Saturday, January 11, 2003

News Feed 20110115

Financial Crisis
»Greece: Fitch Cuts Rating to ‘Junk’
»Istanbul Launches Index for Companies Observing Sharia
»OPEC Ministers Say World Can Handle $100 Oil
»Population Changes Accelerate Global Economic Shift
»Rising Oil Price ‘Will Cost UK Billions’ Through Higher Inflation
»UK: Interest Rates Could Rise by June
»Feds Threaten to Sue 4 States Over Secret-Ballot Union Laws
»Feds Won’t Oppose Freeing Islamic Charity Case Man
»Hate-Crime Charges Dropped in Wake of Jury’s Mental-Health Verdict
»Islamic Center Near Ground Zero Has New Imam
»LePage on NAACP: ‘Tell Them to Kiss My Butt’
Europe and the EU
»France: the Far Right With a Human Touch
»French Far-Right Leader Le Pen to Step Down
»Gothenburg Man Arrested for Oslo Islamist Attack
»Is Brandenburg Safe for Jews?
»Italy: Berlusconi in Teen Belly Dancer Sex Probe
»Italy: Berlusconi Investigated Over Rubygate
»Italy: High-Profile Judge’s Farmhouse Burnt Down in South
»Italy: ‘Bullets and Threats Mailed to Sicilian Provincial Officials’
»Marine Le Pen ‘Chosen to Lead France’s National Front’
»Roman Rise and Fall ‘Recorded in Trees’
»Spanish Judge Indicts Demjanjuk on Charges of Genocide While He Served as Nazi Guard
»UK: 7/7 Bus Driver Unwittingly Saved Lives of 50 Passengers at Tavistock Square by Telling Them to Get Off Moments Before Bomb Exploded
»UK: Alleged Rape Victim’s Dad Gives Evidence at Trial
»UK: Blackburn Free School Given Initial Green Light
»UK: Former Anglican Bishops Are Ordained as Catholic Priests
»UK: I Was Kept Prisoner by the Asian Sex Gang Predator: Victim Tells Harrowing Story of ‘Boyfriend’ Who Dubbed His Car the ‘Rape Rover’
»UK: Plymouth Girl’s Attacker ‘Sadistic and Evil’
»UK: Smello-Retail: Shops Using Scent to Keep Hold of Customers
North Africa
»Egypt: Cop, Unprovoked, Shoots Christian on Train
»The Story of Mohamed Bouazizi, The Man Who Toppled Tunisia
»Thomas Cook Pulls 2,000 Tourists From Tunisia
»Tunisia: State TV, State of Emergency in Whole Country
»Tunisia: Crowd Attacks Porsche Dealership and Steals Cars
»Tunisia: Attempted Attack on Central Bank Caught on Live TV
»Tunisia Riots: More Protests Threatened as President Ben Ali Flees to Saudi Arabia
»Tunisia: Deadly Jail Fire in Unrest After Ben Ali Exit
Middle East
»Christians’ Plight in Middle East ‘Tragic, ‘ Says Catholic Leader [Video]
»Lebanon: Christians Are a Ferment of Modernity in the Arab World
»Lebanon: Terror Group Says it Will Name Prime Minister
»Turkish Call to Destroy Statue Further Blow to Ties: Armenia
»Two More Americans Killed by Great Society Abroad
»Russia Nears Arms Pact Approval, Warns on Pullout
»Russia Launches Arms Race With New Intercontinental Ballistic Missile
South Asia
»Indonesia: Major Bank Announces Micro Loans for Migrant Workers
»Pakistan: Extremists Rally to Support Governor’s Killer and Blast Pope
»Pakistan: Muslims Proud of Beating Christians
»Pakistan: Muslim Villager Allegedly Rapes Sixth Christian Girl
»Pakistan: Radical Islamists Demonstrate Against the Pope Throughout Punjab
Far East
»Alarm in Japan for Child Judo Deaths
»Third of Young Japanese Men Not Interested in Sex
Sub-Saharan Africa
»Al Qaeda’s North African Influence
»Greens Lie, Africans Die
»Somali Women Say Islamists Becoming More Draconian
»Quebec Immigration Consultant Arrested in Fraud Ring
»‘The Land of Easy Money’: How the Somali Woman Who Lied to Claim Asylum and £250,000 in Benefit Handouts Described Britain
Culture Wars
»UK: Libraries Are Just for the Privileged White Middle Class… Says White Middle-Class Quango Chief
»Al-Qaeda to Unleash Western Jihadis
»Freedom in Decline Worldwide: US Report

Financial Crisis

Greece: Fitch Cuts Rating to ‘Junk’

(ANSAmed) — ROME, JANUARY 14 — The rating agency Fitch has cut Greece’s rating to “junk”, to “BB+” from “BBB-” with negative outlook, Bloomberg reports.

Greece’s deep public debt makes the country vulnerable for adversity, Fitch writes in a statement in which it explains the reasons for the rate cut.

The agency adds that despite the progress the country has made to reduce the 2010 budget deficit, six percentage points of GDP, the efforts towards a tax consolidation will have to be sustained for many years before Greece will be able to regain the trust of the markets. The negative outlook reflects the fact that the sustainability of the public debt is still very fragile, and that access to the markets for funds remains uncertain.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Istanbul Launches Index for Companies Observing Sharia

(ANSAmed) — ROME, JANUARY 10 — The Istanbul stock exchange has launched a share index including 30 listed companies that respect the principles of Sharia law. The move is an attempt to attract investments in the Islamic finance sector, which has been observed with growing interest over the last few years by both investors and consumers.

The index includes the supermarket chain BIM, Turk Telecom and Enka Inssat, one of the leading companies in the construction and mobile phone sectors, as well as Bank Asya and the property investment fund Emlak Konut.

The fundamental requirement to be part of the list is the conformity of company activities and services with Islamic law, which excludes interest seen as usury. At the same time, companies trading in forbidden environments, such as alcohol production, gambling, pork products, tobacco and weapons, are also excluded. Companies wanting to enter the list must not have loans above 30% of their market value, while income from non-Islamic financial operations and investments producing interest cannot account for more than 5% of the company’s total turnover.

The President of the Association of Turkish Participation Banks (TKBB), Fahrettin Yahsi, says that “this is the first step towards the standardisation of the financial market. This index is part of our strategy to increase investment tools in this sector and add new financial services for investors”.

“We aim to be a domestic index, but at the same time, we also want foreign investors to benefit,” says Avsar Sungurlu, the deputy manager of Bizim Securities, which will update the index by inserting or removing companies as appropriate. Sungurlu points out that the aim of the initiative is to offer a special Islamic index “adapted to the client profile of participating banks”, a service that has never previously been provided in Turkey.

Not least due to the economic crisis, Islamic finance continues to attract support. It represents an ethical modus operandi, within which a financial system, set up in the 1970s, today boasts a turnover of one thousand billion dollars, with growth prospects of up to 4 thousand billion in 2015, figures that are also attracting non-Muslim clients.

This dynamism has recently convinced Turkish operators too, as is shown by last year’s operation by Lender Kuveyt Turk, which led to the first issue of a three-year Islamic bond worth 100 million dollars. There are currently four Islamic banks operating in Turkey — Albaraka Turk, Bank Asya, Kuveyt Turk and Turkiye Finans — which boast assets of over 37 billion Turkish lira and more than 12,500 employees. It is still a minority sector, albeit one with great potential, and is also growing thanks to investments from the Middle East.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

OPEC Ministers Say World Can Handle $100 Oil

The global economy can withstand an oil price of $100 a barrel, Kuwait’s oil minister said on Saturday, as other exporters indicated OPEC may decide against increasing output through 2011 as the market was well supplied.

Analysts have said oil producing countries are likely to raise output after crude rallied more than 30 percent from a low in May because they fear prices could damage economic growth in fuel importing countries.

European benchmark ICE Brent crude for February closed at $93.46 on Friday after hitting $94.74 a barrel, its highest level since October 2008.

Arab oil exporters meeting in Cairo this weekend said they saw no need to supply more crude as stocks were high and prices had been inflated temporarily by cold weather in Europe.

Asked by Reuters if the world economy could stand a $100 oil price, Kuwaiti Oil Minister Sheikh Ahmad al-Abdullah al-Sabah said: “Yes it can.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Population Changes Accelerate Global Economic Shift

A global economic power shift is being accelerated by population growth in Asia’s emerging markets, while the U.S. will be buoyed by a relatively youthful populace, according to analyses of international figures.

Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, is poised to see its population contract at a 0.2 percent rate in 2015 after expanding at a 0.3 percent in 1995, data from the U.S. Census Bureau showed. China, the world’s most populous country, is projected to grow at a 0.4 percent rate and India will expand at a 1.2 percent rate in 2015.

Changes in population help determine a country’s economic prospects. Slowing growth rates, and even contracting populations, in advanced economies had been offset by migrating workers in the past decade. That trend has fallen off in recent years as a result of the global recession.

“There will be a difficult adjustment period ahead as advanced economies, particularly the smaller ones, have to cede their dominant positions on the world economic stage to the dynamic emerging markets,” said Eswar Prasad, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a professor at Cornell University.

“Emerging markets will have to grow into their role as major economic powers and shoulder their responsibilities to contribute to the collective global good,” he said.

The latest count of the U.S. population shows the nation’s population grew 9.7 percent to 308,745,538 in the 2010 Census, the slowest pace of growth since 1940. The government estimated the growth rate in 2015 would be 1 percent.

The Census Bureau estimates that 194 of 227 countries are seeing growth accelerate, recent figures showed. Germany, the world’s fourth-largest economy, and Japan, ranked second by gross domestic product, are the only Group of Seven nations with contracting populations.

Aging populations

“One of the concerns when you have slow growth is the aging of the population,” said Peter Johnson, special assistant for international demographic and economic studies at the U.S. Census Bureau. “That to some extent can be mitigated by immigration, particularly by able-bodied people who can work and contribute to the support of the elderly.”

The U.S. has the lowest median age — 36.6 years — of the Group of Seven nations, according to United Nations’ estimates for 2010. Youthfulness is one variable for future growth because younger people tend to have more children.

The population in China, the world’s third-largest economy, will become older than that of the U.S. by 2025, the U.N. estimates show. China’s median age now is 34.2 years, and will rise to 38.9 in 2025 compared with 38.7 for the U.S., the U.N. data shows.

“The aging population will reduce the rate of labor force growth, knocking a couple of percentage points off China’s long- term growth potential,” Prasad said. “The question is whether China can drive up productivity fast enough to compensate for this drag on growth.”

Slower population growth can be a drag on economic expansion. Higher fertility rates mean more potential workers and consumers — who can both stoke economic growth with tax revenue and spending.

Chinese industrial companies’ profits rose 49.4 percent in the 11 months through November from a year earlier, putting pressure on the central bank to add to this year’s two interest-rate increases.

Net income climbed to 3.88 trillion yuan ($585 billion), the statistics bureau said in a Dec. 27 statement on its website. That compared with a 7.8 percent gain in the same period in 2009 and an increase of 55 percent in January through August.

The two key countries

“In the decade to come India and China are going to be the center of international trade,” said Laishram Ladu Singh, professor and head of the Department of Mathematical Demography & Statistics at International at the International Institute for Population Sciences in Mumbai. “Unless there is a big U-turn in the outsourcing policies of these developed countries, the world economy is going to be concentrated in these two countries.”

While there is evidence of a so-called brain drain, in which educated residents seek employment in another country, Singh said that about 2 percent of India’s annual $1.3 trillion GDP comes by way of remittances from workers abroad.

China has the smallest share of net migrants — the difference between the number of migrants entering and those leaving a country — and the U.S. has the biggest, according to recent data.

Some demographers say China and India are decades away from becoming advanced economies.

“Both countries are still very, very poor,” said Jane De Lung, president of the Population Resource Center. “China is growing by leaps and bounds, but the majority of the Chinese still live in very poor and poverty-stricken areas. You don’t have widespread economic growth outside the cities in either country.”

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

Rising Oil Price ‘Will Cost UK Billions’ Through Higher Inflation

If oil prices climb as feared to pass $120 a barrel, the knock-on effect of energy prices will push inflation up by around one percentage point a year, according to the Ernst & Young ITEM Club. That would keep the annual rate of price rises above the Bank of England’s 2pc target for longer, ITEM said, predicting inflation would then reach an annual rate of 3.8pc for this year and 2.9pc in 2012. Rising prices hit firms’ margins and reduce consumers’ spending power, leading ITEM to calculate that a $120 price tag on oil would translate into a £8bn hit to the economy next year, representing 0.5pc of the UK’s GDP. The warning came as Brent crude oil — London’s benchmark oil — reached a 27-month peak of more than $99 a barrel at one stage on Friday. It closed at $98.38. “This significant rise in oil prices and the possibility of further increases will add to the already relatively high inflation rates and will also dampen a currently fragile economy,” said ITEM. Prices are expected to keep rising as investors look for a safe haven from the weak dollar. The impact, coupled with the rising cost of food, helped input prices at UK factories surge 3.4pc in a month, the Office for National Statistics reported on Friday, more than double the change expected. The annual rate of increase was 12.5pc — the fastest pace since April and up from November’s 9.2pc reading. With margins under increasing pressure, 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. The figures show pipeline pressures on prices in the wider economy are growing faster than expected. The annual rate of price inflation hit 3.3pc in November and looks set to keep climbing…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

UK: Interest Rates Could Rise by June

A rate rise would end a two-year period of stability, when interest rates lay at a record low of 0.5 per cent. A move upwards could add hundreds of pounds to many homeowner’s mortgages but offer relief to Britain’s 38 million savers, who have suffered from pitiful returns in since the financial crisis started. The warning about a rise in interest rates came after figures from the Office for National Statistics indicated that so-called factory-gate inflation — the prices that manufacturers have to pay for raw materials — jumped far more than expected during December as a result of the spike in global commodity prices. The rate of inflation jumped from 9.2 per cent in November to 12.5 per cent in December, as the cost of wheat and sugar pushed up the price of ingredients for food manufacturers and the price of metal, oil and chemicals shot up for other factories. The gilt market, where the Government goes to raise money by selling bonds, immediately reacted with yields rising. These yields are the closest the City comes to a forecast for what interest rates will be in the future. The yield on a two-year Treasury was up almost 6 basis points at 1.37 per cent, having earlier struck a 12-month high of 1.39 per cent. The gilt market is now pricing in an interest rate rise in June, said analysts. Stephen Lewis, chief economist at Monument Securities, said: “The market movement suggests that investors are thinking that rates are going to rise before June.” David Page, at Lloyds TSB Corporate Markets, said the factory inflation figures “continue to feed the ongoing background concerns that inflation is a growing problem in the UK, and it feeds the fear that the Bank of England will react to that.”…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]


Feds Threaten to Sue 4 States Over Secret-Ballot Union Laws

WASHINGTON — The National Labor Relations Board on Friday threatened to sue Arizona, South Carolina, South Dakota and Utah over constitutional amendments guaranteeing workers the right to a secret ballot in union elections.

The agency’s acting general counsel, Lafe Solomon, said the amendments conflict with federal law, which gives employers the option of recognizing a union if a majority of workers sign cards that support unionizing.

The amendments, approved Nov. 2, have taken effect in South Dakota and Utah, and will do so soon in Arizona and South Carolina.

Business and anti-union groups sought the amendments, arguing that secrecy is necessary to protect workers against union intimidation. They are concerned that Congress might enact legislation requiring employers to allow the “card check” process for forming unions instead of secret ballot elections.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Feds Won’t Oppose Freeing Islamic Charity Case Man

Federal prosecutors have acknowledged that they failed to turn over documents during the trial of an Oregon man who was later convicted of smuggling money through an Islamic charity to support Muslim fighters in Chechnya.

Pete Seda’s lawyers have asked for a new trial, saying the government’s failure was so serious that the September conviction on tax fraud and conspiracy charges should be thrown out.

In documents filed Thursday, prosecutors disagreed and said Seda would have been convicted anyway.

The government had accused the Iranian-born U.S. citizen of funneling $150,000 that was intended to aid Muslim fighters in their struggle against the Russian army.

Prosecutors provided no explanation as to why the government didn’t tell defense lawyers that the FBI handed $14,500 in cash to the husband of a woman who later testified against Seda.

Earlier this week, defense lawyers said prosecutors had characterized the failure as inadvertent, but the defense called for an investigation.

Federal prosecutors also said that they would leave it to a judge next week to determine whether Seda should be released while a new trial is debated. Judge Michael Hogan of Eugene has scheduled a hearing Wednesday on the defense request that Seda be released.

Even though they consider Seda a flight risk, the prosecutors said, they will take no position on the motion to release him. Seda was an international fugitive from 2003 to 2007, returning to face charges in an indictment handed up in 2005…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Hate-Crime Charges Dropped in Wake of Jury’s Mental-Health Verdict

Hate-crime charges were dropped by the district attorney Friday afternoon after a jury decided the evening before that the defendant did not need involuntary mental-health treatment.

Jesse Quinn Harrison was charged Dec. 28 with transmitting a threatening letter and with malicious intimidation or harassment.

The charges were based on a package he had sent to the Peace Academy at the Islamic Society of Tulsa. The package included a letter and a video he had made of himself smearing a Quran and an image of an Islamic religious figure with pork chops and grilling those items.

A mental-health hearing concluded Thursday evening when a jury decided that Harrison “was not a person in need of treatment,” according to the verdict.

Because Harrison — who had been a patient at the Tulsa Center for Behavioral Health — still faced the criminal charges, he was arrested and booked into the Tulsa Jail after the verdict was returned. After the charges were dismissed, he was released from jail Friday evening, jail records state.

Tulsa County District Attorney Tim Harris sat in on much of Harrison’s mental-health hearing Wednesday and Thursday and said it served as a kind of preview of what would be presented in the criminal case. He said he was able to see how the evidence would be presented and heard Harrison’s own explanation of the video and letter on the record and submitted as evidence for the first time.

“After listening to him — though I don’t agree with the jury’s decision — it does give you some insight into where he was coming from,” Harris said Friday.

Harrison testified Thursday that by posting the video — which he acknowledged was “horribly offensive” — to YouTube and Facebook, he hoped to show that Islam was a peaceful religion despite a prevailing stereotype to the contrary.

“I created this horribly offensive video, yet what so many people expected was for Muslims to act violent to me,” Harrison testified. “Despite this horrible offense, they continue to be a law-abiding, peaceful people.”

Harris said that while Harrison is “going about it in a way I don’t concur with,” it would be difficult to prove that Harrison intended violence toward anyone but possibly himself.

“The issues to be litigated in the criminal case were addressed in the mental-health case,” Harris said.

He added that before he made his decision to drop the charges, he spoke with leaders at the Islamic Society of Tulsa, two of whom testified Wednesday.

“They did not believe Mr. Harrison’s incarceration would serve long-term purposes,” Harris said.

Harris said he is working to facilitate and will be present for a meeting between Harrison and the leaders of the Islamic Society of Tulsa and the Peace Academy next week.

“I want to work to find a long-term solution to whatever the problem is,” Harris said.

Chief Public Defender Paul Silva, who was one of the attorneys representing Harrison, said he is pleased with the jury’s verdict and with Harris’ decision to drop the criminal charges. Harrison could not be reached Friday evening.

Harrison stated several times on his Facebook page that he intended to march to the Tulsa mosque — “peacefully,” he said in court — on Dec. 31, where he would “await Islam’s Fatwa” and would “impart my Message.”

He told jurors what half of that message would have been — that Muslim “leaders are weak and pathetic” and for the “good people of Islam (to) bring order to your home.”

Harrison did not share what the second half of his message would have been, but he told the court that it was not violent in nature.

Harrison was in the Tulsa Center for Behavioral Health under an emergency order of detention on Dec. 31 and was not allowed to impart that message. However, he told the jury that he now intends to do so on the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Islamic Center Near Ground Zero Has New Imam

Long-simmering tensions between co-founders of the proposed Islamic center and mosque near ground zero led to a parting of the ways on Friday that sharply reduced the role of one: the imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, long the project’s public face.

The break-up sent ripples of uncertainty through a community of religious and political leaders in New York who rallied last summer to the side of Mr. Abdul Rauf and his wife, Daisy Khan, when opponents assailed the plan to build near the site of the 9/11 attacks. Some worried aloud that the curtailed involvement of the couple could cost the project support. Others said the plan would continue to be endorsed by people committed to interfaith dialogue and freedom of religious expression.

The split was announced unilaterally by Mr. Abdul Rauf’s partner in the project, Sharif el-Gamal, the real estate investor who owns the former coat store at 51 Park Place where the 13-story center is planned.

In a statement that took Mr. Abdul Rauf by surprise, according to a spokesman for the imam, Mr. Gamal said the imam and his wife would no longer raise money for or speak on behalf of the project, known as Park51, though Mr. Abdul Rauf would remain on its board.

“While Imam Feisal’s vision has a global scope and his ideals for the Cordoba movement are truly exceptional, our community in Lower Manhattan is local,” said Mr. Gamal, referring to the imam’s longstanding work in promoting interfaith understanding. “Our focus is and must remain the residents of Lower Manhattan and the Muslim American community in the greater New York area.”

The imam’s efforts have taken him on State Department speaking tours in the Middle East. On Saturday, he was to begin a United States speaking tour.

The differences between the imam and Mr. Gamal have been evident on a wide range of issues for many months, said Muzaffar A. Chishti, director of the Migration Policy Institute at the New York University School of Law and a friend of Mrs. Khan and her husband. The two men have differed over the size of the project, its commercial or noncommercial character, and whether it would be primarily a place for Muslims or for people of many faiths, he said.

But the divide was most apparent in the different names each leader has used for the project. The imam has always referred to the proposed Islamic center and mosque as the Cordoba House. To Mr. Gamal, a businessman and real estate developer, it is Park51.

In his announcement, Mr. Gamal said Friday services at the temporary mosque now operating in the building, previously conducted by Mr. Abdul Rauf when he was in town, would now be run by an imam, Abdallah Adhami, who has served another Lower Manhattan mosque for many years.

Julie Menin, chairwoman of Community Board 1, which approved the Muslim center last spring, said Mr. Gamal, as owner of the property, had the right to “do as he wishes” on his project. Whether the reduced roles of Mr. Abdul Rauf and Ms. Khan would affect support, Ms. Menin said, “It’s too soon to know.”

Mr. Chishti, however, suggested that the prospects for raising the estimated $100 million it might cost to build the center would be diminished. “The groundswell of support we saw over the summer for this project was not a wave of support for a developer’s rights,” Mr. Chishti said. “It was support for a vision that was articulated by Imam Feisal.”…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

LePage on NAACP: ‘Tell Them to Kiss My Butt’

AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage is once again stirring controversy with his off-the-cuff and sometimes off-color statements, this time telling National Association for the Advancement of Colored People leaders and other critics to “kiss my butt” over his decision to decline several invitations from the organization.

In typical LePage style, the comments appear to have been made in a lighthearted manner. But NAACP leaders found little humor in the remarks, with the organization’s national president accusing Maine’s new Republican governor of inflaming racial tensions.

Speaking to reporters Friday morning, LePage was asked to respond to suggestions from NAACP members and others that his decision not to attend ceremonies honoring Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was part of a negative pattern.

“Tell them to kiss my butt,” LePage said with a large smile, according to video by WCSH6. He then added: “If they want to play the race card, come to dinner and my son will talk to them,” a reference to his adopted son, Devon Raymond, who is black.


“They’re a special interest, end of story, and I’m not going to be held hostage by a special interest,” LePage said. “The fact of the matter is there are only so many hours in the day and so many hours in the week and so much that you can do.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

France: the Far Right With a Human Touch

Times have changed at the Front National. The era when Jean-Marie Le Pen would bang on about gas chambers being “just one detail of the Second World War,” highly contagious AIDS, and filling military trucks with undocumented aliens is now officially over. Over the last eight years, his daughter Marine has polished up the image of the FN to widen its appeal. Now that it has been dressed as a “respectable” populist party, she believes that the French extreme right can look forward to a future of being able to forge political alliances.

After decades spent defending a more orthodox FN doctrine, the aging patriarch has fallen into step behind his daughter, and the role of guardian of dogma, has been taken up by the party vice-president Bruno Gollnisch — a Frontist of 27 years standing, who along with Marine Le Pen has also set his sights on the presidency. So this year’s party congress, which opens on 15 January Tours, will mark a significant turning point for the FN. Not only is Jean-Marie Le Pen standing down after 38 years, but the battle to succeed him will be fought between his daughter and one of his most successful disciples. As to the outcome, Jean-Marie Le Pen is hoping that his dynasty will perdure.

The young divorcée vs the professor The face-off between the modern young divorcée, Marine Le Pen, and the aging academic Bruno Gollnisch will be a contest between two different styles, two strategies, and two generations. He likes to say that he is the brains, and she is the communicator. Marine Le Pen has said that she can understand why women seek abortions, while Gollnisch wants the party to bring together all the diverse strands of the far-right: Holocaust negationists, anti-Semites, colonialists, and Catholic fundamentalists. She on the other hand is an advocate of protectionism to counter “economic and financial totalitarianism.”

He appears increasingly archaic, while she has sought out the limelight and campaigned tirelessly in the markets of Hénin-Beaumont, a depressed town in the Pas de Calais where she came very close to securing a majority on the local council. But even more importantly, she has the right brand— afterall, she is a Le Pen — which is a huge advantage in an extremely hierarchical party that is under the tight control of the boss.

Marine Le Pen is a women of her time, who does not share her father’s obsessions: she has no desire to rewrite the history of WWII or the war in Algeria. What she wants is an up-to-date more powerful FN that is similar to the populist right-wing parties in other European countries: the Italian Northern League, Geert Wilders’ PVV in the Netherlands, and the Sweden Democrats who recently won twenty seats in parliament.

As political scientist Nonna Mayer points out, “the European populist right-wing discourse singles out Muslims as people who do not share our values: a group that is intolerant of homosexuals, women, and Jews. This is a clever ploy to turn the argument on its head, a way of saying, they are the ones who are ‘racists’.” The first step for Marine Le Pen was to impose a ban on the ostentatiously racist sallies for which her father was notorious, and to eradicate anti-Semitic rhetoric. Then she established a new target, Islam which has replaced the immigration theme launched by the FN in 1978, and later appropriated by Nicolas Sarkozy…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

French Far-Right Leader Le Pen to Step Down

The leader of France’s National Front Jean-Marie Le Pen prepared to step down Saturday after four decades, marking the end of an era for the anti-immigrant party that has shaken up French politics. Party members were gathering in the western city of Tours where Le Pen, 82, was to make a farewell speech Saturday afternoon before handing over to his daughter Marine, due to be officially named his successor on Sunday. There was a heavy police presence around the conference centre hosting the party gathering in Tours, where rights groups and left-wing political groups said they planned peaceful demonstrations. A senior party official said late Friday that Marine Le Pen, 42, had won the leadership of the Front (FN) in a vote by its 24,000 members, beating her rival, the traditional party stalwart Bruno Gollnisch, 60. Recent polls say about 17 percent of the French would vote for her as president, posing a big challenge for President Nicolas Sarkozy ahead of the 2012 election. “It’s a fresh start for the Front. Our members want to win,” said one young supporter. Marine Le Pen has made it clear she wants to challenge Sarkozy in next year’s presidential election. Jean-Marie Le Pen, an ex-paratrooper, founded the National Front in 1972 and built it into a strong political force, making international headlines when he shocked voters by coming second in the 2002 presidential election…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Gothenburg Man Arrested for Oslo Islamist Attack

Swedish police have arrested a Gothenburg man as a suspect in the attempted murder of the founder of a radical Iraqi Kurdish Islamist group in Oslo, authorities announced on Friday.

“A man in his 20s is officially suspected of attempted murder after the shooting at Mullah Krekar’s apartment,” Norwegian police said in a statement, adding that they had requested the man’s extradition from Sweden.

Swedish authorities confirmed they had received an extradition request for 20-year-old Mohammed Ehsan Baba, who lives in Gothenburg.

He was arrested in the southwestern Swedish city on Wednesday and remanded in custody Friday, the prosecutor on the case, Thomas Ahlstrand, told AFP. His extradition should take “several weeks,” he said.

Norwegian commercial broadcaster TV2 had reported about the arrest earlier, quoting Baba’s lawyer, who said his client, reportedly neither a Swedish nor a Norwegian citizen, denied the allegations against him.

The shots were fired at Mullah Krekar’s fourth-floor apartment on the night of January 24th, 2010. Krekar, 54, who has lived in Norway for 20 years, was not injured in the attack, but his British brother-in-law was shot in the hand.

Krekar, whose real name is Fateh Najmeddin Faraj, admitted that he co-founded Ansar al-Islam in 2001, but insists he has not headed it since May 2002. He and the group figure on United Nations and US lists of terrorist groups or individuals.

Krekar has been living under risk of deportation since 2003 after Norwegian authorities ordered him expelled, claiming he posed a threat to national security.

While Norway’s court system has upheld the ruling, Norwegian law prevents him from being deported to Iraq, where he risks the death penalty…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Is Brandenburg Safe for Jews?

Rabbi Fears Anti-Semitism in Eastern German State

The leading rabbi in the eastern German state of Brandenburg says Jews in the community there are warned not to wear yarmulkes or other visible symbols of Judaism. He says the state has a problem with anti-Semitism, but Brandenburg officials claim they are doing all they can to make Jewish culture part of everyday life.

Some 65 years after the end of World War II, is it safe yet for a Jew to walk through the streets of Germany wearing a yarmulke? Not in Brandenburg, home to Potsdam and its famous UNESCO-listed palaces near Berlin — at least according to the eastern German state’s new chief rabbi, Shaul Nekrich.

A former resident of Berlin, Nekrich said in an interview with the Berliner Zeitung newspaper published Wednesday that he had been perfectly comfortable walking around the capital city, wearing a yarmulke and traditional Jewish hat. Not so, however, in Brandenburg, where he now leads the state’s six Jewish communities. Nekrich said he now eschews wearing the kippah or hat head coverings when walking the streets of towns and cities in the state.

Asked by the newspaper whether he believed the state has a problem with anti-Semitism, 31-year-old Nekrich, who emigrated to Germany from Russia after studying in Israel, said: “I think so, even if I haven’t been here for very long. I hear the stories from the communities. They are wary of being recognized as Jews on the streets. The only way we announce events now is by e-mail. In (the town of) Bernau, the synagogue has been defaced with swastikas several times.”

In the interview, Nekrich also recounted an experience he had on a train in the state three years ago, in which he was harassed by four drunken young men with short hair. “I’m not saying that they were neo-Nazis,” he told the paper. “But they had very short hair.” He said he began reading a prayer book and that one of the men approached him, asked if it was written in Hebrew and then threw it on the ground. He got out at the next station and took a taxi the rest of the way home.

He told the paper that, as a Jew, it was dangerous to wear a kippah or hat in Brandenburg, unless “someone is versed in martial arts.”

The rabbi said he hadn’t complained to state officials “because it makes no sense.” The community there is too small and it’s not possible for the police to provide protection for individual Jews, he said. The state’s six Jewish communities together have around 1,300 members.

‘The State Government Is Doing Everything it Can’

Nekirch’s statements have raised eyebrows in the state, where officials claim that great inroads have been made towards re-establishing normal Jewish life in Brandenburg.

“The state government is doing everything it can to ensure that Jewish life again belongs to everyday life in Brandenburg,” Antje Grabley, a spokeswoman for the state’s Culture Ministry, which is responsible for the promotion of religious communities in the state, told the Berliner Zeitung. She said that the state’s cultural minister, Martina Münch, would take up contact with the rabbi.

Grabley noted that a study from 2009 showed that anti-Semitic tendencies in Brandenburg were the lowest of any German state. And the State Office of Criminal Investigation said the total number of crimes motivated by anti-Semitism in Brandenburg had been 109 in 2009 and that during the first half of 2010, 42 had been reported, a downward trend.

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

Italy: Berlusconi in Teen Belly Dancer Sex Probe

Premier in prostitution investigation

(ANSA) — Rome, January 14 — Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi has been placed under investigation for allegedly having sex with a teenage runaway Moroccan belly dancer, judicial sources said Friday.

The premier is being probed for allegedly exploiting under-age prostitution, the sources said, in having sex with Ruby ‘Rubacuore’ (Heart-stealer) at his sumptuous Milan villa from February to May last year, when the girl was 17, a note from the Milan prosecutor’s office said.

The note said the prosecutors had “detailed evidence” on the case.

Berlusconi, who was placed under investigation on December 21, received a request on Friday to appear before Milan prosecutors.

Also under investigation are a veteran news anchor on one of Berlusconi’s three TV channels, Emilio Fede, and top show business impresario Lele Mora, both suspected of procuring girls; and a Lombardy regional councillor Nicole Minetti, the premier’s former dental hygienist.

As well as allegedly using an underage prostitute, Berlusconi is also under investigation for alleged abuse of power in getting Ruby out of a scrape with Milan police on the night of May 27-28, judicial sources said.

Berlusconi allegedly asked for Ruby to be released because she was, he said, the granddaughter of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Berlusconi’s lawyers have said he believed the girl when she said she was Mubarak’s granddaughter and told him she was 23.

After phoning Milan’s main police station to inquire about Ruby, Berlusconi sent Minetti to take her under her wing, but the girl eventually went away with someone else, a Brazilian woman. For weeks last year, after the case broke on October 28, Italian media ran front-page stories on the so-called Rubygate scandal and another probe into prostitutes who said they attended other parties in Berlusconi’s villa.

Milan prosecutors said in November police procedures had been correct but a probe was still open into what happened to the now 18-year-old Ruby, whose real name is Karima El Mahroug, after she was taken out of their hands.

El Mahroug, who has been in and out of homes after running away from her religiously observant family, was depicted by the premier as a “tragic” figure he helped out because of his natural generosity.

Berlusconi deflected attention from the scandal with trademark quips about his well-known liking for girls, though he was accused of going too far when he said it was better to have a passion for beautiful women than to be gay.

The news about Ruby came a day after a Constitutional Court ruling that partially struck down an immunity law shielding the premier from three trials in Milan.

Speaking before the fresh Ruby story broke, Berlusconi repeated on one of his TV channels his long-standing claim that he is the victim of political persecution by a left-leaning section of the judiciary.

The premier, who has always denied wrongdoing, called the trials against him “ridiculous” and “grotesque”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Berlusconi Investigated Over Rubygate

Nicole Minetti’s office searched. PM alleged to have induced her to help cover up inside story of Arcore party

MILAN — The Milan public prosecutor’s office is investigating Silvio Berlusconi on suspicion of “extortion” and “child prostitution”. According to the allegations, Mr Berlusconi used his position as prime minister on the night of 27 and 28 May 2010 to induce officers at Milan police headquarters to wrongfully give custody of the then 17-year-old Moroccan girl, Karima El Mahrough aka Ruby, who had run away from a juvenile rehabilitation centre, to Lombardy regional councillor Nicole Minetti in order to cover up having used a child prostitute over many weekends at Arcore, to ensure his impunity and to prevent the inside story of his parties at the Brianza residence from coming to light. A note from the public prosecutor’s office explains that the PM’s name was entered in the register of persons under investigation on 21 December and that today he received a summons to appear before the magistrate. In the same note, the Milan chief public prosecutor, Edmondo Bruti Liberati, points out that the offence of exploiting prostitution is alleged to have taken place at Arcore in the period from February to May 2010.

THE CHARGES — The crime of “extortion”, as defined by article 317 of the criminal code, punishes with imprisonment for four to twelve years any public official, or person delegated to provide a public service, who abuses his position or powers, or forces or induces another person wrongfully to give or promise money or other benefits to the public official himself or to a third party. The prime minister is charged with the crime of “child prostitution” with aggravating circumstances (article 600 b, in the form described in the second paragraph), which punishes with imprisonment from six months to three years anyone performing sexual acts with a minor aged from 14 to 18 in exchange for money or other economic benefits. This is the only case in which the client of a prostitute is subject to penal sanctions.

SEARCHES — The repercussions of the Rubygate investigations are emerging during searches currently under way in Milan, including that of the premier’s right-hand man and long-standing administrator of the Berlusconi family portfolio, Giuseppe Spinelli. Years ago, Mr Spinelli was investigated with Mr Berlusconi over the Medusa film company and the Macherio residence, and he was one of the directors of both the Dolcedrago holding company and the Idra real estate company, which owns Arcore. Investigators visited the office of Mr Spinelli, who is not under investigation, to carry out a search but were met with the objection that the rooms “pertained to the political secretariat of the Honourable Silvio Berlusconi”. According to sources close to Mr Spinelli, investigators did not contest the point and called off the search, leaving Mr Spinelli’s office. Police officers are also searching the office of Nicole Minetti, the regional councillor under investigation for complicity in both adult and child prostitution. The same suspicions have been levelled at Lele Mora and Emilio Fede.

POLICE OFFICERS AGGRIEVED PARTIES — No members of the police forces are under investigation in connection with the Berlusconi/Ruby case. To the contrary, the officers at Milan police headquarters who received Mr Berlusconi’s phone calls are the aggrieved parties in the extortion with which the PM is charged.

RUBY’S VISITS TO ARCORE — Karima, the 17-year-old (in 2010) Moroccan woman at the centre of the case, in which Mr Berlusconi is under investigation on charges of extortion and child prostitution, is thought not to have been telling the truth when she claimed in public she had only been to Arcore on one or two occasions. Crucially for the investigations, analysis of traffic on her mobile phone is believed to contradict her. She is reported to have been placed at Arcore not once but on many weekends when Mr Berlusconi was present at his residence.

Luigi Ferrarella

14 gennaio 2011(c) all rights reserved — unauthorized reproduction forbidden

English translation by Giles Watson

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

Italy: High-Profile Judge’s Farmhouse Burnt Down in South

Brindisi, 5 Jan. (AKI) — Fireman were on Wednesday battling a blaze at the southern Italian farmhouse of high-profile judge Clementina Forleo. The fire broke out overnight and almost completely gutted the farmhouse, located on a road between the cities of Brindisi and Taranto in Italy’s Puglia region.

Investigators believe the fire was an arson attack because the farmhouse is nextdoor to a villa belonging to the Forleo family which has been rented for the past two years to local businessman whose nearby offices also burnt down overnight, Italy’s Corriere della Sera newspaper reported.

Forleo’s parents were both killed in a mysterious 2005 car crash near her birthplace of Francavilla and she has continued to voice suspicions about the accident.

The investigating judge has probed high-profile banking scandals, corruption and terrorism cases. Her 2005 decision to dismiss international terrorist charges against five Islamic fundamentalists on the grounds they were self-styled guerrilla fighters, not terrorists drew sharp criticism from conservative politicians.

The judgement was later reversed by Italy’s top court, the Court of Cassation.

On 8 July 2005, she protested against the violent arrest of an African outside a Milan subway station, after he was found without a valid ticket during a routine check on the train. Forleo arrived at the scene of the arrest, identified herself as a magistrate, and made a complaint about excessive force used against the African by a group of policemen, who decided to sue her.

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

Italy: ‘Bullets and Threats Mailed to Sicilian Provincial Officials’

Palermo, 4 Jan. (AKI) — Envelopes each containing a bullet and threats were mailed to three senior administrators in the southern Sicilian province of Agrigento, police said on Tuesday. The province’s director and secretary-general Giuseppe Vella, finance and budget director Fabrizio Caruana, and human resources director Aldo Cipolla reported the envelopes to police.

The president of the province of Agrigento, Eugenio D’Orsi condemned what he described as a “grave act” and voiced solidarity with Vella, Caruana and Cipolla “on behalf of all employees of the province”.

“We strongly condemn what occurred and trust police will swifty identify the perpetrators of this grave act,” D’Orsi said.

Police did not make public the nature of the threats allegedly made against Vella, Caruana and Cipolla in Agrigento — a mafia stronghold. Mailed bullets are a typical mafia threat, but have also been used by putative anarchists and allegedly by far-left group The Red Brigades.

Threats against three centre-left Italian opposition politicians in a letter mailed with a bullet to Italy’s Adnkronos news agency in Rome on Monday with a letter signed by an anarchist group which claimed responsibility for parcel bombs sent to three embassies in the Italian capital in late December. Adnkronos is the parent agency of Adnkronos International (AKI).

Police were due to verify the letter’s authenticity.

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

Marine Le Pen ‘Chosen to Lead France’s National Front’

France’s far right National Front has chosen Marine Le Pen as its new leader, replacing her father Jean-Marie Le Pen, party officials say.

The results will be officially announced on Sunday, but party sources said she had secured about two-thirds of members’ votes.

Mr Le Pen is stepping down after leading the ultra-nationalist party, which he founded, for almost 40 years.

In 2002 he came a shock second in the first round of presidential elections.

Mr Le Pen lost the second round to incumbent Jacques Chirac.

A count of votes cast ahead of the annual FN congress in the central city of Tours showed Ms Le Pen, 42, who had the backing of her father, had easily beaten her rival, Bruno Gollnisch.

The FN, with its anti-immigration agenda has been shunned by France’s main parties.

But Ms Le Pen has said she wants to break with its xenophobic, anti-Islam image and is confident the FN can become part of mainstream politics…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Roman Rise and Fall ‘Recorded in Trees’

An extensive study of tree growth rings says there could be a link between the rise and fall of past civilisations and sudden shifts in Europe’s climate.

A team of researchers based their findings on data from 9,000 wooden artifacts from the past 2,500 years.

They found that periods of warm, wet summers coincided with prosperity, while political turmoil occurred during times of climate instability.

The findings have been published online by the journal Science.

“Looking back on 2,500 years, there are examples where climate change impacted human history,” co-author Ulf Buntgen, a paleoclimatologist at the Swiss Federal Research Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape, told the Science website.

Ring record

The team capitalised on a system used to date material unearthed during excavations.

“Archaeologists have developed oak ring width chronologies from Central Europe that cover nearly the entire Holocene and have used them for the purpose of dating artefacts, historical buildings, antique artwork and furniture,” they wrote.

“Chronologies of living and relict oaks may reflect distinct patterns of summer precipitation and drought.”

The team looked at how weather over the past couple of centuries affected living trees’ growth rings.

During good growing seasons, when water and nutrients are in plentiful supply, trees form broad rings, with their boundaries relatively far apart.

But in unfavourable conditions, such as drought, the rings grow in much tighter formation.

The researchers then used this data to reconstruct annual weather patterns from the growth rings preserved in the artefacts.

Once they had developed a chronology stretching back over the past 2,500 years, they identified a link with prosperity levels in past societies, such as the Roman Empire.

“Wet and warm summers occurred during periods of Roman and medieval prosperity. Increased climate variability from 250-600 AD coincided with the demise of the western Roman empire and the turmoil of the migration period,” the team reported.

“Distinct drying in the 3rd Century paralleled a period of serious crisis in the western Roman empire marked by barbarian invasion, political turmoil and economic dislocation in several provinces of Gaul.”

Dr Buntgen explained: “We were aware of these super-big data sets, and we brought them together and analyzed them in a new way to get the climate signal.

“If you have enough wood, the dating is secure. You just need a lot of material and a lot of rings.”

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Spanish Judge Indicts Demjanjuk on Charges of Genocide While He Served as Nazi Guard

MADRID (AP) — A Spanish judge has indicted John Demjanjuk on charges of being an accessory to genocide and crimes against humanity while serving as a Nazi concentration camp guard.

The 90-year-old former Ohio autoworker is already being tried in Germany on 28,060 counts of being an accessory to murder while serving as a guard at the Nazis’ Sobibor death camp.

Ukrainian-born Demjanjuk denies ever serving as a Nazi guard at any camp and maintains that he was a Soviet soldier captured by the Germans and spent most of the war in prison camps himself, and is being mistaken for someone else.

Already, the former Ohio auto-worker was stripped of his U.S. citizenship in 1981 after the U.S. Justice Department alleged he hid his past as the notorious Treblinka guard “Ivan the Terrible.” He was extradited to Israel, where he was found guilty and sentenced to death in 1988, only to have the conviction overturned five years later as a case of mistaken identity.

Spanish Judge Ismael Moreno has now accused Demjanjuk of working at the Nazi concentration camp in Flossenbuerg in Bavaria in southern Germany, where Moreno says 155 Spaniards were held, 60 of whom died. Moreno indicted Demjanjuk in an order dated Jan. 7 and made available Friday by the National Court.

The judge issued a European arrest warrant for Germany to hand over Demjanjuk, presumably after his trial in Germany ends.

The Bavarian justice ministry said it had not yet received any word of the indictment or the European arrest warrant from Spain.

Moreno is acting under Spain’s so-called universal justice law, which allows particularly heinous crimes to be tried in Spain even if they are alleged to have been commmitted abroad.

But Moreno also acted because thousands of Spaniards were among the millions who died in Nazi camps. Moreno has been investigating the issue since July 2008 at the request of several Spaniards who survived their ordeals.

Demjanjuk’s son, John Demjanjuk Jr., told the AP in an e-mail that his father had never served in any Nazi camp and suggested that Moreno was grasping at straws.

“He has progressed from acquittal by Israel of killing 850,000 to supposedly being a POW coerced to guard at a place where 27,000 were killed and now some group in Spain alleges he was a guard over 155 forced laborers,” he said. “He was a Ukrainian POW who survived the Nazi’s murderous onslaught and this is just another flash in the media pan,” the son said.

Demjanjuk was one of four alleged ex-Nazi camp guards named in an initial complaint that the National Court took up at the request of a handful of Holocaust survivors from Spain.

When the other three were indicted by Spain in September 2009, he was left out because at that point the United States had already handed him over to Germany for trial.

Moreno can act against Demjanjuk without risk of double-jeopardy because the German trial focuses on his alleged presence as a guard at Sobibor and the Spanish proceedings involve his alleged later presence at Flossenbuerg, according to Equipo Nizkor, the human rights group that filed the initial complaint in Madrid.

There is no known evidence accusing Demjanjuk of a specific crime, and he was indicted in Germany on the argument that anyone who had served in a death camp like Sobibor — whose sole purpose was killing — could be considered an accessory to murder. Flossenbuerg, however, was a concentration camp where many prisoners were used for forced labor, though thousands were killed or died amid deplorable conditions.

“This is a remarkable and extraordinary development that poignantly shows that the victims of the crimes that Demjanjuk is charged with came from all of Europe and truly were crimes against all of humanity,” Elan Steinberg, vice-president of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants, said in a statement welcoming the Spanish action.

           — Hat tip: Freyja’s Cats[Return to headlines]

UK: 7/7 Bus Driver Unwittingly Saved Lives of 50 Passengers at Tavistock Square by Telling Them to Get Off Moments Before Bomb Exploded

[WARNING: Graphic content.]

The lives of up to 50 bus passengers were unwittingly saved when the driver advised them to get off moments before the blast, the July 7 inquest heard.

George Psradakis’s No.30 was stuck in gridlocked traffic in the aftermath of three Tube explosions.

He was forced to detour from his route from Marble Arch to Hackney Wick by police cordons, unaware what was causing the disruption.

At Tavistock Square, he followed protocol and told passengers that those whose destinations were nearby might be better off walking.

Just moments later the bus was blown up by 18-year-old suicide bomber Hasib Hussain.

Giving evidence at the inquest in the London High Court, Mr Psradakis said: ‘Lots of people got off the bus… I pulled away slowly, at crawling speed. When I was near (two) traffic officers I opened my window and called them.

‘I said, ‘what is the name of this place?’ They said Tavistock Square, so I thanked them and tried to call my garage and then — bang. The explosion.’

At first he thought he had hit something in the road, but he soon realised the full horror of what had happened.

‘The windscreen blew away, debris fell all over me,’ he said. ‘I was stunned, shocked. I touched my head and could only feel dust.’

Confused as he was, he dragged himself from his seat and off the bus, stepping into a road strewn with body parts.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: Alleged Rape Victim’s Dad Gives Evidence at Trial

THE father of a boy who claims he was raped several times by an Imam at his mosque told a court he was shocked by what his son told him.

The father, who cannot be named for legal reasons, told Nottingham Crown Court that his son said Muslim leader Mohammed Hanif Khan had taken him into a private room at the mosque in Capper Street, Tunstall, and taken his trousers off.

The court heard yesterday that the boy, who also cannot be named, went on to tell his father that 41-year-old Khan sexually assaulted him.

Khan, who now lives in Owler Lane, Sheffield, denies three counts of rape, four attempted rapes and one count of sexual activity with a child.

It is alleged that the boy was raped in different parts of the mosque once formal prayers had finished in the main prayer hall.

It is further alleged that the defendant tried to rape a second boy when he stayed over at his then home in Meir.

The father was asked by prosecutor Tariq Bin Shakoor what his son had told him.

The father said: “He said Hanif had taken his trousers off. He said he had taken him to a private room and asked him to lay his prayer mat.

“He said he was scared. He told me that the Imam had sexually assaulted him.

“I was shocked. I could not believe what he was saying.

“I have known the Imam for a year-and-a-half and he is a very highly respected man in the community.

“He regularly came round to my house and my mum and dad’s house.”

The father told the court that he and another member of his family then went out to find another boy who they knew had once stayed at Khan’s home…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

UK: Blackburn Free School Given Initial Green Light

AN application to create Blackburn’s first free school has been given the initial green light.

The Department for Education announced yesterday that an application for Tauheedul Islam Boys’ High School can proceed to the business case after a proposal was submitted to the Government.

The governors of Tauheedul Islam Girls School put together plans for a free school on the current girls school site in Bicknell Street once it moves to new premises at the Beardwood Humanities College under the Building Schools for the Future Scheme.

As the initial go ahead was granted Tauheedul bosses have revealed that parents have already started registering their children on to the waiting list.

But a teaching union warned it feared the school could undermine admissions to other schools in the borough.

It is unclear how many students will be on the roll but it will cater for boys aged 11 to 18 but it is hoped the school will open its doors in 2012.

Free schools are all-ability state-funded schools set up in response to parental demand.

Tauheedul governors said they hoped the school would stave off a migration of many boys from the state sector to being educated in independent schools.

Kam Kothia, chairman of Tauheedul Islam Girls’ High School, said: “This really is tremendous news for everyone in the community. For all who want the best for Blackburn boys Muslim and non-Muslim this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create a world class boys’school.

Hamid Patel, principal and chief executive of Tauheedul Islam Girls’ High School, said: “This will in no way affect the viability of other local schools and we will work alongside them to continue to improve life chances for all Blackburn pupils.

NUT devision secretary Simon Jones said: “This is very worrying news. It will completely undermine all the local authority careful planning for admissions across the borough at this time as we move across the BSF process…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

UK: Former Anglican Bishops Are Ordained as Catholic Priests

The most Rev Vincent Nichols, leader of Catholics in England and Wales, ordained Andrew Burnham, former bishop of Ebbsfleet, Keith Newton, ex-bishop of Richborough, and John Broadhurst, former bishop of Fulham, as Catholic priests at a service at Westminster Cathedral in London on Saturday. They are the first members of an Ordinariate specially set up by the Pope, for groups of Anglicans who wish to join the Roman Catholic Church while retaining aspects of their Anglican heritage. The congregation included hundreds of priests from the Diocese of Westminster, along with Bishop Alan Hopes, Archbishop Bernard Longely, from Birmingham, and trainee priests. Rev Nichols told them: “Many ordinations have take place in this cathedral during the 100 years of its history. But none quite like this. “Today is a unique occasion marking a new step in the life and history of the Catholic Church. “This morning the establishment of the first Personal Ordinariate under the provision of the Apostolic Constitution ‘Anglicanorum Coetibus’ has been announced in our hearing.” The ordinariate is expected to be joined by up to 50 Anglican clergy and two retired Church of England bishops. Its formation comes after the Church of England voted last summer to press ahead with legislation to consecrate women bishops, a move opposed by Anglo-Catholic groupings within the Church…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

UK: I Was Kept Prisoner by the Asian Sex Gang Predator: Victim Tells Harrowing Story of ‘Boyfriend’ Who Dubbed His Car the ‘Rape Rover’

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’.

Mohammed Shafiq, who runs a Muslim youth organisation, said there was ‘a perception that these white girls have lesser morals and lesser values than women of Pakistani heritage’ — although he added that it was deeply offensive to suggest ‘that this is somehow ingrained in the community’.

Toni-Marie’s remarkable story adds a disturbing insight into the crimes. What happened to this Derby schoolgirl nearly ruined her life.

She says: ‘I felt something wasn’t right from the moment I met Saddique. Even early on, I was thinking: “What have you got yourself into?” As I became more involved with him, it felt like there was no way out. It seemed like I didn’t have a choice as he was so controlling.’

‘He said I was supposed to wear things that covered my arms and he encouraged me to convert to Islam.’She says they met when she was 14. She was shopping in Derby with a friend when she was chatted up by Saddique and Liaqat (who were in their early 20s). ‘Although I thought it was all a bit weird — someone just coming up to us and chatting — I was flattered by the attention,’ she says.

However, unknown to Toni-Marie, this was how the pair of sexual predators regularly trapped their victims. They met young girls on the streets, gave them free mobile phones (so they could keep in touch easily) and offered them vodka and drugs, took them to parties and went on drives in fast cars.

Soon, Saddique wanted Toni-Marie to be his girlfriend — although he was already married to a Muslim wife who would shortly become pregnant.

Toni-Marie was living at the time with her grandparents because her mother, Wendy, had remarried. When she told them about her new boyfriend, they were immediately worried.

The couple — Christine, a former grammar school pupil, and Christopher, a retired builder — thought he was too old for their granddaughter. But they were afraid if they stopped her seeing him, she might leave home and run away with him or even convert to Islam and disappear from her family.

During their relationship, Saddique gave her a copy of the Koran to read secretly in her bedroom and told her she should cover her head with a scarf when she went out, in keeping with his Muslim faith.

As Toni-Marie recalls now: ‘On one of my first nights out with Saddique and Liaqat, I was taken to a seedy flat of one of the gang where they were sniffing coke. There was another girl there who was grabbed by the throat by Liaqat. Looking back now, it should have scared me to death.’

But Toni-Marie was in thrall to these two men and admits she was going through a stage where she enjoyed rebelling against her family.

As the relationship continued, Saddique took her to an empty house in Derby, owned by his parents, where they slept together. She would often return home with her eyes glazed, looking as if she had taken drugs.

Saddique encouraged her to distance herself from her family and friends at the care home where she had started working after leaving school.

Ironically, but in a step typical of the double standards of such sexual predators, Saddique tried to stop her wearing low tops.

‘He said I was supposed to wear things that covered my arms and he encouraged me to convert to Islam.’

But, in time, he stopped his charming act. ‘First, it was verbal abuse. But then he became violent. He grabbed me once and chucked me through a door over a stupid little argument.’

Such incidents quickly increased. He assaulted her — ripping out her hair extensions and kicking her in the head. At this point, Toni-Marie’s mother found out about the violence and called in the police. As a result, he was convicted of assault but not jailed.

Despite all this, Toni-Marie says she couldn’t find a way out of the relationship. ‘He was constantly texting me, threatening me, waiting outside my house for me. Watching for me leaving work. He was desperate to control me.’

Once, when they had an argument, he punished her by locking her in the cellar of the empty house for three days, stripped to her underwear.

Although it is hard to believe, Toni-Marie says she had no clue that he was grooming many other white girls — to be ‘passed around and used as meat’ by his friends (in the words of Detective Chief Inspector Alan Edwards of West Mercia Police).

She says she was totally unaware that Saddique and his associates were offering girls rides in their car, plying them with alcohol and taken to parks, hotel rooms or houses, where they were forced to have sex.

Nevertheless, Toni-Marie now decided to sever all links with him. She explains: ‘In one of the last conversations I had with him, he referred to his Land Rover as the “Rape Rover”. That is when I knew I had to escape. I’d had enough.’

Predictably, Saddique was incandescent and turned up at her grandparents’ house repeatedly, threatening them if he was not allowed to see her.

Once, Toni-Marie went out to sit in his car to explain to him that their relationship was over.

He sped off with her and dumped her in her dressing gown in the middle of the night in a road three miles outside Derby.

Her family found her and took her home.

Saddique, though, wouldn’t be thwarted and when he came looking for her again and again, he was set upon by one of Toni-Marie’s relatives who hit him, breaking his jaw.

Eventually, in April 2009 (a few months after Toni-Marie had finally thrown off Saddique), police officers tracking the gang leader’s movements visited Toni-Marie to interview her.

‘In one of the last conversations I had with him, he referred to his Land Rover as the “Rape Rover”.They knew the two had been friends and wanted to know about his lifestyle and the addresses he visited.

It was at this point, she says, that she learnt for the first time that her ex-boyfriend was a serial sex ­predator. Stunned, she spent four hours giving police a statement, recalling every detail of their two-year relationship.

Toni-Marie insists that she never saw girls being sexually assaulted by Saddique or went to the eight-bedroom house rented by Saddique’s gang in Derby where most of the abuse happened. The police confirm this.

But she admits he must have been abusing young girls throughout the period they were going out.

She also concedes she was probably a trophy for Saddique: ‘I was a white girl who he wanted to control and prove that he could convert to Islam. I saw him and the gang tell non-Muslim girls they were “slags”. I believe it was the religion and culture of these men that made them act like that.’

However, other witnesses revealed how a constant stream of men from all over Britain would turn up at the gang’s rented house in Derby where scores of girls — white, mixed race and a few of Asian non-Muslim heritage — were held prisoner and raped by Saddique and other men.

One 21-year-old man, who witnessed the terrible scenes, gave evidence against the gang in court. This week he said: ‘The girls would scream to be let out. But the gang left two handguns, including a 9mm Beretta, in the sitting room. It was a warning about what might ­happen if they did not obey.’

On another occasion, a 17-year-old girl was filmed being gang-raped. The man recalled: ‘The girl was drunk and drugged. She began by co-operating and kissing one man. But when she was overwhelmed by him and others she started weeping “stop it”.’

Today, Toni-Marie is slowly picking up her life, with a new boyfriend and a different job.

Apart from feeling embarrassed by having been taken in by ­Saddique, she says she is not happy that he was sentenced to serve only a minimum of 11 years in jail.

‘I am angry at the short ­sentence. You can get almost the same for robbery.’

In court, Saddique admitted: ‘These are girls I did not respect.’

Meanwhile, her grandmother, Christine, keeps her stout hockey stick from her former grammar school days by the door just in case any of Saddique’s associates come looking for revenge on her granddaughter.

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

UK: Plymouth Girl’s Attacker ‘Sadistic and Evil’

The leader of a girl gang who burned a teenager with a cigarette and stamped on her face has been described as “sadistic” by a judge.

Judge Francis Gilbert QC told 16-year-old Sabrina Barber he had never seen such a “sustained and savage assault”.

Her victim, Naomi Morrison, 17, was attacked by 10 girls for 90 minutes on Plymouth Hoe in December 2009.

Barber, from Plymouth, admitted causing grievous bodily harm with intent and was detained for five years.

‘Savage assault’

Her co-accused, 19-year-old Melissa Rowe, also from Plymouth, was given a 10-month sentence, suspended for two years.

The gang of girls attacked their victim who was falsely accused by one of them of lying about a miscarriage.

Jo Martin, prosecuting at Plymouth Crown Court, said: “Barber toyed with her victim, humiliating, degrading and assaulting her.”

She said Barber told Miss Morrison to lie down and “threatened to kill her and stood on her face”.

Miss Morrison, a trainee nursery nurse, was made to butt a metal bench “for the pleasure of the crew around her”.

Rowe was then said to have kicked their victim between the legs.

The court heard Barber was high on the drug mephedrone, which has since been banned.

Her victim had eye-liner poured into her eyes and was grabbed around the neck and throttled.

Police later found a text sent by one of the girls which read: “Beens mashed up a girl. Lots of laughs. It was wonderful”.

Judge Gilbert told Barber: “This was an extreme level of sadistic violence carried out for your pleasure and no other reason.”

He added: “You subjected a 17-year-old girl to a sustained and savage assault the severity of which I have never seen from someone of your age.

“The level of sadistic violence you displayed was appalling and evil and left physical and psychological damage over a prolonged period of time.”…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

UK: Smello-Retail: Shops Using Scent to Keep Hold of Customers

“Lotus Flower”, a floral smell with hints of moss, has been revealed as the most popular scent by the Canadian company that has pioneered the technology. “Enchanted apple”, which has accents of musk, is the second most popular. The company is now working with over 20,000 different shops in Britain to help them use sound as well as visual media, such as in-store television, to boost their sales. And its latest weapon is scent “for attracting a customer’s loyalty and love of your brand”. Mood Media, a Canadian company, which is listed on the London stock market, has already created scents for Habitat, the furniture shop, Timberland, the outdoor clothing retailer and Guess, a fashion chain. It is confident that its other clients, including many of the High Street clothes shops, gyms, banks, hotels and medical centres will start to use the perfumes, which are pumped out through the air conditioning units. Lorne Abony, the chief executive, said: “If a shop smells bad, a customer will walk out. It’s as simple as that. The longer you can get a customer to stay in the store, the more likely they are to buy…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

North Africa

Egypt: Cop, Unprovoked, Shoots Christian on Train

An off-duty Egyptian police officer shot and killed one Coptic Christian and wounded five others in an apparently unprovoked attack aboard a train in Egypt’s central Minya province, the third high-profile anti-Christian attack in Egypt in less than three months.

A report from Egypt’s Interior Ministry said Amer Ashour Abdel-Zaher boarded the train and was on his way to work when he saw the group of Coptic Christians.

GLORIA Center Director Barry Rubin said the circumstances show that the attack was spontaneous.

“The critical factor is that [the shooter] was on his way to work, and so it wasn’t a planned thing. If it was a planned thing he would have done it some evening or sometime. I think he was overcome with rage and hatred,” Rubin observed.

“Where the rage and hatred comes from is a different question, but I still don’t believe it was a planned attack,” he said. “There is something significant in the region, which is growing anti-Christian activity. To some extent this is true from East Timor in Indonesia to Nigeria. But in the Middle East we’re seeing it intensify.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

The Story of Mohamed Bouazizi, The Man Who Toppled Tunisia

Mohamed Bouazizi was a 26-year-old Tunisian with a computer science degree.

Like millions of angry and desperate Tunisians, he faced the unpleasant combination of poor employment prospects and food inflation. Moreover, the Tunisian government was seen as corrupt and authoritarian.

By December 17, resentment against authorities has been brewing for a while.

To make ends meet, the unemployed Bouazizi sold fruits and vegetables from a cart in his rural town of Sidi Bouzid, located 160 miles from the country’s capital Tunis. He did not have a license to sell, but it was his sole source of income.

On December 17, authorities confiscated his produce and allegedly slapped his face.

Bouazizi became incensed.

He then drenched himself in gasoline and set himself on fire outside the governor’s office. Bouazizi survived his initial suicide attempt. After being transported to a hospital near Tunis, he was visited by President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali before passing away on January 4.

After his suicide attempt, unrest broke out in Sidi Bouzid. The police cracked down on the protestors, which only fueled the movement. The revolt eventually spread to the capital city.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Thomas Cook Pulls 2,000 Tourists From Tunisia

Tourism company Thomas Cook on Friday said it was repatriating about 2,000 German holidaymakers from Tunisia following a travel warning from the Foreign Ministry due to mounting unrest in the North African country.

“Several charter planes will be sent to Tunisia today to pick up around 2,000 German clients of Thomas Cook,” the German unit of the British company said in a statement.

“At the same time, all departures to Tunisia from Germany until January 17 have been cancelled and the clients have been informed. Affected customers will be offered alternatives to their original destination.”

Thomas Cook Germany chairman Peter Fankhauser noted that the security situation in the country was “very tense.”

“Although our clients in Tunisia have until now not been directly affected, we have taken this step in their interest,” he said in the statement. “We are living up to our responsibility as a company.”

The company said it would allow its customers to change their travel plans at no cost until January 24.

“Thomas Cook continues to observe the situation and is in constant contact with the authorities and colleagues on the ground,” the company said. “Clients will be informed by tour organisers and looked after until their departure.”

Competitor TUI said Friday it would not repatriate its 1,000 German customers currently in Tunisia.

“The atmosphere among our clients is calm. We have not had any requests until now for an early return,” it said in a statement.

Violent unrest against President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s iron-fisted rule has plagued the popular north African holiday destination since mid-December in the worst political violence in his 23 years in power.

A Paris-based rights group says 66 people have been killed, several times higher than the official toll.

In a bid to quell the unprecedented unrest, Ben Ali promised in a national address late Thursday that he would not seek another term in office and vowed to liberalise the political system.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said Thursday that senior European Union diplomats would be meeting Friday on Berlin’s initiative to discuss the situation, as he called for an end to attacks on demonstrators.

He warned Germans to put off any non-essential trips to Tunisia, echoing similar calls made Thursday by the Netherlands and Portugal.

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

Tunisia: State TV, State of Emergency in Whole Country

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, JANUARY 14 — The state of emergency has been declared in all Tunisia, including a curfew from 5pm to 7 am, State television announced.

The state of emergency also includes a ban on gatherings of more than 3 people.

“Weapons will be used”, if the security forces are not obeyed, State television added.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Tunisia: Crowd Attacks Porsche Dealership and Steals Cars

(ANSAmed) — ROME, JANUARY 14 — The Porsche dealership in La Goulette (Tunis) has been plundered. A group of looters stole all of the cars on display. The owner of the dealership is a relative of the wife of President Ben Ali.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Tunisia: Attempted Attack on Central Bank Caught on Live TV

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, JANUARY 14 — Footage of an attempted attack on the Central Bank of Tunisia in the centrally-located Avenue Mohamed V was broadcast live on the Al Arabyya television network. This afternoon’s attack was stopped by police.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Tunisia Riots: More Protests Threatened as President Ben Ali Flees to Saudi Arabia

Mr Ben Ali and his family arrived in the Saudi port city of Jeddah on Friday night, following in the footsteps of numerous other deposed leaders who have been offered asylum in the kingdom. The collapse of his 23-year-long authoritarian rule, the first time an Arab leader has yielded to “people power”, was greeted with widespread jubilation in Tunisia, where up to 80 people have been killed in clashes with police in recent weeks. But last night, activists were threatening to take to the streets yet again, despite the imposition of emergency rule by the government in a bid to restore law and order. “Tomorrow we will be back on the streets, in Martyrs Square, to continue this civil disobedience until … the regime is gone. The street has spoken,” said Fadhel Bel Taher, whose brother was one of dozens of people killed in protests. Following Mr Ben Ali’s decision to step down on Friday night, Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi has taken over as caretaker president. It is unclear, however, whether the protesters will accept Ghannouchi’s interim leadership…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Tunisia: Deadly Jail Fire in Unrest After Ben Ali Exit

A fire has swept though a prison in the Tunisian resort town of Monastir, killing at least 42 people amid continuing unrest following the removal of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.

Looting hit the suburbs of the capital Tunis after he fled the country on Friday.

Troops are now patrolling the city centre and a state of emergency is in force.

Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi has said his priority is restoring order.

Mr Ghannouchi also said he would hold talks with opposition parties.

A doctor at Monastir hospital told the BBC it had received 42 bodies so far following the prison fire.

The identities of the victims and the cause of the fire are still unclear.

An eyewitness in the city, about 160km (100 miles) south of Tunis, told Reuters news agency: “The whole prison is on fire, the furniture, mattresses, everything.”

In Tunis the main thoroughfare, Avenue Habib Bourguiba, was blocked by security forces after an overnight curfew was lifted.

Troops and tanks are protecting official buildings and the streets are largely deserted, correspondents say.

Overnight looting continued into Saturday in the city’s suburbs, with French-owned supermarkets among the properties targeted. The city’s main railway station has been badly damaged by fire.

Tunis Carthage International Airport, which was closed amid Friday’s unrest, re-opened on Saturday. Hundreds of tourists and other foreigners have been trapped there.

Mr Ben Ali’s plane refuelled in Sardinia, before going on to Saudi Arabia The BBC’s Wyre Davies in Tunis says people are now waiting for some indication that the interim administration is prepared to bring in widespread economic and political changes…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Middle East

Christians’ Plight in Middle East ‘Tragic, ‘ Says Catholic Leader [Video]

For a quarter of a century Patriarch Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir has been Lebanon’s most influential religious representative. Patriarch Sfeir is the Head of the Maronite Catholic Church and such is his authority that when he speaks, both Christians and Muslims listen. Now aged 90, Patriarch Sfeir rarely gives interviews but he made an exception for CNN’s Inside the Middle East. Here he talks about the issues facing Christians in the Middle East and how all Lebanese must make every effort for peace not war. Patriarch Sfeir: The current situation of the Christians is tragic, by and large because many of them are leaving, especially those living in Iraq who travel to a much safer environment like the United States, Europe or elsewhere. This is why they need to be reassured so they can go back to their brothers where they reside and to the governments who rule the lands. CNN: Is there any clear number of the Christians in the Middle East? PS: I don’t have numbers, but it seems that the number of the Christians who (have) left Iraq is getting larger…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Lebanon: Christians Are a Ferment of Modernity in the Arab World

They are source of richness for the future even if their presence is deemed at times “undesirable”. Islam is going through a phase of change, but politics must be separate from religion. Christians remain a community “thirsty for modernity”; without their presence, the Arab world “has no future”.

Beirut (AsiaNews) — Have Christians “ceased to count” as Pierre Valognes’ “Vie et mort des chrétiens d’Orient” (Life and death of Eastern Christians) suggests? Are they a “race on their way to extinction” as a diplomat said privately? Alternatively, will they one day, like American Indians, end up in reserves because their civilisation has been replaced by one technologically better equipped? Everything is possible because history is one huge graveyard of civilisations. However, will it be the case?

This is not a simple question, first because today’s Arab (and Western world) has been irreversibly shaped and brought together by Christian ideas. The Arab world’s way of thinking is partly Christian in nature. They continue to shape our present and future. Of course, by Christian we do not mean Christian dogmas, but the way of being, a model of the relationship between faith and reason, between the temporal and the spiritual, the individual and the collective.

But first, we must question as a matter of principle the term “Eastern Christians”, which comes from the West and reflects a European representation. The notion of Eastern Christians has as much to do with the Christians of the Arab world as a Christmas tree made in China has to do with a Christmas tree from the Black Forest. It is form without substance, a hoax, a convention. With such conceptual tools, we shall not go very far.

Bronze wall

To measure and assess the future of Christians in the Arab world, we must, on the one hand, know the history of that world and gauge how much it has been permeated by them, whilst on the other, we must come to grips with the formidable bronze wall, epistemological, philosophical and historical that it and Islam are facing right now. We must equally consider the political and economic reality of the Arab world, and its ruling classes, to know what turmoil is permeating it. We must go beyond the brute political and military forces that are shaping the present, however tragic they may be, to dig deeper.

If we do this, we shall then be able to understand that in the universities, one of the greatest cultural achievements of Christian civilisation, the Arab world and Islam are being challenged by critical reason and its exegetic and historical tools. It is not Christianity, but Islam, which some are trying to cast in an Islamist form, that is currently undergoing the most profound mutation in its history, although Arab Christians are also going through a phase in which they are losing their religious and civic rights, including the right to work in the public sector, the right to rebuild a church wall or the right just to sit in front of their homes.

One example of the challenges Islam is facing comes from the leader of the Islamic Revolution, Ali Khamenei, who has already decreed in advance that the conclusions the International Tribunal on Lebanon will reach in regards to the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005 are “null and void”.

This is the “bronze wall” referred to above. If it were merely political, this opposition could be undoubtedly justified. However, this is not what it is about because it comes as a political-religious judgment from the Wali el-Fakih, Iran’s highest Islamic authority. Hence, a political-religious myth undermines reality and that which is rationally self-evident. The interpenetration of the temporal and the spiritual at this level spills over into the absurd. In this specific case, the conflict between legal and religious judgment, between reason and faith, is implacably clear. In fact, how many apparently rational objective facts are in reality epistemological logjams that go unnoticed.

Creating civilisation

Syrian-born poet Adonis said that the Arab-Islamic world faces a challenge, that of “producing civilisation rather than consuming it”. Critical of religion, Adonis is even more so of Arab regimes, which, whether for political or religious reasons, impose limits beyond which thinking cannot go, thus impoverishing the spirit so that it inevitably falls into propaganda and platitudes. Why is it so? How can we break free of this? These are questions Arab regimes must ask, questions that run parallel to those raised by the Christian presence, which is sometimes seen as undesirable.

A second question that follows is about the future of an Arab world that loses its Christians and becomes exclusively Islamic. A number of books that explain the matter have been released. One of the most recent is “Les chrétiens d’Orient, vitalité, souffrance, avenir” (Eastern Christians, vitality, suffering and future) by French journalist Jean-Michel Cadiot, distributed by Salvator (Paris).

Cadiot is the author of several essays on the Middle East, on French politics and Christian-inspired democracy. He is the vice president of the “Association française d’entraide aux minorite’s d’Orient (French Mutual Aid Association for Eastern Minorities). His book is full of facts and figures, making it a bit of a dry read. However, he aims to pass onto the reader everything there is to know, even if the price is a slower pace of reading. It is worth paying though because the book goes beyond the beaten path to show how Christians are a source of modernity in the Arab world.

Cadiot looks at history but also at the current situation of these “Eastern Christians,” calmly adding an unusual geopolitical analysis to a theological approach that does not hide the terrible trials they have experienced. He also reveals a vision of the future, noting that, “faithful to their traditions and their rituals, awfully touched by war and oppression, some one hundred million Eastern Christians constitute a dynamic community, thirsty of modernity and justice, but also recognition and respect.”

It is clear that the future of Eastern Christians is closely linked to that of the Arab world. At the same time, the Arab world has no future without its Christians, at least as part of the modern world, because the rise of the individual, his aspiration for freedom, his individual consciousness, and the principle that he is the bearer of inalienable rights like freedom of religion and freedom of conscience are at the core of modernity. This type of process cannot be only for a few—it will be either for all or for none at all.

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

Lebanon: Terror Group Says it Will Name Prime Minister

‘Obama administration just gifted Lebanon to Iran’

Hezbollah, considered by the United States and others to be a terrorist organization, says it will pick the next prime minister of Lebanon after it decides whether it will run — or just control — the government, according to a report from Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin.

The head of the Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc, Mohammed Raad, said the group will name a person with a “history of national resistance” to head the new Lebanese power structure.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Turkish Call to Destroy Statue Further Blow to Ties: Armenia

Armenia said Friday that a call by the Turkish prime minister to destroy a monument to friendship between the two nations was a further blow to already strained relations.

“This statement could be a new obstacle to Armenian-Turkish rapprochement,” Armenian Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian told a news conference in Yerevan.

On a visit to the eastern Turkish town of Kars Sunday, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan described the monument as a “monstrosity” and urged the local mayor to demolish it, according to media reports.

The 30-meter (100-foot) unfinished concrete statue, depicting two figures emerging from one human shape, was commissioned to emphasize friendship between the two neighbors, long divided by bloody history and mistrust.

The Turkish culture minister later insisted that Erdogan had been misunderstood and that the authorities would not demolish the statue.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Two More Americans Killed by Great Society Abroad

by Diana West

Just as the Great Society didn’t work in our own country on our own people, the Great Society Abroad doesn’t work on alien peoples in foreign cultures, either. It didn’t work in Vietnam, as discussed here by the late Peter Braestrup, and it doesn’t work in Iraq or Afghanistan. This means that it’s not a military defeat that faces us on what I wish were imminent withdrawal from the umma (oh, happy day, and good riddance), but rather another costly validation of the fact that social engineering doesn’t work, even with guns.

The civilian leadership and the military brass must be held accountable for this travesty.

From the Associated Press:

BAGHDAD — Two U.S. troops were killed Saturday by an Iraqi soldier who apparently smuggled real bullets into a training exercise and opened fire, raising fresh concerns about the nation’s security forces as the Americans prepare to leave by the end of this year.

A U.S. military official said the shooter was immediately killed by American soldiers who were running the morning drill at a training center on a U.S. base in the northern city of Mosul. The U.S. official said the exercise was not meant to involve live ammunition, and an Iraqi army officer said the shooting appeared to have been planned.

Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information. A U.S. statement confirmed that two soldiers were killed and a third was wounded by small-arms fire by what the military described as “an individual wearing an Iraqi army uniform.”

“This incident occurred during a training event being conducted by U.S. forces as part of their advise and assist mission with Iraqi security forces,” the U.S. military said in a statement.

The Americans were not identified pending notification of next of kin, and the statement provided few other details. The U.S. troops were from the 4th Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, based at Ft. Hood, Texas…

           — Hat tip: Diana West[Return to headlines]


Russia Nears Arms Pact Approval, Warns on Pullout

Russia’s parliament moved closer to approving a landmark arms reduction treaty with Washington Friday by amending domestic legislation to stress that Moscow could withdraw from the pact if it felt threatened by the West. The amendments required for Russia to ratify the New START treaty do not change the pact itself and were introduced before the second of three ratification votes in the State Duma, the lower house of parliament. The U.S. Senate included its own interpretations of the treaty — the centrepiece of a “reset” that has improved long-strained relations between Moscow and Washington — when it voted to ratify it last month.

New START will commit each side to ceilings of 1,550 warheads on deployed strategic missiles and bombers within seven years and establish verification rules to replace those that expired in 2009 with the 1991 START I treaty. Analysts say rejection of the treaty by Russia’s parliament, dominated by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s ruling United Russia party, is out of the question. The amendments enabled Russia to underscore how it views the pact. Duma international affairs committee chairman Konstantin Kosachyov said the amendments would “restore balance” after the U.S. Senate irked Russia with its interpretations of the treaty. The amendments stipulate that Russia could withdraw if military deployments or even plans by the United States or NATO jeopardize its security. They highlight lingering rifts over U.S. plans for a European anti-missile shield and Russian concerns over other weapons it fears the United States or NATO could deploy. A missile system that weakens Russia’s nuclear arsenal would “force us to use the article of the treaty that provides for the withdrawal of a state that feels violated in terms of security,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told the Duma, Interfax reported…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Russia Launches Arms Race With New Intercontinental Ballistic Missile

Russia is developing a replacement for the world’s most devastating intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in a move that risks reviving a global nuclear arms race.

Work on the new missile, which has yet to be given a name, started in Moscow in 2009 and could be wrapped up as early as 2017, the head of the secretive military industrial corporation helping develop it has revealed.

In comments to Russian news agency ITAR-TASS that went largely unnoticed, the head of Rosobshemash said the new missile would be capable of overcoming any nuclear missile shield that the Americans or indeed anyone else might build.

“This applies in the fullest sense to the USA’s anti-missile defence system and to Nato’s (planned) European missile defence system,” said Artur Usenkov.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

South Asia

Indonesia: Major Bank Announces Micro Loans for Migrant Workers

Jakarta, 5 Jan. (AKI/Jakarta Post) — Indonesia’s fourth-largest lender by assets, state-owned bank Bank BNI, is eyeing Indonesian migrant workers overseas as a new market for its micro loans.

Such workers employed at oil palm plantations in Malaysia were among the bank’s main targets for the product, BNI’s general manager for micro loans, Slamet Djumantoro, said Wednesday.

“BNI prefers formal sector workers because they are less vulnerable to the condition of the host countries,” he said.

Slamet said that to be eligible for a micro loan, the workers needed to have secured a job offer from an employer, which was then expected to deposit funds with BNI.

Ronny Venir, deputy manager of the bank’s micro loans division, said so far BNI had disbursedapproximately 222,000 dollars to migrant workers from the East Java town of Kediri.

In mid-December, the government launched a programme for Indonesian migrant workers overseas aimed at supporting their employment there and to reintegrate in Indonesia when they return home.

Local banks are expected to take part in the programme.

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

Pakistan: Extremists Rally to Support Governor’s Killer and Blast Pope

ISLAMIC extremists rallied in support of the assassin of a liberal Pakistani governor yesterday. They also condemned Pope Benedict XVI’s call for the repeal of blasphemy laws that stipulate the death penalty for insulting Islam.

Fundamentalists have been fomenting protests to prevent any dilution of laws which have seen a Christian woman, Asia Bibi, sentenced to death for allegedly insulting the Prophet Muhammad. Prominent among critics of the law was governor Salman Taseer, who was gunned down by a policeman last week who later told media he was motivated by Mr Taseer’s stance on the blasphemy laws.

Around 1,000 protesters gathered near the house of killer Mumtaz Qadri in Rawalpindi, a city close to the capital, Islamabad, carrying banners of support. Elsewhere, protesters took to the streets in the port city of Karachi and two other cities in support of the laws and against the Pope.

“Pope Benedict’s statement is an attack on the hearts of Muslims,” read one placard.

Last week, some 40,000 people protested in Karachi in support of Qadri.

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

Benedict spoke out against the blasphemy laws on Monday, saying they were being used as a pretext for attacks on Christians. Also in Karachi, police said ten people had been killed over the past 24 hours in what appears to be a fresh round of ethnic and political violence.

Police officer Rafiq Gul said the deaths were “target killings”, the phrase used by authorities to describe political or ethnically motivated murders…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Pakistan: Muslims Proud of Beating Christians

Two Christian women were beaten and publically humiliated by Muslims in Pakistan by an angry mob over accusations of blasphemy. According to local media reports, the two women and their families are now in hiding for fear of being killed.

According to Pakistani daily, The Express Tribune, a male member of the family said over the telephone, “None of our relatives is ready to let us stay with them. They fear the wrath of the extremists, particularly after the assassination of Salmaan Taseer.” Taseer was a member of the Pakistani government recently assassinated for having advocated clemency for those accused of violating Islamic religious law. His assassin, Malik Mumtaz Qadri, has been widely celebrated by Islamic religious leaders in Pakistan and elsewhere in the Muslim world for his deed.

According to the family, the allegations stem from a dispute between Amina, a Muslim, and her sister-in-law Zahira, a Christian, in an East Lahore locality. The two got into an argument on January 11. While the disagreement appeared to have been settled, on January 12, after her husband Zahid had gone to work, Amina walked out onto the street and started shouting that Zahira had defamed Muhammad, the founder of Islam.

A short while later, a group of men led by Muhammad Sameer, a member of an Islamic religious organization, forced their way into the house and started beating Zahira, said another of her brothers, Sohail. “Other men and women from the neighbourhood started gathering at the house too and they beat up my sister and mother. They were the only people in the house,” he said. Khadim Hazoor, Sameer’s son-in-law and another participant in the beating, said that the women’s faces are now black and blue. They were also forced to wear necklaces of shoes and paraded on donkeys to humiliate them. He said the women denied blaspheming and repeatedly touched their feet begging for mercy.

“We tried our best to get her to confess her crime,” Sameer told the press. As a member of an Islamic religious organization, he said he could not tolerate any defamation of his namesake. He belongs to the same organization as the assassin Qadri…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Pakistan: Muslim Villager Allegedly Rapes Sixth Christian Girl

A Muslim who allegedly confessed to sexually assaulting five Christian girls raped a 10-year-old Catholic girl in Punjab Province last month, according to her family.

Tarkhani police have charged 25-year-old Muhammad Aftab, also known as Chandu, with raping a minor (section 376 of the Pakistan Penal Code) in a sugar cane field in Village 226-GB, according to First Information Report (FIR) No. 429 at the Tarkhani Police Station. Aftab has been arrested and remanded to Central Jail Faisalabad.


“It’s not the first time he has raped a minor girl,” Abid Masih said. ”He has raped at least five little Christian girls before this, but those families under pressure kept their mouths shut, and Christians also tried to force us to keep quiet and refrain from filing a police case, as they were fearful that it might worsen the relations between Christian and Muslim villagers.”

Area sources said local Christians were angry with the family of Yousaf Masih for taking legal action against the rapist, believing that it would damage relations between Muslims and Christians.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Pakistan: Radical Islamists Demonstrate Against the Pope Throughout Punjab

The protests took place yesterday in Karachi, Lahore and Rawalpindi, involving the main political parties and radical groups in Pakistan. Statements of Benedict XVI for the repeal of the blasphemy law defined as “an attack on the hearts of Muslims.”

Karachi (AsiaNews) — Islamic extremist groups and radical political parties yesterday demonstrated throughout Punjab against the Pope’s call to repeal the blasphemy law. The statements of Benedict XVI have been called “an attack on the hearts of Muslims.” In his speech to diplomats, the Pope has in fact cited the death of Salman Taseer, Governor of Punjab, who was killed last Jan. 4 for his criticism of the blasphemy law . The demonstrations were held in Karachi, Lahore and Rawalpindi by the Tehrik-e-Tahaffuz Namoos-e-Risalat, an alliance of Islamic groups opposed to any attempt to amend or repeal of the law. Among them also radical parties Jamaat — ud Dawah ( Jud), Tehrik, Jamaat-e-Islami, Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl.

During the protests, Jud leader, Hafiz Saifullah Masoor, criticized the Pope for his support of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death in 2009 on charges of insulting the prophet Muhammad.

Amir Ameerul Azeem of Jamaat-e-Islami, accused the government instead of “cowardice” in its handling of the Aafia Siddiqui case, a Pakistani woman detained in the U.S. on charges of terrorism. In addition to demanding an official protest against the statements of the Pope, Azeem has ordered the withdrawal of all the amendments made in parliament against the blasphemy law.

The leader added that another big protest will be held in Lahore on 30 January to “force the rulers not to play with the sentiments of Muslims.”

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

Far East

Alarm in Japan for Child Judo Deaths

Families are concerned, especially now that the government wants to make the martial art compulsory in all schools by 2012. The Parents’ Association Japan Judo Accident Victims demands precise safety standards. Since 1983 at least 110 have died during training, victims of a “military culture” imposed by ignorant instructors on young students.

Tokyo (AsiaNews / Agencies) — According to research, on average four children die during judo classes every year in Japan. The dramatic statistics worry parents, especially now that the country is to make the sport compulsory in schools as of 2012.

The parents’ association Japan Judo Accident Victims is urging the government to impose strict safety rules on judo lessons in schools. The organization was created in March 2010 by Yoshihiro Murakawa. The man is convinced that his grandson Koji, 12, died as a result of a “reckless” training session. Murakawa said: “Many factors are involved here. First of all, many judo instructors at Japanese schools are too ignorant about what to do when a serious incident occurs”. He also criticized those teachers who neglect simple safety measures, such as the right to grant rest to the children.

Koji’s mother had warned the judo master of the child’s asthma problems when she signed him up for the course in a school in Shiga Prefecture (Kansai region, in the centre of Honshu island). In 2009, the boy lost consciousness during a randori (a simulation of combat) against larger partners, despite his obvious fatigue. Koji went into a coma and died a month later. Mr. Murakawa’s complaint is not against the martial art in itself, but a “military culture” imposed by judo masters, that allows for punches and kicks as a method of teaching a rigid discipline to students. “The children — he said — for fear of being beaten must respect their coach, and never ask to rest”.

According to research conducted by Ryo Uchida, a professor at Aichi University of Education, since 1983 at least 110 children were killed while practicing judo. Between 2009 and 2010, as reported by a local newspaper, some 13 children have died. The latest case occurred last November and involved a child of six years of age.

“Judo is an inspiring sport and very educative to one’s mind,” Uchida said. “But schools must have a safety guideline “

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

Third of Young Japanese Men Not Interested in Sex

More than a third of Japanese males aged between 16 and 19 have no interest in or are actively averse to sex, according to a government survey.

Japan’s birth rate stands at 1.21 per family, far below the rate of 2.08 babies that is required for a stable population.

As of March 2009, Japan’s total population stood at just over 127 million, but that figure is projected to decline to 95 million by 2050. And if more drastic measures fail to encourage people to have sex — and hence children — then there will be a mere 47.7 million Japanese at the turn of the next century.

According to the survey of 671 men and 869 women, issued by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, 35.1 per cent of men aged 16 to 19 said they are not interested in or averse to sex, more than double the 17.5 per cent of men in the previous study in 2008.

“Obviously, the most important reason for Japan’s declining birth rate is that people are not having sex,” Dr. Kunio Kitamura, head of the Japan Family Planning Association, told The Daily Telegraph.

“Combined with the rising number of elderly people, this population imbalance is a major problem,” he said.

Equally worrying, he said, is the increase in the number of married couples who are officially recognised as “sexless,” meaning they have not had sex for more than one month.

The figure has risen to 40.8 percent of all married couples, up from 36.5 percent two years ago and 31.9 percent in 2004.

The government has attempted a series of campaigns to encourage couples to have more children — from making companies insist that their staff leave work at 6pm to increasing child allowances — but none of that is gong to have an impact if people are not going to have sex, Kitamura said.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Sub-Saharan Africa

Al Qaeda’s North African Influence

The tragedy in Tucson has eclipsed other news this past week. On the same day that the shooting took place, a shoot-out took place in Mali, northwest Africa, in which nine people died. Al Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM), the North African branch of the Al Qaeda network, had only the day before kidnapped two young French men in Niger.

The two men who were kidnapped were Vincent Delory (left in picture) and Antoine de Leocour, whose families live near Lille in northeastern France. They were eating a meal in a restaurant in Niamey, capital of Niger, when they were snatched by gunmen who had white vans. They were taken across the border into Mali and were held in the desert, with the movements tracked by spy planes. An attempt to free the two men led to a firefight in which the two hostages died, along with four kidnappers, and three policemen from Niger. The rescue was to have involved French commandos in helicopters, but there appears to have been killing before they arrived.

AQIM announced that: “Two heroic clashes between the mujahideen and the French and Niger forces took place and resulted in a catastrophic failure to free the two hostages.”

One of the murdered hostages, Antoine de Leocour, was planning to marry a Muslim woman from Niger, and this would have been seen as forbidden by Islamists (unless he had converted to Islam). The wedding was due to have taken place on the Saturday that he and M. Delory were killed. The two men had been friends since childhood. The circumstances of the botched rescue attempt are now being discussed. French Prime Minister Francois Fillon had said on Monday that only French forces were involved in the firefight.

Currently, AQIM is holding seven people whom it kidnapped in September. Five of these are French, one hostage is from Togo and another is from Madagascar. These individuals are still in captivity, while AQIM is looking for a ransom of 7 million Euros ($9.34 million U.S.). They are also urging a repeal of the burka ban in France, which will be enacted as law in early 2012.

AQIM appear to have control over the Mali desert, and according to Olivier Guitta, they are allowing FARC to import drugs from South America into Europe by using the lawless Sahel region of Africa as a smuggling conduit. FARC (Colombian drug and terror group Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia) already shares operations in Central America with Hizbollah, and FARC has established a solid base in West Africa for its drug smuggling operations. Guitta’s suggestion that AQIM has linked up with FARC to protect a drug transit route seems plausible.

Al Qaeda’s Somali affiliate, Al Shabaab, now has control of most of the country, and there are fears that Somalia and four other countries (Yemen, Mauritania, Mali and Niger) could soon fall under al Qaeda’s control. These fears are more prescient — the government of Lebanon has recently collapsed due to Iran and Hizbollah’s influence. The collapse of Lebanon’s government has been a political event, not marked by civil unrest…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Greens Lie, Africans Die

Falsehoods about insecticides and bednets continue to leave a path of destruction and death

We would never tolerate 18% as “good enough,” if American or European kids’ lives were at stake, or if a 70-90% reduction in disease, misery and death rates were possible. And it would be possible, if we could end the lies and obstructionism that restrict access to mosquito killers and repellants that can dramatically reduce infection rates and the need to treat a quarter-billion cases of malaria every year.

But the lies and obstruction are prevalent, and effective. Here are just a few of the most egregious.

Lies and obstruction: “Bednets are more cost-effective than indoor spraying”

“Bednets are more cost-effective than indoor spraying.” This assertion is backed by several studies that anti-pesticide groups and ITN manufacturers allegedly financed. However, the studies compare bednets with IRS using pyrethroids like ICON, instead of DDT. Pyrethroids are far more expensive and must be applied more often than DDT, which raises IRS costs significantly. The studies also fail to include all the costs associated with manufacturing and distributing the nets. Independent analyses found that nets are actually four times more expensive than spraying the inside walls of homes with DDT.

Much more important, spraying DDT once or twice a year keeps 80% of mosquitoes from entering the home, irritates those that do enter, so they leave without biting, and kills any that land. No other chemical, at any price, has these repellency and irritation features. DDT helps doctors treat more patients with often scarce ACT drugs and dramatically slash disease and death rates — often by 90% or more.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Somali Women Say Islamists Becoming More Draconian

Women living in areas controlled by Somalia’s Islamists say they are increasingly the target of more draconian rules meted out by the rebels bent on enforcing their ideologies.

In the latest decree by the al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab group that governs most of southern Somalia, women in the seaside town of Kismayu have been banned from carrying out barter trade with the male crews of ships calling at the port.

The women have also been told they cannot shake any male’s hands in public, travel on their own, sell anything or work in an office.

“A woman cannot be seen with a man from another country at the port. The punishment for any woman caught near the port or foreign vessels will be arrest,” a senior al Shabaab commander said in a statement this week.

The al Shabaab group — which means “the youth” in Arabic — have in the past banned movies, musical ringtones, dancing at wedding ceremonies and watching soccer.

Many Kismayu women, mostly widowed or divorced, have survived for years solely from selling or bartering vegetables and fruits for fuel and other commodities from ship crews.

“I have three children and raise them from the little I earn from exchanging goods at the seaport, but now I can’t do my job,” Hawa Olow told Reuters in a telephone conversation.

Al Shabaab has also prescribed that the women must buy and wear uniform robes that only it supplies…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]


Quebec Immigration Consultant Arrested in Fraud Ring

TORONTO — The RCMP has arrested a Quebec immigration consultant accused of providing Canadian citizenship documents to hundreds of people in the Middle East so they could collect benefits and tax refunds from Ottawa.

Ahmad El-Akhal, 62, was arrested Thursday morning following a 2-1/2-year investigation by the RCMP’s Immigration and Passport and Commercial Crimes sections. His wife was also arrested as well as a suspected accomplice in Mississauga.

The alleged fraud ring is accused of securing immigrant status and citizenship for more than 300 residents of Lebanon and other Middle East countries and then helping them bilk the Canadian government of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“Once they received documents this guy would fill out the tax returns and documents to get benefits back in the names of these people,” said RCMP Sgt. Marc LaPorte. “They were getting tax refunds, Goods and Services Tax rebates, child credit tax benefits, so the whole gamut.”

Mr. El-Akhal, who lives in L’ile-Bizard, Que., has been charged with 58 counts including forgery and fraud. His wife Tahani Mohamad Hassan El-Akhal, 53, was charged with possession of proceeds obtained by crime in the amount of $155,000.

Also charged was Mississauga resident Hassan Ali Saif, 44, who faces three charges under the Citizenship Act. “He was the leasor of some of the residences. And also he forged lease agreements and created mail addresses for these people. He actually collected the mail and gathered the information and sent it back to Montreal,” Sgt. LaPorte said.

All three are to appear in court in Brampton on Friday.

The alleged crimes go back as far as 1999. The investigation began in 2008 after Citizenship and Immigration Canada noticed that 320 permanent residence applicants had given the same 29 home addresses in Canada.

The RCMP traced 260 of the applications and found they were all linked to Mr. El-Akhal. None of those who secured citizenship and government benefits through Mr. El-Akhal actually lived in Canada.

“Basically, this individual passed himself off as an immigration consultant and assisted these people in obtaining permanent resident status and submitted the applications for them,” said Sgt. LaPorte, the RCMP spokesman for Ontario.

The Canada Revenue Agency was also involved.

“The RCMP alleges that several hundred foreign nationals not residing in Canada used fraudulent means to obtain Canadian Citizenship and Canadian travel documents,” the RCMP said in a statement Thursday afternoon.

“In addition, it is alleged that false Income Tax returns were filed for individuals, allowing them to receive improperly benefits and tax refunds from the Canada Revenue Agency of approximately $500,000.”

           — Hat tip: Vlad Tepes[Return to headlines]

‘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.

Friends and neighbours in London and Sweden said the only man who ever visited her flat was husband Adan. But in Sweden she registered herself as having married a 41-year-old named Hassan Mohamed Osman in 2007.

And the father of her sixth child, born in 2009, was given as Abdirashid Mohamed Omar, a Somali who arrived in Britain from Kenya in 2006 claiming to be the husband of Amina Muse. He was granted indefinite leave to remain as her spouse.

Abdulle was exposed when she fell out with some members of her family who revealed her fraud to the authorities.

A former friend in London said: ‘She was very secretive. I never saw her with a husband in six years. She changed her mobile phone number every day, you could not contact her.

‘She went back and forth to Gothenburg a lot and she once went to Africa, but via Sweden even though it was more expensive.’

Jailing her for four-and-a-half years at Harrow Crown Court for multiple counts of fraud and deception, Judge Stephen Holt described her actions as a professionally planned ‘cynical and dishonest manipulation of the whole system of asylum’.

Abdulle, who showed no remorse, cannot be deported after finishing her sentence because she was granted British citizenship in 2009.

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

Culture Wars

UK: Libraries Are Just for the Privileged White Middle Class… Says White Middle-Class Quango Chief

A quango chief has enraged campaigners fighting to stop the mass closure of public libraries by claiming they are the preserve of ‘the privileged, mainly white, middle class’.

Roy Clare, chief executive of the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, suggested dozens of local protest groups were out of date, commenting: ‘Public libraries will not be preserved by wishful thinking and aspic.’

Almost 400 libraries nationwide are threatened with closure, and with half of councils yet to announce their plans the total could reach 800.

In some counties more than half of all libraries are set to close, with rural areas worst hit by the spending cuts.

But this week in a controversial email to librarians, many of whom face losing their jobs, Mr Clare urged them to ‘nourish change and embrace development’.

The MLA, which ‘promotes best practice’ in libraries, and Mr Clare’s £127,000 a year job are also being axed, but campaigners who fear communities will be badly damaged by the loss of so many libraries have reacted furiously to his comments.

Children’s author Alan Gibbons said the remarks were ‘a very cheap shot’.

He said: ‘Around the country campaigners from all walks of life are out petitioning and protesting to defend their libraries.

‘Groups other than the “white middle class” are well-represented because libraries serve the whole community.’

Mr Gibbons said the planned closures were ‘wholly disproportionate, unnecessary and fail even to achieve the Government’s stated aim of saving substantial amounts of money’.

He added: ‘What’s more, some of the libraries targeted for closure have only recently been refurbished.

‘This is depressing in the extreme and utterly nonsensical.’ A spokesman for Voices For The Library campaign group, a head librarian who asked not to be named, said he was ‘shocked and disgusted’ by Mr Clare’s comments.

One library under threat is in Hesters Way, Cheltenham, a deprived area where a significant proportion of the population is unemployed or on minimum wages. It is a hub of the community and provides the only access many have to the internet.

Campaigner Johanna Anderson, an academic librarian at the University of Gloucestershire, said: ‘We have been overwhelmed by support from people of all backgrounds.

‘What Roy Clare is saying is complete and utter nonsense.’

The most savage cuts announced to date are in the Isle of Wight, which is set to lose nine of its 11 libraries.

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]


Al-Qaeda to Unleash Western Jihadis

ISLAMABAD — With the Afghan war entering its 10th year, completely undeterred by the American drone strikes in the Pakistani tribal region, al-Qaeda is putting the final touches to plans to recruit, train and launch Western Caucasians in their countries; the aim is to spread the flames of the South Asian war theater to the West.

Al-Qaeda began planning the operation in 2002, after the fall in late 2001 of the Taliban in Afghanistan, where the group had been given sanctuary. Al-Qaeda had regrouped in Pakistan’s South Waziristan tribal area on the border with Afghanistan, and used this base to developed propaganda media structures to recruit in the West. (See The legacy of Nek Mohammed Asia Times Online, July 20, 2004.)

Now, after eight years, a picture is emerging that shows the failure of Western intelligence to asses the real pulse of their societies, and the inability of North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces to prevent Afghanistan from once again becoming the nerve center of al-Qaeda’s terror operations.

Canadians head to North Waziristan

Well-placed Taliban sources say that a group of Canadian militants is receiving jihadi training in al-Qaeda camps in North Waziristan for terror attacks in Canada, whose troops are a part of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.

Arif Wazir, a local militant of Darpakhel in North Waziristan told Asia Times Online, “In the first stage of their journey, the Canadians went to Afghanistan in February 2010; there were 12 of them. After nine months, al-Qaeda’s leaders decided to send them to North Waziristan and they reached Darpakhel in November last year.

“In Afghanistan they received basic jihadi training, while currently they are busy doing some special courses. Their main learning is how to use sophisticated weapons, and how to connect with local smuggling networks in North America. They are also learning how to use ordinary material like sugar and basic chemicals to make powerful explosives. These militants will then return to their country to execute al-Qaeda’s plan of targeting big cities in Canada,” the militant said.

According to available information, the Canadians joined the Egyptian militant organization Jihad al-Islami (JAI), which then helped them reach Afghanistan. The head of the group goes by the alias of Abu Shahid. The 30-year-old, who sports a golden beard, converted to Islam in 2007 and joined the JAI, with which he works to collect funds for the organization. Shahid is responsible for all of the activities of the Canadians in North Waziristan. According to Taliban sources, the 12 will remain in the tribal belt until it is felt that they are sufficiently trained to successfully carry out terror activities in Canada. Shahid apparently is confident he can recruit more Canadians.

The sources gave the names of some of the Canadians undergoing training. These could not be independently verified and include: Jeam Paull (local name Sadiq Ullah), Leman Langlois (Sana Ullah), James Richard (Abdur Rehman), Otto Paul (Abu Usman), Thomas (Abdullah) and Paul Gall (Hafiz Ullah).

Various militants of other nationalities are also being trained in North Waziristan, probably the most lawless part of Pakistan. Apart from Arab and Central Asian militants, one can find jihadis from the United States, Britain and Germany…

           — Hat tip: SF[Return to headlines]

Freedom in Decline Worldwide: US Report

Global freedom declined for a fifth straight year in 2010 as authoritarian regimes dug in worldwide and crime and unrest plagued democracies like Mexico, a US watchdog said Thursday. In “Freedom in the World 2011” the Washington-based Freedom House said it had documented the longest continuous period of decline since it began compiling the annual index nearly 40 years ago.

“A total of 25 countries showed significant declines in 2010, more than double the 11 countries exhibiting noteworthy gains,” the group said.

“Authoritarian regimes like those in China, Egypt, Iran, Russia, and Venezuela continued to step up repressive measures with little significant resistance from the democratic world,” it said.

The recent decline “threatens gains dating to the post-Cold War era in Africa, Latin America, Asia and the former Soviet bloc.”

The report classifies countries as free, partly free or not free based on individuals’ ability to exercise political and civil rights, taking into account political systems and other factors like war and crime.

Mexico, which along with Ukraine, Djibouti and Ethiopia saw its status decline, moved from free to partly free “as a result of the government’s inability to stem the tide of violence by drug-trafficking groups,” it said.

More than 30,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence in Mexico since 2006, when the newly-elected President Felipe Calderon launched a massive crackdown on cartels.

Ukraine’s demotion, also from free to partly free, owed to “deteriorating levels of press freedom, instances of election fraud and growing politicization of the judiciary,” the Freedom House report said.

The Middle East and North Africa continued to lead the world in lack of freedom following a “multi-year decline from an already-low democratic baseline,” the group said…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]