Saturday, January 11, 2003

News Feed 20110120

Financial Crisis
»International Tunisian Credit Cards Blocked
»Italy: Unicredit Plans to be More Selective on East Europe Investments
»Portugal: 750-Mln Bond Auction, Rates Down
»Rising Prices Lurk in Europe’s Immediate Future
»The Chinese Dragon and the American Eagle
»Tunisia: Fitch: Seven Banks Under ‘Negative’ Observation
»Tunisia: Moody’s Drops Rating to Baa2, Outlook Revised
»Concerns Raised About Combat Troops Using Psychotropic Drugs
»F.B.I. And Police Arrest More Than 100 in Mob Sweep
»Judge OKs ‘Flag of Islam on American Soil’
»New Congressman Rep. Allen West Denounces Raising of PLO Flag
»Surprise Shake-Up at Google Elevates Larry Page, A Co-Founder, To Top Post
»Muslim Charity Squandered Money for Poor
Europe and the EU
»Danish Cartoonist ‘Feared for Life’
»European Parliament OKs Battisti Extradition Motion
»France: Population to Increase by 15% by 2040
»France: Record Birth Rate, Over 2 Children Per Woman
»France Makes Awkward U-Turn on Tunisia Policy
»Imam Calls for Muslim British Armed Forces Boycott
»Italy: Ruby: Decision on Authorising Search Put Off
»Italy: Ruby: Berlusconi ‘Didn’t Touch Me With a Finger’
»Italy: Catholic Church Calls for ‘Clarity’ From Berlusconi Over Latest Escort Scandal
»Ruby and the €5,000 Envelope — “Tell Premier to Help Me”
»Spain: PP Lead Increases, Zapatero & Rajoy Get Thumbs Down
»Spain: Zapatero Prepared to Yield to Unions
»UK: ‘Trusted’ Mile End Teacher Molested Girls During Lessons on the Koran
»UK: Baroness Warsi Should Think Twice Before Accusing Christians of Bigotry
»UK: Baroness Warsi Triggers Backlash Over ‘Islamophobia’
»UK: Damian Green Announces Terror Detention Change
»UK: End of 28 Days Detention Without Charge for Suspects
»UK: Jed Bartlett Was Right About Extremists
»UK: Judge’s Concern as Woman Who Was Raped by Husband Drops Case After Community Pressure
»UK: Mother ‘Left to Have Miscarriage on a Trolley in Hospital Corridor’
»UK: Rozeena Butt Faked Death in Pakistan to Claim £2m Life Insurance
»UK: Woman Angry at KFC Meat Policy
»Vatican Warned Irish Bishops Not to Report Abuse
»Croatia: Islamic Centre and Mosque Soon in Pola
North Africa
»Algeria: Riot Police Guarding Algiers
»Christians: Arab Leaders: No to Foreign Interference
»Egypt’s Al-Azhar Freezes Inter-Religious Dialogue With the Vatican
»France Favoured Autocracy as a Bulwark Against Radical Islam
»Islamic Al Azhar University Suspends Dialogue With Vatican
»Top Sunni Body Freezes Dialogue With Vatican
»Tunisia: Goods Stolen During Looting on Sale
»Tunisia: Sousse Supermarket Sacked and Set on Fire
»Tunisia: 1,700 Inmates Escape From Chebba Jail, Press
Israel and the Palestinians
»UN: Arab Anti-Settlement Resolution Embarrasses US
Middle East
»Iraq: Karbala Bombs Kill Dozens During Shia Commemorations
»Murder in Anatolia — Christian Missionaries and Turkish Ultranationalism
»Solidarity Demonstration for Tunisia Halted in Yemen
»Tunisian WikiLeaks Putsch: CIA Touts Mediterranean Tsunami of Coups; Libya, Egypt, Syria, Algeria, Jordan, Italy All Targeted;
»Turkey’s High Court to Review Regulation of Alcohol
South Asia
»‘Italy Will Stay in Afghanistan’
Australia — Pacific
»He Emerged Victorious From a Hell of Blood and Fire
»PM Go and ‘Let the Muslims Take Over’
Latin America
»Venezuela Becomes New Stalinist Nation
»Exclusive: Over a Million Immigrants Land U.S. Jobs in 2008-10
»Germany’s Integration Provocateur Goes English
»UK: Britain is Migrant Magnet of Europe: Only Spain Admits More Non-EU Immigrants
»Welfare Tab for Children of Illegal Immigrants Estimated at $600m in L.A. County
Culture Wars
»EU Parliament Denounces Lithuania’s ‘Homophobic’ Law
»Stars Shine on Christian Researcher
»UK: The Extreme Version of Equality Forced Upon British Society is Attacking the Very Diversity it Seeks to Promote
»New Pesticides Are ‘Killing Honeybee Population Worldwide’

Financial Crisis

International Tunisian Credit Cards Blocked

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, JANUARY 19 — Although the news has only been released today, the Central Bank of Tunisia blocked international credit cards belonging to Tunisians on Saturday January 15. The move aims at stopping illegal transfers of money overseas by people with some kind of tie to the family of Ben Ali.

The body has also ordered banks to suspend any movements of monies referable to the family of the deposed regime. Credit cards should become active again this week, with the exception of those belonging to people whose names appear on a list that is to be released to the judicial authorities.(

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Unicredit Plans to be More Selective on East Europe Investments

Milan, 19 Jan. (AKI/Bloomberg) — Italy’s UniCredit bank, eastern Europe’s biggest lender, will be more selective about where it invests in emerging Europe as refinancing costs put a premium on growth in some markets because of perceptions of higher risk.

The Italian bank sees the best prospects in Russia, Turkey and Romania, Gianni Franco Papa, its newly appointed regional head, told journalists at the Euromoney conference in Vienna on Wednesday.

The lender is assessing its businesses across the region for a five-year plan to be presented later this year, he said.

“We’re not chasing growth for growth,” Papa said. “There are areas which are growing more and where we’re focusing more on. Country risk perception has changed and that means we cannot expand at the same pace in every country. We have areas where we will concentrate more, others where we are going through an assessment.”

UniCredit Chief Executive Federico Ghizzoni, who was Papa’s predecessor in the role before being promoted to as head of the bank, said last month the lender plans to open 900 branches in central and eastern Europe, which in UniCredit’s definition also includes Turkey, in the next five years and will finance that growth without having to sell shares.

Of the total branch expansion, 300 will be opened in Turkey, 300 in Romania and 120 in Hungary, Papa said. The pace of the expansion in Hungary, which has the biggest special bank tax in Europe, depends on whether those branches could be made “financially sustainable,” he said.

While Milan-based UniCredit may still turn to acquisitions to boost growth, Papa said that purchases are not longer as high of a priority. “More and more, growth will be organic rather than by acquisition,” he said.

UniCredit had 124 billion euros of assets (167 billion dollars) in the region at the end of June, it said on Wednesday in a presentation, leading Austria’s Erste Group Bank AG and Raiffeisen Bank International AG. It also makes a quarter of its revenue there.

Papa also said there is currently “no discussion” about selling its Kazakh business AO ATF Bank, the fifth-largest lender in the country, which it bought for $2.1 billion in 2007 and for which it has taken several writedowns in the last two years, including by 162 million euros in the second quarter, because of bad loans.

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

Portugal: 750-Mln Bond Auction, Rates Down

(ANSAmed) — ROME, JANUARY 19 — Portugal has successfully placed state bonds with a maturity date of January 2012 worth 750 million, managing to get lower yields than in December. The average rate has dropped to 4.029% from the 5.281% seen in the December 1 auction. Demand is good and exceeded the supply by 3.1 times compared with the 2.5 times in December.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Rising Prices Lurk in Europe’s Immediate Future

Moderate inflation isn’t a bad sign. But prices in Europe are threatening to spiral upward in the near future as commodity prices across the globe explode. What’s more, there may be little the European Central Bank can do about it.

Bert Flossbach, an asset manager in Cologne, can reproduce the sound made by a phenomenon like inflation. He takes two coins out of his pocket and drops them.

One is a Krugerrand gold coin from South Africa. When it strikes the table, it makes a sound suggesting fullness, substance and real value. The other is a Russian kopeck, a coin so light that it seems to almost glide down to the table. “That’s the sound of inflation,” says Flossbach.

Flossbach is convinced that the euro will also degenerate into a soft currency. The enormous debts facing some euro-zone governments, he says, make it inevitable. Flossbach expects galloping, double-digit inflation — and not in five or 10 years, but soon. The only missing ingredient, he says, is a trigger, a dramatic event that will put an “avalanche-like process” in motion.

Worries and Anger

Flossbach invests in tangible assets, such as precious metals and stocks. His customers have entrusted him with roughly €4 billion ($5.3 billion) in assets, an increase of some 40 percent over last year. His message has apparently struck a nerve.

Polls show that the majority of Germans, and especially older ones, have grown worried about their savings. Many are scared that inflation will consume their nest eggs, and that they will end up footing the bill for bailing out banks and entire countries. “The large figures have really alarmed people,” says Manfred Neumann, a currency specialist in Bonn.

To avert economic collapse in the wake of the financial crisis, central banks have been pumping more and more money into the economy. In doing so, economists say, they have created the fertile ground on which inflation can now thrive.

Some politicians are also sounding the alarm. Frank Schäffler, a financial expert with Germany’s business-friendly Free Democratic Party (FDP), notes how the European Central Bank (ECB) has been financing government debt by printing money. “In the medium term,” he says, “this inevitably leads to inflation.” Michael Fuchs, an economic expert with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU), is particularly worried about commodities prices, saying that they contribute to “the greatest inflation risk.”

Death by a Thousand Cuts

Last week, the price of a liter of premium unleaded gasoline climbed to above €1.50 (about $7.60 a gallon) at many German gas stations. This is almost as much as it was in 2008, when gasoline prices reached an all-time high. Consumers have also been taken aback by the many other increases in everyday expenses.

It begins at the breakfast table. Not long ago, many coffee roasters raised the price of a pound of beans by €0.50. And those who prefer their coffee sweet are likewise feeling the pinch. Within a year, the price of sugar on the world market has gone up by 25 percent. A croissant is also more expensive, bakers say, thanks to rises in wheat and energy costs.

A considerably larger dent in disposable incomes will come from fixed expenses such as the electricity bill. Starting next year, almost 600 utilities plan on raising their rates by an average of 7 percent. Consumers are also in for a shock when they realize that municipal fees for street cleaning, garbage collection and cemetery services will be going up significantly as well. According to the professional services giant Ernst & Young, 84 percent of German cities and towns are planning substantial fee increases.

For millions of citizens, rents are also expected to go up by an average of 2.5 percent, with significantly steeper rises in top markets. Indeed, even going on vacation has become noticeably more expensive. A vacation package to the Mediterranean resort island of Mallorca, for example, cost 12 percent more in December than it did a year earlier.

A Return to Normalcy?

Inflation is back. And it isn’t, at first glance at least, such a bad sign. Indeed, inflation is seen as an indicator of economic recovery because companies can only raise prices when there is a significant increase in demand.

The German economy grew by 3.6 percent in 2010, the best figure since the fall of the Berlin Wall. It is benefitting from the fact that the world has recovered surprisingly swiftly from the shock of the financial crisis. Sales in the export industry have increased by more than 16 percent, which is a record. Until just recently, many German companies were sending their workers into short-time work programs. But now they are back to laboring full time. The auto industry is now even keeping its customers waiting — it now takes up to six months for new cars to be delivered.

But perhaps the most remarkable thing of all is that, after many lean years, wages are expected to rise significantly once again. In the steel industry, unions and employers recently agreed to a 3.6 percent wage hike. Employees have also shown an increased willingness to spend their paychecks, which in turn provides retailers with room to raise prices.

The inflation rate in the euro zone recently rose to 2.2 percent. For Holger Schmieding, chief economist at the Hamburg-based Berenberg Bank, this should not yet be a cause for increased concern. As he sees it, Europe has simply enjoyed a unique period of extremely low inflation that is now coming to an end. “Things are returning to normal,” he says…

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

The Chinese Dragon and the American Eagle

America still has vast resources, a large population and a huge pool of talent — but its overregulation made companies think of it as a market, rather than a source of industry.

Countries most often destroy themselves by refusing to gauge the consequences of their actions. That blind spot creates a weakness. The bigger it gets, the more vulnerable the country becomes. America’s blind spot has been an unwillingness to recognize the economic cost of its social programs.

American prosperity was built on the combination of vast resources, cheap labor, class mobility and few regulations creating a society with the shortest line possible between innovation and production. But as liberalism’s regulatory culture made everything from mining to manufacturing to employment more expensive, the old American economic miracles were no longer possible.

America went from a nation that could construct the Empire State Building and a force of warplanes outnumbering the entire present day air force in a single year—to a country where the World Trade Center has not been rebuilt despite an abundance of capital after a decade and there are still hardly any Fifth Generation jet planes in service.

The United States has not run out of money (even if it’s imaginary money at this point), but the line between innovation and production has become ridiculously elongated and convoluted. About the only place where it’s still possible to come up with a product and quickly get it to market is the internet—which is why it’s about the only healthy sector in the economy. And that’s because the internet sidelines many of the regulatory real world obstacles, because their revenue stream doesn’t require months or years of testing by government laboratories, union contacts, environmental safety reviews and can be done by a collaboration of individuals often without the need for pages of regulations and external oversight.


By outsourcing their production, America’s biggest corporations had become nothing more than middle-men between their Chinese suppliers and the retailers who stocked their products. The internet made it easy for customers to cut out the retailer as the middle-man, and as the Chinese suppliers become manufacturers, they can and are developing their own brand names and cutting American companies completely out of the picture. Unlike American companies, Chinese companies don’t compromise their own country’s interests. That’s in part a collectivist code, but it’s also because Chinese industry answers to the People’s Republic of China government, and the goal of the Chinese authorities is to use their manufacturing as leverage to consolidate as much of the world’s industries as possible. American companies whose manufacturing facilities are located in China, will be unable to compete, because their designs will go directly to their Chinese competitors, and their manufacturing costs can be manipulated so that their Chinese competitors will be able to sell the same products for less. China is not willing to be used as only a source of cheap labor or raw materials

China is not willing to be used as only a source of cheap labor or raw materials.

Instead it insists that companies who buy raw materials from it also move their manufacturing there, which touched off the recent Rare Earths crisis. And sooner or later, those companies that manufacture products in China will either become Chinese owned, or kneecapped by a manufacturing system whose goal is to help Chinese companies gain a global hold.


Like a predator that devours its prey in stages, the Chinese economy is consuming the American economy. The lure of cheap labor and cheap goods will vanish with growing prosperity and the weakening of the dollar. As China’s economy moves into a dominant position, the formerly cheap products and cheap labor will become expensive due to the power shift. China has deliberately undervalued its currency in order to attract foreign companies and export its products abroad, but the undervalued Yuan is a Venus fly trap which attracts insects only to stick them in place and gobble them up. When China is ready, its currency will cease to be undervalued and the dollar will be trampled underfoot.


Liberal ideas of a post-national order led America to build up international organizations such as the WTO that have actually undermined America’s economic power. And the foreign policy has been geared not toward strengthening America as a global economic power, but toward maintaining global stability by dispensing the rewards of the American economy to the rest of the world. And so Nixon went to China and Bush Sr and Clinton went to Mexico, and America went bankrupt. The American economy was used to leverage a post-American foreign policy. And now we are headed toward a post-American political and economic order. Not an international one, for the UN and the liberal dream of global government are dead ends, but the reassertion of power by China, Russia and Islam.


“I am going to go back to Washington tomorrow and meet with the president of China. He is a dictator. He can do a lot of things through the form of government they have,” said a doubtlessly envious Harry Reid. And who can blame him. Reid and Obama wish they had the power that the Paramount Leader of the People’s Republic of China does. And if things go as they are, then they will have it. Poverty inevitably leads to tyranny. Which is yet one more reason why the power of government has increased during each recession.


The Great Depression, the Carter recession and the current recession have seen huge bursts in the size and spending of government, even though the economy that they needed for taxable revenue was actually in decline. And that makes its growth strategy dangerously malignant. A parasite that feeds more when the host has less to eat is the most dangerous kind.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Tunisia: Fitch: Seven Banks Under ‘Negative’ Observation

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, JANUARY 18 — Rating agency Fitch stated that it placed seven Tunisian banks under observation with negative implications. They are the Arab Tunisian Bank (Atb), the Local communities loans and support fund, the Societe’ Tunisienne de Banque (Stb), the Banque Nationale Agricole (Bna), the Banque de l’Habitat (Bh), the Banque Internationale Arabe de Tunisie (Biat), and the Amen Bank.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Tunisia: Moody’s Drops Rating to Baa2, Outlook Revised

(ANSAmed) — ROME, JANUARY 19 — Moody’s has lowered its rating for Tunisian state bonds from Baa2 to Baa3, and has changed its outlook from stable to negative. The downgrade, according to a statement released by the international agency, is due to “significant economic and political uncertainty” weighing on the country after the serious rioting which led to an unexpected change of regime as well as social upheaval. Moody’s has also lowered its rating for foreign currency reserves (to Baa2) and its short-term rating from P-3 to P-2.

According to Moody’s, “the unrest underway, as well as the political situation, further jeopardise the country’s future stability”. At the same time, Moody’s has also downgrade its assessment of Tunisia’s central bank, which issues debt on behalf of the Tunisian treasury, from Baa2 to Baa3.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Concerns Raised About Combat Troops Using Psychotropic Drugs

As U.S. military leaders gathered Wednesday to give their latest update on the rash of Army suicides, new questions are being raised about a U.S. Central Command policy that allows troops to go to Iraq and Afghanistan with up to a six-month supply of psychotropic drugs.

Prescription drugs have already been linked to some military suicides, and a top Army official warned last year about the danger of soldiers abusing that medication. Psychiatrists are now coming down hard on the military for continuing to sanction certain psychotropic drugs for combat troops, saying the risk from side effects is too great.

“There’s no way on earth that these boys and girls are getting monitored on the field,” said Dr. Peter Breggin, a New York-based psychiatrist who has extensively studied the side effects of psychiatric drugs. “The drugs simply shouldn’t be given to soldiers.”

Anxiety, violent behavior and “impulsivity” are all side effects of some of these medications, he said, the latter symptom being particularly dangerous in a war zone. Breggin said that if patients were given these medications in the civilian world and not monitored, it would amount to “malpractice.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

F.B.I. And Police Arrest More Than 100 in Mob Sweep

In a blanket assault against seven mob families in New York, New Jersey and Rhode Island, the F.B.I. and local authorities began arresting more than 100 people on Thursday on charges including murder, racketeering and extortion, people briefed on the arrests said.

The sweep began before dawn and the targets ranged from small-time book makers and crime-family functionaries to a number of senior mob figures and several corrupt union officials, according to several people briefed on the arrests. Among those arrested or sought, some of the people said, were more than two dozen made members of New York’s five crime families and the families in New Jersey and New England, along with dozens of their associates.

[Return to headlines]

Judge OKs ‘Flag of Islam on American Soil’

Decision approves government funding for Shariah indoctrination

Attorneys for a Marine Corps veteran of the Iraqi War say they have filed a petition to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals after a federal district judge ruled it is fine for the U.S. government to fund commercial enterprises that promote the indoctrination of Shariah religious law inside the United States.

The decision came from Judge Lawrence Zatkoff, who changed his perspective on the issue and said just last week that he would dismiss a constitutional challenge brought by Kevin Murray against the U.S. government’s bailout of AIG, the insurance giant.

That company used more than “$100 million in federal tax money to support Islamic religious indoctrination through the funding and promotion of Shariah-compliant financing. … SCF is financing that follows the dictates of Islamic law,” said officials at the Thomas More Law Center.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

New Congressman Rep. Allen West Denounces Raising of PLO Flag

The office of U.S. Rep. Allen West, R-Plantation, says the freshman congressman is publicly condemning the Palestine Liberation Organization, or PLO, for raising its flag outside its offices in the nation’s capital.

“The raising of this flag is an attempt to legitimize an organization with a known history of terrorist actions,” West said, in a written news release.

“By allowing this flag to be flown, the United States is extending a diplomatic right that we refrain from offering to even our own allies, like Taiwan. This action is a diplomatic slap in the face of our greatest of allies, Israel.”

He was joined by another South Florida congressperson and fellow Republican, U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, in condemning the flag-raising. They’re asking President Obama and the Department of State’s Foreign Missions to yank back the permission that was given to the PLO to raise it.

           — Hat tip: Escape Velocity[Return to headlines]

Surprise Shake-Up at Google Elevates Larry Page, A Co-Founder, To Top Post

Google said Thursday that Larry Page, its co-founder and president of products, would take over as chief executive, succeeding Eric E. Schmidt, the company’s longtime chief.

Mr. Schmidt will remain executive chairman and serve as advisor to Mr. Page and Sergey Brin, the other company co-founder and its president of technology.

The shakeup is the biggest change in management at the company since Mr. Schmidt joined as chief executive in 2001.

[Return to headlines]


Muslim Charity Squandered Money for Poor

Mohammad Ashraf, long-time leader of the Islamic Society of North America Canada, is at the centre of a controversy involving mismanaged charity donations and free perks for family members.

Devout Muslims donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to one of Canada’s largest Islamic organizations on the promise that the cash would be used to help the poor.

But only one in four dollars donated to a special pool of money at the Islamic Society of North America Canada (ISNA Canada) actually reached the needy.

Mismanagement of more than $600,000 is among the findings in a scathing audit obtained by the Star.

A “very small portion . . . is distributed to the poor and needy and the major portion is spent on the administration of the centre,” concluded the 2010 audit of the previous four years.

ISNA Canada is embroiled in controversy, with the audit revealing the practice of giving free perks to family members of a top official; the improper issuing of charitable tax receipts; and the diversion of charity money to private businesses. At the centre of it all is long-time secretary general Mohammad Ashraf, who has recently announced he is stepping down.

Ashraf would not answer a series of questions from the Star.

“Don’t ask me anything,” Ashraf told a reporter who visited the organization’s Mississauga headquarters, marked by a graceful minaret overlooking the Queen Elizabeth Way. The 73-year-old microbiologist said he is “being transitioned into retirement” and that he is “restricted” from commenting on the audit.

ISNA Canada’s elected president, Mohamed Bekkari, told the Star in an interview Wednesday that his organization will toughen financial protocols as a result of the audit. All financial authority has been removed from Ashraf, he said. Bekkari called the findings of the audit, by chartered accountant Fareed Sheik, “unsettling” and a new audit will be ordered that will dig deeper.

The first audit warns that ISNA would risk losing charity status if things are not done differently.

For more than 30 years, Ashraf has been the leader of ISNA, a national organization that is also the hub for Mississauga’s Muslim community. It houses the city’s most visible mosque and provides a variety of services, including a Muslim high school and a halal meat certification agency.

ISNA Canada draws in close to $1 million in charity donations a year. The audit looked closely at one portion of those donations, an obligatory alms giving called Zakat and Fitrah meant to aid the needy. The audit found that of about $810,777 collected over four years, only $196,460 went to aid the poor.

After prayer, Zakat is considered by some Muslims to be the most important pillar of the Islamic faith. It requires Muslims to give a minimum of 2.5 per cent of their wealth each year to the poor.

To mark the beginning of Ramadan, Ashraf sent out a letter in August 2010 urging all of ISNA Canada’s members to donate money for “helping needy Muslims not only in Canada, but all over the World.”

The auditor, brought in by the ISNA Canada board, took issue with how charity cash was used to cover everything from beefing up security — including $60,000 for installing cameras and frequently changing locks — to health benefits for Ashraf’s daughters, even though they don’t work for ISNA Canada.

The organization has been spending more than $6,500 each year on the health plans for Ashraf’s daughters, Saadia and Uzma. Saadia’s premium has since been returned, the audit said.

“Spending for personal expenses out of the charity’s funds is unethical,” the auditor wrote, saying it is “tantamount to misappropriation of funds.”

The audit shows tens of thousands of charity dollars were shuffled from ISNA Canada to its affiliated services and businesses, several of which have secretary-general Ashraf as a director. Federal rules forbid charities from spending donations on business activities that do not aid the charity.

The organization has “put an end” to the inappropriate transferring of money as well as taken “financial matters out of the hands” of Ashraf, Bekkari said.

Ashraf has defended himself in a memo posted on the organization’s website. In it, Ashraf told the members that the audit showed there had been “No instances of fraud, embezzlement, misappropriation of funds or any deliberate wrong doings in handling of the financial affairs of ISNA Canada.”

The auditor noted his scope was limited and “consequently I was not able to follow the trail of funds transferred from ISNA to other organizations.”

“Hence I cannot conclude with certainty that there has been no misappropriation or embezzlement of funds or cash.”

The audit’s scope was in part restricted because the organization’s management refused to give the auditor certain documents, the board’s president said…

           — Hat tip: Vlad Tepes[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Danish Cartoonist ‘Feared for Life’

A Danish cartoonist who caricatured the Prophet Muhammad has told a court how he feared he would be “slaughtered” by an axe-wielding Somali man who broke into his home.

Kurt Westergaard said the 29-year-old intruder who stormed into the house on New Year’s Day, 2010, wanted to kill him and was lying about the purpose of the attack.

“He was like a religious, insane young man. I believed he entered the house as a holy warrior who wanted to kill an infidel,” Mr Westergaard told the court in Aarhus.

Mr Westergaard locked himself inside a panic room and escaped the attack unharmed.

The defendant, who cannot be named under a court order, told the court as the trial opened on Wednesday that he just wanted to scare the cartoonist and not hurt him.

Mr Westergaard said that was untrue, calling the defendant a “madman” as well as a “cowardly liar”.

Mr Westergaard’s drawing was one of 12 cartoons of Muhammad published by a Danish newspaper in September 2005, triggering violent protests across the Muslim world four months later.

The defendant, who was shot in the knee by police as he left Mr Westergaard’s house, is charged with terrorism and with “assault with intent to kill” for hurling the axe at a police officer…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

European Parliament OKs Battisti Extradition Motion

But Commission says strictly bilateral issue

(ANSA) — Strasbourg, January 20 — The European Parliament on Thursday overwhelmingly approved a motion presented by all Italian parties urging the European Union to back Italy’s bid to extradite ex-terrorist and four-time murderer Cesare Battisti from Brazil.

The motion, which received 86 votes in favour, one against and two abstentions, calls on the EU to make a political intervention to help Italy overturn former Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s rejection of the extradition request on his last day in office on December 31.

The result of the vote was greeted with a loud round of applause and one Italian MEP shouted, in the direction of the European Commission delegate, “Act, you must act!” But the Commission, through Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule, reiterated Thursday that the EC had “no competence” in the case, which he said was strictly a bilateral issue.

The sons of Battisti’s four victims demonstrated outside the parliament building Wednesday, saying they were prepared to forgive Battisti but only if he paid for his crimes. Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said on a TV show on January 10 that bringing Battisti back to serve his life term for the murders, committed in the 1970s, was “a moral duty”.

“We want Battisti back inside an Italian prison. I’ve said I will go to the International Court of Justice in The Hague if necessary”.

Speaking on the same show, the son of one of Battisti’s victims, Alberto Torregiani, called Lula’s decision “absurd, hypocritical and ignoble”.

Torregiani, who was paralysed from the waist down in the 1979 attack that killed his jeweler father Pierluigi, has been spearheading protests against the ruling.

Frattini went on to praise the Brazilian supreme court’s recent decision to reject Battisti’s request for immediate release and voiced the hope that Italy would get the court to rule in favour of extradition as it did in 2009, before leaving the final say to Lula.

“I trust (the court) will not go back on the decision we obtained,” he said.

In rejecting Battisti’s appeal to be released, Chief Justice Peluso said there was no evidence to support Battisti’s controversial claim that he would be in physical danger if returned to Italy.

According to the Brazilian media, the row with Italy has triggered a domestic institutional crisis in Brazil between the executive and the judicial branches.

Brazil’s main opposition party has called for a reversal of the extradition denial.

Earlier this month the relatives of Battisti’s victims staged street protests outside the Brazilian embassy in Rome and consulates and offices elsewhere in Italy, while militants from Premier Silvio Berlusconi’s key government ally the Northern League called for a boycott of Brazilian goods.

Berlusconi has stressed the affair is purely judicial and will not prejudice ties with Brazil while Frattini has clarified that the ratification of an important military accord will merely be held up, partly because of current difficulties in getting business through parliament.

Battisti was arrested in Brazil in April 2007, some five years after he had fled to that country to avoid extradition to Italy from France following the end of the Mitterrand doctrine which gave sanctuary to fugitive leftist guerrillas.

He had lived in France for 15 years and become a successful writer of crime novels.

In January 2009 the Brazilian justice ministry granted Battisti political asylum on the grounds that he would face “political persecution” in Italy.

The ruling outraged the Italian government who demanded that it be taken to the Brazilian supreme court, which in November 2009 reversed the earlier decision and turned down Battisti’s request for asylum.

However, the court added that the Brazilian constitution gave the president personal powers to deny the extradition if he chose to.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

France: Population to Increase by 15% by 2040

(ANSAmed) — ROME, JANUARY 19 — If the current demographic trends were to continue, by 2040 the population of France will have risen by 15%, according to the national statistics office INSEE. In just over 30 years, the French population will reach 73 million inhabitants, 71 million of whom in metropolitan France.

At a regional level growth will be greater in the southern regions, on the Atlantic coastline and in the Rhone-area Alps, while it is expected to decline in the north-west regions. As concerns the average age of the population, it will go from a current 39.1 years old to 43.6 in 20240.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

France: Record Birth Rate, Over 2 Children Per Woman

(ANSAmed) — PARIS, JANUARY 18 — Despite the global crisis, people are having children again in France. This is the result of a report from the country’s statistics institute, INSEE, which says that the birth rate in 2010 was 2.01 children per woman, the first time the figure has topped 2 since the years of the baby boom. This elevated rate, which has carried France’s natural balance (the difference between births and deaths) to 283,000, means that the French population last year surpassed 65 million, 10 million more than in 1981. The contribution of new births to demographic growth, a rare phenomenon in Europe, remains more significant than the influence of immigration, for which 75,000 more departures than arrivals were registered in 2010.

The progression of the birth rate, INSEE says, “can be completely attributed to women over the age of 30, and especially those aged 35 or above”. Women are therefore having children later, with the average age of motherhood reaching 30.

French life expectancy is also on the rise. After the stagnation of 2008 and the “weak growth” of 2009, the figure in 2010 stood at 78.1 years for men and 84.8 for women. This phenomenon is due to the inexorable ageing of the population: in 2010, 16.8% of French people were over 65.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

France Makes Awkward U-Turn on Tunisia Policy

The overthrow of Tunisian President Ben Ali has presented the French government with a dilemma. Paris’s previous support for the dictator is now proving embarrassing for President Sarkozy, who has been forced to distance himself from his old ally. Voices calling for a complete change in France’s Maghreb policy are growing louder.

She felt misunderstood, she said, explaining that her words had been “distorted.” Addressing the French parliament on Tuesday, Michèle Alliot-Marie, the recently appointed French foreign minister, played the role of the innocent victim. She was responding to opposition members of parliament, who had questioned the minister regarding her controversial comments on the situation in Tunisia, where President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was toppled last Friday.

On Tuesday of last week, in the middle of the bloody revolt against Ben Ali’s autocratic rule, Alliot-Marie told the National Assembly, the lower house of the French parliament, that France could “offer the know-how of (its) security forces to help control this type of situation” — in other words, to strengthen the government of Ben Ali, who has now become a pariah in the international community.

The dubious offer enraged not only her political opponents, but also some of her colleagues in the French cabinet, who distanced themselves from the minister. The Paris newspaper Canard Enchaîné quoted Prime Minister François Fillon as calling the idea “totally crazy.” And President Nicolas Sarkozy reportedly grumbled that such statements “weakened France’s position.”

But the real problem was not the foreign minister’s peculiar offer of help. Rather, people are now asking searching questions about France’s overall foreign policy regarding the Maghreb region and the Middle East, which previously had rarely been criticized in public. While the US early on signaled its support for the protest movement in Tunisia, Paris persisted in its policy of standing by the regime.

Shifting into Reverse

That policy was based on a cynical strategy. According to the traditional thinking in foreign policy circles, it was acceptable to tolerate the rule of Ben Ali because the dictator had proven himself to be a bulwark against terrorism and radical Islamists. Even Dominique Strauss-Kahn, a member of the French Socialist party and currently head of the International Monetary Fund, once claimed that Tunisia was a “model for many emerging countries.” The association of French investors in Africa, CIAN, also praised the country for its “solid economy, coupled with political stability.”

France’s leadership, it turns out, had entirely misjudged the situation in Tunisia, which gained its independence from France in 1956. Now that Ben Ali is gone, France’s entire Northern African policy is under scrutiny. The French reaction to the revolution was marked initially by a guilty conscience, followed by disillusionment. Now French politicians are looking at scenarios for how the previous policy can be revised.

Paris has shifted into “reverse gear,” commented Christian Bouquet, a professor of geopolitics at the University of Bordeaux who specializes in African issues. “There was without question a brutal realization of the fact that France’s initial position was going to hit a wall,” he told the news agency Reuters…

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Imam Calls for Muslim British Armed Forces Boycott

A Birmingham Imam has said that Muslims should not fight in the British armed forces on conscientious grounds due to their presence in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Shaykh Asrar Rashid, a visiting cleric at the city’s mosques, also told the BBC the Queen was “a disgusting woman” for knighting author Salman Rushdie.

In 1989 Iran’s leaders called for the death of Mr Rushdie for writing The Satanic Verses, deemed “blasphemous”.

The Muslim Council of Britain said the Imam’s views were not representative.

Mr Rashid, who was arrested during a Hajj Pilgrimage last summer, lives in Sparkbrook in Birmingham and preaches in mosques around the city…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Italy: Ruby: Decision on Authorising Search Put Off

‘We help people who have problems’ says premier’s cash man

(ANSA) — Rome, January 19 — A parliamentary panel on Wednesday put off for at least a week a decision on authorising a search of the offices of Premier Silvio Berlusconi’s financial administrator, accused of paying young women including an underage Moroccan belly dancer called Ruby for sex with the premier.

The panel said it would only start examining a near-400-page request from Milan prosecutors to search Giuseppe Spinelli’s offices on Tuesday, January 25.

Prosecutors say they have wiretap evidence that Spinelli paid young women, many of them aspiring showgirls, 5,000 euros each time they attended one of the premier’s alleged sex parties.

The premier is also alleged to have provided the girls with free apartments at a housing complex built by media magnate Berlusconi when he was an up-and-coming entrepreneur in the late 1970s.

Berlusconi has refused calls to resign because of the case, dubbed Rubygate, in which he is also alleged to have abused his power in pressuring police to let Ruby out of custody after she was accused of theft.

“Are you mad?” he replied to reporters on Tuesday night.

The premier has also said he will refuse a summons to appear before magistrates on either Friday, Saturday or Sunday, the days provided as options by the prosecutors.

Berlusconi claims, as he has repeatedly in the past, that he is the victim of biased magistrates who are trying to bring him down.

In 12 trials, the premier has never been definitively convicted, sometimes because of the statute of limitations or law changes made by his government.

He is currently facing three trials for alleged bribery, tax fraud and embezzlement.

Spinelli, who administrates the premier’s personal finances, said on Wednesday the case had been been “blown-up”.

“It’s much simpler than it seems,” he told Italian TV.

“We help people who have problems.

“Someone who is looking at it from the outside, I understand, may not understand.

“You have no idea how many people we have helped”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Ruby: Berlusconi ‘Didn’t Touch Me With a Finger’

‘Never asked for five million euros,’ teen dancer adds on TV

(ANSA) — Milan, January 19 — A teenage Moroccan belly dancer at the centre of a probe involving Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi and underage prostitution on Wednesday said the premier had “never touched” her.

“He never touched me, not even with a finger,” said Karima El Mahrough, 18, in an interview on one of Berlusconi’s TV channels.

“I esteem him as a person and for helping me without anything in return,” said El Mahroug, better known by her stage name of Ruby Rubacuore (Heart-stealer).

Ruby, who was 17 when Milan prosecutors claim from phone records she stayed overnight several times at Berlusconi’s residence outside Milan, said she had never been a prostitute although she had once had a close call when a would-be client in a Milan hotel paid her but advised her not to become one.

On another wiretap, Ruby is heard saying she wanted five million euros from Berlusconi for having had her good name sullied.

But she denied this in the interview on Wednesday, saying “I didn’t say that, absolutely”.

Ruby also denied telling Berlusconi she was the granddaughter of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. She said she told him she was Egyptian, aged 24, but did not go into her family history with him.

Berlusconi is alleged to have pressured police to get Ruby out of custody, telling them she was Mubarak’s granddaughter, an episode for which he is under investigation for abuse of office.

Using underage prostitutes carries a jail term of up to three years while abuse of office can be punished by a term of up to 12 years.

Berlusconi denies wrongdoing and says he is the victim of a plot by prosecutors and the media.

Ruby added in the interview that she had been raped by two of her uncles when she was nine, an incident her mother told her to keep quiet for fear her observant Muslim father would kill her.

When she decided to become a Catholic at the age of 12, she said, her father poured a pan of boiling oil on her and she still bears the signs on her head and a shoulder.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Catholic Church Calls for ‘Clarity’ From Berlusconi Over Latest Escort Scandal

Rome, 18 Jan. (AKI) — The Catholic Church in Italy on Tuesday said prime minister Silvio Berlusconi should shed light on charges facing him in a widening sex scandal allegedly involving young women who had sex with the premier in exchange for cash and gifts.

Berlusconi is alleged to have slept with at least one underage girl, a teenage Moroccan nightclub dancer who was 17 at the time. Although prostitution is not a crime in Italy, engaging in prostitution with minors or exploiting them is.

“Necessary clarity,” demanded the headline of a front-page editorial of Avvenire, a daily newspaper owned by Italy’s Catholic Bishops Conference.

About “the umpteenth judicial-political scandal,” raging against the premier “there is but one certainty: the need to swiftly offer clarity,” said SIR, a news-agency also linked to Italy’s bishops.

The call came a day after prosecutors in Milan submitted to parliament documents containing alleged evidence that Berlusconi financially supported and slept with a “significant number” of prostitutes.

Those named in the investigation include Moroccan teenage belly dancer Karima El Mahroug, also known by her stage name Ruby.

The prosecutors have asked the parliament for permission to search Berlusconi’s officies in connection with the probe and also want to question him this month.

The documents also detailed alleged “abuse of office” by Berlusconi when he intervened on behalf of El Mahroug, while she was being held by police in Milan in connection with theft in May 2010.

While abuse of power by the premier “is the most serious offence from the point of view of penal consequences,” that of underage prostitution “is morally downright intolerable,” wrote Avvenire editor Marco Tarquinio.

He stressed how the Catholic church has played a major role in denouncing prostitution in Italy — including the exploitation of foreign women and girls.

Berlusconi has in past repeatedly asserted that his conservative People of Freedom party upholds traditional family values and Italy’s Catholic traditions.

Tarquinio questioned whether the premier’s alleged actions were in line with a September 2010 call made by the head of Italy’s bishops. At the time, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco said that for those holding positions of responsibility in government and elsewhere, “good behaviour is inseparable from one’s role”.

“A tornado has struck not only Italy’s main political leader and a group of his friends … but the international image of our country as well as discussions between parents and children, colleagues and even between strangers in the street,” Tarquinio wrote.

In a televised address Sunday, billionaire media mogul Berlusconi rejected prosecutors’ allegations that he exploited El Mahroug as “absurd”,

He claimed he had had an (unnamed) steady girlfriend for the past 18 months who had been at formal dinners he hosted at his villa near Milan, where he met El Mahroug and other women.

El Mahroug has denied in interview she had sexual relations with Berlusconi but appeared to give a different version of events in intercepted phone calls , where she allegedly said she had asked the premier for five million euros not to talk.

The judicial probe has also targeted three members of Berlusconi’s entourage including his former dental hygienist, now a councillor the for Lombardy region, Nicole Minetti, who are suspected of abetting prostitution.

In their request to parliament, prosecutors also named nine other women, who Berlusconi allegedly housed in rent-free apartments in his Milano2 suburb and gave cash payments and gifts, allegedly in exchange for sex.

Berlusconi has been embroiled in a series of sex scandals and has admitted he is “no saint” and has repeatedly denied ever paying a women for sex.

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

Ruby and the €5,000 Envelope — “Tell Premier to Help Me”

Girl says: “He calls us when he feels like it. If the government falls, I’ll be a down-and-out with a degree”

MILAN — Whether or not he knew she was under age, did Italy’s prime minister pay Karima “Ruby” El Mahroug? It’s hard to say whether Ruby is telling the truth when she tells a girlfriend in a tapped exchange: “He called me up yesterday and said ‘Ruby, I’ll give you whatever amount you want. I’ll pay you. I’ll cover you in gold, but the important thing is to keep everything under wraps. Don’t tell anyone’. For all I care, he could be in the Mafia or whatever. The main thing is that he’s showering me with money. Heck, he’s changing my life”. A second clue, smaller but material and more damning, came from the “random” vehicle check on Ruby by Genoa police on 22 September 2010, which led to the seizure of ten €500 notes found in her handbag. It was already known because although Ms El Mahroug claimed the money was “a gift from Lele Mora’s secretary”, her driver said that she had asked to be taken to Milano Due, where Mr Berlusconi’s personal administrator Giuseppe Spinelli is based, to collect an envelope. It now emerges that phone taps on 14 and 15 September, a week earlier, show Ms El Mahroug bombarding Mr Spinelli with demands “to tell him [the prime minister — Ed.] that I really am in a bad way and if he can help me… I’m in the poo. He said he would help me out for the whole time but then I heard no more from him. In any case, I only need €5,000”. The precise sum seized on 22 September after her visit to Mr Spinelli, who was also tapped the same day when he was giving Ruby directions to get to his office.

Fede and the under-age Ruby at the beauty contest

Did Mr Berlusconi know that Ruby was a minor? Apart from the phone call to police headquarters to get officers to give custody of “Mubarak’s niece” to the “representative of the Prime Minister’s Office”, Nicole Minetti, and the remark by the police head of secretariat, Pietro Ostuni (“the word ‘minor’ was never mentioned, although it was understood that a minor was involved, because custody of a person with no papers was discussed”), there are three other clues. One comes indirectly from Emilio Fede, who is under investigation with TV entrepreneur Lele Mora on suspicion of complicity in prostitution. Public prosecutors have seized DVD recordings of the “Una ragazza per il cinema” beauty contest held at Sant’Alessio Siculo in the province of Messina from 3 to 7 September 2009, when Mr Fede, who was chairing the jury, “invited the girl onto the stage because he was particularly moved by her story during the selection”. On the DVD, he says: “I stress, there was a girl of 13, an Egyptian if I am not mistaken. I was moved, I sympathised”. “. At the time, Ruby was 16, not 13, but in any case it means that when Mr Fede, a great friend of the prime minister, met the girl again at, or took her to, Arcore and Mr Berlusconi a year later, someone definitely knew she was a minor.

“You’re very good-looking. How old are you?”

“I’m 17, and later I said so to Silvio” There is also a man that Ruby met at the Old Fashioned club in Milan in 2009, before these events, who told public prosecutors that Ruby “told me she was a minor, not when I met her in May-June 2009 but in January-February 2010”. When approached her saying: “You know you’re a very good-looking girl?”, she replied: “How old do you think I am?” “I reckon 19 or 20”. To which she responded: “No, “I’m 17”. Isn’t this their business? No, because the witness also said that he was astonished “when Ruby told me she knew the prime minister, and that she had been twice to the premier’s home with other girls, and that she had a SIM card to call him up on, showing me a number on the display of her mobile. She also told me that when she first met the prime minister, he didn’t know she was a minor. Afterwards, Ruby told him she was under age”. The third piece of the puzzle is in what Ruby said on the phone on 7 September 2010 to the mother of a boyfriend after she was questioned: “Now they as good as know that I go to Silvio’s and know Silvio. But I said that Silvio didn’t know I was under age. I told them he knows I’m an adult, that I’m 24 and that I go there as a friend and there’s nothing between us. Because I don’t want to drop him in it”. She rubs the point home on the evening of 26 October: “I’ve been going to his home since I was 16”.

Former friend: “Ruby told me she had sex with the prime minister”

A charge of child prostitution implies that Ruby and the PM had sexual relations. So far, prosecutors have not filed Ruby’s four interrogations. Nevertheless, she appears to hint at sexual relations on 8 September 2010, almost taking offence on the phone when a friend pulls her leg about calling Mr Berlusconi “Papi”, just like Noemi: “She’s the goody-goody girl, I’m the … “. Ruby is reported to have been more explicit with her flatmate Caterina Pasquino, who on 27 May reported her for the theft of €3,000, precipitating the famous night at police headquarters. Ms Pasquino testified on 7 July: “I remember Ruby telling me she was very friendly with the prime minister. She said she’d often been to his home where she’d eaten, danced and had sex with him, and that he gave her a lot of money”…

English translation by Giles Watson

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

Spain: PP Lead Increases, Zapatero & Rajoy Get Thumbs Down

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, JANUARY 17 — There has been a widening of the lead enjoyed by Spain’s Popular Party (PP) over its Socialist Party (PSOE) rivals in the polls. The latest poll made by Istituto Opina for Cadena Ser radio has given the PP an eleven-point lead. If an election were to be held today, the leader of the Popular Party, Mariano Rajoy, would get 45% of the vote, while the current Socialist Prime Minister, Jose’ Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, would have only 34%.

However, in terms of their plans to tackle the current economic crisis, Spain’s voters have given the PP poorer marks than rivals PSOE, while both party leaders get a thumbs down from 70% of those questioned, who say they should not stand for the 2012 general elections. Zapatero, indeed, sees 75% convinced that he should step down as a candidate, while 83% of Spain’s voters would support a candidacy by the present Deputy Premier, Interior Minister and Government Spokesperson, Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Spain: Zapatero Prepared to Yield to Unions

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, JANUARY 19 — Jose’ Luis Rodriguez Zapatero’s government is prepared to backtrack on nuclear energy, extending the service life of Spanish plants, as requested by the unions in the negotiating underway on the social pact and pension reform. This is what was confirmed today by the Minister for Industry, Tourism and Trade, Miguel Senbastian, in statements made to Radio Cadena Ser.

“It is a matter of finding a global agreement, not only in one area,” said the Minister. “And if the unions ask to prolong the service life of nuclear plants, which starts to terminate in 2021, it is a proposal to be analysed,” he added. Senbastian clarified that any potential deal would not regard the Garona nuclear plant, in the province of Burgos, whose closure is scheduled for 2013, which is an “irrevocable decision”. According to a report today in La Vanguardia, the socialist executive has agreed to revise its nuclear policy in the framework of the social pact and, in any event, making the revision conditional to the approval by the unions of the pension reform which establishes the delaying of retirement age from 65 to 67 years.

And finally, with regard to the centralised deposit of waste from Spanish plants, of which no decision has yet been made about location, the Minister explained that “it is worth waiting a little in order to see if an agreement is reached,” otherwise it will be up to the government to decide.(

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

UK: ‘Trusted’ Mile End Teacher Molested Girls During Lessons on the Koran

A TEACHER who instructed children on the Koran has been jailed for three years and three months after he was convicted of sexual assault against girls as young as four.

The offences happened when Miah was entrusted to teach young girls to read from the Koran either at his home theirs.

The crimes came to notice when Miah was arrested in November 2009 for offences against two of the girls. During the investigation, dealt with by detectives from the Child Abuse Investigation Team, other children that had been taught by Miah were contacted and more offences came to notice, leading to his further arrest in January 2010.

He was convicted on all 13 counts.

He was sentenced to three years and three months imprisonment, put on the sex offenders register for life and is not allowed to work with children.

The officer leading the investigation, Det Sgt Martin Bird from the Child Abuse Investigation Team, said: “The tragedy of this case is that a highly respected member of the community took advantage of their position of trust.

“It goes to show that even if someone thinks they have got away with it at the time, young people are brave enough to come forward and testify at court.”

[Note: the article doesn’t mention that Miah was a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir. See]

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

UK: Baroness Warsi Should Think Twice Before Accusing Christians of Bigotry

Had Baroness Warsi sought my advice, I would have counselled her not to make the speech which has been trailed in The Daily Telegraph today. I would have told her that the Muslim faith was not discussed over the dinner tables of England, nor in the saloon bars, before large numbers of Muslims came here to our country. Then I would have told her to go to our Christian churches and listen to what was said about her religion and those who practise it, then to the Mosques to hear what is said in some of them about the Christian faith and those who practise it (or about Buddhists, Jews, or even those who have no faith at all). After that, I would say, she might consider who is in need of her homilies on prejudice.

Until then a period of silence from the Baroness might not come amiss…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

UK: Baroness Warsi Triggers Backlash Over ‘Islamophobia’

Tory chairman Baroness Warsi faced a fierce backlash last night after claiming anti-Muslim bigotry was commonplace around British dinner tables.

The peer, the first Muslim woman to be appointed to the Cabinet, said Islamophobia had ‘seeped into our society’.

She also suggested that followers of Islam should not be divided into ‘extremists’ and ‘moderates’.

Her remarks were condemned by the Right of her party and church leaders, and Downing Street refused to endorse her views.

In a speech, Lady Warsi said: ‘It’s not a big leap of imagination to predict where the talk of “moderate” Muslims leads; in the factory, where they’ve just hired a Muslim worker, the boss says: “Not to worry, he’s only fairly Muslim”. In the school, the kids say: “The family next door are Muslim but they’re not too bad”.

‘It has seeped into our society in a way where it is acceptable around dinner to have conversations where anti-Muslim hatred and bigotry is openly discussed.

‘At various times, Britain has not been at ease with various religious minorities, whether that’s the Catholic community, eventually resulting in Catholic emancipation, or more recently the British Jewish community.

‘I look at the way those challenges were dealt with and indeed are continuing to be dealt with and how we must bring some of those lessons to the rise of anti-Muslim hatred.’

She added that perceptions of criminality among Muslims were of particular concern.

‘Sadly, one of the concerns that has been raised as I travel around the country is that somehow because there are a minority of people who commit criminal acts who come from the faith of Islam, that somehow means that it is fair game to have a go at the community as a whole,’ she said…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

UK: Damian Green Announces Terror Detention Change

Powers allowing terror suspects to be held for 28 days without charge will be allowed to lapse next Tuesday, returning to a 14-day limit, Home Office Minister Damian Green has said.

The decision followed a review by the government, the full findings of which will be announced next Wednesday.

Mr Green’s announcement was a response to a question in the House of Commons.

The 28-day limit, introduced under Labour’s 2006 Terrorism Act, had been criticised by some civil rights groups.

Last year, the use of the 28-day limit was extended for a six-month period — which expires next week — while the review was carried out.

Answering an urgent question in the Commons, Mr Green said: “In the interim I can announce that the government will not be seeking to extend the order allowing the maximum 28-day limit, and accordingly the current order will lapse on January 25 and the maximum limit of pre-charge detention will from that time revert to 14 days.”

Mr Green said the government was clear that “the power to detain terrorist suspects for up to 28 days before they were charged or released was meant to be an exceptional power”, although he said it “became the norm” under the Labour government, with the power repeatedly being renewed…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

UK: End of 28 Days Detention Without Charge for Suspects

The power to detain terror suspects for 28 days without charge will be allowed to lapse next week, reverting to two weeks, the Government announced today.

Home Office Minister Damian Green said the order, which expires at midnight on Monday, will not be extended.

The decision will be seen by some as the latest climbdown on terror laws by the Coalition and follows last week’s announcement that control orders will be scrapped and replaced with house arrest.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: Jed Bartlett Was Right About Extremists

A phobia is an irrational fear of something. When Baroness Warsi castigates British people for Islamophobia she would do well to remember this.

I don’t think ordinary Britons have any such thing as an irrational fear of Islam. I think they genuinely worry about some of Islam’s most sacred tenets not being consistent or compatible with their values. That is a very different thing and it is quite wrong of Baroness Warsi to misconstrue it.

When she complains that people should not talk about “moderate” and “extremist” Muslims she is missing the point. Instead of blaming people for using these words she should ask herself why they use them. Why has it even occurred to the most inclusive, ecumenical, non-ideological, mild mannered people on the planet to worry about what their next door neighbours’ believe?

We are the nation who has consistently taken in people of all religions, creeds and colours, accommodated their cultures and welcomed their ways of life with open arms. Most of us enjoy multi-culturalism because it makes for a vibrant society.

The concerns specifically about Islam are too difficult to go into here. So let me put it this way: I am a Christian, but I do not live by the Old Testament, which I consider to be a document of its time, of limited practical use now as a handbook on how to live life. I would not, for example, think it civilised for British law enforcement to round up all those found working on a Sunday and put them to death (Exodus 35:2), nor would I think it acceptable for fathers to sell their daughters into slavery (Exodus 21:7). I do not think homosexuality is an abomination (Leviticus 18:22). I would not call for a ban on football because it involved touching the skin of a dead pig or say that we should execute farmers who plant different crops side by side or burn to death any woman wearing a garment made from two different threads. (With apologies to Jed Bartlett of The West Wing who said this first and best.)

Yet there are nations who live by the ancient laws set down in the Koran, which means that in the Islamic republic of Iran a woman can be sentenced to be stoned to death and given 99 lashes for adultery and homosexuals hanged.

And we westerners don’t like that sort of thing. And we worry about it. And we don’t want it here. And we get a bit touchy when some in our midst — extremists, let’s call them, because we don’t think all Muslims think this way — talk about the most terrifying aspects of Sharia law as acceptable.

If Baroness Warsi understands this she makes a good job of hiding it. Take this sentence from her speech: “In the road, as a woman walks past wearing a burka, the passers-by think: ‘That woman’s either oppressed or is making a political statement’.”

Yes, I’m sorry, we do. And if there is another explanation which we are missing, then can Lady Warsi please tell me what it is.

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

UK: Judge’s Concern as Woman Who Was Raped by Husband Drops Case After Community Pressure

A judge today condemned the ‘enormous emotional pressure’ exerted on women in Muslim communities after a rape case collapsed at the eleventh hour when the wife of an Asian man refused to give evidence against him.

The 35-year-old woman had accused her 34-year-old husband — a convicted sex offender — of raping her twice and was due to testify against him at a trial earlier this week.

But prosecutors were forced to offer no evidence and the case collapsed when the women suddenly decided to retract the allegations.

Judge Simon Newell said he was concerned ‘sections of the community’ were ‘exerting influences’ and ‘inhibiting the police’ from carrying out their duties. He implied justice was being interfered with by those close to the woman who wanted her to drop the charges.

The husband, who cannot be named for legal reasons, has two previous convictions — one for assault causing actual bodily harm against his wife and another for a sexual offence against another woman.

He has already been ordered to sign the sex offenders register until September 2014.

Despite expressing concern that the woman had been pressurised into withdrawing the rape claims, Judge Newell allowed the husband to walk free from court.

However, he warned him that the matter would ‘lie on his file’ and could be brought before the courts again should new evidence come to light.

‘It seems to me there are persons who have an interest in this case, who are minded to express opinions and exert influences which are possibly inhibiting the police, the prosecuting authorities and the courts in carrying out their proper functions,’ the judge said.

‘This will not be tolerated. It is for the courts to carry out judicial functions and it’s not for individuals or sections of the community to attempt to resolve these matters outside the court.’…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

UK: Mother ‘Left to Have Miscarriage on a Trolley in Hospital Corridor’

A mother was left on a trolley for four hours while she suffered a miscarriage in full view of the other patients, she revealed today.

Joanne Chiswell was bleeding profusely and dipping in and out of consciousness as she lost her baby in front of passers-by at Good Hope Hospital in Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands.

Ms Chiswell, 29, from Erdington, West Midlands, said she and her partner Darren Mahon were left to fend for themselves due to staff shortages on Boxing Day.

She is now recovering after the miscarriage but said much of the night was a blur as she was losing huge amounts of blood.

Ms Chiswell said ‘I don’t remember a lot because I kept passing out from the blood loss. But what I do remember was terrible.’

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: Rozeena Butt Faked Death in Pakistan to Claim £2m Life Insurance

A crooked off licence owner is facing jail for staging her own death in a family plot to claim more than £2million in life insurance.

Rozeena Butt, 39, teamed up with husband Mohammed, 45, and her niece Nosheen Chugtai, 32, to claim she had died of ‘dehydration’ in a remote rural Pakistani hospital.

The trio produced a series of forged documents, including a death certificate from the British High Commission in Islamabad, to back up the story.

Chugtai then contacted three leading high street insurance firms claiming to be a bereaved relative and demanded several huge payouts, Southwark Crown Court heard.

But suspicions were raised after it emerged she had only taken out the policies a few months before her supposed death.

Following an initial investigation by a private detective which was subsequently passed on to the police, Rozeena Butt confessed to the get rich scheme.

Chugtai and Mohammed Butt denied helping her but were convicted following a trial.

Giving evidence Chugtai sobbed as she told jurors her aunt threatened to kill her and her boyfriend if she did not co-operate with the scam.

Prosecutor Mark Fenhalls said mother-of-four Butt maintained a secret second identity, which she used to commit the fraud.

By the time she married Mohammed Butt in 1989, she was using the name Rozeena Sadiq as her official name.

She also used the name ‘Shamshad Billa’, which appears on her original birth certificate, to apply legitimately for documents including a passport.

Her off licence business ‘Billa Wines’ on the Essex Road, Islington, North London, was also registered under the alias.

In January 2007, the defendants took out three life insurance policies for ‘Shamshad Billa’ totalling £2.2m: £800,000 each from Legal and General and Norwich Union, and £600,000 from Royal Liver Assurance.

In July 2007, they put their plan into action, with Rozeena Butt flying out to Pakistan using her passport in the name of Billa.

Once there, she set about faking medical documents claiming ‘Shamshad Billa’ had died of dehydration in a hospital in the Okara district of the Punjab.

A few weeks later Chugtai contacted the three companies involved to inform them of the ‘death’ and asked them to pay out on the policies, the court heard.

The proceeds of the policies were to be held in trust for Mohammed Butt, while Chugtai was to act as a trustee.

Unknown to the three, the insurance companies investigated the claims because of the young age of the woman who had supposedly died and the fact that the policies had only been recently issued.

They soon realised that Butt and Billa were the same person, and police were contacted…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

UK: Woman Angry at KFC Meat Policy

A woman is angry that she ate halal chicken from Keighley’s KFC restaurant without realising.

Emma Lee did not realise that all meat sold at the outlet had been slaughtered in line with Islamic beliefs.

All fillets sold at the company’s Keighley restaurant are drained of blood and blessed by a Muslim slaughterman.

The policy was brought in to cater to the large Muslim population around the restaurant at Keighley Retail Park in Hard Ings Road.

KFC says the killing method complies with both Islamic teaching and rigorous animal standards. The takeaway giant insists the chickens are stunned before they are slaughtered and their care meets UK and EU laws.

Ms Lee, from the Skipton area, said she felt “totally violated” when she discovered what she had eaten during her visit.

She said: “I was absolutely disgusted. I have been eating food that is against my beliefs!”

Ms Lee said she objected to halal killing on both religious and animal welfare grounds. She said: “I have no problem with people who do wish to eat halal meat, that is their personal choice.

“I just feel like I had my personal choice taken away from me by changing the meat without informing us so I could go elsewhere.”

Ms Lee said that while queuing she noticed a certificate on the wall saying the restaurant was allowed to sell halal meat.

She added: “I sat down to enjoy my dinner and got thinking about this. I started to get a bit concerned. It turns out that all the meat they serve in store is halal meat. I feel that everybody should know what they are eating.”

KFC introduced halal-only meat at about 100 restaurants across the UK last year in communities where it anticipated a strong demand. Pork is not allowed under Islamic law, so the company’s Big Daddy burger with bacon was withdrawn.

Although the chickens are killed mechanically, the slaughter and preparation methods are certified by the Halal Food Authority…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Vatican Warned Irish Bishops Not to Report Abuse

Pope Benedict XVI sits at center during a meeting with Italian officers in charge for Vatican security at the Vatican. AP photo.

A newly revealed 1997 letter from the Vatican warned Ireland’s Catholic bishops not to report all suspected child-abuse cases to police — a disclosure with the potential to fuel more lawsuits worldwide against the Vatican, which has long denied any involvement in cover-ups.

The letter, obtained by Irish broadcasters RTE and provided to The Associated Press, documents the Vatican’s rejection of an Irish church initiative to begin helping police identify pedophile priests.

The letter’s message undermines persistent Vatican claims that the church never instructed bishops to withhold evidence or suspicion of crimes from police. It instead emphasizes the church’s right to handle all child-abuse allegations, and determine punishments, in house rather than hand that power to civil authorities.

Catholic officials in Ireland declined AP requests on the letter, which RTE said it received from an Irish bishop. Child-abuse activists in Ireland said the 1997 letter should demonstrate, once and for all, that the protection of pedophile priests from criminal investigation was not only sanctioned by Vatican leaders but ordered by them. A key argument employed by the Vatican in defending dozens of lawsuits over clerical sex abuse in the United States is that it had no role in ordering local church authorities to suppress evidence of crimes.

“The letter is of huge international significance, because it shows that the Vatican’s intention is to prevent reporting of abuse to criminal authorities. And if that instruction applied here, it applied everywhere,” said Colm O’Gorman, director of the Irish chapter of human rights watchdog Amnesty International.

To this day, the Vatican has yet to endorse any of the Irish church’s three major policy documents since 1996 on reporting suspected child abuse to civil authorities. In his 2010 pastoral letter to the Irish people condemning pedophiles in the ranks, Pope Benedict XVI faulted Ireland’s bishops for failing to follow canon law and offered no explicit endorsement of Irish child-protection efforts by the Irish church or state.

O’Gorman — who was raped repeatedly by an Irish priest when he was an altar boy and was among the first victims to speak out in the mid-1990s — said evidence is mounting that some Irish bishops continued to follow the 1997 Vatican instructions and withheld reports of crimes against children as recently as 2008.

A third major state-ordered investigation into Catholic abuse cover-ups, concerning the southwest Irish diocese of Cloyne, is expected to be published within the next few months. Two state-commissioned reports published in 2009 — into the Dublin Archdiocese and workhouse-style Catholic institutions for children — unveiled decades of cover-ups of abuse involving tens of thousands of children since the 1930s.

Irish church leaders didn’t begin telling police about suspected pedophile priests until the mid-1990s. In January 1996, Irish bishops published a groundbreaking policy document spelling out their newfound determination to report all suspected abuse cases to police.

But in the January 1997 letter seen Tuesday by the AP, the Vatican’s diplomat in Ireland at the time, Archbishop Luciano Storero, told the bishops that a senior church panel in Rome, the Congregation for the Clergy, had decided that the Irish church’s year-old policy of “mandatory” reporting of abuse claims conflicted with canon law.

Storero emphasized in the letter that the Irish church’s policy was not recognized by the Vatican and was “merely a study document.” He said canon law — which required abuse allegations to be handled within the church — “must be meticulously followed.” Without elaborating Storero, who died in 2000, wrote that mandatory reporting of child-abuse claims to police “gives rise to serious reservations of both a moral and a canonical nature.”

He warned that bishops who followed the Irish child-protection policy and reported a priest’s suspected crimes to police ran the risk of having their in-house punishments of the priest overturned by the Congregation for the Clergy.

The letter, originally obtained by RTE religious affairs program “Would You Believe?”, said the Congregation for the Clergy in Rome was pursuing “a global study” of sexual-abuse policies and would establish worldwide child-protection policies “at the appropriate time.”

The Vatican’s child-protection policies today remain in legal limbo. It currently advises bishops worldwide to report crimes to police only in a legally non-binding lay guide, but it does not mention this in the official legal document provided by another powerful church body, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which continues to stress the secrecy of canon law.

The central message of Storero’s letter was reported second-hand by two priests as part of Ireland’s mammoth investigation into the 1975-2004 cover-up of hundreds of child-abuse cases in the Dublin Archdiocese. The letter itself, marked “strictly confidential,” has never been published before.

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


Croatia: Islamic Centre and Mosque Soon in Pola

(ANSAmed) — ZAGREB, JANUARY 19 — In Pola, the capital of Istria (Croatia), administrative procedures are underway for the construction of an Islamic centre and a mosque for the Muslim community which in this region numbers about 5,000 people, mostly from Bosnia. This was reported by the Zagreb daily Jutarnji List.

The Islamic centre in Pola would be the second in the entire Adriatic area after the one in Rijeka. The construction is expected to begin next year and for now the only impediment is the appeal by a man who lives nearby, but not against the authorisation for the mosque but against a block of flats which is to be built near the Islamic centre. According to the Imam of Pola, Esad Jukan, no resistance had been met with among local authorities or the population, as was the case years before for the Islamic centre in Rijeka.

Investment is calculated at around two million euros, which will be raised through donations, mostly from Arab countries. The building will be built where the offices of the Islamic community already are in the centre of the Istrian city, about 500 metres from the famous Roman amphitheatre.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

North Africa

Algeria: Riot Police Guarding Algiers

(ANSAmed) — ALGIERS, JANUARY 19 — A large security force has been put in place in Algiers, where riot police agents are guarding several areas in the capital. Dozens of armed lorries, normally used for demonstrations, ANSA learned, are present at Premier Mai square, but also in Chevalier and other hot spots in the city. Opposition party ‘The Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD)’ has announced a demonstration this Saturday, despite the ban that has been imposed. The state of emergency that has been into force since 1992 bans any public demonstration, particularly in Algiers. Meanwhile more and more people try to commit suicide by setting themselves on fire. So far seven people, including a women, have set themselves alight in Algeria in the footsteps of Mohammed Bouazidi Samir, the young street trader who set himself on fire on December 17 in Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia, triggering the revolution that has driven President Ben Ali out of the country.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Christians: Arab Leaders: No to Foreign Interference

(ANSAmed) — CAIRO, JANUARY 19 — Arab leaders condemn “the terrorist attacks in the region, which have been perpetrated under religious, sectarian and ethnic pretexts” and at the same time they express “their total refusal of attempts of foreign interference, under the pretext of protecting the minorities of the East.” This is what can be read in a communique’ adopted by the Sharm El Sheik summit, which ended today. “Once again Arab leaders refuse any attempt at interference and state that it is the Arab countries who are responsible for the protection of all their citizens and that they are capable of this,” reads the communique’. In the final press conference, the Egyptian Foreign Minister, Ahmed Abul Gheit, stated that the communique’ represents “a warning” from the Arab world to “anyone attempting to interfere in Arab affairs.”

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Egypt’s Al-Azhar Freezes Inter-Religious Dialogue With the Vatican

CAIRO — The pre-eminent institute of Islamic learning in the Sunni Muslim world said Thursday it is freezing its dialogue with the Vatican to protest Pope Benedict XVI’s recent remarks calling for the protection of Christians in Egypt.

The move from Cairo’s Al-Azhar comes as Muslim-Christian tensions have been rising in Egypt following the New Year’s bombing on a Coptic Christian church in Alexandria that killed 21 people. Egypt’s government has rejected international expressions of concern over the country’s Christian minority as foreign meddling in its internal affairs.

Al-Azhar said in a statement that its governing council decided to halt the biannual inter-religious dialogue with the Vatican, which discusses Islamic-Christian affairs, during an emergency meeting Thursday. It said the freeze is “indefinite.”

Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi said the Holy See’s council for inter-religious dialogue remains committed to dialogue.

Al-Azhar linked its decision to remarks made by Benedict about “non-Muslims being oppressed by Muslim states in the Middle East.”

“Pope Benedict … has repeatedly addressed Islam negatively, more than once,” the statement said. It was signed by Al-Azhar’s Islamic Research Academy Secretary General Sheik Ali Abdel Dayem.

Following the suicide blast on the church in Alexandria — and other attacks on Christians in Iraq and Nigeria — Benedict called on governments in the region to protect Christians.

“This succession of attacks is yet another sign of the urgent need for the governments of the region to adapt, in spite of difficulties and dangers,” the pope said in a speech Jan. 10 to diplomats.

Egypt, which is home to around 8 million Christians, bristled at the international expressions of concern over the safety of its Christians, and recalled its ambassador to the Vatican in protest.

Sheik Ahmed el-Tayyib, the imam of Al-Azhar, also blasted the Pope’s remarks, saying at the time that the “protection of Christians is an internal affair and should be carried out by the governments as they (the Christians) are their citizens like other citizens.”

Al-Azhar wields tremendous influence among millions of Sunni Muslim worldwide, and offers guidance on issues of faith in Egypt and other Islamic nations. It includes an extensive network of Islamic schools, a university and religious institutes that open their doors to Muslims from around the world.

In recent years, its top cleric has played a key role in promoting inter-religious dialogue.

Thursday’s decision appeared to be part of a push by the Egyptian government to thwart what it perceives as a diplomatic drive by Western nations and the Vatican to get Middle Eastern governments to increase protection of Christians.

On Wednesday, an Arab leadership summit endorsed an Egyptian proposal to denounce “foreign interference in Arab affairs, especially over the region’s Christian minorities.”

“Arab kings and presidents … express their total rejection of attempts by certain states and foreign parties to intervene in Arab affairs in the name of protecting the minorities of the East,” the leaders said in their final statement after the summit in Egypt’s Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has repeatedly said the government will do its utmost to protect Christians and has accused foreign groups of being behind the church attack, which has sparked a wave of angry protests by Christians in the country.

           — Hat tip: Reinhard[Return to headlines]

France Favoured Autocracy as a Bulwark Against Radical Islam

France, Tunisia’s former colonial master and closest European ally, has been struggling to adjust to the overnight collapse of an autocratic regime that it long supported. Officially, Paris is pushing for a rapid movement towards democracy. Unofficially, it fears instability in Tunisia may spread to Algeria and Morocco and could eventually spawn radical Islamic regimes on Europe’s doorstep.

The French Foreign Minister, Michele Alliot-Marie, has been mocked by newspapers and opposition politicians for her clumsy response to the street protests last week. She told the French parliament last week that France was ready to send police to help to control the demonstrations.

In private, according to the newspaper Le Canard Enchainé, Ms Alliot-Marie admitted that the French government had been “in a total fog” about events in Tunisia. She has privately accused Washington of keeping Paris out of the loop and persuading the Tunisian army to bundle President Ben Ali out of the country.

Until the very end, President Nicolas Sarkozy and his government took the view that Mr Ben Ali, for all his faults, was an important rampart against radical Islam in north Africa. Paris believes that Washington had concluded the opposite — that the survival of an unpopular regime would be the best way to strengthen the influence of groups connected with al-Qa’ida.

Right up to the final day, the French ambassador in Tunis was sending telegrams to Paris saying that Mr Ben Ali had the “situation under control”. As soon as Mr Ben Ali fell, Paris made it clear that he was not welcome to take refuge in France…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Islamic Al Azhar University Suspends Dialogue With Vatican

The decision was made this morning during a special meeting of researchers over “the recent unacceptable interference (of the Pope, ed), who sought protection for Coptic Christians.” The Vatican spokesman: “The position of the Pontifical Council for interreligious dialogue remains an attitude of openness and willingness to dialogue. “

Vatican City (AsiaNews / Agencies) — The Islamic Research Academy from the State University Al-Azhar decided, during a special meeting held this morning in Cairo, to suspend dialogue with the Vatican. Academy member, Abdel Muti al-Bayoumi, told Aki agency, “this decision was made in response to the position taken by Pope Benedict XVI on Islam.” In this regard, al-Bayoumi recalled the Pope’s controversial Regensburg address of 2006. The Al-Azhar academic added that the decision also takes into account, “ the recent unacceptable interference (the Pope, ed), who sought protection for Coptic Christians,” after the massacre in Alexandria. The Islamic theologian has therefore asked Pope Benedict XVI to “resume relations with Islam following the lead of his predecessor, Pope John Paul II.” “I hope he takes the same position — he said — because he was very interested in our activities and the Joint Committee between al-Azhar and the Vatican at the time was very active.” Egyptian religious did not particularly like “ interference in the affairs of Egypt and the fact that Islam was described in the wrong way. We are still waiting for an apology over these two questions.”

Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office, interviewed by AsiaNews, said: “The Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, is gathering the necessary information to assess the situation, since it had not received any prior communication on the part of ‘ Al Azhar University in reference to the problem. “ Father Lombardi also explained that “The position of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, and the Holy See, even now remains the same as always, and that is an attitude of openness and readiness for dialogue.”

The Al Azhar decision comes just days after the Egyptian government’s criticism of the Vatican. This was sparked by Benedict XVI mentioning the tragedy of the attack to the church of Alexandria in his speech to the diplomatic corps (see 10/01/2011 Pope: Religious freedom attacked by terrorism and marginalisation). Egypt recalled its ambassador, demanding that the Vatican not intervene in the country’s internal affairs (12/01/2011 Cairo protests against the Vatican. Another Christian killed and five wounded).

Benedict XVI was also criticised by the Imam of Al Azhar University January 1 last. According to Ahmed al-Tayyeb, the pope in his New Year’s homily only appealed for the defence of Christians, failing to concern himself with the Muslims in Iraq. (See footnote (1) on 03/01/2011 Europe and Islam in the wake of attacks against Copts in Alexandria).

Even Arab leaders, who met yesterday in Sharm el-Sheikh, while condemning the “terrorist” attacks on Christians in Egypt and Iraq, warned against “foreign interference on the issue of minority rights”.

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

Top Sunni Body Freezes Dialogue With Vatican

Al-Azhar, the chief centre of Sunni Muslim learning, suspended on Thursday its ties with the Vatican, accusing the pope of attacking Islam, but the Holy See says it wants to continue its bi-annual meetings with the Egypt-based institute.

“The freeze was prompted by the repeated attacks on Islam by Pope Benedict XVI of the Vatican. The Pope has reiterated that Muslims oppress non-Muslims who are living with them in the Middle East,” said an Al-Azhar statement carried by the official Mena news agency. Representatives of Al-Azhar and the Vatican meet twice yearly to discuss mutual cooperation, and those gatherings will now be suspended indefinitely, Al-Azhar said.

In a swift response, the Vatican said it wanted the talks to continue. “The pontifical council for inter-religious dialogue’s line of openness and desire to dialogue is unchanged,” said Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi.

Lombardi added that the council was “in the process of gathering together the necessary information in order to understand the situation well.”

An advisor to Al-Azhar grand imam Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayyeb criticised remarks by the pontiff as interference in internal affairs. “The pope has repeatedly alleged that non-Muslims are being persecuted in Muslim countries in the Middle East region, which is far from the truth and is an unacceptable interference in the internal affairs of Islamic countries,” Sheikh Mahmud Azab said in remarks carried by MENA. The decision to suspend the dialogue came after an extraordinary meeting of Al-Azhar’s Islamic Research Academy, chaired by Sheikh Ahmed. The current spat developed after a suicide bomber blew himself up outside a Coptic church in Egypt’s Mediterranean port of Alexandria, killing 21 people and wounding dozens as they came out of a New Year’s Eve mass.

Pope Benedict has repeatedly expressed his solidarity with the Copts and called on world leaders to protect them.

He said the attack was “yet another sign of the urgent need for the governments of the region to adopt … effective measures for the protection of religious minorities”…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Tunisia: Goods Stolen During Looting on Sale

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, JANUARY 19 — The “market” for looted goods from supermarkets, shops and warehouses, according to reports that have reached ANSA from various areas of Tunisia, has already begun. Television sets and electrical domestic appliances are the items most often offered to people walking along the main streets of Tunis. In Monastir, an offer made to an (Italian) customer in a cafe’ was for fridges and air conditioners. In Mahdia, an Italian who pretended to be interested was offered a plasma screen TV for 70 dinars (about 35 euros). Many believe that most of the money made from these sales will go on alcoholic beverages, which have been stolen in vast quantities. Beer is the most requested drink.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Tunisia: Sousse Supermarket Sacked and Set on Fire

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, JANUARY 19 — The supermarket Magazin General in Sousse was sacked and set on fire yesterday, according to an eyewitness who said that among those doing the looting were “ordinary people”. The supermarket is part of a chain which has nothing to do with the family of former president Ben Ali. The eyewitness, an Italian who has been living for years in Tunisia, said that one of the main targets of the attackers was the department in which alcohol and liquor were kept, and that also many of the bars in the city authorised to sell the latter had been looted. It is due to the repeated nature of such incidents that the city’s hotels have been deserted and many of their guests who have decided to continue their holidays in Tunisia have gone to hotels in Monastir.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Tunisia: 1,700 Inmates Escape From Chebba Jail, Press

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, JANUARY 19 — One thousand and seven hundred inmates of the Chebba jail on Tunisia’s central coast have escaped, according to local press sources. Penitentiary guards reported tried to stop them by use firearms and killed a number of those in revolt. Also according to the press, the inmates are all non-political prisoners who for the most part reside in neighbouring areas. Many of them, in claiming innocence, have reportedly made themselves available for citizen guard groups and to man roadblocks to defend their villages.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

UN: Arab Anti-Settlement Resolution Embarrasses US

(ANSAmed) — NEW YORK, JANUARY 19 — A broad front of Arab countries at the United Nations has prepared a resolution condemning “the Israeli settlements on Palestinian territory under occupation since 1967, including East Jerusalem”. The document comes as an embarrassment to the United States, which will feel “forced” to oppose it in order to avoid seeing Israel condemned by the United Nations. According to various diplomatic sources who are in agreement with each other, the other fourteen members of the Security Council will be voting in favour of the resolution.

“It is impossible to say” just when the document will appear on the Security Council agenda, said a diplomat speaking outside the council chamber, stressing how “everything depends on relations between the United States and the Palestinians”.

The document, which Washington may well block with its veto, as it has done in the past with other anti-Israel resolutions, risks embarrassing Barack Obama’s administration, which has been pushing for a stop to settlement building, but which gave up the cause in December at the request of the Israeli state.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Middle East

Iraq: Karbala Bombs Kill Dozens During Shia Commemorations

Two bomb attacks near the Iraqi city of Karbala have killed at least 50 people and injured more than 150, officials say.

The blasts happened on two routes being used by pilgrims taking part in the Shia Muslim commemorations of Arbaeen.

Earlier, a suicide bomber killed at least three people in the central city of Baquba — the second deadly attack in the city in as many days.

Violence in Iraq has reduced in recent years, but attacks continue.

Thursday’s bombings occurred near police checkpoints controlling the northern and southern entrances to Karbala.

Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims are converging on the city from all over the country for the Arbaeen festival, which reaches its climax next week.

The BBC’s Jim Muir in Baghdad says the authorities were well aware of the dangers, as previous pilgrimages have been attacked.

Strict security measures are in place, but protecting vast numbers of people travelling on foot over large areas has proven exceptionally difficult, our correspondent says.

The dead include women and children, medical sources at Karbala hospital say.

A witness to one of the attacks, named as Khamas, told the Associated Press news agency: “After the explosion, people started to run in all directions, while wounded people on the ground were screaming for help.”

However, he added that pilgrims would continue to head to Karbala: “It will not deter us from continuing our march to the holy shrine… even if the explosions increase.”

No group has said it carried out the Karbala bombings, but correspondents say they bear the hallmarks of Sunni militants…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Murder in Anatolia — Christian Missionaries and Turkish Ultranationalism

INTRODUCTION — In April 2007 a gruesome triple murder took place in the Central Anatolian city of Malatya. The victims, tortured, stabbed and strangled, were two Turks and one German. All three were Protestant Christian missionaries who had recently moved to Malatya. Five young men, armed with knives and covered in blood, were found at the scene of the crime only moments after it happened.

What made the Malatya killings different from an ordinary murder case was the suspicion, present from the outset, that this was not an isolated attack by a group of nationalist youngsters. As the investigation unfolded, serious questions began to emerge, which have not yet been answered. Were anti-government elements of the Turkish state — or, more specifically, secret networks within the Turkish gendarmerie and ultranationalists linked to them — involved? Was the murder of missionaries in Malatya an operation by Turkey’s so-called “deep state” to destabilise an elected government by targeting Christian “enemies” of the Turkish nation?…

So far 30 court hearings have taken place in the Malatya trial. At the most recent hearing in December 2010 a new defence lawyer representing the suspects once again accused the murdered Christians of “planning to eliminate our religion, dividing up our country, bribing our people and financially supporting terror organisations.” He also tried to intimidate the judges, shouting that “this is a Protestant court.”[8] The next hearing will take place on 20 January 2011. Considering the seriousness of the charges, it is striking how little attention has been paid to the Malatya trial in recent months in Turkish and international media. For anybody who is genuinely interested in understanding contemporary Turkish politics, and the spectacular court cases which currently look into the dark world of ultranationalist associations and their links to different parts of the state, the Malatya murder trial is a very good place to start.

           — Hat tip: Kitman[Return to headlines]

Solidarity Demonstration for Tunisia Halted in Yemen

(ANSAmed) — ROME, JANUARY 19 — Police forces in Yemen have prevented a demonstration of hundreds of university students in the country’s capital Sanaa. The demonstration was organised to celebrate the political change in Tunisia. The Yemenite authorities have also forbidden, according to the website of Al Jazeera, separatists in the south to demonstrate in the city of Aden. Here the security forces dispersed the demonstration using force and arresting dozens of protesters. The demonstrators want reforms in Yemen, and have asked the international community for a radical solution for the question of the southern part of the country.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Tunisian WikiLeaks Putsch: CIA Touts Mediterranean Tsunami of Coups; Libya, Egypt, Syria, Algeria, Jordan, Italy All Targeted;

US-UK Want New Puppets to Play Against Iran, China, Russia; Obama Retainers Cass Sunstein, Samantha Power, Robert Malley, International Crisis Group Implicated in Destabilizations

Washington DC, January 16, 2011 — The US intelligence community is now in a manic fit of gloating over this weekend’s successful overthrow of the Tunisian government of President Ben Ali. The State Department and the CIA, through media organs loyal to them, are mercilessly hyping the Tunisian putsch of the last few days as the prototype of a new second generation of color revolutions, postmodern coups, and US-inspired people power destabilizations. At Foggy Bottom and Langley, feverish plans are being made for a veritable Mediterranean tsunami designed to topple most existing governments in the Arab world, and well beyond. The imperialist planners now imagine that they can expect to overthrow or weaken the governments of Libya, Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Algeria, Yemen, and perhaps others, while the CIA’s ongoing efforts to remove Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi (because of his friendship with Putin and support for the Southstream pipeline) make this not just an Arab, but rather a pan-Mediterranean, orgy of destabilization. Hunger revolution, not Jasmine revolution

Washington’s imperialist planners now believe that they have successfully refurbished their existing model of CIA color revolution or postmodern coup. This method of liquidating governments had been losing some of its prestige after the failure of the attempted plutocratic Cedars revolution in Lebanon, the rollback of the hated IMF-NATO Orange revolution in Ukraine, the ignominious collapse of June 2009 Twitter revolution in Iran, and the widespread discrediting of the US-backed Roses revolution in Georgia because of the warmongering and oppressive activities of fascist madman Saakashvili. The imperialist consensus is now that the Tunisian events prefigure a new version of people power coup specifically adapted to today’s reality, specifically that of a world economic depression, breakdown crisis, and disintegration of the globalized casino economy.

The Tunisian tumults are being described in the US press as the “Jasmine revolution,” but it is far more accurate to regard them as a variation on the classic hunger revolution. The Tunisian ferment was not primarily a matter of the middle class desire to speak out, vote, and blog. It started from the Wall Street depredations which are ravaging the entire planet: outrageously high prices for food and fuel caused by derivatives speculation, high levels of unemployment and underemployment, and general economic despair. The detonator was the tragic suicide of a vegetable vendor in Sidi Bouzid who was being harassed by the police. As Ben Ali fought to stay in power, he recognized what was causing the unrest by his gesture of lowering food prices. The Jordanian government for its part has lowered food prices there by about 5%. Assange and Wikileaks, Key CIA Tools to Dupe Youth Bulge

The economic nature of the current unrest poses a real problem for the Washington imperialists, since the State Department line tends to define human rights exclusively in political and religious terms, and never as a matter of economic or social rights. Price controls, wages, jobless benefits, welfare payments, health care, housing, trade union rights, banking regulation, protective tariffs, and other tools of national economic self-defense have no place whatsoever in the Washington consensus mantra. Under these circumstances, what can be done to dupe the youth bulge of people under 30 who now represents the central demographic reality of most of the Arab world?

In this predicament, the CIA’s cyberspace predator drone Julian Assange and Wikileaks are providing an indispensable service to the imperialist cause. In Iceland in the autumn of 2009, Assange was deployed by his financier backers to hijack and disrupt a movement for national economic survival through debt moratorium, the rejection of interference by the International Monetary Fund, and re-launching the productive economy through an ambitious program of national infrastructure and the export of high technology capital goods, in particular in the field of geothermal energy. Assange was able to convince many in Iceland that these causes were not nearly radical enough, and that they needed to devote their energies instead to publishing a series of carefully pre-selected US government and other documents, all of which somehow targeted governments and political figures which London and Washington had some interest in embarrassing and weakening. In other words, Assange was able to dupe honest activists into going to work for the imperialist financiers. Assange has no program except “transparency,” which is a constant refrain of the US UK human rights mafia as it attempts to topple targeted governments across the developing sector in particular. “Yes we can” or “Food prices are too damn high!”

Tunisia is perhaps the first case in which Assange and Wikileaks can make a credible claim to have detonated the coup. Most press accounts agree that certain State Department cables which were part of the recent Wikileaks document dumps and which focused on the sybaritic excess and lavish lifestyle of the Ben Ali clan played a key role in getting the Tunisian petit bourgeoisie into the streets. Thanks in part to Assange, Western television networks were thus able to show pictures of the Tunisian crowds holding up signs saying “Yes we can” rather than a more realistic and populist “Food prices are too damn high!”

Ben Ali had been in power for 23 years. In Egypt, President Mubarak has been in power for almost 30 years. The Assad clan in Syria have also been around for about three decades. In Libya, Colonel Gaddafi has been in power for almost 40 years. Hafez Assad was able to engineer a monarchical succession to his son when he died 10 years ago, and Mubarak and Gaddafi are trying to do the same thing today. Since the US does not want these dynasties, The obvious CIA tactic is to deploy assets like Twitter, Google, Facebook, Wikileaks, etc., to turn key members of the youth bulge into swarming mobs to bring down the gerontocratic regimes. CIA Wants Aggressive New Puppets to Play Against Iran, China, Russia

All of these countries do of course require serious political as well as economic reform, but what the CIA is doing with the current crop of destabilizations has nothing to do with any positive changes in the countries involved. Those who doubt this should remember the horrendous economic and political record of the puppets installed in the wake of recent color revolutions — people like the IMF-NATO kleptocrat agents Yushchenko and Timoshenko in Ukraine, the mentally unstable warmongering dictator Saakashvili in Georgia, and so forth. Political forces that are foolish enough to accept the State Department’s idea of hope and change will soon find themselves under the yoke of new oppressors of this type. The danger is very great in Tunisia, since the forces which ousted Ben Ali have no visible leader and no visible mass political organization which could help them fight off foreign interference in the way that Hezbollah was able to do in checkmating the Lebanese Cedars putsch. In Tunis, the field is wide open for the CIA to install a candidate of its own choosing, preferably under the cover of “elections.” Twenty-three years of Ben Ali have unfortunately left Tunisia in a more atomized condition.

Why is official Washington so obsessed with the idea of overthrowing these governments? The answer has everything to do with Iran, China, and Russia. As regards Iran, the State Department policy is notoriously the attempt to assemble a united front of the entrenched Arab and Sunni regimes to be played against Shiite Iran and its various allies across the region. This had not been going well, as shown by the inability of the US to install its preferred puppet Allawi in Iraq, where the pro-Iranian Maliki seems likely to hold onto power for the foreseeable future. The US desperately wants a new generation of unstable “democratic” demagogues more willing to lead their countries against Iran than the current immobile regimes have proved to be. There is also the question of Chinese economic penetration. We can be confident that any new leaders installed by the US will include in their program a rupture of economic relations with China, including especially a cutoff of oil and raw material shipments, along the lines of what Twitter revolution honcho Mir-Hossein Mousavi was reliably reported to be preparing for Iran if he had seized power there in the summer of 2009 at the head of his “Death to Russia, death to China” rent-a-mob. In addition, US hostility against Russia is undiminished, despite the cosmetic effects of the recent ratification of START II. If for example a color revolution were to come to Syria, we could be sure that the Russian naval presence at the port Tartus, which so disturbs NATO planners, would be speedily terminated. If the new regimes demonstrate hostility against Iran, China, and Russia, we would soon find that internal human rights concerns would quickly disappear from the US agenda. Key Destabilization Operatives of the Obama Regime

For those who are keeping score, it may be useful to pinpoint some of the destabilization operatives inside the current US regime. It is of course obvious that the current wave of subversion against the Arab countries was kicked off by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in her much touted speech last week in Doha, Qatar last week, when she warned assembled Arab leaders to reform their economies ( according to IMF rules) and stamp out corruption, or else face ouster.

Given the critical role of Assange and Wikileaks in the current phase, White House regulations czar Cass Sunstein must also be counted among the top putschists. We should recall that on February 24, 2007 Sunstein contributed an article entitled “A Brave New Wikiworld” to the Washington Post, in which he crowed that “, founded by dissidents in China and other nations, plans to post secret government documents and to protect them from censorship with coded software.” This was in fact the big publicity breakthrough for Assange and the debut of Wikileaks in the US mainstream press — all thanks to current White House official Sunstein. May we not assume that Sunstein represents the White House contact man and controller for the Wikileaks operation? Every Tree in the Arab Forest Might Fall

Another figure worthy of mention is Robert Malley, a well-known US left-cover operative who currently heads the Middle East and North Africa program at the International Crisis Group (ICG), an organization reputed to run on money coughed up by George Soros and tactics dreamed up from Zbigniew Brzezinski. Malley was controversial during the 2008 presidential campaign because of the anti-Israeli posturing he affects, the better to dupe the Arab leaders he targets. Malley told the Washington Post of January 16, 2011 that every tree in the Arab forest could now be about to fall: “We could go through the list of Arab leaders looking in the mirror right now and very few would not be on the list.” Arab governments would be well advised to keep an eye on ICG operatives in their countries.

Czar Cass Sunstein is now married to Samantha Power, who currently works in the White House National Security Council as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director (boss) of the Office of Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights — the precise bureaucratic home of destabilization operations like the one in Tunisia. Power, like Malley, is a veteran of the US intelligence community’s “human rights” division, which is a past master of using legitimate beefs about repression to to replace old US clients with new puppets in a never-ending process of restless subversion. Both Malley and Power were forced to tender pro forma resignations during the Obama presidential campaign of 2008 — Malley for talking to Hamas, and Power for an obscene tirade against Hillary Clinton, who is now her bureaucratic rival. Advice to Arab Governments, Political Forces, Trade Unions

The Arab world needs to learn a few fundamental lessons about the mechanics of CIA color revolutions, lest they replicate the tragic experience of Georgia, Ukraine, and so many others. In today’s impoverished world of economic depression, a reform program capable of defending national interests against the rapacious forces of financial globalization is the number one imperative.

Accordingly, Arab governments must immediately expel all officials of the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and their subset of lending institutions. Arab countries which are currently under the yoke of IMF conditionalities (notably Egypt and Jordan among the Arabs, and Pakistan among the Moslem states) must unilaterally and immediately throw them off and reassert their national sovereignty. Every Arab state should unilaterally and immediately declare a debt moratorium in the form of an open-ended freeze on all payments of interest and principal of international financial debt in the Argentine manner, starting with sums allegedly owed to the IMF-World Bank. The assets of foreign multinational monopolistic firms, especially oil companies, should be seized as the situation requires. Basic food staples and fuels should be subjected to price controls, with draconian penalties for speculation, including by way of derivatives. Dirigist measures such as protective tariffs and food price subsidies can be quickly introduced. Food production needs to be promoted by production and import bounties, as well as by international barter deals. National grain stockpiles must be quickly constituted. Capital controls and exchange controls are likely to be needed to prevent speculative attacks on national currencies by foreign hedge funds acting with the ulterior political motives of overthrowing national governments. Most important, central banks must be nationalized and reconverted to a policy of 0% credit for domestic infrastructure, agriculture, housing, and physical commodity production, with special measures to enhance exports. Once these reforms have been implemented, it may be time to consider the economic integration of the Arab world as an economic development community in which the foreign exchange earnings of the oil-producing states can be put to work on the basis of mutual advantage for infrastructure and hard commodity capital investment across the entire Arab world.

The alternative is an endless series of destabilizations masterminded by foreigners, and, quite possibly, terminal chaos.

           — Hat tip: TV[Return to headlines]

Turkey’s High Court to Review Regulation of Alcohol

A petition calls for the controversial alcohol regulations to be annulled.

The Ankara Bar Association has petitioned the Council of State to annul a controversial recent law governing consumption of alcohol and tobacco, saying the government “should protect people from alcohol addiction, not alcohol itself.”

News of the petition was announced Wednesday, the same day the country’s top administrative court issued a ruling on another topic subject to much heated debate: the headscarf issue.

The Council of State ordered a stay of execution blocking a decision by the Higher Education Board, or YÖK, to allow headscarf-wearing female students to take the post-graduate education exam. YÖK President Yusuf Ziya Özcan said the board would object to the council’s decision.

The petition by the Ankara Bar Association called for the alcohol and tobacco regulations to be canceled in their entirety on the grounds that they are against the Constitution, basic law and the needs of the service industry, and that they give the government “an unlimited power of discretion” and “discipline the people by forcing a new way of life on them.”

Arguing that “the administration does not have such authority in democratic countries,” the association said there is also no legal basis for grouping two different types of products together and regulating them with the same laws. “This relies on the assumption that alcohol is just as damaging as tobacco,” the petition said.

The association also objected to regulations restricting alcohol advertisements and limiting access to alcohol for people under the age of 24. It said other articles harm catering businesses, “openly prevent consumers from obtaining alcohol” by regulating the size of alcoholic beverages that can be sold at markets and “obscure freedom” by banning the drinking of alcohol at places such as the seaside and picnic areas.

Headscarf decision

The Council of State’s decision on the headscarf issue comes in response to the removal in October by the Student Selection and Placement Center, or ÖSYM, which falls under the authority of YÖK, of an article restricting women who wear headscarves from taking the Academic Personnel and Graduate Education Exam, or ALES.

The move followed attempts during the same period by the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, to allow headscarves in universities.

The Education and Science Employee Union, or Egitim-Is, filed a complaint against YÖK at the Council of State later in October, arguing that the change contradicted earlier decisions issued by the European Court of Human Rights and Turkey’s Constitutional Court and Council of State, as well as national regulations on the issue.

The court based its stay of execution decision on those precedents, saying also that the change would likely hinder exam safety and physical recognition of candidates.

The AKP reacted to the decision, calling it ideological.

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

South Asia

‘Italy Will Stay in Afghanistan’

Defence minister clears up apparent doubt after 36th casualty

(ANSA) — Rome, January 19 — Italy will stay in Afghanistan as long as its allies do, Defence Minister Ignazio La Russa said Wednesday after Premier Silvio Berlusconi had appeared to raise doubts about the mission’s duration in the wake of the latest Italian casualty.

Amid some calls from the opposition to pull out, Berlusconi on Tuesday night asked after the death of Corporal Luca Sanna, the 36th Italian casualty in Afghanistan since 2004 and the 14th since the start of 2010, whether it was “really worth it” to stay the course.

La Russa said Wednesday: “We all wonder, every minute. My answer is identical to the one the premier has given up till now and that is, we are there as part of an international mission and we will leave when the rest of the international mission does so too”.

Sanna’s body will arrive back in Rome for a military funeral Thursday.

Corporal Sanna, 31, from the Alpine regiment, was killed Tuesday by an insurgent wearing an Afghan army uniform.

He was shot in the head in an outpost in northwestern Afghanistan and a comrade, Luca Barisonzi, was seriously wounded in the shoulder.

The murderer “got close to them with a ruse, perhaps by claiming he had problems with his weapon,” La Russa said in a report to parliament Tuesday.

On Wednesday La Russa said he would discuss with the commander of the US-led mission, General David Petraeus, ways of stiffening security to prevent the repetition of such ambushes.

Barisonzi was initially thought to have sustained a non-serious wound but it was later learned his condition was “much more serious than first thought,” sources said in Rome Tuesday night.

He is in a military hospital in western Afghanistan.

Foreign Minister Franco Frattini reacted to the death by reiterating that staying the course in Afghanistan was the best way to honour Italian casualties. “Today’s tragic episode gives another reason to continue in the effort to bring as soon as possible the transition and ‘Afghanisation’ which will enable us to hand over to the Afghan police and army the control of their country,” Frattini said Tuesday.

Italian President Giorgio Napolitano noted that the soldier “fell in a peace mission”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Australia — Pacific

He Emerged Victorious From a Hell of Blood and Fire

THE brown dust from the departing choppers that carried the SAS squadron south from their base at Tarin Kowt had barely cleared when all hell broke loose.

It was October 2010, at the height of the Afghanistan fighting season, and a large Taliban force had established numerous firing positions around heavy machineguns.

More than 24 elite Perth-based Diggers from the Special Air Service Regiment were under withering fire.

Realising his mates were in grave danger, and with no regard for his own welfare, the SAS Corporal charged headlong into the Taliban machinegun fire.

The sight of the 202cm Australian warrior coming at them must have shocked the bearded Afghans.

Within minutes three enemy guns had been silenced and numerous Taliban fighters lay dead.

A man mountain of a West Australian called Ben, or “RS” to his mates, had taken out three machinegun positions single handedly. His comrades said it was the most extreme example of conspicuous gallantry since Albert Jacka VC jumped into a trench full of Turks at Gallipoli in 1915, killing seven with his rifle and bayonet.

“He just tore into the enemy,” one of his mates said.

“He is the epitome of the Spartan soldier. It was only a matter of time before he would demonstrate his true ability.”

Now the soldier — already awarded a Medal of Gallantry — will become the latest to be awarded the nation’s highest military honour, the Victoria Cross For Australia.

“This guy is a warrior,” one of his ex-colleagues said ahead of Sunday’s investiture ceremony.

The battle that led to the honour came during an offensive in the Shah Wali Kot area.

Signals intelligence had intercepted enemy “chatter” about a large group of Taliban fighters moving to attack a combined force of commandos from the Sydney based 2nd Commando Regiment and the Afghan National Army.

The SAS had been mounting helicopter-borne assaults throughout the offensive, targeting Taliban commanders and bomb makers.

As soon as word came through, the troops from the squadron based at Camp Russell near Tarin Kowt immediately mounted several US Blackhawk choppers for the 15-minute flight into battle.

After landing the SAS took the fight to the enemy, but it was clear they would falter unless the machineguns were neutralised. Step forward “RS”. The biggest man in the regiment by a fair margin.

“RS” joined the SASR in 2002 from the army’s 3rd Battalion. He is a specialist sniper and “assaulter” and a devoted husband and father of two young daughters.

He was awarded a Medal for Gallantry in December 2006 for his courage under fire in Afghanistan’s Chora Valley in the same battle in which Sergeant Matthew Locke, who was killed in action during 2007, won his MG. During that fight, according to comrades, “RS” tore a Taliban fighter off his back like an insect, stood on his throat and shot him dead.

By the time the battle was over about 60 Taliban lay dead from small arms fire, hand-to-hand combat and close air support.

Ben’s Victoria Cross will make him the most decorated Australian soldier in decades. His good mate Rob Maylor, whose book SAS Sniper was released last year, describes him as an outstanding soldier: “He has excelled as an operator in the Regiment, and is also an SAS sniper, but his main calling is as an assaulter and he is exceptional.”

           — Hat tip: Nilk[Return to headlines]

PM Go and ‘Let the Muslims Take Over’

ISLAMIC preacher Ibrahim Siddiq-Conlon points heavenwards to emphasise his message for the governments of Australia — there is no God but Allah and only his laws should be obeyed.

“My attack is on the Prime Minister of Australia,” he said yesterday. “I hate the parliament in Canberra. I want to go straight for the jugular vein and advise the parliament that they have no right to legislate. They should immediately step down and let the Muslims take over.”

An Australian-born convert to Islam, Siddiq-Conlon is the self-anointed leader of a group called Sharia4Australia, which is pushing for the introduction of sharia courts as a first step towards achieving Islamic law.

“One day Australia will live under sharia; it’s inevitable,” he said. “If they (Australians) don’t accept it, that’s not our problem. We hope, and our objective is to have a peaceful transition, but when you look at history that has never been the case. There’s always been a fight. It is inevitable that one day there will be a struggle for Islam in Australia.”

A masters graduate in architecture from the University of Technology Sydney, Siddiq-Conlon formed Sharia4Australia last year. He said he had three objectives. The first is to persuade Muslims they must hate “taghoot”, the worship of any God other than Allah, which includes democracy.

“They must hate it, speak out against it. And, if that doesn’t work, take action against it.”

His other objectives are to advise elected governments they have no authority to rule, and to educate non-Muslims on the benefits of sharia, including punishments such as stoning adulterers and severing the hands of thieves.

“If chopping off the hands is the punishment given by the sharia court then we say glad tidings, because chopping off the hands — when you understand what is sharia — is a mercy to that person.

“Why is it a mercy getting your hands chopped off? Because it can be expiation for your sins. It is better to get punished in this life than to go underground into the grave or into the hellfire for eternity.”

Siddiq-Conlon will join a debate tonight at the Parramatta Town Hall in Sydney on the merits of sharia versus democracy. The event was organised by self-styled debate promoter Zaky Mallah, who was acquitted of terrorism charges in 2005 but pleaded guilty to threatening to kill a commonwealth officer after his passport was cancelled.

The pro-democracy case will be argued by an Australian army veteran, self-described “concerned Aussie” and senior member of the pro-gun Firearms Forum, Jack Zedee. “The issue with Mr Conlon and Sharia4Australia is they are preaching hatred. His views horrify me,” Mr Zedee told The Australian.

Police and private security are expected at the debate, after both sides claimed to have received death threats. Mallah said he had tried to cancel the event but the debaters insisted on proceeding.

Siddiq-Conlon shrugs off concerns his campaign will damage the moderate Muslim community. “If it causes a backlash against the Muslims, I can’t help that. This is a necessary debate.”

           — Hat tip: Shirl in Oz[Return to headlines]

Latin America

Venezuela Becomes New Stalinist Nation

In their game of “Who can create the Fastest Slave State”, Venezuelan Dictator (now official) Hugo Chavez is now ahead of US Dictator Barack Hussein Obama. Not long ago, Chavez made the comment “Hey, Obama has just nationalized nothing more and nothing less than General Motors. Comrade Obama! Fidel, careful or we are going to end up to his right.”

Slowly at first but recently more quickly, intensely and more violently every day, Hugo Chavez has become one of the current incarnations of Josef Stalin. Over strong objections from the opposition, in December, Chavez’ ruling and majority Socialist Party granted him full “decree” (dictatorial) powers. Chavez has now begun his iron-handed and iron-fisted rule over the people of Venezuela. By the way, Chavez affected this over Christmas. What other country’s Marxist Party does the same thing in shoving its totalitarianism down the throats of its own people? If you answered the US Marxist-used-to-be-Democrat-Party, you’re right! Hugo Chavez has begun the forceful takeover of all of Venezuela’s farms

In his latest bold move against the people of Venezuela, Obama’s competitor and brother-in-the-cause Hugo Chavez has begun the forceful takeover of all of Venezuela’s farms. News out of Venezuela has largely been shut down and the US media (the ObamaMedia) has refused to publish anything about it. Only a few sketchy reports have managed to surface, including a video (see reference below) showing Venezuelan military tanks lined up outside the Hacienda El Peonio. Apparently, over 47 farms are reported to have been taken by Venezuelan Marxist forces and a Cuban general (along with the countries of Iran and Russia and the terrorist organization FARC—thrown in for good measure) is said to be assisting Dictator Chavez’ military. Again, NO ONE from the US/Obama Media has reported on this. This is the new criminality of our media, its devolution and ultimate demise as a complete and unashamed mouthpiece for Dictator Obama and the world’s elite slave masters. After all, Chavez has put into place the totalitarian government that the US leftist media (just another “elitist” group) wants here and worldwide.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Exclusive: Over a Million Immigrants Land U.S. Jobs in 2008-10

DALLAS (Reuters) — Over the past two years, as U.S. unemployment remained near double-digit levels and the economy shed jobs in the wake of the financial crisis, over a million foreign-born arrivals to America found work, many illegally.

Those are among the findings of a review of U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and Census Bureau data conducted exclusively for Reuters by researchers at the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University in Boston.

Often young and unskilled or semi-skilled, immigrants have taken jobs Americans could do in areas like construction, willing to work for less wages. Others land jobs that unemployed Americans turn up their noses at or lack the skills to do.

With a national unemployment rate of 9.4 percent, domestic job creation is at the top of President Barack Obama’s agenda and such findings could add to calls to tighten up on illegal immigration. But much of it is Hispanic and the growing Latino vote is a key base for Obama’s Democratic Party.

Many of the new arrivals, according to employers, brought with them skills required of the building trade and found work in sectors such as construction, where jobless rates are high.

“Employers have chosen to use new immigrants over native-born workers and have continued to displace large numbers of blue-collar workers and young adults without college degrees,” said Andrew Sum, the director of the Center for Labor Market Studies.

“One of the advantages of hiring, particularly young, undocumented immigrants, is the fact that employers do not have to pay health benefits or basic payroll taxes,” said Sum.

From 2008 to 2010, 1.1 million new migrants who have entered America since 2008 landed jobs, even as U.S. household employment declined by 6.26 million over that same period.

But in a sign of the times, the pace of job growth for new arrivals has also slowed, to an average of 550,000 a year from 2008 to 2010 from over 750,000 a year from 2000 to 2008.

Sum said it was fair to estimate that around 35 percent of these workers were undocumented or illegal.

Many immigrants acquired jobs in traditional low-wage work associated with foreign, undocumented and especially Mexican labor: hotels and food services, retail trade, sanitation, cleaning and construction.

There are a number of programs by which the United States lets foreign workers into the country to fill gaps in its domestic labor market but employer groups complain little is done in this area for legal, unskilled workers.

“There is basically no unskilled immigration that is legal. There are basically no provisions in the law for unskilled immigrants,” said Bill Hammond, president of the Texas Association of Business.

Farm workers in particular argue that Americans would not do the tough field work that is rife with undocumented workers, titling one recent union campaign “Take Our Jobs”. The slogan meant that if Americans wanted their jobs, then take them. But it is likely they don’t.

Immigrant hiring also comes despite stepped-up workplace enforcement against companies that hire illegal immigrants and the rapid expansion of the online E-verify system used by employers to check immigration status…

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Germany’s Integration Provocateur Goes English

Former German central banker Thilo Sarrazin has been touting his controversial book on integration for months. This week, he went on BBC — and managed to sound even more outrageous in English than he does in German. His advice? If you are discriminated against for wearing a headscarf, leave the country.

It was left up to Thilo Sarrazin to introduce himself at the beginning. “Hello, this is Thilo Sarrazin. I am glad to speak to you on BBC ‘Have Your Say.’ … I am the author of a book which can be named in English ‘Germany Is Doing Itself Away.’“

It is a book which has dominated Germany’s integration debate for months, and one which has generated a passionate response — both acceptance and rejection — from people across the country. The book claims, among other assertions, that Turkish immigrants in the country have detracted, rather than contributed to, the country’s prosperity. He also claims, as he said early on in the BBC program broadcast on Tuesday, that “the brightest people get the fewest babies.” Or, as the idea is formulated in his book, immigrants, because of their lower levels of education and what he claims are higher birth rates, are making Germany dumber on average.

It was a tantalizing start to the latest edition of what has become a well-known debate in Germany and abroad. For 50 minutes, Sarrazin — whose book has been at the top of Germany’s bestseller lists for weeks — held forth on his opinions about Muslims. He discussed his book with callers from Great Britain, Germany, the United States and elsewhere in the world — and didn’t seem concerned that his ideas sound even crasser in English than they do in German. The program can be found here.

‘Care and Deliberation’

Most of the callers were much more comfortable speaking English than Sarrazin. But he didn’t let it bother him. On the BBC, he demonstrated the practiced comfort he has won from the dozens of presentations, readings and book discussions he has held across Germany since his book hit the shelves in August. He warned that political correctness is a danger to democracy and rejected accusations that he was fomenting divisions in his home country.

Several times, he repeated his go-to argument that he was merely presenting “facts.” One of those, he made clear on the BBC, is that “the Jewish people were overachievers, part of the Muslim people are underachievers.” There were some listeners on Sarrazin’s side. A man named Jörg from the German state of Lower Saxony called in to say that he would vote for Sarrazin were he to start his own political party.

But the majority of the reactions were critical. In response to an accusation that he was a fascist, Sarrazin coolly answered that everyone is responsible for their own rhetoric. He himself, he said, had always striven for “care and deliberation.” In answer to a question as to why he wrote such a book when he is clearly not an expert for immigration and integration, he claimed to be an expert in statistics.

For much of his career, the statistics Sarrazin dealt with related to finance. For years, he served the city-state of Berlin as finance minister before moving over to the German Central Bank in 2009. A member of the center-left Social Democrats, Sarrazin’s blunt statements on all manner of issues (“civil servants are pale and foul-smelling”) have long been notorious in Germany. By September 2010, the Central Bank had had enough and pressured him to resign. The SPD is likewise exploring the possibility of throwing him out of the party…

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

UK: Britain is Migrant Magnet of Europe: Only Spain Admits More Non-EU Immigrants

Britain accepts more non-European immigrants than any other EU country except Spain, it emerged yesterday.

The latest annual figures showed immigration from Asia, Africa and the Americas running at 307,000, against 284,000 received by Italy and the 238,000 who went to Germany.

These comparisons are striking because Italy is the main destination for hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees from Africa and the Middle East who see it as the easiest route into Europe, and for decades Germany accepted more migrants than any other European country.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Welfare Tab for Children of Illegal Immigrants Estimated at $600m in L.A. County

Welfare benefits for the children of illegal immigrants cost America’s largest county more than $600 million last year, according to a local official keeping tabs on the cost.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael Antonovich released new statistics this week showing social spending for those families in his county rose to $53 million in November, putting the county government on track to spend more than $600 million on related costs for the year — up from $570 million in 2009.

Antonovich arrived at the estimate by factoring in the cost of food stamps and welfare-style benefits through a state program known as CalWORKS. Combined with public safety costs and health care costs, the official claimed the “total cost for illegal immigrants to county taxpayers” was more than $1.6 billion in 2010.

“Not including the hundreds of millions of dollars for education,” he said in a statement.

Antonovich’s figures, though, center on costs generated by American-born children of illegal immigrants. Isabel Alegria, communications director at the California Immigrant Policy Center, said it’s “unfair” to roll together costs associated with both illegal immigrants and U.S.-born citizens.

“Those children are U.S. citizens, children eligible for those programs,” Alegria said.

She also questioned the authenticity of Antonovich’s numbers regarding health care and public safety — though for the welfare program statistics, Antonovich cited numbers from the county’s Department of Public Social Services.

Antonovich acknowledges that the children whose benefits he’s focusing on are U.S.-born. But he argues that the money is collected by the illegal immigrant parents, putting a painful burden on taxpayers, including those who are legal immigrants.

“The problem is illegal immigration. … Their parents evidently immigrated here in order to get on social services,” Antonovich spokesman Tony Bell said. “We can no longer afford to be HMO to the world.”…

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Culture Wars

EU Parliament Denounces Lithuania’s ‘Homophobic’ Law

The European Parliament has urged Lithuania to reject a draft bill aimed at criminalising the “promotion” of homosexuality.

The draft law, yet to be approved by the country’s MPs, would amend the Code of Administrative Offences to punish the “public promotion of homosexual relations” with a fine of between €580 and €2900.

The Strasbourg resolution, passed on Wednesday (19 January), also calls on the Europeabn Commission to make an assessment of Lithuania’s proposed amendments to its legal code and to develop an “EU Roadmap” on what member states should be doing to fight homophobia.

Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite, herself a former European commissioner has already denouced the legislation.

MEPs called on her to veto the legislation should it be approved.

“EU institutions and member states have a duty to ensure that human rights are respected, protected and promoted in the European Union,” reads the resolution.

The Seimas, the Lithuanian parliament already voted in 2009, to ban minors from accessing information about homosexuality.

MEPs on Wednesday noted however: “No credible research indicates that educating children and young people about sexuality may affect their sexual orientation.”

“Education about sexual diversity encourages tolerance and acceptance of differences.”

The resolution was put forward by the Socialists, Liberals, Greens and the left of the house.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Stars Shine on Christian Researcher

The University of Kentucky has settled a religious discrimination lawsuit with C. Martin Gaskell, a former University of Nebraska astronomer whom Kentucky declined to hire as director of its Lexington-based observatory.

After being snubbed for the directorship in 2007, Gaskell alleged that Kentucky officials had passed on him because of his Christian views — a claim his lawyers say is supported by e-mails sent by members of the search committee, as well as sworn testimony given by the panel’s members and other Kentucky faculty. The university will pay the spurned astronomer $125,000

The bulk of Gaskell’s published work addresses the technical aspects of black holes. But he also made a hobby of criticizing the prima facie dismissal of Biblical assertions as irrelevant to scientific theory, while advocating for a view of natural history that rejects neither the Judeo-Christian creation story nor evolution…

“But the real problem with humanistic evolution,” he continues, “is in the unwarranted atheistic assumptions and extrapolations. It is the latter that ‘creationists’ should really be attacking.”

The essay goes on to assert that mainstream astronomers have gone to great lengths to sidestep the “theistic implications of the Big Bang,” proposing alternative theories that have amounted to bunk

           — Hat tip: Kitman[Return to headlines]

UK: The Extreme Version of Equality Forced Upon British Society is Attacking the Very Diversity it Seeks to Promote

Equality is a peculiar concept. In essence, it is a simple belief that all people ought to be treated with the same level of respect, kindness, love and fairness. It seeks to ensure that the same unrestrained opportunities are available to all, leading to the fulfilment of potential and contributing towards the continued progression of mankind. This is the “pure”‘, unhindered version of extreme equality that the likes of Harriet Harman et al follow with near evangelic fervour.

At this point, equality certainly sounds like an admirable virtue, one that should perhaps be encouraged and celebrated. After all, surely all people, regardless of their differences, should be treated the same. Indeed, those who promote equality often claim to be sticking up for the disadvantaged and the unrepresented, the little guys of the world who need a voice. Equality, they protest, protects those of different sexualities, those of different ethnicities, those of different ages, those with differing opinions…ah, wait a minute. Those with differing opinions?

This is the sticking point. The extreme interpretation of equality that has been forced upon British society over the past decade is in itself a remarkable contradiction. On the one hand, it claims to protect diversity and variation yet, on the other, it ruthlessly strikes down any dissenting voices, any individual who would rather maintain the status quo. Extreme equality is, of course, better known as political correctness and its ultimate failing is that it attacks the very diversity which it seeks to promote.

Let us take a story from this week’s newspapers as an apt example. Unsurprisingly, I am referring to the case of Peter and Hazelmary Bull, the Christian hotel owners from Marazion in Cornwall. As many readers will know, Mr and Mrs Bull were taken to court following their decision to deny a gay couple a room at their hotel. Judge Andrew Rutherford ruled that Mr and Mrs Bull had broken the law and that they were in breach of 21st century equality. The hotel owners will now have to pay thousands of pounds in damages. Equality, it is claimed, has won the day. In truth, however, the State-led boot of political correctness has merely tramped once again on the truly marginalised voices of modern day society.

You see, when Mr and Mrs Bull decided to prevent the gay couple, Mr Preddy and Mr Hall, from staying in their hotel they were not making an instant judgement about the couple, nor in fact were they taking a stand against homosexuality. Rather, they were simply following a policy which they first put into practice back in 1986 — that no unmarried couples should share a bed under their privately-owned roof (which is, of course, also their business).

The reaction to this somewhat traditional yet harmless policy has been remarkable. Mr and Mrs Bull have been tagged as homophobes, taken to court, forced to justify their literal interpretation of the Bible, told by the Judge involved that their views are out of date and, finally, given a punishment which will place significant strain upon their business’ finances. In the end, the penalty for holding a diverse viewpoint has been extreme. As Mike Judge, of the Christian Institute, commented “equality laws are being used as a sword rather than a shield”. Frankly, this whole situation is just wrong.

I am not a Christian. I do not hold any such stringent views about married or unmarried couples. Yet, as an openly gay man in a happy, long-term relationship, it infuriates me when equality groups tell me that cases such as the above should be celebrated as victories for the ‘homosexual community’. Sorry, but I refuse to be confined to any such sub-section of society.

Obviously, it goes without saying that I am truly appreciative of the sacrifice and dedication of certain gay rights campaigners in years gone by and I welcome the fact that same-sex couples can lead honest, open and free lives in the same way as heterosexual couples. Indeed, at certain points in the not-so-distant past, gay rights activists carried out tremendous work through their tireless campaigning.

However, the true test facing all reformers is knowing when to stop; being able to accept that the battles have been won and that the fighting can finally end. Likewise, an appreciation that pushing a reform agenda too far risks the pendulum being swung only from one extreme to the other, thus simply transferring the original prejudice rather than erasing it, is a rare quality to posses.

Ultimately, though, I believe that a truly progressive society is not one where its members live in fear of a slip of the tongue with punishment awaiting those who hold a minority view, but rather one where equality is reached naturally through the unconstrained expressions of freedom. Alas, in light of Mr and Mrs Bull’s fate, I fear that my view of society is fast becoming the distant memory of a by-gone age, if not an idealistic vision of a future that will never be. Not least until this tidal wave of extreme equality is radically challenged by those at the heart of power in Westminster.

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]


New Pesticides Are ‘Killing Honeybee Population Worldwide’

A new generation of pesticides could be to blame for Britain’s vanishing honeybees, a study has shown.

The chemicals, which are routinely used on farms and garden centres, attack the central systems of insects and make bee colonies more vulnerable to disease and pests, researchers say.

The claims, which appear in an unpublished study carried out at the US Department of Agriculture’s Bee Research Laboratory, add to the evidence that pesticides are partly responsible for the mysterious decline of one of the world’s best loved insects.

Wildlife campaigners today called for urgent research into the links between the chemicals and the collapse of bee colonies around the world.

Scientists are baffled by Britain’s disappearing honeybees. Since the 1980s numbers have fallen by half.

The new study, led by Dr Jeffrey Pettis, one of the U.S.’s top bee experts, found that exposure to a class of pesticides called neo-nicotinoids makes bees more susceptible to infection — even at doses too low to be detected in the creature’s bodies. Neo-nicotinoids, which were introduced in the 1990s, are applied to seeds and are found in low levels throughout a growing plant — including in its pollen and nectar.

They were introduced to replace controversial organo phosphates because they appeared to be harmless to mammals and people and are used on oil seed rape, wheat, sugar bed and garden centre plants. The U.S. research has yet to be published, but is discussed in a new documentary film The Strange Disappearance of The Bees.

Insect charity Buglife today said previous studies in France had found a link between pesticides and vanishing bees…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]