Saturday, January 11, 2003

News Feed 20110116

Financial Crisis
»Germany Could Trade Euro Funding for Thrift
»Hedge Funds Bet China is a Bubble Close to Bursting
»Hu Highlights Need for U.S.-China Cooperation, Questions Dollar
»Iran Says $100 a Barrel is Appropriate Price for Oil
»Italy: 200 Sardinian Sheep Farmers Land at Civitavecchia to March on Rome
»UK: Inflexible and Stressful Work ‘Harming Families’
»UK: Taxpayers’ Foreign Aid Being Spent on Salsa Classes and Coffee Mornings in Britain
»USA: Paydown Problems
»Arizona Shooting: Spike in Death Threats Against Sarah Palin
»Charles Johnson’s Crackpot Hero Arrested for Threatening to Kill Tea Party Leader on National TV
»I Do Not Want Civil Discourse
»Officials: CAIR Obstructs FBI Terror Probes
»Why Leftists Are Far Likelier to Use Political Violence Than Conservatives
Europe and the EU
»2011 ‘Year of Rockets’ For Europe
»Europe Clings to Her Cable Industry
»Foreign Minister Martin in Challenge to Irish PM Cowen
»German Left Party Calls for Introduction of Communism
»Germany: The Village Where the Neo-Nazis Rule
»Irish PM Brian Cowen Statement on Party Leadership Due
»Italy: Berlusconi Shield Ruling Hailed by Left, Slammed by Right
»Italy: Berlusconi Shield Law Partly Struck Down
»Italy’s Supreme Court Grants Go-Ahead on Crucial Referenda
»Le Pen Junior Inherits French Far-Right Leadership
»Netherlands: Prime Minister Says Anti-Islam PVV Should Support Afghan Mission
»Taseer’s Assassination: Extremism of British Pakistanis Exposed
»The Shock Jocks at the Gate
»UK: ‘I’m the Victim of Smears’: Undercover Policeman Denies Bedding a String of Women During His Eight Years With Eco-Warriors
»UK: ‘Sickness’ That Lets Some Asian Men See Western Women as Sexual Prey
»UK: Healthcare on Brink of Cultural Revolution
»UK: Muslim Cultural Group to Buy Shotton Lane Social Club
»UK: MP Accuses Six Others Over Their Expenses
»UK: New Fathers to Get Ten Months Paid Paternity Leave Under Coalition Plans
»UK: Opposing Illegal Traveller Sites Isn’t Racist, Minister Tells Gipsies’ Leader
»UK: Streets of Hate
»UK: Terror Fear for Summit
»UK:£130k Fund to Tackle Extremism
»US and Germany Develop Secret Spy Satellites
»EU Largest Source of Funding in Bosnia and Herzegovina
»Serbia and Croatia ‘Free States’, Freedom House
»Serbia: Support for EU Membership ‘Hits All-Time Low’
North Africa
»Anne Applebaum — Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution Might Not Install a Democracy
»Anxious West Fears Return of Islamists
»Charting the Dilemma of Arab Rulers
»Egyptian Handed Death Sentence for Copt Killings
»Merkel Offers to Help Tunisia as Tourists Flee
»Morocco: Soldiers Accused of Permitting Arms to Get to Militants
»The Arabs and Tunisia’s Revolution: Will Tunisia’s Revolution Spread?
»The Revolt of Desperate People Will Not Change North Africa
»Tunisia: Dynasties and Successions From Morocco to Egypt
»Tunisia: Al Qaeda Maghreb Chief Wants Tunisians to Rebel
»Tunisian Army Fight Running Street Battles With Gunmen Loyal to the Ousted President
Middle East
»Exiled Tunisian Leader Provokes Backlash From Saudi Bloggers
»Haunted by Violence, Iraqi Christians Flee to Turkey
»Iraq: Baghdad Raids on Alcohol Sellers Stir Fears
»Jordan: Peaceful Demonstrations Against High Cost of Living
»Poll Shows Turkey’s Erdogan Likely to Win Election
»Revolutions, Walk-Outs and Fatwas
»Stuxnet Worm Used Against Iran Was Tested in Israel
»U.S. Anger Over BP ‘Getting Into Bed With KGB’ Over £5bn Arctic Oil Deal
South Asia
»For Pakistani Christians, The Government is Hostage to Islamic Parties on the Blasphemy Issue
»Malaysia: Muslim Work Ban Plan Sparks Outcry
»Pakistan: Italian Govt Pledges €40mln to Alleviate Poverty
»Pakistan: Ex-Minister Calls Prime Minister ‘The Most Corrupt Person in Country’s History’
»Pakistan: Radical Islamists Torch Effigy of Pope Benedict at Protest
»Pakistan: To Blame the West for the Rise of the Taliban is Too Simplistic
»Pakistan: Watching a Nation Embrace Barbarism
Australia — Pacific
»Islamic Head Rejects Claims of Rising Extremism
Latin America
»Venezuela Anger at ‘Mocking’ Colombia Soap Opera
»For 78 Per Cent of Israeli Jews, Immigrants Threaten the Jewishness of the State
»Greek Police Clash With Anti-Migrant Protesters
»Libyan Detention Centres Fill Up Again
»UK: 4 in 5 Brits Want Curb on Migrants: Racial Tension is Growing Worry
Culture Wars
»Serbia: NGO Pushes for Same-Sex Marriage
»Global Food Chain Stretched to the Limit
»The Crazed Smile That Says: It’s the Little Packets of Madness That We Really Need to Fear
»Unilever Chief Warns Over Global Crisis in Food Output

Financial Crisis

Germany Could Trade Euro Funding for Thrift

European heavyweight Germany might back a revamped eurozone rescue fund, but demand a stiff price from partners in the form of tighter economic controls, media and analysts say.

“First the government needs to make up its mind,” ING senior economist Carsten Brzeski told newswire AFP as reports from Berlin suggested it was in the midst of an internal debate on bolstering the European Financial Stability Facility.

Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble said last week the EFSF, which can raise funds on the bond market for debt-laden eurozone countries, should have a bigger lending capacity, but that its overall size should not be altered.

Schäuble told media in Berlin the eurozone needed a “comprehensive package, so that we don’t find ourselves in a situation every few months in which we have to start discussions all over again.”

The EFSF’s nominal size is €440 billion but because funds must be kept in reserve to maintain a top credit rating and obtain low interest rates, its effective capacity is more like €250 billion.

Even with money from the European Commission and International Monetary Fund, the eurozone could come up short if countries like Portugal and Spain follow Ireland’s lead in tapping the facility over the next two years.

A replacement, the European Stabilisation Mechanism (ESM), is to take over in 2013 but powerhouse Germany, which would in theory be called upon to pay the lion’s share of bailouts, is thus positioned to press for long-sought eurozone reforms.

Berlin has resisted an EFSF increase but could relent if eurozone reforms met its specifications, the daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) said.

Belgium’s finance minister wants an overall EU/IMF fund worth €1.5 trillion, while Barclays Capital put funding needs for Ireland, Portugal and Spain at €414 billion until mid-2013.

The figure leaps to more than €one trillion with Italy, another country that could face financing problems, and Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso has urged eurozone members to move quickly on the issue.

But EFSF head Klaus Regling, who is German, said on Saturday in the daily Bild, “there is no emergency” that would force “hasty changes to the European rescue fund.”

German finance ministry spokesman Martin Kreienbaum told reporters, “We will examine the various different mechanisms … and see which screws could or should be turned so that the real amount of loans is higher.”

A key question is what Germany would want for signing off on an increase. Berenberg Bank chief economist Holger Schmieding said he thought it would include “much stricter adherence to the Stability Pact in the future.”

The EU’s Stability and Growth Pact was supposed to underpin Europe’s single currency but its terms have been violated by most eurozone members, including Germany.

Berlin might also seek a “financial markets transactions tax or some other measure” to ensure that the banking sector contributed to EFSF or ESM capital, Schmieding said.

As for closer coordination of economic policies, often mooted as a possible reform aim, he thought it likely only “along the German idea of setting standards for structural reforms, and then nudging countries to move towards such best practice standards.

“A bit like the old Lisbon agenda, but with teeth,” he added in reference to a failed EU plan to make its economy the most competitive in the world by 2010.

Brzeski agreed that Germans would be happy to review others’ budgets but would reject “a new policy in which the Commission or other eurozone countries can tell Berlin to get rid of some tax subsidies, change Hartz IV (unemployment benefits) or introduce a minimum wage.”

He mused half in jest that Berlin could press again for central bank chief Axel Weber to become the next head of the European Central Bank or revive its demand for a eurozone sovereign default mechanism.

Another possibility would be to require debt sustainability analyses for countries seeking EFSF aid, Brzeski said, which could lead to commercial banks, including German ones, taking losses on their sovereign debt holdings.

In fact, the economist concluded, “there is nothing Germany could really get from increasing the EFSF, it’s not tangible, I don’t see a tit for tat.”

In addition, Germans are often bad negotiators on EU matters, Brzeski said.

“They give something instantly but what they get in return is always risky.” But with events nonetheless playing into Berlin’s corner, he joked, maybe “in a year from now we’ll have a stricter Pact, the default possibility and Axel Weber as ECB president.”

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

Hedge Funds Bet China is a Bubble Close to Bursting

For his first-ever speech as Britain’s new Minister of Trade & Industry last week, Lord Green faced a formidable audience of 400 Chinese and British business delegates.

The former chairman of HSBC declared that China’s economic growth figures over the past five years represented an “extraordinary historic event”.

Green didn’t need to go over Britain’s experience during the same period for most to agree that plugging into China’s blistering growth — predicted by the IMF to be 10.5pc this year — was of “vital importance” to the UK.

But even as he spoke a hedge fund manager in Mayfair was poring over spreadsheets of sovereign and corporate credit default swaps, interest rate and foreign exchange options with one aim: to “get short on China”. The manager, who wanted to remain anonymous, said: “The Chinese delegation has said all week that there will be double-digit growth for years to come and the Brits have lapped it up. But the data doesn’t add up. We think we’ve experienced credit bubbles over the past few years, but China is the biggest. And yet the global economy is looking to China as not just a crutch but a springboard out of the recession. It’s crazy.”

He is not alone. Hugh Hendry, a former star of Odey Asset Management, has launched a distressed China fund at Eclectica Asset Management. He follows Mark Hart of Corriente Advisors, the American hedge fund manager who made millions of dollars predicting both the subprime crisis and the European sovereign debt crisis, who started a fund based on the belief that rather than being the “key engine for global growth”, China is an “enormous tail-risk”.

There have been academics and analysts who have argued about the dangers of China’s economy overheating for some time. But for many, the fact that hedge funds, particularly those with track records on previous crises, are launching specific funds is the sign that the bubble is close to bursting.

One academic said: “Economists have contrarian views all the time. But these hedge funds have their shirts on the line and do their analysis carefully. The flurry of ‘distress China’ funds is a sign to sit up.”…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Hu Highlights Need for U.S.-China Cooperation, Questions Dollar

Chinese President Hu Jintao emphasized the need for cooperation with the U.S. in areas from new energy to space ahead of his visit to Washington this week, but he called the present U.S. dollar-dominated currency system a “product of the past” and highlighted moves to turn the yuan into a global currency.

“We both stand to gain from a sound China-U.S. relationship, and lose from confrontation,” Mr. Hu said in written answers to questions from The Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post.

Mr. Hu acknowledged “some differences and sensitive issues between us,” but his tone was generally compromising, and he avoided specific mention of some of the controversial issues that have dogged relations with the U.S. over the past year or so—including U.S. arms sales to Taiwan that led to a freeze in military relations between the world’s sole superpower and its rising Asian rival.

On the economic front, Mr. Hu played down one of the main U.S. arguments for why China should appreciate its currency—that it will help China tame inflation. That is likely to disappoint Washington, which accuses China of unfairly boosting its exports by undervaluing the yuan, making its products cheaper overseas. The topic is expected to be high on U.S. President Barack Obama’s agenda when he meets Mr. Hu at the White House on Wednesday.

Mr. Hu also offered a veiled criticism of efforts by the U.S. Federal Reserve to stimulate growth through huge bond purchases to keep down long-term interest rates, a strategy that China has loudly complained about in the past as fueling inflation in emerging economies, including its own. He said that U.S. monetary policy “has a major impact on global liquidity and capital flows and therefore, the liquidity of the U.S. dollar should be kept at a reasonable and stable level.”…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Iran Says $100 a Barrel is Appropriate Price for Oil

“The price of $100 for oil per barrel is real … OPEC does not need to hold an emergency meeting over the price issue,” Massoud Mirkazemi told a news conference.

Brent crude prices rallied this week to around $98 a barrel while US oil futures were at about $91, well above the $70-$80 range that OPEC’s top exporter Saudi Arabia says is comfortable for both producers and consumers.

One delegate from a Gulf OPEC member state said on Thursday OPEC could hold an emergency meeting if oil prices “exceed $100 and stay there”.

Libya, Ecuador and Venezuela have all said prices need to be higher to help producing nations maintain output.

“None of the OPEC members find $100 concerning,” Mirkazemi said, adding that some members of the producers’ group would still not see any need for an emergency meeting if the price rose to $110 or $120.

Iran holds the rotating OPEC presidency. The next scheduled OPEC meeting is on June 2.

“None of the members have asked for an emergency meeting and I think for a long time there would be no such request,” Mirkazemi said.

Analysts are divided between those who see fundamental strength as the world economy recovers, driving up fuel consumption, and those who focus on differences between today’s relatively well-supplied market and that of 2008, when oil prices raced to an all-time high of nearly $150 a barrel…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Italy: 200 Sardinian Sheep Farmers Land at Civitavecchia to March on Rome

Demonstrators attempting to go on by train blocked after scuffles with police and seizure of five coaches

ROME — More than 200 Sardinian sheep farmers were blocked at Civitavecchia as they attempted to travel to the ministry of agriculture in Rome after disembarking on Tuesday morning from the Olbia ferry. The organisers, hoping to avoid police checks, had not notified the authorities and had arranged for five coaches to take them from Civitavecchia harbour to the capital. But police, Carabinieri and financial police officers were waiting at the dockside for the farmers from the Movimento pastori sardi (MPS). Tempers rose and scuffles ensued.

TWO CHARGED — Following the incidents, all the sheep farmers were charged with taking part in an unauthorised demonstration and two were charged with resisting a public official.

“TREATED LIKE CRIMINALS” — The demonstrators also failed to catch the mid-morning train to Rome’s Termini station. “We’re all family men but they’re treating us like criminals”. Felice Floris, one of the organisers of the protest by 200 Sardinian farmers, sounds more disappointed than angry. “We came with peaceful intentions but they are still preventing us from going anywhere. We’ll be going back to Sardinia with a police escort during the crossing. It’s a disgrace. We’ve been subjected to what amounts to preventive detention along with the coaches, whose drivers have been identified and threatened with charges if they move away. And that’s not all. They’ve also denied us the basic right to get on a train to Rome. And to think that our delegation only wanted to propose to the ministry that a Mediterranean-wide body should be set up to coordinate action by sheep-farming countries against regulations that severely penalise the entire sector”. The farmers feel that they have been tried before they were able to carry out their protest. Many opposition politicians expressed solidarity…

English translation by Giles Watson

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

UK: Inflexible and Stressful Work ‘Harming Families’

Inflexible and stressful jobs are leaving parents racked with guilt and increasingly distant from their children, according to a Demos report.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who has promised to do more for hard-pressed working families, will launch the think tank’s study on Monday.

It wants the government to do more to encourage flexible working practices.

And it says more action is needed at a community level to give struggling and isolated parents greater support.

Long hours

Demos polled 1,017 parents for the Home Front report. It found:

a third of fathers in the UK work more than 48 hours a week, compared with a quarter of men without children

one-in-eight fathers work more than 60 hours a week, and typically, fathers increase their hours after their youngest child reaches the age of six

the number of working mothers has tripled from one in six in 1951 to two in three now, with 6% working more than 48 hours and 3% more than 60 Many parents surveyed said they felt guilty about working so much, a feeling that got worse as children got older, and felt they were less effective parents to their second or third child than their first.

Demos said its study showed those negative feelings were felt equally by parents in well-paid, but stressful middle-class jobs and those in lower-paid, lower-skill occupations…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

UK: Taxpayers’ Foreign Aid Being Spent on Salsa Classes and Coffee Mornings in Britain

Millions of pounds of foreign aid earmarked for impoverished countries is being spent in Britain, it is revealed today.

Despite budget cuts in almost every other Whitehall department, the Department for International Development (DfID) was spared, and has announced £3million spending over the next three years to raise awareness of poorer nations.

In March last year, during the final days of the Labour government, the Department launched a scheme called Global Community Links (GCL) to raise awareness of third world countries.

The scheme enables charities, churches, schools and other organisations to apply for funding for projects intended to educate the public about poorer nations — but the money must be spent in this country.

Grants awarded under the scheme range from £1,000 to £10,000, and some of the projects funded by the the scheme include a malaria awareness workshop in Plymouth, and Afro-Cuban dance gala in Cambridge and an exhibition in Reading about epilepsy in Sierra Leone.

At the beginning of this month Twitter was being used by government officials to encourage more groups to come forward and bid for GCL money.

GCL was set up to replace the much criticised Development Awareness Fund (DAF) which paid for projects such as Brazilian dance classes in east London and global citizenship classes to Devon schoolchildren.

Yesterday the Conservative party revealed that such ‘awareness’ spending under Labour totalled £34million over eight years.

Critics are questioning why the DfID has escaped cuts to its budget, and demanding that the department restrict its spending to projects in poor nations.

Sam Bowman from the Adam Smith Institute told the Sunday Telegraph: ‘It is a huge waste. It is an outrageous use of money to provide propaganda for the government.’

Matthew Sinclair, director of the Taxpayer’s Alliance, said: ‘It is disappointing that…DfID is still spending taxpayer’s money building the case for more development spending, rather than actually focusing on helping the world’s poorest people as it is supposed to.’…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]


Arizona Shooting: Spike in Death Threats Against Sarah Palin

There has been an ‘incredible’ spike in death threats against Sarah Palin in the wake of the Arizona massacre, an aide said today.

The revelation will come as a blow to those like President Barack Obama who have called for ‘healing’ after the tragedy, when a gunman opened fire at a political meet-and-greet in Tucson, Arizona, killing six and wounding 13.

‘There has been an incredible increase in death threats against Mrs Palin since the tragedy in Arizona, since she’s been accused of having the blood of those victims on her hands,’ aide Rebecca Mansour told USA Today.

‘When you start to accuse people of having the blood of innocent people on their hands, it incites violence,’ she was quoted as saying.

The former vice presidential candidate became a lightning rod for criticism after the Tucson massacre over her aggressive political posturing.

Just three days ago President Barack Obama pleaded for an end to bitter political recriminations over the Arizona massacre as he honoured those killed and injured in the shootings…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Charles Johnson’s Crackpot Hero Arrested for Threatening to Kill Tea Party Leader on National TV

Yesterday Charles Johnson was praising this far left crackpot for blaming conservatives for the Tuscon shootings. (One more time: The tea party had nothing to do with the shootings. The shooter was an insane left-wing pothead.)

Flash Forward 24 Hours— Today that same freak was arrested and charged with with threats and intimidation and disorderly conduct.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

I Do Not Want Civil Discourse

For a decade, from the election of Bush 43 forward, the Left has lied and cheated as it tried to return to power. Al Gore made a mockery out of the American electoral system by being a spoilsport over Florida, which Bush indeed won by 537 votes. Dan Rather forged a document to try to derail Bush’s re-election. Twice Democrats stole U.S. senators from the Republicans. After voting to support the war to get by the 2002 election, many Democrats quickly soured on the war. The profane protests were cheered by liberals who misattributed “dissent is the highest form of patriotism”to Thomas Jefferson; the words belong to the late historian Howard Zinn.

Once in power, liberals were the opposite of gracious.

For two years now, I have been called ignorant, racist, angry and violent by the left. The very foul-mouthed protesters of Bush dare to now label my words as “hate speech.”

Last week, the left quickly blamed the right for the national tragedy of a shooting spree by a madman who never watched Fox News, never listened to Rush Limbaugh and likely did not know who Sarah Palin is.

Fortunately, the American public rejected out of hand that idiotic notion that the right was responsible.

Rather than apologize, the left wants to change the tone of the political debate.

The left suddenly wants civil discourse…


           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

Officials: CAIR Obstructs FBI Terror Probes

Recent cases, poster belie claims of ‘cooperation’ with authorities

After negative press forced the removal of a poster urging Muslims to “build a wall of resistance” against the FBI, the Council on American-Islamic Relations insisted it has consistently maintained a policy of cooperation with federal authorities investigating terrorism in the Muslim community. Accounts by law enforcement officials and recently obtained documents cast doubt on the claim, however.


In fact, CAIR has a long history of hostility toward law enforcement, officials say. And Congress plans to hold hearings next month on what authorities say is an increasing lack of cooperation by Muslim groups and leaders.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Why Leftists Are Far Likelier to Use Political Violence Than Conservatives

No Surprise AZ Shooter Was a Mentally Deranged Anarchist

Murders by the mentally deranged shooter of an Arizona congresswoman, a federal judge, and other ill-fated bystanders were instantly attributed to Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh. This leap to judgment turned out to be horrifically mistaken. Killer Jared Loughner turned out to be an insane, leftist pothead, a registered independent who did not listen to the radio. But of course, the accusers refused to apologize for slander. So we are left to ponder why liberals get to assume the worst about their foes, and feel free to announce it, when history teaches us otherwise? Ironically, if anyone is violent, it most likely will be a leftist. Why this is true, with proof of the thesis, is discussed in this article.


It is intellectual apostasy to claim Conservative means the same as violent extremism without bothering to study the history. In fact, the opposite is true when one considers that all of last century’s Marxist revolutions were achieved by a minority in a bloody ascension. Also, remember 200 million innocents were killed by leftists like Mao and Stalin in the last century. The reason leftists are willing to murder in the name of politics is because they normally do not believe in God, a hereafter, or even any classic definition of morality. So whatever is done, as long as it serves Marxism, it is good.

According to P.H. Vigor’s A Guide To Marxism, since religion cannot deliver any sense of morality, it is up to humanism to create standards. But, as Virgor notes,

“Moreover, in any discussion involving ethics or morality, the fundamental point for a Marxist is that there is no such thing as an absolute Right and Wrong. Right and Wrong are relative for a Marxist: a thing which is wrong at one time, and in one set of circumstances, will be right in another…It is therefore simply not possible to settle an argument with them by reference to ethical principles—by saying, for instance, that the consequence of a particular policy would be murder, and you cannot commit murder. From a Marxist standpoint, you can—in certain circumstances”

The point here cannot be made too vigorously. There is no moral center found in socialism, Marxism, anarchism, or communism, as we discover in the Bible’s Ten Commandments. There is therefore no such thing as absolute wrong or right action to a true leftist. So,where resistance to Marxism is encountered, a sincere leftist always has the option of picking up a weapon to further his “liberalism.” In fact, virtually every Marxist revolution has involved murderous attacks to gain power. And this is why leftists will always be infinitely more dangerous than Conservatives.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

2011 ‘Year of Rockets’ For Europe

Twenty-eleven will be the “year of launchers”, says European Space Agency director-general Jean-Jacques Dordain.

Europe expects to have three different rockets operating from its French Guiana spaceport in the coming months.

The workhorse Ariane 5 will be joined by the Russian Soyuz vehicle and a new small launcher called Vega.

At his annual Paris press conference to preview the year ahead, Mr Dordain said this represented a major change in the way Esa conducted its space activities.

And he told the BBC everyone might be surprised at how complex an undertaking this would be.

“For 30 years we have exploited one launcher, the best launcher in the world, Ariane — but it was one launcher,” he explained.

“From this year, we will exploit three launchers in parallel — Ariane, Soyuz and Vega. It will introduce some constraints because the traffic will be much heavier from [the spaceport], and I’m not so sure we’ve yet totally understood the constraints which are linked to the exploitation of three launchers instead of one.”

A completely new launch facility has been constructed for Soyuz in French Guiana, allowing the Russian-built vehicle to shift some of its operations to the European spaceport from its traditional home of the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

The launch complex will have its qualification review in April with the expectation that the first Soyuz lift-off occur sometime between 15 August and 15 September. The rocket will carry into orbit two spacecraft for Europe’s Galileo satellite-navigation system.

Vega will use the old Ariane 1, 2 and 3 pad, which has been renovated for the purpose.

Both the pad and the rocket system itself will have to get through a review process before being cleared to launch. Only when that process is complete will a maiden flight date be set, but it should be in the second half of the year.

Because Vega is a brand new design, the payload opportunity has been given to some small, inexpensive scientific spacecraft rather than to high-value institutional or commercial ventures.

With three different rockets in its stable, the South American spaceport is going to be extremely busy. Launches could be occurring at the rate of about one a month in future…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Europe Clings to Her Cable Industry

De Volkskrant, 07 January 2011

“A fireside decision for Europe,” headlines De Volkskrant. The sale of Draka, a Dutch wire and cable manufacturer, to Italy’s Prysmian, and not to the Chinese bidder Xinmao, was decided by Fentener van Vlissingen, one of the wealthiest families in the Netherlands, which holds a 48.5% stake in the company. This is a strategic decision for Europe, stresses the Dutch daily, as Draka is one of the world leaders in a high-tech industry which is of vital importance to the telecommunications, defence and aeronautics sectors, and which includes fibre-optic cables. Xinmao had outbid Prysmian, fuelling European fear that the Chinese would obtain high-tech know-how and patents. The European Commission must now decide whether the deal abides by European competition rules.

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

Foreign Minister Martin in Challenge to Irish PM Cowen

The Irish foreign minister has tendered his resignation and said he will vote against Prime Minister Brian Cowen in a vote of confidence on Tuesday.

Micheal Martin, seen as a rival for the leadership of the ruling Fianna Fail party, said that the PM had told him his resignation was not necessary.

But he said he believed a new leader was needed before a general election.

Earlier, Mr Cowen said he would stay on as party leader but would offer colleagues a secret confidence ballot.

He has faced recent scrutiny about a meeting with the head of Anglo Irish Bank shortly before he announced a multi-billion euro bank guarantee.

Cordial discussions

On Thursday, Mr Cowen said he would take 48 hours to consult with his parliamentary colleagues on whether he should continue in his post.

Speaking to assembled reporters in Dublin on Sunday, he said the discussions had been cordial and respectful.

“As Taoiseach (prime minister) my total focus must remain with discharging my duties to the people,” he said.

“For Fianna Fail, the party is important but the interests of the country are paramount.”

The normal party procedure for removing the leader begins when a quarter of all party MPs sign a notion of no-confidence.

Mr Cowen said he wanted to dispense with those procedures to hold the secret vote of confidence on Tuesday…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

German Left Party Calls for Introduction of Communism

Bundestag deputies castigate party, which may have used taxpayer euros to send members on the ‘Mavi Marmara,’ for being anti-Semitic and anti-Israel.

BERLIN — The German Left party, which appears to have used taxpayer euros to send two of its Bundestag members aboard the Mavi Marmara last May to break the blockade of Gaza, is engulfed in a scandal because one of its top leaders called for the introduction of communism last week.

“We can only find the ways to communism if we get started and try them out, whether in the opposition or in the government,” Gesine Lötzsch, the Left Party’s co-president, wrote last week in the Berlinbased daily junge Welt.

Her comments about the reintroduction of communism in Germany triggered criticism from many of the mainstream parties.

The Christian Social Union — the Bavarian sister party of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union — called for the Left Party to be outlawed.

The Social Democratic Party questioned the Left Party’s self-proclaimed democratic orientation.

Maya Zehden, spokeswoman for the 12,000-member Berlin Jewish community, told The Jerusalem Post that representatives of her organization met with Lötzsch last year after the Gaza flotilla seizure to express the community’s criticism of her decision to greet the two Left Party Bundestag members, Inge Höger and Annette Groth, with flowers at a press conference after their return to Germany.

Höger, Groth and former Left Party deputy Norman Paech were aboard the Mavi Marmara.

Zehden termed Lötzsch’s position toward Israel “hostile.”

According to Zehden, Lötzsch, a member of the Socialist Unity Party in the former German Democratic Republic, said anti- Semitism was nonexistent in the former East Germany.

The German Democratic Republic refused to recognize Israel’s right to exist between 1949 and 1989. American historian Jeffrey Herf documented a wave of repression and surveillance against Jews during the early 1950s in East Germany, prompting Jews to flee.

Peter Tauber, a Bundestag member from the Christian Democratic Union, told the Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper last week that the positions of two Left Party deputies, Christine Buchholz and Wolfgang Gehrcke, the party’s foreign policy spokesman, are “hostile to Israel and anti- Semitic” and comparable to those of the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD).

Buchholz and Gehrcke denied being anti-Semitic. Gehrcke has appeared over the years at pro-Hamas and pro-Hizbullah rallies. Buchholz has justified violent “resistance” against Israel and rejected a Left Party document outlining Israel’s right to exist.

The Left Party’s membership is an amalgamation of disillusioned West German trade unionists and social democrats, and Stalinists and former members of the Stasi secret police from East Germany. It is the fourth largest party in the Bundestag, with 76 of the Bundestag’s 622 deputies. The party co-governs the city of Berlin with the Social Democrats, forming the so-called “red-red coalition.”

Oskar Lafontaine, chairman of the Social Democratic Party from 1995-1999, defected to the Left Party and enabled it to score victories in West German state parliamentary elections. Lafontaine has praised the “interface between Islam and the German left.”…

           — Hat tip: KGS[Return to headlines]

Germany: The Village Where the Neo-Nazis Rule

Hitler salutes in the street and firing practice in the forest: Neo-Nazis have taken over an entire village in Germany, and authorities appear to have given up efforts to combat the problem. The place has come to symbolize the far right’s growing influence in parts of the former communist east.

Horst and Birgit Lohmeyer have been working on their life’s dream for six years, renovating a house in the woods near Jamel, a tiny village near Wismar in the far northeastern German state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. Birgit Lohmeyer writes crime novels, her husband is a musician, and both try to pretend everything is normal here in Jamel.

It wasn’t easy to find their new home. The Lohmeyers spent months driving out to the countryside every weekend, heading east from where they lived in Hamburg, but most of the houses they saw were too expensive. Then they came across the inexpensive red brick farmhouse in Jamel. Slightly run-down, but not far from the Baltic Sea, the house sits surrounded by lime and maple trees, near a lake.

The Lohmeyers knew that a notorious neo-Nazi lived nearby — Sven Krüger, a demolition contractor and high-level member of the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD). What the Lohmeyers didn’t know was that other neighbors felt terrorized by Krüger. He and his associates were in the process of buying up the entire village.

Jamel is an example of the far-right problem that has plagued Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania for years. The rural region, once part of communist East Germany, has a poor reputation in this regard — the NPD, which glorifies the Third Reich, has been in the state parliament since 2006 and neo-Nazi crimes are part of daily life. In recent months, a series of attacks against politicians from all the democratic parties has shaken the state. Sometimes hardly a week goes by without an attack on another electoral district office, with paint bombs, right-wing graffiti and broken windows.

Norbert Nieszery, leader of the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) in the state parliament, calls it an “early form of terror.” Nieszery’s own office windows have been smashed twice. State Interior Minister Lorenz Caffier of the center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) says he has registered a “new level” of right-wing extremist violence. He believes the NPD is trying to raise its profile through aggressive behavior ahead of state parliament election in September. One local mayor requested police protection after receiving repeated right-wing threats. The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, has warned that the NPD is becoming increasingly influential in local municipalities and that the neo-Nazis are trying to entrench themselves in daily life.

Mounting Concern About Far-Right Influence

Nowhere have they succeeded as well as in Jamel. If the right-wing extremists left, the village would be empty. Jamel is no longer just a problem at the regional or federal state level — even Berlin is growing concerned about the situation.

SPD member Wolfgang Thierse, vice president of Germany’s federal parliament, the Bundestag, visited the village a few months ago. He spent half an hour in the Lohmeyers’ living room and promised to support them in their fight against the neo-Nazis. So far, nothing has changed. Jamel has come to symbolize the fact that there are places in Germany where right-wing extremists can do virtually whatever they want.

When the Lohmeyers moved here in 2004, they started to fix up their country house and to make contact with the neighbors — although not with the neo-Nazi Krüger. But they were sure right-wing extremists wouldn’t be the only people in Jamel.

Only gradually did they realize just where they had ended up. Plaster crumbled from many of the houses in the village and one roof had collapsed completely. Beer bottles, car tires and gas canisters were littered behind the bus stop. There were metal fences surrounding some properties and attack dogs strained against their chains in the front yards. No one bothered to remove the swastika scribbled on the sign at the entrance to the village.

Children Giving Hitler Salute

There were young men with shaved heads and army trousers in the village and Nazi rock music could be heard from across the fields on the weekends. Shots sounded from the woods, where the neo-Nazis practiced their shooting — police later found bullet casings in trenches there. When the Lohmeyers walked through the village, children raised their hands in the Nazi salute.

Krüger has shaped the village. He grew up here, with a father who was known as a right-wing radical and who used to make his son salute each morning in the snow. Young Krüger was an outsider at school, an acquaintance remembers, and didn’t find friends until he joined the skinhead scene. As a young man, he incited right-wing thugs to attack a campsite and spent time in pre-trial detention on suspicion of burglary. Still, for a long time, the Krügers were the only neo-Nazis in the village.

“Now,” says Horst Lohmeyer, “they see Jamel as a ‘nationally liberated zone’“ — a neo-Nazi term for places foreigners and those of foreign descent must fear to tread. The extremists took over the village in just a few years. They now own seven of the 10 houses and have driven out anyone who couldn’t come to terms with them. They battered down doors and broke windows, slashed tires, flew the German imperial war flag and celebrated Hitler’s birthday. In the 1990s, they stuck dead chickens on one family’s garden fence with the warning, “We’ll smoke you out.”

The village emptied and Krüger encouraged his right-wing friends to buy the available houses. Few others dared to venture into Jamel anymore. Neo-Nazis greeted one couple that wanted to move there with “Piss off” — and the couple’s house burned down shortly before they planned to move in. One new property owner dared to set foot in the village only accompanied by police.

The Lohmeyers have made it their life’s work not to let themselves be driven out of Jamel. Each year, they host a rock festival on a field behind their house. Governor Erwin Sellering of the SPD has been patron of the festival since 2009. Police fence in the area and guard the entrance, and in past years, things remained largely calm…

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Irish PM Brian Cowen Statement on Party Leadership Due

The Irish prime minister will announce on Sunday afternoon if he will lead his party into the general election.

He is due to make a statement at 1700 GMT.

Mr Cowen has faced recent scrutiny about a meeting with the head of Anglo Irish Bank shortly before he announced a multi-billion euro bank guarantee.

On Thursday, he said he would take 48 hours to consult with his parliamentary colleagues on whether he should continue in his post.

Several Fianna Fail backbenchers have called for Mr Cowen to resign.

On Saturday, one Fianna Fail member of parliament called for the party to unite behind the foreign minister, Micheal Martin.

Noel O’Flynn said he had been contacted by the prime minister on Saturday afternoon and had told him that his leadership had not worked.

However, deputy prime minister Mary Coughlan said she believed in Mr Cowen’s leadership.

She added: I believe that he has been the only man over the last two and half years to make the difficult decisions and give the leadership to the cabinet.

“And I would say that if others were in that place, I would question their ability and their acumen to do what had to be done.”…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Italy: Berlusconi Shield Ruling Hailed by Left, Slammed by Right

Ex-Milan prosecutor says referendum will nix law

(ANSA) — Rome, January 13 — A ruling by Italy’s Constitutional Court declaring partially illegitimate a judicial shield that had protected Premier Silvio Berlusconi was hailed by his opponents and slammed by his supporters.

As demonstrators from a grass-roots anti-Berlusconi movement celebrated outside the court, the Senate whip for the centre-left opposition Democratic Party (PD), Anna Finocchiaro, said: “You did’t have to be nasty or a Communist to understand that the ‘legitimate impediment’ law would be substantially struck down”.

She argued that the “overall framework” of the immunity law had been “dismantled” by the ruling, which will allow judges to assess on a case-by-case basis whether the premier should attend hearings in three trials that had been blocked.

PD leader Pierluigi Bersani said, however, that his party’s assessment should be “prudent” until the exact effect of the law becomes clear.

Former Milan prosecutor Antonio Di Pietro said a referendum against the law approved by the court Wednesday would make sure Berlusconi would have to face his accusers when called by judges in his three trials.

“With the referendum, citizens will say in a strong and clear way that Berlusconi, too, must go before the judge when he is called and won’t be able to make up an excuse every time,” said the ex-Clean Hands spearhead and current leader of the anti-Berlusconi Italy of Values party, which is promoting the referendum.

For the government, Education Minister Mariastella Gelmini said “the premier continues to be a flagrant victim of persecution by certain politicised prosecutors”.

The deputy Senate whip of Berlusconi’s People of Freedom Party, Gaetano Quagliarello, said “even more, after this sentence, Italian democracy remains a democracy with limited legitimacy”. Quagliarello called on parliament to “restore balance” between the executive and the judicial branches of the state. Berlusconi’s lawyer Niccolo’ Ghedini, however, argued that the law had overall been adjudged “valid and effective”.

He claimed the full scope of the ruling would only be open to precise interpretation when the Court issues its explanation for its verdict, in a month or so.

Some MPs called the ruling “balanced” while one, from the centre right, said it was worthy of Pontius Pilate.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Berlusconi Shield Law Partly Struck Down

Ruling sets limits on ‘legitimate impediment’ immunity norm

(ANSA) — Rome, January 13 — Italy’s top court on Thursday partly struck down the latest in a series of laws that have sought to shield Premier Silvio Berlusconi from trials.

The Constitutional Court ruled that the so-called ‘legitimate impediment’ law, currently protecting the premier from three trials in Milan until October, should not automatically halt proceedings, court sources told ANSA.

The 15 justices said each trial judge could assess what legitimately constituted an impediment to the premier, or other ministers, attending trials.

In their assessments, judges should take into account the competing rights and needs of justice and those of officials in carrying out their duties, the ruling said.

The verdict was keenly awaited in Italy and abroad and analysts said it might have an impact on the government at a time when Berlusconi is struggling to widen his wafer-thin majority in the House so as to carry on governing effectively.

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

Speaking on Wednesday, he said the stability of the government would not be affected by the ruling and vowed to “explain” to the Italian public once more how “ridiculous” he considers the trials in which he has been involved.

“There is no danger for the stability of the government, whatever the outcome of the Constitutional Court hearing,” the premier said.

“I consider ridiculous the trials in which I am involved.

“I will reveal to Italians what it’s about and what will emerge is the sickness of our democracy in which judicial powers have overstepped their sphere”.

Now that the law has been ruled partially Constitutional, a referendum against it promoted by a centre-left opposition party is expected to go forward.

The referendum sponsored by ex-graftbuster Antonio Di Pietro’s Italy of Values party got the green light from the Constitutional Court Wednesday. The two previous immunity laws were overturned in 2004 and 2009, with the Constitutional Court saying they were against the Constitutional principle that everyone is equal before the law.

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

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

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

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy’s Supreme Court Grants Go-Ahead on Crucial Referenda

(AGI) Rome — Italy’s supreme Constitutional Court has approved 4 out 6 crucial popular refendum petitions. The Court ruled on the admissibility of referenda to abrogate the Berlusconi government’s immunity laws and to pursue an extension to nuclear power bans in Italy. Also subject to Court scrutiny were 4 joint referendum items relating to privatisation of water utilities, only 2 of which were deemed admissible.

Significantly, the Constitutional Court is to issue its ruling on the constitutionality of the Berlusconi government’s immunity laws.

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

Le Pen Junior Inherits French Far-Right Leadership

France’s far-right National Front named founder Jean-Marie Le Pen’s daughter Marine its new leader Sunday, looking to soften the anti-immigrant party’s image before next year’s presidential polls. While sharing many of her father’s hardline views, the 42-year-old blonde brings with her a softer, more telegenic image which the party hopes will give it an electoral breakthrough against President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Polls suggest 17 percent of French voters might back Marine, not enough to put her in the Elysee Palace in 2012, but enough of a threat to incumbent right-winger Sarkozy to force her agenda into the political debate.

“I consider us as of now to be in an electoral campaign, first for the cantonal elections (local polls in March), and then of course presidential and legislative ones,” she said in televised comments after being named.

As expected, the Euro-MP and National Front deputy leader comfortably beat party rival Bruno Gollnisch to become head of one of Western Europe’s most enduringly influential anti-immigrant movements. Her 82-year-old father, a one-eyed former paratrooper, founded the party in 1972 and led it until his retirement on Saturday, when he stepped down at the start of its congress in the northern town of Tours. Under Jean-Marie the party never broke into government, and he was accused of racism and shunned by other movements, but he forced the mainstream right to compete with him on immigration and law and order issues.

In 2002 he sent a shock through the political establishment by coming second in the first round of presidential voting, knocking Socialist prime minister Lionel Jospin off the ballot.

Marine is seen as offering a softer, potentially more-electable image, despite standing by the party’s core values and sharing her father’s anti-immigration and anti-Islam stance.

“I accept the whole history of my party, and I take it all on board,” she told reporters on Sunday.

Before a cheering crowd of supporters, Jean-Marie Le Pen read out results of a vote by party members which showed she beat Gollnisch, 60, with more than 67 percent of the votes.

“No one will contest your legitimacy to represent us,” Gollnisch told the victor in his speech as runner-up. “We are going to fight and win.”…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Netherlands: Prime Minister Says Anti-Islam PVV Should Support Afghan Mission

Prime minister Mark Rutte has called on the anti-Islam PVV to support the cabinet’s plans to send a 545-strong police training mission to Afghanistan.

The PVV, which supports the government on economic policy, is opposed to the new mission and it is extremely unclear whether a majority of MPs will support it.

If anyone should support the mission, it should be the PVV because the party wants to counteract Muslim extremism, Rutte told tv current affairs show Buitenhof.

The prime minister said it is ‘very noteworthy’ that the PVV is against the project, would be under both EU and Nato auspices.

He also said it is strange that the PVV, Labour and the Socialist Party are not even prepared to look in detail at the cabinet’s plans.


On Friday, PVV leader Geert Wilders described the plan as ‘the biggest blunder this cabinet has made to date’. And he criticised the timing of the decision-making process, which comes just six weeks before the provincial elections.

Polls show a majority of the population oppose the mission…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Taseer’s Assassination: Extremism of British Pakistanis Exposed

LONDON: The assassination of Salmaan Taseer has exposed the extent of extremist thinking even amongst Pakistani expatriates in Britain.

Speaking to British Pakistanis living in an East London locality, The Express Tribune found many supporters of Taseer’s murderer while a few spoke up in favour of the rule of law.

“When a person kills someone he has killed all of humanity”, says Tabassum, a hijab wearing British-born Pakistani. “Yes, tawheen-e-risalat is a big issue but to just kill someone for a few words, that can’t be justice” says another British-born young woman.

Sadiq Akbar, an architect living in the same vicinity, berates the conservatism that has taken hold amongst many Pakistanis. “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing and some of us Muslims are ‘lakeer ka fakir’ who will kill for the slightest thing.”

Digging a little deeper, it becomes apparent that he lays much of the blame on Taseer himself. “These are sensitive issues and Salmaan Taseer should have used his words more carefully, or apologised,” he points out. “Also, we know that he drank alcohol and this confirms that he wasn’t a Muslim.”

Farzana Ali spent a lot of time watching local Muslim channels in the days following the murder. “The media played a large role in the response here in London,” she says. Local Muslim channels largely promoted the view that Salmaan Taseer was to blame for his own murder, she explains. “Lots of people here supported the killing,” she says. “They think in black and white terms but I say there is a middle way. We have no right to take another’s life.”

Men streaming out of the local mosque questioned on the issue saw no middle way. Khwaja Ahmed Ali, a car dealer originally from Lahore and living in Britain for the last 19 years, was one such person.”He deserved to be punished for what he said, what happened was right and good.” According to him, mere mention of a change in the blasphemy law deserves extra-judicial killing.

A crowd gathers outside the mosque and all the men agree that Taseer’s murder was justified. “No-one has the right to change Shariah law,” says another namazi. “We consider it a crime to even talk about it.”

“If he called it a ‘kala qanoon’ then it was right to kill him” says Allah Ditta, who has lived in this community for many years. “The government failed to take action so it became the duty of individuals to do so.”

Muslims of a liberal mindset are finding life increasingly difficult in these communities. “I’ve been living here for 14 years,” says Nusrat, mother of three. “I was amazed at the reaction I got last year during Ramazan when I was eating something while sitting in my car. What is going on?”

A Pakistani Christian who has lived here for some 20 years discovered his Muslim friends were not moderate. “They were overwhelmingly in favour of the murder,” he says, adding, “It was quite an eye-opener.”

Outside the mosque one lone voice is raised above all those baying for blood. “Shame on all of you!” says a white haired man in a skull cap. “Where does it say in the Quran that you can just kill someone?”

Published in The Express Tribune, January 16th, 2011.

[Return to headlines]

UK: ‘I’m the Victim of Smears’: Undercover Policeman Denies Bedding a String of Women During His Eight Years With Eco-Warriors

He was unmasked as a spy by beautiful Welsh redhead girlfriend; savagely beaten by five of his own police colleagues and the intelligence he gathered sent directly to PM Tony Blair.

The undercover policeman who posed as an eco-warrior for eight years came out of hiding to tell his full, extraordinary story — and reveal that he fears for his life.

Mark Kennedy, 41, denies ‘going native’ and triggering the collapse of the trial of six environmental activists accused of trying to shut down one of Britain’s biggest power stations.


Describing a life lived ‘constantly on the edge’, he claims his former police bosses are searching for him in America, where he fled last year.

He has received death threats from activists and sleeps in a barricaded room.

‘I am in fear for my life and don’t know where to turn,’ he says. Mr Kennedy refutes suggestions that he crossed the line, became an agent provocateur and played a central role in organising the very protests police wanted him to sabotage.

‘My superiors knew where I was at all times — my BlackBerry was fitted with a tracking device — and they sanctioned every move I made. I didn’t sneeze without them knowing about it. I feel I’ve been hung out to dry.’

Speaking from a safe house, the former police officer tells how he led an astonishing double life as committed green anarchist Mark Stone before being ultimately let down by his handlers.


He is on the run, he says, from both his former police bosses and from activists who have made death threats against him. But he has also been swamped with offers for book and movie rights to his life story.

Speaking for the first time about what he calls ‘my living nightmare’, he says:

‘I can’t sleep. I have lost weight and am constantly on edge. I barricade the door with chairs at night. I am in genuine fear for my life. I have been told that my former bosses from the force are out here in America looking for me. I have been told by activists to watch my back as people are out to get me.

‘I have chosen to speak out because I want my story out there. People like to think of things in terms of black and white. But the world of undercover policing is grey and murky. There is some bad stuff going on. Really bad stuff.’

He says he is ‘horrified’ by accusations that he ‘crossed the line’, goading activists into actions they would not normally have considered.

‘I had a cover officer whom I spoke to numerous times a day,’ he says.

‘He was the first person I spoke to in the morning and the last person I spoke to at night. I didn’t sneeze without a superior officer knowing about it. My BlackBerry had a tracking device. My cover officer joked that he knew when I went to the loo.’

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: ‘Sickness’ That Lets Some Asian Men See Western Women as Sexual Prey

‘How embarrassing,” wrote the feminist Muslim journalist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown in the UK Independent newspaper (2001).

“For the first and (I hope) only time in my life, I found myself agreeing a little with the irritating Boris Johnson as he argued with Harifiyah Haleem, a Muslim writer, on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. They were discussing Johnson’s latest claim that the terrorists who attacked the US did so because they despise the liberation of women.”

In articulating this thesis — that repressed sexuality and an insidious misogyny are at the core of a warped culture as practised by the terrorists who were responsible for 9/11 — Johnson was reiterating the views of Martin Amis, Sam Harris and other vilified atheistic ‘anti-islamists’: views that have been roundly condemned by most right-thinking liberal lefties — of which Ms Brown is indubitably one.

Last week, Brown found herself once again in the embarrassing position of agreeing with a politician whom she detested: Jack Straw.

“I can’t stand the Rt Hon MP for Blackburn,” she wrote. “His devious shady politicking, and moral expediency … Being avowedly a leftie-liberal, feminist, Muslim, part-Pakistani, and yes, a very responsible person, I should be in the circle with [his] objectors; however, just as when he criticised the full veil, I cannot condemn his views. How can I? Just before Christmas, I too wrote about these rapists and anti-white cultural prejudices in some of their communities and families.”

Brown is discussing the controversial comments made by Jack Straw on a recent BBC Newsnight programme (in the wake of the jailing of two married Pakistani fathers, who, as part of a gang of ‘sexual predators’, abused specifically white girls between the ages of 12 and 18).

Straw said: “There is a specific problem which involves Pakistani heritage men … who target young white girls.”

He followed this up by commenting: “These young men … act like any young men, they’re fizzing and popping with testosterone, they want some outlet for that, but Pakistani heritage girls are off limits … so they then seek out other avenues and they see these young women, white girls who are vulnerable, some of them in care … who they think are easy meat.”

Cue the expected burst of outrage at such generalised ‘racist’ and ‘sectarian’ attacks on an innocent community. It was said that it was impossible to ethnicise a particular crime. Also, it was argued that any discussion of cultural factors was dangerous and racist.

But some groups have not joined the ranks of the righteously appalled. The UK’s Sikh and Hindu organisations have come out in defence of Straw, with Hadeep Singh (Network of Sikh Organisations) saying: “This [the targeting of young women by Pakistani groups] has been a serious concern for the past decade.”

Senior police officer DCI Alan Edwards called for an end to the “damaging taboo” of connecting on-street grooming with race: “To stop this type of crime you need to start everyone talking about it, but everyone’s been too scared to address the ethnicity factor.”

Censoring discussion or expression is not the way of the democratic West. (Even we, the devoutly Catholic Irish, have managed to disentangle ourselves from the repression of our past and honestly assess the crimes of our religious hierarchy.) Or at least it wasn’t, until the violent reaction by certain members of the Islamic world after the publication of the infamous Danish cartoons. Since then, we have championed the ‘rights’ of diffuse cultures in the name of multi-culturalism and tolerance when what we really feel is fear…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

UK: Muslim Cultural Group to Buy Shotton Lane Social Club

A Muslim group hope to finalise plans to buy an empty Deeside social club.

Flintshire Muslim Cultural Society (FMCS) currently uses Queensferry War Memorial Institute but is in “urgent need” of a bigger facility due to growing demand from members.

They say their offer has been accepted to buy the ex-Shotton Lane Social Club for use as a multi cultural centre.

Flintshire council said the authority could not comment until any planning application had been submitted.

Over the last year FMCS — set up 18 months ago — has been using the Queensferry community centre to run after school Islamic and Arabic classes for children and adults twice a week.

Class sizes have grown from one group of 20 to three classes of up to 35 students.

“Due to lack of space and continuing demand from the community we are no longer able to provide an effective and efficient service; there is an urgent need for a larger premise,” says the FMCS website.

“…we have identified a building that will address the current and future needs of the Muslim community in Flintshire — Shotton Lane Social Club.”

The group’s chair says the intention is to make the centre open to the wider community.

“We want more cooperation and cohesion. This is a centre to build understanding,” said Mohammed Monchab Ali who is chair of the UK’s Greater Sylhet Development and Welfare Council, a charity helping Sylheti Bangladeshi people living in the UK…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

UK: MP Accuses Six Others Over Their Expenses

Six more MPs are facing fraud investigations over their expenses after being ‘shopped’ to police by a disgruntled Labour colleague, it was reported last night.

The MP was said to be angry that he was unfairly singled out over his own expenses claims.

According to reports, the six politicians — who cannot be named for legal reasons — include one ex-Labour Cabinet Minister, two Labour MPs, one Liberal Democrat and two Tories.

The whistle-blowing MP is from a Northern constituency and is not one of four politicians awaiting trial.

It is said to be the first time that an MP has accused colleagues of making false claims.

Last night, Scotland Yard declined to comment on the latest reports, but said so far six files relating to parliamentarians’ expenses had been passed to the Crown Prosecution Service resulting in charges.

Some 10 files have been handed to the Crown Prosecution Service by the Met’s economic and specialist crime unit, of which six led to charges and two to no further action being taken, while two others remain under consideration…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

UK: New Fathers to Get Ten Months Paid Paternity Leave Under Coalition Plans

Coalition plans to allow parents to share childcare will allow new fathers to take up to 10 months of paid paternity leave.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg will announce the reforms tomorrow in a move which will enable couples to choose how they divide parental leave between them.

The plans will allow parents greater flexibility over childcare arrangements but are expected to face criticism from businesses over the prospect of men taking long periods of time off work, the Sunday Times reported.

Current regulations allow men just two weeks of paid paternity leave.

David Frost, director-general of the British Chambers of Commerce said: ‘The plans show a complete lack of understanding of how small businesses work.

‘If men and women have flexible parental leave, how can you plan for the absence and how do you plan for cover?’

In April, paternity laws passed by Labour will come into effect which give parents the option of sharing the 39 weeks of paid leave and 13 weeks of unpaid leave.

This could, in theory, result in fathers taking all of the time off while mothers return to work early…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

UK: Opposing Illegal Traveller Sites Isn’t Racist, Minister Tells Gipsies’ Leader

Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman rejected claims of ‘gipsy racism’ yesterday after pledging to take tough new action against illegal traveller sites.

Ms Spelman clashed with a travellers’ leader as she defended villagers in her Midlands constituency who have staged a round-the-clock demonstration for more than six months against an encampment on greenbelt land.

Travellers’ leader Jake Bowers called the protesters ‘racists’ and compared Ms Spelman’s approach to the ‘Deep South’ of America, where slavery flourished until the Civil War.

Defiant Ms Spelman defended new laws to get rid of unlawful traveller camps, saying: ‘The travelling community should indeed be travelling.’

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: Streets of Hate

FAR-RIGHT agitators are warning that race riots could be sparked over Asian gangs who target young white girls for sex.

Earlier this month, the ringleaders of a depraved 15-strong gang who groomed vulnerable girls as young as 12 for sex were given indefinite prison sentences.

Now supporters of the English Defence League (EDL) and other far-right groups say controversy over the gangs could bring chaos to the streets not seen since the summer of 2001.

We understand the EDL is ready to protest over the grooming issue in key areas in the North-West and Yorkshire over the coming months.

Stephen Lennon, leader of the anti-Islam group — aka Tommy Robinson, above right — told the Daily Star Sunday: “The fact that Muslim gangs target young white girls is not new.

“This has been going on for two decades. Yet it has been ignored by the Government and the police for too long.

“There is an undercurrent of anger in Britain and I don’t think the Government are aware of it.

“And as more of these gangs are highlighted in the media, the more people will get angrier.

“We are not being represented by Government or any political parties, so this is why the EDL is getting so much support.

“And if it doesn’t stop there will be civil unrest across the country — riots like we haven’t seen in a long time.

“We as a group are trying to avoid that. We want to channel that anger and frustration into mass, peaceful protests.

“But the longer it’s ignored and brushed under the carpet, it will happen. It will just need one incident in one town and it could trigger a reaction across the whole country.”…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

UK: Terror Fear for Summit

A MEETING between David Cameron and Scandinavian leaders will take place amid tight security after Islamist extremists hit out over the summit.

A ring of steel will be thrown around the PM when he sits down with the countries’ supremos later this month in London.

Preacher Anjem Choudary said he was suspicious of the summit after terror incidents in Denmark and Sweden.


He said the meeting was a “smokescreen” to divert attention from a botched suicide bomb plot in Sweden.

And he said there were fears over the expansion of the European Union to include countries with large Muslim populations.

Choudary, 43, of banned Islamist group Islam4UK, said: “With the new countries set to be allowed visa-free travel across Europe, there is concern there will be a migration of Muslims.

“This is a concern for the Islamification of Europe into what could be called ‘Eurarabia’.

“The British want to form an alliance with the other countries. They are saying, ‘Look, where is this all leading? We already have a problem with this kind of thing back home and we saw what has happened in Sweden and Denmark’.

This is why these people have come together, for security and co-operation.

“Cameron is not there to discuss trade links. This is more to do with security and the increase in Muslim populations.”

Mr Cameron said of the summit: “We are coming together in London to listen, to learn and to capture ideas.”

Tension over the spread of Islam to Baltic countries has been rising…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

UK:£130k Fund to Tackle Extremism

Taxpayers will bankroll £130,000 of community activities to stop Cambridge’s young Muslims turning to terrorism. The fund, which aims to challenge the ideology behind violent extremism and encourage social cohesion, was allotted to the city because of fears residents could be radicalised by fundamentalists. Ken Hay, Cambridge City Council’s head of community development, said: “While it is recognised that several groups and communities have experienced or have been implicated in extremist activities, this money was allocated on the basis that the city has a growing Muslim community who have been identified as potentially the targets of radical extremists seeking to recruit to their cause. “In addition there was growing concern about the impact on local communities arising from Islamophobic views and behaviour.” Originally £190,000 was given to the authority under the previous Government’s Prevent strategy but that has now been reduced by £60,000. Following consultation with the Muslim community, £60,000 of the remainder will be spent on positive activities for children and young people, including leadership training, to help them resist radicalisation and to expose them to positive role models. Mark Woods, a member of the Muslim community living around Akeman Street and Darwin Drive, where a severed pig’s head was left outside a Mosque last year, said: “I worry this could be seen as patronising. Cambridge is not exactly a hotbed of extremism. I think the money should be spent in an inclusive way for the whole community to understand each other.” About £20,000 will be spent on initiatives to promote social cohesion, perhaps encouraging Muslims to join in major public events such as the Big Weekend, and holding events for non-Muslims to learn more about Islam.

A report by Mr Hay said the authority will work with the Cambridge Muslim Council to tackle perceived inequalities, and some key services could be asked to assess their provision for Muslims. About £30,000 will be spent on providing information and guidance for Muslim families concerned about their children’s vulnerability to radicalisation, and £20,000 will be given to new Islamic groups…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

US and Germany Develop Secret Spy Satellites

The United States and Germany are jointly developing secret spy satellites under the guise of a commercial programme despite opposition from France, leaked US diplomatic cables showed Monday.

The project, named HiROS, envisions the construction of an undetermined number of high-resolution observation satellites capable of spotting any object on the planet down to a size of just 50 centimetres (about 1.5 feet), according to classified cables from the US embassy in Berlin leaked to WikiLeaks and obtained by Norwegian daily Aftenposten.

The satellites will have the capacity to take infrared images at night and to send images much quicker back to earth than the satellites currently in service, the cables showed.

Due to the controversial nature of the programme, US and German officials have decided it should be presented as a civilian project with environmental aims, run by commercial entities.

But in reality it is “under the total control” of German intelligence service BND and the German aerospace centre DLR, the cables showed.

The US embassy cables quoted in Norwegian by Aftenposten cover a period from February 2009 to February 2010. They also show that some countries, “especially France,” have tried to stop the project with every means possible.

The opposition from Paris however appears to have been brushed aside by German officials, who according to the cables, said they were sick of being “outmanoeuvred by France.”

“Absolutely no cooperation is planned with France or any other EU country when it comes to the HiROS project,” DLR executive Andreas Eckart was quoted as saying.

According to Aftenposten, the satellites would cost an estimated €205 million ($274 million) and were scheduled to enter service between 2012 and 2013.

Officially, France and Germany are involved in the common Multinational Space-based Imaging System (MUSIS), along with Belgium, Spain, Greece and Italy.

Contacted by news agency AFP, the US embassy in Oslo refused to comment on any information emerging from the some 250,000 US diplomatic cables leaked to whistleblowing website WikiLeaks. The German embassy also refused to comment.

WikiLeaks has so far only made public around 2,000 of the cables in its possession, in cooperation with publications El Pais, The Guardian, The New York Times, Le Monde and Der Spiegel.

Aftenposten, however, said last month it had obtained all the diplomatic documents and would publish stories based on them independently of WikiLeaks’ own releases.

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


EU Largest Source of Funding in Bosnia and Herzegovina

(ANSAmed) — SARAJEVO, JANUARY 14 — The EU and its financial institutions, the EBRD and the EIB, have become the largest source of international assistance to Bosnia and Herzegovina, reports daily Dnevni avaz. Based on last year’s records, the EU has already become the largest single contributor, ensuring two times more money than the USA, although this country too has increased disbursements in comparison with the previous period.

The EBRD and the EIB are the main lenders for public infrastructural projects in BH, surpassing the WB and individual countries. Although financial assistance is not the only foundation for political influence, the amount of funds a country or a union of countries sets aside to help another country definitely speaks about its interest in and dedication to cooperation, reflecting at the same time a level of political influence. As the EU’s financial assistance grows by year, the same is expected from its political influence.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Serbia and Croatia ‘Free States’, Freedom House

(ANSAmed) — BELGRADE, JANUARY 14 — Serbia, Croatia and Montenegro have been defined as “free countries” in the latest annual report by the American organisation Freedom House, which monitors the respect of global political and civil rights.

Meanwhile, the Belgrade media reports, Kosovo, Albania and Bosnia Herzegovina have been placed on the list of “partially free countries”.

On a scale of one to seven, where one is the highest score and seven the lowest, Serbia scored a rating of two in both categories. Croatia scored one for political rights and two in civil rights, while Kosovo recorded five in the former category and four in the latter. Albania registered three for both political and civil rights, while Bosnia earned a score of four for the former and three for the latter.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Serbia: Support for EU Membership ‘Hits All-Time Low’

Belgrade, 14 Jan. (AKI) — Serbian citizens’ support for joining the European Union has for the first time fallen below sixty percent, the lowest-ever level, a senior government official said on Friday.

Milica Delevic, director of government’s office for EU integration said a survey conducted by her agency showed that support for EU membership had continued decline and in December stood at 57 percent.

“The lower support for EU integration is not surprising and reflects the trend in the countries of the region which are closer to EU,” Delevic said.

Serbia is expected to be granted official EU candidate status this year and many people are disappointed with the slow progress of their countrys’ bid and the conditions continually imposed upon it, Delevic said.

The EU has linked Serbia’s membership bid to the arrest of the remaining two war crimes fugitives, wanted by the United Nations war crimes tribunal, Ratko Mladic and Goran Hadzic.

Other conditions are speedier reforms and establishing “good neighbourly relations” with Kosovo, whose majority Albanians declared independence from Serbia three years ago.

Delevic said the encouraging fact was that 78 percent of those surveyed declared themselves in favour of reforms, regardless of the pace of progress towards EU entry.

The number of people who blame the EU “conditions and blackmail” for Serbia’s slow progress has fallen from 43 to 24 per cent, while 19 percent blame it on the “incompetence” of the country’s leaders, Delevic said.

In comparison, only 15.1 per cent of people favoured Serbia’s membership of NATO, a recent survey showed. Animosities are still running high against the western military alliance, which launched airstrikes on Serbia over Kosovo in 1999.

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

North Africa

Anne Applebaum — Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution Might Not Install a Democracy

Violent street demonstrations, followed by the toppling of a dictator, are an exhilarating way to bring democracy to an authoritarian society. They are not, however, the best way to bring democracy to an authoritarian society.

While watching Tunisia’s “Jasmine Revolution” unfold, remember this: Street demonstrations can unexpectedly bring extremists into power, as they did in Iran in 1979. They can create unrealistic expectations and then unravel, as did the Orange Revolution that began in Ukraine in 2004. And they can end badly, with reactionary violence, like the 1989 protests in Tiananmen Square.

By contrast, the most successful transitions to democracy are often undramatic. Consider Spain, after the death of Franco; Chile, after the resignation of Pinochet; Poland, which negotiated its way out of communism; all of these democratic transitions dragged on, created few spectacular photographs — and ultimately led to stable political systems.

But all of those transitions were made possible by authoritarian leaders who recognized that the game was up or who, like Franco, had the good sense to die. Tunisia’s president, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali — as of Saturday, a resident of Saudi Arabia — didn’t have that kind of foresight. Instead, he created fake opposition parties and a phony parliament, set up a draconian regime that controlled the Internet and beat up the occasional dissident to keep everybody else frightened. A French friend who was in Tunis a few weeks ago told me that the newspapers were so favorable to the president that stories read as if they had been written by Ben Ali’s mother.

Yet the recent outburst of anger in Tunisia was not only predictable, it was predicted: I was briefly in Tunis three years ago, and people talked of little else except enormous numbers of educated and unemployed young people. Some thought they would turn into a wave of immigrants; others worried they would gravitate to radical Islam; many feared that the chaos in Iraq put them off the idea of democracy.

A month ago, they turned to street protests. So far, this is not an Islamic revolution — but it isn’t a democratic revolution yet, either. Instead, we are witnessing a demographic revolution: the revolt of the frustrated young against their corrupt elders. Anyone who looked at the population numbers and job data could have guessed it might happen, and, as I say, many did.

Yet if it was so obvious, why wasn’t this explosion anticipated, managed, channeled into elections? If it could be done in Chile, why not Tunisia? Clearly Ben Ali — and his family — was too comfortable and too rich. Unlike the Spaniards or the Poles, he didn’t share a continent with other democracies. The war against terrorism gave him a way to justify his authoritarianism: As an ally in the fight against radical Islam, he neatly avoided American pressure.

But Americans don’t matter much in Tunisia, where France, the former colonial power and largest investor, has indulged and supported Ben Ali for decades, both materially and ideologically. While 18th-century France developed the modern philosophy of democracy, the contemporary French commentariat has developed something like a philosophy of anti-democracy. Dismissing Americans and their naive belief in “democracy promotion,” a columnist in Le Figaro argued only last week that all nations have “a right to their own history,” which is more important than their “right to democracy,” whatever that means…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Charting the Dilemma of Arab Rulers

Imagine two lines on a graph — one zigs and zags, the other rises rapidly. They could represent two current unsettling world currents.

The first charts U.S. efforts to eradicate Islamist terrorism, on the Afghanistan and Iraq battlefields but also through a wider intellectual war against political Islam from Casablanca to Zamboanga. The second line tracks a rising tide of frustration leading to the seduction of young Muslims — not excluding their co-religionists in the West — by fanatics, and, ultimately terrorists.

The mid-January rioting in Tunisia which last week overthrew Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, only the small North African countrys second chief executive since 1987, dramatizes the contest. Long seen as one of the continents more progressive former colonial countries, with a 5 percent domestic growth rate and higher rates of literacy than most Muslim states, Tunisia nonetheless sank into a swamp of political repression and corruption. With more than half its population under 30, its huge waves of unemployed youth wanted more. It remains to be seen who will come out on top in Tunis. But across North Africa, from Egypt to Morocco, underground religious opposition festers. Unfortunately, in Tunisia, as elsewhere, the Islamists appeal is growing. They promise puritanical reform and a return to a nonexistent paradisiacal past under a Muslim caliphate as a heady alternative to weak, corrupt imitations of Western-style government.

Meanwhile, despite Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.s recent cheerleading trip to the region, theres increasing skepticism of Gen. David H. Petraeus Afghanistan strategy. And with mounting U.S. domestic problems, it will be hard to sustain support for the campaign in face of so many young lives lost and a tab of more than $1 trillion spent since 9/11 on the global war against terrorism.

The argument over how to win asymmetrical wars against fanatical opponents is raging again. The danger in counter-insurgency warfare, a subject closely studied by Gen. Petraeus, is an old American intellectual heresy, scientism. The 19th-century American philosopher William James warned against the dangers of overintellectualizing, and James counsel applies to guerrilla warfare as well.

In the nature of things, insurgencies are particularistic. Theres little commonality among the Moros — whom Gen. John J. “Black Jack” Pershing brutally crushed — in the southern Philippines at the turn of the 20th century, the Vietcong in the Mekong Delta in Vietnam in the 1960s, the Tupamaros on the streets of Montevideo, Uruguay, in the 1970s, and al Qaeda in Afghanistan in 2011. These movements were built on specific local conditions. Any formula for combating them must do likewise. Yes, vacuous “counterinsurgency” generalizations can be formulated: The army should not steal the peasants chickens. But learning the ins and outs of Pakistan-Afghanistan frontier Hatfields and McCoys is essential — requiring time and patience, not handbooks trying to apply the scientific method to social issues.

For war is not only cruel and brutal but also probably the most inefficient human activity since the first caveman hit the second caveman over the head with a club. The weapons are increasingly more sophisticated, but the human animus behind their use remains the same. For every analyst offering a sophisticated, multidisciplined approach to villagers caught between intimidation by both sides, there have been exponents of brute force. (A cynical old Vietnam War saying advised “Grab their [sensitive parts], and their hearts and minds will come.”) Thats the rationale, perhaps, for U.S. drone attacks on terrorist leaders in Pakistan, attacks that bring with them such grim fallout of civilian casualties, providing a political bonanza for local politicians who hypocritically helped supply the intelligence for the strikes in the first place.

Almost 10 years ago (one wonders if current “politically correct” discussion of Islam would tolerate it now), a U.N. commission led by noted — if mostly exiled — Arab intellectuals searched for the causes of their regions backwardness. The panel predicted the 280 million people in the 22 Arab countries would grow to as many as 459 million by 2020, but also emphasized their cultural isolation. Arab translations in the last thousand years, the commission noted, were equal to the number of publications Spain translated in just one year. Yet there are Arab best-sellers, often obscurantist screeds on the Koran that no critic is permitted to challenge.

Emigrants from North Africa have drifted willy-nilly into Western Europe searching for a livelihood. But, as daily incidents from across Western Europe demonstrate, the second and third generations of Muslim arrivals have failed to assimilate. European leaders, most notably German Chancellor Angela Merkel, now admit the continents attempts at “multiculturalism” have not succeeded. The social divisions and segregation have led to a misplaced tolerance of pre-modern horrors in Europes Muslim enclaves, including discrimination against women, “honor killings” and child marriage…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Egyptian Handed Death Sentence for Copt Killings

A Muslim man was condemned to death in south Egypt on Sunday for the January 2010 slaying of six Copts after Christmas mass, a year before a suicide bomber killed 21 people outside a Coptic church. A Muslim policeman also died when three gunmen in a car raked worshippers emerging from mass with bullets in Nagaa Hammadi, near the southern town of Qena.

Mohammed Ahmad Hossein, also known as Hamam Kammouni, was considered the ringleader of the attack.

A Qena court said it would also announce verdicts against the two other Muslim suspects, Qorshi Abul Haggag and Hendawi Sayyed, on February 20. All three had pleaded innocent to charges of carrying out the January 6, 2010 attack.

The chief judge of the Qena security court, which allows no right of appeal, gave no motive for the attack in which the Copts were gunned down.

Threatening to exacerbate tensions between Muslims and Egypt’s minority Christians, a suicide bomber killed 21 people outside a church in the northern city of Alexandria after a New Year’s Eve mass at the start of 2011.

At the time, the Nagaa Hammadi attack was the deadliest of its kind since 2000 when 20 Copts were killed in sectarian clashes. Coptic Bishop Anba Kirolos of Nagaa Hammadi welcomed the ruling and said his flock were “satisfied,” but a defence lawyer, Alaa Abu Zeid, said it was influenced by the widespread outrage over the Alexandria bombing. A Qena prosecutor charged the three suspects arrested two days after the attack with “premeditated murder, putting the lives of citizens in danger, and damage to public and private property.” The killings near Qena sparked outrage among Egypt’s Copts and led to clashes with police. International condemnation poured in, with the United States protesting at “an atmosphere of intolerance” in Egypt…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Merkel Offers to Help Tunisia as Tourists Flee

As hundreds of German tourists returned from crisis-wracked Tunisia late into the night on Saturday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel offered to help the transitional government build a democracy after decades of authoritarian rule.

“I appeal to you to use the successfully achieved caesura in Tunisian history to create a new start,” she said in a statement.

She called for him to communicate with the protesting masses and introduce real democracy. “It is absolutely vital to guarantee human rights, media freedom and the freedom of assembly.

“Germany and the European Union are ready to support you in such a new start.”

Plane-loads of Germans touched down on home soil at various airports across the country after tourists were told by holiday operators to pack their bags and make their way to Tunisian airports.

They said locals had been caught up in street fighting and shopkeepers had barricaded up their property for fear of rioting while petrol stations and police stations had been smashed up.

Mass protests against corruption and high rates of unemployment resulted in the resignation of Zine el Abidine Ben Ali on Friday after he had ruled Tunisia for 23 years as the head of an authoritarian regime. He has fled into exile to Saudi Arabia.

Initially Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi tried to form a government, but he was replaced on Saturday by Foued Mbazaa after the constitutional council appointed him as transitional president.

Mbazaa, 77, has been tasked to prepare the country and political body for elections, and has called on Ghannouchi to make suggestions for a new government.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle called on Mbazaa to ensure elections were democratic. “Take the route in the direction of democracy, ensure real stability,” he said.

Yet it is not clear whether the exit of Ben Ali and a curfew has calmed the situation, with smoke plumes visible and shots fired over the capital city Tunis on Saturday evening. Tunisian journalists have speculated that the army could be attacking Ben Ali’s presidential guard.

More than 130 people are said to have died in the unrest.

Opposition politician Mustafa Ben Jaafar told the French television station France Info that criminal gangs were taking advantage of the chaos and were looting shops and attacking government buildings, while other Tunisians said they feared members of the military were also taking part in the looting.

The Tunisian tourist office in Germany said travel to the country was not recommended. “It is too dangerous,” said spokesman Sami Krandel. “Luckily no tourist has died — until now it purely a national matter. I believe that a new government will return a bit of freedom to Tunisia which will improve the image of our country.”

The French government said over the weekend it would stop suspicious capital movement from its former colony, in order to prevent members of Ben Ali’s clan illegally taking state money out of the country.

It was reported on Sunday that Lucas Mebrouk Dolega, a French-German press photographer, whose image we have used to illustrate this story, has died as a result of injuries he sustained during rioting in Tunisia. He was hit on the head by a tear gas grenade on Friday, Der Spiegel reported, and has died, aged just 32.

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

Morocco: Soldiers Accused of Permitting Arms to Get to Militants

(AKI) — Five Moroccan soldiers may go on trial for allegedly accepting payments from weapons smugglers who transported arms into an area of the disputed Western Sahara for a cell linked to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), according to newspaper al-Quds al-Arabi, citing comments by the interior ministry.

The ministry said the soldiers are accused of aiding smugglers bringing weapons to an militant cell with 27 members.

The soldiers worked as border security guards in the western part of Morocco allowing them to allow the arms traffickers pass by for a fee.

The insurgents transported automatic weapons, pistols and a rocket launcher on camels, the report said.

Morocco last week announced that it had broken up a militant cell suspected of planning to set up a rear base in Morocco from where it would plan bank robberies and attacks using explosive belts and car bombs against security services and foreign interests.

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

The Arabs and Tunisia’s Revolution: Will Tunisia’s Revolution Spread?

OF ALL the Arab regimes, Tunisia’s seemed like the least likely to succumb to “people’s power”. But that the Arab world has now seen the popular overthrow of an autocratic government is not entirely surprising. One of the last big things I wrote for The Economist before coming to America as “Lexington” was a special report on the Arab world, which came to the conclusion that beneath the apparent political stagnation a social revolution was already under way. The report, “Waking From Its Sleep”, appeared in July 2009, and my accompanying editorial concluded:

Behind the political stagnation of the Arab world a great social upheaval is under way, with far-reaching consequences. In almost every Arab country, fertility is in decline, more people, especially women, are becoming educated, and businessmen want a bigger say in economies dominated by the state. Above all, a revolution in satellite television has broken the spell of the state-run media and created a public that wants the rulers to explain and justify themselves as never before. On their own, none of these changes seems big enough to prompt a revolution. But taken together they are creating a great agitation under the surface. The old pattern of Arab government—corrupt, opaque and authoritarian—has failed on every level and does not deserve to survive. At some point it will almost certainly collapse. The great unknown is when.

That the authoritarian Arab governments are vulnerable and unpopular is easy enough to see. The hard thing to work out is what might take their place. Although it is sometimes assumed that political Islam will thrust itself into the space vacated by secular authoritarians, the appeal of Islamism in most Arab countries has a ceiling, which well-informed analysts in 2009 put at around 20% of the population. Besides, one great prop of the existing regimes (beyond their control of the army and secret police) is that in almost all Arab countries opposition is divided between the secular liberals on one side and Islamists on the other. The Islamists hold the secular liberals in contempt and the secular liberals are afraid that if the Islamists take power it will be “one man, one vote, one time”. So the opposition has checkmated itself…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

The Revolt of Desperate People Will Not Change North Africa

by Fiamma Nirenstein

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the past we identified with every revolt that seemed in favor of the poor, but a hard lesson was learned from the Iranian revolution: although it impassioned many, it soon gave birth to a fundamentalist, imperialist power that acted in violation of all human rights.

So now caution is required, as well as a real commitment to help those people protesting for bread and for the great dream of the Arab world: democracy. “One positive factor is that there is no longer an Islamist undercurrent among the youth — the social relationship between fanaticized masses and the people broke down when Al Qaida began to gain ground and dragged the young upper class youth into its ranks. Poor youth are not involved in this”, says Khaled Fuad Allam, a sociologist at the University of Trieste , and an Algerian affairs analyst. The times are over, he claims, when — as was the case during his studies at the University of Oran — even plastic knives and forks were removed in an attempt to prevent clashes between secular and religious young people. Now the Islamists have also been decimated after the mass warfare that caused such bloodshed for so many years.

Although Islamism is not, therefore, to blame here, and not present as a large force, it has begun to insinuate itself into universities and mosques to pilot these angry young people — just as it did in Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. “Moderate” Arab country does not indicate honest respect for human rights and good governance for its own people; yet we still tend to content ourselves with this adjective. Why not try saying the word “democratic”? Perhaps that would work better against these Islamic extremists?

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

Tunisia: Dynasties and Successions From Morocco to Egypt

(ANSAmed) — ROME, JANUARY 10 — Among the main proposals put forward by that uncompleted body — the Union for the Mediterranean — has been the re-launching of the Barcelona Process and that the countries on the southern shores of the Mediterranean should meet ‘Western’ standards of democracy and political suffrage. These are sound principles in political terms, but they have encountered many obstacles and will most likely continue to do so. The problem lies in the fact that the process of democratisation faces hurdles in the form of oligarchic power blocks often military in origin which today tend to have crystallised around a single figure whose position is reconfirmed by popular vote and whose succession is through family members. A country that has avoided this power format is Morocco, but this has only been thanks to the region’s only monarchy, with the country led by a “youthful” king (Mohamed VI, 48) with a deep commitment to involving his citizens in the construction of a new constitutional architecture. But as we head east, the countries with Mediterranean coastlines are solidly in the grip of a select group of persons who have been in power since time immemorial — when judged by Western standards. Since 1999, Algeria has been governed by Abdelaziz Bouteflika (74). Putting his controversial political past to one side (he had ambitions to succeed the ascetic Houari Boumedienne as president back in 1974 but was beaten by Chadli Bendjedid), Bouteflika’s grasp on power in the country is a firm one.

Although arriving as an “independent candidate”, Bouteflika has made his way to the apex of an army which, ever since the country obtained its independence from France, has been the only pillar of real power in the country. Confirmed in power in 2009, Bouteflika would appear to be heading for another victorious election and it goes without saying that any potential successor would have to come from the ranks of the ruling military caste.

The situation in Tunisia is fairly similar. President Zine Al Abindin Ben Ali (75), also a former soldier elected with the decisive support of the army, has been at the head of the government as long as memories reach back (since 1987, after he removed the then president and “supreme combatant” Bourghiba).

There is no sign of him wanting to pass on his control of power and he does not yet appear to have selected which of his (six) sons should succeed him. This is something he has common with Libya’s leader, Muammar Gaddafi, who himself led a revolt by young Nasser-supporting officers in 1969 to overthrow King Idris and proclaim a republic. Gaddafi was the most able among that group of officers — proven by the fact that he has led the country since then without letting anyone else a leash of power.

But Libya’s future appears complicated, as are the dealings within the Colonel’s family — he has eight sons. The one most widely tipped as successor — mainly because he has had most media exposure — is Saif al-Islam, whose dynamism (his activities have ranged from finance and culture to trade, publishing and solidarity) has seen him raise his shoulders above the other brothers. He has repeatedly denied press reports of a possible candidacy. In Egypt, the aging Hosni Mubarak (84) is facing the toughest period of his political career. The validity of the recent controversial general elections has been questioned abroad and several domestic parties decided to withdraw in protest.

Mubarak, whose health is questionable, is the only one to have a designated heir — although he denies this himself. It is his youngest son, Gamal, who is already 47 and not loved by all.

But the future appears to belong to him even if he may be obliged to “pay” a debt to the army (his father is a former general) and to the country’s very powerful security forces by aligning himself (or allowing himself to be aligned) with Omar Suleiman, a general and head of Egypt’s secret services.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Tunisia: Al Qaeda Maghreb Chief Wants Tunisians to Rebel

(ANSAmed) — ROME, JANUARY 14 — After inciting the Algerian people to rebel and bring down the country’s regime in the last few days, one of the leaders of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Abdelmalek Deroukdal, alias Abu Musab Abdelwadoud, has expressed his solidarity with the Tunisian people, encouraging it to fight a holy war to bring down the regime of President Ben Ali.

The AQIM chief appealed to Tunisian parents to train their sons in the use of weapons, according to the Al Quds Al Arabi newspaper.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Tunisian Army Fight Running Street Battles With Gunmen Loyal to the Ousted President

Gun battles at the Presidential Palace, Central Bank and Interior Ministry grew steadily more widespread during the day overshadowing efforts to bring the opposition into a government of national unity. Two days after Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali was forced to flee the Arab world’s first popular uprising in 50 years, the army’s efforts to restore order in the capital city appeared to be floundering. Members of Mr Ben Ali’s presidential guards seized control of high-rise buildings in the centre of Tunis for over an hour yesterday evening. From rooftops close to the central bank and interior ministry, highly trained snipers opened fire on army positions along Avenue Bourguiba, the city’s main thoroughfare.

Civilians ran for cover as the exchanges of gunfire escalated, abating only after helicopter gunships struck to flush the partisans out. Yet there was little to suggest that the presidential guard, which stands to lose the most from its patron’s exile, is beaten. Earlier in the day, the former president’s loyalists launched a separate attack outside the headquarters of a major opposition party, the PDP. Two gunman were killed by the army and two people carrying Swedish passports and four people with German passports were arrested by police with weapons…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Iraq: Baghdad Raids on Alcohol Sellers Stir Fears

Eight men carrying handguns and steel pipes raided a Christian nongovernmental organization here on Thursday night, grabbing computers, cellphones and documents, and threatening the people inside, according to members of the group.

“They came in and said, ‘You are criminals. This is not your country. Leave immediately,’ “ said Sharif Aso, a board member of the organization, the Ashurbanipal Cultural Association. “They said, ‘This is an Islamic state.’ “

The intruders wore civilian clothes, said Mr. Aso and others at the organization, but their arrival was preceded by three police vehicles that blocked off the street. He said the men stole his ring and bashed him on the leg with a pistol.

Ashurbanipal, named for an Assyrian king, primarily publishes writings in the Assyrian language, but it also runs a private club that serves alcohol, which appeared to be the reason for Thursday’s raid. The intruders smashed liquor bottles and a glass refrigerator case before throwing a gas canister through the window of a car belonging to a member of the group.

The episode is the latest in a recent flurry of attacks on those who sell alcohol in Baghdad. On Wednesday, two shop owners said they were raided in similar fashion, also by men dressed as civilians working with the police. The crackdown has stirred fears among some here of an accelerated movement toward strict Islamic law, especially since the return to Iraq of Moktada al-Sadr, the fiery anti-American cleric, a week ago.

In November, Baghdad’s provincial government invoked a 1996 Saddam Hussein-era resolution to ban the sale of alcohol, using it to close bars and nightclubs even though the resolution has not been ratified by Parliament.

A police major said the men who raided the club were employees of the provincial government. But the leader of the provincial government said they were police officers in civilian clothes.

“We are a Muslim country, and everyone must respect that,” said Kamil al-Zaidi, the chairman of the Baghdad Provincial Council.

Because nearly all alcohol sellers in Iraq are Christians, the campaign against alcohol overlaps eerily with recent attacks on Christians, including an attack at a church in October that left nearly 60 people dead. Alcohol, some say, is just an excuse.

“If a Christian sells flowers, they kill him,” said Ameen Chamo, who said a raid on his store on Wednesday inflicted $70,000 in damages. “If he sells a goose, they kill him. It makes no difference.”

Others at Ashurbanipal disputed this, saying that they were raided because they sold alcohol. All said that after this raid, they were eager to leave the country.

Already, Mr. Aso said, most members of the organization have left Iraq out of fear for their safety. Thousands of Christian families have left or sought refuge in the semiautonomous Kurdistan region in the north since the deadly October siege on Our Lady of Salvation, a Syrian Catholic church in Baghdad. The Islamic State of Iraq, an extremist group affiliated with Al Qaeda in Iraq, claimed responsibility for the siege.

More than half of Iraq’s Christians have left since the American-led invasion in 2003, when there were believed to be 800,000 to 1.4 million Christians in the country.

“We will leave,” said Mr. Chamo, who said that his shop had stopped selling alcohol since Nov. 25, when he received a letter from the Baghdad Provincial Council ordering him to do so. “The Americans are not protecting us.”…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Jordan: Peaceful Demonstrations Against High Cost of Living

(ANSAmed) — AMMAN, JANUARY 14 — Many Jordanians, though less than initially expected, protested today in several cities across the country against the increasing cost of living and fiscal policy of the government, under the watch of a large number of law enforcement officials deployed to prevent any disorders.

Organised by the left-wing parties, the demonstrations took place after Friday prayer. In Amman, several thousand people (one-thousand, according to police) marched from the King Hussein Mosque to the seat of the city government, chanting slogans against the government, but pacifically and without any incidents. “We are here to tell the government that its most recent economic measures are insufficient. They wanted to convince people not to protest, but we are here to show our anger,” said former MP Mansour Murad of the National Social Movement, which was one of the organisers of the protest, while speaking to ANSA. Only several hundred people took part in the protests in Madaba and Karak, and in Aqaba it looks like the call to protest has fallen upon deaf ears. Also because yesterday at the last minute the Islamic Movement did an about-face, deciding not to take part in the protest after saying that they were going to lead it a day earlier. In recent days the government announced new measures to quell the popular discontent regarding the rising cost of living. Premier Samir Refai announced that his government approved a package worth 225 million dollars, which will contribute to reducing the cost of several products such as rice and sugar. Fuel costs will also be reduced by 6%, basically eliminating a special tax on energy.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Poll Shows Turkey’s Erdogan Likely to Win Election

Turkey’s ruling AK Party, led by Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, has the backing of 46 percent of voters, less than six months before a national election, an opinion poll published on Sunday showed.

If the findings of the survey, conducted in December by Konsensus pollster for the Haberturk newspaper, were replicated in the June vote, the AK Party would secure a third consecutive term, having first come to power in 2002.

The AK Party, sometimes described as a Muslim version of Europe’s Christian Democrat parties, won 47 percent of the vote at the last election in 2007.

The AK has overseen a period of unprecedented economic growth in Turkey, after coming to power when the country was struggling out of the 2000/01 economic crisis.

Turks’ increasing confidence in their economy is one reason why many are less keen on joining the European Union, which remains a principle AK foreign policy goal.

The AK Party’s move to open formal membership negotiations with the European Union in 2005 was popular, but enthusiasm has cooled because of hurdles placed in the way of Muslim Turkey while other countries joined the bloc.

Nationalists and some liberals remain deeply suspicious of AK Party leaders’ Islamist roots, but the AK’s championing of democratic reforms in a country with a history of military coups has found favor with many people…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Revolutions, Walk-Outs and Fatwas

There have been major developments in Tunisia, Lebanon and Egypt, each of which is of tremendous importance.

In Tunisia, a popular uprising fueled by unemployment, economic suffering and long-term discontent has overthrown the dictator, but not necessarily the dictatorship. In 55 years of independence, the country has been governed by two dictators, the current one being Zine al-Abedin Ben Ali, who has been president for 23 years and was a key power in the regime even before that.

Is this going to spread? Does it mark some new phase in Arab politics? Probably not. Tunisia is a very distinctive country. It has been the most Europeanized state in the Arab world, due in part to the secular-oriented policies of the regimes. There has been an Islamist movement, but the regime has kept it weak, perhaps making Tunisia the Arabic-speaking state with the lowest proportional support for Islamism among its population.

There have been economic riots in other countries over the years, especially in Algeria or, for example, against reductions in bread subsidies in Egypt.

Notably, there was the Beirut Spring movement against Syrian control of the country. But in Tunisia the opponents’ lack of leadership and organization is likely to mean that the same elite and the army will remain in control of the country.

Statist and dictatorial policies have led to serious limits on freedom throughout the Arabic-speaking world.

Economic stagnation and lagging living standards are prevalent, except in those countries that have large oil and natural gas incomes and small populations.

How have regimes kept control? Through giving rewards to supporters and punishing opponents, military and police power, redirecting hostility toward other targets (America, Israel, the West) and other means. While revolutionary Islamists have promoted rebellion, Arab nationalist regimes have opposed them with a wide arsenal of tactics. And the very fear of an Islamist transformation can also be a good tool in keeping the elite together and the masses in line.

That system got too far out of balance in Tunisia.

There is a chance of parallel developments elsewhere, but it is not likely. At any rate, this issue will have to be watched closely.

IN LEBANON, Hizbullah ministers walked out of the government, bringing it down. Why? They didn’t have to do it since they have veto power and would have prevented the government from endorsing the international tribunal investigation that would point to Syria (and perhaps Hizbullah) as the source of terrorism in Lebanon, including the killing of former prime minister Rafik Hariri.

Hizbullah doesn’t just want the government just to be silent on the tribunal, but to condemn the investigation explicitly. It wants to renegotiate the coalition agreement to give itself more power. And it timed it for the moment when the prime minister was meeting with US President Barack Obama to embarrass its opponents. In Middle East talk, that timing signals: Our enemies are American puppets.

Finally, it is a message to America and the world: We — Iran, Syria and Hizbullah — are in control of Lebanon now, not you. There is no question that this assertion is true, yet US and Western policy is simply not adjusting to meet this situation.

IN EGYPT, an extraordinarily important fatwa has been issued by Dr. Imad Mustafa, of al-Azhar University, the world’s most important Islamic university.

He began by stating the well-known doctrine of “defensive jihad,” that is Muslims must go to war against infidels who attack them. Of course, the word “attack” is often spread rather thinly to justify aggression.

But now Mustafa has publicly and explicitly come up with a new concept, one that up until now was supposedly restricted to groups like al-Qaida: “Then there is another type of fighting against the non- Muslims known as offensive jihad… which is to pursue the infidels into their own land without any aggression [on their part]…

“Two schools [of Islamic jurisprudence] have ruled that offensive jihad is permissible in order to secure Islam’s border, to extend God’s religion to people in cases where the governments do not allow it, such as the Pharaoh did with the children of Israel, and to remove every religion but Islam from the Arabian peninsula.”

What does it mean about extending “God’s religion,” i.e., Islam? On the surface, “where the governments do not allow it” and the reference to Pharaoh seem to imply the complete prohibition of Islam.

But in the current context, this means that it is permissible to wage jihad against a country if anything “necessary” to Islam according to (hard-line) clerics’ interpretations is blocked (polygamy, child marriage, special privileges at work places, building mosques anywhere, permitting the wearing of head scarves or burkas).

In practice, according to this doctrine, then, any non-Muslim can be attacked anywhere. Thus, mainstream, powerful clerics are now calling for a seventhcentury- style jihad against non-Muslim lands even if the victims cannot be accused of attacking Muslimruled lands. Merely to “extend God’s religion” to others is a sufficient motive. Mustafa says that two of Islam’s main schools have always endorsed offensive jihad, but I doubt if he would have made that argument ten or 20 years ago…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Stuxnet Worm Used Against Iran Was Tested in Israel

The Dimona complex in the Negev desert is famous as the heavily guarded heart of Israel’s never-acknowledged nuclear arms program, where neat rows of factories make atomic fuel for the arsenal.

Over the past two years, according to intelligence and military experts familiar with its operations, Dimona has taken on a new, equally secret role — as a critical testing ground in a joint American and Israeli effort to undermine Iran’s efforts to make a bomb of its own.

Behind Dimona’s barbed wire, the experts say, Israel has spun nuclear centrifuges virtually identical to Iran’s at Natanz, where Iranian scientists are struggling to enrich uranium. They say Dimona tested the effectiveness of the Stuxnet computer worm, a destructive program that appears to have wiped out roughly a fifth of Iran’s nuclear centrifuges and helped delay, though not destroy, Tehran’s ability to make its first nuclear arms.

“To check out the worm, you have to know the machines,” said an American expert on nuclear intelligence. “The reason the worm has been effective is that the Israelis tried it out.”

Though American and Israeli officials refuse to talk publicly about what goes on at Dimona, the operations there, as well as related efforts in the United States, are among the newest and strongest clues suggesting that the virus was designed as an American-Israeli project to sabotage the Iranian program.

In recent days, the retiring chief of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, Meir Dagan, and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton separately announced that they believed Iran’s efforts had been set back by several years. Mrs. Clinton cited American-led sanctions, which have hurt Iran’s ability to buy components and do business around the world.

The gruff Mr. Dagan, whose organization has been accused by Iran of being behind the deaths of several Iranian scientists, told the Israeli Knesset in recent days that Iran had run into technological difficulties that could delay a bomb until 2015. That represented a sharp reversal from Israel’s long-held argument that Iran was on the cusp of success.

The biggest single factor in putting time on the nuclear clock appears to be Stuxnet, the most sophisticated cyberweapon ever deployed…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]


U.S. Anger Over BP ‘Getting Into Bed With KGB’ Over £5bn Arctic Oil Deal

BP faced a mounting backlash on both sides of the Atlantic last night over its controversial deal to sell a £5billion stake to the Russian government.

The oil giant’s chief executive Bob Dudley announced on Friday that Russia’s state-owned energy firm, Rosneft, will gain a five per cent chunk of BP’s shares.

The surprise deal, in which BP gets 9.5 per cent of Rosneft shares, will see the Russian government take an important foothold in Britain’s biggest oil company.

One diplomat yesterday suggested BP was ‘getting into bed with the KGB’.

The firms have also agreed to co-operate in drilling for oil in the largely untapped Arctic shelf, where Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has promised to give BP ‘the most favourable tax treatment’.

But while the company’s shares are expected to soar, politicians are warning of wider repercussions.

Shadow justice minister Chris Bryant said the oil giant should be ‘extremely wary’ of becoming embroiled in corruption.

‘The way Russia works, the state could end up expropriating their [BP’s] assets, which could end up in God knows whose pockets,’ he said.

‘The level of corruption in Russia is completely unchecked. I would be supping with a very long spoon if I was them.’

And in America, where BP is in disgrace because of its Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster, Republican congressman Michael Burgess called for an inquiry.

He said: ‘The national security implications of BP America being involved with the Russian company — that does require scrutiny.’

BP’s shares are 40 per cent owned in Britain and 40 per cent in America The partnership raises environmental concerns as well as fears over the security of Britain’s energy supply.

Labour leader Ed Miliband said: ‘I’d be pretty worried about this. I think the lessons of the Gulf oil spill should be not to just keep digging and digging deeper and deeper for oil.’

BP already has a partnership in Russia with its TNK-BP joint venture, which Mr Dudley ran until a major bust-up with the Russians in 2008…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

South Asia

For Pakistani Christians, The Government is Hostage to Islamic Parties on the Blasphemy Issue

Protestant leaders and human rights activists are frustrated by the prime minister who backs the blasphemy law. The Interior Ministry cracks down on websites with anti-Islamic content. The government kowtows to fundamentalist pressures despite its pledge to change laws that create confessional tensions. Street protests take place in Karachi against Benedict XVI.

Lahore (AsiaNews) — Churches in Pakistan have expressed frustration over the government’s refusal to amend a controversial blasphemy law, as urged by Pope Benedict XVI and civil rights activists. Instead, the Interior Ministry had ordered a crackdown against websites and text messages that propagate “an anti-Islam agenda”, and has appealed to internet users and young people to report websites that post material deemed anti-Islam and Pakistan. In reality, its actions are a sign of its weakness in the face of the country’s extremist camp and the length to which it is willing to go to hang on to power. At the same time, anti-Pope demonstrations took place in Karachi and two other cities.

As organisers had previously announced, anti-Benedict XVI demonstrations took place in Karachi and two other Pakistani cities, drawing hundreds of people into the streets against the papal call for the repeal of the blasphemy law. At the end of Friday prayers, protesters shouted slogans against the Pontiff and in favour of the law.

“We are disappointed by the stand taken by the Prime Minister,” said Rizwan Paul, President of Life for All (LFA), an organisation that has defended dozens of Christians and Muslims charged under the law.

On Tuesday, after the papal speech to the diplomatic corps accredited to the Vatican, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani ruled out any changes to the law.

Rizwan had expected the prime minister to take “a strong stand” against the law, given the growing protests that brought together Christians and Muslims.

The organisation representing Pakistan’s four mainline Protestant churches also expressed its displeasure with Gilani.

“We are certainly frustrated by the response of the Prime Minister,” Victor Azariah, general secretary of the National Council of Churches in Pakistan (NCCP), told AsiaNews from his office at Lahore.

Nevertheless, “the negative government response was no surprise in the present political situation,” he added.

In fact, the current government is hostage to the fundamentalist camp, especially now that it has weak support in parliament.

The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) holds only 125 seats in the 342-member National Assembly, and is forced to rely on the support of independent legislators and Islamic parties that insist on upholding the blasphemy law in exchange of their support for the government.

“It is a very difficult situation for the government,” admitted Mehboob Ahmed Khan, a civil rights activist who organised a candlelight vigil together with Church groups to protest Taseer’s 4 January murder.

During the 2008 election campaign, the PPP had promised that it would change laws that caused confessional tensions, including the blasphemy law.

By contrast, the decision by Interior Minister Rehman Malik to block websites and text messages with an allegedly “anti-Islam agenda” is proof of the government’s Islamist shift. Anyone accused in such cases would be prosecuted, the minister said.

At the same time, Malik appealed to young people to monitor the web, and ruled out any changes or repeal of the blasphemy law.

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

Malaysia: Muslim Work Ban Plan Sparks Outcry

PLAN to ban Muslims from working at pubs and discos in an urban Selangor town has sparked an outcry, while reigniting concerns of increasing Islamisation.

The ban could also reopen a rift between secular and conservative elements in the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) state government, less than two years after the two sides clashed over similar issues.

The proposal to stop Muslims working at entertainment outlets selling alcohol in Subang Jaya was first revealed last week by the district’s local council, which goes by the name MPSJ.

A suburb in Selangor, Subang Jaya is home to a million residents and many pubs, clubs and restaurants. Many of them hire Muslims as service staff. Selangor is also the country’s richest state.

MPSJ said it planned to implement a syariah law first set out by Selangor’s state Islamic council in 1995.

Under the law, businesses that hire Muslims for such jobs could be fined or lose their licences…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Pakistan: Italian Govt Pledges €40mln to Alleviate Poverty

Islamabad, 14 Jan. (AKI) — Italy on Friday pledged 40 million euros of funds to projects to alleviate poverty in several regions of Pakistan. Italy has so far committed over 200 million euros to aid Pakistan’s development.

Italy’s ambassador to Pakistan Vincenzo Prati and the secretary of Pakistan’s economic affairs division Sibtain Fazal Halim signed Friday’s accord, under which Italy will invest the funds though through the Pakistan government’s Poverty Alleviation Fund.

The PAF funds infrastructure projects in Pakistan such as roads, wells and bridges.

The Italian funds will help implement poverty alleviation programmes through development activities in western Balochistan province, in northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, and in the northwestern tribal belt and adjoining regions.

The various projects aim to reduce poverty by boosting incomes, production capacity and access to services to foster sustainable social and economic development.

The Italian government has pledged 203 million euros in aid to Pakistan to date, of which 133 million euros are already committed to activities and 70 million euros are due to be disbursed under agreements to be signed soon.

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

Pakistan: Ex-Minister Calls Prime Minister ‘The Most Corrupt Person in Country’s History’

Islamabad, 6 Jan. (AKI/DAWN) — Pakistan’s former minister for science and technology Azam Khan Swati on Thursday called prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani the most corrupt person in the country’s history.

Speaking to journalists outside the Supreme Court in the capital, Islamabad, Swati also levelled graft accusations at Pakistan’s president Asif Ali Zardari.

Gilani sacked Swati from his cabinet in December 2010 for ‘violating discipline’ after he engaged in a war of words over a corruption scandal involving Pakistani pilgrims’ accommodation in Mecca.

Gilani also fired religious affairs minister Hamid Saeed Kazmi, a ruling PPP party member after the scandal reportedly implicated Kazmi’s ministry in graft while booking accommodation for around 80,000 Pakistani Haj pilgrims.

Responding to a question regarding the ongoing Federal Investigation Agency’s probe into the Haj scam, Swati said that the court was well aware that the FIA would not unveil those involved in the corruption scandal.

After Swati’s sacking, his pro-Taliban Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-F (JUI-F), the largest religious party, withdrew from the government.

The PPP-led government is currently teetering on the verge of collapse after its former coalition partner, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement party (MQM) switched to the opposition in early January.

The MQM’s departure leaves the PPP significantly below the 172 seats needed to preserve its majority in the 342-member parliament.

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

Pakistan: Radical Islamists Torch Effigy of Pope Benedict at Protest

Pakistani demonstrators burn an effigy of Pope Benedict XVI as they react to recent statements about Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, during a rally in Islamabad, Pakistan, Friday, Jan. 14, 2011. Islamist protesters have demonstrated in three cities against a call by Pope Benedict XVI for Pakistan to scrap its blasphemy laws. The laws stipulate the death sentence for anyone insulting Islam’s prophet, Muhammad. Critics say the laws are often used to persecute Christians and other minorities or to settle personal vendettas.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Pakistan: To Blame the West for the Rise of the Taliban is Too Simplistic

Imran Khan’s claim that before the west invaded Afghanistan, Pakistan had no suicide bombers, no jihad and no Talibanisation is inconsistent with the facts. Pakistan had all three, but they were, and still are, directed against India. (“The stakes are high. Pakistan will simply implode if the US does not leave Afghanistan”, Commentary, News).

Pakistan started its jihad against India in Kashmir in November 1989 and its first suicide attack against civilians took place in Srinagar on 25 December 2000 — long before the west’s invasion of Afghanistan.

The Taliban, too, appeared in the region in the middle of 1990, but the political mainsprings behind them, namely Pakistan’s ambition to change the balance of power equation on its eastern and western border via state-sponsored terrorism, were long present in the Pakistani body politic. The Afghan war merely provided cash and international support that Pakistan needed to give practical shape to its regional ambition.

The Talibanisation of Pakistan and the threat to its internal stability stem from Islamabad’s insistence on employing terrorism as a state policy towards its neighbours, a case of the tail wagging the dog. Mr Khan’s attempt to blame the west, under these circumstances, is tantamount to placing the cart before the horse…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Pakistan: Watching a Nation Embrace Barbarism

Pakistan, at one time a reliable ally ruled by Western-educated cosmopolitans (albeit corrupt), is now the reverse: It is unreliable, not allied with United States interests and about to be ruled by an Islamic fundamentalist mob. Worse yet, it has a nuclear arsenal. It is a nation spiraling down the drain, despite the billions in U.S. aid intended to prevent that. Increasingly, “Pakistan” has become a symbol of what government is at its worst. Writers of letters to the editor of this newspaper have asked rhetorically: “Is this America or Pakistan?”

As we discuss the decline of civility in our own nation, we should consider what has befallen Pakistan, where civility has long since evaporated, and where morality has taken a bizarre twist.

Mumtaz Qadri, 26, has confessed to killing the governor of Punjab province, Salman Taseer, because the politician criticized a Pakistani law that mandates a death sentence for anyone who insults Islam.

Many Pakistanis have come out in support of Qadri since the assassination a week ago. Crowds showered him with rose petals and shouted supportive slogans during past court appearances. Qadri has said he was proud of murdering Taseer and believed it was his religious duty. The nation’s lawyers have announced their support of the assassin, and few have dared to demonstrate grief for the victim. What is happening there reminds us of William Golding’s allegorical 1954 novel, “Lord of the Flies.” In it, a group of British schoolboys marooned on an island attempt to civilly organize their efforts to survive and be rescued, but fear and human nature take over; the group divides, and the factions turn from competition to warfare. Their society descends into barbarism and, eventually, murder, in which even those with a moral conscience participate…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Australia — Pacific

Islamic Head Rejects Claims of Rising Extremism

THE nominal head of Australia’s Muslim community has disputed suggestions that religious extremism is on the rise.

Grand Mufti Sheik Fehmi said he was disappointed at the suggestion by his Sydney counterpart, Sheik Taj Din al-Hilali that extremism was increasing.

He declined to address Sheik Hilali’s claim to be the most senior Islamic figure in Australia, despite losing the title of Grand Mufti more than three years ago.

But Sheik Mohamadu Saleem, secretary of the Australian National Imams Council, the body that appointed Sheik Fehmi grand mufti in 2007, said Sheik Fehmi was concerned at Sheik Hilali’s claims, reported in The Weekend Australian.

“If the allegations are true, he is very concerned about it,” Sheik Saleem told The Australian yesterday.

“If it is not true, he is very concerned about the reaction of the community.”…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Latin America

Venezuela Anger at ‘Mocking’ Colombia Soap Opera

Venezuela has told a private TV company to stop showing a Colombian soap opera it says is insulting to the country.

Chepe Fortuna stars a character called Colombia and her sister Venezuela, who owns a dog called Little Hugo, the same name as Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez.

In one episode Venezuela loses Little Hugo, prompting Colombia to tell her she is better off without him.

The spat comes as the countries are making efforts to improve their historically strained relationship.

They restored relations last August, shortly after President Juan Manuel Santos took office in Colombia.

Venezuela’s telecommunications regulator Conatel said the secretary character named Venezuela was “repeatedly characterised as associated with crime, interference and vulgarity”.

Her gossipy and unscrupulous manner, it said, showed “the shameless manipulation of the plot to demoralise the Venezuelan people”.

Conatel ordered the Televen channel to take the programme off air on Thursday night. The channel has not yet commented on the demands.

But the show’s producer, Miguel Angel Baquero, denied the programme was promoting political intolerance.

“It is a folkloric tradition with the sole intention of entertaining the people and showing how the humour of the people of Colombia’s coast lets two sisters be called Colombia and Venezuela,” he said in a statement.

It is not the first time Televen has come under fire from the authorities.

In 2009 it was one of several channels ordered to stop showing episodes of the US cartoon Family Guy, over its apparent endorsement of the use of marijuana.

And in 2008, the channel was forced to broadcast public service films as a punishment after it broadcast episodes of The Simpsons — a cartoon the authorities consider inappropriate for children — in the morning.

Mr Chavez maintains tight control over the media in Venezuela — opposition groups accuse him of trying prevent coverage of political discontent.

           — Hat tip: Vlad Tepes[Return to headlines]


For 78 Per Cent of Israeli Jews, Immigrants Threaten the Jewishness of the State

A survey by the Gesher Centre and daily Yedioth Aharonoth indicates that 43 per cent would “firmly” oppose the presence of a church or mosque near their home. About 39 per cent would be opposed to social contacts between their children and non-Jewish children.

Jerusalem (AsiaNews/Agencies) — A survey by Israeli daily Yedioth Aharonoth shows that most Israeli Jews think that foreign immigrants threaten the Jewish character of the state. About 43 per cent would also be opposed to the presence of a church or a mosque near their residence.

The survey, conducted by the Panels Institute for Jerusalem’s Gesher Centre and the newspaper, shows that most Israeli Jews, not only Orthodox Jews, are against the assimilation of non-Jews; 78 per cent believe that migrants and refugees endanger the Jewishness of the state. This confirms concerns of a possible slide towards racism in Israel (see Arieh Cohen, “Behind the Katsav scandal, racism and crisis in Israel,” in AsiaNews, 31 December 2010).

The danger is great for 51 per cent of respondents, moderate for 21 per cent. Among the ultra-Orthodox, religious and traditional respondents, a vast majority believe that the State’s Jewish character was jeopardized (93, 85 and 71 per cent respectively), while some 43 per cent of seculars responded similarly.

When asked what they would think if a mosque or a church was to be built next to their place of residence, some 43 per cent respondents said they would firmly oppose it.

“Absolutely not, this is the Jewish state and it is forbidden to build such places,” replied 80 per cent of ultra-Orthodox, 69 per cent of the religious, 52 per cent of traditionalists and 31 per cent of secular respondents.

In contrast, 30 per cent said they would agree unwillingly and ask for the structure to be modest, and 27 per cent said it was a right that should be granted to all worshippers—regardless of their faith.

When asked, “would you let your children have social contacts with non-Jewish kids?”, 56 per cent of the respondents replied affirmatively, while 39 per cent said no.

In reference to the question about their children’s marriage to non-Jews, 42 per cent said it would bother them and would oppose the marriage, while 33 per cent said it would bother them but they would not oppose the wedding, and 23 per cent declared that it would not bother them if he or she were “a good person.”

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

Greek Police Clash With Anti-Migrant Protesters

Greek police clashed with about 500 anti-immigrant extremists, chasing some into a local church and firing tear gas inside Saturday. No injuries were reported.

The extremists, who were throwing stones at officers, were angry about a demonstration in Athens by immigrants, unionists and human rights activists, who were marching against a planned fence on the Greek-Turkish border.

Official statistics show that about 128,000 illegal immigrants entered Greece in 2010, most through Turkey, making Greece the busiest entry point for immigrants in the European Union. To stem the tide, the government has announced plans to build a 12.5-kilometer fence along a stretch of the Greek-Turkish border.

The plan has been criticized by left-wing parties, immigrants and human rights activists, including UNHCR, the U.N. refugee agency.

About 1,000 immigrants, joined by a few hundred Greeks, marched from central Athens to a neighborhood in the north that has been a flashpoint of anti-immigrant activities. Police prevented them from reaching the church of St. Panteleimon, the neighborhood’s focal point.

Outside the church, hundreds of members of far-right group Chrysi Avgi, or Golden Dawn, joined by some residents, were waiting to confront the protest march.

But riot police were determined to keep the two groups apart. Extreme rightists started berating the police, threw stones at them and attacked them with flagpoles. The police charged toward them and several dozen right-wingers sought refuge inside the church.

The police fired tear gas, including inside the church, made three arrests and, after about half an hour of clashes, the far-right militants withdrew. Police remained for several more hours near the church, even though the protest marchers had also left the scene.

The neighborhood has a strong immigrant population, mostly from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh, and many Greeks living in the area resent their presence.

Chrysi Avgi, for many years a marginal organization, has stoked residents’ fears, organizing patrols in the area that often intimidate and harass immigrants. Their tactics paid off in last November’s local elections when they won 5.3 percent in Athens and elected its leader, Nikolaos Michaloliakos, to the city council for the first time. They got 8.4 percent in the ward, which includes the St. Panteleimon area.

“Greeks aren’t having a good time. …. The quality of life has dropped here in Greece. People who come from these places, from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh. … There are so many, and they arrive in such big numbers, that no one can control the situation,” resident Nicholaos Sofos said.

Immigrants taking part in the march were upset at Greece’s fence plan, but even angrier at the country’s very slow procedures in granting permanent resident status.

“I have been here for three years. Every day just with the red [temporary residence] card. To go and change it? Nothing. I cannot go anywhere to change my life. I cannot go back,” said Alhadj Sow, an immigrant from Senegal.

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

Libyan Detention Centres Fill Up Again

(ANSAmed) — TRIPOLI — JANUARY 13 — Today there are 1450 illegal migrants being held in Libya in five detention centres for illegal immigrants, according to well-informed local sources speaking to ANSA. Over the past month, the detention centres for illegal migrants in Libya have started to fill up again.

They emptied out following the amnesty proposed by the Libyan leader in the middle of July. A measure granted all of the inmates a stay permit with a validity of three months and a chance for a “socially useful” job. After the three months was up, the migrants who were not legalised returned to being at the risk of imprisonment and deportation back to their countries of origin. The following facilities are involved: Twisha, which is holding 900 men; Zawia, with 120 men; Zwara, with 70 men and 2 women; Garabulli, with 90 men; Surman (near Sabratha), with 70 men, and Sebha with 200 men and women. According to local sources the migrants are mainly from “Nigeria, Niger, Ghana, Mali, Sudan and Egypt”, while there are reportedly no Eritreans or Somalis among them.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

UK: 4 in 5 Brits Want Curb on Migrants: Racial Tension is Growing Worry

FOUR out of five Brits want action on immigration as soon as possible.

A new survey also revealed 45% of people believe racism is more common than five years ago.

And it showed the growing worry of racial tension in the UK, with almost 10% of adults saying religious or racial harassment is a “big problem” in their area.

The study, by the Communities and Local Government department, also showed over half of those surveyed wanted immigration cut “a lot”.

The Citizenship Survey has been commissioned every two years since 2001. Around three million immigrants have arrived in the UK since 1997.

Critics say the previous Labour government had a “relaxed” approach to immigration and border control…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Culture Wars

Serbia: NGO Pushes for Same-Sex Marriage

(ANSAmed) — BELGRADE, JANUARY 12 — The Gay-Lesbian Info Center (GLIC) NGO has asked for the Serbian Constitution to be changed to include a new definition of marriage, reports radio B92. GLIC wants the country’s highest legal act to stop defining marriage as union between man and woman, and instead allow for same-sex marriage.

“We believe that change is important, in order to leave the possibility for the gay-lesbian community in Serbia to, one day, when it’s ready, legalize same-sex marriages, without making new changes to the Constitution,” a statement from the NGO said. The organization added that it was necessary to change Article 21 of the Constitution to define discrimination based on sexual orientation as illegal, “because that was the only thing not listed”. “We hope that political parties that advocate equality and human rights will consider our proposals and show they care about the equality of all the citizens of Serbia,” the statement concluded.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Global Food Chain Stretched to the Limit

Strained by rising demand and battered by bad weather, the global food supply chain is stretched to the limit, sending prices soaring and sparking concerns about a repeat of food riots last seen three years ago.

Signs of the strain can be found from Australia to Argentina, Canada to Russia.

On Friday, Tunisia’s president fled the country after trying to quell deadly riots in the North African country by slashing prices on food staples.

“We are entering a danger territory,” Abdolreza Abbassian, chief economist at the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), said last week.

The U.N.’s fear is that the latest run-up in food prices could spark a repeat of the deadly food riots that broke out in 2008 in Haiti, Kenya and Somalia. That price spike was relatively short-lived. But Abbassian said the latest surge in food stuffs may be more sustained. “Situations have changed. The supply/demand structures have changed,” Abbassian told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. last week. “Certainly the kind of weather developments we have seen makes us worry a little bit more that it may last much, much longer. Are we prepared for it? Really this is the question.”

Price for grains and other farm products began rising last fall after poor harvests in Canada, Russia and Ukraine tightened global supplies. More recently, hot, dry weather in South America has cut production in Argentina, a major soybean exporter. This month’s flooding in Australia wiped out much of that country’s wheat crop.

As supplies tighten, prices surge. Earlier this month, the FAO said its food price index jumped 32 percent in the second half of 2010, soaring past the previous record set in 2008.

Prices rose again this week after the U.S. Department of Agriculture cut back its already-tight estimate of grain inventories. Estimated reserves of corn were cut to about half the level in storage at the start of the 2010 harvest; soybean reserves are at the lowest levels in three decades, the USDA estimates, in part because of heavy buying by China. The ratio of stocks to demand is expected to fall later this year to “levels unseen since the mid-1970s,” the agency said…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

The Crazed Smile That Says: It’s the Little Packets of Madness That We Really Need to Fear

Smugly and with a superior smile, liberal Britain looks down on those trigger-happy Americans and their loudmouth politicians.

What happened in Tucson could never happen here in our nice, civilised, gun-free, peaceful country we assure ourselves.

It isn’t so simple. Nowadays, we suffer plenty of gun massacres and rampages of our own.

Yet back before 1920, when Britain’s gun laws were more relaxed than Arizona’s are today, the only major shooting episodes involved foreign terrorists (as at the famous siege of Sidney Street, 100 years ago).

And harmonious Switzerland is full of powerful guns and ammunition, stored in almost every home, thanks to its sensible military service laws.

If the USA is a more violent country than some (and in parts it still is), this has less to do with the presence of legal guns than it does with the bitter heritage of slavery which will divide and sour that country for centuries to come.

But — without that excuse — we are quietly catching up with America in the violence league. As a people, we are far readier to resort to the fist and the boot — and the knife — than we were 30 years ago.

Our suburbs are much less safe than America’s. And, as guns seep into the bottom edge of our society, our criminals will also be readier to use them.

Hardly any crime is committed in this country with legally held weapons. Lawbreakers use illegally obtained guns, not legally bought ones. And the criminal gangs of our big cities know very well how to get such weapons.

There is another aspect of this case that the smug media seem to be avoiding. Look at the strange picture of the alleged killer Jared Loughner. He has just been arrested for a crime for which he could be put to death, if convicted. And he is smiling. From this, and from many other things we already know about this man, it seems likely that he has lost his reason.

Why and how? The most likely cause is Loughner’s daily cannabis-smoking habit. The link between this drug and serious mental illness grows clearer every day. Wickedly, the dope lobby still tries to deny this and seeks to legalise it.

Loughner has been, for much of his short life, a habitual smoker of this so-called ‘soft’ organic drug. This is not in doubt. Police records, the testimony of U.S. army recruiters who rejected him partly on these grounds, and the accounts of several friends confirm that Loughner is a marijuana victim.

Yes, I know. Not all cannabis-smokers lose their minds. And not all cigarette-smokers get cancer. But in both cases the risk is enough to cause concern.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Unilever Chief Warns Over Global Crisis in Food Output

In a speech on Tuesday, Paul Polman, the chief executive of Unilever, will say that market distortions created by European Union subsidies work against the needs of the developing world. He will also demand fewer subsidies for harmful first-generation bio-fuels and say that climate change must be tackled by companies changing to sustainable models of agriculture. In an interview with The Sunday Telegraph Mr Polman said that short-term speculators were also driving up prices. “One of the main things in food inflation is that it has attracted speculators for short-term profit at the expense of people living a dignified life,” Mr Polman said. “It is difficult to understand if you want to work for the long-term interests of society.” He revealed he had spoken to the European Commission’s commissioner for internal markets, Michel Barnier, about the issue. Mr Polman says speculators should be forced to disclose their positions. Unilever buys 12pc of the world’s tea to make brands such as PG Tips and Liptons. It also purchases 6pc of the world’s tomato supply for its leading brands such as Knorr soup and Pot Noodle. In the speech, Mr Polman will say that such is his concern about climate change and water scarcity, Unilever is reviewing whether it can sustain tomato cultivation in southern Europe…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]