Saturday, January 11, 2003

News Feed 20110304

Financial Crisis
»Bankers Gone Wild
»Fed Documents Reveal 22.1% Unemployment
»Gulf: 45 Businesses/Families Manage 2 Trillion Dollars
»You Call This an Economic Recovery?
»CAIR Censors Another Talk-Radio Host
»More D.S.A. Connections to Madison — Russia Today Chimes in
»Public Unions: What’s the Big Deal Anyway?
»Red Reps 3 Mark Miller — Socialist Stooge in the Wisconsin State Senate?
»Tea Party Leader: John Boehner Should Go
»Union Bill Whizzing Through Ohio Legislature
»Tarek Fatah: Some Death Threats Don’t Count
Europe and the EU
»Fatal Shooting at Frankfurt Airport
»France: Veils Banned for Mothers on Schools Trips
»Geldof Sees Chance of Romance With Berlusconi Scandal Teen
»Germany: Facebook Jihad
»Germany: Catholics Urge Ditching Celibacy Rule for Priests
»Islamist Shooter Radicalized in Germany
»Italy: Berlusconi Sex-Scandal Teen Plans Mexican Migration
»Italy: Financial Police Acquire Documents on Rent Scandal
»Italy: Ruby Set to Marry and Intends to Emigrate to Mexico
»Italy: Former Minister Jailed for 2 Years for Embezzlement
»Kosovo Killer of Two at Frankfurt is Fundamentalist Muslim
»Libya: Opposition Carries on Fight Against Gadhafi
»Netherlands: More Church Officials Come Forward to Admit Abuse
»Sweden: Politician on Trial for Nude Muhammad Poster Acquitted
»‘Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan Wants to be the Father’
»UK: Father Who Walked Out on Daughter a Year Before Her Mother Let Her Starve to Death Wins Legal Aid to Sue Councilby Andy Dolan
»UK: Jailed: Girl, 18, Whose Rape Lies Led to the Arrest of Afghanistan War Heroes
»UK: NHS Apartheid: Scotland Grants Free Prescriptions… But English Patients Must Pay Even More
»Croatia: Anti-Government Protesters Burn Party and EU Flags
North Africa
»At a Tense Border Crossing, A Systematic Effort to Keep Black Africans Out
»Egypt: Gamal Mubarak ‘Attempted Suicide’ With Poisoned Tea
»Gaddafi’s Forces Capture Dutch Marines on Rescue Mission
»Government Launches Tunisia Mission — Naval Vessel Bound for Benghazi
»Libya: Al Jazeera: Gaddafi Would Approve Chavez Plan
»Libya: Rebels Want Military Aid, US Stops Short
»Libya: EU Raises Humanitarian Aid Funds to 30 Mln Euros
»Libya: Al Jazeera: Gaddafi Refuses Nicaragua’s Asylum Offer
»Libya: Gaddafi Hires Tuaregs for His Defence, Spanish Press
»Libya-Cyprus: Gaddafi Pays 4 Million Euros for Debts
»Libya: Interpol Issues International Arrest Warrants Against Gaddafi and 15 Other Libyans
»Major Libyan Oil Plant Ablaze as Rebellions Erupt in Tripoli After Friday Prayers
»‘Time is on Gadhafi’s Side’
»Tunisia: Ennahda Party May Take Part in Interim Gov’t
»Tunisia: UGTT Attracted to the Idea of Becoming a Party
Israel and the Palestinians
»‘Day of Rage’ By Settlers Over Outpost Demolition
»Gaza: Bank Protest After Hamas Seizes Funds
Middle East
»Caroline Glick: The New Middle East
»Gulf: GCC Studies ‘Marshall Plan’ For Oman and Bahrain
»Opposition: Lawyers and Colleagues Express Outrage at New Ergenekon Raids
»Radical ‘Shariah’ Feared Result of ‘Freedom’ Protests
»Saudi Arabia: Invitation for ‘Day of Anger’ On Facebook
South Asia
»Afghanistan: An Inseparable Pair: Dog Collapses and Dies After Army Handler is Killed
»Pakistan: Punjab: Christians Fear More Massacres After Churches and Tombs Are Desecrated
Far East
»China: Europe and China at Loggerheads Over Rare Earths
Sub-Saharan Africa
»Denmark Has Released 200 Somali Pirates
»Border Agents Given Bean Bags to Fight AK-47s
»Illegal Immigrants to Get New Rights in Sweden
»Libya: Italy Willing to Carry Out Checks in Tunisian Ports
»Sicily Petitions Emergency Aid to Handle African Migration
»Sweden in ‘Historic’ Deal on Immigration Policy
Culture Wars
»UK: Christianity Isn’t Dying, It’s Being Eradicated

Financial Crisis

Bankers Gone Wild

19. The Melt-Down

And here is where the system began to really break down. Because the mortgages and titles had been traded around in the creation of the mortgage-backed securities, the companies servicing the mortgages (i.e. collecting the payments) could not locate the actual mortgage note. In the cases where the same mortgage had been pledged as collateral on more than one mortgage-backed security, the paperwork trail led to more than one owner-of-record.

By the end of the year, it had become apparent that a massive fraud had been committed by the mortgage bundlers, and that a great many of the mortgage-backed securities held by investors and pension funds were in fact without collateral. While the mortgages were being paid and returns on the investment paid, nobody noticed. But as homes started to default it became apparent that investors did not in fact have any collateral behind most of those collateralized debt obligations! Lawsuits followed by investors trying to recover money from the banks. In a telling move, the US Government has moved to protect the banks!

20. Tarp and the Bailouts

Those mortgage-backed securities with multiply-assigned mortgages ARE the “Toxic Assets” Congress was screaming about when they forced the Troubled Asset Relief Program through Congress in the fall of 2008, despite overwhelming public opposition. The mortgage bundlers had stuck key financial institutions with fraudulent mortgage-backed securities, and Congress voted to loot the public to purchase the useless paper and hide it from public scrutiny. Why? Because the members of the US Congress had their own fortunes invested in those fraudulent mortgage-backed securities. Had the institutions collapsed, members of Congress would have been ruined as well. So they saved their own investments by dropping the losses on the American people!

This is why, even though the public opposed TARP, members of Congress were so happy when the bill finally was forced through the Congress.

Commercial real estate was caught up in the mortgage-backed securities mania, and eventually the US Government used $3 trillion in taxpayer funds to deal with that growing catastrophe!

In other cases, the Federal Government has been exposed as intentionally concealing the scale of the losses from the American taxpayer, even to the point of hiding billions in bailout payments, further fueling speculation that the major “Too Big To Fail” banks have indeed already failed and are technically insolvent.

We are not talking about a few crooked bankers, but a system-wide culture of criminality that makes Bernie Madoff-with-the-loot, the NASDAQ founder who swindled his own investors for $65 billion, look like a choir boy!

[Return to headlines]

Fed Documents Reveal 22.1% Unemployment

However, publicity given to 8.9% count leaving many out

The real U.S. unemployment rate may be 22.1 percent for February 2011, not the 8.9 percent reported by the government, according to economist John Williams, author of the “Shadow Government Statistics” website, who has argued for years that the federal government manipulates the reporting of economic data for political purposes.


But Williams recreates an SGS (Shadow Government Statistics) alternative unemployment rate reflecting methodology that includes “long-term discouraged workers” that the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 1994 under the Clinton administration redefined away from those considered “unemployed.”

The BLS no longer considers as “unemployed” those workers without jobs who had not looked for work in the past year because they felt no jobs were available.

Williams demonstrated that it takes an expert to truly decipher BLS unemployment statistics.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Gulf: 45 Businesses/Families Manage 2 Trillion Dollars

(ANSAmed) — ROME, MARCH 3 — About 45 businesses/families in the Gulf Region managed assets equal to two trillion dollar at the end of last year, said the Chief Representative of LGT Bank, David Gibson. The executive was speaking during a forum on the global financial markets and Islamic finance organised by Abu Dhabi National Bank and cited by Al Arabiya’s website.

The families/businesses in the Middle East face huge challenges, said Gibson, because 30% of them are in their second generation, 13% are in their third and 4% are in their fourth. Most of these businesses, underlined Gibson, run according to Sharia, concentrating on charity, development projects and services. Islamic banks are currently going through a very positive period, but they need to invent many new banking products to keep in pace with the global economic situation, said Gibson.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

You Call This an Economic Recovery?

44 Million Americans On Food Stamps and 10 Other Reasons Why The Economy Is Simply Not Getting Better

When Barack Obama, the Federal Reserve and the mainstream media tell us that we are in the middle of an economic recovery, is that supposed to be some kind of sick joke? According to newly released numbers, over 44 million Americans are now on food stamps. That is a new all-time record and that number is 13.1% higher than it was just one year ago. So how many Americans have to go on food stamps before we can all finally agree that the U.S. economy is dying? 50 million? 60 million? All of us? The food stamp program is the modern equivalent of the old bread lines. More than one out of every seven Americans now depends on the federal government for food. Oh, but haven’t you heard? The economy is showing dramatic improvement. Corporate profits are up. The stock market is soaring. Happy days are here again.

It just seems inconceivable that anyone can claim that the economy is improving when the number of Americans on food stamps continues to set a brand new record every single month. But the food stamp program is not the only indicator that the economy is still having massive problems. The following are 10 more reasons why the U.S. economy is simply not getting any better…

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


CAIR Censors Another Talk-Radio Host

Ex-congressman pushed off air for anti-Islamist warnings

Former U.S. Rep. Fred Grandy has been forced to walk away from his popular morning drive-time radio talk show in Washington after the station’s management insisted he avoid discussions of radical Islam, sources close to Grandy say.

The station, WMAL, also reportedly banned Grandy’s wife from future broadcasts. The outspoken “Mrs. Fred” was a regular guest on his show.

Grandy, who before entering politics played “Gopher” on the hit TV show “The Love Boat,” refused WMAL management’s terms and left his broadcasting job with the station Tuesday. WMAL confirmed his resignation in a brief statement on its website.

In recent months, Grandy invited Muslim activists on his morning show, “The Grandy Group,” to debate the threat from the radical Muslim Brotherhood. He also hosted several U.S. security officials — including former CIA, FBI and Pentagon officials — who all warned the Brotherhood was infiltrating Washington through its U.S. front groups.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

More D.S.A. Connections to Madison — Russia Today Chimes in

Democratic Socialists of America is the U.S.’s largest Marxist organization.

I have written here, here and here of the D.S.A. connections to labor/social unrest in Madison Wisconsin and other states.

Here is Mike Elk, from D.S.A.’s Talking Union blog, discussing the Madison occupation with Moscow’s media tool — Russia Today.

The fact D.S.A. is collaborating with a Russian propaganda station, should give some clue as to who stands to gain from this chaos.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Public Unions: What’s the Big Deal Anyway?

Public Unions; what’s the big deal anyway? Well, here is the big deal. Public employees as we all know derive their paycheck ultimately from the taxpayer. Union dues are pulled directly out of the employees’ paycheck and in some States without choice to the employee. These are not small numbers either. Public Unions take in around 2 billion dollars a year in dues paid by employees which ultimately came from the taxpayer.

Unions typically take the dues paid by public employees that originated from the taxpayer and use that money to campaign or lobby against their government employer, which is the taxpayer, for even more money. In many cases, the person who is arbitrating on behalf of the Union is also on the school board or serves in some other public capacity. If he is a Democrat, and he most likely is, he probably got elected with huge amounts of money and support from the Unions. The money the Unions spent to help elect this candidate came from dues, which originated from taxpayers in the first place. The end result is that Public Unions become a financial arm of the Democratic Party. So to follow the money, public funds are spent on employees labor then paid in dues by employees to Unions and then spent on a Democratic candidate who is elected to advance even further the Unions at the expense of the Taxpayer.

There is a place for Unions in the private sector. The Public sector is a completely different ballgame. The way to manage the workplace environment for government employees is through the legislative process. That is how our republic works. If you are among the 7% of Government employees within the nation and you want a raise, then you must convince the taxpayers, by that I mean the voters, that your skills and services are necessary and worth what they are willing to pay. That compromise is made in the legislative bodies in open forum and debate within our government, not within the backroom deals between Union bosses and politicians haggling over money that neither had to pay into.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Red Reps 3 Mark Miller — Socialist Stooge in the Wisconsin State Senate?

No State Senator bears more responsibility for the recent events in Madison, Wisconsin than Mark Miller. As Democrat minority leader, Mark Miller led a a boycott of all 14 Democrat State Senators. The group all bailed to neighboring Illinois on February 17, denying Republicans a quorum in the Wisconsin State Senate, so they could not pass Governor Scott Walker’s controversial “Budget Repair Bill”.

Even before thousands of socialists and labor unionists descended on the State Capital, Miller reportedly worked with Madison mayor Dave Ciesliewicz in an attempt to persuade the Secretary of State to delay Scott Walker’s Bill, so that Ciesliewicz could sign off on City union contracts before the Bill was passed.

I have written here, here, here, here, here, here and here on efforts by the U.S.’s largest Marxist organization Democratic Socialists of America to fan the Wisconsin flames, into a nationwide anti- GOP movement.

D.S.A. has a policy of infiltrating and influencing state legislatures nationwide. DSAers members and sympathizers posing as Democrats, hold key positions in several state legislatures, including in New York, Michigan, Illinois, Maryland, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Wisconsin. These covert socialist supporters are then used to put D.S.A. drafted legislation before their legislatures and agitate and lobby for its passage.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Tea Party Leader: John Boehner Should Go

“You look like a fool,” Tea Party Nation founder Judson Phillips wrote in a post on the group’s website, directing his message at the Ohio Republican. “Charlie Sheen is now making more sense than John Boehner.”

Boehner “did not get the message” from the tea party movement demanding big cuts to federal spending, Phillips said, and “the honeymoon is over.” The movement should respond, he said, by finding “a candidate to run against John Boehner in 2012 and should set as a goal, to defeat in a primary, the sitting Speaker of the House of Representatives.”

Phillips said Boehner has backpedaled on his promise to cut $100 billion from the 2011 budget with a continuing resolution spending bill passed in the House last month that included $61 billion in cuts, and is declaring victory before the House and Senate have agreed on a bill that funds the government for the rest of the year and not just the next two weeks. And the messages coming from the speaker have been confusing and contradictory, Phillips said.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Union Bill Whizzing Through Ohio Legislature

COLUMBUS, Ohio — While much of the nation’s attention remains focused on a stalled proposal in Wisconsin to restrict collective bargaining rights for public workers, an Ohio measure that in some ways is tougher and broader is speeding toward reality.

A Senate panel and then the full chamber approved the Ohio measure Wednesday amid jeers from onlookers. The bill would restrict the collective bargaining rights of roughly 350,000 teachers, firefighters, police officers and other public employees, while Wisconsin’s would affect about 175,000 workers and exempt police and firefighters.


The Ohio bill would ban strikes by public workers and establish penalties for those who do participate in walkouts. State workers in Wisconsin are already prohibited from striking.

Unionized workers in Ohio could negotiate wages, hours and certain work conditions — but not health care, sick time or pension benefits. The measure would do away with automatic pay raises, and base future wage increases on merit.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Tarek Fatah: Some Death Threats Don’t Count

I had just woken from surgery when the first death threat arrived.

“This is an open threat to Xaar Boy @Tarek Fatah,” read the first Twitter posting, with its vulgar Somali adjective. “I know where you live & and where your office is.”

The sender signed herself as Mariama AnnaLitical and pictured herself wearing a purple hijab in the style of Toronto’s radical young Islamists. Other Twitter followers denounced the threat and urged that AnnaLitical be reported, even arrested. At one point she withdrew the warning, then repeated it later the same morning:

“He was also the 1 to propose banning the Niqab in Quebec… (and he) supports homosexuality,” she wrote, reiterating again: “This is an open threat. I know where you live/work @TarekFatah.”

Her fellow Islamists joined in, calling me a bad Muslim for opposing the hijab and supporting equality for gays. Other posters said I had brought the threats down onto myself.

I contacted Toronto police. Within hours, two uniformed policemen from 51 Division came to interview me in hospital. However, barely one minute later, we were interrupted. Two men entered the room and told everybody else to leave. They did not identify themselves, but five minutes into what amounted to a two-hour interrogation, I realized they were police intelligence officers. One of them, I recognized by reputation — a Muslim officer who had shut down a previous investigation into a death threat against me in 2008, and another one against a partner in liberal Islam, Tahir Gora.

The latter incident took place in the winter of 2007. Gora, at that time, a columnist for the Hamilton Spectator, had spotted a Facebook page titled “The Enemies of Islam.” The page masthead featured the names and pictures of Gora, Bangladesh author Taslima Nasreen, Sir Salman Rushdie, Irshad Manji and yours truly. Next to Gora’s name was written, “Pseudo Muslims like you should be put to death.” Similar threats were made against the other secular or liberal Muslims on the list.

Gora alerted Toronto police and within days he was visited by two plainclothes officers. Both were Muslim. Gora showed the lead officer all the posts, but despite the mountain of evidence, the officer showed little interest.

“He told me they [the police] felt the website creator was not in a position to harm me,” Gora says. When Gora suggested charges should be laid to serve as a deterrent, the officer refused. “From the officer’s tone and body language,” Gora says, “it was obvious he was upset that I was filing a complaint against a fellow Muslim.”

Meanwhile, after the intelligence officers left, the original officers confided to me that it was unusual for “intel” to act before a report had even been filed. I realized this was now about politics, and nothing would be done to help me.

Later that night, the same Muslim officer called me to say AnnaLitical posed no danger. “She didn’t mean to say it,” the officer said. I asked if any charges were laid. “No,” he said. “I didn’t think it was necessary.”

I have since informed Toronto Police Services chair Alok Mukherjee and Police Chief Bill Blair. Mukerjee assured me he will look into the matter. Chief Blair has not replied.

The Toronto police, in their wish to promote an image of diversity and outreach, have dedicated themselves to serving and protecting the the radical Islamist elements within our city. Meanwhile, Muslims like myself, who do their best to promote the equality and respect that the police claim to cherish, are left without legal protection when radicals explicitly and publicly threaten us with violence. In Toronto, anybody can issue an “open threat” against a man laying helpless in a hospital bed and be assured they will not face charges, so long as the person making the threat is a black Muslim woman wearing a hijab.

I’m hopeful that the police may yet make the right decision, now that I have gone public with this disgrace. If not, I will know the city I love is lost.

           — Hat tip: Vlad Tepes[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Fatal Shooting at Frankfurt Airport

German Investigators Suspect Islamist Motives behind Attack

German authorities are pursuing substantial evidence that the perpetrator of Wednesday’s attack at Frankfurt Airport, which killed two American airmen, had links with Islamist groups in Germany. There is concern that additional attacks may be in the works.

Following initial investigations, security authorities in Germany are investigating whether Wednesday’s shooting at Frankfurt Airport was a targeted attack on the US Army. They are also exploring whether US soldiers in Germany are at risk of further attacks.

SPIEGEL ONLINE has learned from security sources that the 21-year-old attacker got on to a bus which was carrying US soldiers and opened fire with a pistol. Two US airmen were killed and two wounded in the incident, which took place at 3:20 p.m. local time on Wednesday.

Initial reports that there had been an argument in the bus have not been confirmed, the authorities say. On the contrary, the results of the investigation so far point to a targeted attack by the assailant, who is from Kosovo and is reported to have worked at the airport. The shooter fired several times, police said. The suspect was arrested by federal police officers shortly after the attack and was questioned on Wednesday evening.

Investigators believe that the pistol jammed after the first shots were fired, otherwise the shooter would have fired again. After police overpowered the man in the airport, officers found a second magazine with bullets on his person, which the man apparently had not been able to use as a result of the problem with the weapon.

The weapon is currently being examined by experts. As well as the pistol, the suspect also had a knife on him, which he used to attack the police officers as they tried to arrest him. He was quickly disarmed, however.

Suspected May Have Worked at Frankfurt Airport

On Wednesday, the Associated Press and the news network CNN both identified the attacker as a 21-year-old Kosovar man called Arid U., citing information from Kosovo’s interior minister, Bajram Rexhepi. The suspect reportedly comes from the city of Mitrovica in northern Kosovo and lived in Frankfurt.

According to Arid U.’s family in Mitrovica, the young man was a practicing Muslim. His uncle said that Arid U. worked at Frankfurt Airport. Investigators believe he may have previously observed US soldiers being transported from the airport to become familiar with the army’s procedures.

SPIEGEL ONLINE has learned from sources in German security forces and from the US authorities that there is now substantial evidence linking the attacker to Islamist groups in Germany. In the US, there are fears that the man could be part of a terrorist cell which may now be planning further attacks on American targets in Germany. Sources in the Pentagon expressed great concern about the incident.

On Thursday morning, Germany’s Federal Prosecutor General, the country’s highest investigative authority, took over the investigation. The office is responsible for terrorist attacks, meaning that there is no longer any doubt that the authorities suspect a terrorist motive behind the incident.

Suspicious Facebook Page

German authorities have found a profile on the social networking site Facebook which they believe could belong to the alleged perpetrator. On the Facebook page, the young man makes little attempt to conceal his Islamist beliefs.

As the motto of his Facebook page, Arid U. has selected a saying by the Muslim conqueror Khalid bin Al Walid, a contemporary of the Prophet Muhammad: “May the eyes of the cowards never sleep.” Among the websites that the man lists as his favorites are some that have clear Islamist leanings, including one called “Rule of Islam.” On his Facebook “wall,” he has linked to a jihadist fighting song, and one of the comments on a friend’s posting refers to “these miserable kuffar (infidels).” The last entry is dated Monday evening.

Although elements of Islamist ideas can be clearly identified on the page, not all the contents are related to militant Islam; there are also posts that indicate he was a keen player of computer games. In view of the crime for which the man was allegedly responsible, where people were shot at close range, one posting seems almost ironic. In August 2010, the owner of the Facebook page apparently completed an online questionnaire regarding which weapon suited him best. The answer was the M82 Barrett sniper rifle.

German authorities are currently evaluating the suspect’s social milieu and other evidence, including the Facebook page. It is not yet confirmed that the page belongs to the suspected attacker, but authorities are assuming it does, according to information obtained by SPIEGEL ONLINE.

Part 2: Attacker Apparently Shouted ‘Allahu Akhbar’

During their initial investigation, the authorities also came across other evidence that points to an Islamist motive behind the attack. Witnesses testified that, immediately before the shooting, the perpetrator shouted out “Allahu Akhbar” (“God is great”). The Arabic phrase is used by Muslims worldwide in almost every conceivable context, but it is also used by Islamist terrorists as a battle cry. Investigators told SPIEGEL ONLINE on Wednesday evening that they are actively following up reports that the man used the phrase.

Arid U. had not in the past done anything to attract the attention of the authorities or terrorism investigators, and his name did not appear to be on the police’s watch list. One investigator told SPIEGEL ONLINE that the man might have been in loose contact with Islamist groups that are under surveillance without himself coming to the authorities’ attention. Within a few hours of the attack, the police were already questioning witnesses who knew the suspect. Meanwhile US investigators were pursuing leads in Kosovo, where the suspect’s family lives.

A terror alert was issued at Frankfurt Airport on Wednesday after the shooting. According to a report in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper, all the police officers in the airport were alerted with the code phrase “The panorama cafe has opened,” which security authorities had previously agreed upon as a warning signal.

After the shooting, the man fled into the airport’s Terminal 2 building. There he was arrested by federal police officers, who had noticed him walking around nervously. According to initial reports, the man had a large quantity of ammunition on his person as well as the weapon apparently used in the attack.

Man May Have Belonged to a Terror Group

Speaking on Wednesday evening, high-ranking investigators were cautious in their assessment of the incident. “The mere fact that someone with a gun was in the vicinity of the airport is surely not a coincidence,” said one investigator who is working on the case. “It could be that we are dealing with a mentally disturbed lone perpetrator here, but he could also easily be a member of an organized group.” According to the investigator, the bus carrying the soldiers was easily recognizable as a US Army vehicle and was probably chosen as the target for that reason.

The State Office of Criminal Investigation in Hesse, the state where Frankfurt is located, immediately set up a special task force to look into the case. Security authorities also sent a warning message to all other German airports and locations where the US Army has bases.

US President Barack Obama expressed his shock on Wednesday. “I am saddened and outraged by this attack,” he said, in a surprise appearance at a scheduled White House press conference. “We will spare no effort in learning how this outrageous act took place. We will be working with German authorities to ensure that all the perpetrators are brought to justice.”

He said it was a “stark reminder” of the sacrifices that American service members make. “The American people are united in expressing our gratitude for the service of those who were lost.”

Both German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle have promised that everything would be done to investigate the incident.

American authorities are now directly involved in the investigation. Shortly after the fatal shooting of the US soldiers, investigators from the US Federal Bureau of Investigation arrived at the scene. Several teams of investigators are currently traveling to Germany from the US to look into the background of the attack and assess future possible dangers. On Wednesday evening, a spokesman for US Defense Secretary Robert Gates told SPIEGEL ONLINE that the Americans would do “everything possible” to help the investigators and to punish the people responsible for the “cowardly” attack.

The statement suggests that the US believes that other people or even a group may be behind the attack, in addition to the arrested suspect Arid U. Sources in the Pentagon said there were fears that a terror cell may be planning further attacks on the US Army or other US facilities in Germany.

‘Nothing Can Be Ruled Out’

Meanwhile the German authorities are keeping an open mind about the motive for the attack. “Currently nothing can be ruled out,” said Boris Rhein, the interior minister for the state of Hesse, where Frankfurt is located, on Wednesday. “We don’t know at this stage if (the attack) has a terrorist, a jihadist, an Islamist or a completely different motive.”

The crime occurred around 3:20 p.m. on Wednesday in a public area in front of Terminal 2. Two occupants of the bus were killed, apparently including the driver. According to the US Air Force, the two dead airmen were stationed in Britain. Two other people were injured in the attack. The US military confirmed on Wednesday evening that the wounded were two airmen.

The soldiers on the bus were on their way to the US military air base at Ramstein, located about 80 miles (130 kilometers) from Frankfurt Airport in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate. From there they would have flown on to their deployments abroad.

Thousands of US soldiers still travel to deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan via Germany each year, despite a drawdown of troop numbers in Germany. Until 2005, the US Air Force had an important base, the Rhein-Main Air Base, located at Frankfurt Airport that was used for many military missions such as the two Iraq wars. The airport is still used by US soldiers traveling to their bases on commercial flights, and the US military has a reception center in the airport for incoming soldiers.

Authorities have long known that Islamists in Germany have seen the US Army as a potential target. The so-called Sauerland Cell that was uncovered in 2007 had planned to attack US Army bases in the country.

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

France: Veils Banned for Mothers on Schools Trips

(ANSAmed) — PARIS — The law on the burqa that is about to take effect, which will ban full veils in public places starting on April 11 both for French and foreign citizens including tourists, is not sufficient.

Education Minister Luc Chatel has weighed in to complicate the lives of Muslim women in France even more, in addition to the debate on Islam before the 2012 presidential election, which is being hijacked by the far right with increasing frequency. In an excessively zealous application, in the name of secularism, of the old 2004 law that bans “any symbol that displays one’s religion” in schools, he has asked Muslim moms who want to accompany their children on field trips to leave their veils at home, whether they be the full version or simple headscarves.

In the name of the principle of neutrality, which is essential in public and secular schools: in such a way the minister has justified the measure, which came as a response to an appeal made by parents from a school in Pantin, in the Parisian suburbs, who are against the decision by the principal — equally as zealous — not to allow a mother attend a school trip because she refused to remove her headscarf. According to Chatel, this is an extremely relevant issue in light of the debate on April 5, which will officially be focused on secularism, but according to the initial intentions of President Sarkozy was supposed to allow people to reflect about Islam without taboo. Fourteen months before the presidential elections, the topic seems to be dangerous even in right-wing circles, leading to an about-face. Therefore they will discuss secularism, which led to the anti-burqa law passed in October following heated debates. The burqa ban was published today in the Official Gazette and will go into effect on April 11.

The words ‘burqa’, which covers the entire face of Muslim women, or ‘niqab’, which leaves a slit for the eyes, will not be mentioned on the posters of the informational campaign launched today, and have been left out in favour of a more politically correct formula: “in public spaces, no one can wear anything to cover their face”. The law that affects about 3,000 Muslims in France out of a community of about 6 million introduces a fine of up to 150 euros and a civic education course for any violations. Law enforcement officials “will keep watch with serenity” to make sure the law is respected in restaurants, theatres, public offices, schools, hospitals, courthouses and on public transport, explained the prime minister’s office, which opted for a soft campaign limited to 100,000 posters, 400,000 leaflets and a website. “Experience the Republic out in the open!”, reads one of the posters, which portrays Marianne — an allegorical figure of the French republic, wearing a Phrygian cap like the one from the Third Republic.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Geldof Sees Chance of Romance With Berlusconi Scandal Teen

Rock star hoping to meet Ruby at Viennese debutante ball

(ANSA) — Vienna, March 3 — Bob Geldof joked that he fancies his chances of romance with the Moroccan dancer at the centre of a sex scandal with Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi if he meets her at Thursday’s Viennese Opera Ball.

“If she willingly goes to bed with mature men, perhaps I have a chance,” the 59-year-old Irish rock star and anti-poverty activist told Austria Press Agency when asked about Karima El Mahroug, who is better known by her nickname ‘Ruby Heart-stealer’.

Berlusconi was indicted last month on charges of using an underage prostitute for allegedly paying for sex with Ruby when she was 17 at parties at his home last year.

The premier is also accused of abusing his power when he called police to get Ruby out of custody in May following an unrelated theft allegation.

Berlusconi and Ruby, who is now 18, both deny ever having sex.

Ruby’s participation at Vienna’s high society debutante ball, which she was invited to by maverick Austrian construction magnate Richard Lugner, has caused a stir in the country’s capital.

She told reporters on Wednesday that she did not know how to waltz.

Nevertheless, Geldof, who is visiting the Austrian city, does not expect her to have trouble attracting dance partners. “Her dance card will definitely already be very full this evening,” he said.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Germany: Facebook Jihad

The Radical Islamist Roots of the Frankfurt Attack

Arid U., who has confessed to the Wednesday shooting of two US airmen at the Frankfurt airport, was an unfriendly loner, say his neighbors. But his list of Facebook friends indicate that the 21-year-old had several contacts with radical Islamists.

Indications are mounting that the assault on a bus carrying US soldiers at the Frankfurt Airport on Wednesday afternoon was an Islamist terror attack.

The alleged perpetrator, Arid U., who admitted on Thursday to having carried out the attack, appears to have had extensive contact with radical Islamists via his Facebook page. SPIEGEL ONLINE has also learned that the shooting, which killed two American airmen and injured two others, possibly came after the gunman, identified as Arid U., was unable to leave Germany and travel to Afghanistan. Instead, the 21-year-old airport employee opted to attack US troops in Germany, according to a jihadist website. No proof for the assertion is offered, but the jihadists claim to have been in contact with acquaintances of Arid U.

SPIEGEL ONLINE has learned that Arid U., told police that he acted alone. He says that one day before the attack, he watched a video on YouTube which he says showed the rape of Muslim women. He says the film upset him so much that he decided to take action. Investigators consider his testimony to be credible, but are continuing to look into possible accomplices. Such films as that described by U., often propaganda videos, have circulated among jihadists for some time.

The attack is thought to be the first deadly, Islamist-motivated attack in Germany. And investigators doubt that it was as spontaneous as Arid U. makes it sound. On the one hand, he appeared to know when and where to find US soldiers at the airport. On the other, SPIEGEL ONLINE has learned that he told interrogators that he bought the weapon used in the attack months ago.

Arid U., who is originally from predominantly Muslim Kosovo, has left plenty of digital clues pointing to his adherence to radical Islamism. Two weeks prior to the shooting, he posted a link on his Facebook wall to a jihadist battle hymn. “I can no longer stand this life of humiliation among you,” read the lyrics. “My weapon is ready at all times.”

A fair number of his 125 Facebook friends would also seem to be sympathetic to radical Islamism. Anti-Semitic, anti-American and anti-Shiite comments are plentiful on both Arid U.’s Facebook page and those of his friends.

Some of the connections, however, are of particular interest to investigators, especially those with well-known figures in the Islamist scene. “He seems to have belonged to an unstructured militant-Salafist environment,” said a source familiar with the investigation.

‘Veritable Who’s Who of German Salafism’

Salafists are pious Muslims who place particular emphasis in emulating as far as possible the life of the Prophet Muhammad and the first generation of his followers. It is a movement that has been growing for years. While most Salafists are more political than they are militant, there is a segment with significant crossover with the jihadist-terror scene. Several of Arid U.’s contacts appear to come from this gray area. In referring to U.’s contacts, one high-ranking security official spoke on Thursday morning of a “veritable who’s who of German salafism.”

Among others, U. appears to have a Facebook connection with Sheikh Abdellatif, a preacher originally from Morocco who now lives in Frankfurt. German security officials searched his home just last week on suspicion that he has encouraged his followers to take up arms. Sheikh Abdellatif was not arrested pending the completion of an analysis of his computer and other materials confiscated during the search.

“They will find nothing but animated films,” Sheikh Abdellatif said in a recently released video, in which he also claims that he has never called on his followers to join the jihad. “In Europe, they hate us because we are Muslim,” he says. He also claims that those who accuse preachers of speaking of the jihad receive “thousands of euros” from officials.

Sheikh Abdellatif, 39, is part of the Dawaffm network, a group which offers presentations on how to live a life which conforms to Islam on its website. Though there are no explicit calls for violence, the material on the website is clearly marked by Salafism. In one video, for example, Sheikh Abdellatif warns that prayers from women who do not obey their husbands are not heard by God.

Rapid Radicalization

For German investigators, the links are a clear indication that the Wednesday attack in Frankfurt could have an Islamist background. They also found that a large number of people, many of them well-known Islamists, became Facebook friends of Arid U. just in the two weeks immediately preceding Wednesday’s attack. Investigators suspect that the wave of new contacts could have something to do with the airport assault. One theory holds that Arid U. radicalized extremely quickly and became part of a scene that urged him to act. Technicians are attempting to secure and evaluate all of Arid U.’s communications from recent weeks. His Facebook page was no longer accessible on Thursday morning.

In real life, such connections were not nearly as apparent. Arid U. lived with his parents and two brothers in a three-room apartment in a 1970s-era housing project in the Frankfurt quarter of Sossenheim. There are many immigrants who live in the buildings, most of them from Turkey but many from the former Yugoslavia as well.

Neighbors describe the family, which has lived in the first floor of one of the concrete blocs since the late 1990s but which has been in Germany for decades, as being unobtrusive. The father, a former roofer, periodically complained about loud children playing outside their apartment. And the family, one neighbor said, lived austerely. Whenever he visited, he said, the children and wife were forced to leave the living room. Arid U. lived in a single room with his older and younger brother.

Everyone in the complex was surprised when, on Wednesday evening, just hours after the attack, a large number of German police showed up and spent hours searching the family’s apartment. Arid U.’s parents have stayed indoors since then and did not answer the doorbell.

‘Seemed Like a Loner’

One neighbor said that her daughter went to school with Arid U. nearby. She never considered him to be a radical. She said that Arid U. never seemed to place great stock in symbols of Islam — he didn’t wear a beard or traditional clothes the woman, who wears a headscarf herself, said.

Another neighbor described Arid U. as “withdrawn.” He almost never greeted neighbors and often just walked past wearing a large backpack, his eyes on the ground. In contrast to his brothers, who were always “very friendly,” Arid U. “seemed like a loner,” the neighbor said.

Investigators are unsure whether Arid U. may have been abetted or otherwise encouraged to carry out the shooting. Officials are also trying to determine whether anyone had prior knowledge of the attack and whether, as the jihadist website claims, he was indeed interested in traveling to Afghanistan. The FBI has also become involved in the investigation.

According to SPIEGEL ONLINE information, Arid U.’s parents have so far had little to contribute to the investigation. On Wednesday, they told police that they couldn’t explain why their son did such a thing. They say that Arid was a believer but that he didn’t have contacts to a radical milieu.

The parents first learned of the attack from the police. Up until that point, they had merely wondered why he hadn’t returned as usual from his job at the Frankfurt Airport. The airport is Germany’s main international hub and is used by a large number of US military personnel traveling between the United States and Europe.

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

Germany: Catholics Urge Ditching Celibacy Rule for Priests

Facing a dire shortage of priests, influential voices in Germany have begun questioning some central tenets of the Catholic Church including celibacy for the clergy. Kyle James reports.

In his therapy practice in the eastern German city of Jena, Gerhard Streicher focuses on relationship problems. He and his wife Monika have had the practice for 15 years, but he began counselling long before that.

However, while these days he often wears comfortable sweaters in the office, he used to go to work in a white collar. Streicher used to be a Catholic priest. That is, until he told his bishop about the seven-year relationship he had been having with the woman who is now his wife.

“That relationship made me a better priest,” he said. “I understood people and their lives better. But celibacy was the big contradiction, since the thing that actually made me a good priest pushed me to the margins of the Church.”

The rule of celibacy has become a central issue for Catholics who want to see reforms to address what many say is a time of crisis for the Church in Germany. The Church was rocked last year by a series of sex and abuse scandals, and is finding it increasingly difficult to find priests to serve its parishes across the country.

Looming priest shortage

By 2020, according to the German Bishop’s Conference, two-thirds of parishes in Germany could be without clergy, and the blame can be at least partly put on the celibacy rule, critics say. According to them, the prohibition on marriage, and by extension, sex, keeps young men from entering the seminary and prevents the Church from ordaining married men who feel a calling later in life.

The calls for reform in Germany have been getting louder and have come from some surprising quarters.

Last month, more than 140 Catholic theologians signed a public appeal calling for the Church to embark on a reform program and scrap the celibacy vow. Their demand came on the heels of a letter by a group of well-known conservative Catholic politicians asking Church officials to rethink celibacy, especially since it’s not a doctrinal requirement.

“The Church doesn’t change very quickly and we know that, but we think we’ve come to a point where we have to demand it,” said Hermann Kues, a parliamentary liaison in the Family Ministry from the conservative Christian Democratic Union and one of the letter signers.

“Celibacy rules were originally introduced on practical grounds, and so I think that they can be changed for practical reasons as well,” he added.

Most German Catholics agree with the calls for change, in several areas. Surveys consistently show that big majorities disagree with official Church positions on the role of women, gays and lesbians, and sexuality in general. A poll in January found that 76 percent of German Catholics do not think celibacy, which became obligatory in the 12th century, makes sense any more.

“Celibacy should be the liberty of every priest and they should be able to decide,” said Andreas Schmidt, 36, as he came out of mass at St. Hedwig’s Cathedral in Berlin recently. “But I think it’s good that the discussion has started and I hope it’s not stopped by the head of the Church.”

Exceptions made

In February, Pope Benedict XVI did give special permission for a 61-year-old Lutheran convert to be ordained as a Catholic priest in Germany and remain married to his wife. In addition, Catholic priests ordained in the Eastern Rite — a much smaller number than Roman Catholic clergy — can remain married if they already are.

But the pope, who is German, has not indicated he is willing to relax the rules as they stand. Even though, it was discovered last month that in 1970, Father Joseph Ratzinger, as the pope was known back then, signed an appeal asking that older married men be ordained. But since then Ratzinger has turned away from his more liberal views. This month, Cologne’s powerful Archbishop Joachim Meisner called celibacy for priests “essential.”

For its part, the German Bishops Conference has said it was interested in dialogue with the advocates for reform and would discuss the various proposals at its meeting in mid-March.

But according to Vatican reporter Francis X. Rocca of Religion News Service, celibacy for the great majority priests is not likely to be phased out anytime soon.

Part of the Catholic identity?

“No, not in our lifetimes and in any major way,” he said. “The pope and I’m sure the overwhelming number of cardinals and bishops see celibacy as a very important part of Catholic identity.”

That is an identity that former priest Streicher says he is glad to have left behind. He still has a relationship with the Church, attending mass regularly and ensuring that his three children were baptized when they were young. But he says he could no longer live within the institution’s rigid system of rules and hierarchy.

“The Church is still like a mother to me and I have a lot to thank her for. But I don’t do everything that my mother says,” he said. “At some point, I grew up.”

Streicher believes the Vatican doesn’t want to touch the celibacy requirement because it is afraid that doing so might unleash an avalanche of change.

“The Church has been through change before, even though often unwillingly,” he said. “I just think it would be better if the church would learn how to embrace it.”

If it doesn’t, he worries, and things do stay the way they are, the Church could become like a museum with plenty of pretty objects, but not much life.

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

Islamist Shooter Radicalized in Germany

Arid Uka, the 21-year-old Kosovar who has admitted to killing two US airmen in Frankfurt, was a loner only recently turning to radical Islamist ideology, according to investigators.

German federal prosecutors continue to piece together a profile of the man responsible for what is increasingly believed to have been a terrorist attack on US military personnel at Frankfurt Airport on Thursday.

Born in Kosovo but raised in Frankfurt, Uka is being described by investigators as a loner who took to radical Islam over the course of just a few weeks.

Armed with a Belgian Fabrique Nationale semi-automatic pistol and a large quantity of ammunition, the ethnic Albanian attacked a bus used to transport US military personnel outside the airport terminal. He shot dead one US airman in front of the bus before also killing the driver. Two other servicemen were seriously injured.

He then fled into the terminal building before being subdued and arrested. The man admitted early on during his interrogation that he wanted to kill US soldiers. Working at the airport’s international postal centre, Uka knew his way around the facility, and likely observed the US military bus service beforehand.

Though his ultimate motive for the attack remains unknown and there were no indications he was part of a terrorist cell, it appears he had recently started calling himself a jihadist named “Abu Reyyan” on the social networking website Facebook.

Under his Islamist handle he spread jihadist hymns on YouTube online, professed hatred of Jews and Shiite Muslims and took part in violent computer games.

Within just four or five weeks, Uka is thought to have established contact to radical Islamist preachers including the Moroccan Sheik Abdellatif and German Muslim extremist Pierre Vogel.

Though his family are devout Muslims, they are not considered to be Islamist radicals.

Roland Desch, the head of the Verfassungsschutz domestic intelligence agency in the state of Hesse, said on Thursday it was still too early to call Arid U. a home-grown terrorist. But he admitted the incident was likely proof how quickly individuals can be radicalized.

“This is an attack that came from nowhere,” said Hessian Interior Minister Boris Rhein.

Investigators said that only trouble with his pistol jamming and his quick apprehension by two federal police officers and a US serviceman hindered a larger bloodbath.

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

Italy: Berlusconi Sex-Scandal Teen Plans Mexican Migration

Premier accused of paying for sex with Ruby when 17

(ANSA) — Rome, March 2 — The Moroccan teenager Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi is accused of paying for sex when she was 17 has said she plans to move to Mexico after her upcoming wedding to her disco-manager boyfriend.

“I want to emigrate to Mexico with my fiancé,” Karima El Mahroug, who is better know by her nickname ‘Ruby Heart-stealer’, told Austrian tabloid Oesterreich.

“I’d be able to start over there because no one knows me and they won’t point the finger at me”.

Berlusconi was indicted last month on charges of using an underage prostitute over suspicions he had sex with Ruby at parties at his home last year.

The premier is also accused of abusing his power when he called police to get Ruby out of custody in May following an unrelated theft allegation.

Berlusconi and Ruby both deny ever having sex.

The now 18-year-old, who is set to marry on March 22, said money she received from the premier was a gift.

She is registered as an injured party in the trial of Berlusconi, which is due to start in Milan on April 6, although she said she does not consider herself as one on Wednesday.

“I don’t feel a victim of Berlusconi,” she told a press conference ahead of her controversial participation at Thursday’s high society debutante Viennese Opera Ball, which she is being taken to by maverick Austrian real-estate magnate Richard Lugner, 78.

“All I received from him was goodness”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Financial Police Acquire Documents on Rent Scandal

(AGI) Milan — Milan’s Financial Police has acquired documents from the headquarters of the Pio Albergo Trivulzio within the framework of an investigation opened by prosecutor Alfredo Robledo. The inquiry concerns alleged abuse of power and serious fraud against the state, regards to the sale and renting of property to private individuals. Police officers removed documents considered useful for the investigation, including the state-owned body’s statute and board meeting minutes .

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

Italy: Ruby Set to Marry and Intends to Emigrate to Mexico

Vienna, 3 March (AKI) — The Moroccan woman at the centre of a sex scandal involving Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi will marry her boyfriend later this month in Genoa, according to powerful Italian talent agent Lele Mora.

Interviewed on Italian television channel La7, Mora said Karima El Mahroug’s wedding will take place on 17 March.

According to prosecutors, Mora procured underage prostitutes to have sex with guests attending parties at Berlusconi’s sprawling mansion near Milan.

According to Mora, he will escort El Mahroung, nicknamed Rubacuori, or Ruby the Heart Stealer, down the aisle. El Mahroug’s boyfriend Luca Risso manages nightclubs in Genoa, a port city in Italy’s northwest.

Separately, El Mahroung says the publicity surrounding her relationship with Berlusconi has robbed her of her privacy, which is why she wants to to and live in a country where she can lead a more anonymous life.

“I want to emigrate with my finance to Mexico where I can start anew, because nobody will recognise me and unfairly point their finger at me,” said El Mahroug, in an interview with German tabloid Oesterreich.

“I can’t even go to the supermarket without being followed,” she said.

El Mahroug is due to attend the Vienna Opera Ball on Thursday as the guest of shopping mall and construction magnate Richard Lugner. The interview was conducted aboard Lugner’s private jet.

El Mahroug said she would leave Italy following Berlusconi’s trial for suspicion of paying her for sex when she was a minor and then abusing the power of office in to cover it up. She will be obliged to testify at the trial as a witness.

“After Berlusconi, I will leave Italy,” she said in the interview.

Once she is wed, Ruby says she’ll lead a more traditional life “having kids and working as a housewife.”

Berlusconi’s trial is slated to begin in April. If convicted of the two crimes, he could be sentenced to up to 15 years in jail.

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

Italy: Former Minister Jailed for 2 Years for Embezzlement

Milan, 3 March (AKI) — A Milan court on Thursday jailed former Italian minister Aldo Brancher for two years for misappropriating funds in the scandal surrounding a 2005 takeover battle for Banca Antonveneta, a bank.

Judges also ordered Brancher to pay legal costs.

Brancher’s lawyer Filippo Dinacci said he would lodge an appeal against the ruling with Italy’s top court, the Court of Cassation.

Brancher served as a minister without portfolio in prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s conservative government for 17 days between June and July 2010, but was forced to resign due to the court case.

A lower court in July last year convicted Brancher of embezzlement and allegedly receiving illicit payments from bankers who sought his backing in their attempt to take over Banca Antonveneta.

Banca Popolare failed to acquire Banca Antonveneta, which was taken over by Dutch bank ABN Ambro.

Brancher, a former priest, had been an executive in the business empire of the prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, and was jailed on remand during the political corruption scandals of the early 1990s. He was tried and found guilty at the time, but not definitively convicted.

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

Kosovo Killer of Two at Frankfurt is Fundamentalist Muslim

(AGI) Berlin — The 21-year-old Kosovo man, Arid Uka, who killed two American soldiers and critically wounded two others while they were in a bus outside of Frankfurt Airport’s Terminal 2, is a Muslim fundamentalist. Uka fired his pistol nine times, killing the bus driver and another soldier. German authorities have discovered that Uka was friends with an Islamic fundamentalist German citizen of Syrian origin, Rami M., who was arrested in June 2010. Uka lived with his parents and two brothers in an apartment in the Sossenheim district of Frankfurt and from January he had a temporary job at Frankfurt Airport’s international post office, close to where the attack took place. The Karlsruhe federal prosecutor has opened an investigation for “murder with Islamic motives.” .

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

Libya: Opposition Carries on Fight Against Gadhafi

‘If the Americans Come, They Would Steal our Revolution’

By Jonathan Stock in Ajdabiya, Libya

Far from raising the white flag, Gadhafi’s troops are continuing to fight against the opposition in eastern Libya in order to maintain control of the country’s crucial oil facilities along the Bay of Sirt. Opposition fighters claim they have driven back their attackers, but the battle is far from finished.

Yusuf helped to transport the explosives from old bombs to the front as the opposition fought to take control of Benghazi in eastern Libya. Today, the young man, with his dark curls of hair, is wearing a beret with a red star on it. The men fighting along with him call him “Chifarris,” an apparent reference to Che Guevara. The 23-year-old’s mother came to Libya from Germany 30 years ago, and his forefathers fought against their Italian occupiers in the North African country. “Whatever happens will happen,” he says of the current battle against dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

At the green west gate to the Bedouin city of Ajdabiya, Yunus waits, indecisively, along with hundreds of other fighters, for a decision on whether or not they will continue forward with their drive. They cover their eyes to protect them from the desert sand and peer towards Brega to the west, where the pipelines from the Defa oil fields run to the Sirt Oil Company’s refinery, the second largest in oil-rich Libya. That’s where fighters supporting Gadhafi arrived in the morning, supported by airplanes and heavy artillary. Nobody knows exactly what is happening there now, or whether the fighting is still continuing.

Just beyond Brega begins western Libya, parts of which are still under Gadhafi’s control.

The men have set up a 107-millimeter rocket launcher, a 36-year-old model manufactured in Korea. Standing behind it is Asman Bueghi, a man wearing a blue camouflage suit. He is ready to fire at anything that approaches them along the road. “If we die, then we are all going to die,” he says, grabbing a rocket and posing with it for a photo. The rockets have a maximum range of 7 kilometers (4.3 miles). Bueghi says he has always been a soldier and that he will always be one. “We are a good country,” he says. Set in the sand next to him are green wooden boxes labelled with explosives warnings. Further ahead, a French M8 cannon is in place, with a smiling pensioner watching over it. Beyond that, all one can see is the vast desert.

A teenager makes his way through the crowd carrying a sword. “It’s the only weapon I have,” he says, stretching it up high. “Me, god and my heart,” he says, holding his hand to his chest. Ambulances drive by from the front, transporting the first of the injured. The hospital in Brega was apparently too small for them. “Move, move,” the passenger in the front seat hollers, waving his arms out the window in order to disperse the crowd gathered along the road.

Mazdas, Nissans and Toyotas can all be seen driving in the other direction to deliver supplies to the front. Fighters with cloth covering parts of their faces, to protect against the sand, hold their Kalashnikovs high and bang them into the air. Fear? No, we’re not afraid, say the fighters. But many of them call out “pray for us!”

‘Anyone with a Car Should Chase the Murderers’

At the hospital in Brega, one can hear the dull thump of detonations. Yusuf says it is enemy fire. The hallways are full of people who have come to help. Even pharmacists have donned turquoise doctor’s smocks. One young man lying on a bed is getting a wound on his hand bandaged and shrapnel has struck his thumb. “For Libya,” he calls out, creating a victory symbol with his forefinger and middle finger on his uninjured hand.

One of the helpers plays an unsteady video on his mobile phone of a fighter who was hit in the neck. The man is no longer in the hospital. There is a trail of blood droplets on the sidewalk outside the hospital leading to a small building about 20 meters away. It is the hospital’s morgue and inside lie three bodies, the feet of the man in the middle are wrapped together with white bandages. It is a tiny facility; a fourth body lies on a stretcher on the floor covered with a lab coat, its face still covered with sand, dried sweat and blood.

It was 5:00 a.m. when the Gadhafi loyalists approached in 50 vehicles from the direction of Sirt, the neighboring town to the west, say family members of the hospitalized rebels. They occupied the oil refinery, the airport and the port, they say. But the fighters from Ajdabiya were able to push them back.

“Anyone with a car should chase the murderers,” the driver of an ambulance calls into his radio. Particularly those with four-wheel drive, he adds, given that the pro-Gadhafi forces fled into the desert. Two ambulances head out to collect the rest of the dead.

Shortly before they arrive at the refinery, they come across a group of rebels. They captured and killed one of the pro-Gadhafi fighters, who lies dead on the ground, his face in the dirt. The rebels claim that he is a mercenary from Mauritania. They are playing around with the corpse, waving with his shoes and dragging him on the ground. One of the fighters playfully aims his Kalashnikov at the dead man and his comrades jump out of the way. Then the body is picked up and put in the ambulance.

‘Gadhafi Wants the Oil’

Yusuf Sultan, who works at the refinery, climbs into the bed of one of the pick-up trucks and points to the two pipelines that travel 200 kilometers through the desert. “It’s the oil,” he says. “Gadhafi wants the oil. That’s a good sign; it means he is running out.”

So far, there have been at least five people killed and 20 wounded in the battle, says Nasser El Suhbi, an anaesthesiologist and emergency room doctor who came from Benghazi to pick up the most seriously wounded. Suhbi says that Benghazi, the most important city in the part of Libya no longer under Gadhafi’s control, can only take on the worst cases. Some 80 percent of the country’s nurses, most of whom came from the Philippines, have left Libya and there is a shortage of medical supplies, particularly anaesthetics. “Maybe there is enough for another month,” Suhbi says.

The doctor isn’t just worried about hospital supplies. Outside, a group of people are shooting joyously into the air. “They should be saving their bullets,” Suhbi says.

On the return trip, the new radio station from eastern Libya is playing. “This is the voice of free Libya,” the moderator says and addresses the city of Sirt directly, the town from which the mercenaries are thought to have approached. “I call on you, the sons of Sirt, you children of Libya! Do not obey the tyrant Gadhafi! You know that he is crazy and that he kills everybody. We love you, we are all one family. You have fought many battles with us. Fight with us again! Rise up!”

Yusuf leans out of the window and yells “victory!” At the same time, two jets are attacking Brega and drop bombs near an ambulance there, as a Danish photographer reports later. But even if Gadhafi should continue his attacks on the rebels, Yusuf and his comrades say they don’t want to see Western troops in Libya. A no-fly zone, he says, would be fine. “But if the Americans come,” he says, “they would steal our revolution.”

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

Netherlands: More Church Officials Come Forward to Admit Abuse

A number of Catholic church officials have come forward to state they abused children in their care, following an appeal from the man in charge of the official investigation into the scandal.

But Wim Deetman refused to say how many people had reported themselves to the committee since he appealed for them to come forward on February 17. They have until April 4 to register.

Over 2,000 victims have already registered with the committee.

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

Sweden: Politician on Trial for Nude Muhammad Poster Acquitted

A Swedish politician facing charges for producing a poster depicting the Muslim prophet Muhammad naked together with his nine-year-old wife was found not guilty by a jury in Malmö on Wednesday.

Carl P Herslow, leader of the Skåne Party (Skånepartiet), a small right-wing populist regional party, is charged with agitation against an ethnic group (hets mot folkgrupp).

The poster included the text: ‘He is 53 and she is nine. Is this the kind of wedding we want to see in Skåne?’.

Herslow admits producing the poster but contested the charges. He said the aim of the poster was to stimulate a debate about Islam, which he argued was incompatible with democracy and equality.

“The intention was to provoke a strong reaction among both Muslims and non-Muslims,” he said.

Prosecutor Bo Birgerson, representing the Chancellor of Justice (Justitiekanslern — JK) — the country’s top legal official, who is responsible for prosecution of cases involving freedom of speech — said that the distribution of the poster showed disrespect to Muslims.

Birgerson argued that previous cases in the Supreme Court showed that conviction for Herslow would not violate his right under Swedish law to freedom of speech.

“A conviction is important to show where the boundaries are for debate in an open and democratic society.”

The prosecution argued that Herslow should to be given a suspended prison sentence and for the posters to be confiscated.

But after deliberating less than an hour the jury, which are only used in Sweden in freedom of speech cases, told the court that Herslow was not guilty of agitation against an ethnic group.

As a result, the court cannot convict the politician when it delivers its formal verdict on March 16th.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

‘Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan Wants to be the Father’

Comments made by Turkey’s prime minister to the country’s diaspora living in Germany have angered some conservatives. Recep Tayyip Erdogan says immigrant children should learn Turkish first and then German. Newspaper commentators remain deeply divided over the prime minister’s visit.

In a country that is home to nearly 3 million people of Turkish descent, any time the leader of Turkey visits Germany, the details of his trip are followed very closely. Three years ago, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan angered German politicians when he stated during a speech in a concert arena in Cologne that assimilation is a “crime against humanity.” The message to Turks living in Germany was that they are Turkish first and German second, even if they were born here.

And in a country that has only begun to address the issue of the integration of its large immigrant population in recent years, it is the kind of heated message that isn’t welcomed by politicians. A repeat of it in a year that has seen the publication of a best-selling, anti-Muslim tract by politican Thilo Sarrazin — which for a brief period poisoned the debate on integration in Germany — could reopen the sensitive subject. The atmosphere surrounding Erdogan’s Sunday visit could have grown tense quickly, but on Sunday and Monday reactions remained relatively muted.

During a speech before around 10,000 people of Turkish descent in Düsseldorf, Erdogan once again raised the subject of assimilation. “Yes, integrate yourselves into German society but don’t assimilate yourselves. No one has the right to deprive us of our culture an our identity,” Erdogan said. His visit has been perceived as a stop in his campaign for re-election in a vote scheduled for the summer.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: Father Who Walked Out on Daughter a Year Before Her Mother Let Her Starve to Death Wins Legal Aid to Sue Councilby Andy Dolan

He hadn’t seen his seven-year-old daughter for more than a year.

But after she starved to death at the hands of her mother and the woman’s boyfriend he was quick to criticise the authorities for their failure to help.

Now Ishaq Abuzaire, 38, who had walked out on Khyra and five other children to set up home with another woman, has been given legal aid to sue his local council.

Despite admitting his own feelings of guilt in the aftermath of Khyra’s death three years ago, Mr Abuzaire has launched legal action against Birmingham City Council over a catalogue of failings in the run up to the tragedy. He will claim a five-figure sum in compensation.

Khyra Ishaq’s mother, Angela Gordon, 35, was jailed for 15 years last year while her schizophrenic boyfriend, Junaid Abuhamza, was given an indeterminate sentence with a seven-and-a-half year minimum. Both admitted manslaughter.

Birmingham Crown Court heard that despite the fridge being well-stocked with food, Khyra had lost 40 per cent of her body weight when she died and weighed only 2st 9lb.

She had been reduced to scavenging bread from a neighbour’s bird table because the pair kept their kitchen at the house in the city’s deprived Handsworth suburb bolted shut in a ‘behavioural code’.

Khyra was also beaten with a cane and forced to stand outside in her underwear for hours.

A serious case review found she died after a catalogue of ‘missed opportunities’ by social workers and other agencies.

Social services were first alerted to concerns about Khyra by her head in December 2007 when she was caught stealing another child’s lunch.

Mr Abuzaire, who was born Delroy Francis but changed his name after converting to Islam, is fighting for full custody of his surviving five children.

His solicitor, Tony Hall, confirmed he was investigating a claim on behalf of Mr Abuzaire and the five children against the council for ‘negligence and breach of statutory duty’.

If it is successful, the children would be expected to win a far bigger payout than Mr Abuzaire.

The money would be held in court funds but if their father wins full custody, the court could release some or all of the cash to him if it could be shown the money would be used towards their welfare.

Khalid Mahmood, MP for Birmingham Perry Bar, said: ‘Everybody knows there were many errors made in this case, in terms of social services’ failure to investigate vigorously enough what was going on behind closed doors.

‘But Mr Abuzaire could have made more effort to maintain contact with his children.’ Mr Abuzaire, from Nechells, Birmingham, has two children with his second wife Carolina. He did not return calls about the legal action.

Speaking in the aftermath of Khyra’s death, he admitted: ‘Of course I feel guilty. I have failed my child because my child is in the morgue.’

But responding to the findings of the serious case review last summer, he laid the blame squarely at the door of Birmingham’s social services department for making ‘one disastrous decision after another’.

           — Hat tip: Nilk[Return to headlines]

UK: Jailed: Girl, 18, Whose Rape Lies Led to the Arrest of Afghanistan War Heroes

Two soldiers back from the Afghanistan frontline were falsely accused of rape by a teenage girl hours before a parade in their honour, a court heard today.

The men were woken up to be arrested at dawn and instead of proudly marching through town with their comrades, spent the day in police custody falsely accused of a brutal sex attack.

Bobbie Martin, 18, was found in a ‘distressed state’ by a friend shortly after the alleged late night attack outside the Royal Hotel in Scarborough. She told police one of the men held her down while the other raped her.

In reality it was all a ‘charade’ and ‘wicked lies’ made for no apparent reason against two honourable men who had done nothing wrong at all, the judge said.

Returning war heroes Major James Thurstan and Regimental Sergeant Major Edward Pickersgill of the Coldstream Guards — and who are both married — never laid a finger on the jobless teenager.

They were sitting on a bench eating a takeaway meal when the drunken teenager approached them, flirted and exposed herself.

The court heard they showed ‘considerable restraint’ to humour Martin before walking away and returning to their hotel beds to sleep. It was only when police examined CCTV that detectives realised the soldiers were telling the truth and the attack never happened.

Martin, of Leeds, admitted perverting the course of justice and was jailed for 18 months. Judge Stephen Ashurst told her that her lies ‘could have had devastating consequences’ for the soldiers had police not found the video footage. ‘You put on a considerable show and played the role of the victim,’ he said. ‘It was a complete charade.’

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: NHS Apartheid: Scotland Grants Free Prescriptions… But English Patients Must Pay Even More

The cost of prescriptions in England will rise to £7.40 per item from £7.20, the Government announced today.

The Department of Health has also announced that dental charges will rise.

The news will cause much anger among English taxpayers as it comes just after the Scottish Parliament voted for free prescriptions for patients north of the border.

While the English are tightening their belts in the wake of the credit crunch, Scotland will spend millions of pounds to abolish prescription charges.

The move will come as a blow to campaigners, including the British Medical Association, who have been calling for charges to be scrapped altogether.

It is the latest example of ‘medical apartheid’, where the devolved nations enjoy better health services despite paying far less tax per head.

Scots also get free personal care in old age, while their students pay no tuition fees — unlike those born in England.

The latest move means English patients will be forced to pay prescription charges — now £7.40 per item — while effectively subsidising free drugs for those elsewhere in the UK.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Croatia: Anti-Government Protesters Burn Party and EU Flags

Zagreb 3 March (AKI) — Some 5,000 anti-government protesters marched through the streets of the capital Zagreb Wednesday evening, burning flags of the leading political parties and the European Union, local media reported on Thursday.

The protests against corruption and poverty, organised through the popular social networking site Facebook, started last week and continued this week with demonstrators demanding the government’s resignation and early elections.

The original crowd of some 500 rapidly swelled to 5,000 as the protesters marched though the city, demanding resignation of prime minister Jadranka Kosor.

“You have robbed us and all the capital is in the hands of foreigners and the political elite,” one of the protest leaders, Ivan Pernar, 26, said.

The protesters stopped in front of headquarters of the ruling Croatian Democratic Union, but also in front of the opposition Social Democratic Party, burning their party flags and that of the European Union, media reported.

The protesters carried a huge banner reading “330,000 unemployed, 40,000 without pay, capitalism — no thanks”. “Thieves, thieves”, “Mafia”, “We want elections”, “Resignations” and “Everyone take to the streets”, they shouted.

Croatia is expecting to become a member of the European Union next year, but the country is grappling with rampant corruption, growing social differences, an army of unemployed and over 40 billion dollars foreign debt.

Last Saturday, the protesters clashed with police in central Zagreb. At least 65 people were detained and 50 injured in the standoff, including 30 policemen.

Wednesday’s protests went off without major incidents and were also held in the major Adriatic coastal cities of Rijeka, Pula and Split.

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

North Africa

At a Tense Border Crossing, A Systematic Effort to Keep Black Africans Out

Two young men named Oboun Maabi and K.K. Ezekiel, friends and fellow construction workers from Ghana, may have been the only black men to escape from western Libya Tuesday. Their journey was neither safe nor easy. They had slept in the freezing air for two nights as Tunisians blocked their passage. Waking before dawn Tuesday, they walked far into the Sahara to begin a six-hour hike through the desert. There they were picked up on the road, arrested, and finally deposited in a Tunisian refugee camp.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Egypt: Gamal Mubarak ‘Attempted Suicide’ With Poisoned Tea

Cairo, 3 March (AKI) — Former-Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak’s second son Gamal attempted suicide in the days following his father’s ouster after 30 years as the president of the Arab world’s most populous country.

Long considered a successor to his father’s presidency, Gamal tried to take his life by drinking poisoned tea as Egyptian authorities sought to retrieve millions of dollars depositied in banks around the world, Algerian newspaper Ech.Chourouk reported on Thursday, citing unnamed sources.

The newspaper’s sources also said the Hosni Mubarak’s wife Suzanne transfered more than 250 gold ingots and 3 billion dollars to Paris with the complicity of the French authorities.

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

Gaddafi’s Forces Capture Dutch Marines on Rescue Mission

Three Dutch marines are being held in Libya after they were captured by forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi while trying to rescue Dutch workers.

The marines were surrounded by armed men and captured on Sunday after landing near Sirte in a Lynx helicopter that was on board a navy ship, HMS Tromp, which is anchored off the Libyan coast to help evacuations, Dutch defence ministry spokesman Otte Beeksma said.

Dutch officials were in “intensive negotiations” with the Libyan government to secure the marines’ release, he said.

“We have also been in contact with the crewmen involved. They are doing well under the circumstances and we hope they will be released as quickly as possible.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Government Launches Tunisia Mission — Naval Vessel Bound for Benghazi

Diplomats discuss military options. America cautious over no-fly zone

ROME — Today, the Council of Ministers will examine the terms of the humanitarian mission to Tunisia hastily decided a couple of evenings ago by Silvio Berlusconi with various ministers. The foreign minister Franco Frattini said that “as soon as security conditions are suitable” an Italian vessel from the defence ministry will sail for rebel-held Benghazi, where food and medicines are in short supply.

Some members of government, including junior foreign minister Alfredo Mantica, have said that the refugee camp to be set up on the Libyan-Tunisian border, which will also assist displaced Egyptians, could be called “Villaggio Italia”. The project presented by interior minister Roberto Maroni with the aim of preventing migrants from arriving in Italy is certain to include features projecting the image of a country determined to do good.

The upset to stability in North Africa from revolts against the regimes of Ban Ali in Tunisia, Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and now Muammar Gheddafi in Libya have placed issues that imply the use of arms on the international agenda. There is also a less than philanthropic financial aspect to the impact of sanctions on the Libyan leader. The USA and the United Kingdom have partially modified the tone that, when Washington was listing “all the tools on the table”, attracted a wary reaction from China, Turkey and European Mediterranean countries doubtful about the repercussions of using force to accelerate Colonel Gheddafi’s downfall. Up till yesterday, the Libyan dictator was less unstable than he appeared to be a week ago.

The United States is still a “long way” from implementing a ban on flights by the Libyan regime’s aircraft, said the American secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, who on Monday had indicated that the creation of a no-fly zone was on the agenda. Officially, the purpose would be to prevent the bombing of rebels but concern over oil wells weighs heavily. “There is no unanimity within NATO for the use of armed force”, said US defence secretary Robert Gates. Yesterday’s statement swept away some of the hypocrisy that has marked public debate over the past few days. “Let’s just call a spade a spade. A no-fly zone begins with an attack on Libya to destroy the air defences. That’s the way you do a no-fly zone. And then you can fly planes around the country and not worry about our guys being shot down”, Mr Gates admitted to Congress…

English translation by Giles Watson

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

Libya: Al Jazeera: Gaddafi Would Approve Chavez Plan

(ANSAmed) — CAIRO, MARCH 3 — Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi has reportedly accepted the idea of possible peace mediation offered by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, according to sources cited by satellite television network Al Jazeera. The network reports that Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro discussed the proposal with Arab League Secretary General Amr Mussa and that the details of the plan will be announced today at an Arab League meeting in Cairo. Mussa, interviewed by Reuters, confirmed that they are considering the Venezuelan plan and that “he spoke about it yesterday with various leaders”. When asked if Gaddafi had accepted the plan, Mussa responded: “I don’t know, why should I know that?”. And when asked if he had given his approval to the Chavez plan, Mussa responded: “no”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Libya: Rebels Want Military Aid, US Stops Short

(ANSAmed) — NEW YORK, MARCH 3 — Faced with the latest reaction by Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, who has threatened that Libya will see “thousands of deaths if the US and NATO intervene”, anti-Gaddafi rebels have asked for help. From Benghazi, those in revolt have asked the West to guarantee no-fly zone as soon as possible and to send planes and weapons, but the US is holding off for now and within the UN the option has not found unanimous backing. Were this decision to be made, however, the Arab League would back it, in line with the resolution approved by Arab League foreign ministers, which provides for the option of imposing a buffer zone in collaboration with the African Union. While awaiting to see whether consensus will be found on the issue or not, one things is certain: the possibility of creating an air security is still far away. “Let’s be clear on this,” US Defense Secretary Gates said to Congress in Washington, “in order to establish an air security military intervention is required, which would begin with an attack on Libya to destroy its anti-aircraft defences. Only after this would it be possible to fly planes over the country without the worry that they would be shot down.” The UN has urged a “peaceful solution” for the Libyan crisis. This is yet another reason to move forward cautiously as concerns Libya, as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the Senate’s Foreign Affairs Committee. A no-fly zone is one of the possibilities being looked into, she said, but any decision on the matter “is still far away”. Meanwhile, in Benghazi a spokesman for the anti-government forces who goes by the nom de guerre Saadoun, has told the Washington Post that the rebels needed Western military help.

“Gaddafi has all the weapons and all the money,” he said. “We can hold out but we will not be able to defeat him without military aid.”

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Libya: EU Raises Humanitarian Aid Funds to 30 Mln Euros

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, MARCH 3 — The European Union has trebled its scheduled aid to be able to respond to the growing humanitarian crisis caused by the Libyan crisis, raising the sum from ten to thirty million euros. The news was announced by humanitarian aid commissioner Kristalina Georgieva, today at the border between Libya and Tunisia where a large crowd of people is forming, coming from Libya. “The explosion of violence has triggered a serious humanitarian crisis at Europe’s gates”, the EU commissioner said. “Europe’s values and interests impose us to act decisively and that is what we are doing. Europe has not only evacuated its citizens rapidly and coordinately, but is also dealing with the needs of people who are suffering”. Georgieva also made an appeal to the member States to continue their commitment by “actively participating in a joint effort to take the thousands of refugees who are stuck at the Tunisian border home, giving immediate aid”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Libya: Al Jazeera: Gaddafi Refuses Nicaragua’s Asylum Offer

(ANSAmed) — ROME, MARCH 4 — Several sons of Col Muammar Al Gaddafi have proposed the Libyan leader to step down and accept the asylum offer made by Nicaragua, but Gaddafi has rejected this option. The news was announced by Israeli army radio, Al Jazeera’s website reports. According to the radio channel which quotes sources close to the Gaddafi family, the President of Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega, has guaranteed Gaddafi’s sons that he will accept Gaddafi. The Nicaraguan offer has been approved by the United States, the channel adds. But the colonel, who is dealing with popular uprisings as he has never seen since he seized power in 1969, has refused the offer and prefers to stay in charge and fight the rebels.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Libya: Gaddafi Hires Tuaregs for His Defence, Spanish Press

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, MARCH 4 — Muammar Gaddafi has recruited more than 800 Tuaregs, the nomads with blue turbans coming from Mali and Niger, for his personal defence, sources in security services told El Pais today. The Libyan dictator is holding out against the uprising thanks to the army’s elite troops and the sub-Saharan mercenaries he recruited to fight for him. According to El Pais, Gaddafi’s regime has opened a recruitment office in a hotel in the capital of Mali owned by a Libyan company. There are around 1.5 million Tuaregs spread over the Sahel desert, which crosses Africa from Sudan to Mauritania. Most of them live in the north of Mali and in Niger, as well as in Burkina Faso, Algeria and Libya. In Libya’s southern region of Ghat live around 70,000 Tuaregs.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Libya-Cyprus: Gaddafi Pays 4 Million Euros for Debts

(ANSAmed) — NICOSIA, MARCH 4 — In the midst of the armed uprising in Libya, the Gaddafi regime on Thursday transferred 4 million euros to Cyprus for payment of its debts to the Cyprus’ Republic government and Cypriot businesses.

As Cyprus Weekly reports, it is estimated that the Libyan government owes Cyprus a total of 7.5 million euros and the money transfer was confirmed by the Accountant General’s office.

Of the 4 million euros that was transferred from Libya to Cyprus, half a million concerns debts to the Cypriot government and the rest will be distributed accordingly to Cypriot companies that are owed money from Libya.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Libya: Interpol Issues International Arrest Warrants Against Gaddafi and 15 Other Libyans

Lyon, 4 March — (AKI) — Interpol has issued a global alert known as an Orange Notice against Colonel Muammar Gaddafi and 15 other Libyan nationals, including members of his family and close associates, the Lyon-based international police organization said on Friday.

“As a first priority, we must work to protect the civilian population of Libya and of any country into which these Libyan individuals may travel or attempt to move their assets,” said Interpol Secretary General Ronald Noble.

Interpol said it would cooperate with the International Criminal Court whose prosecutor said on Wednesday he was formally opening an investigation into crimes against humanity in Libya by Gaddafi, his sons and key aides amid allegations that forces loyal to the strongman have used heavy weaponry against civilians in a bid to quell the uprising which broke out in mid-February.

Thousands of civilians are believed to have been killed in the unprecedented revolt against Gaddafi’s 42-year rule of Libya.

Gaddafi and his sons are determined to hold onto power and save their skins by every means possible, even if it takes a bloodbath, regime insiders and diplomat say.

Libyan security forces used tear gas to disperse hundreds of protesters after Friday prayers in Tripoli — a Gaddafi stronghold — amid a heavy military presence on main roads around the Tajoura district where demonstrators reportedly burned the official Libyan flag.

A wave of detentions, killings and disappearances has been reported in Tripoli in recent days and bodies of missing people have reportedly bee left in the street.

At least 30 civilians have been killed after security forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi, Libyan leader, attempted to retake the rebel-held town of Zawiyah, near the capital Tripoli, that has for days been defying his rule, according to witnesses.

Pro-Gaddafi forces have also been trying to re-take strategic cities in the rebel-controlled east of the country. Heavy shelling and machine gun fire has been reported near Ras Lanuf, the eastern oil port located 660 kilometres from Tripoli.

Libyan forces carried out an air strike near a military base on the western outskirts of the Mediterranean port town of Ajdabiya, narrowly missing a munitions dump.

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

Major Libyan Oil Plant Ablaze as Rebellions Erupt in Tripoli After Friday Prayers

A major oil port was ablaze in Libya today as clashes ripped through the crippled country after Friday prayers.

Thick black smoke and flames engulfed the the key oil facility at Zueitina, south of the Libyan rebel-held city of Benghazi, after it was damaged in fighting.

It is not yet known if the damage was deliberate, but a policy of torching 700 Kuwait oil wells was employed by Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in 1991 which sent global fuel prices soaring.

The damage to one of Libya’s prime oil plants, which could produce as many as 500,000 barrels of oil a day, came as forces loyal to Gaddafi fired tear gas at protesters in Tripoli today.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

‘Time is on Gadhafi’s Side’

The West has no stomach for military intervention in Libya, but also no clear ideas about ending the crisis before it becomes a full-fledged civil war. German commentators argue that the international community needs to act quickly.

As violence in Libya continues with no end in sight, the debate about a possible military intervention by the West has heated up. But the international community is cautious about getting dragged into the conflict, which threatens to turn into a prolonged civil war. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said the US is concerned about Libya “descending into chaos and becoming a giant Somalia.”

On Thursday, there were reports that rebels fighting dictator Moammar Gadhadfi had called on the international community to impose a no-fly zone over the country. That followed a rebel demand on Wednesday for UN-backed air strikes against foreign mercenaries who are supposedly fighting for Gadhafi.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said on Thursday that the alliance is engaged in “prudent planning for all eventualities,” despite having no intention of interfering in Libya. Western diplomats told the Associated Press that some NATO members were drawing up contingency plans for a no-fly zone, should the international community decide on such a step.

Getting a no-fly zone approved by the UN Security Council would be tough, given that Russia — a veto-holding permanent member — has already opposed such a move. On Wednesday, too, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates also called for an end to “loose talk” about military intervention, saying that a no-fly zone would also entail a military attack on Libya.

‘No Impunity’

The West has already taken a number of non-military measures. The UN Security Council has imposed sanctions on the Gadhafi regime, as have a number of European countries, including Germany. Libya has also been suspended from the UN Human Rights Council, which met in Geneva earlier this week.

On Thursday, the International Criminal Court announced it was launching an investigation into Gadhafi and his close associates, including some of his sons, over possible crimes against humanity. The ICC’s prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, said there would be “no impunity in Libya.”

Meanwhile Gadhafi shows no sign of wanting to relinquish control. His forces struck back at rebels in the east of the country again on Thursday, following attacks on Wednesday. Further air strikes on the rebel-held towns of Brega, an important oil-exporting port, and Adjabiya were reported Thursday. On Wednesday, rebels had succeeded in beating back a government offensive.

German commentators take a look at the West’s response on Thursday.

The left-leaning Die Tageszeitung writes:

“Those who hoped that the political upheaval in Libya would follow a similar straightforward pattern as in Tunisia and Egypt now face being proved wrong. Gadhafi has regained his composure militarily and is using his remaining power to start a campaign of revenge against the revolutionaries. … It is not Tunisia that is currently the model for Libya’s future. Instead, it threatens to become a Somalia on the Mediterranean.”

“In Libya, the most important thing now is to oust Gadhafi from power. While the international community agonizes over aid for refugees and new ways to increase the pressure on Gadhafi, people are dying every day, and the fear and despair of Libyans is increasing. The faster a decision is taken against Gadhafi, the better. Anyone wanting to help Libya must find a way to eliminate Gadhafi.”

The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

“It is easy to ridicule the achievements of the United Nations. The Security Council quickly imposed sanctions against Gadhafi’s regime. But do the diplomats intend to stop the dictator with fine print? Will the colonel surrender in the final battle for Tripoli because the world has imposed a travel ban on him, blocked his foreign bank accounts and threatened to prosecute him in the International Criminal Court?”

“But the UN is an organization that represents the world as it is, not the world as it should be. In the struggle to find compromises, democrats have to deal with autocrats, raw material producers with consumers, and freedom-lovers with sponsors of terror.”

“Nevertheless, the international organization acted wisely last week. After a week of UN diplomacy, Gadhafi has now received a clear message that no one in the world sees him as a brave anti-imperialist, resisting the West and offering hope to the oppressed of the Global South. Gadhafi … is isolated. In Geneva, not even Cuba voted against the resolution to suspend Libya from the UN Human Rights Council.”

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

“Colonel Gadhafi strikes back. With an attack on the oil and port city of Brega, the Libyan dictator has shown that he means his vicious threats against the insurgents.”

“The insurgents are poorly organized. They have yet to deploy troops, even though they have seized large quantities of weapons and many army officers have switched sides. Either the rebels are in disagreement or they are incapable of organization. The present situation does not, however, require endless debates in citizens’ committees. Rather, it needs readiness for military action. … Time is on Gadhafi’s side.”

— David Gordon Smith

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

Tunisia: Ennahda Party May Take Part in Interim Gov’t

(ANSAmed) — ISTANBUL, MARCH 3 — Rachid Ghannouchi, head of the Islamist party Ennahda, has said that the party might take part in Tunisia’s interim government after the wave of resignations seen over the past few days which pose a risk to the already precarious transition to democracy. In speaking with journalists in Istanbul where he is on a visit, Ghannouchi also added that soldiers could have “a positive role”, which they had already taken on during the worst political crisis in Tunisia which led to the fall of Ben Ali’s regime on January 14.

Yesterday the government authorised the Islamic movement to form a political party. Ennahda announced today that it would be changing its name back to the one it had initially used: Mouvement de la Tendance Islamique.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Tunisia: UGTT Attracted to the Idea of Becoming a Party

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, MARCH 2 — There is a possibility making headway within the UGTT, Tunisia’s most powerful union and undoubtedly among the protagonists of the revolt and therefore the ousting of Ben Ali, that it will become a “party” and step directly — and therefore no longer under the guise of simply a union — into the political world of the “Country to Come”. It is an option which is reportedly gaining ever more support especially among the upper echelons of the union led by Abdessalem Jerad, which in this way would capitalise on what it did in the turbulent period of the “revolution”. In becoming a party in which Tunisian workers can identify, the UGTT might come up against resistance within the peripheral structures of the union, which has long adopted more radical positions than those of the union’s leaders and which would be averse to giving up the role of defender of the interests of the working class, but which would in reality sanction the importance of a union which found itself in the front lines of the struggle against Ben Ali, especially in the preagonal phase of the regime. The possibility of going directly into the field within the Tunisian political world is in any case bound to shake the country’s scene. This is due first and foremost to the fact that if the UGTT were to become a party, it could stem the mounting “leftism” which is seen in the still-untamed streets, streets filled with heated objections towards all and sundry.

If the UGTT were to decide for the party option, however, a gap would be left within union representation and as a consequence there would be space opened up for possibly more radicalised unions — which are exercising a great deal of leverage over the weakest sections of the country — and, therefore, less willing to engage in dialogue with those in power, even if the latter were the UGTT. However, if the union were to go into the field it would be nothing more than the confirmation of its ability to manage even social emergency phases, as it proved in the most heated days leading up to the fall of Ben Ali when, under the emotional push from the rioting in the mining district of Gafsa, it did not fall prey to — on a direct choice made by Addessalem Jerad — the allure of a general strike which may have served the regime to bring in a crackdown which at that particular juncture may have proved able to block the process which later climaxed in the Jasmine Revolution. If it chose to become a party, the UGTT would in any case have to define its profile in a clear manner, which might be close to the large, Western Social Democrat parties which always had leftist unions as their most listened to interlocutors. However, at the same time the union could not simply set aside the network of contacts with liberal and entrepreneurial circles, especially now that Utica, the Tunisian industrialists association, is considered unreliable after not having been able to free itself of the — well-grounded — basis of having been for twenty years close to Ben Ali, to say the least.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

‘Day of Rage’ By Settlers Over Outpost Demolition

(ANSAmed) — JERUSALEM, MARCH 3 — Small groups of Israeli settlers connected with the most radical right-wing nationalistic and religious groups have today begun a “day of rage” in Israel to protest against the demolition of unauthorised Jewish outposts in the West Bank a few days ago. So far the protest seems limited. About 15 settlers, according to the public radio station, tried to block the highway connecting Jerusalem with the coast but were quickly dispersed by the police. In addition, demonstrators set old tyres on fire at the entrance to Jerusalem. The demonstrations had not been approved by the Settlers Council in the West Bank. The police have brought in a state of alert for anti-riot units, especially in the West Bank, and are getting ready to prevent clashes between settlers and Arabs. On Monday the destruction of unauthorised structures in Havat Ghilad, a settlement outpost in the West Bank, degenerated into clashes between police and soldiers on one side and settlers on the other. During the clashes 13 settlers were injured by rubber bullets shot by security forces in reaction to stones being thrown at them.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Gaza: Bank Protest After Hamas Seizes Funds

(ANSAmed) — GAZA, MARCH 3 — Banks active in the Gaza Strip today closed their doors for one day to protest against the confiscation of a sum of money by Hamas, which is in charge in the area, after a dispute with the Palestinian National Authority (PNA).

The decision of the protest was taken by the banks after Hamas police agents yesterday irrupted into the Palestine Investment Bank, ordering to hand over the equivalent of 250 thousand USD, taking it from an account of a Palestinian investment fund that is controlled by the PNA. According Hamas, the PNA is responsible for illegal transfers of money. The fund has claimed that its operations are completely legal.

At first the bank employees refused to hand over the requested sum and after a conflict that continued for several hours, the police agents left the bank with bags filled with shekels (the Israeli currency), for a total of 250,000 USD. The PNA has accused Hamas of “armed robbery”. Hamas so far has not commented the incident.

Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007, using force to remove the forces loyal to PNA President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen). The PNA has only kept control over the West Bank, with Israel’s approval. Since then Hamas and the PNA have been divided by a relentless hostility. None of the many mediation attempts by several parties, including Egypt, have had any success.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Middle East

Caroline Glick: The New Middle East

A new Middle East is upon us and its primary beneficiary couldn’t be happier.

In a speech Monday in the Iranian city of Kermanshah, Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Politburo Chief General Yadollah Javani crowed, “Iran’s pivotal role in the New Middle East is undeniable. Today the Islamic Revolution of the Iranian nation enjoys such a power, honor and respect in the world that all nations and governments wish to have such a ruling system.”

Iran’s leaders have eagerly thrown their newfound weight around. For instance, Iran is challenging Saudi Arabia’s ability to guarantee the stability of global oil markets…

           — Hat tip: Caroline Glick[Return to headlines]

Gulf: GCC Studies ‘Marshall Plan’ For Oman and Bahrain

(ANSAmed) — DUBAI, MARCH 03 — The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is working to define a massive aid package along the lines of the Marshall Plan, in order to support Bahrain and Oman, where there are currently uprisings, protests and clashes, according to Gulf News daily. Turmoil has been ongoing in Bahrain for three weeks due to social and economic issues, as well as sectarian tension related to the fact that the small Shiite majority country is governed by a Sunni royal family. The Sultanate of Oman is also in its fifth day of uprisings against a monarchy that is not capable of responding to the employment demands of the population. The plan being considered by the GCC — a group that includes Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman — is laid out in four points according to the description provided by a “well-informed”, yet anonymous sources cited by the daily: improving the social and economic conditions of the citizens, distribution of houses, creation of jobs and strengthening services. An extraordinary meeting could be called to examine the details of the plan.

The other four monarchies, which have adopted similar measures themselves in recent weeks, will also assure preferential treatment to hire citizens from Bahrain and Oman in their respective countries.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Opposition: Lawyers and Colleagues Express Outrage at New Ergenekon Raids

Police raids of 16 homes in Ankara and Istanbul, including those of journalists and a former intelligence officer, have been slammed by media colleagues, lawyers and opposition politicians as an “illegal” attempt to silence critical voices.

Turkish police conducted the raids Thursday as part of the ongoing Ergenekon case, an investigation into an alleged gang accused to plotting to topple the government.

“The searches are against the law. The search warrant does not state what the individuals are being accused of,” said Ankara Bar Association head Metin Feyzioglu, who held a press conference in front of one of the houses during the police raid. He said this lack of detail makes the documents illegal and put everyone in danger of being searched without cause.

“If journalists’ houses and offices are searched in the early hours of the morning without a concrete reason, this shows the [state of] democracy in Turkey must be questioned,” said Kemal Kiliçdaroglu, the leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party, or CHP.


The “deep state” is an alleged shadow organization of state officials and members of the military within the state. Though many people, including presidents, have claimed its existence, it has never been exactly defined. Some claim the alleged Ergenekon gang is another name for the deep state.

Daily Hürriyet columnist Ismet Berkan told the Daily News on Thursday that he does not have enough information to speak on the recent raids, but added: “However, Nedim Sener and Ahmet Sik are people I know very closely. [Sik] is among the people who uncovered Ergenekon. I want to think this is a joke.”

Though both journalists have criticized the police and prosecutors running the Ergenekon investigation, these criticisms were not against the idea of the investigation itself, but the fact that its efforts have not been sufficient, Berkan said.

The investigation is “a conspiracy” against Sik, the secretary-general of the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions, or DISK, of which the journalist is a member, said in a written statement that accused the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, of “suppressing the opposition with conspiracy theories.”

“Ahmet Sik is performing exemplary honest journalism, sharing his research with the public without being suppressed by or being afraid of the oppression and threats of the ruling administration,” DISK Secretary-General Tayfun Görgün said in the statement. He added that Sik was working on a book about an alleged organization within the police related to the Fethullah Gülen religious community and theorized that is why the attempt was made to connect the journalist to the Ergenekon case.

“Those who are not close to the government can’t survive in the media. Media members are living in fear,” said Ahmet Abakay, president of the Contemporary Journalists Association, or ÇGD. “The move is a threat and intimidation against government critics.”

Minister of Internal Affairs Besir Atalay told journalists Thursday afternoon that the searches were “a decision made by the judiciary. The police were meeting the judiciary’s demands. It would be wrong to say anything more. Turkey is a state of law.”

President Abdullah Gül echoed Atalay’s statements, saying, “The decision was made by the court and the prosecutors” and declining to comment further.

CHP deputy leader Sezgin Tanrikulu challenged the idea that Turkey is a state of law, saying such a claim cannot be made in a country where people face the threat of having their homes torn apart and every detail of their personal lives invaded. “Anyone outside the AKP’s circle is at risk of being labeled a member of a terrorist organization,” he said.

The Ergenekon case has strayed from its course and turned into a method for the government to silence people who oppose it, CHP group deputy chairman Akif Hamzaçebi said in a separate press conference that he held specifically to address the raids.

“They want to silence the media. Turkey is already 138th among all countries based on press freedom. Such incidents will only force press freedom to recede even further,” Hamzaçebi said.

“Journalists keep documents and information and hold talks on the telephone. It is their job. But you create a crime element from this,” said Ercan Ipekçi, the president of the Turkish Journalists Union, or TGS. “In the 1970s, journalists were arrested for making propaganda for communism. They are now detained for making propaganda for terror organizations.”

The AKP is creating its own police state, CHP chief Kemal Kiliçdaroglu said Wednesday, before the searches took place. “We are headed toward a future where the people are scared and uncertain what will happen to those who oppose,” he said. “Many journalists are in prison. Media corporations that try to remain independent are being given billions of dollars in unwarranted tax fines.”

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

Radical ‘Shariah’ Feared Result of ‘Freedom’ Protests

Islamists aiming to fill Middle East, North Africa power vacuum

The demonstrations and protests for change and calls for “freedom” sweeping across North Africa and the Middle East are heading for an uncertain result, as analysts confirm while each nation shows some hopeful signs of change, there also are potentially serious pitfalls including the alarming possibility of the imposition of Islamic law, according to a report from Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin.

The very first semblance of change occurred in Lebanon in November when a U.S.-backed government collapsed under pressure from one influenced by the Iranian-supported Hezbollah, which is recognized as an Islamic terror organization.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Saudi Arabia: Invitation for ‘Day of Anger’ On Facebook

(ANSAmed) — ROME, MARCH 3 — An invitation to organise a “day of anger” tomorrow in the east of Saudi Arabia has appeared on Facebook, to protest against last week’s arrest of the Shia sheikh Tawfeeq Al Amer. Newspaper Al Quds Al Arabi writes that the invitation asks young people in the province of Ihasa to come together tomorrow (Friday) in front of the imams’ mosque in the city of Hufof. The Shia sheikh was arrested, according to the website Rasid which specialises in Shia affairs in Saudi Arabia, for launching an appeal for a constitutional monarchy and the end of sectarian discrimination. Tawfeeq Al Amer, the website points out, was arrested several times in the past because he asked for more religious freedom for Shias.

Shias often feel marginalised and represent 10% of the Saudi population. Most of them live in the eastern part of the country in a region that borders with Bahrain where Shias form a majority. Shias demonstrated in the past days in Bahrain to ask the Sunni regime for political reforms.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

South Asia

Afghanistan: An Inseparable Pair: Dog Collapses and Dies After Army Handler is Killed

Colleagues said army dog handler Liam Tasker was inseparable from his spaniel, Theo, and so it was to the end. When Lance Corporal Tasker was shot dead in southern Afghanistan, his dog survived the shooting only to suffer a fatal heart attack when it returned to the British base at Camp Bastion.

Tasker, 26, was on patrol north of Nahr-e-Saraj in Helmand province on Tuesday with the spaniel, which was trained to search for arms and explosives, when they were caught in gunfire. He died from his injuries.

He was described as having a “natural empathy with dogs”. His successful operations “undoubtedly saved many lives”, the Ministry of Defence said. The army has about 400 dogs trained to sniff out explosives and weapons but the ministry declined to say how many were deployed in Afghanistan.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Pakistan: Punjab: Christians Fear More Massacres After Churches and Tombs Are Desecrated

Kot Addu’s Christian community is facing more wrongdoings by local landlords who grabbed Christian-owned fields and shops with the complicity of local police and officials. Christian symbols are desecrated but the blasphemy law is not applied in this case. Local authorities say accusations are all made up but fail to provide legal backing for grabbing Christian property.

Lahore (AsiaNews) — “I have worked all my life to buy this property. My ancestors are buried in the graveyard. I am an old man now with four four daughters. I had planned to save this property for their marriage,” said Boota Masih, as he lamented Christian powerlessness against local landlords grabbing Christian-owned land and property with the complicity of local administrators and police. His woes come as tensions rise the wake of Minority Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti’s murder. If the authorities do not act, security forces warn, a tragedy like Gojra could happen again.

Kot Addu is a city in Muzaffargarh district, southern Punjab. A fresh wave of anti-Christian violence has swept over it. Last year, Christians suffered discrimination when aid was handed out to flood victims. In July 2009, a Christian man, Anwar Masih, was charged with blasphemy based on false accusations. When his family agreed to give a local Muslim lawmaker their property, they were dropped.

In recent days, Christians have had to endure even more abuse. Landowners in Kot Addu have grabbed Christian-owned stores and fields as well as a Christian cemetery. With the backing of local lawmakers and administrators, they threatened local Christians, desecrated Bibles and crosses in a local church and destroyed 150 tombs.

Local Christian leaders tried to file a case against the attackers at the Jaggi Moor Police station but got nowhere. Station House Officer Zubair Khalid drafted a First Information Report, but failed to include crucial details, thus allowing the culprits to walk free.

Speaking to AsiaNews, Boota Masih, one of the victims of local potentates, said that the local police refused to hear his complaint. Instead, they accused “Christians of illegally occupying the land on which they built their church and cemetery.”

Another Christian, Ghani Masih, noted that even though the attackers “desecrated Bibles, crosses and tombs,” the complaint against them was registered under Section 297 of the Pakistan Penal Code rather than Sections 295- and 295-B, which involve blasphemy.

Tensions have reached a critical point and many people fear outbreaks of large-scale violence like in Gojra, where thousands of extremists attacked Christian residents in August 2009 (pictured), burning eight people alive.

Last January’s murder of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer and yesterday’s execution-style assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti have made the situation worse for Christians, who now fear more than ever blasphemy-related attacks.

A Christian representative from the minority wing of Pakistan People’s Party visited Kot Addu. He promised that action would be taken in support of Kot Addu Christians.

When contacted by AsiaNews, the district coordination officer for the area refused any comment.

Similarly, a local district police officer denied that anything untoward had actually happened. Instead, he said that the local Christian community made the whole thing up in order to stir up trouble.

When asked about Anwar Masih, who was forced to hand over his property under duress to have false charges dropped, the officer refused to comment. (JK)

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

Far East

China: Europe and China at Loggerheads Over Rare Earths

The European Union is ready to file a formal complaint against China before the World Trade Organisation to counter Chinese restrictions on rare earth exports. The European Union and the United States had already slammed China for imposing similar restrictions on bauxite and magnesium exports. In its defence, Beijing claims it wants to protect the environment.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) — Rare earths are becoming a battleground between China, which has restricted exports, and the European Union (EU), which plans to go before the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to have them stopped. Environmental protection is China’s trump card to avoid a negative ruling by the world body.

The EU Commission (the European Union’s executive branch) last year started vetting the legality of plans by China to cut back exports of rare earths, which are crucial to the production of high-tech goods and some military systems, including fibre-optic cables and electric cars.

China, which has supplied 97 per cent of the world’s rare earths for years, has kept prices so low that mining elsewhere has become uneconomical. However, starting last year, Beijing has progressively cut back on exports, creating problems for non-Chinese high tech companies, which have to wait years for new suppliers to come on-stream.

Now the European Union plans to go before the WTO to get Beijing’s export restrictions lifted.

According to WTO rules, “China has export restrictions on raw materials that are questionable,” a source familiar with the case said. China has responded by arguing that export reductions are needed to protect the environment and scarce resources.

However, trade sources say a confidential WTO report found flaws in similar reasoning used by China in an ongoing legal fight over its export restrictions on raw materials like bauxite and magnesium, used in steel, aluminium and chemical products.

The United States, the European Union and Mexico had launched the case in 2009, complaining that Chinese export restrictions on these minerals discriminated against non-Chinese manufacturers and gave Chinese producers an unfair advantage.

The WTO issued a confidential ruling in the case on 18 February. Its contents will not be released to the public until the parties have had time to review them, something expected within two months. For the WTO, the issue is whether Beijing’s curbs on exports of some raw materials are designed to meet the stated goals, or merely favour Chinese manufacturers.

Yesterday, China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection announced tougher environmental regulations for the mining industry, including the rare earths sector, with a goal of promoting a “sustainable and healthy development of the sector”.

The new rules will take effect on 1 October for new rare earth projects. However, mining companies and producers already involved in the sector have until the beginning of 2014 to comply with the new standards. By then, world rare earth production should increase to fill the gap created by lower Chinese exports

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

Sub-Saharan Africa

Denmark Has Released 200 Somali Pirates

Despite several international naval forces patrolling the waters off Somalia, Somali pirates are seldom taken to task for their actions, with some 200 suspected pirates released by Denmark’s single warship alone, according to

“Almost 200 pirates have been released after having been detained by the Danish forces in the area,” Admiral Fleet Denmark Commander Kenneth Nielsen tells the newspaper’s home page.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Border Agents Given Bean Bags to Fight AK-47s

Court documents confirm December report from former congressman

Federal court documents have confirmed a report from WND columnist and former GOP Congressman Tom Tancredo that U.S. Border Patrol agents were using bean bags against alleged drug gang members who had AK-47s when one agent was killed.

Tancredo reported on Dec. 18, 2010, how the confrontation a few days earlier that left Border Patrol agent Brian Terry dead developed, with the agents using “non-lethal” bean-bag rounds while the alleged drug smugglers “returned fire with real bullets.”

“Real bullets outperform bean bags every time,” Tancredo warned at the time.

Officials at the time reported such a scenario was impossible.

But now the Arizona Daily Star says documents on file in U.S. District Court in Tucson involving the case are confirming Tancredo’s report.

According to the newspaper, the court documents say the U.S. officer was killed after a group of illegal aliens in Peck Canyon near Nogales on Dec. 14 refused commands to drop their weapons when confronted by agents.

The documents show two agents then fired beanbags at the illegals, who returned with real gunfire.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Illegal Immigrants to Get New Rights in Sweden

Illegal immigrants in Sweden should in future have the right to government-funded healthcare and education, and be able to start their own companies, the government has agreed.

The move follows long negotiations between the smaller governing parties (the Centre, Liberal and Christian Democrat parties) who have long argued for more rights for undocumented migrants, and the Moderate Party, which has opposed the idea.

The Moderates have argued that giving such entitlements would legitimize people who have no right to be in Sweden.

The parties say there are still a number of questions to resolve, including the issue of who will pay for illegal immigrants’ healthcare or the kind of care and education to which they will be entitled.

Social Affairs Minister and Christian Democrat leader Göran Hägglund said the changes would cost “a few hundred million kronor” per year, but added:

“Compared with the total cost of healthcare, that’s nothing.”

Education Minister and Liberal leader Jan Björklund said he hoped that the children of illegal immigrants would be able to start attending Swedish schools from 2012, adding that his preliminary calculations suggested that this would cost taxpayers 50-100 million kronor per academic year. He said this compared to the total cost of 100 billion kronor for running Sweden’s compulsory schooling.

Centre Party leader and Industry Minister Maud Olofsson said that the deal would also allow illegal immigrants to start companies:

“We have now included in the agreement that it should be easy to come to Sweden regardless of whether you are a businessperson or an employee,” she said.

The minority government will need support from at least one opposition party to pass the measures. Olofsson said she hoped the Green Party would support the moves, despite not having been involved in negotiations. A parliamentary vote is not expected until early 2012.

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

Libya: Italy Willing to Carry Out Checks in Tunisian Ports

(ANSAmed) — ROME, MARCH 3 — Italy is “willing” to supply police “vehicles and personnel” for “greater monitoring of ports” in Tunisia, from which migrants leave and head for Europe. This was aid by Italy’s Interior Minister Roberto Maroni, underscoring that it would be an intervention in collaboration with Tunisian authorities, which would “result in an increase in security to prevent a mass exodus towards Europe”. The aid that Italy will give to Tunisia to secure ports will result in “a halt to migratory flows towards Lampedusa”, added Maroni at the end of the Cabinet meeting. “We will provide men and vehicles for the mission as well as helping to coordinate — alongside Tunisian police — the operations to bring security to those ports. We believe that it will have the positive effect of stopping migratory flows towards Lampedusa,” said Maroni.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Sicily Petitions Emergency Aid to Handle African Migration

(AGI) Palermo — “Lampedusa and Sicily are bearing the brunt of of the humanitarian crisis sparked by the North African crisis”. These were the words of Sicily’s regional development councillor, Gaetano Armao, who also added that “should the situation escalate, Sicily wouldn’t be in a position to handle it.” The councillor spoke at close of a security roundtable at the Italian interior ministry in Rome, also attended by interior minister Roberto Maroni, and special commissioner for immigration Giuseppe Caruso. The councillor also fronted proposals to have government grant tax and mortgage freeze options for the citizens of Lampedusa. Armao also lamented the EU’s lack of involvement in the crisis.

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

Sweden in ‘Historic’ Deal on Immigration Policy

Sweden’s centre-right Alliance government and the Green Party have reached an agreement on changes to the country’s immigration policies specifically designed to diminish the influence of the anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats.

The four government parties, the Moderates, Christian Democrats, Centre Party, and Liberal Party (Folkpartiet) have forged a comprehensive framework agreement with the Greens which Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt called “historic”.

“This lays the long-term groundwork for a humane, just, and orderly migration policy,” he said during a Thursday morning press conference.

He added that the agreement means that Sweden has made a clear choice about where the country’s migration policies are heading.

“We’re going to continue on the road toward humanity and order, this is a choice which closes the door on xenophobic forces,” said Reinfeldt.

Among other things, the agreement will give illegal immigrants the right to healthcare and education.

The parties agree that there is a problem with the identification demands placed on people looking to reunite with their relatives who have immigrated to Sweden, the Green Party’s Mikaela Valtersson said.

Families from Somalia, for example, have a hard time reuniting due to the lack of official documentation about their identity.

The various options for confirming someone’s identity will be improved, with one option being the use of DNA matching technologies.

The new agreement may cost up to 1.7 billion kronor ($267 million) and will have “significant effects on public finances”, although it remains difficult to give an exact cost before knowing how many illegal immigrants that will be starting school and are in need medical care.

Some estimates put the number of school-age undocumented children with the right to attend school at 3,000-4,000.

“That number is uncertain and many of those children are already studying,” said education minister Jan Björklund, adding that the new rules will likely be in place by the autumn term of 2012.

Sweden also plans to launch an independent migration research institute.

Centre Party leaders Maud Olofsson pointed to the importance of combining migration and labour policies, citing an ongoing inquiry into circular migration which is led by Valtersson.

“Today it’s getting a job that matters, but regardless of whether or not someone has a job or starts their own company, people should have the ability to come to Sweden and contribute,” said Olofsson.

“See these people as help for building Sweden.”

Reinfeldt explained that he used the expression “close the door” in explicit reference to Sweden Democrats, a far-right party which gained seats in the Riksdag for the first time in September campaigning on an openly anti-immigration platform.

“We who believe that people should be free to move across borders and seek a better life somewhere else have made this agreement,” he said.

“We’re closing the door on the only area they [the Sweden Democrats] care about and want to have influence on.”

In a statement, Christian Democrat leader and social affairs minister Göran Hägglund said the agreement created a “stable majority in the Riksdag” and “ensured that the Sweden Democrats won’t have any influence over immigration policy moving forward”.

According to the Green Party’s Maria Wetterstrand, the most important thing is that Sweden is no longer among countries that degrade their asylum and immigration policies following the entry of a xenophobic party into parliament.

“Because the government chose the Green Party, policies are moving away from the Sweden Democrats,” she said.

But Sweden Democrat leader Jimmie Åkesson believes the new agreement will have the opposite effect, giving Sweden an even more extreme immigration policy, something which he expects will benefit his party.

“We are getting yet another debate which will benefit us in the long run. The question is whether there is a popular mandate for these policies. I don’t think there is,” he told TT.

Åkesson added that it’s regrettable the government chose to work with the Greens, labeling the party one of the most extreme when it comes to immigration policies in that it wants unrestricted immigration.

“It will cost between one and two billion kronor, money that should be spent on other things,” said Åkesson.

An inquiry into healthcare for illegal immigrants is expected to be completed in May, at which time proposals will be presented about what rules will apply.

“People are however not supposed to come here for healthcare; this is for people who are already here”, said Hägglund.

Reinfeldt explained that the Social Democrats and the Left Party were not part of the agreement due to different views on the subject of labour migration.

“This agreement is very much in line with our pro-work policies and therefore it’s not possible for the Social Democrats and the Left to cooperate. My impression is that the Social Democrats have been against people coming here to find work. Work is essential to me,” he said.

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

Culture Wars

UK: Christianity Isn’t Dying, It’s Being Eradicated

It’s official: Britain is no longer a Christian nation. In banning Eunice and Owen Johns, a devout Christian couple, from fostering children, Lord Justice Munby and Mr Justice Beatson declared that we live in a secular state, and that the Johns’ religious convictions disqualified them from raising citizens of that state. We’ve outgrown Christianity, the judges professed. Instead, we have graduated to the status of a multicultural nation, blessed by a plurality of faiths.

Ironically, the justices who have pronounced that Britain is no longer Christian did so in a court where witnesses swear on the Bible and invoke God’s help in telling the truth. I do not imagine that these judges leave out the first word in “God Save the Queen” — nor would they shun an invitation to the Royal wedding, which is happening not at a registry office but the centrepiece of official Christendom, Westminster Abbey.

In taking part in these traditions, the judges — and the rest of us — are no different from past generations. For Christianity is not merely a part of life here, a provider of schools, hospitals and orphanages. It is the backbone of our laws, the impetus for the charity, justice and tolerance that have long been characteristic of this country. Its grand principles have inspired citizens to extraordinary actions, such as William Wilberforce’s campaign against slavery, and to ordinary kindnesses, such as reading to hospital patients or delivering meals on wheels. When David Cameron speaks of our moral duty to our Arab brothers, or shares his vision for the Big Society, he taps not into narrow party allegiance, but into our common Christian heritage.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]