Saturday, January 11, 2003

News Feed 20110222

Financial Crisis
»Bahrain: Inflation at Lowest Level Since 2007
»Exchange Rates: Libya Affects Euro, Drops to 1.3565 USD
»Greece: IMF: We Respect Authority of Greek Government
»Libya: S&P Cuts Rating From A- To BBB+
»Oil Holds Gains After Spike on Libya Violence
»Poll Finds Minorities More Optimistic About Economy Despite Losses
»Return to the Drachma?
»Spain: 217 Bln Invested by Savings Banks Into Real Estate
»Stock Markets: Europe in Decline Due to Libya Crisis
»UK: Barclays Bank Manager ‘Helped Fraudsters Steal More Than £820,000 From Pensioner’s Nest Egg’
»Fox’s Carlson to Muslim Cleric: Have You Committed Acts of Terrorism? (Video)
»Frank Gaffney: Scandalous Air Tanker Decision
»Must Read: Russia, China, Radical Islam and the Latin American Threat to US Survival
»Obama’s Strange Silence on Libya
»Video: CAIR Confronts Allen West
»Why the King Hearings on Terrorism Are Necessary
Europe and the EU
»Christians: Avvenire: EU Tardy in Taking a First Step
»Gaddafi Scandal Highlights Funding Trap for EU Universities
»Liam Fox: Britain Needs ‘Healthy Slice’ of Middle East’s Defence Market
»Merkel Mulls Sanctions on ‘Scary’ Gaddafi
»Tunisia and Egypt Crisis Good for Canary Islands
»UK: 7/7 Inquests: MI5 ‘Could Have Identified Ringleader’
»UK: Alexandra Aitken, Her Sikh Husband, And What His Friends and Family Really Think About Their Marriage
»UK: Foreign Squatters Given Legal Aid to Fight Eviction From £1million House… As Its British Owner Has to Represent Himself in Court
»UK: Gaddafi Heir Saif Inevitably is a Friend of Andy and Mandy
»UK: LSE Cuts Ties With Libyan Leader’s Son
»UK: Milk From Cloned Cows Given Green Light by Defra
»UK: NHS Staff: Patient’s Verdict is ‘Rude, Arrogant, Lazy’
»Unauthorised GM Crops Could be Allowed in British Food Chain for the First Time After EU Vote
Mediterranean Union
»Europe Rethinks Policy on Southern Mediterranean Rim
»Will the EU Get Protection From Its Protection Money?
North Africa
»Algeria: Unemployed People Protest Again in Annaba
»Cameron Hits Out at ‘Prejudice’ Suggestions the Middle East Can’t Do Democracy
»David Cameron Says West Was Wrong to Back Dictators
»Egypt: Top Prosecutor Aims to Freeze Mubarak Assets
»Egyptian Antiquities Minister Zahi Hawass: ‘It is a Miracle That More Was Not Stolen’
»Egyptian Armed Forces Demolish Fences Guarding Coptic Monasteries
»France Ignored Human Rights in Maghreb, Cables Show
»Frattini Warns Against European Interference in Libya
»Indict Gaddafi for the Lockerbie Bombing
»Interesting Facts About Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi
»Italian Government Confirms Dispatch of Navy Ship Off Libyan Waters
»Italian-Libyan Academic Sceptical Over Tripoli Bombs
»Libya: Anti-Gaddafi Demonstration in Tunis
»Libya: Serbian Workers Attacked by Armed Libyans
»Libya and Italy: Colonial Past, Future Business. At Stake With Gaddafi’s Regime on the Brink
»Libya: ENI to Repatriate Family of Workers in Libya
»Libya: Italian Government Denies News of Italian Air Force Over Tripoli
»Libya: Italy Warns of Civil War and Record Wave of Immigrants
»Libya: La Russa Indignantly Denies Use of Italian Fighters
»Libya: Ban Ki-Moon: ‘Outraged’ By Violence
»Libya: Gaddafi on TV: I Am in Tripoli, Not Venezuela
»Libya: Gaddafi: I’ll Die Here as a Martyr
»Libya: Gaddafi: I Will Lead the Revolution Until Death
»Libya: Col Gaddafi Damns the ‘Rats’ As He Clings to Power
»Man Arrested in Conjunction With Priest Murder in Tunisia
»Morocco’s Mohammed VI Refuses to Bow to Protest Pressure
»Peter Popham: Let’s Face Facts: Libya is Peering Into a Vacuum of Gaddafi’s Making
»Sunni Cleric Issues Fatwa Against Libya’s Gaddafi
»Thousands of Tunisians Return From Libya
»Tunisia: Press: Nouvelair Refuses to Transport Libyan Fighters
»Tunisia: Six Magistrates Dismissed and Disbarred
»Tunisia: Killer of Salesian Priest Arrested
»What on Earth is ‘Call Me Dave’ Cameron Doing in Egypt?
»Zapatero Applauds Birth of Democracies
Middle East
»As Protests Crackdowns Continue, West Lines Up to Sell Arms
»Bahrain: Government Supporters Take to the Streets as Opposition Refuses to Back Down
»Bahrain: Demonstration, Thousands Protest Against Government
»Bahrain Protests: King Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifah Orders Release of Political Prisoners
»Caroline Glick: Obama’s Devastatingly Mixed Signals
»David Cameron: Middle-East Tyranny Will Breed Extremism
»For Once, Can We Keep Religion Out of Secular Revolts?
»Israel on Guard as Iranian Warships Enter Suez Canal
»La Russa: Italian Ship Mimbelli to Set Sail
»Reporting From Turkey: Your Move, Erdogan
»Syria’s Chief Muslim Cleric Due in Turkey
»Yemen: Clashes Between Loyalists and Demonstrators in Sanaa
»Yemen: Five Die as Military Move to Capture Suspected Militant
»Yemen: Higher Oil Revenues During 2010
»Mikhail Gorbachev Lambasts Vladimir Putin’s ‘Sham’ Democracy
South Asia
»Christians From Indian Punjab March for Asia Bibi on the Border With Pakistan
»India: 31 Muslims Condemned for Massacre of Hindus
»India: Arson Verdict Revives Bitter Conflict Over Train Deaths That Sparked Riots
Far East
»Mideast Color Revolutions and Beijing’s Fears
Australia — Pacific
»$1m Pledged to Tackle Muslim Extremism
»Nearly Half of Australians Are Anti-Muslim: Study
»Racism Figures Just Don’t Add Up, Says Andrew Bolt
Sub-Saharan Africa
»Dozen Killed in Nigerian Village Raid: Military
»Somali Pirates Kill Four Kidnapped American Sailors
»43 Tunisians Stopped on Lampedusa After Landing
»EU-Libya: High Noon With Gaddafi
»From Greece to Italy, EU Moves Across Fronts
»Greece: Sailboat Headed to Italy Stopped
»Labour’s Immigration Policy Let in 3m in Defiance of British People’s Wishes
»Lacking Faith in Future, Tunisians Take to the Boats
»Libya: EU Fears New Wave of Immigration, Ready to Act
»One Migrant a Minute Lands in Britain
»Did Neanderthals Use Feathers for Fashion?
»New Idea to Reduce Global Warming: Everyone Eat Insects
»Star Lawyer Alan Dershowitz: ‘Assange is a New Kind of Journalist’

Financial Crisis

Bahrain: Inflation at Lowest Level Since 2007

(ANSAmed) — ROME, FEBRUARY 22 — Annual inflation in Bahrain has fallen this year to its lowest level since 2007, while monthly inflation has increased in the last month due to a rise in transport costs.

The news was revealed by Al Quds Al Arabi, which cited local figures.

With the financial sector improving gradually, the newspaper reports that inflation during the last year has remained in single figures.

The inflation of consumer prices on a monthly basis fell in January to an annual rate of 0.6%, compared to the 1% figure registered in December.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Exchange Rates: Libya Affects Euro, Drops to 1.3565 USD

(ANSAmed) — ROME, FEBRUARY 22 — The dollar rose against the euro, which was affected by the situation in Libya. Just like the yen, the dollar is considered to have great appeal as a safe haven currency. The euro opened on European markets at 1.3565 USD and 112 yen. Yesterday at the end of trading in Europe, the single-currency was listed at 1.3670 USD.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Greece: IMF: We Respect Authority of Greek Government

(ANSAmed) — WASHINGTON, FEBRUARY 17 — The international Monetary Fund (IMF) as well as the European partners “fully respect the prerogatives of the Greek government and if there has been a different perception than that is a mistake”.

This remark was made this morning by David Hawley, in answer to questions asked by reporters about several comments made by the Greek authorities, claiming their right to make autonomous decisions. Hawley pointed out that “it was the Greek government to outline a programme to increase the economic return from public property”. “The Monetary Fund and its European partners simply offered their advice on the plan”, Hawley added without mentioning the possible sale of Greek public property which has triggered a controversy.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Libya: S&P Cuts Rating From A- To BBB+

(ANSAmed) — MILAN, FEBRUARY 22 — Standard & Poor’s rating agency has cut the long-term sovereign credit rating assigned to Libya from A- to BBB+, and confirmed the country’s short-term rating of A-2. All of the ratings for the country have been placed under observation ahead of a another possible cut (negative Creditwatch).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Oil Holds Gains After Spike on Libya Violence

(Reuters) — Oil held near 2-1/2 year highs on Tuesday, with worries about turmoil in Libya that sent prices soaring the previous session eased by expectations that OPEC and the International Energy Agency could meet any shortfall in oil supplies.

At least three international oil companies have halted production in Libya, which pumps nearly 2 percent of world output. Some companies have been pulling employees and their families out of Africa’s third-largest producer, though others say they are keeping oil flowing there.

Oil prices surged as much as 6 percent on Monday, taking Brent crude in London to almost $109 a barrel at one point for the first time since 2008. Prices remained strong on Tuesday, but closer to $106.

“We’ve lost 300,000 bpd of production (in Libya) already with the potential for further cuts to output and exports,” said Andy Lebow, a trader at MF Global in New York.

“The major underlying fear in the market is that these protests spread in the region to even larger producers like Saudi Arabia. While that might not look likely right now, even a hint of real problems there could send prices vertical.”

Brent crude for April delivery rose 4 cents to settle at $105.78 a barrel, the highest close since September 2008 but off earlier highs of $108.57. Brent hit a 2-1/2 year high of $108.70 a barrel on Monday.

U.S. crude for March delivery, which expired on Tuesday, rose to $93.57 a barrel, after touching $94.49, the highest since October 2008. It was up $7.37 a barrel from Friday; although the market traded on Monday, it did not print an official settlement price due to a holiday.

The more actively traded April contract gained $5.71 from Friday to trade at $95.42 a barrel.

In a defiant speech on Tuesday, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi refused to step aside and threatened tougher action against protests, as rebel troops said eastern regions, including major oilfields, had broken free from his rule.

Two more oil companies, Italy’s ENI and Spain’s Repsol, halted output, cutting some 13 percent of its 1.6 million barrels per day (bpd) of crude oil production. U.S. companies said their output was still flowing.


Lebow said that traders were not buying oil at the same rate as Monday, but few wanted to go short with so much uncertainty in the Middle East.

Option investors bet on higher crude prices and more volatility, with the Crude Oil Volatility Index, known as the “Oil VIX,” surging more than 22 percent.

But oil futures pared gains after reassurances on supply from Saudi Arabia, the largest producer in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), and from an official from the International Energy Agency (IEA), who reiterated that the agency stood ready to address any real disruptions by tapping member stockpiles.

Saudi Arabian Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi, speaking on the sidelines of the International Energy Forum in Riyadh, said the group would meet any real supply shortages, though he stopped short of announcing more production immediately, saying prices were driven primarily by speculation and fear…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Poll Finds Minorities More Optimistic About Economy Despite Losses

Despite severe losses during the recession, the majority of African-Americans see the economy improving and are confident that their financial prospects will improve soon. That optimism, shared to a lesser degree by Hispanics, stands in stark contrast to the deeper pessimism expressed by a majority of whites. In general, whites are more satisfied with their personal financial situations but also more sour about the nation’s economic prospects. Those are among the findings of a new Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation-Harvard University poll that probed attitudes in the wake of a downturn that more than doubled unemployment and wiped away nearly a fifth of Americans’ net worth. African-Americans and Hispanics were more likely to be left broke, jobless and concerned that they lack the skills needed to shape their economic futures. But they also remained the most hopeful that the economy would soon right itself and allow them to prosper.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Return to the Drachma?

Economists Warn Greece May Have to Quit Euro

Greece’s debts are rising rapidly despite radical austerity measures. Now a group of leading European economists has warned that creditors might have to write off more than 30 percent of their loans. Greece might even have to reintroduce the drachma to overcome its debt crisis, they argue. The European Economic Advisory Group (EEAG), a group of leading European economists, has warned that Greece may need another bailout by 2013 at the latest. Greece’s current savings program won’t suffice to cope with its debt problems, the EEAG said in a new report which was published Tuesday. Greece is unlikely to be in a position to refinance itself via the financial markets once the current rescue package runs out, the economists said.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Spain: 217 Bln Invested by Savings Banks Into Real Estate

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, FEBRUARY 21 — A total of 217 billion euros has been invested by Spain’s savings and loan banks into the real estate sector, and 46% of this figure has been labelled “potentially problematic” by the Bank of Spain. These figures were announced today by the Governor of the Bank of Spain, Miguel Fernandez Ordonez, cited by EFE.

Twenty-eight billion euros of the 217 billion total invested into the sector are loans in default; payments for the same amount are still outstanding and present a certain measure of risk, while 44 billion euros in loans have been granted for land.

In his assessment of the recapitalisation decree for the savings and loan banks passed by the government, the governor said that the measure “was absolutely necessary”. “I am not in agreement with those who say that Fund for Orderly Bank Restructuring”, the FROB, was sufficient, said Ordonez.

The governor also stated that the new regulation “aims to dispel doubts and uncertainty about the health of the Spanish financial system and seeks to restore faith in the markets”. Since the FROB has been established, restructuring and mergers in the sector have reduced the number of savings and loan banks from 45 to 17.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Stock Markets: Europe in Decline Due to Libya Crisis

(ANSAmed) — MILAN, FEBRUARY 22 — The stock markets in Europe have had a difficult start after the sharp declines suffered yesterday due to the crisis in Libya: the Stxe 600 index, which tracks the progress of the main stocks in Europe, shows a loss of about one point in early trading. With Milan still closed due to technical problems, Madrid has had one of the weakest performances in Europe, currently down 1.75%. However, Paris, London and Amsterdam have all posted losses of over one point. Shares in the banking sector have fared the worst (-1.7% for the sector according to the Stoxx index) with Dexia down 3.44%, Natixis posting losses of 3.3% and Credit Agricole in decline by 2.51%. Energy shares are resisting due to strong oil prices, which are at two-year highs due to the uncertainty surrounding supplies from the Mediterranean area. The situations on the main European stock exchanges are listed below: — London -1.12% — Paris -1.56% — Frankfurt -0.86% — Madrid -1.75% — Milan suspended at opening due to technical problems — Amsterdam -1.11% — Stockholm -0.93% — Zurich -0.92%.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

UK: Barclays Bank Manager ‘Helped Fraudsters Steal More Than £820,000 From Pensioner’s Nest Egg’

A personal banker helped fraudsters steal more than £820,000 from a pensioner’s ‘nest egg’, a court heard.

Mohammed Ahmed, 26, first made unauthorised changes to the savings account set up by 75-year-old Brian Mahoney, it is claimed.

He then transferred all but £80,000 out of the retirement fund with Barclays, jurors were told.

Mr Mahoney, from Cheshunt, Herts, only found out when he rang the bank two months later to check how much interest he was receiving.

He told the Old Bailey he set up the Nest-egg savings account in October 2008 with a payment of £1m because of the banking crisis.

‘Everyone was moving money, and I was looking for the best terms obviously.

‘Until I went to phone up to get the balance I didn’t realise.’

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Fox’s Carlson to Muslim Cleric: Have You Committed Acts of Terrorism? (Video)

Memo to any Muslim cleric being interviewed by Gretchen Carlson: Prepare to be asked if you are associated with terrorism.

On Fox and Friends this morning, the co-host had a contentious interview with Anjem Choudary, the head of the controversial UK-based Islamic group Al-Muhajiroun, who is planning a March 3 protest outside the White House to call for the establishment of Sharia law in America. And it reached a boiling point when Carlson asked Choudary if, given his background, he would even qualify for entry into the United States.

“Do you actually believe you can get into this country, “ she asked. “Will you be able to fill out the application accurately when you’re asked these questions, because the tourist visa requires you to answer these questions: Have you been involved in acts of terrorism or plan to commit crimes in the United States?”

Choudary swiftly denied.

“I have never been convicted of any criminal offense,” he said. “I’ve never been convicted of any terrorist alleged offenses. I believe Muslims in America and Britain live under a covenant of security.”

Choudary then proceeded to take a quick stab at Carlson’s religious preferences.

“Unlike Christianity, our religion is not confined to the mosque.”

That opinion did not please Carlson.

“With all due respect Mr. Choudary, fortunately or unfortunately, you will probably be allowed in this country, “ said Carlson. “And probably be allowed to go in front of the White House on March 3 and protest and that’s what makes this country different than Sharia law.”…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Frank Gaffney: Scandalous Air Tanker Decision

Within days, the Obama Pentagon is expected to decide which supplier to rely upon for what is, arguably, the cornerstone of America’s ability to project power for the next forty years: the next generation aerial refueling tanker known as the KC-X. The choice for this role — which is worth conservatively $40 billion — would seem to be a no-brainer. The obvious winning candidate to produce and maintain for decades to come 179 tankers would be a reliable, experienced and responsible U.S. manufacturer, Boeing.

It seems, however, that Team Obama is poised to entrust responsibility for this vital defense capability to a company that has none of those attributes — the European aerospace conglomerate EADS. The pretext apparently will be that the foreign competitor is offering a lower bid than its American counterpart.

This claim is preposterous on its face. The Lexington Institute’s Loren Thompson, one of Washington’s most respected defense program and budget analysts, noted recently that each of the two bidders has to satisfy 372 mandatory performance requirements. “Thus, the key discriminator in who wins becomes price.” Meeting or substantially undercutting Boeing’s bid is problematic since the Airbus tanker based on the A330 weighs in 28 percent larger with 40 feet more wingspan than Boeing’s derivative of the 767. “It appears that is exactly what the European company plans to do, raising the obvious question of how such a bid is possible.”…

           — Hat tip: CSP[Return to headlines]

Must Read: Russia, China, Radical Islam and the Latin American Threat to US Survival

In this interview, with Jeff Nyquist, de Carvahlo eloquently and forcefully states a theme I’ve long promoted on this blog — that Russia, China, Cuba, Iran radical Islam and the Latin American Left, co-ordinated by Cuba and Brazil through the Sao Paolo Forum, are working together to destroy the the United States of America.

I emphasize — not to weaken, to marginalize, to impoverish — but to DESTROY the USA.

As Carvalho explained, “The Russian-Chinese influence has been growing more and more in Latin America. The U.S. Government has missed this because it still sees Russia and China as allies, in spite of the fact that they are the two largest weapons suppliers to terrorism around the world. One must remember that the Putin government’s foreign policy is today guided by the so-called ‘Eurasian’ strategy, invented by Russian philosopher Alexander Dugin, who proposes that Russia, China, and Islam ally with all the anti-American forces in Western Europe, Africa and Latin America, for the purpose of laying final siege to the United States. This strategy already has strong military support in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a kind of eastern version of NATO, which brings together Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.”

[Return to headlines]

Obama’s Strange Silence on Libya

Once again, the White House has fluffed its lines on the Arab revolution. With Gaddafi’s helicopter gunships strafing his own people, with corpses piling up on the streets of Tripoli, President Barack Obama has remained silent.

He did make a speech today, in Ohio, at a “Winning the Future Forum on Small Business”. Winning the future is the president’s new slogan. Boosting small business is essential to strengthening the American recovery.

But winning the future in the Middle East and north Africa matters too. This was a ready-made opportunity to make brief remarks that would have not just urged restraint on the Libyan dictator but urged him, if not to step aside, then recognise the forces for change in his country. There must be many, many people in Libya who are fence-sitting at the moment; the right words of support from the president of the United States could make all the difference to a tribal leader, an army colonel, the head of a provincial lawyers’ guild uncertain about throwing in their lot with those already brave enough to take to the streets or disown Gaddhafi.

The administration’s output on Libya has been thus: a brief written statement from the president condemning violence and supporting basic rights, issued on Friday; a similar statement issued by Hillary Clinton, the Secretary of State, on Monday, and a televised statement by Clinton today, in which she strongly condemned the violence. The Secretary of State is of course a powerful voice, but this was on occasion when the top man was required.

The White House is perhaps worried that supporting the opposition too strongly would only inflame Gaddhafi and his sons even further. It would point to the fact that behind-the-scenes rather than public pressure on Bahrain’s ruling family led to the troops lowering their guns. But Libya provides an opportunity to divert from the script now prepared for the rest of the Middle East — condemning violence, calling for restraint and respecting the rights of protestors. Col Gaddhafi may not listen to the US, which has little or no leverage on his oil-rich fiefdom, but that is even more reason for the president to forcefully place himself on the right side of history.

The flames of change are already lit in Libya, and the president needs to do his best to make sure they blow in the right direction.

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Video: CAIR Confronts Allen West

Do not “try to blow sunshine up my butt”

At a townhall meeting hosted by Congressman Allen West on Monday evening in Pompano Beach, the Q&A segment of the meeting featured a Koran wielding Nezar Hamze, Executive Director of the Council for American Islamic Relations (CAIR). Hamze confronted Congressman West and asked him to point out where in the Koran does it give marching orders to Muslims “to carry out attacks against Americans and innocent people”. West quickly pointed out that the Koran was written long before America even existed and that it does indeed tell believers to kill infidels, and then proceeded to chronicle a lengthy list of historical Muslim acts of aggression. Congressman West closed his retort by referencing the Fort Hood shootings and 9-11 attacks, saying that his first hand experiences on the battlefield has given him insight into the tactics that Islamists use before telling Hamze not to “try to blow sunshine up my butt” with his criticism of him. West took offense to Hamze’s amateurish criticism of his stance on radical Islam and concluded by telling Mr. Hamze to “put the microphone down and go home.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Why the King Hearings on Terrorism Are Necessary

Congressional hearings on homegrown terrorism, focusing on how al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations seek to radicalize Muslims in the U.S., are a welcome development. This initiative by Rep. Peter King (R-L.I.), who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee, does not come out of the blue.

Earlier this month, Janet Napolitano, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, said the overall terrorist threat to the U.S. homeland is now “at its most heightened state since 9/11.” The “most striking elements of today’s threat picture is that plots to attack America increasingly involve American residents and citizens,” Napolitano testified on Capitol Hill, adding that 50 of the 88 individuals involved in 32 major terrorism cases linked to al Qaeda and similar ideology over the past decade were U.S. citizens. A recent study by the New York State Intelligence Center, cited by Secretary Napolitano, indicates that 70 percent of homegrown terrorists were born in the U.S., and that most of them based their actions on extremist Islamic ideology.

King’s hearings are not the first to examine a national security threat born on U.S. soil. Following the Oklahoma City bombing in April 1995, the Senate held hearings on the threat posed by militias, and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) held another separate hearing later that year. At the time, King joined with Schumer in calling for the militia hearings and viewing the situation as a matter of national security. Some organizations, Muslim as well as others, have objected to the upcoming hearings, raising the specter of McCarthyism and claiming that the hearings target the entire Muslim community rather than an aberrant extremist minority. They, and others, have demanded that the hearings be broadened to include all extremists in all communities. But, as in the case of the militias, there is no reason to expand a hearing regarding particular extremists currently posing a threat to our national security to such an extent that the proceedings would lack the focus necessary to understand the scope and nature of the problem. The hearings should shine a light only on those who support, legitimize and promote Islamic extremist ideology that leads to terrorism, not the entire Muslim community.

Lost in the debate over the scope of the hearings is the effect of ongoing terrorist recruitment within the Muslim American community. For example, 20 young Somali Americans in Minneapolis have been recruited into Al-Shabaab, the Somali branch of al Qaeda. One became a suicide bomber, another was killed when he reportedly tried to leave Somalia to return to his family, and the others’ whereabouts are unknown. Family and friends of the young men and other community members, already outraged over the loss of their children to Al-Shabaab, say they deeply resent efforts by the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) to keep them from cooperating with law enforcement in finding out what happened to the young men and in preventing further recruitment. They have mounted a demonstration against CAIR…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Christians: Avvenire: EU Tardy in Taking a First Step

(AGI) Vatican — “A tardy first step”. This is Avvenire’s comment to the “green light” given by the EU “upon Italy’s request for a document defending religious freedom”, approved “22 days after suspending the first draft because of the lack of a decisive reference to persecuted Christians”. The draft included “a (correct) reference also to the Muslims affected” although the CEI’s newspaper complains that the text lacks any reference “to concrete measures called for by a vote of the European Pariliament”.

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

Gaddafi Scandal Highlights Funding Trap for EU Universities

A donation of €1.78 million from the Gaddafi family and a PhD granted to one of the Libyan dictator’s sons has put the London School of Economics in a pickle, just as a fresh study on EU universities highlights the problems of dwindling public funds for education. The London School of Economics, one of the top-ranking universities in Europe, on Monday (21 February) acknowledged it had received a gift of €1.78 million from the Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation, chaired by Saif al Islam, one of the Libyan dictator’s seven sons and a former graduate. The university also admitted it had “delivered executive education programmes to Libyan officials”, but said it had now decided to sever all those links “in view of the highly distressing news” about hundreds of protesters killed by armed forces.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Liam Fox: Britain Needs ‘Healthy Slice’ of Middle East’s Defence Market

Britain should seek to retain a ‘healthy slice’ of the defence market in the Middle East, Defence Secretary Liam Fox said today.

David Cameron has faced criticism for including defence industry representatives in the trade delegation on his tour of the region, amid concerns that British-made equipment could be used to suppress the current wave of popular unrest.

The Foreign Office has already revoked a series of export licences for Libya and Bahrain in the wake of the government crackdowns on protesters in those countries.

Speaking at the Civitas think tank in London, Dr Fox said that such issues should be dealt with on a ‘case-by-case’ basis, depending on how events developed in the countries concerned.

‘We have to recognise that countries have a right of self-defence and not all of them have a defence industry so they will always buy externally,’ he said.

‘I want to make sure the United Kingdom — within the limits that we set ourselves ethically on defence exports — is getting a healthy slice of that.

‘There are a great deal of unknowns still out there and we will have to look at things on a case-by-case basis.’

Dr Fox also emphasised the importance of the assistance of countries in the Gulf region in getting supplies through to British forces fighting in Afghanistan.

‘We need to remember that we — with a very long supply line — need partners to ensure success in Afghanistan,’ he said.

‘We have depended a great deal on our partners in the Gulf and elsewhere in ensuring that we are able to supply and re-supply our armed forces. We need to take that into account in the wider relationships.’

The Defence Secretary also played down the prospects of Nato military intervention in Libya, in the wake of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s brutal attempts to put down the protests.

The Prime Minister arrives in Doha, Qatar, where he is met by Ambassador to the UK His Excellency Khalid Bin Rashid Al Mansouri (left) and His Excellency Dr Khalid Bin Mohammed Al Attiyah (right) on day two of his visit to the Middle East

While he said that there was a ‘range of contingencies’ that was being looked at, it was was important to recognise the ‘limitations of our power’.

‘We have to have a bit of a re-set here with reality and how much influence we can actually have. we can make our views known and we can send signals,’ he said…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Merkel Mulls Sanctions on ‘Scary’ Gaddafi

German Chancellor Angela Merkel described a televised address Tuesday by Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi as “very scary” and said Berlin would consider sanctions unless he halted a crackdown on protestors.

“We are calling on the Libyan authorities to stop the violence against their own people,” Merkel told reporters at a joint press conference with Greece’s Prime Minister George Papandreou.

“If the violence does not stop … we will consider sanctions,” she added.

During his speech on Libyan television, Gaddafi vowed to hunt opponents of his regime, purging them “house by house” and “inch by inch.”

Merkel said that the reports being received of the situation on the ground in Libya were “extremely worrying.”

“Muammar Gaddafi’s speech today was very scary as he has declared war on his own people,” Merkel added.

The German Foreign Ministry summoned the Libyan ambassador in Berlin in reaction to escalating violence by security forces against pro-democracy demonstrators in the North African country.

Jamal El-Barag was called to the ministry where officials “stressed” that the violence towards peaceful protesters is unacceptable and must end, they said.

Freedom of speech and the right to gather peacefully must be ensured, and Libyan leaders must seek dialogue with the demonstrators, they added.

On Tuesday Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle spoke in favour of democratic change in the country.

“We can’t stand by and watch people be murdered,” he told broadcaster ZDF. “It is fully clear to us as democrats that we can’t just look on speechless when other democrats must fear for their lives or have them taken.”

He also announced that all German citizens would be evacuated from Libya.

“Everyone needs to get out and we’ll help get it done,” he said.

The Foreign Ministry has issued a travel advisory for the eastern parts of the country, urging people to avoid the country’s second-largest city Benghazi in particular.

All Germans already in the country were urged to leave. Currently some 500 Germans are estimated to live in Libya, many of whom have dual citizenship.

Meanwhile on Monday the European Union harshly criticised Gaddafi, condemning the crackdown against civilians as the death toll rose to an estimated several hundred.

Among the wave of protests to sweep through the region following the popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, Libya has seen the bloodiest resistance from its regime.

On Tuesday morning, reports emerged that security forces there had used fighter jets and helicopters against protesters.

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

Tunisia and Egypt Crisis Good for Canary Islands

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, FEBRUARY 22 — The crisis in Egypt and Tunisia has boosted tourism in Spain, drawing many visitors away from these destinations to the Canary Islands in particular. The announcement was made today by Minister of Industry, Tourism and Trade, Miguel Sebastian, who commented the results of the survey on the movement of tourists across the borders (Frontur, regarding the month of January).

According to the study, 2.66 million foreign tourists visited Spain in January, a 4.7% increase compared with January 2010 or 119,000 more visitors in absolute terms. The number of Italian tourists increased substantially: +36.1% compared with January 2010, followed by tourists from the Netherlands (+10.7%), from Germany (+5.5%) and from France (+0.6%). The number of tourists from the United Kingdom decreased by 5.3% on the other hand. The Canary Islands were the main destination of international tourists in January, recording an increase of 70,000 arrivals compared with the same month in the previous year. Andalusia was the only destination that recorded a decline in the number of visitors: -3%. The number of foreign tourists visiting Catalonia, 24.1% of total arrivals, increased by 1% in January, mainly thanks to an increase in the number of Italian tourists.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

UK: 7/7 Inquests: MI5 ‘Could Have Identified Ringleader’

MI5 received intelligence four months before 7/7 which could have identified ringleader Mohammad Sidique Khan as an extremist, the inquests have heard.

MI5’s chief of staff, known as Witness G, said the security service had received a report about an extremist called “Saddique” in March 2005.

The information was not followed up for good operational reasons, he argued.

Counsel for the families of the 52 people killed in the 2005 London attacks were questioning Witness G.

Four suicide bombers detonated their devices on London’s transport network on 7 July 2005.

Mohammad Sidique Khan, 30, Shehzad Tanweer, 22, Hasib Hussain, 18, and Germaine Lindsay, 19, targeted Tube trains at Aldgate, Edgware Road and Russell Square and a bus in Tavistock Square.

Many of the relatives of those who died want to know why those under surveillance were not subjected to detailed scrutiny.

On Monday, MI5’s chief of staff told the inquests the security service could not be held responsible for the attacks.

Giving evidence anonymously, Witness G said on Tuesday that MI5 knew of many individuals involved in Islamist extremism but that was not the same as planning terrorist attacks.

In particular, they knew that many of these people took part in “Jihadi tourism” during which they would go to Pakistan to have a look around.

‘National security’

West Yorkshire Police received intelligence between January and March 2005 that a committed extremist called “Saddique” from Batley, West Yorkshire, received training in Afghanistan in the late 1990s or early 2000s.

He is also believed to have undergone military instruction at a camp while in Pakistan in 2001.

MI5 and West Yorkshire Police failed to identify the man, but it emerged after the 7 July bombings that he was Khan.

Witness G told the hearing if the information had been pursued, he had a high degree of confidence MI5 would have identified the extremist as Khan.

When it was put to Witness G that if the intelligence had been looked into, then Khan’s plans might have come to light before the attacks, the senior spy replied: “Yes, I think that’s fair.”

However Witness G said the decision had been taken not to further investigate the real identity of “Saddique” for good operational reasons — but he insisted it was impossible for him to explain the decision because of national security…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

UK: Alexandra Aitken, Her Sikh Husband, And What His Friends and Family Really Think About Their Marriage

Already, some of Mr Singh’s relatives have stepped in to denounce the marriage as contravening Sikh traditions, saying that it threatens to dilute the family’s bloodline.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

UK: Foreign Squatters Given Legal Aid to Fight Eviction From £1million House… As Its British Owner Has to Represent Himself in Court

Squatters who broke into and occupied a £1million house have been given hundreds of pounds of taxpayers’ money in legal aid to fight eviction.

The intruders from France, Spain and Poland have been living in the three-storey five-bedroom townhouse for a month.

Meanwhile, owner John Hamilton-Brown has been forced to rent a two-bedroom flat for his family while he battles to get the gang out of the house.

Neighbours said the property had just been sold when the 12 squatters broke in during the early hours of the morning after a window was forced open.

Since then there has been more damage and endless parties — several of which have culminated in the police being called.

Yesterday, some of the squatters danced, waved flags, sang and played the guitar outside the property. They also bragged about how easy Britain’s laws were in allowing them to take over homes.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: Gaddafi Heir Saif Inevitably is a Friend of Andy and Mandy

Colonel Gaddafi’s son Saif wagged his finger repeatedly at the cameras during his rambling state address on Libyan television on Sunday night. It was a habit borne of the belief that he would one day take over from his tyrannical father to continue Libya’s brutally repressive rule.

But there was no doubting the desperation in his voice as he warned that ‘rivers of blood’ would run through the country and it would be plunged into civil war unless the uprising was crushed.

He blamed drug addicts, drunks and foreign agents for fomenting the violence now coursing through the land where he and his family once had an iron grip. There was no hint of contrition. Not once did he apologise for the countless deaths inflicted by the soldiers and henchman of his father’s bloody regime.

And yet, with his impeccable English and flawless manners, 38-year-old Saif Gaddafi has long been regarded as the acceptable face of the Gaddafi clan.

What is so deeply worrying is that he has tentacles deep in the heart of the British establishment. He has extremely powerful friends in Britain, among them Prince Andrew and the Rothschilds as well as Peter Mandelson.

In the boardrooms and cabinets of Western capitals Saif was always the preferred choice as heir. Colonel Gaddafi has seven sons, but the second, Saif al-Islam (it means Sword of Islam) was always generally considered the most likely to follow his father — although another brother, Mutassim, Libya’s national security adviser, recently emerged as a serious contender.

Despite his incoherent statement in support of an authoritarian crackdown on Sunday night, Saif has in the past spoken enthusiastically about reform, democracy and human rights. He was educated in Europe and did a PhD at the London School of Economics, for which he has a particular affection and regard.

He is an accomplished amateur artist and an architect with his own practice, although his wealth is said to come from interests linked back to Libya’s national oil company. Certainly, he is rich. By way of diversion, Saif likes to romp with his pet tigers.

He keeps them at his villa on a hillside overlooking Tripoli, along with his hunting falcons, sporting guns and other trappings essential to the life of a desert princeling.

Saif often emerges from his encounters with the big cats bloodied and bruised, yet cheerfully game for a re-match. It may help to explain why, in his campaign to release Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Al Megrahi, he found Labour ministers were mere pussycats.

Saif has a house close to Bishop’s Avenue, the so-called Millionaire’s Row, in Hampstead, north London. The Georgian style, newly-built property has eight bedrooms, an indoor pool, sauna and a cinema lined in suede-covered panelling.

It cost him £10million. In Britain, Saif moves in exclusive circles. He and Prince Andrew have a mutual close friend, the Kazakh-born socialite and businesswoman Goga Ashkenazy.

She recently helped arrange Saif’s visit to Kazakhstan where he met the president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, and senior figures in the energy industry.

Prince Andrew has made a number of visits to Libya as Britain’s ambassador for trade and has spent time with Saif in Tripoli. In return, the prince has hosted Saif at Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle.

Witness, too, the shooting party given in 2009 by Jacob, 4th Baron Rothschild at his home in Buckinghamshire, Waddesdon Manor, a Renaissance-style chateau sometimes described as ‘a mini Versailles’. Saif was a guest, with Lord Mandelson, then Business Secretary. Cherie Blair, whose acquisition of a country house nearby makes her the Rothschilds’ neighbour, was there the same weekend for dinner, but not at the same time as Saif.

Mandelson and Saif got along famously and the subject of Al Megrahi, who was still in jail, was raised. Mandelson insists there was no negotiation. Also at Waddesdon Manor was Nat Rothschild, Lord Rothschild’s son. Nat and Saif are great pals. They also have a friend in common, Oleg Deripaska, the controversial Russian oligarch who was the last man standing after the bloody war for control of Russia’s aluminium industry in the 1990s.

Deripaska, it will be recalled, was part of the infamous summer gathering at the Rothschild house on Corfu in 2008 when Mandelson and George Osborne, then chancellor-in-waiting, were guests. Saif has also stayed with the Rothschilds on Corfu and, on a separate occasion, met Mandelson there.

The August 2008 affair led to Osborne denying he had asked Deripaska for a donation to the Tory party and denials by Mandelson that he had favoured the Russian’s aluminium interests when he was a European commissioner. It was all very messy.

Deripaska has a valuable interest in Porto Montenegro, a vast marina and superyacht project in the Bay of Kotor on the Adriatic. The driving force behind the scheme is Peter Munk, the 83-year-old billionaire head of the world’s biggest goldmining concern, Barrick Gold.

Jacob and Nat Rothschild are also investors in the Montenegro venture which, Munk says, will become the new Monaco. When Saif threw a huge party to celebrate his 37th birthday he held it close to his friends’ Montenegro development, inviting some of the world’s leading business figures, including Munk, a few very powerful Russians and Lakshmi Mittal, the British-based steel tycoon.

The party was seen as an effort to give a boost to the profile of his friends’ marina project. His closeness to Nat Rothschild and Deripaska is also believed to be behind Libya’s decision to invest heavily in Deripaska’s aluminium concern, Rusal.

The Libyan Investment Authority took a $300million (£185million) stake in Rusal when it was floated in Hong Kong last year.

The Rothschilds were Deripaska’s advisers and separately Nat invested $100million (£62million) in the company, the world’s largest producer of aluminium. Saif was also involved in an ongoing plan for Rusal to produce aluminium on a major scale inside Libya.

Aluminium, however, will be the last thing on Saif’s mind tonight as Tripoli goes up in flames. As for his friends and business partners in the West, they may well be regretting getting quite so close to the dictator’s son whose television address on Sunday night showed him at last in his true colours…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

UK: LSE Cuts Ties With Libyan Leader’s Son

LONDON — The London School of Economics has cut ties with the Libyan leader’s son, Seif al-Islam Kadhafi, after a violent crackdown on protests in Libya, a spokeswoman said on Tuesday. A leading academic at the university who knew Moamer Khadafi’s son when he studied there said he was “deeply disturbed” by the former student’s condemnation of anti-regime protests.

“Rather than seeing the opportunity for reform based on liberal democratic values and human rights, Seif al-Islam Khadafi stressed the threat of civil war and foreign intervention,” said Professor David Held.

In a statement, LSE said it “has had a number of links with Libya in recent years. In view of the highly distressing news from Libya… the school has reconsidered those links as a matter of urgency”. The university’s North Africa programme was set up in 2009 with a grant from Seif-al Islam’s Kadhafi International Charity and Development Foundation worth £1.5 million over five years. So far about £300,000 has been paid, but a spokeswoman told AFP that “the rest of it is not going to be taken”.

LSE said the foundation’s grant came “without any academic restrictions” and was used to research human rights, democracy and civil society. But it added: “In current difficult circumstances across the region, the school has decided to stop new activities under that programme.” LSE would also no longer be running training courses for mid-level Libyan civil servants, the spokeswoman said.

Seif al-Islam Kadhafi graduated from LSE with an MSc in philosophy, policy and social value in 2003 and a PhD in philosophy in 2008…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

UK: Milk From Cloned Cows Given Green Light by Defra

The comments are the clearest sign that the Government will give the official green light to farmers and food companies who want to supply butchers and supermarkets with the controversial products. However, animal welfare campaigners said they were “utterly dismayed” by the ministerial statement, saying it opened the door to widespread cloning, with consumers unable to tell whether they were meat originating a cloned animal or not.

The statement was made by Jim Paice, the food and farming minister, in response to a written question from Zac Goldsmith, the Conservative MP. Currently the Food Standards Agency believes that any food company attempting to sell food from not just a cloned animal — but crucially, also the offspring of a cloned animal — needs to apply for a so-called “novel food” licence.

Mr Paice pointed out that the Europe Commission interpreted the current food legislation differently from the FSA; the Commission believes the rules only apply only to food from cloned animals themselves, not their offspring.

He added: “For the future, the Government shares the Commission’s view that there should be no restrictions on the use of offspring of cloned animals.”

This is the most direct comment that a minister has made on cloning since a row broke out last summer when it emerged that meat from the offspring of a cloned cow had been sold unwittingly in butchers’ shops without a licence being obtained. The discovery that such meat had entered the food chain triggered an ill-tempered debate into the ethics of cloning animals. Animal welfare campaigners have said that cloned animals suffered far more than standard animals. Mr Paice’s comments suggested that the Government believed in future it would support any farmer selling milk or meat from a cloned animal and that there was no need for them to receive any licence. His comments followed a statement from the Food Standards Agency at the end of last year, which said it could find no scientific evidence that there was any reason why cloned meat or milk could not be eaten safely. An independent study commissioned by the FSA found that issues over allergies, toxins and possible side effects of eating cloned meat “did not highlight any issues of concern”. The FSA is in the final stages of a consultation about cloned food. Its final report will be presented to the Government in the next few weeks.

Emma Hockridge, head of policy at the Soil Association, the leading organic certification body, said: “It is unacceptable that the Government has come to this conclusion without adequate evidence. The impact of cloned foodstuffs on human health cannot at this point be adequately assessed on the basis of existing scientific data…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

UK: NHS Staff: Patient’s Verdict is ‘Rude, Arrogant, Lazy’

Up to two in three patients are unhappy with the care they are given on the NHS, an alarming report has found.

Many of those treated by the Health Service complain that they were dehumanised, humiliated and embarrassed by the doctors and nurses who were supposed to be looking after them.

The survey of almost 12,000 patients found that staff were criticised for being rude, arrogant and lazy — too often refusing to treat their patients with dignity or compassion.

And only a third of those polled said they were content with the standard of care that they had received on an NHS ward or at a surgery.

The remainder were unhappy with at least one aspect of their treatment, citing impolite staff, a lack of compassion, poor standards of hygiene and waiting times.

The report comes just a week after an official accused the NHS of an ‘ignominious failure’ to care for the elderly.

A scathing study by the health service ombudsman highlighted examples of inhumane treatment, including patients being left unfed and unwashed, and sent home in urine-soaked clothes.

The latest research comes from Patient Opinion, a website set up for patients to detail their experiences of the NHS. It found that staff attitude was the biggest source of complaint.

One new mother, who has withheld her name, described how she was ‘treated like an animal’ when she recently gave birth at St Thomas’ Hospital, London.

She claimed that despite her pleas for pain relief she waited six hours before a member of staff gave her some paracetamol.

The woman, a lawyer who works in the City, added: ‘When I asked for help breastfeeding, the midwife shrugged and said, “Try whatever you like”.’

Another told of being forced to stay on a mixed ward despite ‘promises’ from staff this would not happen.

Meanwhile, one patient admitted to Derby City Hospital claimed that the standard of food was so appalling, all they ate over the course of four days were two slices of toast and a sandwich

Others complained about a lack of communication, saying that staff refused to give them enough information about their treatment and made decisions behind their backs.

One said: ‘You’re made to feel that you’re not allowed to ask the doctors any questions to do with yourself.’

Another said: ‘No one is telling my daughter what the problem is and who to talk to.’

Patient Opinion, which was set up in 2005, has collated almost 13,600 patients’ experiences of the NHS.

But since many of its contributors are likely to log on because they are unhappy with their care, it is difficult to quantify exactly what proportion of all NHS patients are similarly disgruntled.

Paul Hodgkin, who is chief executive of Patient Opinion, said: ‘This report shows that patients’ main concerns about their care happen at a staff-to-patient level, and these concerns can all be remedied quickly and cheaply.

‘My hope is that this report empowers and inspires staff.

‘Irrespective of political, financial or managerial changes, every NHS staff member has it in their power to improve the experience of their patients — at no extra cost to the NHS.’

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Unauthorised GM Crops Could be Allowed in British Food Chain for the First Time After EU Vote

Previously the EU had a ‘zero tolerance’ policy to unauthorised GM. Shipments found to contain any trace of GM that was not yet approved in Europe were turned back at the port.

However in a significant victory for the GM lobby member states voted to allow imports containing up to 0.1 per cent of unauthorised seed. Europe imported 33 million tonnes of soy last year, mostly approved GM varieties for animal feed.

If the vote is allowed through by the European Parliament and Council, which is likely, those shipments could contain GM seeds that are authorised in a “third country” but may not even have been tested in Europe.

Dr Helen Wallace of Genewatch said some of the unauthorised seeds have been bred to have certain traits for industry that may be inappropriate in the food chain.

“We think it is a major concern because it is a foot in the door to allow unauthorised products into the food chain,” she said. “That could include crops modified to produce industrial chemicals or pharmaceuticals or for biofuels.”

A Daily Telegraph investigation found that every supermarket in the UK stocks dairy and meat products from animals fed GM soy. Farmers have argued that Europe was in danger of “going hungry” because of the difficulty in keeping shipments clean of any unauthorised GM. They pointed out that countries like the US and Brazil now have so many GM seeds that have not yet been approved in Europe it is impossible to keep shipments free of any unauthorised seeds. They insist unauthorised GM is safe because it has been approved in another country. But Mute Schimpf, Friends of the Earth Europe food campaigner, said most shipments are clean of unauthorised GM and there is no threat to food security from zero tolerance.Only 0.2 per cent of all EU soya imports have ever been turned back because of contamination and these all came from the US.

She said the vote was a result of lobbying by the biotechnology industry and the US to try and force Europe to accept more GM and puts food safety in danger.

“There is absolutely no reason to allow contaminated food to be fed to animals in Europe. Weakening safety rules to appease the animal feed industry compromises human and environmental safety,” she said. “It is disappointing that a number of member states preferred to listen to the scare-mongering from industry rather than the concerns and wishes of their citizens,” she said…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Mediterranean Union

Europe Rethinks Policy on Southern Mediterranean Rim

Europe is rethinking relations with its southern Mediterranean rim this week, sending its top diplomat to Egypt and reassessing aid priorities to avoid being seen as turning a blind eye to authoritarian regimes.

After pro-democracy revolts toppled the Western-backed leaders of Tunisia and Egypt, reform fever is now sweeping across Europe’s Arab backyard, spreading to Bahrain, Libya, Jordan and Yemen.

European Union foreign ministers, criticized for reacting more slowly than the United States to the popular pressure that drove Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak to quit, want to regain the initiative and deliver a new type of partnership.

They started the ball rolling over dinner on Sunday in Brussels, debating over two days how to tie future economic assistance to democratic reforms, human rights progress and good governance standards.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton is set to travel to Cairo on Monday evening to show support for Egypt’s transition, becoming the first senior Western official to visit Egypt since Mubarak was ousted after 30 years in power.

“The rapidity and the impact of the domino from Tunisia took a lot of people by surprise,” a European diplomat said.

“The events in the region underline that EU assistance to the neighborhood hasn’t always delivered what we hoped it would, so the conclusion is, how do we make EU support to the region more conditional.”

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini wants Europe to draw up a development and stability pact for the region linked to commitments to improve governance, meet international obligations and respect individual rights.

“Human traffickers, criminals and terrorists stand ready to exploit chaos stemming from the collapse of the old order,” he wrote in The Financial Times, calling for a “Marshall Plan” for the region, a reference to the US-led rebuilding of Europe after World War II.

“Europe must act quickly, or this ‘arc of crisis’ will lead to more illegal immigration, terrorism and Islamic radicalization,” warned Frattini, whose country has struggled to cope with a flood of Tunisian migrants over the last 10 days.

Criticized for their support of authoritarian regimes as a bulwark against Islamic extremists, EU leaders signaled at a summit this month their intent to offer “more effective support” to countries “which are pursuing political and economic reforms.”

Six EU Mediterranean countries — France, Spain, Greece, Cyprus, Malta and Slovenia — sent a letter to Ashton calling for a review of the way the bloc distributes aid through its European Neighborhood Policy program.

A mood is developing that could see more aid funneled south and less to eastern, former Soviet neighbors.

Current EU chair Hungary has already had to cancel a summit with Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine planned for May, and an eastern EU diplomat says just maintaining their overall numbers would be a positive result now.

“This aid should be reviewed in light of the events” in the Middle East, the submission from the Mediterranean EU states said, noting that Egypt receives 1.8 euros per person and Tunisia 7 euros per person, compared to 25 euros per person for Moldova.

They see the tumultuous events of the New Year as a means through which to kick-start a long-stalled project for a Union of the Mediterranean, northern and southern rims alike.

The aid program to the likes of Egypt contains the possibility of suspending assistance in case of human rights violations, but the threat has never been carried out.

In a letter to Ashton, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle calls for the EU to “sanction backward steps,” saying the revolutions in the Arab world present Europe with a “unique opportunity right now” to promote democracy and human rights in its neighborhood.

“What we are witnessing in Tunisia and Egypt, but not only there, is a turning point, a historic watershed. Nothing will be as it was before,” he wrote.

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

Will the EU Get Protection From Its Protection Money?

by Diana West

From the EUobserver (via Fjordman):

France and five other south-lying EU members have said the Union should give less money to its post-Soviet neighbours and more to Mediterranean rim countries in the context of the Arab uprisings.

Notice the sand hasn’t settled and the EU’s reaction is proclaim a withdrawal of aid from “its post-Soviet neighbors” — translation: kindred European neighbors with intermingled history and religion — to redirect it to the umma. Don’t-hit-me money?

A letter to EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton dated 16 February and signed by the foreign ministers of France, Spain, Cyprus, Greece, Malta and Slovenia says: “The profound popular movements calling for political, economic and social reforms in Tunisia and Egypt argue in favour of reinforcing the European Union’s actions in its southern neighbourhood.”

The EuroMed States of Eurabia.

An attached analysis paper notes that out of the €12 billion put aside for the European Neighbourhood Policy in 2007 to 2013, just €1.80 is being spent per capita in Egypt and €7 in Tunisia compared to €25 in Moldova.

The “assymetries” and “disparities” are “today difficult to justify and sustain,” it notes. “These [financial] packages must be reviewed in the light of current events.”

The analysis paper also proposes: tying future EU money more strictly to democratic reform; redirecting other EU funds, such as development aid, to north Africa and the Middle East; creating new regional schemes on the model of the Danube Strategy; and boosting European Investment Bank lending to Arab countries by €2.5 billion over the next two years.

A European “Great Society” for Islam — or is that COunter-INsurgency? I get them confused.

The paper adds that the Union for the Mediterranean, a multilateral body bringing together 16 regional countries and the EU-27, should play a “crucial” role in the effort.

“Eurabia” consolidating.

The proposal could throw a lifeline to the Barcelona-based institution, which failed to meet last year due to Arab-Israeli tensions. “It’s not dead. But it is ill. It’s in a coma,” Syria’s ambassador to the EU, Mohamad Ayman Soussan, said last week.

A “lifeline to the Barcelona-based institution” is a flatline for Western civ, such as it is (was)…

           — Hat tip: Diana West[Return to headlines]

North Africa

Algeria: Unemployed People Protest Again in Annaba

(ANSAmed) — ALGIERS, FEBRUARY 22 — The protests staged by unemployed people in Annaba in eastern Algeria where 7 protesters inflicted various injuries upon themselves yesterday have not subsided. The seven young people, reports the Algerian press, inflicted injuries upon themselves in front of the Wilaya (Prefecture) and one of them lost consciousness due to injuries to the chest. Clashes erupted between security forces and the dozens of protesters gathered in front of the building. Annaba, which is one of the points of departure for migrants headed to Italy, has been the site of numerous protests by unemployed people in recent weeks. Authorities are attempting to restore order: they have started a census to count the number of unemployed people and announced the creation of about 7,000 jobs. However, in just three days, writes Liberté, over 36,000 job applications have been presented in the city of Annaba.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Cameron Hits Out at ‘Prejudice’ Suggestions the Middle East Can’t Do Democracy

David Cameron today hit out at suggestions the Middle East ‘can’t do democracy’ as change spreads across the Arab world.

He rejected the idea that ‘highly controlling’ regimes are needed to ensure stability as violence and protests continued in Libya.

He dismissed the idea that Arab or Muslim countries cannot cope with free and fair elections and said: ‘For me, that’s a prejudice that borders on racism.’

The Prime Minister declared ‘history is sweeping through your neighbourhood’ as he voiced ‘cautious optimism’ that popular uprisings sweeping the Middle East would not see the rise of extremism.

In a rare speech at the Kuwaiti parliament by a visiting foreign leader, the Prime Minister said the region was the ‘epicentre of momentous change’.

He again condemned the ‘appalling violence’ which Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi has unleashed against his own people while praising the bravery of the protesters seeking to assert their rights.

Echoing Harold Macmillan’s famous ‘wind of change’ speech he said the world was witnessing historic scenes.

The former Prime Minister declared as decolonisation occurred across Africa: ‘The wind of change is blowing through this continent. Whether we like it or not, this growth of national consciousness is a political fact.’

Mr Cameron said today: ‘History is sweeping through your neighbourhood not as a result of force and violence, but by people seeking their rights, and in the vast majority of cases doing so peacefully and bravely.

‘Across the Arab world, aspirations are stirring which have lain dormant.

‘It is too early to say how things will turn out. Too often, in the past, there has been disappointment. But there are some grounds for cautious optimism.

‘Optimism, because it is the people — especially the young people — who are speaking up. It is they who are choosing to write their history — and…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

David Cameron Says West Was Wrong to Back Dictators

The Prime Minister said that popular uprisings now flaring across the Middle East showed the West had been wrong to back dictators and undemocratic regimes.

He also suggested that historic Western views that Arab nations were socially unsuited to democracy “border on racism.” The idea of an “Arab exception” is “wrong and offensive”, he said. Speaking to the Kuwaiti national assembly, Mr Cameron said Britain would back democracy campaigners now seeking greater rights across the Middle East.

“History is sweeping through your neighbourhood,” he said. “Not as a result of force and violence, but by people seeking their rights, and in the vast majority of cases doing so peacefully and bravely.” In the past, Britain’s foreign policy has put economic self-interest above promoting Western democratic values, Mr Cameron said. Britain and other Western countries supported Hosni Mubarak, ousted by protests in Egypt earlier this month.

Under Labour from 2004, Britain also strengthened relations with Muammar Gaddafi of Libya, whose regime is now crumbling amid violent scenes. Both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown met the Libyan dictator to promote British energy firms’ interests in the country: around 150 British firms have since done business there.

The US and Britain have also been long-standing supporters of authoritarian regimes in the Gulf region including Saudi Arabia, making only limited efforts to push those rulers towards democratic reform. Turning a blind eye to repression is both wrong and counterproductive, Mr Cameron said.

“For decades, some have argued that stability required highly controlling regimes, and that reform and openness would put that stability at risk. So, the argument went, countries like Britain faced a choice between our interests and our values.

“And to be honest, we should acknowledge that sometimes we have made such calculations in the past. But I say that is a false choice. “As recent events have confirmed, denying people their basic rights does not preserve stability. In fact, it does the reverse.” Britain’s economic and security interests would ultimately be advanced by a more democratic Middle East, he said.

“Our interests lie in upholding our values — in insisting on the right to peaceful protest, in freedom of speech and the internet, in freedom of assembly and the rule of law.”

Mr Cameron insisted his remarks did not mean Britain will try to force Gulf regimes to become Western-style democracies. But he promised a more critical approach to their record on human rights and freedom. “There is no single formula for success, and there are many ways to ensure greater, popular participation in Government,” he said. “We respect your right to take your own decisions, while offering our goodwill and support.”

“But we cannot remain silent in our belief that freedom and the rule of law are what best guarantee human progress and economic success, and that each country should find its own path to achieving peaceful change.”

At a press conference later, Mr Cameron was asked by a Kuwaiti journalist if the West was applying different standards to different Middle Eastern regimes.

“I wouldn’t accept that we’ve been inconsistent in our treatment of different countries,” Mr Cameron replied. But pressed to say explicitly if his pro-reform message applied to Saudi Arabia, Mr Cameron declined to answer.

Mr Cameron again defended his decision to take several defence industry executives on his Middle East tour. “A properly regulated defence industry is nothing to be ashamed of,” he said.

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Egypt: Top Prosecutor Aims to Freeze Mubarak Assets

Cairo, 21 Feb. (AKI) — Egypt’s top prosecutor on Monday requested the freezing of the assets of ousted president Hosni Mubarak and his family, state TV announced. The Mubarak wealth — speculation has put it at anywhere from $1 billion to $70 billion — has come under growing scrutiny since Mubarak stood down on 11 February amid a revolt over his autocratic rule.

The request covers the the former ruling family’s domestic holdings and the prosecutor general has also requested Egypt’s foreign minister to ask other nations to freeze any Mubark assets held abroad, according to security officials.

The freeze applies to Mubarak, his wife, his two sons and two daughters-in-law, they say. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorised to talk to the press.

A day earlier, official media quoted Mubarak’s legal representative as saying the former president had submitted to authorities a declaration of his wealth and that he had no assets abroad. He is believed to be at his residence at the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

Egypt has so far asked for asset freezes for one top Egyptian businessman and former ruling party official, as well as four former cabinet ministers and imposed travel bans on them.

The Swiss government said on Monday it had seized “several dozens of millions” francs held in Swiss banks by the deposed presidents of Egypt and Tunisia, but has not frozen assets of any current leaders in North Africa and the Gulf.

“Several dozens of millions” held in Swiss banks by Mubarak and his entourage had been frozen along with “several dozens of millions” of francs held by deposed Tunisian president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, who fled the country in mid-January amid a .

The Swiss government is monitoring unrest in Libya, Bahrain and other states in the region, spokesman Andrea Simonazzi was cited as saying.

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

Egyptian Antiquities Minister Zahi Hawass: ‘It is a Miracle That More Was Not Stolen’

Egyptian Antiquities Minister Zahi Hawass has been under pressure since the plundering of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo and the fall of Hosni Mubarak. He spoke with SPIEGEL ONLINE about the extent of the damage, the accusations that he is too close to Mubarak and the happiest day of his life.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Egyptian Armed Forces Demolish Fences Guarding Coptic Monasteries

by Mary Abdelmassih

(AINA) — Egyptian armed forces this week demolished fences surrounding ancient Coptic monasteries, leaving them vulnerable to attacks by armed Arabs, robbers and escaped prisoners, who have seized the opportunity of the state of diminished protection by the authorities in Egypt to carry out assaults and thefts.

“Three monasteries have been attacked by outlaws and have asked for protection from the armed forces, but were told to defend themselves.” said activist Mark Ebeid. “When the terrified monks built fences to protect themselves, armed forces appeared only then with bulldozers to demolish the fences. It is worth noting that these monasteries are among the most ancient in Egypt, with valuable Coptic icons and manuscripts among others, which are of tremendous value to collectors.”

On Sunday February 20, armed forced stormed the 4th century old monastery of St. Boula in the Red Sea area, assaulted three monks and then demolished a small fence supporting a gate leading to the fenceless monastery. “The idea of the erection of the gate was prompted after being attacked at midnight on February 13 by five prisoners who broke out from their prisons,” said Father Botros Anba Boula, “and were armed with a pistol and batons. The monks ran after them but they fled to the surrounding mountains except for one who stumbled and was apprehended and held by the monks until the police picked him up three days later.”

Father Botros said after this incident they thought the best solution to secure the monastery was to erect a gate with a small fence of 40 meters long at the entrance of a long wiry road leading to the monastery, which would be guarded day and night by the monks, and advised the army of their plan. According to Father Boulos, the army came with armored vehicles to demolish the gate, but it was agreed the monastery itself would undertake the demolition of the gate in stages as army protection is reinstated. “We told the Colonel it would look ugly to the outside world if Egyptian army is demolishing a gate erected for the protection of the unarmed monks under the present absence of security forces. We gave them full hospitality but we had a feeling that they wanted to demolish the gate in a ‘devious’ way.”

On Saturday morning, seeing that only three old monks were guarding the gate, the army returned. “When the army found that very few monks were present the soldiers, who were hiding in military vans, came out,” said Father Botros, “bound the three monks, threw them to the ground and confiscated their mobile phones so as not to photograph the incident.”

The monks were set free after the gate and the 40 meter fence were demolished.” Only four soldiers were left to guard the huge monastery.

“The army was here not to protect the monastery as they claimed, but to carry out their agenda of demolishing the gate” said Father Botros to activist Ramy Kamel of ‘Theban Legion’ Coptic advocacy. “By removing the gate and the supporting small fence, the army is giving a message of encouragement to any thief or thug to break into the monastery.”

On February 21, armed forces demolished the fence surrounding the 5th century old Monastery of St. Bishoy in Wadi al-Natroun in the western desert.

Father Bemwa Anba Bishoy said that after the January 25th Uprising, all the government security forces that were guarding the monastery fled and left the monastery unguarded. He said they were attacked by prisoners who were at large after escaping from prisons during that period.

“We contacted state security and they said there was no police available for protection,” Said Father Bemwa,”So we called the Egyptian TV dozens of times to appeal for help and then we were put in touch with the military personnel who told us to protect ourselves until they reach us.” He added that the monks have built a low fence on the borders of one side of the monastery which is vulnerable to attacks, on land which belongs to the monastery, with the monks and monastery laborers keeping watch over it 24 hours a day.

Although security officials welcomed this step., a fanatical Muslim officer at the district police headquarters named Abdo Ibrahim incited the Muslims in the neighborhood, but when the circumstances were explained to them and that the fence also secures the nearby mosque, they agreed. “Ibrahim then incited the army against us, so they came with heavy equipment and armored vehicles, insulted the monks, demolished the fence and left,” said Father Bemwa. “Now the monks are left in the open, vulnerable to attacks from prisoners who are still at large or Muslim fanatics” (video demolished fence).

In a related incident, Father Boulos, a monk at the Monastery of Abu Magar, also called St. Makarios of Alexandria in Wady el-Rayan, Fayoum, said that on February 21 armed forces stormed the monastery and wanted to demolish its fence and gate. He explained that after the security vacuum during the January uprising, the Monastery was attacked by thugs and Arabs armed with automatic weapons, leading to the injury of six monks, including one monk in critical condition who is still hospitalized.

“The perpetrators took advantage of the fact that the monastery is a nature reserve and has no fence for protection. After the incident we have built a fence around the monastery to protect it, but the environmental agency rejected it and sent for the security forces and the army to remove the fence.” He added that they were given 48 hours by the authorities to demolish the one-meter high fence, otherwise the army would be back to destroy it.

“If no authority is in a position to protect us,” said Father Boulos, “then let us do it ourselves, the way we see fit.”

           — Hat tip: Mary Abdelmassih[Return to headlines]

France Ignored Human Rights in Maghreb, Cables Show

Top-level French visits to Tunisia in the run-up to the revolution routinely ignored human rights concerns for the sake of security and commercial interests, a fresh cache of US cables hows. French President Nicolas Sarkozy on his first trip to Tunisia after being elected in 2007 confined all his remarks on human rights to a private chat with the recently-ousted Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and declined to meet with civil society. “Ben Ali and his cohorts … were probably relieved to have gotten off as lightly as they did,” the US cable remarks.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Frattini Warns Against European Interference in Libya

Italian FM worried about prospect of ‘Islamic emirate’

(ANSA) — Rome, February 21 — Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini warned Europe against interfering in Libya’s affairs as a revolt against Muammar Gaddafi’s 40-year rule continued to claim lives on Monday. Some 60 people were reported to have been killed in Tripoli after anti-government protests reached the capital for the first time overnight, taking the revolt’s death toll well above the 200 mark, according to Human Rights Watch.

“We mustn’t give the mistaken impression of wanting to interfere, of wanting to export our democracy,” Frattini said before adding later in the day that the country was on the verge of “civil war”.

“We must help, we must support peaceful reconciliation.

That’s the road to take,” he said. Italy, which has many business links with Libya and imports a lot of oil and gas from the North African country, has adopted a cautious line regarding the uprising against Gaddafi, who has strong ties with Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi.

But Frattini responded to opposition criticism of his position by stressing that he condemned the killing of protesters in Libya “without ifs or buts” after attending a meeting of European Union foreign ministers on the unrest in North Africa and the Middle East. The Democratic Party, the biggest opposition group, had accused Italy of responding to the Libyan situation with an “embarrassed silence”.

Italy of Values (IDV), another centre-left opposition party, was even more critical.

“Gaddafi continues to massacre Libyan citizens who do not ask for anything more than freedom and Frattini has not yet expressed a word of condemnation,” said IDV spokesman Leoluca Orlando.

“If he continues to be the only European Union foreign minister to remain in silence he will show his complicity with those who have their hands stained with blood”. Italy is worried about Libya carrying out a threat to cease cooperating in measures to stop illegal immigrants arriving from North Africa. A controversial ‘push-back’ policy with Libya had slashed the number of migrants to land on Italy’s shores from North Africa before the current crisis brought the arrival of thousands of mostly Tunisian migrants. Frattini also expressed concern about Muslim rebels proclaiming a breakaway Islamic emirate based at the Libya’s second city Benghazi and has called for Europe to launch a Marshall Plan to boost prosperity and stability in the region.

“We have to mobilize European funds,” he said. “If you allow these countries’ economies to collapse, we will end up paying the price”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Indict Gaddafi for the Lockerbie Bombing

For all his defiant talk today of dying as a “martyr”, you can be sure that Colonel Gaddafi is making feverish plans to flee Libya and live in exile in the lap of luxury in whatever despotic country that takes him — Cuba and Venezuela are early contenders. Clearly the Butcher of Tripoli’s days are numbered as Libya’s leader, and his regime may not even last the week. His security forces have already massacred hundreds of protesters in the past few days on the streets of the capital as well as Libya’s second city, Benghazi. In a final act of tyrannical desperation, he is now threatening to crush the protests “like Tiananmen.”

If he gets out of Libya alive, Gaddafi should not be permitted to enjoy freedom abroad, and Washington can play a lead role in ensuring he doesn’t. The United States should make every effort to ensure that he faces justice for the mass murder of 189 Americans on board PanAm Flight 103, blown up over Lockerbie, Scotland in December 1988, an atrocity carried out by Libyan intelligence agents on his orders. The Justice Department should issue an indictment against Gaddafi for his role in the Lockerbie bombing as soon as he is removed from power, and request his extradition to the United States from whatever jurisdiction he lands in.

The families of the victims of Lockerbie deserve to see American justice served against the man who callously ordered the murder of their loved ones. They recently suffered the indignity of seeing convicted Libyan intelligence agent Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi freed from a Scottish prison in a shameful deal between Libyan and Scottish authorities with the complicity of the Labour government in London. They must now be given the opportunity to see the mastermind of Lockerbie face trial on American soil.

Muammar Gaddafi will go down in history as one of the most evil tyrants of his generation, a murderous thug who brutalised his own people for more than four decades. He also shed the blood of a large number of American and British citizens. He should be made to pay for his crimes, and Washington should do all it can to bring him face to face with the relatives of those who died over Lockerbie. Far too often, dictators have evaded the consequences of their actions. For Colonel Gaddafi a US prison cell, not a villa in the sun, should be his final destination.

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Interesting Facts About Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi

It was back in the autumn of 2009 that I revealed a “fleeting” and “co-incidental” meeting between Lord Mandelson and Saif Gaddafi in a Mediterranean villa — just before the release of the Lockerbie bomber.

As I wrote then:

Lord Mandelson met Colonel Gaddafi’s son at a Corfu villa only a week before the announcement that the perpetrator of the Lockerbie bombing could be released from prison, the Financial Times has learnt.

The business secretary was not overenthused by the article, telling me late one night during Labour conference that he would “cut short” my career. (Perhaps he was merely joking.)

To be fair, one can sympathise with the view taken by New Labour that absorbing Gaddafi back into the international fold was better than the alternative. Douglas Alexander tried to express this last night on Newsnight when he said:

“It is inherent in foreign policy that sometimes you have to talk to and engage with people with whom you disagree most profoundly. I’m sure there were many people in Northern Ireland who were revulsed by the imagery Bill Clinton shaking hands with Gerry Adams at an early stage in the peace process, but most people would recognise that was now a necessary step in a transition for Republicanism within Northern Ireland.”

And yes, the second son of Colonel Gaddafi did talk a good game about democracy and modernisation — an impression only dispelled this week when he warned that Libya’s streets would run with “rivers of blood” if the protests continued.

It transpires that Saif is an excellent networker with many friends and acquaintances in business and politics, having recently described Tony Blair as a personal family friend. According to this morning’s Times he was a frequent guest at dinner parties in London thrown by Vincent Tchenguiz, the property tycoon, whose generous hospitality I can vouch for.

But the most curious friendship of all, arguably, was that between Saif and Joerg Haider, the far-right Austrian leader, whose funeral he attended in October 2008. It would be fascinating to know more about that particular friendship and where the two found common ground.

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Italian Government Confirms Dispatch of Navy Ship Off Libyan Waters

(AGI) Abu Dhabi — Italy’s defence minister, Ignazio La Russa, confirms the dispatch of navy vessel ‘Elettra’ off Libyan waters. Yet to set sail from the port of La Spezia, the electronic warfare and recce ship “is being dispatched to international waters off the coast of Libya”, the minister said. La Russa also did not rule out “the presence of special forces onboard.” ..

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

Italian-Libyan Academic Sceptical Over Tripoli Bombs

(ANSAmed) — ROME, FEBRUARY 22 — “I am in contact with relatives and friends in Tripoli, and from what they tell me, much of the information coming out of there is not true. For example, they say that there have not been any aerial bombardments over the capital”. These are the comments of Karim Mezran, the director of the Centre of American Studies in Rome and professor at John Hopkins University. Mezran was born from a Lybian father and an Italian mother.

Bombardments in a city do not go unnoticed for those who live there, Mezran says, adding that witness reports that he has heard talk of machine-gun fire from helicopters, dead bodies on the side of roads and villages under the control of insurgents between Tripoli and the border with Tunisia. The professor of Middle Eastern studies is also sceptical regarding figures on the number of victims in Tripoli. “On what basis can we talk about 1,000 people dying? Why not 10,000?” Mezran does not, however, believe that the situation in the country is anything other than serious. “If it continues like this and the regime will find itself with its back to the wall, it is really becoming a bloodbath,” Mezran said. “Above all, there is a risk of total fragmentation, a “Somalisation” of the country”.

Regarding fears that Islamic fundamentalism could emerge victorious from the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, Mezran says that “the Muslim Brotherhood in both countries is modern and pluralistic, and ready to be involved in the democratic process”. He did, however, express doubts over the characteristics of Islam in Libya.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Libya: Anti-Gaddafi Demonstration in Tunis

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, FEBRUARY 21 — A protest demonstration is being held in front of the Libyan Embassy in Tunis by around one hundred people, chanting slogans against the Libyan leader and showing banners bearing texts such as “Gaddafi terrorist”, “Clear off, Gaddafi” and “Bengasi, a city of martyrs”. The demonstrators are also calling on the Tunisian government to allow those who so desire to return to their country of origin as well as defending their interests in Libya. No incidents have been reported.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Libya: Serbian Workers Attacked by Armed Libyans

Tripoli, 21 Feb. (AKI) — A group of 50 Serbian workers have been attacked and blocked by armed Libyans as unrest and violence in the north African country spread to the capital of Tripoli, the Serbian foreign ministry said on Monday.

The ministry said in a statement there were no injuries and all workers were safe and the government was planning their evacuation in cooperation with Libyan authorities. Serbia had traditionally friendly relations with the regime of colonel Muammar Gaddafi and hundreds of Serbian works have been employed in Libya building roads, factories and infrastructure.

Some workers contacted by e-mail by Belgrade television station B92 said their camp in northern city of Raslanalf was attacked by twenty armed men Sunday night. The attackers took “large quantities of money and an automobile”, but no one was hurt, one worker said.

The unrest which has swept the Arab world, took a violent turn in Libya over the weekend with demonstrators reportedly taking over eastern city of Benghazi and security forces firing live ammunition and tear gas at demonstrators in the capital of Tripoli, western media reported.

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

Libya and Italy: Colonial Past, Future Business. At Stake With Gaddafi’s Regime on the Brink

Gaddafi and Berlusconi’s “Special Relationship” helped close wounds of colonial past and expand economic ties. Some Italian businessmen are no doubt rooting for the regime to survive

Marco Alfieri

The world is watching Cyrenaica, the Libyan region where the city of Benghazi is located, which is both a blessing and curse for Italian business interests. Italian companies have stayed mum during the current political upheaval that has its epicenter in Benghazi, but it is obvious that they support the stability offered by Col. Muammar Gaddafi’s regime. It is just the latest example of how economically entangled Europe and the West have been with the autocratic regimes in the Arab world now under assault from their own people.

Italy is Libya’s top economic partner. Tripoli is Italy’s primary supplier of oil, and number three provider of natural gas. Hydrocarbons account for 99 percent of Italian imports from the North African country. Italy exports to Libya include refined oil products and machinery. In 2009, trade between the nations totaled 11 billion euros, a steep drop from more than 20.3 billion euro in 2008.

But it was in Benghazi, in August 2008, that the two countries were supposed to have turned a page on the past, and pointed to ever deeper business ties in the future: Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Gaddafi met in the eastern coastal city to sign a “Friendship Treaty.”

Now, the future of this treaty could become part of the collateral damage of the uprising in North Africa. Two years ago, in his Bedouin tent, the Colonel forgave Italy for its colonial past, having conquered and reigned over the Mediterranean nation in the first decades of the 20th centur. In a far-reaching deal for both sides, Italy committed to pay $5 billion over 25 years to Libya as a compensation for its former military occupation. For its part, Libya vowed to take measures to curb illegal immigration from its shores across the Strait of Sicily; gave Italy access to its natural resources; and guaranteed to Italian companies $5 billion worth of contracts to build infrastructure over the next 20 years.

Theoretically, it was a great deal for Italian business. At the time, nearly 100 companies were already doing business in Libya: in oil, infrastructure, mechanics, capital goods, construction, and plant design. Eni Spa, the Italian national oil and gas conglomerate, has been in Libya since the 1950s with its subsidiary companies, Saipem and Snap Progetti. In 2007, the Libyan regime extended Eni’s concessions for another 25 years and $25 billion worth of new investments.

There is also the Italian national energy provider Enel, with its subsidiary company Enel Power, as well as, Tecnimont, Finmeccanica, Iveco and others. In practice, thanks to the controversial friendship between Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Gaddafi, Italian companies are set to expand their business presence in Libya in sectors beyond energy. But many businesses were just getting started when the regionals unrest began. Italian companies have plans to invest $3 billion in a 1,700 km motorway, stretching from the country’s western border with Egypt to its eastern border with Tunisia. The first contracts for this deal were granted to Saipem. There is also a major project underway for Italian companies to help increase tourism along Libya’s coastline.

So far, the protests in Libya have not directly affected Italian companies there. “There are no problems, all our installations are outside the big cities,” an Eni spokesman said. (Families of Italian employees, however, began to leave the country Monday) The revolt, if successful, could spell the end of the “special friendship” between Rome and Tripoli. Finmeccanica, Italy’s second largest industrial group, has one $1 billion worth of business deals scheduled in Libya. It has a $300 million electronics contract for the south, and two $750 million contracts to build a railroad with Ansaldo Sts. Meanwhile, Impregilo, Italy’s leading General Contractor, has $260 million worth of deals planned.

Then, there are Libyan business interests in Italy, which are on the rise because of the close personal ties between Berlusconi and Gaddafi. The Colonel is the first shareholder in the banking group Unicredit, thanks to Libya’s Central Bank holding 4.9 percent and the National Libyan Investment Authority (LIA) holding another 2.6 percent. Gaddafi’s Lafico holding has 7.5 percent of the Turin-based Juventus soccer Club. LIA recently bought a one percent share of Eni Spa — though it is was reportedly holding out to buy between 5 and 10 percent worth of shares — as well as 2 percent of Finmeccanica.

The business interests of the two countries are so closely linked that the political upheaval underway in Libya — particularly if there is an outcome like those seen in Tunisia and Egypt — could have economic ramifications for both nations.

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

Libya: ENI to Repatriate Family of Workers in Libya

Rome, 21 Feb. (AKI) — Eni is repatriating family members of its employees in Libya amid violence that has reportedly resulted in the deaths of hundreds of people demonstrating against dictator Muammar Gaddafi, the company said on Monday in a statement.

The Rome-based company is the largest international oil company operating in Libya, pumping the equivalent of 522 thousands barrels of oil a day.

Eni chief executive Paolo Scaroni on Thursday brushed off suggestions that protests which broke out in Libya would affect the Rome-based company’s business, referring to the tension in Libya as “not particularly strong.”

Human Rights Watch said at least 233 people have been killed in Libya since demonstrations broke out on 15 February, but Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam said on Monday that 84 people had been killed in the protests.

In a televised speech he warned on Monday that his country faced a bloody civil war if anti-government protesters refused to accept offers of reform. He said the Libyan military was willing to “fight until the last man, the last woman, the last bullet.”

In its statement Eni said the unrest has not caused any disruption to its Libyan operation.

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

Libya: Italian Government Denies News of Italian Air Force Over Tripoli

(AGI) Rome — Government denies any involvement of the Italian air force in operations overs Tripoli. Foreign ministry spokesman Maurizio Massari today firmly denied “unfounded” news.

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

Libya: Italy Warns of Civil War and Record Wave of Immigrants

(AKI) — The Italian government is worried that civil war will break out in Libya and that the turmoil there and elswhere in North Africa will unleash an unprecedented wave of illegal immigration to Europe, foreign minister Franco Frattini said on Tuesday.

“We are very concerned about the risk of a civil war and the risks of immigration of epochal dimensions towards the European Union,” he told journalists in Cairo following talks with Arab League secretary-general Amr Moussa.

Libya is split between areas in the east controlled by anti-Gaddafi rebels and the capital Tripoli and Gaddafi’s tribal fiefdom around the city of Sirte where support for him is strong. He has ruled Libya for 41 years.

The United Nations Security Council was due to meet Tuesday to discuss the crisis in Libya, where hundreds of people protesting the autocratic rule of strongman Muammer Gaddafi have reportedly been killed by security forces and foreign mercenaries since last week.

The UN’s human rights chief Navi Pillayhas ordered an international probe into the Libyan deaths, while Washington and Europe have urged Libya to stop the “unacceptable bloodshed” of protesters.

UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon has said he is “outraged” over reports that Libyan security forces fired on demonstrators from warplanes and helicopters.

A statement from Libyan state TV claimed reports of widespread bloodshed were ‘baseless lies’ by foreign media outlets.

Ban had a 40-minute phone conversation with Gaddafi on Monday in which he urged the veteran Libyan leader to “immediately” halt violence in the North African country and launch a broad-based dialogue with the opposition.

On Monday, Frattini, who has been chided for not supporting protests against Gaddafi, stressed the importance of not meddling in Libya’s affairs but also condemned the bloody government crackdown against protesters.

Italy has extensive business interests in Libya. Italian energy giant Eni is the foreign company operating there with most to lose if Gaddafi falls, according to analysts. About 14 percent of Eni’s total oil and gas production comes from Libya.

Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has cultivated close ties with Gaddafi including a landmark 2008 ‘friendship pact’ agreeing to five billion euros in colonial reparations. These were in exchange for controversial joint patrols to turn back people smuggling boats in the Mediterranean policy that virtually halted migrant departures from Libya.

Berlusconi said late on Monday he was “alarmed” by clashes in the former Italian colony. Italy is sending three C-130 air force planes to repatriate its 1,500 citizens resident in Libya. It is among governments seeking to evacuate its nationals as tens of thousands of foreigners were on Tuesday reported to be trying to flee the country.

International rights groups estimate the unrest in Libya has left up to 400 people dead. It comes after pre-democracy revolts in Egypt and in Tunisia which since mid-January have toppled those countries’ longstanding authoritarian rulers.

The turmoil in North Africa has brought jitters to world energy markets and oil prices have hit a two-year high of 108 dollars a barrel.

The Italian government has warned there could be a “biblical exodus” of migrants as unrest spreads in North Africa. Since Tunisia’s president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali fled the country on 14 January, over 5,000 Tunisian migrants have landed in southern Italy, and boatloads are continuing to arrive.

Italy argues it cannot cope with the influx and has asked the European Union for 100 million euros to tackle what it calls a “humanitarian emergency” in the Mediterranean.

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

Libya: La Russa Indignantly Denies Use of Italian Fighters

(AGI) Abu Dhabi — Defence Minister, Ignazio La Russa firmly and indignantly denied the presence of Italian aircraft in Libya.

He explained: “I didn’t deny it earlier because it seemed like a science fiction blog, by kids playing and making up news, imagining that Italian aircraft have been engaged in Libya for any purpose, much less to carry out raids.” Then he added: “It would be such an enormous thing that I didn’t think it necessary to give it even a moment of attention.” The minister, on an official visit to Anu Dhabi, is about to return to Italy where this evening he will take part in an interministerial meeting on Libya.

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

Libya: Ban Ki-Moon: ‘Outraged’ By Violence

(ANSAmed) — NEW YORK, FEBRUARY 22 — UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon is “outraged” by the news from Libya of the violence perpetrated by security forces against civilians, according to his spokesman, Martin Nesirky, who said that Ban Ki-Moon’s “outrage” refers to the information that Libyan security forces shot at protestors using airplanes and helicopters. “If these attacks against civilians are confirmed,” said Nesirky, “it would be a serious violation of international humanitarian law and would be condemned by the secretary general in the firmest way possible”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Libya: Gaddafi on TV: I Am in Tripoli, Not Venezuela

(ANSAmed) — ROME, FEBRUARY 22 — “I am in Tripoli, not in Venezuela,” said Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi last night during a brief appearance (22 seconds) on Libyan state television, broadcast by satellite network Al Arabiya. “I am going to meet the young people in Green Square. This is the right thing to do in order to show that I am in Tripoli and not in Venezuela: don’t believe those television networks that depend on stray dogs,” said the colonel, referring to the news broadcast yesterday by numerous international television networks and in the press on an alleged escape to Venezuela. The footage on Libyan television shows Colonel Gaddafi with an overcoat and an umbrella in his hand while getting on an off-road vehicle at his residence-compound in Bal Al Azizia. A superimposed message on Libyan state television explained that “in a live meeting with satellite television network Al Jamajiriya, the brother-leader of the revolution denied the insinuations of the malicious networks”. Libyan state television also denied news about the “massacres” of anti-government protesters, calling them “lies and rumours”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Libya: Gaddafi: I’ll Die Here as a Martyr

(AGI) Tripoli — In a televised speech, Muammar Gaddafi said he would remain in Libya until the end of his days. “ I am no president to step down. I am the leader of the revolution”, Gaddafi said. The Colonel added that he would die in Libya as a martyr. He also complained that Arab media are distorting the image of the African country to humiliate the Libyan people.

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

Libya: Gaddafi: I Will Lead the Revolution Until Death

(ANSAmed) — ROME — He talked about everything, but mostly focused on his role, from when he rose to power to the present date, in Libya’s history and reasserted that he will not leave, since he is ready to die for his Country. During a televised speech Colonel Muammar Gheddafi announced, with only hours of notice, that he will not abandon Libya and power. In a close-up and wearing traditional garb he stated that “I will lead the revolution until death”, and insisted that he is prepared to die “like a martyr, like my grandfather”. During his speech the Libyan leader repeatedly mentioned the revolution, and defined himself as a “revolutionary Bedouin”.

He added that his revolution will see Libya lead the way for Africa and South America.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Libya: Col Gaddafi Damns the ‘Rats’ As He Clings to Power

For more than an hour, Col Gaddafi hurled insults at the television cameras. He said he would defy America, superpowers, “men with turbans and long beards” and anyone else who tried to end his revolution. He said his opponents were trying to plunge Libya into civil war and to turn it into an Islamic state, or an Afghanistan or a Somalia. Occasionally reading from his “Green Book” and shaking his fore-finger at the camera, he threatened swift, violent and all-out retribution to those who continued to oppose him Frequently raising his voice to a scream, he said he had proved Libya was leader of the African, Asian and Latin American continents in their fight against imperialism. He would not now leave the country for which he said his grandfather and many others had given their lives.

“Muamar Gaddafi is the leader of a revolution,” he shrieked. “Muammar Gaddafi has no official position to resign from. He is the leader of the revolution forever.

“This is my country, my country.”

Col Gaddafi made his appearance after a first meeting of the United Nations Security Council to discuss the crisis in Libya. Some protesters and diplomats who had defected from his regime were calling for the UN to impose a no-fly zone to prevent a repeat of the air attacks ordered by the regime on Monday night. There was no immediate indication that the UN was likely to move beyond a condemnation of the killings of innocent protesters, however, and even that looked likely to be blocked by Russia and China. As he spoke, forces loyal to Col Gaddafi seemed to have control over the situation in the capital Tripoli, with state television earlier showing footage of a pro-regime rally.

Residents were said to be hiding inside their homes after attacks from the air and from snipers on roofs on Monday night. There were reports of “massacres” in a number of districts, with Human Rights Watch giving a figure of 62 dead in the city.

Worst hit were those who attended an anti-government march in Tripoli on Monday afternoon. “Many people were killed by the explosions and bullets,” a 22-year-old student who attended told The Daily Telegraph. Foreign nationals leaving the country gave dramatic accounts of seeing bodies on the streets and burning buildings. Residents insisted many of the attackers were the African mercenaries Col Gaddafi is said to have hired to defend his regime to the end.

“They carry machine guns and machetes,” one said. “If any of them are caught they are killed pretty much immediately.” There were also claims that whites, believed to be East Europeans, were among the mercenaries. Col Gaddafi has maintained good relations with first the Soviet Union and its Cold War allies and more recently with Russia.

Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian president, warned that the wave of unrest in the Arab world risked bringing fanatics to power. Most of the east of Libya appeared to be beyond Col. Gaddafi’s reach, however.

“We have taken control of Benghazi,” Mouftah Al Areydi, a resident, said. “The youth are outside cleaning up and we will protect our region.”

Professor Tim Niblock, an expert on Libya at Exeter University, said good sources had told him that Suleiman Mahmoud al-Obeidi, an eastern army commander, had defected.

Elders of one of the country’s most important tribal groups, the Warfalah, also went over to the opposition, issuing a statement denouncing “the hideous crimes of Gaddafi and his regime”. Around the world, diplomats said they were no longer representing the regime, with the ambassadors to the United States, India and Bangladesh and lower-ranking staff members of other missions all joining in the condemnation of their leader.

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Man Arrested in Conjunction With Priest Murder in Tunisia

(AGI) Tunis — Tunisian police have arrested a suspect in conjunction with the murder of Polish priest Marek Rybinsk. The priest was found dead days ago, with his throat cut. The man, identified as Chokri Ben Mustapha Bel-Sadek El-Mestir, aged 43, was employed as a handyman at the school where the priest worked.

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

Morocco’s Mohammed VI Refuses to Bow to Protest Pressure

(AGI) Rabat — Morocco’s King Mohammed VI refuses to bow to calls for constitutional reform. “I shall not cave in to rhetoric”, the king said following last Sunday’s rallies. The weekend’s protests targeted the sovereign’s powers and urged economic and social reforms. According to press agency MAP, the monarch’s vision is one of sustainable human development.

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

Peter Popham: Let’s Face Facts: Libya is Peering Into a Vacuum of Gaddafi’s Making

It is shocking to think how recently, and how obsequiously, the Butcher of Tripoli was being feted in the capitals of Europe. Barely six months ago he was corralling the beauties of Rome into the Libyan embassy and trying to browbeat them into converting to Islam. Three years earlier he was being embraced, literally, by Tony Blair and President Nicolas Sarkozy. And the scandal of Megrahi’s return is still fresh in the memory. Britain, as David Cameron put it yesterday in Kuwait, “faced a choice between our interests and our values”. And it didn’t take us long to decide which was more pressing.

But the Libyan vacuum into which we are now peering — trying to envisage what might come after Gaddafi — helps explain why, once he had agreed to drop his laughable efforts to construct a nuclear deterrent, Europe’s leaders were prepared to trade what remained of their dignity for a slice of the Libyan pie. For more than 40 years he ensured by brutal repression and oil-based bribery that l’état, c’est moi. Nobody else got a look in.

Here was a “highly controlling regime” — to use Mr Cameron’s euphemistic phrase — that was also high maintenance. Either you humoured Colonel Gaddafi’s innumerable whims — his terror of long-distance flights, his buxom Ukrainian mistress, his insistence on camels and tents — or you could forget about Libya. And for the oil and gas, we kept him happy.

The same sort of “hollowing” process that happened in Egypt under Hosni Mubarak was far more devastating in Libya under Colonel Gaddafi because there was less to hollow in this thinly populated desert where nomadic traditions are only a generation or two in the past. There was no state to take apart. Colonel Gaddafi claimed to have taken Libyan beyond tribalism, while boasting of his own Bedouin blood. But strip away the trashy impediments of oil wealth, the highways and concrete, and tribal ways and tribal loyalties are still there, just below the surface.

Colonel Gaddafi did a good job of presenting himself as the omnipotent tyrant, the Muslim Mao. But his position was always more precarious than those of his autocratic neighbours in Tunis and Cairo, despite appearances to the contrary. He surrounded himself with members of his Qathathfa tribe and made sure they staffed the elite military units — but the tribe itself was dwarfed in size by others such as the Wafalla, which numbers around one million out of Libya’s population of six million.

To neutralise threats, Colonel Gaddafi became a master of divide and rule, bribing the Wafalla to stay loyal while ensuring that other tribes and ethnicities were at daggers drawn with each other. He kept the army weak, abolishing all ranks higher than his own rank of Colonel and bolstering it with African and other mercenaries; when he bombed an Islamist uprising into extinction in the 1990s, it was widely believed that the pilots were Serbian mercenaries.

At the same time, he built up brutal paramilitary forces and recruited a spying network of formidable size and prominence even by Middle Eastern standards. You could not walk down a street in Tripoli without remarking on the amazing number of young men with nothing better to do than lean against walls and gaze around.

The idea, fostered in particular by Tony Blair, that this was a man with whom we could do business exposed the particular brand of hope over expectations that the Gaddafi Show encouraged in our more superficial leaders. How the notion of an ethical foreign policy could co-exist with the idea of throwing down the welcome mat to this monster is one of the scandals of the age.

Long-term watchers of Colonel Gaddafi remember the way he toyed with sub-Saharan Africa, championing the notion of Africa United — while his own citizens treated the Africans on their doorstep worse than dirt. They will remember how he winked at the mass trafficking of migrants from his coast to Italy, to put pressure on Silvio Berlusconi’s government to sign a generous deal of wartime reparations — and once it was signed he threw the would-be migrants into his vile jails, to the satisfaction of xenophobic Italians. They will remember how he allowed absurd charges to be levelled against a group of Bulgarian nurses in the country and kept the case going for years until he had extracted a sufficiently huge European bribe to let them go. He has behaved, in other words, exactly like a mafia boss. He played us like patsies for years. And because of the oil and gas, we let him.

He has ensured over many years — by driving all possible opponents into exile and keeping the intellectual life of the nation subordinate to his will — that the only alternative to him was a gaping hole. That is the hole we are now staring into. The intellectual and business strengths of Egyptians and their great national pride lead one to hope that some sort of democratic transformation can occur there. In Libya, such hopes are as flimsy as the hopes of Mr Blair that Colonel Gaddafi would behave like a gent…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Sunni Cleric Issues Fatwa Against Libya’s Gaddafi

(AGI) Doha — Influential Sunni cleric Yusuf al-Qaradavi has issued a fatwa urging the Libyan military to overturn Muammar Gaddafi. Al-Qaradavi issued the religious decree calling for “Libya to be freed,” adding that “anyone in the Libyan army close enough to Gaddafi to fire a bullet, should do so.” The 82-year-old cleric is a regular guest on Al Jazeera, mustering audiences of as many as 40 million viewers.

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

Thousands of Tunisians Return From Libya

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, FEBRUARY 22 — More than 4,000 Tunisians so far, based on estimates, have returned from Libya to their native country. Most returned over land, passing the border crossings of Ras Jedir (the main crossing) and Dhéhiba. More than 600 people crossed the border at Dhéhiba last evening. Transport services have been started to move people from these two places to Médenine and Gabe’s. The Transport Ministry has also approved a programme that offers people a chance to return with airlines Tunisair and Nouvel Air, with flights departing from Tripoli and headed for Sfax and Tunis. Tunisair carried out only two of the five Tunis- Carthage flights scheduled yesterday, for reasons beyond its control.

Today five flights are scheduled to depart from Tripoli and two from Sabha.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Tunisia: Press: Nouvelair Refuses to Transport Libyan Fighters

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, FEBRUARY 21 — Private Tunisian airline Nouvelair, which sent 4 aircrafts to Libya yesterday to help Tunisians return back to their country, rejected a request from the Libyan authorities to transport fighters and armed soldiers to areas inside of the country. The news was reported by the website, businessnews, which specified that crews rejected the request, and on an order from the company’s CEO, Aziz Milad, returned without any passengers back to Tunisia.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Tunisia: Six Magistrates Dismissed and Disbarred

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, FEBRUARY 18 — Six Tunisian magistrates have been dismissed and disbarred from the magistracy. The motivations behind the measures have not been made public. They are Lofti Daoues, general prosecutor of the Republic and director of judicial services; Mohamed Ali Chouikha, president of the Tunis Court of appeals; Mehrez Hammam, president of the Criminal section of the Tunis Court of first instance; Manoubi Ben Hmidane, president of the Criminal section of the Tunis Court of first appeals; Mohamed Amira, deputy prosecutor in the Tunis Court of first instance; and Zied Souidene, investigating magistrate in the Tunis Court of first instance.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Tunisia: Killer of Salesian Priest Arrested

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, FEBRUARY 21 — The alleged killer of Polish Salesian missionary Marek Rybinski, who was killed on February 19 in Manouba, near Tunis, was arrested last night by the Criminal Brigade in the Tunisian capital. The alleged killer is a 44-year-old Tunisian man who worked as a carpenter in the school where the deceased man was serving.

Apparently, the murder of Father Rybinski, who was stunned and then whose throat was slit, had to do with money. The priest, who performed financial duties for the school, realised that the carpenter had used small sums of money given to him to buy work materials for his own expenses. This led to the dispute that resulted in his murder.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

What on Earth is ‘Call Me Dave’ Cameron Doing in Egypt?

And now for the latest news from Libya, we cross to our correspondent in, er, Egypt. That was the BBC’s version of events in Tripoli yesterday.

The gist of it was: we’re not allowed into Libya, so we’ll talk to a bloke in Cairo instead. It’s all in approximately the same area and no one will know the difference.

Anyway, we spent a fortune sending a cast of thousands to Egypt last week, so we might as well get our money’s worth.

There’s nothing especially new in this method of reporting foreign affairs by remote control. For years, the civil war in Zimbabwe was covered from a pub in Cape Town.

When I worked on London’s Evening Standard, our man in the Middle East never left Cyprus.

Still, he was closer to the action than most of our reporters, who rarely ventured east of the Old Bailey.

Presumably, in the days before satellite dishes, he could just about pick up the news from Lebanon by hanging a piece of string out of his window in Nicosia. The rest was guesswork, but we were none the wiser.

I can remember we once sent our reporter Frank Draper to Italy on the grounds that he spoke German. He managed to phone in his world exclusive after bumping in to a chap from Dusseldorf who spoke Italian.

Said German would translate the news on the TV in the bar from Italian into German and Our Man would relay it back to Fleet Street in whatever form of English he happened to be speaking at that stage of the game.

It’s a bit like commentating on a football match by watching a pirate Scandinavian television feed in a boozer round the corner from the office. Which, come to think of it, Talksport used to do in the old days.

The plain truth is that no one has got the faintest idea what on earth is going on in Libya.

In times gone by, the regime always seized control of the radio station as a basis for negotiation. Today, they close down Facebook and Twitter, even though depending on Twitter for accurate information is about as reliable as asking a dribbling madwoman at the bus stop for her considered analysis of the situation.

All we have to go on is official film of excitable party stooges smacking themselves about the head and pointing. There’s also a bit of stock footage of Colonel Gaddafi in one of his Gilbert and Sullivan outfits, after dipping his head in a bucket of Grecian 2000.

As I write, Sky is reporting that protesters have set fire to a police station in Tripoli. That’s nice for them. They’re lucky they can find a police station to set fire to. Our local nick in North London shut up shop donkey’s years ago.

We are told that Britain has revoked the export licences of eight arms manufacturers doing business in Libya.

That should make all the difference. I thought flogging arms to Gaddafi in exchange for oil was the whole point of the grubby deal to free the Lockerbie bomber in the first place.

Sorry if I sound a bit cynical, but someone’s got to do it. This time last week, Egypt was the centre of the universe. On Friday, if you can remember back that far, it was Bahrain.

Apparently, that was all our fault, too.

Until they started shooting demonstrators with British-sourced weapons they were valued allies and strategic partners.

Now they’re just another bunch of gangsters. Today’s hotspot is Libya. By tomorrow, it could be Morocco, or Dubai. Who can tell?

All we do know is that the Middle East is in a state of flux. We are not in a position to influence anything. What are we going to do: send an aircraft carrier?…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Zapatero Applauds Birth of Democracies

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, FEBRUARY 22 — Spanish Premier José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero applauded the birth of new democracies in the Middle East and North Africa and urged Europe to provide its political and economic support. In an interview with Reuters cited by El Pais, the socialist leader condemned the repression of the protests in Libya. “This is an historical event,” observed Zapatero, “we are probably witnessing a wave of new democracies in the making. We want democracy. We want reforms. We do not want violence. We condemn it,” he added. The Spanish premier proposed for the EU to create a bank to help emerging democracies rebuild, similar to the one that was established for the countries of Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Zapatero underlined that the situation in Morocco is different when speaking about the revolts against the governments in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya or the thousands of Moroccans who protested in public against the government of Mohamed VI. Morocco, he underlined, has a system of pluralist parties and has already carried out reforms.

“Naturally, things are different in Morocco,” acknowledged Zapatero. “It is clear that their citizens are calling for more reforms, but it is a different situation with greater potential for stability and gradual progress.”

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Middle East

As Protests Crackdowns Continue, West Lines Up to Sell Arms

More than 80 British firms are represented at the ongoing International Defence Exhibition and Conference (IDEX) in Abu Dhabi, including BAE, Thales UK and Motorola UK. The firms are offering everything from weapons and communications equipment to parachutes and uniforms. Lockheed Martin and L-3 communications from the US, France’s Renault and Germany’s Rhinemetall AG are among other major defence multinationals represented at IDEX.

Now in its 10th year, IDEA has attracted over 1,000 exhibitors this year, most of them from the United States, Britain, France and Germany. European governments have blocked sales of law enforcement equipment, like tear gas grenades, to some countries, but there are few restrictions on the sale of military equipment. Facing budget cuts at home, western arms firms are desperate for a share of the lucrative Middle East market. “The post-financial crisis reality,” said Herve Guillou, president of Cassidian Systems, a subsidiary of European aviation defence group EADS, “is that today it is clearly the Middle East that is seeing the biggest growth.” Iran’s growing military power has pushed Gulf states into their largest-ever military build up, making purchases worth £76 billion from the US alone in 2010. The largest acquisitions were made by Saudi Arabia, which is spending £41 billion on F-15 fighter jets and upgrades for its naval fleet.

The six Gulf Cooperation Council countries — Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait — along with Jordan will spend another £41 billion on defence in 2011, according to Frost and Sullivan, a research firm. Libya and Egypt are among the states which have representatives at IDEX. Global Industrial and Defence Solutions, a Pakistani exhibitor, lists Libya as being among the “key customers of our products.” Renault also issued a press release before the exhibition, saying it had contracted to supply military trucks to Egypt. Libya’s al-Musallah magazine, which covers arms-trade related issues in the country, is also among the exhibitors.

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Bahrain: Government Supporters Take to the Streets as Opposition Refuses to Back Down

A big demonstration is held in support of the regime and national unity at the al Fateh Mosque. The Bahrain Grand Prix of 13 March is officially cancelled. A young man dies from the injuries he suffered in last Thursday’s rally in Pearl Square. The Philippines is starting to limit departures to the Gulf region.

Manama (AsiaNews/Agencies) — Protesters camped out in Manama’s Pearl Square hardened their stance Monday, whilst pro-government supporters staged an impressive rally in the capital. A young man died from injuries received during Friday’s police action and an exiled opposition figure said he would return home today. The organisers of the Bahrain Grand Prix cancelled the 13 March season-opening race, which the kingdom has hosted annually since 2004.

The uncertain situation in the region is leading countries like the Philippines with citizens working in Bahrain to consider imposing restrictive exit visas. More than a million Filipinos and others from South and East Asia work in the Arabian Peninsula and North Africa.

In the meantime, tens of thousands of Bahrainis thronged Al Fateh Mosque and the surrounding areas for the Eisha prayers and a rally to promote national unity. The rally stressed the legitimacy of the existing political regime and emphasised that Bahrain and its stability are of paramount importance, and should not be compromised in any way.

“We urge all the men and women of Bahrain no to allow anyone intending to harm this nation to achieve his goal,” said Sheikh Abdul Lateef Al Mahmoud.

Demonstrators called on the government to free all prisoners of conscience and on “citizens, especially the young people, to help calm down the situation and engage in a comprehensive national dialogue between all segments and forces of the society”.

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

Bahrain: Demonstration, Thousands Protest Against Government

(ANSAmed) — MANAMA, FEBRUARY 22 — Today an impressive demonstration is staged in Manama to ask the government to step down, local journalists report. Thousands of people have come together in a large street that leads to Pearl Square, the centre of the protest at a distance of around three kilometres. The protesters, including many women, have started to march carrying a large banner with the text “March of loyalty to the martyrs”, with the photos of seven Shia protesters who were killed in the repression of the protest movement. Many slogans can be heard against the al-Khalifa royal family. There is no police, but the march is watched over from a helicopter.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Bahrain Protests: King Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifah Orders Release of Political Prisoners

Bahrain’s king has ordered the release of some political prisoners, conceding to another opposition demand as the embattled monarchy tries to engage protesters in talks aimed at ending an uprising that has entered its second week.

The king’s decree — which covers several Shiite activists accused of plotting against the state — adds to the brinksmanship on both sides that has included a massive pro-government rally, an opposition march in response and the planned return of a prominent opposition figure from exile.

The news comes a day after Bahrain’s crown prince called off Formula One’s season-opening race scheduled for March 13, handing another victory to protesters.

Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa owns the rights to grand prix and serves as commander of the armed forces.

Protesters said it would have been disrespectful the hold the race.

Government spokeswoman Maysoon Sabkar said it was unclear how many prisoners would be freed, but they include some of the 25 Shiite activists on trial for allegedly plotting against the Sunni rulers of the strategic island kingdom, a leading member of Bahrain’s Shiite opposition, Abdul Jalili Khalil said.

He called the prisoner release ‘a good step’ and a ‘positive gesture’.

Two of those in the case are being tried in absentia, including opposition leader Hassan Meshaima, who has been in self-exile in London since last year.

Mesheima’s presence could bolster opposition forces seeking a harder line against the monarchy, including some who have called for the complete ouster of the king and the royal dynasty that has ruled for more than 200 years.

Meshaima’s group, known as Haq, is considered more radical than the main Shiite political bloc that has taken a central role in the revolt, which began last week with marches but quickly met with violent resistance from security forces.

The primary Shiite group includes 18 members of the 40-member parliament, who resigned on Thursday to protest the killing of demonstrators by security forces.

Tens of thousands of opposition supporters marched through the capital of Manama, carrying Bahrain’s red-and-white flag and circling the Bahrain Mall and Manama’s financial district — symbols of the country’s prosperity in recent decades.

Security forces did not move to confront the procession, but helicopters circled overhead.

‘Egypt, Tunisia, are we any different?’ they chanted, calling for the Sunni rulers they accuse of discriminating against the island’s Shiite majority to fall.

‘I don’t care if it is this government or another, but whichever it is, I want my rights,’ said Wassam Zabar, a 22-year-old student. ‘I want a chance to have a job, a career and a future.’

The government said that the overall death toll was seven from last week’s clashes, which included the army opening fire on protesters.

Previous reports from opposition groups and hospital officials in the past week set the death toll at eight, but the government tally now appears accurate.

The government said 25 people were hospitalised, but it’s unclear what degree of injury authorities used to arrive at that figure.

Opposition group place the figure at more that 200.

The attacks on protesters have brought stinging denunciations from Bahrain’s Western allies, including the United States.

The U.S. maintains very close ties with Bahrain, which hosts the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet.

Earlier, Bahrain authorities withdrew the military and allowed protesters to reclaim the landmark Pearl Square, which has been the centre of the Shiite-led uprising.

Bahrain’s Shiite majority has complained of discrimination and political persecution in the kingdom.

They have staged protests in the past, but the current unrest — inspired by the toppling of regimes in Tunisia and Egypt — is the most serious against the Sunni rulers.

In a brief statement to Bahrain’s official news agency, the king ordered the release of ‘a number of prisoners’ and a halt to ‘several trials’ of Shiite activists.

Opposition leaders have called for the government to resign after last week’s bloodshed to pave the way for a dialogue with the crown prince.

‘The government has taken a decision to shoot at its people,’ said Khalil, a Shiite opposition leader. ‘Our objective remains for this government to resign after failing to protect its people.’…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Caroline Glick: Obama’s Devastatingly Mixed Signals

For better or worse, each passing day the Middle East is becoming more unstable. Regimes that have clung to power for decades are now being overthrown and threatened. Others are preemptively cracking down on their opponents or seeking to appease them.

While no one can say with certainty what the future will bring to the radically altered Middle Eastern landscape, it is becoming increasingly apparent that US influence over events here will be dramatically diminished.

This assessment is based on the widespread view that the Obama administration has failed to articulate a coherent policy for contending with the rising populist tides.

Last Friday’s UN Security Council vote was a case in point. On the one hand, the US vetoed a Lebanese-sponsored resolution that criminalized Israel’s policy of permitting Jews to exercise their property rights in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria. On the other, after vetoing the resolution, US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned their own actions and explained why what they did was wrong…

           — Hat tip: Caroline Glick[Return to headlines]

David Cameron: Middle-East Tyranny Will Breed Extremism

DAVID Cameron yesterday warned Arab regimes that maintaining an iron grip on power risked breeding a new generation of Muslim extremists. The Prime Minister, visiting Kuwait in the next leg of his whistle-stop tour of the Middle East, made an urgent plea for governments in the region to do more to tackle the simmering discontent that fuels Islamic fanaticism and terrorism.

Following the wave of protests that have swept across North Africa and the Gulf, he made clear that blocking the yearning for democracy and freedom risked making angry Muslim youth ripe for recruitment by Al Qaeda and other extremist groups. “History is sweeping through your neighbourhood,” he told senior Kuwaiti politicians in a keynote speech yesterday. “Across the Arab world, aspirations are stirring which have lain dormant.”

Mr Cameron also took a swipe at previous British governments for cosying up to Arab dictatorships in the mistaken hope of maintaining stability in the Middle East. The opinion held by many in the British establishment that Arabs could not “do democracy” was “prejudice bordering on racism”, the Prime Minister said. His provocative remarks came in a speech to members of Kuwait’s parliament yesterday as part of his high- profile trade mission to Egypt and the Gulf. Echoing his recent controversial speech which partly blamed failed multi-cultural policies in Britain and other European nations for fuelling extremism, Mr Cameron said tyrannic rule in many Arab countries was also at fault.

“We cannot ignore the threat to all our countries from international terrorism,” Mr Cameron said. “I believe this is the most important global threat to our security.”

He admitted Western countries had to do more to give Muslim youth a “positive identity”. Isolated young Muslim men were more “prone to the poisonous narrative of separateness and victimhood that can lead to extremism”. The Prime Minister warned that Arab nations also needed to address the issue. “A similar risk of young people turning the wrong way applies in the Arab world too.”

And in a criticism of past British policy in the Middle East, Mr Cameron said some people had argued that “Arabs or Muslims can’t do democracy. “For me that borders on racism. It’s offensive and wrong and it’s simply not true.” His remarks were seen as a swipe at former Labour prime minister Tony Blair for cosying up to Libyan tyrant Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.

He also signed a series of trade deals with Kuwait’s senior political figures yesterday. The move will double investment and trade between Britain and the Gulf state to £4billion a year by 2015.

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

For Once, Can We Keep Religion Out of Secular Revolts?

Mubarak claimed that Islamists were behind the Egyptian revolution. Ben Ali said the same in Tunisia. King Abdullah of Jordan sees a dark and sinister hand — al Qaida’s hand, the Muslim Brotherhood’s hand, an Islamist hand — behind the civil insurrection across the Arab world. Yesterday the Bahraini authorities discovered Hizbollah’s bloody hand behind the Shia uprising there.

For Hizbollah, read Iran. How on earth do well-educated if singularly undemocratic men get this thing so wrong? Confronted by a series of secular explosions — Bahrain does not quite fit into this bracket — they blame radical Islam. The Shah made an identical mistake in reverse. Confronted by an obviously Islamic uprising, he blamed it on Communists.

The events of the past two months and the spirit of anti-regime Arab insurrection — for dignity and justice, rather than any Islamic emirate — will remain in our history books for hundreds of years. And the failure of Islam’s strictest adherents will be discussed for decades.

In Bahrain we have a special case. Here a Shia majority is ruled by a minority of pro-monarchy Sunni Muslims. At least the West — in its sagging support for King Hamad of Bahrain — can point to the fact that Bahrain, like Kuwait, has a parliament. It’s a sad old beast, existing from 1973 to 1975 when it was dissolved unconstitutionally, and reinvented in 2001 as part of a package of “reforms”.

But the new parliament turned out to be even more unrepresentative than the first. Opposition politicians were harassed by state security, and parliamentary boundaries were gerrymandered, Ulster-style, to make sure that the minority Sunnis controlled it. Indeed, there is a distinctly Northern Ireland feel to Sunni perspectives in Bahrain. Many have told me that they fear for their lives, that Shia mobs will burn their homes and kill them.

All this is set to change. Control of state power has to be legitimised to be effective, and the use of live fire to overwhelm peaceful protest was bound to end in Bahrain in a series of little Bloody Sundays. Once Arabs learnt to lose their fear, they could claim the civil rights that Catholics in Northern Ireland once demanded in the face of RUC brutality. In the end, the British had to destroy Unionist rule and bring the IRA into joint power with Protestants. The parallels are not exact and the Shias do not (yet) have a militia, although the Bahraini government has produced photographs of pistols and swords to support their contention that its opponents include “terrorists”.

But these interconnected insurrections should not be seen in a simple ferment-in-the-Middle-East framework. The Yemeni uprising against President Saleh (32 years in power) is democratic but also tribal, and it won’t be long before the opposition uses guns.

And then there is Libya. Gaddafi is so odd, his Green Book theories so preposterous, his rule so cruel (and he’s been running the place for 42 years) that he is an Ozymandias waiting to fall.

So it’s a sea-change in the Middle East’s political, social and cultural world. It will create many tragedies, raise many hopes and shed too much blood. But if Czechs could have their freedom, why not the Egyptians? If dictators can be overthrown in Europe — first the fascists, then the Communists — why not in the Arab Muslim world? And — just for a moment — keep religion out of this.

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Israel on Guard as Iranian Warships Enter Suez Canal

The patrol frigate Alvand and support ship Kharg were the first Iranian warships through Suez since the 1979 Islamic revolution. They are reportedly bound for Syria, a destination that necessarily involves passing Israel.

“The two ships entered the canal on Tuesday at around 5:45 am (0335 GMT),” an official said.

A normal journey through the 101-mile waterway takes between 12 and 14 hours.

Egypt’s official MENA news agency has reported that the request for the ships to transit the canal said they were not carrying weapons or nuclear and chemical materials.

The 1,500-tonne Alvand is normally armed with torpedoes and anti-ship missiles, while the larger 33,000-tonne Kharg has a crew of 250 and facilities for up to three helicopters, Iran’s official Fars news agency has said.

Both ships were built in Britain during the 1970s for Iran, which ordered them before the Islamic revolution.

Their passage into the eastern Mediterranean comes as Israel worries over its security as popular uprisings shake the Arab world, not least in Egypt where they prompted the downfall of longtime president Hosni Mubarak.

On Sunday, after a weekly meeting of his cabinet, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denounced the ships’ arrival in the region as an Iranian power play.

“Today we are witnessing the instability of the region in which we live and in which Iran is trying to profit by extending its influence by dispatching two warships to cross the Suez Canal,” he said. “Israel views with gravity this Iranian initiative and other developments that reinforce what we have said in past years about the Israel’s security needs,” he added, according to a statement from his office.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman last week labelled the move a “provocation”.

The animosity between Iran and Israel has grown under the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who in October 2005 told a “world without Zionism” conference that the Jewish state would one day be “wiped off the map”.

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

La Russa: Italian Ship Mimbelli to Set Sail

(AGI) Abu Dhabi — The Italian ship Mimbelli’ will sail to act as a “platform for air surveillance of the southern Mediterranean.” Defence Minister, Ignazio La Russa made the announcement from Abu Dhabi, specifying that the ship “Electra” will not be sent as was previously reported. Speaking aside during his official visit in the Arab Emirates, he said, “For technical and logistic reasons the Mimbelli will be sent rather than the Elettra to take up position in the southern Mediterranean.

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

Reporting From Turkey: Your Move, Erdogan

If you’ve been wondering about the lighter posting from me here, it’s because I’m currently in Istanbul on the eve of a conference organized by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan with the ostensible aim of combating extremism.

It is, of course, fairly ironic coming from Erdogan, who categorically rejected the “moderate Islam” label for his country when it was offered by President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton.

“It is unacceptable for us to agree with such a definition,” Erdogan responded. “Turkey has never been a country to represent such a concept.”

He continued:

“The animosity, unfortunately, strengthens the scenarios that there is a so-called clash of civilizations in the world. Those, who defend such speculations, may go further to identify the terrorism with Islam which is based on peace.

“It should be known that adopting a malicious and offending approach toward the sensitive issues of Islamic world by hiding behind some democratic freedoms like freedom of speech and right of free publication is unacceptable.”

As Turkey watches the recent string of populist uprisings in the Arab East, it has been routinely held up as an example of what Egypt could become—and usually a positive one at that (though Lebanese media are understandably more skeptical).

Turkey has one distinct advantage in this argument—it can use Iran as a foil. Though both have Islamist governments, even with Erdogan’s recent excesses Iran looms as a worst-case scenario. Still, Erdogan’s increasingly hostile attitude toward Israel is a transparent attempt to play to the Arab “street,” as Turkey and Iran jostle for position as leader of the greater Middle East. That a Persian nation and a Turkish one are currently competing to hold the megaphone on behalf of the Arab world demonstrates just how significant a hole is left by Egypt’s departure as a regional power. (It may one day regain that role, but for now Egypt remains a picture of slightly-controlled chaos.)

But like most of the world right now, Turkey’s attention has turned to Libya, where it is desperately trying to evacuate the 25,000 Turkish citizens there.

We’ll see as the week progresses what Erdogan’s strategy is going to be. Does it pay for him to exploit the crisis in the Middle East in order to attempt to fill the vacuum, or will he show more caution toward an unstable and unpredictable situation in an already volatile region? His posturing on the subject of extremism this week should give us a clue.

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Syria’s Chief Muslim Cleric Due in Turkey

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, FEBRUARY 22 — Syria chief Muslim cleric, Grand Mufti Sheikh Ahmed Badreddine Hassun, is set to pay a visit to Turkey as the formal guest of Turkey’s Director General of Religious Affairs, Mehmet Gormez. Hassun — as Anatolia news agency reports — is expected to arrive in the Turkish capital, Ankara, on Wednesday and he is scheduled to meet with Gormez on Thursday, press office of the Turkish Religious Affairs said.

Hassun will also deliver a sermon at Friday prayers at the Kocatepe Mosque, Ankara’s biggest mosque.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Yemen: Clashes Between Loyalists and Demonstrators in Sanaa

(AGI) Sanaa — Five people were hurt in clashes between demonstrators demanding the president’s resignation and regime loyalists. The disorder broke out around the square near the university, renamed ‘Freedom Square’, when 4000 demonstrators approached the place where supporters of President Ali Abdullah Saleh were camped. The president’s followers attacked them with sticks and knives. Three students and two loyalists were hurt before the police were able to disperse the crowd.

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

Yemen: Five Die as Military Move to Capture Suspected Militant

Sanaa, 22 Feb. (AKI) — Two civilians and three soldiers were killed when soldiers moved to capture a suspected “leader of Al-Qaeda” in eastern Yemen, the Yemeni ministry of defence said on Monday.

“Three soldiers and two civilians died and six soldiers were wounded Monday night during an armed clash between security forces and Al-Qaeda leader Mohammed Abdullah Maoutha,” the statement said.

“A soldier stopped Maouda and other gunmen from the (Al-Qaeda) network at a checkpoint while they were in a car. When he asked them for their documents, they shot him dead,” the ministry said.

The firefight ensued when other insurgents came to the aid of Maoutha, according to the ministry.

The statement said Maoutha was arrested, while other insurgents were wounded but managed to escape capture.

Besides recent anti-government unrest, Yemen’s authorities are fighting Shia al-Houthi rebels seeking more autonomy and rights in the north and a militant Islamist insurgency believed to driven by Al-Qaeda in its south.

Evidence is emerging that the country is becoming an Al-Qaeda stronghold.

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

Yemen: Higher Oil Revenues During 2010

(ANSAmed) — ROME, FEBRUARY 22 — Yemen’s revenues from oil exports last year grew up to 2.652 billion dollars compared to 1.958 billion dollars in 2009. The report was made by newspaper Al Quds Al Arabi which quoted a report by Yemen’s Central Bank.

The report stated that the growth was due to the increase in Yemen’s oil production from 30.86 million barrels per day to 33.25 million.

The increase in revenues was also due to higher oil prices during the final months of 2010. Average prices for Yemeni oil in 2010 amounted to 79.81 dollars per barrel compared to 63.47 dollars in 2009. After having broken the 400,000 barrels per day threshold in past years, Yemen’s current oil production amounts to approximately 280,000-300,000 barrels per day.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Mikhail Gorbachev Lambasts Vladimir Putin’s ‘Sham’ Democracy

Russia under prime minister Vladimir Putin is a sham democracy, Mikhail Gorbachev has said in his harshest criticism yet of the ruling regime.

“We have everything — a parliament, courts, a president, a prime minister and so on. But it’s more of an imitation,” the last president of the Soviet Union said.

Gorbachev, who oversaw the softening of the communist system and subsequent dissolution of the Soviet Union, has become increasingly critical of the modern Russian state, accusing its leaders of rolling back the democratic reforms of the 1990s.

Speaking at a press conference ahead of his 80th birthday, Gorbachev criticised Putin for manipulating elections.

In response to the prime minister and former president’s comments that he and his protégé, President Dmitry Medvedev, would decide between them who would run for office in March 2012, Gorbachev said: “It’s not Putin’s business. It must be decided by the nation in elections.”

He called Putin’s statements a sign of “incredible conceit”.

Asked how he thought the regime approached human rights, Gorbachev said: “There’s a problem there. It’s a sign of the state of our democracy.” He was echoing statements made by Navi Pillay, the UN high commissioner for human rights, during a visit to Russia last week.

Gorbachev said United Russia, the ruling party founded with the sole goal of supporting Putin’s leadership, was a throwback.

“United Russia reminds me of the worst copy of the Communist party,” he said. “We have institutions but they don’t work. We have laws but they must be enforced.”

Its stranglehold over political life would eventually backfire. “The monopoly ends in rotting and hampers the development of democratic processes.”

Gobachev said he did not like how Putin and Medvedev were behaving. “It’s a shame that our modern leaders aren’t very modern,” he said.

Gorbachev now runs a charity foundation that will hold a gala at the Royal Albert Hall in London on 30 March to mark his birthday. He co-owns the country’s leading opposition newspaper, Novaya Gazeta.

Held up in the west as a hero for his softening of the Soviet system and eventual acceptance of its fall, Gorbachev remains widely despised inside Russia, where he is seen as a traitor who allowed the empire to crumble and ushered in a period of great uncertainty. Over the years he has aligned himself with the cause of Russia’s sidelined liberals.

On Monday, Gorbachev called the regime’s campaign against jailed oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky politically motivated. “Politics shouldn’t have been involved in [the case], but they were,” he said.

He noted the case of Natalya Vasilieva, a court clerk who worked on the Khodorkovsky trial and broke ranks to publicly announce that the judge had been pressured throughout and had a verdict and sentence pushed on him.

“I fully believe her,” Gorbachev said. “People can’t stand it anymore — she saw what was happening with her own eyes.”…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

South Asia

Christians From Indian Punjab March for Asia Bibi on the Border With Pakistan

The Diocese of Amritsar has supported the initiative of the Christian Front Punjab. A Memorandum was submitted to the government in Islamabad to abolish the blasphemy law. Bishop Samantaroy: “The law is methodically used to resolve personal questions.”

Mumbai (AsiaNews) — Hundreds of activists of the Christian Front Punjab (Cfp) held a hunger strike and protest on the Indo-Pakistani border, in the town of Attari, to demonstrate against the death penalty decreed for Asia Bibi, the Pakistani Christian accused of blasphemy . The members of Cfp have asked the government to withdraw the sentence, and the international community to put pressure on Pakistan to abolish the law.

The President of Cfp, Lawarance Chaudhary, handed over a memorandum to the local authorities, to be sent to the High Commission of Pakistan. The document calls on the Pakistani president and the justice minister to reconsider the situation in Asia Bibi, who was accused and convicted thanks to the pressure of powerful local leaders.

Bishop P.K. Samantaroy, the Diocese of Amritasr, has called for the abolition of the blasphemy law. The prelate told AsiaNews: “The blasphemy law is used methodically to resolve personal questions, and other issues. We, the Church of North India campaign for this infamous blasphemy law to be eradicated. And that is why we participate in the demonstration at Attari. Samantaroy”. The bishop added: “We have raised this argument with various Christian institutions throughout the world, to campaign for Asia Bibi and to put pressure on the Pakistani government about the law.”

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

India: 31 Muslims Condemned for Massacre of Hindus

(AGI) New Delhi — 31 Muslims have been convicted for the deaths of 59 Hindu pilgrims, 10 years after clashes in Gujarat. In the inter-religious clashes that rocked the Indian state of Gujarat, 59 Hindu pilgrims were burned alive in the fire on the train in which they were travelling. Another 63 persons were acquited of the same charges, while the sentence handed down for the convicted persons will be made known on Friday.

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

India: Arson Verdict Revives Bitter Conflict Over Train Deaths That Sparked Riots

The dispute surrounding one of the most controversial incidents in recent Indian history has been reopened after a court ruled that a fire that tore through a railway carriage and killed dozens of Hindu pilgrims was started by a Muslim mob and was not the result of an accident. The blaze on the train nine years ago was the trigger for rampaging communal violence in which hundreds of Muslims were subsequently attacked and killed.

A special court in the western state of Gujarat yesterday found 31 people guilty of being part of a conspiracy to set fire to a carriage of the Sabarmati Express as it was waiting in the town of Godhra in February 2002.

Most of the 60 people who died were Hindu activists. As news of the deaths spread, Hindu mobs embarked on revenge attacks on Muslims in locations across Gujarat that resulted in the death of more than 1,000 people. The state’s chief minister, Narendra Modi, was accused of allowing the attacks to take place and of stoking religious hatred.

In the aftermath of the train fire, around 100 Muslims were arrested and charged. But the case was stalled as a result of a series of separate inquiries, at least one of which concluded that the blaze was started by a cooking fire.

The court in yesterday’s hearing, which also found more than 60 of the accused not guilty, including the alleged ringleader, will deliver its sentence on Friday.

After the verdict was announced, special public prosecutor JM Panchal claimed the ruling would put an end to the dispute over the cause of the fire. “The motive of conspiracy was to set the train on fire,” he said. “There can be no debate on the judicial verdict. The verdict is based on oral evidence and eyewitness accounts.”

But that is unlikely. While a 2008 inquiry by the state authorities also concluded the fire had been started deliberately, an earlier federal inquiry into the blaze ruled that it was most likely the result of an accident in the train’s kitchen. Other unofficial investigations into the fire suggested that while it was started deliberately, there had been no pre-planning.

“This controversy is not going to go away,” said Mujibur Rehman, a professor of political science at Delhi’s Jamia Millia University. “The 31 people who have been convicted will appeal against the verdict while the authorities will probably appeal against the decision to acquit the 60 who walked away. Also, there has been so much politicisation of this issue that it has affected the credibility of the court.”

The arson attack on the train was inextricably linked with two other deeply controversial incidents of inter-religious violence. Most of the activists who were killed aboard the Sabarmati Express had been returning from a ceremony organised by a right-wing religious group at the Ayodhya temple in the state of Bihar, where a Muslim mosque had been torn down by Hindus 10 years earlier.

In the weeks following the Sabarmati blaze, Muslims were assaulted and killed in revenge attacks that marked perhaps the worst religious violence in India since Partition.

The train fire is one of nine incidents relating to religious violence that the special court has been tasked with investigating. Security was stepped up ahead of the ruling.

Mr Modi has been questioned in camera by investigators appointed by the country’s highest court. He has always denied accusations that he or ministers in his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government either stoked the tension following the fire or deliberately failed to protect Muslims in up to 1,000 towns and villages where violence broke out.

The verdict has received a mixed response. Shanti Bhushan, a senior Supreme Court lawyer and activist, said the decision was a “travesty of justice”. “I understand most of the 63 persons let off today were denied bail and spent all these years behind bars,” he said. “Who will compensate for the loss of their valuable years of life?”

But the BJP, which controls Gujarat, welcomed the verdict. “Certainly, there has been a degree of assurance that law and justice has prevailed,” said spokesman Ravishankar Prasad…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Far East

Mideast Color Revolutions and Beijing’s Fears

The recent revolutions shaking up Arab regimes have scared China’s rulers. Concern about possible unrest at home has led Chinese Communist authorities to promote social reforms for the lower classes but also to crack down on any attempt to show solidarity with Arab demonstrators. Will the winds of change sweeping across Africa and the Middle East skirt the mainland? Here is an analysis by Willy Lam, a journalist with the Jamestown Foundation in Washington.

Washington (AsiaNews/TJF) — The chances are low that an Egyptian-style “color revolution” is about to flare up in China any time soon. Yet it is a reassertion of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) administration’s seemingly lack of confidence that it has gone to great lengths to minimize the spillover effect that the dramatic events in Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan and Yemen may have on China. Apart from controlling news coverage of Egypt’s “Lotus Revolution,” the authorities are trying to steer the debate toward the unsuitability of the “Western democratic model” for developing countries. Top cadres including Premier Wen Jiabao are pulling out all the stops to convince China’s underclasses that Beijing will be spending more on social-welfare benefits, in part ostensibly to stem popular unrest. Should the CCP leadership fail to address long-festering sores such as the rich-poor gap and citizens’ lack of freedom of expression, however, the possibility of the country’s disadvantaged population emulating feisty Tunisian and Egyptian protestors cannot be ruled out.

Beijing, which observed a seven-day Lunar New Year vacation last week, has not responded to requests from foreign reporters to comment on whether an Egypt-like insurrection would be imminent in China. All that the Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hong Lei said on this topic was that “we hope Egypt will restore social stability and normal order as soon as possible” (, January 30; AFP, February 2). Yet, the authorities took resolute steps late last month to restrict media coverage on the color revolutions in North Africa and Middle East — and to bar discussion by Netizens on social-networking and micro-blogging sites. Chinese editors have been told by the CCP Propaganda Department that they can only use news dispatches by the official Xinhua News Agency (Christian Science Monitor, February 1). Moreover, Netizens and bloggers are not allowed to talk about Egypt on the Chinese equivalents of Facebook or Twitter. Egypt-related searches on various micro-blogs, such as, and Weibo have produced either no results or error messages. This is despite the fact that with the availability of more “firewall-climbing” software, a sizeable proportion of China’s 450 million Netizens has been able to gain access to foreign reports about the color revolutions (Reuters, January 30; The Economist, February 3;, February 3).

Beijing and Cairo are similar

The Hu Jintao administration has attempted to divert public attention by focusing on the speed and efficiency with which Beijing dispatched chartered flights to send home a thousand-odd Chinese (including tourists from Hong Kong) stranded in various Egyptian cities. More significantly, official commentators have focused on the alleged deficiencies of Western-style democracy. An editorial in the Global Times pointed out that American and European institutions and norms ill suited the people of Africa and the Middle East. “Color revolutions will not bring about real democracy,” said the Times, which is a People’s Daily subsidiary. “Democracy has a strong appeal because of the successful models in the West,” the Times added. “But whether the system is applicable in other countries is in question, as more and more unsuccessful examples arise” (Global Times, January 30; Reuters, January 31).

Other academics and experts have dwelled on the fact that given the quasi-alliance relationship between Egypt and the United States, upheaval in Egypt will only spell trouble for Washington’s interests in the Middle East. For instance, Shanghai-based international relations expert Li Shimo noted that if real elections were to take place in Egypt and neighboring countries, the ballot box could produce Muslim leaders who would not only spurn U.S.-style democracy but also threaten America’s oil supplies. “From the Iranian revolution onward, almost all democratic elections in the Islamic world have resulted in Islamist administrations that are against the West and Israel,” he wrote (, February 1;, February 1). It is interesting that Beijing also raised objections to Washington’s alleged attempts to support pro-democracy demonstrations in Iran in 2009. The official China Daily pointed out in an editorial at the time that “attempts to push the so-called color revolution [in Iran] toward chaos will prove very dangerous.” “A destabilized Iran is in nobody’s interest if we want to maintain peace and stability in the Middle East, and the world beyond,” it added (China Daily, June 18, 2009; Asia Times, June 20, 2009).

Yet a number of respected Chinese intellectuals have called attention to the fact that irrespective of the element of “outside interference,” there are similarities between China and Egypt regarding the multitudinous grievances of the underclasses. Popular commentator and blogger Sima Nan noted that “China’s social problems are not one whit less than those in Egypt.” Sima indicated that in areas such as cost of living, property prices, high medical and education fees as well as corruption, the “trigger point” for Chinese masses copying the tactics of Egyptian protestors “is not that far away.” Yuan Weishi, a well-regarded historian at Guangzhou’s Zhongshan University, pointed out that if the Chinese economy were to slow down, the country would “very likely see turmoil again with widespread discontent with the government,” “The Chinese public now has strong awareness of their rights and can never return to the old days when they were subject to manipulation and had no rights to voice their criticism,” he added ( [Beijing], January 30; South China Morning Post, February 1).

In an apparent attempt to forestall social unrest, the CCP leadership has in the past several weeks, spotlighted the “close-to-the-masses” persona of senior cadres. Premier Wen paid a visit to the State Bureau of Letters and Petitions late last month to talk to disgruntled residents who were trying to lodge complaints against governments of different levels. “Our power is entrusted by the people,” Wen told the petitioners. “We should use our power to seek benefits for the people and we should responsibly tackle the difficulties faced by the people.” It was the first time that a senior official had ever talked to petitioners, who are regularly harassed and even imprisoned by police and state-security personnel. During the Lunar New Year period, Wen and President Hu mingled with the masses during inspection tours to Hebei and Shandong Provinces respectively. Both leaders pledged the government would pay more attention to the people’s livelihood particularly at times of inflation (China News Service, January 25; Xinhua News Agency, February 4).

Aid and repression

Official newspapers have played up substantial boosts in social security expenditures in the government’s 12th Five Year Plan (2011 to 2015). For example, annual increases in unemployment payouts, old-age subsidies and other benefits will by the middle of the decade be pegged to the rate of inflation. In response to widespread gripes about the real-estate bubble, the central government has pledged to build more subvented and low-cost housing in the coming five years. The target for 2011 is 10 million subsidized flats, a rise of 70 percent over last year’s figure (China News Service, January 6; People’s Daily, January 7). On top of the 22.8 percent increase in minimum wages across China last year, different cities have already announced salary hikes of around 15 percent to help workers cope with fast-rising living costs. While the official CPI jumped 4.6 percent last December, most Chinese economists reckon that food prices alone have gone up by at least 10 percent the past year. Partly owing to poor weather conditions nationwide, the government will be hard put to tackle the spiraling prices of rice, wheat, vegetables and meat (AFP, January 21; People’s Daily, January 26).

Much more significant, however, is the fact that in trying to prevent social upheaval, the CCP leadership seems unwilling to go beyond public-relations gestures. Take, for example, Wen’s brief encounter last month with eight petitioners, who complained to the premier about issues such as the illegal confiscation of properties by local authorities. Even the official media has reported that while relevant government cadres had contacted the grievance bearers, the majority of their problems had not been solved. The officials also claimed that the petitioners had not been telling the truth. As Beijing University of Science and Technology Professor Hu Xingdou pointed out, the phenomenon of petitioners itself demonstrated grave institutional problems such as the ineffectiveness of the legal and judicial systems. “The only solution to the issue of petitioners is the independence of the judiciary, so that there would be adequate scrutiny of various levels of governments,” said the famous social critic (Southern Metropolitan News [Guangzhou] February 1; Wen Wei Po [Hong Kong], February 2; Ming Pao [Hong Kong] January 27).

According to political scientist Liu Junning, the rise of people power in the Middle East has highlighted the “crisis of authoritarianism” in China. “The authorities must begin deep-seated, systemic changes in the political field,” he said. “Steps such as boosting social-welfare payouts are only superficial, stop-gap measures.” Liu, however, does not see any sign that the CCP leadership is willing to contemplate political changes [1]. He and other observers think that the Hu leadership is bent on beefing up China’s already formidable public-security apparatus so as to crack down on destabilizing and “disharmonious” elements in society.

After neighboring Kyrgyzstan, which shares a border with the Xinjiang Autonomous Region, underwent a color revolution in 2005, President Hu issued instructions to bolster control over the nation’s dissidents and NGOs, especially those which maintain contact with Western organizations (See “Hu’s recent crackdown on political dissent,” China Brief, June 7, 2005). Several thousand dissidents, human-rights lawyers and NGO activists have been detained or harassed since then. Moreover, high-tech spy equipment has been installed throughout the country. For example, 1 million surveillance cameras have been set up in Guangdong Province, and 50,000 in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang (The Guardian, January 25; New York Times, August 2, 2010).

In an apparent attempt to persuade the masses not to succumb to the proverbial sugar-coated bullets of the capitalist West, patriotic scholars have issued new warnings against an alleged “Western conspiracy” to undermine China’s rise through means ranging from military containment to spreading democratic ideals. For example, Peking University international affairs scholar Yu Wanli asserted in an article last week entitled “Concocting fears about China is an American strategic lever,” that Washington is using weapons including “its value systems and superior soft power” to discredit and rein in China. Zhou Jimo, a researcher at the China Center for International Economic Exchanges pointed out that “Western countries will pull out all the stops to suppress the Chinese economy” (, February 4;, January 30). It remains to be seen, however, whether the CCP’s propaganda offensive, in addition to its time-tested carrot-and-stick approach of mixing economic inducements for its citizens with repressive measures can keep the lid on now that the winds of change are even sweeping through the far reaches of Africa and the Middle East.

Notes: 1. Author’s interview with Liu Junning, February 5, 2011

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

Australia — Pacific

$1m Pledged to Tackle Muslim Extremism

More than $1 million in federal grants have been announced in an effort to stop the spread of extremism among young Muslim people.

Seven grants have been handed out by Federal Attorney General Robert McClelland under the Building Community Resilience Youth Mentoring Grants Program.

He says it is part of a key initiative to counter radicalisation in Australia.

One of the recipients of the grants — The Australian Multicultural Foundation — says it will use the money to select 16 young Muslim people to train and go out and act as leaders in the community.

The Foundation’s executive director, Hass Dellal, says there are several key factors that contribute to radicalisation, including lacking a sense of belonging and feelings of frustration and confusion.

Other groups to receive the grants include Anglicare Sydney, Spectrum Migrant Resource Centre in Melbourne and the Islamic Women’s Welfare Council of Victoria.

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Nearly Half of Australians Are Anti-Muslim: Study

A decade-long national study has found that nearly 50 per cent of Australians identify themselves as having anti-Muslim attitudes.

Researchers from universities across the country polled thousands of people about their attitudes to different cultures and whether they had experienced racism.

The research found around one in 10 Australians identified themselves as prejudiced against other cultures.

About one-quarter of those surveyed said they had anti-Semitic or anti-Asian attitudes, while a slightly larger number were prejudiced against Aborigines.

Anti-Muslim sentiment was even higher, at 48.6 per cent.

Lead researcher Professor Kevin Dunn from the University of Western Sydney says recent political rhetoric has not helped.

“If you continue to speak about a group as a problem, whether that be asylum seekers or Muslims, that will [be] cast within the public mind,” he said.

New South Wales was the state most intolerant of Muslims, with just over 54 per cent of people expressing prejudice.

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Racism Figures Just Don’t Add Up, Says Andrew Bolt

I GIVE up. They’re right: our real problem isn’t the kind of people we let in but the kind of people we are.

We’re racist. Bad to the bone.

Just listen to a David Oldfield on Sydney radio, or watch that One Nation clown on the ABC’s Q&A last Monday.

Or check the University of Western Sydney survey released today, damning one in 10 of us as racist. Even a danger.

As the survey, funded by the Australian Research Council, puts it: “About one in 10 Australians have very problematic views on diversity and on ethnic difference. They believe that some races are naturally inferior or superior.

“These separatists and supremacists are a destructive minority.”

That makes two million Australian racists, and the survey says 49 per cent of us have “anti-Muslim” feelings, too.

Ouch. I’ve argued we should ditch multiculturalism for integration, and perhaps reconsider the kind of immigrants we take in, allowing more for cultural hurdles.

But now I see we just need to shut down these two million racists and those who stir them up with their talk.

So let’s join Prime Minister Julia Gillard and demand the sacking of Opposition frontbencher Cory Bernardi for saying he opposes Islam. Let’s howl down as racist Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison for saying Muslim integration is failing.

Yet one niggling thought still stops me: if two million of us indeed have “destructive” ideas on race and 10 million are “anti-Muslim”, doesn’t this make our immigration intake even more dangerous than the racists claim?

Isn’t bringing in so many Muslims to such a racist country just asking for trouble? Why expose these vulnerable people to such dangerous hatred? Why invite more Cronulla backlashes?

Of course, the Government has this figured. In his speech last week announcing a fresh commitment to multiculturalism, Immigration Minister Chris Bowen promised a new “National Anti-Racism Partnership and Strategy”.

In other words, to make Australia safe for immigrants, he wants to pacify millions of nasty locals with a few commercials about being nice. But isn’t this an idiotically vain hope?

Well, it is, if our problem with some immigrant communities truly is our own racism, rather than anything about those communities themselves.

BUT now another thought starts to niggle. You see, our dislike of foreigners seems oddly selective, according to this University of Western Sydney research.

Although 49 per cent of us are “anti-Muslim”, only half as many are “anti-Semitic”, “anti-indigenous” or “anti-Asian”. And our dislike of Buddhists is so minor that it’s not measured at all.

Let’s ignore the trick questions that produced these startlingly high figures, and simply acknowledge that at least half of our alleged racists aren’t actually racist at all towards, say, an Aboriginal, a Jew, a Hindu or Italian.

It’s the Muslim minority which provokes by far the most concern, and another Government campaign announced this week may explain why.

This one is aimed at Muslims, with $1 million to be spent on convincing the young to be against extremism, so that other Australians don’t get killed.

Well, that’s nice, although I confess I’ve never heard a government say such a plan was needed for Sikhs, Catholics, Indians, Chinese or anyone else.

And so we’re back to the conversation we’re told should be shut down. The one that’s longer than just “racist!”.

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Sub-Saharan Africa

Dozen Killed in Nigerian Village Raid: Military

JOS, Nigeria — Twelve people were reported dead in an overnight attack on a central Nigerian village, the military said, in the latest outbreak of violence in the tense region near the city of Jos. “About 12 people were killed in an isolated attack on a village by suspected (Muslim) Fulanis,” the commander of a military unit deployed in the region, Brigadier-General Hassan Umaru, told AFP. The attack took place in the mainly Christian village of Bere Rige Fan in Barkin Ladi area, 50 kilometres (30 miles) south of Jos, a flashpoint of sectarian violence in Nigeria.

Police confirmed the attack but did not immediately give details of casualties.

The military chief Umaru said the attackers made off with an unspecified number of cows “and I think that was the principal reason for the attack”.

Fulanis are traditionally nomadic cattle herdsmen. A village community leader Samson Dabou said they had counted 17 dead, nine of them children and six wounded, but the figure could not be independently confirmed.

“They went from house to house and broke the doors open, and started shooting. When they (the victims) fell down they cut them with machetes,” said Dabou by telephone.

He said he narrowly escaped as he fled into nearby bushes when the attackers raided the village.

“They killed 17 people and six were injured,” he added about the attack which occurred shortly after midnight.

Mark Lipdo of a Jos-based Christian rights group Stefanos Foundation said the assailants went “from house to house slaughtering people”. Jos and its environs in central Plateau state have been hit by waves of violence involving Christian and Muslim ethnic groups in recent years that left hundreds of people dead.

A series of Christmas Eve bomb blasts in Jos killed dozens and set off a new round of violence.

Plateau state is located in the so-called middle belt between the mainly Muslim north and predominately Christian south of Africa’s most populous nation.

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Somali Pirates Kill Four Kidnapped American Sailors

Armed commandos sped from a US Navy vessel less than 600 yards away after gun shots were heard from inside the Quest’s crew quarters early on Tuesday.

But Jean and Scott Adam, the yacht’s owners, and two of their friends, Phyllis Macay and Bob Riggle, were too badly injured to survive by the time the American forces arrived.

They are the first US citizens to be killed at the hands of Somalia’s pirates.

One pirate died in the gunfight, another was killed as the Americans boarded the 58ft yacht, and 13 were detained, US Vice Adm Mark Fox said. “While negotiations were ongoing to secure the release of four American hostages, US forces responded to gunfire aboard the pirated vessel Quest,” US Central Command said in a statement. “As they responded to the gunfire, reaching and boarding the Quest, the forces discovered all four hostages had been shot by their captors. “Despite immediate steps to provide life-saving care, all four hostages ultimately died of their wounds.”

It is not clear what provoked the shootings, but there were reports late on Tuesday claiming that the two pirates died before the American hostages were attacked.

A commando attack launched from a US warship in 2009 successfully freed an American cargo captain who had been kidnapped from the Maersk Alabama.

“It is very dangerous to mount a rescue operation, so many navies are nervous to launch them,” said Roger Middleton, a piracy analyst at Chatham House in London.

“But there are increasing reports of mistreatment of captured crews, whether there is a rescue operation or not.”

Mr and Mrs Adam, from California, were experienced sailors and committed Christians who distributed Bibles in many of the places they had docked. They began their round world trip in 2004, and their voyage had taken them from New Zealand to South America, across the Pacific and into the Indian Ocean.

Their last passage was from Thailand to India to Oman. Four US warships including the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise had been shadowing the Quest since it was hijacked off Oman on Friday.

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]


43 Tunisians Stopped on Lampedusa After Landing

(ANSAmed) — LAMPEDUSA (AGRIGENTO), FEBRUARY 22 — Migrants from the Tunisian coast continue to land on Lampedusa despite the poor conditions at sea. This morning Carabinieri stopped 43 immigrants who managed to reach shore. Yesterday another 197 Tunisians reached the island on 4 large boats. Currently, the immigrant centre in Lampedusa is housing less than 1,000 people after the large-scale transfers that began yesterday afternoon by plane to other facilities in Sicily, Apulia and Calabria.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

EU-Libya: High Noon With Gaddafi

“If the EU continues to support the protests, Libya will stop cooperating with it on illegal immigration.” As summed up by La Repubblica, this is the brunt of the message sent from Tripoli to the Hungarian presidency of the EU on February 20. The threat is worrisome, writes the Italian daily, for “if the Libyan dam breaks, tens of thousands of Africans who are working as slaves or being held in detention centres in Libya will lead an exodus of Biblical proportions.

“For weeks now, and with the approval of local authorities, the human traffickers have been getting ready to ship thousands of migrants,” the Rome daily adds. Franco Frattini, Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs, “clearly hopes that Gaddafi gets back on top of the situation,” writes La Stampa. According to the minister, the riots in Libya “are not motivated by the need for freedom, as in Tunisia and Egypt, but by the desire to establish a fundamentalist Islamic state,” and therefore should not be encouraged. “The European Union has chosen to confront the regime of Colonel Gaddafi,” confirms Le Temps for its part. “Arriving in Brussels on Sunday evening [February 20] for a dinner largely devoted to the Libyan crisis, the foreign ministers of the Twenty-Seven urged the Libyan regime to meet the ‘legitimate’ aspirations of the people and to stop the bloody suppression of the protests.” Vis-à-vis Libya, the EU is “in an extremely delicate position”, the Geneva newspaper goes on.

“The outrageous behaviour of Colonel Qaddafi has strained the nerves of the Twenty-Seven for many years, as with the case of the Swiss hostages in Tripoli. But the importance of the country to energy supplies to the Union and its key role in the illegal immigration networks from Africa — thanks to its 2,000 km coastline and the 4,000 km border it shares with its six African neighbours — makes it a ticking time-bomb at the gates of Europe.” The call by Ashton in Tripoli on February 20 for “an open and meaningful dialogue” does not, however, meet with unanimity among member countries.” Italy and the Czech Republic refused to condemn Libya roundly on Sunday night — a preview of intense debate in the Twenty-Seven should the situation keep worsening,” writes Le Temps.

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

From Greece to Italy, EU Moves Across Fronts

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, FEBRUARY 21 — The EU Commission is moving “on several fronts”, from Greece to Italy, in order to cope with the migratory pressure acting across the Mediterranean area. This was the line taken in Brussels by Michele Cercone, spokesperson for EU Interior Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom, in replying to journalists’ questions about possible migratory flows arriving across the EU’s borders.

In recent months the border between Greece and Turkey has been receiving help from rapid intervention teams from the EU’s Rapid Border Intervention Team (RABIT) units. Meanwhile, an accord over immigration between the EU and Turkey is in preparation.

“The re-admission accord between the EU and Turkey,” Cercone stated, “is being examined by the member states. We are now concentrating on the Mediterranean area and on the Italian side, but this is a much larger front and we are moving on several fronts, as the RABIT mission shows”.

The spokesperson went on to point out that the mission has a “temporary” nature, and is presently due to expire on March 2.

But “we are exploring the idea of extending our support to Greece in a more structured way. The will is there to give assistance to the Greek authorities for as long as possible”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Greece: Sailboat Headed to Italy Stopped

(ANSAmed) — ATHENS, FEBRUARY 22- The Greek coast guard intercepted a sailboat that was in difficulty off the coast of the island of Lefkada, with over one hundred illegal immigrants on board as well as three human traffickers. All of the immigrants, who were attempting to reach Italy, were brought to the port of Vasilikis. Seven of them were brought to the Lefkada hospital as a precautionary measure, while the three human traffickers were arrested.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Labour’s Immigration Policy Let in 3m in Defiance of British People’s Wishes

Official figures to be published on Thursday will confirm that foreign immigration under Labour added more than three million to our population.

At the same time nearly one million British citizens voted with their feet, some saying that they were leaving because England was no longer a country that they recognised.

How could all this have happened in the teeth of public opposition? Even the Labour government’s own survey last February showed that 77 per cent of the public wanted immigration reduced, including 54 per cent of the ethnic communities, while 50 per cent of the public wanted it reduced ‘by a lot’.

There are, of course, good arguments for controlled and limited immigration. Migration in both directions is a natural part of an open economy. And there are many immigrants who are valuable both to our economy and our society.

Mass immigration is an entirely different matter. The question now is how did it happen and what can be done about it. Was it all a Labour conspiracy? Was it sheer incompetence in government? Or was it wholesale retreat in front of the race relations lobby?

The strongest evidence for conspiracy comes from one of Labour’s own. Andrew Neather, a previously unheard-of speechwriter for Blair, Straw and Blunkett, popped up with an article in the Evening Standard in October 2009 which gave the game away.

Immigration, he wrote, ‘didn’t just happen; the deliberate policy of Ministers from late 2000… was to open up the UK to mass immigration’.

He was at the heart of policy in September 2001, drafting the landmark speech by the then Immigration Minister Barbara Roche, and he reported ‘coming away from some discussions with the clear sense that the policy was intended — even if this wasn’t its main purpose — to rub the Right’s nose in diversity and render their arguments out of date’.

That seemed, even to him, a manoeuvre too far.

The result is now plain for all to see. Even Blair’s favourite think tank, the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), commented recently: ‘It is no exaggeration to say that immigration under New Labour has changed the face of the country.’

It is not hard to see why Labour’s own apparatchiks supported the policy. Provided that the white working class didn’t cotton on, there were votes in it.

Research into voting patterns conducted for the Electoral Commission after the 2005 general election found that 80 per cent of Caribbean and African voters had voted Labour, while only about 3 per cent had voted Conservative and roughly 8 per cent for the Liberal Democrats.

The Asian vote was split about 50 per cent for Labour, 10 per cent Conservatives and 15 per cent Liberal Democrats.

Nor should we underestimate the power of ‘community leaders’ who have strong influence in constituency Labour parties and who, of course, benefit from a growth in numbers.

Other activists, nurtured in the anti-apartheid movement of the last century, had no difficulty promoting the interests of minority groups — almost, it seems, regardless of the impact on the white working class.

There were also economic factors. A collection of essays published recently by the IPPR underlined the role of Gordon Brown’s Treasury in this affair. A high level of immigration made economic growth look better and helped keep wages and, therefore, inflation down.

Others, too, saw economic benefits for themselves. The employers’ organisations kept their heads down, but there is little doubt that they were privately encouraging a supply of cheap labour which was good for profits, whatever its impact on society.

Then there were those members of the middle classes who found it convenient to have cheap exotic restaurants and even cheaper domestic help, but were blind to the wider consequences of this population inflow which were, of course, felt in the poorer neighbourhoods.

Another major factor was the attitude of the BBC and, in particular, its devotion to multiculturalism. For years it avoided discussing immigration if it possibly could.

Although in the autumn of 2005 official statistics for the previous year showed an increase of 50 per cent in net immigration, there was no mention of this on the BBC. Its own report into impartiality, published in June 2007, concluded that its coverage of immigration amounted to bias by omission.

Last December the corporation’s director-general admitted: ‘There are some areas, immigration, business and Europe, where the BBC has historically been rather weak and rather nervous about letting that entire debate happen.’ Indeed so.

The overall effect was to deter any serious discussion of immigration and to give plenty of space to the Left to accuse anyone who raised the subject of being a covert racist. On this matter the BBC failed to meet its own standards of objectivity.

How about Labour’s competence in government? A succession of six home secretaries and eight ministers of immigration was a testament to their utter failure to focus on a subject of crucial importance to Britain’s future.

Labour ministers had no sooner grasped the elements of the problem than they were moved to a new post. Government policy was that immigration was good for the economy, so why make difficulties about it?

The first Labour Home Secretary even to inquire about the numbers was Jacqui Smith. But she, too, was gone in the twinkling of an eye.

The reality is there was no government focus on the scale of immigration and no serious effort made to reduce it.

In the end, Labour paid the price.

Anger over mass immigration was a major reason why so many of Labour’s working-class supporters did not vote at the last election.

They were not alone in their verdict. An intriguing opinion survey found that, when the public were asked what they regarded as the greatest failures of Tony Blair’s time as Prime Minister, 62 per cent pointed to the fact that immigration had reached unacceptable levels — even more than the 56 per cent who chose the invasion of Iraq.

Blair himself shows no remorse. His memoirs, which run to 690 pages, contain only one page on immigration.

The reference describes his strategy for handling the policy at the 2005 election, saying: ‘Because our position was sophisticated enough — a sort of “confess and avoid”, as the lawyers say — we won out.’

If Blair thinks his immigration policy was a success, he is almost alone.

So, what about the future? What can be done?

The current government has taken one vital step. It has established an overall target range for immigration policy — to get net immigration down to tens of thousands by the end of this Parliament.

It is looking at the issue of work permits and dependants, seeing what can be done to tighten up numbers.

It has also made a start on economic migration and is ready to address the issue of foreign students, marriage and false asylum claimants which are the other main elements of immigration.

This will be uphill work, and the Liberal Democrat partners in the Coalition can be expected to make difficulties (so it will be essential to remain vigilant).

Nevertheless, Home Office ministers are showing some determination — and the official machine is at last responding to the overwhelming and democratically expressed wish of the British public…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Lacking Faith in Future, Tunisians Take to the Boats

They were the ones who triggered the revolution: the poor and disenfranchised of Tunisia. But despite their hard-won freedom, many don’t see any prospects for a quick improvement in their lives, and are seeking their fortunes across the sea in Europe. An uncertain future awaits them there.

For the young people of Sfax, their newfound freedom begins at dusk, on a beachfront street lined with palm trees. But this freedom doesn’t come with the sweet scent of jasmine. Instead, it smells of sweat, motor oil and putrid algae.

Under the cover of darkness, young men drag canisters of gasoline to the beach, along with bags of milk, sugar and biscuits, which they combine to make a doughy pulp to stave off hunger on the stormy seas.

A full moon is rising over Sfax, the second-largest city in this country of 10 million on the North African coast. Munir, a 21-year-old with the beginnings of a beard around his mouth, is wearing everything he owns: a down jacket, a leather vest and two pairs of jeans.

He wants to leave his country, just as it is about to blossom. It’s been five weeks since the Jasmine Revolution, with which the Tunisian youth drove out the country’s eternal ruler for life, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, but Munir still doesn’t believe he has a future in his country.

In the moonlight, Munir draws a diagram in the sand depicting the route he has chosen for his passage. Some 100 nautical miles to the northeast lies Lampedusa, which Munir sees as paradise. The trip takes 15 hours at night, provided the captain is experienced. The problem is the wind, says Munir, drawing thick arrows in the sand, the Mistral and the Libeccio, and anyone hoping to cross has to wait until it has died down.

He calls the captain on his mobile phone. The captain had told him that they would make the crossing tonight, that he should drum up 15 men, and that each of them should bring 2,000 dinar, or €1,000 ($1,360) to pay for the trip. There still isn’t a boat in sight.

‘One Leg in the Boat, the Other in the Grave’

Munir said goodbye to his father a few hours ago. The father was sitting in front of the television set in his tiny apartment, staring at images of crowds protesting in Egypt, Bahrain and Libya. Ben Ali had suffered a stroke in Saudi Arabia, the news anchor said, and was now in a coma.

Munir’s father had sat there dejectedly, the euphoria of the last few weeks now dissipated, making himself sick with worry over his son. He doesn’t want Munir to leave the country. “You’ll have one leg in the boat and the other in the grave,” he said. The father believes in the revolution in the Arab countries. “Look at them cheering. You’re gambling your life away. Help rebuild your country instead,” he had told his son. “How can you rebuild something if there’s nothing there?” Munir asked.

Munir has been planning his escape for the last three years. He has sat in a boat a dozen times, but the National Guard’s strict controls thwarted his plans each time. But now his prospects are good, given the power vacuum in Tunis. No one knows what the politicians in the transitional government are planning, whether and when there will be elections, and whether the Islamists are gaining ground. Since Jan. 14, the police and National Guard have had their hands full with other problems and little time to hunt down would-be refugees. Some are afraid to leave their barracks, fearing retaliation from the demonstrators, while others are striking for higher pay.

Now that the new government has come under pressure following the arrival of more than 5,000 Tunisian migrants on the Italian island of Lampedusa, the authorities have returned to the beaches in trucks, illuminating the sand with their headlights. The westerly wind is largely to blame for the fall in the number of refugee boats in recent days, but the wind will eventually die down and the flow of migrants will surge once again. It will continue for as long as there are young men like Munir, who feel trapped by their poverty and lack of prospects.

Munir is a “Harraga,” a derivative of the Arab word “harragar,” or “to burn.” He is one those who burn their papers before getting into a boat to seek their fortunes in Europe. He is also one of those who revolted against unemployment and repression, thereby triggering the Tunisian revolution in the first place. They are now continuing their protest on the waves.

“The passage is very easy at the moment,” says Mohammed, a young doctor. It’s almost like walking into a travel agency, he says. You make a few calls, and you’re given the choice between a fishing boat and a tourist boat departing from the resort towns of Djerba or Hammamet. You give someone a mobile phone number, bring your money to the beach and wait. His brother did the same thing last Wednesday, says Mohammed. No one in his family had any idea that he was leaving.

University Degree But no Job for Years

It isn’t just the uneducated who are fleeing. Mohammed’s brother, a math teacher with a university degree, had waited years for a job. Three days ago, he called Mohammed from a reception center in Apulia in southeastern Italy and told him that he planned to board a train to Paris the next day.

Mohammed is standing in front of the city hospital in Sfax. He is only 25, but he has already seen the victims of failed passages in his ward, dehydrated or with bullet wounds. The bodies that have washed ashore are in the morgue in the basement. He says: “Something is going wrong in this country. We now have freedom of the press, and we can talk about Tunisia’s problems, like centralism, the corrupt elites, torture in the prisons, but we’re not tackling them.” This morning, he says, he heard two 16-year-olds on the street talking about their friends who now live in Italy, where they drive Vespas and have girlfriends and jobs, and that they too had decided to make the trip.

Mohammed says Tunisians must force their politicians to finally address the taboo subject of mass emigration. He wrote to the transitional president, Fouad Mebazaa, and placed a petition on the Internet. Together with journalists at a small private television station in Zarzis, Mohammed established Internet forums showing films of the dangerous crossing. They want to convince the country’s young people to stay in the country and prevent Tunisia from being bled dry.

But Munir is more interested in fast money, wealth and the future. He is staring out at the dark sea. It is shortly before midnight and there is still no boat in sight, only a few hooded figures without luggage. The wait is getting to be too much for him. He calls Saif, the Harraga king of Sfax, and tells him that he wants to get out, that he wants to make the trip tonight. They meet on the beach, between a mosque and the police station, and whisper to each other.

Saif is a 35-year-old man with tired eyes and tattooed forearms. The boys of Sfax admire him. He owns a boat and is an experienced captain. They beg him to take them across the Mediterranean. Saif says he can understand their yearning for freedom. He had it himself, three times, he says, but it was the biggest mistake of his life, and he paid a heavy price for it.

Life as a Second-Class Citizen Beckons

Saif’s odyssey began 12 years ago, when he took more than 50 Harragas with him on his boat. The passage to Lampedusa took less than 15 hours. He ended up in Naples, where there was no work for him. He was sleeping among the bums at the train station. Now he was an illegal alien, and the loneliness was making him sick. After six months Saif took a ferry back to Tunis, feeling like a failure.

He tried again six months later. This time he knew what to expect. “We are second-class people. Men become drug dealers and women work as prostitutes. Either you get used to it or you fail.”

He tried his luck at the train station in Bologna, pushing cocaine and heroin he bought from the Albanian mafia. He was now making more than €1,000 a day — and spending it just as fast, on girls, parties and alcohol. He forgot to pray and he forgot his native Tunisia. When one of his sisters died, he returned to Sfax and paid for the funeral. He was now the family hero, but he had already succumbed to a fast and false life. He stole a boat in the harbor, not far from the spot where Munir and the other young men are now waiting, and made the passage to Lampedusa a third time.

Now he was not only dealing heroin, but smoking it himself. He was caught with half a kilo, €25,000 in cash and a loaded pistol, and spent more than three years in prison. When Saif returned to Tunisia he was a broken man. Now he repairs fishnets, just as he used to do. He married the daughter of a neighbor who knows nothing about his past. She recently suggested that they emigrate together.

Munir isn’t interested in the flipside of good fortune. He is deaf to Saif’s warnings. He returns to the beach, and his mobile phone finally rings at around 1 a.m. The captain says that the crowd was too big today and that he has to find a better boat, that Munir is on the waiting list and should come back to tomorrow. “Inshallah,” says the captain, “everything will work out tomorrow.”

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Libya: EU Fears New Wave of Immigration, Ready to Act

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, FEBRUARY 21 — The European Union fears a new wave of immigration from the coasts of North Africa to the countries on the other side of the Mediterranean and is ready to help the nations that will be handling this difficult situation.

“The situation is still very fluid and it is difficult to provide numbers right now,” said Michele Cercone, the spokesman for EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecile Malmstrom, responding to a question on how many migrants may arrive on Europe’s coasts. On Saturday the EU Commission announced that they would send a Frontex mission, the European border control agency, to Lampedusa and to the waters between Italy and Libya, and reiterated today that they are ready to increase the size of the mission “if necessary”. The measures to be adopted in order to handle the wave of immigrants in departure from North Africa is one of the topics on the agenda today at the meeting of EU foreign ministers and will also be the focus of the meeting of EU interior and justice ministers on Thursday and Friday.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

One Migrant a Minute Lands in Britain

The previous government’s shambolic open-door policy is laid bare by research which shows that net migration quadrupled as a result of the influx ushered in by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

And the figures reveal that when immigration was at its peak before 2009, one immigrant legally moved to the UK every minute under a cavalier approach which was last night blasted as “Labour’s great betrayal”.

Campaign group MigrationWatch UK said the largest wave of immigration for 1,000 years is further swelled by a million if the estimated number of illegal immigrants allowed to slip into Britain is taken into account.

Sir Andrew Green, the think-tank’s chairman, said: “The sheer scale of what has occurred is changing Britain fundamentally and irrevocably and in ways the majority of the population did not ask for, were not consulted about and did not wish to see.”

He said the legal introduction of 3.2 million people — three times the population of Birmingham — was increasing the pressure on “roads, railways, housing, infrastructure, the environment, schools, hospitals and the general quality of life”.

The startling picture of Labour’s failure is revealed in the most comprehensive study of immigration to date.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Did Neanderthals Use Feathers for Fashion?

Italy has ruled the fashion world for longer than we thought. That, at least, is the claim of archaeologists who say they have evidence that Neanderthals were using feathers as ornaments 44,000 years ago. The tenuous claim adds fuel to the debate over whether our distant cousins were simple brutes or as cultured as Homo sapiens. Marco Peresani at the University of Ferrara in Italy found 660 bird bones mixed in with Neanderthal bones in Fumane cave in northern Italy. Many of the wing bones were cut and scraped where the flight feathers were once attached, suggesting the feathers had been systematically removed. Just like the shells which Neanderthals may have worn as jewellery, Peresani thinks the feathers were used as ornaments. He dismisses other explanations on the grounds that many of the species are poor food sources and fletched arrows had not been invented at the time. João Zilhão at the University of Barcelona in Spain says it is more evidence that Neanderthals were as cultured as H. sapiens.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

New Idea to Reduce Global Warming: Everyone Eat Insects

There is a rational, even persuasive, argument for voluntarily eating insects: Bugs are high in protein, require less space to grow and offer a more environmentally friendly alternative to the vertebrates we Westerners prefer, advocates of the bug fare say. However, this topic is not a hotbed of research, so while some data exist — in particular on the protein content of insects — there are some assumptions built into the latter part of this argument. “The suggestion that insects would be more efficient has been around for quite some time,” said Dennis Oonincx, an entomologist at Wageningen University in the Netherlands. He and other researchers decided to test it, by comparing the greenhouse gas emissions from five species of insects with those of cattle and pigs.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Star Lawyer Alan Dershowitz: ‘Assange is a New Kind of Journalist’

Alan Dershowitz has recently become part of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s legal team. He spoke with SPIEGEL about what the First Amendment has to say about WikiLeaks and the legal implications of social media’s role in the Arab uprisings.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]