Saturday, January 11, 2003

News Feed 20110219

Financial Crisis
»G20: Tremonti: International Speculation as Item of Talks
»Greece: Survey Shows 225,000 SMEs Risk Closure
»House Votes to Cut $60 Billion, Setting Up Budget Clash
»Portugal: Unemployment Above 11%, Highest Since 1998
»Serbia: 555 People Losing Their Jobs Each Day
»Spain: Government and Authority Warn of Rumasa Risks
»Tom Tancredo: Obama’s Debt-Ridden America
»Tunisia: Central Bank, Risk of Economic Drift
»Michigan Mosque Plot Suspect’s Criminal Past Examined
»Where Americans Are Moving
»Who Controls Your State?
»The Curious Case of the Frozen Windmills
Europe and the EU
»Albania: 250 Mln Dollar Needed for Safety of Dams
»Berlusconi Eyes Justice Curbs as Sex Trial Looms
»Berlusconi: Upcoming Council Ministers to Reform Justice
»Foreign Policy Merger ‘Over My Dead Body, ‘ Says EU Aid Chief
»Greece: EU’s Ultimatum for Sewage Plants in 9 Cities
»Italy: Unification Holiday Approved But League Unhappy
»Italy: Berlusconi ‘Clown’ Says U.S. Ambassador in Leaked Cables
»Italy: Sixteen New Solar Energy Plants to be Built Across Country
»Netherlands: Queen Beatrix Censored by Geert Wilders
»New Public Holiday Established to Celebrate Italian Unity
»Rise in Abuse of Foreign Wives in Sweden: Report
»Sicilian Pecorino Firms Up Italy’s Quality-Food Lead
»Switzerland: Hundreds Expected for Islam Conference in Biel
»UK: Fill in This Form Before You Speak, Two Eds Tell Their Shadow Cabinet
»UK: Fury as Firm of Solicitors Offers Sharia Advice
»UK: Gordon Brown Launches Thinly-Veiled Attack on Tony Blair
»UK: Muslim Who Amassed £1.7m Property Portfolio Using Fraudulent Mortgage Claims Jailed
»UK: Universities Aren’t Doing Enough to Help in the War on Extremists, Says Cameron’s Terror Watchdog
North Africa
»Algeria: Clashes Between Opposers and Supporters of Regime
»Egypt: Contrasting Reports on Health Condition of Mubarak
»Egypt Protests: Fears That the Army Will Install a ‘New Mubarak’ To Keep Its Power and Privilege
»Egypt Islamists Want Purge of Old Regime Figures
»G20: Tremonti on North Africa, Democracy is Not Exportable
»Libya: Berlusconi Worried About All Maghreb Area
»Libya: Al Jazeera, People Killed by Snipers in Benghazi
»Libya: BBC: Soldiers Join Protests
»Libya: Police Fire at Funeral Procession Killing Dozens
»Libya Protests: Reports of Intense Benghazi Violence
»Liz Jones: Lara Logan, A Terrifying Reminder of the World We Haven’t Painted Pink
»‘Marshall Plan for Egypt and Neighbours’, Italy’s FM
»Morocco: Islamic Party Supports Protest
»Muslims Abduct Coptica Christian Woman in Egypt
»Tunisia: Rebellion in the Borj Erroumi Prison
»Tunisia: Mass Escape From Gabes Prison
»Tunisian Fundamentalists Burn Down Brothels
Israel and the Palestinians
»Egypt: Re-Opening of Rafah Pass to Gaza Imminent
Middle East
»“Iranium” The Movie (Full Video)
»Bahrain: Hereditary Prince Says Police Will Maintain Order
»Dialogue With Iranian Authorities is Pointless; It is Necessary to Talk to the Opposition
»European Development Bank Cuts Loans for Turkey in 2010
»Iran: Pro-Government Rally Calls for Opposition Leaders to be Executed
»Islam is in Fact the Real Source of the Problems in the Middle East
»Kuwait: Police Fire Tear Gas at Workers Who Claim Rights
»Middle East Protests: Shocking Moment Troops Open Fire in Broad Daylight as Numbers Killed Nears 100
»Oman: Demonstration Over Wages and Political Reforms
»People Power Triumphs in Bahrain
»Riot Police in Bahrain Retreat From Pearl Square
»Saudi Arabia: 500 New Hotels Near Mecca
»Turkey’s Press Freedom Controversy Goes Global
»Turkey Plays Growing Political Role in Middle East
»Turkish PM Calls US Envoy a ‘Rookie’ Ambassador
»What’s in it for Turkey?
»Yemenis Clash With Riot Police Across the Country
»Four Russian Tourists Killed on Way to Caucasus Ski Resort
South Asia
»Afghanistan: More Than US$ 3 Trillion in Rare Earths and Precious Metals Under Taliban Feet
»Afghan Soldier Opens Fire on German Troops, Killing 3 and Wounding 6 Others
»Pakistan: Punjab: Sherry Rehman Will Not be Prosecuted for Blasphemy
Far East
»Bishop of Fukuoka on Japan’s Missionary and Mature Church
»China: Railways Minister’s Departure Creates Uncertainties, Causes Shares to Fall
»Giving Mongolians a Linguistic Stepping Stone
Sub-Saharan Africa
»Djibouti: 2nd Day of Clashes and Protests Against Guelle
»Rwandan Genocide Suspect Working at a Seaside Care Home
»Ugandan ‘Lesbian’ Drops Homosexual Claim
Latin America
»US Tech Offer Threatens Brazil Gripen Deal
»EU: Frontex Mission to Italy Tomorrow
»Germany: Where the Germans Speak Gibberish
»Malta: CPT Denounces Serious Situation Prison and Immigrants
»Multiculturalism Threatens America
Culture Wars
»Book Review: Don’t Buy the Lie About the Crusades
»In Latin America, New Ads Aim to Steer Men Away From Machismo
»Muslim ‘Refused Job Because of His Name’ Accuses Airline Bosses of Racism
»The Ten Commandments of the Antichrist
»UK: Paul Daniels Accused of Racism After ‘Paki’ Tweet
»UK: Your Marital Status is Not Relevant to us Now, Church Tells Clergy
»Book Review: Looking Deeply Into Terror is … Terrifying
»Niall Ferguson: ‘Westerners Don’t Understand How Vulnerable Freedom Is’

Financial Crisis

G20: Tremonti: International Speculation as Item of Talks

(AGI)Paris — International speculation “on financial markets and, especially now, on raw materials” is being discussed at the G20. Italian financial minister, Giulio Tremonti, during a break at Bercy, told TV networks that “at the moment, international speculation is being discussed. Raw materials, translated into Italian, are wheat, rice, food and oil. Two years ago they used to reply that there was no speculation and that markets set the right prices. Now, thay are starting to understand that speculation can destabilize: few people earn great amounts of money, and many people lose huge amounts.” .

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

Greece: Survey Shows 225,000 SMEs Risk Closure

(ANSAmed) — ATHENS, FEBRUARY 16 — There are about 225,000 Greek small and medium-sized enterprises at risk of closure and 300,000 jobs which could be lost as a result of the economic crisis hitting the country. This was reported in a recent survey on a representative sample of 1,200 enterprises, elaborated by the Greek Institute for Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs). The Italian Institute for Foreign Trade (ICE) office in Athens says that in 2010 enterprise turnover dropped on average by 30%, and about 30% of payments — including salaries — were made late, while another 30% of enterprises were forced to cut working hours. The Institute for SMEs has asked the government to re-examine a possible cut in VAT for state enterprises, greater flexibility as concerns social security payments and most favourable conditions for non-residential real estate.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

House Votes to Cut $60 Billion, Setting Up Budget Clash

The House early Saturday approved a huge package of spending cuts, slashing more than $60 billion from domestic programs, foreign aid, and even some military projects, as the new Republican majority made good on its pledge to turn the grassroots fervor of the November elections into legislative action to shrink the size and scope of government.

The vote, of 235 to 189 , was a victory for the large, boisterous class of fiscally conservative Republican freshmen that is fiercely determined to change the ways of Washington and that forced party leaders to pursue far bigger cuts than originally planned. It set the stage for a standoff with Senate Democrats and the White House that each side has warned could lead to a shutdown of the federal government early next month.

[Return to headlines]

Portugal: Unemployment Above 11%, Highest Since 1998

(ANSAmed) — ROME, FEBRUARY 16 — In Portugal unemployment is above 11%, the highest level since 1998. During the fourth quarter of 2010 the unemployment rate grew to 11.1% from 10.9% during the third quarter and from 10.1% during the last quarter of 2009. So reports the National Institute of Statistics.

Carlo Costa, the governor of Portugal’s Central Bank, stated that the Country has slipped into recession. In an interview with newspaper Diario Economico, Costa stated that “you can say that we are in a recession”. During 2010 the economy grew by 1.4%, according to the preliminary estimates of the National Institute of Statistics, but because of the austerity measures it is expected that in 2011 GDP will shrink approximately 1 to 1.8 percent.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Serbia: 555 People Losing Their Jobs Each Day

(ANSAmed) — BELGRADE, FEBRUARY 18 — In Serbia, a country which has yet to overcome the effects of the financial crisis, an average of 555 people are losing their jobs each day, according to a report in today’s edition of the Blic newspaper, with cites IMF sources. The newspaper writes that Serbia has Europe’s highest rate of unemployment with 730,000 of its working-age citizens out of work, or 26.7%. In each month since October of 2008, around 17,000 people have lost their jobs, while measures imposed by the government have managed to create 170,000 jobs over the same period.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Spain: Government and Authority Warn of Rumasa Risks

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, FEBRUARY 18 — The Spanish government and the national stock market commission “did everything possible” to warn investors about risks involved in the purchase of Nueva Rumasa bonds. The statement was made today by deputy premier for the economy Elena Salgado during the traditional press conference following the cabinet session. Salgado emphasised that “We changed the law because these emissions should be carried out through a broker”, and pointed to the supervisory body of the stock market that “issued up to seven warnings recommending investors to inform themselves properly” on the characteristics of the bond emission and associated risks before investing in the Nueva Rumasa holding.

The deputy premier concluded that “Sincerely, I think that there was not much more that could be done”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Tom Tancredo: Obama’s Debt-Ridden America

The events in Wisconsin this week confirm the worst fears about Obama’s vision for America. In Obama’s America, public debt is as American as apple pie, and the bigger the pie, the better. federal debt, state debt, municipal debt — no matter: it’s all good.

The governor of Wisconsin, in trying to balance the state budget, asked public employees to pay half the annual cost of their pensions and 12.6 percent of their health-care cost. They object and say they can’t afford it. Democratic senators fell into line and literally fled the state to deny the state legislature a quorum for voting on the governor’s proposals. Over 25,000 public employees and students have been protesting the governor’s plans by occupying the Capitol building and obstructing business.

Other state unions not affected by the governor’s proposals have nonetheless joined what amounts to a political temper tantrum. Caught up in the circus are thousands of high-school and college students inspired by their teachers to boycott class and join the protest. The unions generously provided printed signs for the students to carry comparing Gov. Walker to Hitler and Mubarak.

A group of students interviewed by a local television station could not give a coherent reason for their presence at the protest. Laughing, they said a day off from school was reason enough. In earlier times, class warfare meant pitting the poor against the rich. To Obama and modern progressives, class warfare has been simplified to the public sector versus the private sector, or more simply, tax consumers versus taxpayers. This is the new progressive version of “triangulation” — dividing to conquer by persuading middle-class government workers they are part of the oppressed masses.


But quite clearly, this confrontation is about more than Wisconsin’s budget. Whether organized labor chose Wisconsin for a showdown or whether this is mere happenstance is now unimportant. What is important is that the Democratic Party leadership has decided to pull out all the stops in order to set an example. Their message is — we will protect the public-sector unions at all costs.

What this should tell us — or rather remind us — is that what holds the Democratic coalition together is a commitment to an ever-expanding public sector.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Tunisia: Central Bank, Risk of Economic Drift

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, FEBRUARY 17 — After the security one, attention is now on economic drifting. This was the exhortation by Tunisia’s central Bank Governor Mustapha Kamel Nabli, who said that there have been a number of alarming signs and that the effects of economic drift — if appropriate measures are not taken — will be felt within the next six months. Currently, currency reserves total 12.2 billion dinars (about 6.3 billion euros), while at the end of December they stood at 13 billion dinars (about 6.7 billion euros). Translated into importation terms, respectively of 139 and 147 days. An examination of the figures was concluded by Nabli with an invitation to citizens to be act sensibly and responsibly to save investment and — most especially — to foster more investment.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Michigan Mosque Plot Suspect’s Criminal Past Examined

Since holding a psychiatrist hostage in 1977, Roger Stockham has kidnapped his young son, tried to hijack a plane, crashed a plane, set fire to buildings, planted a bomb at an airport and threatened to kill the president.

Despite this remarkable criminal resume, the 63-year-old Vietnam veteran has been freed repeatedly from psychiatric hospitals and prison only to lash out again and end up back in custody.

Last month, police say the California man was at it again: Officers arrested Stockham near a popular Michigan mosque they say he planned to attack. They say he was driving around wearing a ski mask, and they found more than two dozen powerful, illegal fireworks in his car. The arrest has brought renewed attention to Stockham’s bizarre criminal odyssey and to the challenges some mentally ill offenders pose to the legal system.

“It’s unusual that he got in so much trouble so many times and managed to still keep getting out,” said Dr. Michael Cummings, a psychiatrist at California’s Patton State Hospital, where Stockham was treated after being deemed legally insane in 1980.

Cummings arrived at Patton years after Stockham passed through, and he never treated Stockham. Speaking generally, though, he said patients like Stockham — who has been diagnosed with bipolar and post-traumatic stress disorders — function well within the structured environment of mental health facilities but need close supervision once out. For various reasons, many don’t get that help, he said.

“Outpatient probation programs, frankly, are not adequately resourced, and having a program on paper doesn’t help that much,” Cummings said.

Treating criminal offenders at psychiatric hospitals is expensive, and community services designed to help them are often the first to get squeezed when governments cut spending, Cummings said. Furthermore, probation officers shoulder heavy caseloads and are unable to adequately keep track of the direst cases, he said…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Where Americans Are Moving

More than 10 million Americans moved from one county to another during 2008. The map below visualizes those moves. Click on any county to see comings and goings: black lines indicate net inward movement, red lines net outward movement.

[Return to headlines]

Who Controls Your State?

Why should the federal government dictate how land is used in Florida, or in Utah, or any other state? In the first place, land should be managed by the owner. In a free society, property — especially land — is an extension of the person who owns it. To acquire the property, the owner had to invest his time and effort or receive the property as a gift from another. In any event, property is a part of the owner. Just as a person determines how he will use his time and effort, he should also be able to determine how he will use his property. Should a person use time and effort — or his property — to inflict damage upon another person, the damaged person can rely on government to hold the guilty party accountable. This is government’s only legitimate role in property owned by others.

Aside from the 10 square miles set aside by the Constitution for the capital, and land purchased with the approval of state legislatures, the federal government should own no land within any state. The Constitution does authorize the federal government to “… make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other property belonging to the United States. …”

The evolution of the equal footing doctrine aside — logic, reason and common sense should demand that land within a state should belong to the state, or to the individual citizens of the state who have acquired it. Land in territories that are not states is subject to regulation by the federal government. There is zero justification for the federal government to own, claim to own, or control by decree or regulation the land within the borders of any state.

But it does.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


The Curious Case of the Frozen Windmills

Wind turbines are supposed to be a clean, efficient, green, environment-friendly way to generate the megawatts needed by industrial societies, or so the Quixotic idealists tell us.

Unfortunately they freeze:

A $200-million wind farm in northern New Brunswick is frozen solid, cutting off a supply of renewable energy for NB Power.

The 25-kilometre stretch of wind turbines, 70 kilometres northwest of Bathurst, has been shut down for several weeks due to heavy ice covering the blades. GDF Suez Energy, the company that owns and operates the site, is working to return the windmills to working order, a spokeswoman says.

That’s when they don’t fall apart…

[See her video of the windmill turbine explosion, plus links to other Obama assaults on domestic energy.]

[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Albania: 250 Mln Dollar Needed for Safety of Dams

(ANSAmed) — ROME, FEBRUARY 17 — At least 250 million USD are needed to secure the system of dams in Albania, according to a survey carried out by the Swiss organisation Seco. The German development bank will finance part of the dam safety project in the northern part of Albania, for a total of 2 million euros. The floods that hit the north of Albania recently and the deterioration of the existing dams have made it necessary to form a workgroup to study the possibility to finance some projects.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Berlusconi Eyes Justice Curbs as Sex Trial Looms

Silvio Berlusconi’s cabinet on Friday gave initial approval to changes to Italy’s justice system, days after prosecutors said he should stand trial for sex with an underage prostitute and abuse of power.

The measures include a proposal to reinstate full parliamentary immunity, which would cover Berlusconi as he is a deputy, and were immediately slammed by magistrates as an attempt to punish them for investigating the prime minister.

“The cabinet agreed with and approved unanimously a report by Justice Minister Angelino Alfano on constitutional reforms of the justice system,” the government said in a statement after a meeting of the cabinet.

The draft changes still need definitive approval from the government at a special meeting due to be held in the coming days and would then require a lengthy approval process with two-thirds majorities in parliament.

“Every time there are legal cases involving the prime minister, first come the insults, then legislative initiatives to punish prosecutors,” said Luca Palamara, head of the National Association of Magistrates.

“We won’t allow ourselves to be intimidated and we will continue to apply the law with serenity, impartiality and in an equal way for everyone,” he said.

But Deborah Bergamini, a lawmaker from Berlusconi’s ruling People of Liberty party, said: “This is a decisive step for the country.”

“The ruling coalition can finally propose to voters concrete solutions to avoid anti-democratic distortions and improve a crucial service,” she said.

“Italy needs a modern justice system worthy of a Western country,” she said.

The reform would restrict telephone taps — one of the main investigative methods used by prosecutors in inquiries against Berlusconi.

It would also separate the careers of prosecutors and judges — a key demand of Berlusconi supporters who accuse the judiciary of ganging up against him.

Critics say the move would undermine the independence of the judiciary as it would place prosecutors under the authority of the justice ministry.

A magistrate on Tuesday gave her approval for Berlusconi to stand trial from April 6 on charges of having sex with a 17-year-old prostitute and then using his status to try to cover it up by getting her out of police custody.

The Italian prime minister has fought off corruption allegations for his entire political career spanning nearly two decades and is implicated in three other trials set to resume on Feb. 28, March 5 and March 11 respectively.

He has denied all allegations of corruption and sex crimes against him.

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

Berlusconi: Upcoming Council Ministers to Reform Justice

(AGI) Cosenza — Berlusconi has announced an upcoming meeting of the Council of Ministers to launch sweeping justice reforms.

Speaking over the phone from a convention in Cosenza he said, “We will re-introduce all the justice reforms, we will approve them in an extraordinary session of the Council of Ministers in the next few days. We will vote for them with our majority and, if necessary, there will be a referendum.” .

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

Foreign Policy Merger ‘Over My Dead Body, ‘ Says EU Aid Chief

The EU’s humanitarian aid chief on Thursday evening delivered a blistering attack on recent suggestions that her dossier should fall under the purview of the bloc’s external action service in the future, warning that the increased politicization would do great harm to the policy.

“Over my dead body,” Bulgarian commissioner Kristalina Georgieva told an audience of alumni from the London School of Economics. “It would be a very grave mistake for Europe to do.”

Reports in recent weeks suggest some within the union are increasingly pushing for the merger as part of the ongoing debate over the EU’s next multi-annual financial framework, which looks to the post 2013 period. Aid agencies and a number of MEPs have warned against the idea however, saying the independence of Europe’s aid is one of its greatest assets, reports EUObserver.

“We are developing the external action service, and there have been some voices saying ‘lets pile up our instruments designed to reach out to others: development cooperation, humanitarian aid, trade, security funding, and then put it under the one big umbrella’,” said Georgieva. “Luckily, so far Europeans have been wise to say ‘let’s not do that’. If we politicize humanitarian assistance, we make it much harder to be able to help people. But also it would be a signal to China, Brazil, India and the Gulf countries that humanitarian assistance is not about helping people, it is about pushing your political agenda.”

In other countries, notably the United States, humanitarian aid is considered a foreign policy tool amongst others, with geopolitical factors playing a part in deciding where and how much aid a country should be given. This, said Georgieva, limits the policy’s ability to help people most in need, citing war-torn Yemen as an example. “I was allowed, together with the UN high commissioner for refugees, to go into the territory controlled by the Houthis rebels. Why? Because we are neutral.”

The debate over the future shape of Europe’s humanitarian aid policy comes after a year that included an unprecedented number of natural and man-made disasters, forcing the EU to top up its 2010 aid budget from €800 million to €1.2 billion.

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

Greece: EU’s Ultimatum for Sewage Plants in 9 Cities

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, FEBRUARY 16 — Brussels has issued an ultimatum to the Greek government, which, it says, has failed to construct the necessary sewage treatment plants for nine urban areas. The continued absence of these treatment plants, after a wait of eleven years, poses a threat to the health of the population and is damaging the environment, a report says. If Athens does not comply with the Directive on the treatment of urban sewage within the coming two months, the Commission could refer the case to the European Court of Justice and call for stringent penalties.

Athens has already been condemned by the EU court in the past; in 2007 it was found guilty of having ignored the same community regulations with respect to fourteen urban areas. Of these areas, the Commission now says, nine are still in an illegal condition as no system of sewage collection and management has been introduced. In four densely populated areas of eastern Attica: Markopoulo, Artemida, Rafina and Koropi, construction works that are being co-financed by the EU, will not be completed before 2013. While in Nea Makri, plans have been rejected following a delay which has been considered “unacceptable” by Brussels. Work has started in Lithoro and Lefkimmi, but in two other areas, Edessa and Megara, while the infrastructure is in place, no audit has been conducted to show that it works correctly.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Unification Holiday Approved But League Unhappy

150th anniversary on March 17 will be day off work and school

(ANSA) — Rome, February 18 — The cabinet on Friday approved March 17 as a one-off national holiday marking the 150th anniversary of Italian unification but the regionalist Northern League party was unhappy and three of its ministers voted against the decision.

Simplification Minister Roberto Calderoli called the government decree setting up the holiday “unconstitutional madness” and claimed it did not have the necessary financial cover.

Civil Service Minister Renato Brunetta sought to calm business fears of the economic fall-out by saying the holiday would be “neutral” from a business standpoint, while Tourism Minister Maria Vittoria Brambilla said it would boost tourism.

In the decree, the government said the impact of not working on March 17 would be offset by working on November 4, the national unity and armed forces day, for this year only.

Defence Minister Ignazio La Russa hailed the cabinet decision as a victory.

“We’re satisfied, albeit not triumphant,” La Russa said.

He voiced confidence that the three ministers who voted against, reportedly Calderoli, Reform Minister and League leader Umberto Bossi, and Interior Minister Roberto Maroni, would come round once their cherished package of federalist reforms was approved.

“There’s been no break with the League, only a difference of opinion,” La Russa said.

“We ask for respect from everyone but we won’t force anyone to celebrate (the holiday).

La Russa said it would have been “comical” to give people a day off on Labour Day, May 1, and expect them to work on March 17, “which is for everyone”.

Education Minister Mariastella Gelmini, who had said schools should stay open on the holiday, was also said to have voiced “reservations” but in the end voted in favour. As well as the League and Gelmini, the business association Confindustria had voiced opposition to the holiday, noting that March 17 is a Thursday and workers would be encouraged to take an extra-long weekend.

The governor of the German-speaking northern region of Alto Adige, Luis Durnwalder, leader of a party that has always regretted Italy’s post-WWI expansion to the South Tyrol, has said there is “nothing to celebrate” on March 17.

But Durnwalder has also said he will let local officials decide for themselves whether to take the day off.

On Friday Durnwalder invited Italian President Giorgio Napolitano to Bolzano, the regional capital, to “explain (his) position”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Berlusconi ‘Clown’ Says U.S. Ambassador in Leaked Cables

Premier dismissed previous WikiLeaks revelations as ‘gossip’

(ANSA) — Rome, February 18 — Premier Silvio Berlusconi is “something of a clown” and a symbol of Italian governments’ “incapacity” to solve the country’s problems, former United States ambassador to Italy Ronald Spogli reportedly wrote in leaked secret dispatches.

Berlusconi has “offended practically each group of the Italian public” with his “frequent gaffes” and “poor choice of words”, according to Spogli in cables uncovered by whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks and published in Italian weekly L’Espresso Friday.

Berlusconi has “damaged the image of the country in Europe and given a comic tone to Italy’s reputation in many sectors of the United States government”, Spogli, the ambassador in Rome between 2005 and 2009, reportedly wrote.

“He has become a symbol of Italian governments’ incapacity and ineffectiveness in addressing the country’s chronic problems,” he said, adding that Berlusconi was perceived as “putting his personal interests before those of the state”. The revelations are another knock for Berlusconi, who is under intense pressure after being indicted this week for allegedly using an underage prostitute at parties at his home, with a trial set to start in April.

Left-leaning L’Espresso said Friday’s was the first installment of a series of extracts taken from 4,000 files sent from American diplomatic offices in Italy between 2002 and 2010.

The 74-year-old premier, who denies paying for sex with a Moroccan belly dancer called Ruby when she was 17, dismissed as “gossip” previous US dispatches leaked by Wikileaks that said he was weakened by his partying lifestyle and was the “mouthpiece” of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

“What emerges from these new WikiLeaks revelations on Italy unfortunately is nothing more than a sad confirmation of what we have always said,” commented Federica Mogherini, an MP with the centre-left Democratic Party, the biggest opposition group. Berlusconi has also had some good news this week though, as a handful of lawmakers from House Speaker Gianfranco Fini’s breakaway Future and Freedom for Italy (FLI) party rejoined the government ranks.

Berlusconi is seeking to lure disillusioned lawmakers from opposition parties to strengthen his majority, which is thin in the Lower House, and boost the government’s chances of running until the end of its term in 2013.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Sixteen New Solar Energy Plants to be Built Across Country

Rome, 14 Feb. (AKI) — Italian renewable energy firm TerniEnergia will by the end of March finish building 16 photovoltaic solar energy plants in several regions across Italy with a total capacity of 18.3 MWp, the company said in a statement on Monday. With its sunny climate, Italy has great potential to expand solar energy.

The 16 new plants are located in the central Umbria, Marche and Lazio regions, the northern Piemonte region and in the southern Molise and Puglia regions.

Two of the plants are “full equity” financed for a capacity of approximately 1.6 MWp. Five of the plants are for joint venture companies with French energy giant EDF’s Italian renewable energy unit EDF EN for a total 8.2 MWp, TerniEnergia said.

Seven of the plants have been built for so-called third party clients for a total power of 6.2 MWp.

TerniEnergia is listed on the Milan-based Italian stock exchange’s STAR segment for midsize companies with a capitalisation of less than 1 billion.

Two joint venture companies equally owned by TerniEnergia and EDF EN Italia built two solar energy plants in the eastern coastal city of Ancona and in the city of Latina in the Lazio region surrounding Rome.

The two plants are “of national importance” and each have a total capacity of more than 3 MWp, TerniEnergia said.

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

Netherlands: Queen Beatrix Censored by Geert Wilders

Queen Beatrix’s annual Christmas addresses are heavily censored, says theologian and poet Huub Oosterhuis, who is a confidant of hers.

In her last speech, the Queen voiced concern about today’s social contrasts and political tensions but was stopped from being more explicit by Geert Wilders’ anti-Islam PVV party, Mr Oosterhuis said in television programme Blue Blood.

The interview took place after Mr Oosterhuis and the Queen jointly opened a new multi-religious and cultural centre in Amsterdam.

Mr Oosterhuis described the Queen as “a kindred spirit regarding concern, civility, solidarity, respect and tolerance”. “That is what her speeches are about. That is also what the right-wing cabinet is closely watching, in particular the PVV”, he added.

A spokeswoman for the Government Information Service declined to comment on Mr Oosterhuis’ allegations…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

New Public Holiday Established to Celebrate Italian Unity

(AGI) Rome — Cabinet has approved the establishment of a national holiday on March 17, to celebrate 150 years of Italian unity. Defence minister Ignazio La Russa explained that the national holiday “carries full civil effect” and will not “interfere with November 4th [armistice] celebrations.” Three ministers opposed the establishment of the new public holiday, among the the LNP party’s Roberto Calderoli, according to whom “given the country’s current economic predicament, and the fact that our public debt is the largest in Europe and third-largest worldwide, it is pure folly.” ..

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

Rise in Abuse of Foreign Wives in Sweden: Report

Reports of assault and sexual abuse from women who come to Sweden to be with Swedish men have become increasingly common, according to a new report.

In 2009, 552 women sought help from women’s emergency shelters in Sweden due to domestic violence, nearly a 10 percent increase from the 515 women who sought help the year before.

The statistics come from a report released on Wednesday by the National Association of Women’s and Young Women’s Shelters (Riksorganisationen för kvinnojourer och tjejjourer — ROKS).

According to ROKS, current regulations make it too easy for men to start relationships with foreign women and bring them to Sweden for the sole purpose of taking advantage of them.

“Today legislation is shaped in a way that makes it entirely possible for men to take woman after woman here despite that he subjects her to serious abuses,” writes ROKS chair Angela Beausang in an article on the opinion website

“This must be changed.”

Women caught it in what the group refers to as “wife importing” often lack knowledge about their rights in Sweden and risk being deported if the relationship ends.

According to ROKS, most women who sought help in shelters in 2009 came from Thailand, Iraq or Russia.

They were often lured to Sweden with promises of a better life by a man who talks about having a well paying job, shows pictures of a large house and promises to care for the women once they arrive.

The women often only hold temporary residence permits that are contingent on them maintaining a relationship with the Swedish men who bring them into the country. As a result, the women risk deportation if the relationship ends before the two-year provisional period is over.

However, returning to their home countries is impossible for many women as they have often left everything they have and risk being shunned by relatives in some cases.

According, some women chose to remain in abusive relationships with Swedish men, hoping they can endure the violence long enough to be granted permanent residency in Sweden.

Women who ultimately leave abusive men can apply for an extended residence permit or asylum. The problem, however, is that the level of proof required to apply for a residence permit extension is too high, according to ROKS.

For example, the abuse must take place on repeated occasions, be severe and the relationship needs to have ended in close connection with the violence.

At the same time, the women must also have cohabitated with the abusive men for a sufficiently long time in order for the relationship to have been considered a serious one.

“Women who stay in a relationship in order to meet to cohabitation requirement can, however, be meet with the assessment that the violence must not have been especially severe because she clearly was able to withstand it,” the association wrote in its report.

According to 2010 statistics from the Swedish Migration Board (Migrationsverket) on how many people were granted were granted residence permit extensions due to violence, 17 of 18 cases reviewed as of August 2010 resulted in the granting of an extension.

In five cases, the extensions were granted due to the abuse suffered by the women. One women had her claim rejected because the violence wasn’t considered sufficiently severe or recurring.

ROKS compares these 18 cases to the 13,696 women who were granted temporary residence permits in 2009 on the basis of new relationships with Swedish men as well as with the 552 women who sought help from a women’s shelter.

In order to reduce the likelihood of foreign women “being held prisoner” in abusive relationships in Sweden, Beausang wants to see Sweden’s current two-year provisional residency period scrapped.

She also wants to see a review of the requirements for proving that a woman has suffered sufficient abuse in order to be granted a residence permit after an abusive relationship has ended.

ROKS argues that women who move to Sweden should receive better information about their rights in the country.

The group also views as “totally unacceptable” the rise in “serial wife importers” who bring foreign women to Sweden to abuse them before kicking them out and replacing them with a new woman.

Beausang cites an EU directive on family reunifications which was integrated into Swedish law in 2006, arguing that the Migration Board has since stopped taking a close look at relationships in which the couple is already married or living together

While the directive had “good intentions,” according to Beausang, it can’t be changed, but that doesn’t mean that Swedish migration authorities can’t be more thorough in their investigations.

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

Sicilian Pecorino Firms Up Italy’s Quality-Food Lead

‘Piacentinu Ennese’ is 221st Italian product to win EU laurel

(ANSA) — Brussels, February 15 — A sheep’s cheese produced on the hillsides near Enna in Sicily has become the latest Italian product to earn a European Union quality-food laurel.

The Piacentinu Ennese, cultivated with centuries-old lore and laced with a distinctive touch of saffron, won a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) appellation, the most prestigious of the EU’s three food quarantees that keep genuine articles safe from inferior pretenders.

“This is an important achievement,” said Italian Agricultural Minister Giancarlo Galan, who noted that the pungent pecorino was Italy’s 221st product in the EU’s quality rolls, and the 1,000th the EU has given out all told, to 24 of its 27 members.

Italy’s 221 quality foods — winners of a PDO, a Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) or a Traditional Speciality Guaranteed (TSG) — generate a turnover of some five billion euros a year, rising amid interest from new consumers in China, India, Vietnam and Thailand.

Germany is second in the turnover rankings, France third and the United Kingdom fourth, with an annual estimated turnover of some one billion euros.

In numerical terms, Italy is ahead of France and Spain. Before the Enna cheese, the most recent Italian entry was a type of chestnut native to the Val di Susa in Piedmont, the ‘Marrone della Valle di Susa’, which won a PGI label in November.

The nut owes its creamy-white and crunchy flesh to the special soil of the valley north of Turin, experts say, and has been a staple of the local economy since the Middle Ages.

The nut followed into the rankings a type of wheat called spelt (‘farro’) once used by the Romans and still cultivated in the fields around Spoleto, which earned a PDO in July.

Before the farro, entries included a traditional pastry from Siena and a potato grown around Bologna.

Siena’s famed Ricciarelli biscuits, a slim lozenge-shaped dainty that morphed from an original curly creation by a Crusading knight impressed by an Arab sweetmeat, won a PGI label. The ‘Patata di Bologna’ won a PDO.


Italy’s special foods have put in a spurt in the last year and a half.

A fragrant white celery from Sperlonga received a PGI label aimed at keeping other celeries from posing as the aromatic product from the marshlands near the ancient coastal village between Rome and Naples which have for centuries produced the unique vegetable.

The ‘Mela di Valtellina’ won a PGI label to guard the strongly scented, firm-fleshed apple from the sub-Alpine valley.

In January 2010 that Italian food glory, Neapolitan pizza, got a long-awaited TSG label.

In December 2009 a ‘prosciutto crudo’ from Cuneo claimed a PDO. It was the third product to get a PDO in less than a week, following a chestnut from the Tuscan village of Caprese Michelangelo and the Piennolo tomato from the slopes of Mt Vesuvius.

In October 2009, a traditional sour cherry jam produced near Modena, ‘Amarene Brusche di Modena’ was awarded a PGI, while ‘Ciauscolo’, a large soft spreadable sausage from the Marche region, got the same recognition in August 2009.

Other recent additions have included Sicily’s ‘Pagnotta del Dittaino’ bread, with a PDO label; Roman suckling lamb, abbacchio romano, which earned a PGI label; and Modena’s balsamic vinegar, another PGI.

Italian culinary glories like Parmigiano, buffalo mozzarella, mortadella, lardo di Colonnata, Ascoli olives, pesto sauce and Pachino plum tomatoes have been protected for some time.

Lesser-known munchies like Mt Etna prickly pears and Paestum artichokes swelled the ranks in 2009 along with two kinds of saffron, from San Gimignano and L’Aquila.

A range of salamis, rices, honeys and nuts are also on the protected list.

Several up-and-coming regional wines have earned TGIs.

PDO identifies a product whose characteristics are exclusively dependant on a geographical origin and whose productive phases all take place in the specified area.

PGI defines a product whose characteristics can be connected with its geographical origin and that has at least one productive phase located in the specified area.

TSG distinguishes a product whose raw materials, composition or recipe, production method or transformation, are of a traditional type.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Switzerland: Hundreds Expected for Islam Conference in Biel

Up to 2,000 people have attended the annual conference of the Islamic Central Council of Switzerland on Saturday in the town of Biel. The group, which was founded by young converts, has come in for some criticism in the past over fears that that some of its members might be a potential threat to the country’s security.

In a speech, the council’s president Nicolas Blancho called on the Muslim community to be more self-critical. He criticised most Islamic countries as lagging behind and called for a better situation for women.

Among those also contributing to the meeting were figures from abroad such as Shefqet Krasniqi. Imam in Pristina, the Islamic convert and now missionary Yusuf Estes from the United States, and another convert, the British journalist Yvonne Ridley.

The council is not without controversy. In April 2010 the head of the migration office, Alard du Bois-Reymond, said that some young Swiss converts to Islam at the council were a potential threat to the country’s security. The group has strongly denied his assertion.

The council was in charge of security at Saturday’s meeting, but the cantonal police were present as well. Several Christian and anti-Islamic organisations had announced peaceful protests against the conference. Around 50 people were reported to have taken part…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

UK: Fill in This Form Before You Speak, Two Eds Tell Their Shadow Cabinet

Ed Miliband and Ed Balls were accused last night of treating their Shadow Ministers ‘like children’ after ordering them to fill in a form before doing or saying anything in public.

Shadow Ministers are banned from mentioning money without permission from Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls and cannot open their mouths unless they have specific approval of their precise choice of words from the two Labour leaders.

Nor can they back non-parliamentary campaigns without clearing it with the two men.

The Labour questionnaire, described by one party insider as ‘control freakery gone mad’, and leaked to The Mail on Sunday, includes boxes headed Type Of Intervention, Language For Clearance and Issue Background — all with helpful hints on how politicians can comply.

The box headed What We Have Said Before is left blank.

It follows a similar ‘blank page’ gaffe when Labour leader Mr Miliband published a Fresh Ideas pamphlet, a 35-page document designed to be filled in by Labour supporters to help the party leader come up with new policy proposals.

Mr Miliband’s aides tried to have copies of the pamphlet pulped, but one was passed to David Cameron — who then brandished it at him in the Commons saying: ‘We all knew you wanted a blank page, but no one thought you would publish a whole book of them.’

The final two boxes of the new questionnaire are headed Leader Office Sign-Off and, more significantly, Treasury Team Sign-Off.

To ram home the growing stranglehold of Mr Balls over Labour policies, Shadow Ministers are also ordered to email any policy with spending implications to Mr Balls’s economic aide, Karim Palant…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

UK: Fury as Firm of Solicitors Offers Sharia Advice

A Lancashire firm of solicitors, which has launched a new Family Law service offering clients UK civil legal representation alongside advice on Sharia law, has been attacked by campaigners who say Sharia law abuses the human rights of women.

Emmetts solicitors, with offices in Preston and Longridge, is introducing the new service for Muslim clients who want advice on matters such as divorce or child custody according to both UK civil law and Sharia Law.

The Family Law service will be delivered by trainee solicitor Farah Razaq and paralegal Sidra Ghani. Farah Razaq told Asian Image magazine: “The new service will focus upon divorce in accordance with Sharia Law. Any male or female Muslim who needs a divorce in accordance to Sharia law can come to us and we’re here to provide services for them. If a Muslim is married in the UK, then a divorce may require civil proceedings as well as a Sharia divorce. And we deal with both matters.”

But Maryam Namazie, leader of the One Law for All campaign reacted furiously to the news, saying: “It is scandalous that lawyers meant to defend rights are now set on violating them by recognising and pandering to sharia law decisions on women.

“Under Sharia, a woman’s testimony is worth half that of a man’s, men can unilaterally divorce by uttering a certain phrase thrice whilst it is often difficult for women to secure divorces. Marital rape is not considered a crime and violence against a disobedient wife a husband’s prerogative. With regard to child custody — under UK civil law, the welfare of the child is paramount, whilst under sharia child custody goes to the father at a preset age irrespective of the child’s welfare. Sharia law and UK civil law (however imperfect) are antithetical to each other so how can both be applied? In an ideal world, lawyers applying Sharia law would be disbarred. After all, the same would happen to doctors who hurt rather than helped their patients.”

In launching the new service, Emmetts say they will also draw on their experience in dealing with the consequences of arranged marriages which result in separation.

Sidra Ghani added: “We’re also offering services for those clients who have unfortunately been involved in forced marriages, either here or abroad. We’re very passionate about the new service. We will be dealing with very sensitive matters and real people. There aren’t many solicitors who deal with this service overseeing both sharia law as well as civil proceedings. We feel that this will be an important consideration for Muslim clients when choosing a law firm that deals with family law legal advice.”

Lawyer Anne Marie Waters, a spokesperson for the One Law for All campaign, commented: “As Solicitors, Emmetts should be fully aware that sharia law fails the human rights test quite spectacularly. Rather than promoting and encouraging the use of sharia, solicitors should remain true to their vow to uphold the law and to act in the best interests of their clients — including their female clients.”

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

UK: Gordon Brown Launches Thinly-Veiled Attack on Tony Blair

Until now Gordon Brown has kept a dignified public silence over his predecessor, despite vicious behind-the-scenes briefing which emanated from the rivals’ camps.

Last week, however, the former prime minister launched a thinly-veiled attack on Mr Blair, criticising the use of faith to justify political decisions.

Speaking at Lambeth Palace to a group of leading clergy, including Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Mr Brown attacked politicians who appeared to be “holier than thou” and who claimed religious sanction for their actions.

“We know here in the West that what may begin as a benign attempt by a politician to explain their religious motivation too often ends with the spectacle of them hinting that God has sanctioned or ordained a course of action,” Mr Brown said.

He continued: “Whether in foreign affairs — perhaps hinting at a justification for weapons or a war — or in domestic affairs — perhaps justifying intrusive laws in deeply personal matters best resolved in the privacy of conscience and family.

“To claim or imply divine sanction for a political cause is wrong not just because it is politically unacceptable: it is wrong to me because it is religiously unacceptable too.

“We cannot claim that God is on our side: the most we can do is hope that we are on God’s side.”

While still prime minister, Mr Blair said many of his political decisions, including going to war with Iraq, were motivated by his Christian faith and claimed he would ultimately be judged by God for taking Britain to war.

Asked about Iraq in an interview in 2006, the then prime minister said: “Well, I think if you have faith about these things, then you realise that judgment is made by other people … and if you believe in God, it’s made by God as well…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

UK: Muslim Who Amassed £1.7m Property Portfolio Using Fraudulent Mortgage Claims Jailed

A religious teacher who managed to amass a portfolio of ten properties using £1.7million of fraudulently-obtained mortgages has been jailed.

Syed Shah, 45, paid just £24.60 in income tax over a five year period and also claimed benefits despite developing his impressive array of properties, costing the lenders he duped around £450,000.

The dad-of-six from Bradford created a series of bogus identities and even invented a job for himself — saying he worked at a school which was in fact derelict — to get financial support.

Jonathan Sharp, prosecuting, told Leeds Crown Court on Thursday that Shah had benefited from his underhand plan to the tune of £391,000.

Mr Sharp said Shah had also gone to some length to establish false employers references and had backed up his various aliases with false identification documents, including passports, with bank accounts opened in the appropriate names.

He also repeatedly quoted that he worked for the Muslim Educational Centre at Boundary Farm in Leeds, but the Crown argued that this was in fact a facade for Shah’s dishonesty because it was derelict.

The court heard that in 2002 Shah claimed he was earning in excess of £34,800 to get a mortgage on a house in Leeds, the fourth property in his portfolio. He sold it in 2005 with a net profit of £73,573.

The following year, he bought a former council-owned house in Leeds, with a right-to-buy discount in his own name after again claiming he had a £35,000 salary.

Eighteen months later he sold that property to himself under a false name at an inflated price and claimed the man earned £100,000 at the centre.

When the original loan was repaid, Shah pocketed £159,600 in cash.

The fraudster then raised a loan for an extension to a property before remortgaging the house using another false identity, failing to making payments on that loan and allowing it to be repossessed, only to buy it back in yet another name at the much reduced price.

Mr Sharp said he used similar identities to get loans on another property in Leeds, which was also remortgaged and repossessed.

Jailing Shah for five years and eight months, Recorder of Leeds Judge Peter Collier QC, said: ‘You persisted in a course of conduct over several years.

‘It involved considerable planning in advance when you created bogus identities investing these people with bank accounts in which you put money sometimes many months in advance of when you were going to use those identities.’…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

UK: Universities Aren’t Doing Enough to Help in the War on Extremists, Says Cameron’s Terror Watchdog

The man in charge of overseeing the Government’s counter-terrorism strategy says Universities should do more to help identify extremists on campus.

Lord Carlile also attacked University vice-chancellors for refusing to engage in censorship or surveillance of students.

A report by Universities UK, representing 133 universities, says universities should ‘engage, not marginalise’ extreme political views on campus, and that they should refer ‘aberrant behaviour’ to police.

Its inquiry was in response to the arrest of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the former University College London student who was charged with attempting to blow up a passenger plane in the U.S.

Lord Carlile, who steps down next week after nearly a decade as the Government’s independent reviewer of terror laws, told the Guardian that there was a problem with universities.

He said there was ‘a total failure to deal with how to identify and handle individuals who might be suspected of radicalising or being radicalised whilst within the university’.

He added: ‘Although academic independence is extraordinarily important, it does not mean that you owe no duty of care. Universities owe a duty of care to all their students. That includes the non-radicalised students who are intimidated by radicalisers and the radicalised, because they may be very misguided.’

‘They need to get together and create a training programme for their staff which enables those individuals to be identified, just as a member of the public who felt concerned about a friend or member of their family becoming dangerously radicalised might put in a call to the police — which does happen.

‘I think in further education colleges it is much more likely than in a university that the kind of concern about radicalisation would be passed on to somebody else. Around the country there are some FE colleges doing some very good work.’

But the vice-chancellors, in their report, state that Universities ‘are places where ideas and beliefs can be tested without fear of control’, and that they act as a safeguard against ideologies that threaten Britain’s open society.

This flies in the face of Prime Minister David Cameron’s new insistence that ministers would no longer engage with extreme political views, including those of non-violent extremists.

Lord Carlile agreed with David Cameron. He told the Guardian: ‘I think it is important that we should put out a clear narrative, particularly abroad, as to what is and what isn’t acceptable in this country; about the extent to which we are prepared to acknowledge that freedom of speech may or may not extend to non-violent groups.’ Lord Carlile is reviewing the UK’s policies designed to head off extremism, and is due to report in mid-March.

He is expected to call on the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development to deliver better intelligence to the Home Office, and the police and Serious Fraud Office may be asked to take over the scrutiny of some British charities which have been inadvertently funding terrorism abroad…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

North Africa

Algeria: Clashes Between Opposers and Supporters of Regime

(AGI) Algiers — Clashes between demonstrators against the regime and groups of youths with President Bouteflika’s portrait. Over 1000 protesters had to face police forces who closed all ways of escaping from the First of May Square, to avoid them reaching other areas of the city.

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

Egypt: Contrasting Reports on Health Condition of Mubarak

(ANSAmed) — CAIRO, FEBRUARY 15 — Increasingly contrasting reports on the health conditions of the former Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak, are filling the newspapers with growing insistence. Mubarak resigned last Friday, amid pressure from the popular uprising led by protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.

The pan-Arab daily, Asharq Al Awsat, which is also published in London, quoted an Egyptian security source as saying that Mubarak is in a coma in his villa in Sharm El Sheikh, a condition that he occasionally drifts out of for long enough to refuse any treatment and to oppose suggestions by doctors that he be transferred to Germany for hospital care. The newspaper adds that his condition is so serious that the announcement of the President’s death would not be a surprise.

Meanwhile, the Al Dostur newspaper, whose editor was once arrested for spreading news of the then President’s poor health, today says that Mubarak is in an excellent condition and surrounded by his loved ones, and states that rumours of his ill health and even coma are the product of disinformation being circulated to make Egyptians feel sorry for him and to cool their resentment towards the regime.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Egypt Protests: Fears That the Army Will Install a ‘New Mubarak’ To Keep Its Power and Privilege

The generals who now run Egypt are strongly anti-reformist and determined to hang on to the lucrative privileges they have amassed during decades of authoritarian rule, raising the suspicions of protesters even though the army insists it will hand power to civilians as soon as possible.

Last week there were signs of growing friction between protesters and soldiers, after a brief honeymoon period in the days after Hosni Mubarak was forced out of the presidential palace. At a victory rally on Wednesday leaders of the revolution broke a long-standing taboo by openly criticising men in uniform.

“The revolution is not finished yet, and we don’t want the army to take over here,” said Mohammed Foud Gadalla, a professor of international law, to loud cheers from protesters who spent weeks risking their lives in Tahrir Square.

Mr Gadalla called for the cabinet of Mubarak appointees to be dismissed immediately and for the scrapping of an emergency law which allows for arbitrary arrest — although neither step is likely while Field Marshal Mohamad Tantawi, 76, the deeply conservative head of the Higher Military Council, is in charge of the country.

The protesters are suspicious about the army’s commitment to reforming a corrupt system they have propped up and personally benefited from for decades. But their greatest fear is that with power up for grabs, the army will now encourage a retired soldier or a figure from the old regime to run as president.

The right choice of candidate could easily become the favourite to win Egypt’s first truly free election in decades and thus maintain the army’s massive say over how Egypt is run.

The financial interests of serving and retired officers are particularly high in sectors such as food — especially olive oil, bread, milk and water — cement and petrol, construction and hotels. The army benefits from putting conscripts to work on building sites as cheap labour, especially on gated communities for the rich and resorts for the booming tourism sector. The military owns massive amounts of land, especially in strategic areas such as the Red Sea Coast which have become fantastically valuable as tourism has boomed. The army has several advantages over entrepreneurs, including not having to pay taxes and circumventing red tape that strangles much Egyptian enterprise.

Their business empires ensure that officers live luxurious lives with homes in the most expensive parts of Cairo, including the suburb of Heliopolis, and comfortable retirements. Military personnel are also able to draw on private subsidised supermarkets, clubs, hospitals and schools for themselves and their families.

They know that their privileges could be at risk from the revolution. Backed by the formidable financial muscle and prestige of the army, a former general could expect to attract votes from the millions of Egyptians who supported Hosni Mubarak right to the end, and if the disorganisation and chaos in the ranks of the revolutionaries last week was anything to judge by, an army candidate could have a relatively clear run at power.

The revolutionaries were showing clear signs of losing momentum last week amid arguments in their ranks about how to proceed now they have forced out the hated president. There was little sign of them forming political parties even though elections are expected within six months…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Egypt Islamists Want Purge of Old Regime Figures

The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest organised movement, called on Saturday for a purge of former regime figures in government and disbandment of the feared State Security Investigations Service. The Islamist movement, banned in 1954, also called in a statement for a purge of corrupt businessmen and media figures who supported the government.

“Millions gathered on Friday in Tahrir Square, Alexandria and governorate capitals and their chants reached the heavens demanding that the country be purified of former officials and corrupt businessmen,” it said.

“This purification cannot be limited to a handful of former officials and corrupt businessmen, but it must extend to all of those who corrupted political and legislative life,” it said. The Brotherhood, whose members were regularly detained by the interior ministry, also called for the trial of the State Security Investigations Service officials, whom rights groups accused of conducting torture. “(The purge) should extend to the terrible State Security Investigations, which practised brutal torture against citizens,” it said.

“This service must be purged, dissolved and its arrogant people must be tried, to end terrorism and bring security to citizens.” Interior ministry forces were forced to abandon their posts and give way to the military on January 28 after nationwide rights targeted police stations.

Habib al-Adly was later sacked as interior minister in a cabinet reshuffle that also shut out businessmen but kept other prominent ministers in place. Adly is now in jail on suspicion of money laundering…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

G20: Tremonti on North Africa, Democracy is Not Exportable

(AGI) Paris — Democracy is “not like McDonald’s, it is not exportable”, said Minister Giulio Tremonti at the end of the G20. During the G20 meeting, Finance Ministers discussed the issue of speculation on raw materials which, due to its negative repercussions on food prices, was one of the causes of “the bread riot” in North Africa, as Minister Tremonti called it.

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

Libya: Berlusconi Worried About All Maghreb Area

(AGI) Rome — Pm Berlusconi, of the situation in Libya, said, “We are worried about everything happening there, in all the area.” The Prime Minister made the comment while leaving Palazzo Grazioli, speaking with reporters about the situation in Libya. He said, “I haven’t yet heard from Kheddafi. The situation is evolving and so I don’t feel I should disturb anyone.” .

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

Libya: Al Jazeera, People Killed by Snipers in Benghazi

(AGI) Doha — Snipers have opened fire on demonstrators from roof tops in Benghazi, Libya. Several people are said to have been killed, although local sources are still unable to provide an official death toll. It was reported by TV network Al Jazeera which also said that cargo planes loaded with police weapons landed at an airport south of Beghazi this morning ..

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

Libya: BBC: Soldiers Join Protests

(AGI) Cairo — Libyan soldiers partly joined demonstrators.

“Soldiers are Libyan citizens and cannot fight against us”, a protester told BBC. Al-Jazeera previously reported that mercenaries had been deployed in the streets of Benghazi.

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

Libya: Police Fire at Funeral Procession Killing Dozens

(AGI) Doha — Sources quoted by Al Jazeera reported that the police forces fired with machine guns at a funeral procession in Benghazi killing dozens of people in what a witness defined “an authentic massacre”. The TV network’s sources reported that the 84 deaths denounced by Human Rights Watch are just a small part of the total death toll in Libya. The highest number was recorded only in Benghazi.

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

Libya Protests: Reports of Intense Benghazi Violence

Libyan troops have opened fire with machine-guns and large-calibre weapons on anti-government protesters in the second city Benghazi, witnesses say.

An unknown number of people, including children, are said to have been killed.

Witnesses described scenes of chaos as snipers shot from the roofs of buildings and demonstrators fought back against troops on the ground.

A doctor at a local hospital said he and his colleagues were treating hundreds of injured protesters.

Correspondents say Benghazi and another eastern city, al-Bayda, appear to be out of government control.

But there have been no reports of major protests in the capital Tripoli.

The Libyan leader, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, is the Arab world’s longest-serving leader, having ruled the oil-rich state since a coup in 1969.

Libya is one of several Arab countries to have experienced pro-democracy demonstrations since the fall of long-time Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January. Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak was forced from power on 11 February.

‘Dozens killed’ on Saturday

Benghazi, about 1,000 km (600 miles) from Tripoli, has been the main focus of the demonstrations against Col Gaddafi’s 42-year rule.

Troops opened fire on people attending a funeral there on Saturday, killing 15, both the Associated Press news agency and al-Jazeera television said.

But an eyewitness told Reuters news agency that many more had actually died.

“Dozens were killed… not 15, dozens,” the unnamed eyewitness said, adding that he had helped take victims to a local hospital.

A Benghazi resident told the BBC that security forces inside a government compound had fired on protesters with mortars and 14.5mm machine guns — a heavy machine gun typically produced in the former USSR.

They were, he said, machine-gunning cars and people indiscriminately. “A lot [of people] have fallen down today,” he added.

Other witnesses spoke of snipers firing at protesters from rooftops and there were widespread reports of foreign mercenaries from sub-Saharan Africa being brought in to attack protesters…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Liz Jones: Lara Logan, A Terrifying Reminder of the World We Haven’t Painted Pink

Should an attractive blonde have been sent to cover the demonstrations in Egypt?

CBS 60 Minutes correspondent Lara Logan, 39, the mother of two young children, was surrounded by a 200-strong mob, suffered a brutal attack and was taken to hospital.

Some reports stated she was raped. The inevitable ‘she brought it on herself’ backlash was swift. Debbie Schlussel, a political columnist, wrote in a blog: ‘So sad, too bad, Lara. No one told her to go there. She knew the risks. And she should have known what Islam is all about. Now she knows . . .’

A male New York university fellow, who has since resigned, twittered that she was ‘probably just groped like thousands of other women’ (which doesn’t make it right. In countries such as Pakistan, sexual harassment is known as ‘Eve teasing’ and used to keep women indoors).

In the late Eighties I worked on a women’s glossy with Janine di Giovanni, an award-winning foreign reporter, who later covered the war in the Balkans.

Janine drove all us feminists (Natasha Walter, author of the The New Feminism, sat opposite me) crackers with her Dallas hair, big boobs and floral tea dresses, and she was the first to admit they were useful in getting her past roadblocks.

When I went to Pakistan to report on the earthquake, I refused to cover my head, which meant I got past soldiers blocking my way to the disaster zone, and my high shoes meant the U.S. Army gave me a lift in their helicopter. The story was always the thing, by any means necessary.

Like most women who compete with men, Logan too has used her womanly wiles to get ahead. When I met her, not long after she landed the job with CBS, making her a household name in America, she admitted she sometimes used her femininity to get a story.

‘In many Third World countries the belief that women are harmless means we can often pass unnoticed at checkpoints,’ she told me…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

‘Marshall Plan for Egypt and Neighbours’, Italy’s FM

(ANSAmed) — ROME, FEBRUARY 15 — Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini has proposed a sort of Marshall Plan, after the post-WWII US-funded reconstruction of western Europe, for Egypt and other north African countries racked by crises.

Frattini told the House that the idea had received an “interested” response from Egyptian authorities and he would set up a trip to Cairo “in the coming days”.

The foreign minister said the United States had also shown interest in the proposed plan.

Frattini stressed the European Union should frame a long-term strategy to deal with immigration, saying he feared a “massive influx” of migrants from North Africa on European coasts.

Economy Minister Giulio Tremonti echoed Frattini’s call to create jobs in Tunisia by saying he thought the EU should offer tax breaks to help north African economies.

Frontex, the EU’s frontier immigration agency, said it was ready to send up to 50 staff to Italy to help cope with the crisis caused by what Interior Minister Roberto Maroni called a “Biblical flood” of migrants.

Earlier in the day Maroni and Premier Silvio Berlusconi visited the possible site of a new holding centre at Mineo in Sicily which could hold as many as 7,000 people.

The 800-bed centre on the island of Lampedusa is currently housing double its capacity after the island, closer to Tunisia than to mainland Italy, was flooded by thousands of Tunisians.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Morocco: Islamic Party Supports Protest

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, FEBRUARY 18 — The Moroccan Islamic Justice and Spirituality party supports the large demonstration for change, organised through social networks like Facebook for this Sunday in Morocco. This Sufi movement, mainly rooted in the north of the country and in Casablanca, counts between 30,000 and 40,000 affiliates according to sources in the Interior Ministry quoted today by El Pais; other sources say that it could count more than 200,000 members.

A statement published by the youth movement of Justice and Spirituality invites people for a “peaceful” demonstration on February 20 in support of “the initiatives to increase freedom, dignity and justice”. The support of the Islamic protest movement for “broad political reform” joins the backing given by human rights organisations, women’s associations, the UMT and CDT trade unions and small left-wing political parties, with or without representation in parliament. The young people of Justice and Spirituality don’t make any reference to religious claims and stress that “any kind of provocation” must be avoided on Sunday.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Muslims Abduct Coptica Christian Woman in Egypt

by Mary Abdelmassih

(AINA) — Muslims broke into the home of a Coptic family this afternoon and abducted their 18-year-old daughter Nesma Sarwat. The home belongs to the building contractor who built the controversial St. Mary and St. Michael church in Talbiya, within the Omraniya neighborhood of Giza. The abductors wrote messages on the home’s wall, the messages said “Islam is the solution” and “The Church has to be demolished.” The abductors also wrote the names of the other family members on the wall.

Neighbors heard voices, but no one saw the abductors as the whole operation took less than ten minutes and blood was found on the stairs and in the flat, reported Coptic activist Mariam Ragy of Free Coptic Voice advocacy. “I believe writing the names of the rest of the family might mean that their turn is coming,” said the neighbor.

The Family of the abducted woman called the security forces to the scene..

St. Mary and St. Michael church was the scene on November 24, 2010 of severe clashes between State Security forces and Copts protesting over the closure of their church, during which the forces used tear gas and live ammunition against the protesters, resulting in the killing of three Copts, hundreds of injuries and the arrest of 176 Copts (AINA 11-27-2010);

During the protests in Tahrir Square which, culminated in the ousting of President Mubarak, a period which witnessed the complete absence of the security forces from the streets, the congregation of St. Mary and St. Michael church was guarding the church, which was closed on November 24. On February 6, as soon as a few security officers came back on duty, they stormed the church and evicted the priest and the congregation who were keeping vigil there and holding services praying for peace in Egypt.

On September 15, 2010, an Islamic Jihadist Forum called Islamic Atahadi (Challenge) Network, which is said to be an affiliate of Al-Qaida, published on its website under the title “Images of the Church under construction in the Pyramids and how to demolish it.” The Forum showed photos of St. Mary and St. Michael church in Talbiya, which was still under construction, gave its members instructions on how to demolish the church by using sugar; “An easy and affordable way for the demolition of the church before its completion, no need for demonstrations, no need for the use of weapons or explosives, you only need to introduce certain quantities of sugar, yes normal sugar.” They went on to explain how to introduce reasonable quantities of sugar inside the forms prepared for pouring the columns, “because sugar affects concrete and cancels the chemical reaction which makes the sand and gravel hold together with the cement.” They advised in their step by step instructions that timing was very important in the process; the best time being immediately before pouring the roof.

Dr. Naguib Gabriel, head of the Egyptian Federation for Human Rights Organization, presented on February 10 a complaint to the Attorney-General on behalf of the people of the Omraniya area, against the Governor of Giza, and the former director of security in, Giza accusing them of being the cause of the murder of three of the Ormaniya Copts and causing sectarian strife.

On February 8 sectarian violence broke out in the hamlet of Elias Hanna, in Samalut, Minya province when some 80 Muslims attacked a number of Copts because they attempted to pray in a house belonging to the Diocese since 2007. The Muslim attack resulted in the injury of 5 Copts. Nearly 6000 Copts living in the hamlet of Elias Hanna and three other neighboring villages have no church.

On February 16 the Church of St. George in Rafah was torched, the walls of the church had writing saying “No to Christians in Muslim Land” (video).

Sectarian tensions broke out on February 17 when Muslims attacked Christians inside the church of Saint Georges in the village of El-Hathatah near Samalout, Minya. This was prompted by the church building a roof over the courtyard between the church and its community services building within the fenced church compound, in order to make more space for its congregation. Muslims surrounded the church and hurled stones. The armed forces were called but without response, prompting the Coptic youth to defend their church.

           — Hat tip: Mary Abdelmassih[Return to headlines]

Tunisia: Rebellion in the Borj Erroumi Prison

(ANSAmed) — ROME, FEBRUARY 15 — Prisoners rioted at the jail in Borj Erroumi, a town located 65 km from Tunis. About 1,400 detainees armed with iron bars forced prison guards to retreat and destroyed and lit many cells on fire. The incident took place yesterday — news of the events was only heard today — during a visit by a human rights delegation to the prison.

The uprising, reports French-language daily Le Temps, erupted yesterday during a visit by representatives of the Tunisian League for Human Rights, the Freedom and Equality organisation and the Association for the Defence of Political Prisoners. The prisoners were protesting against the fact that the amnesty law has not yet been approved.(

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Tunisia: Mass Escape From Gabes Prison

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, FEBRURAY 16 — There has been a mass escape from the prison of Gabe’s, in Tunisia. Thirty-six detainees behind bars for non-political crimes escaped yesterday, after digging a hole in the inside boundary wall, before climbing up the wall that leads to the road. Local press sources say that the police have already arrested about twenty of the escapees, while the hunt for the other men is still going on.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Tunisian Fundamentalists Burn Down Brothels

Dozens of Islamists calling for Tunisia’s brothels to be closed had rallied outside the interior ministry following Friday prayers before marching to Abdallah Guech Street.

At least three people were injured when security forces fired in the air to disperse the crowd.

The incident was the latest sign of Islamists organising in the North African state, the only Arab country with legal prostitution, after an uprising toppled President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali last month. “Almost 500 Islamists, many wearing beards, were demonstrating in Old Medina to demand the closure of a brothel,” said Mourad Barhoumi, a Tunis resident who witnessed the demonstration. “There were several dozen riot police who shut off entry to the neighbourhood. They fired in the air to break up the crowd, which didn’t want to go until the brothel was shut,” he said, adding that three people were injured.

The demonstrators later dispersed after a military official announced that the brothel had been shut, he said.

It was the third brothel shut by the movement in recent weeks…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

Egypt: Re-Opening of Rafah Pass to Gaza Imminent

(ANSAmed) — GAZA, FEBRUARY 18 — Egyptian authorities have informed Hamas in Gaza that, following the closure which has lasted several weeks, the Rafah pass linking the southern Sinai with the Strip will re-open in the coming hours.

The provision, according to explanation, is “humanitarian” in nature and will last for three days.

During this period of time travel will be open in both directions for the sick, students and those having an urgent need. It is not yet clear whether goods transport will also be allowed.

Hamas leaders had been calling for an immediate and lasting opening of the pass following the fall of the regime under Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak, partly to help assuage the state of poverty on the Strip.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Middle East

“Iranium” The Movie (Full Video)

(YBH) — With all of the upheaval in the Middle East, the documentary “Iranium” is more salient than ever. It examines Iran from the fall of the urbane and Westernized Shah to the current Muslim leadership’s thirst for nuclear weapons. No other documentary goes so in depth into the why of Iran, not just the how. For a country in the news as much as Iran is, there is not nearly enough general knowledge about it. This documentary serves to correct this.

Referred to as Persia as recently as the 1930’s, the country of 74 million now calls itself the Islamic Republic of Iran, with all that implies. It’s hard to underestimate Iran’s strategic primacy as an oil-producing country, and also as a tremendously important future chess piece in world politics, given its borders with Turkey, Russia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the gulf states.

YBH! recommends you watch the nearly-60 minute film and judge for yourself.

Notes from the filmmakers:

Iran’s nuclear program presents a threat to international stability. Yet successive American administrations-Republican and Democratic alike-have misread the intentions and actions of the Iranian regime.

How dangerous is a nuclear Iran, even if it never detonates a weapon? What are the guiding principles of the Iranian leadership? To what lengths would the regime go to carry out its agenda? How far have Iran’s leaders already gone to fund the world’s most powerful terrorist organizations? And why have American leaders failed to gain the upper hand in relations with Iran during the past 30 years?

The film deals with the following topics:

Iranium documents the development of Iran’s nuclear threat, beginning with the Islamic Revolution of 1979 and the ideology installed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini.

Iranium tracks Iran’s use of terror as a tool of policy, beginning with the 444 day seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, through Iran’s insurgent actions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Iranium details the brutal nature of the Iranian regime to its own citizens, and the Iranian people’s desire to rejoin the international community.

Iranium outlines the various scenarios the greater Middle East and the Western world may face should Iran cross the nuclear threshold…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Bahrain: Hereditary Prince Says Police Will Maintain Order

(AGI) Manama — Sheik Salman bin Hamad Khalifa told the army to withdraw and asked the police to maintain order. Bahrain’s hereditary prince is initiating a national dialogue with the opposition to resolve the crisis caused by the street protests.

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

Dialogue With Iranian Authorities is Pointless; It is Necessary to Talk to the Opposition

Statement by Hon. Fiamma Nirenstein, Vicepresident of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, during Parliamentary Assembly debate, February 16, 2011:

“Given the recent demonstrations in Iranian cities, with the Iranian people once again proving their profound enmity towards a government that violates all their human rights; given the violence perpetrated by the Iranian security forces; and given the disconcerting images, in all today’s newspapers, of the Iranian parliament demanding the hanging of the opposition leaders, I announce that, in my capacity as Vicepresident of the Foreign Affairs Committee, I will not participate in tomorrow’s meeting of my Committee with a delegation of Iranian parliamentarians, headed by the President of the Iranian Foreign Affairs Committee.

I feel that a dialogue with Iran’s official representatives is completely pointless. On the contrary, I think it’s extremely useful to express and give concrete solidarity meeting its oppositions. Indeed, until now, international meetings with Iran’s representatives on human rights or nuclear facilities, has served no useful purpose. They have only helped to give more time and legitimacy to the regime of the ayatollah. Iran has to date proven its extreme determination to pursue its aggressive, imperialist and anti-Semitic course, as it is proved by Ahmadinejad’s latest declarations de facto inciting to genocide. The opposition, on the other hand, nothwistanding the fierce repression it faces, still continues to express a desire for freedom and peace which deserves all our support”.

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

European Development Bank Cuts Loans for Turkey in 2010

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, FEBRUARY 14 — Long-term loans Turkey received from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) dropped to 1,935 million euros in 2010 from 2.7 billion euros in 2008 and 2.65 billion euros in 2009. The bank — as Anatolia news agency reports — provided 450 million euros for Turkey’s national science agency, TUBITAK, for R&D and innovation projects, 250 million euros to Turk Telekom, Turkey’s largest fixed-line operator, for broadband Internet investments, 200 million euros to Yapi Kredi Bankasi for renewable energy projects and 50 million euros to a provincial municipality in the country for a water treatment project. The EBRD gave the largest sum of loans to Spain that was worth 9.3 billion euros.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Iran: Pro-Government Rally Calls for Opposition Leaders to be Executed

Tehran, 18 Feb. (AKI) — Thousands of supporters for Iran’s hardline government rallied in Tehran on Friday calling for opposition leaders to be put to death.

Some members of Iran’s parliament on 15 February said former president Mohammad Khatami, opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi and political dissident Mehdi Karroubi should be executed as protesters rallied against the government, following the lead of popular uprising in Tunisia and Egypt that forced out their autocratic rulers.

Following Friday prayers, government supporters gathered, chanting: “Death to Moussavi, death to Karroubi.”

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

At least one person reportedly died during Monday’s demonstration.

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

Islam is in Fact the Real Source of the Problems in the Middle East

Pundits and prognosticators all over the world have been trying to predict the future of the Middle East ever since the riots in Tunisia spread to Egypt and beyond. Will freedom and democracy bloom? Will social justice and its principles take root? Will the religious hatred and intolerance that is endemic virtually everywhere be excised or ameliorated? Will people’s standard of living be raised? Will the riots and protests lead to lasting change? Will tyrants and dictators continue to be all powerful? The answers are simple…no, no, no, no, no and yes. This means that the future of the region is plain to see.

In the short term there will be chaos, bloodshed, violence, torture and death in individual countries as rioters and protesters persist in taking to the streets and as regimes crack down and assert their authority. That includes the new regime in Egypt, which is really nothing more than the old regime in mufti.

In the medium term cosmetic changes will be instituted to mollify the West, but there will be nothing of any real substance. There will also be war between Israel and the Arabs or Israel and the Iranians, or both, because Israel will be made into a scapegoat and blamed for the region’s problems, because the United States under President Obama will be seen as weak and unwilling or unable to come to her assistance, because thanks to Islam hatred of Jews and Israel is bred in the bone of the region’s people and because Islamic governments will conclude that this moment in time affords them a tangible opportunity to destroy Israel and wipe it off the map, an opportunity which may not come again soon.

In the long term scholars and historians will pontificate, Islam will continue to reign supreme, nothing much will change and history will repeat itself at some point.

That’s the future folks. Don’t believe me? Check back in a year or two and see if I’m wrong.

And by the way, if you want to know why freedom and democracy won’t bloom in the Middle East its because Islam won’t permit it. If you want to know why social justice and its principles won’t take root it’s because Islam doesn’t allow for them. If you want to know why the religious hatred and intolerance that is endemic virtually everywhere in the region won’t be excised or ameliorated its because hatred and intolerance is at the very heart of Islam and is mandated by it. If you want to know why people’s standard of living won’t be raised its because systemic poverty and ignorance is part and parcel of Islam. If you want to know why the riots and protests won’t lead to lasting change its because Islam doesn’t permit change. If you want to know why tyrants and dictators will continue to be all powerful its because Islam is defined by both.

Islam is in fact the real source of the problems in the Middle East, not Jews, not Israel, not America, Islam, and nothing will change until it is overcome. Just think for example how different the Middle East and the world would be if Islamists and Islamic countries recognized Israel’s right to exist, welcomed her and allowed Israelis to live in peace and security, instead of constantly trying to kill them and destroy the country. Why won’t they? Because of Islam, that’s why…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Kuwait: Police Fire Tear Gas at Workers Who Claim Rights

(AGI) Kuwait City — Escalating protests in the Maghreb reach wealthy Kuwait too, where around 300 foreign workers, without any right, claim their citizenship. The police scattered the protests firing tear gas in a village outside Kuwait City, said Maha al-Barias from NGO Kuwaiti Human Rights Society reporting that at least seven people have been injured.

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

Middle East Protests: Shocking Moment Troops Open Fire in Broad Daylight as Numbers Killed Nears 100

This is the horrifying moment troops open fire on innocent protesters on a day when the number killed across the Middle East reached almost 120.

Dozens of demonstrators chanted as they marched towards tanks in Bahrain but they fled seconds later as the clatter of bullets ricocheted through the street.

Two protesters lay motionless with blood spilling onto the road while as many as 50 others walked away wounded in the attack in the country’s second city of Manama.

The shocking scenes resembled dozens of similar protests in Libya, Yemen and Jordan where citizens demanded democratic reform in a ‘Friday of Rage’ sweeping the crisis-hit region.

In Libya 84 protesters were killed yesterday with the figure rising to 120 today as furious uprisings against the leader Muammar Gaddafi continued for the ninth successive day. In Benghazi, up to 1,000 people are believed to have been injured in the clashes.

A blanket ban on media reporting inside the oppressive regime has prevented photographers from entering the country but citizens have uploaded the scenes of carnage on video sharing site YouTube.

One video shows tens of thousands of demonstrators chanting angrily and waving placards as they march together through dusty streets…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Oman: Demonstration Over Wages and Political Reforms

(ANSAmed) — MUSCAT, FEBRUARY 18 — Around 300 men and women have staged a peaceful demonstration in the centre of Muscat today calling for higher wages and political reform, an AFP journalist on the spot reports. The second march of its kind in a month proceeded down the city’s central avenue where the government offices are situated with banner bearing slogans such as “Enough price rises” “Raise salaries”, “Authorise Islamic banks”. The demonstrators’ chants included “We want reforms” and “Where is democracy?” On January 17 around 200 people protested in Muscat against the cost of living and the authorities responded by raising the minimum wage for the private sector from 364 dollars to 520.(

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

People Power Triumphs in Bahrain

Only 24 hours earlier Khalil had been threatened with execution if he dared to return to Pearl Monument, the focal point of protests against Bahrain’s Al Khalifa dynasty for the past six days, to drive those who needed treatment to nearby Salamaniya hospital. Before his eyes, fellow citizens of this tiny Gulf state had been shot and injured as its rulers tried to contain the growing demonstrations of popular anger with their autocratic regime.

As gunfire echoed around him, Khalil, sweating, sombre-faced and clearly exhausted, had told The Sunday Telegraph that he was determined to continue his work.

“It is my duty,” he said. Moments later, soldiers opened fire on ambulances parked near the monument — including Khalil’s. At least four were seized, their crews detained for several hours. On Saturday, in a sudden reversal, army and police drew back again, allowing Khalil and more than 10,000 others to return, convinced that they had won an important victory.

Anti-government protesters flooded back into the Bahraini capital Manama after the kingdom’s royal family succumbed to international pressure and ordered its security forces off the streets.

They were there to reclaim the square which has become the symbolic centrepiece of the most serious challenge mounted against Bahrain’s rulers since Britain’s withdrawal from its former protectorate in 1971. Wilting in the face of people power and the growing anger of the United States, King Hamad bin Isa bin Khalifa exercised his authority to bring an end to the bloody repression visited on the protesters by his soldiers and policemen over the past week.

Riot police, at whose hands at least seven people have died since the protests began on Monday, kept the protesters at bay for a while, firing tear gas canisters, many manufactured in the United States, and rubber bullets.

But as the protesters pressed forward, waving flags with the word “peace” emblazoned on them, the police too fell back, scrambling onto buses that then careered along pavements in a panicked retreat…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Riot Police in Bahrain Retreat From Pearl Square

Crowds had approached Pearl Square in the capital of Bahrain from different directions.

They stood facing riot police for half an hour. All of a sudden police ran to their buses and retreated. The protesters, cheering and waving flags, ran to the centre of the traffic circle, reoccupying it even before all the police had left. The crowd waved the fleeing policemen through. Police vehicles drove over pavements in their haste to get out.

“We don’t fear death any more, let the army come and kill us to show the world what kind of savages they are,” said Umm Mohammed, a teacher wearing a black abaya cloak.

Protesters cheered and kissed the ground in joy and took pictures of about 60 police vehicles leaving the area. One man fell to his hands and knees in tears.

Bahrain’s crown prince called for a national day of mourning “for the sons we have lost”, the state news agency reported. Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Force, called for calm, asking citizens to unite and cooperate with all political forces in the country.

“I stress, once more, that our duty is to preserve security and stability, to ensure that there is no discord and that the situation does not worsen,” the statement on Bahrain’s national news agency said. “Join us to calm the situation, so that we can announce a day of mourning for our lost sons.”

Sixty to 80 people were taken to hospital after being affected by tear gas or hit by rubber bullets, a doctor said…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Saudi Arabia: 500 New Hotels Near Mecca

(ANSAmed) — ROME, FEBRUARY 16 — Saudi authorities have granted 500 licenses recently for the building of hotels in the zone around Mecca. One of these hotels will have — according to the daily paper Asharq Al Awsat — 5,000 rooms. Revenue from pilgrimages and ritual visit by Muslims over the next few years will total — according to economic experts — 27 billion dollars. Experts justify this high amount with the availability of lodgings for all budgets. According to Sadd Al Kurshi, the chairman of the committee which guarantees assistance services to pilgrims, the high number of hotels will help to absorb the growing number of visitors — both national and foreigners — while at the same time contributing to revive the ancillary economy. The largest hotel in Mecca currently has fewer than 1,000 rooms, underscored Al Kurshi, whereas the new ones will be characterised by greater guest capacity.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Turkey’s Press Freedom Controversy Goes Global

Amid ongoing debates sparked by the US ambassador’s comments on media freedom in Turkey, the US-based group Freedom House and the human-rights commissioner of the Council of Europe call on the government to cease media violations. ‘The harassment of media outlets and journalists who hold dissident views is a clear attempt to silence critical voices,’ Freedom House senior researcher Karin Deutsch Karlekar tells the Daily News

A leading U.S.-based human-rights organization and the Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights have both called on Turkey to do more to protect press freedom amid ongoing debates sparked by the U.S. ambassador’s comments.

“Freedom House is very disturbed to hear about the recent raid on Oda TV as well as the detentions of journalists,” Karin Deutsch Karlekar, a senior researcher at the Washington-based group told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review in an interview.

“The harassment of media outlets and journalists who hold dissident views is a clear attempt to silence critical voices and to restrict media diversity,” said Karlekar.

The recent arrests of three journalists connected with the dissident online news portal Oda TV also drew a response from Thomas Hammarberg, the Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights. “We are always concerned when people are arrested because of what they have written,” he told the Daily News in an interview Friday. “We hope the standards [Turkey has] agreed upon with Europe will be fully respected.”

The offices of Oda TV and the homes of its owner and several staff members were raided Monday by Istanbul police based on suspected links to the alleged Ergenekon gang, which is accused of plotting to topple the government by staging a coup. Soner Yalçin and two of the editors taken into custody during the raids were arrested by the court late Thursday.

Following Monday’s raids, new U.S. Ambassador to Ankara Francis J. Ricciardone drew fire from Turkish officials for making critical comments on press freedom in Turkey when asked about the incident. The U.S. State Department stood behind the ambassador’s comments, but Ricciardone has since backtracked from his initial remarks.

“Other journalists detained as part of the ongoing Ergenekon investigation have been detained for over a year without charge. Ongoing detentions are a clear violation of media freedom and those detained should either be charged and tried, or released,” Karlekar of Freedom House told the Daily News.

“The information we are getting through my office is of some concern and we really hope there will be a solution for those who have been arrested recently,” the Council of Europe’s Hammarberg said. “Freedom of expression, not least when it comes to media personalities, is absolutely crucial.”

The commissioner said this did not imply journalists were always protected from criminal charges, but that crimes only in the area of what one has written or said needed to be very clearly defined in order to not to be misused to silence critics.

Calls for Turkey to meet int’l standards

Hammarberg also said the Council of Europe was against the criminalization of defamation or libel and that such issues should be sorted out in civil law. “We believe that major instrument when it comes to avoiding misuse by the media is a self-regulation system,” he said, speaking to the Daily News after attending a seminar on migration issues in Europe that was held in Istanbul on Thursday and Friday. He said he would return to Turkey in the fall to make a full assessment of the state of human rights in the country, and that the situation of the media was one of the issues he would look into.

“We call on the Turkish government to adhere to international best-practice standards regarding judicial investigations and to cease violating media freedom,” said Karlekar of Freedom House. The nongovernmental organization conducts research and advocates internationally for democracy, political freedom and human rights. It also publishes “Freedom of the Press,” an annual global survey of media independence, of which Karlekar is the managing editor.

Karlekar also responded to comments made Thursday by Interior Minister Besir Atalay, who said press freedom was “much better” in Turkey than in the United States and other democratic countries.

“Freedom House currently rates Turkey as ‘Partly Free’ in our annual index and media freedom remains constrained by a restrictive legal environment, the imprisonment and prosecution and imprisonment of journalists and a hostile attitude on the part of the government to oppositionist media outlets,” she said, noting that Turkey’s rate of imprisoning journalists is one of the highest in the world.

In the World Press Freedom Index issued by the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, Turkey ranked 138th out of 178 countries. Nearly 50 journalists are imprisoned in the country and more than 500 face judicial prosecution for their news coverage.

* Erisa Dautaj Senerdem contributed to this report from Istanbul.

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

Turkey Plays Growing Political Role in Middle East

ISTANBUL, Turkey — As Egypt erupted a few weeks ago, one fellow Muslim country insistently urged President Hosni Mubarak to respond to popular demands. That country was Turkey.

The call was a sign of Turkey’s growing confidence and stature in the Middle East and beyond. Hobbled by economic and political chaos just a decade ago, Turkey is increasingly taking on the role of regional model, mediator and leader, with a solid economy and an evolving democracy. It has sought to balance many of the forces that shape, and shake, the region: The East and the West, Israel and Iran, religion and secularism.

As elections approach in June, results of a new Associated Press-GfK poll suggest that Turkey’s government will pursue a path of relative pragmatism, despite fears of the influence of Islam on the state.

Turkey still aspires to join the European Union, but that once-strong vision appears to have faded. The poll shows that 52 percent of respondents want Turkey to stay in NATO, and 50 percent want to join the European Union. Yet 42 percent have an unfavorable view of the EU, reflecting frustration with a process that has stalled partly because of European opposition and the slow pace of Turkish reform.

Views of individual European nations are positively acid. Only 16 percent of respondents held a favorable view of Germany, and that was high. Other favorable views were at 12 percent for Italy, 11 percent for Spain, 9 percent for the Britain, 6 percent for France and just 5 percent for neighboring Greece, a traditional antagonist. European leaders fared just as badly, with French President Nicolas Sarkozy scoring a positive rating of 4 percent.

“This dream of a rosy-pink Europe, once so powerful that even our most anti-Western thinkers and politicians secretly believed in it, has now faded,” Turkey’s Nobel laureate, author Orhan Pamuk, wrote in an essay published in The Guardian newspaper in December. “This may be because Turkey is no longer as poor as it once was. Or it could be because it is no longer a peasant society ruled by its army, but a dynamic nation with a strong civil society.”

(The AP-GfK Poll was conducted by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Corporate Communications in November and December, and was based on interviews with 1,200 adults ages 18 and older. It has a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points.)

A key question is to what extent Islam will change a society with a strong secular tradition, imposed by war hero Mustafa Kemal Ataturk when he founded the country in 1923 after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.

For example, the government recently imposed new restrictions on the sale and advertisement of alcohol, forcing sports clubs to stop putting beer ads on the jerseys of their players and ending the sale of alcohol on highways. Alcohol is banned in Islam. But in facing a barrage of criticism from pro-secular circles, the government said the curbs protect young people and have nothing to do with religious sentiment.

The number of pro-Islamic television channels, which air programs praising the virtues of Islam, also is on the rise. According to the AP-GfK poll, 85 percent of respondents called religion an “extremely” or “very” important part of their lives…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Turkish PM Calls US Envoy a ‘Rookie’ Ambassador

Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan calls Francis Joseph Ricciardone, the US’s new ambassador to Turkey, a ‘rookie’ regarding his remarks on press freedom in Turkey. ‘He does not know Turkey, he does not have any idea which laws there are, and then he walks into a trap and makes a statement,’ Erdogan says

Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. AP photo.

New U.S. envoy to Ankara Francis J. Ricciardone is a “rookie” ambassador, the Turkish prime minister said Friday, following the diplomat’s remarks on press freedom in Turkey, which were much criticized by government officials.

“He does not know Turkey, he does not have any idea what laws there are, and then he walks into a trap and makes a statement. First wait, research, ask what it is, and learn what the judiciary will do on this, what will be the outcome. [Not doing] this is called a ‘rookie’ ambassador, this is inexperience,” Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told his party members Friday.

“Is there any article in the Constitution bringing immunity to members of the press, of which we are not aware?” Erdogan asked. “Are media organizations exempt from everything, exempt from tax, exempt from all sorts of crime? Can they not be interrogated, tried?”

Addressing Ricciardone, the prime minister said some outsiders believed these things and talked about them, “even if it was not their duty.”

Asked by reporters about his opinion on a recent raid on Oda TV, a dissident online news portal, Ricciardone made a statement at a reception late Tuesday that seemed to accuse the government of hypocrisy on the issue of press freedom. “On the one hand there exists a stated policy of support for a free press. On the other hand, journalists are put under detention. We are trying to make sense of this. That is why we are asking you,” he said, adding that he did not know about the charges against the website or any details on the matter.

The offices of Oda TV and the homes of its owner, the well-known journalist Soner Yalçin, and several staff members were raided Monday by Istanbul police based on suspected links to an alleged coup plot.

Ricciardone’s remarks drew criticism from government officials, including Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who said it is not right for an ambassador to pass judgment on an ongoing criminal investigation. Davutoglu said this view was transmitted to Ricciardone on Wednesday by Foreign Minister Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioglu.

The U.S. envoy stepped back from his initial comments Thursday, saying he had not commented on the merits of a particular case but said as a foreigner there were certain things he “was trying to understand.”

Ricciardone has meanwhile not yet received a response to his request for an appointment to meet Prime Minister Erdogan. “Every ambassador asks for appointments with many officials to introduce himself. However there is no scheduled meeting with Erdogan yet,” an official from the U.S. Embassy in Ankara told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review on Friday.

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

What’s in it for Turkey?

One of the less-expected consequences of unrest in the Middle East is the elevation of Turkey’s role, making Ankara a potential regional power.

On February 8, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt, Ashraf Abdel Ghaffar, said in Istanbul that he was taking refuge in Turkey until the demonstrations to remove Hosni Mubarak succeeded. He then praised Turkey, referring to the governing Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) political role, and said his movement considers the AKP a model for Egypt after Mubarak. And on February 10, the Turkish media quoted Abdel Ghaffar, who said “there might be dialogue” between the Brotherhood and the AKP.

These developments, and the AKP’s comments against Mubarak, make Ankara a de facto protector of the Brotherhood, a potential power broker in post-Mubarak Cairo. More importantly, it gives Turkey access to hitherto unimaginable power in the Egyptian capital.

Since the AKP came to power in 2002, a debate has formed over whether the party’s Middle East-focused foreign policy has made Turkey a regional power with influence in regional capitals. Until the upheavals in Tunisia and Egypt, this didn’t seem to be the case. The AKP’s foreign policy, for instance, which defends Hamas and Iran’s nuclear program, fell on deaf ears in most Arab capitals, where leaders were worried about Hamas-related instability and Iran’s growing influence.

Now, while the Brotherhood is emerging as a key player in Egyptian politics, the AKP, as an advocate for this movement, has found an ally in Cairo. The same also applies to Tunis, where the local Brotherhood has emerged from the shadows since the fall of Tunisia’s dictator.

Moreover, if unrest in other Arab countries were to topple more dictatorships, or at least force them to recognize the opposition, the AKP would gain additional allies.

The Arab winter of 2011 has created a new Middle East landscape — one in which the AKP’s Turkey, which has positioned itself as the defender of the Brotherhood and popular uprisings — has voiced the strongest support for the Egyptian demonstrators.

THE PROXIMITY between the AKP and the Brotherhood goes beyond contemporary political support. In past years, leading AKP politicians, including Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, broke their political teeth in the Brotherhood’s Turkish versions.

These included the Islamist Welfare Party (RP) in the 1990s, its predecessor, and even more radically, the Islamist National Salvation Party (MSP) in the 1970s. The Brotherhood, RP and MSP shared political goals, such as a desire to make a narrowly-defined conservative brand of religion the moral compass of their respective societies, as well as a strong dislike of secular democracy and the US.

Such political hobnobbing — akin to the socialists’ networking for a common cause in the Socialist International during the 20th century — lasted for decades, bringing together AKP and Brotherhood members and allowing for the development of mutually supportive friendships. This history affords the AKP power in Arab capitals of the new Middle East.

For example, whether or not the Egyptian regime falls, the Brotherhood is, for all practical purposes, now a political force in that country. It is likely to take part in the transition process, and will perhaps join the government.

Throughout this process, the AKP will defend the Brotherhood and strive to maximize its role. The Brotherhood will, in return, seek to give its foreign policy vision, shared by the AKP, leverage in Cairo…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Yemenis Clash With Riot Police Across the Country

A group of 1,000 protesters, mainly students and educated professionals, were attacked outside Sana’a University by pro-Saleh tribesmen armed with batons, rocks and guns.

“After retreating some of them returned with AK-47’s and started firing into the crowd,” said Yasir Al-Mahwi, an English-language student with a bloodied hand, showing a crowd of people mobile videos and photos of the shootings.

“I saw one shot in the stomach and another bleeding from the neck.” Later, supporters of President Ali Abdullah Saleh dispersed the protesters and took control of the area around the university campus and surrounding roads.

The demonstrations came a day after four Yemenis were killed in the southern city of Aden. One resident who did not wish to be named told The Sunday Telegraph that Aden looked like a “war zone,” saying there were no police present on the streets and that people were looting and destroying government buildings.

Local newspaper The Yemen Post reported that people were being prevent from entering or leaving the port city.

Friday’s clashes left four dead and 17 injured in Aden. Meanwhile in Taiz, an impoverished city around 100 miles south of the capital, medics reported that one person died and 47 others were injured on Friday when a grenade was thrown into a crowd of protesters. Local authorities announced that eight officials connected to the attack have been detained.

About 10,000 protesters gathered in Taiz’s Hurriya Square, and a similar number of government loyalists assembled in the centre of the city in some of the largest demonstrations seen throughout Yemen in a decade. Taiz has a sizeable middle class and its population of four million is from both the north and the south.

Speaking on Saturday at a conference of civil society organisations Mr Saleh accused foreign countries of “plotting against Yemen and its security and stability”…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]


Four Russian Tourists Killed on Way to Caucasus Ski Resort

The group were heading towards the Kabardino-Balkaria region of Russia. “Two people in masks armed with automatic guns in a foreign-made car forced the minibus onto the hard shoulder, asked about passengers, then opened fire on the vehicle and fled from the scene,” the Investigative Committee said in a statement.

All six people in the vehicle were from the Moscow region. Three died on the spot and two were taken to hospital, it said. A message on Islamist website, hosted by the militant group Caucasus Emirate, said the tourists were killed by “mujahideens” because they “came into the zone of war”.

The group was going skiing to the Elbrus mountain area when they were ambushed near the village Zayukovo, according to the NTV channel, adding that a fourth person died in hospital.

The Kremlin fought two wars against separatist rebels in Chechnya in the 1990s but the insurgency has now become more Islamist in tone and has spread to neighbouring regions.

The targeting of tourists will be especially worrying for Russia’s authorities, who have pronounced the North Caucasus a future mountain ski haven, unveiling plans of a $15 billion dollar program to create five resorts.

One of the proposed resorts, Elbrus-Bezengi, is in the Kabardino-Balkaria region and would host up to 29,000 tourists per day under the plan…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

South Asia

Afghanistan: More Than US$ 3 Trillion in Rare Earths and Precious Metals Under Taliban Feet

Afghanistan’s minister of Mines announces the discovery of vast mineral riches in the country. Some mines are set to become operational shortly, but rare earths are found in a Taliban stronghold. Mineral wealth could lead to the development of infrastructures and create jobs.

Kabul (AsiaNews/Agencies) — Afghanistan has deposits of rare earths, gold, copper, iron and other minerals worth an estimated U$ 3 trillion. The problem is that they are located in one of the country’s most dangerous spots, on the south bank of the Helmand River, in a traditional Taliban stronghold.

That Afghanistan sits on vast mineral wealth has been detailed in several surveys, the most extensive of which were conducted by the Soviets in the 1970s, even though their import has been underestimated.

In 2007, the US Geological Survey estimated 1.4 million tonnes of rare-earth elements. Afghan Minister of Mines Wahidullah Shahrani said that the country was full of deposits across the country.

Until recently, exploration was centred on copper, iron and oil. The cost of rare earths mining was relatively high as China could supply the entire world at very low prices.

However, China cut back its rare earths exports in 2009, ostensibly to protect the environment and meet domestic needs.

These minerals are essential to the electronics industry as well as other sectors, from mobile phones to green vehicles.

Beijing has already announced that it would cut exports this year. This has raised concerns in high-tech industries, especially in Japan after China stopped exports in September over a dispute involving a group of islands. Now Tokyo is developing rare earths recycling and looking for substitutes.

China produces 97 per cent of the world’s rare earths output. However, it is estimated to hold only 30 per cent of the world reserves. The United States, Australia and other nations had stopped mining as too expensive compared to China’s. Now exploration and mining of rare earths are resuming but it will take some time before production will reach significant levels.

The lack of infrastructures and major security problems, especially in areas far from the big cities, have made mining a dangerous, if not impossible undertaking in Afghanistan. However, US experts continue exploration. In the Khan Neshin region, near the Helmand River, they found nearly US$ 90 billion worth of rare earth minerals as well as niobium, another mineral used in high tech.

Mining offers Afghanistan great opportunities. In addition to revenues from selling mining rights, developing these resources would create jobs for miners in an undeveloped region of the country, as well as for chemists, physicists and engineers involved in exploration and development. They would also lead to infrastructural development in transportation and communication and stimulate trade.

Many experts believe that developing these resources will take many years. Further geological surveys are needed. Above all, infrastructures must be built and the region must be pacified. However, they generally agree that for the country this would represent a path towards riches.

In the meantime, deposits are already being developed in some areas. They include gold and copper deposits in Zana Khan, Ghazni province, estimated to be worth US$ 30 billion and expected to come into production within five years, and lithium deposits in Herat, Ghazni, Nimroz and Farah provinces, which could be worth up to US$ 60 billion, and where small-scale production could begin within one year and large-scale production within two to four years.

In the meantime, China has arrived. The China Metallurgical Construction has bought the rights to the copper just north of the Aynak copper mine in Logar province.

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

Afghan Soldier Opens Fire on German Troops, Killing 3 and Wounding 6 Others

PUL-E-KHUMRI, Afghanistan — German soldiers, just back from patrol, had already started shedding their heavy body armour when shots rang out Friday at their coalition base in northern Afghanistan. An Afghan soldier, a man they thought was on their side, was spraying them with bullets at close range.

The shooter was gunned down, but not before he killed three German soldiers and wounded six others in a tragic shooting that highlights the challenges of trying to train Afghan security forces so foreign troops can go home.

The Afghan soldier in Baghlan’s provincial capital, Pul-e-Khumri, was part of a joint operation between the German and Afghan militaries, Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg told reporters in Berlin. “Working together carries risks,” said Guttenberg, who earlier this week spent the night with German troops at the base in northeast Afghanistan. “Still, this attack may not lead to questioning the partnering (with the Afghan army) that has so far been successful because this would only serve our enemies.”

Friday’s shooting was one of several deadly incidents reported across Afghanistan, which is expecting an escalation of violence as winter fades to spring.

A suicide attacker in a bomb-laden car struck a police station in the eastern Afghan city of Khost, along the border with Pakistan, killing 11 people — one Afghan policeman and 10 civilians — and wounding 41, according to Mobarez Zadran, a spokesman for the provincial governor. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the bombing. A roadside bomb killed three Afghan policemen and wounded two others in the Shinwar district of the eastern province of Nangarhar, according to Ahmad Zia Abdulzai, a spokesman for the provincial governor. Another roadside bomb killed a coalition service member in southern Afghanistan, NATO said, without providing a nationality. The attacks raised to at least 20 the number of coalition troops who have died in Afghanistan so far this month…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Pakistan: Punjab: Sherry Rehman Will Not be Prosecuted for Blasphemy

The court decided to drop the proceedings against the member of parliament from the PPP. The chase brought by a businessman from Multan, who judged opinions expressed by the woman on a talk show blasphemous. The police investigations have found that there were no violations of the law.

Lahore (AsiaNews) — The district judge in Multan, a city in Punjab, has rejected the request for charges of blasphemy against Sherry Rehman, a lawmaker of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). The court had instructed the police to draw up a report based on the allegations and find evidence to back the charge lodged by a private citizen against the woman. However, investigators failed to find any evidence to support the charge and called for it to be shelved. Sources close to Rehman confirm that security remains precarious for women, over whom hangs a death threat by Islamic extremists.

In recent months, Rehman had proposed amendments to the “black law”, sparking the ire of fundamentalist wing of the country. The woman later withdrew the amendments, indicating that she intended to follow her party line, which is rather hesitant in wanting to change the norm. The latest blow came in the past week: Yousaf Raza Gilani, Prime Minister of Pakistan, “categorically excluded” amendments to the law on blasphemy. Salman Taseer, Governor of Punjab and a member of the PPP was killed last January for publically coming out against the blasphemy law.

On 7 February, Fahim Akhtar Gul, a shopkeeper in Multan, reported Sherry Rehman the court of Multan, on charges of blasphemy. The Parliamentarian apparently used derogatory terms against the “black law” during a television talk show in November 2010 and should be punished according to this controversial rule.

Mehr Nasir Hussain, a judge at the district court of Multan, instructed the police to open an investigation and prepare a report, with the possible sources of evidence. Once the facts were verified, the police officer Yousaf Khokhar explained that “the matter does not fall into cases of blasphemy” because “a close analysis of the video, shows there are no violations of the law.” On the advise of the investigators, the court decided to dismiss the case.

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

Far East

Bishop of Fukuoka on Japan’s Missionary and Mature Church

The Japanese “paradox”: is the country recalcitrant to Christianity? Domenico Miyahara, Bishop of Fukuoka, helps us to understand the particular face of Christianity in Japan. The Church is increasingly conscious of having to take on a role of service and dialogue in the context of East Asia. “

Tokyo (AsiaNews) — Japan is a paradoxical nation from the standpoint of Christian evangelization. In this nation where the right of freedom of religion is scrupulously respected, Christianity remains on the margins, despite the intense activities of the evangelising missionaries that has lasted over a century.

There is a paradox in Japanese Catholicism, evidenced by the statistics of three dioceses. The Archdiocese of Tokyo (capital and Chiba prefecture), out of a population of 18 million are there are about 95 thousand Catholics, or 0.5%. In the Fukuoka (four prefectures of the island of Kyushu), there are 32 thousand Catholics in a population of 7. 758,000 inhabitants, 0.4%. In the Archdiocese of Nagasaki out of a population of 1,494,000 inhabitants, 66 thousand are Catholics, 4.3%. Out of a total population of 127 million Japanese, Catholics are about 450 thousand, the equivalent of 0.35%, spread over 16 dioceses.

In comparason, South Korea, in numerical terms, with a population of 44 million has more than 5 million Catholics, over 10% of the population, and if we consider the number of Christians of all denominations, more than 20 % of South Koreans are Christians.

The logic of numbers would push us to conclude that Japan is recalcitrant to Christianity.

The Bishop of Fukuoka

To understand, in some way, the Christian paradox of Japan, we have sought the help of Mgr. Domenico Miyahara (56), Bishop of Fukuoka. The very figure of the bishop and the place where the interview takes place are the historical and psychological environment best suited to illustrate and possibily, understand the significance of the second Christian evangelization in Japan.

Bishop Miyahara was born in 1955 to a Catholic family in the region of Nagasaki, the city of martyrs. Ordained in 1982, he spent a period of further studies in Rome, and then devoted himself to teaching in a Catholic seminary. In 2000 at only 45 years of age he was consecrated bishop of the Diocese of Oita (Kyushu island), which has 6 thousand Catholics. Three years ago he was placed in charge of the more consistent diocese of Fukuoka: over 30 thousand Catholics.

It is not difficult to imagine the inner conflict experienced by bishop Miyahara over this progression in nominations. The importance of the diocese does not correspond to the civil importance of the cities: Fukuoka with a population that exceeds half million inhabitants, is the capital of Kyushu island, in comparison Nagasaki, located on the same island, is a secondary city, with less than half a million inhabitants. But from the ecclesial perspective their importance is reversed: Catholics count for more than 4% of the population in Nagasaki, while in Fukuoka they are only 0.4%. And the difference of the percentages is not the main reason for the difference in the significance of two places: in the Nagasaki there is a pervading Catholic atmosphere, while in Fukuoka the “pagan” that is synonmous to all major Japanese cities dominates. Small wonder, then, that the title of Archdiocese was given to Nagasaki.

The two faces of the Catholic Church in Japan

And it is from this difference in atmosphere that our interview begins, with the question as to whether the fundamentally peaceful and optimistic attitude of the population of Nagasaki is due to the influence of Catholicism. Since the question posed in such a way could miscontrue a moral judgement, Bishop Miyahara does not responded directly, but rather reformulates the question in terms of facts.

The differences that can not be denied nor underestimated, he says, find their explanation in the history of Catholic evangelization in this country. Christianity was brought to Japan for the first time by the Jesuit missionary Francis Xavier in 1549. The fruits of the first evangelization were impressive: in a few decades the Catholic Church had over 400 thousand faithful. But in the first half of the seventeenth century a cruel and widespread persecution was unleashed followed by a “closed door” policy that not only stopped but destroyed the evangelization of Christianity in this country.

In the second half of the nineteenth century Japan, for reasons of international politics, reopened the doors of the nation and, while not abolishing the edict of proscription of Christianity, allowed the entry of priests for religious services to members of foreign embassies .

Thus began the second evangelization of Japan, thanks to the zeal of missionaries and the intelligence of Foreign Missions of Paris. And since then a Japanese Catholicism of two faces has been formed: that of Yokohama and that of Nagasaki. The missionary Father Petitjean, ostensibly in the service of the French Embassy in Yokohama (the port city not far from Tokyo), knowing that Nagasaki in the south, was the cradle of the first wave of Christianity in Japan and the city of martyrs, visited the city and went on to build a church on a hill overlooking the harbor. In this way, after two centuries of persecution, the “hidden Christians” were discovered: an unprecedented fact in the history of Christianity,

The discovery of the “Hidden Christians” gave rise to two different ways to evangelize: the apostolate of “comfort” and “exhortation” in the area of Nagasaki, the first apostolate of evangelization in all other parts.

In a Bible psalm we read: “those who sow in tears will reap in joy.”

Applying this prophetic to the areas of Japan above indicated we would have to say that the Church of Nagasaki is reaping in joy, while evangelism proceeds amid sweat and tears in the other areas. Some clarifications: suffering in Nagasaki lasted until 1945 and experienced a moment of tragic escalation on August 9 of that year with the second inhuman atomic bombing of the that destroyed the city and decimated the most fervent and numerous Catholic community throughout Japan.

But now its beautiful churches have been rebuilt, foremost among them the Urakami Cathedral 500 meters from the epicenter of the atomic bombing and the fervent community reflects the atmosphere of those who are reaping in joy.

Moving towards a missionary church open to Asia.

One gets the impression that the Church of Nagasaki is somewhat jealous of her happiness and fervor and fears losing this by offering to evangelize other regions of Japan and Asia. Bishop Miyahara says impressions of this kind are the result of viewing the reality on the ground outside of its historical context. Before coming to Fukuoka he was bishop of the Diocese of Oita with a total of only 6 thousand faithful. In Europe this figure is equal to a local parish. In addition, this little flock live in the midst of a non-Christian population of 2,300,000 people. We have, therefore, limits of resources, personnel and formation. It takes time. This essentially, also applies to Nagasaki.

Moreover, the concept of mission in Asia, is currently seen as the evangelization of the cultures among which they live. Today Japan is increasingly conscious of having to take on role of service and dialogue in the context of East Asia. The Catholic Church here is doing it by promoting dialogue with “sister Churches” of neighboring nations.

At the level of episcopal conferences, Japan and South Korea have already set up annual meetings. But we are aware that cultural dialogue in the context of faith should be promoted even at the grassroots level. For this reason the Bishop of Fukuoka is organizing exchanges of students and seminarians with the dioceses of Korea.

However, says the bishop, to achieve this communion of sister Churches at a cultural level, a suitable instrument is needed, which, according to Miyahara, would be a Catholic University. In this area, the Jesuit Sophia University in Japan plays an excellent part. Nonetheless, it is located in Tokyo. The problem would be resolved by setting up branches in the various dioceses. The bishop plans to establish a campus of Sophia University in Fukuoka where students could have access to the first two years of formation.

The role of foreign missionaries in Fukuoka

It is well known that the flow of foreign missionaries from the churches of Europe and America has been interrupted. Asked if they are still useful, the bishop replies with an invitation to reflect on what is happening in the parish of Taku, for decades under the guidance of an old PIME missionary: Father Claudio Gazzard. Having reached 85, in theory he should have the right to retire, but if he leaves the parish there is no one to replace him. The bishop speaks of him with great admiration. It is not a unique case, he points out.

But probably the lack of European missionaries may be providential, because it pushes the Japanese Church to turn to the Catholic Churches of Asia, full of clergy. Miyahara speaks especially of vienamese missionaries, who, being in Asia would also be better able to interact with Japanese culture.

The church in Japan has matured. This is the belief that emerges from the interview with Bishop Miyahara. His pastoral program this year is no exception. After spending the first two years getting to know his new church, now he has a program that can be summarized as “the mystery of Christ,” which calls on the faithful to experience this in liturgical celebrations, to live this in the context of their family and society and transmit it through evangelisation. But to achieve this, they must first know and understand it. Manabi, “learn” is the watchword of this year’s pastoral program.

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

China: Railways Minister’s Departure Creates Uncertainties, Causes Shares to Fall

Liu Zhijun, minister since 2003, was viewed as one of China’s most powerful figures, in charge of huge budgets and capable of surviving accusations of incompetence and corruption. High-speed projects are now on hold. Corruption is an endemic problem in China.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) — China’s railways are in emergency mode following Saturday’s resignation of Railways Minister Liu Zhijun over corruption charges. Chinese railway-related shares fell sharply today, despite the fact that Sheng Guangzu replaced Liu overnight on Saturday.

At a teleconference in Beijing, Sheng Guangzu stressed the importance of maintaining safety and stability in the nation’s railway sector. He also called for unity under Hu’s leadership but did not say whether any project was in jeopardy.

Chinese railways are well funded by government and railway companies are among the strongest in the country. However, Hong Kong-listed China South Locomotive and Rolling Stock Corporation (CSR) fell by as much as 6.2 per cent in early trade today. In Shanghai, the China North Locomotive and Rolling Stock Corporation lost as much as 5.8 per cent. Stocks in related sectors also fell, but experts believe the drop to be short-lived, urging people to wait and see for developments over the next few days.

Liu lost his position as Communist Party chief at the Railway Ministry because he came under investigation for “serious disciplinary violations”, i.e. corruption.

The uncertainties associated with the lack of information have spooked investors in a sector that is highly independent even of Beijing.

The Railway Ministry employs nearly 3 million people and commands a vast budget, including multibillion-yuan investment in high-speed rail systems. It operates its own schools, hospitals and telecommunication services.

In its 2011-15 budgets for high-speed rail, China plans to spend a total of 3.5 trillion yuan. The Railways Ministry wants to reach a national high-speed rail network of 25,000 kilometres by 2015.

However, the Ministry is also involved in many businesses, which have nothing to do with railways, like real estate, trade, karaoke, food and car distribution

Liu spent nearly his entire political career in the railway sector. He was director of the railway bureaus in Henan and Liaoning provinces before becoming vice-minister of the railways ministry from 1996 to 2003, then minister in 2003. He survived misgivings over his competence, given the railways’ poor safety record.

Twenty people died every day, on average, in mainland rail accidents in 2005. That is 7,300 for the year, according to the State Administration of Work Safety.

Shortly after a train collision in Shandong province in 2008 that killed 72 people and injured 416, public calls for Liu’s head to roll reached a peak.

That same year, the national rail system was nearly paralysed by massive snowstorms, with millions of Lunar New Year travellers stranded at stations.

In April 2006, Liu’s younger brother, Liu Zhixiang, who was the head of the railways bureau in Wuhan, was given a suspended death sentence for hiring hit men to kill a man who had exposed his corrupt practices.

Liu’s case illustrates how difficult it is to fight China’s widespread corruption, despite years of zero tolerance by China’s leaders. He had been under investigation since 2006 and yet he was able to hold onto power until now. According to the discipline commission, 146,517 officials in China were punished for disciplinary violations in 2010.

Experts believe that corruption cannot be eliminated by repression alone. Only in a democratic system where citizens have the power to criticise can it be done.

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

Giving Mongolians a Linguistic Stepping Stone

The boxes are piled high inside Anita Fahrni’s garage in eastern Switzerland, a makeshift sorting centre for thousands of donated books heading to Mongolia.

Fahrni has just a few days to comb through the masses of English and German school textbooks and novels before they go onto the 40-foot container she ships every year to the developing Asian nation.

The Swiss-American dual national has been collecting books from Switzerland for the past 12 years. Over 310,000 copies have since made their way into school and university libraries in the capital Ulan Bator and villages and towns across the country.

A former parliamentarian for canton Thurgau, Fahrni is a seasoned networker, sitting on boards and committees ranging from the Swiss National Council of Women to an international group protecting the rare Takhi horse that is native to Mongolia.

She gave up politics in 2007 to focus on her various Swiss-Mongolian projects. Now 68, she says she has to work “120 per cent” to get everything done.

As well as arranging for Swiss teachers to go to Mongolia to teach English and German — over 100 so far — and short internships for Mongolian teachers of English, she has started an exchange project that pays for Mongolian university students to spend a year in Switzerland honing their German.

Broadening horizons

Since its early beginnings in 2003, her Swiss Program for Language Instruction and Teacher Training has expanded to place nine Mongolians in schools and teacher training universities in the cantons of Zurich, St Gallen and Thurgau every year.

As it stands, only women are making the grade. Each recruiting time, Fahrni writes to the German departments at Mongolian universities and asks them to put forward their top two students for the programme. Few men study German and women are inevitably top of the class.

Fahrni interviews the candidates and finds the host families for the nine chosen students, who then spend a year in Switzerland. A private Swiss foundation that wishes to remain anonymous fronts the SFr120,000 that it costs to look after the students.

“It’s giving these young women a big boost. It’s expanding their horizons. It’s proven that this is a tremendous boost to them in their futures, not only in finishing their degree back in Mongolia but also in finding jobs after that,” she explains…

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

Sub-Saharan Africa

Djibouti: 2nd Day of Clashes and Protests Against Guelle

(AGI) Djibouti — The wave of protests in North Africa and the Middle East swept over Djibouti, in the Horn of Africa, again today. Demonstrators were back out on the streets demanding the resignation of President Ismail Omar Guelle and there were clashes with police. Interior Minister, Yacin Elmi Bouh, condemned the violence of the crowd and accused the opposition of wanting “to take power by force.” .

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

Rwandan Genocide Suspect Working at a Seaside Care Home

An alleged war criminal accused of playing a key role in the slaughter of nearly a million Rwandans is working in a seaside nursing home caring for elderly and vulnerable patients.

Celestin Ugirashebuja, 60, is a volunteer at the Anna Victoria Nursing Home in Frinton-on-Sea, Essex, and has passed a Criminal Records Bureau check.

But his employers were unaware that in Rwanda he is wanted for his role in the 1994 genocide in which hundreds of thousands of Tutsis and Hutus were killed.

Staff at the 29-room home also did not know of Ugirashebuja’s time as a mayor in Rwanda’s Kigoma district in the mid-Nineties, when he is accused of organising roadblocks and urging Hutus to kill escaping Tutsis.

Care home manager Vivienne Purser said she was shocked to learn the truth about Ugirashebuja, but that he had passed his CRB check.

She said: ‘We had heard bits and pieces about him but unfortunately there’s gossip that we try not to react to.

‘Some of the girls heard things but it’s not really fair.

‘It’s nothing to do with us. He passed his CRB. We didn’t know any facts.

‘You can’t judge people. Our understanding was that it was all cleared up and sorted out.’

CRB checks reveal only UK convictions.

They failed to disclose that, according to the summary indictment issued against him by the Rwandan authorities, Ugirashebuja chaired meetings after the genocide began and ordered the killing of Tutsis.

The indictment alleges: ‘The defendant issued instructions that they were to be taken to a certain place and killed.’

It cites one meeting at Muyange Primary School: ‘During that meeting, Ugirashebuja told people to identify and get rid of the enemy. ‘He told them that if they didn’t do it, the enemy would push them in Lake Kivu.

‘He urged Hutus to kill Tutsis and to destroy their property. After that meeting, massacres escalated.’

At another gathering in a village called Progress, the former mayor is accused of telling villagers that peace had been restored and all Tutsis should come home.

The indictment adds: ‘All the Tutsis who came back were killed.’

The document claims Ugirashebuja had a ‘direct hand’ in five separate massacres and individual killings.

The Rwandan authorities claim that after the conflict, Ugirashebuja fled to the UK, where he was arrested in 2006 with three men also accused of being involved in the genocide.

But when their extradition case came before the High Court in 2009, it was thrown out on the grounds that the men’s human rights would be breached if they were forcibly returned home.

The men were allowed to continue living in the UK…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Ugandan ‘Lesbian’ Drops Homosexual Claim

She is the Ugandan asylum seeker who escaped deportation by claiming that she was a lesbian.

Her legal team managed to secure a last-minute delay in her removal from Britain by arguing that as a homosexual she would be at risk of persecution in her African homeland.

But now lawyers acting for the woman, who can be identified only as “BN”, have submitted a new appeal on her behalf — which no longer hinges on her sexuality.

Instead, they say that because she has appeared in newspapers claiming to be gay, she would inevitably be at risk in Uganda whatever her true sexual orientation.

The change of tactic comes after a judge examined evidence in the case and concluded that BN was, in fact, heterosexual. Earlier this month this newspaper revealed how she was unable to remember the surname, age, employer or other details of a woman with whom she claimed she had a six-year relationship in Uganda. Nor could she describe a lesbian bar in London that she claimed she visited regularly.

BN came to Britain in 2002 and overstayed her visa, later lodging an asylum claim. She claimed to have been beaten and victimised over her sexuality. The Home Office refused her claim and began deportation proceedings.

Last December, immigration judge Toby Davey ruled that BN should be sent back to Uganda. He criticised the 28-year-old for a “lack of candour” over her sexuality, and concluded: “I find that the appellant was and is not, on the evidence before me, a lesbian.”

Yet following the ruling, BN secured sympathetic coverage in several newspapers.

Her lawyers, Luton-based Cardinal Solicitors, were quoted on the dangers she allegedly faced, and BN herself gave interviews from inside Yarl’s Wood immigration detention centre.

On Jan 28, her lawyers won an 11th-hour injunction which forced officials to halt the deportation after she had been placed on an aircraft at Heathrow, minutes from take-off.

In the latest document, an application for permission for judicial review, the legal team for the failed asylum seeker claim that because she has been named in the media as a homosexual she will be in danger of victimisation in her native country.

The application, seen by The Sunday Telegraph, does not explicitly state whether or not she is gay. Instead, her lawyers claim she fears being harmed because of the “authorities (sic) and public view towards her being homosexual”.

In the document, BN’s lawyer states that “the credibility of the applicant’s sexuality … is entirely irrelevant to the risk … that the applicant will face”.

The lawyer adds: “The risk derives from a widespread national public perception of the applicant being homosexual.”…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Latin America

US Tech Offer Threatens Brazil Gripen Deal

Swedish defence firm Saab has faced another setback in its bid to sell its Gripen aircraft to Brazil after a US official announced that it has offered the country a “significant technology transfer” if it buys US-made fighter jets.

The transfer of military technology is a key factor for Brazil as it considers the Gripen NG made by Saab, the Rafale by France’s Dassault or Boeing’s F-18 Super Hornet for a contract worth between $4 billion and $7 billion.

“I would argue that the technology transfer that we are offering of this magnitude would put Brazil at par with our close partners,” Frank Mora, deputy assistant secretary for Western Hemisphere affairs, told a legislative committee.

When asked if it were accurate that Brazil should not have doubts about the commitment to the technology transfer, he replied, “That is correct.”

“The United States has made a robust proposal of the Super Hornet technology — a significant technology transfer,” he said.

The contract is for 36 fighters with the possibility of many more aircraft in the future.

The competition for the contract has dragged on for years, with President Dilma Rousseff inheriting it from her predecessor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who had declared a preference for French planes.

Arturo Valenzuela, assistant US secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, said during the hearing on Thursday that “we always raise this issue” in talks between Brazil and the US.

US President Barack Obama is scheduled to visit Brazil in late March as part of a tour that includes stops in Chile and El Salvador. Brazil and the United States signed a military cooperation agreement in April 2010.

In December 2010, US diplomatic cables recently released by WikiLeaks cited by newspaper Aftonbladet reported that Sweden was deceived by both the US and Norway regarding its neighbour’s interest in signing a multi-billion kronor deal to buy Sweden’s JAS Gripen fighter plane.

Norway ultimately decided to purchase the US-made Joint Strike Fighter/F-35 combat aircraft in a deal reportedly worth 55 billion kronor ($7.9 billion).

According to Aftonbladet, the United States threw a spanner in the works of the Gripen deal by stopping the export of an American-made radar component for use on the Swedish plane.

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


EU: Frontex Mission to Italy Tomorrow

(AGI) Brussels — The EU will deploy a Frontex mission to help Italy deal with the inflow of immigrants from North Africa tomorrow. Frontex is the EU agency for external borders security. It was announced by EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom who explained that member states’ border experts and naval and air units will be sent to Italy to help local authorities. Malmstrom also said that more resources could be made available to meet future needs.

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

Germany: Where the Germans Speak Gibberish

A Comic Take on the Immigrant Experience

Most German films about immigration take a grittily realistic approach, focusing on urban tension and social problems. But one filmmaking duo of Turkish-German sisters decided to use humor to tell the story of a guest-worker family. SPIEGEL ONLINE talked to Yasemin and Nesrin Samdereli about their comedy “Almanya.”

When the Samdereli sisters started working on their script for their movie “Almanya” eight years ago, they had little inkling that its premiere at the 2011 Berlin International Film Festival would come hot on the heels of a heated debate about integration in Germany. They simply wanted to tell a story about a Turkish-German family that differed from the usual gritty dramas about immigration.

“It is not that we wanted to make this movie because of the political situation,” director Yasemin Samdereli told SPIEGEL ONLINE. Instead, she says, they just wanted to tell a story about an immigrant family, one that bears some autobiographical similarities with their own lives. The result is a funny, at times sentimental, tearjerker that focuses on the comical misunderstandings between cultures rather than the fraught challenges of a multi-ethnic society.

Her younger sister Nesrin, the film’s screenwriter, explains how they wanted to show the reality of Turkish guest workers coming to Germany in the 1960s from a new perspective. “The story we wanted to tell hasn’t been told so far, so we thought we should try it another way.”

“We want people to see each other as human beings and just to see the family in the movie as a normal family that could be anywhere in the world,” Yasemin says, pointing out that the image of Turkish-Germans is currently quite negative. For example, they wanted to show that “not every Turkish father loses it because his daughter or granddaughter does things that he might not agree with.”

Language Barriers

The film contains two interweaving stories. One strand focuses on a former guest worker, Hüseyin Yilmaz, now in his 70s, and his extended family. In a parallel story within the story, his granddaughter Canan narrates the tale of how her grandparents fell in love and eventually came to “Almanya” or Germany. Neatly switching the language spoken by these Turkish immigrants into German so that her six-year-old cousin Cenk can understand, she shows how the new arrivals are then confronted by Germans speaking a strange gibberish, an incomprehensible invented language, they cannot fathom.

Yasemin Samdereli explains that she always wanted the Turkish characters to speak in German rather than Turkish during the flashback sequences. “I wanted the German audience to be close to our protagonists.” The audience is then drawn into their experience, confronted with the confusion of fitting into a new country, the challenges of going shopping or taking one’s children to school without speaking the language.

The film also pokes fun at prejudices on the Turkish side. The new immigrants are warned before they embark on their journey that Germans are dirty and that they eat people. Once in the foreign country, the family has to get to grips with the unheard-of habit of keeping pets, as well as European toilets and a strange religion.

While the characters are fictional, the filmmakers reveal that there are many autobiographical elements in the film. Like the character Hüseyin Yilmaz, their grandfather came to Germany in the 1960s and settled in the city of Dortmund in Germany’s industrial heartland. And like Yilmaz’s wife Fatma, their grandmother was a strong feisty woman. “She definitely wore the trousers,” Yasemin says.

Other elements such as the Christmas scene are also based on their own lives, Nesrin admits. In the film, Yilmaz’s young children, who have been wrenched from their happy-go-lucky lives in Turkey, slowly become more German and even start speaking the local gibberish that their parents don’t understand. Finally, they demand a Christmas tree and presents. Their bewildered mother puts up a sorry twig of a tree with barely any decorations and doesn’t know that she is supposed to wrap the gifts. The kids look crestfallen at her paltry efforts. “That was something that really happened with our mom,” Nesrin recalls.

‘Things Are Always Changing’

While the flashbacks to the 1960s have a fairy-tale quality, the present-day scenes are more realistic. Canan, a 20-something university student, is pregnant but hasn’t even told her family that she has a boyfriend, because he is not Turkish. There are ongoing tensions between two of Yilmaz’s adult sons. Meanwhile his youngest son, Ali, the only one of the four siblings born in Germany, is resistant to Turkish culture — he is married to a tall blonde German woman, rejects spicy food and has failed to teach his own son Turkish. Many of these family dramas become resolved on an eventful road trip to Turkey to visit a house that the patriarch has bought in the village of his youth.

The character of Cenk, the six-year-old boy, is crucial to the film’s exploration of the current generation’s search for identity. He is bullied at school and is left out of a football game where the “Turkish” kids play against the “Germans,” because he does not fit into either side. He is confused about how he can be Turkish but not speak the language. His plaintive question: “So are we Turks or Germans now?” kicks off the series of flashbacks depicting the family saga.

“The next generation is going to be completely different again,” explains Nesrin Samdereli. “Things are always changing.” She points out that her partner is German, while her sister’s is English, so it is likely that any children either of them might have would only be half-Turkish…

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

Malta: CPT Denounces Serious Situation Prison and Immigrants

(ANSAmed) — STRASBURG, FEBRUARY 17 — The situation in the only prison in Malta could become “unmanageable” and the conditions in which illegal immigrants are housed in the temporary shelters could be qualified as “inhuman and degrading treatment”: these are the concerns expressed by the Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT). Today the Committee released the report on its visit to the island halfway 2008. In the report, which is published as late as today on request of the Maltese government, the European Council body asks the authorities to urgently take a series of measures to deal with the problems ascertained by the CPT since the ‘90s. In particular, the Committee “considers the creation of an independent commission by the authorities a crucial step. This commission should assess the entire penitentiary system in order to introduce the necessary reforms”. According to the CPT, if this is not done, the situation of the country’s prisons “could soon become unmanageable”. The Committee particularly denounces the fact that the current prison director lacks the necessary expertise to manage the structure, and that the number of qualified prison guards is too low compared with the number of prisoners. A collapsed disciplinary system and the lack of the most basic prison procedures have created an environment in which insecurity and arbitrariness prevail. The Committee also states that this situation has led to the creation of “structures of informal power”: a large amount of drugs is going around in the prison and many inmates have yielded to gangs. Concluding, the CPT expresses serious concerns about the fact that the prison also houses under-age persons. Regarding the temporary shelters for illegal immigrants, the CPT points at the extremely uncomfortable living conditions of the people it houses. Immigrants are living in tents in one of the centres and many structures are dilapidated, dirty and invaded by mice.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Multiculturalism Threatens America

My grandfather, like most immigrants, believed that America was more than just another plot of land. To his generation America was a common aspiration, an idea. Part of that idea was that all men are created equal. That founding idea, as Abraham Lincoln said, was enshrined into our Declaration of Independence not only because it was a self-evident truth but also so that it could constantly serve as “a rebuke and a stumbling-block to the very harbingers of re-appearing tyranny and oppression,” whenever and wherever they appeared.

As a result of multicultural relativism, however, we are seeing the American aspiration eroded, our common purpose lost, and a “re-appearing tyranny and oppression” that is not only poised against us abroad but is also pointing its dagger at us here at home. This is especially true in some of the Islamist communities, where separation from the rest of America is sacrosanct and intellectual assimilation degraded—and where the equality of every human being is not taught as a self-evident truth. Our American sense of toleration, in other words, is now protecting noxious philosophies that are anti-American.


Just over a year ago, when Nidal Hasan went on his rampage, we saw homegrown Islamist terror as a result of what Cameron described as “hands-off tolerance.” Nobody wanted to say anything about Hasan before he took up arms against America, even as he set off alarm bells before he took up those arms. Then, in the wake of his rampage, our Army Chief of Staff said, “[A]s horrific as this tragedy was, if our diversity becomes a casualty, I think that’s worse.” And here I thought the military was about training our soldiers to win wars.

The problem of language is not confined to President Obama. When the previous administration pitched our war as a “war against terrorism,” I implored President Bush to define our enemy by name, not by tactic. When we don’t tell the truth about who the enemy is in the hope of pacifying those who might be offended, it becomes ever more difficult for the American people to rally, support, and sacrifice to win. And when we no longer tell Americans the truth and inculcate an informed patriotism in our citizenry about our own cause and country, we no longer know what we are fighting for as well.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Culture Wars

Book Review: Don’t Buy the Lie About the Crusades

Remember after 9/11, when Billy Graham’s people decided the word “crusade” was too inflammatory? I don’t remember the more benign term used for a time after that, but the thinking was, “crusade” might be offensive to Muslims.

That kind of thinking emboldens radical Islam. The imagery of the Crusades — in which large numbers of people in the Middle East swam in their own blood during the gruesome confrontations over Jerusalem — is often used by Muslims, who excel in propaganda. By the way — and this isn’t meant as an afterthought — the Jews might have some unpleasant memories of the Crusades, as well.

Rodney Stark, though, in “God’s Battalions,” makes an argument he should be applauded for: The Crusaders were not expansionist and bullying; rather they were a reaction to Muslim hostilities. The idea that the Crusades were launched in reaction to Muslim aggressiveness is a story too long suppressed, and finally, we have a concise record of what really happened.


Politically correct history courses tell us that almost a thousand years ago, the Muslim world was a tolerant, advanced civilization in the Arabian desert. Think David Lean and Peter O’Toole as history professors.

Stark, though, paints a different picture, and the social scientist from Baylor makes a compelling case that is was the age-old aggressiveness of the Ishmaelites that brought Christian warriors to Jerusalem.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

In Latin America, New Ads Aim to Steer Men Away From Machismo

A growing number of men throughout Latin America are bucking traditional ‘machismo’ roles as a wave of anti-machismo ads and campaigns attempt to redefine what it means to be Latino.

[Return to headlines]

Muslim ‘Refused Job Because of His Name’ Accuses Airline Bosses of Racism

A Muslim airport worker has accused airline Cathay Pacific of racism after he was refused a job interview — only to be offered one when he applied two days later using a fake white British-sounding name.

Algerian-born Salim Zakhrouf applied to Cathay Pacific for a job as a passenger services officer at Heathrow Airport.

Mr Zakhrouf, 38, who has lived in Britain since 1991 and is a UK citizen, was told by email he had not been selected for interview.

But applying 48 hours later as ‘Ian Woodhouse’ with an identical CV and home address, he was invited for an interview by the same personnel officer who had first refused him.

A furious Mr Zakhrouf, who has 17 years’ customer-service experience and works as a Heathrow flight handling agent, refused to attend.

Instead he called his union, Unite, which plans to bring a case accusing Cathay Pacific of racial discrimination to an employment tribunal.

Within three hours of The Mail on Sunday contacting the airline, Cathay Pacific’s UK Head of Marketing Roberto Abbondio called to apologise.

He blamed an ‘administrative error’ as staff tried to process 709 applications and said Cathay was reviewing its recruitment process after a case he described as ‘unfortunate and disappointing’.

Cathay Pacific’s UK Personnel Manager Alison Loftin also then emailed Mr Zakhrouf to apologise and to arrange a meeting with her.

Mr Zakhrouf, who is married with a 19-month-old daughter, told The Mail on Sunday:

‘It’s very strange I only received a proper response when you got in touch.

‘After the way I was treated I have no desire to work for Cathay.

‘The way they handled my application was racist and unfair.

‘I have applied seven times for jobs at Cathay in the past three years and I have been rejected every time…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

The Ten Commandments of the Antichrist

Exclusive: Ellis Washington analyzes progressive principles of Georgia Guidestones.

If you want to make an omelet, you have to be willing to break a few eggs.

~ Lenin

To make sure you understand the diabolical consequences of Lenin’s idea, the meaning is this: To start an international revolution under communism or state socialism, you must be willing to commit genocide everywhere it is established.

Revolution, or death? It ultimately means: revolution = death.

In my study of history and philosophy, I have found that whenever one discusses progressivism or the ideas derivative of progressive politics, from Enlightenment Age philosophers whose ideas contributed to today’s progressive revolution — Machiavelli, Descartes, Hobbes, Voltaire, Rousseau, Robespierre — to the ideas concurrent with the advent of the progressive revolution in the 1880s — J.S. Mill, Marx, Social Darwinism, natural selection, survival of the fittest, eugenics (invented by Darwin’s cousin Francis Galton) and Nietzsche’s will to power and aristocracy paradigm — the leitmotiv is always the same: For the glory of the revolution, kill the inferior, cultivate the superior.

The early 20th century witnessed the classical age of Progressivism with books like Lenin’s “The State and Revolution” (1917), Sanger’s “The Pivot of Civilization” (1922), Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” (1925), Freud’s “The Future of an Illusion” (1927), Kinsey’s “Sexual Behavior in the Human Male” (1948) and Betty Friedan’s classic, “The Feminine Mystique” (1948), among many others. The common objective in these diabolical books is promoting the ideals of the progressive revolution. Whether it is the end justifies the means, for the greater good, survival of the fittest, God is dead, a New World Order, first brown, then red, “is” (legality) over “ought”(morality) — all end in death for the individual and genocide for most of society.

This genocide theme is reflected in the Georgia Guidestones. I first heard of this bizarre monument while watching Jesse Ventura’s TV show, “Conspiracy Theory.” The Georgia Guidestones is a large granite monument in Elbert County, Ga., near Athens. A message comprising 10 guides is inscribed in eight modern languages, and a shorter message is inscribed at the top of the structure in four ancient languages’ scripts: Babylonian, Classical Greek, Sanskrit and Egyptian hieroglyphs.

The Message of the Georgia Guidestones reads:

1. Maintain humanity under 500,000,000 in perpetual balance with nature.

2. Guide reproduction wisely — improving fitness and diversity.

3. Unite humanity with a living new language.

4. Rule passion — faith — tradition — and all things with tempered reason.

5. Protect people and nations with fair laws and just courts.

6. Let all nations rule internally resolving external disputes in a world court.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: Paul Daniels Accused of Racism After ‘Paki’ Tweet

Daniels, 72, wrote on Twitter during the Brit Awards ceremony last week: “What’s this about ‘Brit’ awards? Surely not? Isn’t that like calling someone a ‘Paki’? Not PC dahlings.”

He quickly added: “Hey, all I am saying is that I don’t understand why one abbrev is OK and another isn’t. It’s all how you say it surely, not the ab itself.”

Sam Tarry, campaign organiser with the anti-racism group Searchlight, said: “The word ‘Paki’ is offensive and racist, it is not something that can be compared to the word ‘Brit’.

“It has been used not just to define people from Pakistan, but Asian people in general, and it has a long, nasty history. In the 1970s people used to talk about ‘Paki-bashing’.”

Daniels was also criticised by his followers on Twitter. One said: “Oh dear, @ThePaulDaniels has lost the plot and not in a good way, in an old man racist way. You’ll like this, not a lot. I lied, you won’t.”

Another, Cal Lacey, wrote: “Obviously ‘Brits’ doesn’t have the same connotation as the other word which is offensive, as you should well know!”

Daniels replied by claiming, “vowels and consonants are never racist, only stupid people”, and “you are obviously not reading the full sentences. Only the bits you want to be racist. I HATE racism.”…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

UK: Your Marital Status is Not Relevant to us Now, Church Tells Clergy

The Church of England has infuriated traditionalists by dropping the requirement for clergy to disclose their marital status when they apply for new posts.

Church officials say the changes have been introduced to mirror new secular employment and equality laws aimed at eliminating discrimination.

But traditionalists say they further undermine the Christian view of marriage by hindering parishes from finding out whether candidates for jobs are divorced or in a gay ‘marriage’.

One senior cleric said: ‘This opens the floodgates to divorce and remarriage being accepted as normal in the Church because they are no longer seen as a significant factor in appointments.

‘It would also mean parishes being unaware until they have made their decisions that a clergyman’s personal life may be out of step with its position on issues such as civil partnerships. This is a slippery slope. It is another sign the Church is abandoning its traditional values.’

Until now, clergy applying for posts such as a vicar of a parish would be required to fill in a standard Church of England application form for ministerial appointments.

Applicants were asked to reveal if they were single, married, widowed, separated, divorced, remarried or married to a partner who has been divorced.

They would also be asked the names and professions of their spouses, the names and ages of their children and whether they suffered any health problems that might affect work. However, the Church is now reviewing the process, and has released a revised Common Application Form on a trial basis.

The Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, John Packer, said the form would not ask about the applicant’s marital status or their spouse or children, and details about health would be included in a confidential section.

He added: ‘There will also be an anonymous diversity monitoring form to be returned direct to the officer responsible for diversity monitoring in the diocese.’

A spokesman for the Church said that although the Church was not obliged to conform with secular employment law, the reforms brought it in line with current employment practice and legislation such as the Equality Act 2010…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]


Book Review: Looking Deeply Into Terror is … Terrifying

Jamie Glazov’s new book, “Showdown with Evil: Our Struggle Against Tyranny and Terror,” is a fascinating collection of 29 interviews that he has conducted as editor of The interviewees are leading intellectuals and newsmakers who have devoted considerable brainpower to the issue of modern terrorism, including Victor Davis Hanson, Norman Podhoretz, Christopher Hitchens, Phyllis Chesler, Andrew McCarthy, Theodore Dalrymple, Kenneth Levin, Robert Spencer, Andrew Klavan, David Horowitz and William F. Buckley, Jr.

The result is a thought-provoking, if frightening, look at the world situation.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Niall Ferguson: ‘Westerners Don’t Understand How Vulnerable Freedom Is’

My first thought, on meeting Niall Ferguson, is that he looks too smart to be an academic. It’s a Wednesday afternoon, and the Philippe Roman chair in history and international affairs is sitting in his shoebox-shaped office in the Ideas centre at the London School of Economics. Though the setting is hardly glamorous, Ferguson is dressed in the informal-but-smart get-up of a movie executive or hedge-fund manager: suave blue suit, pressed white shirt, gleaming Chelsea boots. His skin is ruddy and his hair is coiffed. Somehow it seems improbable that he has spent the day supervising seminars or reading dissertations. He begins by asking me to wait a few moments. “I’m afraid I have to write a cheque,” he says, reaching for his fountain pen. “One of life’s more tedious burdens.” I stifle an urge to lean over his shoulder and try to catch a glimpse of the number he is etching. Ferguson, one suspects, is used to writing big cheques.

To describe Ferguson as an academic is, of course, to fail to do justice to his lofty position within the intellectual firmament. For he really is, as the LSE website puts it, “one of the world’s most eminent scholars”. Though perhaps less instantly recognisable than his two main TV historian rivals, David Starkey and Simon Schama, he eclipses both when it comes to scholarly heft and sheer productivity. At 46, he is the author of an astounding number of highly acclaimed, and mostly very fat, books, works such as The World’s Banker, The War of the World and The Ascent of Money. (He can’t be accused of choosing low-key titles.) His last book, High Financier, was a biography of the banker Siegmund Warburg. Apart from his current one-year posting at the LSE, he is the Laurence A Tisch professor of history at Harvard, the William Ziegler professor of business administration at Harvard Business School, and a senior fellow of the Hoover Institution at Stanford. He has presented numerous television series, served as an adviser to John McCain and written reams of journalism (currently he is a columnist for Newsweek). He gets up at six every morning and says that he doesn’t have hobbies: he just works. Whatever you make of the man and his views it is hard not to be impressed by his dedication.

Ferguson’s latest book, published next month, is called Civilization: The West and the Rest (the accompanying six-part Channel 4 series starts on 6 March). Coming just eight months after the Warburg biography, it’s a book that belongs at the more populist end of the Ferguson oeuvre. In fact, he says, he wrote it largely with his children in mind. (He has three, two sons and a daughter, ranging from 11 to 17.) “The book is partly designed so a 17-year-old boy or girl will get a lot of history in a very digestible way, and be able to relate to it,” says Ferguson, who, along with the many other irons he has in the fire, is advising his friend Michael Gove, Britain’s education secretary, on how to redraft the history curriculum. “I have a sense that my son and daughter’s generation is not well served by the way they are taught history. They don’t have the big picture. They get given these chunks, usually about Adolf Hitler, so I wanted to write a book that would be really accessible to them.”

Civilization sets out to answer a question that Ferguson identifies as the “most interesting” facing historians of the modern era: “Why, beginning around 1500, did a few small polities on the western end of the Eurasian landmass come to dominate the rest of the world?” In other words, the book attempts to explain the roots of something — western power — that has long fascinated its author. Although Ferguson’s background is as a financial historian — his research at Oxford and then Cambridge in the late 80s and early 90s was into German hyperinflation and the history of bond markets — he has, over the past decade or so, drifted increasingly into writing about empire. In two consecutive books, Empire and Colossus — published, not by accident, around the time of the Iraq invasion — he charted the respective imperial histories of Britain and America, concluding not only that Britain should be prouder of its colonial past, but that the world would be a better place if America imitated Victorian Britain and became a fully fledged liberal empire. Though both books were bestsellers and won Ferguson scores of new admirers, especially in the US, they also, not surprisingly, drew heavy criticism from the left.

Civilization, too, starts from the premise that western dominance has been a good thing. In order to explain how it came about, Ferguson deploys an unexpectedly cutting-edge metaphor. The west’s ascendancy, he argues, is based on six attributes that he labels its “killer apps”: competition, science, democracy, medicine, consumerism and the work ethic. Each chapter of the book (and each episode of the TV series) sets out to explore how it was that western nations possessed one of these “apps”, while other nations failed to acquire it. So, in the chapter on competition, he shows how the political structure of western Europe in the early modern era encouraged rivalry both between and within states, while the monolithic rule of the Ming dynasty led China to rest on its laurels. Likewise, in the medicine chapter, he argues that the civilising goals of western European empires produced pioneering medical advances that ultimately benefited the whole world.

Ferguson is clearly more than a little in love with his “killer apps” conceit, as well as his “west versus the rest” dichotomy, which he slips into conversation at every available opportunity. (In the TV series, he even starts talking at one point about “westerners” and “resterners”.) Doesn’t he worry that this kind of thing detracts from his standing as a serious historian? “No,” he says. “Apart from anything else, this terminology is absolutely ubiquitous. And I think it captures something quite important. We actually had a good argument when I first came up with the killer apps concept. Not everyone at Channel 4 liked it. But I just thought it was an absolutely great idea. You explain this book to any group of people and what usually happens is there’s a competition to see if I’ve missed something out. People love it. It’s like a game: play Civilization Killer App! It’s designed to be slightly annoying, so that you talk about it.”

Ferguson is not, it seems, a man given to self-doubt. When I suggest that his views have changed somewhat in the past decade — one moment he was calling on America to establish an empire, now he talks in terms of the west’s “civilisational software” being “downloaded” by other countries — he replies: “I’m not sure my position has changed so much as the circumstances.” In what comes across as a well-rehearsed spiel, he proceeds to explain why his thought has developed logically across his last six books, and why, on every occasion, his arguments have been prescient. (In the case of the financial crisis, this self-congratulatory impulse is fair enough: he noted that America was seriously over-extended as early as 2004.)…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]