Saturday, January 11, 2003

News Feed 20110323

Financial Crisis
»Former SEIU Official Reveals Secret Plan to Destroy JP Morgan, Crash the Stock Market, And Redistribute Wealth in America
»FBI Investigating Gülen Schools in US
»Hezbollah Blames U.S. For Florida Quran Burning
»Koran Burned After Fla. Church “Trial’
»Planes Land at National as Air Traffic Supervisor Falls Asleep
»Ron Paul: Obama Moving Us Toward One World Government
»Senate Judiciary Panel Sets Hearing for Next Week on Protecting Muslims’ Civil Rights
»Stakelbeck on Terror Show: Jihad on Campus/Israel Under Assault
Europe and the EU
»As the Last British-Owned Port is Sold Abroad… What Kind of Nation Sells Its Soul to the Highest Foreign Bidder?
»Italy to Freeze Nuclear Programme
»Italy: Berlusconi Hedges Bets With ‘Former-Friend’ Gaddafi
»Spain: Barcelona Mulls Plan to Ban Cars Over 10 Years Old
North Africa
»Coalition in Crisis as Paris Refuses to Budge — Italy Calls for Separate Command Unless NATO Takes Over
»Egypt: Amnesty Reports Virginity Test on Protesters
»Italian Colonialism: A Childhood Wound and the Origins of Gaddafi’s Showdown With the West
»Libyan War: Whose Odyssey Dawn is it Anyway?
»Libya: Italy to Command NATO Sea Operations for Arms Embargo
»Libya: Raids and No-Fly Zone Could Cost 700 Million
»Libya: Germany Withdraws Ships From Theatre of Operations
»Libya’s Warfalla Tribe Once Again Pro-Gaddafi
»Libya: Who Are the Rebels? Expert Says it is Still a Mystery
»Libya: Turkish President Criticizes ‘Some Countries’
»Police and Youths Clash in Algeria Over Home Crisis
»Tunisia: Group Founded Opposed to ‘Aggression’ Against Libya
»US National Guard Called Up for Libyan Intervention
Israel and the Palestinians
»Bus Hit by Blast in Jerusalem, Around 20 Hurt
»Jerusalem Blast Injures at Least 25 Near Bus Station
Middle East
»Bahrain: Iranian Site Recruites Suicide Bombers Against GCC
»Fifth Day of Protests in Deraa as Syrian Police Kills Again
»Gisele Censored! Supermodel Photoshopped for H&M Ads in Dubai
»Kuwait: Deputy PM to Face Fraud Charges
»Obama Fans Flames of Animosity in Tehran
»S. Arabia: Pro-Bahrain Shiite Protest, Arrests and Torture
»Six Protesters Killed in Syria
»Syria: Deraa Mosque Attacked, At Least 6 Killed
»Syria: Protests: Video, Hundreds Want ‘No Hezbollah No Iran!
»Syria: Tensions High in Daraa, Gunshots in the City
»Syria: Bloodbath in Daraa, 15 Dead Say Witnesses
»South Stream to Go Ahead Even With Slovenia, Putin
South Asia
»Indonesian Ulema Against Flag-Raising: Muhammad Never Did it
»Is China Backing Indian Insurgents?
»ISAF: Bringing Islamic Law … to US Troops
»Malaysia: Seized Bibles: Kuala Lumpur Backtracks. Christians Evaluate Proposal
»Two Christians Gunned Down by Armed Muslims Outside Church in Pakistan
Far East
»Concern in Tokyo Over Radiation in Tap Water
»Italy: Lampedusa Crisis Deteriorates, Govt Reveals Migrant Plan
»Navy Ship at Lampedusa to Ease Migrant Tensions
Culture Wars
»Military Indoctrinated on Gays Kissing, Behavior
»The Vatican Makes Assisted Fertility Treatment a Sin

Financial Crisis

Former SEIU Official Reveals Secret Plan to Destroy JP Morgan, Crash the Stock Market, And Redistribute Wealth in America

A former official of one of the country’s most-powerful unions, SEIU, has a secret plan to “destabilize” the country.

The plan is designed to destroy JP Morgan, nuke the stock market, and weaken Wall Street’s grip on power, thus creating the conditions necessary for a redistribution of wealth and a change in government.

The former SEIU official, Stephen Lerner, spoke in a closed session at a Pace University forum last weekend.

The Blaze procured what appears to be a tape of Lerner’s remarks. Many Americans will undoubtely sympathize with and support them. Still, the “destabilization” plan is startling in its specificity, especially coming so close on the heels of the financial crisis.

Lerner said that unions and community organizations are, for all intents and purposes, dead. The only way to achieve their goals, therefore—the redistribution of wealth and the return of “$17 trillion” stolen from the middle class by Wall Street—is to “destabilize the country.”

Lerner’s plan is to organize a mass, coordinated “strike” on mortgage, student loan, and local government debt payments—thus bringing the banks to the edge of insolvency and forcing them to renegotiate the terms of the loans. This destabilization and turmoil, Lerner hopes, will also crash the stock market, isolating the banking class and allowing for a transfer of power.

Lerner’s plan starts by attacking JP Morgan Chase in early May, with demonstrations on Wall Street, protests at the annual shareholder meeting, and then calls for a coordinated mortgage strike.

Lerner also says explicitly that, although the attack will benefit labor unions, it cannot be seen as being organized by them. It must therefore be run by community organizations.

[Return to headlines]


FBI Investigating Gülen Schools in US

The FBI and other U.S. federal agencies have been investigating whether a Turkish religious community operating hundreds of schools worldwide is involved in visa fraud to bring teachers from Turkey to the United States.

The claim was made in a broad analysis by the Philadelphia Enquirer on religious leader Fethullah Gülen, who the paper describes as “a major Islamic political figure in Turkey,” and the more than 120 charter schools in the United States that are linked to his movement.

“Religious scholars consider the Gülen strain of Islam moderate, and the investigation has no link to terrorism. Rather, it [the investigation] is focused on whether hundreds of Turkish teachers, administrators and other staffers employed under the ‘H1B visa program’ are misusing taxpayer money,” the newspaper wrote. H1B visas are meant to be reserved for workers with highly specialized skill sets.

The charter schools are funded with millions of taxpayer dollars, according to the daily. “Truebright [Science Academy in Pennsylvania] alone receives more than $3 million from the Philadelphia School District for its 348 pupils,” said the newspaper.

The Departments of Labor and Education are also involved in investigating the claims of kickbacks to the Muslim movement founded by Gülen, known as “Hizmet” (Service), according to the paper.

Gülen, who has been living in the United States since 1999, is a Turkish religious leader whose movement is considered one of the strongest fronts in the civilian struggle for power in Turkey, especially because of its influence over state structures in the country.

Worldwide, the Gülen movement is known mostly for the schools it has established in Turkey and in more than 80 countries.

FBI investigation

Federal officials declined to comment on the nationwide inquiry, which is being coordinated by prosecutors in Pennsylvania’s Middle District in Scranton, the Philadelphia Enquirer wrote. A former leader of the parents’ group at a Gülen-founded charter school in State College, Pennsylvania, confirmed that federal authorities had interviewed her.

Although many have posited links between the Gülen movement and the charity schools around the world, followers deny the links.

The newspaper wrote that Bekir Aksoy, who acts as Gülen’s spokesman, said last Friday that he knew nothing about charter schools or an investigation.

Gülen schools were among the nation’s largest users of the H1B visas, the newspaper said. In 2009, the schools received government approvals for 684 visas — more than Google Inc. (440) but fewer than technology powerhouse Intel Corp. (1,203).

The newspaper drew attention to the fact that the visas were used to attract foreign workers with math, science, and technology skills to jobs for which there are shortages of qualified American workers. Officials at some of the charter schools, which specialize in math and science, have said they needed to fill teaching spots with Turks, according to parents and former staffers.

School parents described “how uncertified teachers on H1B visas were moved from one charter school to another when their ‘emergency’ teaching credentials expired and told of a pattern of sudden turnovers of Turkish business managers, administrators and board members,” according to the daily.

“The charter school application that Truebright filed with the Philadelphia School District in 2005 mentioned that its founders helped start similar schools in Ohio, California and Paterson, N.J.”, said the newspaper.

Ohio, California, and Texas have the largest numbers of Gülen-related schools. Ohio has 19, which are operated by Concept Schools Inc., and most are known as Horizon Science Academies. There are 14 in California operated by the Magnolia Foundation. Texas has 33 known as Harmony schools, run by the Cosmos Foundation.

“In their investigation, federal authorities have obtained copies of several emails that indicate the charter schools are tied to Hizmet and may be controlled by it,” the newspaper said.

New York Times on Gülen

In 2008, The New York Times wrote a story on the Gülen movement in Pakistan under the headline “Turkish Schools Offer Pakistan a Gentler Vision of Islam.” There rarely have been other stories about the movement in major U.S. papers.

The Philadelphia Enquirer said Gülen had gained his green card by convincing a federal judge in Philadelphia that he was an influential educational figure in the United States.

According to the newspaper, Gülen’s lawyer pointed to the 125 charter schools that his followers, including Turkish scientists, engineers and businessmen, have opened in 25 states.

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

Hezbollah Blames U.S. For Florida Quran Burning

BEIRUT: Hezbollah condemned the burning of a copy of the Quran by a U.S. evangelical preacher as an “abominable crime” Tuesday, holding the U.S. administration responsible. The party said in a statement that the act was “an invitation for strife and religious conflicts,” aimed at driving attention from the real struggle that is taking place between the “arrogant” forces and the oppressed people. The Quran was burned by Pastor Wayne Sapp in a small Florida church under the supervision of Preacher Terry Jones Sunday. The burning was carried out after finding the Muslim holy book “guilty” of crimes. Hezbollah held the U.S. administration responsible “because it serves its arrogant projects by fueling conflicts and divisions while Muslims and Christians are concerned with cooperating.”

           — Hat tip: AC[Return to headlines]

Koran Burned After Fla. Church “Trial’

(CBS News) Terry Jones, the Gainesville, Fla., pastor who ignited rage across the world with his scuttled plans to burn a Koran on September 11, has overseen the burning of a Muslim holy book, after a mock trial found the Koran guilty of crimes against humanity.

The torching of the book was part of an event Jones called International Judge the Koran Day, which was streamed live online and promoted on Facebook.

Jones, pastor of the Dove World Outreach Center, himself presided over the trial Sunday as “judge,” hearing evidence and testimony against the Koran.

Jones, speaking from a judge’s bench, said that like in an American court, if one is found guilty, there are consequences.

“If you are found guilty,” he said, “if you are convicted of murder, you don’t get to go home. It does not matter if we love you, if your mommy loves you, if your daddy loves you — you do not get to go home, because you have killed someone.

“And because of that you will face punishment. You will go to jail, you will possibly someday be electrocuted, or you will be shot up with poison and you will die,” he said. “That is what justice is.”

And to anyone watching who may disagree with the verdict, Jones said, “All you have to do is put together your own trial.”

The “jury” considered the charges of crimes against humanity; of promoting terrorist acts; of death, rape and torture of people worldwide “whose only crime was not being of the Islamic faith”; and of crimes against women, minorities and Christians, and with promoting prejudice and racism.

The trial featured as prosecutor a Christian convert from Islam. An Imam from Dallas, Texas, served as the book’s defense attorney.

After several minutes of deliberation, the jury handed its verdict to Jones: Guilty on all counts.

An online poll had helped decide the punishment following a guilty verdict. (The choices: Burning, shredding, drowning, or firing squad.)

The kerosene-soaked book was placed in a metal tray and ignited with a barbecue lighter by pastor Wayne Sapp.

About 30 people attended the trial and execution. One supporter of Jones, Jadwiga Schatz, told Agence France-Presse that she was concerned about the growth of Islam in Europe.

“These people, for me, are like monsters,” she said. “I hate these people.”

The U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, issued a statement condemning the burning, and rejected religious intolerance in any form.

“The deliberate destruction of any holy book is an abhorrent act,” Ambassador Cameron Munter said. “The U.S. commitment to freedom of religion and freedom of expression goes back to the founding of our nation and is enshrined in the Constitution.”

“This is an isolated act done by a small group of people that is contrary to American traditions,” the embassy said.

           — Hat tip: AC[Return to headlines]

Planes Land at National as Air Traffic Supervisor Falls Asleep

Two airliners landed at Reagan National Airport near Washington without control tower clearance because the air traffic supervisor was asleep, safety and aviation officials said Wednesday.

The supervisor — the only controller scheduled for duty in the tower around midnight Tuesday when incident occurred — had fallen asleep, said an aviation official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the incident.

The National Transportation Safety Board is gathering information on the occurrence to decide whether to open a formal investigation, board spokesman Peter Knudson said.

The pilots of the two commercial planes were unable to reach the tower, but they were in communication with a regional air traffic control facility, Knudson said. That facility is in Warrenton, Va., about 40 miles from the airport.

Regional air traffic facilities handle aircraft within roughly a 50 mile radius of an airport, but landings, takeoffs and planes within about three miles of an airport are handled by controllers in the airport tower.

After pilots were unable to raise the airport tower by radio, they asked controllers in Warrenton to call the tower, Knudson said. Repeated calls to the tower went unanswered, he said.

The planes involved were American Airlines flight 1012 and United Airlines flight 628T, Knudson said.

The Federal Aviation Administration released a statement confirming the incident.

“The FAA is looking into staffing issues and whether existing procedures were followed appropriately,” agency spokeswoman Laura Brown said in an email.

It’s unlikely the safety of the planes was at risk since the pilots would have used a radio frequency for the airport tower to advise nearby aircraft of their intention to land and to make sure that no other planes also intended to land at that time, aviation safety experts said. At that time of night, air traffic would have been light, they said.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Ron Paul: Obama Moving Us Toward One World Government

Congressman Ron Paul made a sweep of television appearances yesterday to voice his strong opposition to the attack on Libya, and making it clear that the president is subverting US national sovereignty by bypassing Congress to engage in illegal acts of aggression.

Appearing on Freedom Watch with Judge Andrew Napolitano, the Congressman pulled no punches when explaining why he believes Obama went to the UN for authority to drop bombs on Libya, rather than congress.

“I think he philosophically believes in one world government,” Paul stated.

“He wants to keep nudging us in that direction. I don’t believe he has a conviction that national sovereignty has any value. So therefore if they can diminish the Congress.” he continued.

“If he diminishes the Congress and he can get his authority from the United Nations then this enhances what he believes in. But he is not alone, the leadership in both parties has been nudging in that direction for a long time.” the Congressman added.

“To think of all the effort that the founders went to to make the Congress the most important body, that they are now the most willing to give up their prerogatives and give it to the executive branch and the judicial branch, and onward and onward. Our leaderships in the House as long as I’ve been there have always deferred to the executive branch.” he said.

[Return to headlines]

Senate Judiciary Panel Sets Hearing for Next Week on Protecting Muslims’ Civil Rights

A Senate Judiciary subcommittee is planning to hold a hearing next week examining the issue of American Muslims’ civil rights, less than three weeks after a House committee hearing led by Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) on the radicalization of American Muslims drew widespread controversy.

The Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, Human Rights, and the Law will be hosting the hearing, which is on “Protecting the Civil Rights of American Muslims,” at 10 a.m. March 29 in the Senate Dirksen building.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who chairs the subcommittee, will be presiding.

In a statement Tuesday night, Durbin emphasized that the Constitution “protects the free exercise of religion for all Americans.”

“During the course of our history, many religions have faced intolerance,” he said. “It is important for our generation to renew our founding charter’s commitment to religious diversity and to protect the liberties guaranteed by our Bill of Rights.”

Two Democratic Senate aides with knowledge of the hearing said that Durbin had been planning it since the start of the 112th Congress and that it was not a response to King’s hearing.

The hearing will “take a wider look in response to the uptick in anti-Muslim behavior around the country, including the Koran burnings from last year,” threats against mosques and hate crimes against American Muslims, according to an aide who was not authorized to speak publicly about the hearing.

The event will mark the first hearing held by the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, Human Rights, which was formed at the beginning of the 112th Congress by merging two previous Judiciary subcommittees. Durbin had previously served as chairman of the subcommittee on human rights and the law, while former Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) had chaired the Constitution subcommittee.

The witness list includes Muslim civil rights leader Farhana Khera, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez and former assistant attorney general Alex Acosta. Perez is the top civil rights official in the Obama administration, while Acosta served as the Bush administration’s top civil rights official.

           — Hat tip: AC[Return to headlines]

Stakelbeck on Terror Show: Jihad on Campus/Israel Under Assault

The latest episode of the Stakelbeck on Terror show aired last night and is now viewable online.

Segments featured this week:

  • My exclusive recent report on the terror ties of the Muslim Students Association (top of the show)
  • More on the MSA and its ties to the Muslim Brotherhood (6:44 into the show).
  • An interview with a top US Army counter-insurgency expert on the Hezbollah threat in America (8:16 into the show).
  • An on-the-ground report from Israel on the recent seizure of a ship carrying Iranians weapons bound for Gaza. (13:06 into the show).
  • The Stak Attack commentary on the recent savage murder of an Israel family in Samaria by Palestinian terrorists (15:19 into the show).
  • The War Council roundtable (taped Friday) featuring a panel discussion on the latest in the Middle East, including Libya, Egypt and more. (18:35 into the show).
  • A closer look at official Palestinian Authority TV’s incitement to terrorism against Israel (25:14 into the show)

Hope you can tune in..

           — Hat tip: Erick Stakelbeck[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

As the Last British-Owned Port is Sold Abroad… What Kind of Nation Sells Its Soul to the Highest Foreign Bidder?

As a great maritime and trading nation, Britain ought to treasure the ports that have been built up over centuries around our shores.

Yet despite their vital importance to our economic and military security, barely a murmur of protest has been heard as the great publicly-quoted companies that own them have been sold to foreign-based firms one by one.

Yesterday, Forth Ports — the last remaining British port owner to be listed on the stock exchange — was sold for £754million to an assortment of financial groups (with the help of Germany’s Deutsche Bank) led by a little-known European investment firm.

The new company now has control of London’s Tilbury Docks, several Scottish ports and 400 acres of Edinburgh waterfront.

At a time when other maritime nations, such as China and the United Arab Emirates, are jealously guarding their own trading hubs and snapping up ports across the world — from Sri Lanka to Africa — Britain has effectively sold off the nation’s family silver.

The great pity is that politicians of all parties have scandalously allowed this steady erosion of our dominant role in international trade.

The tragedy is that ports have played a critical economic role in Britain since the 12th century, when a royal charter established the Cinque ports of Hastings, New Romney, Hythe, Dover and Sandwich to maintain ships for the Crown in case of need. In return, the five ports were granted exemption from taxes and tolls.

The idea was so successful that it spread from the South-East to Liverpool, Bristol and London as overseas trade stepped up.

The nation’s maritime exploits, symbolised by the adventurism of men such as Sir Francis Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh, became the stuff of Elizabethan legend as the UK established itself as the world’s greatest seafaring nation.

The loss of P&O Ports in 2006 was the biggest loss for the country.

Now there appears to be a pathetic acceptance that the identity of those who own our ports does not matter.

But the truth is that the ownership of these keystones of the British Isles is absolutely vital. As a traditional trading nation dependent on imports of gas and oil for so much of our energy needs, the control of our ports — as well as access to strategic ports overseas — is crucial.

[Return to headlines]

Italy to Freeze Nuclear Programme

One-year moratorium on plans and site location, minister says

(ANSA) — Rome, March 22 — The government will on Wednesday announce a one-year moratorium on reviving Italy’s nuclear programme after the Japan crisis, Industry Minister Paolo Romani said Tuesday.

“We will announce a moratorium for a year concerning decisions and the search for sites for nuclear power plants,” Romani said after a Senate industry committee hearing. Italy is set to hold a referendum on the four planned plants on June 12.

It abandoned nuclear power following a referendum one year after the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

The news came a day after Romani announced a “responsible pause for thought, as other European countries have done,” with the immediate priority being to review security around Europe.

Romani said Monday he “hoped” to get “enough information” on EU stress tests to the Italian public before the referendum but “did not know if we’ll have time” since the tests are set to run until the end of the year.

He said Italy had asked the testing process to be “accelerated as much as possible”.

Italy last year announced plans to restart its nuclear programme.

Four latest-generation plants are planned as well as a waste site but locations have not been decided and Italy’s regional governors have issued a fresh refusal to have them after the problems in Japan.

Last week Romani said the plans would go ahead as long as safety concerns were resolved but Environment Minister Stefania Prestigiacomo said the programme would be sunk by the referendum.

The opposition Italy of Values party accused Romani Monday of insincerity in seeking to allay public concerns while allegedly being resolute about a programme the government has said is essential to Italy’s energy budget.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Berlusconi Hedges Bets With ‘Former-Friend’ Gaddafi

Rome, 23 March (AKI/Bloomberg) — Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s push for Nato to take command of the Libyan no-fly zone shows how Muammar Gaddafi’s former friend is trying to hedge his bets over the civil war in Italy’s one-time colony.

“Italy is in a tight spot; it has the most to lose,” said Nicolo Sartori, an analyst at the Rome-based Institute for International Affairs. “If Nato takes over and things are run from Italy, this can be presented to rebels as proof Italy did its part to help.” If Gaddafi wins, Italy can say that “it only got involved when the international community rose up.”

Italy, Libya’s biggest trading partner, has threatened to withdraw access to its military bases unless the North Atlantic Treaty Organization takes charge of operations. The country’s airfields, which include Nato bases, are closer to Libya than the sites now being used in France and the UK.

A rebel victory would leave the African oil supplier under new ownership, threatening Italy’s Eni, the dominant foreign crude producer since Gaddafi came to power in 1969. Gaddafi has called Berlusconi a traitor for participating in the campaign and has threatened to replace Eni, Finmeccanica and other Italian companies with Russian and Chinese rivals.

The US and UK say they favor the idea of a single command under Nato over the current US-led control structure. French president Nicolas Sarkozy, who lobbied European leaders to back a no-fly zone before the United Nations endorsed the idea, has resisted a shift to Nato control.

US president Barack Obama said Tuesday that “he had no doubt” control of the operation would be turned over to an international coalition and that Nato could be ready to assume control “over the next several days.”

“The Italian authorities are very resentful of a British or French premiership over Libya, and a way to dilute their role and make it more palatable for Italy is to put it under Nato,” said Arturo Varvelli, a researcher at the Institute for International Political Studies in Milan.

France opened the attacks against Gaddafi’s forces from its military bases, and the country’s high-profile role in the campaign has led investors to speculate it may be trying to curry favor with the rebels in a post-Gaddafi Libya.

“There is some concern the French might try to gain economic advantages from their role,” said Patrizio Pazzaglia head of financial investments at Bank Insinger de Beaufort in Rome, who owns Eni shares. Paris-based Total “may lobby for a share of future concessions that also interest Eni for example,” he said.

Italy’s presence in Libya dates back to ancient Rome’s occupation of the region. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the start of modern Italy’s 30-year colonization of Africa’s third-largest oil producer. Eni, Europe’s fourth-biggest oil company, entered the country more than half a century ago and relies on the nation for about 15 percent of its production.

Oil output has fallen by three quarters since the start of the conflict and may come to a complete halt, Shokri Ghanem, chairman of Libya’s National Oil Co., said on 19 March. Libyan rebels in Benghazi said they’ve created a new national oil company, possibly leaving Eni’s contracts in limbo.

French rival Total produces about 55,000 barrels of oil equivalent a day in Libya, about a fifth of Eni’s output.

Eni will continue to work in Libya “whatever the political system,” chief executive officer Paolo Scaroni, told a parliamentary committee in Rome on 16 March 16.

For now, Italian companies in Libya are bracing for a hit to 2011 earnings. Ansaldo STS, a railway-technology company, said the Libyan unrest may cost it 100 million euros of revenue this year, more than 5 percent of forecast 2011 sales. Finmeccanica, the defense contractor that owns Ansaldo, had about 600 million euros in Libyan sales last year.

The Libyan civil war also threatens to undo Berlusconi’s efforts to ensure Italy remains Libya’s biggest trading partner. Berlusconi courted Gaddafi after US sanctions were lifted against Libya in 2004. He led a succession of world leaders willing to put Libya’s past as a sponsor of terrorism and a developer of nuclear weapons behind them and go into business with Gaddafi, once dubbed the “mad dog of the Middle East” by former US president Ronald Reagan.

Former UK prime Minister Tony Blair and former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder both visited Libya in search of contracts during their tenure. Gaddafi traveled to Paris in 2007 to meet with Sarkozy.

Still, it was Italy, with its historic and cultural links, that gained the most from Gaddafi’s rehabilitation, culminating with the 2008 “Friendship Treaty” between the two nations. As reparation for its former colonial rule, Italy agreed to invest 5 billion dollars to build a highway, using Italian construction companies such as Astaldi and Impregilo. The agreement led Eni to announce plans for 25 billion euros of new investment in the coming decades.

Gaddafi, in turn, pledged to further open Libya to Italian companies, curb illegal immigration and invest his oil dollars in Italy. The country’s central bank and main sovereign wealth fund own a 7.2 percent stake in UniCredit, Italy’s biggest bank. The shares, with a market value of 2.4 billion euros, have been frozen under European Union sanctions against Gaddafi. Libyan funds also own 2 percent of Finmeccanica, 7.5 percent of soccer team Juventus, and the Libyan Investment Authority also holds about 1 percent of Eni, its former deputy CEO Mustafa Zarti said in a 9 March 9.

Berlusconi’s close ties to Gaddafi have at times raised hackles in Italy. In March of last year, Berlusconi kissed Qaddafi’s hand at an Arab League summit in Sirte, Libya, a sign of deference generally reserved for the Pope. Prior to a ceremony last August in Rome, Gaddafi organized two “parties” where 700 young women were paid to listen to the Libyan leader extol Islam and seek their conversion.

“If Gaddafi stays, he’s a pariah and they can’t deal with him as before,” Sartori said. “If the rebels win with the help of the French, Italy won’t have the privileged status it had before.”

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

Spain: Barcelona Mulls Plan to Ban Cars Over 10 Years Old

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, MARCH 23 — In Catalonia, a controversial announcement was made by Barcelona’s Environmental Councillor’s office regarding a possible ban on cars that are over 10 years old. A hotly debated measure announced yesterday was rejected by the Mobility Councillor’s office in the Catalan city. According to sources in the municipal government cited by the media, the measure is part of the Energy, Climate Change and Air Quality Plan for the city of Barcelona for 2010-2011, which calls for “emissions controls for vehicles that cause the most pollution”. The package seeks to save 10% on energy costs and reduce nitrous oxide pollution by 41%, as well as pollution from suspended particulate matter (PM10), which are hazardous to human health. To meet these goals, the city government is considering limiting the use of vehicles that cause the most pollution and providing incentives for people to use newer cars with the eco-friendly ‘Plan Renove’. But, pointed out Mobility Councillor Francesc Narvaez, “they never proposed the possibility of imposing a ban on vehicles that are over 10 years old, also because my car is more than 10 years old, but this does not mean that it is not up to code, since I fulfil the necessary obligations for emissions”. The most viable option for the councillor is to modify and tighten up technical inspections on vehicles that are over 10 years old.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

North Africa

Coalition in Crisis as Paris Refuses to Budge — Italy Calls for Separate Command Unless NATO Takes Over

US ready to step down. Berlusconi “sorry for Gheddafi”. Italian planes will not open fire

ROME — Those who once were “the willing” are now “the squabbling”. Three days after military action against key points in Muammar Gheddafi’s defences began, the coalition has started to come apart. Governments are split over who should be guiding Operation Odyssey Dawn, led so far by the United States, France and the United Kingdom. Italy has called for a swift transfer of the chain of command to NATO control. Otherwise, the seven military bases put at the coalition’s disposal could be withdrawn and a “separate command” instituted, according to Italy’s foreign minister Franco Frattini.

FRENCH FOOT-DRAGGING — Throughout the day, Paris refused to budge from its position. The French foreign minister, Alain Juppé, said that “in the next few days, the alliance is prepared to come to the coalition’s support”, but avoided the word coordination and repeated that any operations under the NATO flag would not be welcomed by Arab countries. “We are in an operation promoted by the United Nations and undertaken by an ad hoc coalition, to which NATO could bring its support”, said French defence ministry spokesman General Philippe Ponthies. He was backed up by the Spanish foreign minister, Trinidad Jiménez: “For the time being, bearing in mind that there already is an international coalition not just of European countries and NATO members but also of Arab countries, it appears that the prevailing sentiment is for the coalition to continue”. Ms Trinidad Jiménez did not rule out a support role for Nato.

NORWAY DROPS OUT — The row has already claimed its first victims. Norway has announced that it is suspending its participation in the military operations (six F16 fighters deployed in the Mediterranean) until the command issue has been cleared up, as the Norwegian defence minister, Grete Faremo, reported.

USA: READY TO STEP DOWN — Earlier, the United States announced that it was cutting back its role in the operations. President Obama said he was ready to “hand over” to the alliance: “NATO will be involved in coordinating the response to UN resolution 1973, which authorised intervention in Libya. And it will be a question of days, not weeks”. In reality, the defence secretary, Robert Gates, also mentioned the possibility of a Franco-British command, adding that it would be a mistake for the coalition to set itself the objective of killing the Libyan leader. President Obama confirmed that the aim of the operations is to for Gheddafi to leave power.

ITALY CALLS FOR SEPARATE COMMAND — Meanwhile, Italy made clear its position: unless operations in Libya pass under the NATO umbrella, the Italian government will be considering setting up a separate command of its own to manage control activities. The move was announced in a note from foreign minister, Franco Frattini. Luxembourg, Belgium, Denmark and Romania backed the Italian request. Mr Frattini said “there is a growing consensus” among EU partners. “I am expecting a decision on Tuesday or Wednesday”, he went on. On Sunday, Turkey put plans for a possible mission on hold. The Turkish premier Tayyap Erdogan also expressed irritation at France’s stance.

BERLUSCONI, GHEDDAFI AND ITALIAN AIRCRAFT — During the afternoon, Silvio Berlusconi pointed out: “Command of operations in Libya must return to NATO”, adding: “Italian planes are not opening fire and will not open fire”. Finally, he made a polemical remark about the humanitarian emergency: “Other countries should be doing their part. We are the first to supply tents for 12,000 refugees”. Later in the evening, the PM returned to the Libya issue at the dinner held in Turin for the People of Freedom’s (PDL) mayoral candidate: “I am saddened for Gheddafi and I am sorry. What is going on in Libya affects me personally”. Mr Berlusconi is reported to have been surprised that France should decide to take a “heavy-handed” approach unilaterally over Libya.

LA RUSSA — “We will continue apply pressure in international fora so that the leadership of the operation passes to NATO”, said Italy’s defence minister, Ignazio La Russa, at the end of an extraordinary session of the Council of Ministers to discuss the Libyan emergency. Mr La Russa explained that “other coalition countries share our views, but consensus is not total on this point. For us, the NATO line of command is well tried and established structures are in place”. The defence minister then said that Italy had made four Tornado aircraft available to neutralise radar, with four F16 fighters to escort the Tornados. Italy’s Tornados have not carried out any bombings and from now on, every effort will be made to ensure maximum confidentiality about operations to avoid any leaks of information. Regarding the vote in Parliament requested by the Northern League and the opposition, Mr La Russa said that “it has not yet been fixed but we do not intend to sidestep the scrutiny of Parliament, even though from the judicial point of view, a vote in committee is sufficient”…

English translation by Giles Watson

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

Egypt: Amnesty Reports Virginity Test on Protesters

(ANSAmed) — CAIRO, MARCH 23 — Amnesty International has asked the Egyptian authorities to investigate reports of torture, including the obligation to perform a “virginity test”, inflicted by soldiers on women who took part in a protest in Tahrir Square on March 9.

Eighteen women were arrested by soldiers, according to a statement by the international organisation, and claim that they were “beaten, subjected to electric shocks, forced to undress while soldiers took photographs of them and forced to take a “virginity test”, amid threats of being charged with prostitution”.

“Forcing women to take a “virginity test” is completely unacceptable,” Amnesty says, highlighting the case of Rasha Azeb, a journalist arrested in Tahrir Square.

“According to her account, the 18 female protesters arrested were initially taken to a room in the Cairo Museum, where they were handcuffed, hit with sticks and rubber tubes, given electric shocks to their chests and legs and called prostitutes,” Amnesty reports, adding that the journalist was freed a number of hours later, together with four fellow journalists, while the other 17 women were transferred to the El Heikstep military prison.

The 17 women appeared before a military court on March 11 and were released two days later, Amnesty claims, saying that “a number of them were given a one-year suspended prison sentence”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italian Colonialism: A Childhood Wound and the Origins of Gaddafi’s Showdown With the West

The Libyan leader’s lifelong grudge with Italy, and the Italian attempts to appease him, may help explain how Gaddafi sees the current conflict.

Mimmo Candito

It all began with a scar, a sign left on the arm of a child who’d been playing with his cousins along a stretch of desert. That scar sealed the fate not just for a man, but for an entire people. Muammar Gaddafi was six-years-old when a mine exploded as he was playing with his cousins on a dusty patch of earth in the desert near his native city of Sirt. No one can tell when the soldiers of the colonial Italian Royal Army had buried it there. But that day, in 1948, the mine exploded. Two of Gaddafi’s cousins died. Muammar’s arm was wounded. He would never forget.

His story as a leader, and his long-lasting grudge, started that morning. That injustice engendered hatred, which later influenced political choices that so often seemed driven by pure emotion. And almost every time, Italy played a central role in these choices. Surely, there were geographical reasons, given that the two countries face each other on opposite sides of the Mediterranean. But mostly, Italy stood at the center of Gaddafi’s politics because of his driving demand for compensation for that childhood wound, and for the country’s colonial humiliation.

On July 21, 1970, a New Revolutionary Committee’s decree was the first of these policies aimed at Italy. The committee was lead by a young and then still obscure military captain from Sirt, ordering the confiscation of property belonging to 20,000 Italian citizens who were still living and working in Libya after the coup d’etat. It also ordered their immediate expulsion. As quickly as they could, the Italians had to pack-up their few remaining belongings.

To celebrate that expulsion, Gaddafi declared October 7 “The Day of Vendetta,” a new, annual national holiday. Nevertheless, when Libya became an oil-exporting power, Italy reopened its embassy and tried to make peace. In 1911, European critics of the Italian colonial war in Libya dismissed the country as a “sandbox”. Everyone would find out how wrong that view was in the 1950s, when oil was discovered. Italy could not ignore the business opportunities for Eni Spa, its national oil and gas conglomerate.

After the Yom Kippur war and the Arab oil embargo in 1973, oil became even more central for international business and geopolitics. As a consequence, Gaddafi increasingly tried to impose his worldview on the old colonial powers. His view was inspired by Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser’s Pan-Arabism, with dreams of a world lead by Arab countries and Africa. When terrorism became a strategy of the global revolution, Gaddafi financed groups such as the Irish Republican Army and the Palestinian Black September Organization.

Italy was always in the background of his fanatic thirst for a new world shaped by the power of petrodollars. It had to face Gaddafi’s pressure, and his threats for revenge for the colonial past. Captured Sicilian fishermen were used as bargaining chips to gain freedom for the assassins of Libyan opposition’s leader who had escaped to Italy.

On April 15 1986, after a Berlin discotheque bombing that killed American marines, President Ronald Reagan ordered bombings of Benghazi, Tripoli and Gaddafi’s own personal compound. A mysterious phone call — which many believe came from then Italian Prime Minister Bettino Craxi — warned Gaddafi in time to save his life.

Thus began a new chapter in the alternating rapport of old grudges and neighborly relations. In 1986, Gaddafi unloaded two missiles on the Sicilian island of Lampedusa. But by the beginning of the 2000s, he’d stopped supporting terrorism, and admitted Libya’s responsibility for the attacks to Pan Am flight 193, in December 1988, and to the DC-10, UTA Flight 772, in September 1989.

In 1999, he received the first official visit to Tripoli by an Italian Prime Minister, Massimo D’Alema. In 2004, Europe Commission head Romano Prodi invited Gaddafi for an official visit to Brussels. That scar on the right arm of that child who played in the desert did not burn quite as much.

Only later, in Rome and Tripoli, Gaddafi and Silvio Berlusconi hugged each other, and Berlusconi even kissed Gaddafi’s hand — the peak of humiliation in a business oriented and shameless approach to foreign policy. Gaddafi had somehow managed to obtain a triumphal march on the road to Rome, only to now be back in his bunker launching new accusations of neo-colonialism, the scars of the past surfacing yet again.

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

Libyan War: Whose Odyssey Dawn is it Anyway?

Corriere della Sera, 22 March 2011

“The war in Libya has divided Italy and France”, writes Corriere della Sera, which chronicles growing tensions in Rome vis-à-vis the desire of Paris to conduct Operation Odyssey Dawn on its own, thus relegating Italy to the rear lines. The Italian government has threatened to “take command” of air bases used by Allied aircraft operations if the command does not shift to NATO — a demand shared by Norway, which has already suspended its participation, but which is contested by France and the Arab countries. The editorialist Piero Ostellino attributes the French attitude to its “desire to replace Italy in its dealings with Libya (from oil to economic and commercial relationships) in the post-Gaddafi era,” which is why Italy “has everything to lose” in accepting France’s leadership. The Italian government is also under pressure, the Milan daily adds, from the Tunisian migrants who are arriving every day in Lampedusa. Numbering by now possibly more than 5,000, they may be “as numerous as the inhabitants” of the island, who complain that if they remain on the island they will cast a shadow over the start of the tourist season.

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

Libya: Italy to Command NATO Sea Operations for Arms Embargo

Rome in charge of ‘maritime component of mission’

(ANSA) — Brussels, March 23 — Italy will play a key part in NATO’s mission to enforce an arms embargo on Libya, commanding sea operations, a spokesman for the alliance said Wednesday.

Italy will “command the maritime component of the Libya mission” enforcing the embargo, said Colonel Massimo Paniz, spokesman for the head of NATO’s military committee, Admiral Giampaolo Di Paola.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Libya: Raids and No-Fly Zone Could Cost 700 Million

(AGI) Washington — Imposing a no-fly zone over Libya could cost up to a billion dollars, over 700 million euros in months. The prediction comes from US military expert, Zack Cooper of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. Based on his calculations, the raids against Gaddafi’s air defences cost the Coalition Countries between 400 and 800 million dollars (280-560 million euros). The Tomahawk cruise missiles launched by the US and British units alone cost in the region of 200 million dollars.

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

Libya: Germany Withdraws Ships From Theatre of Operations

(AGI) Berlin — The German government decided to withdraw its military forces in the Mediterranean engaged in Libyan operations. A ministry of defence spokesman confirmed that two Germany navy frigates and two motor patrol boats, with a total of 550 men on board, have again been placed under German command. Germany has also withdrawn the sixty to seventy soldiers who have been taking part in AWACS surveillance operations over the Mediterranean.

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

Libya’s Warfalla Tribe Once Again Pro-Gaddafi

(AGI) Tripoli — Some members of Lbya’s most important tribe, the Warfalla, have returned to support Gaddafi following a series of agreements reached in recent days. The Bani Walid region, 150 kilometers south-east of Tripoli, is totally controlled by the tribe loyal to Gaddafi. Sheikh Akram al-Warfali had initially asked Gaddafi to stand down. Nothing has been heard since of his whereabouts ..

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

Libya: Who Are the Rebels? Expert Says it is Still a Mystery

(ANSAmed) — ROME, MARCH 23 — Who really are the anti-Gaddafi rebels? More than a month after the beginning of the February 17 uprising, it is still difficult to tell, according to Karim Mezran, the director of the American Studies Centre in Rome and Professor at Johns Hopkins University in Rome, who holds dual Italian and Libyan nationality.

“People always pull out the same names,” Mezran says of the more well-known representatives of Libya’s National Transitional Council, “while people say that they do not want to identify the others to avoid putting them in danger, but there are doubts as to whether they even really exist. Then there are defectors and deserters of the Gaddafi regime, but I don’t think that independent figures are part of the movement”.

Mezran expressed doubts over the effective existence of a monarchic component of the anti-Gaddafi forces (“nobody wants the monarchy after 40 years of the republic”), while there is more to be said of the Islamic make-up of the opposition. “In Cyrenaica, it is more present than in Tripolitania, which has had a re-Islamisation in the last 6 or 7 years”. However, “it is something quite different to talk about the violent radicalisation of the movement”, even though, he points out, there are still a few hundred who were close to Al Qaida, routed and imprisoned by Gaddafi and recently released.

Yet Mezran believes that there would be no risks of radicalism if a Muslim Brotherhood movement were organised and democratically involved in a national unity government. “Let them participate,” he says, “to distance them would be madness”.

It is certain, though, that there were no Islamists involved at the start of the uprisings, just as there were no moves to divide the tribal components of Libyan society. In other words, before “France and Great Britain jostled to lead the move to detach Libya from Italy. After all, Italy could never do this alone”.

The main risk on the horizon now, he warns, is of a division between Tripolitania and Cyrenaica. Mezran says that this would favour the birth of two dictatorships, each fuelled by the fear of the internal enemy and with development starved by a common difficulty of access and of the use of resources.

The best possible scenario, the academic concludes, “is for international diplomacy to convince Gaddafi to leave and for a pluralist national unity government to be formed, a government that must be based in Tripoli and that must be able to begin dialogue, on an equal footing, with Benghazi”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Libya: Turkish President Criticizes ‘Some Countries’

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, MARCH 23 — Turkish President Abdullah Gul on Wednesday, responding to a question over a possible handover of the military action in Libya under NATO command, said the Alliance had been discussing the issue for days now. Gul, as Anatolia news agency reports, told journalists before his departure for Ghana from Ankara that “it is obvious that some countries which have stood very close to those dictators are now taking some extreme steps, raising suspicions that they might have some secret agenda. This is what has been debated at both NATO’s civilian and armed wings,” Gul said. Gul added Turkey’s policy toward Libya was “principled and it pursued the main goal of securing freedom for peoples away from oppression.

Turkey can face criticism for now but Turkey’s rightfulness will be acknowledged. Turkey will continue pursuing this principled policy.”

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Police and Youths Clash in Algeria Over Home Crisis

(AGI) Algiers — There have been violent clashes this morning in Algeria between police officers in riot gear and about young protesters throwing stones in the Clinat de France district, in the Qued Kreich municipality, in Algiers. Protests began early in the morning to block a number of bulldozers, supported by large deployments of security forces, from entering the district to knock down huts considered illegal. Fifty police officers were injured, as were about 70 protesters .

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

Tunisia: Group Founded Opposed to ‘Aggression’ Against Libya

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, MARCH 23 — In Tunisia the “National front for the fight on aggression against Libya” has been formed in opposition to the UN-sanctioned military operations, explained a statement from the Unionist Democratic Union, the Popular Movement for Direct Democracy, the Movement for Free Unionists, the Party for Popular Unity, the Arab Unionists in Tunisia, the Democratic Coalition and the Organisation of the Unionist Democratic Youth, reports TAP. Until now, 49 political parties have been registered in the country after the fall of Ben Ali’s regime. According to the signees, the operations that started on March 19 against Gaddafi fall under the context of the “colonialist plan that seeks to prey on the riches of the Arab ‘umma’ and to defeat its anti-colonialist forces”. They call for people to oppose “any attempt of direct occupation, supported by an unreliable Arab press,” underlining the need to be on the alert against manoeuvres in the press tending to push the Arab people to serve American and NATO interests.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

US National Guard Called Up for Libyan Intervention

So far, according to Fox News, Obama’s little excursion into Libya has cost you millions. Fox cites a Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments analysis estimating that the Libyan no-fly zone may cost $100 million to $300 million per week.

Clinton’s State Department refuses to provide a figure on how much this unconstitutional boondoggle to oust Gaddafi and secure Libyan oil for transnational globalist corporations will cost.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich, Democrat from Ohio, has called for Congress to de-fund military operations in Libya, which he estimated costs between $30 million and $100 million a week.

The Pentagon wants $553 billion for the fiscal year beginning October 1. In addition, it wants $118 billion in war costs for the endless occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.

The violation of Libyan national sovereignty and calculated murder of its citizens is a “national security” issue and beyond the pale of budget cutters, according to Rep. Howard Berman of California, top dog Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

Bus Hit by Blast in Jerusalem, Around 20 Hurt

JERUSALEM — A BUS was hit by a massive explosion outside Jerusalem’s central bus station on Wednesday, medical sources told AFP, saying around 20 people had been wounded, some of them seriously.

The explosion occurred shortly after 3.00pm (1300 GMT, 9.00pm Singapore time) and shook buildings hundreds of metres away, witnesses said.

An AFP correspondent at the scene saw people lying on the floor covered in blood, and many cars and buses with shattered windows.

Sirens echoed through the city as dozens of ambulances and fire engines raced to the scene, with media reports taking of at least three people who were very badly injured. — AFP

           — Hat tip: KGS[Return to headlines]

Jerusalem Blast Injures at Least 25 Near Bus Station

Jerusalem, 23 March (AKI) — At least 25 people were injured on Wednesday when a bomb exploded near Jerusalem.’s main bus station.

Three of the victims were in serious condition, the Jerusalem Post reported.

The Hadassah Hospital where the victims were taken said there were no fatalities.

It was the first bomb attack on or near a bus in Jerusalem since 2004.

An explosive device was in a bag attached to a phone pole near the site of the blast, Israeli daily Haaretz.

“It’s going to take just a few weeks until we find the people who were responsible,” Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat said in an interview with CNN.

The blast took place at around 3:00 pm local time.

Meir Hagid, one of the bus drivers, said he heard a loud explosion as he drove by the site, located near the main entrance to Jerusalem and its central bus station.

“I heard the explosion in the bus stop,” he told Haaretz.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

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

Middle East

Bahrain: Iranian Site Recruites Suicide Bombers Against GCC

(ANSAmed) — ROME, MARCH 23 — Raheel (‘departure’) is the name of an Iranian site which has recently sprung up to recruit suicide bombers in Bahrain against the ‘invasion’. The invasion alluded to is clearly the sending of troops to the Bahrain kingdom by Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries. Iran, according to the Al Arabiya site which reports the news, exploits information in order to achieve its political ends.

Raheel, which holds a license granted to it by the competent Iranian authorities, uses some verses from the Koran concerning jihad and aims insults at those governing Gulf countries.

In addition to promoting jihad and inventing events which have never happened, the site promises the appearance of the “savior” (the imam who disappeared and is awaited by Shiites, Ed.) who will defeat all, including the United States and Israel. Raheel underscores the role of the “savior” in the recent revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt and the one in Libya underway. The site claims that the time has come for the realisation of the divine promise concerning his appearance.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Fifth Day of Protests in Deraa as Syrian Police Kills Again

Official sources blame “armed gangs” for an ambulance attack; demonstrators blame security forces, saying they carried out a sudden attack, opening fire on people gathered in front of a mosque. The opposition’s lack of leadership is a problem.

Beirut (AsiaNews) — On the fifth day of clashes in Deraa, 100 kilometres south of Damascus, four people are dead, including a police officer, according to official sources; five demonstrators, human rights activists say. Yesterday was relatively calm, the latter said, but after hundreds of protesters gathered again in front of the Omari Mosque, the focus of anti-government protest in recent weeks, with many getting ready to stay overnight in tents, security forces turned off streetlights, jammed phones, released tear gas and fired live ammunition on people. Ali Ghassab al-Mahamid, a doctor who had gone to the mosque to help victims, was killed.

According to the official version, reported by SANA, “An armed gang early Wednesday attacked a medical team in an ambulance while passing near al-Omari Mosque. A doctor, a paramedic and a driver were martyred in the attack, while the security forces in the vicinity of the site confronted the attackers and hit and arrested some of them. A member of the security forces was also martyred in the attack. The source added that the security forces will continue pursuing the armed gangs which terrify civilians, and execute killings,” after having “stored weapons and ammunitions inside al-Omari Mosque”

Since 15 March, Syria, including Damascus, has seen a number of small-scale protests. The country’s all-powerful security services have used an iron fist to disperse protesters. Many have been arrested. In the south, especially in Deraa, the protest has been more significant, and the response of the authorities more violent, with many deaths and even more wounded.

In light of what has happened, the fact that protests continue is surprising in a country that has been ruled for the past 48 years by a regime that has used special laws, courts and security forces to enforce its will. At the same time, events raise questions about demonstrators’ chance of forcing the regime to open up, since no one has called on President Assad to step down. In fact, not only do protesters lack a leadership, but also their motives and goals vary from place to place.

Yaser Tabbara, a Syrian American civil rights lawyer and activist, told Al Jazeera, “No one will be able to tell with any degree of certainty what will happen in the next few days or weeks in Syria”, whether protests will continue and spread or not, or if the regime will “make an example of Dara’a (Deraa) and show the populace the price one pays for dissent”. This said, “a culture of dissent has nonetheless commenced,” he said. “The fear barrier has been broken irreversibly.” (PD)

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

Gisele Censored! Supermodel Photoshopped for H&M Ads in Dubai

The sight of model in a bikini would barely raise an eyebrow in the West, but it seems even a covered-up Gisele Bündchen is too risqué for the Middle East.

The new H&M campaign, starring the supermodel, has been digitally altered to cater for ads running in Dubai.

Despite revealing only arms and a hint of cleavage, the three images were all subjected to Photoshopping with a t-shirt or vest added under the clothes.

[Return to headlines]

Kuwait: Deputy PM to Face Fraud Charges

(ANSAmed) — DUBAI, MARCH 22 — The stalemate between the Kuwaiti government and the country’s Parliament continues. At the request of two opposition deputies, the Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs, who is also the Minister for Development, is to be hauled in front of Parliament to face charges of fraud, forgery and bringing the reputation of Kuwait into disrepute. The news was revealed by the website of the daily Gulf News.

On April 5, Sheikh Ahmad Al Fahad Al Sabah, a member of the royal family, will be asked to explain alleged constitutional violations and irregularities in the management of public funds and of contract pitches for construction projects.

Marzouq Al Ganem and Adel Al Saraawi, the members of the National Action Bloc behind the measures, say that the move is supported both by their party and by a number of opposition parliamentarians.

If the questioning leads to a vote of confidence, the motion would need to be voted in by a simple majority of Kuwait’s Parliament, which has 50 members.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Obama Fans Flames of Animosity in Tehran

By Kaveh L Afrasiabi

“America’s chains of defeat in the region will continue,” Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei declared in his speech on the occasion of the dawn of a new Persian year, one day after a “new year message” by United States President Barack Obama that was for all practical purposes nothing short of a discrete declaration of war on the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Accusing the US of supporting dictators until the last minute, and fanning the fire of a Shi’ite-Sunni rift in order to perpetuate its hegemony in the region, Khamenei portrayed Obama as ignorant and confused for comparing the Iranian masses at Tehran’s Freedom Square in 2009 to Egyptian protesters in Tahrir Square this January. He reminded the White House that Iranians had congregated at the square in the Iranian capital for decades to celebrate their revolution and, that “their slogan is death to America.”

Khamenei turned his attention to the US’s domestic politics, accusing Obama of selling out to corporate America and turning his back on working Americans. It was a tit-for-tat response to Obama’s Nawruz, or Persian new year, speech in which the US president singled out Iran’s youth for anti-regime mobilization, a strategy his administration is now pursuing with zeal and energy in part by relying on certain Iran-American organizations in the US to carry out its outreach objectives.

In his Nawruz speech, issued by the White House on Sunday, Obama said:

I believe that there are certain values that are universal — the freedom of peaceful assembly and association; the ability to speak your mind and choose your leaders. But we also know that these movements for change are not unique to these last few months. The same forces of hope that swept across Tahrir Square were seen in Azadi [Freedom] Square in June of 2009. And just as the people of the region have insisted that they have a choice in how they are governed, so do the governments of the region have a choice in their response.

So far, the Iranian government has responded by demonstrating that it cares far more about preserving its own power than respecting the rights of the Iranian people.

Obama went on to say that the 60% of Iranians who were born after the 1979 revolution had the power to forge a country responsive to their aspirations and “though times may seem dark, I want you to know that I am with you”.

Perhaps the most important aspect of Khamenei’s speech pertained to Libya, a country torn by a civil war and foreign intervention under the guise of a United Nations no-fly zone. According to Agence France-Presse, Khamenei said in a live broadcast from the holy city of Mashhad:…

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

S. Arabia: Pro-Bahrain Shiite Protest, Arrests and Torture

(ANSAmed) — DUBAI, MARCH 23 — A peaceful demonstration in Saudi Arabia staged by the Shiite population last week calling for the release of political prisoners who “disappeared” in the ‘90s and for the withdrawal of the GCC forces from nearby Bahrain ended with the arrest of hundreds of demonstrators, some of whom were tortured. This was reported today by human rights organisation First Society, which called for their “immediate release from prison”. “Around one hundred protestors were arrested while they were staging a peaceful demonstration in the country’s eastern province in the Shiite areas of Safwa, Qatif and Alhassa,” wrote the organisation in a statement published on its website, adding that they are “shocked by news that several of the protestors who were arrested suffered physical and psychological torture”. The eastern part of the country is where the majority of the Shiite population is concentrated (about 15%), and like the Shiites in Bahrain they have reported episodes of discrimination, mainly involving the distribution of subsidies and public sector employment. Despite the wave of uprisings that have shaken almost all of the countries in the Middle East in recent months, Saudi Arabia nipped any similar initiatives in the bud and strengthened its welfare system with billions in funding, thus managing to maintain an outwardly calm atmosphere.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Six Protesters Killed in Syria

DAMASCUS, Syria — At least six people were killed early Wednesday when Syrian security forces attacked protesters who had taken refuge in a mosque in the center of the southern city of Dara’a, news agencies reported.

At the same time, Syrian state television described a very different scene on Wednesday, showing footage of guns, grenades and ammunition that it said was taken from inside the mosque. The television report acknowledged four dead, but claimed they had been killed when “an armed gang” attacked an ambulance, The Associated Press reported.

Why the accounts of violence and of the number killed differed was not immediately known.

On Tuesday, antigovernment protests had continued for a fifth day in Dara’a, before hundreds of demonstrators sought protection from the army in the Omari mosque. The protesters were calling for political freedoms and an end to corruption, and they had said they would remain in the mosque until their demands were met, Reuters reported.

           — Hat tip: KGS[Return to headlines]

Syria: Deraa Mosque Attacked, At Least 6 Killed

(ANSAmed) — ROME, MARCH 23 — At least six protestors were killed in an attack by Syrian forces of order over the night — just after midnight — on the Al-Omari mosque in Deraa, a city located 120 km south of Damascus and epicentre of anti-regime protests which for six days have been flaring up in southern Syria. Reports were from eyewitnesses and city residents. The sources said that “dozens were injured”, and that among those killed was Ali Ghassab Al-Mahmid, a doctor from an important family in Deraa who had gone to the mosque in the Old City to provide medical aid to those injured in the attack. “The police used firepower and threw tear gas canisters against protestors”, who had been staging a sit-in around the mosque while chanting slogans against the regime, reported an activist from a human rights organisation. “Electricity was cut and shots began immediately afterwards,” he said, while protestors filled the night air with cries of ‘Allahu Akbar’ (‘God is Great’). Over a thousand people had gathered in the street in front of the Al-Omari mosque. Surrounded by a large number of police, some of whom sent from Damascus, protestors had formed a sort of human chain around the mosque out of fear of an attack by the police in order to break up the sit-in. For days state-run media have been blaming “infiltrators”, provocateurs” and “foreigners” of instigating the incidents in Deraa, where at least 10-12 people have been killed.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Syria: Protests: Video, Hundreds Want ‘No Hezbollah No Iran!

(ANSAmed) — BEIRUT, MARCH 23 — “No Hezbollah nor Iran!” is the slogan chanted by hundreds of “Daraa demonstrators”, in southern Syria, where last night six people were reportedly killed during clashes between security forces and local residents on the sixth consecutive day of protests against the regime.

In a video broadcast on Youtube and other social networks by the channel “Shamsnn”, one of the most active in showing amateur videos of what is happening in southern Syria, there are hundreds of “Daraa demonstrators” shouting “La Hezbollah wu la Iran!” (Ne’ Hezbollah nor Iran!). It is impossible to determine the exact date or location of the demonstration of when the video was shot.

The Syrian regime has been in power for almost 50 years, an ally of the Iranian Islamic Republic for thirty years and for the past twenty years has supported the Hezbollah Lebanese Shiite movement, against Israel.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Syria: Tensions High in Daraa, Gunshots in the City

(AGI) Daraa — Tensions don’t subside in the town of Daraa, 100 km South of Damascus. A shootout between security forces and a few activists hidden in a mosque reportedly provoked the injury of at least one person. Several human rights activists reported to the press that the police allegedly opened fire against persons rallying to celebrate the funeral of two of the 12 victims during last night’s police assault against the Al-Omari mosque.

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

Syria: Bloodbath in Daraa, 15 Dead Say Witnesses

(ANSAmed) — BEIRUT — There is no end in sight to the intifada in Daraa, in the south of Syria, where the repression by Syrian security forces also appears to be continuing. Eyewitnesses and local humanitarian organisations says that forces have killed 15 people today alone (other sources put the figure at 6), taking up to around 20 the number of people who have died since last Friday’s outbreak of violence. The death toll has led the Secretary General of the UN, Ban Ki-Moon, to call for “a transparent investigation”.

This Friday, a day of prayer for Muslims, activists and dissidents have used social networking sites to call for a “mass mobilisation” in all regions of the country against the “deceitful and criminal regime” and “for revolution and freedom”.

Eyewitness reports, which were partly confirmed by a journalist from the France Presse agency, suggest that 9 people were killed last night in Daraa, 120 kilometres south of Damascus, when soldiers attacked the Al Omari mosque, where anti-regime protesters had begun to gather on Friday. Two women, a young girl and a doctor are said to be among the dead. The same reports say that six other residents of the town were killed this afternoon by gunshots fired by security forces during the funerals of the two “martyrs” killed last night.

The Damascus authorities, which have been led for almost half a century by the Ba’ath party and for 40 years by the Al Assad presidential dynasty today launched a massive media counter-attack, accusing “foreign parties” of “circulating lies” and of “stirring up citizens against the state”.

The news agency Sana and state television has called those responsible for the “riot” no more than an “armed gang”. The “outsiders”, the media outlets report, “used children who had previously been kidnapped to protect themselves inside the mosque” in the city. State television then showed pictures of the presumed weapons and money “hidden by the gang in the Al Omari mosque”.

Sana reports that only three people were killed in last night’s clashes: a doctor and a nurse killed by the “armed gang that attacked an ambulance” and a member of the security forces. “More than a million text messages from abroad, most of them from Israel, are inviting Syrians to use mosques as meeting points to organise riots,” the agency continues.

As well as mobilising the media, Damascus has also sent out timid and belated signals that it is cooling its offensive. This evening, news emerge that the governor of Daraa had been removed from office, while earlier in the afternoon, state television announced that six female activists arrested a week ago during an unprecedented gathering outside the Interior Ministry had been released on bail.

The women released (Nisrir Hassan, Wafaa Lahham, Sirin Khuri, Layla Labwani and Ruba Jabwani) do not include Suhayr Atassi, a leading activist for the defence of human rights. Of the 37 dissidents jailed on Wednesday March 16, 27 remain in prison.

Meanwhile, on the Facebook page entitled “Syrian.Revolution”, which has 70,000 followers, there is already a slogan and a logo for the “Friday of Glory”, which has been called “in all regions of Syria to support the Daraa revolution”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


South Stream to Go Ahead Even With Slovenia, Putin

(ANSAmed) — LJUBLJANA, MARCH 23 — Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin and his Slovenia counterpart Borut Pahor focused their talk today on economic cooperation and especially the implementation of the plan for the South Stream pipeline which, in bypassing Ukraine, is to bring Russian gas to Western Europe through Balkan and Central European countries. “The South Stream project is not at risk, even if we are still assessing a number of possible directions, “ Putin told journalists in reply to a question on speculation according to which Turkey is reportedly considering backing out on the building of the pipeline. “Today we have signed an agreement with Slovenia which calls for the creation of a Russian-Slovenian joint venture for the construction and management of part of the gas pipeline which is to cross Slovenian territory,” he said. “Turkey is our partner, and we are interested in maintaining good relations, “ noted Putin, adding that documentation on the project would be submitted to the Turkish government and that, however, it would be possible to assess a number of directions for the gas pipeline. It should be noted that the competing project, Nabucco, is to begin in the Caucasus and cross Turkey to arrive in Europe.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

South Asia

Indonesian Ulema Against Flag-Raising: Muhammad Never Did it

For the head of the MUI, the prophet never paid homage to the flag, so the practice is prohibited. He cites the case of Saudi Arabia and calls the gesture of saluting the national flag “heretical”. Confusion and anger in society. Politicians — for now — choose to remain silent.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) — The Indonesian Ulema are against the practice of paying homage to the national flag. For the head of the Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI), in fact, the gesture is “haram” — forbidden — because “the Prophet Muhammad never did it” and for this reason should be considered “heretical”. The majority of Indonesians have reacted angrily to the latest statement by the MUI, accused of fomenting tensions and inciting internal strife. Moreover in the past the Islamic leaders have issued judgments on various issues, such as banning Facebook because “amoral” or personal questions such as yoga, smoking and the right to vote.

The controversial opinion is the work of Kiai Hajj Cholila Ridwan, current head of the MUI, and was published in the biweekly magazine (issue of March 18-April 1) Suara Islam, “The voice of Islam” in Indonesia. The statement in response to a reader’s question, who reported the case of a student friend, enraged because expelled from a school for failing to respect the flag-raising.

In Indonesia it is common practice to honour the flag and the gesture is performed at least once a month, both in public and private schools, attended by all pupils. The children salute the symbol and sing the national anthem Indonesia Raya.

The head of MUI has declared the practise “haram”, referring to what is happening in Saudi Arabia since 2003, where the local Arab Muslims are not obliged to pay homage to the flag, while the national anthem is played, during official ceremonies. Kiai Hajj Cholila Ridwan adds that this act was never preformed by the Prophet Mohammed and therefore is considered a “heretical practice.”

On the contrary, we must “submit to full compliance with the doctrine of Allah” rather than submit to the “old” traditions — like flag-raising — which were introduced and promoted by infidels. “The flag — said the leader of the Ulema — is made of inanimate material and does not demand our respect. It is far more civilized and healthy, in contrast, to salute humans.”

The majority of Indonesians, especially among civil society, have reacted with anger, confusion and dismay at the MUI’s latest stance. Government officials and the ruling class at present have not yet expressed an opinion on the controversy, preferring to remain silent rather than contribute to fomenting tensions.

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

Is China Backing Indian Insurgents?

The arrest in January of a Chinese spy who allegedly met insurgents in the northeast of the country may suggest an effort to destabilize India.

On January 25, 2011, Wang Qing, a Chinese spy disguised as a TV reporter, was arrested and deported after she reportedly visited the headquarters of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) or NSCN-IM—one of India’s largest and most troublesome insurgent groups. Indian authorities said Qing admitted to being a spy for the People’s Security Bureau, a Chinese intelligence agency, and that she had conducted a secretive four-hour-long, closed-door meeting with Thuingaleng Muivah, a key rebel leader of the NSCN-IM who is currently holding reconciliation talks with the Indian government. The rebel group, however, insisted that it was holding talks with the Indian Government in good faith and that it has had ‘no relations with China.’…

           — Hat tip: DS[Return to headlines]

ISAF: Bringing Islamic Law … to US Troops

by Diana West

I wasn’t even looking for this. I just went to the ISAF website to see whether the grossly underreported weekend murders of two American soldiers (and shootings of four others) by an Afghan security contractor — again — was considered newsy enough to post by the official powers that be. “The slayings bring to nine the number of U.S. soldiers who have been killed by rogue Afghan security force members, whether uniformed or private security contractors, in the past two months,” NBC reports.

Nine? In the last two months? That whizzed by totally unaccounted for. Did any democratically elected officials even think to ask Gen. Petraeus about it?

I still don’t know if ISAF tallied up these latest bodies in a public count. That’s because the first item to present itself to a viewer of the ISAF site is this picture (above) with the caption: “Religious Importance of the Qur’an.” As a well-known sucker for the religious importance of the “Qur’an” — I prefer “Ko-ran,” with Texas inflection — I just had to click and see.

The caption tells us so-and-so holds his prayers beads during a March 2010 ribbon-cutting ceremony on an electrification project in the Farah Distriction, quoting Mr. So-and-So as saying: “If we have electricity … we can turn on our lights, and read the Koran.”

What comment is appropriate here? “The jaw drops”? “The universe spins”? We must go beyond shock to assess the advanced state of psycho-masochism the US military has now attained under the suicidal ideology of COIN, a belief system of unparralleled arrogance that actually believes that a cockamamie scheme of sticks and carrots, at a staggering cost of blood (limbs, skull shards) and unrecoverable treasure, is adequate to remake Muslim Man in Petraeus’s Image.

But the joke is on the COINsters. For what is happening is that it is they who are remaking themselves. In seeking to win Islamic hearts and minds, a lynchpin of the non-military, social-work basis of the COIN strategy, they have themselves become de facto followers of Islamic law, and they are spreading it to our troops.

This is the ISAF site tells us. To wit:

“Download Religious Importance of the Qu’ran” the ISAF commands.

So I did. Up pops COIN Advisory # 20100924-001 (I’m not kidding).This perfectly rancid sop to “Cultural Sensitivity” (the non-ironic title) is something for US troops to gag themselves with. Literally. “Never talk badly about the Qur’an or its contents.” #2 “recommendation” says, a no-nonsense formulation of Islamic prohibitions against criticising Islam.

Remember, this COIN Advisory is attached to the very first item ISAF displays, hoisted like a flag of dhimmitude to denote ISAF’s adoption of Islamic law (sharia), illustrated with a year-old picture of Mr. Prayer Beads exulting over having received the technology of Thomas Alva Edison to read the Koran.

But if illuminating the Koran is perfectly okay for infidels to do, touching the thing is not. Why? “It is considered culturally insensitive for any non-Muslim to touch a copy of the Qur’an,” ISAF explains. Why that it is indeed the Islamic case, ISAF doesn’t mention. Perhaps it would upset still-not-completely dhimmified troops to learn that this injunction exists because Muslims consider non-Muslim “najis,” or unclean, and thus unfit to touch their religious book. We must appreciate the implications: Having accepted this basic supremacist divide, ISAF has also accepted dhimmitude, the cultural condition of all non-Muslim subjects of sharia, and it is imposing it on our troops.

Of course, there’s more:…

           — Hat tip: Diana West[Return to headlines]

Malaysia: Seized Bibles: Kuala Lumpur Backtracks. Christians Evaluate Proposal

Bibles no will longer have a serial number, “ Christians only” on cover or Ministry of Interior seal, but only the stamp “for Christianity.” This issue is related to the use of the word “Allah” for God by non-Muslims.

Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews / Agencies) — The Malaysian government has proposed a compromise solution to the issue of 35 thousand Bibles blocked in the country’s ports. The issue is related to the government ban — rejected by a court order — on Christians using the term “Allah” for God. The government, which is often accused of favouring the Muslim majority with respect to Christians and other religious minorities, says it will release the Bibles once “For Christianity” is printed on the books

A previous proposal stipulated that the Bibles be printed with serial number, and the words “only for Christians.” This formula was immediately rejected by all Christian denominations, because they did not want the holy book marred by writing, by serial numbers and the seal of the Ministry of Interior. Idris Jala, speaking on behalf of the Prime Minister said that the Bibles will only be stamped with the words “For Christianity.”

Local sources said the proposal has found some support among Christian leaders. The Secretary General of the Council of Churches, Hermen Shastri, who attended the meeting with government representatives, said that Christian leaders have asked for a few days to meet and take a joint decision. “I understand the government’s urgency, but they must give us their strongest assurances that this will not happen again.” Malaysian Christians are about nine percent of the population, and include many of the indigenous groups of Borneo. They speak the national language, Malay and have used the word “Allah” for God for centuries without any problems.

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

Two Christians Gunned Down by Armed Muslims Outside Church in Pakistan

The attack took place in Hyderabad. Two others were seriously injured. A group of Muslims were bothering women as they entered the Church resulting in an argument, during which the attackers opened fire on the Christians. Police have not arrested any of the attackers who still roam free.

Karachi (AsiaNews / Agencies) — Two Christians were gunned down and two others are in serious condition after young Muslims attacked them outside a church in Hyderabad on the evening of March 21. Christians living in Camp Hurr, in Hyderabad, in Sindh, were celebrating the 30th anniversary of the founding of their church and the Salvation Army when a group of young Muslims gathered outside the church, playing loud music and annoying the Christian women who entered the church.

Younis Masih, 47, Siddique Masih, 45, Jameel Masih, 22, and a youth named Waseem came out of a church to ask the Muslims to respect the people and place. An argument ensued. Shortly afterwards the Muslims returned armed with guns. Witnesses say that Muslims opened fire immediately, killing him instantly Younis Masih and Jameel Masih, and seriously injuring the other two Christians, who were transported to hospital in Karachi. Younis Masih leaves a wife and four children; Jameel only married a month ago.

The attitude of the authorities has exacerbated the Christians. Jameel’s mother, Surraya Bibi, says: “The police acted as if it was not important. They didn’t file the report until late at night when we blocked the main road of Hyderabad, with the two dead bodies for several hours”. So far police have not arrested any of the accused, who are still at large. They instead arrested some teenagers who are not involved in the crime.

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

Far East

Concern in Tokyo Over Radiation in Tap Water

TOKYO (AP) — Radiation leaking from Japan’s tsunami-damaged nuclear power plant has caused Tokyo’s tap water to exceed safety standards for infants to drink, officials said Wednesday, sending anxiety levels soaring over the nation’s food and water supply.

Residents cleared store shelves of bottled water after Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara said levels of radioactive iodine in tap water were more than twice what is considered safe for babies. Officials begged those in the city to buy only what they needed, saying hoarding could hurt the thousands of people without any water in areas devastated by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” clerk Toru Kikutaka said, surveying the downtown Tokyo supermarket where the entire stock of bottled water sold out almost immediately after the news broke, despite a limit of two, two-liter bottles per customer.

The unsettling new development affecting Japan’s largest city, home to around 13 million people, added to growing fears over the nation’s food supply.

Radiation from the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant has seeped into raw milk, seawater and 11 kinds of vegetables, including broccoli, cauliflower and turnips, from areas around the plant. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said it was halting imports of Japanese dairy and produce from the region near the facility. Hong Kong went further and required that Japan perform safety checks on meat, eggs and seafood before accepting those products.

[Return to headlines]


Italy: Lampedusa Crisis Deteriorates, Govt Reveals Migrant Plan

UNHCR calls for more transfers from packed island

(ANSA) — Milan, March 22 — A humanitarian crisis on the southern island of Lampedusa grew worse on Tuesday as the Italian government announced new measures to deal with migrants arriving from turmoil-hit North Africa.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) called on the government to speed up transfers of around 5,600 mostly Tunisian migrants who have more than doubled the small island’s population and are enduring miserable conditions. “The humanitarian situation on Lampedusa is deteriorating,” the UNHCR said Tuesday after three boats carrying a total of around 290 more people arrived at the island between Tunisia and Sicily.

“We call on the Italian authorities to increase the number of transfers from the island to other parts of Italy to alleviate congestion on Lampedusa and allow its reception centre to function normally”. Around 2,000 people are packed into the island’s reception centre, designed to hold 850, while the remaining migrants have been forced to sleep rough, with many complaining of a lack of access to food and toilets.

Despite increasingly critical sanitary conditions, Health Minister Ferruccio Fazio said Tuesday that “at the moment there are no immediate health risks or epidemics”.

The UNHCR said the excessive number of migrants on the island is fuelling tensions, both among migrants and with local people. Lampedusa residents have protested at the heavy influx of North Africans by obstructing boats trying to let off new arrivals. Interior Minister Roberto Maroni has pledged prompt action to evacuate the migrants and said Tuesday he had reached a nationwide deal with regional governments and other local authorities to accommodate up to 50,000 refugees.

Maroni said 50,000 was a “realistic” estimate of the number of people likely to arrive, with a United Nations-sanctioned mission seeking to stop an offensive by Muammar Gaddafi’s loyalists against rebels in Libya.

Some governors, however, stressed that their regions were only willing to take political refugees, not economic migrants. Italy has not been hit by the mass exodus it feared at the start of the recent wave of uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East, which toppled regimes in Tunisia and Egypt.

Nevertheless, Maroni said Tuesday that 15,000 undocumented migrants have landed on Italy’s shores so far this year, compared to 4,000 in the whole of 2010. He will visit Tunisia, the country of origin of most of those migrants, on Wednesday to discuss ways to halt the stream of arrivals.

“Tunisia is a friendly country and I’m optimistic about the chances of solving the problem,” Maroni said.

“A question mark remains about Libya, with refugees fleeing from a dramatic situation there”. Maroni has complained that the European Union’s reaction to Italy’s appeals for help in dealing with the crisis had been “unsatisfactory”.

His request for 100 million euros in emergency funding received a cool response from other EU member states.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Navy Ship at Lampedusa to Ease Migrant Tensions

San Marco will take hundreds of Tunisians to Sicily

(ANSA) — Lampedusa, March 23 — An Italian navy transport ship arrived at Lampedusa Wednesday to start easing tensions between migrants and the outnumbered inhabitants of the Mediterranean island.

Italy sent the San Marco into action amid a humanitarian emergency among the 5,500 mostly Tunisian migrants, many of whom are sleeping rough after an 850-bed reception centre overflowed.

According to the Italian media, some younger Tunisians have gone on hunger strike and started to self-harm to put pressure on authorities to get them off the island.

The San Marco is already taking Tunisians on board and will ship them to Sicily later in the day where the majority are expected to be repatriated.

“The Navy vessel is able to carry up to 600 people in absolute safety, and this transfer of the Tunisians on Lampedusa will take place today,” said Defence Minister Ignazio la Russa. Interior Minister Roberto Maroni flies to Tunis later Wednesday to firm up agreements to stem the flow of migrants and take them back faster.

The minister reached an agreement with Italian regional chiefs Tuesday night to share out an expected exodus of 50,000 refugees from war-torn Libya.

Italy, which has set up a migrant camp on the Tunisian border with Libya, is urging the European Union to share more of the burden of receiving refugees.

After an overnight lull, 80 more Tunisians arrived on Lampedusa Wednesday on board a rickety boat.

Sicilian health authorities on Wednesday doubled the number of first-aid doctors, nurses, ambulance and medical helicopter staff at Lampedusa to avert a health crisis among the migrants.

Lampedusa, closer to Tunisia than to Sicily, has seen some 15,000 arrivals since the start of 2011 compared to just over 4,000 in the whole of 2010.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Culture Wars

Military Indoctrinated on Gays Kissing, Behavior

Four branches of the military have begun sending training material to 2.2 million active and reserve troops as a prelude to opening the ranks to gays, with instructions on, for example, what to do if an officer sees two male Marines kissing in a shopping mall.

Key themes are that sexual orientation will no longer be a bar to service, that all service members must respect each other, and that the partners of gay troops will not receive the benefits of heterosexual spouses.

“We are going to make [gay ban] repeal training expeditiously,” said Maj. Joel Harper, an Air Force spokesman at the Pentagon. “It’s great training.”

The briefings first target commanders, who will have to enforce the new law and deal with disputes, and then the entire force. The slides, vignettes and talking points by the Air Force, Army, Navy and Marine Corps are similar.

The Marine Corps, which a Pentagon survey found holds deep opposition to lifting the ban, plans to publicly release its training material April 1. A Marine source provided copies to The Washington Times.

[Return to headlines]

The Vatican Makes Assisted Fertility Treatment a Sin

Catholic Church condemns as “sinful behavior” certain so-called social vices, including medical help for sterility. But will adding new sins bring faithful back to confession?

The Vatican has ruled that fertility treatment is a sin, placing attempts for medical help for would-be parents among other examples of “sinful behavior with regards to individual and social rights”.

In vitro fertilization and other medical treatments to help women get pregnant and men overcome sterility problems are now on a list of new types of “social sins” that has been added to the traditional seven deadly vices.

To manipulate life in any way is in conflict with one of the Church’s seven sacraments: confession, which in recent years has not enjoyed great popularity among the faithful. Now the Church plans to revive it.

New forms of sin and the right ways to tackle them is the theme of this year’s ‘Course on the Internal Forum’ for 750 priests, which is traditionally organized during Lent by the Apostolic Penitentiary, the Vatican department that oversees “problems of conscience.” The internal forum has ecclesiastical jurisdiction over questions concerning the welfare of individual Christians, and their relation to God.

“Today, there are new forms of sin that we could never have imagined,” says Bishop Gianfranco Girotti of the Apostolic Penitentiary, the tribunal of the Roman Curia that handles cases of sin and forgiveness. “The new frontiers of bioethics, above all, put us up against morally questionable corruption that concerns a very wide field.”

Girotti said the most frequent case is the “recourse to certain techniques of artificial fertility, such as in vitro fertilization, which are not morally acceptable.” The bishop added that conception “must happen in a natural way between two spouses.” Assisted fertility can in itself lead to another “immoral event,” he said: “the freezing of embryos,” which “are people.”

Facing these bioethical challenges, the Vatican is turning to retraining for confessors and new guidelines for priests caught up in new social sins, whether bioethical violations like fertility treatment and birth control, experiments of dubious morality like research on stem cells and DNA studies, drug abuse, polluting the environment, contributing to the increase of the disparity between rich and poor, or the accumulation of excessive wealth.

The entire field of genetic manipulation, which is steadily expanding its capacity, “represents an insidious terrain,” Girotti said. “Today people offend God not only by stealing and swearing, but also by actions of social pollution, ruining the environment, or conducting morally questionable scientific experiments.” (There is also the sphere of public ethics where even more new forms of sin enter the field, like tax fraud, evasion and corruption).

Meanwhile, 60 percent of believers no longer go to confession, according to research carried out by the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart. “The phenomenon of indifference towards confession that exists today is startling,” concludes Bishop Girotti. “Currently, the position of this sacrament in the Church is not at its best, neither at the level of practice nor in that of comprehension. For the faithful, the conscience of sin is weakening.” Apparently, the Vatican hopes that by adding to the traditional warnings of the 10 commandments these new forms of social sin — including assisted fertility treatment — their message starts to hit home.

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