Saturday, January 11, 2003

News Feed 20110114

Financial Crisis
»Asia to the Rescue in Europe’s Time of Crisis
»Brüderle Slams Business Conditions in China
»Could Britain be Heading for a Crash?
»Euro Crisis: The Only Way to Save the Euro is the Destruction of Its Members
»Inflation Picks Up at British Factories
»Two Toxic Bubbles in One
»UK: Savers Lose Out on £60bn in Interest: Figure Revealed as Base Rate Stays at Record Low
»100 Major Dams Need Repair, State Auditor Says
»Chinese Company Eyes Boise
Europe and the EU
»A Spanish View of Europe’s Dilemma
»Afghanistan: Audio: Death Sentences Feared for Afghan Converts
»Christians Flee Islamic Wrath in Denmark
»France: Muslims Against Forced Marriages and Polygamy
»France: Marine Le Pen Posing a Growing Threat to Nicolas Sarkozy
»French Prison Head Goncalves Suspended Over Halimi Girl
»Germany: Leftists Fear Becoming ‘Attractive as a Cow Pie’
»Germany: Libyan Spies Jailed
»Italy: Court Mulls Verdict on Berlusconi Trial Shield
»Italy: Fiat ‘No’ Would be Grounds to Quit Italy, Says Berlusconi
»Italy: Politicians and Church Not Doing Enough to Fight Mafia Says WikiLeaks Cable
»Netherlands: Minister Lectures Aid Group on Opposition to Israel
»Turkey’s European Dream Sours
»UK: ‘We Went to War to Keep the Army Busy’
»UK: Anti-Islamic Article Sparks Outrage
»UK: A Schoolboy Raped Five or Six Times at a Mosque by Muslim Leader
»UK: I Was Kept Prisoner by the Asian Sex Gang Predator
»UK: MCB Welcomes Conviction of Sex Offenders But Urges Caution on Racialising Crimes
»UK: New Year Message From the Secretary General [of the Muslim Council of Britain]
»UK: Secretary General [of the Muslim Council of Britain] Addresses International Development Christmas Reception
»UK: TUC Marcher Chased ‘Anti-Islam Protester’
»UK:£24m Flagship School of the Future Set to Close After Just Two Years
»Bosnia Worst Ranked in Region by Economic Freedom
North Africa
»1,800 British Tourists to be Evacuated From Tunisia
»3,300 British Tourists to be Evacuated From Tunisia by Travel Companies After ‘66 Die’ In Street Riots
»Libya: Tripoli Bishop Claims Religious Freedom
»Lowest Wages in Tunisia, Egypt and Jordan
»President of Tunisia Leaves Country Amid Growing Chaos
»The Revolt of Desperate People Will Not Change North Africa
»Tunisia Amongst Africa’s Most Competitive Countries
»Tunisian President Leaves Country Amid Unrest
»Tunisia: Ben Ali Son-in-Law Denies Fleeing to Canada
»Tunisia: Ben Ali Concessions to Protest in Papers in the Area
»Tunisia: Ben Ali Takes Step Back, Celebrations in the Streets
»Tunisia: EU Pleased With Ben Ali Speech, Now Painless Shift
»Tunisia President Quits as Prime Minister Takes Over
»Tunisia: Prime Minister Takes Over as President Ben Ali Flees Tunisian Turmoil
Israel and the Palestinians
»Caroline Glick: Exposing the Puppet Masters
»Gaza: Hamas Witch Hunt, 150 Arrested in 2010
»Russia Says Next U.S. Arms Talks Must Include Others
South Asia
»Indonesia: West Borneo: Capuchin Friars Campaign for Environment and Tribals
»Indonesia: Non-Govt Groups Fundraise to Repatriate Migrants Stranded in Saudi Arabia
»Iran Sends Equipment by Air to Complete Sangtuda-2 Dam
»Pakistan: Rally Supports Governor’s Killer
»Pakistani Governor Bodyguard Served on President Zardari’s Security Team
»Pakistan Blasphemy Law Reformers’ Death Threats [Video]
»Pakistan: Report Says Child Bride Only $1,150
»Pakistan: Asia Bibi Facing Threat of Suicide Attack
»Pakistani Militant Fight Leads to Polio Spike
»Pakistani Protesters Warn Pope Over Blasphemy Laws
Far East
»China Promises to Kill the Rich
Australia — Pacific
»Australia: Bull Sharks Spotted Swimming Down the Main Street in Goodna — 30km From the Coast
»Mum Raped by Seven as Her Kids Slept Nearby
»Seven Arrested on 17 Charges
Sub-Saharan Africa
»Eibner and Jacobs: Will Freedom Come for Sudan’s Slaves?
»Ivory Coast: Mobs, Security Forces Attack UN Cars
»Baghdad Wants to Stop the Forced Return of Iraqis From Europe
»UK: Boy, 9, Has Disney World Trip Ruined After US Immigration Rules Him a Threat
»UK: The Land of Easy Money: How the Somali Woman Who Lied to Claim Asylum and £250,000 in Benefit Handouts Described Britain
Culture Wars
»Italy: Sex and Religion Stir Controversy at Men’s Fashion Fair
»Queasy Stomachs on the Today Programme as the BBC Looks Into Multicultural Britain
»UK: Are You Straight or Gay? Police and Nurses to be Asked Their Sexuality in New Equality Drive
»Is Al Qaeda’s “Internet Generation” Their Most Dangerous?
»The Sun Rises Two Days Early in Greenland, Sparking Fears That Climate Change is Accelerating
»Three Books About the Apocalypse

Financial Crisis

Asia to the Rescue in Europe’s Time of Crisis

China and Japan are buying European bonds to help EU nations in difficulty. This should stabilise the euro and increase global cooperation.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) — China and Japan are buying Eurobonds to prop up EU member states in difficulty. Chinese Deputy Premier Li Keqiang, who voiced support for Europe during his tour of Spain last week, expressed confidence in that country’s financial system. At the end of 2010, China held 1.838 trillion in European bonds after buying 128 billion in the last quarter of the year with the possibility of investing an additional 10 billion a month.

Still China remains cautious. “We will over the medium term continue to diversify our FX reserves, but as reserves increase, US assets will still form the principal direction for our investments,” said Zhang Ming, an economist at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, a top government think-tank in Beijing. “This is the only feasible option,” he said, because “There are still too many risks in Europe.”

China in fact plans to buy EU-backed bonds rather than those of the most indebted countries. What is more, for example, the 6 billion € of Spanish debt that China has promised to buy, according to the Spanish media, would amount to a mere 0.27 percent of China’s total reserves.

According to unofficial estimates, China already holds more than 7 per cent of the 8.8 trillion € in outstanding euro zone public debt.

On Tuesday, Japanese Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda said that Japan would buy a large amount of joint European bonds (more than 20 per cent) issued by euro zone authorities to raise funds to assist Ireland. These bonds are backed by EU guarantees.

The European Union has been hard-pressed to overcome on its own the sovereign debt crisis of some of its members. So far, the debt emergency has mauled Greece and Ireland, and threatens Portugal and even Spain.

Experts note however that China and Japan are not buying European bonds out of altruistic feelings. Not only do they gain political and economic kudos, but they also boost their exports. The European Union is in fact China’s main trading partner.

In China’s case, investments in Europe are also effective ways of circumventing protectionist barriers placed against Chinese exports, which the EU sees as benefitting from government subsidies and funding.

Beijing also hopes to get the EU to lift its weapons ban imposed after the June 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.

For Japan, buying European bonds is a way to counter China’s gradual invasion of world financial markets and limit its influence. Other major Asian central banks, like those of South Korea and Taiwan, which have reserves of about US$ 380 billion and US$ 290 billion respectively, may also find themselves inclined to help out Europe, if only to check China’s influence.

In any case, experts believe that the outcome will be positive because it will help EU stability, give investors confidence and start a new phase of greater global financial cooperation.

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

Brüderle Slams Business Conditions in China

German Economy Minister Rainer Brüderle on Thursday slammed business conditions for Western firms operating in China ahead of a visit to Berlin by the country’s vice premier Li Keqiang.

“Improvements need to be made when it comes to market access for German firms on the Chinese market,” Brüderle told business daily Handelsblatt, citing in particular hurdles for the insurance and banking sectors.

“On my visit to China, I often heard complaints that important regulations were introduced suddenly and without consulting the economic players involved,” said the minister. “Foreign firms still complain about a lack of transparency and predictability.”

While Chinese legislation is increasingly in line with international standards, there “are failures in implementing this legislation”, especially in the provinces, said Brüderle.

He praised the Chinese authorities however for “taking our concerns seriously and seeking to improve the investment environment for foreign companies.”

Later on Thursday, Brüderle was due to meet Li, who has already visited Madrid as part of a European tour and is expected to travel onwards to London after Berlin.

On Friday, Li, widely tipped to be the country’s next premier, was due to meet Chancellor Angela Merkel.

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

Could Britain be Heading for a Crash?

I had a long talk on Tuesday with one of the wisest and cleverest economic thinkers I know, and he was sure of one thing: we are heading for a crash. Is he right? The stock market has started the year strongly. Sterling is up against the dollar and was rising against the doomed single currency as well, until the Chinese — for their own Machiavellian reasons — bought vast quantities of euro debt this week.

Sadly, other indicators suggest that such good news as we have is an illusion. It mystifies me why the Bank of England didn’t raise interest rates this week, with the threat of inflation now blindingly apparent. Think, though, what that would do to a housing market already heading south; or to those people with other, shorter-term debts, the repayments on which could well become suffocating. For many of them, the day of reckoning has been long postponed. Now, it may be just weeks away. François Fillon, the urbane and rather successful French prime minister, came to London this week and seemed to take for granted our continued support of the euro, arguing that our economic future depended upon it, too. He exaggerated, but did so because of the great fear in France that the game is up for their currency. It is hard to see why there is this fear. If the euro goes under, the French can simply resort to the franc and find themselves able to widen their export markets, because everything would be cheaper.

True, the financial sector, with its exposure to euro debt, would take a thumping — our own included. But these were risks taken by banks, and they would just have to bear them. In the same way that the Government has no business telling banks what they can pay their staff, it has no business continually bailing them out either. What is most important is that the Government should peer over the horizon at these potential problems, and work out how to manage their consequences. Our rulers have encouraged the thought in the past couple of months that while things are still very difficult, and hardships inevitable, the worst is over. Perhaps it isn’t, though; because maybe what they meant was that they had inflicted on us all the pain that they thought was needed, and no more was planned…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Euro Crisis: The Only Way to Save the Euro is the Destruction of Its Members

Since the coronation of Charlemagne as Holy Roman Emperor in 800 AD, there have been numerous attempts to unify Europe. Philip II of Spain, Louis XIV, Napoleon and Hitler all came tantalisingly close to success, but all ultimately failed. Today a fifth attempt is under way through the European Union.

Though not associated with a single great or powerful man, the ultimate objective of the EU is otherwise more or less familiar to students of European empires: no internal boundaries; a single currency; one parliament; one central government; one army; one foreign policy and a single political unit stretching from the Atlantic to the Urals. The 27 nations that currently comprise the EU would merge into one huge state, accounting for a population of some 500 million, approximately one fifth of global wealth and an even higher percentage of the world’s trade. Such a nation would take its place alongside the United States and China as a superpower.

This project, in its way both noble and visionary, is surprisingly close to realisation. Many people fail to grasp this point because they have been distracted by the headlines on financial pages signalling daily woe and disaster for the eurozone countries.

But these setbacks were long ago foreseen by the architects of the EU. Jacques Delors, the French politician who more than anyone else was the architect of the single currency that is used today, is a highly intelligent man. He was warned many times by critics such as Margaret Thatcher that it was hopelessly premature to set up a monetary union without full political unification. He knew very well there would be problems.

But Mr Delors saw these problems as opportunities — what have been called “beneficial crises”. These economic crises, he believed, could be exploited by the European governing class to expedite with extra urgency and dynamism their over-riding project of integration, and the creation of a single European state…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Inflation Picks Up at British Factories

Climbing prices for oil and food helped overall input prices surge 3.4pc in just a month, more than double the 1.5pc rise expected. The rise helped pushed the yearly rate of increase to 12.5pc — the fastest pace seen since April and well above forecasts for a 10.4pc rise, after November’s reading came in at 9.2pc. The figures will concern policymakers at the Bank of England as they show pipeline pressures on prices in the wider economy are growing faster than expected.

Markets bet that the data meant a rise in rates to rein in inflation is likely sooner rather than later, which pushed up the returns or yields on gilts — government bonds, or debt — which tend to follow the Bank’s base rate.

The yield on two-year gilts rose to its highest in more than a year, topping 1.39pc.

The pick-up in input price rises on the previous month mainly reflected the rising costs of crude oil, fuel and food, the Office for National Statistics said.

Over the past year, the price of crude oil has jumped more than 26pc for UK manufacturers, the figures showed, and markets are now seeing the cost of a barrel edge close to $100 (£63).

As margins come under increasing pressure, manufacturers are passing price rises on to their clients, although competitive pressures are shielding customers somewhat.

Output prices — the price tags manufacturers put on their products — rose 0.5pc month-on-month in December, taking the annual rate of price increases to 4.2pc, the highest since August. Prices for petroleum products saw the biggest yearly leap.

“Firms will feel pressure to pass further cost increases on in coming months, especially as there seems to have been no let up in the rising price of many commodities in recent weeks,” said Chris Williamson, chief economist at researcher Markit.

“These data will therefore add to calls on the Bank of England to raise interest rates to cool inflationary pressures.”…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Two Toxic Bubbles in One

Goldman Sachs’ $2 billion deal for Facebook, valuing the social networking site at $50 billion, combines the worst elements of the 1997-2000 and 2004-07 bubbles. It sets a grossly excessive valuation on an Internet company with modest revenues and prospects. It also involves an investment bank structuring a complex deal to maximize its own fees, while driving a truck through two major elements of financial services regulation. Add a third element, that it places a company controlling personal information on 500 million users in close business partnership with a Russian billionaire with a criminal record and you can see the deal is truly groundbreaking. It should also raise important red flags about current market conditions.

General market opinion is that the U.S. stock market is not currently overvalued, because it has not broken through its 2007 highs. I would argue that U.S. fiscal and monetary policies are unsustainable, making the foundations of the economy far more fragile than in 2007. In any case, the Facebook deal in terms of valuation is reminiscent not merely of 2007 but of 1999. However good a company’s prospects a valuation of 30 times revenues is excessive. After all, there is not much more for Facebook to go for in terms of recruiting new members; with 500 million it already has 7% of the world’s population and well over half the global population of young affluents that advertisers drool over.

If with this customer base and a fashion-level second to none Facebook can’t gross more than measly $2 billion, with net income not much above break-even, its business model is not worth anything like $50 billion. At this level it is at best JDS Uniphase, destined for painful post-bubble deflation. More likely it is, destined to disappear in a puff of smoke when the market turns down, leaving only a sock puppet behind.

However the Facebook deal has overtones of the excesses of 2006-07 as well as those of 1999-2000. One of the solidest rules in the SEC book, dating back to 1960 in its present form and to the 1934 Securities and Exchange Act in its principle, is that a company cannot continue to shelter behind the non-disclosure of a private company once it has acquired a broad base of 500 shareholders. Facebook and Goldman Sachs are evading this rule, by having buyers invest in a special purpose vehicle, which then buys the Facebook shares. This is exactly equivalent to shareholders investing through a nominee account, whatever fancy dress Goldman Sachs’ high-priced lawyers put around it. It is a direct attempt to evade the 500-shareholder rule and if the SEC doesn’t take strong action forthwith it will prove beyond doubt that the U.S. investor protection system has been eviscerated by regulatory capture.


More interesting than nitpicking the Facebook deal is however determining what it says about the current state of the global economy and stock markets. So large a valuation on a company whose product may prove as ephemeral as the hula-hoop, which attracts excess investor demand into Goldman’s $1.5 billion share offering, suggests that the market is again in a state of witless euphoria.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: Savers Lose Out on £60bn in Interest: Figure Revealed as Base Rate Stays at Record Low

Savers have lost out on interest worth almost £60billion since the Bank of England cut the base rate to its historic low, exclusive research reveals today.

Cash-strapped savers have been the victims of the Bank’s attempts to rescue the country’s economy, penalised by rates of close to zero.

Yesterday the Bank held rates at 0.5 per cent for the 22nd consecutive month, the longest period of unchanged rates since the aftermath of the Second World War. The rate is the lowest since the Bank was founded in 1694.

For savers, who outnumber borrowers by a ratio of seven accounts to one, the impact has been devastating.

In those 22 months, the average variable savings rate has been just 0.77 per cent. With a total savings balance of £1,140billion and taking into account compound interest, this is equal to interest of just £16billion.

During the previous 22-month period, the average variable savings rate was 3.41 per cent. Based on the same savings total, this would have brought interest of around £74billion, according to the financial information firm Moneyfacts.

The gap between the two figures is £58billion, which would be in savers’ pockets if the rate had not been slashed.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


100 Major Dams Need Repair, State Auditor Says

One hundred major municipal dams across the state are in poor condition and could cause significant property damage if they failed, the state auditor’s office reported yesterday, renewing calls for stricter oversight.

The two-year investigation concluded that the state’s aging and neglected stock of dams poses a “significant threat to public safety” and needs an estimated $60 million in repairs. More than one in five potentially hazardous public dams have substantial structural deficiencies, the report found.

Auditor A. Joseph DeNucci called on the Legislature to establish a no-interest loan program to help communities pay for the repairs.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Chinese Company Eyes Boise

A Chinese national company is interested in developing a 10,000- to 30,000-acre technology zone for industry, retail centers and homes south of the Boise Airport.

Officials of the China National Machinery Industry Corp. have broached the idea — based on a concept popular in China today — to city and state leaders.

They are also interested in helping build and finance a fertilizer plant near American Falls, an idea company officials returned to Idaho this month to pursue.

This ambitious, long-term proposal would start with a manufacturing and warehouse zone tied to the airport, and could signify a shift in the economic relationship between the two superpowers — a relationship once defined by U.S. companies like the J.R. Simplot Co., Hewlett-Packard and Morrison-Knudsen that would head to China to build and develop.

“I think China’s coming over here shows they are willing to collaborate on the reinvigoration of the American industrial base,” said Jeff Don, CEO of Eagle-based C3, which is acting as an Idaho representative for the Chinese company, called Sinomach for short.



Hoku Corp., a subsidiary of Tianwei New Energy Holdings Co, a Chinese company, has invested $270 million of the more than $400 million it expects to spend on its Pocatello plant to manufacture polysilicon for the solar market.

All of the polysilicon will be shipped back to China.

Idaho’s exports to China for the first three quarters of 2010 were $506 million, a 35 percent increase over 2009. Overall, Idaho imports rose to $3.8 billion from $2.7 billion in 2009. Idaho had $3.9 billion in three quarters in 2008.

The Idaho Regional Center, a company developing the Gold Hill Mine near Placerville and Blackhawk on the River near McCall, has millions of dollars in escrow from Chinese investors awaiting approval of green cards from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

A Spanish View of Europe’s Dilemma

The following short article was published in a Spanish Internet magazine, Gentiuno, on November 21, 2004. Written by Sebastian Vilar Rodriguez, it has been widely circulated on the Internet with good reason. It sums up the tragedy and present agony of Europe as it faces a very gloomy future. Its title is: “All European Life Died in Auschwitz,” and this is what it says:

I walked down the street in Barcelona, and suddenly discovered a terrible truth Europe died in Auschwitz . We killed six million Jews and replaced them with 20 million Muslims. In Auschwitz we burned a culture, thought, creativity, talent. We destroyed the chosen people, truly chosen, because they produced great and wonderful people who changed the world.

The contribution of this people is felt in all areas of life: science, art, international trade, and above all, as the conscience of the world. These are the people we burned.

And under the pretense of tolerance, and because we wanted to prove to ourselves that we were cured of the disease of racism, we opened our gates to 20 million Muslims, who brought us stupidity and ignorance, religious extremism and lack of tolerance, crime and poverty, due to an unwillingness to work and support their families with pride.

They have blown up our trains and turned our beautiful Spanish cities into the third world, drowning in filth and crime. Shut up in the apartments they receive free from the government, they plan the murder and destruction of their naive hosts. And thus, in our misery, we have exchanged culture for fanatical hatred, creative skill for destructive skill, intelligence for backwardness and superstition.

We have exchanged the pursuit of peace of the Jews of Europe and their talent for hoping for a better future for their children, their determined clinging to life because life is holy, for those who pursue death, for people consumed by the desire for death for themselves and others, for our children and theirs.

What a terrible mistake was made by miserable Europe.

The thoughts expressed in this article left this writer somewhat numb. It sums up what a demented European leader perpetrated with the help of a highly civilized and cultured nation, and the price Europe is now paying for its madness. They’ve replaced six million highly productive and creative Jews with twenty million Muslims who produce nothing but misery, poverty, and hatred…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Afghanistan: Audio: Death Sentences Feared for Afghan Converts

U.S., 4 other nations appealing to Karzai to save ex-Muslims

Five countries are appealing to Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai to prevent two Afghan men who converted to Christianity from being sentenced to death for “apostasy” — their decisions to abandon Islam.

Representatives from the United States, Britain, France, the Netherlands and Italy have been in contact with Karzai to ask for release and safe passage for Shoiad Assadullah and Sayed Musa.

Assadullah has been in jail since Oct. 21 after his arrest in Mazar-e-Sharif, and Musa has been detained since his arrest last May.

International Christian Concern’s Middle East Specialist Aidan Clay said Assadullah’s case is urgent.

“The case that concerns us most now is Shoiad Assadullah. He was brought to court in late December and was told he would have one week to recant his faith in Christianity and return to Islam. Otherwise he would be given the death penalty,” Clay explained.

Clay said Assadullah has been denied the right of legal representation and has been charged with apostasy, a crime that Clay points out isn’t in the Afghanistan criminal code.

“The second court date was Jan. 4, but fortunately the attorney general in Afghanistan intervened. We can only assume that was because of foreign pressure in the country,” Clay said.

Clay reports that confidential sources in the U.S. State Department say that Assadullah’s case is “on the radar.”

Clay said that outside pressure was responsible for Musa being moved to a safer prison.

In the first prison where he was held, he was abused, actually sexually abused by the other inmates because he was a Christian,“ Clay reported.

Clay said that even with the outside pressure, the fate of the two men is in doubt.

“We aren’t sure of what’s going to happen, but we do know that the Afghan legal system is determined to give them the very harsh penalty of the death sentence for apostasy,” Clay stated.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Christians Flee Islamic Wrath in Denmark

The Iranian-born head of the Church of Love, Massoud Fouroozandeh, fled with his family from the Vollsmose area of Odense — Denmark’s third-largest city — to a secret location in a small town, after two of the family’s cars were smashed. Each of them had a Christian cross hanging inside, according to local media reports.

“I was told by young people in Vollsmose that I shouldn’t drive around the area with the cross hanging in the car. Afterwards our car was completely smashed up and burned and the seats slashed. Since then the side-windows of our new car were smashed three times,” he says.

After the vandalism, Massoud Fouroozandeh and his wife didn’t dare let their children play in the playground in Vollsmose.

“They don’t go with a headscarf, and 99% of the other children do that, so they attracted a lot of attention, and it wasn’t safe to send them out to play. Therefore we moved far away from Vollsmose,” he says.

Massoud Fouroozandeh is one of several non-Danish Christians who’ve been subjected to threats and attacks in Denmark. An Albanian member of the Church of Love was recently beaten by his countrymen, because he went around wearing a cross on his neck, and had considered getting baptized. And as Danish daily Kristeligt Dagblad wrote in the past, a Christian Iraqi family received phone calls for two weeks telling them to convert to Islam. Massoud Fouroozandeh says that religious threats have long been received by converts to Christianity.

“I don’t usually flee from problems. So it’s annoying that you need to move. But now it’s not just about me, but also about the children. There was too much pressure. I went around the whole time thinking ‘what can happen next?’,” says Massoud Fouroozandeh.

He continues to be a pastor at the Church of Love, where most of the congregants are Afghans and Iranians. Since the church was established in 1997, he has baptized about 500 people. Most were Muslims who converted to Christianity…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

France: Muslims Against Forced Marriages and Polygamy

(ANSAmed) — PARIS, JANUARY 11 — Muslims in France have had enough of marriages that are forced or planned by their families. People now want to look for their soul mate on their own, they reject polygamy and are mostly against premarital relations. These are the conclusions of a survey conducted by Ifop for, a dating website and the main tool used to seek out a husband or wife by Muslims in France, 53% of whom reject the idea of marrying someone from another religion. Mainly women (74% compared to 32% of men) since Islam allows Muslims to marry women who practice a different religion, but formally bans women from doing likewise. This inequality, underlined Le Parisien, has led to a “deficit in potential spouses” since many men marry women of other religions. Muslims in France are generally open to intercultural marriages (69%) or marrying people from different backgrounds (80%). While they are not in favour of planned marriages, they are still certain they will marry sooner or later (53% compared to 23% of all French people) and intend to do so soon (at the age of 26 compared to 31). To find their kindred spirit, they are increasingly turning to the Internet (39%) rather than traditional meeting places, such as bars and nightclubs (20%). But this apparent liberty does not translate into sexual freedom: 73% of the people who were interviewed are against premarital relations, and 16% women, who are often asked for a certificate of virginity back home, are against sexual relations outside of wedlock, compared to 39% of men.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

France: Marine Le Pen Posing a Growing Threat to Nicolas Sarkozy

The 42-year old mother of three is the runaway favourite to succeed her 82-year-old father Jean-Marie Le Pen, who founded the National Front (FN) in 1972 and will remain its honorary president. On Friday, vote counting took place from a mail ballot among the FN’s 24,000 members and the official result is due to be announced on Sunday at a party congress in Tours.

The firebrand Mr Le Pen was in no doubt of the outcome. “I have been unable to enact the programme that I believe salutatory for France, (but) the second stage of the Le Pen rocket is Marine,” he told Le Parisien.

His daughter is up against Bruno Gollnisch, 60, a white-haired, bookish euro MP who represents the party old guard, and whose supporters include ex-colonialists, anti-Semites and pagan white supremacists. One FN party member told the Libération newspaper that a Gollnisch victory would “set the party back 30 years”. “It would be the Soviet Union under Brezhnev,” he said.

Mr Gollnisch remained confident, pledging he would “widen our movement to the national and sovereigntist Right”.

Miss Le Pen has promised to turn her likely victory into a springboard for the presidential election next year. A poll released yesterday in the magazine Marianne suggested she would come third, garnering up to 20 per cent of the vote.

While she promotes her father’s anti-immigrant, anti-Europe stance, Miss Le Pen claims to want to “de-diabolise” the party, removing unsavoury oddballs from its fringes and supporting gay rights, abortion and divorce to reach a wider electorate.

France’s best-known political analyst, Alain Duhamel, this week warned against the “peril of Marine Le Pen”. She was, he wrote, “just as dangerous as her father” and equally xenophobic, simply more anti-Muslim than anti-Semitic. He referred to her recent comparison of Muslims praying in French streets to the Nazi occupation. But her strategy appears to be working at a time when the FN’s pet gripes against Muslims, immigration, the euro and globalisation have gone mainstream.

A TNS-Sofres poll released on Wednesday suggested 22 per cent of French people agreed with “the ideas” of the National Front, up from 18 per cent a year ago — while support from sympathisers of Mr Sarkozy’s UMP party has jumped 12 points to 32 per cent…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

French Prison Head Goncalves Suspended Over Halimi Girl

A French prison chief has been suspended over an alleged affair he had with a woman used as bait for a notorious anti-Semitic gang murder.

Prosecutors said Florent Goncalves, head of Versailles women’s prison, was placed under investigation for passing money and other items to the inmate.

He is also accused of conducting a sexual relationship with her.

The prisoner is serving nine years for luring Ilan Halimi into a trap which saw him tortured and killed.

Aged 17 at the time of the murder in 2006, the French-Iranian was tried as a minor, and is usually named as “Emma” or “Yalda” in the French media.

Attention was drawn to Mr Goncalves, 41, during a prison inspection in November when other inmates complained of favouritism.

A source close to the case told France’s Le Parisien newspaper that the favouritism probably related to advantageous prison jobs, and other inmates had not been aware of the prisoner’s alleged sexual relations with the governor.

An internal investigation was launched and it was discovered that the prisoner had seduced both the governor and a guard, 36, in order to obtain parcels, money, and phone and Sim cards, the paper adds.

‘He fell in love’

“The judge has forbidden [Mr Goncalves] to exercise his profession and even enter a penitentiary,” prosecutor Michel Desplan said.

Mr Goncalves, the unnamed guard and the prisoner were all placed under investigation in Versailles this week and all made confessions, Le Parisien’s source added.

“The governor explains that he fell in love,” the source added. Their affair is said to have taken place between December 2009 and October 2010.

The guard, accused of supplying a Sim card to the prisoner, has also been suspended, while the inmate herself is being accused of concealment.

She was convicted in 2009 of delivering Mr Halimi to his abductors, a gang called the Barbarians.

The 23-year-old telephone salesman was held by the gang for more than three weeks before he was found dying by a railway line. He had been handcuffed to a tree, naked and badly burnt.

Gang leader Youssouf Fofana, who had targeted Jews because he supposed them to be wealthy, was jailed for a minimum of 22 years.

Anti-Semitism was cited as an aggravating factor when the gang was convicted, and the case kindled fear within France’s Jewish community.

Mr Halimi was buried in Jerusalem.

[Return to headlines]

Germany: Leftists Fear Becoming ‘Attractive as a Cow Pie’

Coming on the heels of an unwanted debate about communism, the embattled leader of The Left has rejected criticism of his supposedly opulent lifestyle, saying the socialist party was in danger of becoming “as attractive as a cow pie.”

Under fire from his fellow leftists for purportedly living the high life, Klaus Ernst told the latest edition of weekly newsmagazine Stern he had no reason to be ashamed of his champagne socialist image.

“I like driving a Porsche,” he told the magazine. “As a leftist you can’t just run around as if you haven’t slept for three days, had nothing to eat, and drank bad booze to boot.”

Besides his flashy ride, Ernst owns a mountain lodge in the Alps. His lifestyle has rubbed some members of The Left the wrong way, arguing it was inappropriate for the leader of a socialist party.

“Ascetic socialism just isn’t my bag,” he said. “A leftist has to be able to enjoy life too.” Otherwise, Ernst said, The Left would become “as attractive as a cow pie.”

Ernst also distanced himself from comments by his party’s co-leader, Gesine Lötzsch, who recently spoke of the “paths toward communism.” Her remarks sparked a national debate about ultimate political aims of The Left, which is the successor to the East German communist party.

She has since declared herself committed to democratic socialism, but Ernst emphasized The Left was not nostalgic for discredited ideologies. “Communism is not the goal of The Left,” he told Stern. “Many think of Stalin and the (Berlin) Wall when they hear that term.”

But the communism debate appeared to have dented the party’s standing in an opinion poll published on Wednesday, which showed The Left down two percentage points to nine percent in a Forsa survey.

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

Germany: Libyan Spies Jailed

A German court jailed two Libyan men Wednesday for spying on members of the Libyan opposition living in Europe over a nearly three-year period.

The first defendant, a 43-year-old identified only as Abdel A., was sentenced to two years and six months in prison while his accomplice Adel Al. was handed a jail term of one year and 10 months.

The superior court in Berlin said in a statement it “found that the accused systematically investigated for the Libyan secret services opposition figures living in the federal republic of Germany from August 2007 until their arrest on May 13, 2010.”

Abdel A. was found to have managed a network of informants who gathered information on members of the opposition based in Germany and other western European countries and filed reports to his superiors in Libya.

Adel Al. worked as one of these informants, the court said.

Libya was among 17 countries and three territories listed by US watchdog Freedom House last year as having “extremely oppressive environments, with minimal basic rights and persistent human rights violations.”

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

Italy: Court Mulls Verdict on Berlusconi Trial Shield

Ruling ‘won’t affect govt’, spokesman says

(ANSA) — Rome, January 13 — Justices at Italy’s top court went into chambers Thursday to consider their verdict on the latest in a series of laws that have sought to shield Premier Silvio Berlusconi from trials.

The verdict on the so-called ‘legitimate impediment’ law, currently protecting the premier from three trials in Milan, is expected by the end of the day.

Some analysts have speculated a No ruling might have repercussions on government stability and even trigger early elections but Berlusconi rejected the claim this week, saying he was “indifferent” to the verdict no matter which way it went.

Government spokesman Paolo Bonaiuti said Thursday, as the judges were retiring, that “this sentence will not affect the stability of the government”.

“An election campaign will not come because there is a raft of reforms still to be completed and the country is emerging from crisis,” he added.

The Constitutional Court struck down the previous immunity laws in 2004 and 2009, saying they were against the Constitutional principle that everyone is equal before the law.

The Court was petitioned to rule on legitimate impediment by judges in Berlusconi’s three trials in Milan. In one he is accused of paying his corporate lawyer David Mills for favourable testimony in two previous trials.

The other two involve alleged tax fraud and embezzlement on TV rights acquired by his Mediaset media empire.

Berlusconi, who says he is the victim of persecution by a left-leaning section of the judiciary, denies wrongdoing.

According to the Italian media, there is currently a majority on the bench against the law.

But in the end, the media say, the judges may not reject the law in its entirety.

Instead, they are expected to specify those cases in which it is legitimate for a premier, or other cabinet members, to say they cannot attend trials because to do so would interfere with their duties.

The hearing is being closely watched in Italy and abroad. Berlusconi’s top lawyer Nicolo’ Ghedini has said he is “optimistic” about the outcome.

The hearing comes at a time when Berlusconi is struggling to widen his wafer-thin majority in the House so as to carry on governing effectively.

A judicial victory would boost those efforts, analysts say.

If the law is ruled Constitutional, a referendum against it promoted by a centre-left opposition party will go forward.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Fiat ‘No’ Would be Grounds to Quit Italy, Says Berlusconi

Premier backs carmaker over Mirafiori, sparks furore

(ANSA) — Rome, January 12 — Firms would be justified in quitting production in Italy if workers at Fiat’s Mirafiori plant in Turin reject a contested production deal in a vote this week, Premier Silvio Berlusconi said Wednesday, causing a furore.

Workers at the northern city’s historic plant will vote on Thursday and Friday on the second factory-specific accord Fiat has agreed with moderate unions to enable it to increase shifts, cut benefits and limit workers’ right to strike, among other things.

CEO Sergio Marchionne says such deals are needed to boost productivity and efficiency at Italian plants in order to press ahead with plans to invest some 20 billion euros in Italy over the next five years.

But the left-wing CGIL and its engineering workers’ arm FIOM are staunchly opposed to these agreements, made outside Italy’s long-established system of nationally negotiated collective contracts, branding them an attack on labour rights. “I hope for a positive outcome,” Berlusconi said after an Italo-German summit in Berlin, backing Fiat’s drive for “greater labour flexibility”.

“If this outcome were not to come about, companies and entrepreneurs would have good reason to move to other countries”. Marchionne has threatened Fiat will drop its plans to invest in Mirafiori if workers fail to back the deal, warning there are “very many alternatives” to the Turin factory outside Italy.

Pier Luigi Bersani, the leader of the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), the biggest opposition group, blasted Berlusconi’s comments as “shameful”.

“Berlusconi doesn’t realise because he’s a billionaire, but we pay him a salary that will seem paltry to him to pursue the country’s interests and not to get companies to leave,” Bersani said. CGIL chief Susanna Camusso was not impressed either.

“It would be good if the business and political world said, if that’s your idea of the country, it’s better that you leave,” she said.

Nichi Vendola, the leader of the small Left, Ecology and Liberty party, described Berlusconi’s words as “high treason”.

Tension is particularly high in Turin before the vote on the deal, which follows a similar one for Fiat’s Pomigliano d’Arco plant, near Naples.

Several red five-pointed stars associated with Italy’s Red Brigade terrorist group have been found daubed on advertising hoardings in Turin over the last few days, including one telling Marchionne to “screw yourself”. Trade unionists in favour of the Turin deal, meanwhile, on Wednesday abused Vendola, who described the plan and the vote on it as “filthy” during a visit to Mirafiori.

FIOM has called an eight-hour strike on January 28 against the agreements.

In addition to expressing outrage at Berlusconi’s comments, the PD has also criticised the centre-right government for not trying to mediate between Fiat and FIOM to create “constructive” negotiations. “They have washed their hands of this from the start,” said Stefano Fassina, the PD’s economy chief.

“We are the only country in the world that has not implemented an industrial policy to face the crisis with, the only country that backs negative things such as threats to leave the country”. Fassina added that Marchionne should be summoned to parliament to give further details on Fiat’s investment plans for Italy, which some say are too vague.

Marchionne claims Fiat is trying to usher in necessary changes to industrial relations in Italy out of “affection” for its native land. “We are absolutely convinced that the way industry is run in Italy must be renewed on the basis of our international experience,” Marchionne told reporters at the Detroit motor show Tuesday.

“We are trying to change a series of long-standing relations that have guided the Italian system. In this sense, we are guilty, as we are trying to change this system, update it and make it competitive.

“You can’t mistake that for an insult to Italy. We love Italy and that’s why we are trying to change it. It’s a superhuman effort that no one else would make”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Politicians and Church Not Doing Enough to Fight Mafia Says WikiLeaks Cable

Rome, 13 Jan. (AKI/Bloomberg) — Italian politicians and the Catholic Church are not doing enough to fight the mafiain Italy, according to a classified US diplomatic cable posted by the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks.

“Politicians are not too focused on these issues,” the US general counsel in Naples, J. Patrick Truhn, said in a cable sent on 6, June 2008, according to the leaked document.

“At the national level it is generally referred to, if at all, as a ‘southern’ issue, although it affects the entire country.”

Truhn said “organised crime was barely mentioned” in the election campaign for 2008 polls won by prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.

The cable also expressed specific concern that the mafia would be “the main beneficiary” of the government’s planned bridge connecting Sicily to the Italian mainland.

It also said the bridge would be “virtually useless” without massive road and rail projects to modernise Sicily and the southern Calabria regions’ creaking infrastructure.

“The Italian Catholic Church has often come under fire for not taking a stronger public stance against organised crime,” he also said, according to the cable.

Organised-crime groups boosted their revenue by 4 percent to 135 billion euros in 2009 despite a 5.1 percent contraction of the Italian economy that year, according to estimates from Rome-based anti-racketeering group SOS Impresa.

“Although law enforcement, business associations, citizens’ groups” are “demonstrating promising engagement in fighting organized crime, the same cannot be said of Italy’s politicians, particularly at the national level,” Truhn said.

The US has a “significant stake in the fight against organized crime in Italy,” he said, adding that Italian crime syndicates “support terrorist groups in Colombia and Central Asia through drug trafficking” and violate intellectual- property rights of U.S. businesses and artists.

Italy’s mafia is a criminal threat in the United States, particularly in the Northeast, Deputy Attorney General Mark Filip told reporters at the U.S. Embassy in Rome in May 2008.

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

Netherlands: Minister Lectures Aid Group on Opposition to Israel

THE HAGUE, 14/01/11 — Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal has had “a frank discussion” with development organisation ICCO on the financing of the website Electronic Intifada.

On the site are to be found among other things calls to boycott activities against Israel. The minister considers this “directly in conflict with Dutch government policy and has pressed the ICCO to revise this.”

ICCO receives around 75 million euros annually in subsidy from Rosenthal’s ministry. The organisation says that the support to the website is paid from private donations, but this is irrelevant, according to the minister.

The minister has pointed out to the organisation that continuing with activities that are in conflict with the government’s views “can have consequences” for the subsidy policy. “Being critical is naturally allowed, but direct opposition is not,” according to Rosenthal.

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

Turkey’s European Dream Sours

This article by Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk first appeared in the Guardian, and is part of the collaborative series My Europe, initiated by Presseurop and collected under 10 takes on Europe.

In the schoolbooks I read as a child in the 1950s and 1960s, Europe was a rosy land of legend. While forging his new republic from the ruins of the Ottoman empire, which had been crushed and fragmented in the first world war, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk did fight against the Greek army, but with the support of his own army he later introduced a slew of social and cultural modernisation reforms that were not anti- but pro-western. It was to legitimise these reforms, which helped to strengthen the new Turkish state’s new elites (and were the subject of continuous debate in Turkey over the next 80 years), that we were called upon to embrace and even imitate a rosy-pink — occidentalist — European dream.

As much as the schoolbooks of my childhood were texts designed to teach us why a line was to be drawn between the state and religion, why it had been necessary to shut down the dervish lodges, or why we’d had to abandon the Arab alphabet for the Latin, they were also overflowing with questions that aimed to unlock the secret of Europe’s great power and success. “Describe the aims and outcomes of the Renaissance,” the middle school history teacher would ask in his exam. “If it turned out we were sitting on as much oil as the Arabs, would we then be as rich and modern as Europeans?” my more naive classmates at lycee would say. In my first year at university, whenever my classmates came across such questions in class, they would fret over why “we never had an enlightenment”.

The 14th century Arab thinker Ibn Khaldun said that declining civilisations kept going by imitating their victors. Because there has never been a time when the Turks were colonised by a world power, “worshipping Europe” or “imitating the west” has never carried the damning, humiliating overtones described by Franz Fanon, VS Naipaul, or Edward Said; to look to Europe has been seen as a historical imperative or even a technical question of adaptation.

But this dream of a rosy-pink Europe, once so powerful that even our most anti-western thinkers and politicians secretly believed in it, has now faded. This may be because Turkey is no longer as poor as it once was. Or it could be because it is no longer a peasant society ruled by its army, but a dynamic nation with a strong civil society. And in recent years there has of course been the slowing down of talks between Turkey and the European Union, with no resolution in sight. Neither in Europe nor in Turkey is there a realistic hope that Turkey will join Europe in the near future. To admit to having lost this hope would be as crushing as to see relations with Europe breaking down entirely, so no one has the heart even to utter the words.

That Turkey and other non-western countries are disenchanted with Europe is something I know from my own travels and conversations. A major cause of the strain in relations between Turkey and the EU was most certainly the alliance forged by a sector of the Turkish army and leading media groups with nationalist political parties, and their successful campaign to sabotage negotiations. The same initiative triggered the prosecutions launched against me and many writers, the shooting of others, and the killing of missionaries and Christian clerics.

There are also the emotional responses whose greater significance can best be explained by taking France as an example: over the past century, successive generations of the Turkish elite have faithfully taken France as their model, drawing on its understanding of secularism and following its lead on education, literature and art … so to have France emerge over the past five years as the country most vehemently opposed to the idea of Turkey in Europe has been hugely heartbreaking and disillusioning. It is, however, Europe’s involvement in the war in Iraq that has caused the keenest disappointment in non-western countries and, in Turkey, real anger. The world watched Europe being tricked by Bush into joining this illegitimate and cruel war, while showing immense readiness to be tricked…

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

UK: ‘We Went to War to Keep the Army Busy’

Top diplomat sparks outrage saying troops were sent to Afghanistan so forces numbers would not be cut

A furious row has erupted in Whitehall after a former Kabul envoy claimed British commanders committed troops to war in Afghanistan because they feared cuts if they did not use them.

Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles said he had been told by the former head of the Army, General Sir Richard Dannatt, that if he did not re-deploy battlegroups coming free from Iraq he would lose them in a future defence review.

In a written memorandum to the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, he said the Afghan campaign had seen ‘unprecedented’ resources diverted to the Army, and that most soldiers appeared to be ‘enjoying’ it. Sir Dannatt has strongly denied the allegations and slammed the remarks as ‘a disgraceful set of comments’, adding: ‘It’s not his business to opine about the Army. He is well out of lane and well out of order.’

However Sir Sherard claimed to The Times: ‘He is lying, I am afraid. I can recall him saying it, sitting in his office in the Ministry of Defence.’

Sir Sherard said British commanders also saw the mission in Afghanistan as an opportunity to redeem their reputation in the eyes of the Americans after the criticisms of their performance in Basra…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

UK: Anti-Islamic Article Sparks Outrage

AN anti-Islamic article aiming to “liven up” a church magazine has sparked outrage after it branded the religion a “threat”.

AN anti-Islamic article aiming to “liven up” a church magazine has sparked outrage after it branded the religion a “threat”.

Muriel Clark’s controversial piece on “Islamisation” in the monthly Hildenborough Keys has been slammed for urging residents to take a stand against Muslims coming into this country.

The 80-year-old divorcee claimed in her column for the St John’s Church publication that young Christian schoolchildren were being brainwashed with Islamic ideology.

Both magazine editor Nick Hawkins — who admitted toning down the original submission because it was “too extreme” — and the Reverend John Chandler this week defended the piece, which was sent out to all homes in Hildenborough.

But residents and the West Kent Muslim Association (WKMA) have called it “unacceptable” and “harmful to the community”.

WKMA president Nasir Jamil said: “We strongly condemn these views.

“Islamisation is a very sensitive issue. Her views are a bit extremist and it’s a bit out of the blue. It really hurts us.

“How can they publish it, especially to a small community? It creates a bad impression that Muslims are extremists.”

Tonbridge Green Party’s Steve Dawe said he hoped the article — which sits alongside more benign offerings about coffee mornings and whist drives — was a one-off.

He said: “I hope those responsible indicate this was a mistake, and will never occur again.

“If not, then this is clearly a matter for the Equality and Human Rights Commission, who may wish to bring a case on the grounds of incitement to religious hatred.”

But the writer, editor and vicar have all stood by the piece.

Mr Hawkins said: “A couple of things were too extreme, so I took them out. But we should be awake to what’s going on…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

UK: A Schoolboy Raped Five or Six Times at a Mosque by Muslim Leader

A SCHOOLBOY said he was raped five or six times at a mosque by Muslim leader Mohammed Hanif Khan.

The boy, who cannot be named for legal reasons, claims the 41-year-old Imam sexually assaulted him inside the mosque in Capper Street, Tunstall, in 2009.

Khan, who was known as Sheik Mohammed Hanif Haqqani Kareemi, denies three counts of rape, four attempted rapes and one count of sexual activity with a child.

Yesterday Nottingham Crown Court heard that the boy had stopped going to the mosque but when Khan started as the Imam, he started going again.

In his police video interview which was viewed by the jury, the boy said: “He’s a big person. He doesn’t look big but he is.

“My family said they would die for him. He’s got powers.

“He’s met the Queen. If you type his name into the internet he’s everywhere. Everybody trusts him that much.”

The court heard that the boy told police that he was raped on five or six different days and the last alleged assault happened in a private room in the mosque…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

UK: I Was Kept Prisoner by the Asian Sex Gang Predator

Victim tells her harrowing story to journalist who was pilloried when she broke story of phenomenon

Pretty teenager Toni-Marie Redfern thought she’d found the perfect boyfriend. Polite, handsome, and seven years her senior, he drove a silver BMW, wore designer suits and bought her dinner at her favourite pizza café.

No wonder her schoolfriends were envious. And when he asked her to marry him, she started to make plans for their future.

Yet Toni-Marie eventually learned the truth about Abid Mohammed Saddique.

While they were going out, the British-born man of Pakistani origin was orchestrating what is believed to be the biggest sex-abuse ring ever discovered in Britain, involving up to 100 young girls.

Last week, Saddique and his accomplice, Mohammed Liaqat, whose Derby-based gang groomed girls (most of whom were white and aged between 12 and 18) for sex, were jailed for bringing a ‘reign of terror’ to the North Midlands city.

A court heard how the pair — who had undergone arranged marriages in Pakistan — cruised the streets in a BMW or a Range Rover, which Saddique referred to as the ‘Rape Rover’.

Girls were ‘chatted up’ on the street and invited for drives, during which they were plied with vodka or cocaine before being taken to hotel rooms, parks or houses to be abused. Key to the men’s conviction was Toni-Marie, now 20, who bravely gave evidence against her ex-lover.

Talking exclusively to the Mail yesterday, she said: ‘When I discovered what he had done to those girls, I felt physically sick. He was the puppet master and all his mates were his puppets. Everyone did whatever he told them to do.’

Following the imprisonment of Saddique and the emergence of a string of other similar cases, a nationwide investigation was launched this week into the grooming of vulnerable girls for sex.

There have been 17 court prosecutions since 1997 with 56 men found guilty of rape, child abduction, indecent assault and sex with a child.

Three of the 56 were white and the rest of Asian heritage. Of those, 50 were Muslim and the majority of these British Pakistanis.

Last year, in a series of articles for the Mail, I revealed how this exploitation — concentrated in communities across Northern England and the Midlands — has continued for more than a decade without serious public discussion and that the issue was often regarded as ‘taboo’ by police officers terrified of being accused of racism.

Although these revelations were only the tip of an iceberg, I was pilloried for suggesting that the cultural backgrounds of the gangs were relevant to the crimes.

Indeed, when the Saddique case first hit the headlines last year, BBC reports did not mention the ethnicity or religion of the predators.

Yet yesterday, Radio 4’s Today programme carried an item in which a DJ on the BBC Radio Asian network said: ‘Men have phoned in to our show and said: “White girls are easy. Fact.”‘

The report quoted another journalist who said some men have the so-called ‘Madonna-Whore’ complex — the idea that women fall into two categories: ‘virtuous’ women whom one marries, and ‘bad’ or ‘dirty’ women who are used for sex.

He added that some Asian cultures encourage the abuse of white girls, who are seen to be ‘whores’.

The programme also asked British males of Pakistani origin in Bradford why white girls were targeted for sex. One replied: ‘It is the way white women dress, isn’t it, in mini-skirts. It encourages men to go jack [snatch or attack] them.’

Mick Gradwell, a former detective superintendent, this week said the targeting of underage girls had been going on for decades but officers had been reluctant to comment because they feared ‘being called institutionally racist’.

Adding to the controversy, former Home Secretary Jack Straw also tackled the issue and described some of the white girl victims as ‘easy meat’ for gangs. But the Blackburn MP was accused of ‘stereotyping’ — implying the cases were symbolic of a ‘cultural problem’…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

UK: MCB Welcomes Conviction of Sex Offenders But Urges Caution on Racialising Crimes

The MCB congratulates the law enforcement agencies for securing convictions against the criminal gangs engaged in nefarious activities against young vulnerable girls. Society owes a duty of care to its vulnerable members and this tragedy demonstrates our collective failure.

Dr Shuja Shafi, Deputy Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain said: “As a community, we need a united stand against such criminal activities. When it concerns criminal behaviour, no justification is valid. The victims are young vulnerable girls whom society has failed to protect. This ought to be recognised and action taken to protect our vulnerable young girls from being abused. Issues of this complexity and sensitivity require objective and effective community action in an environment of calm not hysteria generated by media or politicians.

Dr Shafi, further added, “Linking race and culture with crime, without any substantiated evidence is dangerous and sets a slippery slope. These are criminals and it should be seen as such. We need a proper national investigation before we jump to any conclusions to the contrary. It is unfortunate the former Home Secretary, Jack Straw made a blanket assertion that Pakistani men specifically target young white women as they are ‘easy meat’. These comments are not based on national evidence.”

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

UK: New Year Message From the Secretary General [of the Muslim Council of Britain]

The New Year is a momentous occasion for all of us. It is a time for reflection and provides an ideal opportunity to renew our faith, our hopes and our commitments. I wish everyone a happy, peaceful and fulfilling 2011. I pray that this turning of page helps all of us to discover and realise the potential within us to achieve and contribute to the wellbeing of our families, our societies and our world.

Collectively, we begin the year facing many challenges, from the economic downturn and hardships, conflict around the world, and from increasing global poverty and inequality to the growing risks to our environment. The effects of these will not only be felt in the coming year but most probably continue for many more. As we come together to welcome the New Year, we must do the same to deal with the challenges confronting us. I believe engagement, inclusiveness, dialogue, recognition and respect are the key terms for the coming period.

The British Muslim community can look ahead at the coming year positively and confidently. The New Year Honours List 2011 alone highlights the distinguished contributions made by a number of British Muslims to our country. Those honoured include the Armed Forces’ highest-ranking Muslim, Rear Admiral Amjad Hussain who becomes a Companion of the Order of the Bath. We extend our warmest congratulations to all those named. They are great ambassadors for our country and illustrate the enormous contributions British Muslims make to our country, in all walks of life, day in day out. Their achievements provide an excellent foundation for us to build on for 2011.

Despite the community’s massive contribution to British society, we still face the scourge of Islamophobia and the rising anti-Muslim hate crimes, often fuelled by ignorance, prejudice and irresponsible association of the heinous crime of terrorism with our community and faith, sometimes directly and at others subtly and indirectly. We must counter this by playing a greater role in engaging with wider society. MCB is committed to working together with all our partners in the civil society, particularly the faith communities.

The extensive contribution of our mosques, charities and numerous community institutions is a testimony to the Muslim community’s commitment to the values of compassion, justice and service. I hope that as our institutions plan for the New Year they also think anew to deal with the new challenges.

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

UK: Secretary General [of the Muslim Council of Britain] Addresses International Development Christmas Reception

On Tuesday 14 December, at an event hosted by the Speaker of the House of Commons, Rt. Hon. John Bercow MP at Speakers House, parliamentarians and aid agencies joined in highlighting the importance of continuing efforts in

international development and not forgetting the plight of the poor and hungry during the festive period.

The event highlighted the cross-party efforts on international development and the work of children from many schools in the UK keeping the issue alive. Performances were displayed by Dance4Life a dance group that works

internationally on development issues and music by Polish Supplementary School Choir and Boothville Primary School.

Speaking on behalf of civil society organisations, Belinda Calaguas, Head of Policy and Campaigns at Action Aid, who are this year’s Chair of the British Overseas Aid Group (BOAG), spoke of the important work aid agencies are

undertaking around the world.

Farooq Murad, the Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain, who was requested to address the reception said “it is unacceptable and a challenge to our humanity that ten children die every minute due to poverty,

hunger, lack of clean water and preventable diseases”.

Commending the commitment and contribution of the UK government, and the many NGO’s working tirelessly in the area, he called on the country to make a lifelong pledge to help the poor and needy and to unite beyond ethnic and

religious differences in striving to save lives.

Mr Murad also spoke of significant contribution made by many Muslim charities and NGOs to international development, many of whom are affiliated to the MCB, such as Islamic Relief, Muslim Aid and Muslim Hands. There are

currently over 90 Muslim registered charities working in international development, 15 with t/o in excess of £1 million.

Sally Keeble, former MP and Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development who organised the event said “The presence and contribution of the MCB at this event was very much appreciated. The

reception marked the commitment of the UK Parliament and Government to international development. The young people, schools, civil society and faith communities present demonstrated the commitment of the public to see

the UK keep ithe pledge to help end world poverty.”

The event was addressed by the Speaker of the House of Commons Rt. Hon. John Bercow MP, the Secretary of State for International Development Rt. Hon. Andrew Mitchell MP, Labour’s Deputy Leader Rt. Hon. Harriet Harman MP and

the Chair of the International Development Select Committee Rt. Hon. Malcolm Bruce MP.

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

UK: TUC Marcher Chased ‘Anti-Islam Protester’

A MASKED protester who chased and cornered a man he believed was part of an anti-Islamic protest in Peterborough city centre said he regretted his actions.

Faizan Awan (24), of Kesteven Walk, Peterborough, was one of a group of up to seven who pursued a man they believed was a member of the English Defence League, which had staged a huge march through Peterborough on December 11.

Awan, who had been taking part in the Peterborough TUC’s counter march on the day, was seen by police shouting and swearing at the man, who hid in a building to escape the group.

Peterborough magistrates were yesterday told Awan claimed he chased the man after he heard him chanting, and people told him the man had assaulted a member of the TUC march.

He pleaded guilty to using words or behaviour to cause fear of unlawful violence. He was given a community order for 12 months, which will include 60 hours of unpaid work, and ordered to pay £85 costs.

Marcia Duncan-Brown, prosecuting, told the court: “Awan was a member of the TUC march, which finished about an hour before the EDL march finished.

“Awan was walking back to the mosque with a large group of people, accompanied by police. But a splinter group of men got away from the main group.

“They chased three men, one of whom they believed to be part of the EDL.

“The man sought shelter in the Timestop YMCA building, and the group would not let him out.

“The man was not part of the EDL.

“Many of the group, including Awan, wore balaclavas to cover their faces. Awan eventually took his off.

“He was seen shouting, swearing and jumping around waving his arms in the air by police. He was also encouraging others to get involved in the incident.”…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

UK:£24m Flagship School of the Future Set to Close After Just Two Years

(But taxpayer will be paying it off for another 25)

A £24million ‘school of the future’ is to close just two years after it was opened because of dwindling pupil numbers.

Christ the King secondary in Huyton, Merseyside, was opened to great fanfare by then-Education Secretary Ed Balls in January 2009, who described it as ‘more than just a school’ and the ‘first piece of the biggest transformation of education in the borough for two generations’.

Now there are fears the taxpayer will be lumbered with a huge bill running to millions of pounds because of a 25-year contract Knowsley Council signed with the private sector builders.

Christ the King was the first of seven new secondaries to open in a £157m revamp to replace 11 aging Knowsley high schools under the government Building Schools For the Future scheme.

It was hoped the modern design and teaching methods would elicit ‘awe and wonder’ within the children, and the building was open around the clock for community use.

Instead of traditional classrooms, pupils could freely move around any time of day by downloading lessons from a whiteboard and work in trendy ‘home base areas’.

Teachers were renamed ‘progress leaders’, and lessons were taught within rooms with retractable walls.

But a recent council study revealed the joint Church of England-Catholic school had too many empty desks.

Schools receive funding based on the number of pupils, and around half of the 180 available annual places at Christ the King were unfilled this academic year.

Sarah Flyles, 33, whose 11-year-old son AJ joined in September said: ‘Five streets were closed to make way for the school and to last just two years is a huge waste of money, absolutely stupid.’…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]


Bosnia Worst Ranked in Region by Economic Freedom

(ANSAmed) — SARAJEVO, JANUARY 13 — In the global ranking of The Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street Journal by economic freedom, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BH) is in position 104 among total 179 countries included in it, reports daily San.

With a score of 57.5, BH is in the group with the least economic freedom, and she is worst-ranked in the region. Hong Kong is the most economically free country in the world with a score of 89.7 points and South Korea is last in this ranking by ten factors of economic freedom.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

North Africa

1,800 British Tourists to be Evacuated From Tunisia

Travel company Thomas Cook has vowed to fly home all 1,800 of its British customers who are holidaying in Tunisia, following violent riots which have claimed 23 lives so far this week.

In addition the company has cancelled the next scheduled departures to the north African country, which were due to take off on Sunday.

Thomas Cook said in a statement that they are ‘strongly advising’ those Brits on holiday in Tunisia to board the return flights, which will take off today.

The riots, which have been rumbling all month and have gripped the nation, have been caused by levels of high unemployment and general disenchantment with a government some view as corrupt.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

3,300 British Tourists to be Evacuated From Tunisia by Travel Companies After ‘66 Die’ In Street Riots

British travel companies Thomas Cook and First Choice vowed to fly home all 3,300 of their British customers who are holidaying in Tunisia, following violent riots which have claimed 23 lives so far this week.

In addition Thomas Cook, who have 1,800 customers in the north African country, has cancelled the next scheduled departures to Tunisia, which were due to take off on Sunday.

Thomas Cook said in a statement that they are ‘strongly advising’ those Brits on holiday in Tunisia to board the return flights, which will take off today, and First Choice, who have 1,500 customers in the country, said they are ‘continuously reviewing and monitoring the situation’.

There are believed to be a total of 5,000 British tourists in the country.

The riots, which have been rumbling all month, have been caused by levels of high unemployment and general disenchantment with a government some view as corrupt. The official death toll is 23 although there are claims the figure could be as high as 66.

The president of Tunisia, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, today announced he would dismiss his government and call new legislative elections after police fired tear gas at thousands of protesters marching through the capital to demand his exit.

An unnamed official also claimed that a state of emergency had been declared as protesters mobbed the capital of Tunis.

Marching through the city, they demanded Ben Ali’s resignation and some even climbed onto the roof of the Interior Ministry — a symbol of his repressive regime.

Last night he had vowed to step down after 23 years in power in a bid to prevent any further trouble.

Holidaymakers are mostly in resorts by the coast, but the travel firms acted even before the Foreign Office advised against visiting the area because of the ‘unpredictable’ situation.

Thomas Cook’s statement read: ‘Although there have been no specific problems for our holidaymakers, their well-being is our primary concern so, as a precaution, we’ve taken the decision to bring them back to the UK as soon as we can, using our fleet of aircraft today.’

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

Libya: Tripoli Bishop Claims Religious Freedom

(ANSAmed) — TRIPOLI, JANUARY 10 — The bishop of Tripoli, Mosignor Martinelli, has expressed his “regret” over the protests called by two EU representatives of FLI — Potito Salatto and Enzo Rivellini — for today in Rome in front of the Libyan embassy in support of religious freedom within the country. “In Libya,” Monsignor Martinelli told ANSA this morning, “there is religious freedom. Catholics can hold religious functions without suffering any restrictions.” Martinelli noted that there is a “well-known text”, which dates back to the when diplomatic relations began between the Holy See and Libya, in which it is reported that “bishops in Libya have no hindrances to practicing their religion wherever there are Christian communities”. “I see this protest as being very untimely for Libya,” stressed Martinelli, noting that within the country there are 100,000 worshippers of many nationalities who attend services at the Tripoli and Benghazi churches, as well as a number of religious communities spread over the country. The high-ranking religious figure noted that in Tripoli there are 7 priests and in Benghazi another 6 plus a bishop who operate all the way to the Tobruq border zone. “Also this Christmas,” concluded Monsignor Martinelli, “was celebrated in a serene manner, with many worshippers of many different nationalities.”

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Lowest Wages in Tunisia, Egypt and Jordan

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, JANAURY 7 — The minimum hourly wage of workers in the textile and clothing industry in Tunisia is lower to that of their counterparts in Turkey, Morocco and Algeria. This is according to the latest monthly letter of the Euro-Mediterranean Circle of textile and clothing directors (CEDITH), which says that the minimum wage reported this month in Tunisia was 0.75 euros per hour, while the figure was lower in Jordan (0.61 euros) and Egypt (0.24 euros). CEDITH says that Turkish workers are better paid, with an hourly wage of 1.99 euros, followed by Moroccan and Algerian employees, with 0.93 and 0.88 euros respectively.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

President of Tunisia Leaves Country Amid Growing Chaos

President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia has left the country, French diplomats say, and the Associated Press reported that the prime minister has gone on state television to say he is in charge.

A French Foreign Ministry official said authorities did not know where the president had gone, and Tunisian authorities were not immediately available to confirm the report.

[Return to headlines]

The Revolt of Desperate People Will Not Change North Africa

The autocratic regimes in power in Tunisia and Algeria will continue to protect the privileges of their élite.

Can we expect the modernization of the Maghreb today on the wave of the recent “bread riots”? Do the young people in the city squares dream of a more just and egalitarian society, or are they likely to start shouting that Islam is the answer, and take out their anger on the USA and Europe rather than on Ben Ali and Bouteflika?

When the leader of a revolt is a 26-year-old named Mohammed Bouaziz, who sets himself on fire when police smash his fruit cart, his only means of survival despite his university degree, as Europeans, our reflex is to take his side. Whose side should we take when the other victim — Ben Amour, a 22-year-old rapper arrested for singing, “President, your people are dying” — is in prison as the number of deaths in Tunisia rises by the hour, the unrest spreads, and the price of bread increases by 30%?

Until a few days ago, we did not know what was going on in Tunisia . The government of Ben Ali — the President who sent Habib Bourguiba packing — had managed to hush up the riots in the city squares; the growing repression against the blue-jeaned, sneakered youths; the teenage deaths; the fact that, little by little, practically all of Tunisian society was joining the demonstrators in the squares and that even 95% of the lawyers went on strike; that the hackers had rendered virtually all government websites unusable, and signs that the Tunisians have reached at the end of their tether are widespread and omnipresent.

Then Algeria erupted — a country with huge, powerful and spectacular connotations in our minds: the white casbah; the historical hideout of Communists and Islamists; the anti-colonial revolt; Gillo Pontecorvo’s film, “The Battle of Algiers;” the origins of Albert Camus, and the horror of the present time. The slaughter began in 1988 with the fiercest Islamic fundamentalist attack ever witnessed — a war that meted out between 150,000 and 200,000 deaths, starting with the clash between the FIS (Islamic Salvation Front) and the military, and escalating to the massacre of its own population.

Now Algeria, together with Tunisia, is once more a theater of violence due to the “bread riots”, caused only occasionally by the disproportionate rise in the price of staple products, but substantially by the typically domineering attitude of the “moderate” Arab government: 75% of the population is under the age of 30, a seething sea of turmoil. The majority of them are cast adrift without prospects in a society in which three or four families still live in one house, and in which birth-control policies have failed miserably.

The Algeria that “counts” has the country’s considerable energy production under lock and key in the golden safes of high society, and the proceeds go exclusively to restricted social groups. The country also prefers to employ Chinese labor instead of the local workforce, and has been incapable of using the infrastructure inherited in 1963 to advantage. It neglects the population — a situation which makes the population easy prey for the powerful Islamist network that is always lying in wait.

This tide of furious young people, willing to die if need be, is undoubtedly a social modernization movement; due to the regimes’ self-interest, however, the Islamist dogma could overwhelm their thirst for justice and seize the upper hand over the riots…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Tunisia Amongst Africa’s Most Competitive Countries

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, JANUARY 7 — According to a recent study by the World Bank, since the end of the 1990s Tunisia has become one of the most competitive economies on the African continent.

This is also thanks to cooperation with theInternational Bankfor Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), which has enabled the improvement of competitiveness at global level, with the doubling of exports in the 1996-2007 period.

The World Bank study underlines that the competitiveness of the Tunisian economy stands out in particular through productivity, a positive factor for foreign direct investments.

According to the IBRD, this competitiveness has been translated, since the end of the 1990s and despite a world financial situation that has not always been favourable, into a 5% growth rate.(

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Tunisian President Leaves Country Amid Unrest

Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali has left the country, amid the worst unrest there in decades. The Arabic language network al-Jazeera says the speaker of parliament is temporarily in charge.

The president was reported to have boarded a flight out of the country Friday evening local time. The military had sealed off the airport and closed Tunisian airspace a short time beforehand.

A state of emergency was also declared earlier Friday, with public gatherings banned and security forces authorized to shoot violators.

Dozens of people have been killed in rioting over unemployment and high food prices, with many protesters demanding Mr. Ben Ali resign. The exact death toll is not clear.

The president had earlier dismissed his government and called for early elections.

Police fired tear gas at protesters in the capital Tunis, and reporters saw officers beating and chasing demonstrators. Witnesses also said shots were heard Friday near the interior ministry.

Hospital officials said 13 people were killed late Thursday — the same day that President Ben Ali announced concessions to try to stop deadly riots.

On Thursday, Mr. Ben Ali ordered security forces to stop using firearms against demonstrators. In a televised speech, he also made sweeping pledges for political and media reform and slashed prices on food staples.

The protests erupted in the western Sidi Bouzid region in December, when a 26-year-old university graduate set himself on fire after police confiscated his produce. Authorities said he was selling it without a permit.

Also Friday, Tunisia’s ambassador to UNESCO Ambassador Mezri Haddad cited the unrest but did not elaborate.

           — Hat tip: KGS[Return to headlines]

Tunisia: Ben Ali Son-in-Law Denies Fleeing to Canada

(ANSAmed) — ROME, JANUARY 14 — Mohammed Sakhar Al Matery, the son-in-law of Tunisia’s President Ben Ali, has issued a video on Facebook denying that he and his family have fled to Canada in the wake of the trouble in the country.

Ben Ali’s son-in-law explained the trip to Canada by saying that his wife was undergoing medical treatment in the country after giving birth.

Despite his young age, Al Matery is an important figure in the Tunisian finance and business world, the Al Arabiyya website reports. He is the owner of a number of newspapers, a radio station, a bank and a transport company.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Tunisia: Ben Ali Concessions to Protest in Papers in the Area

(ANSAmed) — ROME, JANUARY 14 — There is still a great deal of coverage in the daily newspapers of the area on the Tunisian situation, above all with regard to President Ben Ali’s speech yesterday evening, in which he made a series of important concessions to the people’s protests. Amongst the issues touched on by Ben Ali, the announcement that he will not stand at the next presidential elections in 2014 is particularly focussed on by the daily papers. Egyptian Al Ahram focuses on this, also pointing out the Tunisian opposition’s demand that the President resign and supplying the official death toll (23) of recent days. For another Arab-language Egyptian daily paper, Al Hayat, Ben Ali’s speech “responded to the people’s appeal for change.” Egyptian Asharq al Awsat reports with regard to what happened on the ground, headlining synthetically “The paralysed capital.” The announcement of the non-candidacy at the presidential elections in 2014 (and thus also his withdrawal from modifying the Constitution, which currently blocks him from running for a new term) is also echoed on the front pages of Spanish dailies. El Pais comments that, despite Ben Ali’s promises and announcements, violent protests in the streets are continuing. The disorder that is shaking Tunisia gives Le Monde the opportunity to headline “Ben Ali’s regime shaken by people’s rebellion” (in the online edition the main headline describes the crowd in the streets after the President’s speech). Le Figaro, for its part, reports that Ben Ali, with the promises he made yesterday evening, hopes to defuse the protest.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Tunisia: Ben Ali Takes Step Back, Celebrations in the Streets

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, JANUARY 14 — From the protests and the clashes, from tear gas to triumphant shouts. “We’ve won,” shout the people in the streets of Tunis this evening, challenging a ceasefire that no police officer now even dreams of enforcing. This is how a long day in the capital and throughout the country ended. The dramatic turn of events came late yesterday evening, when President Ben Ali appeared on television to announce to the nation that he had asked the police to no longer use firearms against the demonstrators, and that he had ordered “a reduction in the price of bread, milk and sugar.” Ben Ali announced that he would not stand in the 2014 elections and promised freedom of press and an end to censorship on internet sites. His words unleashed a party: thousands of people took to the heavily policed Avenue Burghiba, waving the national flag and some even sung the praises of the President. In recent days the numbers of clashes and deaths have been counted, the opposition’s figures against the official ones. In the streets the police used tear gas and then real bullets. The police killed people just a few metres from the state-run TV and from the Interior Ministry, whilst in the palaces there was talk of a possible end to the regime that seemed so close. And yet the President made a surprise move and met the requests of civil society. It is true that his words are currently just promises, but it seems that they have allowed him in a speech lasting just half an hour delivered with a serious and sad face in front of the cameras and the nation, to regain all the popularity in the 23 years of the iron-handed regime, of a system marked by social and development inequality, and by so much corruption. “People are happy, they believe it,” said a boy who was following the demonstrators, the horns of the cars in the street sounding. “It’s true, it seems like we’ve achieved a lot of things. Now we need to see what really happens.” Not everyone is ready to be deceived, maybe this demonstration was organised, some insinuate, even though it does seem spontaneous. Just as the speech by the President was studied down to the very last detail precisely to achieve this reaction. But can just a few minutes of TV cancel out what has happened in the country in recent weeks, the suicides by fire in Sidi Bouzid, the deaths in Thala and Kasserine, the many alleged deaths that are talked about everyday without official confirmation — from the 58 counted today by the League for Human Rights to the 29 counted by the Foreign Ministers with the ambassadors? Is it possible to forget the ransacking, the devastation, the assaults by people — again today in Gafsa and Nabeul, and in Biserta and Gabes — at the Carrefour and Casino supermarkets and many others with French names, which are said to be linked — as those who destroyed them believe — to those in power? Power which in Tunisia for a large part means the family of the President and above all his wife, Leila Trabelsi. “It was an important and unexpected speech that has met the expectations of civil society halfway,” says the leader of the Tunisian opposition, Najib Chebbi, on the spur of the moment. “The President has touched the heart of the problem, namely the demand for reforms.”

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Tunisia: EU Pleased With Ben Ali Speech, Now Painless Shift

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, JANUARY 14 — The European Union has favourably received the announcement by the Tunisian President, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, that he does not intend to stand for re-election in 2014, saying that the conditions are in place for a painless period of transition in the country.

“We acknowledge this announcement, which we believe creates an opportunity for a painless transition,” said Maja Kocijancic, the spokesperson for the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Catherine Ashton.

The European Union, which in the last few days has strongly condemned the repression of protesters and has threatened to block ongoing talks over the strengthening of relations with Tunisia, also welcomed measures to put an end to violence and re-establish freedom of information.

“The decision for the police no longer to shoot protesters and for freedom of information to be re-established is absolutely justified,” the spokesperson said.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Tunisia President Quits as Prime Minister Takes Over

Mr Ghannouchi called on Tunisians to unite after weeks of protests and said he would respect the constitution.

Mr Ben Ali reportedly fled amid mounting demands for him to step down, despite announcing later on Thursday that he would not seek another term after 2014. It was not clear where he was headed. The country’s airspace was shut down as weeks of unrest escalated. “I can confirm that the army is at the airport. Armoured vehicles are surrounding the airport,” an official source said. “The airspace is closed too.”

Thomas Cook had begun to evacuate 1,800 tourists from Tunisia on Friday as the unrest that has killed at least 23 people spread…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Tunisia: Prime Minister Takes Over as President Ben Ali Flees Tunisian Turmoil

Tunisian President Zine al-Abedine Ben Ali left office on Friday following continuing anti-government unrest in the North African country.

His departure was confirmed in a televised address by Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi, who said he was taking over as interim president until new elections are organised. Ghannouchi also promised to adhere to the constitution and ease the spreading chaos.

According to al Jazeera TV, Ben Ali, who came to the presidency in 1987, has left the country. But his whereabouts remain unknown.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

Caroline Glick: Exposing the Puppet Masters

Israel is today in the throes of a powerful backlash against the Knesset’s decision last week to establish a parliamentary commission of inquiry into the foreign funding of Israeli NGOs that engage in political warfare against the state.

Opposition leader Tzipi Livni claimed on Tuesday that the commission shows that “Israel today is deteriorating and abusing the very values for which we want to fight. The way that Israeli is presented by the belligerent, violent government is hindering Israel’s ability to defend itself.”…

           — Hat tip: Caroline Glick[Return to headlines]

Gaza: Hamas Witch Hunt, 150 Arrested in 2010

(ANSAmed) — GAZA, JANUARY 14 — Hamas leaders are committed to a systematic “witch hunt” and 150 women were arrested in 2010 in Gaza for having made recourse to witchcraft of some sort. During a symposium held in recent days in Gaza, it was stated that in the eyes of Hamas, the activities of these women represent a real social danger, also because they risk “breaking up families,” causing divorce and frittering away of money. Sometimes their activities also have criminal repercussions. One awareness campaign against “the witches” was launched using large posters in mosques, universities and public offices frequented by women.

The issue emerged again in August last year when a 62-year-old woman, Jabryieh Abu Ghanas, considered to be active in the field of “witchcraft” and the production of “voodoo dolls”, was shot dead in a street in the centre of Gaza. This murder caused great alarm in the Palestinian human rights defence organisations al-Mezan and Pchr-Gaza. It seems however that for now Hamas are not using an iron hand in regard to the women suspected of witchcraft. They are forced to sign an undertaking to abandon their practices, consider incompatible with Islam, for good. It seems this measure has been sufficient and to date there is no news of any “witch” being imprisoned by Hamas.

           — Hat tip: KGS[Return to headlines]


Russia Says Next U.S. Arms Talks Must Include Others

Russia said further cuts in nuclear weapons sought by the U.S. can be achieved only as part of a multinational accord limiting other types of armaments, a position that dims the Obama administration’s chances for swift progress toward one of its biggest foreign policy goals.

Under conditions spelled out Thursday by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, a new round of talks aimed at slashing Russia’s large arsenal of short-range tactical nuclear weapons must involve other nuclear powers and focus as well on conventional warheads and weapons in space.

The statement comes in the wake of the two countries’ landmark New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or New Start. The treaty, a centerpiece of the administration’s efforts to “reset” relations with Russia, won U.S. Senate ratification on Dec. 23. Russian lawmakers say they will follow suit this month.

Tommy Vietor, a spokesman for the White House National Security Council, said the administration intends to try to move to talks on tactical nuclear weapons “within one year of the New Start’s entry into force.” The White House said there is a schedule for talks on missile-defense issues that “will help us advance the broader arms-reduction agenda.”

Mr. Lavrov suggested talks on tactical nuclear weapons wouldn’t happen quickly. “Before talking about any further steps in the sphere of nuclear disarmament,” he cautioned at a news conference, “it’s necessary to fulfill the New Start agreement.” That process could take years, as the former Cold War enemies shrink their long-range nuclear warheads to a limit of 1,550 each, down from the current ceiling of 2,200.

“Then it will become clear what further steps must be taken to strengthen global security and strategic stability,” Mr. Lavrov said. At that point, he added, other nuclear-armed nations must take part and the agenda must include weapons in space, strategic missiles equipped with conventional explosives and other weapons.

Russia has long sought to draw space-based defense systems into arms-control talks, and the U.S. has long resisted…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

South Asia

Indonesia: West Borneo: Capuchin Friars Campaign for Environment and Tribals

In 2010 in Indonesia, human activity has caused the contamination of five lakes and 65 rivers. The religious have launched projects to promote the reforestation of entire areas ruined by speculators and timber barons. Environmentalists call for a review of the parameters on industrial waste.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) — Deforestation, gradual drying up of crops, an exponential increase in the contamination of rivers and lakes: Indonesia’s economic growth in recent years goes hand in hand with a pollution alarm launched by environmentalists and Catholic leaders. In 2010 alone, experts have added 65 new rivers and five lakes to the blacklist of places contaminated “because of human activity.” To meet emergency needs, a group of priests has started reforestation and recovery of flora and fauna projects in some areas.

Fr. Matheus Yuli, a priest of the diocese of Ketapang (in West Borneo), works closely with the Dayaks, a native people of Borneo (Kalimantan, in local language) and explains that “it is almost impossible to think about Dayak cultural identity and civilization, without the presence of their forest. “ The priest denounces the devastation caused by speculators and tycoons, first with an indiscriminate deforestation and then the creation of a palm tree plantation for oil production. The damage caused to the area, has endangered the survival of tribal peoples.

The island of Borneo is five times larger than the island of Java, the most populous of the Indonesian archipelago. The native Dayak are divided into hundreds of ethnic groups and each speak a different language, as well as having a different traditional culture and way of cultivation. In western Borneo Capuchin friars have launched a reforestation project, to restore the local natural environment. “ It was a hard job to do, — says Fr Samuel Sidin Oton, a Dayak — since native Dayak tribal groups were not easy to be brainstormed over the possibility of making their barren forest to be green again”. Among the projects launched by the religious, reforestation of over 100 hectares of land in Tunggal Hill in the district of Kubu Raya.

The environmental alarm is not just about forests of Borneo, but includes rivers and lakes throughout the archipelago. A recent study shows that in 2010 alone, human activity has caused the contamination of five lakes and 65 rivers. Mukri Friatna, a member of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi), calls for the intervention of the Ministry of Environment and an update of the parameters that affect the waste processing industry.

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

Indonesia: Non-Govt Groups Fundraise to Repatriate Migrants Stranded in Saudi Arabia

Jakarta, 12 Jan. (AKIJakarta Post) — Indonesian non-governmental organisations are currently conducting a fundraising campaign to collect an estimated 188,700 dollars to repatriate up to 200 Indonesian migrant workers stranded in Saudi Arabia.

The organisations are asking Indonesians to donate the equivalent of 11 cents each, meaning they need 1.7 million donors to be able to bring the migrant workers back.

“Until now the government doesn’t seem to have made any effort to bring them home,” said Anis Hidayah, an executive from the Migrant Care group said on Wednesday.

Over the past three months hundreds of Indonesian migrant workers in Saudi Arabia have been forced to sleep outdoors with mats for bedding. Hidayah added that some had been forced to beg for food to survive.

The fundraising campaign will be conducted for one month. Similar programmes will be carried out in Hong Kong and Singapore.

The funds raised will be handed over to Indonesia’s foreign ministry.

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

Iran Sends Equipment by Air to Complete Sangtuda-2 Dam

Uzbekistan is opposed to the project, for fear of losing water from the river Vakhsh, and stops about 2 thousand trains loaded with building material at the border. But Iran, which will operate the hydroelectric plant for 12 years, organises an airlift. Tashkent is now more willing to seek a compromise.

Dushanbe (AsiaNews / Agencies) — In late December Iran began transporting by air 75 tons of electronic equipment to Tajikistan to complement the hydroelectric dam Sangtuda-2, about 100 kilometers south of Dushanbe, which will produce 220 megawatts of electricity a year. But Uzbekistan continues to oppose the project, for fear that it will reduce the water flow of the river Vakhsh, essential for agriculture.

In 2010, about 2 thousand trains loaded with construction materials bound for Tajikistan were stopped at the border of Uzbekistan, including at least 20 trains sent by Iran to build the dam, which is being built by the Iranian company Sangob. Now Tehran has sent the material by air, and Tashkent has also warned that if the blockade continues, Iran could prevent the passage of Uzbek trains.

The Iranian ambassador to Tajikistan, Ali Asghar Sherdust, said that the turbines needed for Sangtuda-2, produced in China, were brought to the port of Bandar Abbas in southern Iran. Each turbine weighs 140 tonnes and Iran will ship them to Tajikistan by air. It is hoped the dam will be completed and start producing energy by 2011, Tajikistan has invested 40 million dollars in the project in Iran 180 million, apart from the cost of air transport. In return Iran will manage the dam for the first 12 years.

Tajikistan is devoid of oil and gas fields and lacks electricity, which is rationed each winter, but it is rich in watercourses, so is investing in hydropower.

Uzbekistan is rich in energy, but sells at a price. Many rivers that irrigate its valleys flow from Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, and it fears that the dams that the two countries are building will decrease the flow of water, essential for agriculture. A fact that the two upstream countries deny, noting that they have the right to exploit their natural resources.

The Tajik dam that concerns Uzbekistan the most, however, is the Rogun, which the President of Uzbekistan Islam Karimov has often described as “an environmental and economic catastrophe for the downstream countries”.

While Iran must ship the equipment by air, Uzbekistan on December 29 granted Tajikistan a postponement to 2016 to pay off its debt to Tashkent, primarily from supply of energy, and reduced the annual payment from 11 to 5.5 million dollars. These are major concessions for impoverished Tajikistan, which receives 95% of its energy supply from Uzbekistan. In recent months Tashkent has threatened to withhold supplies. In comparing the two states Dushanbe risks isolation, because it has little to offer, while there is great interest in the rich deposits of Uzbek gas.

Tajikistan’s debts to foreign countries amount to about 1.79 billion, including 378 million to the World Bank, 325 million to the Asian Development Bank and 665 million to China.

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

Pakistan: Rally Supports Governor’s Killer

Islamic extremists have rallied in support of the confessed killer of a liberal Pakistani governor and protested against Pope Benedict XVI for urging the scrapping of blasphemy laws stipulating death for those who insult Islam.

Right-wing Muslim groups rallied against any move to change the laws after a Christian woman was sentenced to death for blasphemy, attracting local and international condemnation.

Governor Salman Taseer was among the critics of the judgement and he was last week gunned down by guard Mumtaz Qadri, who later said he was motivated by Mr Taseer’s stance on the laws.

Around 1,000 protesters gathered near the house of the confessed killer in Rawalpindi, close to the capital, Islamabad, carrying banners in support of him. Protesters also took to the streets in Karachi and two other cities in support of the laws and against the remarks by the pope last week, with one placard reading: “Pope Benedict’s statement is an attack on the hearts of Muslims.”

Last week, some 40,000 people protested in Karachi in support of Qadri, shocking many liberal Pakistanis and raising concern about growing extremism in the country.

The government, which is struggling against al Qaida and Taliban militants, has since stated it has no plan to amend the blasphemy laws. Analysts believe the government is too weak to pick a fight with Islamist forces, which are able to rally thousands of people on the streets even though their political parties only have a few seats in parliament…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Pakistani Governor Bodyguard Served on President Zardari’s Security Team

Mumtaz Qadri was part of Punjab Police’s Elite Force whose members are selected to protect the province’s most senior ministers, politicians and VIPs. He had also served on security details for Rehman Malik, the interior minister, Ifthikhar Mohammed Chadhry, the state’s chief minister Shahbaz Sharif, and his brother, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

Four more of its members have now been suspended after Qadri told his interrogators that they shared his extremist views, including his cousin.

The assassination of Salman Taseer plunged the volatile country further into crisis after Qadri said he had killed him because of his campaign to repeal Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and to seek a reprieve for a Christian woman sentenced to death for allegedly insulting the Prophet Mohammad.

The blasphemy is believed to be widely misused to accuse members of the country’s Christian and other minorities.

Police are currently investigating claims that officials ignored a formal warning from a senior Punjab police officer who told them Qadri’s extremist views meant he should not be deployed to protect ministers and other VIPs…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Pakistan Blasphemy Law Reformers’ Death Threats [Video]

Pakistan’s minorities minister and an MP have told the BBC they will defy death threats they have received for their efforts to reform blasphemy laws.

Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti said he had been threatened with beheading, but he would not be intimidated.

Sherry Rehman, a woman MP who has put forward an amendment in parliament, says she receives death threats every half hour by e-mail and telephone.

The blasphemy law holds a death sentence for anyone who insults Islam.

Critics, including Mr Bhatti, say it has been used to persecute minority faiths in Pakistan.

Climate of fear

A Christian mother-of-five, Asia Bibi, is on death row after being found guilty of blaspheming in her Punjab village in June 2009. She denies the charge.

The issue has been thrust further into the spotlight since the 4 January assassination of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer, who had backed proposed reforms to the law.

The BBC’s Orla Guerin in Islamabad says there is now a climate of fear in the country, with few people daring to even mention the legislation.

Mr Bhatti said: “I was told that if I was to continue the campaign against the blasphemy law, I will be assassinated. I will be beheaded. But forces of violence, forces of extremism cannot harass me, cannot threaten me.”

Our correspondent says that in the face of strident popular opposition, Mr Bhatti’s own government has said the law will not be changed.

Ms Rehman introduced a private member’s bill in parliament to ditch the blasphemy law’s death penalty and amend clauses to make miscarriages of justice less likely.

From her home in Karachi, where she is under tight private security, she told the BBC that Pakistan was facing an existential threat from extremism.

“There’s a very clear and present danger to the fabric and soul of Pakistan,” she said.

“The kind of country we want to live in, if we are not up to strategise and face up to this very existential threat, I think that that will swallow us whole eventually.”…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Pakistan: Report Says Child Bride Only $1,150

Survey says families simply do not believe there’s anything wrong with it

A new report from the Middle East Media Research Institute documents that an adult man can obtain a child bride in Pakistan for as little as $1,150.

While critical observers cry “pedophilia,” a survey from the Sujag Sansar Organization, a children’s rights charity there, said families involved say it’s a tribal custom, it is done for financial reasons and they simply do not believe there is anything wrong with it.

In Western culture, children and sex are mutually exclusive topics, and when they are mixed, it causes trouble, as it does when abortion businesses provide services to minors in violation of various laws, and when investigations uncover consumers of child porn.

But in Muslim-dominated cultures, it is more prevalent, to the point of enmeshing American contractors when they operate in those regions.

The report from MEMRI, which monitors and documents media reports throughout the Middle East and other locations, cited a situation that developed only weeks ago in the Pakistani town of Sheikhupura.

There, police raided a wedding hall and arrested the bridegroom and guests just as the marriage of a six-year-old girl, Uzma, was being solemnized.

Police spokesman Bilal Zafar said in the report that the 23-year-old bridegroom was arrested, as was the cleric.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Pakistan: Asia Bibi Facing Threat of Suicide Attack

ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN (ANS) — Asia Bibi, the Christian woman who triggered a blasphemy furor in Pakistan and in whose defense Punjab Governor Salman Taseer lost his life, is facing a threat of a suicide attack inside a jail, where she is currently lodged.

According to Z News (, the “Moaviya group,” a militant organization plans to mount a suicide attack on Sheikhupura district jail, where 45-year-old Asia is being held, The Express Tribune quoted its sources as saying. An intelligence report issued last week has corroborated threat to her life.

“Punjab police and jail authorities subsequently beefed up security due to the intelligence report and the assassination of Taseer,” said the story.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Pakistani Militant Fight Leads to Polio Spike

Tiny Shamsa is a victim of the war against Islamist militants in northwest Pakistan, but it wasn’t bullets or bombs that paralyzed her right leg. The 18-month-old contracted polio after fighting blocked vaccination teams from reaching her village.

In a country with no shortage of alarming statistics, here is another: Pakistan was the only country in 2010 to record an increase in cases of the crippling disease — 138, up from 89 in the previous year, according to World Health Organization figures. That made it the nation with the highest incidence of polio in the world.

Most cases were in the northwest close to the Afghan border, where battles between the U.S.-supported Pakistani army and Taliban fighters make many areas too dangerous to visit. The army bans travel to parts of the region, citing the security situation, and territory under militant control is highly dangerous for outsiders, even Pakistani aid workers. Last year, one Pakistan Taliban commander declared the vaccine un-Islamic, echoing a few conservative clerics in other Muslim countries. But others have not publicly stated any objections. In Afghanistan, the Taliban cooperate with health workers administering the vaccine, in part because doing so adds to the movement’s legitimacy. Polio was eradicated generations ago from the Western world, but remains endemic in Pakistan, neighboring Afghanistan and India, as well as Nigeria. Sometimes fatal and highly contagious, it can be prevented with a few drops of bitter vaccine on a child’s tongue. Eradication needs a comprehensive vaccination campaign. Missing even a single child can mean the disease reappearing. In 2010, India recorded 41 cases, Afghanistan 24 and Nigeria 18, according to WHO. A WHO-backed campaign, which began in 1988, aims to eradicate polio from Pakistan by the end of 2011. But some doctors say privately that the target will not be met.

“It is upsetting to know that our only child could not get vaccine because of the troubles,” said Shamsa’s mother, Majeeda Ali, at a hospital in the main northwestern city of Peshawar recently where she took her daughter for treatment recently. “Yes, I am angry.” Workers from the United Nation’s children’s agency, which is helping administer the vaccine, say they have not been able to access Shamsa’s village in the Khyber region for almost two years because of intensified Pakistan military efforts to rid the region of al-Qaida and Taliban militants. Shamsa caught polio last year…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Pakistani Protesters Warn Pope Over Blasphemy Laws

At a frenzied Friday rally in this garrison city outside of Islamabad, thousands warned Pope Benedict XVI to keep his nose out of the debate over Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.

The demonstration came days after the Vatican called for Pakistan to repeal the controversial laws that say anyone who defiles the name of the Muslim prophet Mohammed should face the death penalty or life imprisonment.

“If you challenge the prophet, we will take revenge. It doesn’t matter who does it,” shouted a cleric on loudspeakers to thousands of cheering onlookers.

Pakistan’s blasphemy laws came into sharp focus when a security guard allegedly killed his boss Salman Taseer, the governor of Pakistan’s Punjab province, who criticize the laws.

Since the shooting, hardline religious groups have held demonstrations praising suspected killer Mumtaz Qadri — who Pakistan’s Interior Minister says confessed to the killing — calling him a hero and a defender of Islam.

At Friday’s rally, pictures of the the suspects’s smiling face adorned scores of posters and a banner that covered the length of a truck. The banner also pictured a cleric who allegedly inspired Qadri to assassinate Taseer. The cleric is now wanted by police. Taseer, who was sprayed with more than 20 bullets last week, according to a medical clinic spokesman, had led an aggressive campaign to change Pakistan’s blasphemy laws after what he called the wrongful conviction of a Pakistani Christian woman.

The laws are often used to persecute minorities, Taseer had said. At the rally, many said Taseer wanted to repeal the blasphemy laws, which they called an attack on Islam.

“No doubt he was an agent,” said protester Noor Ul Mustafa. “After the pope’s statement it’s clear where he’s getting orders from.”…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Far East

China Promises to Kill the Rich

The Chinese government is publically threatening to execute corrupt judges, as well as members of the security services, who are caught taking bribes. The government leadership is getting desperate about stopping the growing public anger against corrupt officials, and the threat of rebellion, or just widespread unrest, that it implies.

The Communist Party that has controlled China for over sixty years is increasingly accepting the fact that it is its own worst enemy. The problem is corruption, particularly among party members. One advantage of joining the Party is that it gives you an edge in getting government jobs, especially ones that enable you to get rich by taking bribes. In the last two decades, the government has announced several campaigns to eliminate the corruption (and all the anger and anti-government gossip among the people the communists are supposed to be serving.) Most of these efforts have hardly made a dent in the corruption. While more death sentences for corrupt senior officials makes headlines, it’s the millions of minor acts of corruption every day that cause most of the anger. One of the more common irritants is police corruption, which often takes the form of police being used by corrupt officials to steal land or other assets.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Australia — Pacific

Australia: Bull Sharks Spotted Swimming Down the Main Street in Goodna — 30km From the Coast

TWO bull sharks have reportedly been spotted swimming down the main street of a flooded Queensland town, 30km inland.

Butcher Steven Bateman spotted two bull sharks swimming near his Goodna shop yesterday — one of several reports of a sharks in Goodna’s main street.

Ipswich local councillor Paul Tully confirmed it was a bizarre but true story out of Queensland’s flood disaster.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Mum Raped by Seven as Her Kids Slept Nearby

A GROUP of young males trapped a 21-year-old woman in her laundry before raping her while her children slept nearby, a court has heard.

The seven males, aged between 14 and 21 and who came to Australia as refugees from Sudan or Afghanistan, yesterday applied for bail in the Bendigo Magistrates’ and Children’s courts.

Police told the hearings Mohammad Zaoli, 21, Aru Gar, 19, Mohammed El Nour, 18, and Akoak Manon, 18, and three youths aged 17, 16 and 14 came to Bendigo from Shepparton to go nightclubbing last Saturday.

They have each been charged with 17 offences, including rape and assault.

Detective Senior Constable Christopher Reed of the sexual crimes squad said the alleged victim, who lives locally, left her children with a babysitter while she went with a friend to two Bendigo clubs, the HuHa Club and the Star Bar. As she was leaving the Star Bar at about 2am, she met a 16-year-old girl, who introduced her to the group. The men then came back to the woman’s house, joining the 16-year-old girl and the babysitter there.

Related Coverage

Peter Baker, the lawyer for Mr El Nour, said evidence from the babysitter portrayed a party that was “initially . . . pleasant”.

Constable Reed said the victim began to feel unsafe when Mr Gar became aggressive, putting his arms around the victim.

A video recorded on one of the men’s mobile phones shows the victim being grabbed in her kitchen, with the 16-year-old trying to pull her into the laundry. “She can be clearly heard saying no,” Constable Reed said.

The footage shows the 16-year-old and 14-year-old persisting in trying to shepherd the woman into the laundry while she pushes them away.

Mr Gar allegedly lifted the victim’s skirt and pulled her underwear down while she tried to kick him away. Constable Reed said the group was laughing while Mr Gar digitally raped the woman.

She was then taken into the laundry where Mr El Nour and the 16-year-old allegedly held her down while Mr Manon and the 17-year-old raped her. The 16-year-old is also accused of slapping her and digital rape.

Detective Reed said the woman’s screams could be heard from outside the laundry.

The woman went to her bedroom and called police, who arrested all seven at the house.

Mr Baker said the evidence of the babysitter, who described the group being in the laundry for about 30 minutes, portrayed a less serious situation than police described.

Mr Manon told police his friends and the victim were “having a little wrestle” and “grabbing each other like a porno”, and she was not really fighting back, but “more like a play”.

Constable Reed said the victim was “extremely fearful” for her safety and her children if the men received bail.

Bail was granted for Mr Gar, Mr El Nour and Mr Manon, while the 17-year-old, 14-year-old and Mr Zaoli have been remanded to appear again next week.

They will reappear in court for a committal mention in March.

           — Hat tip: Salome[Return to headlines]

Seven Arrested on 17 Charges

SEVEN males have been charged with the gang rape of a woman in Bendigo.

Police allege the men unlawfully imprisoned and repeatedly raped the woman at a residence in Flora Hill early on Sunday.

Four of the men, Mohammad Zaoli, 21, Mohammed Elnour, 18, Aru Gar, 19, and Akoak Manon, 18, appeared via video link in the Bendigo Magistrates Court yesterday. They each face 17 charges, including 14 of rape. The other three accused are aged 14, 16 and 17 and cannot be named. They appeared in a children’s court on the same 17 charges.

Zaoli, Elnour, Gar and Manon were remanded in custody until Friday when they were expected to seek bail. Their co-accused were expected to apply for bail in a children’s court on the same day.

           — Hat tip: Nilk[Return to headlines]

Sub-Saharan Africa

Eibner and Jacobs: Will Freedom Come for Sudan’s Slaves?

On Jan. 9, the people of South Sudan began their week-long referendum to decide whether to separate from the Arab-Muslim North and form an independent country. But Achol Yum Deng didn’t vote. Though she has more reasons to seek separation from the North than most of her countrymen, she couldn’t register: Since 1998, Achol was a slave serving her master in the North and was only liberated just before the voting began.

The war booty of a man named Adhaly Osman, Achol was threatened with death, gang-raped, genitally mutilated, forced to convert to Islam, renamed “Mariam,” and racially and religiously insulted. She lost the sight in one eye when her master thrashed her face with a camel whip for failing to perform Islamic rituals correctly. This mother of four saw two of her children beaten to death for minor misdemeanors. She also lost the use of one arm when her master took a machete to it in response to her failure to grind grain properly.

Achol is one of 397 slaves whose liberation was facilitated and documented by Christian Solidarity International and the American Anti-Slavery Group in the state of Northern Bahr el Ghazal as voting commenced.

The British suppressed black slavery in Sudan in the first half of the 20th century. But the practice was rekindled in the 1980s as part of the surge in Islamism in the region. In 1983, when Khartoum’s radical leaders declared strict enforcement of Shariah law throughout the country, the Christian and tribalist South resisted. Shariah-sanctioned slave raids were used as a weapon to break Southern resistance.

Armed by the government in Khartoum, Arab militias would storm African villages, shoot the men, and capture the women and children. The captives were beaten and raped immediately. Some who resisted had their throats slit.

Taken North—roped by their hands into lines or carried individually on horseback—they were distributed to masters. Boys were used as goat and cow herders, little girls as domestics. As they grew, they became concubines and sex slaves. Slaves slept with the animals and were given rotten scraps from the masters’ table. Boys were killed for losing a goat.

There is a racist aspect to this slavery. Blacks were cursed as abd (black slave) and kuffar (infidel). Many were forcibly converted to Islam. The North-South war, lasting 23 years, was ultimately declared a “jihad” by Sudan’s Islamist President Omar al-Bashir.

The U.S.-brokered Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005 ended the slave raids and confirmed the South’s right to self-determination. But it failed to create a mechanism for the return of slaves. Over 35,000 people, according to representatives of the Committee to Eradicate the Abduction of Women and Children, remain in bondage today…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Ivory Coast: Mobs, Security Forces Attack UN Cars

Mobs and security forces allied to Ivory Coast leader Laurent Gbagbo attacked at least six U.N. vehicles Thursday, setting some ablaze and injuring two people in the latest round of violence sparked by this West African nation’s disputed election.


Gbagbo has refused to accept the outcome of the November poll and has ordered the U.N.’s 9,000-strong peacekeeping mission to leave. The U.N. has refused, and its troops have increasingly come under attack, including earlier this week when gunmen wounded three peacekeepers after their car crashed, said spokesman Kenneth Blackman.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Baghdad Wants to Stop the Forced Return of Iraqis From Europe

Standoff between Iraq and European country to guarantee immigrants rights. The Stockholm government continues policy of forced return. Iraqi ambassador calls for dialogue with the governments of the Old Continent.

Stockholm (AsiaNews) — The plight of Iraqi refugees immigrants in Northern Europe continues, where authorities are pressing ahead with forced returns. Britain, France, Netherlands, Norway and Sweden, in different ways and forms, see this as the “quick fix” to the drama of Iraqi asylum seekers whose applications have been rejected. Now the Iraqi government seems intent on finding a solution.

The Iraqi ambassador in Stockholm, Hussain al-Ameri, told Sveriges Radio that his country wants to put an end to the practice already condemned by the European Union. “The Iraqi government is ready to accept those who return voluntarily, but there are serious issues that concern forced repatriation,” said the diplomat.

An agreement between Sweden and Iraq on the return of migrants came into force in 2008. Since then, about 5 thousand Iraqis have returned voluntarily, while more than 800 were sent back against their will, according to figures provided by the Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet (SVD).

Thus, the Iraqi Minister for Immigration, Dindar Najman Shaifiq al-Dosky, decided to open a dialogue with Stockholm and other European governments to ensure fair treatment to failed asylum seekers.

Reading between the lines of the agreement

Under the deal, the Iraqis not considered in need of protection and who do not want to return home voluntarily “are ordered to leave Sweden”, but it is also expected that the repatriation takes place “humanly, on reasonable grounds and in an organized way. “

Often, however, according to the refugees themselves, these terms are not met: the “deported” arrives at Baghdad airport, is questioned by Iraqi authorities and then detained by the police to check documents before being sent home. It often happens, however, that the deported are detained for a serious length of time, even a whole week: families with women and children are kept in police stations for days with the prospect of being thrown back out onto the streets at the mercy of terrorism and crime.

In October 2009, an investigation by Swedish Radio reported on the deportation of Iraqis, especially those belonging to religious minorities and most notoriously vulnerable to persecution. According to the report, the Immigration Office’s criteria for determining whether a refugee is or is not in danger in his country of origin, are completely arbitrary. Amnesty International has noted that most of the new Iraqi asylum claims were rejected after the Swedish Migration Board and the Court of Appeals for Immigration decided in 2009 that “ there is a internal armed conflict in Iraq. “

Baghdad is trying to clarify the Swedish interpretation of repatriation, while the Stockholm Minister for Immigration, Tobias Billström sees no compelling reasons to stop the deportations and highlights how the Iraqi government has never made a proposal to renegotiate the ‘Agreement.

Charter flights of the “deported” from Sweden have been stopped several times before the winter at the request of the European Court of Human Rights, which is examining appeals lodged by Iraqi asylum seekers. (LYR).

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

UK: Boy, 9, Has Disney World Trip Ruined After US Immigration Rules Him a Threat

Civil servants Kathy and Edward Francis planned to surprise their grandson Micah Strachan with the holiday of a lifetime to Florida in February.

They were only going to tell Micah about it when they took him to the airport on February 19 for the flight to the US. They had already spent more than £1,500 on plane tickets and had been organising the trip for months.

But this week US Embassy officials denied the schoolboy a visa to enter the US.

They said there was a risk he would not leave the US at the end of his holiday and refused his application under Section 214 (b) of the Immigration and Nationality Act…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

UK: The Land of Easy Money: How the Somali Woman Who Lied to Claim Asylum and £250,000 in Benefit Handouts Described Britain

A woman who lied about being gang raped in Somalia to claim more than £250,000 in benefits had moved to Britain after boasting it was the ‘land of easy money’.

Ayan Abdulle was jailed this week after investigators discovered that the story she used to win asylum — and later UK citizenship — was a pack of lies.

Now the Daily Mail can reveal the full scale of her fraud and how easily she was able to milk the benefits system for years.

Abdulle, who also used the fake name Amina Muse and is from Somalia, was living in Gothenburg when the authorities insisted immigrants learn Swedish if they wanted to continue to claim handouts.

She told a friend she couldn’t be bothered and moved to England where she knew it would be far easier to collect benefits.

She made up a story to gain asylum and gave herself and five of her six children false names and dates of birth, fraudulently claiming benefits on both the real and invented identities.

And she somehow managed to continue claiming benefits in Sweden for three years after leaving. Abdulle was born in Mogadishu in 1969 but moved to Sweden in 1994.

Her friend Hodan Abdullahi Egal, who lives in Gothenburg, said yesterday: ‘Ayan liked life here. She never worked, just took things easy and spent her time meeting up with old friends from Mogadishu.

‘But she couldn’t be bothered to learn another language. Instead she decided to move to England.

‘She said it was the land of easy money. She was convinced she would have no problems there because the system there made it far easier to collect money without proper checks.’

Abdulle arrived in London in 2004 with her first five children, now aged eight to 17, and her husband Raghe Adan, and claimed asylum under the name Amina Ali Muse.

In her application, she said militiamen had targeted her home in Somalia on December 1, 1998, shooting her brothers dead.

She claimed she had been gang raped while three months’ pregnant, leading to a miscarriage, and that her niece had been raped, tortured and beaten. In fact, on that date Abdulle had been in Sweden giving birth to a daughter.

Between June 2004 and May 2010, Abdulle, who was living in Neasden, North-West London, claimed £261,358.14 in handouts.

The cash came from almost every welfare benefit possible, including income support, disability living allowance, carers’ allowance, jobseekers’ allowance, housing benefit, council tax benefit, tax credits and child benefit…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Culture Wars

Italy: Sex and Religion Stir Controversy at Men’s Fashion Fair

Crucifix hoarding and Toscani’s female genital pics draw fire

(ANSA) — Florence, January 13 — A cloud of controversy over the use of sexual and religious images in advertising dusted up Italy’s most important men’s fashion trade fair this week in Florence. Pitti Uomo is known for glamorous clothing and VIP-studded parties, but this week’s edition of the bi-annual fair will be remembered more for calling exhibitors to the carpet than for its red carpet events, thanks to provocative sexual and religious imagery.

In a country where scantily clad women and come-hither poses are staples of advertising and prime-time television, advertising photographer Oliviero Toscani managed to whip up outrage over the sexual content of his latest promotional campaign: a calendar featuring 12 female genitals for a consortium of leather tanners called Consorzio Vera Pelle Conciata al Vegetale (Consortium for Genuine Vegetable Tanned Leather). Toscani established his fame for shocking imagery with campaigns for Benetton in the 1990s, AIDS awareness, and against anorexia. The calendar is being presented at Pitti Uomo and is distributed with this month’s issue of Rolling Stone magazine.

Italy’s equal opportunity minister, Mara Carfagna, responded to an outcry from women’s organizations calling for a code violation review by the advertising industry’s self-sanctioning body Istituto dell’Autodisciplina Pubblicitaria (IAP). Carfagna herself is an ex-soubrette who once posed topless for a calendar.

“In Italy, a double standard reigns,” countered the director of the Italian edition of Rolling Stone magazine Carlo Antonelli.

“For the last 30 years, our media’s representation of the female body, in popular men’s magazines and calendars, has been outrageous, barbaric and troglodytic. Toscani removes everything, leaving only pure nature. “(It is) a political vagina that old feminists stuck in (another) era should acknowledge rather than criticize.” The Equal Opportunity Commission for the City of Florence has appealed to the IAP for the “interruption of advertising (promoting the) calendar and the withdrawal of its presentation.” Meanwhile, religious imagery at Pitti Uomo angered Tuscany’s regional president Enrico Rossi, who declared its use “offensive toward Christians and bad taste.” He demanded to know, “What utility do companies find in this continuous search for transgression?” Fashion maker and exhibitor Maison Cantarelli put up a stand that looks like a church interior, complete with altar, confessional, benches, and even a fake priest. Over the altar hangs a painting of a crucified man in a tailored wool suit. The wool textile depicted is the same used for the religious garment of the fake priest. Also under fire was an advertising hoarding for Bologna textile king Carlo Chionna featuring a man on a cross and reading, “Forgive them for they know not what they wear.” “If this is the way to promote Italian style and fashion, it means that ‘Made In Italy’ creativity is dead,” declared the president of Pubblicita’ Progresso, a non-profit organization for social advertising, Alberto Contri.

A spokesman for the fair’s organizer, Pitti Immagine, responded to criticisms of both the sexual and religious imagery at Pitti Uomo.

“Pitti Immagine is not responsible for the communication initiatives that single exhibitors carry out for their own stand or for advertising posters or for events that other organize in the city on the occasion of the Pitti Uomo fair,” said Lapo Cianchi, director of communications for Pitti Immagine. He added, “the Florentine city commission’s request in recent days for the withdrawal of the calendar presentation was frankly out of proportion.” Controversy was capped on Wednesday afternoon when a man performed an impromptu strip-tease at the entrance of the Renaissance Medici fort hosting the fair. The man, Gabriele Paolini, was protesting abortion and pedophilia, and demanded harsher penalties for pedophiles.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Queasy Stomachs on the Today Programme as the BBC Looks Into Multicultural Britain

Are young men of Pakistani origin really fizzing with testosterone, and do they target young white women for sex because they see them as easy meat, as Jack Straw claimed last week? The Today programme went to Bradford this morning to find out, and you got the distinct impression that no one was more shocked than the BBC to find young Asian men, by and large, confirming what Mr Straw said.

A minority of interviewees sounded a note of caution, said everyone was equal and there was no such thing as an “easy target”. A more typical response, however, was: “It’s the way the white women dress, innit. Miniskirts. Encourages them, innit, to go jack ‘em and that, d’you get me?” (That’s an exact quote, by the way.) Or: “A lot of Asian women wouldn’t actually have their body showing, whereas white women you would find them like that.” Or: “White women drink, so when they [are] under the influence of alcohol the Pakistani men probably — the ones from Pakistan that have recently come — probably think they can take advantage, innit.”

Zubeida Malik introduced her report by saying: “Given the huge controversy that Jack Straw’s comments raised, you might be surprised by what you hear.” But were listeners really shocked by what they heard? Over at the BBC they might have been surprised, but no one else the programme interviewed sounded as though the comments were news to them. In fact, just before the end of programme, at ten to nine, they brought on David Aaronovitch and Nihal from the BBC Asian Network. I’m afraid the show’s producers will have been disappointed if they hoped Aaronovitch and Nihal might offer an alternative reading of the situation.


Then Nihal from the Asian Network came on and I can only imagine the hand-wringing among BBC multiculturalists when they heard what he had to say: “We did this story back in November and we asked the question whether there is something in the Pakistani culture that led men to do this. Many people called in my phone-in show and said: ‘Yes we know that this is happening. Our men have this attitude towards white girls.’ [On Monday] a caller said: ‘White girls are easy. Fact.’ That’s what he said and he was unapologetic about that. I told him it wasn’t fact it was an opinion.”

Webb responded that that was very tough on young men of Pakistani origin. And he’s right, of course: it certainly is not good for respectable young Asian men. The fact is, though, that hardly anyone now denies that there is a real issue here and it has be faced. Perhaps only Keith Vaz is left insisting the whole thing’s an invention, and no one takes him seriously. As Nihal said: “Even Keith Vaz, chairman of the home affairs select committee, on my show this week said that he had never heard anybody say this, that white women were easy or promiscuous. I said to him: Well, why don’t you check out the iPlayer, because ten minutes before he came on my show someone had said that very thing!” “It’s certainly been well mentioned now,” Webb said, a bit testily, as he wound up the interview. Small wonder if he was inwardly peeved. Today the BBC took a good look at multicultural Britain — and they didn’t like what they saw.

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

UK: Are You Straight or Gay? Police and Nurses to be Asked Their Sexuality in New Equality Drive

Millions of teachers, nurses and policemen could be asked to disclose their sexuality, religion and race as part of a new Coalition equality drive.

Lib Dem equalities minister Lynne Featherstone says all public sector organisations should consider sending ‘diversity monitoring forms’ to staff to prove they are treating all sections of society fairly.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Is Al Qaeda’s “Internet Generation” Their Most Dangerous?

Leaders within the Islamist trend have denied that there has been any break in the ceasefires established over the past 10 years between many Islamist and jihadist groups and the governments of the Arab countries that they reside in, particularly in light of the recent sectarian terrorist attacks seen in Egypt. The chief theorist of the Egyptian al-Jama’ah al-Islamiyah (Egyptian Islamic Group or EIG), Dr. Najih Ibrahim, informed Asharq Al-Awsat that Al Qaeda’s “internet generation” who draw on jihadist ideology via websites affiliated to the Al Qaeda organization are more dangerous than the previous generation of jihadists who are affiliated to Islamist groups and armed movements. He stressed that while the previous generation of jihadists could be controlled and guided, the new generation who draw on jihadist ideology from the internet cannot be controlled or guided in the same way.

Analysts believe that there is a new generation of Islamist militants rising up in a number of Arab countries, not under the authority or following the leadership of historic and known Islamist groups. It was these Islamist groups that previously established ceasefires with the governments of the states that they are present in, with this phenomenon first being seen in Egypt at the end of the 1990s, and this was followed by similar occurrences in a number of other countries, including Libya, Mauritania, and others.

Dr. Najih Ibrahim, who lives in the city of Alexandria, denied that members of any Islamist group had contravened this cessation of violence [with the government], whether this is in Egypt, the Arab Maghreb, or elsewhere. He also stressed to Asharq Al-Awsat that the recent period has revealed the existence of “scattered individuals who do not take their [religious] culture from Sheikhs or known [Islamist] groups or mosques, but rather from the internet.” He said that it is in the nature of young people to gravitate towards extreme views and seek to solve problems quickly, adding that the atmosphere of sectarian, political, and economic tension in the region has resulted in such youth resorting to violence.

Dr. Najih Ibrahim, who is the chief theorist for the Egyptian Islamic Group which established a Non-violence Initiative with the Egyptian government in 1997 and formally renounced violence and terrorism in 2003, told Asharq Al-Awsat that “the internet is now not only a source of extremist ideology, but also information on how to implement such ideology, providing information on how to manufacture a car bomb or turn normal chemicals into explosives, for example.”…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

The Sun Rises Two Days Early in Greenland, Sparking Fears That Climate Change is Accelerating

Experts say the sun should have risen over the Arctic nation’s most westerly town, Ilulissat, yesterday, ending a month-and-a-half of winter darkness.

But for the first time in history light began creeping over the horizon at around 1pm on Tuesday — 48 hours ahead of the usual date of 13 January.

The mysterious sunrise has confused scientists, although it is believed the most likely explanation is that it is down to the lower height of melting icecaps allowing the sun’s light to penetrate through earlier.

Thomas Posch, of the Institute for Astronomy of the University of Vienna, said that a local change of the horizon was ‘by far the most obvious explanation’.

He said as the ice sinks, so to does the horizon, creating the illusion that the sun has risen early.

MICHAEL HANLON: So did 2010 break the global warming record?

This theory, based on the gradual decline of Greenland’s ice sheet, is backed by recent climate studies.

A report by the World Meteorology Organisation shows that temperatures in Greenland have risen around 3C above average over the last year.

It also reported that December was much warmer than usual with rainfall instead of snow recorded for the first time in Kuujjuaq since records began.

It has even been suggested that the sun’s early appearance could have an astronomical explanation.

But Wolfgang Lenhardt, director of the department of geophysics at the Central Institute for Meteorology in Vienna, scotched this theory.

He said: ‘The constellation of the stars has not changed. If that had happened, there would have been an outcry around the world.

‘The data of the Earth’s axis and Earth’s rotation are monitored continuously and meticulously and we would know if that had happened.’

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

Three Books About the Apocalypse


APOCALYPSE IN ISLAM, by Jean-Pierre Filiu, translated from the French by M.B. DeBevoise (Univ. of California, $29.95)

This scholarly work, originally published two years ago in France, explores the role of apocalyptic beliefs in Islam and argues there has been a resurgence in end-of-the-world thinking in the past several decades. While the overwhelming majority of Muslims pay no attention to these ominous prophecies, Filiu says that in the minds of Islam’s most impassioned believers the apocalyptic movement has provided a justification for attacks against the West…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]


Anonymous said...

"Constable Reed said the victim was “extremely fearful” for her safety and her children if the men received bail."

Islamophobia! Give the enriched (Shhh - Muslim) gang rapists bail anyway....ARGH!

"Bail was granted for Mr Gar, Mr El Nour and Mr Manon, while the 17-year-old, 14-year-old and Mr Zaoli have been remanded to appear again next week."