Saturday, January 11, 2003

News Feed 20110216

Financial Crisis
»Fed Says U.S. Economic Growth May Reach 3.9% in 2011
»Greece: Government Wants to Increase State Property Value
»Greece: Purchases Over Eur 1,500 by Credit Card, Anti-Evasion
»Greek Budget Records Surplus in January, Says BoG
»Oman: Government Decides Private Sector Minimum Wage Rise
»Portugal: 1 Billion Bonds Issued, Yield Rises
»Syria: Trade With Italy at 1.7 Bln Euros
»UK: Youth Unemployment Rate Hits Highest Level Since Records Began and More People Than Ever Are Working Part-Time
»UK: Youth Unemployment Hits Record
»Imam Rauf: Vision of Manhattan Islamic Community Center ‘Still Alive’ [Audio]
»Jimmy Carter Not Concerned About Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood
»What’s So Darn Great About Islam?
»Islamic Former Guitarist Now Preaches Against Music
Europe and the EU
»Defence: Joint Training Between Greek-French Navy, Air Force
»France: ‘Rien Ne Va Plus’ For the Marseilles Mosque
»Germany and Its World War II Victims: Historians Condemn Commemoration Day Proposal
»Italy: ‘Parliament’s Independence at Stake’ in Berlusconi Sex Trial
»Italy: Minister Fears ‘Influx of Migrants From Egypt’
»Italy: Berlusconi ‘Not Worried’ About Sex Trial
»Netherlands: Several Right-Wing Extremists on PVV Support Lists
»Scotland: Vetting Calls for Teachers in Mosques
»Spain: 250 Mln Euros to Church in Tax Returns in 2010
»Spain: Ecologists Against Zapatero Gov’s ‘Nuclear Turn’
»Swedish Unions Have Become Obsolete: Leaders
»Switzerland: Campaigners Praise Mubarak Asset Freeze
»The Gipsy Community in Bulgaria: Tendencies and Perspectives
»UK: BA Worker Held ‘Secret Meeting’ With Associate at Heathrow, Terrorism Trial Told
»UK: Don’t Put Wire on Your Windows — It Might Hurt Burglars! Villagers Outraged After Police Order Them Not to Protect Garden Sheds Last Updated at 3:15 Am on 13th February 2011
»UK: David Cameron’s Anger at ‘Completely Offensive’ Ruling Giving Rapists and Paedophiles Right to Apply to Have Names Removed From Sex Offenders Register
»UK: In Court Charged With Theft by Finding, The Woman Who Took Food From a Tesco Bin
»UK: Judges Throw Out Appeal by Muslim Men Who Hurled Abuse at Soldiers’ Welcome Home Parade
»UK: Leyton/Wanstead: Anger at Event to Honour Disgraced MP
»UK: Sheik: Islam Advances in Times of Turmoil
»Werner Herzog’s Cave Painting Documentary: ‘The Birth of the Modern Human Soul’
»Bosnia: UN Tribunal Orders Arrest of Prosecution Witness for Contempt of Court
»Political Instability, Weakness in Many Countries
North Africa
»Algeria: Tlemcen, Islamic Culture Capital Events Begin
»Algeria: Soros Team Wants Al-Qaida in Government
»Cairo Needs Help to Avoid Al-Qaeda’s Grip
»Egypt: Mubarak Rejects Invitations by Arab Countries, Wants to Die at Home
»Egypt: Press: Mubarak Refuses 4 Expatriation Offers
»Egypt Islamists’ Impact on Israel Peace Unclear: US
»Egypt: 3 Missing Antiquities Found
»Egypt Women Clash Over Sharia Law After Tahrir Shows Equality
»Hundreds of Libyan Protesters Demanding Removal of Gaddafi Clash With Riot Police in Fresh Arab Uprising
»In Egypt, Young People Are Changing Islam, Separating Religion and Politics
»Lara Logan Assault: Former GMTV Reporter Suffers Sex Attack Covering Egypt Uprising
»Libya: Demonstrators Clash With Police in Anti-Government Protest
»Libya: 110 Activists From Islamic Group Released
»Muslim Brotherhood Agenda Unclear: US Spy Chiefs
»Protests in Libya Over Human Rights Campaigner
»Tunisia: EU: Relations to be Strengthened With New Govt
»Tunisia: Ashton Offers European Union Support
»Why Arab Revolution Isn’t 1989 Again
Israel and the Palestinians
»Gaza: Wind of Change, Mubarak Hospital Becomes ‘Tahrir’
Middle East
»Bahrein: King Apologises for Protester Deaths in Televised Speech
»Erdogan et al Rediscover Turkish Nationalism
»Iran Regime Calls for ‘Hatred’ Rally Against Opposition
»Iran Warships Transit Suez for Syria
»Iran Warships ‘Sailing Into Mediterranean’
»Iran: Moroccan-Italian Politician Calls Dissidents in Italy ‘Sign of Freedom’
»Jordan Muslim Clerics Want Nightclubs Closed
»Turkey: What Did Davutoglu Mean?
»Turkey: Bon Pour L’Orient!
»Turkish President Approves Controversial Law on Judiciary
»What if Washington Loses Ankara (And Vice-Versa)?
»Yemen: More US Aid to Fight Al Qaeda
»Deadly Clashes Rock Russian Region
»Russia’s Muslim Chechnya Asks UAE to Invest $2.3 Bln
South Asia
»John Kerry Assures Pakistan US Contractor Will Face Justice
»Malaysia Cancels Controversial Iranian’s Concert
»Pakistan: Davis is Killer, Lahore Police Tell Judge
»Pakistan — United States: Lahore: For Islamic Fundamentalists, Raymond Davis is a Blasphemer Who Must be Beheaded
Far East
»China: About 43 Per Cent of Chinese Coal Power Plants Produce at a Loss
Sub-Saharan Africa
»Nigerian Policeman Among 12 Dead in Reprisal Clashes in Jos, Thisday Says
Latin America
»Mexico: 1 U.S. Immigration Agent Killed, 1 Injured in Mexico
»EU ‘Ready’ To Help With Tunisian Migrants
»EU: Appeal Made to Tunisia to Intervene
»EU: Frontex Ready to Launch Mission
»France Ready to Welcome Tunisians
»Frattini: No Italian Police in Tunisia
»Frattini in Syria and Jordan, To Tunis to Discuss Migration
»Italy: Landings Slow But Italy Warns Flow Can Continue
»Italy: Alcohol Sales Banned for Tunisian Illegal Immigrants
»Sweden: Protesters Arrested After Iraq Expulsion Demo
»Tunisian Refugees in Lampudesa: ‘I Felt Very Near to Death’
Culture Wars
»Have Gender Quotas Really Helped Norwegian Women?
»Hungarian EU Presidency Risks Embarrassment Over Gay Pride Ban
»More Sex Education Please, We’re Polish
»Spain: Smoking Ban, Nightlife Gives Into ‘Smirting’
»Time to Take a Stand Against Multiculturalism
»Muslim Brotherhood Takes Umbrage at Criticism

Financial Crisis

Fed Says U.S. Economic Growth May Reach 3.9% in 2011

The Federal Reserve revealed Wednesday that its policy makers had substantially upgraded their forecasts for how much the United States economy will grow this year, even though they expect that unemployment will remain painfully high for some time.

The core projections of top Fed officials now call for growth of 3.4 percent to 3.9 percent this year, up from the previous forecast of 3 percent to 3.6 percent, released in November. But the grim outlook for the job market was largely unchanged; Fed officials expect unemployment to be 8.8 percent to 9 percent this year, only slightly less than the November estimate of 8.9 percent to 9.1 percent.

Growth expectations were lifted by a marked improvement in consumer spending in the fourth quarter of 2010, though Fed officials were uncertain how long that would last, according to minutes released Wednesday of the Fed’s most recent policy meeting, on Jan. 25-26.

[Return to headlines]

Greece: Government Wants to Increase State Property Value

(ANSAmed) — ATHENS, FEBRUARY 14 — “The 50 billion euros are a decision by the Greek government. It is neither a sale nor a sell-off, but an enhancement of the value of state property”. This is according to the government spokesperson, Giorgios Patalotis, who has been speaking to journalists today about the disputes concerning comments made by representatives of the IMF, EU and ECB about measures that the government intends to adopt to reduce Greece’s debt. In reference to the three representatives of the “troika”, Patalotis said that they understood that they had overstepped the mark. “These are representatives of organisations that are our creditors, and who had previously been encouraged to avoid making comments,” he said.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Greece: Purchases Over Eur 1,500 by Credit Card, Anti-Evasion

(ANSAmed) — ATHENS, FEBRUARY 16 — Beginning on April 1, all purchases in Greece by private individuals over 1,500 euros will have to be regulated through the use of a credit or debit card or bank cheques, as established by the Greek Finance Ministry.

The limit rises to 3,000 euros in the case of purchases made by companies or professionals. The Italian Institute for Foreign Trade (ICE) office in Athens noted that the measure is among those aimed at combating tax evasion.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Greek Budget Records Surplus in January, Says BoG

(ANSAmed) — ATHENS, FEBRUARY 15 — The Greek central government reported a surplus of 352 million euros (cash flow) in January, the Bank of Greece announced on Monday, after a deficit of 818 million euros in the corresponding month last year.

The central bank, as ANA reported, in a survey attributed this positive development to an increase of regular budget revenues to 4.9 billion euros, from 4.2 billion euros in 2010 (an increase of 16%) and lower budget spending, 4.2 billion euros this year from 4.3 billion euros in 2010, a decline of 3.0%.The public investments programme recorded a deficit of 206 million euros in January, from a surplus of 129 million last year, while interest payment totaled 579 million euros, down from 590 million euros last year. The Greek budget recorded a primary surplus of 924 million euros after a shortfall of 20 million euros in January 2010.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Oman: Government Decides Private Sector Minimum Wage Rise

(ANSAmed) — ROME, FEBRUARY 16 — The minimum monthly salary for private sector workers in Oman is to rise from 120 to 200 riyals, the equivalent of 520 dollars.

The rise was decided yesterday by the Council of Ministers in the Sultanate, Al Hayat reports.

The newspaper says that the minimum wage in Oman varies according to the level of education. The average wage of workers with the average school-leaving certificate varies between 120 and 160 riyals per month, while those who have gone on to higher education earn between 700 and 1,500 riyals per month.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Portugal: 1 Billion Bonds Issued, Yield Rises

(ANSAmed) — ROME, FEBRUARY 16 — Portugal has issued one-year state bonds for a total scheduled value of one billion euros, but has been forced to pay higher yields.

The average rate has risen from 3.71% at the auction of February 2 to 3.987%. Demand has also slowed to 1.9 times supply compared to 2.6 times at the previous auction.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Syria: Trade With Italy at 1.7 Bln Euros

(ANSAmed) — DAMASCUS, FEBRUARY 16 — In the month of October trade between Italy and Syria was at about 1.7 billion euros, an increase of 88% over 2009, according to the latest ISTAT (Italian national statistics institute) data available, reported by the Italian Institute for Foreign Trade (ICE) office in Damascus. Fostering growth in trade between the two countries is especially an increase in Italian imports from Syria, which rose by 140% compared with 2009, and an increase in Italian exports to Syria, which rose by 55.4% on 2009. After 4 consecutive years of a surplus for Italy, the Italy-Syria trade balance saw a slight deficit of 6 million euros, a worsening of the situation compared with 2009 when Italy had a surplus of 195 million euros.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

UK: Youth Unemployment Rate Hits Highest Level Since Records Began and More People Than Ever Are Working Part-Time

A record number of 16 to 24-year-olds are out of work and more people than ever are in part-time jobs because they can’t find full-time employment, a grim set of official figures revealed today.

Unemployment jumped by 44,000 in the final three months of 2010 to 2.49million, a jobless rate of 7.9 per cent.

But the youth unemployment rate is now 20.5 per cent following a 66,000 increase to 965,000, the highest figures since records began in 1992.

The number of people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance increased by 2,400 in January to 1.46 million, with the number of female claimants rising for the seventh month in a row to reach almost 450,000, the highest figure since 1996.

The number of people working part-time because they could not find full-time jobs increased by 44,000 to 1.19 million, the highest total since records began in 1992.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: Youth Unemployment Hits Record

The figures came as official data confirmed that last year’s improvement in unemployment had proved a hiatus rather than an end to the climbing numbers of those that have lost their jobs.

By far the worst hit were those between the ages of 16 and 24, the Office for National Statistics figures suggested. Unemployment jumped by 44,000 in the final three months of 2010 to just under 2.5 million, meaning that 7.9 per cent of workers were out of a job. But the youth unemployment rate hit 20.5 per cent, following a 66,000 increase to 965,000, the highest figures since records began in 1992.

Of particular concern for many experts was the increasing number of young people who have been out of work for a prolonged period of time. There were 75,000 people aged 18 to 24 who have not had a job for two years, the figures said. This was an increase of 43 per cent on a year ago.

Liam Byrne, the shadow Work and Pensions minister, said young people were being hit by a “triple whammy” as the Government scrapped Education Maintenance Allowances, which allowed some students to stay in education; introduced increased university tuition fees and abolished the Future Jobs Fund — which Labour claim would have created 200,000 jobs.

He said a there was now a “generation of young people being lost to worklessness”.

The shadow of long-term youth unemployment — something that blighted many industrial cities during the recession of the early 1980s — is something that concerns many politicians and campaigners. Andrew Cave, from the Federation of Small Businesses, said the figures were “devastating” for young people.

The Prime Minister said the latest data were a “matter of great regret” but stressed that youth unemployment had been a long-term problem, and that the Government was taking action to improve education and back to work schemes.

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]


Imam Rauf: Vision of Manhattan Islamic Community Center ‘Still Alive’ [Audio]

Broadcasting today from New York City, Tell Me More’s guests included Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the cleric at the center of last year’s controversy over whether an Islamic community center (called the “ground zero mosque” by opponents) should be built a few blocks from where the World Trade Center towers stood before the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Since last November’s elections, the controversy has largely faded from front pages. Rauf told TMM host Michel Martin that “the vision [for such a center] is still alive. Whether it will happen [at the controversial site] or another location, we should hopefully have some news for you in the upcoming few months.”

Rauf has said in recent weeks that he’s open to building the center somewhere else in Manhattan, but that no developers have contacted him to offer such a location. “If someone were to offer a site that is equal or better,” and which could accomodate a “multi-faith center … I’d be very receptive to that,” he said.

He also spoke, as he has before, about how Muslims are viewed by many Americans in the post-9/11 world:

“It’s very clear that we need a discourse that heals the country around 9/11 and makes it clear to everyone that Islam is not at the root of this [such attacks],” Rauf said. “This is about political issues or other issues in which some people who call themselves Muslims have conducted this heinous act. Muslims across the world have condemned the actions of 9/11 … and have made it very clear this is not something which should be attributed to any authentic expression of what the faith of Islam and its ethics and principles stand for.”…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Jimmy Carter Not Concerned About Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood

Former President Jimmy Carter, whose foreign policy naivety and weakness facilitated the rise of Islamofacism in Iran, is confident Egypt has a promising future: The Muslim Brotherhood will be overwhelmed by Jeffersonian Democrats — and the formerly pro-Mubarak military will bow to the will of the people and welcome free elections, he says.

Carter, during his first public comments about Egypt’s so-called “revolution,” told an audience at the University of Texas on Tuesday that he’s not concerned by the Muslim Brotherhood — Egypt’s most well-organized and virulently anti-Western political group.

“I think the Muslim Brotherhood is not anything to be afraid of in the upcoming (Egyptian) political situation and the evolution I see as most likely. They will be subsumed in the overwhelming demonstration of desire for freedom and true democracy,” Carter told 1,000 people packed into the LBJ Library in Austin.

Carter’s audience was reportedly receptive and friendly. Nobody apparently asked a simple question: Do most Egyptians define “freedom” and “true democracy” as most Americans and Westerners do?

Carter’s optimism aside, things in Egypt may not be quite as simple as he suggests — at least not if a survey in Egypt by the Pew Research Center is anything to go by. It indicates that concepts like “freedom” and “democracy” may not be quite the same to most Egyptians as to Americans and Westerners. Among other things: 85 percent of Egyptians consider Islamic influence over political life to be a positive thing for their country. And 20 percent have a positive view of al Qaeda. The Pew survey on what Egyptians really think underscores why Israel has been so concerned about what the mainstream media has portrayed as Egypt’s “democratic revolution.”

Carter also was upbeat, if not somewhat ambiguous, about the role Egypt’s military would play in an election expected this September. “My guess is the military leaders don’t want to give up their political influence or power,” he said. “But the military has seen what the demonstrators have done and will most likely submit to their demands.”

What might those demands be? Carter apparently didn’t provide any answers, according to the Austin American-Statesman’s account of his lecture. But pehaps the Pew survey can provide some hints along these lines.

To ensure a free-and-fair election, Carter said he and members of the Carter Center will be as “involved as possible” in voting. “The demonstrators will not accept anything less than honest, fair and open elections.”…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

What’s So Darn Great About Islam?

Between Sept. 12, 2001, and January 2009, George Bush and Condoleezza Rice spent so much time telling us what a wonderful, peaceful religion Islam is, I kept expecting them to convert.

Then Barack Hussein Obama took up residence in the White House and we got more of the same hooey. If anything, he put their gushing in the shade. He was a regular Old Faithful. He not only thought it was a swell idea to build a mosque near Ground Zero, but he kept telling the world that Muslims had been instrumental in the creation of the United States, all but referring to the Founding Fathers as Ibn Madison and Mahmoud Washington.

For good measure, when Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, whose business cards carried the message “For a Good Time, Dial 1-800 Jihad,” murdered 13 Americans down at Fort Hood, Obama told us not to leap to the conclusion that the major’s religion had anything to do with the fact that he was hollering “Allah Akbar” during the massacre.

Next, I expected Obama to explain that Osama bin Laden was merely trying to break into show business.

We also have American cities spending secular tax dollars to build foot baths for Muslims. We have colleges turning a blind eye to Islamic students bullying Jewish students and intimidating guest speakers, especially if they’re Israeli diplomats; and we have the ACLU, those moral pygmies who have raised self-righteousness to an art form, defending Muslims on all fronts, while simultaneously attacking Christian symbols with a ferocity not witnessed since the Wicked Witch of the West declared war on Dorothy and her friends.

Why is it that so many people who condemn the corrupt legal system that existed under the Nazis are so reluctant to utter a harsh word about the backward and brutal nature of Shariah law?

For a time, I assumed it was sheer cowardice that prevented the members of the MSM from reporting on and condemning the Islamic slaughter of Christians and Jews that’s currently taking place around the world.

But, perhaps that’s not it at all. Maybe it’s something even more despicable. Perhaps the media have simply decided that the enemy of their enemies is their friend.

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]


Islamic Former Guitarist Now Preaches Against Music

Bilal Philips was once a guitar god. Now he is trying to convince Muslims that God doesn’t want them listening to guitars.

A Saudi-trained Canadian, Mr. Philips is among a small group of lecturers who preach against most forms of music — a controversial prohibition that surfaced in Manitoba recently, where a dozen Muslim families want to pull their children from music class.

“A heart filled with music will not have room for God’s words,” he writes in his book Contemporary Issues, which also defends child marriages, wife beating, polygamy and killing apostates while calling homosexuality “evil and dangerous.”

While Mr. Philips argues that Islam does not prohibit all music, he says it only allows adult male singers and “folk songs with acceptable content sung by males or females under the age of puberty accompanied by a hand drum.”

“Wind and stringed instruments have been banned because of their captivating power,” he continues. “Their notes and chords evoke strong emotional attachments. For many, music becomes a source of solace and hope instead of God. When they are down, music brings them up temporarily, like a drug. The Koran, the words of God filled with guidance, should play that role.”

In his book, he also says adult women are forbidden from singing “in order to keep the sensual atmosphere of the society at a minimum. Men are much more easily aroused than females as has been thoroughly documented by the clinical studies of Masters and Johnson.”

Music is an integral part of life in the Arab and Muslim world, but Mr. Philips and a band of Saudi-influenced lecturers have been trying to convince Muslims to turn off their radios and iPods and focus on their religion.

Zakir Naik, the president of the Islamic Research Foundation in Mumbai, India, who pulled out of a Toronto conference last year following a controversy over his views, claims music puts people into a “trance” and “frenzy.” Yasir Qadhi of Texas, dean of the Al Maghrib Institute, argues that you “can’t love the Koran and music at the same time.”

A video on the Gardens of Paradise blog (whose Canadian administrator left Toronto to fight for the al-Qaeda-linked Al Shabab in Somalia) claims music goes hand in hand with such un-Islamic activities as dancing, inappropriate clothing, mingling of the sexes and alcohol…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Defence: Joint Training Between Greek-French Navy, Air Force

(ANSAmed) — ATHENS, FEBRUARY 16 — Joint training between units of the Greek navy and air force with units of the French aircraft carrier “Charles De Gaulle” is being scheduled to take place in the sea region south of the Cyclades on February 17 and 18 during the aircraft carrier’s passage from the Cretan Sea. On the Greek side, as ANA reports, the frigate “Hydra” and the missile boat “Pezopoulos” will be participating, as well as Mirage 2000, Mirage 2000-5 and F-16 aircraft.

Participating on the French side will be the frigates “Forbin” and “Cassard” and aircraft of the French aircraft carrier.The joint training is part of wider cooperation between the two countries.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

France: ‘Rien Ne Va Plus’ For the Marseilles Mosque

(ANSAmed) — PARIS, FEBRUARY 16 — Ten months after the laying of the foundation stone of the Great Mosque of Marseilles, no finances in sight, work activities meant to start on February 1 are still on hold and even the website of the association assigned with the project has vanished on the internet. The reason lies with quarrels within the association and a legal dispute.

The Mosque, which costs 22 million euros, was meant to be ready in January 2012 and open to the public on the following October, but clearly the project is still not taking off. The laying of the first stone on 20 May 2010 was seen as a victory after years of tension generated by court cases filed by the extreme right against the building, but in truth it unleashed diverging opinions within the association that brings together the various Muslim communities in Marseilles. During a fiery assembly Noureddine Cheikh, president of the Mosque of Marseilles association, was placed in minority and replaced by imam Abderrahmane Ghoul, vice president of the regional council of the Muslim faith. At the root of the change there is a dispute between Cheikh and Fatima Orsatelli, who in addition to being the association’s deputy treasures is also a regional councillor with the socialist majority. Cheikh complained about her two jobs, Orsatelli demanded more democracy and expressed the concern that Algeria, among the donor countries, would prevail. The moral of the story is that Algeria placed the loan on hold and everything came to a standstill.

With the change in leadership contacts have been revived with the donor countries, including Algeria. But a new appeal against the construction permit and the excessively low number of parking spaces has emerged. The 200,000 Muslims living in Marseilles will have to wait a little longer.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Germany and Its World War II Victims: Historians Condemn Commemoration Day Proposal

A new parliamentary proposal to establish a commemoration day in honor of those Germans expelled from Eastern Europe following World War II has revived an ongoing debate about Germany’s 20th century history. Dozens of accomplished academics have blasted the idea in an open letter.

To an outsider, it could almost seem like just another item on a packed parliamentary calendar. Last week, Germany’s federal parliament, the Bundestag — led by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives and her business-friendly coalition partners, the Free Democrats — voted in favor of a proposal which could lead to the addition of another commemoration day to the German year.

But the event up for commemoration is anything but free of controversy. The day, should Merkel’s cabinet choose to pursue the idea, would be in memory of the expulsion of millions of Germans from Eastern Europe in the wake of World War II. Past efforts to commemorate their suffering have reliably elicited outcries from both within Germany and abroad. Portraying Germans as victims of World War II, after all, is always a dicey proposition.

The Berlin opposition took the lead last week in blasting Merkel’s conservatives. On Monday, they were joined by 68 leading historians from Germany and elsewhere in Europe, who published an open letter criticizing the idea.

Parliamentary support for such a commemoration day, the document reads, is “an incorrect historical-political signal.”

‘Contortion of Historical Reality’

In particular, the open letter castigates German parliamentarians for choosing to peg the commemoration day to the anniversary of the “Charter of German Expellees,” a document which was signed on August 5, 1950 by representatives of German groups expelled from the east.

The charter renounces any claim to “revenge and retribution” and pledges to contribute to the postwar reconstruction of Germany and Europe. But it has long been criticized for it’s shortcomings.

“In the charter, there is no word about the cause of the war, about the mass crimes of the National Socialists, about the murder of the Jews, Poles, Roma and Sinti, Soviet prisoners of war and other persecuted groups,” the open letter published Monday reads. “Instead, the expellees declare themselves to be ‘those most affected by the agony of the period’ … a grotesque contortion of the historical reality.”

Historian Heinrich August Winkler, a professor at Humboldt University in Berlin and a signatory to the open letter, says that the proposal for a commemoration day shows a lack of sensitivity on the part of the parliamentarians whose parties form Merkel’s coalition government. “I can only imagine that they either have never read the charter, or at least haven’t read it with sufficient discrimination,” Winkler told SPIEGEL ONLINE.

The commemoration day debate is the most recent chapter in years of squabbling over Germany’s approach to those who were expelled from their homes immediately following World War II. Up to 10 million Germans were forced to leave Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and other Eastern European regions — some of which had been German territory prior to the war. Hundreds of thousands of the expellees lost their lives as they were driven out of the countries.

Efforts by the Federation of Expellees to establish a documentation center in Berlin focusing on the expulsions have long been viewed with significant skepticism, first and foremost in Poland. There is concern that putting the spotlight on Germans who suffered as a result of the war distracts from the true victims of World War II — those persecuted and systematically murdered by the Nazis.

A Campaign Tactic?

The authors of the Charter of German Expellees “did not take into account the entire historical context of World War II,” a spokesman for the Polish Foreign Ministry said last week in response to the Berlin parliamentary proposal. “The document does not serve the interests of German-Polish reconciliation.”

“There are possibilities to remember the victims of expulsions,” Winkler said. “But I don’t see any justification to focus exclusively on Germans because of the danger of losing sight of the context.”

An expellee commemoration day is seen all the more critically given that it would receive the same status as Jan. 27: Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Why, then, did Merkel’s conservatives and the FDP put forward the proposal in the first place? There are some who see campaign tactics at work. Voters are heading to the polls this year for several key regional elections and Merkel’s government faces an uphill battle in many of them. Courting the expellees has long been a tried and true method in Germany of shoring up the conservative vote, not unlike Republicans in the US pandering to religious conservatives.

But given concerns abroad on the issue, it is a dangerous political card to play. And the list of respected historians from across Eastern Europe who signed Monday’s open letter makes it clear that the issue remains sensitive.

Government spokesman Steffen Seibert told SPIEGEL ONLINE on Monday that, while Merkel’s cabinet will take a look at the parliamentary proposal, it is guarded when it comes to a commemoration day.

Still, it would seem that the Bundestag proposal has been enough to open old wounds. “The political early warning system,” says Winkler, “would seem to have failed.”

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

Italy: ‘Parliament’s Independence at Stake’ in Berlusconi Sex Trial

Justice minister backs premier, opposition demands resignation

(see related story on site) (ANSA) — Rome, February 15 — The independence of Italy’s parliament is at stake after Premier Silvio Berlusconi was indicted on charges of allegedly using an underage prostitute, Justice Minister Angelino Alfano said Tuesday.

Berlusconi denies paying to have sex with a Moroccan runaway and belly dancer called Ruby when she was 17 and also rejects charges he allegedly abused his position to get her out of jail after an unrelated accusation of theft last May.

He argues he is the victim of leftist magistrates who are trying to oust him.

Alfano suggested this claim was borne out by prosecutors requesting the case go to trial at a Milan court, despite the Lower House saying last week it should be the jurisdiction of a special court for ministers.

“This is an issue concerning the autonomy, sovereignty and independence of parliament,” Alfano told reporters, arguing the implication of the House’s decision to refuse prosecutors permission to search the offices of Berlusconi’s accountant had been ignored.

Opposition parties, in contrast, reiterated demands for Berlusconi to step down after preliminary investigations judge Cristina Di Censo granted Milan prosecutors’ request for an immediate trial and set the first hearing for April 6. “We call for his resignation because the situation is unsustainable,” said Pier Luigi Bersani, the leader of the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), the biggest opposition group.

“It’s not our job to deal with crimes, that’s for the judiciary, and it’s not our job to deal with sins, that’s for the Church.

“Our job is to look after Italy and we don’t want Italy to be in disarray. I call for early elections”.

Berlusconi has dismissed calls to quit, saying he intended to press ahead at the helm of government until the end of his current term in 2013.

Alfano said the 74-year-old premier was right to do so.

“What about the presumption of innocence? Otherwise everyone who is probed is guilty and should step down,” he said.

Popular and influential Catholic weekly Famiglia Cristiana suggested the fact that three women judges had been named to preside over the case was appropriate.

“So the sentence is in the hand of three ladies,” read an online editorial, two days after Italian women protested in over 200 Italian cities and towns, calling on the premier to quit as the scandal allegedly showed he lacked respect for the opposite sex. “The nemesis immediately springs to mind. You, Berlusconi, who have served yourself of women in a bad way. Now the women are doing justice”. Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said Famiglia Cristiana was continuing with its “ungenerous” treatment of Berlusconi, adding that he had “nothing to fear” from an all-woman judge panel. The Catholic Church has expressed concern about the scandal in the past, and the head of the Italian Bishops Conference Angelo Bagnasco stressed the need for greater “transparency”, without citing the premier.

Piero Longo, one of Berlusconi’s lawyers and a Senator for his People of Freedom (PdL) party, said that he had expected the case to be sent to sent to trial, despite the defence team’s claims the court it was handed to does not have jurisdiction. Italy has been in a state of shock since prosecutors said last month that they were investigating allegations Ruby, who is now 18 and whose real name is Karima El Mahroug, was among a number of alleged prostitutes to take part in alleged sex parties at one of the premier’s homes last year.

Berlusconi is planning to resurrect wiretap legislation to prevent the kind of mass titillation and trial by the media he says has happened in the Ruby case and other recent sex scandals to have hit him.

He says prosecutors have also tried to bring him down with a long series of corruption charges, none of which have ever led to a definitive conviction, sometimes after elapses in the statute of limitations or law changes passed by his government.

Berlusconi also plans to revive a trial cap which critics say is aimed at protecting him from prosecution after the Constitutional Court last month removed his latest judicial shield, which had stopped three corruption trials in Milan moving forward.

All three trials are set to start again in the next few weeks. The premier has said he would sue the Italian State to make the prosecutors “pay” for what they had done with their “absolutely groundless” accusations.

Frattini said Berlusconi might take the case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg for violation of privacy.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Minister Fears ‘Influx of Migrants From Egypt’

Rome, 15 Feb. (AKI) — The government fears that a wave of illegal immigrants from Egypt could soon arrive, fleeing unrest, foreign minister Franco Frattini said on Tuesday. His warning came after thousands of Tunisian migrants arrived on the island of Lampedusa and elsewhere in southern Italy in recent days.

“Over 5,000 men and women have arrived in Italy from Tunisia in the past few days. But the geopolitical situation in the Mediterranean makes it credible if not probable that an influx of migrants could also arrive from elsewhere,” Frattini told the Italian parliament.

“There are countries which are going through complex and difficult times right now, such as Egypt.”

Frattini said he hoped the boat transporting about 50 Egyptians which reached the eastern Sicilian coast on Monday near Ragusa was “an isolated case.”

It was crucial Italy received help from the European Union to tackle “a worrying influx of immigrants, given the size of Egypt, with a population of over 80 million people,” Frattini said.

Tunisia and Egypt are currently in turmoil after their longstanding authoritarian presidents were ousted over the past month by popular revolts. Most of the migrants say they are are fleeing poverty, political instability and persecution in their home countries.

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

Italy: Berlusconi ‘Not Worried’ About Sex Trial

Premier indicted for allegedly using underage prostitute

(see related story on site) (ANSA) — Rome, February 16 — Premier Silvio Berlusconi said he was not worried in the slightest Wednesday, the day after he was indicted for allegedly using an underage prostitute.

“I’m not going to talk about that. All I can say is that I’m not worried at all,” Berlusconi told a joint news conference with Economy Minister Giulio Tremonti when asked about the trial that will start in April. Berlusconi denies paying to have sex with a Moroccan runaway and belly dancer called Ruby when she was 17 and also rejects charges he allegedly abused his position to get her out of jail after an unrelated accusation of theft last May.

Using a sex worker under the age of 18 carries a jail term of up to three years.

Abuse of office carries a term of up to 12 years. The premier argues he is the victim of leftist magistrates who are trying to oust him and has dismissed opposition calls for him to resign, saying he intends to press ahead at the helm of government until the end of his current term in 2013 to push through reforms despite a thin majority in the House.

On Tuesday a preliminary investigations judge indicted Berlusconi and set April 6 as the date of the first hearing after agreeing with prosecutors’ claim that the body of evidence presented was so large as to warrant an immediate trial, skipping a preliminary hearing. Italy has been in a state of shock since prosecutors said last month that they were investigating allegations Ruby, who is now 18 and whose real name is Karima El Mahroug, was among a number of alleged prostitutes to take part in alleged sex parties at one of the premier’s homes last year.

Berlusconi is planning to resurrect wiretap legislation to prevent the kind of mass titillation and trial by the media he says has happened in the Ruby case and other recent sex scandals to have hit him.

He says prosecutors have also tried to bring him down with a long series of corruption charges, none of which have ever led to a definitive conviction, sometimes after elapses in the statute of limitations or law changes passed by his government.

Berlusconi also plans to revive a trial cap which critics say is aimed at protecting him from prosecution after the Constitutional Court last month removed his latest judicial shield, which had stopped three corruption trials in Milan moving forward.

All three trials are set to start again in the next few weeks.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Netherlands: Several Right-Wing Extremists on PVV Support Lists

A number of right-wing extremists are among the people who signed pledges of support for the anti-Islam PVV in the provincial elections, according to the anti-fascist research group Kafka in Wednesday’s Volkskrant.

Political parties need to gather 30 signatures from supporters before being allowed to take part in elections. Kafka looked at the signatures in 17 of the country’s 20 voting districts.

The lists include the signatures of Wim Elsthout and Ruud Enthoven, who were members of the extreme right-wing Centrumdemocraten and helped relaunch the party.

Enthoven confirmed it was his signature on the form but told the paper: ‘I have nothing with the PVV. The foreman and his followers look too much towards the US and Israel.’


Kafka also found several people with an extreme-right past among the party’s candidates for provincial government. One on the Groningen list had already hit the headlines for trying to drum up support for the PVV on far-right websites.

‘These are people whose past is known,’ said Kafka researcher Jaan van Beek. ‘The party does not want to have anything to do with the far-right. So why does it ask for their signatures?’.

Nevertheless, the PVV is screening its candidates and supporters better because there are fewer people with an extreme-right connection on its lists than in 2007, Kafka said.

In its analysis of the PVV candidates, public broadcaster says 20 of the total number of candidates (around 200) were on the party’s list for the 2010 European, local government or national elections…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Scotland: Vetting Calls for Teachers in Mosques

CHARITIES last night called for a major campaign to vet Islamic teachers after The Herald revealed police were probing abuse claims at three Scottish mosques.

Children 1st, Scotland’s leading child protection organisation, said the time had come for minority faith groups to sign up to Disclosure Scotland checks routinely carried out by almost all other bodies that work with children.

The Herald yesterday revealed that Strathclyde Police were investigating allegations of assault against teachers at three Glasgow madrassas or Islamic schools operated in mosques. All the claims centre on the kind of corporal punishment that was widespread in mainstream education until the 1980s.

One staff member, a 49-year-old woman, has been reported to the procurator-fiscal.

Anne Houston, chief executive of Children 1st, said: “Disclosure checks should be conducted as a matter of course, as they are in schools across Scotland.

“It is vital that mosques consider the ways in which best practice in child protection can be implemented in their madrassas as a matter of urgency.

“With the correct information and support, there is no reason why the standards of child protection in madrassas should differ from any other school in Scotland.”

The SNP’s Humza Yousaf yesterday agreed action was needed to get mosques into line with child protection legislation. He said: “Mosques in Scotland play a positive role in the local community. Unfortunately, at times, outdated cultural practices, which have no basis in the Islamic faith, can creep in.

“A wider discussion really must be had now about how to ensure our country’s mosques are up to speed with appropriate regulations.”

One of the problems getting mosques to follow such legislation is their democratic nature. There is no hierarchy in Islam — and no central body to impose religious orthodoxy or to provide bureaucratic backing on issues like child protection.

Glasgow MP Anas Sarwar yesterday praised the role of Minab, the Mosques and Imams Advisory Board, which provides support for clerics and mosque committees in dealing with regulations of all kinds.

“Not all mosques have registered with Minab,” he said. “But there are many with excellent child protection policies.”

Martin Henry of Stop It Now, a child abuse charity, yesterday said Minab or other Islamic groups would have to put their own house in order, rather in the way Christian churches were forced to act after they were faced with evidence of abuse.

He said: “I think the Muslim groups will need to come up with some kind of protection regime or face the possibility of the Government doing it for them.”

Many mosques, as we reported yesterday, have already carried out Disclosure Scotland checks and beefed up child protection policies with the help of a niche charity, Glasgow-based Roshni.

Glasgow Central Mosque, the biggest place of worship of any kind in Scotland, yesterday insisted it had done so, although not through Roshni.

The Herald yesterday reported that Glasgow Central Mosque was one of the three under investigation, using information from police sources. An official spokeswoman for Strathclyde Police, however, last night said this was not the case. Nobody had been available at the mosque on Monday for comment.

Yesterday Mohammad Shafi Kausar, general secretary of the mosque’s executive committee, said: “We have very good policies in place for child protection here at the mosque.”

However, investigations continue at two other city institutions, the Masjid Moor or Forth Street Mosque and the Zia Ul-Quran, which is also in Pollokshields.

Police sources were unable to say where their third investigation is being carried out.

           — Hat tip: Nick[Return to headlines]

Spain: 250 Mln Euros to Church in Tax Returns in 2010

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, FEBRUARY 15 — The Spanish Church received nearly 250 million euros in 2010 in donations through the tax returns of 7,260,138 taxpayers. The figure was announced in Madrid today by the general secretary of the Episcopal Conference of Spain, Juan Antonio Martinez Camino, who said that the number featured 66,000 more taxpayers than in 2009 ticked the box that grants the Catholic Church 0.7% of tax.

In the last three years, the increase in tax donations in favour of the Church has risen steadily, reaching 34.75% of its total income. However, despite the increase in the number of donors, the total tax given to the Church was 3,225,724 euros lower than in 2009, due to lower earnings, in turn the consequence of the financial crisis.

Camino focussed on the fact that the number of people choosing to grant 0.7% of their income tax to church activities had increased, saying that in an economic period “so complicated”, this is proof “that society’s real perception of the Church is a positive one”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Spain: Ecologists Against Zapatero Gov’s ‘Nuclear Turn’

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, FEBRUARY 16 — Spanish ecologists have positioned themselves against the “nuclear turn” performed by the government of José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, which they accuse of overlooking electoral promises and “giving in to the interests of nuclear lobbies”.

This is according to Ecologistas en Accion and Greenpeace, after Spain’s Congress approved the Senate’s amendments to the law bill on sustainable economy, including that which allows nuclear power stations to operate “beyond their 40 years of natural life and when requested by the owners”, but within “the terms of security and protection” indicated by the Council of national security.

In statements circulated today, environmental groups have recalled the commitment undertaken by the Zapatero government to a timeframe for the closure of nuclear sites, over which the Socialist executive has backtracked.

The Prime Minister denies having changed his nuclear policy, after voting in the amendment backed in the Senate by the PSOE, the PP, CiU and PNV and ratified today by Congress. CiU, the Catalan Nationalist party, say that the agreement on the potential extension of the life of power stations could also concern the plant at Garona (Burgos), which is due to close in April 2013. The minority left-wing party Izquierda Unida believe that the Zapatero government has performed a complete about-turn on its nuclear policy.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Swedish Unions Have Become Obsolete: Leaders

Two of Sweden’s union leaders have singled out the failure of the organisations to modernise their approaches to collective bargaining as a major reason an increasing number of Swedes choose not to become members.

In the long run, wages should be set on a completely individual basis, Swedish manager organisation Ledarna Chairwoman Annika Elias wrote in an opinion article for newspaper Dagens Nyheter (DN) on Sunday.

As such, the Swedish trade union movement must modernise or perish, Elias and negotiation leader Thomas Eriksson wrote in DN on Sunday.

They pointed out that the unions within the Swedish Trade Union Confederation (Landsorganisationen i Sverige, LO) and Swedish Confederation of Professional Employees (Tjänstemännens Centralorganisation, TCO) lost more than 40,000 members last year.

The membership collapse is a result of an outdated view of collective agreements, under which wages are negotiated in closed rooms by people who never meet the employees, according to Elias and Eriksson.

“The idea that wages are best negotiated in a group is a long-outdated notion. It is a legacy from August Palm’s days, when Sweden was an industrial society where large groups in the labour market had only gone to school for a few years,” they wrote.

Palm was a leader in introducing the social democratic labour movement in Sweden in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The labour market supplies well educated employees who want and can make their own choices, Elias and Eriksson added.

Ledarna sees its own model of a local salary structure as a reason behind its membership growth of nearly five percent in 2010. The organisation stopped negotiating central wage increases for its members in 1992.

Instead of the collective agreements, the setting of wage rates is negotiated between employees and managers.

“We want to give people greater opportunities to negotiate their own pay and conditions at the individual level. We want to transfer power from the organisations to individuals and businesses,” said Elias, adding it is “absolutely necessary” in the long run for wages to be set individually.

In response to how the weakest would be protected, Elias responded, “I think that it is a misconception that poor people receive greater support from the wage structure model we have today. There will always be people who are less attractive to employers than others, but it is already like this now.”

LO Chairwoman Wanja Lundby-Wedin dismissed Elias’ observations, pointing that Ledarna should not call itself a trade union.

“They are a good enough interest organisation for managers, but it is not a professional organisation,” she said.

She finds it difficult to understand Elias’ arguments, stating that it is wrong to say that wages are negotiated in closed rooms without transparency for employees.

“The whole idea with a union is that we do it together. Each individual does not have individual power. That we negotiate general wage increases through central collective agreements is obvious for a union. However, wages are often spread out locally and it can look very different,” she said.

TCO Chairman Sture Nordh also defended his organisation from the allegations.

“The illustration of how negotiations go with is totally incomprehensible. It does not take place like that. Workers settle their salaries individually in conversations with their bosses. That we would not support individual and differentiated salaries is naturally completely wrong,” he said.

Nordh believes that Ledarna abdicated its responsibility as a union organisation when it abandoned the principle of central negotiations for general wage increases.

According to Nordh, TCO has not lost members and instead gained 1,000 new members in 2010.

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

Switzerland: Campaigners Praise Mubarak Asset Freeze

Anti-corruption campaigners have praised Switzerland’s move to block assets of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak but say funds should never have been allowed in.

The United States, the European Union and several countries have meanwhile been asked by Egypt to freeze the assets of former Egyptian officials, but Mubarak was not on the list.

The issue will be discussed by EU finance ministers on Tuesday.

Last Friday the Swiss government asked Swiss banks to search for and block any assets that might belong to Mubarak and ten members of his family and entourage, who stood down the same day after 30 years in power.

“This is an important step forward and we would hope that other financial centres will follow,” Daniel Thelesklaf, executive director of the Swiss-based International Centre for Asset Recovery, told

“It is now up to the Egyptian Government to follow up on this and start criminal investigations.”

In an interview with Swiss newspaper NZZ am Sonntag, Swiss President Micheline Calmy-Rey said Switzerland had to ensure it was not a haven for “dirty money … It cannot be that right at our door some people embezzle state funds and put them into their own pocket.”

Anouar Gharbi, a member of the Geneva-based Right For All non-governmental organisation, also welcomed the timely response.

“The government has learned its lesson from the Tunisian case of [Zine El Abidine] Ben Ali, where it gave him and his family time to take out what they wanted from Swiss banks during the final days before he fled,” he told

Last month, after the ousting of Tunisia’s former president, Switzerland froze bank assets estimated at $620 million (SFr600 million) of former Tunisian government officials.

Better monitoring

Last Wednesday Right For All lodged a criminal complaint with the Federal Prosecutor’s Office against Mubarak and 20 members of his entourage — “a strict minimum” — urging them to block any assets they held in Switzerland.

Despite the government’s apparent swift announcement, some voices criticised the fact that money from Mubarak and Ben Ali might have ended up in Swiss banks.

“It was quick, but the money has been sleeping here for a long time. We could’ve been quicker identifying it,” bemoaned Thomas Chappot of the Bern Declaration NGO, taking a swipe at Swiss money-laundering law.

“Swiss banks do seem to have an effective system to freeze assets but whether they are effectively monitoring money that arrives in the first place…I don’t know; it’s always a challenge for banking authorities to check if what comes in comes from fraud or crime,” said Steven Philippsohn, a senior partner with London-based law firm PCB Litigation.

Mark Herkenrath, a tax expert at the Swiss Alliance of Development Organisations, felt a bank’s obligation to exercise due diligence was not taken seriously enough and politicians were not holding them to it.

“What is the point of being a pioneer in returning money but at the same time being the first point of call for wealth of dubious origin?” he told Reuters.


British Foreign Secretary William Hague said on Monday that Britain had received a request from the Egyptian government to freeze the assets of several former Egyptian officials and that it would cooperate.

French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said Paris had received a list from Cairo of figures whose assets should be frozen. The list “concerns neither the former president Hosni Mubarak nor members of his family,” he said.

In Washington, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said no request had been received regarding Mubarak’s assets, but a senior US administration official said requests had been received regarding the assets of other Egyptian officials.

“There clearly needs to be a concerted international action on this,” said British Business Minister Vince Cable on Sunday.

How far these investigations will go ultimately depends on the political will of Egypt’s leadership, said Eric Lewis, a partner with Washington-based law firm Baach, Robinson & Lewis, which specialises in international asset tracing.

Bans and investigations

Inside Egypt there have been developments, however. On Sunday night it was reported that 43 people were now subject to orders freezing their assets and banning them from leaving Egypt. They are understood to include members of the Mubarak family.

Egyptian lawyer Ibrahim Youssri told Associated Press that he was seeking a criminal investigation of the Mubarak family and that the Egyptian general prosecutor had agreed to meet him to review evidence.

The British Serious Fraud Office is meanwhile already investigating financial entities linked to Mubarak’s sons, Gamal and Alaa.

The former president apparently remains at a private villa in the Red Sea resort of Sharm-el-Sheikh, where he is understood to have been joined by his family, including some members who returned from abroad. A number of Gulf countries are reportedly preparing to offer him asylum.

The subject of Mubarak’s wealth has long been a matter of speculation, with many Egyptians believing he and his family own up to $70 billion worth of assets, some of which is allegedly held in secret offshore bank accounts.

Simon Bradley with agencies,

How much?

The real value of the Mubaraks’ fortune remains a mystery. US officials dismissed a rumour that the family is worth up to $70 billion as a wild exaggeration, telling the New York Times that the true figure was between $2 billion to $3 billion.

According to the Huffington Post website, the Mubarak family reportedly owns properties around the world, from London and Paris to New York and Beverly Hills. In addition to homes in the Red Sea resort of Sharm al-Sheikh and the upscale Cairo district of Heliopolis, they also have a six-story mansion in the Knightsbridge section of London, a house near the Bois de Bologne in Paris and two yachts…

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

The Gipsy Community in Bulgaria: Tendencies and Perspectives

An overview of the difficulties in gathering data about the Roma people and the Gipsy community. Which, in Bulgaria, may soon become the major ethnic group of the country — with though implications.

Last year a big deal of Europe’s attention was attracted by the expulsion of Roma people from France, which arose many public condemns. Infringement of human rights and discrimination — these were among the main accusations towards the measures taken by Sarkozy. Yet, the number of the returned Romas does not represent a significant figure at all.

It seems like this measure had to take place in order to attract public attention on the issues linked to the Roma community, which in Bulgaria and Romania are even more present and pending than before the fall of Communism. What does the problem consists of? What is the situation in Bulgaria and what is forthcoming?

Over the years politicians tried to evade the problem concerning the integration of this significant minority. The gypsy community in Bulgaria is growing steadily and constantly, subverting the ethnical structure of the country. Zhivkov — who has ruled as the Bulgarian communist dictator for more than 30 years — once said that in 2050 Romas and Bulgarians will equalize in number: is this a prophecy or an insightful analysis of the forthcoming geopolitical situation?

It is important to stress that the Roma ethnic group is not a problem itself. The problem is that this community faces severe integration difficulties, it is very poor and its members have little or no chance to find a job in the society.

The first element to point out is the definition of the terms “gypsy” and “Roma”, for they are sometimes used as synonyms whilst a part of the public opinion considers the term “gypsy” offensive.

According to a research made by the Bulgarian institute Open Society, if we consider the people that take part in Roma festivals, gatherings, political parties and that speak the Roma language, the number of members of this community is around 426.000 people. But when taking into account the people that have a very low social status and live in the gypsy neighborhood, then the number increases up to 650.000-700.000 people. This leads us to state that while the term “Roma” is used to describe people who share the Roma culture and traditions, “gypsy” tends to be used with reference to the social status of certain people and of their way of living.

The main focus of the present article is on the gypsy community and the social problems it faces, since the cultural aspect is not a problem itself, neither for the country, nor for the Bulgarians.

Statistics about the numbers of the Gipsy people are quite controversial and therefore it is very hard to establish the right size of the Roma community in Bulgaria at the moment.

According to the 2009 data provided by the Bulgarian National Statistics Institute Bulgaria has 7.563.710 million inhabitants, of which the age group 0-14 amounts to 1.026.200, 15-64 to 5.211.619 and the age group above 64 is comprised of 1.325.891 individuals. According to the 2001 census 83.9% of the people living in Bulgaria defined themselves as Bulgarians, 9.4 % as Turks, 4.7 % (or 370.908 individuals) as Gypsies , 0.2 % as Russians, 0.1 % as Armenians.

However it should be underlined that the census did give everybody the right to determine and define their own idenityt and ethnical belonging freely — which may not correspond to the exact number of members of each minority groups.

The attitude of the Bulgarian government towards the Roma people and the gypsy community has often proven to be irresponsible. A census made in 1910 states that the gypsy community amounts to 2.8 % of the country’s population. In 1920 the people who determined themselves as gypsies were 98.451, 2% of country total population. This decrease was not due to changes in the birth rate but to the Bulgarian territorial changes that followed the treaty of Neoy. In 1934 the gypsy minority was composed of 150.000 members and until 1956 they amounted approximately to 2.5% of the total population.

Between 1965 and 1975 the policy of the Bulgarian communist party focused on the assimilation and depersonalization of the ethnic group, including also their obligatory settlement. According to the census of 1975, the figure of the gypsies in Bulgaria was barely 18.323 people and in 1992 313.396, which made 3.7% of the population. Such a rapid increase is basically impossible and leads one to question the validy of the data collection process. The increase of the population in the Roma community from 1992 to 2001 is 18.4% (or 57.512 people), while in the same years the total population of Bulgaria decreased from 8.484.900 to 7.973.67. However, according to unofficial sources — such as the U.S. program of assistance to Bulgaria — the gypsy community actually amounts between 6-9% of the total population. According to the different sources and the methods, this number varies between 370.000 and 800.000 individuals (!).

Getting a real overview of the data regarding the Gipsy population is extremely difficult. Data from the police registers was used when this became possible after the collapse of the Communism. According to this source, in 1959 there were 214.167 Roma people in Bulgaria, or 2.74% of the population and in 1989 this number increased to 576.927 people corresponding to 6.45% of the population. When these archives became public and the census in 1992 declared that the number of Roma was 313.396 people, many analysts contested the validity of these data.

Considering the statistics of the Ministry of Interior and the approximate birth rate of the gypsy community, it is probable that their total amount be between 640.000 and 830.000 individuals: and any community of more than 700.000 members out of a population of 7.563.710 million is a fact that deserves being carefully considered.

It is the social isolation of this group that derves particular attention: according to a study pursued by the World Bank in 2003, 15% of the members of the Gipsy community have no education (i.e. people who have never attended school or any other educational programme), many more than the 1.5% of Bulgarians.

Gipsies with limited elementary education amount to 39.4%, in contrast to the 9.4% of Bulgarians. Gipsies who have completed the elementary education cycle represent the 89.5 % of the total community and the respective number among the Bulgarians is 32.7%. Extremely low is the number of Roma people holding a university degree, only 0.5 % for the year 2003, in contrast to 13.5% of the Bulgarians.

With low or now education it becomes very difficult for Roma people to find a job at all. The unemployment rate in the community varies and is very uncertain. According to a report ordered by the Fredrick Herbert Foundation in 2007, up to 70 % of the active Gipsy population is unemployed.

According to a research made by the World Bank (Europe and Central Asia, Department of Human Development, April 2010) the economic fiscal losses deriving from the exclusion of the Gipsy community from participation in the labour market amount to 526 million of euros per year. This continuous economic loss is to be ascribed to the very low percentage of Gipsy people participating in the labour market and the low payment rates they get in return. According to the analysis of the World Bank these economic losses will increase significantly in the following years, because the Gipsy families are bigger and younger in age in comparison with the Bulgarian ones.

The unemployed or underpaid Gipsy representatives pay very low taxes to the State or do not pay them at all, given that they often work within the black market. The number of people over 64 years in Bulgaria is 1.325.891, with a tendency of continuous increase, and is much bigger than the age group 0-14. Hence, it is absolutely clear that a bigger work force is needed in Bulgaria in order to provide the normal functioning of the State and to sustain the big expenses needed for health and pensions given the constantly increasing number of retired people. The Bulgarian State would therefore benefit from employing bigger parts of the Gipsy community in order to cope with the current financial situation.

On the other hand, according to the research carried out by the World Bank, better qualified Gypsies are paid better than those with no (or low level of) education. The difference in the payment between the Gypsies with completed high school education and those with primary school grade is of 83% in favour of the first group.

This indicator alone is enough to stress the need for more governmental efforts to improve the education of this societal group. The losses deriving from the State inactivity are rapidly increasing, causing trobles for the Bulgarian government, which struggles to provide even the basic services (health, pension, education) to its citizens.

However, the real challenge for the governments is not to improve the education of Gipsies, but to succeed in taking this labour force out of the black market. This requires a significant amount of investments, while persuading Gipsy representatives to pay taxes and abandon the illegal economy sphere is a hard task for the capacity of the State bureaucracy.

There are various reasons behind the current marginalized situation of the community. One reason is that political parties use their votes during elections and prefer having a poor, uneducated social group which is easy to manipulate: this is an extremely narrow-minded and dangerous reason, because, as aforementioned, the financial and physical survival of the Bulgarian State highly depends on the incorporation and engagement of the Gipsy community in the legal economy and the labour market.

Another explanation lies in the reticence and conservatism of the Gipsy society, which is extremely hierarchical and traditional itself. This circumstance and the low effectiveness of the State administration and its initiatives (with widely spread allegations and corruption accusations even from the European Union) explain the little progress that has been made in the process of integration and social inclusion of this group.

Also, we should not forget to mention the stance (and prejudices) of the Bulgarian ethnic group towards the Gypsy minority, as the process of exclusion is never unilateral and it is based on the attitude of all societal members.

So, either the Bulgarian political élite has a considerable interest in suporting the present status quo or it is absolutely incapable to change it. Or it may be both.

The main challenge — not only for the political class but for the whole Bulgarian society — is whether it will prove able to integrate this marginalized community, or not. With no well-defined identity, the Bulgarian society is at present absolutely unable to integrate or stimulate the development of the Gypsies.

For all those who have been living in Bulgaria over the last years, it is clear that the reverse process (i.e. the integration of the Bulgarians in the Gypsy society based on a change in the way of living and of cultural values) is actually taking place.

Starting with (but not limited to) the wide-spread popularity of “chalga” music — an indefinable mix of Balkan rhythms, gypsy music, oriental music and modern pop — whose popularity is rising to become a real lifestyle in the country and a pillar of self- identification of Bulgarians, it is the Bulgarians who integrate themselves in the Gypsy for-the-moment-still-minority.

This process of slow assimilation of the Bulgarians within the Gipsy community is not a problem. What is problematic, is that the Gipsy society in Bulgaria is not developed enough to guarantee and provide the functioning of the State. In 2050 the Gypsy community will become the major ethnic group of the country. Bearing in mind the unclear information regarding the actual data regarding this community, this trend may materialize even sooner than expected. And it is difficult to foresee how the Bulgarian State will adapt to such big change.

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

UK: BA Worker Held ‘Secret Meeting’ With Associate at Heathrow, Terrorism Trial Told

Rajib Karim, 31, went to Terminal 5 clutching a copy of a newspaper as instructed in a coded e-mail from a friend in Bangladesh known only as ‘Brett’.

Karim had been given the codename ‘Carl’ and was told to look out for ‘Terry’, a man holding a copy of the Guardian in his left hand and wearing a watch on his right wrist, Woolwich Crown Court. Karim, who was holding an Independent, met with Terry, real name Yacoub Ali, before flying to Bangladesh to visit family. The meeting took place in late January or early February 2009, but Karim had been sent detailed instructions the previous November, jurors were told.

The coded message was sent by ‘Brett’, a conduit between Karim and his younger brother Tehzeeb, informing Karim that a ‘brother’ he has never met before is coming to Britain, which is referred to as ‘Brazil’. Karim has told the court that the messages were encrypted and coded because of fears for the safety of those still in Bangladesh. He has denied he and his brother were members of the proscribed terror group Jamaat-ul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), but has admitted fund-raising for it and creating a video promoting its work. Karim’s barrister James Wood QC described the Heathrow meeting as a ‘John Le Carre moment’ referring to the famous spy writer. In the message entitled ‘Bro has already left for Brazil, ‘Brett’ wrote: ‘He will have a Guardian newspaper in his left hand and a watch on his right wrist. His name is Terry and yours is Carl. ‘You will have an independent newspaper with you. Introduce yourself or ask him if he is Terry or any way you think is appropriate.’ Mr Wood also referred to the incident as the ‘secret flower meeting’. Karim admitted meeting Ali at terminal five before he flew to Bangladesh.

‘Did he have a copy of the Guardian,’ asked the barrister. ‘He did,’ replied Karim.

‘Did you carry an Independent?’ said Mr Wood. ‘I did,’ said Karim.

Karim, a BA software engineer, is accused of conspiring with radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki to blow-up a US-bound plane. The preacher instructed him to take advantage of strike action at the airline to train as cabin crew with the aim of getting a package on board an aircraft, it is said.

Giving evidence Karim has said he would ‘never’ have launched a terror attack in the UK.

He has told the court he was focused on raising money for and spreading the message of JMB and at times felt ‘useless’ while living in Newcastle.

Karim spent two years working on a four-part two and-a-half hour long video on the plight of JMB but admitted there was ‘not much’ impact when it was released in December 2008.

He added: ‘In Islam what we believe is if you put in the effort, whatever happens, if you don’t get the results in this life you will get rewarded and that is what I feel.’

Karim also claimed his brother Tehzeeb was ‘ambitious but not realistic’ about his plans for JMB…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

UK: Don’t Put Wire on Your Windows — It Might Hurt Burglars! Villagers Outraged After Police Order Them Not to Protect Garden Sheds Last Updated at 3:15 Am on 13th February 2011

Home owners in the villages of Tandridge and Tatsfield in Surrey and in Westerham, Brasted and Sundridge in Kent have said they are furious that they are being branded ‘criminals’ for protecting their property.

Locals had reinforced their windows with wire mesh after a series of shed thefts but were told by community police officers that the wire was ‘dangerous’ and could lead to criminals claiming compensation if they ‘hurt themselves’.

Surrey Police have defended the move but outraged residents have attacked the force for seemingly trying to protect criminals.

Thomas Cooper, of Tatsfield, Surrey, said he put the mesh around three of his garden sheds after two break-ins over the past four years.

He said he decided to take action after reports of a rise in shed burglaries in the area near the Kent and Surrey border.

‘I have three sheds and had two break-ins in the past four years,’ Mr Cooper explained.

‘I reinforced my shed windows with wire mesh, but was told by the police I had to be very careful because thieves can actually sue you if they get hurt.

‘“I mean, what are you meant to do? Let them take your stuff? It is ridiculous that the law protects them even though they are breaking it.’

More… As a family of 14 gypsies face eviction for terrorising their neighbours and wrecking the £1.2m home where they live on benefits, will they trash YOUR street next?

Last month mother-of-three Samantha Cullum had her entire shed pinched in the village of Brasted, near Sevenoaks in Kent, when thieves simply lifted it onto a truck in the dead of night.

‘We had some tools stolen every now and again, but this time they took the entire shed — I couldn’t believe it.’

Tatsfield homeowner Dave Bishop labelled the police advice ‘unbelievable’ and said people should be allowed to protect their property.

Crime reduction officer for Tandridge PC John Lee commented: ‘We are constantly advising homeowners to protect their property and the contents of their shed or garage, however, a commonsense approach needs to be taken.

‘To properly secure your sheds, Surrey Police strongly advises people to invest in items such as good-quality locks and bolts, and not to resort to homemade devices, as this could cause injury.’

A police source added: ‘Homemade devices can cause injury and there have been cases where criminals have sued for injuries they have suffered while committing a criminal act.

‘We are advising people to do whatever they can to protect their property, but wire mesh is not one of the suggestions we would make.’

           — Hat tip: Steen[Return to headlines]

UK: David Cameron’s Anger at ‘Completely Offensive’ Ruling Giving Rapists and Paedophiles Right to Apply to Have Names Removed From Sex Offenders Register

David Cameron today launched a scathing attack on a Supreme Court ruling which gives rapists and paedophiles the right to apply to have their names removed from the sex offenders register.

The Prime Minister’s outspoken attack on the judgment came ahead of a statement by Home Secretary Theresa May about the Government’s response to the ruling.

Officials are preparing new rules after failing to overturn the ruling that it is a breach of offenders’ human rights to be put on the register for life with no review.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: In Court Charged With Theft by Finding, The Woman Who Took Food From a Tesco Bin

A woman who took food from bins outside a Tesco store is facing a crown court trial for theft.

Sacha Hall, 21, is accused of helping herself to items including potato waffles, pies and ham that had been thrown out following a power cut.

She was later arrested by police, who took her from her home in handcuffs on suspicion of what is called theft by finding. The offence carries a maximum seven-year prison sentence.

Hall appeared before magistrates yesterday where she entered no plea to the charge and chose to stand trial in front of a jury.

The case could have wide-ranging implications for so-called freegans, whose practices include salvaging food discarded by supermarkets to ensure it doesn’t go to waste.

Magistrates in Chelmsford, Essex, heard Hall was spotted on the evening of January 29 taking food outside a Tesco Express below her flat in the district of Great Baddow.

Denise Holland, prosecuting, said a power cut the day before meant ‘a large amount’ of chilled products were ruined.

‘It had been placed in bags and then placed into cages at the rear of Tesco’s service yard,’ she said.

‘This was to be disposed of because it had been unrefrigerated for too long and was due to be collected for further disposal.

‘The store manager came out having heard footsteps across the roof. She saw several unknown males in the cages.

‘Hall was on the roof of the store carrying bags of products back from the cages and putting them through the window of her flat.’

Police were called and arrested Hall, who earns around £600 a month working for a rival supermarket in the town.

Speaking last week, she said: ‘They knocked on the door and said if I didn’t open up they would use a battering ram. They handcuffed me and treated me like I was a hardened criminal and when we left they raided my house.’

Hall, who is single with no children, said she wanted the food to feed her ‘extended family’.

‘I would think the police have better things to be doing with their time than going after people who pick up potato waffles from the street. It’s all been blown totally out of proportion,’ she said.

‘Tesco clearly did not want the food. They dumped it and, rather than see it go to waste, I thought I could help feed me and my family for a week or two.’

Magistrates heard Hall had taken £215.16 of food, including 100 packs of ham. She also entered no plea to a charge of possession of a class B drug in relation to two cannabis cigarettes allegedly found at her flat.

If the case had been heard by magistrates she would have faced a maximum jail term of six months or a £5,000 fine.

Chairman of the bench Dr Francis Klaber adjourned the case until April 12 and released Hall on unconditional bail.

Hall made no comment as she left the court.

Tesco said yesterday: ‘It’s not for us to comment on. That’s a matter for the courts.’

Freeganism began in the 1960s as an anti-consumerist movement in which people tried to minimise their use of resources.

More recently the term has become associated with those who use perfectly good food that has been thrown out by supermarkets because it is past its sell-by date.

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

UK: Judges Throw Out Appeal by Muslim Men Who Hurled Abuse at Soldiers’ Welcome Home Parade

The focus on minority rights ‘should not result in overlooking the rights of the majority’ when it comes to freedom of speech, the High Court said today.

Two judges were rejecting appeals by five Muslim men who staged a protest as British soldiers who had recently returned from Afghanistan paraded through Luton.

They ruled that the protests, which included accusing the troops of being ‘rapists, murderers and baby killers’, went well beyond ‘legitimate expressions of protest’.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: Leyton/Wanstead: Anger at Event to Honour Disgraced MP

THE Liberal Democrats have criticised a plan to honour disgraced former MP Harry Cohen at a town hall event.

The function, hosted by the Waltham Forest Muslim Burial Trust, is intended to mark the contribution to the community made by Labour MPs in the borough, with focus on Mr Cohen, who represented Leyton and Wanstead, and former Walthamstow member Neil Gerrard.

Mr Cohen stepped down at the last election after he was forced to apologise for breaking expenses rules.

He wrongly pocketed more than £70,000 for improvements to what he claimed was his “second” home in Woodcote Road, Wanstead.

But in fact he spent most of his time there and was rarely seen at his “main” home in Colchester which he rented out over long periods.

In January 2010 a parliamentary watchdog said that his actions were a “serious breach” of the rules and he was ordered to forgo a £65,000 golden goodbye when he left parliament.

Waltham Forest Lib Dem leader Cllr Bob Sullivan said the decision to honour Mr Cohen was “horrendous”.

He said: “I was sent an invitation in the post and I couldn’t believe it.

“The last person that we should honour is Harry Cohen. The last I heard was he was still under investigation.

“I think it’s horrendous. It’s absolutely crazy.”…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

UK: Sheik: Islam Advances in Times of Turmoil

‘I believe this is a very healthy situation’

First it was German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Then came British Prime Minister David Cameron, and now French President Nicholas Sarkozy is joining the team with his conclusion that the attempts to promote a multicultural society across Europe are a failure, and there needs to be a return to pro-Western values.

British Sheik Anjem Choudary agrees that multiculturalism is failing, but he says that society needs to turn to Islam instead of Western values, and it is during times of turmoil that Muslims advance their cause.

“The clash of civilizations is continuing and rather than hiding behind the façade of multiculturalism, it’s much more healthy to come out and say, ‘We have a set of values we believe are superior and that will make for some healthy discussion.’ I believe Islam is superior and will never be surpassed. I believe this is a very healthy situation,” Choudary said.


Choudary’s statement asks the strongly pro-British group [EDL] to become Muslims, claiming that Tommy Robinson and his group are following man-made law.

“On behalf of the Muslims in Britain I would like to invite Tommy Robinson and his followers, who call themselves the English Defence League to give up their false and shallow call of nationalism, which will never lead to any revival and to embrace the truth of Al-Islam, the one true religion and to stand with us against the corruption of man made law,” the press statement began.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Werner Herzog’s Cave Painting Documentary: ‘The Birth of the Modern Human Soul’

Werner Herzog’s new film “Cave of Forgotten Dreams” is a stunning 3D documentary about a cave in France that is home to the world’s oldest known human art. The legendary German director talked to SPIEGEL ONLINE about his life-long fascination with Stone Age cave paintings, the birth of the human soul and why he will only stop making films when he is taken away in a straitjacket.

Werner Herzog has always had a fascination for extreme places. Whether it’s the rainforests of 1972’s “Aguirre, the Wrath of God” and 1982’s “Fitzcarraldo,” the ravaged oil fields of Kuwait in the 1992 film “Lessons of Darkness,” or Antarctica as featured in the 2007 documentary “Encounters at the End of the World,” the legendary German filmmaker seems happiest when he is in the kind of location that tests human endurance to the limits.

But seldom has Herzog filmed in a place as inaccessible as the location of his latest documentary. In “Cave of Forgotten Dreams,” which features in the official program of the 2011 Berlin International Film Festival, Herzog visits the Chauvet Cave in southern France, which is home to unique examples of Paleolithic rock art. The cave was sealed off for dozens of millennia — and even today, no one is granted access apart from a handful of scientists.

The cave, discovered in 1994, is home to hundreds of pristine artworks. Over 30,000 years old, they are the oldest known pictures created by humans and show at least 13 different species of animals, including horses, cattle, lions and bears.

In the spring of 2010, Herzog was given a unique opportunity to film inside the cave. He and his team were only allowed access for a period of a few days, and were only able to use battery-powered equipment. High levels of radon gas and carbon dioxide in the cave meant they could only stay inside for a few hours at a time.

The director opted to make the film in 3D — the first time he has used the technology — to do justice to the cave paintings, which use the contours of the rock for dramatic effect. “I knew immediately that it was imperative to shoot in 3D,” he says. The result is a visually stunning documentary that transports the viewer into the cavern and captures the artwork in all its glory.

SPIEGEL ONLINE spoke to Herzog in a telephone interview as the director prepared to visit a maximum security prison in Texas to shoot footage for a new film about inmates on death row…

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]


Bosnia: UN Tribunal Orders Arrest of Prosecution Witness for Contempt of Court

Sarajevo, 15 Feb. (AKI) — The United Nations war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia has ordered the arrest of a prosecution witness in the trial of wartime Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, Bosnian media reported on Tuesday.

Berko Zecevic, a professor at Mechanical Engineering Faculty in Sarajevo was arrested last Friday on orders of the ICTY, after failing to answer a subpoena to testify in the trial of Karadzic, who is accused of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, the reports said.

“I can confirm that he has been indicted for contempt of court in the Karadzic case, because he had refused to appear as a prosecution witness after being served a subpoena,” Nerma Jelacic, the Hague-based prosecution spokesperson said.

“At the moment we are awaiting his arrival because he still hasn’t been transferred from Sarajevo,” she added, referring to the Bosnian capital.

Zecevic had already testified before the Hague-based ICTY in the trials of former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic and Bosnian Serb general Stanislav Galic as an expert on explosives.

He was supposed to testify in the Karadzic trial on the shelling of Sarajevo Markale market in May and August 1995 in which more than one hundred people were killed. Zecevic was a member of Bosnian state commission investigating the attacks, which determined that the grenades were fired from Serb positions.

But he said in a recent interview that “there are many truths (about Markale) and the truth must be fought for, because it doesn’t come by itself”.

Karadzic claims that the Markale attacks were engineered by Muslim forces in order to blame the Serbs and to provoke a NATO intervention in Bosnia’s 1992-1995 war.

Karadzic’s indictment centreson the siege and shelling of Sarajevo, in which up to 12,000 people died, the taking of international hostages and a massacre of some 8,000 Muslim men and boys in eastern town of Srebrenica in July 1995.

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

Political Instability, Weakness in Many Countries

(ANSAmed) — BELGRADE, FEBRUARY 15 — A widespread political weakness and instability, also caused by a deep economic and social crisis, characterises most of the countries in the Western Balkans in this period. This situation could complicate and delay the road these countries have to travel to become members of the European Union. — SERBIA — In Belgrade the government of Premier Mirko Cvetkovic and President Boris Tadic has been in trouble for months now, amid increasingly insistent talk of a government reshuffle and a reduction of the number of Ministries. On one hand there is a desire to make the government more streamlined and agile, on the other the contrasts and conflicts between the government members are increasingly evident. The most recent example of this is the criticism that was expressed by Vice Premier and Economy Minister Mladjan Dinkic regarding Prime Minister Cvetkovic, saying that Cvetkovic has lost his authority and credibility. Cvetkovic had to deny articles that he would be close to resign. In Serbia, where general elections will be held in one year, the social discontent linked to the economic crisis is increasing and is expressed these days in a series of strikes, by the police, teachers and healthcare staff in particular. On February 5, tens of thousands of people demonstrated in the centre of Belgrade in the largest demonstration that was seen in the Serbian capital in the past ten years. The protest was an initiative of the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), the largest opposition party. — BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA — More than four months after the parliamentary elections of October 3, Bosnia has still not succeeded in forming a central government due to the continuing conflicts and vetoes interposed by the three ethnic groups of the complicated Balkan country: the Muslims, Serbs and Croats.

The appeals issued by Europe and by the international community’s High Representative Valentin Inzko have been unable to speed up the formation of government structures. Now Bosnia’s European prospect remains in a deadlock with hardly any concrete progress. — KOSOVO — Kosovo, which celebrates the third anniversary of its declaration of independence from Serbia on February 17, is also trying to form a new government after the elections of December 12. These elections were stained by fraud and irregularities which made it necessary to repeat the vote in six districts in January. But the real stumbling block for Kosovo’s European and democratic future is the fact that Hashim Thaci has been accused of involvement in illegal explants and traffic in human organs. The outgoing Premier has won the elections and will probably lead the new government as well. Thaci, former leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army (Uck), has rejected the accusations made in the report of European Council rapporteur Dick Marty, and has said that he is prepared to collaborate with investigations. But his image, as well as the image of the whole small Balkan country, has sustained a serious blow.

- MONTENEGRO — In Montenegro the era of Milo Djukanovic, the charismatic and much-loved Premier, ended recently. He resigned by the end of December after leading the government for 20 years, upsetting national politics. Djukanovic was succeeded by the very young Igor Luksic, who now has the difficult task of gaining the confidence of the people. People in Montenegro are also dealing with the economic crisis, as in the rest of the Western Balkans.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

North Africa

Algeria: Tlemcen, Islamic Culture Capital Events Begin

(ANSAmed) — ALGIERS, FEBRUARY 16 — Moulid Ennaboui, the feast celebrating the birth of the Prophet Mohamed, has marked the opening in Algeria of the Tlemcen’s reign as “Islamic culture capital”, which will see events from around the Arab world held in the west Algerian city. On April 16, the date of the “day of knowledge”, the initiative will be inaugurated internationally.

Today’s events were opened by the Minister of Culture, Khalida Toumi, as well as by artists and intellectuals.

A procession of musicians and traditional groups from a number of regions paraded through Tlemcen, the Algerian press reports.

Around 40 countries, 29 of them Islamic, will take part in the event. Throughout the year, talks on Zianid history and civilisation are planned, as are exhibitions, concerts, and plays, as well as traditional music, Arab calligraphy and sculpture festivals.

A centre of Andalusian studies and four museums dedicated to history, coins, manuscripts and traditional arts will also be opened. Around 100 restoration projects are due to get underway, including 12 historic mosques and the Zianid Royal Palace.

The Islamic Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (ISESCO) every year gives the title of “Islamic culture capital” to three cities in the Middle East and North Africa, Asia and Africa. In 2011, Tlemcen is joined by the Guinean capital Conakry and the Indonesian capital Jakarta.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Algeria: Soros Team Wants Al-Qaida in Government

Told Algerian officials those supporting Islamic caliphate should be ‘empowered’

An international “crisis management” group led by billionaire George Soros long has petitioned for the Algerian government to cease “excessive” military activities against al-Qaida-linked groups and to allow organizations seeking to create an Islamic state to participate in the Algerian government.

The organization, the International Crisis Group, also is tied strongly to the Egyptian opposition movement whose protests led to the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak.

Soros’ own Open Society Institute has funded opposition groups across the Middle East and North Africa, including organizations involved in the current chaos.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Egypt: Mubarak Rejects Invitations by Arab Countries, Wants to Die at Home

(AKI) — Former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak has rejected four offers to settle in other Arab countries because he wants to die in Egypt, according to a report by newspaper Masri El Yum, citing unnamed sources.

Mubarak, 82, has been living with his oldest son Alaa in Sharm el-Sheikh since resigning amid protests on 11 February.

The same sources told the Egyptian newspaper that Mubarak plans to continue writing his memoirs, something that has been interrupted by illness.

A medical source from the International Medical Center of the Armed Forces (IMC) said Mubarak suffered from pancreatic cancer and not from an inflamed gall bladder as was reported by media, the report said.

Mubarak stepped down as a result of the popular protests that swept his country staring on 25 January.

A former Egyptian airforce commander, Mubarak was appointed vice-president in 1975 and assumed the presidency of Egypt on 14 October 1981, after the assassination of Anwar El Sadat by Islamist army officers.

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

Egypt: Press: Mubarak Refuses 4 Expatriation Offers

(ANSAmed) — CAIRO, FEBRUARY 16 — The former Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak, has refused the offers from the heads of state of four Arab countries who say that they are ready to welcome him and insists that he wants to die in Egypt. This is according to Al Masri Al Yom, which quoted sources close to the former President.

The same sources explained that Mubarak is in Sharm El Sheikh, where he is being cared for by his elder son Alaa and that his health has deteriorated since Sunday.

The former Rais, they say, intended to write his memoirs, but decided to dictate them, so as not to get too tired. According to the sources, the memoirs could contain important revelations about his final five years in power.

An international medical centre has confirmed persistent rumours of the Mubarak’s ill health, saying that he has pancreatic cancer, while they claim his wife Suzanne is suffering from a blood tumour.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Egypt Islamists’ Impact on Israel Peace Unclear: US

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood probably does not favor its country’s peace treaty with Israel, but its views are not uniform and it will be only one voice in Egypt’s emerging political lineup, the top U.S. intelligence official told a Senate hearing on Wednesday

“I would assess that they are not in favor of the treaty,” Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told the Senate Select Intelligence Committee, adding that the U.S. intelligence community knows very little about the Muslim Brotherhood’s views on the Israel peace treaty and Palestinian weapon smuggling into Gaza from Egypt.

The Muslim Brotherhood is “only one voice in the emerging political milieu” of Egypt following last week’s ouster of President Hosni Mubarak, said Clapper.

“The Muslim Brotherhood is a large, heterogenous global organization whose agenda and impact differ from country to country,” he told the committee.

“It also has different factions, including a conservative wing whose interpretation of Islam runs counter to broad electoral participation and a younger, more liberal wing who is more inclined to work through a secular political process,” said Clapper.

Central Intelligence Agency Director Leon Panetta told the hearing the agency was closely watching the Muslim Brotherhood as the political situation in Egypt takes shape.

“It is clear that within the Muslim brotherhood there are extremist elements that we have to pay attention to and that’s something we watch very closely to make sure that they are not able to exert their influence on the directions of governments in that region,” said Panetta…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Egypt: 3 Missing Antiquities Found

Zahi Hawass said on Wednesday that one was found under a case in the museum and two were found in the museum courtyard. On Jan 28, during massive street protests that led to the ouster of former president Hosni Mubarak, looters climbed a fire escape, broke windows on the roof and entered the museum by rope. Mr Hawass said they broke 13 cases, scattering about 70 objects on the ground. About 20 of those will be repaired.

The items found include a statue of a goddess who was carrying the 18th Dynasty King Tutankhamen. The king’s statue has not been found. Mr Hawass said police had arrested a number of suspects.

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Egypt Women Clash Over Sharia Law After Tahrir Shows Equality

Fatma Emam’s mother accused her of wanting to be a man and threatened to disown her if the 28-year- old joined the protests in Tahrir Square. She went anyway.

“There are so many women who like me defied their families,” Emam said after spending five days and four nights in downtown Cairo. “The revolution is not only taking place in Tahrir, it is taking place in every Egyptian house. It is the revolution of fighting the patriarch.”

The women who rallied against former President Hosni Mubarak challenged social taboos in a culture that favors men. Now the triumph of the uprising has given way to cautious optimism among liberal activists who want an entirely secular legal code, with no Sharia, or Islamic-based, laws.

They are at odds with other women in the pro-democracy movement as the military sets the stage for the new Egypt, suspending the constitution and dissolving the parliament.

“Women in this country have always participated in revolutionary movements, and then they have had to fight inch by inch to get what they should get when things return to normality,” said Margot Badran, author of “Feminism in Islam: Secular and Religious Convergences” and a senior scholar at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson Center who was in Cairo when the revolt began Jan. 25. “It is like driving with the emergency brake on. You are driving, but it is pulling you back.”

Husband’s Permission

In Tahrir Square, the site of 18 days of rebellion that ousted Mubarak, women were from disparate groups, veiled and not, Christian and Muslim, Westernized and traditional. They were as outspoken as men, leading chants and banging iron rods on power poles to sound the alert of approaching pro-regime marchers. It was remarkable in a country where until 2000 a wife couldn’t leave the country without her husband’s permission and until 1999 a rapist could avoid prison by marrying his victim.

While Egypt in 1957 was the first Arab country to elect a woman to parliament, just four won positions in 2005. The People’s Assembly then created 64 seats for women. With the legislature disbanded, the fate of the 64-seat quota is unknown.

The military will keep the Mubarak cabinet, which includes four women, in place for the time being during a transition period to a new elected government, according to a statement from the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. The council appointed a committee Feb. 15 to rewrite the constitution.

Traditional, Conservative Views

As progressive as Egypt has been when compared with some other Arab countries, many in the country hold traditional, conservative views. Women would rather not work outside the home, according to a government study that found about 3 percent of all women in the workforce were in supervisory positions. Divorce for women often comes with stigma. Staying single into one’s 30s brings the label of spinster and pressure to marry. Being the victim of sexual harassment can subject a woman to questions about how modestly she dresses.

The Tahrir Square campaigners were from a mosaic of groups orchestrated largely by young cyber activists holding a broad mix of views on social issues. The country is about 90 percent Muslim, and Egypt’s best organized opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, combines public support for democracy with a backing for Sharia law. The brotherhood — which issued a draft position paper in 2007 that said a woman or a Christian couldn’t be head of state — — announced plans Feb. 15 to form a political party…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Hundreds of Libyan Protesters Demanding Removal of Gaddafi Clash With Riot Police in Fresh Arab Uprising

Hundreds of demonstrators demanding change in Libya and the overthrow of long-time leader Muammar Gaddafi clashed with police and security forces today as protests continued to sweep through the Middle East.

At least 38 people are said to have been hurt as protesters armed with stones and petrol bombs fought with police, who fired rubber bullets, water cannons and tear gas in the city of Benghazi, 600 miles east of the Libyan capital Tripoli.

The protests are the worst so far to hit a country that has been ruled unchallenged for 40-years by Colonel Gaddafi — and sparked immediate orchestrated counter demonstrations by government supporters.


But in a clear warning, a senior Libyan official said the authorities would ‘not allow’ a small group of people to ‘play with the security of Libya.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

In Egypt, Young People Are Changing Islam, Separating Religion and Politics

The demonstrations do not stop after Mubarak’s speech and the declaration of the Supreme Council of the army. The international community is guided only by their own interests, but does not understand the needs of the Egyptian people. Should be supporting the youth of Tahrir Square. The transition in Egypt is a symbol that can change the Arab world and the planet.

Cairo (AsiaNews) — Tahrir Square is not only about social demands (wages, jobs, bread, etc. ..), but implementing change in Islam. Young people reject both the military dictatorship and the Islamic republic, they want a modern state that guarantees full citizenship to all, Christians or Muslims. Proof of this is that since 25 January, when the demonstrations began, police have removed security details from Christian churches and there have been no attacks. This is why, what is happening these days in Cairo has the power to change the Arab world and the entire planet. Here we publish the considerations of an illustrious figure from the Egyptian Christian world, who wanted to share them with AsiaNews readers. The name used is a pseudonym.

Still today, Tahrir Square is overflowing with hundreds of thousands of young and old, men and women, disappointed and unhappy about Mubarak’s speech yesterday. Last night, the Rais, in a televised address categorically ruled out his abandonment of power, which the crowds continue to demand. Mubarak has only promised to cede some powers to his deputy Omar Suleiman, but insists on remaining in power until presidential elections next September.

Today, while the number of demonstrators increase in the beautiful capital and other cities of Egypt, the Supreme Council of the army says it will remove the state of emergency “as soon as the current situation ends”.

Some believe that there has been a split between Mubarak and the army and that the soldiers will eventually throw their support fully behind the population. The full picture of behind the scenes manoeuvres is still unclear: it is like being in fog. But one thing is certain: the young continue to demonstrate, demanding more and more. It is important to maintain pressure on the power and never allow it time to gather, contented with generic statements and vague promises. These young people will not stop making their demands and the protests will continue. They have been so badly deceived and treated by the regime that they will not leave the square. If they stop, society will once again fall into the hands of the dictatorship. From this point of view it is interesting to hear the words of one of the most famous activists (see: ).

The hope is that it does not slide into violence. It seems to me that so far that the young people and the army have a kind of “gentlemen’s agreement” not to resort to violence. The criminals used violence, not the young people.

It has made a lasting impression on the international community. Rumours abound that an American aircraft carrier has arrived in the Persian Gulf and another in the eastern Mediterranean, perhaps to ensure traffic in Suez, Israel has urged Egypt to achieve a “peaceful transition”, that Iran has expressed its hope Egypt will become an Islamic Republic along its own lines….. Faced with these popular riots, everyone is looking after their own interests. None of these foreign powers is paying the slightest attention to the best interests of the Egyptian people. All are driven by realpolitik and by their own affairs.

In the short term this bears fruit, but in the long term it only brings defeat. The U.S., for example, have always supported Islamic fundamentalists (Saudi Arabia, Taliban, etc …). In this way they have secured oil profits. But the spread of Islamic fundamentalism in the world has put all western civilization at risk.

The most serious is that the more the fundamentalists raise their voices, the more the moderates are silent. We risk throwing away world culture and civilization as a result of a violent and fanatical group, which silences and intimidates the moderates in the West, who are only concerned with uttering politically correct phrases, so as not to appear too anti-Muslim, or Islamophobic.

The majority of states in the West falls into this trap. The left-wing governments have done nothing but welcome, dialogue, and in the name of humanity, of tolerance, drained the coffers of social security. We are now facing a social failure and a failure of civilization. The left-wing governments were corrupt. For their part, the right-wing governments also played the game: they took power by giving a harsher response, opposing the Islamic world, without dialogue.

What is happening these days in Egypt, is an important step for the Arab world and the rest of the world. It is now clear to everyone that what we are experiencing is not simply a domestic problem but an issue that embraces the entire world. What happens here goes far beyond national boundaries. Young people are not only demanding more social security, but Islam is going through a change. The young people demand a clear distinction between religion and politics. They reject both the military dictatorship and the Iranian style Islamic revolution. They want a system of government based on civil society. They want freedom, a modern state of rule. If Egypt does this, the entire Arab world will follow, because it is the leading country of the Arab-Muslim world. But if this happens in the Arab world, the world will follow. Egypt is a symbol.

Although the majority of young Muslims who are in Tahrir square, they reject an Islamic state, modelled on the Muslim Brotherhood. These are increasingly marginalized and have much less weight and influence than most think. Mubarak gave them immense power. But the reason is now clear: raising the spectre of Islamic fundamentalism in front of the United States, he received large economic concessions. Exaggerating the danger of the Muslim Brotherhood against Israel, was a easy game to ensnare the United States, hinting that without him there would have been war, violence, the Islamic state.

It is worth noting a fact: after January 25, police stopped the security checks and surveillance in front of churches. It was feared that there would be attacks and destruction — as was the case on December 31 at the Church of Alexandria — and yet nothing happened. So much so that some suspect that the bombing of Alexandria was caused by sources close to the Egyptian Ministry of the Interior.

I want to make an appeal to you Westerners: give your moral support to the young Egyptians, put pressure on your governments and major international organizations that defend religious freedom and civil liberties, so that Muslim countries accept a modern vision of the state, where there is equality for all, freedom of expression, thought, religion and conversion. In short, so that there is a distinction between radical Islam and politics. This is what the young people of Tahrir Square are asking for.

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

Lara Logan Assault: Former GMTV Reporter Suffers Sex Attack Covering Egypt Uprising

Former GMTV reporter Lara Logan spoke of her safety fears just one day before she suffered a sex attack in Egypt, it has emerged.

The 39-year-old ex-swimwear model, who had been deported back to the U.S. in early February, had returned to Egypt when she was set upon by a mob of more than 200 people in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.

Ms Logan — now chief foreign correspondent for America’s CBS News network — was attacked after being separated from her TV crew in the centre of the city where the crowd was celebrating President Hosni Mubarak’s resignation.

Ms Logan delivering a report for GMTV on immigrants trying to get into England from France

CBS issued a statement yesterday, saying: ‘On the day Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak stepped down, CBS correspondent Lara Logan was covering the jubilation in Tahrir Square for a ‘60 Minutes’ story when she and her team and their security were surrounded by a dangerous element amidst the celebration.

‘It was a mob of more than 200 people whipped into frenzy. In the crush of the mob, she was separated from her crew.

‘She was surrounded and suffered a brutal and sustained sexual assault and beating before being saved by a group of women and an estimated 20 Egyptian soldiers.

‘She reconnected with the CBS team, returned to her hotel and returned to the United States on the first flight the next morning. She is currently in the hospital recovering.’

Last night, on the 5pm CBS news bulletin, anchor Katie Couric — who herself had been ‘manhandled’ while reporting from Egypt — said: ‘We’re pleased to report she’s recovering well in the hospital.

‘Our thoughts and prayers are with her and, of course, we wish her the very best.’

The New York Post reported that a CBS source claims her attackers shouted ‘Jew! Jew!’ during the assault.

The attack comes just a week after Miss Logan and her crew were detained overnight in Cairo before being interrogated and deported back to New York.

She said she was marched at gunpoint back to her hotel in the Egyptian capital in ‘a very frightening experience and one that was repeated throughout the day for us.

Ms Logan seen here in another image from Tahrir Square moments before she was assaulted. The image was only released yesterday. There is no suggestion any of the men pictured were responsible for the attack

‘Everywhere we went we were approached by people,’ she said at the time. ‘We were accused of being more than journalists, very frightening suggestions were being made. Suggestions that really could be very dangerous for us,’ she added.

She and her crew were then deported to New York but were soon planning their return. She then gave an interview with where she spoke of her desire head back to the Middle Eastern country.

The newscaster said it was ‘in her blood’ to be covering the tumultuous events. The interview was published the day before she was attacked in Tahrir Square where this time Egyptian soldiers rescued her.

‘We were not attacked by crazy people in Tahrir Square,’ she told the website. ‘We were detained by the Egyptian army.

‘Arrested, detained, and interrogated. Blindfolded, handcuffed, taken at gunpoint, our driver beaten. It’s the regime that arrested us.

‘We were accused of being Israeli spies. We were accused of being agents. We were accused of everything.’

Yet despite the traumatic experience Ms Logan said she still felt compelled to return to the country…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Libya: Demonstrators Clash With Police in Anti-Government Protest

Benghazi, 16 Feb. (AKI) — Libya is due to release 110 political prisoners as hundreds of protesters rally against the government in city of Benghazi.

The unrest was reportedly sparked by a lawyer known for his criticism of the government led by Muammar Gaddafi. The lawyer was said to be released.

In recent days Abu Suhayb al Libya, a leader of radical Islamic opposition group Jamaa Islamiya, said that prisoners would be freed either Wednesday or Thursday on the occasion of Milad un Nabi, which commemorates the birth of the Prophet Muhammad.

Fourteen people, including 11 police officers, have been injured in Benghazi during clashes between demonstrators and security forces, according to the Libyan press.

Demonstrations have spread through a number of Arab countries which swept leaders in Egypt and Tunisia from power.

According to Arab-language newspaper al-Hayat, 345 Islamic extremists are detained in Libya’s prisons.

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

Libya: 110 Activists From Islamic Group Released

(ANSAmed) — TRIPOLI, FEBRUARY 16 — Libya has today released 110 Islamists belonging to the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFC). They were released before family members and press officials who were invited to the event inside Tripoli’s Abu Slim prison. The 110 former prisoners released include three leaders of the movement.

The release was announced by Mohammed Torniche, the chair of the Libyan League of Human Rights, which led a campaign alongside the Gaddafi Charity Foundation aimed at rehabilitating and reinserting prisoners belonging to Islamist groups back into society.

The rehabilitation programme was activated in 2008. Some 250 prisoners linked to Islamist groups have now been released since last March, after having “renounced violence” as a result of the joint programme.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Muslim Brotherhood Agenda Unclear: US Spy Chiefs

Top US intelligence officials said Wednesday that Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood includes “extremist” elements but that the opposition group’s agenda remained unclear.

Lawmakers at a Senate hearing pressed intelligence leaders to define the possible threat posed by the Islamist movement after nationwide protests forced Egypt’s strongman Hosni Mubarak to step down last week. But James Clapper, director of national intelligence, told senators the group did not speak with one voice and that he was unsure about the Muslim Brotherhood’s stance on Iran, the Egypt-Israel peace treaty and efforts to halt the smuggling of weapons to Gaza. “It’s hard to at this point to point to a specific agenda of the Muslim Brotherhood as a group,” Clapper said.

Asked about the Muslim Brotherhood’s view of the Egypt-Israel treaty, Clapper said: “I would assess that they’re probably not in favor of the treaty,” but added that the group would be “one voice in the emerging political milieu in Egypt.”

Dianne Feinstein, chair of the intelligence committee, sounded dissatisfied with Clapper’s answers and said the spy agencies needed to do better at understanding a group that could exert influence in Egypt’s political vacuum.

“From an intelligence perspective, it is critical that we know what is that position (of the Muslim Brotherhood) and what is apt to happen. Egypt is the key country in the Middle East. And I worry about that,” she said…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Protests in Libya Over Human Rights Campaigner

The rioting in the eastern city of Benghazi was a rare show of unrest in Libya, which has been tightly controlled by leader Muammar Gaddafi for more than 40 years but has also felt the ripples from popular revolts in its neighbours Egypt and Tunisia.

Libyan state television said that rallies were being held across the oil exporting country on Wednesday in support of Gaddafi, who is Africa’s longest serving leader.

Reports from Benghazi, about 600 miles east of the Libyan capital, indicated the city was now calm but that overnight protesters armed with stones and petrol bombs had set fire to vehicles and fought with police. The online edition of Libya’s privately-owned Quryna newspaper, which is based in Benghazi, said 14 people were hurt in the clashes, including 10 police officers. It said none of the injuries was serious. “Last night was a bad night,” a Benghazi resident, who did not want to be identified, told Reuters by telephone.

“There were about 500 or 600 people involved. They went to the revolutionary committee (local government headquarters) in Sabri district, and they tried to go to the central revolutionary committee … They threw stones,” he said.

“It is calm now.”

People in Benghazi have a history of distrust of Gaddafi’s rule. Many of his most ardent opponents living in exile, and many of the people jailed for membership of banned Islamist militant groups, are from the city. According to the reports from Benghazi, the unrest was triggered by the arrest of a man called Fethi Tarbel, a human-rights activist who worked with families of people detained in Tripoli’s notorious Abu Salim jail. The prison, used to hold government opponents and Islamist militants, was the scene of violent clashes in June 1996 in which 1,000 inmates were shot dead.

On Tuesday night, a crowd of people in Benghazi who had relatives in the prison marched on local government offices to demand Tarbel’s release, Quryna newspaper reported.

It said a local official agreed to free him, but the protesters marched anyway to the city’s Shajara square were they clashed with police and government supporters.

The protesters later dispersed and the square was taken over by government supporters who rallied there until the early hours of the morning, Quryna reported.

In a possible concession to the protesters, Libya will free 110 members of banned militant group the Libyan Islamic Fighting group from Abu Salim prison later on Wednesday, a human-rights activist said. Dozens of men accused of membership of the group have been freed since last year, when its leaders renounced violence. Libyan state television showed footage of a rally in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, of government supporters.

Participants chanted slogans accusing Qatar-based television news channel Al Jazeera — which has given wide coverage to revolts in neighbouring Tunisia and Egypt — of broadcasting lies.

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Tunisia: EU: Relations to be Strengthened With New Govt

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, FEBRUARY 15 — The European Union is considering initiating negotiations to strengthen relations with Tunisia once a new government is installed, according to reports following the visit by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton to Tunis. “We want to be Tunisia’s strongest ally,” she explained after the visit, “in their path towards democracy. We will work with the transition government to support an international conference to promote investments into the country. We are ready to begin reflecting on granting Tunisia an advanced status. These negotiations will begin and will be completed by the new government.” The EU has also decided to increase the amount of funds allocated for the 2011-2013 period in the package provided for by the neighbourhood policy to 258 million euros. This sum will include 17 million euros that will arrive immediately. “I also have started a discussion with the European Investment bank,” said Ashton, “to mobilise one billion euros in financing for 2011, concentrating on Tunisia firstly. These resources could be used to help SMEs and to strengthen transport infrastructure.” Also, “he have started to review all of our policies,” concluded Ashton, “in order to be sure that we can increase our support to Tunisia”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Tunisia: Ashton Offers European Union Support

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, FEBRUARY 14 — The EU’s High Representative of Foreign Policy and Security, Catherine Ashton, has reiterated the support of the European Union for the Tunisian people, during talks with Prime Minister, Mohamed Ghannouchi, which took place at the presidential palace in Carthage.

“It is a great privilege to be in Tunisia at this historic moment,” said Ashton after the meeting, “and in the name of the 27 countries in the European Union and the international community, we offer all our support to help you succeed during this period”. Ashton ended by saying: “we wish Tunisia every success during this period and hope to continue and strengthen cooperation with the Tunisian people in the coming years”. Ghannouchi, meanwhile, expressed his satisfaction at the support of the European Union, which he said would contribute to the building “of a state of law and of a free and democratic country”.

Ashton later held talks with the Minister for Planning and International Cooperation, Nouri Jouini, and with the Minister of Regional Development, Nejib Chebbi. Before leaving the country tonight, Ashton will also meet representatives from political parties and civil society, including a number of human rights activists.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Why Arab Revolution Isn’t 1989 Again

Lidové noviny Prague

The parallel between the popular unrest in Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco, and the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989 is an uneasy one. How can the foundations for democracy in the Arab world be compared with those of Eastern Europe?

Jan Fingerland

Comparisons between 2011 and “our” 1989 cannot stand for a variety of reasons, mainly because, unlike North Africa, most people in the former Communist bloc at the time had a pretty good, albeit distorted, idea of what democracy was and how it worked. This was due to the fact that they hailed from of a culture that had itself created democracy and that already had in place social customs and informal institutions that made the transition to democracy easier. What is the situation in the Middle East?

Most Arab regimes of today are descended from military coups dating back generally to the 1950s and 60s. As Lenin once chalked the equation Soviets + electrification = communism, the colonels who led the revolutions in Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Libya drew in their sands the equation Arab nationalism + an army = independence. Apart from the monarchies that survived the revolutionary fervour, there thus sprang up a model for regimes which seemed to provide a pretty good answer to the problems of the era. The states threw new dams across rivers, built health and education systems, nationalised industries and also won significant backing from the Soviet bloc.

Other factors, however, were at work against democracy. The Arab world was simply unacquainted with the fundamentals that existed, at least in an imperfect form, even in Eastern Europe before 1989. By that we mean civil society, the concept of personal freedom, the tradition of unprejudiced discussion and individual responsibility. Here is one telling example: The name of the Cairo square — Liberation Square — that was thronged with the great rally for freedom was named not in hope of civil liberties, but for the colonel’s coup of 1952. The language here is about collective national independence, not the individual autonomy of the citizens of Western countries.

Arab societies are also much more grounded in faith in authority

True Arab nationalism — inspired paradoxically by European socialism and nationalism — was an ideology that was to replace Western concepts, such as the right to the “pursuit of happiness”, and after some time it succeeded. It gave people a sense of identity and goals for which they were glad to give up just about anything. Remembering that, the Egyptian regime, feeling weakened, has recently tried to play the national card and revive a new sense of devotion.

Young men in Cairo (women here are seen much less frequently than in more secular Tunisia) also shout slogans like “freedom”. But when they are asked to explain in more detail what they are after, they hurry on to words like “justice” (as opposed to corruption and inequality) or “dignity” (in the face of a police state or degrading treatment).

Arab societies are also much more grounded in faith in authority than Western societies are. Views of elders or superiors must be respected. Unpleasant things are not spoken of aloud, and diversity of opinion is often perceived as a problem. A culture of dialogue and, especially, critical commentary is essentially something that will still have to develop if democracy is to have a chance.

Will it be democracy in Egypt or a fundamentalist regime?

The Middle East has not been a hotbed of freedom — in terms of individual life choices and the freedom to spread one’s own views — but it was certainly not a region in which absolutism would be typical, either. There were well-rooted concepts of fair and legitimate government, limited not only by religious law but also by tradition, authority figures and various established institutions. Moreover, Islam believes in basic human equality, which makes it a more suitable environment for democracy than, say, the caste system in India.

Let’s turn our attention, however, to present developments. Reflections on the repetition of the “Tunisian scenario” in Egypt are based not only on a mistaken analogy with eastern Europe, but on the apparent similarities between the two north African regimes. The government of Ben Ali was a personal dictatorship of just one social class, whose fate was sealed when the army stood against it. It can’t happen exactly the same way in Egypt. The involuntary departure of Mubarak will not change the fundamental nature of the regime, in which army men enjoy prominent positions.

Will it be democracy in Egypt or a fundamentalist regime?…

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

Israel and the Palestinians

Gaza: Wind of Change, Mubarak Hospital Becomes ‘Tahrir’

(ANSAmed) — GAZA, FEBRUARY 15 — Having fallen from grace in Egypt, as in many public offices in which he was omnipresent, the former President, Hosni Mubarak, is now about to disappear from the sign of a pediatric hospital that for years has borne his name in the town of Khan Yunis, in the Gaza Strip, an area controlled by the radical Islamic faction Hamas. It has been decided that the building will be renamed “Tahrir Hospital”, in honour of the Cairo square that has become the fulcrum and the symbol of the uprising of the last few weeks.

The local health authorities said today that the initiative is the result of a popular movement and a “spontaneous petition backed by a number of residents of Khan Yunis”. An official said that “the Mubarak pediatric hospital is renamed Tahrir Hospital as a tribute to the Egyptian revolution of Tahrir Square”. For the moment, the old sign has not actually been removed. But the move is said to be only days away, if not hours. The hospital was dedicated to the former Egyptian President about ten years ago, before the Gaza Strip was under the control of Hamas, an ideological affiliate of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherood, as a sign of recognition for the aid received from the country. Even when the protests in Egypt were at their most critical point, no-one imagined that the name would so soon be changed.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Middle East

Bahrein: King Apologises for Protester Deaths in Televised Speech

Manama, 15 Feb. (AKI) — The tiny Gulf state of Bahrein’s monarch, King Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifa has apologised for the deaths of two Shia demonstrators this week and said there would be a formal investigation.

In a speech aired on state television Tuesday, Al-Khalifa said: “I have asked deputy prime minister Jawad Bin Salem al-Aridh to form a commission of inquiry to establish what happened during the clashes over the past 24 hours between police and militants.”

Fadel Salman Matrouk was shot dead in front of a hospital on Tuesday where mourners gathered for the funeral of Msheymah Ali who died of his wounds after police dispersed a protest in a village east of Manama on Monday.

The monarch also said he had asked Bahrein’s parliament to “examine reforms that meet the needs of the protesters.”

“The reforms will not stop under any circumstances,” he said.

News of the two deaths prompted activists, who posted pictures of both men on a Facebook page. The page called for a huge turnout at the men’s funerals and to step up anti-government protests inspired by the recent revolts in Tunisia and Egypt.

More than 22,000 people by Tuesday had clicked “like” on the Facebook page.

The al-Wifaq Shia parliamentary opposition group in Bahrein’s parliament on Tuesday announced it was suspending its deputies from parliament in protest at the Sunni monarchy and its repression of Shia protesters.

Bahrein is ruled by the Sunni Al-Khalifa family of King Hamad, which retains a tight grip on the premiership and key ministries.

The Shia opposition, which makes up 19 out of the parliament’s deputies, opposes the elected house’s legislative powers being shared with an appointed upper house.

It also accuses Bahrein’s authorities of trying to alter the archipelago’s demography by giving Sunni immigrants citizenship.

In the 1990s, Bahrein was plagued by a wave of Shia-led unrest that abated after 2001 reforms restored the parliament.

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

Erdogan et al Rediscover Turkish Nationalism

In the early years of Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s governance, there were basically two schools of thought in Western capitals, including rival ones in Turkey’s vicinity, regarding the prime minister’s ideology on nationalism. One group, mentally aged between 12 and 16 and featuring an average IQ of below 40, argued that Mr. Erdogan would finally ruin Turkey’s persistent and proud nationalism which had often caused headaches in foreign capitals. The other group maintained that Mr. Erdogan’s ideology was no less nationalistic than the “deep state’s,” but was just not as equally visible. After several years, the “junior” group has admitted defeat.

I came to this European capital for plenty of good reasons, namely a mystical stop-over before another journey takes me to even more mystical cities by the ocean; loud baroque music at the bar Santo Spirito; a shot of Plomari at Ouzeri Ellas; skillfully ground coffee at Daniel Moser; the quiet streets which once witnessed underground Cold War activity; and… to act as a judge in the finale of a political bet between two old diplomat friends.

It was the infant days of the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, “regime.” Most Western embassies were cabling reports telling their capitals that the AKP meant the demise of “dangerous Turkish nationalism.” G., a diplomat, cabled home the same since he firmly believed that (a) the AKP would fight the “deep state” which fed dangerous Turkish nationalism; (b) the AKP had an ideology that by nature went against nationalism (as it instead favored religious bonds over ethnic ones); (c) with the AKP in power, “dangerous Turkish nationalism” would be sterilized first before completely perishing; and (d) therefore, the AKP must be supported against the Turkish deep state by any country that feels threatened by the “dangerous Turkish nationalism.”

But the competing idea, as summarized by N., another diplomat, argued that (a) the AKP was no less “dangerously nationalistic” than the Turkish deep state but was successfully hiding its true colors; (b) the AKP would return to its blend of Islamist/Turkish nationalism at the earliest possibility once it no longer felt a need to hide it; and (c) the AKP’s fight against the “deep state” did not mean it was also fighting the “dangerous nationalism” boasted by the deep state.

During our “summit” for the finale and before I even attempted to act as the referee as agreed years earlier, G. admitted defeat but did not forget to use his compromise as a means to defy my age/IQ theory for his camp. “I would not have admitted I was wrong if I had been younger than 16 and had an IQ less than 40,” he reminded me as we raised our Prosecco glasses to the winner of the bet, N.

The AKP has never been at war with “dangerous Turkish nationalism.” It has been at war with the ultra-secularist establishment which often supported the “dangerous Turkish nationalism.” In rhetoric — but seldom in practice — the AKP stood up against the kind of nationalism the ultra-secularist establishment favored. But in fact it stood up against the establishment. That, understandably but wrongly, was perceived by some Westerners as the AKP’s fight against Turkish nationalism. No, it was the AKP’s fight against the secularist establishment.

With the war against the secularist establishment now over, the AKP has no reason to mask the nationalist ethos which its political genes harbored. Remember, Turkey’s president and prime minister come from an ideology which in the early 1970s organized demonstrations asking the government to ban rock music because “rock music would lead to the degeneration of the Turkish nation.” Lest they forget.

Mr. Erdogan et al. smartly thought that they could fool the Westerners aged between 12 and 16 and with an average IQ less than 40 (sorry, G!) and win their support by presenting their fight against the secularists as a fight against the secularists’ nationalism. They did well. They privately told the generals to go ahead with whatever military plan around Turkey’s borders could have been perceived by the West as “yet another nationalistic action.” They privately told the Western capitals that it was the military acting on its own and that the poor government was helpless to stop these Kemalist/nationalist barbarians.

Overflights on the Aegean? Oh, it’s the generals! We tell them to stop but they never listen to us. An incursion into northern Iraq? Ah, how we wanted to stop the military but these generals won’t listen to us. Armaments? God, the generals want to buy all the weapons available on the world’s arms market. And we cannot stop them!

Of course, the truth is oceans away from that smart cheating. The truth is that the prime minister knows several months in advance what training flights the Turkish fighters will make over which Greek island and precisely at what time and which day. The truth is that the prime minister — and his ministers and some other important people — know in every detail which weapon systems are to be purchased. The truth is that the defense minister proudly announces plans for the design, development and manufacturing of Turkey’s first “national fighter jet” along with its first “national battle tank.”

This is precisely why this columnist wished the Armenian protocols good luck, but cautioned that they would fail; why this columnist supported the reunification of Cyprus but predicted that Mr. Erdogan was a fake peacemaker. As he has consolidated power and felt confident that he won his war against the “establishment” he would rediscover his nationalist self. Which he did… Mr. Erdogan had a problem with the establishment. He did not have a problem with the establishment’s nationalist ideology. The establishment has gone. The ideology remains under Mr. Erdogan’s auspices.

Meanwhile, Mr. Erdogan’s chief negotiator with the EU, State Minister Egemen Bagis, proposed a brilliant idea a few months ago for a solution to the Cyprus problem. According to Minister Bagis’s Sistine Chapel proposal inspired by the Vatican rules for electing the Pope, the Turkish, Greek, and Turkish and Greek Cypriot leaders are to be shut down in a room to agree on a reunification plan for the divided island and won’t be let out until they do so.

I think this is the best idea Mr. Bagis has ever proposed. It really is a win-win idea! I agree, and hope that the Greeks, Turks and Turkish and Greek Cypriots should agree to it, too. It would be something to celebrate if the very important Turks, Greeks, and Turkish and Greek Cypriots agreed on a solution. It would be equally wonderful if they didn’t.

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

Iran Regime Calls for ‘Hatred’ Rally Against Opposition

Iran’s regime said it has called for a rally in Tehran on Friday to express “hatred” against the opposition movement, as its two key leaders launched fresh anti-government tirades despite demands they be hanged.

Wednesday’s call for the mass rally came as clashes erupted between regime backers and what state television called “apparent” supporters of the opposition at a funeral attended by thousands in Tehran for a student killed in anti-government protests Monday.

“The noble people of Tehran will take to Enghelab Square after Friday prayers with their solid and informed presence,” the Islamic Propagation Coordination Council, which organizes regime-backed programs, said Wednesday.

It said those joining the rally will “scream out their hatred, wrath and disgust against the savage crimes and evil movements of sedition leaders, their Monafeghin [hypocrites] and their monarchist allies.”

Opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi have been in the firing line since they called for a rally Monday in support of Arab uprisings. The rally quickly turned into anti-government demonstrations and ended in clashes that left two people dead and several wounded.

Iranian officials blame arch-foes the United States, Britain and Israel for influencing the opposition chiefs, but supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Wednesday their efforts would fail.

“When people are in the arena, it cannot do anything against the determined will [of the people],” he said, referring to the United States and indicating that Iran’s Islamic regime had the strong support of the masses.

Iran’s prosecutor general, Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejeie, warned that action would be taken against Mousavi and Karroubi, a day after lawmakers demanded they be executed.

“The heads of seditions are the people who should be punished for their criminal acts and God willing actions in this regard are being taken,” Mohseni Ejeie said, according to Fars news agency. “People have given them their punishment, but people also have a legitimate right to demand [punishment] from the judiciary, which we hope we would be able to fulfill.”

Authorities were infuriated when thousands of anti-government protesters took to the streets of Tehran on Monday, leading to clashes with riot police.

Aside from the two deaths, officials reported several people injured, including nine members of the security forces.

The protests, the first anti-government demonstration since Feb. 11 last year, took place despite Mousavi and Karroubi being placed under de facto house arrest.

The two came out fighting Wednesday, issuing statements slamming the authorities and praising demonstrators.

Karroubi said in a statement posted on his website that he was ready to “pay any price.”

“I declare that I am not afraid of any kind of threat and as a soldier of this great nation for the past almost 50 years, I am ready to pay any price,” the cleric wrote. “I am warning that before it is too late, take the buds out of your ears and listen to the voice of the people. Forcing violence and opposing peoples’ wishes will last only for a certain time.”

Mousavi praised the protesters for Monday’s rally, writing on his own website that the demonstration was a “great achievement for the great people of a great nation and for the Green Movement,” referring to the opposition movement and its supporters.

Tension sparked by Monday’s protests continued to ripple Wednesday when reports said regime backers clashed with opposition supporters at the Tehran funeral.

“Students and people participating in the funeral of martyr Sane’e Zhale in Tehran Fine Arts University are clashing with a few apparently from the sedition movement,” the state television website said.

Zhale, a Sunni Kurd, became the center of a dispute after his death, with regime-backers insisting he was member of the volunteer Islamist Basij militia, while the opposition said he came from their ranks.

“This university student [Zhale] was shot around Enghelab Square by small arms fire. He was a student of fine arts and defender of the regime,” said state news agency IRNA.

Opposition website said Zhale was “pro-Mousavi and a member of the Green Movement.”

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

Iran Warships Transit Suez for Syria

(AGI) Jerusalem — Two Iranian warships have sailed through the Suez Canal heading for Syria, Israeli sources announced.

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

Iran Warships ‘Sailing Into Mediterranean’

Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency had reported on Jan. 26 that Iranian navy cadets had been dispatched on a year-long training mission going via the Gulf of Aden into the Red Sea and on through the Suez Canal to the Mediterranean Sea.

It was not immediately clear why the ships were seeking to train in the Mediterranean, which would be in the neighbourhood of arch-enemy Israel and of Syria, an ally of Iran, and Lebanon, where Iranian ally Hizbollah is powerful.

Israel’s Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper described the Iranian ships as a MK-5 frigate and a supply vessel.

According to the daily, no Iranian naval vessels have passed through Suez since the Islamic Republic was established in 1979, causing a bitter rift between Tehran and Cairo.

“Tonight, two Iranian warships are meant to pass through the Suez Canal to the Mediterranean Sea and reach Syria, something that has not happened in many years,” Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said in a Jerusalem speech distributed by his office. “To my regret, the international community is not showing readiness to deal with the recurring Iranian provocations. The international community must understand that Israel cannot forever ignore these provocations.”

Israel sees a major threat in Iran’s nuclear programme and calls for its elimination, but the countries’ geographical distance has kept them from open confrontation. Syria is one of Israel’s neighbouring foes and an ally of Tehran.

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Iran: Moroccan-Italian Politician Calls Dissidents in Italy ‘Sign of Freedom’

(AKI) — Iranians who oppose their government and reside in Italy are a sign freedom and should be invited to the Italian foreign ministry to discuss the situation in their country, according to a member of the Silvio Belusconi’s government.

“Iranian dissidents living in Italy are a patrimony of freedom and courage,” said Souad Sbai, a member of Italy’s ruling People of Freedom party in the lower house of parliament. “For this reason, in view of the climate in Tehran, we ask foreign minister Franco Frattini to receive them with urgency at the foreign ministry.

Sbai is a Moroccan national with Italian citizenship since 1981.

She called on Tehran to immediately release opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi who have been put under house arrest.

Some members of Iran’s parliament on Tuesday said leaders of their country’s opposition should be put to death as protesters took to the streets following demonstrations in Tunisia and Egypt that toppled the rule of those country’s authoritarian leaders.

The deputies shouted, “Death to Moussavi, Karroubi and Khatami,” also condemning former president Mohammad Khatami, another opposition leader, the official news agency IRNA said.

Iranian opposition leader Mousavi was place under house arrest on Monday, according to his official website. Police took similar a precaution against fellow political dissident Karroubi to ensure that he couldn’t participate in rallies in Tehran and other cities.

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

Jordan Muslim Clerics Want Nightclubs Closed

More than 100 Jordanian Muslim clerics demanded the government shut down all nightclubs in the country and combat prostitution, in a statement issued on Wednesday.

“We demand the government close all nightclubs, which work under the pretext of promoting tourism,” 109 clerics, among them a former cabinet minister, MPs, Islamist leaders, university professors and mosque preachers, said in the joint statement.

“We also demand the authorities combat prostitution and brothels, and introduce laws that fight all anti-Islamic and unethical acts which destroy our society,” the statement said.

A group of MPs has separately asked the government to close nightclubs in two western Amman streets named after the holy cities of Mecca and Medina because “it is insulting to Islam and Muslims.” There are around 60 nightclubs in Jordan, according to the ministry of tourism.

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Turkey: What Did Davutoglu Mean?

Evaluating recent developments in Egypt and the Middle East on CNN Türk on Saturday, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said “a common awareness that is outside the nation-state” was emerging in the region. Davutoglu also characterized this as the “start of a historic turnover” in the Middle East which cannot be rolled back.

At first glance this appears an innocent enough remark given that he went on to stress the importance of democracy and the will of the people as this process unfolded. However, a deeper look at this remark may merit a different assessment of what he is saying.

It is clear that “a common awareness” is spreading across the Middle East which has the notion of “people power” at its heart. It is also clear that the driving force of this awareness is a demand for justice, equality and higher standards of living. From a secular perspective these are commendable views.

However, if one is to take Davutoglu’s remarks from the perspective of political Islam, it is clear that the hope is that this “awareness” will channel “the democratic will of the people” toward more Islamic regimes, which ultimately have less to do with the notion of a nation-state and more to do with the idea of international Islamic unity.

This, at any rate, is Iran’s open desire judging by the statements of the highest echelons of the mullah regime in that country concerning developments in Egypt.

If Davutoglu is referring to the emergence of a common awareness which, while being above the notion of being a nation-state, has at its heart a call for justice and democracy in the universal sense, then there is no problem. If, on the other hand, he is talking of a common awareness that is emerging which has Islamic identity at its core, then there are problems in what he is saying.

The notion of “Dar al-Islam” (“the House of Islam”), like the notion of “Christendom” throughout much of European history, is a universal concept as far as orthodox Muslims are concerned. Therefore, it can be debated whether an Islamic outlook on life is in the final analysis compatible with the “nation-state,” which ultimately divides the “House of Islam.”

Assessing Davutoglu’s remarks in this light, one cannot help but wonder if this is what he suggests when referring to an “emerging awareness above the concept of nation-state.” Given the closeness the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, feels toward Islamic regimes and groups, as well as some of its practices at home that upset Turkish nationalists and secularists alike, one is forced to ask this question.

Of course Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is using the nationalism card now on certain issues with a view to gaining the nationalist votes in the general elections to be held in June. But he has given enough signs during his political career that suggest his Islamic identity comes first while his Turkish identity comes second.

Put more bluntly, it is not inconceivable, given this backdrop, that what Davutoglu meant in his remarks to CNN Türk was that a common Islamic awareness is emerging in the region which would unite people above their sense of belonging to a specific nation-state.

If this is indeed so, and we still give him the benefit of the doubt since it could be that this is not what he meant at all, then it is clear that he is misreading developments in the region.

If we take the case of Egypt, for example, the sense of being “Egyptian” was much more apparent among the anti-Mubarak protestors than the notion of being Muslim. One cannot remember how many times one heard the remark, “Today I am proud to be Egyptian,” from jubilant demonstrators after Hosni Mubarak announced his resignation.

Neither was the sense of solidarity displayed by Egyptians since Jan. 25 based specifically on an Islamic awareness. The reason for this we think is that Egyptians — the majority of whom are Sunni Muslims — are highly aware of their religion anyway, which is intertwined with their national identity.

We will, as mentioned, give Davutoglu the benefit of the doubt and assume that what he meant is that a common secular democratic awareness is on the rise in the region, and this is what cannot be rolled back.

But he must understand in return that given the AKP’s political outlook, which is based on an Islamic worldview, any remark emanating from the government, such as his words to CNN Türk cited above, cannot be taken at face value.

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

Turkey: Bon Pour L’Orient!

Last July, President Barack Obama described Turkey as “a great Islamic democracy” in an interview with Corriere della Sera. And I wrote in this column that “… But apparently an Islamic democracy must be something other than a democracy because otherwise Mr. Obama would have chosen to merely say ‘a democracy.’“

In the same interview, President Obama also said that “Turkey could have a positive influence on the Muslim world.” Half a year later we see that the president may have been right.

These days, few analysts opt for caution while most tend to voice a careless over-optimism. For example, Robert Fisk, commenting on the “Arab spring” in The Independent on Feb. 10, looked truly inspired by the increasingly cliché Western definition of Turkey: …as near a perfect blend of Islam and democracy as you can find in the Middle East right now.” Yes. And, so what?

Mr. Fisk cheerfully quotes French historian Daniel Lindenberg as saying that: “We must, alas, admit the reality. Many intellectuals believe, deep down, that the Arab people are congenitally backward.” Change the word “Arab” with “Muslim,” and there you have it: Sorry, Mssrs. Obama and Fisk; your words may ostensibly be sound, but you, too, privately and/or subconsciously believe what “many intellectuals” openly believe.

Take, for instance, what the president said half a year ago, and what Mr. Fisk said last week: 1) Turkey is a great Islamic democracy, and 2) It is as near a perfect blend of Islam and democracy as you can find in the Middle East right now.

The truth is that there was a “reason” why President Obama did not refer to Turkey as a “perfect democracy,” or merely as a “democracy,” but used, first, a positive adjective of general purpose, and second a “faith-based” prefix. It’s precisely the same reason why Mr. Obama, when referring to Italy, for instance, does not mention “a great Catholic democracy;” or to Japan as a “great Shintoist democracy.”

Similarly, there was a “reason” why Mr. Fisk, when describing Turkey, mentioned a blend of a form of political organization, a religion and a particular geography, instead of just mentioning a form of political organization without the religion and the geography. I have never read Mr. Fisk talking about “a perfect blend of Christianity and democracy, or about a heavenly harmony between atheism and democratic culture” when attempting euphemisms for any other country.

And we all know why…

Of course, Turkey has a democratic tradition, with its several failures before and after the arrival of the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, regime (yes, it’s a “regime,” not merely a period of “governance”). Of course, it would have been lovely if the entire Middle East (save for Israel) could build “democracies” coming closer to the Turkish model.

But that would not have meant “democracy,” either in Turkey or in any Arab country that followed the Turkish template. As President Obama put it — and Mr Fisk agreed — in this part of the world the best democracy one could see is the one that goes with a religious prefix. Sadly, there is a hidden bracket when very important Westerners talk about “our kind of democracy.”

And in that hidden bracket you would read: “Sorry, gentlemen, you are not good enough for democracy as we understand the word. The best you can get is free elections, and, sorry again, that won’t suffice for democracy as we understand it. So, the democracy that goes with the religious prefix is our euphemism to praise you.”…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Turkish President Approves Controversial Law on Judiciary

President Gül says a delay in the approval of the judicial law would only increase the burden on the judicial system.

President Abdullah Gül approved a law Sunday to reshape two top courts despite calls from the opposition asking him to “think twice.”

The approved law restructures Turkey’s court system by establishing six new chambers in the Supreme Court of Appeals and two in the Council of State.

“My legal consultants looked into the concerns on the law and based on the information and advice I got from them, I saw no problem in approving the law,” Gül told reporters Sunday at Ankara’s Esenboga Airport before his departure for a visit to Iran.

The main opposition Republican People’s Party, or CHP, argued that the government-proposed law would “put the judiciary under the command of the administration.”

CHP leader Kemal Kiliçdaroglu had asked President Gül on Friday to “think again” before signing the bill. “If you want democracy to set root, freedom to blossom and to remove all pressure … then you must think again before you sign.”

Gül said a delay in the approval of the judicial law would only increase the burden on the judicial system.

“The number of files all the supreme courts in Europe are looking into is no match to the number of files our supreme court deals with,” said Gül. “That is a delay of justice. According to the information given to me, 200,000 files at the Supreme Court of Appeals will be dropped in the next five years due to the statute of limitations.”

Gül said recent releases from prisons of suspects who had been under arrest for over five years had increased pressure on the judiciary.

“Some concerns about the law were reasonable, but with the situation the judicial system is in, I approved the law,” said the president.

According to the new law, the number of people working at the Supreme Court of Appeals will be increased from 250 to 387, while the number of members in the Council of State will be raised from 95 to 156.

The issue was first raised when Article 102 of the Criminal Procedure Code, or CMK, came into force at the start of the year. The article intended to remove defendants from detention in situations where they had been held for excessively long periods of time and ultimately publicized the extent to which Turkey’s backlog of cases ran. The excessively slow processing of legal cases that became evident following the introduction of the article sparked a crisis between the government and the judiciary, which accused each other of ultimately being responsible for the sluggishness of the legal system.

The Supreme Court of Appeals’ 32 current chambers will be increased to 38 and the number of justices in each chamber will be increased from seven to 10.

The Council of State will also receive two new chambers, bringing the total number to 15. The number of justices in each chamber will be increased to 10.

The distribution of case responsibilities will be handed out annually to Council of State and Supreme Court of Appeals chambers by a joint council of chairmen from both courts, according to the new law.

The new division of labor will take place this year, after the members of the Supreme Court of Appeals are selected. Additionally, the law removes the requirement that members in the Council of Chairmen should have served in the court for a minimum of four years, thus opening the door to new members.

The law also states that the head of the Supreme Court of Appeals will be selected by at least two-thirds of the votes of court members, with an absolute majority required to be in attendance during the vote.

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

What if Washington Loses Ankara (And Vice-Versa)?

Erdogan is jeopardizing Ankara’s long-standing relations with the US. America is alarmed by Turkey’s relations with Russia and its stance on Iran, Islamism and Israel. What should the United States do? And what role can the E.U. play?

1. U.S.-Turkish relations are in trouble — and so are Turkey’s relations with Europe. They are adrift and no one knows the destination. As a senior US military commander recently said at the Heritage Foundation briefing, “It will be a geopolitical disaster [for the U.S.], if Turkey slips apart from Europe and goes East.”

For decades, Turkey and the United States cooperated in the Mediterranean, the Persian Gulf, Central Asia, and even Korea. However, Turkish and U.S. interests in the Balkans, Central Asia, the Caucasus, the Middle East, and the Persian Gulf have recently diverged. On its current trajectory, Turkey’s traditional strategic relationship with the West could devolve while Turkey enters into a closer relationship with Iran and other powers competitive with or hostile to U.S. global leadership.

Commonly referred to as the West’s bridge to the Muslim world, Turkey has long been a key NATO partner and a strategic ally of Europe and the United States. On his first official state visit to Turkey, President Barack Obama singled out Turkey as a “strong, vibrant, secular democracy.” ( For decades, Turkey and the U.S. have cooperated in areas from the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf to Central Asia and even Korea.

However, clashes between Turkish and U.S. strategic interests have recently emerged. These regard critical issues, especially the Middle East, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and Ankara’s support of Iran and Hamas.

In June 2010, Turkey openly defied its traditional allies by voting against a fourth round of U.N. sanctions against Iran. Further, the ruling Justice and Development Party (Akp) has displayed growing Islamist sympathies. Recent trends have raised legitimate questions about Turkey’s commitment to secular democracy as well as to Nato.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates stated that Turkey’s strategic drift away from the West is due in part to the European Union’s reluctance to grant Turkey full membership in the organization. (1) Nato Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen also criticized the European Union for its “unfair” treatment of Turkey. (2) The EU has sent mixed messages to Turkey, granting it candidate status but then ignoring Turkey’s progress in achieving the goals set out for accession…

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

Yemen: More US Aid to Fight Al Qaeda

(ANSAmed) — ROME, FEBRUARY 15 — The US administration intends to provide the Yemeni intelligence service with further aid, in order to boost the fight against al Qaeda. The Al Jazeera website reports that an American official, who asked not to be named, claims that the United States will spend 75 million dollars, once the move has been approved by Congress.

The source says that the new aid package is part of significant efforts by America to combat Al Qaeda in Yemen. The Yemeni anti-terror unit consists of 300 people and is under the jurisdiction of the Interior Ministry.

The source adds that the 75 million dollars are not part of the 120 million inserted by the American President in the 2012 Budget, which is divided between 35 million dollars for additional military aid and 69 million dollars in economic aid.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Deadly Clashes Rock Russian Region

At least 12 deaths have been reported in the Caucasus region of southern Russia amid fighting between suspected separatists and security forces.

A group of seven armed men — and three police officers — were killed in a raid on Tuesday at an abandoned farm on the border between Karachayeva-Cherkessia and Stavropol provinces in the western part of the region, Sergei Kulik, a police spokesman, revealed.

The suspects were believed to be behind an attack on a police car earlier this month, in which three officers were killed.

Violence in the province is less frequent than in neighbouring Dagestan, Ingushetia and Chechnya, where deadly attacks take place almost daily.

Separately, two suspected suicide bombers were reportedly killed on Tuesday in Chechnya’s capital, Grozny, after police, acting on a tip-off, confronted the pair.

There were conflicting reports emerging whether they were shot by police, or detonated explosive belts.

No police officers were injured there, Ramzan Kadyrov, the Chechen leader, said.

Ethnic strife

The gun battle on the Karachayeva-Stavropol border has stirred fears that violence continues to spread across the ethnically divided Caucasus.

The epicentre of attacks continues to be in Dagestan, where two suicide bombers killed four and injured 27 on Monday night.

One of the bombers behind the attack in the Dagestan mountain village of Gubden has been identified as Marina Khorosheva, a young Russian woman linked to a failed suicide attack in Moscow’s Red Square on December 31.

She and her husband, Vitaly Razdobudko, had aroused media interest as Orthodox Christians who converted to Islam — leading press to dub them “the Russian Wahhabi”.

Samples of the second bomber’s body has been sent for DNA analysis, said police, who said they could not confirm it had been Razdobudko behind the attack.

“For now, this is nothing more than speculation, because the suicide bomber’s body was blown to bits,” a police spokesman said…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Russia’s Muslim Chechnya Asks UAE to Invest $2.3 Bln

The leader of Russia’s Chechnya region has asked the United Arab Emirates to invest more than $2 billion in the energy and industrial sectors of the Muslim province wracked by two separatist wars since 1994.

“I’d like to stress that our relations with the UAE are brotherly,” Chechnya’s Kremlin-backed leader Ramzan Kadyrov told a visiting delegation late on Tuesday. “Economic, sport and cultural ties link us.”

Kadyrov proposed 17 investment projects for the region of just over 1 million people, totalling 68.89 billion roubles ($2.35 billion), his press service said. It said the bulk of investments would go towards hydropower plants.

The Kremlin credits Kadyrov with maintaining a shaky peace in Chechnya, a decade after Russian troops drove separatists out of power in the second of two post-Soviet wars in the province on Russia’s southern border.

But Kadyrov’s critics say he is leading a violent crackdown on opponents and enforcing his vision of Islam with rules that sometimes violate secular Russia’s constitution. He dismisses the accusations as attempts to blacken his name…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

South Asia

John Kerry Assures Pakistan US Contractor Will Face Justice

The case of Raymond Davis has taken relations between the two countries to new lows as American officials insist he be granted diplomatic immunity.

However, the Pakistani government fears provoking an angry wave of demonstrations if it is seen to bend to pressure from Washington. Mr Kerry said that Davis, 36, who was arrested in Lahore three weeks ago, would face a criminal inquiry if he was returned to the US. “I want to come here today to express our deepest regret for this tragic event and to express the sorrow of the American people for the loss of life that has taken place,” Mr Kerry said in Lahore, before meeting the Pakistani president and prime minister on Wednesday. American officials and their Pakistani counterparts have given a series of conflicting statements about the exact status of Davis and his job. The US now says Davis is an embassy employee who shot the men in self-defense as they tried to rob him and that his detention is illegal under international agreements covering diplomats. This week Pakistani officials have been briefing journalists that the government would tell a court on Thursday that most of its legal experts had decided that Davis is immune from prosecution. Thousands of people have taken to the streets in the past three weeks demanding that Davis be hanged.

On Wednesday, the country’s former foreign minister said his advisers told him the security contractor was not entitled to blanket immunity. Shah Mahmood Qureshi says his stance cost him his job during a reshuffle last week.

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Malaysia Cancels Controversial Iranian’s Concert

Malaysia has cancelled a concert by a singer dubbed Iran’s Bob Dylan after an Islamic party argued Mohsen Namjoo’s work was incompatible with Islam, media reports and his website said Wednesday. The 34-year-old, whose music fuses traditional Iranian music with pop and jazz, was due to perform in Kuala Lumpur on Friday. But Malaysia’s minister for information, communication and culture, Rais Yatim, said the event would no longer go ahead. “The government will not allow the concert because it (is) not appropriate in terms of religion, culture and the country’s cosmopolitan nature,” he was quoted by the Star newspaper as saying. In 2007 Mohsen was dubbed Iran’s answer to Bob Dylan by the New York Times, which highlighted his “playful but subtly cutting lyrics” about growing up in an Islamic state.

Malaysia’s conservative Islamic party, the Pan-Malaysia Islamic Party (PAS), had pushed for a ban against Mohsen.

“His presence in the country will offend Muslims as he is known to have ridiculed Islam and the Koran in his past performance,” PAS Youth chief Nasrudin Hassan Tantawi said in a statement.

In 2009 Mohsen was sentenced in absentia by an Iranian court to five years in jail for ridiculing the Koran holy book in a song, Iranian media reported.

The Iranian Koran News Agency said at the time the singer maintained he was the victim of an “unauthorised release” of his work on the Internet.

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Pakistan: Davis is Killer, Lahore Police Tell Judge

(AKI/Dawn) — The investigation wing of the Lytton Road police and prosecution officials submitted on Tuesday a double-murder preliminary police report against US national Raymond Davis to the court of Lahore District and Sessions Judge (DSJ) Abdul Waheed Khan.

After consulting some additional district and sessions judges, the DSJ marked the case to the court of ADSJ Mohammad Youssuf Aujla.

An official said police had formally charged Davis under Section 302, declaring him as killer of Faizan and Faheem at Qartaba Chowk in Mozang on Jan 27.

He said the home department had issued a notification to conduct the trial in jail because of security concerns.

According to the police report, Lytton Road SHO Atif Meraj recovered a belt, a pistol pouch, a handbag, two purses, five cellphones, Pakistani and foreign currency and two National Identity Cards from the murdered youths.

Davis, according to witnesses, first opened fire on Faizan and Fahim from his car and then shot them from the back while they were fleeing.

“The police, however, captured Davis while he was trying to flee in his car and recovered a 9mm pistol with five magazines, 75 bullets, a passport, a long-range wireless set, a global positioning system (GPS) with charger, two cellphones, a telescope, infrared headlight, camera, torch, survival kit, memory cards, packed ‘niswar’, local and US currency, ATM cards, a PIA ticket, blank cheques etc.”

Davis claimed during investigation that the men wanted to rob him and he had killed them in self-defence. After killing Faizan and Fahim, Davis also photographed them and called the US consulate to send someone to help him.

Responding to the phone call, a vehicle (Land Cruiser) carrying some persons reached the spot and crushed to death another man, Ibadur Rehman.

According to the challan, Davis’s claim of having acted in self-defence couldn’t be proved because he had killed the men while they were running away and they had no bullet loaded in their pistol.

“Not a single eyewitness saw the murdered youths trying to loot the accused at gunpoint,” it said, adding that the accused didn’t cooperate with the investigators and refused to give any statement on the instructions of the US consulate in Lahore.

“Davis has been proved to be guilty and be tried under the murder charges,” the investigators said.

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

Pakistan — United States: Lahore: For Islamic Fundamentalists, Raymond Davis is a Blasphemer Who Must be Beheaded

The US national, in prison for killing two Pakistanis, allegedly insulted the prison’s religious leader and other inmates who were praying. Pakistan’s extremist camp wants the American sentenced to death. It has announced demonstrations in case of his release. Fundamentalists want to see Asia Bibi as well as the US national, who claims diplomatic immunity, hanged.

Lahore (AsiaNews) — Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI), an Islamic political movement, wants Raymond Davis, a US citizen, tried for blasphemy, an offence that carries the death penalty. JUI chief Maulana Samiul Haq has accused him of disrespect towards the Friday call to prayer from a mosque and derogatory remarks about people who gathered for prayers as well as misbehaviour towards prison staff. The alleged actions occurred in Kot Lakhpat Maximum Security Prison in Lahore where the 36-year-old US national is being held on charges of double murder. He is waiting for Pakistani authorities to rule on his claim to diplomatic immunity.

For Raymond Davis, the situation is getting more complicated. Pakistan’s extremist camp is now egging on crowds and demanding an exemplary punishment for him. This comes at a time when tensions between Washington and Islamabad are at their highest. The 36-year-old American is in jail on charges of killing two men on 27 January in Lahore. He claims he acted in self-defence.

A local court ruled that he be held for two weeks in preventive custody. The inquiry appears to show that he shot in cold blood two Pakistanis, probably agents of the country’s Inter-Service Intelligence, as they fled on a motorbike.

The United States wants Pakistan to recognise his diplomatic immunity even though the Vienna Convention does not cover serious crimes like murder, which is what he is charged with.

In recent days, Raymond Davis is thought to have made his situation even worse. According to Mian Mushtaq Awan, Kot Lakhpat prison superintendant, the American insulted the prison’s religious leader and inmates who had met for morning prayers.

A group of prisoners tried to attack him but he was rescued by police before he could be lynched. A guard said, “Davis made derogatory remarks about Islam and Muslim prayers”.

News about the incident fired up the country’s extremist camp. For Maulana Samiul Haq, “Davis’s behaviour is punishable by death,” irrespective of his diplomatic immunity.

The JUI leader also called on the government to “hang Asia Bibi, the Christian woman, who insulted the prophet to make her an example for everyone in the country.” He was referring to the Christian mother who is in jail after being sentenced to death for blasphemy and waiting for her appeal to be heard.

Pakistan’s Islamic extremists have called for a national day of protest on 20 February in Peshawar to defend the ‘black law’.

Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has warned the government that if it released Davis, it would hold street demonstrations.

A TTP spokesman called on the authorities to hand over Davis so that they could behead him. He also threatened judges.

US Senator John Kerry has arrived in Lahore in an attempt to solve the matter. He met former Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Queshi and Prime MinisterYousaf Raza Gilani to discuss details.

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

Far East

China: About 43 Per Cent of Chinese Coal Power Plants Produce at a Loss

Almost half of coal power plants sold electricity below cost. Even though coal and salaries have increased, the government has maintained its policy of fixed energy costs. About 80 per cent of energy output comes from coal. This year, consumption should rise by 12 per cent.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) — About 43 per cent of Chinese coal power plants operated at a loss last year because of the government’s price freeze for industrial and residential energy consumption, this despite the rising cost of coal and higher interest rates.

The coal-fired power generation sector saw a 38.8 per cent drop in combined profit in the first 11 months of 2011, the industry’s planner and regulator, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), reported. According to a Samsung Securities research report, net profit was 28 billion yuan.

The NDRC said 43 per cent of coal-fired power plants were in the red, up from 35 per cent in 2009. Energy costs are held in check, even below production costs, because of government policy. Even in the more lucrative years of 2005 to 2007, 30 to 38 per cent of the coal-fired power producers made losses.

Losses are due to higher coal prices but also low efficiency. Nevertheless, the profits of the electricity-producing industry, including non-coal power, edged up 3.6 per cent to 82.7 billion yuan in the 11 months.

This was largely due to last year’s 19.4 per cent surge in the output of hydropower, which has no fuel cost, thanks to ample rainfall. In 2009, hydropower output had grown only 1.6 per cent.

With fuel costs typically chewing up two-thirds of a power plant’s revenues, higher coal prices should be passed onto the consumer in the form of a higher energy bill, but the government has imposed a price freeze to favour industrial output and keep inflation down.

Coal-fired output accounted for 80.7 per cent of the mainland’s power generation last year, followed by 16.2 per cent from hydropower and 3 per cent from wind, nuclear and other forms of power.

Power consumption in China, the world’s second-largest electricity user, is likely to grow 12 per cent this year, the China Electricity Council (CEC) said, easing off last year’s expansion of 14.6 per cent.

CEC also said China would boost capacity this year from 962 GW to 1,040 GW by end of 2011, after closing smaller, inefficient stations.

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

Sub-Saharan Africa

Nigerian Policeman Among 12 Dead in Reprisal Clashes in Jos, Thisday Says

A policeman was among 12 people killed in new fighting between Muslims and Christians in Jos, the capital of north-central Nigeria’s Plateau state, ThisDay newspaper reported, citing witnesses it didn’t identify.

A Muslim trader in one of the city’s markets stabbed to death a policeman, said to be a Christian, provoking reprisal attacks from other Christians, the Lagos-based newspaper said.

State police Commissioner Abdulrahman Akano confirmed the death of the officer and said four people were arrested for taking part in the clashes, the newspaper said…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Latin America

Mexico: 1 U.S. Immigration Agent Killed, 1 Injured in Mexico

A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent was killed and another wounded while driving through northern Mexico Tuesday, in a rare attack on American officials in this country which is fighting powerful drug cartels.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said one agent was critically wounded in the attack and died from his injuries. The second agent was shot in the arm and leg and remains in stable condition.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


EU ‘Ready’ To Help With Tunisian Migrants

100 mln euros in aid to be granted ‘quite quickly’

(ANSA) — Brussels, February 15 — The European Union is ready to help Italy cope with thousands of Tunisian migrants who have fetched up on the island of Lampedusa in the last few days, the spokesperson for European Internal Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said Tuesday.

“The Commissioner has already identified a series of concrete measures to meet Italy’s needs,” the spokesperson said.

She said the 100 million euros of aid Italy has requested to deal with the emergency could be granted “quite quickly”.

Malmstrom is in “constant contact” with frontier agency Frontex, which is ready to launch a mission, she added. Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi and Interior Minister Roberto Maroni on Tuesday visited a reception centre near Catania where some of the excess migrants on Lampedusa can be housed.

Berlusconi on Monday requested an EU summit on the migrant crisis.

At a press conference at the reception centre, Maroni said he feared other risks from the “institutional earthquake” in Egypt.

Maroni has already raised the risk of terrorists posing among the asylum seekers from Tunisia.

Earlier, Foreign Minister Franco Frattini reiterated a charge that the EU had not been ready for the exodus from Tunisia. The 800-bed reception centre on Lampedusa, which is closer to Tunisia than Italy, has been reopened after the arrival of more than 2,000 migrants, many of whom have moved on to centres in other parts of southern Italy.

The Lampedusa centre was closed after the success of Italy’s ‘push-back’ policy with Libya.

For the second night running Tuesday there were no more crossings from Tunisia.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

EU: Appeal Made to Tunisia to Intervene

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, FEBRUARY 15 — The EU’s High Representative for Foreign Policy, Catherine Ashton, has discussed with the Tunisian authorities the issue of the extraordinary influx of migrants leaving Tunisia for Italy. This is according to her spokesperson, Maja Kocijancic, who said in Brussels today that Ashton “has made an appeal for the issue to be dealt with using all available tools, so that relations between Tunisia and the EU can concentrate on the transition towards a democratic regime and economic development”.

The European Union has repeated that it is “ready to support Tunisia in all the challenges that it will face and is preparing an aid package,” the spokesperson confirmed. During the period between 2011 and 2013, this equates to a financing of 258 million euros as part of neighbourhood policy, for measures in a number of sectors, from the economy to the fight against poverty and the promotion of human rights and good government.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

EU: Frontex Ready to Launch Mission

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, FEBRUARY 18 — EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom is “in close contact” with the European border control agency, Frontex, ready “to launch its mission” to help Italy deal with the extraordinary number of immigrants arriving from Tunisia, said the commissioner’s spokesman, Michele Cercone. “The commissioner has already identified a series of concrete measures to respond to Italy’s needs, obviously within the realm of its competence,” specified the spokesman.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

France Ready to Welcome Tunisians

(ANSAmed) — PARIS, FEBRUARY 15 — France is prepared to take in some of the illegal immigrants who have arrived on the Sicilian island of Lampedusa, but will host a limited number judged on a case-by-case basis. So said country’s Minister for European Affairs, Laurent Wauquiez.

The Minister said that France was planning to take on only a “very limited” number of the Tunisian migrants because the country does not want to “encourage” illegal immigration. Many of the 5,000 Tunisians who landed on the coast of Lampedusa said that they wanted to move on to France.

“France’s position is that illegal immigration cannot be encouraged,” Wauquiez said. “We will examine the situation, through our Interior Minister [Brice Hortefeux] on a case-by-case basis, and will decide who is compatible with our rules on immigration. This can only be a very limited number”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Frattini: No Italian Police in Tunisia

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, FEBRUARY 15 — Italian police will not be sent to Tunisia’s ports in order to slow the enormous flow of immigrants who have been landing on Lampedusa in recent days. The Tunisian Army will be responsible for the job, and will use equipment provided by Italy. And the EU’s Frontex mission, which Italy is trying to mobilise, will not patrol the coastline of the North African country, but will stay in international waters, in “full respect of Tunis’ sovereignty”. It was after 8pm when Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini arrived in Tunis at the end of a day filled with tension between Rome, Brussels and the Tunisian capital over the immigration emergency. The exchange of words between Italian Interior Minister Roberto Maroni and European Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom sparked a controversy already fuelled by the ‘lack of understanding’ between the Italian and Tunisian governments. After a mission to the Middle East, which brought him to Syria and Jordan, in the evening Frattini had to ‘defuse’ the situation and arrived in Tunisia just after EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton had departed from the same airport. Ashton had been in Tunis yesterday to promise 258 million euros by 2013 from the EU (17 million immediately) to help the government in their difficult transition after the removal of Ben Ali. Mediation between Italy and Tunisia is difficult, but in the end a reasonable compromise was reached. Frattini assured “complete respect” for Tunisia, and “no interference” in Tunis’ internal affairs will be caused by Italy, as a spokesperson for the Ghannouchi government had complained earlier. The two countries will collaborate to combat illegal immigration: since February 7, over 4,900 Tunisians have fled from the poverty and chaos in their country, turning up on the coast of Sicily, and mainly on the island of Lampedusa, while a small number have also arrived to Pantelleria. A clearly intolerable situation reminiscent of the Albanian emergency in the 1990s. Frattini explained to Tunisian Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi that the Italian government wants to participate in a possible EU Frontex mission with its own men and boats in international waters, and not in Tunisia’s waters, which are under the exclusive jurisdiction of the local navy. Initial approval for this is expected to come at a meeting tomorrow in Brussels between the EU ambassadors and then at a later meeting between Europe’s Interior Ministers. In the meantime, in bilateral meetings and with Tunis’ consent, Rome is willing to send “equipment for the Tunisian Army, advanced technology, a radar system if necessary to monitor the coastline” and not Italian police as advocated for by the Interior Ministry. “We can provide them with boats,” which will only be used by local law enforcement officials. The teams of the Interior and Defence Ministries will stay in close contact to deal with the emergency together. Frattini also proposed an economic aid package together with his offer to collaborate on immigration. Italian cooperation has already committed to donating 18 million euros to Tunisia, and Frattini announced the immediate availability of 5 million euros in aid. This comes in addition to the 73 million euros in concessionary loans (80%) and the current programme to support Tunisia’s balance of payments of 95 million euros, also in the form of concessionary aid at rates equivalent to a donation. “There is complete political support from Italy for the peaceful revolution in Tunisia, which will transform this country into a democratic state,” said Frattini while leaving Tunis.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Frattini in Syria and Jordan, To Tunis to Discuss Migration

(ANSAmed) — DAMASCUS, FEBRUARY 14 — Syria in the morning, Jordan in the afternoon and then to Tunisia, to discuss immigration: this today’s diplomatic tour de force of Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini.

A new stage has been added to the Minister’s mission to the Middle East, shaken by popular uprisings. In fact this evening Frattini will move to Tunis, where he will meet Prime Minister Mohammad Gannouchi to discuss the extraordinary wave of migration that is arriving on the Sicilian coasts these days.

Italy, he told reporters on the airplane yesterday, is willing to help Tunisia with land-based and sea-based instruments to patrol its coast.

“I believe that Tunisia and Italy”, Frattini explained, “have a common interest to slow this flow. Italy has much to offer to Tunisia”, starting with “logistic assistance in the form of police equipment, including important instrument for use on land and at sea while patrolling the Tunisian coast”.

While Frattini was talking to the reporters, the spokesman of the Tunisian government called the suggestion to deploy Italian police forces in Tunisia to stem the flow “unacceptable”. The spokesman said on television that this suggestion, made by Roberto Maroni, was to be expected because this is a “far-right racist” Minister.

Today’s mission of the Italian Foreign Minister starts in Damascus however. In the Syrian capital Frattini will talk with President Bashar al-Assad and Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem.

In the afternoon he will meet King Abdallah II in Amman, as well as the new Prime Minister of Jordan, discussing Egypt’s transition, the Middle East peace process and the formation of the Lebanese government.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Landings Slow But Italy Warns Flow Can Continue

(ANSAmed) — ROME, FEBRURAY 15 — Despite the efforts of the Tunisian government to bring the coasts from which thousands of illegal immigrants have left the country back under the control of police and military forces, tension in Italy remains high over the emergency caused by the mass arrivals in the country.

Italy’s Foreign Minister, Franco Frattini, said that “Tunisia is fully committed to tackling the trafficking of human beings,” and is doing so with “concrete steps”. But, he added, “I am under no illusions: we cannot lower our guard”.

As the country tries to tackle the crisis, Italy underlines Europe’s slowness in reacting. “The EU must intervene, not only to manage the emergency, but to outline short-term and medium-term vision with a range of initiatives that must concern the future, development, growth and the social and economic revival of countries on the southern shores,” Frattini said. The Foreign Minister added that Europe “has answered positively to the requests of Prime Minister Berlusconi”.

Frattini, however, believes that there is still a risk that the flow of migrants towards Europe’s coasts might resume massively. The Foreign Minister said that policy cannot be limited to containing the landings, but that aid needs to be “multiplied”, to help Tunisia “revive its economy”. He claimed that it is insufficient to “manage the emergency”, but there is a need “to offer an alternative to hundreds of thousands of young Tunisians without jobs”. The best way to manage the flow of immigration towards Italy, Frattini continued, is “to take work to them”. This is the subject of talks between Tunisia and Italy to be held the day after tomorrow in Rome, which will be attended by Italian entrepreneurs and is expected to feature the Tunisian Minister for Economic Development.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Alcohol Sales Banned for Tunisian Illegal Immigrants

(AKI) — None of the thousands of illegal immigrants who have reached the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa will be able to celebrate their arrival with a drink, according to a new law.

Bernardino De Rubeis, mayor of the island’s main town Lampedusa and Linosa, is expected to issue an ordinance banning the sale of alcohol to any of the thousands of mostly Tunisians who have reached the island’s shores since the fall of Tunisan president Zine al-Abidine Ben on 14 January.

Almost 5,300 Tunisians have landed on the tiny island of Lampedusa since since 15 January, almost doubling its population, according to the Italian government. Italian interior minister Roberto Maroni has called the influx of immigrants an “exodus of biblical proportions” and asked the European Union for 100 million euros in funds to boost security.

De Rubeis said “around 50” drunk immigrants were spotted Monday in the Lampedusa and Linosa centre, leading him to implement an alcohol-sale ban.

“This can’t be tolerated,” De Rubeis said.

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

Sweden: Protesters Arrested After Iraq Expulsion Demo

Swedish police have arrested 16 protesters outside the Swedish Migration Board’s (Migrationsverket) asylum seeker detention centre in Kållered outside Gothenburg.

The protest was against the planned deportation of a group of 15 Iraqis scheduled at 8am local time, according to newspaper Göteborgs-Posten (GP) on Wednesday.

A number of the deportees are Christians, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and human rights organisation Amnesty International, the report said.

Police removed about 90 people from the scene and arrested 16 protesters on suspicion of police disobedience. Demonstrators blocked the entries and exits to the facility by forming human chains and with vehicles.

The protests continued on Wednesday morning at Gothenburg’s Landvetter Airport, where the flight to Baghdad was scheduled to take off, with about 150 demonstrators.

Late last month, 20 asylum seekers were deported back to Iraq from Stockholm and another six from Denmark despite heated protests against their expulsion.

According to the UNHCR, a number of the asylum seekers who were sent back belonged to religious and ethnic groups targeted by violence in Iraq. Two days before the expulsions, 70 protesters were arrested outside the facility in Kållered.

Tens of thousands of Iraqis have fled the war in their country to resettle in Sweden, with official statistics showing 117,900 people born in Iraq lived in the country in 2009, up from 49,400 in 2000.

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

Tunisian Refugees in Lampudesa: ‘I Felt Very Near to Death’

They have come in the hopes of finding a better life: In recent days, thousands of Tunisians have landed on the shores of the Italian island of Lampedusa. Many are young men who feel let down by their homeland. They may soon be let down by Europe.

The sea was calm — a fact which likely saved Chalid’s life. He spent 26 hours on the Mediterranean, one of a hundred people packed onto a small boat. He couldn’t help being afraid, he says, and hoped that there wouldn’t be a sudden storm.

“I felt very near to death,” he says.

Now, two days later, he is standing on a dusty street on the Italian island of Lampedusa. He has made it. Chalid wears a dark jacket and jeans, similar to the dozens of young men who stroll past him. Lined with palm trees, the street winds its way towards a refugee reception camp where the roughly 2,000 refugees currently on the Mediterranean island have found shelter. The small reception camp is only meant to house up to 800 people and is hopelessly overcrowded.

A solution to the crisis must urgently be found, the United Nations refugee organization UNHCR says. For the moment, the situation on Lampedusa remains peaceful, but that could rapidly change. The tiny island is around nine kilometers long and three kilometers wide, and home to 6,000 people. That population was almost doubled by the massive influx of refugees last weekend. It looks almost as if the entire island has become a camp. Refugees sit between building ruins and on the beach. They smoke on the playground and on rocks overlooking the sea. They are waiting — to leave, to get papers, to experience a better life.

Dream Destination Paris

Some locals give the refugees some bread, shampoo or towels. “Thank you Lampedusa,” the refugees have written on a sheet draped in front of the refugee center.

“When I saw the coastline I knew that I had reached a new future, a new life,” says Chalid, declining to give his second name. He is 30 years old and has been out of work for the past three years. A diploma in computer science is not worth much in poverty-stricken southern Tunisia. Like many unemployed specialists, he does not expect much from his country, a fact that remains unchanged even after the fall of President Ben Ali.

Chalid now wants to head to Paris and hopes that he will soon be on a plane bound for Palermo. Many of those who landed on Lampedusa in recent days are being flown there so that Italian authorities can process their asylum applications. But Chalid is looking for work, not political asylum. The UNHCR has made it clear that those not seeking asylum and whose applications are rejected have a mere five days to leave Italy.

When Chalid hears this, his eyes open wide with fear. “That can’t be true. I’ve never heard that,” he says.

Like Chalid, Bires Hasan also wants to make his way to Paris. He is a chubby 15-year old, also clad in a dark jacket and jeans. He paid the equivalent of €1,000 ($1,350) for the dangerous journey, money his family managed to scrape together. He fled because he was frightened. Last month his 20-year-old brother was shot and Hasan still fears Ben Ali’s henchmen. A few days ago, his brother-in-law said: “Ok, there’s a boat. Let’s go.”

Fighting for a Place on the Plane

But not everyone who has embarked on the trip to Lampedusa has reached the island. Four people have died in the attempt in recent days — a monument on Lampedusa stands as a testimonial to the many others who lost their lives before the most recent influx. The monument was unveiled two years ago, a five-meter long steel gate directly on the seashore. Nearby, waves wash onto the stony beach. Shoes, hats, cutlery, broken cups, traces of refugees’ journeys, are set into ceramic plates. It is known as the gate to Europe…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Culture Wars

Have Gender Quotas Really Helped Norwegian Women?

When Norway introduced a law in 2006 stipulating that women had to make up 40 percent of the boards of publicly traded companies, it was hailed as a huge step forward. Now researchers are taking stock, and the effects of the quota appear to be mixed.

Behind her back, they call Eli Saetersmoen a “golden skirt.” But the Norwegian executive is actually dressed in tight gray wool pants and black patent leather boots as she emerges briskly from the door of the Oslo airport.

She smiles and looks satisfied, even though she has every reason to be exhausted.

Saetersmoen, 46, has just come from Bergen in western Norway, where she attended a meeting of the board of directors of the Bergen Group. “We discussed the business figures for the fourth quarter,” she says.

For several hours, she asked questions and searched for potential trouble spots in the balance sheet of the company, which specializes in the maritime industry. “You have to be analytical,” she explains, “even if it means stepping on people’s toes.”

New Approaches to an Old Problem

It’s shortly before 8 p.m., but her workday isn’t over yet. In the train from the airport to downtown Oslo, she’ll work on the presentation she is scheduled to give at a conference the next day. “They want to know how a successful board of directors needs to operate.”

Saetersmoen says this as nonchalantly as possible, and yet she knows all too well that only a few years ago, hardly anyone would have come up with the idea of asking a woman for advice on such matters.

But something has changed in Norway. “The country,” she says, “has taken a big step forward.” She is referring to a legal quota introduced in 2006, which requires that women must make up at least 40 percent of the boards of publicly traded companies. Companies that fail to comply face a draconian penalty: They can be dissolved.

Since then, economists and feminists worldwide have viewed the Scandinavian country as a testing ground for new methods to solve an old problem: the lack of women in positions of power.

Exporting Feminism

Saetersmoen is a poster child of successful gender policy. She has already been a member of 12 boards, including that of the state-owned energy company Statoil. She is currently the chairwoman of the board of directors of the risk management company Scandpower, and she has been the managing director of the Norwegian branch of the Falck Nutec conglomerate for the last year and a half.

Proponents of Norway’s gender equality act, the only law of its kind worldwide, tout Saetersmoen as a role model for a new generation of self-confident women in senior management. But critics claim that her many positions of responsibility are evidence of the excesses of state-sponsored feminism.. They refer to women who are members of the boards of multiple companies as “gullskjørtene,” or “golden skirts.”

The Norwegians proudly point out that their pioneering law is being imitated in various countries, including the Netherlands, France and Spain. The Norwegian media has also reported extensively on the gender equality debate in Germany. Will Norway become an exporter of women’s rights, in addition to oil and salmon?

The country already ranks at the top of the United Nations gender equality index. Norway introduced full women’s suffrage as long ago as 1913. For close to two decades now, the Norwegian government has paid women 80 percent of their salaries for an entire year during maternity leave. The percentage of women in the work place is also higher than average.

Nevertheless, the Norwegian statistics resemble those of other countries in many respects. The majority of women work in the public sector, as teachers, nurses or kindergarten teachers. Many women return to part-time jobs after paid maternity leave, which is an important reason why they earn less than men. And the so-called glass ceiling that prevents women from rising to the top levels of corporations also exists in the land of fjords.

Not Driven to Ruin

Now, about five years after the introduction of the quota, Norwegian academics are taking stock for the first time. “Neither the worst fears of opponents nor the greatest hopes of proponents have come true,” says Marit Hoel, director of the Oslo-based Center for Corporate Diversity. She has just presented her findings to German Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger in Berlin.

Hoel’s conclusions suggest that the restructuring of corporate boards has not driven companies to chaos or ruin. The balance sheets of successful companies suffered a little in the short term but recovered quickly, says Hoel. “By contrast, companies that weren’t doing so well tended to benefit from having women on their boards.”

Norwegian companies clearly succeeded in finding sufficient numbers of competent women to serve on their boards. “The people who were replaced were mainly older board members,” says Hoel, adding that their positions were taken by women with substantially better education levels. According to surveys of corporate CEOs, women have hardly changed the working style on boards. “Only a few report that the culture of discussion has become more open,” says the social scientist.

A different study made headlines last fall when it revealed that more than 100 companies had transformed themselves from publicly held corporations (ASAs) to privately held companies (ASs), precisely at the time when the threat of punishment under the new law took effect. (The law only covers state-owned and publicly listed firms.) “We were all quite surprised,” says Hoel.

Upon closer examination, however, it became clear that the key reason for the change in most of the cases was a different law that took effect at the same time, and which no longer required financial firms to be registered as publicly held corporations…

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Hungarian EU Presidency Risks Embarrassment Over Gay Pride Ban

EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS — Hungary’s reputation in the EU is facing another potential battering after Budapest police blocked Gay Pride marchers from gathering in front of parliament later this year.

Tamas Dombos from the Hungarian gay rights group Hatter Support Society told EUobserver on Tuesday (15 February) that police are likely to give the go-ahead for a different route for the rally, due in June, but that this is not the point.

The organisers decided to make the event more political than in previous years. We need the march to end in front of parliament in order to increase our visibility,” he said.

In an embarrassing twist for the Hungarian EU presidency, the police used the EU chairmanship itself as justification. The official decision says tourists coming to see a presidency photo exhibition in parliament square could be vexed by the marchers, Mr Dombos reported. It also says official motorcades relating to presidency visits could be obstructed.

“Hungary is representing the whole of the EU, not just in Europe, but worldwide, and this gives a bad message. The EU is supposed to stand up for human rights,” the campaigner added.

The march comes in the context of a general swing to the right under Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s Fidesz party.

Rights campaigners are worried that a Fidesz-proposed constitutional amendment will make it impossible to legalise gay marriage in future by defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

They are also concerned that Annamaria Szalai, the head of Hungary’s new National Media and Telecommunication Authority, has indicated she will use her sweeping powers to protect what she calls “family values.” Ms Szalai earlier in her career edited a pornographic magazine called Miami Press.

Asked if he thinks that Mr Orban is a homophobe, Mr Dombos said: “He is a political strategist. His party has changed its position so violently it’s hard to know what they really think and what are political games.”

For its part, Brussels on Tuesday fired a warning shot. “The European Commission has no legal authority to intervene in how member states organise public meetings. When implementing national law, member states must respect fundamental rights, including freedom of expression and assembly, as required by their own constitutional order and international obligations,” it said in a statement.

Dutch liberal MEP Sophie in’t Veld said: “We cannot accept the EU being led by a presidency that disrespects equality and freedom of assembly.”

The Gay Pride organisers first complained to press on Valetine’s Day in a move designed to maximise pain. The Hungarian presidency has already come under fire at EU-level for trying to curb press freedom, harvest extra taxes from foreign firms and for putting a carpet in the EU Council building showing Hungary with enlarged borders.

When asked about Gay Pride by EUobserver on Tuesday, the Hungarian mission to the EU said the Hungarian government should answer the questions. The Hungarian government then passed the hot potato to the Budapest police, with a reply pending.

A Hungarian official, who wanted to remain anonymous, said police have special safety concerns about parliament after anti-government riots in 2006. He added that if the far-right holds a counter-march in June then police might find it hard to keep the peace inside the square.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

More Sex Education Please, We’re Polish

Gazeta Wyborcza, 14 February 2011

“Compulsory sex education classes,” leads Gazeta Wyborcza. The Warsaw daily quotes from a survey by the Interactive Institute of Market Research (IIBR) according to which more than eight out of ten students say that if their school runs a non-compulsory “sex” class (like 70 percent of secondary schools), they gladly take. And 83 of adults believe such classes should actually be compulsory. Why? “Because they don’t know how to talk to their kids about “those things” and hope school can do it instead,” explains Gazeta. According to recent research, about one in eight Polish children aged 12-15 and one in three aged 16-17 are already sexually initiated. Sexologists lobbying for compulsory courses warn that more and more Polish teenagers are contracting sexually transmitted diseases. “We teach them how to cross the street properly,” argued one, “so we should be teaching them about how to handle sex.”

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

Spain: Smoking Ban, Nightlife Gives Into ‘Smirting’

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, FEBRUARY 15 — In Italy, it is already a legacy from long ago, but in Spain, which is still struggling to digest the aggressive anti-smoking laws in force since January 2, it is perhaps the only consolation. “Smirting”, a marriage of love and smoking outside bars and restaurants, is the new trend within a movida that has been dulled by the ban. The combination of smoking and flirting is a social construct created by hardened smokers who are forced to exit public indoor spaces to smoke and to kill the time spent out in the open by socialising with their fellow nicotine addicts.

“Since the beginning of the year, as soon as I go in to the street to smoke, I’ll ask for a lighter and continuously meet new people,” 26-year old Ruben Martin, a proud smoker delighted with the new anti-smoking laws, told El Pais. Smirting is nothing new, though. The word was coined in New York, not least because the Big Apple was the first city to introduce rigid anti-smoking laws in bars and restaurants as early as 2003.

Between puffs, affinities are established, connections made and opinions exchanged on the smoking ban, but also on tastes, preferences and trends. In Ireland, the country that first applied a total smoking ban in 2004, 25% of relationships that began between 2007 and 2008 started with a cigarette under the stars, according to a report quoted by El Pais.

In Madrid, the forerunner of the Movida and a city used to entertainment and emotion on the street, smirting has become a must, to the point that some people, like Sara Gomez, a 30-year old office worker, are considering taking up the habit. “It’s easier to meet people smoking outside than having a drink inside the venue,” says Sara, a non-smoker but perhaps not for much longer.

Many clubs have caused outrage by attempting to make money out of the trend and charge one euro for the stamp that allows punters to leave the venue to smoke a cigarette before re-entering. While there are continuing protests by consumer associations, which consider the tax to be illegal, as well as being a further means of harassment for smokers, the managers of nightclubs are defending the move, saying that they are forced to increase their staff numbers to carry out checks. This also applies for the owners of restaurants and bars, where customers leaving the venue to smoke has often been an alibi for those who leave without paying the bill. Some 88% of entrepreneurs in the restaurant business who are affiliated with Asearco consider that their business has been hit by a drop of up to 20% as a result of the new anti-smoking laws. Meanwhile, the anti-smoking crusade in the Spain has hit unprecedented heights in the last few days, with the complaint by a member of the audience of the musical “Hair”, which is currently showing at the Apollo in Barcelona, and features characters smoking on stage. The Catalan agency for public health has warned that the producers of Hair risk a fine of between 600 and 10,000 euros for breaking the rules, despite the fact that, in another scene, the characters burn a bundle of Maria Luisa (an aromatic plants), basil and other herbs. And last but not least, the national committee for the prevention of smoking has asked the government to withdraw menthol cigarettes from the market because, although they “look innocent”, they are in fact “very dangerous, especially for younger people”. So all that is left for besieged and persecuted smokers is to resist as best they can and take comfort from smirting, safe in the knowledge that if temporary smoking companions are dull, it is easy enough simply to discard the cigarette and go back inside.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Time to Take a Stand Against Multiculturalism

A week after British Prime Minister David Cameron delivered a cogent and impassioned speech on the perils of political correctness and multiculturalism in combating Islamic extremism, Rep. Peter King (R.-N.Y.) refused to kowtow to pressure by Democrats and outside organizations that tried to force him into holding more “politically correct” hearings next month on the threat of Islamic extremism within the United States.

Critics of the scheduled hearing wanted King to broaden the list of those who are going to testify to include non-Arab and non-Islamic witnesses. Further, they wanted King to focus on non-Islamic groups such as radical environmentalists that these critics feel also pose a threat to the United States.

On Tuesday, King wrote to the ranking minority member of the Committee on Homeland Security, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D.-Miss.), who had written King to ask him to expand the hearings to include “a broad-based examination of domestic extremist groups regardless of their ideological underpinnings.”

King wrote back, “In short, the homeland has become a major front in the war with Islamic terrorism and it is our responsibility to fully examine this significant change in al-Qaeda tactics and strategy. To include other groups such as neo-Nazis and extreme environmentalists in this hearing would be extraneous and diffuse its efficacy. It would also send the false message that our Committee believes there is any threat equivalency between these disparate groups and Islamist terrorism.”

Further, King wrote, “Very simply, the Committee cannot ignore the fact that al-Qaeda is actively attempting to recruit individuals living within the Muslim American community to commit acts of terror. Pursuant to our mandate, the Committee will continue to examine the threat of Islamic radicalization, and I will not allow political correctness to obscure a real and dangerous threat to the safety and security of the citizens of the United States.”

King’s refusal to back down came on the heels of what may become a seminal speech in Western-Islamic relations.

Last week, in Munich, Germany, Cameron told the audience, “We won’t defeat terrorism simply by the actions we take outside our borders. Europe needs to wake up to what is happening in our own countries.”

Cameron at first said that “we need to be absolutely clear on where the origins of these terrorist attacks lie-and that is the existence of an ideology, ‘Islamist extremism’ “ and promptly made it clear he was distinguishing Islamist extremism from Islam.

“Islam is a religion, observed peacefully and devoutly by over a billion people. Islamist extremism is a political ideology, supported by a minority,” Cameron said.

Then Cameron delivered his argument against multiculturalism and for greater assimilation.

“Under the doctrine of state multiculturalism, we have encouraged different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and the mainstream,” Cameron said.

“We have even tolerated these segregated communities behaving in ways that run counter to our values, Cameron continued. “So when a white person holds objectionable views-racism, for example-we rightly condemn them. But when equally unacceptable views or practices have come from someone who isn’t white, we’ve been too cautious, frankly even fearful, to stand up to them.”

Cameron called for aggressively standing up to those who advocate for the multicultural agenda.

He said that too often some “organizations that seek to present themselves as a gateway to the Muslim community are showered with public money despite doing little to combat extremism” and that the passive acceptance of these groups without any accountability is comparable with “turning to a right-wing fascist party to fight a violent white supremacist movement.”…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]


Muslim Brotherhood Takes Umbrage at Criticism

It appears that the Muslim Brotherhood has established a second front website and coined a new term in the process. According to a description of itself, the Ikhwanophobia website explains:

Ikhwanophobia is a new term meaning the fear and or hatred of the Muslim Brotherhood members and their ideologies. It also refers to the unjustified intimidation by the people of the Muslim Brotherhood members. Ikhwanophobes are the factions who call for discrimination towards Muslim Brotherhood members and Muslims in general. They may be characterized by having the belief that all or most MB’s are religious fanatics, with violent tendencies towards non-Muslims, and reject as directly opposed to Islam such concepts as equality, tolerance, and democracy. Ikhwanophobes always attempt to link Muslim Brotherhood to terrorism and violence.

Ikhwanophobia is completely linked to the Islamophobia term, where there are continued accusations of the Muslim societies and Islamic Centers in Europe or in the States of being affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood. Intimidation of the Muslim Brotherhood, of course, leads to many negative consequences that are contrary to basic human rights. It generates evident discrimination of the western Muslims who live in Europe and the US . This bias also forces public opinion and decision makers to reject many of the democratic choices of the Muslim and Middle Eastern peoples. Hence a set of negative assumptions are made of the entire group to the detriment of members of that group. was established in the middle of the year 2010. It is run by a group of Academic intellectuals who believed they should act positively and effectively in response to accusations and allegations that face the Muslim Brotherhood. We at are determined to shed light on the accusations and allegations against the MB illustrating to the world the true face of moderate Islamists. is also concerned with exposing the claimants and Ikhwanophobes. aspires to open a new gateway for Ikhwanophobia victims encouraging them to share their sufferings. The website welcomes and encourages unbiased and impartial participation in defending the absolute values of justice, freedom and human rights.

The Ikhwanophobia website is hosted on the same server currently hosting the Ikhwanscope website which as discussed in an earlier post, purports to be “an independent Muslim Progressive and moderate non-profit site” but which actually appears to be a front organization of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood.

The Ikhwanscope website was first registered in December 2009 and according to archived domain registration records, at one time shared the same administrative contact ( with the domain of the official Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood English-language website, both domains at that time registered in Cairo, Egypt but hosted in the U.S. with, a Dallas-based Internet hosting company that is known to have hosted Taliban, Hezbollah, and Hamas websites in the past.

Ikhwanophobia was also established around the same time as Ikhwanscope and the server hosting the two sites also hosts 22 other related domains including,, and, a website dedicated to the cause of the imprisoned Brotherhoood leader Khairat Al-Shater. One of these domains hosted on the Ikhwanophobia server,, points to the main Muslim Brotherhood domain and website…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]