Saturday, January 11, 2003

News Feed 20110123

Financial Crisis
»Berlin Wants to Control it All
»China Bank Moves to Buy U.S. Branches
»Dubai Island Development Sinks Back Into Sea After Being Scuppered by Financial Crisis
»Italy: Court ‘Seeks €120mln From Food Giant Parmalat’s Banks’
»Italy: One in Five Young People ‘Neither Work Nor Study’
»Mauritania: March Against Rising Prices of Staple Goods
»RAI TV Licence Fee Italy’s Most Hated Tax
»Real Estate: Beirut Most Expensive City in Middle East
»How the Lame Duck 2010 Congress and Obama’s Czars Screwed the American People
»Video: Frank Gaffney and CPAC’s Alleged Muslim ‘Infiltrator’ Face Off
Europe and the EU
»Christians: EU Takes Sides With Those Who Respect Rights
»Germany: Arson Suspect Confesses to 13 Attacks on Muslim Sites in Berlin
»Italy: Public Works Probe Targets Top Berlusconi Ally
»The Brits Don’t Diss Over Dinner, Baroness Warsi
»UK: ‘My Son Played Russian Roulette With Cannabis — and Lost’
»UK: Artist Damien Hirst Looks to Hire Apprentice to Help Him Create Next £10m Masterpiece… And Offers Salary of Just £20,000
»UK: Dead Spy’s Teacher Says Lurid Police Claims About His Private Life Were a ‘Decoy’
»UK: David Cameron Surrounded by the ‘Well-Off’
»UK: NHS Sickness Maintenance Service Staffed Up Like the Chinese Army
»UK: Sayeeda Warsi: A Matter of Pride and Prejudice
»Kosovo: North Dangerous, Minister Invites Eulex to Leave
»Serbia: Nine Ethnic Albanians Sentenced to Jail for War Crimes
North Africa
»Al-Azhar Against the Vatican: Politics and Pettiness
»Allies of Tunisia’s Ousted President Ben Ali ‘Detained’
»Egypt Blames Gaza Militants for Church Bomb
»Tunisia: European Bank Confirms Support
Israel and the Palestinians
»Gaza Aid Flotilla Raid: Turkey Criticises Israel Report
»Palestinian ‘Offers’ In Peace Process — Papers Leaked
»Palestinian Negotiatiors ‘Offered Israel Sovereignty Over Almost All of Jerusalem’
»Poll: New Barak Party Unpopular
Middle East
»As Turkey’s Foreign Policy Changes, So Does Turkey
»Iran-Syria: Agreement for Gas Pipeline Through Iraq
»Iraq: Five Car Bombs Strike Baghdad Neighborhoods
»Jordan: Emigrants Sent USD 3.65 Bln Home in 2010
»Tunisian Wind’ Sweeps Through Arab Regimes as Protests Erupt in Yemen
»Unstable Tunisia Troubles Arab World, Between Islam and Democracy
South Asia
»Pakistan’s Godfather of the Taliban Dies
»Sherry Rehman, Pakistan’s Defiant Prisoner of Intolerance, Vows to Stay Put
»Uzbek Strongman Embarrasses EU With Brussels Visit
Far East
»China’s Stealth Fighter ‘Based on US Technology’
»Lee Kuan Yew Urges Muslims to ‘Be Less Strict’
»Patterns Shifting in Sales to China
Australia — Pacific
»As the Left Sides With Muslims, Christians Search for Support
»1,400 Algerians Expelled by Spain in 2010
»Italy: The New Emigrants
Culture Wars
»UK: School Children to be Taught About Homosexuality to ‘Celebrate Gay Community’

Financial Crisis

Berlin Wants to Control it All

El País, 18 January 2011

“Berlin says more fiscal discipline is needed to enlarge the rescue fund”, leads El País, after the meeting of the Eurogroup and Ecofin, the council of EU Finance Ministers. The German Finance Minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, has asked that a decision on this be taken at the European Council in March to give “new impetus to tougher sanctions against violators of fiscal discipline,” writes El País. The Madrid daily highlights Berlin’s “anxiety to control the timing of all the decisions of the EU.” Thus, any initiative coming from Jose Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, or from Jean-Claude Trichet, President of the ECB, “receives more or less veiled censure if it has not been blessed already by Berlin or Paris.”

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

China Bank Moves to Buy U.S. Branches

ICBC Signs a Deal for Bank of East Asia’s Retail Outlets

China’s biggest bank signed an agreement that would make it the first Beijing-controlled financial institution to acquire retail bank branches in the U.S., though regulators could still block the deal.

Under the deal, Industrial & Commercial Bank of China Ltd., by some measures the world’s largest bank, agreed to acquire a majority stake in Bank of East Asia Ltd.’s U.S. subsidiary. ICBC will pay $140 million for an 80% stake. Bank of East Asia, which is a publicly traded company based in Hong Kong, has a total of 13 branches in New York and California. ICBC and Bank of East Asia have talked to U.S. regulators about the deal, these people said.

The move represents what could be the start of big expansions by Chinese financial institutions in the U.S.

Signed in Chicago on the last day of Chinese President Hu Jintao’s state visit to the U.S., the move, comes as both Beijing and Washington are calling for greater commercial ties between the two countries.

Both Beijing and Washington are eager to showcase their willingness to strengthen the business ties between the two countries, despite the many issues that will continue to hinder the relations. China is prodding the U.S. to ease its export controls, especially those involving high-technology products, aimed at its biggest economic rival. The U.S. is asking for more Chinese purchases of made-in-America goods and services.

The transaction is expected to be carefully scrutinized by U.S. regulators, including the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S., known as CFIUS, because of the state-controlled nature of the Chinese bank. A previous deal by a Chinese bank to acquire a bank in the U.S. was rejected by regulators. “It is going to be a long process,” a person familiar with the matter said.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Dubai Island Development Sinks Back Into Sea After Being Scuppered by Financial Crisis

It exemplified the booming property market and ambition of Dubai’s entrepreneurs.

But after the global financial crisis led to the collapse of the emirate’s home-building market, a unique development known as ‘The World’ is reportedly facing Armageddon.

The project, a man-made archipelago designed to resemble a map of the planet, is facing disaster as its islands have begun sinking, a tribunal heard this week.


A company that ferries people to the islands is now seeking to withdraw from its contract with Nakheel, developers of The World, due to a lack of business and the erosion of the islands’ sands.

Richard Wilmot-Smith QC, a British lawyer for Penguin Marine, told a property tribunal the islands are ‘gradually falling back into the sea’

He added there was evidence of the ‘erosion and deterioration of The World islands’.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Italy: Court ‘Seeks €120mln From Food Giant Parmalat’s Banks’

Milan, 17 Jan. (AKI) — Italian prosecutors on Monday demanded the seizure of about 120 million euros of profits from four foreign banks for their alleged role in the 2003 collapse of food giant Parmalat.

At a trial in Milan, the prosecutor asked for 70 million euros from Citigroup, 30.7 million euros from Bank of America Corp, 5.9 million euros from Morgan Stanley and 14 million euros from Deutsche Bank.

All four banks have been charged with allegedly helping the Italian food conglomerate mislead investors in what was one of Europe’s biggest-ever fraud scandals.

Prosecutor are also seeking fines of 900,000 euros from the four banks for their role in Parmalat’s fraudulent bankruptcy and have requested jail terms of between 12 and 16 four months for five Morgan Stanley, Deutsche Bank and Citygroup employees.

The four banks have repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and Citigroup on Monday issued a statement saying the alleged charges were “totally unfounded”. Swiss banking giant UBS was intially charged in the case, which began in 2008, but reached a settlement.

At the time of its collapse, Parmalat employed around 36,000 people in 30 countries and was a leading Italian and European business, best known for its longlife milk.

Parmalat was declared bankrupt in December 2003 after it emerged that four billion euros it supposedly held in an offshore Bank of America account did not actually exist.

The food conglomerate’s collapse left a gaping 14- billion euros hole in its finances, wiped out the savings of more than 100,000 small investors and ruined its image as a leading business empire.

Investigations showed the group had been in difficulty for many years, surviving only by its massive falsification of its balance sheets and sophisticated financial instruments.

A court in the northern city of Parma in December sentenced Parmalat’s founder and former chief executive Calisto Tanzi (photo) to 18 years in prison on charges of fraudulent bankruptcy and criminal conspiracy in one of several trials under way on the case.

The court sentenced Parmalat group’s former financial director Fausto Tonna to 14 years in prison and Tanzi’s brother Giovanni Tanzi, got 10 years and six months.

Tanzi and over 50 ex-members of Parmalat’s management are at the centre of two other trials in Parma. The first focuses on Parmalat’s acquisition of the mineral water company Ciapazzi and the bankruptcy of Parmalat’s tourism division Parmatour. The second trial concerns Parmalat’s 1999 purchase of milk company Eurolat from Cirio, another food giant which went bankrupt.

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

Italy: One in Five Young People ‘Neither Work Nor Study’

Rome, 19 Jan. (AKI — Over one in five Italians aged between 15 and 29 are not enrolled in education and do not have a job — the higest rate in Europe — according to a new study by Italy’s central statistics agency Istat.

Just over two million Italians aged 15 to 29 or 21.2 percent of young people wre neither working or studying in 2009, Istat said, citing the most recently available data.

And almost a fifth (19.2 percent) of youngsters had left school at 15 or 16 without obtaining a high school diploma, Istat said.

Italy’s school drop-out rate compared with an average of 14.4 percent for the 27-nation European Union, Istat noted.

Among people aged 30-34, 19 percent had obtained a degree, against a target of 40 percent set by the European Union for member states to achieve by 2020.

Less than one in two women had a job (44.4 percent), the lowest rate in the EU after Malta, according to Istat’s ‘We Italians’ study.

Italy’s rate of long-term unemployed (44.4 percent) is the highest in the EU.

Nationwide, 11.9 percent of people in work were employed off the books, while in Italy’s under-developed south, the proportion was 20 percent, Istat said.

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

Mauritania: March Against Rising Prices of Staple Goods

(ANSAmed) — PARIS, JANUARY 14 — The protesta against the rising cost of living have spread to another country in North Africa, this time hitting Mauritania. Last night, thousands protested in Nouakchott in a march and a meeting organised by the leaders of the democratic opposition to protest against the sharp increases in staple good prices, including sugar, oil and powdered milk. On Thursday morning in a neighbourhood in the capital, dozens of students began a protest. In an attempt to keep the situation under control, Mauritanian President Mohamad Ould Abdel Aziz asked his government this morning “to adopt more urgent measures to contain food prices in order to make them more affordable for the entire population in the country,” explained a statement from the government published this morning at the end of a cabinet meeting by AMI news agency. The announce coincided with disorders provoked by an increase staple good prices in Algeria, which led to five deaths and 800 injuries, while in Tunisia the protests, which began as a fight against unemployment, are still taking place and have left at least 66 dead in one month. According to Ahmed Ould Daddah, the leader of the main opposition party, “nothing works anymore in the country, the living conditions are unsustainable, with corruption, nepotism and waste”. Mohamed Yahya Ould Horma, the Vice-President of the ruling party (Union for the Republic), accused the opposition of “using the argument on prices to stir up false propaganda for political purposes”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

RAI TV Licence Fee Italy’s Most Hated Tax

Many Italians unhappy at paying 110.50 euros to broadcaster

(ANSA) — Rome, January 20 — The annual television licence fee Italian households must pay to help finance state broadcaster RAI is the country’s most unpopular tax, a survey revealed on Thursday.

The study by the Censis research agency showed that 47.3% of Italians deemed the 110.50 euro fee to be the tax they most detested.

The RAI fee was far more unpopular than the next most despised, road tax (14.5%), which was followed by property tax ICI (12.7%) and local refuse-collection duties (12.1%).

Perhaps surprising, income tax IRPEF was only the most unpopular tax with 11.6%, according to the survey.

RAI obtains about half of its funding from the licence fee, with the rest coming from advertising and other sources of revenue, such as sales of the overseas rights to broadcast the TV shows and films it produces.

The broadcaster is criticised on a wide variety of grounds by Italians, being blasted as too commercial by many, while others complain the schedule is not entertaining enough and there should be more Hollywood blockbusters. Another frequent gripe is that there is too much political interference in its output, especially news shows.

Nevertheless, its TV networks perform well in the audience share ratings, with the three terrestrial channels regularly claiming more than 40% of the overall share between them.

RAI also provides a number of specialist digital TV channels, including channels for children, news, films, history documentaries, an international TV service, RAI international, and several radio stations. photo: RAI’s Rome headquarters.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Real Estate: Beirut Most Expensive City in Middle East

(ANSAmed) — ROME, JANUARY 14 — According to a study by Global Property Guide, Lebanon is considered to be the most expensive country in the Middle East in terms of real estate prices. The Italian Trade Commission office (ICE) in Beirut reports that the average price for a 120 square meter apartment is 4,258 dollars per square meter. This translates into a huge increase compared to just a few years ago (today the average cost of a house is 510,000 dollars; in 2004 the average was 60,000).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


How the Lame Duck 2010 Congress and Obama’s Czars Screwed the American People

Many conservatives holding their breath during the 2010 lame duck session were relieved that the progressives didn’t pass as much damaging legislation as feared. Unfortunately, they celebrated too quickly. Just as everyone was settling down for Christmas, all those unaccountable Obama Czars were finally able to do what they were hired to do; implement regulations that Congress could never pass as legislation. These regulations are no longer just strangling our economy. They are destroying it.

Excessive regulations have far greater impact than is generally thought. The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) reported that 80,000 pages of proposed and new regulations were printed in the Federal Register in 2008. Over 26,000 pages out of the 80,000 were new regulations to which businesses must conform. CEI estimated that the compliance cost in 2008 was a staggering $1.2 trillion dollars. That is 8 percent of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product! That cost is added on to the price of everything we buy.[1] The man hours needed by businesses to read these new rules are in the millions of hours. Is it any wonder that U.S. businesses and industry are fleeing to other nations?


It started on the Tuesday before Christmas when Health and Human Services, at the direction of Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Czar Nancy-Ann DeParle announced that health insurance companies must receive permission from the Obama Administration before they can raise rates by more than 10 percent. This followed major increases in health insurance by companies adjusting to Obamacare, and the subsequent blizzard of requests from businesses for exemptions to allow them to continue their employees’ health insurance benefits.


Later that same Tuesday, the Federal Communications Commission announced its “net neutrality rules” to begin regulating the Internet use of bandwidth. Bandwidth controls the amount of traffic that can be carried. The ability of conservatives and Tea Party activists to use the Internet to expose the deceit of the progressives and to organize opposition has driven the progressives wild. Conservative news outlets and blogs are becoming the primary source of news for a growing number of Americans. Since this requires more bandwidth, one means of ultimately silencing the conservative voice is by controlling bandwidth. It is ultimately the fairness doctrine for the internet.


The next axe to drop was the EPA’s long awaited regulations on power plants and oil refineries in a hopeless attempt to stop global warming. The new regulations were announced by EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson later that same Tuesday.[5] Jackson works closely with Obama’s climate Czar, Carol Browner in developing the new regulations.

Carol Browner is one of the most radical environmentalists in the administration, having ghost written Al Gore’s, Earth in the Balance in the early 1990s, and serving as Administrator of the EPA under President Clinton. Until she was announced as Obama’s Climate Czar, she was listed as one of 14 leaders of the socialist Sustainable World Society (SWS). The SWS calls for global governance and demands “rich” countries shrink their economies to save the earth from global warming.

While electric utilities and oil refineries together account for only 40 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, they account for nearly all of the energy used by business and industry. This essentially gives the federal government control over the entire U.S. economy since there is a one to one relationship between energy and the economy.


In what could be described as “Tyranny Tuesday,” the regulatory assault on America continued. Ken Salazar followed on the heels of EPA’s Jackson by announcing that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) was launching a review of all its 200 plus million acres of land to create “wild lands,” a category that does not have to have Congressional approval, as does wilderness designations. The BLM decision also breaks an out-of-court settlement made by the Bush administration with Utah in 2003. This agreement requires the BLM, state, local governments and NGOs to work together to define future wilderness areas.[7]

Senator Warren Hatch (R-UT) called the action “a brazen attempt to kowtow to radical environmental groups by locking up more public lands in Utah and other states.”


As I discuss in my book Rescuing a Broken America, there exists enough oil and gas in shale oil formations in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming to completely supply all U.S. needs for several hundred years with current technology and oil prices.[9] The BLM estimates that “1.2—1.8 trillion barrels of oil is available in Wyoming’s Green River Formation alone. A moderate estimate of 800 billion barrels of oil that would be recoverable from oil shale in the Green River Formation is three times greater than the proven oil reserves of Saudi Arabia”[10] That is about a 100 year supply of oil at present U.S. consumption rates — just from Wyoming.

In spite of the fact that analysts unanimously celebrate this potential bonanza to America using environmentally sensitive technology, progressives in Congress have systematically stalled on allowing its development. The Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 forever locked up much of this shale oil from being developed. The Heritage Foundation found that “331 million barrels of recoverable oil and 8.8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas were taken out of exploration in Wyoming. The total amount of energy that would be restricted is equivalent to the amount of natural gas the entire U.S. produces in 15 years… The law could not only restrict conventional energy resources, but it could also restrict access to oil shale in parts of Colorado and Utah as well.”[11] The “Wild Lands” decree by Salazar could lock up even more, if not all of this priceless resource.


Regulations of any kind are serious. We must have some regulations, but after nearly a hundred years of increasing strangling regulations by progressives, we are nearing the tipping point of economic collapse. Many believe that is exactly what the globalist progressives want — to create a world government they call global governance that will rise out of the ashes of a world-wide economic collapse. If this is hard to believe, read Global Governance 2025 written by the United States National Intelligence Council for our intelligence agencies and President Obama.[13] You will never be the same again.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Video: Frank Gaffney and CPAC’s Alleged Muslim ‘Infiltrator’ Face Off

Earlier this month, Gaffney took to World Net Daily to accuse Khan, a Republican who served in the second Bush administration, of being a jihadist infiltrator to the Conservative Political Action Conference. Gaffney said Khan was an operative of the Muslim Brotherhood, a catch-all group that no longer operates in the United States, but which Gaffney and others connect to prominent Muslim groups like the Council on American-Islamic Relations and Muslims For America.

He repeated those accusations (and others) last night and Khan, as he did in an interview with TPM, denied them.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Christians: EU Takes Sides With Those Who Respect Rights

(ANSAmed) — STRASBOURG, JANUARY 20 — Europe must have the courage to come out to defend its values, in favour of human rights and religious liberties. It must not be intimidated by those who accuse it of being a “Christian club”. It cannot ignore that 75% of the victims of Islamic terrorism are Christians. And Europe’s foreign policy representative, baroness Catherine Ashton, as well as the European Council and the Commission must take this into account when they prepare “agreements with third party Countries”.

Such is the sense of the resolution approved today with a wide majority by the full session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg. An expected result, since for once all Parliamentary groups (Ppe, which runs 23 of the 27 Member Countries, Ecr conservatives, left wing Gue, Alde liberals, S&D socialists, Greens and Efd euro-sceptics) signed a joint motion.

The text of the resolution will also be delivered to the parliaments and governments of Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines and Vietnam, and to the Organisation of the Islamic Conference.

Pd group leader in the European Parliament David Sassoli emphasised that “This is a historic moment. Europe must make all its weight felt to guarantee the freedom of faith”. And Pdl group leader Mario Mauro, first promoter of tangible initiatives by the EU to protect the rights of Christians, explained that “The main change of this texts is that it asks Europe to wake up. This is the first resolution that does not stop at condemning a single event, but instead considers the problem as a whole. The EU must not feel embarrassed by the need to report what happens to the Christians”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Germany: Arson Suspect Confesses to 13 Attacks on Muslim Sites in Berlin

A 30-year-old arson suspect has confessed to his involvement in 13 attacks on Muslim sites in Berlin, the daily Bild reported Sunday.

The unidentified man was initially accused of having a role in only seven arson attacks on mosques in the German capital.

On Saturday, a judge issued an arrest warrant for the suspect who is to face a psychological evaluation in a bid to find out the motives for his crimes.

Berlin mosques have been the scene of at least seven firebombings since June 2010.

Last month, the Iranian Islamic Culture Center was firebombed, sparking a strong condemnation by Berlin’s Mayor Klaus Wowereit.

The Sehitlik Mosque, Berlin’s biggest mosque, has been arson attacked four times over the past months…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Italy: Public Works Probe Targets Top Berlusconi Ally

(AKI) — Italian prosecutors probing alleged multi-million public works kickbacks are investigating a top ally of Italy’s prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, politician Denis Verdini, for alleged fraud and false accounting.

Verdini, the national coordinator of Berlusconi’s ruling conservative People of Freedom party has been targeted by prosecutors in the central Italian city of Florence involved in a widening probe into alleged corruption related to the 2008 Group of Eight summit held in the central Italian city of L’Aquila.

Verdini is being investigated over 400,000 euros of invoices issued in 2008 which cannot be traced to any consultancies actually carried out, according to sources close to the probe.

Earlier this week, police searched the offices of several lawyers in Florence, Siena and Milan and seized documents from Monte dei Paschi di Siena bank in Siena in connection with a 150 million euro loan made by several banks to building firm Btp.

Florence lawyers Gian Paolo and Pier Ettore Olivetti Rason, Sienna lawyers Niccolo and Andrea Pisaneschi and another Italian lawyer, Marzio Agnoloni were also placed under formal investigation.

Several people have been arrested and prosecutors have questioned dozens over alleged graft in the allocation of construction contracts worth 327 million euros for the G8 summit in July, 2008, originally due to be held on the Sardinian island of La Maddelena.

Verdini is suspected of rigging tenders for wind-power plants in Sardinia, a case in which Sardinian regional president Ugo Cappellacci, another Berlusconi ally, is also being probed and three people have been arrested.

Florence prosecutors are also investigating Verdini for alleged corruption and bank fraud.

Finance minister Giulio Tremont in July 2010 signed a decree putting the small bank headed by Verdini, Credito Cooperativo Fiorentino, under state control at the request of the Bank of Italy, which said an inspection showed “serious violations” at the bank. The same month, Verdini resigned as bank chairman and its management board also stood down.

Italian senator, close Berlusconi aide and friend of Verdini’s, Marcello Dell’Utri, held two bank accounts at Credito Cooperativo Fiorentino, left-leaning investigative weekly Espresso reported in its Friday issue.

One of the accounts had a pre-arranged overdraft facility of 2.8 million euros, into which Berlusconi transferred 1.5 million euros on 22 May, 2008. The payment was not reported to the Bank of Italy, as required by anti-money laundering norms, according to Espresso.

Dell’Utri has been convicted of mafia links: an appeals court in the Sicilian city of Palermo handed him a seven-year prison sentence for mafia association in June 2010.

Two mafia informants this week accused Dell’Utri in open court of having been “in the pocket of (jailed Sicilian mafia boss Giuseppe) Graviano”.

In 2010, Dell’Utri was accused by Massimo Ciancimino, the son of late mafia member and mayor of Palermo, Vito Cianciamino, of having links to jailed Sicilian mafia “boss of bosses” Bernardo Provenzano.

Dell’Utri was involved in secret negotiations with the Sicilian mob after it murdered a top anti-mafia judge in 1992, according to Ciancimino.

Dell’Utri denies being a mafia intermediary and has always claimed he has never abetted the mafia.

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

The Brits Don’t Diss Over Dinner, Baroness Warsi

When I first read that Islamophobia had “passed the dinner party test”, I assumed that Come Dine With Me was going in a worrying new direction. Either that, or Islamophobia was a new pudding from Heston Blumenthal at Waitrose.

But no: it was Baroness Warsi, advising that anti-Muslim sentiment is now common practice at dinner parties.

There are so many headlines about what does and doesn’t happen at dinner parties, I’m sure many people’s first thought was a panic: “Oh blimey, new etiquette again?”

First we heard that the dinner party was dead, an embarrassing Seventies throwback. Then, staying in was the new going out: dinner parties were back in! A rush of TV cooking shows subsequently demanded that top cuisine be served. Come Dine With Me told us we should also provide entertainment.

And now we have to be Islamophobic? Is that as well as hot starters? If you’re Muslim yourself, that’s a near impossible demand, like baking a chocolate nemesis.

Reading on, with some relief, we discovered that Baroness Warsi was not offering lifestyle tips but expressing social concern. I am a great admirer of this deft, clever woman, but I think she might be on the wrong horse here. You can’t start worrying about what the British say at dinner parties. We just aren’t very good at conversation. Lame jokes, dull anecdotes, pompous opinion… but enough about what follows in the rest of this column, my point is that our dinner party habits are way beyond help.

We will say anything, rather than be silent and risk appearing a bad guest. All over Britain, this morning, people will be waking up with hangovers and going: “Oh no… I told everyone I’m having an affair with a married man when I’m not… I said the food was disgusting, I meant it as a joke… Ohhhh I called my Turkish neighbour ‘Abu Hamza’…”, pulling the pillows back over their heads and moaning quietly.

When Baroness Warsi warns that “anti-Muslim hatred and bigotry” have become widespread at dinner parties, I assume she is guessing. That doesn’t happen when she’s actually there? If it does, she really needs to go to different dinner parties…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

UK: ‘My Son Played Russian Roulette With Cannabis — and Lost’

Jan and I were upset but we thought cannabis was fairly harmless. It wasn’t until Henry was in hospital that we learned of its possibly devastating impact on somebody genetically predisposed to schizophrenia.

Three-quarters of consumers may take cannabis with no ill effect but the remaining quarter, the genetically vulnerable, play Russian roulette.

By a strange coincidence, one of Henry’s maternal grandmother’s brothers was Sir William Paton, professor of pharmacology at Oxford University and one of the world’s greatest experts on cannabis.

Sir William published many papers with his colleagues in the Seventies, revealing for the first time evidence that even limited social use of cannabis could precipitate schizophrenia in people who previously had no psychological problems.

He discovered that smoking a single joint could induce schizophrenia-like symptoms such as hallucinations, paranoia and fragmented thought processes. These were not fashionable ideas in Oxford in the Seventies but Sir William’s findings were confirmed by a series of other studies. An American study found that after cannabis became widely available in the US army in Europe, the incidence of schizophrenia among troops increased 38-fold.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: Artist Damien Hirst Looks to Hire Apprentice to Help Him Create Next £10m Masterpiece… And Offers Salary of Just £20,000

His infamous creations, including a zebra preserved in formaldehyde, have made him Britain’s most famous — and richest — artist.

Now Damien Hirst is on the lookout for a gifted apprentice.

But while works by the Turner Prize-winning artist can fetch £10 million, his painting assistant will have a salary of about £20,000 a year.

Surprisingly, the job description for the role — based at an anonymous industrial estate in Ilfracombe, Devon — suggests that the post isn’t for a fresh-faced youngster just out of college.

Hirst, 45, wants a candidate with ‘strong drawing and draftsman skills’ and ‘strong colour theory and painting skills’. The qualities are among a long list of requirements seen by this newspaper.

A detailed two-page document lists the skills needed — and raises fresh questions about how much Hirst personally contributes to many of the works that bear his name.


Hirst has been known to employ about 100 people at any one time. They help produce works such as his pill cabinets, and his spot paintings — rows of randomly coloured circles.

His reliance on a small army of employees has led to criticism that he isn’t really an artist in the conventional sense of the word.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: Dead Spy’s Teacher Says Lurid Police Claims About His Private Life Were a ‘Decoy’

A former tutor of the MI6 spy found dead in a padlocked sports bag has claimed that lurid allegations about his private life were a ‘decoy’.

Cheryl Eastap said suggestions from anonymous police and security sources that Gareth Williams was gay and a cross-dresser — denied by his family and friends — were ‘hurtful’.

And she hinted that the leaks may have been made to make it appear that his death was an accident rather than something more sinister.

Ms Eastap taught the 31-year-old GCHQ code-breaker at Central St Martin’s College in London, where he completed a part-time course in clothing design weeks before his body was found at his flat.

‘The police should not have leaked all these things about him. It was hurtful to his family and it was a decoy. I don’t think he was gay or a cross-dresser. Maybe he collected dresses — fashion students do,’ she said, referring to the fact that £15,000 of designer costumes were found in Williams’s Central London flat.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: David Cameron Surrounded by the ‘Well-Off’

The veteran right wing MP and former shadow home secretary said Downing Street lacked the “antennae” to understand that people in the South East, on £40,000 facing child benefit cuts, were not “well-off”. Mr Davis, who is from a council estate background, made the criticisms in the wake of the departure from No10 of Andy Coulson, Mr Cameron’s head of communications.

He said that no matter how much Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne appear to care about the poor and social issues their backgrounds remain a problem. In an interview on the BBC’s Pienaar’s Politics Mr Davis said: “They are who are they are — they come from their own background, they don’t actually come from backgrounds where they had to scrape for the last penny at the end of the week.”

He added: “They come from well off backgrounds. It’s not just true of them, it’s true of a large part of the Tory leadership.” Mr Davis said that in the “inner circle … where the decisions are really made” there will not be anyone bringing a view from outside. It the latest salvo from Mr Davis, who lost the Tory leadership to Mr Cameron five years ago and has increasingly become seen as a standard-bearer for the right of the party.

Last week he joined forces with Jack Straw, the former Labour home secretary, to force a debate on Mr Cameron’s decision to allow prisoners the vote.

But his critique of the inner circle of “half a dozen” people will strike a chord with some fellow MPs.

As well as talking about the issues facing the poor on council estates, Mr Davis made it clear that No10 was also unable to get to grips with the issues surrounding the middle classes.

He said: “It’s not just the most poor. Remember the row we had over the way the reduction in child benefit was going to be calculated. On a purely nominal basis someone on 40-odd thousand is well off. “Well, not if you’re struggling in the south-east of England he or she isn’t. It’s antennae really, rather than intellect — it’s just being sensitive to what matters where.”…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

UK: NHS Sickness Maintenance Service Staffed Up Like the Chinese Army

We have forgotten what the NHS is for. Most of us, I suspect, are wearied by talk of more reforms. We suspect this will mean a lot of new signboards and more bureaucracy.

Various dogma-driven politicians have pushed the health service this way and that for half a century, and I do not think they have done much good.

We mix up sentiment with argument. Of course our hospitals contain plenty of hard-working and competent people. But they are not, mostly, doing their work for nothing.

While we should be glad that they help us when we are injured, ill or afraid, this is what we hire them to do.

We don’t condemn the whole NHS because of one bungle (and there are plenty of those). So we shouldn’t canonise it because of one good experience.

The worst thing is that it has become a cult. This is because it is the one lonely success that socialists can point to. They have wrecked the state schools, made a colossal mess of housing, given us one of the worst transport systems in the Western world and corrupted a generation with welfare. But at least medical treatment is free to all at the point of use.

And so it is. And, having actually lived in the USA and experienced the alternative, I am glad of that. But I know from conversations with senior doctors that levels of surgical competence in our hospitals are falling fast, partly because of poorer training and partly because of the effects of EU limits on working time.

Most of us, if we are honest, also know that standards of nursing are far lower than they used to be, because proper nursing relies on virtues of discipline, obedience and conscientiousness that have virtually disappeared from our culture. The people who do the job think that its most necessary tasks are beneath them, a problem in almost every trade and profession these days.

Criticism of this kind never makes any impression. This is partly because of the sacred character of the NHS among the socialist-minded people who rule our culture. But it is also because of its true, unmentionable function in politics…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

UK: Sayeeda Warsi: A Matter of Pride and Prejudice

As the daughter of a successful businessman, Baroness Warsi often presents herself as a plain speaker who understands the bottom line. But it’s clear that she also understands the demands of a headline.

In her much-publicised speech at Leicester University last week, she claimed that “Islamophobia has now passed the dinner-table test”, meaning that it’s now acceptable among the chattering classes.

The media like nothing better than a hypothetical test, as is borne out by the continuing reference to the “cricket test” suggested in 1990 by Norman Tebbit, one of Warsi’s predecessors as chair — she prefers the term to chairman — of the Tory party. Incidentally, Warsi has said that she fails Tebbit’s test, because she supports Pakistan, the country of her parents’ birth, against England.


This is the kind of language that plays well among many religious activists. However, there is a hidden paradox in Warsi’s position. She wants to give greater voice to religion in the political arena, yet she also wishes there to be less criticism of religion, in other words, power without scrutiny.

In reaching so emotively and in such an ill-defined manner for the “Islamophobia” charge, she is in danger of conflating a reservation about particular aspects of Islam with a condemnation of all Muslims.

It’s no coincidence that Islamophobia is the smokescreen used by those who seek to redefine followers of Islam as a de facto race and stigmatise any and all disapproval of Islam as objectively racist.

Warsi should be commended for defending Muslims against discrimination, but not for placing Islam beyond critical debate. The bottom line is that the distinction between people and ideas is one that should be rigorously upheld, even at dinner.

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]


Kosovo: North Dangerous, Minister Invites Eulex to Leave

(ANSAmed) — PRISTINA, JANUARY 20 — Kosovo’s Minister of the Interior, Bajram Rexhepi, officially invited the European Eulex mission to withdraw from the north of Kosovo, which Eulex itself defined as a ‘dangerous area’.

Rexhepi, quoted by the media in Pristina, stated that “The situation in Mitrovica and in the rest of the north has not changed, and if Eulex is not capable of operating effectively it must withdraw and leave the task of guaranteeing security to the men of Kfor and the Kosovo police forces”.

Yesterday Eulex stated that the north of the Country with a Serb majority, and especially the northern area of Kosovska Mitrovica, was a ‘dangerous area’ for its staff, after the recent attacks on four members of the European mission and a representative of the OECD. New rules of engagement had been issued and personnel had been warned to pay special attention in the north, making sure that they stayed in touch at all times.

Commenting on the statement by Kosovo’s Minister of the Interior, Eulex spokesperson Kristiina Herodes stated that “All international missions have security regulations that are always being updated according to how the situation on the field evolves. These regulations are notified to the staff as part of normal routine”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Serbia: Nine Ethnic Albanians Sentenced to Jail for War Crimes

Belgrade, 21 Jan. (AKI) — A special Belgrade court for war crimes on Friday sentenced nine ethnic Albanians to a total of 101 years in jail for crimes against Serb and non-loyal Albanian civilians during Kosovo’s 1998-99 war.

Nine members of the so-called Gnjilane group were arrested in southern Serbia in 2008, but eight other members of the group are still at large and being tried in absentia.

Agus Memisi, Selimon Sadiku and Samet Hajdari were sentenced to 15 years each, Nazif Hasani, Burim Fazlium Faton Hajdari and Ahmet Hasani got ten years each and Serat Hajdari and Kamber Sahiti were sentenced to eight years each.

The presiding judge Snezana Nikolic-Garotic said it has been proven “beyond doubt” that they took part in the killing of at least 80 civilians in the central Kosovo town of Gnjilane. In addition, 153 civilians were illegally detained and 34 are still listed as missing, she said.

All members of the group came from Serbia’s predominantly Albanian populated Presevo Valley, neighboring Kosovo. They joined the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), which started a rebellion against Serbian rule in 1998.

Nikolic-Garotic quoted a commander of the group as saying: “Our time for revenge has come. Kill, hide traces and expel Serbs from Kosovo.”

Kosovo majority Albanians declared independence with the help of western powers in February 2006, but Belgrade is fighting a diplomatic battle to retain the control over its former province.

Nikolic-Garotic said it has been proven, based on testimonies, medical evidence and documents, that the members of the group cruelly tortured the detainees, cutting of their genitals, breaking bones and raping women.

Women were often raped with police sticks and humiliated in different ways, the judge said. When some detainees were released in June 1999, they were told to leave Kosovo and tell other Serbs what would happen to them if they returned.

Serb forces were accused of excessive use of force and expulsion of several hundred thousand Albanians in an attempt to suppress the rebellion. NATO bombed Serbia from March to June 1999 to stop what was called a “humanitarian catastrophe”, pushing Serbian troops and police out of Kosovo and triggering a mass exodus of Serbs.

Serbian courts have sentenced scores of former policemen and paramilitaries in recent years for crimes against Albanian civilians during the war. (Vpr)

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

North Africa

Al-Azhar Against the Vatican: Politics and Pettiness

Behind the decision to freeze dialogue with the Holy See, the rejection of the presence in the Vatican delegation of an expert in Islam of Jordanian nationality, a member of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. But there are also political expediency. Al-Azahr condemned the suicide of the Tunisian that sparked the popular revolt and fall of Ben Ali.

Rome (AsiaNews) — The decision to freeze dialogue with the Vatican by the Islamic University of Al-Azhar, seems to many a bolt from the blue, which threatens to cause a clash between Christians and Muslims worldwide. The dialogue — heretofore always friendly — between the Holy See and the world’s highest institution of Sunni Islam, dates back to the ‘90s. Its positive progress was undoubtedly thanks to the personality of the imam of the time, Muhammad Sayyed Tantawi, who died last March 10, 2010. As of March 19 of the same year, his successor became Imam Mohamed Ahmed al-Tayyeb (see photo). He, January 1st last, criticized Benedict XVI for expressing solidarity with Coptic Christians, accusing him of “interference” in the internal affairs of Egypt.

In fact, the tension with Al-Azhar dates to January 1. In the run up to a meeting that should have taken place in the coming weeks, the Islamic University had requested that the Vatican remove one person in particular from its delegation: Fr. Khaled Akasheh, from Jordan, an expert on Islam, a member of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, who to date had been in charge of relations with the Islamic University.

Msgr. Akasheh is among the most qualified people in dialogue with Islam. He was in the Catholic-Muslim Forum in 2008, following the famous letter of 138 Muslim scholars to the Pope, and engaged in dialogue with Tehran’s Organizations of Islamic Culture.

The Vatican pointed out that in prior arrangements for dialogue, it is written that each delegation has the right freely to choose its members. But Al-Azhar had insisted that if his name is not removed, it would interrupt dialogue.

However, this friction — and threats to freeze dialogue — have far deeper roots. Al-Azhar’s reasons for not wanting Fr. Akasheh are unclear. It is probable that they do not want someone who understands Arabic, who is an Arab, who understands Islam (Mgr Akasheh knows the Koran in depth), in order to feel free, not to be judged (or held to account).

The criticism of the pope, his expression of solidarity for the Coptic community judged as “interference in internal affairs” of Egypt, are thus only instrumental, a way to ostensibly cover up, the most petty of reasons.

But there is another element to consider: the link between Al-Azhar and its traditional support for the Egyptian political power. Hosni Mubarak, is a moderate Islamic leader, eager to advance the country towards secularism — also a demand of Coptic Christians, continually discriminated against in terms of legislation and social development. To this end, Mubarak is pushing ahead in his attempt to exclude fundamentalists from the political framework, especially the Muslim Brotherhood. In an attempt to determine the next presidential election in his favour, Mubarak is trying not to upset the Muslim world. Critics of the Vatican have this aim: lay the blame on the Christian and Western Pope, thus stroking the frustrations of the Muslims towards the (so called) Christian West. Al-Azhar has simply latched on to this trend.

How much weight will this decision carry? Will the rest of the Muslim world follow the line of the “splendid” Sunni university? In our opinion it is not likely. Al Azhar, which is funded almost entirely by Saudi Arabia, is representative of a very traditional Islam and is seen by many Islamic institutions as “too dusty and outdated”. While Tunisia and the Arab world grapple with the struggle and suffering for the future of Middle Eastern society, tackling the problems of human rights, democracy, despotism, poverty and the economy, Al-Azhar has limited itself to merely stating that Islam is against suicide, in some way condemning all those unfortunates who have set themselves on fire out of a despair caused by poverty and injustice. And yet, the sacrifice of these people has fuelled the revolt that led to the fall of Ben Ali and is shaking the Middle East.

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

Allies of Tunisia’s Ousted President Ben Ali ‘Detained’

Tunisian police have detained two politicians close to ousted President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.

Mr Ben Ali’s former adviser Abdelaziz bin Dhia and former Interior Minister Abdallah Qallal are now under house arrest, state media have reported.

Meanwhile, the owner of a private TV station has reportedly been arrested for “treason” for encouraging violence.

The news came as a protest march against the interim government reached the capital Tunis.

Protesters want the prime minister, who served under Mr Ben Ali, to resign.

PM Mohamed Ghannouchi has pledged to quit after elections, which are expected within six months.

Gold and jewellery

Tunisia’s state media announced the arrests of the two political allies of the former president on Sunday, without providing further details.

The media also said that the police were searching for Abdelwahhab Abdalla — another former adviser to Mr Ben Ali.

Last week, some 33 members of Mr Ben Ali’s family were arrested as they tried to leave the country.

State TV showed what it said was gold and jewellery found during raids on the their properties.

It is not known which family members of Mr Ben Ali — who has fled to Saudi Arabia — have been held.

The state news agency also reported on Sunday that the owner of the private station, Hannibal TV, had been arrested along with his son for “treason” by encouraging violence and working for the return of Mr Ben Ali.

Larbi Nasra, “who is a relative of the former president’s wife, is using the channel to abort the youth’s revolution, spread confusion, incite strife and broadcast false information,” a statement citing an authorised source said…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Egypt Blames Gaza Militants for Church Bomb

Egypt on Sunday accused a Palestinian militant group, the Army of Islam, of carrying out a deadly New Year’s Day church bombing with the help of a local accomplice.

Twenty-three people were killed in the blast outside a church in Alexandria, which prompted protests by Christians that the state had not done enough to protect them.

“If elements of the Palestinian Army of Islam, linked to al Qaeda, thought they had hidden behind elements that were recruited, we have decisive proof of their heinous involvement in planning and carrying out such a villainous terrorist act,” Interior Minister Habib el-Adli said in a speech.

A spokesman for the Army of Islam, which considers al Qaeda’s leaders as spiritual mentors, told Reuters in Gaza that the group “has no connection to the church attack in Egypt, though we praise those who did it.”

The Islamist group Hamas, which controls Gaza, called on Egypt to share its evidence, saying that Israel was the only target of Palestinian armed groups.

In a statement, the Egyptian interior ministry said the Army of Islam had “relied on an Egyptian element” in planning the attack, and named the alleged accomplice.

“Ahmed Lotfi Ibrahim Mohammed was arrested and confessed he was tasked in 2010 to monitor Christian and Jewish places of worship and that he sent pictures of the Qideseen church in Alexandria to the Army of Islam” the ministry said.

It said the 26-year-old had confessed he had visited Gaza several times and was involved in planning the attack.

Sectarian Tension

Egyptian officials had previously suggested that al Qaeda had a hand in the blast that ripped through a crowd outside the church. An Iraq-based al Qaeda group had called before the bombing for attacks on Egypt’s Coptic Christians, who make up one tenth of the population.

The bomber died in the attack, which wounded 97 people.

Hamas rejected the idea of links between al Qaeda and Gaza militants and demanded Egypt provide evidence to back its claim.

“We confirm that there is no presence of the al Qaeda organization in the Gaza Strip and that all Palestinian factions and groups point their rifles against the Zionist enemy and only against the Zionist enemy,” Hamas spokesman Taher al-Nono said.

Hamas instead blamed Israel’s foreign intelligence service Mossad for the Alexandria attack, without providing evidence…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Tunisia: European Bank Confirms Support

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, JANUARY 21 — The European Investment Bank, which has been operational in Tunisia for over 30 years, has reconfirmed its commitment to the growth and development of the country. In a statement, it underlines that its activity, “in the framework of the long-term partnership between the EU and its Mediterranean neighbours,” is part of the programme “of Facility for Euro-Mediterranean Investment and Partnership (FEMIP), which has become the primary source of foreign financing for the modernisation of the Tunisian economy, the creation of jobs and the improvement of the context and conditions of Tunisian people’s lives.”

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

Gaza Aid Flotilla Raid: Turkey Criticises Israel Report

Turkey has condemned an Israeli inquiry that said the Israeli navy acted lawfully during a deadly raid on an aid flotilla trying to reach Gaza last May.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the report had neither value nor credibility.

The raid, in which nine Turkish activists were killed, attracted widespread international condemnation.

A separate UN inquiry last year said the navy had shown an “unacceptable level of brutality”.

The military operation severely strained relations with Ankara — a long-time ally of Israel.

The 300-page Turkel Committee report found the actions of the Israeli navy in the raid and Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza were both legal under international law.

The panel of inquiry was headed by retired Supreme Court Justice Jacob Turkel, working alongside five Israeli members and two international observers.

Turkey has long accused Israel of launching the raid illegally and using unjustified violence during it, and Mr Erdogan challenged the report’s worth.

“This report was prepared under direct orders,” he said. “How can there be any value or credibility to such a report which the [accused] country itself created within its own borders?

“To my judgment there is no value, nor credibility to this report.”

‘Banditry and piracy’

The Free Gaza Flotilla, which had more than 600 pro-Palestinian activists aboard several aid ships, was trying to break Israel’s blockade of the territory when it was intercepted by Israeli navy commandos on 31 May.

Israel says its commandos used live fire only after being attacked with clubs, knives and guns…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Palestinian ‘Offers’ In Peace Process — Papers Leaked

Leaked documents released by al-Jazeera TV suggest Palestinian negotiators agreed to Israel keeping large parts of illegally occupied East Jerusalem.

The TV channel says it has thousands of confidential records covering the peace process between 2000 and 2010.

The papers also reportedly show Palestinian leaders proposing a joint committee to take over Jerusalem’s holy sites of Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount.

The BBC has been unable to independently verify the documents.

Al-Jazeera says it has 16,076 confidential records of meetings, emails, communications between Palestinian, Israeli and US leaders.

The papers are believed to have leaked from the Palestinian side.

The alleged offers relating to East Jerusalem are the most controversial, as the issue has been a huge stumbling block in Mideast talks and both Israelis and Palestinians claim Jerusalem as their capital.

Israel has occupied the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, since 1967, settling close to 500,000 Jews in more than 100 settlements.

Increasing frustration

According to al-Jazeera, in May 2008, Ahmed Qureia, the lead Palestinian negotiator at the time, proposed that Israel annex all Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem except Har Homa (Jabal Abu Ghneim), in a bid to reach a final deal.

“This is the first time in history that we make such a proposition,” he reportedly said, pointing out that this was a bigger concession than made at Camp David talks in 2000.

PLO leaders also privately suggested swapping part of the flashpoint East Jerusalem Arab neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah for land elsewhere, according to the leaked documents.

And Palestinian negotiators were reported to be willing to discuss limiting the number of Palestinian refugees returning to 100,000 over 10 years.

These are all highly sensitive issues and have previously been non-negotiable.

Current peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians have been suspended for months, ostensibly over Israel’s refusal to stop building Jewish settlements on occupied Palestinian land…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Palestinian Negotiatiors ‘Offered Israel Sovereignty Over Almost All of Jerusalem’

The proposal, which amounts to the biggest Palestinian concession ever made over the future of Jerusalem, was floated but rejected by Israel during peace talks in 2008.

Kept secret until now because of its sensitivity, details of the offer were disclosed in a trove of nearly 1,700 secret Palestinian documents that were leaked to al-Jazeera, the Qatar-based satellite television channel.

The papers, which include diplomatic communiques and transcripts of private high-level meetings, provide a rare glimpse of the Palestinian approach to peace talks from the failed Camp David summit of 1999 until last year.

They detail the extent to which Palestinian negotiators were prepared to compromise on the most divisive issues preventing a peace deal with Israel, some of which ordinary Palestinians are likely to find galling. Among the most sensitive subjects to be addressed, ones which both sides have often avoided in public, were the fate of East Jerusalem, captured by Israel in 1967, and of religious sites in the city’s Holy Basin, a particularly noxious issue.

One transcript shows that Palestinian negotiators were prepared to allow Israel to annex all of the Jewish settlements build in East Jerusalem after 1967 with the exception of Har Homa, because it was the most recently-built settlement.

“This is the first time in history that we made such a proposition,” Ahmed Qurei, the former lead Palestinian negotiator is shown as saying in 2008. “We refused to do so at Camp David.” In a separate document, Saeb Erakat, the present chief negotiator, said the offer represented “the biggest Yerushalayim in history”, using the Hebrew word for Jerusalem.

That such an offer should be made is not entirely surprising — under an initiative driven by President Bill Clinton after the collapse of the Camp David talks, the United States proposed that Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem become part of Israel while Arab suburbs be included in a new Palestinian state…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Poll: New Barak Party Unpopular

(ANSAmed) — TEL AVIV, JANUARY 21 — Surveys carried out by two Israeli newspapers, Haaretz and Maariv, show that there is little support from Israelis for the new Atzmaut (Independence) party formed by the Defence Minister, Ehud Barak, who in a surprise move left the Labour party this week. Surveys suggest that the party would win 2 out of a total of 120 seats in the Israeli Parliament, the Knesset.

In the Maariv poll, Tzipi Livni’s centrist party, Kadima, leads the way with 30 seats, followed closely by Likud (26). On paper, however, Livni would be unable to put together a governing coalition, as the various religious and right-wing parties maintain a strong majority in the Knesset.

The survey in Haaretz, meanwhile, shows Benyamin Netanyahu’s Likud party on top, with 32 seats, followed by Kadima with 30. Haaretz adds that the majority of Israelis are unhappy with their political leaders. Dissastisfaction with Netanyahu and the Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, stands at 54%. Meanwhile, a damning 61% have expressed their unhappiness with Barak.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Middle East

As Turkey’s Foreign Policy Changes, So Does Turkey

Since the founding of the republic, Turkish political institutions and mores have derived much of their internal strength from a specific external orientation. In other words, the institutionalization of the vision of a modernist, secular and liberal democratic Turkey necessitated — especially at the time of the founding — a modernist, secular and liberal democratic role model: Europe. Reforms were adapted from numerous European nations, solidifying Turkey’s adherence to norms and institutions that many eventually came to see as both intrinsically European and Turkish. Furthermore, with the beginning of Turkey’s journey towards the European Union and its demanding liberal democratic standards, Europe came to serve not only as a distant ideal on some disinterested pedestal, but an active agent in encouraging reform within Turkey as well. In short, Turkey’s secular and democratic build-up has been inextricably tied to the nation’s historic orientation towards the West.

Furthermore, Turkey’s calibration towards the West went hand in hand with its efforts to align with Western interests in international affairs and to adopt those interests as its own. Indeed, despite various ups and downs in the relationship, Turkey’s cooperation with the West throughout the Cold War, its entry into and participation in NATO and its post-Cold War support of numerous U.S. operations all amounted to a larger Turkish preference: to fundamentally anchor itself in the West.

Of what relevance is this assessment today? Turkey currently finds itself at odds with the U.S. on numerous crucial international issues, namely the Iranian nuclear dispute. Under the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, government, Turkey has also unprecedentedly strained relations with its once-intimate ally, Israel. Not surprisingly, the AKP’s Turkey now seems all too willing to keep its EU accession process stagnant as well.

One may argue against the widespread pessimism and urgency surrounding deteriorating Turkish-U.S. and Turkish-Israeli ties by pointing out the fickle nature of foreign policy-making, which tends to be excessively tactical and populist-driven. However, that does not assuage worries regarding the virtual cessation of Turkey’s efforts towards EU accession, a mission both long-term and at one point extremely popular. While once a pillar of Turkish foreign policy, the notion of EU membership has devolved into nothing but a half-hearted AKP talking point meant to ease some of the concerns of liberal Turks.

What has replaced Turkey’s traditional pro-Western foreign policy is one that the AKP claims is “non-aligned” and “non-ideological,” but actually embodies an “affirmative action” approach towards certain ideologically-motivated regimes — the AKP’s passionate adoption of Hamas’ cause as its own is but one manifestation of the party’s worldview. Treating Israel before and after the Gaza flotilla crisis as if it were a lifelong enemy rather than a friend and vocally contravening international consensus on the Iranian nuclear program are other, more explicit examples.

Given the extent to which an external Western orientation has shaped Turkey’s internal secular and democratic build-up, it should come as no surprise that a foreign policy shift towards an Islamist stance has caused its domestic realm to undergo change as well. On the level of popular perceptions, anti-Americanism has risen dramatically, with fewer Turks viewing the U.S. favorably than in Pakistan, and a higher proportion of Turks identify themselves as “Islamists” now than in 2002. Concretely speaking, Turkey has regressed on a number of indices measuring gender equality, rule of law and media and Internet freedoms. One also hears with increasing frequency of uncharacteristic police crackdowns on social venues — such as restaurants and art galleries — just because they happen to serve alcohol.

Some might suggest a silver lining, citing Turkey’s booming economy and modernizing infrastructure as forces that will maintain the nation’s liberal character. However, other cases have shown that a nation can, in fact, embody the AKP’s non-Western socio-political vision while fostering an industrialized economy. Over the past few decades, Malaysia has emerged as a booming economy despite becoming increasingly socially conservative and religiously devout. For instance, it has a dual-justice system that allows Islamic law to govern the affairs of Muslims while common law applies to both Muslims and non-Muslims. Islamic-style clothing and social behavior has become a norm for women, and increasingly so for men, due in no small part to government measures.

Particularly relevant to Turkey is Malaysia’s foreign policy during the period in which it underwent an upsurge in political Islam. Although originally employing an anti-communist and pro-Western stance under Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman, Malaysia gradually shifted towards de jure non-alignment, which later became a de facto anti-Western orientation under Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohammad. With Mohammad at the helm, Malaysia embarked on an economically progressive path with a strong focus on the nation’s Islamic background, harnessing Malaysian religious identity to garner support for his vision of “South-South” cooperation in anti-colonialist opposition to the traditionally dominant “North.” In doing so, he created a cycle of Islamist foreign policy reinforcing Islamism and anti-Westernism at home, and vice versa.

Sound eerily similar to the AKP’s Turkey? Though unique in many ways, Malaysia suggests lessons for Turkey’s future: an increasingly ideologically-oriented foreign policy enacted in tandem with a similarly-informed social agenda can result in an illiberal and non-Western society, in spite of its economic modernity. For Turkey’s democracy — which is especially sensitive to its external trajectory — such a scenario cannot be ruled out, insofar as it continues to abandon its traditionally pro-Western foreign policy.

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

Iran-Syria: Agreement for Gas Pipeline Through Iraq

(ANSAmed) — BEIRUT, JANUARY 20 — Syria will import natural gas from Iran through the gas pipeline that will pass through Iraq and that will be a branch of the pipeline that is already being built between the Iranian deposits and Turkey.

Government press in Damascus today widely reported the news, pointing out that after months of negotiations the government in Baghdad finally approved the agreement, which for now provides for a period of research by the three Countries involved in the project.

The agreement between Syria and Iran was signed yesterday in Damascus by an Iranian delegation led by minister of oil Massud Mir Kazemi and his Syrian counterpart. The two Countries, as reported today by newspaper al Thawra, also talked about the possibility of building a gas refinery in the heart of Syria together with Venezuela, a proposal made in October by Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez on occasion of his official visit to Damascus.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Iraq: Five Car Bombs Strike Baghdad Neighborhoods

Shattering a months-long period of relative calm in the capital, five car bombs exploded in different neighborhoods around Baghdad on Sunday morning, killing at least six people and wounding 30. The military defused another three car bombs.

Enlarge This Image

Karim Kadim/Associated Press

An Iraqi policeman stood in front of a destroyed car after a bombing in Baghdad on Sunday.

Other parts of the country have been hit by large-scale attacks recently, mainly against security forces and religious pilgrims, but Baghdad had been spared. Within a few hours Sunday morning that distinction blew apart like the angry scraps of twisted metal strewn across the city’s busy streets.

The attacks began shortly after 7, despite heightened security for the Shiite holiday of Arbain, an annual magnet for sectarian violence.

The bombs struck Sunni neighborhoods as well as Shiite ones. Two appeared directed at security forces, one at Iranian pilgrims marching in commemoration of Arbain. Targets of the other two were unclear. At least two of the cars used were taxis, which detonated when police officers were nearby, suggesting that they were set off remotely by people watching the scene.

The use of taxis “is a new technique,” said a police officer from the bomb squad, noting that they draw less attention than private cars at checkpoints or when parked. The officer spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters.

Morning reports from the Ministry of the Interior put the death toll at eight, but the ministry revised the number downward during the day.

Before Sunday’s attacks, Lt. Gen. Robert Cone, deputy commanding general for operations of American forces in Iraq, had credited Iraqi security forces for keeping major attacks out of Baghdad in recent months, saying that their successes had forced extremists to strike elsewhere.

Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, who began his second term in office last month, had made security a main plank of his electoral campaign, and Shiite religious marches, which take place several times during the year, test the police and army’s effectiveness.

But he has yet to appoint heads of the ministries that oversee the police and military, a fact one lawmaker blamed for the recent attacks. “Such attacks will continue as long as the security ministries are without leaders,” said Udai Awad, a member of Parliament allied with the fiery cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

Violence here remains lower than in previous years, but in the last week devastating attacks have struck in Tikrit and Baquba north of Baghdad, and Karbala to the south. The attacks followed large-scale arrests of terrorist suspects, and may have been intended as retaliation.

On Tuesday, a suicide bomber blew himself up in a crowd of police recruits in Tikrit, killing at least 49 people and wounding 119. On Wednesday, an ambulance loaded with 450 pounds of explosives detonated outside a police headquarters in Baquba, killing at least five people and wounding 76. On Thursday, three car bombs exploded nearly simultaneously on the roads to Karbala, where as many as 10 million Shiites gather to commemorate the death of Imam Hussein ibn Ali, grandson of the Prophet Muhammad and a central figure in Shiite Islam, killing at least 52 people and wounding three times as many…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Jordan: Emigrants Sent USD 3.65 Bln Home in 2010

(ANSAmed) — ROME, JANUARY 19 — Remittances of Jordanians living abroad totalled 2.585 billion dinars in 2010, the equivalent of USD 3.65 billion against USD 3.6 billion in 2009.

This was announced by newspaper Al Quds Al Arabi which quotes data of the Central Bank of Jordan. A total of 600 thousand Jordanians are working abroad, most of them in the Gulf Countries. The remittances fell sharply in 2009 due to the global crisis after reaching a climax in 2008 and 2007 of around USD 4 billion.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Tunisian Wind’ Sweeps Through Arab Regimes as Protests Erupt in Yemen

Pressure for regime change in the stagnant Arab dictatorships has shifted across the Middle East and North Africa since Tunisia’s Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali fled in the face of demonstrations in Tunis on January 14.

Yemen police on Sunday arrested Tawakel Karman, a female Islamic activist, who had organised the 2,500-strong demonstration in the grounds of the University of Sanaa. A heavy police presence and an active role by the secret police thwarted attempts to move the demonstration to the streets of the capital.

Ali Abdullah Saleh, the president of Yemen, has been in power, like Mr Ben Ali, for more than two decades. Like his Tunisian counterpart, his government has allowed grievances over lack of jobs and freedom to fester while presiding over corrupt systems.

Tunisian police meanwhile announced on Sunday that two former allies of Mr Ben Ali were placed under house arrest.

The news came as protesters in Tunis turned their focus on the interim administration of Mohammed Ghannouchi, the long serving prime minister who has promised to step down only when elections are held. The government faces another test of wills on Monday when the universities open for the first time as students are threatening to take over the classrooms…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Unstable Tunisia Troubles Arab World, Between Islam and Democracy

New attempts to form a government of national unity after the departure of four ministers linked to the unions. Ben Ali’s party marginalized. Poverty, unemployment, corruption — the roots of the insurgency — will make Tunisia a model for other Arab states. Al-Qaradawi calls on all Islamic peoples to rise up to “demand their rights.”

Doha (AsiaNews) — There seems to be no end to the protests in Tunis and other parts of the country, as the national unity government crumbles after the flight of the dictator Ben Ali. Meanwhile, because of the poverty that is gripping the Arab world, more and more people are setting themselves on fire (up to 14), while Islamic fundamentalism tries to ride the wave of protests.

At least 10 thousand people took part yesterday in a march in Sidi Bouzid, where demonstrations that led to the fall of Ben Ali and his flight to Saudi Arabia first broke out on January 14 last. The spark that ignited the powder keg a month ago was the suicide by fire of a young unemployed man. Yesterday, the police used tear gas to disperse the crowd. Other events were also held in Monastir, on the Mediterranean.

Meanwhile, the national unity government headed by Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi has already lost four ministers from the unions: the opposition has set a condition that the new government be purged of all members of Ben Ali’s party (the Constitutional Democratic Rally, Cdr), accused of corruption. Ghannouchi in the afternoon will try to rebuild a government, cleansing it of members linked Cdr. He and Fouad Mebazaâ, the interim president, have officially distanced themselves from Cdr.

Pending future elections in mid-July, the Islamist Ennahda movement (“Renaissance”), haunted by Ben Ali, announced its intention to apply for legalization to allow it participate in elections. Dismantled after the ‘91 elections, where it won 17% of the votes, Ennahda claims to represent moderate and reformist Islam, along the lines of the Turkish AKP. At the same time, Moncef Marzouki, historic leader of the opposition to Ben Ali, has returned to Tunisia and announced his intention to run for president. Marzouki is president of the Congress Party for the republic, and has worked in the field of human rights and was arrested several times during the dictatorship. His party was banned in 2001 and in 2002 he fled to France.

What is taking place in Tunisia is shaking the Arab world to its very core. More or less benevolent dictatorships are everywhere in the Middle East and North Africa and this is the first time in a generation that an Arab regime has changed through a grassroots movement without the assistance of some foreign power.

What makes Tunisia similar to other Middle Eastern countries is poverty and the desire for change. In Tunisia, unemployment has reached 13.1%, the increase in food prices, along with corruption of leadership and lack of freedom, sparked month long demonstrations that led to the fall of Ben Ali, considered a “socialist “.

According to Gallup research of the 22 Arab countries, young people between 15 and 29 have a strong desire to migrate, to have a better life, or find a job. They represent 40-45% of the population in countries such as Yemen, Morocco and Tunisia, and only 5% in the Gulf. Confidence in their governments reached an average of 50% (34% in the poorest Arab countries, and 90% in the rich Gulf countries).

These similarities explain the spread of protest by self-immolation.

After the young Tunisian Mohamed Bouaziz, 13 more people have set themselves on fire in Algeria, Egypt, Mauritania (and France). In Algeria, people who live below the poverty are 23% of the population, in Egypt nearly 50% in Mauritania more than 50%, 25% in Jordan.

While the Tunisians are seeking to emerge from the confusion and misery — the fall of the regime has led to 78 deaths, 94 injuries and damages to 2 billion dollars — an ideological conflict rages in the Middle East, over its future and the future of the Arab world. Last Friday, the radical sheikh al-Qaradawi of Qatar proclaimed that “the revolution in Tunisia is a popular revolution against injustice” and that Islamic nations must support it. “The people — he added — must rise up and demand their rights” and called “before God, all Islamic leaders, except those who show mercy.”

Some see Qaradawi’s address as an attempt to ride the wave Tunisia’s revolt — popular and secular — gearing it towards fundamentalism.

From the pages of the newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat, editor Tariq Alhomayed has replied: “ What is this leadership model which al-Qaradawi wants the Tunisians to adopt? Is it the Islamic regime in Sudan, which has left us with a divided and separated Arab country? Or does he want a system similar to the Emirate of Hamas in Gaza, which sits perched upon the Palestinians, like an occupying force? Does al-Qaradawi want a state based on a certain principle, whereby what is prohibited is the foundation, and what is permitted is the exception?”.

The journalist concluded by advising al-Qaradawi to “ leave them [the Tunisians] to their own devices “ for the country’s progress. (IA)

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

South Asia

Pakistan’s Godfather of the Taliban Dies

A retired Pakistani spy known as “the godfather of the Taliban” has died in captivity in Pakistan’s north-western tribal belt, 10 months after he was kidnapped with a British journalist working for Channel 4.

Pakistani news channels reported that Sultan Amir Tarar, a legendary figure in the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) spy agency, had been killed by militants in Waziristan. The Taliban issued a statement saying he had died of a heart attack. An army spokesman could not confirm the reports. But a senior officer said that “all indicators are that this unfortunate incident took place”.

Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s ambassador to the US, tweeted yesterday: “On Col (R) Amir Sultan Tarar aka Col Imam’s death: Prayers for the departed and for the bereaved family.”

Tarar was kidnapped in Waziristan in March 2010 alongside Asad Qureshi, a British journalist of Pakistani origin, and Khalid Khawaja, a former ISI official turned human rights activist. Qureshi was released last September, reportedly on payment of a ransom; Khawaja was killed by his captors in April.

Tarar’s death marks the brutal demise of one of the most colourful and controversial figures in the shadowy world of spy games along the troubled borderlands between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Dressed in his trademark outfit of a tight, white turban and a shabby second-world war paratroop jacket, Tarar personified the complexities of Pakistan’s multi-faceted policy towards militant Islam. Tarar trained in guerrilla warfare at an American special forces base in the 1970s and spent the next decade at the heart of Pakistan and America’s covert war against Soviet forces occupying Afghanistan.

He ran a network of CIA-funded training camps in the tribal belt and Balochistan, which funnelled tens of thousands of mujahideen guerrillas into battle against the Soviets. He won the respect of his charges, mostly Pashtun refugees, by showing regard for their religious beliefs and tribal traditions. “They called me Imam after the man who leads the prayers in the mosque,” he told the Guardian in 2006.

Among his students a young Afghan cleric named was Muhammad Omar, who emerged as head of the Afghan Taliban and seized power in Kabul in 1996. Tarar played a key role in that movement too.

Operating under diplomatic cover, Tarar was the ISI’s point-man with the Taliban, nurturing a relationship in which Pakistan offered arms, advice and finance.

He developed a close personal relationship with Omar and, according to some reports, advised him as US forces attacked Afghanistan in late 2001.

Tarar later returned to Pakistan where he ostensibly slipped into retirement. He helped run a Saudi-funded orphanage near Islamabad and appeared sporadically on talkshows. But since 2006 some reports, usually sourced to western intelligence, have alleged that he continued to act as a liaison between the ISI and the Taliban.

Tarar denied the allegations but conceded that he maintained contact with the Taliban, describing himself as a “student of the insurgency”. “They are a superior people with a superior culture,” he told the Guardian last year. “I have my friends, the former mujahideen, who come to Peshawar and talk to me.” The Taliban insurgency, he added, was only a natural reaction to American aggression. “They are the product of circumstances. They got sucked into it, there was no alternative.”…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Sherry Rehman, Pakistan’s Defiant Prisoner of Intolerance, Vows to Stay Put

All Sherry Rehman wants is to go out — for a coffee, a stroll, lunch, anything. But that’s not possible. Death threats flood her email inbox and mobile phone; armed police are squatted at the gate of her Karachi mansion; government ministers advise her to flee.

“I get two types of advice about leaving,” says the steely politician. “One from concerned friends, the other from those who want me out so I’ll stop making trouble. But I’m going nowhere.” She pauses, then adds quietly: “At least for now.”

It’s been almost three weeks since Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer was gunned down outside an Islamabad cafe. As the country plunged into crisis, Rehman became a prisoner in her own home. Having championed the same issue that caused Taseer’s death — reform of Pakistan’s draconian blasphemy laws — she is, by popular consensus, next on the extremists’ list.

Giant rallies against blasphemy reform have swelled the streets of Karachi, where clerics use her name. There are allegations that a cleric in a local mosque, barely five minutes’ drive away, has branded her an “infidel” deserving of death. In the Punjabi city of Multan last week opponents tried to file blasphemy charges against her — raising the absurd possibility of Rehman, a national politician, facing a possible death sentence. “My inbox is inundated. The good news is that a lot of it is no longer hate mail,” she says with a grim smile. “But a lot of it is.”

Pakistani politicians have a long tradition of self-imposed exile but 50-year-old Rehman — a former confidante of Benazir Bhutto, and known for her glamour, principled politics and sharp tongue — is surely the first to undergo self-imposed house arrest. Hers is a luxury cell near the Karachi shore, filled with fine furniture and expensive art, but a stifling one. Government officials insist on 48 hours’ notice before putting a foot outside. Plots are afoot, they warn.

She welcomes a stream of visitors — well-educated, English-speaking people from the slim elite. But Pakistan’s left is divided and outnumbered. Supporters squabble over whether they should call themselves “liberals”, and while candle-lit vigils in upmarket shopping areas may attract 200 well-heeled protesters, the religious parties can turn out 40,000 people, all shouting support for Mumtaz Qadri, the fanatical policeman who shot Taseer. “Pakistan is one of the first examples of a fascist, faith-based dystopia,” warns commentator Nadeem Farooq Paracha…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Uzbek Strongman Embarrasses EU With Brussels Visit

The visit on Monday will be Mr Karimov’s first since Brussels imposed sanctions on the former Soviet republic. The measures followed the brutal suppression of protests in the town of Andijan when Uzbek security forces opened fire on a crowd, killing hundreds. Both Belgium and the European Commission have denied issuing the invitation, despite a meeting scheduled with José Manuel Barroso, the European Commission’s president, on Monday.

“President Karimov himself decided to come to Brussels, I believe initially to have meetings with the Nato secretary-general,” Michael Karnitschnig, a spokesman for Mr Barroso, said on Sunday. “We just decided to see him as well. There was no formal invitation from our side.” “Within the Commission, they’re a bit annoyed by all the criticism,” said Bart Ouvry, a spokesman for the Belgian foreign ministry, who denied Commission reports that Belgian officials had also planned meetings.

Amnesty International is organising a protest in Brussels, while Human Rights Watch, plans to issue a report detailing the abuses of Uzbekistan’s regime.

Uzbekistan is gaining in strategic importance as an increasing share of supplies for the war in Afghanistan are now routed through its territory. A huge gas find across the border in Turkmenistan has also raised hopes of similar discoveries on Uzbek territory. Mutabar Tadjibayeva, an Uzbek human rights activist who intends to join the protest, said there had been no progress on human rights since the European Union lifted sanctions in 2009.

“In Uzbekistan I know for sure that every month about five or six political prisoners are killed, and their corpses given to their family. We need to make sure that European leaders don’t sit on the same table as Karimov.”…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Far East

China’s Stealth Fighter ‘Based on US Technology’

China unveiled the Chengdu J-20 stealth fighter during a visit to Beijing by Robert Gates, the US defence secretary, this month. The timing of its maiden flight was regarded as a deliberate reminder by China of its growing military might, and caused alarm amongst its Asian neighbours.

Now, the Admiral who was Croatia’s chief of staff during the Kosovo War has said he believes that China formulated the technology for its J-20 jet from an American F-117 Nighthawk stealth fighter that was shot down over Serbia in March 1999.

“At the time, our intelligence reports told of Chinese agents criss-crossing the region where the F-117 disintegrated, buying up parts of the plane from local farmers,” Admiral Davor Domazet-Loso said. “We believe the Chinese used those materials to gain an insight into secret stealth technologies.”

The Nighthawk was the world’s first stealth fighter, planes that are almost invisible to radar and so able to operate over enemy territory with near impunity. At the time, the US claimed that the downing of one by a Serbian anti-aircraft missile was pure luck. Under its former President Slobodan Milosevic, Serbia routinely shared captured Nato military equipment with China and Russia…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Lee Kuan Yew Urges Muslims to ‘Be Less Strict’

Singapore’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew has urged local Muslims to “be less strict on Islamic observances” to aid integration and the city-state’s nation-building process.

Singapore has a predominantly Chinese population, with minority races including Muslim Malays and Indians, and Lee has always stressed the importance of racial harmony.

“I would say today, we can integrate all religions and races except Islam,” he said in “Lee Kuan Yew: Hard Truths to Keep Singapore Going,” a new book containing his typically frank views on the city-state and its future.

“I think we were progressing very nicely until the surge of Islam came and if you asked me for my observations, the other communities have easier integration — friends, intermarriages and so on…” he stated…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Patterns Shifting in Sales to China

China is Washington state’s biggest foreign customer, with a shopping list long dominated by Boeing planes and aerospace parts worth close to $4 billion annually.

Yet the nature of that trade is subtly changing, reflecting China’s appetite for materials to feed its booming industries.

What we’re shipping from Seattle to ports such as Shanghai are more raw materials, food and basic commodities, things such as timber, copper and silicon.

“It looks like we’re a Third World country,” said Trade Development Alliance of Greater Seattle President Bill Stafford.

It’s also something of a role reversal for China’s trade relations.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Australia — Pacific

As the Left Sides With Muslims, Christians Search for Support

Martin Place is the symbolic centre, the point zero, of Australia’s existence as a sophisticated economy. Last Wednesday it looked medieval. A forest of crucifixes sprouted among a sea of earnest faces that would look comfortable on ancient coins. The talk was of murder and persecution. The threat was real. Hyperbole was unnecessary.

As Martin Place, between Pitt and Castlereagh streets, became crammed with people, many of them young, real politics was made, and real news. Observing this rally, in oppressive humidity and under a dark sky that occasionally showered the crowd, was to observe another example of grassroots support for the ALP falling away.

Not long ago this crowd, drawn from a broader Middle Eastern Christian diaspora, would have voted like the rest of Australia. Demographics would have been the key driver. Labor would have got its share. Not any more.

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When Julia Gillard’s name was mentioned, it was greeted by a stony silence from the crowd of between 1000 and 2000 people. When the name of Tony Abbott was mentioned, there was a burst of spontaneous applause. Abbott had sent a personal emissary from his shadow ministry, Senator Connie Fierravanti-Wells, who would deliver some telling news.

Most at the rally were Coptic Orthodox Christians, the Egyptian branch of Christianity. They increasingly find common purpose with the expatriate communities of Assyrian Christians from Iraq and Maronite Christians from Lebanon. All three groups, who collectively number about 200,000, are heavily represented in western Sydney. All three are feeling the pressure of the religious cleansing of Christians in the Middle East.

These communities are tilting away from Labor, perceiving it as the party of appeasement of Muslim belligerence, and the party which has turned Australia’s refugee program into a Muslim immigration program, while Christian communities are bludgeoned in Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon. These countries have seen a Christian exodus. The American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 proved to be a disaster for the estimated two million Assyrian Christians. Roughly half have fled the country.

The trigger for the rally at Martin Place was a cascade of events which began late last year when a list was circulated via an extremist Islamic website pledging attacks against 64 specific Coptic Orthodox churches. Four of the churches are in Sydney, where the majority of Australia’s 80,000 Copts live.

At the top of the hit list was the Saints Church in Alexandria, Egypt. On New Year’s Eve, as Christians left a midnight prayer service at the Saints Church, a car bomb exploded. Twenty-three Copts died and at least 95 others were wounded in the attack. Hours before, Muslim fundamentalists had gathered outside a major mosque in Alexandria chanting threats against the Coptic church. After the attack, men ran around the city shouting “Allah Akbah!”, the battle cry of jihad…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]


1,400 Algerians Expelled by Spain in 2010

(ANSAmed) — ALGIERS, JANUARY 19 — More than 1400 Algerians who were living illegally in Spain were expelled by the country during 2010, APS reports. The figure was announced by the Foreign Ministry during the visit to Madrid by the Secretary of State for National Community Abroad, Halim Benatallah.

Benatallah, the Ministry specifies, has spoken with the Spanish Foreign Affairs Secretary, Antonio Yanez Barnuev. In this meeting “Algiers and Madrid have decided to start discussions to facilitate the issue of visas” to Algerians.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: The New Emigrants

It was the year 2006. The exaltation of the “necessary” immigration, “so that the country can grow”, “wanted by the industrialists” was a bipartisan lie, shared by the Right and the Left. By the Right so that it can control the pricing in the labour market, by the Left for electoral reasons. Paolo Ferrero, the Minister for Social Solidarity, said: “In the continent of Africa it’s likely that there are thirty million young people aged between 18 and 25 who are ready to leave their homes and their loved ones” and he added “it is they who come and do the work that often the Italians no longer want to do … Today we have to understand that we have become a country of immigration.” Ferrero hadn’t understood a thing. Prodi went home and ‘Rifondazione Comunista’ was eliminated from Parliament. The immigrants “come to do the work that the Italians no longer want to do” have above all been made use of in the building industry. Italy has been ‘cementified’ with new public buildings, overpasses, with additional lanes on the motorways, with warehouses, residential areas without residents. Those who have been constructing, especially in the North, have raked in sums of money that have never been seen before. The new arrivals have been treated like modern slaves, underpaid, often sacrificed to the God called Money with human offerings called “White Deaths” (deaths in the workplace), without social security, they are ‘invisible’ citizens. Five years have gone by. Work is a chimera. Real rates of unemployment are at 14% if you consider the ones who are ‘discouraged’, the ones who are no longer looking for work. Out of every four unemployed people, one is a foreigner.

Since 2008 the number of foreigners without a job has gone up by 95,000 people and 80% of them are in the North. Once more we have become a nation of emigrants. If in the EU the first ones to leave their countries are those from Romania (1.9 million of whom almost a million are in Italy), in second place there’s Italy with 1.2 million people, almost all of whom are young, and often with degrees and diplomas. The overall number of foreigners without a job is 235,000. Unemployment among foreigners will double in a short time. That’s an easy wager. The reason is simple. The building industry, the only sector that has been growing in Italy in the last decade, is in its death throes. By the end of the year 2011, it will have 290,000 fewer workers than in 2008. The other sectors of industry have been in a structural crisis for some time. They can’t create jobs. The growth of GDP in Italy from the year 2000 to the present day is the worst in the world apart from Haiti. Once the wild cementification boom finishes, there’s almost nothing left for the foreign manual workforce. What will happen to them? Italian unemployed people have reference points, family, friends, but the foreigners? Meanwhile the ‘decreto flussi’ (Quota Agreement) is looking at a further 150,000 people coming from abroad. In order to allow them to come in, it’s necessary for 150,000 Italians, possibly young and with degrees, to go out in order to leave space for them.

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

Culture Wars

UK: School Children to be Taught About Homosexuality to ‘Celebrate Gay Community’

Young children are to be taught about homosexuality in their maths, geography, science and English lessons, it has emerged.

As part of a Government-backed drive to ‘celebrate the gay community’, maths problems could be introduced that involve gay characters.

In geography classes, students will be asked why homosexuals move from the countryside to cities — and words such as ‘outing’ and ‘pride’, will be used in language classes.

The lesson plans are designed to raise awareness about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual issues and, in theory, could be used for children as young as four.

They will also mean youngsters are exposed to images of same-sex couples and books such as And Tango Makes Three, which tells the story of two male penguins raising a chick, which was inspired by events at New York’s Central Park Zoo.

Meanwhile, statistics students may use census data on the number of homosexuals in England.

However critics warn that the drive is an unnecessary use of resources and distracts attention from learning, as British schools tumble down international league tables in maths, English and science. Although the lesson plans are not compulsory, they are backed by the Department for Education and will be available for schools to download from the Schools Out website.

Sue Sanders, from Schools Out, said: ‘All we are attempting to do is remind teachers that LGBT people are part of the population and you can include them in most of your lessons when you are thinking inclusively.’

David Watkins, a teacher who is involved in the scheme, said: ‘When you have a maths problem, why does it have to involve a straight family or a boyfriend and girlfriend? Why not two boys or two girls?

‘It’s not about teaching about gay sex, it is about exposing children to the idea that there are other types of people out there,’ he added.

However, Craig Whittaker, who is a Conservative MP and a member of the education select committee, said: ‘We are too far down the national comparative league tables in core subjects. Teachers should concentrate on those again…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]