Friday, January 10, 2003

News Feed 20101219

Financial Crisis
»“Italy Not at Risk” — Juncker
»Germany: Unloved Euro Considered Too Valuable to Ditch
»Greece: The Country in Revolt, Church Takes a Stand
»IMF Ultimatum to Greece, Rich Must Pay Taxes Too
»Ireland’s UK Property Empire Unwinds as it Sells London Assets
»The Value for Money of the UK’s £26 Million MEPs
»UK: Government Admits Queen’s Head Could be Lost From Stamps
»WPP’s Sir Martin Sorrell Says UK Austerity Programme is ‘The Envy of Washington’
»NY Rep. King: I’ll Hold Hearings on Radical Islam
Europe and the EU
»Ashton Picks Finn to be EU ‘Spymaster’
»Beware Europe: “Threat From Islamic Terrorists Will Grow and Escalate in 2011” — Dr. Rohan Gunaratna
»Final Seconds of the Stockholm Bomber: CCTV Video Shows How Close Killer Came to Murdering Hundreds of Festive Shoppers
»Germany: Unions Call for End to Private Health Insurance
»Italy: ‘Only Virile Boss’ Is Berlusconi Anagram
»Italy: Berlusconi Says He Has Lured 8 More Lawmakers to Govt
»More German Catholics Leave Scandal-Plagued Flock
»Netherlands’ Biggest Mosque Opened
»Netherlands: Hofstad Group Was a Terrorist Organisation, Says Appeal Court
»Sweden Attack Shows More Needed to Combat Extremism: UK PM
»Sweden Bomber’s Father-in-Law ‘Not Sad’ For Death
»UK: Hit-Run Killer ‘Has No Pity’
»UK: Muslim and Jewish Groups Object to Labelling of Ritually Slaughtered Meat
»UK: RAF Commander: Our Air Force Will be Little Better Than Belgium’s
»UK: Swine Flu: Half of Worst Afflicted Were Previously in Good Health
»UK: Temperatures Set to Hit Record Low of -26C in England as Forecasters Predict Freezing Countdown to Christmas
»UK: US Embassy Cables Detail the Radical Muslim Problem
»UK: Why Are 36% of Our Universities Training Muslim Terrorists?
»University Under Fire as a ‘Hotbed of Extremism’
»US Pressured Italy to Influence Judiciary
»Kosovo: Was Europe Blind?
North Africa
»Egypt: Opinion Leader for EU Greater Economic Role, Study
Israel and the Palestinians
»British Woman Played Dead to Escape Being Stabbed as Knifemen Pounced on Forest Hiking Trip and Killed Her Friend
»No Renting Houses to Arabs: 55% of Israelis Agree With the Rabbis
»PNA: 80% for EU Projects, From Education to Healthcare
»US Woman’s Body Found in Jerusalem-Beit Shemesh Area
Middle East
»Five Iraqi Christians Seeking Asylum Returned From Stockholm. UN Protest
»From the Bosphorus: Straight — Turkey’s Enlightened Shiite Example
»Inside Yemen: Britain’s Woman on the Frontline of the New War on Terror
»Saudi Ordered to Deport Foreign Wife
»Saudi Warns Public Against New Year Celebration
»Stockholm Bomber: Banned Extremists Recruit Near Taimur Abdulwahab Al-Abdaly’s Luton Home
»The Kurdish Question in Washington and Gülen Factor
»Turkish Diplomat Appointed to Key UN Post
South Asia
»Afghanistan Attacks Target Army Bases, Killing 13
»Deadly Kabul Attack is First in Capital for Months
»Indonesia: West Java District Bans Migrant Workers
»Pakistan: China is a More Reliable Trading Partner Than the US, Economist Says
»Religious Attack in Pakistan. Six Dead in the Shiite Festival of Ashura
»Tanks ‘Needed to Fight Taliban’
Far East
»Chinese Military Complete Highway for Troop Movements to India
Sub-Saharan Africa
»Sharia Law to be Tightened if Sudan Splits — President
»Somali Islamist Groups to Join Forces: Spokesman
»Ailing Greece Struggles With a Flood of Illegal Immigrants
»Gulf: Record Number of Immigrants, Over 15 Mln
»Microwave Radiation Map Hints at Other Universes
»The Cultural Genome: Google Books Reveals Traces of Fame, Censorship and Changing Languages
»The Muslim Brotherhood: Should We Engage?
»The Search for Extraterrestrial Life: ‘Are We All Martians?’

Financial Crisis

“Italy Not at Risk” — Juncker

“Despite the debt, considerable efforts have been made on public accounts”. Berlusconi goes to Council of Europe

MILAN — There is “no reason” for any risk involving Italy. “Particularly now that the prospect of a government crisis has receded”. Eurogroup chair Jean-Claude Juncker is adamant, as he told the Corriere della Sera in an interview. “From the political and financial points of view, I can see no reason why Italy should be penalised by the markets. Particularly now that the prospect of a government crisis has receded”. Mr Juncker added: “Parliament has approved a financial package worth €24 billion with considerable savings. And even though debt is 118% of GDP for 2010, considerable efforts have been made to put public accounts in order”.

DEBT — The Luxembourg premier explained the decisions he expected from the Council of Europe: “It will be concentrating mainly on the decision to modify the Treaty in terms of the Eurozone. It will say that Euroland is a permanent anti-crisis mechanism guaranteeing the stability of the European financial system. And that using this mechanism means that countries utilising it after 2013 will be subject to clear and very strict conditions, similar to those now imposed on Greece and Ireland. Finance ministers will then be tasked with working out the details of the state-saving mechanism to be decided at the Council of Europe meeting in about six months’ time”.

BERLUSCONI — In the meantime, Silvio Berlusconi will return to the European stage in Brussels on Thursday, buoyed by the confidence vote in the Chamber of Deputies. He will find a more relaxed atmosphere, pointed out sources at the Prime Minister’s Office, after most of the rejigging of the Lisbon Treaty to cope with crises was done at November’s summit and by finance ministers. Italy, however, is cautious, sending out signals on the eve of the meeting that it is ready to say no to the reform if there are any last-minute surprises: in other words, if no account is taken of all the “relevant factors” affecting public debt, including private borrowing, which in Italy is markedly lower than elsewhere

BELGIUM — Finally Belgium, which has been struggling with a serious political crisis for some time, had to assuage the markets with the announcement by finance minister Didier Reynders just before the Council of Europe meeting that a €2 billion financial package is slated for 2011.

English translation by Giles Watson

16 dicembre 2010

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

Germany: Unloved Euro Considered Too Valuable to Ditch

The crisis rattling the euro has shaken Germans’ confidence in the currency but despite the grumbling, the advantages for the world’s number two exporter far outweigh the downsides, analysts and politicians say.

At the end of June, with a fiscal crisis in Greece hammering the 16-country eurozone, a poll showed most Germans wanted to scrap the euro and bring back the beloved Deutsche mark, the emblem of their post-war economic might.

A more recent survey suggested the anti-euro faction had dropped to 36 percent, still a high proportion for Europe’s biggest economy and founding member of the European Union.

“The euro has never really been loved in Germany,” said Frank Engels, an economist at Barclays Capital, recalling it was dubbed the “teuro,” a play on the German word for “expensive,” in response to perceived rising prices.

Many Germans believe that Berlin is bailing out other eurozone nations seen as profligate at a time when Germany itself is undergoing painful austerity measures.

“More and more Germans fear they are going to have to pay for mistakes made by other countries in the euro area,” said Martin Koopmann, a political scientist.

And daily Bild, the country’s largest paper, has often railed against Germany putting its hand in its pocket, recently asking: “Are we going to have to pay for the whole of Europe?”

A former head of the German employers’ federation, Hans-Olaf Henkel, argued in a recent book “Save our money — Germany is being sold out” that the eurozone should be split between a richer north and poorer south.

However, for now at least, such voices are on the margins, although Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble this month warned of “the danger of an anti-euro party,” which does not yet exist.

For Engels, the advantages of the euro for Germany’s exports are clear. The common currency has “enormously lowered” the costs of trading with its main partners, the analyst said.

If the Deutsche mark were still in existence, its value would likely have soared against the currencies of other eurozone countries because it would have been seen as a “safe haven” bet on the foreign exchange markets.

But this in turn would have harmed exports, credited with pulling the German economy out of a deep recession suffered in 2009.

Conscious of growing anti-euro sentiment, German politicians have pulled out all the stops to convince their citizens of the currency’s advantages — and the dangers inherent in a possible collapse.

“If the euro fails, then Europe fails,” Chancellor Angela Merkel told parliament at the height of the crisis.

But the message is not getting through, argues Koopmann. “We need politicians who can get across the positive aspects of the euro, while explaining why, in times of crisis, you have to pay the price.”

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

Greece: The Country in Revolt, Church Takes a Stand

(ANSAmed) — ROME, DECEMBER 17 — During two days of total media blackout, Greece’s Orthodox Church has taken a position on the austerity measures introduced by the government, which are giving rise to country-wide protests, especially violent in Athens. The big squeeze in which Greece currently finds itself consists on one side of the imperative that it stays within the parameters laid down by the EU and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as conditions for economic aid and on the other side by the increasingly widespread dissatisfaction of the country’s populace with austerity measures that are making their difficult daily lives even tougher.

Yesterday’s general strike by transport workers — affecting both urban transportation and railways — brought the country to a standstill and today threatens to be no better as the sector will be observing a further four-hour stay away from work. The outlook for the coming days is similar.

And now workers in the press and other media have decided to abstain from work, leading to a total media blackout with not even internet news bulletins being updated. On top of this come announced protest demonstrations by the student movement and hospital medics in Attica, who have decided to go on strike.

But today’s main story is the hard line being taken by the Greek Orthodox Church, which has called Greece an “occupied” country, referring to the measures imposed by the IMF and the European Union, which de facto place Greece’s independence in the hands of others. This attack from the Orthodox Synod — the text of which was distributed throughout the country’s churches during Sunday services — strikes at the heart of the country’s political leadership. This goes both for the present leadership under the Pasok socialists and that which preceded it — the conservatives of Nia Dimocratia. Both groupings are interested in nothing but power, “not knowing how to speak the language of truth”.

The Church went even further, accusing the country’s political classes of not having rebelled at the very tough measures being imposed, but instead of having submitted to the creditors, thus leading to the imposition of “radical changes which would have caused Greece to rebel just a short time before, but which have now triggered hardly any reaction at all”.

The Synod also points out how many economists are viewing the present global crisis as no more than “an artificial and provoked crisis aimed at placing control of global finance in the hands of non-philanthropic forces”. The Church attacks the country once again for having lived “irresponsibly” as a consumer and drifting away from the “truth of its situation”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

IMF Ultimatum to Greece, Rich Must Pay Taxes Too

(ANSAmed) — ROME — Greece still has a long road ahead before it can emerge from the financial crisis. The road includes not only austerity measures, but also the need to convince those who kept faith with the country — chiefly the International Monetary Fund — with loans over which guarantees are claimed.

Greece was parlaysed today by a public transport strike, while there were violent clashes in the centre of Athens yesterday that have left the IMF concerned.

In New York today, the head of the IMF’s external relations, Caroline Atkinson, laid out the Fund’s position on the anti-crisis measures adopted by the government of Prime Minister Papandreou, saying that “there should be an equal distribution of burdens, and the rich must pay their taxes”.

Confirmation of the country’s enormous difficulties came in the latest estimates on unemployment, which rose to a new high of 12.4% in the third quarter of the year, a 3.1% increase compared to the equivalent period of 2009.

To tackle the figures and to reform the job market, the government intends to accelerate the programme of privatisations in order to gain income of more than 7 billion euros by 2013, a sum that will help to reduce budget deficit, as Greece’s creditors have requested.

The sectors subject to privatisation range from the water industry to mining, and will concern the Mont Parnes Casino and horse racing. The plan also foresees the sale of 11 regional airport and the development of 850 tourism ports.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Ireland’s UK Property Empire Unwinds as it Sells London Assets

It was the heady days of July 2007 — the last moments of the pre-credit crisis era and the first of Gordon Brown’s leadership — when Irish tycoon Derek Quinlan and joint venture partner Glenn Maud announced a property deal that would rock the City. Quinlan and Maud revealed they had won the race to buy the Citigroup tower at Canary Wharf from Royal Bank of Scotland for £1bn. The deal was the second biggest ever in the UK, behind only the sale of HSBC’s headquarters a few weeks earlier. It confirmed the Celtic Tiger’s increasing prominence in the key central London commercial property market. Two-and-a-half-years on, however, and the tiger is whimpering. The Citigroup deal was the peak of Ireland’s influence, and it is a peak that is unlikely to be revisited for years, if not decades, to come. Following the EU’s €85bn (£72bn) bail-out of Ireland last month, industry sources are preparing for Ireland’s London empire to start unwinding. The collapse of the global credit markets and Ireland’s economy had a heavy impact on property investors whose growth to prominence was fuelled by a debt surge supported by the country’s hungry banks. Property loans to the tune of €90bn are now being taken under the control — at times with opposition — of the Irish government’s National Asset Management Agency, which was set up to work-out distressed debt. NAMA was created in 2009 but has only become fully operational this year, collecting business plans from its main debtors in order to determine a strategy for the loans.

The task facing the organisation appears monumental, with 69pc of the loans linked to non-income-producing land and development sites, according to research seen by The Sunday Telegraph. NAMA has a stated aim of reducing the loanbook by 25pc over the next three years and also has €5bn to invest in its assets, but the unwinding process could take a decade. How Nama behaves is key to London and the UK, because 30pc of its assets are in Britain. One executive at a leading British property company who met with NAMA directors recently says it is “preparing to act” and has a “clarity of purpose” that puts it ahead of British banks in the unwinding process. The EU bail-out, the source said, provides NAMA with headroom and flexibility, and the fact the loans were bought at such a sharp discount — an average of 58pc for the first tranche — means it does not have to worry about suffering writedowns by agreeing disposals below the book value of properties.


           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

The Value for Money of the UK’s £26 Million MEPs

The cost goes toward the salaries, pensions and expenses of the 72 elected UK representatives and their staff. It will rise still further next year after MEPs controversially voted themselves a backdated pay rise and expenses hike last week. Almost all of the UK’s MEPs are better-paid than their Westminster counterparts, with basic salaries of around £79,600. In addition they are able to claim hundreds of thousands of pounds in expenses without providing receipts. The total bill includes £2.5 million in office costs expenses, £2.1 million in travel expenses and £2 million in subsistence allowance, which can be spent on hotels, taxis and meals while staying in Brussels or Strasbourg, the cities where the parliament is jointly based. The cost of the politicians — an average of £370,000 for each MEP every year — was revealed as part of a groundbreaking “value for money” investigation which looked at how hard each MEP worked relative to the amount they claimed in expenses.

The resulting league table exposed wide variations in the “value” provided by the politicians. At the very bottom of the table was James Elles, a Conservative MEP for the South East, who claimed £113,000 on travel, office and living allowances in a year — putting him among the 10 highest UK claimants — while taking part in less than 80 per cent of the parliament’s plenary sessions, where he delivered only three speeches in 18 months. Meanwhile his fellow Conservative Charles Tannock, a representative for London, emerged as the best-value MEP. He had a near-perfect attendance record while posing 189 questions to the European Commission and giving 96 speeches — and his travel and office expenses claims were below-average.


           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

UK: Government Admits Queen’s Head Could be Lost From Stamps

Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, said discussions were taking place after he admitted that there was no specific clause in the Postal Services Bill, setting out the terms of privatisation, which forces any new owner to keep the Queen’s head. An image of the monarch’s head has been on British postage stamps since they were invented in 1840. The draft legislation already contained provisions requiring a future private operator to get Royal approval before issuing new postage stamps bearing Her Majesty’s image — but no clause obliging them to use it in the first place. It is understood that no one believed that a new owner would want to drop the image, so felt it was not necessary to specify that the Queen’s head should remain. The Government is currently pushing through its plans to sell off up to 80 per cent of Royal Mail, either to a private operator or on the London Stock Exchange, most likely sometime in 2012. It keen to make the business — burdened with a vast pension deficit and declining postal revenues — as attractive as possible to any buyer.


           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

WPP’s Sir Martin Sorrell Says UK Austerity Programme is ‘The Envy of Washington’

In recent decades, a visit to America might have left a British chief executive boarding their return flight to Heathrow feeling a touch of envy. The country’s effective copyright on the word “entrepreneur” turned it into the world’s biggest economy. However, Sir Martin Sorrell, founder of WPP, the world’s largest advertising company, wasn’t feeling too down as he left New York after a visit to the US this month. With 2011 coming into focus, “for the first time in a long time you can feel bullish about the UK in the medium-term”, Sir Martin believes. “What the UK is doing is the envy of people in Washington.” He’s talking, of course, about David Cameron’s austerity programme, promised before the general election as a revolt by bond investors over UK debt loomed, and outlined in October’s Budget. “The Coalition’s economic policy has a lot going for it,” Sir Martin said. “They’ve done the tough stuff and they’re dealing with the deficit.”The tough stuff is far less swingeing than the medicine voters in Ireland, Greece and Portugal are being forced to stomach. Once inflation is factored in, spending in the UK is set to decline by about 3.7pc over the next four years to £671bn. The cuts, though, are real enough and, as the protests over the increase in university tuition fees showed, will not be easy to deliver. The programme has been enough to win the backing of much of UK plc, which, with the public sector having to find reverse gear for the first time in more than a decade, will be tasked with fuelling the recovery next year. Sir Martin’s support echoes that of Justin King, the chief executive of supermarket Sainsbury, Sir Stuart Rose, the outgoing chairman of Marks & Spencer, and retail entrepreneur Sir Philip Green, who was hired to help find savings across Whitehall’s shambolic procurement processes. The backing comes with a price. The WPP boss says that lower corporate and income taxes will eventually be needed to support the recovery. “In the medium term you chop the tax rates — both personal and corporate — and you lay the emphasis on the strategic development of the country,” he said.


           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]


NY Rep. King: I’ll Hold Hearings on Radical Islam

The incoming chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security said Sunday that he will hold hearings on the “radicalization of the American Muslim community.”

In an op-ed piece in Newsday, Rep. Peter King said such hearings are critical because al-Qaida “is recruiting Muslims living legally in the United States — homegrown terrorists who have managed to stay under the anti-terror radar screen.”

The Long Island Republican said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press that the Muslim community “does not cooperate with law enforcement to anywhere near the extent that they should.”

“With al-Qaida trying to recruit from within their community it’s important that they cooperate,” King said.

A spokesman for the Washington, D.C.-based Council on American-Islamic Relations said he fears King’s hearings will become an anti-Muslim witch hunt.

“We’re concerned that it’ll become a new McCarthy-type hearing,” said the spokesman, Ibrahim Hooper.

Hooper said members of the Muslim community helped foil several recent terrorist plots by cooperating with law enforcement. And he questioned King’s assertion that law-enforcement officials have complained about a lack of cooperation from Muslim leaders.


           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Ashton Picks Finn to be EU ‘Spymaster’

Ilkka Salmi, the 42-year-old head of the Finnish security service, the Suojelupoliisin, has been appointed as the new director of the EU’s intelligence-sharing bureau, the Joint Situation Centre.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Beware Europe: “Threat From Islamic Terrorists Will Grow and Escalate in 2011” — Dr. Rohan Gunaratna

“The terrorist threat to Europe from al Qaeda, its associated groups and homegrown cells will grow and escalate in 2011,” warns Dr. Rohan Gunaratna, the head of a large anti-terrorism research center in Singapore.

When Asian Tribune contacted Dr. Rohan Gunaratna, he in a cautionary note said that, “With the release of key Al Qaeda leaders in exchange of an Iranian diplomat kidnapped by Taliban, the threat to the west especially to Europe will grow in the coming months”.

He further cautioned that “The attack in Stockholm is the beginning of a series of attacks the terrorists are planning in Scandinavia.

Dr. Rohan Gunaratna pointed out, “At this point of time, there is significant propaganda activity and fund raising for terrorist groups, both Muslim and non Muslim groups, such as PKK and LTTE.

The Singapore based internationally renowned terrorism expert made these observation when commenting on the recent bombing in Sweden and also about the suicide bomber said to be one Taymour Abdulwahab, an Arab initially from Iraq, who exploded two bombs recently in the capital of Sweden, who was trained in the United Kingdom.

The terrorist threat to Europe from Al Qaeda, its associated groups and homegrown cells will grow and escalate in 2011. With the release of key Al Qaeda leaders in exchange of an Iranian diplomat kidnapped by Taliban, the threat to the west especially to Europe will grow in the coming months. Subsequently British Prime Minister David Cameron in a statement in the floor of the House Commons, lamented, “Britain has not done enough to counter Islamic extremism.”


           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Final Seconds of the Stockholm Bomber: CCTV Video Shows How Close Killer Came to Murdering Hundreds of Festive Shoppers

Dramatic footage of what are thought to be the final moments of the Swedish suicide bomber has emerged, showing how he was moments from killing and injuring hundreds of Christmas shoppers.

The film, from a CCTV camera only yards from where British-educated Taimour Abdulwahab Al-Abdaly detonated his home-made device, shows a man wearing a backpack walking down one of Stockholm’s busiest shopping streets surrounded by dozens of members of the public.

The man appears to rummage inside his coat, possibly trying to detonate the bomb. He then quickly changes direction, walking back through the shoppers and down a quiet side street.

Four minutes later a huge explosion erupts from the same side street, tearing across the left side of the screen and sending passers-by running amid billowing grey smoke.

Abdulwahab, 28, killed himself and injured two members of the public. Had he successfully detonated the device earlier, police believe he could have killed or injured hundreds of innocent shoppers.

Peter Jonsson, a security expert and former employee of the Swedish intelligence service Saepo, said: ‘The footage shows a very focused individual, walking on a very deliberate line who was not out for Christmas shopping. ‘It looks as if his equipment malfunctions in the crowd and he went back to the quiet side street to go and check on it. Obviously he would not do this on an open street where people would panic.

‘In the footage it looks like he is doing something with his left hand in front of the jacket.

‘With his right hand side, just before he cuts the corner, you can see an antenna and that could be the walkie-talkie that was pictured on the floor after the explosion — he was either talking to an accomplice, or this may have been rigged to detonate the bombs.’


           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Germany: Unions Call for End to Private Health Insurance

Germany’s trade unions are calling for the abolition of private health insurance and for all workers — including public servants and the self-employed — to be gradually brought into a consolidated public system.

According to a report in daily Berliner Zeitung, the Confederation of German Trade Unions (DGB) has calculated that the overhaul would shave 2.5 percentage points from the 15.5 percent of gross income that workers are set to pay from next year for statutory health insurance.

The paper reported Monday that a DGB health insurance reform committee would recommend gradually bringing public servants and self-employed people into the state system, to which the overwhelming majority of Germans already belong.

It would also call for high income-earners to pay a higher share and for people’s investment and rental incomes to be taken into account when calculating their insurance premiums.

The committee was due to release its recommendations on Monday, the paper wrote.

Among other things, it will call for the abolition of private health insurance. In 2008, an estimated 8.6 million people had this type of coverage. From a set future date, all people born in Germany or taking up a job in Germany should be covered only by statutory health insurance.

Furthermore, the income rate at which contributions are capped should be raised from the present €3,750 per month to €5,500. Incomes above the new limit should be slapped with a surcharge of about three percent.

The commission also called for parity to be re-established between workers and employers, meaning that the recently introduced additional contribution of 0.9 percent for workers be scrapped.

Workers’ contribution rates, instead of rising from the current 7.9 percent to 8.2 percent next year, would instead drop to 7.75 percent. The employer’s contribution, meanwhile, would rise from the present 7 percent to 7.75 percent, instead of rising only to 7.3 percent as is currently planned.

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

Italy: ‘Only Virile Boss’ Is Berlusconi Anagram

Premier in buoyant mood at Brussels caucus meeting

(ANSA) — Brussels, December 17 — Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi said Friday he had found out the anagram of his name was “unico boss virile” or “only virile boss”.

The fun-loving premier announced the news to cheers from the youth section of the European People’s Party caucus here.

Berlusconi has traded on a playboy image throughout his political career and has come through a series of sex scandals unscathed, boasting that he loves pretty girls and has never paid for sex.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Berlusconi Says He Has Lured 8 More Lawmakers to Govt

Premier seeking more solid majority after confidence scare

(ANSA) — Brussels, December 17 — Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi said Friday he had lured eight more lawmakers to the government fold as he seeks to build a more solid majority after narrowly surviving a confidence vote in parliament.

Berlusconi won Tuesday’s vote in the Lower House by a margin of three after members of House Speaker Gianfranco Fini’s new Future and Freedom for Italy (FLI) party, which split from the premier’s People of Freedom (PdL) party to set up the showdown, broke ranks and backed the government.

The premier was also able to benefit from one defection from the Democratic Party (PD), the largest centre-left opposition party, and two from Italy of Values (IdV), another opposition party.

“We won by three votes but last night I regained eight more,” Berlusconi told the youth section of the European People’s Party caucus.

“I spent the whole night meeting them, when I’d have preferred to meet beautiful girls,” quipped the premier, who often delights in his playboy image and was in Brussels for a European summit.

Earlier this week Berlusconi said he was targeting individual members of parliament, after being rebuffed by a partner in a previous government, the centrist Catholic UDC.

The UDC has said it will remain in opposition with the FLI, with whom it aims to build a ‘third pole’ in the centre ground of Italian politics.

Berlusconi blasted Fini and UDC leader Pier Ferdinando Casini as “disastrous” and said they should have stayed in his centre-right alliance. He reiterated that he was confident he would have a working majority for the rest of the government’s term, which should run until 2013.

Despite Berlusconi’s optimism, most observers think a spring election is in the offing, with March 27 being repeated as a likely date.

The Northern League, Berlusconi’s key ally, is keen on a snap vote, but intends to wait at least until a cherished fiscal federalist project is passed in January to leave more tax revenue in the richer north of Italy, analysts say.

On Friday the premier also rejected renewed claims from the PD and IdV that he had ‘bought’ MPs in order to win the confidence vote, an allegation prosecutors in Rome are investigating after IdV leader Antonio Di Pietro made a formal complaint.

“There was no transfer market for MPs and nothing was offered, I didn’t offer government positions,” he said, adding that it was normal for MPs to be tempted away from the UDC’s and FLI’s “wagon heading left”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

More German Catholics Leave Scandal-Plagued Flock

Tens of thousands of German Catholics cancelled their church membership in 2010 — considerably more than in 2009 — taking their automatic tax donations with them. The recent abuse scandals motivated many church-leavers.

Thousands more German Catholics have left their church this year than in 2009, with the recent string of sexual abuse revelations and other public scandals apparently motivating many people’s decisions.

Recent studies by the Frankfurter Rundschau daily and the dpa news agency concur that the country’s Catholic churches have lost considerably more members in 2010 than in recent years.

The Bavarian diocese of Augsburg, where Bishop Walter Mixa was forced to stand down in April over physical abuse and embezzlement accusations, recorded some of the worst figures: As of mid-December, 11,351 believers had left the church, compared to 6,953 in 2009.

In the south-western Rottenburg-Stuttgart diocese, 17,169 Catholics had left the church as of mid-November, almost seven thousand more than in 2009.

Trier, Wuerzburg, Osnabrueck and Bamberg all recorded significant increases in departures in 2010, with many disgruntled Catholics apparently seeking new homes with other Christian denominations.

Membership means money

Early indications suggest that the prime mover for people leaving their congregation was the series of sex abuse scandals that have rocked the Catholic Church, and the church’s handling of them…

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Netherlands’ Biggest Mosque Opened

ROTTERDAM, 18/12/10 — After a construction period of over seven years, the biggest mosque in the Netherlands was opened Friday. The Essalam mosque in Rotterdam offers space for 1,500 Muslims.

The mosque was officially opened by Mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb and Alderman Hamit Karakus. They, respectively Moroccan and Turkish, are Muslims themselves. Among the invited guests were the ambassadors of Dubai and Morocco.

The new mosque, built in a traditional style with 50 metre high minarets, is the biggest Islamic house of prayer in the Netherlands and one of the biggest in Western Europe. A substantial portion of the money for the mosque has come from a Sheik in Dubai, who also has placed his followers on the mosque management board.

Much opposition to the building existed in the years past, among others among the local population. Construction was halted for months several times.

Rotterdam city council threatened to withdraw the building permit, mainly under pressure from Liveable Rotterdam, the biggest party among white Rotterdammers. As well, a portion of the Moroccan Muslims who would make use of the mosque did not want the intervention from Dubai.

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

Netherlands: Hofstad Group Was a Terrorist Organisation, Says Appeal Court

The group of young men who became known as the Hofstad group had formed an organisation which aimed to carry out terrorist attacks, the Amsterdam appeal court ruled on Friday.

The seven defendants were sentenced to jail terms of between 15 months and 13 years. The longest sentence went to Muslim convert Jason Walters, who has an American father and Dutch mother.

He was earlier sentenced to 15 years for five counts of attempted murder after throwing a handgrenade at police during his arrest in 2004.


Walters, who has since renounced Islam, was 19 at the time of his arrest. The appeal court said it had taken his youth into account in reducing his sentence.

The seven are part of a loose grouping of young Muslims which police named the Hofstad group. It is said to include Mohammed Bouyeri who murdered film maker Theo van Gogh in 2004.

Friday’s verdict is the latest in a long legal process against the group. They were first found guilty of membership of a terrorist organisation but then found not guilty on appeal.

However in February the high court ordered a retrial, saying the definitions for the ‘existence and structure of a criminal or terrorist organisation’ used by the first appeal court were ‘too strict’ .

The public prosecution department welcomed Friday’s verdict but are now preparing for the case to be referred back to the High Court, the Telegraaf reports.

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

Sweden Attack Shows More Needed to Combat Extremism: UK PM

UK Prime Minister David Cameron admitted on Wednesday that his country has not invested enough in fighting domestic Islamic extremism and vowed to do more in light of reports that a Swedish suicide bomber lived and studied northwest of London.

“I think if we’re frank on both sides of the House [of Commons], we have not done enough to deal with the promotion of extremist Islamism in our own country,” he told lawmakers, referring to all political parties.

News that a suicide bomber who attacked a busy shopping street in Stockholm on Saturday had studied and lived in Britain has raised fresh soul-searching here about how to combat radicalism, five years after four home-grown bombers attacked the London transport system in 2005, killing 52 people.

“Whether it’s making sure that imams coming over to this country can speak English properly, whether it’s making sure we deradicalise our universities, I think we do have to take a range of further steps and I’m going to be working hard to make sure that we do this,” Cameron said.

“Yes, we have got to have the policing in place, yes we’ve got to make sure we invest in our intelligence services, yes we’ve got to cooperate with other countries. But we’ve also got to ask why it is that so many young men in our own country get radicalised in this completely unacceptable way,” he added.

The man responsible for Sweden’s first-ever suicide bombing is believed to have been Taymour Abdulwahab, who until recently had lived in Luton, northwest of London.

He was carrying a cocktail of explosives, but succeeded in killing only himself accidentally on Saturday afternoon near a busy Stockholm pedestrian shopping area.

The man killed himself before he could carry out what, according to the lead prosecutor on the case, appears to have been a mission to murder “as many people as possible.” Two others were injured when his car exploded nearby minutes earlier.

Media described the man as an Iraqi-born Swede, although Swedish security service Säpo did not confirm his country of origin, only saying he was from the Middle East and became a Swedish citizen in 1992.

Abdulwahab left the small Swedish town of Tranås three hours southwest of Stockholm in 2001 to study in the British city of Luton. He had been living there with his wife and three children until only weeks before the attack.

The chairman of a mosque in Luton where he used to worship said he had stormed out in 2007 after a series of confrontations over his extremist opinions and had not been seen since.

An Islamist website, Shumukh al-Islam, posted a purported will by Abdulwahab in which said he was fulfilling a threat by Al-Qaeda in Iraq to attack Sweden.

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

Sweden Bomber’s Father-in-Law ‘Not Sad’ For Death

The father-in-law of the man believed to have carried out Sweden’s first suicide bombing on Saturday revealed on Friday that he is “not sad” about his death, adding that the man did not divulge his plans to family members.

“We did not know and were not aware of his criminal plans. We feel no sorrow. We are not sad about his death. Quite the opposite,” Ali Thwany wrote in a statement to several media outlets, including the Expressen daily, which published it on its website.

Thwany’s son-in-law, Taimour Abdulwahab, is strongly believed to have been Saturday’s bomber, although police have yet to officially identify the man who first blew up his car and later himself near a crowded pedestrian street in central Stockholm.

He was carrying a cocktail of explosives and police suspect he may have left the crowd of Christmas shoppers due to a problem with the bombs when he mistakenly set off a small charge while standing in an empty side-street.

The bomber was the only person to die, but two people were slightly injured when his car exploded minutes earlier about 300 metres away.

“My daughter Mona has been tricked into living with him. She did not know her husband was a criminal, or about his hidden and open intentions. I count his departure as the door to freedom for my daughter. Now she can be free from the brainwashing of terrorism,” Thwany wrote.

Reports have said Abdulwahab arrived in Sweden as a child from Iraq and could have become radicalised in Britain, where he attended university and lived for the last few years with his wife Mona and three children.

“With his action, he denies all the good he has received from Sweden, Sweden which took us in [and] has given us what no Arab or Muslim country has given us,” Thwany lamented.

“We distance ourselves from him, and we have no connection to him in any way. Everything that has happened, he is personally responsible for,” he said, stressing though that “an unknown group has brainwashed him and tricked into this.”

Investigators are busy seeking to determine whether the bomber, whom they suspect aimed “to kill as many people as possible,” had accomplices.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

UK: Hit-Run Killer ‘Has No Pity’

HIT-AND-RUN killer Aso Mohammed Ibrahim knows enough English to work the UK legal system. Yet the failed asylum seeker refuses to say “sorry” to the heartbroken father of the girl he left for dead. Paul Houston, 41, says Ibrahim has never shown an “ounce of remorse” over the crash that killed his daughter Amy, 12. Mr Houston, of Darwen, Lancashire, has fought a seven-year legal battle to have Ibrahim, 33, deported but two senior immigration judges last week ruled he could stay as he had a right to a family life with his British wife and two children. The UK Border Agency has said it would appeal against the ruling. Ibrahim, of Blackburn, was jailed for four months over Amy’s death. He also has a string of criminal convictions. Questions have now emerged about Ibrahim’s true identity. A Border Agency source said last night: “We have doubts Ibrahim is this man’s real name.”

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

UK: Muslim and Jewish Groups Object to Labelling of Ritually Slaughtered Meat

About 10 million turkeys are expected to be eaten in the UK over Christmas with most people unaware of how the bird on their plate was killed. All that could change under proposed EU legislation that would require the labelling of unstunned halal and kosher meat, to the chagrin of Muslim and Jewish groups.

All meat and meat products “derived from animals that have not been stunned prior to slaughter ie have been ritually slaughtered,” would have to be specified as such under amendment 205 to the EU food information regulations.

The stated aim is to allow consumers to make an informed choice, consistent with their ethical concerns, but opponents argue it is discriminatory.

“If you are only labelling meat provided for Muslims and Jews you are discriminating against Muslims and Jews,” said Shimon Cohen, campaign director for Shechita UK.

“There is no conclusive evidence to show our method of animal slaughter is anything but humane.”

Cohen said many more animals are “mis-stunned” and thereby suffer “excruciating pain” than are slaughtered under the shechita slaughter method, from which kosher meat is obtained.

Opponents fear labelling would cut demand for ritually slaughtered meat, causing producers to pull out and forcing prices higher for remaining consumers.

Compassion in World Farming (CIWF), which lobbied for the amendment, cited a report by the UK Farm Animal Welfare Council which found that cutting the throat without stunning induced “significant pain and distress” to make its case.

“We don’t have a problem with religious slaughter, we have a problem with any kind of slaughter that is inhumane,” said Phil Brooke, welfare development manager at CIWF. “While it’s allowed we think that any products that come from an unstunned animal should be labelled as such.”

Emotions among Jews and Muslims have been inflamed by far-right groups such as the British National Party and English Defence League whipping up opposition to halal meat — the former describes it as a “barbaric and disgusting Islamic tradition” — while not targeting kosher meat.


           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

UK: RAF Commander: Our Air Force Will be Little Better Than Belgium’s

Air Vice-Marshal Greg Bagwell, commander of the RAF’s No 1 Group, which controls all Britain’s fast jet combat aircraft, said that Britain was likely to end up with only six fighter and bomber squadrons, half its current number. He warned: “That might not be quite enough.” Air Vice-Marshal Bagwell’s remarks, in a briefing last week to Defense News, a trade journal, are among the most outspoken by any senior RAF commander. He warned that even the reductions that have been publicly announced — from 12 fast-jet squadrons to eight — would leave the RAF only “just about” able to do its current tasks, with no leeway for the unexpected. “Am I happy to be down at that number [eight squadrons] next April? No, it worries the hell out of me,” he said. “I can just about do Operation Herrick [Afghanistan], and the QRAs [air defence operations]. Can I do other things? Yes, but it is at risk.”

In the medium-term, over the next seven to 10 years, Air Vice-Marshal Bagwell said, the RAF “will be a six-squadron world; that’s what’s on the books”. He said he expected there to be five squadrons of Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft and just one of the Harrier’s long-term replacement, the Joint Strike Fighter. “I expect a single [JSF] squadron in 2020 and that’s it,” he said. Asked whether this left the RAF on the same level as Belgium, he replied: “I think we’re slightly above Belgium, and we are not a Belgium-minded country.” He added: “I might, over the next few years, argue that that might not be quite enough.” As recently as the 1990s the RAF had 30 front-line fast-jet squadrons. Air Vice-Marshal Bagwell described the decision to axe the RAF’s Harrier aircraft, which went out of service last week, as something that “takes us below what we would have seen as a sensible position.” He said the longer-term “problem” for the RAF was that “you can’t in 2018 go, ‘oh hang a on a sec, I’m a bit short of fast jets, can we just hang on a sec …’ it’s going to take a while to build [them]. Will we get caught out? Maybe. Do we know what the risks are? Yes.”


           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

UK: Swine Flu: Half of Worst Afflicted Were Previously in Good Health

Professor Dame Sally Davies, the Government’s chief medical officer, has written to all GPs and NHS hospitals warning of a “sharp increase” in the numbers of patients admitted to intensive care because swine flu has caused their lungs to fail. The letter says pressures on critical care services are “significantly over and above” those expected at this time of year. Crucially, the memo, written on Tuesday, says that while “half of patients requiring respiratory support have had recognised comorbidities [underlying health problems] which increase the risk for severe influenza, half have had no recognised comorbidities.” A spokesman for the Department of Health (DoH) confirmed that the presence of so many previously healthy people among those worst affected by the virus was “unusual” and said anyone concerned about worsening flu-like symptoms should contact their GP. While overall flu levels remain normal for this time of year, the rate of flu has more than doubled in just seven days, latest figures show.

The official death toll from flu this winter has now reached 17, including six children. Fourteen of the deaths were linked to swine flu, and none of those who died had been vaccinated against the virus. In the same letter, the senior doctor says pregnant women, children, young adults, and those who are overweight are among the most severely ill.


           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

UK: Temperatures Set to Hit Record Low of -26C in England as Forecasters Predict Freezing Countdown to Christmas

Forecasters are predicting that the lowest temperature ever recorded in England could be broken this week.

They suggest that the record low of -26.1C could be topped as the snow and bad weather caused air and road chaos across the country.

While they say that their prediction is a cautious one, the winter solstice this coming Tuesday is said to increase the chance as the sun is at its lowest point in the sky.

The likely location of the low could be in Shropshire, where the previous record was set in January 1982, or in Herefordshire…

           — Hat tip: bewick[Return to headlines]

UK: US Embassy Cables Detail the Radical Muslim Problem

Nearly one-third of Muslim college students in Britain support killing in the name of religion, while 40 percent want to live under Islamic law, according to a secret cable from the U.S. Embassy in London that reviewed public polling data and government population predictions.

A survey of 600 Islamic and 800 non-Islamic students at 30 universities found that 32 percent of the Muslims believed in religious killing, while only 2 percent of non-Muslim students felt religious murder was justified, the cable said, referring to a poll conducted by the Center for Social Cohesion.

The embassy cable, released by the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks, said the same survey revealed that 54 percent of Muslim students want to be represented by an Islamic-based political party.

The poll also showed that 40 percent of Muslim students endorse Islamic, or Shariah, law, which can impose the death penalty for religious heresy and adultery, often by stoning, or the amputation of hands for theft. Since 2008, Britain has allowed Muslims to follow Shariah law in civil cases, but not in criminal trials.

The embassy report, written in February, also noted that Muslims represent the largest non-Christian religious community in Britain. Although Muslims comprise only 3 percent of the British population of nearly 60 million, they have grown to 2 million from 1.6 million in seven years. The government projects the Muslim population will reach 2.2 million in the next census in 2011, the cable said.


           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

UK: Why Are 36% of Our Universities Training Muslim Terrorists?

EFFORTS to spot violently radical students within our universities are doomed to failure because academics cannot get to grips with the potentially deadly problem, a Sunday Express investigation has revealed. As detectives try to find out what happened in the years that a suicide bomber was at university before he tried to kill 100 Christmas shoppers in Sweden last Saturday, our security services are eagerly awaiting the pearls of wisdom from Professor Malcolm Grant, the Provost of University College London. M15 chiefs have already warned 39 universities that they have a serious problem with Islamic “violent extremism” and were alarmed when 14 of those institutions chose not to seek a Government grant to help deal with the issue. Now their hopes of getting tough, positive action lie with Professor Grant, who, with a small team of academics, has been commissioned by UK Universities to address the troubling situation.

Professor Grant’s report for UK Universities, the advisory body for the country’s 133 universities, will be published early in the New Year. He was seen as the ideal person to write new guidelines on dealing with student radicalisation not just because of his academic brilliance but because one of his former students, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, tried to blow up a jet over Detroit last Christmas Day. however, inquiries suggest that his report may not deliver the much-needed wake-up call to chancellors and vice chancellors. Sources fear it is likely to be a wordy academic discourse which tries to balance the need for freedom of speech and academic freedom while also tackling extremism, a stance which some argue is a recipe for fence-sitting.


           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

University Under Fire as a ‘Hotbed of Extremism’

Muslim extremists were trying to recruit students outside the University of Bedfordshire more than a year ago — but police were powerless to stop them.

On Monday (December 13) it emerged that last weekend’s Stockholm suicide bomber Taimour Abdulwahab al-Abdaly had graduated with a BSc in sports therapy from the University of Luton.

Abdulwahab, 28, lived in Argyll Avenue, Luton, and was enrolled between 2001 and 2004, and British security services are trying to establish whether he was radicalised while he studied there.

This week fears have surfaced that the institution — now known as University of Bedfordshire — is a ‘hotbed’ for extremists and would-be terrorists.

While the university this week strenuously denied any cases of extremist activity ever having taken place on its campus, our sister paper Luton & Dunstable Express published a story in October 2009 revealing Muslim radicals were trying to recruit students outside its main entrance during Freshers’ Week.

Around 15 extremists, some of whom had branded soldiers ‘baby-killers’ and spat at them during the Royal Anglian Regiment’s homecoming parade in Luton town centre in March that year, set up two stalls outside the campus in Park Street and handed out leaflets, some of which showed a placard depicting former US President George Bush below a headline ‘Terrorist Murderer’.

In the House of Commons on Wednesday (December 16), Prime Minister David Cameron said: “If we are frank on both sides of the House, we have not done enough to deal with the promotion of extremist Islamism in our own country.

“Whether it is making sure that imams coming over to this country can speak English properly, or whether it is making sure that we de-radicalise our universities, we have to take a range of further steps, and I am going to be working hard to make sure that we do.”

The university of Bedfordshire insists there has never been a case of extremism on its campus.

But our sister paper Luton & Dunstable Express’s story in October 2009 about radicals operating outside its Park Street main entrance during Freshers’ Week shows they have tried to recruit its students in the past…

           — Hat tip: Vlad Tepes[Return to headlines]

US Pressured Italy to Influence Judiciary

The CIA rendition of cleric Abu Omar in 2003 turned into a headache for Washington when a Milan court indicted the agents involved. Secret dispatches now show how the US threatened the Italian government in an attempt to influence the case. Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was apparently happy to help.

In 2007, a court in Milan started trying several CIA agents in absentia for their roles in the 2003 kidnapping of Abu Omar, an Egyptian cleric who had been living in the northern Italian city. When the indictments first came down, the US government tried to intervene — first in Milan and then in Rome — so as to influence the investigations of the public prosecutor’s office.

At first, the efforts were conducted via diplomatic channels. But, later, they also took place during top-level talks with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. American diplomats and even the US secretary of defense were assured that the Italian government “was working hard to resolve the situation.” And they also got to hear Berlusconi vent his rage at his own country’s judicial system.

These anecdotes come from secret dispatches from the US Embassy in Rome, and they are particularly embarrassing for Berlusconi, who recently survived a confidence vote in parliament. The documents provide detailed descriptions of how both the American ambassador and US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates exerted direct pressure on the Italian government in Rome. In particular, they wanted to make sure that Rome would use its influence to make sure that no international arrest warrants were issued for the CIA agents accused of being involved in Abu Omar’s abduction.

The case bears an uncanny resemblance to how the United States dealt with the affair involving Khaled el-Masri, a German citizen with Lebanese roots who was also unlawfully kidnapped by the CIA in Macedonia in late 2003 for having alleged ties to terrorism. In that case, US diplomats in Germany tried to prevent local officials from pursuing a case against CIA officials involved in el-Masri’s abduction and issuing an international arrest warrant for them. In the wake of 9/11, the CIA had expanded such activities with the explicit approval of then-President George W. Bush, abducting several dozen suspected terrorists around the world and transporting them to secret detention centers for interrogation.

Abu Omar’s abduction followed the pattern exactly. Omar, who was known to Italian authorities as a hate preacher at a mosque in Milan, was seized in broad daylight on the open street, hustled into a white van, anesthetized and then flown from Italy to Egypt via Germany. There, Omar claims he was brutally mistreated by Egyptian intelligence officers. He also claims that American officials were present while he was being tortured and interrogated. After being held for 14 months, Omar was finally released, though he continues to live under a type of house arrest.

An Embarrassing Trial for the CIA

In the case involving Omar, the United States quickly ran into the same problem that it had faced in Germany. Italian journalists and Armando Spataro, the unflinching prosecutor in Milan, uncovered in meticulous detail the CIA agents’ at-times-sloppy efforts to camouflage their actions. And the story quickly became a media sensation — particularly after it emerged that a number of agents had rewarded themselves for the successful kidnapping operation by spending a weekend in a luxury hotel in Venice, complete with generous expense accounts. After months of investigations, the prosecutor produced an overwhelmingly detailed indictment that even included the real names of the kidnappers.

When the trial got underway in Milan in 2007, it was a major disaster for the CIA. Though none of its agents were in the courtroom, just the negative attention it brought the organization was damaging enough. Indeed, the mere fact that a trial was being held might have been what prompted American officials to go much further in their efforts to put pressure on the Italian government than it had on the German government in the case of el-Masri.

Indeed, already in May 2006, the American ambassador in Rome relayed a threatening message: If arrest warrants were in fact issued, it could lead to a drastic deterioration in bilateral relations. For example, in notes following a conversation with high-ranking Undersecretary Gianni Letta on May 24, 2006, the American ambassador wrote that he had explained to Letta that “nothing would damage relations faster or more seriously than a decision by the government of Italy to forward warrants for arrests” of the CIA agents named in connection with the Abu Omar case.

It didn’t take long before the Italians reacted to the threat. At a hastily called meeting, Letta suggested that the best way to get the case wrapped up as quickly as possible would be for the then-US attorney general to speak directly to Clemente Mastella, Italy’s justice minister at the time.

‘Committed to Maintaining Our Strong Anti-Terrorism Cooperation’

The notes provide deep insights into relations between Italy and the United States. Even before the Americans started exerting pressure, the Italian government had already been doing all it could to cover up the Abu Omar affair. All the evidence and knowledge that Italian officials had about the kidnapping were declared state secrets, making them worthless to prosecutor Spataro in terms of arguing his case. The Americans were very happy about this move. In fact, one American diplomatic cable regarding the classification of evidence says that the Italian government “is fully committed to maintaining our strong anti-terrorism cooperation.”

Other cables create the impression of a subservient stance on the part of the Italians — to the point that they became active accomplices. With startling frankness, members of the government suggest to the Americans that Italy’s independent judiciary could be easily manipulated. In any other country, publicizing the kind of things cited in the cables would probably prompt a government crisis. But in the Italy of 2010 — where Prime Minister Berlusconi has already had laws amended on several occasions so as to prevent legal proceedings against himself — it’s hard to tell if the leaking of the American diplomatic documents has had any effect at all.

The cables also cast an unflattering light on Berlusconi himself. Secretary of Defense Gates had an appointment with the Italian prime minister at the Palazzo Chigi, his official residence, in February 2010. Gates, a former director of the CIA, was interested in the fate of Joseph Romano, a US Air Force officer who had already been convicted with the other 22 CIA agents in November 2009. Gates wanted to obtain immunity for Romano, since, in his view, the Italian judiciary did not have jurisdiction over him.

Berlusconi’s response shows his condescending attitude towards an independent judiciary. According to the cable, he told Gates that he “was working hard to resolve the situation.” Then, he apparently said that the justice system was “dominated by leftists” and that he had many enemies, especially among the public prosecutors. He also made the prediction that the “courts will come down in our favor” in the appeal proceedings.

Helping the Americans

Berlusconi was not the only Italian that was helpful during Gates’ visit. The next day, Gates met Italian Defense Minister Ignazio La Russa. The secret cable relates how Gates thanked his counterpart for sending letters to the relevant agencies, supporting the argument that the US had jurisdiction over Romano. La Russa also suggested to Gates that the US be more present in the appeals process and not leave the matter solely to Rome.

In the end, a solution was found that was very similar to the one reached in Germany in the case of Khaled el-Masri. Although there were verdicts, arrest warrants and extradition requests in the case, the Italian government refused to formally forward the requests to the US, just as Berlin had done. As a result, Abu Omar’s kidnappers are still at large.

The only consequence is that Robert Seldon Lady, the former CIA station chief in Milan, had to change his plans for his retirement. He can no longer travel to the wonderful property that he bought for himself in Tuscany.

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


Kosovo: Was Europe Blind?

The European Council report released on 15 December accusing Kosovo’s leadership of organ trafficking raises plenty of questions about the EU’s indulgent attitude towards prime minister Hashim Thaçi and former Albanian separatists.

In his report, Swiss senator Dick Marty, who gained fame for first revealing the existence of secret CIA prisons holding alleged terrorists, “accuses the prime minister and several government officials from the UÇK [KLA — Kosovo Liberation Army] of being directly responsible for organ trafficking”, explains Le Monde. “Marty has identified six detention centres in Albania in which Kosovo Serbs or pro-Serb Albanians were held. These centres allegedly continued to operate even after the Serb surrender [following NATO bombardments] in June 1999”. This situation, notes the French newspaper, “persisted until NATO deployed international forces. Once the prisoners were taken to Albania, they were tortured” — and their organs were removed, in some cases.

This is not the first time such accusations have been levelled at Thaçi and his henchmen, points out Le Monde: in her book The Hunt (2008), Carla del Ponte, former prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, “already accused KLA members, who were leading the armed struggle against Serbia at the time, of extracting organs from nearly 300 captives held in Albania”.

Kidnapped on orders from the prime minister of a European state?

“Is it possible? Is it possible that people could have been kidnapped on orders from the prime minister of a European state? That he had them murdered in order to extract organs from their dead bodies, e.g. kidneys for rich customers in Germany, Canada, Poland or Israel willing to shell out up to €45,000 for the deal?” asks the Tageszeitung (TAZ). “Is it possible that Hashim Thaçi, the prime minister of Kosovo, unanimously backed by Berlin, London, Paris and Washington, owes his political power to wealth he amassed in criminal activities?” At any rate, according to the Berlin daily, “Dick Marty’s report will heavily impact the dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo that has been heralded with much pomp and circumstance in Brussels.”

Indeed, explains the TAZ, “Not a single Serb would agree to sit down at the negotiating table with Thaçi. Without him, however, it will be virtually impossible to form a government in Pristina following the general elections on 12 December.” Furthermore, “If Eulex, the EU mission in Kosovo, wants to remain credible, it will now have to conduct an impartial investigation into Thaçi & Co — which it has refrained from doing so far because a number of Albanian politicians are former guerrilla commanders and still have armed groups at their disposal.”

Everything about Thaçi’s criminal involvement puts the EU in the dock

So how will Brussels react? Hard to say: “In September 2010, the War Crimes section head for EULEX made statements that completely, or almost completely, contradict Dick Marty’s report”, notes Le Temps. There was “no evidence”, according to Finnish police officer Matti Raatikainen, to corroborate the charges of organ trafficking made against Thaçi’s entourage, recalls the Swiss daily…

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

North Africa

Egypt: Opinion Leader for EU Greater Economic Role, Study

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, DECEMBER 16 — A massive 98% of egyptian opinion leaders would like to see the EU play a greater economic role in the country and 97% want more action on trade. Other top priorities include education, culture and the environment. The general public, however, show a distinct lack of enthusiasm, with less than half wanting a greater EU role, even in economic development (the highest scoring sector at just 42%). This is one of the results of a study, promoted by the EU-funded Opinion Polling and Research (OPPOL) project, under the 2007-2010 ENPI regional information and communication programme. It is carried out across the countries benefiting from the European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument (ENPI).

According to the Enpi website (, the survey involved 100 opinion leaders, followed up by an opinion poll questioning 419 members of the general public. The majority of respondents believe the EU has good relations with Egypt, an impressive 95% among opinion leaders, but only 56% among the general public. Indeed, for the majority of the general public, the spontaneous perception of the EU is positive with caveats: while one third of the respondents who are aware of the EU can see that Egypt has benefited from the EU, some 40% believe it has not. Opinion leaders are far more positive than the general public. Regarding the EU’s ability to promote peace and stability in the country, 54% of opinion leaders are subscribing to the view, and just 39% of the general public. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

British Woman Played Dead to Escape Being Stabbed as Knifemen Pounced on Forest Hiking Trip and Killed Her Friend

A British woman was hurt and her friend killed in a brutal attack as they hiked through a forest in Jerusalem.

Kaye Wilson, 46, recounted her terror today after managing to escape the assailants by pretending to be dead. She then fled to a parking area where other people alerted authorities.

The dead body of her friend, an American, was found the next day with her hands bound behind her back and having suffered multiple stab wounds.

Miss Wilson told police they had been attacked by two Arab men while hiking in the Mata forest, near the town of Beit Shemesh, on Saturday.

The American has been identified as Christine Logan.

Speaking from her hospital bed, Miss Wilson, who emigrated to Israel in the 1990s, recalled the moment when one of her attackers pulled a serrated knife on her and her friend, who was visiting the Middle East country.

She told Israeli newspaper Haaretz she and her companion had been sitting down, just off the hiking trail, when the two men approached and asked them in Hebrew if they had any water.

She tried to get them to leave, she said, feeling that ‘something wasn’t right’, and the two women then headed back towards the trail.

‘Suddenly I noticed them,’ she went on. ‘It all happened so fast. They came and attacked us.’

One of the men pulled out a long knife, which looked like a bread knife with a serrated edge, she said.

           — Hat tip: bewick[Return to headlines]

No Renting Houses to Arabs: 55% of Israelis Agree With the Rabbis

A poll published by Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper gives an overview of popular opinion on the controversial appeal signed by over fifty rabbis to prevent the sale or rental of homes to non-Jews. Significant differences between secular and religious.

Jerusalem (AsiaNews / Agencies) — A survey published by Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth showed that 55% of respondents are in favour of the appeal of more than 50 rabbis not to rent or sell apartments to non-Jews. 55% of the adult population of Israel is in agreement with the edict issued by the religious leaders, while 42% claimed to be in total disagreement.

Examining data based on faith, it emerges that about 53% of secular Israelis oppose the call, while 41% support it in some form (18.4% in full, 12.1%, up to a some point, partially 13.6%). The figures change radically among those who observe the rabbi’s edicts, with 64% adhering to rules enacted by the rabbis, 30% opposing them. Among the “Haredim”, religious traditionalists, the proportion rises to 84% of those in favour. In this case, 66% in complete agreement, 22% partially, and only 10% said they were against.

58% of the respondents expressed opposition to demands for the resignation of the rabbis who signed the appeal, while 42% were in favour of their removal. To the question: what would you do if an Arab family bought or rented a house in the vicinity, 57% said that it would be annoying, and 24.5% said they would act, or would consider the idea of acting to prevent the presence of an Arab family in the area, while seven percent said they would move from the area. If answers are divided based on faith, it emerges that about 24% of “secular” respondents would think or they would act to take action against the arrival of an Arab family in the neighbourhood, the figures rise to 31% in the case of those who practise their faith and hits 78% when it comes to “Haredim”.

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

PNA: 80% for EU Projects, From Education to Healthcare

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, DECEMBER 16 — Palestinians are in favour of the Eu development projects: 80% of the general public is aware of the EU’s role in financing projects, with particular awareness of support in healthcare and education. Among opinion leaders likewise, the level of support for EU actions is particularly high in nearly all areas (and consistently higher than the average among other countries of the region), especially in the areas of education, trade and economic development.This is one of the results of a study, promoted by the EU-funded Opinion Polling and Research (OPPOL) project, under the 2007-2010 ENPI regional information and communication programme. It is carried out across the countries benefiting from the European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument (ENPI). According to the Enpi website (, the survey involved 64 opinion leaders, followed up by an opinion poll questioning 400 members of the general public. An impressive 93% of the general public would like to see the EU play a greater economic role in the Territories. Other top priorities include energy security, regional cooperation and trade. Opinion leaders also strongly feel the EU should play a greater role in education (94%). An impressive 93% of the general public would like to see the EU play a greater economic role in the country.

Other top priorities include energy security, regional cooperation and trade. Opinion leaders also strongly feel the EU should play a greater role in education (94%). Opinion leaders are far more positive than the general public. While 54% of the general public believe the EU can help bring peace and stability to the Territories, 83% of opinion leaders do so. (ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

US Woman’s Body Found in Jerusalem-Beit Shemesh Area

Police launch homicide investigation; 2nd woman, Kaye Susan Wilson, alerts police after escaping attackers with hands bound, stab wounds.

The body of Christine Logan, who went missing in the Beit Shemesh-Jerusalem area, was found early Sunday morning after police and IDF searched all Saturday night, fearing she had been kidnapped in a nationalistically motivated incident.

The search, which was joined by volunteers, was launched after another woman, Kaye Susan Wilson reported being attacked by two Arab men in a forest near Mata, located outside Jerusalem, within the Green Line. Wilson was found with her hands bound and several stab wounds to her chest and back. Logan’s body was found several hundred meters from the road between Mata and Beit Shemesh.

Police have launched a homicide investigation.

On Saturday, Wilson said she had escaped her attackers and managed to reach Mata, where she met two families in a park. They contacted emergency services.

Wilson, 46, a tour guide, made aliya from Great Britain in 1991, and lives in Givat Ze’ev.

Her stab wounds were superficial and she did not lose a lot of blood, according to a spokesman at Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem. She suffered moderate-to-light injuries, and was treated in the trauma unit.

The spokesman refused to give any more details, saying the case was in police hands, and declined to let doctors speak to the press.

Kaye remained conscious on the way to the hospital, Magen David Adom paramedics said.

“She described being attacked, tied up and stabbed by two Arab men,” police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.

“She did not know who they were, or what the reason for the attack was. We are examining whether this is a nationalistic stabbing, but other leads are being examined as well,” Rosenfeld said.

Security forces were highly concerned for Logan’s safety. The IDF and Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) became involved in the search and the investigation as concern mounted on Saturday night.

Police sealed off Route 375 near Mata in both directions, erected roadblocks in the Jerusalem area, and scrambled helicopters to assist in the search.

Jerusalem district police chief Cmdr. Aharon Franco told reporters during a press briefing in the area that searchers were being guided by descriptions of Logan given by Wilson.

Israel Police Insp.-Gen. David Cohen traveled to a mobile command and control center set up by Jerusalem police to coordinate operations, and the IDF dispatched additional forces to help comb the area.

           — Hat tip: 4symbols[Return to headlines]

Middle East

Five Iraqi Christians Seeking Asylum Returned From Stockholm. UN Protest

The UN Commission for Refugees sharply criticizes the Swedish government for the forced repatriation of five Christians who fled Baghdad for fear of attacks. “Many of the newcomers explain they left Iraq for fear of an attack, after what happened on October 31,” says a UN spokesman.

Baghdad (AsiaNews / Agencies) — Harsh criticism of the Swedish government by the United Nations Commission for Refugees after they forcibly returned five Iraqi Christians seeking asylum in Sweden. The five were part of a group of at least 20 people from Iraq. Thousands of Christians have sought a safe haven outside the borders after the massacre of 31 October in the Syrian Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Salvation. According to unofficial sources the authorities justify the refusal by citing a situation of relative peace in the country.

“We have heard many stories of people fleeing their homes after receiving direct threats. Many new arrivals explain that they left Iraq for fear of an attack, after what happened on October 31, “says Melissa Fleming, spokeswoman for the UN body in Geneva.

“Some might take only a few things with him,” adds Fleming. The deportation of the five Iraqi Christians took place a week after a suicide bomber, born in Iraq and resident in Great Britain, blew himself up in central Stockholm.

Al Qaeda has claimed responsibility for the massacre in Baghdad, and said that Christians are a legitimate target. Killings and other violent incidents have followed, and according to Fleming about a thousand families have fled Baghdad to the Nineveh province in search of relative security in the Kurdish area. The UN officials in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon say that a growing number of Iraqi Christians are coming, and asking for help. In Syria alone about 133 families — 300 people — have sought refugee status in November. In Jordan, the number of asylum applications from Iraq have doubled in a month. The UN says that the return from Sweden comes at a time when officials on the spot report a growing number of cases of attacks on Christians.

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

From the Bosphorus: Straight — Turkey’s Enlightened Shiite Example

On the occasion of “Asure günü,” or “Ashura” in English, a holiday celebrated around the world and marked Thursday by many Turkish adherents of Shiism, we pause to congratulate the faithful. We also want to praise the example of Turkey’s Shiite community, known locally as “Caferis,” for their enlightened Islamic practice.

We want to take a moment to note their example, as we believe Islam to be a religion that can and should fully respond to a world very different from the one that existed in the time of the Prophet Mohammed. We believe this responsiveness derives from a faith made so by the wisdom of the Holy Quran itself. And while Turkish Shiites have demonstrated this, their co-religionists in the country’s Religious Affairs Directorate have fallen behind, most notably in a ruling that effectively bans chairs in Muslim houses of worship for the infirm to pray without ritual kneeling. An important factor it its decision, as we reported Thursday, is that seating in mosques could make them appear like churches.

But first let’s get back to Ashura, which falls on the 10th of Muharram, the first month of the Islamic lunar calendar. For Shiite Muslims it is a major religious festival commemorating the martyrdom of Husayn, a grandson of the Prophet Mohammad. It is made up of mourning rituals and in some Shiite societies, men seek to emulate Husayn’s suffering by flagellating themselves with chains or cutting their foreheads. This was once practiced in Turkey.

In recent years, however, Turkey’s Shiites have replaced this ritual with blood drives, setting up tents in many cities to support Turkey’s Red Crescent Society. In a country critically short of donated blood for emergencies and routine medical needs, we have no doubt just how the Prophet, or his grandson, might regard this change. This is faith faithful to our age.

By contrast, the Religious Affairs Directorate has ruled against a request for chairs in mosques, formally ruling this to be incompatible with the culture of Islamic prayer. This is hardly the case.

We would suggest the directorate consult advice on practice of prayer at the popular Islamic website, It not only advises that use of a chair by those who cannot stand or kneel is perfectly acceptable. It also cites the authority of Islamic scholarly text that in the case of immobility, rituals can even be followed simply with the moving of eyes.

We suspect the real problem is a conservative abhorrence for an idea of “camilere sira koymak,” or “placing pews in the mosques” proposed in the 1930s. The idea back then, was to make Islam more Christian-like.

We would agree that the proposal back in the 1930s was religiously offensive. So is the ban on mosque seating today.

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

Inside Yemen: Britain’s Woman on the Frontline of the New War on Terror

There is no longer such a thing as a routine day for Fionna Gibb, deputy British ambassador to the Yemeni capital, Sana’a. The last time there was, it nearly killed her. Heading to work one morning in early October, her armoured vehicle was speeding down a dusty dual carriageway when it passed two al-Qaeda hitmen posing as roadside dustmen. The pair, who are thought to have been watching the movements of cars with diplomatic number plates, pulled a rocket launcher from under a dustbin bag and fired. “There was a terrible noise at the back of car, the whole back mudguard had been blown off and the back tyre had gone down so it was running on one rim,” said Ms Gibb, who had arrived in Sana’a from war-torn Basra. “We were very lucky that it didn’t kill us all.” The attack bore the hallmarks of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the movement’s new Yemen-based franchise, which, in addition to October’s parcel bomb plot, and last Christmas’s botched airline attack by the so-called Underpants Bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, has vowed to “kill Crusaders who work in embassies”. Thanks to Britain’s colonial past in Yemen, and its present role in Afghanistan and Iraq, “Crusaders” of the British variety have proved a favourite target. A month before Ms Gibb arrived, the outgoing Ambassador, Tim Torlot, had a similarly narrow escape, when a suicide bomber disguised as a schoolboy hurled himself at his car.


           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Saudi Ordered to Deport Foreign Wife

Police say he broke wedding law though he has two children and wife is pregnant

Saudi authorities have ordered a local man to deport his Chadian wife for breaking the foreign marriage law although they have two children and his wife is pregnant again, local newspapers reported on Sunday.

Police in the eastern port of Dammam this week gave Mustafa Ghalib Al-Bargi one month to deport his wife to her home country or he will face prosecution, Okaz Arabic language daily said.

“Police said they are taking these measures because Al Bargi married his foreign wife without getting permission from the authorities concerned,” it said.

It quoted Al-Bargi as saying his marriage in the Kingdom was approved and documented by the Chadian embassy in Riyadh.

The man told the paper that he has two sons aged two and three years and that his wife is pregnant again.

“Al-Bargi has broken the law and is liable for punishment,” the paper said, quoting Bandr Al-Makhlif, spokesman for the Eastern Province Police.

Okaz said Al-Barqi, who works as a security guard at a private firm in Dammam, married nearly six years ago but it did not mention whether he had agreed to send his wife home or if he can appeal the decision.

Saudi Arabia, which strictly enforces Islamic law, has introduced curbs on mixed marriage following a surge in such cases and in the number of local spinsters.

           — Hat tip: KGS[Return to headlines]

Saudi Warns Public Against New Year Celebration

Saudi Arabia has warned the public against staging New Year celebrations and said shops which sell any items symbolizing the occasion would be punished, the Arabic language daily Okaz said on Sunday.

The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, the most feared Islamic law enforcement body in the Gulf Kingdom, said it would deploy its members across the country to prevent public celebrations on New Year.

But the Commission said its members would not raid houses, adding that it is meant only by festivities that are staged in public.

“We do not know what is going inside homes and we are not meant with monitoring homes,” the Commission said in a statement.

“The responsibility of our men will be confined to controlling and preventing celebrations in public places or calls for such celebrations.”

The statement warned all shops against selling adornment items that “symbolize or reflect” New Year festivities, adding that violators would be punished in accordance with the law and that their items would be impounded.

According to Okaz, authorities in Saudi Arabia, one of the most conservative Muslim nations, also banned the import of any New Year items through its ports.

           — Hat tip: KGS[Return to headlines]

Stockholm Bomber: Banned Extremists Recruit Near Taimur Abdulwahab Al-Abdaly’s Luton Home

The outlawed Islamist group al-Muhajiroun is openly recruiting near the home of the suicide bomber who blew himself up on a Stockholm street last week, The Sunday Telegraph can reveal.

MI5 and anti-terrorist police are attempting to unravel what transformed the father of three into an extremist.

But moderate Muslims in Luton, where Iraqi-born Taimour Abdulwahab lived for almost 10 years, claim the authorities are to blame for turning a blind eye to the activities of hard-core jihadi sympathisers.

Unimpeded by the police, the group, now calling itself The Reflect Project, is accused of mounting a campaign of intimidation and violence against those who disagree with it.

The group’s members are followers of the radical cleric Omar Bakri Muhammad, who is being held in jail in Lebanon on terrorism charges, and are led locally by Ishtiaq Alamgir or Sword of Islam — a former inland revenue accountant.

Earlier this year, Mr Alamgir helped to organise a protest at a homecoming parade in Luton for troops who had served in Afghanistan. The demonstration ended in violence and arrests…

           — Hat tip: bewick[Return to headlines]

The Kurdish Question in Washington and Gülen Factor

One could only have imagined that a representative from Turkey could share a podium with a representative from the Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, a couple of years ago — but such a meeting was conducted by the Middle East Institute, or MEI, in Washington just two weeks ago under very ordinary circumstances.

Can Oguz, a counselor who worked Turkey’s consulate in the KRG in recent years, now at the Turkish Embassy in Washington, represented the Turkish side at the panel, and elaborated on the Turkish engagement in especially Northern Iraq, and accentuated how Iraq’s stability, as a balancing actor in region, is important for the whole region’s stability.

“Iraq-Turkey High Level Strategic Cooperation Council,” which was created between Turkey and Iraq a couple of years ago aims to “reconstruct Iraqi society” and “create stability and security in the region” along with other goals, Oguz said.

Now, thanks to fast increasing trade between the borders, northern Iraq has by itself, become the 10th largest trading partner of Turkey, Oguz said.

Qubad Talabani, KRG’s U.S. representative, at the same panel, was equally optimistic about the better partnership prospects between the regional administration and Turkey, and said Turkey, Iraq and the United States had a lot of overlapping objectives when looking toward Iraq’s future.

Not simply Turkey’s engagement with the KRG, but also the Turkish government’s Kurdish opening was debated in Washington last week at another platform.

At the Brookings Institution, Gönül Tol, Turkey projects director at the MEI, who also took the initiative to put together above Turkey-northern Iraq discussion at the MEI a week earlier, charged that Justice and Development Party, or AKP’s much discussed Kurdish opening, in essence, was a “preemptive attempt” to respond to Abdullah Öcalan’s roadmap for the Kurdish question. Tol argued that the economic interdependence between Turkey and the KRG had eased tensions and fear among both the military establishment and the governing party and was working to diminish Kurdish separatism calls within Turkey.

Hanri Barkey, a Turkey expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, made a presentation at the same panel that was loaded with some sharp warnings. Barkey, who visits the region often, said the AKP’s Kurdish initiative had opened “Pandora’s box,” and concluded his remarks by saying that he expected the process that the initiative had started was going to be messy, but that the clock was not likely to be rewound.

Barkey said Turkey’s stability might have a bleak future, if the Kurdish question is not addressed “in one way or other.” Not many expect the AKP to take any bold steps before the June 2011 general elections. However, experts predict that once the election is over, the government, likely to be another AKP administration, will have to move quickly to deal with the Kurdish issue.

The idea of secession or armed struggle is being abandoned, said Barkey, but new political structures like the Kurdish Communities Union, or KCK, appear to offer a very different challenge to the Turkish state because the latter is not a territorially bound attempt. (A trial against the KCK is continuing against over 1,500 people, including 12 mayors and other politicians.)

The court indictment against the KCK, according to Barkey, charges the KCK with attempting to “create a parallel institution to the Turkish state for the Kurds,” in which the Kurds, regardless of a country, will find “an alternative political identity where one can also have citizenship.”

The AKP, to its credit, took a great risk in 2009 to move on the Kurdish question, but then failed to address it adequately. It is obvious that Ankara, which advocates proactive policies in the region and wants to use its democratic facet as leverage, has to deal comprehensively with the decades-old Kurdish question if it claims to have any pretensions regional power status.

From the talks in Washington in the last two weeks, it appeared that the Turkish government had made enormous progress to acknowledge the KRG and has used its ties with it in a mutually beneficial manner so that both peoples can thrive.

From the talks in Washington, the same Turkish government also appeared quite authoritarian — as it did in the 1990s — and confused in light of the new challenges like the KCK case…

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

Turkish Diplomat Appointed to Key UN Post

Having been appointed to a senior UN post by the UN secretary-general, Ambassador Levent Bilman has become the latest Turkish diplomat to help increase Turkey’s visibility in multilateral diplomacy with posts at international organizations, while Ankara termed the appointment a “a concrete sign of Turkey’s soft power.”

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed Ambassador Bilman, who is currently representing his country in New Delhi, as the director of the Policy and Mediation Division at the UN Department of Political Affairs (UNDPA) which is led by UN Undersecretary-general for Political Affairs Lynn Pascoe.

Ban officially notified Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu of his decision concerning Bilman during a bilateral meeting in New York on Tuesday, the Anatolia news agency reported. Davutoglu has been in New York for a high-level UN Security Council meeting on Iraq.

In Ankara, the Foreign Ministry expressed pleasure over Bilman’s appointment, saying that this appointment will strengthen Turkey’s existing contributions to the UN. “Turkey’s recently increasing success in international organizations is impressive. This success is a concrete sign of Turkey’s becoming more active and of its soft-power,” the ministry said in a written statement released on Wednesday. “Ambassador Bilman’s appointment to the Directorship of the Policy and Mediation Division, at the same time, constitutes manifestation of initiatives assumed by Turkey concerning mediation and its unique position,” the ministry added.


           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

South Asia

Afghanistan Attacks Target Army Bases, Killing 13

Suicide attackers have targeted Afghan military bases in two cities, leaving 13 members of the security forces dead, along with at least five assailants.

In the northern city of Kunduz, suicide bombers stormed an army recruitment centre, sparking a long gun battle.

On the outskirts of Kabul, attackers ambushed an army bus outside the country’s main recruitment centre.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attacks, which President Hamid Karzai called “criminal”.

Correspondents say the attacks were clearly aimed at deterring Afghans from joining the huge drive currently under way to build up the domestic security forces.

The recruitment centre in Kunduz came under attack from at least four suicide bombers — who early reports suggested were dressed in army uniforms, AP news agency quoted the provincial deputy governor Hamdullah Danishi as saying.

Foreign and Afghan soldiers surrounded the building, in which about 100 people were trapped.

“There are gun shots, heavy machine gun fire and RPGs [rocket-propelled grenades],” a local trader told the BBC. He said the base was on fire.

Local police sources say that five Afghan soldiers and three policemen were killed, along with at least three of the attackers. About 20 recent army recruits were wounded.

“The enemy came prepared,” the police chief of Kunduz province, Mawlana Sayed Khel, told the BBC.


           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Deadly Kabul Attack is First in Capital for Months

Insurgents opened fire on a bus carrying the officers on the main road from Kabul to the eastern city of Jalalabad, in the first fatal attack in the Afghan capital since May, when six foreign troops were killed by a large suicide car bomb. In another sign of the challenges facing Nato-led forces, the death toll in 2010 for foreign troops reached 700 over the weekend when a soldier was killed by a roadside bomb in the south of the country. This year’s toll surpasses the 521 foreign troops killed in 2009. The Taliban admitted it had carried out Sunday’s attack in Kabul, bringing to an end a period of relative calm as insurgent leaders had opened tentative talks with the government of President Hamid Karzai. One attacker blew himself up and the other was shot by police before he could detonate his explosives, according to General Mohammad Zahir Azimi, Defense Ministry spokesman. At the same time, militants stormed an army recruitment centre in the northern city of Kunduz. Two attackers detonated their suicide vests and killed five security officers, according to a statement released by the Afghan Defence Ministry.


           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Indonesia: West Java District Bans Migrant Workers

Garut, 15 Dec. (AKI/Jakarta Post) — A district of Indonesia’s West Java province has imposed a temporary ban restricting people from its capital from working as maids in Saudi Arabia or Malaysia after cases of domestic abuse.

“I feel very sorry for the abused migrant workers. Our nation’s dignity has been trampled,” said Garut district administrator Aceng H. M. Fikri on Wednesday.

Fikri said he had learned about the poor conditions faced by Indonesian migrant workers in Saudi Arabia during his recent Hajj pilgrimage

This year, the local government reported two cases of Indonesian migrant workers who were missing in Saudi Arabia.

From 2005 to 2010, 3,186 people from Gaurut went abroad to work as migrant workers, 95 percent of them travelling to the Middle East to work as domestic maids.

The suspension will apply to those working as domestic helpers or in the informal sector, Fikri said.

He said the suspension was a reaction to the poor treatment of Indonesian workers in both countries.

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

Pakistan: China is a More Reliable Trading Partner Than the US, Economist Says

Islamabad, 17 Dec. (AKI) — By Syed Saleem Shahzad — Chinese premier Wen Jiabao arrived Pakistan Friday to kick off on a three-day visit during which he is expected to sign 20 business agreements. According to a senior Pakistani economist, the current visit of Chinese premier marks the beginning of a ten year long economic plan aiming to turn around Pakistan’s economy.

“Unlike Pakistan’s unreliable and dimensionless economic and strategic relations with the US, China aims to give Pakistan’s economy a very sound footing through a decade-long program,” Washington based economist Meekal Ahmad told Adnkronos International (AKI) in an interview in Islamabad.

Ahmed, who served in Pakistan’s Finance Ministry in the late 1980s and the International Monetary Fund through the late 2000s and is frequently consulted by top Pakistani decision makers, said that Pakistan’s economic dependency on Washington is unrealistic, while long-term economic relations with China are more sustainable.

Pakistan and China have a joint venture to develop fighter jets on par with the American F-16, yet it is about half the price, Ahmed said, adding “Pakistan would certainly get export orders.”

“Similarly China offers Pakistan the nuclear power plants America frowns upon and would provide Pakistan a facility to produce cheap energy,” Ahmad said.

China’s economy is booming. The world’s second-largest economy posted annual growth of 9.6 percent in the third quarter of 2010, slowing from 11.9 percent in the first three months of the year. The figures compare with a 2.5 percent expansion for the US economy.

“‘American supremacy’ is just a matter of time. It will become clear in the next five years as to whether Americans will retain their economic superiority or not,” Ahmad said.

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

Religious Attack in Pakistan. Six Dead in the Shiite Festival of Ashura

Mortar bombs destroyed two homes in Hangu in northwestern Pakistan. Today, the Shiites remember the death of Husayn ibn Ali, grandson of Muhammad at the Battle of Karbala. The area is known for frequent clashes between Sunni and Shiite Muslims.

Lahore (AsiaNews / Agencies) — Bloodshed has marked the Shiite festival of Ashura in Pakistan. Eight mortar shells exploded at a religious procession in Hangu, killing six people, including two children. At least eight others were injured. Hangu in northwestern Pakistan, is known because the two largest Muslim communities, the Shia and Sunni, have been protagonists in past conflicts and tensions.

The two mortar shells were fired from the district of Orakzai, which borders Hangu. Orakzai is located in the semi-autonomous tribal area that borders Afghanistan. The bullets hit two houses as the celebrations for Ashura started on Friday, the feast in which the Shiites remember the death (which they consider martyrdom) of Husayn ibn Ali, grandson of the Prophet Muhammad at the Battle of Karbala.

The attack was confirmed by police sources. “Mortar bombs were fired from Orakzai and hit two houses in Hangu. Six people were killed and eight wounded. Among those killed were two children and a woman, “said Fazal Naeem, a spokesman for security forces. In the same city 10 February 2006, 35 people died because of a attack on the Shiite Ashura procession.

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

Tanks ‘Needed to Fight Taliban’

Senior army commanders have asked for the Challenger 2 tanks to be deployed in Helmand, in an admission that forces there lack armoured protection. The tanks would provide close support for infantry and protection against improvised explosive devices (IEDs), according to the Sunday Times. A source told the newspaper: “(The Challenger) can blast a hole in an insurgent compound from a distance and drive straight through it, disabling the IEDs with the minimum of damage. The move follows a decision by the US to send a similar number of heavy Abrams tanks. Until now, the Ministry of Defence has turned down requests for Challengers in Afghanistan, for fear that it would send out the wrong message to locals.


           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Far East

Chinese Military Complete Highway for Troop Movements to India

Troops and materiel can now easily travel on highway to the border with Arunachal Pradesh, which both nations claim. Beijing preaches peace, but pours troops into the area.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) — A new highway now links Metok County, in southern Tibet, to the rest of China. Although of limited economic significance since it has a small population of some 11,000 people, the area is crucial from a military standpoint because it bolsters Chinese claims to the wider region, currently disputed with India.

The People’s Liberation Army did most of the work. On Wednesday, its construction crews broke through the last obstacle in the 3.3-kilometre Galongla Tunnel at 3,750 metres above sea level, thus completing the 117-kilometre Metok highway.

At present, the “PLA’s fighting capability in southern Tibet is very weak because we failed to overcome countless fatal natural barriers there over the past near five decades,” Shanghai-based military expert Ni Lexiong told the South China Morning Post.

Metok County borders Arunachal Pradesh, an area of some 90,000 km2 under Indian control. For Li, China lost this territory in the 1962 war because it could not hold the area. Since then, India has built up its military and civilian infrastructure, with up to 450,000 people moving into the state and nearly 60,000 military personnel stationed there.

On the Chinese side, mountain roads are impassable for nine months of the year, thus troops get by with cured meat and canned food. Fresh vegetables are a luxury, military sources said.

Thanks to the new road, the PLA can mobilise thousands of soldiers to Metok if need be, since it can take up to 2,000 vehicles a day.

“We don’t want to provoke any military conflicts with India, as we know the US, Japan and South Korea all want to draw India to their side to contain China,” said Sun Shihai , a Sino-Indian affairs expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. “We also trust that India doesn’t want to ruin its ties with China either, as it needs to focus on economic development.”

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

Sub-Saharan Africa

Sharia Law to be Tightened if Sudan Splits — President

The north of Sudan will reinforce its Islamic laws if the south secedes as a result of next month’s referendum, President Omar al-Bashir has said.

Mr Bashir said the constitution would then be changed, making Islam the only religion, Sharia the only law and Arabic the only official language.

Correspondents say his comments are likely to alarm thousands of non-Muslim southerners living in the north.

They are currently protected from some of the stronger aspects of Sharia.

“If south Sudan secedes, we will change the constitution,” Mr Bashir told a gathering of his supporters in the eastern town of Gederef on Sunday.

“Sharia and Islam will be the main source for the constitution, Islam the official religion and Arabic the official language,” the president added.

The imposition of Sharia on the non-Muslim south was one of the reasons for the long civil war, which ended when a peace deal was signed in 2005, the BBC’s James Copnall in Khartoum reports.

Under the accord, an interim constitution was drafted that removed Sharia law from the south and also recognised Sudan’s cultural and social diversity, our correspondent says.

President Bashir said on Sunday there would be no question of this diversity when a new constitution was drafted, if the south became independent


           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Somali Islamist Groups to Join Forces: Spokesman

War-ravaged Somalia’s two major Islamist movements have ended their rivalry and merged their military forces, a leader of one of the groups told AFP on Sunday. Fighters from Hezb al-Islam joined the ranks of Al Qaeda-linked Shehab militants battling against African Union-backed forces of the fragile transitional government, according to witness reports. “We have decided to rejoin the Shebab and dissolve Hezb al-Islam. I can tell you from today (Sunday) our group, including the highest commanders, will become members of the Shehab,” said Mohamed Osman Arus, a Hezb al-Islam spokesman. The spokesman said the agreement was reached after talks between leaders of the groups, following several weeks of tension which included the Shehab forcibly taking a town held by Hezb al-Islam.


           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]


Ailing Greece Struggles With a Flood of Illegal Immigrants

After three days at the center, which Rasha says was so crowded with migrants that she couldn’t see the floor, the family got out. Now they’re outside Fylakio waiting to board a bus bound for Athens, where they know no one. “I am hoping,” says Rasha, as Ali holds their exhausted son. “And I am so happy.” (See pictures of immigration in Europe.)

Considering the rise in migrants traveling to Greece, and the poverty and bureaucracy that keeps them stuck there, Rasha’s optimism might soon disintegrate. So far this year, more than 90% of illegal migrants to Europe have entered through Greece, according to Frontex, the E.U.’s border-patrol agency. Until recently, Italy, France and Spain were the most popular entry points for illegal immigration into the continent. But increased coast-guard patrols in the past couple of years have blocked routes by sea, forcing migrants to find a new way in.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Gulf: Record Number of Immigrants, Over 15 Mln

(ANSAmed) — DUBAI, DECEMBER 15 — The number of immigrants in the Gulf area has reached a record of 15.1 million but the peak in remittances may already have started its decline in the countries of origin. This picture is sketched in the report of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), quoted by the newspaper The national. The report will be officially presented this week in New York. Saudi Arabia, the largest and most densely populated of the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), hosts 7.3 million immigrants; the United Arab Emirates hosts 3.3 million (a 20% decrease compared with 2009, caused by the freeze of property and infrastructure projects), Kuwait 2.1 million and Qatar 1.3 million. Oman and Bahrain house fewer than a million migrants, respectively 826,000 and 315,000.

The country with the highest percentage of immigrants compared with its local population is Qatar (87%), followed by the Emirates (70%), Kuwait (69%), Bahrain (39%), Oman and Saudi Arabia (28%). The number of migrants in the whole Middle East increased by 4.5% in the past five years (26.6 million people), making it a region with one of the highest immigration rates in the world. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Microwave Radiation Map Hints at Other Universes

Collisions between our cosmos and other universes may have left round “bruises” in a map of ancient cosmic radiation.

Our universe is thought to have expanded rapidly in a process called inflation in the first moments after the big bang. Some physicists suspect inflation is still happening, starting up in some regions while stopping in others, such as the part of the universe we live in. In this picture, called eternal inflation, new universes are continually popping into existence like bubbles in a vast, expanding sea of space-time.

Many of these universes should be carried away from one another as soon as they form. But universes born close together could collide if they are expanding faster than the space between them.

If our universe was hit by another bubble universe, the impact would release colossal bursts of energy. If this occurred before inflation ended in our patch of the universe, it could leave an imprint that might still be detectable today. Now Stephen Feeney of University College London and colleagues say they may have spotted such imprints in the cosmic microwave background (CMB), the all-sky glow that comes from photons emitted when the universe was less than 400,000 years old.

Hot and cold

A collision would alter how long inflation lasted in the impact zone. If the expansion continued for longer than it otherwise would, the density of matter in the impact zone would be lower than in surrounding regions. This would show up as a cold spot in the CMB. Conversely, a shorter period of inflation would create a warm spot in the CMB.

The team calculated the likely temperature profiles for such impacts and searched for them in CMB data from NASA’s Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe.

The search turned up four circular patches, each spanning an area of sky equivalent to at least eight full moons ( and One is a cold spot that had already been cited as evidence of another universe interacting with our own.

“There’s no obvious, boring explanation for the features,” says team member Matthew Johnson of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Canada…

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

The Cultural Genome: Google Books Reveals Traces of Fame, Censorship and Changing Languages

Just as petrified fossils tell us about the evolution of life on earth, the words written in books narrate the history of humanity. They words tell a story, not just through the sentences they form, but in how often they occur. Uncovering those tales isn’t easy — you’d need to convert books into a digital format so that their text can be analysed and compared. And you’d need to do that for millions of books. Fortunately, that’s exactly what Google have been doing since 2004. Together with over 40 university libraries, the internet titan has thus far scanned over 15 million books, creating a massive electronic library that represents 12% of all the books ever published. All the while, a team from Harvard University, led by Jean-Baptiste Michel and Erez Lieberman Aiden have been analysing the flood of data.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

The Muslim Brotherhood: Should We Engage?

Last summer I began a series of posts entitled “Rethinking Islamism”. I did this not, as some readers appeared to think, to apologise or even propagandise (!) for political Islam, but because it is a dominant ideology in many countries and to understand it, and then decide how to engage with it, seemed important to me — not least because at that particular time a lot of attention was being paid to Turkey, whose AKP government represents either the dangers or the possibilities of an Islamist (or at least Islamist-leaning) party coming to power, according to your point of view.

One book published in the last few months, but overlooked by most literary sections (apart from that of the Economist), adds significantly to the subject. So what follows is a review of a title I would highly recommend, especially to those who see radical Islam, Jihadism, Wahhabism, Salafism and Islamism as one huge monolith and all equally to be feared: “The Muslim Brotherhood: the Burden of Tradition” by Alison Pargeter (Saqi Books GBP 20).

As the author states at the beginning, the Muslim Brotherhood, or Ikhwan, “is one of the longest surviving but also perhaps the most controversial of all Islamist movements to have emerged from the Middle East. The interest and controversy over the Brotherhood spring from the fact that it represents a complete conundrum to many of those trying to fathom it.” Is it a social movement? A political party? A transnational organisation? Committed to democracy or to the imposition of an Islamic state?

Has it always been a fomenter of bloodshed, as the former Kuwaiti minister Ahmad al-Rabi is quoted as saying: “The founders of the violent groups were raised on the Muslim Brotherhood, and those who worked with bin Laden and al-Qaeda went out under [their] mantle.” Or is it now a moderate movement with whom the West should engage, as an influential 2007 article in Foreign Affairs argued?

The difficulty is that is has been all of the above since Hassan al-Banna formed the MB in 1928. At times, more moderate voices have been in the ascendant, at others more extreme. Frequently in different countries (or even within individual countries) both tendencies have been vocal simultaneously, and the MB has had difficulty reconciling these or disowning members whose views do not help the Brotherhood present itself as progressive.


           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

The Search for Extraterrestrial Life: ‘Are We All Martians?’

NASA scientists recently announced they had discovered an organism that uses arsenic instead of phosphorus in its metabolism. The geologist Dirk Schulze-Makuch talked to SPIEGEL about the implications of the findings and the likelihood that life could exist on other planets.

SPIEGEL: NASA scientists have discovered strange bacteria in California’s Mono Lake. The microbes incorporate arsenic, which is usually poisonous for life forms, into their cells. Are they originally from another planet?

Dirk Schulze-Makuch: No, that can be ruled out. The arsenic bacteria also did not arise independently from the other organisms on Earth. Like all microbes, they multiply best when there is enough phosphorus around. They only use arsenic when there is not sufficient phosphorus — beggars can’t be choosers. The arsenic bacteria are a wonderful example of the adaptability of microorganisms.

SPIEGEL: What does this discovery mean for the search for extraterrestrial life-forms?

Schulze-Makuch: The arsenic bacteria help us broaden our horizons. If we can find such exotic organisms on Earth, what strange beings could exist on other planets? We have to free ourselves from the idea that life-forms will resemble what we know from Earth.

SPIEGEL: What differences can you imagine?

Schulze-Makuch: Our fixation with the idea that oxygen is essential to life is already short-sighted. This aggressive element inflicts damage to our cells in the form of free radicals. Maybe organisms elsewhere in space have found a gentler alternative. When we send space probes to other worlds, we should expect the unexpected. Life can appear anywhere: in poisonous seas or in hot clouds.

SPIEGEL: Where could the resistant arsenic bacteria thrive?

Schulze-Makuch: Arsenic-eating microbes would probably feel very at home on our neighboring planet, Mars. Its conditions are well suited to them. Measurements collected by landing robots on Mars can indeed be interpreted as evidence of bacterial life. However, it could be that any life-forms on Mars aren’t actually aliens, but are related to us.

SPIEGEL: How do you mean?

Schulze-Makuch: Almost 4 billion years ago, Mars was a planet well suited to sustaining life, with massive rivers and lakes. Back then, the first primitive organisms appeared on Earth. These single-cell life-forms probably made it to our neighboring planet Mars by way of meteorites and established themselves there. It is possible that descendents of these primitive bacteria could have survived in nooks and crannies on Mars until today. Equally fascinating is the opposite possibility: Life could have started on Mars and then, via a meteorite, made its way to Earth. That would raise the question: Are we all Martians?

SPIEGEL: Which planet in our solar system is most likely to sustain life which contrasts significantly from life on Earth?

Schulze-Makuch: The distant Titan, a moon of Saturn, seems completely foreign to us. Its surface temperature is minus 160 degrees Celsius (minus 256 degrees Fahrenheit), and its atmosphere contains no oxygen. Instead of water, its lakes are filled with liquid natural gas. Methane rains from the sky, and it looks like the aftermath of an oil spill in the Antarctic. If we were to discover life there, it would certainly look completely different from life as we know it on Earth.

SPIEGEL: What are the chances of that?…

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]