.’

Instead, it has been left to some outstandingly brave members of the Muslim community, former MP Ann Cryer (who was roundly criticised for speaking her mind when seven years ago she said Asian gangs were raping white girls) and a handful of the girl victims to highlight the reasons behind this deafening silence.

Mohammed Shafiq, director of the Lancashire-based Ramadhan Foundation, a charity working for peaceful harmony between different communities, has said: ‘I think the police are overcautious because they are afraid of being branded racist. These men are criminals and should be treated as criminals — whatever their race.’

In Derby this week, Shokat Lal, chairman of the city’s Pakistani Community Centre in the Normanton area — where many of the girls were taken to seedy flats and then sexually attacked by the gang — spoke out, too: ‘It is important that political correctness or fear of offending any particular group of people does not get in the way of protecting those who are vulnerable.

‘This is not an issue of race or religion, but about right and wrong, and people committing criminal acts. Vulnerable girls are being exploited for sex. We must stand together as one, people of all backgrounds, to denounce these vile acts.’

On the Derby doorstep of one of the girl victims, a relative told me: ‘Our child is beginning to get over it. She is hoping to go to university and enjoying life, even going down into the city centre to shop or to see friends.

‘We know what has happened and all about the men who are doing this. We only wish the whole world knew the truth and their own community might then step in and stop them.’

So why are such vile crimes taking place in so-called modern, civilised Britain?

One reason is the money that can be made. According to Scotland Yard, a gang can reap £300,000 a year from prostituting a young white girl. There is more money in selling a girl for sex than peddling drugs — especially if she is a virgin and free of sexual diseases.

And then there is a controversial, but relevant, cultural issue. Asian men of Pakistani heritage often believe white girls have low morals compared with Muslim girls. ‘They wear what they call “slags” clothing, showing much of their bodies and “deserve what they get”,’ an Asian social worker in the north of England has told me.

The girls are held in contempt by the gang members, who do not even call them by their own names. They refer to each one by the same generic term, either to the girls themselves or to their Asian friends on their mobile phones — the Urdu term ‘gori’, which means simply ‘white-skinned female’.

To add a further twist to this brutal cultural divide, the gangs hide their own names from the girls. They call themselves by unidentifiable nicknames, a simple trick which makes the police’s job of tracing the culprits more difficult. And, of course, the girls have no idea who they really are.

In the cases that have come to court in the north of England, whether in Rochdale, Rotherham or in Derby, the modus operandi is invariably the same.

A schoolgirl is out with her friends in the town centre, often on a Saturday afternoon or after class on her way home. She’s bored, so when a group of smiling men pull up in a flash car blaring rap music she takes notice. The men, smartly dressed, start their chat-up routine. They ask her to ‘chill’ with them. They say ‘come for a ride’ and tell her she’s pretty. They promise they will buy her a meal at any place she chooses.

Once in the car, they produce a plastic cup of vodka and give it to her in the back seat.

They hand her a cigarette or a spliff of cannabis, too. The girl is befuddled, but charmed. The gang plays a waiting game, telling her to meet them tomorrow at the same place.

She gives them her mobile phone number and they warn her she must not tell her parents about anything that has gone on.

The trap has been set. As Emma, the counsellor captured by a gang at 13 in Leeds, explained to me: ‘I thought I was having a great time. I was young and a virgin. ‘I had no idea the men were part of a gang when they drove up in a Bentley with personalised number plates.’

Not one word of her story would surprise the Derby schoolgirls who over the past year have given their accounts in a series of court cases which ended this week. The two 28-year-old gang leaders, Abid Saddique and Mohammed Liaqat, both married fathers, face years behind bars after being found guilty of sexual abuse over an 18-month period.

Despite barely uttering a sentence during police interviews, the pair told the court that their sexual encounters were ‘consensual’ or did not happen at all. They said they were living a secret life, hidden from wives in their arranged marriages and their families.

Abid Saddique told the court: ‘These are girls I did not respect and these are girls who are just partying and taking drugs and we had consensual sex.’

Mohammed Liaqat, who lived on benefits and with a wife recently arrived from Pakistan, said in evidence that he used nicknames to cover his tracks from police and to keep his double life from his family.

It was only a chance arrest in late 2008 that halted the Derby gang. Staffordshire police stopped a car in nearby Burton upon Trent which was carrying three men, including the two gang leaders, and two young girls. They were suspected of shoplifting.

The girls were taken back to Derby in a police car and told the horrified officers about what was going on. Meanwhile, a nurse from one of the city’s schools alerted police that a girl had come to her surgery saying she had been gang-raped.

It was the start of a huge undercover operation involving 100 detectives. Even now, police don’t believe that all the girls ensnared by Saddique, Liaqat and the rest of the gang have been found.

As Detective Superintendent Debbie Platt of Derbyshire Police said yesterday: ‘We were really shocked with the scale and extent of what we’d uncovered, but this is a very hidden crime.’

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

UK: Anti-Allah Outburst Earns EDL Supporter £200 Fine After Protest in Leicester

A man has been fined for making offensive comments about Allah during the English Defence League protest in Leicester.

Lee Whitby was found guilty of using racially aggravated abusive words during the protest in the city centre on Saturday, October 9.

During a trial at Leicester Magistrates’ Court yesterday, the 27-year-old pleaded not guilty to chanting “threatening, abusive or insulting” words that were likely to cause “harassment, alarm or distress.”

Although he admitted making comments, Whitby said he did not believe they would have been heard by anyone other than police officers or fellow EDL supporters.

However, magistrate Rick Moore ruled that officers were likely to have been alarmed by the defendant’s words.

Whitby, of Holley Place, Stoke-on-Trent, said he was an EDL supporter and had travelled by train to Leicester on the day of the protest with about 30 people from Stoke and Crewe.

He also admitted being part of previous EDL protests in Newcastle, Dudley, Stoke, Bolton and Bradford.

The defendant told the court he was leaving the protest site in Humberstone Gate East and was being ushered towards the train station when he uttered the offensive chant.

Whitby, who chose to represent himself, said: “I went to an EDL demo and was in an area which was isolated away from everyone else.

“The only people that would have heard were the EDL.

“I was not aiming it at anyone. No-one around would find it offensive. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have said it.

“I was just voicing my opinion at an EDL meeting with just EDL people around.”

Alexandra Blossom, prosecuting, said the comments made were bound to cause harassment, alarm or distress because of Leicester’s multicultural society and the fact the words were said in the city centre.

She said: “A number of people present that day were likely to be offended.

“It was a high-profile event and members of the public would have been in the city on a Saturday.

“The remarks are even offensive to police.

“A clear message needs to be sent out about using such behaviour in a multicultural city.”

The court heard Whitby had two previous convictions for common assault.

Mr Moore said: “It is a fact you were with others chanting and police were within hearing distance but there is no evidence of non-police officers within hearing distance.

“It is likely that a police officer or officers hearing the words would be likely to be alarmed and for that reason we find you guilty of this offence.”

Whitby was fined £200 and ordered to pay a further £200 in costs, as well as a £15 victim surcharge.

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

UK: Asian Gangs, Schoolgirls and a Sinister Taboo: As Nine Men Are Jailed for Grooming Up to 100 for Sex, The Disturbing Trend Few Dare Talk About

At a pristine house on the outskirts of Derby, life is slowly getting back to some semblance of normality. The teenage girl living here is a college student who’s put photos of herself dancing and laughing with her friends on several social networking websites.

A few miles away, another teenager, only a little older at 18, won a prize last month for being an ‘inspirational’ student at her college. A third girl, a child of 14, has a loving mother who waves her off to a Derby school each morning from a terrace home with a manicured front garden and picket fence.

The three girls from decent families have, almost certainly, never met. Yet each has become caught up in what’s believed to be the biggest case of serial sex abuse ever uncovered in Britain. This week, nine men from Derby were jailed for a string of offences against these girls and 24 others whom they groomed for sex.

The gang — all but one of whom were Asian — roamed the streets in a BMW with blacked-out windows looking for girls. They plied them with vodka from bottles and plastic cups hidden under the seats, before raping or abusing them. They were not the only victims in Derby. Up to 100 girls may have been ensnared in this horror after being lured by the smartly-dressed gang into the car outside school gates, shops, coffee bars near the city’s railway station and a local park.

Over weeks and months, the girls were taken to houses in Derby and other towns before being raped by the gang and their friends, some of whom paid the men in cash.

In rundown flats with mattresses on the floor, the girls were locked into rooms and turned into sex slaves. If they protested or refused, they were threatened with being beaten with a hammer and even told they would be shot. The depraved sex acts were filmed on mobile phones and may have now been sold on through internet pornography sites.

As one of the girls, a 16-year old raped by the gang, said through tears this week: ‘They would take you out, buy you ice creams and a lovely, nice meal. There’s a part of you who thinks it’s really exciting: “I have met this lovely man.” You feel like they’re going to keep you safe. They then abuse every part of you.’

If this was a one-off, it would be deeply troubling indeed. The reality is, it’s not. Many schoolgirls — one just eight — living in towns and cities all over the north of England are falling prey to gangs who groom them to be sex slaves for themselves or other men.

The resulting court cases have marked similarities. A gang of five Asian men was jailed earlier this month for a total of 32 years for a string of sexual offences against girls aged between 12 and 16 in Rotherham, South Yorkshire. The judge, Peter Kelson QC, told the men they were ‘sexual predators’, adding: ‘You had what you regarded as your fun. Now you will take your punishment. All five of you were convicted of sexual activity with a child. The clue is in the title: a child.’

This case came just weeks after a privately-educated schoolgirl, forced into sex slavery at 14, bravely gave evidence in court against nine Asian men, who were jailed for her ‘sustained sexual abuse’ over many months.

The girl was picked up by the gang while walking through Rochdale, Greater Manchester. They took her to a nightclub, gave her vodka, and then drove her to a private house where three men had sex with her. For 11 days, missing from home, she was passed around ‘like a piece of meat’ from man to man before finally managing to escape.

The experience of all these young girls has an uncomfortable element to it. It is a subject that in politically correct modern Britain is almost taboo — rarely spoken about by the police, the courts or even the agencies that counsel the girls afterwards.

The simple fact is that the perpetrators are almost all Asian and from the north of England — and their victims white.

This week, the BBC reported the Derby case repeatedly on radio with barely a mention of the fact all but one of the gang members were Asian, or the fact the vast majority of the victims — 22 of the 27 mentioned in court — were white girls.

In the city’s own newspaper, an eight-page investigation under the lurid headline in red capitals ‘Monsters in our Midst’ showed pictures of all nine gang members and printed their names, but failed to use the word Asian once.

At this point, it should be said loud and clear that the vast majority of Asian men are decent, law-abiding citizens and that rapists come from all racial and social backgrounds.

But as Emma, a 21-year-old who eight years ago became a sex slave in another northern town and now counsels other victims, told the Mail recently: ‘The truth is, most men running the gangs in the north of England are Asians of Pakistani origin. But very few of the authorities will say this.’


           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

UK: A Bonus Bonanza for Enemy Combatants

Rewarding jihadis with British taxpayers’ money is not just an embarrassment. It is how democracies perish.

By Robin Simcox and Douglas Murray

Britain’s war against radical Islam must be the first war in human history in which a country pays its enemies better than its own troops. If you fight the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan as a British soldier, you can expect to earn about £17,000. But if you are a U.K. citizen, or even a foreigner whose asylum request has been rejected, and train with Britain’s enemies, you can make your fortune courtesy of the new U.K. Bank of Jihad.

Prime Minister David Cameron’s government said last week that it was going to spend millions of pounds to compensate 16 terror suspects who were imprisoned by the U.S. in Guantanamo. All claim they were tortured or abused by the Americans and their allies. Their lawyers claim that by not preventing this, the U.K. government is complicit.

Earlier this year the new government ordered an inquiry into alleged British collusion in torture. Yet Prime Minister Cameron felt he first had to resolve civil cases brought against the government by detainees. While claiming it did not concede any guilt, the government did just that by trying to pay off the complainants. The damage to the government’s reputation and country’s security might be irreparable.

Although it may be hard to believe if you are a British newspaper reader, those Guantanamo inmates are not pillars of British rectitude. Take the case of Binyam Mohamed. He is not a British citizen but a rejected asylum seeker who left for Afghanistan in 2001 to receive paramilitary training, including in arms handling and explosives. Part of his training was from a senior al Qaida operative. And this is just what he admitted to his legal representative…

           — Hat tip: Kitman[Return to headlines]

UK: ENI Bolsters London Energy-Trading Business

London, 24 Nov. (AKI/Bloomberg) — Eni, Italy’s largest energy company, plans to add 65 people in London over the next year as it groups oil, natural gas and power trading into a single UK- based business.

Eni Trading & Shipping has 85 people in London today and plans to reach 150 in 2011, managing director Marco Alvera said at a briefing on Tuesday. About 80 percent of staff will be involved in trading crude oil and products, with the remainder concentrating on natural gas and power, he said.

London was “a natural choice” as the centre of Eni’s trading business because of its place as a trading hub and the Rome-based company’s links with the U.K., chief executive officer Paolo Scaroni said. Eni Trading & Shipping also has offices in Amsterdam, Houston, Rome and Singapore and Brussels.

Eni’s decision to add traders in London runs counter to trends in the industry. Independent oil traders Trafigura Beheer BV and Vitol Group are moving staff to Switzerland because of rising personal taxes and increased regulation, the Financial Times reported yesterday.

“Pure traders are leaving London because they are more interested in personal income tax,” Scaroni said in London, noting Russia’s Gazprom is expanding its U.K. trading business. Eni’s decision to centralize in London was taken three years ago, he said.

BP, which employs 3,500 people worldwide in its supply and trading business, said earlier this month it’s shrinking oil trading because a decline in price volatility has cut profits.

Eni’s focus will be on maximizing value from Eni’s 1.7 million barrels a day of oil and gas production, rather than volatility trading, Almera said.

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

UK: Labour Leader Ed Miliband Admits: ‘I’M a Socialist and I Am Not Embarrassed’

Ed Miliband declared himself an unabashed socialist yesterday and revealed he had been tempted to join the student protests.

A relaunch of his so far stuttering Labour leadership was aimed at voters in the ‘squeezed middle’ but quickly descended into confusion and controversy.

Mr Miliband, who will today rebrand his party as ‘Beyond New Labour’,was unable to define his chosen target group, eventually suggesting it covered everyone not on benefits or earning six figures.

And he risked alarming middle-class voters by insisting: ‘Yeah, I am a socialist … and I’m not embarrassed about it.’

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: My Enemy’s Enemy

by Melanie Phillips

Yesterday, the Telegraph reported the foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates waxing lyrical over the new strategic and economic alliance with Britain embodied in the Abu Dhabi Declaration signed in the presence of HM the Queen. The previous day, the Telegraph spelled out the true price of this new agreement:

Whitehall officials said Foreign Secretary William Hague’s decision to reach out to Gulf states in an effort to secure better diplomatic and trade ties meant Britain had to ‘take on board’ Arab foreign policy goals. Requesting better ties would be a two-way street, not just plea for more defence contracts and exports, they said. ‘It will be a six lane highway with movement in both directions,’ said one diplomat. ‘We have to respond to what Gulf States want. If we want a long-term partnership on foreign policy, then changes in our stance have to be part of it.’

…. Officials in both Abu Dhabi and London make no bones about stressing the significance of the defence relationship as the West and its regional allies gear up to a possible confrontation with Iran. That may mean yet further withdrawal of traditional British support for Israel, with criticism of its government already more marked under Mr Hague than it was under New Labour government.

In another indication of the Foreign Office’s new sensitivity to Arab opinion, officials admitted to The Daily Telegraph that policies on the Israel-Lebanon war of 2006, Israel’s invasion of Gaza in 2008-9, and its occupation of the West Bank and settlements policy were ‘motivators’ for the Islamic radicalism that they confronted daily in the Gulf.

Where to begin? Yes, realpolitik demands that sometimes ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’. Yes, the overriding enemy at this time is Iran, threatening not just Israel and the west but also the Gulf states. Yes, the Gulf is vital to western oil supplies. But sometimes my enemy’s enemy is still my enemy. The UAE and other Gulf states are only relatively moderate in their Islamic attitudes compared to, say, Saudi Arabia (and note that admission of ‘Islamic radicalism in the Gulf’). Furthermore, because they can see that the US under Obama is caving into Iran, they are doing what Arab states always do — backing the stronger horse in the region, as explained here:

The UAE and Qatar were quick to congratulate Ahmadinejad on his re-election victory, and Oman’s Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said traveled to Iran in August. Qatar’s emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani discussed ways to expand economic cooperation with Iran with Tehran’s ambassador to Qatar on August 27, 2009, the day after Iran’s envoy to Bahrain called on the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council states to stop ‘employing foreign forces.’ The New York Times reported in May that Oman and the UAE increasingly rely on ‘mutual interest’ trade with Iran, which is ‘an important political and economic ally that is too powerful and too potentially dangerous to ignore, let alone antagonize.’ Iran’s talk of ‘indigenizing ‘regional security shows signs of appealing, especially in Qatar. In Bahrain, too, an eagerness to bow to growing Iranian power has taken the shape of bilateral energy agreements.

So, ostensibly to forge regional alliances against Iran, Britain has now locked itself into a strategic alliance with states which are forging alliances with Iran. Brilliant. And in order to achieve this, Britain is now turning against Israel — the one state which really is the west’s one true defender in the region — and falling into line instead behind its enemies.

Really, Britain is displaying the geopolitical equivalent of an auto-immune disease — attacking its friends while embracing its destroyers. One could say that it was ever thus; with the rare exception of Christian Zionist leaders such as Arthur Balfour, Britain has always sided with the Arabs believing that its national interest has always lain with them rather than with the Jews. What’s so unforgiveable is that this is now happening against the backdrop of a global campaign to delegitimise Israel in order to soften up the world for its destruction. In other words, it’s the 1930s all over again; for Britain, history is being repeated not as farce but as tragedy.

For sure, there’s another side to this: Britain and Israel remain close allies in the intelligence sphere. But Israel should surely now regard Britain rather as it presumably regards Saudi Arabia — as a hostile entity with which it sometimes has to do business.

This is a nightmare for British Jews.

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

UK: MCB Launches “Celebrating Faith” Brochure for This Year’s Interfaith Week Celebration

As part of the National Interfaith week 2010 celebration, The Muslim Council of Britain’s inter faith relations committee will be holding a seminar on Inter faith dialogue and engagement on Wednesday 24th November at the House of Lords in Westminster. Young representatives from MCB affiliates, as well as some faith leaders will speak on inter faith work from their religious perspective. Professor Tariq Ramadan will give the keynote speech on “Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) Role in Inter faith Relations”.

The MCB has played a proactive role in the development of inter faith work in various fields including healthcare chaplaincy since 1997 and has organised many events to work towards increasing inter faith understanding and co-operation. The Secretary General of MCB, Farooq Murad, states, “At the MCB, we value faith, all faiths, because faith provides the essential moorings to avoid drifting meaninglessly in the dark sea of doubt and disbelief. This is precisely why from its very inception the MCB has attached enormous importance to inter faith work.”

To commemorate the event, the MCB is also launching a special publication under the title, ‘Celebrating Faith’, which highlights the MCB’s continuous work towards developing inter faith relations and also includes narratives of MCB affiliates about their contribution towards inter faith activities. Dr Manazir Ahsan, the chair of the inter faith relations committee says, “Along with a mutual tolerance and respect, efforts have to be made to deepen our inter faith, and intra faith work in order to increase understanding between our faiths and to strengthen our co-operation in pursuit of social justice, human dignity and the common good of all citizens.”

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

UK: The Problem With White Girl: New Labour Neglect Emerging in Court

In 2008 the BBC had a White season, which was presented as a voice for the alienated white working class. Instead, a drama promoted Islam as an alternative.

By 2008, stories of Asian paedophile gangs grooming mostly white children in British cities were already rife in local media, but political correctness in a society that was following New Labour’s multicultural dogma, led by Tony Blair’s religious zeal, to fascist levels meant that the national media seemed to be holding back: self-censoring or being censored. In 2004, a Channel Four documentary about the problem in Bradford was delayed because of a local community protest and threats of legal action, before later telling the story of how local parents were battling to prevent their children being groomed by predominantly Asian gangs. So you would have thought a drama about a young girl from a negatively portrayed white family moving to Bradford would have included some kind of reference to the paedophile problem. But it didn’t.

Abi Morgan’s White Girl for the BBC White season in March 2008 showed a totally positive image of Islam, as it provided a sanctuary from the seedy, violent and dysfunctional white community. There were no paedophiles to groom her, and the drama would probably have sent any impressionable young girls into their hands.

The drama, which was supposed to be part of a season providing a voice for the white working class community, showed a white British family splitting up because of an abusive husband (Stevie).

Of course there are such families within the white working class community, but there were also many stories of a paedophile problem within the Asian community in Bradford.

But when the mother (Debbie) moved to Bradford with her daughter (Leah) there were no Asians trying to groom her. Instead, the Muslim community was shown as the salvation, in direct contrast to the white working class community, which was supposed to be having its voice.

Asian Paedophile Gangs Targeting White Children in Britain in 2010 Fast forward two years to the present, and in the last month three big Asian paedophile cases have been through the courts. They mirrored what happened in Bradford earlier in the decade, with Asian gangs (the Derby gang did contain one white member, who was an already convicted paedophile) targeting impressionable and vulnerable children, nearly all of whom were white (in the Derby case it was twenty-two out of twenty-seven).

The paedophiles said they had no respect for the girls, and after being nice to them in the grooming stage simply referred to them as gori (white skins) rather than using their actual names, when they were selling them on as sex slaves.

While the British government had been silent about it, the children’s charity, Barnado’s, had advertised on television warning about the system used, without mentioning religion or ethnicity.

The Derby paedophiles were respectable family men in their communities.

While the White Girl drama might not have saved the girls involved in these cases if it had tackled the Asian paedophile issue, it might at least have provided some kind of balanced voice for the white working class community. Instead, it provided a platform for more Muslim dominance

The Derby case, made public after a secret trial on November 24th, 2010, in the Daily Mail.

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

UK: Whatever Happened to Freedom of Speech?

We live in a democracy in which it is widely supposed that anything can be said and anything done — at least by celebrity television performers.

Yet within politics, freedom of speech is more drastically constrained than ever before. Seldom have those who govern us been so much inhibited in what they feel able to say or write, not by legislatively-imposed censorship, but by a smothering blanket of supposed propriety and oppressive liberal values.

Until Thursday, former Tory MP Howard Flight enjoyed a lower recognition rating than your average park pigeon. He sprang to fame, or rather plunged into notoriety, by making some explosive remarks during an interview prompted by his newly-awarded peerage.

He denounced government benefit cuts as likely to make the middle class have fewer children and the underclass breed more: ‘Well, that’s not very sensible.’

Headlines screamed. David Cameron fumed, Labour raged, The Guardian revelled in the furore. The ‘guilty’ man apologised. Here was another day, another ‘gaffe’, less than a week after Tory veteran Lord Young was forced to resign after telling the nation it had ‘never had it so good’.

Shocking, isn’t it, the wicked things these politicians say? The funny part starts, however, when we examine the words of Howard Flight and Lord Young.

It is a statistical fact that the middle class have fewer children than the underclass, because the former assess their own ability to raise and educate them, and the latter seldom bother.

As financial pressures on the middle class intensify in the years ahead, it is indeed highly likely that some parents will decide to have fewer children, because they cannot afford them.

The truth of Lord Young’s remarks is equally evident: the British people enjoy a more comfortable lifestyle than at any time in their history.

Whether we shall be able to maintain this happy state is another story, and again the middle class has cause for special alarm. But Young was correct to assert that we ‘have never had it so good’.

His words nonetheless cost him his government job. He committed the most heinous crime of a modern politician: he told the truth, but in terms unacceptable to the commissars of the liberal establishment.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Croatia: Ex-Soldiers Arrested on Suspicion of Torturing Prisoners

Zagreb, 26 Nov. (AKI) — Croatian authorities have detained five former soldiers suspected of torturing Serb prisoners and civilians during the 1991-1995 war that followed the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia, local media reported on Friday.

Zagreb newspaper Jutarnji list said the five were arrested on Thursday and judge Jadranka Mandusic ordered one month detention for Stjepan Klaric, Drazen Pavlovic, Viktor Ivancin, Zeljko Zivec and Goran Strukelj, pending further investigation.

According to witnesses’ testimonies, the five tortured war prisoners from the Yugoslav Army and civilians in a detention camp in Kerestinec, west of Zagreb, from November 1991 to June 1992.

The witnesses said the prisoners were beaten, tortured with electric shocks and forced to have sex among themselves, while women were repeatedly raped. The crimes were first reported by the former Yugoslav Army major, Tomislav Bozovic in 2007, but the investigation got off the ground only recently, the media said.

According to testimonies, the prisoners were forced to “bark like dogs”, some prisoners had their fingers cut off and women their breast mutilated.

The Hague-based United Nations war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia has indicted 161 individuals for crimes allegedly committed in the war. More than sixty have been sentenced to over 1,000 years in jail.

As the tribunal plans to end work by 2014, the remaining cases have been turned over to local courts. Serbian courts in recent years sentenced scores of former paramilitaries to hundreds years in jail for war crimes.

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

Serbia: Church Accuses Ex-Kosovo Bishop of Schism

Belgrade, 19 Nov. (AKI) — The Serbian Orthodox Church on Friday accused Kosovo’s former bishop Artemije of creating a schism in the church and threatened to defrock him after he defied a ban and held a service there.

The church’s Holy Synod or government in April forced 80-year-old Artemije to retire after financial irregularities and his “inability to govern” were discovered in his diocese.

Artemije retired into Sisatovac monastery in northern Serbia, but has continued to oppose his ousting by the church.

Artemije claims he was sacked for political reasons, because he strenuously opposed Kosovo’s independence, declared by majority Albanians in February 2008.

Serbia officially opposes Kosovo independence, but pro-European president Boris Tadic has not pressed the issue for the sake of Serbia’s bid to join the European Union.

The church last month banned Artemije from holding religious services, but on Friday he flouted the ban.

Accompanied by a group of radical monks who support him, Artemije entered the Zubin Potok monastery in northern Kosovo and performed the liturgy, directly challenging the Serbian Orthodox Church.

Serbian media reported that Artemije’s followers entered another Kosovo monastery, Devine Vode, in northern Kosovo, later on Friday.

The Serbian Orthodox Church’s Holy Assembly of Bishops (Sabor), which is holding its autumn meeting in Belgrade, on Friday condemned Artemije’s behaviour as an “attack on church unity” and accused him of schism.

The church said it was a “sad and dangerous precedent”, hinting that the Sabor might defrock Artemije and expel him from the church.

“We haven’t split from anyone, we are not schismatic and are creating nothing new,” Artemije told journalists in Kosovo. ““We are just trying to preserve what our glorious ancestors have left us,” he added.

Some of Serbia’s most famous medieval monasteries are located in Kosovo and are being protected by the KFOR international force stationed there since the withdrawal of Serbian forces in 1999.

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

North Africa

Egypt: Al-Azhar to Start Dialogue With Jewish Scholars

Declaration by foremost Sunni institution of learning removes ancient ban on Muslim-Jewish relations. Announcement is made in London. A Jewish World Congress vice president reacts positively to the news.

Cairo (AsiaNews/Agencies) — Sheikh Fawzi Al-Zifzaf, head of Al-Azhar’s Permanent Committee for Dialogue with the Monotheistic Religions in Cairo, drafted a landmark statement that clears the way to a new phase in Muslim-Jewish relations. His declaration, which lifts an ancient ban on dialogue between followers of the two Abrahamic religions, was read Tuesday at a meeting of political and religious leaders at the House of Lords in London.

The ‘Banu Ibrahim-Children of Abraham Declaration’ emphasises that Islam calls for “brotherhood and mutual understanding and the strengthening of bonds between Muslims and followers of the other religions, and the establishment of bridges of dialogue with scholarly institutions in Europe and America.”

The event in which the declaration was made public was organised by Children of Abraham and the Al-Azhar Institute for Dialogue with the Monotheistic Religions.

The Sunni university had already opened channels of communication with Catholics and Anglicans in the 1990s, but its scholars have not officially engaged in talks with Jews until now.

Whilst the statement failed to mention Judaism by name, Mohamed Elsharkawy, a spokesman for Britain’s Grand mufti, said it was aimed at a Jewish audience.

“I am not at liberty to say how hard it was to draft the document,” he said. “In the process, the people who have taken the document forward have done so at great risk and danger, and so they’ve done that very carefully. There already exists a dialogue with Christians, so anyone with two brain cells can add up to what is being said here”.

Rabbi Marc Schneier, a vice-president of the World Jewish Congress and a pioneer in fostering closer Jewish-Muslim relations, praised the declaration.

“This is a landmark decision, and Al-Azhar deserves praise for it. Coming from the leading centre of Islamic thinking in the world, it will be enormously helpful for all moderate forces within Islam. This declaration rightly emphasises the importance of inter-faith relations. Leaders from both sides should now seize the opportunity and take Jewish-Muslim relations to the next level.”

Founded in 970, Al-Azhar is the leading centre of Sunni Islamic learning in the world. In June 2009, US President Barack Obama gave a widely noted speech on relations between America and Islam there.

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

Muammar Gaddafi’s ‘Cultural’ Tours to Libya for Italian Models Revealed in Diary

The travel diary of a Roman model has provided a compelling insight into bizarre “cultural visits” arranged by the Libyan leader, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, for scores of attractive young women from Italy.

Maria M, aged 28, declined to give her full name, but allowed the Observer to examine her account of a lavish trip to the Libyan desert in October after she was recruited by the Rome-based agency Hostessweb. In her diary Maria tells of an eccentric week-long tour for which she and 19 other young women were reportedly each paid €3,000.

Six such “cultural” visits to Libya by agency recruits have been organised since Gaddafi visited Rome in 2009. The next is scheduled for next month. On one visit Gaddafi tried to marry off one of his guests to his nephew.

But there also appears to have been a religious motive. “He asked if any of us were interested in converting [to Islam]. We all looked at each other and then, incredibly, two girls rose up, something I never thought they would do,” wrote Maria, adding that she believed bonuses had been offered to the “converts”.

Gaddafi developed a taste for preaching to Italian women during his 2009 visits, and again in August this year, when Hostessweb, which recruits models and hostesses, laid on busloads of women to hear him talk about Islamic culture and faith. “This is all about social and cultural integration,” said Alessandro Londero, one of the organisers of the trips. “Here in Rome we have sent dozens of girls to attend Arabic courses at the Libyan cultural institute.”

On Maria’s arrival in Tripoli in October, the 20 hostesses were given their €3,000 and then taken on a week-long tour by Gaddafi aides of Libya’s Roman ruins and its modern hospitals, souks and the women’s police academy. The tour then moved to the leader’s tent in the desert.

“They put us in government cars headed for Gaddafi’s tent,” wrote Maria. “About 30km from Sirte there is movement and lights in the middle of nowhere and we are stopped by men armed to the teeth at three successive checkpoints before we see two enormous tents, a couple of camper vans serving as toilets, a massive and noisy generator and hundreds of camels.”

After they had waited for hours, Gaddafi appeared, “straight from hunting, dressed extremely casually in a wrinkled shell suit and old trainers with messed-up hair. He gives us a huge smile, we clap and he swaps the ‘papal’ throne laid on for him for a plastic chair.”

After looking at photos of their trip, Gaddafi turns to proselytism. “He tells us most of Europe will turn Muslim thanks to the entry of Turkey into the EU… that we must embrace Muhammad’s faith because Christ predicted that a prophet would come after him to take his place.”

Then, with Libyan TV filming, Gaddafi converted the two girls who stepped forward. “That brings the converts to seven or eight,” said Londero. “Sometimes they kneel before him while it is broadcast on TV.”

Maria said some girls were not convinced by their colleagues’ religious zeal. “There was talk of cash prizes, jobs, houses,” she wrote. One woman who converted on a trip in March confirmed she had been rewarded. “It is a present for those who choose Islam, a form of help, although Gaddafi’s willingness to guide us is the biggest present,” said Rea Beko, 27, an Albanian from an Orthodox Christian family who lives in Rome.

Londero said the list to sign up to meet Gaddafi “now seems to be longer than the waiting list to visit the pope,” but warned he would be screening out Israelis, anyone who says they want to convert, or appears interested only in a large cheque. Future trips, he said, could involve women from other countries. “I would not rule out an event in the UK like those Gaddafi has held in Rome.”

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

The Enemy Within: Life Under Hamas

He seemed to come from nowhere, walking at a fast pace across the junction where we were parked in the heart of the crowded refugee camp. Alerted to the registration number of our taxi, he opened a back door and slipped into the rear seat. “Let’s get out of here,” he said. “There are eyes everywhere.”

This sounds melodramatic, but it may also be understandable. A militant since the beginning of the second intifada, he is wanted by Israel, and therefore identifiable from an overhead drone, like the one which, three days after we spoke, destroyed a Subaru, killing its occupants, two brothers from the Army of Islam, the extremist Islamist organisation that kidnapped the BBC correspondent Alan Johnston in 2007.

But this good-looking Palestinian in his thirties says it is not the Israeli military that has made him nervous about talking to us. Rather it’s the internal security force of Hamas, whose plain-clothes operatives arrested him this year while he was leading a group of fighters intending to mount what he will only delicately describe as a military “operation” against Israel. Before speaking to us, he extracted a promise not to use his name or identify his faction, the month he was detained, or even the area of Gaza he was arrested in, or the exact nature of the “operation” he’d been part of.

While in detention, he was beaten with fists and rifle butts. “They said to me: ‘You’re trying to make an operation. This is forbidden. There is a hudna [truce]. We have no resistance here. Gaza has been liberated. If you want to do an operation, do it in the West Bank, or in 1948 territory [Israel].’ We said: ‘As long as there is an occupation, we have to fight and no one should stop us.’ This is not the Hamas we know from before the elections. It is completely different. They are always in border areas, telling people don’t get close to the border. They used to be with the resistance, but once you get into authority you change. They want to protect their authority and they fear that there is going to be a war.”

What makes us as confident as we can be that he’s genuine is not so much the way he lowers his voice and suddenly stops talking altogether when the waiter brings us coffee in the quiet sunlit garden of a Gaza City hotel, but that we were pointed towards him by a reputable and independent Palestinian NGO. Assuming our confidence is justified, what he had to say is persuasive testimony that Hamas not only agreed to a Gaza ceasefire in the aftermath of Operation Cast Lead (Israel’s military onslaught in the winter of 2008-09), but is enforcing it. And this may pose some intriguing policy questions for Israel and the international community when the US is still struggling to bring Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, together with the moderate Palestinian leadership headed by President Mahmoud Abbas, into direct talks which would exclude the Islamic faction. Should this even be the moment to contemplate lifting the international boycott on all contacts with Hamas?

According to one independent estimate, in the past two months, between 25 and 30 people have been detained by Gazan security forces for seeking to launch attacks on Israel. On a daytime trip down Gaza’s eastern road, parallel to the Israeli border, you come across the occasional post manned by men from the green-uniformed Hamas national security force. But observers say that at night they often lie in wait within 700m of the border fence ready to pounce on those wanting to fire rockets at Israel. Either way, in 2007, according to Israeli figures, 2,433 rockets and mortars were fired into Israel from Gaza; in 2008, 3,278; in 2009, 774, the large majority during the Israeli onslaught on Gaza which ended in January. So far this year, it has been about 180.

The slowdown has not been stable. In the run-up to President Barack Obama’s Washington meeting with Netanyahu and Abbas in early September, four Israeli settlers were killed by Hamas gunmen in the West Bank. And, as the now stalled direct negotiations began, there was a sharp temporary rise in rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza — a reminder of Hamas’s capacity to undermine such negotiations if it chooses. There was a spike 10 days ago when Qassam rockets, mortars and one Russian-made Grad were fired at Israel in response to the killing of the two brothers from the Army of Islam.

Even that brief barrage was instructive. The attacks — some claimed by another smaller faction, the Popular Resistance Committees — came from an area regarded as well controlled by the Hamas security forces. It’s assumed therefore that Hamas, for whom the Army of Islam has proved one of the most troublesome factions, and which has been taunted from time to time on pro-opposition websites for abandoning armed “resistance”, decided to turn a blind eye to the Friday launches. Yet they ended almost as quickly as they had started, reportedly after a meeting Hamas held the next day with the main factions, and despite a series of incursions over the next few days by the Israeli military into the Palestinian side of the border. These are broadly of a kind Israel’s army routinely makes to enforce a “buffer zone” inside Gaza; sometimes these are confronted with retaliatory machine gun or mortar fire but significantly more rarely on targets where civilian Israeli death or injury is likely.


           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Middle East

Foreign Office Claims That British Policy Will Change “To Reflect Arab Concerns”

In an attempt to improve political relations and strengthen existing ties between Arab states and the UK, Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II has been on a tour of Gulf states this week, including a visit to the United Arab Emirates which she last visited 31 years ago. Participants in the five day state visit include the Queen, her son Prince Andrew (the Duke of York), and British Foreign Secretary William Hague.

One of the immediate consequences of this visit has been a report from the Foreign Office in London that British policy will now begin “to change to reflect Arab concerns”. Not before time, we might say. Arab states have long been concerned with British foreign policy in relation to the Arab world. The concerns are many and varied but one of the major issues, not just for Arab governments but their people as well, has been the marginalisation of Arabs in favour of Israel. Many Arab countries and individuals feel alienated by Britain, whose primary concern in the region appears to be the strengthening of Israel at the expense of its Arab neighbours who are frequently demonised and caricatured to Israel’s benefit.

This is confusing, not least because a close examination prompts us to ask: what does Britain actually gain by its staunch support of Israel? If anything, Israel is a liability to the UK financially, politically, militarily and, indeed, morally. Our government’s dogged support for Israel is costing Britain friends at a time when friends are desperately needed, and rich friends at that. Although the Chancellor pledged his own and, one assumes, the British government’s undying support for Israel this week, this may have just been rhetoric for a specific audience. Last month Foreign Secretary William Hague said, “The British Government is committed to elevating the UK’s relationships with the countries of the Gulf. We have made this an early priority of our foreign policy and Ministers are devoting time and energy to it, including through our new National Security Council. The Gulf is a region of great opportunity and promise. The UK and the Gulf states have historic ties on which we are determined to build. And we already work closely on regional issues including the Middle East Peace Process…”

Let us not fool ourselves into thinking that emerging conciliatory gestures towards Arab states may be anything more than an attempt to trawl up some much-needed political and financial traction in very difficult times. The UK is in recession, the national debt is massive and student tuition fees have tripled, sending Britain into a spiral of civil unrest and anger nationally. The blame for this lies undoubtedly with the members of current and previous governments who took the country into costly and illegal wars, spending our taxes on military hardware for use overseas while pleading poverty at home. Nevertheless, the government clearly wants to get out of the current fiscal abyss. This is a quite probably why Britain’s hand of friendship is suddenly being proffered worldwide. Whether it is David Cameron’s recent trip to China or recent contracts in India, or the Queen’s Arab adventure, these overtures all boil down to cold, hard cash.

Arab countries can offer British companies lucrative contracts, high level investments and an injection of much-needed cash, whereas Israel — plagued as it is by serious and on-going allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity can only offer a partnership of ignominy, the further erosion of our country’s reputation for fair play and justice, and more serious alienation of Britain from the rest of the world, Arab and non-Arab alike. The wealth through which Arab friends could boost UK financial markets could save us from even greater financial ruin.

Arab states have already invested massively in Britain, of course. Oil and gas rich countries, such as Qatar, want to diversify their investments and have spent billions of pounds in Britain over the past few years. Top British brands supported by Arab states include Harrods department store, bought by Qatar’s investment arm for £1.5 billion; Barclays Bank, saved from financial ruin last June by Qatari investors investing billions of pounds in exchange for a large stake in the company; Manchester City Football Club, owned by Sheikh Mansour, a member of Abu Dhabi’s ruling family; Coffee Republic, saved from administration when it was brought by Arab investors last year. A huge chunk of Sainsbury’s is owned by Qatar; and the Savoy Hotel is owned by a member of the Saudi Royal family. Many more investments may be just below the horizon, prompting the Foreign Office statement.

To encourage further Arab investment in British companies and industries there is no doubt that our foreign policy will have to be less hostile to the Arab world, something that Mr Hague appears finally to be accepting. While the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will be deterring many Arab and Muslim investors worldwide, the UK’s relationship with Israel will be doing so even more. If the price we have to pay for life-saving Arab support for our country’s economy is to distance Britain politically from a rogue state already well down the path of moral and legal degradation, it is no price to pay at all.

If it takes this element of financial self-preservation and self-interest to lead Britain and British foreign policy away from Israel, then that would be no bad thing. It is incredible to think that the British government considers Israel as a staunch ally when it is a country still occupying Palestinian and other Arab land in a brutal and repressive manner after more than four decades, and engaging in violations of international law (including the arrest and abuse of children, illegal settlement building, the illegal demolition of homes, and racial discrimination against its own Arab citizens) with apparent impunity and contempt for the rest of us.

A political and financial move away from Israel should have taken place years ago on moral and legal grounds alone, but if a financial incentive is what it takes to make British politicians take such a bold step, then so be it. Better late than never, and better now than not at all.

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

In Lebanon’s Beirut, Shift of Turkish Axis is Welcomed

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan departed Lebanon on Thursday after a two-day visit, the timing of which should not be taken lightly, according to experts.

Erdogan’s trip to Lebanon came just weeks after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to the Lebanese capital and days before Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri is scheduled to travel to Tehran.

Amal Saad Ghorayeb, research adviser at Qatar-based think tank the Doha Institute, said Erdogan’s presence in Lebanon so soon after Ahmadinejad’s demonstrates a key policy shift. “It’s an important detail because it indicates that there are not two contradictory messages behind these visits,” she told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review on Thursday. “Turkey is moving closer to the so-called ‘resistance axis.’ It is edging toward a definitively anti-Israeli stance.”

The Turkish prime minister said Thursday that his country would not remain silent if Israel attacked Lebanon or the Gaza Strip, as ties between the long-time allies remain at an all-time low. “We will not be silent and we will support justice by all means available to us,” the Turkish prime minister said.

During a speech he made in a village in northern Lebanon inhabited by Turkmen families, Erdogan called on Israel to apologize for its regional mistakes. He also inspected Turkish troops serving with the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon at the Israeli border who are stationed in the area.

His remarks echoed, albeit less stridently, sentiments expressed by Ahmadinejad during speeches he delivered during his Lebanon trip.

“What struck me about Ahmadinejad’s visit was that he was sounding more like Erdogan,” said Paul Salem, director at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut. He said the visits of both leaders sought to avert sectarian strife in a country teetering on the brink of political disintegration over the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.

“Erdogan represents a major Sunni power,” Salem told the Daily News. “Some [in Lebanon] have encouraged the Turks to play more of a role in the face of Persian and Shiite Iran, but Turkey definitely doesn’t want to get into that game. They respect [Sunni Prime Minister Saad] al-Hariri, but are not falling into a Sunni-Shiite conflict.”

Turkey’s efforts may fall short

The traditional influences in Lebanese politics, Syria and Saudi Arabia, recently upped diplomatic contact in a bid to avert a new wave of violence sweeping Beirut. Ahmad Mousalli, professor of political science at the American University of Beirut, said even Turkey, with its burgeoning regional clout, might be powerless to prevent war in Lebanon.

“Saudi-Syrian [attempts to avert crisis] have actually collapsed and I don’t think Erdogan can pull them back together,” he told the Daily News.

In remarks published in Lebanese dailies on Wednesday, Erdogan vowed to avert a fresh Lebanese crisis that looks set to erupt over the United Nations-backed investigation into the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri.

Mousalli doubted that Turkey currently has the necessary diplomatic clout to avoid crisis.

“Turkey doesn’t have any direct interest in Lebanon other than economic. But Turkey is just starting its good relations with the Arab world. It doesn’t yet have local powers that will support it,” he said. “If Erdogan is trying to match the roles of Saudi Arabia and Syria, he will not make it.”

However, both Salem and Ghorayeb agreed that Turkey has an important role to play in Lebanon and in the region, especially given the steep decline of Unites States’ support in the Middle East since the Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S.

“U.S. influence has been on the decline and new players are in a more favorable position to advance their interests,” Ghorayeb said. Erdogan’s refusal to countenance Lebanese conflict for the sake of the tribunal “signifies a rejection of the tribunal and, by extension, the U.S.’s agenda in this regard,” she said.

Ankara is in a position to fill, in part, the power vacuum left by Washington’s waning popularity, Salem said. “There is nothing serious about neo-Ottomanism except that Turkey is remembering that it had a massive empire and now is saying, ‘Why not take advantage of it?’ There’s a lot to be gained from this. Turkey is a global player, so it is looking after its backyard,” he said.

Thursday was the final day of the Turkish prime minister’s two-day visit to Lebanon, during which he inaugurated a burn treatment center in Sidon, a major southern coastal city. South Lebanon was badly hit during the Hezbollah militia’s deadly war with Israel in 2006.

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Iran Completes Its Conquest of Lebanon

Senior members of Hezbollah as Rafiq Hariri’s assassins

The Islamic Republic of Iran’s long-term conquest of the Republic of Lebanon is a fait accompli. Once again the agenda of the Islamic Republic has not only trumped that of the inept and feckless Western Powers but it is in fact a de facto usurpation of the imminent, and so-called “inviolable” United Nations Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) indictments in the case of the 2005 assassination of Prime Minister Rafiq HARIRI.

This chessboard-like achievement was made evident as Western leaders slept early this morning with the arrival in Tehran of the current Lebanese Prime Minister Saad HARIRI. The Lebanese Prime Minister’s trip to Iran ahead of the official releasing the the STL’s indictments on the assassination of Saad’s father belies Hezbollah’s threatened “Zero Day” coup d’etat.

A report by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) published on Sunday 21 November, and aired globally on Monday 22 November, revealed that the U.N. STL’s indictments provided irrefutable proof in the form of a loyal Lebanese officer’s intelligence operation which identified senior members of Hezbollah as Rafiq Hariri’s assassins.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Iran’s Nuclear Plant to Go on Line by Late January

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Technicians have finished loading fuel into Iran’s first nuclear power reactor and aim to start up the facility by late January, the country’s nuclear chief said Saturday.

The startup of the Bushehr power plant, a project completed with Russian help but beset by years of delays, will deliver Iran the central stated goal of its atomic work—the generation of nuclear power.

The United States and some of its allies, however, believe the Bushehr plant is part of a civil energy program that Iran is using as cover for a secret aim to develop a nuclear weapons capability. Iran denies the accusation.

Nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi said it will take another month or two before the 1,000-megawatt light-water reactor at Bushehr begins pumping electricity to Iranian cities, and he again denied that a mysterious and destructive computer worm known as Stuxnet has set back Iran’s nuclear work.

“We sealed the lid of the reactor without any propaganda and fuss,” Salehi was quoted as saying by the semi-official Fars news agency. “All fuel assemblies have been loaded into the core of the reactor.”

The Bushehr plant itself is not among the West’s concerns because safeguards are in place to ensure that the spent fuel will be returned to Russia and cannot be diverted to weapons making.

Other facilities on Iran’s nuclear map are of much deeper international concern, namely the underground uranium enrichment facility in the central city of Natanz. Iran says it only wants to enrich uranium to the safe, lower levels needed for making fuel for power stations like Bushehr.

But the technology offers Iran a potential pathway to weapons production, should it chose to enrich uranium to higher, weapons-grade levels.

The United Nations Security Council has imposed four sets of sanctions on Iran for its refusal to suspend enrichment.

In the case of Bushehr, the fuel has been provided by Russia, a fact that the international community has seized upon to argue that Iran does not need to produce its own fuel at home. Getting the fuel from abroad would help ensure the material is more closely monitored to prevent it from being further processed into weapons-grade material.

Iran, however, says it has the right under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to run its own enrichment program.

Iran began moving the Russian-supplied fuel rods into the Bushehr reactor building in August and started loading the fuel into the core of the reactor in late October. With that process now complete, Salehi said all that remains to be done is to wait for the water inside the reactor’s core to gradually reach a desired temperature, after which a series of tests need to be carried out.

“We hope the Bushehr power plant will be connected to the country’s national power grid within the next one or two months,” said Salehi, who is also the country’s vice president.

The fueling process was delayed by weeks because of what Iran described last month as a “small leak” in a storage pool where the plant’s fuel was being held.

Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, said last month that the Stuxnet computer worm, which Iranian officials have said is part of a foreign plot to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program, was not to blame for the delays at Bushehr even though the virus was found on several laptops belonging to plant employees.

It is not clear who created the malicious computer code, which is thought to be aimed at Iran’s nuclear program. The suspicions of some analysts have centered on Israel.

Diplomats told The Associated Press in Vienna last week that major technical problems forced the temporary shutdown of thousands of centrifuge machines used in Iran’s uranium enrichment work. They did not say what caused the problems, but experts have identified Stuxnet as being calibrated to destroy centrifuges by sending them spinning out of control.

The Bushehr project dates back to 1974, when Iran’s U.S.-backed Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi contracted with the German company Siemens to build the reactor. The company withdrew from the project after the 1979 Islamic Revolution toppled the shah and brought hard-line clerics to power.

In 1992, Iran signed a $1 billion deal with Russia to complete the project and work began in 1995.

Under the contract, Bushehr was originally scheduled to come on stream in July 1999 but the startup has been delayed repeatedly by construction and supply glitches.

Moscow has cited technical reasons for the delays, but Iranian officials have sporadically criticized Russia, some calling Moscow an “unreliable partner.”

The Bushehr plant overlooks the Persian Gulf and is visible from several miles away with its cream-colored dome dominating the green landscape.

Soldiers maintain a 24-hour watch on roads leading up to the plant, manning anti-aircraft guns and supported by numerous radar stations.

           — Hat tip: Nick[Return to headlines]

Lebanese PM Seeks Support in Iran Visit

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri expressed concerns for stability in the Middle East as he began a visit to Tehran Saturday to rally Iran’s support for his efforts to keep Lebanon stable amid tensions over a U.N. probe into the assassination of his father, Rafik Hariri.

The visit follows President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s October tour of Lebanon, during which the Iranian leader reinforced Tehran’s ties to the Lebanese militant Hezbollah group, a longtime protege of the Shiite powerhouse.

The exuberant welcome the Shiite Hezbollah staged for Ahmadinejad in Lebanon threw Hariri’s Western-backed factions in the government on the defensive.

After touchdown in Tehran, Hariri was greeted by Iran’s Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi and reviewed an honor guard before heading in to meetings.

Lebanon’s fragile unity government, which includes Hezbollah, has been struggling ahead of expected indictments by the U.N. tribunal investigating former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s 2005 slaying.

Speculation that Hezbollah members will be indicted in the case has fueled fears of a new political crisis and violence in Lebanon, and raised concerns over what Iran would do in that case.

Iran, whose ties to Hezbollah date back nearly 30 years, allegedly funds the militant group to the tune of millions of dollars a year and is suspected of supplying much of its arsenal.

In remarks in English, released by his office ahead of the Iran visit, Hariri underlined concerns for stability.

“Impairing the stability of any country of the region is a threat to the interests of Arabs and Iran at the same time,” Hariri said. “Therefore, I consider that Iran is concerned by all effort to provide elements of stability in all countries of the region, including Lebanon.”

Hariri is expected to meet Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Ahmadinejad during the two-day visit, as well as other top Iranian officials, Iranian state television reported.

Former Lebanese lawmaker and senior official in Hariri’s Future Movement, Mustafa Alloush, said the visit could have “some effects on Lebanon but they are not guaranteed,” adding that diplomacy doesn’t necessarily translate to “what happens on the ground.”

“If Iran has the desire, it has the power to reduce tension” in Lebanon “because Hezbollah is part of the Iranian political and military decision,” Alloush told The Associated Press in Beirut.

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

South Asia

Afghan Schoolbooks Teach Their Students Little of Value or Relevance

The books reflect the education ministry’s intellectual poverty and cultural parochialism, and are an insult to Afghan literature

The Afghan education ministry recently announced the issuing of 40m new school textbooks. A ministry spokesman told the BBC that the new material — financed through international aid and costing about $20m — responds to the needs of contemporary Afghan society.

The emphasis of the texts is on peace, he said, adding that the material represents harmony between modern and traditional knowledge. Such lofty pronouncements cry out for verification — which is why I did just that, perusing the Dari literature textbooks intended for secondary school students. What I found was a reflection of the literary tastes of a parochial village mullah, but not an accurate representation of Dari literature. Year 9 students, for instance, are made to read a badly written text of polemical content, not only sanctioning intolerance towards non-Muslims but elevating it to patriotic duty. Exactly why such a poor text has been considered worthy of inclusion in a book of Afghan literature remains a mystery. A semiliterate militia commander fighting in the mountains might be forgiven for confusing this graceless, incendiary piece of propaganda with literature. But the board responsible for the books’ content should have known better. Or so we hope.

Judging by the books’ content, hagiographies of early Islamic figures are a key part of the board’s definition of Dari literature. Let’s assume that the board believes literature is a tool of moral improvement and hagiographies help students become better Muslims. Even so, how is a student supposed to respond to the following passage about Uthman, the third caliph? “It is clear that both through his mother and father he is closely related to the prophet (PBUH).” It seems that being part of the prophet’s family adds kudos, but how are students supposed to reconcile this hierarchical vision of Islam with an earlier statement that says Islam is an egalitarian religion? Even if we are generous and assume that students are taught to understand such contradictions elsewhere in the curriculum, what they learn is, strictly speaking, not hagiography as a style of literature. The biographies of early caliphs are there for pietistic reasons and, as such, they are not literature. There is no need for them to be included in Dari literature because religion is already extensively covered in three other school subjects exclusively dealing with Islam.

And what are students supposed to learn from this sentence, for instance? “He was martyred at the hands of the garden-people (baghiyan).” Who are these garden-people, and why have they killed the caliph? After moments of reflection, the reader realises that “baghiyan” must be a typo of the word “yaghiyan”, meaning rebels. A typo in a school textbook is disgraceful, but the new textbooks have plenty of them. The board’s perception of non-religious literature is also peculiar. There is an obsession with poems about spring. As students grow older, the poems grow longer but the content remains the same: spring and, occasionally, birds, and flowers. If this is supposed be a literature of escapism, the repetitive nature of the themes makes escape into a fantasy world as difficult as an actual escape from Afghanistan.

Unsurprisingly, the textbooks have no clear structure, but some content stands out for its oddity.

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

Pakistan: The Christian Woman Facing Death Over a Work Squabble

It started as nothing more than a petty squabble: a group of Muslim women refused to sup from a bucket of water fetched by a Christian co-worker as they picked berries on a farm.

But within days the spat had escalated into a deadly storm, as imams whipped up an angry crowd accusing Aasia Bibi of badmouthing the Prophet Muhammad.

Today the mother-of-five is on death row, the first woman in Pakistan to be sentenced to hang for blasphemy.

Her tiny, stinking cell is now the centre of a political storm as liberals face off with conservative clerics over the country’s barbaric blasphemy laws, which cuts to the heart of Pakistan’s uneasy relationship between religion and democracy.

Hard-line Muslims have taken to the streets, warning the government not to cave in to foreign pressure to pardon her, and issuing death threats to her supporters, alarming the country’s embattled Christian minority.

Meanwhile, from the prison where she is being held, Mrs Bibi, 45, has made one brief statement to proclaim her innocence. “The allegation against me is baseless,” she insisted, speaking from behind a veil worn not as a concession to Islamic sensibilities, but simply to hide her identity. “We had some differences and this was their way of taking revenge.”

For Pakistan’s Christians, who make up some 3 million of the country’s 165 million population, such words will have a depressingly familiar ring: the blasphemy laws, it is widely acknowledged, have long been used as against them — not as a system of organised persecution, but simply as a way of settling petty personal disputes. However, in a land where a weak government is battling against an ever-stronger current of Islamic militancy, reforming them so that they are not abused is far from easy.

The Bibi case, which has brought the issue into sharp relief, began in June last year, when she was asked to fetch water by the wife of the landowner on whose land, in rural Punjab, she was working. A row broke out when her Muslim colleagues refused it, saying it had been made unclean by contact with a Christian.

The incident seemed to have been forgotten, until five days later when she was approached by an angry mob accusing her of blasphemy. They said she had told them that Jesus had been resurrected while the Prophet Muhammad had died — claims her supporters emphatically deny — and demanded she recant and convert to Islam.

When police officers arrived on the scene, they initially protected her, escorting her to safety. Then, apparently under pressure from imams, they arrested her.

Earlier this month she was sentenced to death at Sheikhupura court, convicted on the basis of evidence from two witnesses who were not even present in the fields where the exchange is supposed to have taken place.

Her husband, Ashiq Masih, could not even bear to tell his children what had happened when he returned from court that day. They found out from neighbours and did not eat for two days. Then they were forced to flee from their home in the village of Ittamwala.

“I am frightened that they will come and beat us and kill us,” he told The Sunday Telegraph. “I keep getting phone calls from people with hidden numbers asking where I am and whether they can meet me, but I know what they want. They want us dead.”


           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Shiite Deal Gives Militants New Afghan Access

Shiite Muslim militias in Pakistan’s tribal regions are helping some of NATOs fiercest enemies evade missile attacks from U.S. drones to cross safely into Afghanistan, a tribal activist told The Associated Press.

Shiites, who control a key piece of tribal real estate, cut a deal with the deadly Haqqani network to give insurgents a safe, alternative route to Afghanistan through Pakistan’s Kurram tribal region, said Munir Bangash, who is familiar with the deal. A second tribesman from Kurram confirmed the deal but spoke only on condition of anonymity fearing retribution from the Taliban and from fellow tribesmen.

The deal underlines the problems of shutting down the Haqqani network’s access to its bases in Afghanistan from its refuges in Pakistan.

The Haqqani network is blamed for many of the deadliest attacks on US troops in Afghanistan. Washington has been pressing Pakistan to launch a military operation against the Haqqani network in North Waziristan but so far the military has held back, saying its 140,000 soldiers deployed across the tribal belt are already stretched too thin.

Analysts and Afghan government officials have accused Pakistan of protecting the Haqqani network as allies who could be of use after the Americans and their allies leave Afghanistan.

The deal in Kurram was brokered two months ago during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. A delegation of Shiite elders and Shiite militiamen from Kurram met representatives of the Haqqani network and laid the groundwork for the deal, said Bangash, who is the chairman of the Community Rights Program, an independent organization trying to broker peace between Kurram’s Shiites and Sunnis while bringing development to their areas.

Under the agreement, the Shiites gave the Haqqani network safe passage through Kurram from its Pakistan strongholds in neighboring North and South Waziristan across the border to its Afghan bases in Khost and Paktia provinces, Bangash said.

In return, the Haqqanis intervened with the Sunni Muslim militants to get them to agree to a truce with the Shiites in Kurram. The two sects have been engaged in brutal tit-for-tat killings, although most of the dead have been Shiite Muslim. Rival Sunni Muslims have also blocked the only highway connecting Kurram to Pakistan’s Khyber Pukhtunkhwa provincial capital of Peshawar.

Bangash said hundreds of Haqqani insurgents as well as Pakistani Taliban have taken refuge in Kurram to escape attacks by U.S. drones in North Waziristan as well as a Pakistan military offensive in South Waziristan and Orakzai tribal regions.

Kurram’s Shiites had an intense interest in striking a deal for local reasons.

Kurram is divided between a northern half bordering Afghanistan controlled by Shiites and a Sunni-dominated southern half, which includes the only road connection to Peshawar and the rest of Pakistan.

Hundreds have been killed in fighting between militias run by the each sect. Divisions between the communities worsened with the growing influence in the area of the Pakistani Taliban, allied with the Sunni radical group Lashkar-e-Janghvi, known for its attacks on Shiites around Pakistan, said Bangash.

The bloodletting peaked in 2007 when Shiites drove Sunnis out of Parachinar, the regional government headquarters. Sunni Muslims retaliated by denying Shiite Muslims access to road. In some instances, Sunni militants have stopped buses on the road, taken out Shiite passengers and executed them.

The Shiite militias had to turn to the Haqqanis to strike a deal “because they are so strong. No one else is as strong,” Bangash said.

Neither Bangash nor other Kurram tribesmen could say whether negotiations involved a member of the Haqqani family. Sirajuddin Haqqani, the network’s operational head, was in Kurram in September, according to the Long War Journal, a U.S.-based Web periodical which tracks insurgent activity.

While Kurram’s Sunnis have come under Taliban sway, its Shiites have come under the influence of two local militias called Hezbollah and the Mehdi militia — unrelated to the militant groups of the same name in Lebanon and Iraq, respectively — Bangash said.

“The Shiites are held hostage to the Hezbollah and Mehdi militias, like the Sunnis are held hostage to the Taliban,” said Bangash.

The agreement brokered during Ramadan is an uneasy one, says Bangash. Relatives of Shiites killed by their Sunni rivals oppose the dealmaking with the Haqqani network.

“About a week ago some of Haqqanis representatives came to Parachinar to talk to the elders to try to keep the deal in place,” said Bangash.

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Far East

Breaking News: North Korea Places Surface-to-Surface Missiles on Yellow Sea Launch Pads: Report

SEOUL (Reuters) — North Korea has placed surface-to-surface missiles on launch pads in the Yellow Sea, Yonhap news agency reported on Sunday.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Genetic Tests May Prove Theory of China’s Lost Roman Legion

Genetic testing of villagers in a remote part of China has shown that nearly two-thirds of their DNA is of Caucasian origin, lending support to the theory that they may be descended from a “lost legion” of Roman soldiers. Tests found that the DNA of some villagers in Liqian, on the fringes of the Gobi Desert in north-western China, was 56 per cent Caucasian in origin. Many of the villagers have blue or green eyes, long noses and even fair hair, prompting speculation that they have European blood. A local man, Cai Junnian, is nicknamed Cai Luoma, or “Cai the Roman”, and is one of many villagers convinced that he is descended from the lost legion.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Japan Spots Chinese Vessels Near Disputed Islands: Report

The Japanese coast guard has spotted two Chinese vessels attempting on Sunday to enter waters near islands in the East China Sea that are disputed by the two countries, Kyodo News reported.

Two Chinese fishing patrol ships were sighted around 7:45 a.m. on Sunday (6:45 p.m. EST on Saturday) repeatedly trying to enter waters 44 kilometers off a group of islands known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, Kyodo reported, citing the Japanese coast guard.

Relations between Asia’s two biggest economies soured in September after Japan detained a Chinese skipper whose fishing boat collided with Japanese patrol vessels off the disputed islands, which are near potentially rich maritime gas reserves. He was later released.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

N.Korea ‘Has 180,000 Special Forces Ready to Cross Into South’

North Korea operates 40,000 special forces troops, including the 11th or “Storm” Corps whose mission is to infiltrate South Korea and create havoc in case of war. It also has around 10,000 naval special forces and around 5,000 air force soldiers who can cross the border if a war breaks out.

The figures were revealed in a speech by former South Korean commander of special operations Kim Yun-suk to fellow veterans at the War Memorial in Seoul.

Kim said the Storm Corps, which has been trained to stir up confusion behind enemy lines, is composed of four light infantry, seven airborne and three sniper brigades. And the 4th Corps special forces, stationed on the Ongjin Peninsula close to South Korea’s Baeknyeong Islands in the West Sea, consists of 600 scout troops, 600 naval reconnaissance soldiers and around 1,800 naval forces.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Sub-Saharan Africa

New Wikileaks Files ‘To Reveal American Criticism of Mandela’

Nelson Mandela is among world leaders believed to have been criticised in a leak of US diplomatic files, well-placed sources said last night.

Disclosures about the 92-year-old ex-South African President are among three million secret American diplomatic missives obtained by the website WikiLeaks.

Other world leaders who have clashed with the US including Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai, Libya’s Colonel Gaddafi and Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe also come off badly in the no-holds-barred private cables to the White House from scores of US embassies.

Around 800 messages are from the US embassy in London and some reportedly feature negative and hostile comments about Gordon Brown and the Labour Government.

These are thought to relate to the Anglo-US dispute after Britain freed Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi from a Scottish jail to a hero’s welcome in Libya last year.

The cables are believed to include withering US assessments of Mr Brown’s personality and prospects of staying in power.

They may also show the low regard of the White House for Britain’s ‘special relationship’ with America. Nor does David Cameron escape from criticism.

Mr Mandela, who stepped down as President in 1999, condemned George Bush over the Iraq War, suggesting the US President had ignored the United Nations’ calls for restraint because the then Secretary-General Kofi Annan was black.

He also called Tony Blair the ‘foreign minister of the United States’ for supporting Mr Bush over Iraq.

The secret cables, due to be published online today, are believed to be from January 2006 to December 2009 — taking in the latter part of Tony Blair’s Premiership and most of Gordon Brown’s.

Defence insiders say Britain’s national security could be ‘put at risk’ by the revelations, which are understood to include details of the Iraq and Afghan wars plus informÂation about secret service practices and intelligence sources.

The British Government has issued a DA-Notice (defence advisory), warning newspapers that publishing the secrets could compromise national security.


           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]


Italy Expels Moroccan Convicted of Terrorism

Italian security officials say an Islamic extremist who was part of a cell that planned attacks on the Milan subway and a cathedral has been expelled to his native Morocco.

The Interior Ministry said extremist Khalid Khamlich was flown to Casablanca on Friday after his early release from a 5 1/2 year sentence. It cited “reasons of public order and state security.”

Khamlich was convicted of terror ties in 2007.

Authorities allege he was part of a terror cell based in the northern Italian city of Cremona that planned attacks on its cathedral and the Milan metro system.

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

UK: Immigrants Will Create 83,000 Extra Households Every Year for the Next 25 Years, Figures Show

Immigrants will create 83,000 extra households every year for the next 25 years unless numbers are curbed, the Government predicted yesterday.

Official household projections estimated the number of households in the country could rise by more than two million by 2033 solely because of immigration, according to figures from the Department for Communities and Local Government.

It predicted around a third of future growth will be due to migration.

The report comes a day after separate figures showed net migration has hit a three-year high in a blow to David Cameron’s pledge to bring numbers down.

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England absorbs virtually all net migration to UK, MPs warn27 Nov 2010

The difference between those arriving in the UK and those leaving last year stood at 215,000 after the number of Britons emigrating reached a ten year low, according to the Office for National Statistics.

It is a setback for the Coalition and its plans to bring net migration down to the tens of thousands by 2015.

Yesterday’s projections estimated there will be 27.5 million households in England by 2033, an increase of 5.8 million, or 27 per cent on the current total.

It said if there was zero immigration over the next 25 years then some 2.1 million fewer households would be created.

Sir Andrew Green, chairman Migrationwatch UK, said: “It is inexcusable for this government to paper over the huge impact of continued massive levels of immigration on housing.

“If immigration is allowed to continue at present levels it will account for just over one third of new households in the next 25 years. The first response to the housing crisis should be to face the facts. The last government was in denial. That cannot be allowed to continue”.

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

Culture Wars

Wales: Teenage Lesbian Terrified That She Will be Deported

A GAY teenager is fighting deportation to her native Egypt because she fears persecution because of her sexuality.

Campaigners held a fundraising concert at a Cardiff bar to help 18-year-old Shrouk El-Attar’s legal fight against being sent back to a country she last lived in when she was 15.

The teenager came to the UK with her mother and brother three years ago, but was told she could not stay when her mum’s application for asylum was turned down.

Since she has been living in Cardiff, Shrouk says she has made a life here, rejected her family’s Muslim faith for Christianity and come out publicly as a lesbian.

She has applied for asylum in her own right, claiming her sexuality will lead her to be persecuted in Egypt by the authorities and her own family if she is deported with her mother. But the application was rejected by the Home Office at a first court hearing last month.

Shrouk, who is being housed by the Border Agency in shared rooms with other asylum seekers in Splott, now hopes to persuade the High Court to allow her to stay.

She said: “I am terrified about the possibility of being forcibly deported to Egypt.

“As a gay person, life in Egypt would be impossible for me. I would never be able to express my true self and would have to live in hiding.”

The teenager, who hopes to go to university if she is granted leave to stay in the UK, said that she would have to change her appearance and probably be forced into marriage.

She said: “All my friends and the people who I care about most are all in Cardiff.”

Homosexuality is not a crime in Egypt but the Foreign Office’s own travel advice warns British visitors that homosexuals have been convicted for breaching laws on public decency.

Human Rights Watch has also condemned the country for persecuting gay men and lesbians.

Shrouk said she first admitted her sexuality to friends when she was 16, but only told her family this year.

Her friends have set up a campaign group and organised a launch of the campaign at Gwdihw Cafe Bar on Wednesday.

Mary Davies said: “Shrouk is a well-known and loved member of her community. To say that she should go back to Egypt and live discreetly is yet another example of the Government’s total disregard for homosexuality as a legitimate reason for being considered a refugee.”

A Border Agency spokesman said: “We will offer protection to anyone found by us — or the courts — to need it.

“The Government has made it clear that it is committed to stopping the removal of asylum seekers who have had to leave countries because of their sexual orientation or gender identification.

“It is, however, for the applicant to demonstrate they are at risk of persecution and prove they would be at risk on return to their home country.

“When people are found not to need our protection, we expect them to leave the country voluntarily or we will remove them as a last resort.

“We do not remove people where there are outstanding legal appeals.”

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


Could Space Farmers Grow Crops on Other Planets?

Science fiction lovers aren’t the only ones captivated by the possibility of colonizing another planet. Scientists are engaging in numerous research projects that focus on determining how habitable other planets are for life. Mars, for example, is revealing more and more evidence that it probably once had liquid water on its surface, and could one day become a home away from home for humans. “The spur of colonizing new lands is intrinsic in man,” said Giacomo Certini, a researcher at the Department of Plant, Soil and Environmental Science (DiPSA) at the University of Florence, Italy. “Hence expanding our horizon to other worlds must not be judged strange at all. Moving people and producing food there could be necessary in the future.”

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Global Warming Has Slowed Down Over the Past 10 Years, Say Scientists

The rate at which global temperatures are rising has slowed in the past decade, scientists said today.

In a report published today, the Met Office said the slow in the rate of warming was down to a combination of natural variation in the weather and pollution.

Scientists say one of the major factors is the rise in heavy industry and pollutant ‘aerosols’, particularly in Asia.

An upsurge in industrial emissions such as sulphur which are being pumped into the atmosphere reflects sunlight and could lead to a cooling effect.

Changes in the amount of water vapour in the stratosphere may also be a factor, the report suggests.

The admission will be seized upon by climate sceptics as evidence that man-made global warming has been overstated.

Since the 1970s, the long-term rate of global warming has been around 0.16C a decade but that slowed in the last 10 years to between 0.05C — 0.13C depending on which of the three major temperature record series are used.

Vicky Pope, head of climate science advice, said: ‘The warming trend has decreased slightly. There’s still a warming trend but it’s not as rapid as it was before.

‘The question is why has that happened. It’s a question that sceptics often bring up.’

However researchers from the Met Office say there is still a warming trend over the 10 years since 2000 and the decade was the hottest on record.

They also said a lack of data from the Arctic, where warming has been particularly strong in the last 10 years, and changes to the way sea surface temperatures are measured have led to an underestimate of the rate at which temperatures are rising.

And while the UK is currently experiencing a cold snap and last year had the harshest winter for 30 years, the scientists said the evidence for man-made global warming had grown even stronger in the past year.

Dr Pope said for global warming it was important to look at the global picture — which last year saw many parts of the world experience very warm temperatures even while the UK was gripped by snow and ice.

And she said: ‘We are starting to see changes in the climate even in the UK which we can link to global warming. We’re seeing more heatwaves and seeing fewer of these cold winters.’

Ahead of the next round of international talks aimed at securing a deal on climate change, the Met Office also said the 12 months to the end of September were the second warmest on record — while another analysis by scientists in the US indicate the year was the hottest ever.

Dr Pope said: ‘We may be underestimating the warming.’

Partly this is due to gaps in the temperature data from the Arctic, where there is evidence warming has been stronger than other parts of the world.

The Met Office does not make estimates for areas where there are gaps in the Arctic data, instead leaving them out, which would leave their overall results for global temperatures on the low side.

And changes to the way sea surface temperatures are measured — with a shift from predominantly ship-based measurements to the use of buoys drifting around the oceans in the past 10 years — led to an underestimate of temperature rises.

Correcting the analysis of the sea surface temperatures could mean global temperatures as a whole could have risen by up to 0.03C above what has already been recorded.

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

Glowing Trees Could Light Up City Streets

IMAGINE taking a midnight stroll, your route lit by row upon row of trees glowing a ghostly blue. If work by a team of undergraduates at the University of Cambridge pans out, bioluminescent trees could one day be giving our streets this dreamlike look. The students have taken the first step on this road by developing genetic tools that allow bioluminescence traits to be easily transferred into an organism.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Saturn Moon Rhea’s Surprise: Oxygen-Rich Atmosphere

Saturn’s second-largest moon Rhea has a wispy atmosphere with lots of oxygen and carbon dioxide, a new study has found.

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft detected Rhea’s atmosphere during a close flyby of the frozen moon in March. The discovery marks the first time an oxygen-rich atmosphere has been found on a Saturn satellite. [Photo of the Saturn moon Rhea.]

Oxygen atmospheres are known to exist on other natural satellites in our solar system. For example, Europa and Ganymede — two frigid moons of Jupiter — are also rich in oxygen.

But the discovery on Rhea suggests that many other large, ice-covered bodies throughout the solar system and beyond may harbor thin shells of oxygen-rich air — and, perhaps, complex chemistry, researchers said.

“We’ve seen this happening at Jupiter, and now we’ve confirmed it on a Saturn moon,” study lead author Ben Teolis, of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, told “The fact that it’s widespread is very exciting.”

Searching for an atmosphere

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope detected thin oxygen atmospheres around Europa and Ganymede in the 1990s. On both Jovian moons, the oxygen comes from surface water ice, which splits into hydrogen and oxygen under heavy bombardment by charged particles from Jupiter.

The research team thought something similar might be happening in the Saturn system, which is packed with big, frozen moons.

Rhea is a natural candidate. It is composed mostly of water ice, and — with a diameter of 950 miles (1,529 kilometers) — should have enough gravity to hold onto an atmosphere, Teolis said.

The Cassini spacecraft had looked for an oxygen atmosphere around Rhea on two previous flybys, in 2005 and 2007. The probe found a few intriguing hints but came up empty. On those encounters, Cassini got within 312 miles (502 km) and 3,564 miles (5,736 km) of Rhea’s surface.

Last March, the spacecraft got much closer. It cruised over Rhea’s north pole, coming within 60 miles (97 km) of the surface — so close that it flew through the moon’s atmosphere. Cassini’s mass spectrometer confirmed the presence of both oxygen and carbon dioxide.

Oxygen makes up about 70 percent of Rhea’s atmosphere and carbon dioxide the remaining 30 percent, according to Teolis. Where Cassini sampled, the atmosphere is about 100 times thinner than the air cocooning Europa and Ganymede, the researchers found — which explains why Cassini hadn’t spotted it from afar.

“It’s too thin to detect remotely,” Teolis said.

For comparison, the oxygen concentrations in Earth’s atmosphere are likely at least five trillion times higher than those seen on Rhea, Teolis added. But that still makes Rhea’s atmosphere about 100 times thicker than that of Earth’s moon, or Mercury.

Rhea isn’t the only Saturn moon known to have an atmosphere: Titan, Saturn’s largest satellite, has a thick, nitrogen-rich one. But the new study confirms an ice-derived, oxygen-rich atmosphere for the first time outside of the Jupiter system.

Teolis and his colleagues report their findings online in the Nov. 25 issue of the journal Science.

Rhea’s mystery carbon dioxide

The researchers say they are pretty sure they know where Rhea’s atmospheric oxygen is coming from — charged particles from Saturn’s magnetosphere blasting apart molecules of water ice. The source of the carbon dioxide, however, is more mysterious.

It’s possible that Rhea, like many other solar system bodies, has carbon-rich organic molecules on or near its surface, researchers said. These organics could be split apart by Saturn’s charged particles, just like Rhea’s ice. Liberated carbon and oxygen could combine, forming carbon dioxide.

Micrometeorite bombardment could also be delivering the carbon for such reactions, according to the researchers.

It’s also possible that carbon dioxide is escaping from Rhea’s interior fully formed. The gas could be primordial — left over from the moon’s formation about 4.5 billion years ago — or it could be the product of long-ago reactions inside Rhea, which now appears to be geologically dead.

“We have no idea at this point which one of these mechanisms is producing it,” Teolis said. “That’s definitely something we want to look at in the future.”

Researchers may get their chance to do so very soon. Cassini is scheduled to make an even closer flyby of Rhea in January, coming to within about 47 miles (75 km) of the moon’s south polar region, Teolis said.

Tricky chemistry on frozen worlds?

The new study suggests that oxygen atmospheres — created by the splitting of surface ice — may be common on large, frigid bodies throughout our solar system and beyond, researchers said.

“This now looks like it’s a pattern,” Teolis said.

The implications of this pattern are intriguing, according to the researchers. Oxygen is extremely reactive, so big, frozen moons could host more complex chemistry at or near their surfaces than previously imagined.

This chemistry could get even more interesting if the oxygen goes underground and mixes with a liquid-water sea. Rhea does not seem to have a subterranean ocean, but other frigid moons likely do — such as Europa, for example, and Enceladus, Saturn’s sixth-largest satellite (which is itself probably too small to harbor an atmosphere).

“If this mechanism is as common as it seems to be, it certainly raises some very interesting questions,” Teolis said.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]


Van Grungy said...

Yes. Yes I do want to take the first trip out to live on Saturn's moon. Yet another bone chilling post.