Saturday, January 11, 2003

News Feed 20110118

Financial Crisis
»Hu Jintao Provoking the US by Suggesting Yuan Replace Dollar as Reference Currency
»India: Rising Petrol Prices Hurt the Poor as the Ranks of the Rich Grow
»Schäuble: EU’s Barroso ‘Complicating’ Euro Crisis
»Spain: Santander Managing Director Barred From Activities
»The Chinese Currency War Has Invaded America.
»FBI: Bomb Found on MLK March Route
»Muzzammil Hassan: Man Accused of Beheading Wife Says He’s the Victim
»U.S. Legal Win Could Help Islamic Finance Counter Sharia Concerns
Europe and the EU
»Filming British Muslims’ Fight Against Extremism
»Italy: Berlusconi Denies Paying Women, Reveals New Stable Relationship
»Italy: ‘Hush it Up’: Ruby Claims She Was Told — Wiretap
»Ruby: Fini: Italy Can’t Just Sit and Watch PM’s Soap Opera
»Spain: Gov’t to Intervene in Regions That Don’t Cut Spending
»Sweden: Malmö: Police Targeted in New Outbreak of Riots
»Thilo Sarrazin Live From Berlin
»Turkey: Frattini: Ankara Membership Beneficial for Europe
»UK: Ibis Hotels Host Islamic Extremists’ Conference, Despite Protests
»UK: London University to Host Imam Who Called Jews ‘Enemy’
»UK: Muslim Woman Told ‘Wear the Hijab or I’ll Kill You’ by Cousin
»UK: The Conservatives and Islamism: The Promises and the Reality
»Albania: Deputy PM Resigns After Video Scandal
Mediterranean Union
»Tunisia: Union for the Mediterranean Has Failed, Frattini
North Africa
»Bank Denies Giving 1.5 Tonnes of Gold to Ben Ali’s Wife
»Caroline Glick: Tunisia’s Lessons for Washington
»Do Right by Tunisia This Time
»Islamist Leader Seeks Return to Tunisia
»Libyan News Agency Makes Rare Criticism of the Army
»Maghreb: Frattini, Bring Algeria and Tunisia Closer to Europe
»Revolt in Tunisia: When Arab Regimes Do (And Do Not) Tremble
»Suicide is Against Islam: Al-Azhar
»Tunisia: Ousted President’s Family Flees Abroad ‘With 1.5 Tonnes of Gold’
»Tunisia: France: Ben Ali’s Accounts Monitored, No Freeze
Israel and the Palestinians
»Russia’s Medvedev Backs Independent Palestine
Middle East
»Jordan: Oil Spending Increases
»Pope: Christians Replace Jews as ‘Most Persecuted Minority’
»Syria: State Subsidies Against Heating Fuel Price Hike
»Thousands of Polygamous Marriages in Turkey: Study
»Turkey: Alevis to File Mass Lawsuits Against Compulsory Religious Courses
»Russia Warns of ‘Iranian Chernobyl’
South Asia
»EU Attacked Over Uzbek President’s Visit
»Italian Soldier Killed in Afghanistan
»Pakistan: Prime Minister Confirms Govt Has No Plans to Amend Blasphemy Law
»Pakistan’s Blasphemy Laws Are a Symptom. The Real Question is: What is Pakistan All About?
Far East
»China Moves Troops Into North Korea
»Florence: First Italian Language Test
»Refugees Stir Greek Anger
»UK: Asylum Seeker Who Killed Amy Houston, 12, In Hit and Run ‘Should be Deported’
»Video Shows Women Climbing U.S.-Mexico Border Fence in Less Than 18 Seconds

Financial Crisis

Hu Jintao Provoking the US by Suggesting Yuan Replace Dollar as Reference Currency

Before leaving for Chicago, the Chinese president gives a rare interview to US newspapers, explaining his views on the economy, international politics and human rights. His answers show that he is unwilling to make any political and economic concessions. Now everyone is waiting to see how President Obama will respond.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) — Chinese President Hu Jintao called for an end to a “zero sum” cold war relationship with the United States and proposed new co-operation, but refused to appreciate the yuan. He called instead for a new international currency system.

Hu, who will start a US visit tomorrow, chose to outline his views in an interview with two US newspapers, the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post.

On the currency issue, he said China would not comply with Washington’s request. For the United States, the Chinese currency is undervalued, a situation that is giving China an unfair price advantage in international trade, contributing to the huge US trade deficit. Beijing has rejected US demands to protect its production and jobs.

For the United States, it would be better for China to let its currency strengthen to cap inflation, but Hu said China is fighting inflation with a range of policies including interest-rate increases. What is more, “inflation can hardly be the main factor in determining the exchange rate policy,” he explained. In fact, prices are “on the whole moderate and controllable.” Many analysts are not so sure, noting how prices are skyrocketing whilst China’s real estate bubble is still growing.

Hu has his own advice for the Americans. The “liquidity of the US dollar should be kept at a reasonable and stable level,” he said.

The Federal Reserve’s November decision to buy US$ 600 billion in US government bonds was a bad idea because it undermined the value of the US currency and could cause competitive currency devaluations by other governments, especially in emerging economies.

For Hu, the international currency system dominated by the US dollar is a “product of the past”. For this reason, China was taking steps to replace it with the yuan, its own currency. Hu acknowledged though that it would be a “fairly long process”.

China, with foreign exchange reserves of US$2.85 trillion, is the largest holder of US debt.

The Chinese president suggested co-operation with the United States in areas like new energy sources, clean energy, infrastructure development, aviation and space, namely areas in which China lags behind the United States but in which it is mounting a competitive challenge.

In addition, he spoke encouragingly about the outlook for resolving tensions on the Korean Peninsula. However, as North Korea’s main ally, Beijing has done little to stop escalating tensions in the wake of Pyongyang’s military actions against South Korea.

On the eve of Hu’s visit, US President Barack Obama appears poised to raise the issue about human rights, which had been on backburner for a while. Last Thursday, the US leader met some China human rights advocates at the White House, activists seen as criminals by China.

On the matter, Beijing has already said that it would not accept any interference in its domestic affairs, calling such talk a leftover from the “cold war”, showing a lack of “mutual respect”.

Beijing also said that China does not discriminate against foreign companies and wants the “same treatment” for Chinese companies and goods, indirectly responding to those who criticise Western governments for basing their relations with China on business and not human rights.

Analysts note that China also appears unwilling to make any concessions to US demands, but will insist on issues it considers vital like US arms sales to Taiwan, or the South China Sea, which it views as an internal sea. Washington has instead strengthened its presence in the region to support South Korea and back the territorial claims of Japan and Vietnam against China.

Experts note that China’s offer to buy the sovereign debt of struggling European nations could open a privileged channel with Europe, moving Beijing away from its focus on the United States alone.

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

India: Rising Petrol Prices Hurt the Poor as the Ranks of the Rich Grow

Fuel price hikes compound higher food prices, fuelling dissatisfaction. Inflation and widespread corruption burden Indian society, widening the gap between haves and have-nots.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) — Petrol prices increased by Rs 2.50-Rs 2.54 per litre at midnight last Saturday. This is the second hike in a month, and comes at a difficult time for the average Indian, already faced with high food prices. In a country where tens of millions of people are already undernourished, higher fuel prices coupled with high food prices can only negatively affect the country’s economic growth.

The petrol hike will increase transportation costs, which is likely to trigger a fresh, all-round increase in prices of food items. Transporters across the country have in fact decided to raise freight rates by 10 to 15 per cent to offset higher fuel costs. This will be particularly painful for the average domestic budget, something not likely to concern the upper classes.

It is urgent for religious leaders from various faiths to get together to pressure the government do something to meet the crying needs of the poor, said Fr Nithya Sagayam OFM, who heads the Office of Human Development of the Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences (FABC).

“Interfaith dialogue should also address the economic, social and cultural needs of the people,” he explained, because “God calls us to give our life and energies to serve the poor.”

“This is not charity but an entitlement. Everyone is entitled to our help. The exploitation of the poor and the creation of wealth for the upper classes are part of the malaise of Indian society.”

According to the 2010 World Wealth Report, Indian society is increasingly polarised between haves and have-nots. The country has 126,700 high net worth individuals, 50 per cent more than in 2008.

Although no current data is available, the superrich probably not only recouped losses incurred in 2008 but very likely increased their wealth compared to 2007.

In the meantime, the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) estimated that 13.6 million more Indians fell or remained in poverty than would have been the case had the 2008 growth rates continued.

Lastly, the cost of widespread corruption in India stood at US$ 125 billion in illicit capital flight between 2000 and 2008. The Centre for International Policy (CIP) noted that both corrupt political and corporate interests managed to siphon off considerable funds—intended to aid the people of Indi—to benefit the country’s political and private sector elites.

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

Schäuble: EU’s Barroso ‘Complicating’ Euro Crisis

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble said Monday that European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso was making the eurozone debt crisis more complicated with calls to boost a rescue fund.

“Isolated proposals do not make the situation any easier, but rather more complicated,” Schäuble told Deuschlandfunk radio as finance ministers prepared to discuss changes to the emergency fund in Brussels.

The German minister reiterated Berlin’s position on the issue, saying he saw “absolutely no reason in the short term to debate” over an increase in backing for the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF).

The fund was established to raise money on behalf of heavily indebted eurozone governments.

Schäuble added however that he had no objection to thinking “in the medium term” about changes to the programme, which is supposed to be replaced by a permanent mechanism in 2013.

“It is not a question of increasing or augmenting but of ensuring that the amount agreed to in May is in fact available,” he said.

The EFSF has a nominal value of €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.

When matching funds from the International Monetary Fund and other European Union sources are included, the EFSF has a nominal size of €750 billion.

Germany, the biggest donor to the facility, has resisted calls for boosting that amount to as much as €1.5 trillion, as the coalition government headed by Angela Merkel gears up for seven regional elections this year.

In Brussels, eurozone finance ministers gathered meanwhile to find a way to calm financial market fears over the fate of countries like Portugal that are finding it harder to finance their debt.

Barroso has urged eurozone countries to move faster on the issue and has not hesitated to tell Berlin what he thought it should be doing.

“I expect top German politicians to respect the role of the commission. We in the commission have not only the right, but also the duty, to tell Europe’s citizens what we think is right,” he told German news magazine Der Spiegel.

Helping Greece and Ireland was deeply unpopular among German voters and Chancellor Angela Merkel is wary of being seen to stump up even more money ahead of seven state elections this year, the first on February 20.

But a survey of 250 firms in Germany published on Monday showed 57 percent in favour of the fund being enlarged, even if this cost Germany more.

Forty-one percent of the companies, mostly small and medium-sized Mittelstand firms, were opposed, the poll by management consulting firm Kienbaum showed.

It also found 60 percent of firms in favour of Brussels having more power in member states’ fiscal and economic policy.

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

Spain: Santander Managing Director Barred From Activities

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, JANUARY 17 — The Santander bank has declined to comment on the news of a prohibition of any banking activity set down by the Supreme Tribunal for the managing director of the banking group, Alfredo Saenz, in a sentence on which advance news was given today by the daily El Mundo.

Santander is waiting for the official deeds to be released before commenting on the matter. It was been reported that Saenz has been sentenced to 8 months in jail, a fine and a special prohibition on any task connected with banking activities due to the crimes of false accusations and trial-related fraud. The crimes he is accused of are related to the period in which Saenz was the chairman of Banesto. He has been held guilty of submitting a false report against 4 entrepreneurs of the Olabarria group, three of whom were arrested, to get an unlawful reimbursement of about 3.6 million euros. The Supreme Court sentence is harsher than the December 2009 one handed down in the first degree court , in which Saenz was sentenced to 6 months in jail and a 100,000-euro fine.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

The Chinese Currency War Has Invaded America.

A major issue that will be discussed during Chinese President Hu Jintao’s visit to the White House is the disputed value the Chinese currency, the yuan. Yet people can now get the yuan right here.

The state run Bank of China now lets customers exchange dollars for the Chinese money at the branch in New York City’s Chinatown. So instead of withdrawing greenbacks with George Washington or Abraham Lincoln, you can now stuff your wallet with money that has the engraved portrait of Mao Zedong.

Account holders can cash in up to $4,000 a day, with the limit of 20 grand a year. If you don’t have an account, you can only cash in half those amounts.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


FBI: Bomb Found on MLK March Route

Device reportedly had remote control detonator; incident described as ‘domestic terrorism’

[see link for video]

SPOKANE, Wash. — A backpack found along the route of the Martin Luther King Jr. march in Spokane contained a bomb “capable of inflicting multiple casualties,” the FBI said Tuesday, describing the case as “domestic terrorism.”

The FBI said the Swiss Army-brand backpack was found about 9:25 a.m. PST on Monday on a bench at the northeast corner of North Washington Street and West Main Avenue in downtown Spokane.

In an interview on msnbc cable’s “The Rachel Maddow Show,” Spokesman-Review reporter Thomas Clouse said confidential sources told him that the device was equipped with a remote control detonator and contained shrapnel.

A bomb disposal unit was called in and neutralized the device with a robot. The FBI said in a statement on Tuesday that “the backpack contained a potentially deadly destructive device, likely capable of inflicting multiple casualties.”

The FBI has refused to discuss how the bomb was constructed.

“Suffice it to say it was of grave concern,” Frank Harrill, special agent in the charge of the Spokane FBI office, told NBC News.

“You could describe it as an improvised destructive device … or improvised explosive device.”

The FBI has not established an official motive, but Harrill told NBC News “the timing and placement of the backpack (along the march route) is inescapable.”

“At that point, it falls directly in the realm and sphere of domestic terrorism,” Harrill told the Associated Press. “Clearly, there was some political or social agenda here.”

No threats or warnings were issued before the march.

[Return to headlines]

Muzzammil Hassan: Man Accused of Beheading Wife Says He’s the Victim

Muzzammil Hassan, a western New York man accused of beheading his wife at the Muslim-oriented television station they founded, will claim he was a victim of years of abuse at home.

Hassan was in a Buffalo courtroom Friday, where he fired the lawyer who has been representing him for nearly a year and hired a new one with a different strategy.

New lawyer Frank Bogulski says he’ll pursue a battered-person defense.

Hassan’s previous lawyer had planned to argue that emotional distress prompted the February killing of 37-year-old Aasiya Hassan in offices of the suburban Buffalo television station.

Prosecutors say the case has dragged on too long and they want the judge to bar any psychiatric defense.

The Hassans lived in Orchard Park — a well-off Buffalo suburb that hadn’t seen a homicide since 1986 — and started Bridges TV there in 2004 with the message of developing understanding between North America and the Middle East and South Asia. The network, available across the U.S. and Canada, was believed to be the first English-language cable station aimed at the rapidly growing Muslim demographic.

Orchard Park Police Chief Andrew Benz said last year that his officers had responded to domestic incidents involving the couple, most recently Feb. 6, the day Muzzammil “Mo” Hassan was served with the divorce papers and an order of protection.

“I’ve never heard him raise his voice,” said Paul Moskal, who became friendly with the couple while he was chief counsel for the FBI in Buffalo. Moskal would answer questions in forums aired on Bridges TV that were intended to improve understanding between Muslim-Americans and law enforcement.

“His personal life kind of betrayed what he tried to portray publicly,” Moskal said…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

U.S. Legal Win Could Help Islamic Finance Counter Sharia Concerns

A U.S. court decision to dismiss a case alleging that AIG’s (AIG.N) sharia-compliant businesses promoted religious doctrine looks likely to boost confidence in the industry and lift sales of Islamic products in the longer term.

A Michigan district court rejected on Friday a claim filed by U.S. Marine veteran Kevin Murray in 2009 that the U.S. government violated the constitution by allowing funds from insurer American International Group’s $40 billion bailout to be used to fund its Islamic insurance businesses.

Lawyers say the case is significant for the industry in the United States, which has struggled with a backlash against Islam, and is looking for support from the courts and government to promote Islamic finance as a legitimate business.

Islamic finance has been plagued by criticism in the U.S. that it is a means of funneling funds to terrorists or a plot by Muslims to spread a system of Islamic principles known as sharia has plagued the industry in the U.S.

“The case helps the industry by putting the fringe element that is fearful of sharia in its place,” said Isam Salah, partner at King & Spalding in New York. “But I expect we’ll see more of these kinds of cases as we see a multi-pronged effort to combat all things Islamic in the U.S.”…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Filming British Muslims’ Fight Against Extremism

Whenever you read something negative about Muslims in the press, it is often followed by someone saying: “Where are all the moderate Muslims? Where are all the Muslims who are against terrorism, against extremism … why aren’t we hearing from them?”

The reality is that Muslims have been working against the extremists in the their community way before 7/7 or even 9/11. It is the reason why the likes of Abu Hamza and Omar Bakri, the now exiled leader of al-Muhijiroun, were shunned by the Muslims up and down the country way before they became the known faces of Islamic extremism. It is also why their followers number in the hundreds rather than in the hundred of thousands. But nobody talks or writes about that.

Growing up in Britain, in a pre 9/11 world — it is strange how one can define one’s life this way, by a single event — I gave very little consideration to my Muslim identity. Nor did anyone else around me. Yes, like countless other Pakistanis, I would be called “Paki”, but that was the worst of it.

How times have changed. My sister, a primary school teacher in the town in which we grew up, was alarmed when one of her seven-year-old pupils called another child of Arab origin “Muslim” as a term of abuse. The boy was surprised to hear that my headscarf-wearing sister was in fact a Muslim herself. There is a perception out there that Muslims are bad, or that they are extremists, or terrorists — or do not take the threat of terrorism seriously. What I wanted to show by making these films was that Muslims of all persuasions were as keen as any other citizen to rid Britain of Islamist extremism. I want to challenge the perception that Muslims are not doing their bit to take on extremism.

Each film deals with Muslims from different backgrounds, but each with their own approach to fighting extremism. The first film in the series, The Struggle Within, looks at Luton Muslims Farasat latif and Abdur Rehman, who follow the orthodox Salafi school of thought. Salifis are often derided in the press as extremist nut-jobs. But while they dress the same and have beards, there the similarity ends. For almost the last 20 years they have been trying to persuade Muslims not to get involved with groups like al-Muhajiroun, who they believe distort Islam…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Italy: Berlusconi Denies Paying Women, Reveals New Stable Relationship

Doubts over appearance before public prosecutors as possible legitimate impediment claim looms

MILAN — Silvio Berlusconi has broken his silence. The PM took to the airwaves again with a recorded video message to the Promoters of Freedom, broadcast in full first on the Studio Aperto programme and then on the Tg4 news bulletin. In it, he claims “to have helped everyone, never in exchange for anything apart from friendship and affection. It is absurd even to think that I might have paid to have relations with a woman. It’s something I would consider degrading for my dignity”.

“NOT A FREE COUNTRY” — The prime minister continued: “It can’t go on like this. The country isn’t free when some magistrates wage political battles against those who hold public office”. Mr Berlusconi went on to attack “a caste of the privileged” which, according to him, “is able to commit any abuse”. The prime minister was referring to the Ruby affair. “The reforms must be implemented at once, including reform of justice”, he insisted. “It is unacceptable that people should be searched in their homes at seven in the morning. You cannot treat people like criminals, using more than a hundred officers, a deployment of force worthy of a Mafia round-up”, said the prime minister, adding that he had had a stable relationship with a woman since his marriage to Veronica Lario ended.

“NEW RELATIONSHIP” — “Since my separation, and I would have preferred never to mention it so as not to expose her to the media, I have had a stable emotional relationship with someone”, Mr Berlusconi revealed. “Obviously, that person was very often with me on those evenings and would never have allowed the absurd events alleged by some of the papers to take place at or after dinner”.

“MY FRIENDS FEDE, MORA AND MINETTI” — The prime minister explained: “Emilio Fede has always been a very dear friend of mine. I’ve known Lele Mora for many years through his excellent work at Mediaset. I gave him a hand at a time when he had serious economic and health problems, and I am proud to have done so. I know that, when he is able to, he will pay me back what I lent him”. Mr Berlusconi went on say that Nicole Minetti “is an able, competent woman who is, unjustly, paying for having wanted to get involved in politics”.

“UNACCEPTABLE REGISTRATION OF GUESTS” — Mr Berlusconi’s taped message went on: “Certain well-known public prosecutors in Milan carried out a very serious invasion of my private life, effecting an unacceptable registration of guests at my Arcore home, ascertaining all their telephone numbers and subjecting them to electronic surveillance for several months. They adopted a humiliating, discriminatory attitude to individuals who have nothing to answer for apart from having been my guests and demonstrating their friendship and affection for me”…

English translation by Giles Watson

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

Italy: ‘Hush it Up’: Ruby Claims She Was Told — Wiretap

Premier’s party says prosecutors in ‘military blitz’

(ANSA) — Rome, January 17 — A teenage Moroccan belly dancer allegedly paid by Premier Silvio Berlusconi for sex was told by the premier to hush up the affair, according to wiretap evidence released by prosecutors Monday.

“He called me, telling me ‘Ruby, I’ll give you as much money as you want, I’ll pay you, I’ll cover you in gold, but the important thing is that you hide everything; don’t tell anyone anything,” Karima El Mahroug aka Ruby is heard saying in an October call to a former boyfriend, according to a transcript from the prosecutors who are bidding to try the premier for using an underage prostitute.

The premier, who denies wrongdoing, has said no sex parties ever took place at his Milan residence and added that he has been in a steady relationship for some time with someone who would never have allowed such “absurd” events as those reported in the wiretaps.

In another wiretap, Ruby tells the ex-boyfriend her case has “scared everyone”, more than two others that made headlines in 2009: a teenage Neapolitan aspiring starlet, Noemi Letizia, over whom the premier’s wife sued for divorce; and an escort, Patrizia D’Addario, who taped the premier before and after alleged sex.

“My case is the one that has scared everyone and is surpassing the case of D’Addario and Letizia. I spoke to Silvio and told him I want to get out of it with something: five million (euros),” Ruby says on the wiretap.

In another wiretap, ex-Naples prefect and former national anti-racket commissioner Carlo Ferrigno is heard saying “there were orgies but no drugs” at the premier’s paries.

Paying for sex with a minor carries a jail term of up to three years in Italy.

Berlusconi is also alleged to have abused his power in getting Ruby out of an unrelated scrape with Milan police, an offence that carries a jail term of up to 12 years.

The spokesman for the premier’s People of Freedom (PdL) party, Daniele Capezzone, reiterated a charge that Berlusconi is the victim of politically motivated prosecutors, saying Italy was “a police state”.

PdL House Whip Fabrizio Cicchitto claimed the prosecutors were carrying out a “military blitz”.

The centre-left opposition Democratic Party claimed the affair was “humiliating for Italy”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Ruby: Fini: Italy Can’t Just Sit and Watch PM’s Soap Opera

(AGI) Rome — Fini hopes that “events over the next 3 months won’t just revolve around Berlusconi’s soap opera”. Gianfranco Fini said so commenting on the possible repercussions of the Ruby case on Italian politics. Speaking to TV host Fabio Fazio, Fini said “it’s sad that this story is what is making the news lately, because Berlusconi and the government should be focusing on completely different issues. It’s clear, however, that this story is making the headlines right now, even abroad”.

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

Spain: Gov’t to Intervene in Regions That Don’t Cut Spending

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, JANUARY 17 — The Spanish government will intervene in the autonomous communities that do not control their public spending, according to a warning to the regions from socialist Premier José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero in an interview today with British daily the Financial Times. “No regional government,” pointed out Zapatero, “can currently run up a debt without the approval and the authorisation of the central government. In other words, we hold the keys,” said the premier.

Zapatero made an appeal to “harmonise” commercial legislation in Spain, responding to criticism about the difficulties of observing all of the existing laws in the construction sector and the use of co-official languages in business signs. The socialist leader announced reforms to create “less rigid regulations, less permits, and more flexibility in business”. “We are trying to reduce the administrative burdens on businesses .” Regarding the financial market, Zapatero said that the government is working on a second round of structural reforms for savings banks to equip them with “a maximum level of transparency and so that they can capitalise themselves,” as well as reforms for the pension and professional services system. The markets and analysts “have to sit down and objectively assess if we are doing what we promised to do,” said the premier.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Sweden: Malmö: Police Targeted in New Outbreak of Riots

New riots broke out in the Rosengård district of Malmo over the past few days.

Nobody was injured in Monday’s disturbances, but Oscar Persson, photographer for newspaper Kvällsposten, reported that there were a lot of explosions and firecrackers, and that several cars were almost hit. It was chaotic and people fled into building entrance and cross-streets.

Calle Persson, spokesperson for the Skane police says that these can no longer be dismissed as juvenile antics, and that adults are behind the attacks. Around fifteen youth gathered for the third night this week in order to confront the police. Police say that attacks — throwing stones, firecrackers and Molotov cocktails, and setting fire to cars — are aimed at the police.

The police showed up with force. A dozen patrols with dogs were called in and managed to deal with the riots. Some of the gang retreated and disappeared into the streets and buildings, but some remained and the police sent the night searching about a dozen of them. Most were men aged 25-30, none were younger than 17…

           — Hat tip: Vlad Tepes[Return to headlines]

Thilo Sarrazin Live From Berlin

This programme was broadcast on January 18th 2011. Listen to the programme.

Those of you who know of Thilo Sarrazin are certain to have strong opinions on him. When his name came up during yesterday’s programme in Berlin, there was a notable frisson among the group. He talks about subjects — Muslim integration, racial groups varying in their ability to learn, the dilution of national culture — that have been off-limits in the mainstream media in Germany. They aren’t anymore.

His book — Germany Abolishes Itself — has sold in the region of a million copies and has shifted the whole debate on immigration in Germany. Thilo Sarrazin will be on the programme for the full hour taking your questions. We can’t tell you which studio we’re using in Berlin because of security reasons which tells you all you need to know about the potency of his opinions.

His book calls for various measures to tackle what he sees as a failure to integrate or contribute adequately. They include:

  • Welfare payments being dependent on learning German and acquiring language skills.
  • Parents who do not send their children to school for religious reasons should be fined.
  • Forced marriages should be forbidden.

He also blames Muslims for many of Germany’s problems. In his book he says that Muslim immigrants are a drain on German society. The quote is, “Most of the cultural and economic problems are concentrated in a group of the five to six million immigrants from Muslim countries”.

He also believes that certain racial groups have certain genes which mean the groups vary in their ability to learn — and in one interview he gave Jews as an example of this.

He’s since said that he regrets saying that, but hasn’t retracted the general assertion that some people have genes which mean they are able to learn better and become more intelligent…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Turkey: Frattini: Ankara Membership Beneficial for Europe

(ANSAmed) — BERLIN, JANUARY 14 — “Turkey’s membership of the European Union would be advantageous for Europe,” said the Italian Foreign Minister, Franco Frattini, during an interview with German daily Die Welt published today. “Precisely due to the fact that, for me, European has such a strong and clear Christian identity, I say that an Islamic country that respects the rights of man can be a member of the EU,” continued the Minister. “It would be a sign of great weakness from Christian Europe if it saw danger in Turkey.” Frattini believes that the country can also “serve as a bridge” between the East and the West and to demonstrate to the Islamic world that “Europe is no longer a continent of the crusades.” But “it is also a strategic issue,” he added. “No-one can on the other hand deny that Turkey plays a central role in the fight against terrorism and fundamentalism,” explained Frattini. “Turkey has a central importance for the whole of the Middle East and the Mediterranean area. We must have it constantly onboard with us.”

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

UK: Ibis Hotels Host Islamic Extremists’ Conference, Despite Protests

A conference by anti-gay Islamic preachers went ahead at a London hotel last weekend, despite protests from human rights campaigners.

And today, the managing director of the Ibis chain defended the decision.

The event, by the Islamic Education and Research Academy, was held in Earls Court on Sunday.

Thomas Dubaere, Managing Director UK and Ireland of Ibis, told “It is important to emphasise that as a matter of course, the hotel has strict procedures in place for all event bookings.

“In the case of yesterday’s Islamic Education & Research Academy conference the hotel’s management and security sought the advice and guidance of the Metropolitan Police Service; and regular dialogue continued throughout the day.

“We do not condone or endorse any of the attitudes that have been alleged; the hotel rejects all forms of discrimination and we are wholly committed to supporting cultural diversity.”

But activists are not convinced. Brett Lock of OutRage! said: “This is not the first time Ibis Hotels have hosted such extremist events. It is quite shocking. I doubt they would host racist and anti-Semitic conferences.”

The iERA has featured Muslim fundamentalist preachers who advocate the criminalisation of homosexuality and even the death penalty for same-sex acts. They argue that it is necessary to execute gays to keep society pure.

They defend these extreme teachings about homosexuality as a model that should be followed by contemporary societies.

The headline speakers at Sunday’s conference were associates of the hate preachers Dr Zakir Naik and Bilal Phillips. Both banned from entering Britain by the Home Secretary, Theresa May, last year…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

UK: London University to Host Imam Who Called Jews ‘Enemy’

Queen Mary University’s Islamic Society is to host controversial speaker Abu Usamah, who has called Jewish people the “enemy”. Abu Usamah, who is an Imam at Green Lane Masjid in Birmingham, will address students on Wednesday in a lecture entitled: “Wives of the Prophet.”

In 2007, footage of him was used in a Channel 4 documentary called Undercover Mosques. He was filmed saying Osama bin Laden is “better than a thousand Tony Blairs” and that non-Muslims are “liars” In November 2009, UCL cancelled a scheduled lecture by Mr Usamah for “health and safety concerns”.

Earlier that month, he spoke to students at City University where he said: “Jihad [holy war] is from our religion. We will not renounce our religion.”…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

UK: Muslim Woman Told ‘Wear the Hijab or I’ll Kill You’ by Cousin

A man threatened to kill his cousin and harm her family after she decided to stop wearing the traditional Muslim headscarf, a court has heard.

Mohamed Al-Hakim, 29, allegedly phoned Alya Al-Safar to tell her she must die because of the ‘shame’ she had brought — leaving her too afraid to leave the house.

He had already branded her family ‘bitches and whores’ because of her decision, the court heard.

Miss Al-Safar, 21, had stopped wearing the hijab a few days before the phone call.

She said that Al-Hakim’s mother, her aunt Mardhiya Al-Musawi, ‘wasn’t happy’ that she had stopped covering her hair — a step she had been considering for more than two years.

She received his call when she was with her parents and two younger brothers at their home in Hammersmith, West London.

Al-Hakim allegedly instructed her to play the conversation over a loudspeaker so that they could all listen at about midnight on June 9.

Miss Al-Safar, who did not have her head covered in court but did swear on the Koran, told the jury that Al-Hakim had said: ‘Listen to me carefully, it has been three days and I did not sleep.

‘I have decided not to go out of the house for two weeks.

‘Listen Alya, I am warning you if by the 19th of June you are not wearing the hijab back, I am warning you I will kill you and harm you. I am giving you ten days. You brought shame to your family, you should not have done that.’

Al-Hakim, who denies one charge of making threats to kill, allegedly said he thought the phone call might be taped but he warned her he was ‘not afraid of anything’. Miss Al-Safar said: ‘He was calm. I was so scared, I really felt scared because my cousin was threatening me.

‘I didn’t know if he was joking, if he was just mad, or if it was true and he would do it.

‘He started shouting, “Listen to me, you had better do what I said. ‘I have seen you on the Edgware Road [a busy street in central London] and if I see you again I will kill you”.

‘He said something about harming my father as well.

‘I was so scared I didn’t want to leave the house and everyone in my family said, “Don’t go out”.’

Days earlier Al-Hakim, of Acton Park, West London, had called Miss Al-Safar’s mother to complain about the decision to ditch the hijab and had shouted down the phone, the jury heard.

Miss Al-Safar said: ‘Then he said something like, “You all are bitches and whores”.’

Her mother, Fatima Al-Musawi, told the court that Al-Hakim had said: ‘If Alya doesn’t wear the hijab I will kill her or send someone else to kill her.

‘If I see her in Edgware Road, I will kill her dad with her.’…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

UK: The Conservatives and Islamism: The Promises and the Reality

Pauline Neville-Jones, 2008 Conservative Party Conference Speech:

We will ban Hizb-ut-Tahrir — which has just called for American soldiers in the Gulf to be killed.


We all — Muslims and non-Muslims — must actively face down extremists.

Because the security of our society rests ultimately on the hard-nosed defence of our values and a shared loyalty to them.

Under the next Conservative Government, led by David Cameron, that’s what we will be doing.

Chris Grayling, December 2009 Speech:

We must also be willing to challenge and where necessary to ban groups that mask an ideology of hate behind a public veil of moderation. We have just such an issue with the radical group Hizb’ut Tahrir. Within the UK it takes extreme care about how it words its propaganda. And claims that those who want it banned are completely misplaced. But anyone who doubts its true character should take a look at the website for its sister organisation in Bangladesh, which talks about evil American plans to subjugate Muslims, and about mobilising armed forces to eliminate the Jewish entity. We cannot allow such views free rein in our society. We will not be afraid to take tough decisions with radical extremists who propagate hate. We have been too willing to allow their groups to operate in Britain. If we are in Government, that will stop.

David Cameron, Jewish Chronicle interview, March 12, 2010:

[W]e’ve got to deal with this and drain this poison. And there are three key things we need to do.

First, stop letting people like Yusuf al-Qaradawi and Ibrahim Moussawi into this country to spread hatred. Second, ban those extremist groups like Hizb-ut-Tahrir who are already here. And third, do more — much more — to tackle radicalisation in our universities.

The Reality

1. Hate preachers are still entering the UK.

2. Hizb ut-Tahrir Britain is alive and well.

3. Radical Islamists continue to appear on campus. For example, coming soon to the Roberts G08 Lecture Theatre, UCL, is Jalal Ibn Sa’eed, a Salafi preacher who has stated:

Most of us are guilty … We selfishly live like the Jews who only care about themselves and call the rest the goyim, those who are damned, those who are enslaved to them…

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]


Albania: Deputy PM Resigns After Video Scandal

(ANSAmed) — TIRANA, JANUARY 14 — The Deputy Prime Minister and Economy Minister, Ilir Meta, resigned today after a the publication two days ago of a video dating from March 2010, in which he was seen asking for favours for an acquaintance over contracts, in return for which he was prepared to take bribes.

Meta said that the video was a “shameful ploy with political ends”, but that his decision was designed to pave the way “for justice to do its job”.

Albania’s prosecuting office has already announced the opening of legal proceedings “for the crime of corruption and abuse of office”. Meta added that “faced with justice I would like to be a simple citizen like any other”, saying that he wanted to begin “a legal battle” against the former Economy Minister, Dritan Prifti, Meta’s interlocutor over contracts and the author of the video, which was recorded in his office last March.

The Deputy Prime Minister and current chair of the Socialist Movement for Integration party, the key political force for stability among the majority led by the Prime Minister, Sali Berisha, said that he would “continue to offer his support to the government”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Mediterranean Union

Tunisia: Union for the Mediterranean Has Failed, Frattini

(ANSAmed) — ROME, JANUARY 17 — “The top priority is to prevent Islamic fundamentalism and the embryo of terrorism,” Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said in an interview with Corriere della Sera, saying that he supported Tunisian Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi and calling the Union for the Mediterranean a “complete failure” while holding up Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi as a model of dialogue with the population of an Arab country.

“The exit of Ben Ali from the scene has mitigated tension and it was a wise decision. Now the process must continue,” noted Frattini, who cited as an example the reform “of People’s Provincial Congresses” carried out by Gaddafi. “District by district,” he said, “tribal assemblies and local potentates met, engaged in discussion and put froth requests to the government and leaders, seeking a way between a parliamentary system — which is not what we have in mind — and one in which a people’s uprising did not exist, as in Tunisia.” In Tunisia the army “is abiding by constitutional rules. The head of the Armed Forces has given very positive signs,” Frattini said. He also underscored that even after the changes, relations between Italy and Tunisia “have not changed. We confirm our support for an overture which keeps out fundamentalism and gives a response to the country’s problems.” In Frattini’s eyes “there is the need for Europe to take more incisive action than that of the Union for the Mediterranean, which was a complete failure.” Proving disastrous was “conditioning UfM’s actions to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. For the latter there is the Quartet for the Middle East (US, EU, Russia and UN),” said the minister, while it would have been “better to concentrate ‘5+5’ with Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, Malta, and Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Libya and Mauritania.” Frattini considers this a more appropriate forum to deal with relations between the northern and southern shores of the Mediterranean and which Frattini intends to bring together at the ministerial level in Naples in the spring. He said that this would “serve to support reconciliation in Tunisia.”

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

North Africa

Bank Denies Giving 1.5 Tonnes of Gold to Ben Ali’s Wife

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, JANUARY 17 — The Central Bank of Tunisia (BCT) denied news that it reportedly gave 1.5 tonnes of gold to Leila Ben Ali, the wife of the former president. The denial was made during a phone interview with magazine African Manager with the Managing Director of the General Fund of Counters and National Payment Habib Maalej.

“I was stunned when I read the story,” said Maalej, reports African Manager, “and I confirm and affirm that Tunisia’s gold reserves are well-preserved and not even one gram was brought out.”

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Caroline Glick: Tunisia’s Lessons for Washington

If at the height of the anti-government protests in Tunisia last week, Israel and the Palestinians had signed a final peace deal, would the protesters have packed up their placards and gone home?

Of course not.

So what does it tell us the nature of US Middle East policy that at the height of the anti-regime protests in Tunisia, the White House was consumed with the question of how to jump start the mordant peace process between the Palestinians and Israel?…

           — Hat tip: Caroline Glick[Return to headlines]

Do Right by Tunisia This Time

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung Frankfurt

Now that Europe’s longtime ally Ben Ali has fled abroad, Tunisia’s democratic forces must face off the regime’s old guard. This time around, will Europe do the right thing?

Andreas Ross

“European Neighbourhood Policy”: it sounds lucid, almost leisurely. But such felicitous phrasing coming from Brussels only shrouds the ambivalent arrangements with those difficult neighbours, formerly rooted not so prettily in Europe’s “backyard”, and now solicited as “partners”.

In a clockwise direction, this backyard begins in the north with the Belarus of dictator Lukashenko and the Ukraine of the authoritarian president Yanukovych, the countries through which two gas pipelines to Europe transit. Extending south via the Caucasus and the unquiet lands of the Middle East, it reaches the sandy shores of northern Africa.

Thanks to their abundant resources not just in oil and gas but in narcotics (imported), refugees (imported) and Islamism (imported) as well, the leaders of that region have Europe listening closely.

European dithering over the Tunisian crisis shows just how naive it was to brush the whole trouble with its Middle Eastern/North African neighbours under the carpet of a fraternal Union for the Mediterranean.

Sarkozy, leader of the dance troupe

Leading the dance from Paris, Sarkozy sought to shift the geopolitical focus of European integration along the Berlin-Paris axis towards the south, shining the spotlight there on the geriatric kleptocrat Ben Ali as a favoured partner. (Berlusconi meanwhile cuddled up to Gaddafi.)

Was that really appropriate? The payoff was not justified by the mere fact that the relatively prosperous Tunisia, squeezed in between the perpetually simmering Algeria and the erratically steered Libya, remained a zone of mollified Islamism.

From Tunis’ point of view, Paris is the capital of Europe. But France only encouraged the demonstrators’ thirst for democracy only after Ben Ali had stolen away.

So often, interference by former colonial master can be counterproductive, but much earlier Paris should have come up with more ways and means of strengthening civil society and the political opposition in Tunisia. Right now, the faster the old men of the degenerate regime set up a puppet show of quasi-democratic elections, the harder it will be for the forces of freedom to join up in time.

The Tunisian people can take pride in pulling off alone what Europe could barely dream of. Hopefully now, in this decisive phase, support from Europe will not come too late.

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

Islamist Leader Seeks Return to Tunisia

The leader in exile of Tunisia’s Islamic movement Ennahdha wants to return home but is waiting for the new government to declare a full amnesty on sentences passed during the rule of recently ousted president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, Ennahdha officials said Tuesday.

Ennahdha’s founder Rachid Ghannouchi “is an ordinary Tunisian citizen who must be allowed to come in and out of Tunisia without restrictions,” said Samir Dilou, a lawyer and a senior leader of the movement in Tunisia.

Created in 1981 and formally known as the Movement of the Islamic Trend, Ennahdha was never formally authorized in its three-decade existence.

In 1992, Mr. Ghannouchi was sentenced in absentia to life imprisonment on charges that he had plotted to overthrow Mr. Ben Ali. Many local activists were also imprisoned. Mr. Ghannouchi, who lives in London, has denied that he or his party tried to topple Mr. Ben Ali.

Mr. Dilou said that, while waiting for the return of its founder, Ennahdha was considering ways to reshape itself into a political force that could help create a multi-party system in Tunisia.

He said that although Mr. Ben Ali had tried to portray Ennahdha as an extremist group and an offshoot of al Qaeda, the movement rejects violence and promotes the values of “a moderate Islam.”

“We don’t need to import solutions from Tora Bora,” Mr. Dilou said, in reference to the one-time hide-out of Taliban and al Qaeda militants in eastern Afghanistan.

Current and former diplomats in Tunisia say Mr. Ghannouchi represents a moderate Islamic voice, and say he has long espoused democracy and pluralism.

Mr. Dilou, who spent 10 years in prison in the 1990s on charges that he was close to Ennahdha, said it was too early to say whether the movement would participate in the next presidential elections because the group had to first reorganize itself.

“No need to hide it—we were caught off guard by the popular uprising,” said Mr. Dilou. “It means we have to be self-critical, take a good look at ourselves and see what we can propose for Tunisia.”…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Libyan News Agency Makes Rare Criticism of the Army

A Libyan news agency, that has links to a son of leader Muammar Gaddafi, has accused some military officers of corruption and demanded that civilians lead the defence ministry, in a rare criticism of the country’s army.

In a piece from its political editor, Libya Press, part of the Al Ghad media group founded by reform-minded Saif al-Islam said the 130,000-strong army was bloated and inefficient.

“The armed forces have taken over thousands of acres of land that were needlessly transformed into camps and barracks and later became sources of wealth for many,” Libya Press said.

“They (unidentified officers) have dealt in the assets and in the land and opened new paths … for corruption, which the national army should have kept away from,” it wrote.

A Libyan army officer commented: “Whoever wrote this does not seem to know Libya well.”

Libya’s reformist and conservative camps have clashed in the past over the country’s political direction, and the Al Ghad group has at times been drawn into these disputes…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Maghreb: Frattini, Bring Algeria and Tunisia Closer to Europe

(ANSAmed) — BERLIN, JANUARY 14 — “There are good reasons” for the public protests in Algeria and Tunisia and the international community “has not reacted adequately” to the “enormous increases in the prices of cereals and rice, which are unsustainable for the people”: these countries “must be brought closer to Europe,” it is the only way to “calm the situation.” This is what has been said by the Foreign Minister, Franco Frattini, during an interview with German daily Die Welt published today. In addition to price increases, “poverty and a shocking level of unemployment also have a considerable weight” on the protests, observed the Minister. “Without doubt extremists who would like to exacerbate the situation also have a role,” he added. “And to this regard the governments of Tunis and Algiers have reacted in a very sensitive way.” Frattini believes “the European economy must invest in countries like Tunisia and start spontaneous development: only in this way will it be possible to stop emigration from these countries. People need prospects in their own countries.” Today, he continued, Europe is “absolutely” not doing enough to support the protest by civil society. “The EU must do more to allow stays in member countries for young people from countries like Tunisia,” said Frattini. “When I was a European Commissioner years ago, I proposed an Erasmus project for the Mediterranean…. but unfortunately it wasn’t possible: there were people who opposed it, in particular from northern European States.”

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Revolt in Tunisia: When Arab Regimes Do (And Do Not) Tremble

By Barry Rubin

May the good Lord protect us from news analysis and Middle East experts. Is the Arab world really in shock over the Tunisian upheaval? Is this really a symptom for a coming upheaval in the Arab world?

Perhaps I’m wrong but a note of caution is in order. I think the answer is “no.”

Let’s begin by looking back at far bigger shocks that have made Arab regimes tremble.

First, there was the fall of Communism and the Soviet bloc. The Soviet Union was the superpower patron of many Arab regimes, their source of weapons and diplomatic support, their supposed protector from Israel and the United States.

Yet more than that, it was a basic role model—especially for political and economic organization—for a number of these regimes—most obviously Egypt, Iraq, and Syria but also for others as well. I don’t mean they copied it exactly by a long shot. But the statist, single-party rule, government control over wide swathes of life is how they functioned for decades. If you’re interested, I wrote a book on this called Modern Dictators.

How did the regimes respond then? By tightening up and killing off real hope of democratic reform. And they did quite well for themselves. I wrote about it in “How Arab Regimes Dealt with the Democracy Challenge.”

There was also another time when (some) Arab regimes trembled, the Iranian revolution of 1978-1979. Indeed, they are still trembling at the prospect of overthrow by a revolutionary Islamist movement. These groups now form the principal opposition in most Arab countries—but not, as we shall see, in Tunisia—and elements of them are quite ready to use violence. Indeed, this is the most important conflict not only in the Arab world but in the Middle East altogether.

And there is a third occasion when (radical) Arab regimes tremble: the U.S. overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003. Might the United States also overthrow them? This applied especially to Syria and Libya but others felt it also. As totally unlikely as this seemed in Washington it was not so unthinkable in Arab capitals. But they got over it when it became clear that there was no such threat. I discussed how Syria dealt with this in my book, The Truth about Syria. Libya reacted by surrendering all of its nuclear ambitions.

So Arab regimes begin to tremble sometimes. But when the going gets tough the tough don’t tremble very long. They take counter-action…

           — Hat tip: Barry Rubin[Return to headlines]

Suicide is Against Islam: Al-Azhar

Egypt’s Al-Azhar, the most prestigious centre of religious learning in the Sunni Muslim world, said on Tuesday that Islam bans suicide for any reason.

“Sharia law states that Islam categorically forbids suicide for any reason and does not accept the separation of souls from bodies as an expression of stress, anger or protest,” said Al-Azhar’s spokesman Mohammed Rifa al-Tahtawi in a statement on state news agency MENA. “Al-Azhar cannot comment on the cases of people who had burned themselves, as these may be suffering from a mental or psychological condition that forced them to do so,” he said. “We cannot judge them. We commend them to God and pray for them.” He added that “Islam forbids suicide as a general rule.” The self-immolation of a young Tunisian merchant in early January, the symbolic trigger of popular revolts that toppled Tunisia’s government, has already inspired nine copy cat acts across the region. A lawyer in his forties tried to end his days by setting himself on fire in front of Cairo’s government headquarters on Tuesday. In Alexandria a 25-year-old, pronounced mentally unstable by the authorities, died in a hospital from self-inflicted burns…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Tunisia: Ousted President’s Family Flees Abroad ‘With 1.5 Tonnes of Gold’

Paris, 17 Jan. (AKI) — The family of ousted Tunisian president Zine El Abidin Ben Ali has left the country with 1.5 tonnes of gold worth more than 45 million euros, French daily Le Monde said on Monday, citing French intelligence sources.

Before he fled last week, Ben Ali reportedly ordered the Tunisian central bank’s director to hand over the gold to his wife, Leila Trabelsi.

Le Monde said Trabelsi called her husband after the central bank director initially refused to hand over the gold bars. Ben Ali initially refused to authorise the release of the gold ingots, but later gave in to his wife’s demand.

After taking custody of the gold bars, Trabelsi flew to Dubai before leaving for the Saudi capital, Jeddah to join her husband, the paper said. Ben Ali was reported to have flown to Saudia Arabia over the weekend via the Italian island of Sardinia.

“It seems that the wife of Ben Ali is the person who left with 1.5 tons of gold worth 45 million euros,” a senior French official was quoted as telling Le Monde.

Ben Ali’s 23-year rule of Tunisia ended on Friday after weeks of violent street protests all over the North African country at high unemployment, food prices, corruption and repression. His time in power was marred by repeated human rights violations and torture, according to human rights observers.

Over 60 people were killed in the month-long clashes with security forces since the riots began in mid-December, according to human rights groups.

Reports also confirmed that Trabelsi had been in Dubai for several days. Many of Ben Ali’s family members are said o have left Tunisia, fearing for their personal safety. One of Trabelsi’s nephews was reportedly stabbed to death last week.

An uneasy calm was reported in the Tunis on Monday. Tunisia has been in a state of turmoil since Ben Ali’s downfall and martial law has been imposed amid a state of emergency.

Gun battles were reported on Sunday in the Tunisian capital, Tunis, and near the presidential palace in Carthage between the army and members of the presidential guard loyal to Ben Ali .

On Saturday, after Ben Ali fled abroad, luxury cars were smashed and shops and homes were looted and burned in Tunis.

A new national unity government was due to be unveiled on Monday. Speaker of parliament Foued Mebazaa has taken over as interim president following Ben Ali’s abrupt departure with backing from the army. Prime minister Mohammed Ghannouchi, a former close ally of Ben Ali, was set to stay on.

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

Tunisia: France: Ben Ali’s Accounts Monitored, No Freeze

(ANSAmed) — PARIS, JANUARY 17 — France is “keeping a very close watch” over the movements of the accounts and assets of former Tunisian President Ben Ali, “as well as those of his family and entourage”. But for now no decision has been made to freeze anything, according to French Budget Minister Francois Baroin, speaking during a meeting with the press. The French government, he added, is also “at the complete disposal of the Tunisian constitutional authorities” for any investigation into the assets of the former president.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

Russia’s Medvedev Backs Independent Palestine

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev endorsed a Palestinian state on Tuesday, saying Moscow had recognized independence in 1988 and was not changing the position adopted by the former Soviet Union.

Making his first visit to the Israeli-occupied West Bank as Russian head of state, Medvedev stopped short of issuing a ringing declaration of recognition of Palestinian statehood by the modern Russian Federation which he represents.

“Russia’s position remains unchanged. Russia made its choice a long time ago … we supported and will support the inalienable right of the Palestinian people to an independent state with its capital in East Jerusalem,” Medvedev said.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Middle East

Jordan: Oil Spending Increases

(ANSAmed) — ROME, JANUARY 17 — Spending on oil in Jordan increased by 28% at the end of November, bringing the total to 2.82 billion dollars compared to 2.28 billion in the same period in 2009, reports Al Quds Al Arabi, citing data from the state statistics office

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Pope: Christians Replace Jews as ‘Most Persecuted Minority’

by Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu

Jews, known for centuries as the most persecuted minority, have been replaced in this role by Christians, according to Pope Benedict XVI, who hinted that he was referring to the Islamic tidal wave that is sweeping the world.

Carefully avoiding singling out Muslims for the mistreatment of Christians, however, the pope recently appealed to European nations as well as the Muslim world to protect what he called the most persecuted religion in the world.

Recent attacks on Christians in Egypt, Nigeria and Iran have claimed dozens of casualties. The pope stated, “This succession of attacks is yet another sign of the urgent need for the governments of the region to adopt, in spite of difficulties and dangers, effective measures for the protection of religious minorities.”

Iran has a different explanation for attacks on Christians. Ghazanfar Rokn-Abadi, its ambassador to Lebanon, said his country is a model for religious freedom and that “250,000 Christians are living in Iran peacefully and safely.” He blamed the Jews for any physical attacks.

Responding to the report on the pope’s statements, U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Crowley declined to directly answer a reporter’s question, “Who do you think is doing this?”

“I’d be very wary at this point about making any sweeping statements about whether what’s happened in Iraq has a bearing on what’s happening in other countries such as Egypt or Nigeria,” Crowley said. “These are all being investigated.”

The International Christian Concern was more direct. ICC president Jeff King stated, “Anti-Christian hatred arising from Islam has flowed into 2011, as seen in the horrific attacks in Egypt, Pakistan and Iraq already this year,” he said.

The ICC also noted that mainstream media rarely report the phenomenon of persecuted Christians despite its having becoming more common.

The most widespread persecution of Christians has been in the Middle East, where Israel is the only country that grants freedom to Muslims and Christians, as well as Jews, to freely practice their religion. Prior to the Six-Day War in 1967, when Jerusalem was reunited and Judea and Samaria were restored to Israel, Jordan’s rulers closed all Jewish and Christian sites, except for high-profile official visits.

Christianity had been the dominant influence in Bethlehem until the first and second Arab intifadas, when Muslim rulers and clerics increasingly harassed Christians, forcing most of them to flee. The Palestinian Authority has blamed Israel for the Christian exodus, but research has documented the harrassment by Muslims.

In Egypt, the government did not take kindly to the pope’s call for “effective measures” to protect Christian minorities in the Middle East. Cairo recalled its ambassador to the Vatican, saying that “Egypt will not allow any non-Egyptian party to intervene in our internal affairs under any pretext.”

Despite witnesses saying that an off-duty Muslim policeman shouted “Allahu Akhbar´(Allah is great) as he shot and killed a Copt last week, Egypt claimed that the murderer acted because of “his personal state” and not because of “the religion of his victims.” The shooter aimed his pistol at women, presumed to be non-Muslims, who were not wearing a head covering.

Nevertheless, Egypt’s ambassador to the Vatican denied there was any persecution of Christians in his country. “Persecution is a big word,” she said. “In order to prove that there is persecution, you have to be very careful. This is a legal term which should not be used casually.”

Western countries are in a state of denial, asserted Clifford D. May, president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on terrorism.

Writing in the Boston Herald on Saturday, he cited the bombing of Christian churches in Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria and the Philippines and Indonesia, the recent arrests of Christians in Iran, and the death penalty handed down to a Christian woman in Pakistan for insulting Islam.

“The reality is this: Within the Muslim world today are regimes, movements and individuals convinced that their religion justifies — and benefits from — the most heinous atrocities,” May wrote. “They are determined, ruthless and lethal — as Christians and other minorities across a broad swath of the world have been finding out.”

“If we in the West fail even to speak up for them, can we really expect moderate Muslims to do more?”

           — Hat tip: TV[Return to headlines]

Syria: State Subsidies Against Heating Fuel Price Hike

(ANSAmed) — ROME, JANUARY 17 — The Syrian state is taking action to support families in need cope with an increase in heating fuel costs. Due to a legislative decree, the subsidy to help households hold up against an increase in fuel costs has risen from 13 to 30 dollars per month. Finance Minister Mohammed Al-Hussein has been quoted by the Italian Institute for Foreign Trade (ICE) office in Damascus as saying that 2 million state workers and retirees will benefit from the measure. The subsidy will be in force starting on February 1 and will not be taxed. Total expenditure on the rise in heating subsidies totals 300 million dollars per year.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Thousands of Polygamous Marriages in Turkey: Study

Around 187,000 women in Turkey are in polygamous marriages even though polygamy is illegal, according to a report seen by AFP on Tuesday. The practice was found in the poor, Kurdish majority southeast as well as the industrialised west, said the study carried out by Hacettepe University in Ankara.

The report was presented last week to a parliamentary commission on equal opportunities.

It found that the majority of men in polygamous marriages had taken a second wife after their wife had been unable to bear a child, or, in particular, to have a boy.

More than seven million women in the secular nation of 73 million, which is overwhelmingly Muslim, had arranged marriages and nearly 5.5 million women were married before the legal age of 18, it added…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Turkey: Alevis to File Mass Lawsuits Against Compulsory Religious Courses

A decision at Sunday’s Grand Alevi Congress will lead to mass lawsuits against compulsory religious education in Turkey and Alevi congresses being held abroad, the heads of leading Alevi organizations have said.

“A new era will begin following the Grand Alevi Congress that was held in Ankara on Sunday. Alevis will now continue the struggle to vouchsafe rights with different methods,” Ercan Geçmez, head of the Haci Bektas Veli Anatolian Culture Foundation, told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review recently.

“Besides regional conventions across the country, we will also hold regional congresses in different parts of the world, namely in parts of Europe such as Brussels and Cologne, and in the Balkans as well as Iran and Iraq where Alevi populations exist,” he said.

Dissatisfied with the government’s attempts to hold a series of Alevi workshops yet to yield any concrete results, Turkey’s Alevi organizations held their own Grand Alevi Congress on Sunday in Ankara to make their voice heard.

In a statement released after the congress, the Alevi organizations cited six main demands, including the abolition of compulsory religious education, the dissolution of the Religious Affairs Directorate, the conversion of the Madimak Hotel in Sivas — where over 30 Alevi intellectuals were slain — into a museum, the return of dervish convents to Alevi control, the recognition of “cemevis” as specifically Alevi houses of worship and the termination of religious assimilation policies.

For Geçmez, the government workshops intended to address the concerns of Turkey’s community failed to produce a solution to their demands because the government failed to take into consideration reports detailing their demands and proposed solutions and draft a series of policies that would legally protect those demands.

Legal case against compulsory religious education

Government efforts to solve the Alevi community’s problems in coordination with the Religious Affairs Directorate have also been inadequate, Geçmez said. “In the workshops, the government attempted to redefine Alevism, a landmark to end our hopes for the solution of our problems, and urged us to widen our protests,” Geçmez said.

Ali Balkiz, head of the Alevi-Bektasi Federation and participant at the congress, said prior to the 2011 — 2012 academic year Alevi families would launch mass lawsuits in Turkey’s local administrative courts to have their children exempted from compulsory religious education, which they criticized for only teaching Sunni Islam.

Alevis are members of a community widely perceived as a liberal branch of Islam, whose religious practices differ markedly from those of Turkey’s Sunni majority. Religion education is compulsory in primary and secondary schools throughout the nation, according to the Constitution.

“The [Alevi] families will start filing lawsuits against compulsory religious education in August in places where they send their children to school,” Balkiz said, adding that they would repeat their demands and hold mass rallies throughout the country to press the government to solve their problems.

The Alevi organizations agreed at Sunday’s congress to hold a mass demonstration in Izmir on March 6.

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


Russia Warns of ‘Iranian Chernobyl’

Russian nuclear officials have warned of another Chernobyl-style nuclear disaster at Iran’s controversial Bushehr reactor because of the damage caused by the Stuxnet virus, according to the latest Western intelligence reports.

Russian nuclear scientists are providing technical assistance to Iran’s attempts activate the country’s first nuclear power plant at the Gulf port.

But they have raised serious concerns about the extensive damage caused to the plant’s computer systems by the mysterious Stuxnet virus, which was discovered last year and is widely believed to have been the result of a sophisticated joint US-Israeli cyber attack.

According to Western intelligence reports, Russian scientists warned the Kremlin that they could be facing “another Chernobyl” if they were forced to comply with Iran’s tight deadline to activate the complex this summer.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

South Asia

EU Attacked Over Uzbek President’s Visit

The European Union is facing criticism from human rights organisations as it prepares to meet Islam Karimov, the dictatorial president of Uzbekistan, in Brussels next week.

The visit, following an EU decision last year to lift sanctions on Uzbekistan, marks a new stage in the rehabilitation of Mr Karimov who was castigated by the west for ordering a brutal police crackdown on a protest in the city of Andizhan in 2005.

On his first visit to the EU headquarters, the veteran Uzbek leader will meet José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, for talks on a wide range of issues including energy, trade, regional security and human rights, the EU said.

Mr Karimov will also visit Nato headquarters in Brussels to discuss Uzbek co-operation with the military alliance in Afghanistan.

His visit comes as the EU is debating whether to impose sanctions, including a travel ban, against another authoritarian leader, Belarus’s president Alexander Lukashenko.

The sanctions, which will be discussed by foreign ministers at a meeting later this month, would be a response to the Belarusian December election which was riddled with violence and irregularities.

Human rights organisations concerned about Mr Karimov’s trip slammed the EU for agreeing to host one of the world’s “most horrific dictators.”

Mr Karimov, a former Soviet communist party boss has ruled Uzbekistan with an iron hand for two decades, jailing and reportedly torturing his opponents.

“Uzbekistan is a serial embarrassment to the EU,” said Andrew Stroehlein, communications director at the International Crisis Group. “Imagine the outcry if Robert Mugabe or Kim Jong-il visited Brussels.”

Jacqueline Hale, political analyst at the Open Society Institute, said the Uzbek president’s visit to Brussels marked “a new and worrying phase in the rehabilitation of Karimov after Andizhan. The EU looks weak and it is not clear what it gets out of the meeting,” she said…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Italian Soldier Killed in Afghanistan

Italy’s 36th casualty since 2004

(ANSA) — Rome, January 18 — An Italian soldier was killed in a firefight in the northwestern Afghan Bala Murghab Valley Tuesday, military sources said here.

The unnamed soldier, Italy’s 36th casualty since its mission began in 2004, was hit in the head in an insurgent attack on an advance base, they said.

A second soldier was hit in the shoulder and is not in a life-threatening condition.

Attacks on Italians have become more frequent since many Taliban insurgents were driven out of the south of the country and on New Year’s Eve Italy suffered its 35th casualty.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Pakistan: Prime Minister Confirms Govt Has No Plans to Amend Blasphemy Law

Islamabad, 18 Jan. (AKI) — By Syed Saleem Shahzad — Pakistan’s prime minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani on Tuesday reiterated that the government does not intend to amend the country’s controversial blasphemy law, under which a Christian woman has been sentenced to death.

“Everybody trust me. The government trusts my statement and even the opposition parties believe whatever I promise to them,” he told Muslim scholars and spiritual guides from the mystical Sufi strand of the faith.

“You (Sufis) belong to me. Why don’t you trust when I say that government would never amend the Blasphemy law?” added Gilani, who hails from a revered Sufi family.

He said the parliamentary committee to review the blasphemy law following the sentencing to death last year of a Christian woman was formed in response to a private bill to amend the blasphemy law.

The committee was formed to make sure that nothing should be formulated against Islam and the popular wishes of the people, Gilani claimed.

It was not set up on the orders of the speaker of the national assembly or on his direct orders, but followed the bill tabled by ruling Pakistan Peoples Party MP Sherry Rahman, Gilani noted.

“I think it is to protect the blasphemy law rather than suggesting any amendment,” Gilani added.

The sentencing of a Asia Bibi, a Christian mother-of-five to death under the blasphemy law last November in eastern Pakistan sparked an international outcry. It came amid Rahman’s moves to reform the law, which has exposed a deep rift between conservatives and liberals in the Muslim country.

Religious parties and their supporters have staged protests across Pakistan over Rahman’s bill. They have praised the killer of late Punjab governor Salman Taseer, an outspoken critic of the blasphemy law who had appealed to Pakistan’s president Asif Ali Zarzari to save Bibi. Taseer was shot dead by his own bodyguard earlier this month.

The PPP has distanced itself from Taseer and brought forward Gilani to assure Pakistanis that government does not have any intention to reverse or amend the blasphemy law.

“If you closely watch the trends, the PPP government distant itself from Salman Taseer once religious edicts were issued against him. The PPP left him alone,” Punjab’s home minister Rana Sanaullah said in a TV talk show.

After Taseer’s murder, Zardari, who is also the PPP’s co-chairman, did not even attend the the slain governor’s funeral and travelled instead to his coastal residence in the southern port city of Karachi.

Muslim clerics refused to say prayers for Taseer and the prayers were offered by a PPP member instead.

The PPP instructed all its leaders including Rahman to change their stance, claiming the government could not withstand the pressure devout Muslims were exerting on it to retain the blasphemy law unamended.

No one in Pakistan has yet been executed under the law, which sanctions the death penalty for those convicted under it.

Muslims have also been convicted of blasphemy under the law, which opponents say it is used to settle personal scores and disputes between sects and encourages Islamist extremism.

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

Pakistan’s Blasphemy Laws Are a Symptom. The Real Question is: What is Pakistan All About?

“For decades,” wrote Pervez Hoodbhoy, the eminent physicist, in a stellar 2007 essay, “Pakistani school children have grown up learning a linguistically flawed (but catchy) rhetorical question sung together with its answer: Pakistan ka matlab kya? La illaha illala! (What is the meaning of Pakistan? There is no god but Allah!). They have been told that Pakistan’s raison d’etre was the creation of an Islamic state where the shariah must reign supreme.”

Ever since the tragic assassination of Salman Taseer, and the ugly displays of support for his assassin that followed it, the world has been debating the question Dr Hoodbhoy raised: “What is Pakistan all about”?

For many in Pakistan, this isn’t a question at all. An April 2007 survey reported that 54 per cent of Pakistanis wanted strict application of shariah law; 25 per cent wanted a somewhat watered-down version. Pakistan’s besieged liberals know the odds are stacked against them. Many have been seeking to reclaim the legacy of the nation’s founding father, Mohammad Ali Jinnah: a secular and progressive Pakistan, based on the rule of law.

The problem is, it isn’t clear if that was in fact Mr Jinnah’s legacy. Jinnah was, in the words of the scholar Akeel Bilgrami “personally irreligious and thoroughly modern in habit and thought”. In his last speech — an August 1947 address to Pakistan’s constituent Assembly — Jinnah promised its citizens: “You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan.”

But then, as Hoodhbhoy has pointed out, Jinnah never called for a secular state either — and was, when pressed, evasive. “Jinnah’ s statements from the 1930s onwards do not contain a single occurrence of the word ‘secular’ “, Hoodhbhoy wrote. “He refers repeatedly to the ‘fundamentals’ of the shariah and Quranic law, without ever specifying what those fundamentals are and where Pakistan’s constitution would depart from other ‘non-fundamental’ aspects of Islamic law.” Jinnah’s behaviour made political sense, Hoodbhoy argued: had he “campaigned for a liberal, secular Pakistan — and that too in competition with the secular Indian National Congress under the leadership of Jawaharlal Nehru — he would have certainly lost the leadership of the Pakistan Movement”.

Historians like Hamza Alavi suggest otherwise, arguing that Jinnah in fact rose to power on the back of secularised classes and popular demands. “Fundamentalist Islamic ideology,” Dr Alavi wrote, “played no part in the origins of Pakistan.”

But if that was the case, Pakistan soon undertook a dramatic course-correction. In 1951, the Majlis-e-Ahrar, a clerical alliance, initiated an agitation calling for members of the heterodox Ahmadiyya sect to be declared non-Muslims. Helped along by factional politics, the clerics succeeded in precipitating massive violence in 1953, forcing the limited imposition of military rule.

Pakistan, its 1956 constitution decreed in response, would henceforth be called an “Islamic Republic”. The new constitution also had a clause mandating that no laws repugnant to the Koran and the Hadith could be passed…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Far East

China Moves Troops Into North Korea

South Korea’s daily newspaper is reporting that what Western analysts have feared has happened: Chinese troops have been deployed into North Korea. The Chinese now have a presence in the rogue state for the first time in more than 15 years.

China has had no military presence in the rogue country since 1994 after it quit the Military Armistice Commission that supervises the Armistice that suspended the Korean war.

Since that time, Pyonyang has stridently announced that it will no longer abide by the agreement. During 2010 the North Korean government officially declared that it is once again in a state of war with South Korea and the U.S.

The South Korean government confirmed reports on January 18, 2011 that China has stationed military forces in the special economic zone of Rajin-Sonbong.

[Comments: During Korean war, a massive influx of Chinese troops drove US troops out of the North (but not without heavy losses).]

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Florence: First Italian Language Test

(ANSAmed) — FLORENCE, JANUARY 17 — This morning the first ‘Italian language tests to issue stay permits’ were held in Florence and Asti, given to immigrants who have been in Italy for at least 5 years. The test lasted for just over an hour: in Florence the test was given to 19 candidates out of 20 people who registered. The immigrants who took the exam were mainly from Albania, and about half were women. In Asti there were 10 candidates, mainly from North Africa and two from Senegal.

In Florence, out of the 19 test-takers, reported officials, only one is illiterate in her own language (an Albanian woman). “They were all extremely nervous at the beginning,” said professor Patrizia Margiacchi, an Italian teacher at the Di Cambio-Angelico school, where the exam was held. “Then, when they understood what was on the exam, they calmed down a bit.” “The test is going well,” said local immigration official from the Florence Prefecture, Daniela Lucchi. “I think that the average level is quite good. However, anyone who does not pass the test must retake it in the future.” One of the six exercises done by the first 19 candidates out of a total of 170 immigrants who requested to take the test, was the following: “Write a letter to your Italian friend to invite him on vacation (address and message of at least 15 words)”. The test was divided into three sections: listening, which lasted for 25 minutes, reading and comprehension (about 25 minutes) and writing (about 10 minutes). In conclusion, they were asked to write a request to the Prefecture for information on the documentation to present in order to obtain citizenship.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Refugees Stir Greek Anger

ORESTIADA, Greece—Turkey’s decision to open its borders for visa-free travel from countries in the Middle East and Africa has helped unleash a flood of illegal immigrants into the European Union, border officials here said Monday.

The main conduit is just outside this unassuming Greek town near Turkey’s border, where fields of garlic and brush form the only dry-land border between Greece and Turkey.

“Look at them wearing suits and ties like they’re going for coffee in a café,” Georgios Salamagkas, chief of police for the Orestiada district, said during an interview at his office in Orestiade, as he watched a video of migrants walking across the fields from Turkey toward the Greek border in daylight.

Greek and EU border officials describe an explosion of such illegal immigrants, who they say are taking advantage of a cheap, safe expressway to Europe’s borderless Schengen area, of which Greece is member. Here, the Schengen area abuts another open-travel zone, the informal visa-free zone developing in the East, around Turkey…

           — Hat tip: Steen[Return to headlines]

UK: Asylum Seeker Who Killed Amy Houston, 12, In Hit and Run ‘Should be Deported’

The father of a girl left dying in the road after being mown down by a failed asylum seeker has been handed a major boost in his bid to have him deported.

Aso Mohammed Ibrahim knocked down Amy Houston, 12, and fled the scene leaving her under the wheels of his car.

He was arrested and served four months in prison but launched legal action to be allowed leave to remain in the UK.

Last year his fight against deportation was successful after he argued sending him home would breach his right to a ‘private and family life’ under the Human Rights Act as he had fathered two children here.

But Amy’s father, Paul Houston, 41, has continued to campaign for Ibrahim to be deported claiming the Act had become nothing more than a charter for thieves, killers, terrorists and illegal immigrants.

Now he has been handed fresh hope after his campaign was backed by immigration minister Damian Green.

In a letter to Mr Houston, the immigration minister said: ‘I agree that Mr Ibrahim should not be allowed to remain in the United Kingdom.

‘Mr Ibrahim was convicted of committing an offence that led to the tragic death of Amy Houston and it is my personal view that he should be removed.’

His support comes as it was announced the case was set to go before the High Court in London.

The Home Office has granted UK Borders Agency bosses permission to take the case to the Court of Appeal in an attempt to overturn the Upper Immigration Tribunal’s decision to allow Ibrahim to stay in Britain…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Video Shows Women Climbing U.S.-Mexico Border Fence in Less Than 18 Seconds

Less than 18 seconds. That’s how long it took two young women to climb a U.S.-Mexico border fence that costs millions of dollars in taxpayer money.

In a video shot by filmmaker Roy Germano, two women show how easy it is to reach the top by climbing the fence’s concrete-filled steel pipes in less than 18 seconds, reports.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]