Saturday, January 11, 2003

News Feed 20110327

Financial Crisis
»Gov. Cuomo Reaches Deal With Lawmakers on Tentative New York State Budget
»Italy: Cuts to Cost of Politics Cancelled on the Quiet
»There May Not Always be an England
»Ayers Admits (Again) He Wrote Obama Bio
»Joe Biden Team Shuts Orlando Reporter in Closet During Bill Nelson Fundraiser
»Pak Sunni Group Calls for Death to American Pastor Jones
»Pipe Bomb Explosion Injures 1 in SF Suburb
»Vice President’s Staff Lock Journalist in a Closet for Hours During a Fundraiser to Stop Him Talking to Guests
Europe and the EU
»France: Sarkozy Routed in Local Polls, Socialists Win
»Germany Stays on Fence on Mario Draghi’s ECB Presidency Candidacy
»Italy: Berlusconi’s Govt Passes Law to Temporarily Halt Return to Nuclear Power
»Italy: Fiat Intends to Move Headquarters to US After Chrysler Merger
»Italy: New Agro Minister Sworn in Despite President’s Reservations
»Leviathan is Here: In Brussels
»Muslim Pirates Captured, Sold a Million Europeans as Slaves: Lewis Lapham
»Spain: Religion Classes, 350,000 Less Students in 5 Years
»Croatia: Ruling Party’s Rating Sinks to All-Time Low in Election Year
North Africa
»800 Priceless Artifacts Missing From Egypt Warehouse
»Egypt: Law to Stifle Protest and Demonstrations
»Libya: British Spy Aircrafts Touch Down in Cyprus’ RAF Base
»Libyan Rebels Capture Key Oil Towns
»Most Germans Support Libyan Abstention
»NATO Plans Will Restrict Use of Force in Libya
»No More Surprises, Mr Sarkozy
»Tunisia: Revolution? Press Situation Has Not Changed
»UK: Coalition Will Not Arm Rebels to Fight Gaddafi
»West Being Suckered by Arab League
»Why Are Pacifist Europeans Declaring War on Libya?
Middle East
»Bahrain: Manama Protests With Beirut, Hezbollah Terrorists
»In Syria: A Test for Bashar Assad
»Islamists Clash With Security Forces in South Yemen
»Italy: Clinton: Military Intervention in Syria Not on the Cards
»Jordan: Police Attack Peaceful Protesters, 1 Dead,60 Injured
»Jordan: Pro-Government Hackers Attack Opposition Web Site
»Lebanese Capital Sets Scene for Pro-Assad Rallies
»Queensland Woman Tells of Her Jail Hell in United Arab Emirates
»Turkey: MEPs Ask ‘Government Point of View’ On Publishing House Raid
»Russian Orthodox Leadership Proposes Alliance With Catholics
South Asia
»India Largest Importer of Weapons in the World
Far East
»Cooling at Two of Japan’s Nuclear Reactors Delayed as Radiation Increases
»Japan: TEPCO Corrects Fukushima Radiation Readings
Latin America
»Brazil: Fiat and VW Fight it Out for Brazilian Market Dominance
»Catania: Demonstration Against Solidarity Village
»Italy: Regional President: Lampedusa Looks Like Tunis
»More Immigrants Land in Lampedusa, 1000 More Expected
»Over 100 Immigrants Flee Camp in Manduria
»President of Brindisi Province: Safety at Risk
»Tunisia Promises to Step Up Border Controls
»Spend Trillions Now, And World Temperatures Might Fall in 1,000 Years

Financial Crisis

Gov. Cuomo Reaches Deal With Lawmakers on Tentative New York State Budget

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo Sunday announced a deal with legislative leaders on a state budget for New York, an agreement that would end a streak of late budgets for Albany. The agreement caps increases for education aid and Medicaid, and imposes other cuts to close a $10 billion projected deficit, officials said.

[Return to headlines]

Italy: Cuts to Cost of Politics Cancelled on the Quiet

Decree on combined entertainments fund (FUS) annuls reduction of councillors in Rome and Milan. President’s Office’s “watchful eye”

ROME — Marco Marsilio’s words seethed with indignation: “To ask them to work for nothing or pay out of their own pockets is to drive honest, ordinary citizens away from politics and public institutions”. The People of Freedom (PDL) deputy was exercised over Giulio Tremonti’s economic package, which abolished allowances for ward councillors. A clear signal that everyone would have to do a bit of belt-tightening at this time of economic crisis but one that was hard to swallow. “I would point out that each of Rome’s municipal wards is as big as Milan and as populous as a town the size of Bologna”, said Mr Marsilio. Mr Tremonti, however, was unmoved.

It didn’t last long. Six months later came the first attempt to make good. In total silence, a few lines restoring the allowance were slipped into one of the latest measures, to the relief of ward councillors in Italy’s fifteen metropolitan cities. On Wednesday 23 March came a second little gift, this time only for the municipality of Rome. The decree that used the petrol price hike to give some money back to the combined entertainments fund (FUS) contained a very short passage that triples the number of hours of paid leave of absence for ward councillors in Rome, increasing them from one quarter of the hours enjoyed by municipal councillors to three quarters. What does this mean? The upshot is that whereas before ward councillors could be absent from their place of employment for one hour a day, today they can go back after three hours. The cost is charged to the municipality by the employer. How is a privilege that will triple Rome city authority’s outlay justified? The argument goes that Rome is the “capital” so councillors are busier than their colleagues in Milan, Palermo or Genoa. It is well nigh impossible not to see the hand of Rome’s mayor Gianni Alemanno in this singular provision and neither will Mr Alemanno have been displeased at a second surprise in Wednesday’s decree…

English translation by Giles Watson

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

There May Not Always be an England

Do you remember the good old days when an Englishman’s proudest boast was that he paid his way? That was then, and this is now: today something like a half million Englishmen demonstrated in London against proposed budget cuts. Their boast, apparently: someone else pays my way! That’s bad enough. But the decline of British civilization is reflected even more brutally in the rampaging mob that smashed store fronts, “occupied” businesses, and battled police. And perhaps most of all in the weak response of the authorities.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]


Ayers Admits (Again) He Wrote Obama Bio

Bill Ayers has once again suggested he was the author of Barack Obama’s celebrated autobiography, even though the admission could be explained away as a mocking irony designed only to goad Ayers’s critics by yet another false admission he was the president’s ghostwriter. At the conclusion of a speech sponsored by the Students for a Democratic Society at Montclair State University in New Jersey, the former Weather Underground bomber gleefully claimed credit for writing Obama’s “Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance.” As shown in a video clip on YouTube, Ayers, responding to a question about “Dreams,” said, “Did you know that I wrote it, incidentally?”

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Joe Biden Team Shuts Orlando Reporter in Closet During Bill Nelson Fundraiser

Drudge and the blogosphere are lighting up over news that Joe Biden’s team shut Orlando Sentinel reporter Scott Powers in a storage closet so he couldn’t mingle with supporters at a $500-per-head fundraiser at the Winter Park home of Alan Ginsburg. He was the pool reporter for the event, and apparently the Veep’s staff felt he should have no access to the mingling donors and only be allowed out when Nelson and Biden showed up. Nice.

I was the lone pool for a Biden-Nelson fundraiser later that Wednesday afternoon at an Embassy Suites in Tampa. No closet for me, but as the main event started I was escorted toward a single chair inside a roughly three-by-three velvet rope square. A Biden’s staffer seemed too embarrassed to make me sit in it, though.

[by Adam C. Smith at the St. Petersburg Times—note that something similar happened to him at a later fundraising event—albeit no closet that time.]

           — Hat tip: AC[Return to headlines]

Pak Sunni Group Calls for Death to American Pastor Jones

Lahore, Mar 26 (PTI) A prominent group in Pakistan, the Jamaat Ahl-e-Sunnat, has called for “death” to US pastor Terry Jones for his act of burning a copy of the Quran and threatened its members will march to the Pakistani capital if the US ambassador is not expelled by April 7.

Sunnat leader Allama Riaz Husain said his organisation was giving “an ultimatum to the federal government that it should banish the US envoy by April 7 or be ready for a long march from Karachi to Islamabad”.

Husain said a Shariah or Islamic court comprising 500 clerics associated with the Sunni sect had declared Jones an “international terrorist” for desecrating the Quran and for damaging world peace.

This court had announced capital punishment for Jones, he said.

“We will hold demonstrations outside US embassies in 45 countries for Washington”s failure to take action against Jones,” he said.

Prominent Sunni leader Sahibzada Fazle Karim, who is the chairman of the Sunni Ittehad Council, demanded the convening of a session of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference to announce the establishment of an “Islamic United Nations” to protest the desecration of the Quran.

He suggested that Muslim countries should quit the UN if it does not act against Jones.

All hardline groups, especially the Jamaat-ud-Dawah and Jamaat-e-Islami, are at the forefront of protests across the country against Jones’ “intolerable” act.

           — Hat tip: AC[Return to headlines]

Pipe Bomb Explosion Injures 1 in SF Suburb

VACAVILLE, Calif. — Authorities say one person was injured when a pipe bomb disguised in a newspaper exploded at a residence in a San Francisco Bay area suburb.

The explosion in Vacaville occurred around 10 a.m. Sunday and forced the evacuation of surrounding homes. The victim was airlifted to a hospital although the extent of the person’s injuries was not immediately clear.

Police say the bomb was wrapped in a Sunday newspaper. Investigators apparently discovered one more pipe bomb in the same neighborhood.

They are advising residents within a half-mile radius of the explosion not to approach any package or item delivered Sunday morning.

[Return to headlines]

Vice President’s Staff Lock Journalist in a Closet for Hours During a Fundraiser to Stop Him Talking to Guests

The White House website proudly says ‘President Obama is committed to creating the most open and accessible administration in American history.’

But try telling Vice President Joe Biden’s staff that, after they held a local reporter in a closet for hours after he was invited to cover a Florida political fundraiser because they did not want him talking with the guests.

As the unaware $500-a-head invitees dined on caprese crostini with oven-dried mozzarella and basil, rosemary flatbread with grapes honey and gorgonzola cheese, grilled chicken Caesar and garden vegetable wraps, veteran reporter Scott Powers was locked away.

1st Amendment: Freedom of the press was stretched when VP Joe Biden’s staff refused to let a reporter talk with guests at a fundraiser with Sen Bill Nelson

The Orlando Sentinel reporter was ushered into the closet inside wealthy property developer Alan Ginsburg’s Winter Falls mansion, after being told that Joe Biden and Senator Bill Nelson had not yet arrived.

They were due to speak to the audience to raise money for the 2012 elections.

He was told he could only come out when the politicians were ready to give their speeches.

Powers told The Drudge Report: ‘When I’d stick my head out, they’d say, “Not yet. We’ll let you know when you can come out.”‘

Veteran reporter Scott Powers was locked in the closet for most of the event. He emailed from inside ‘sounds like a nice party’

After 90 minutes he was allowed out to hear Biden and Nelson speak for 35 minutes, before being taken back to the closet for the remainder of the event.

From inside his temporary prison Powers emailed his office from his cell phone: ‘Sounds like a nice party.’

When Ginsburg — who has supported both Democrat and Republican candidates in the past — learnt of the treatment that took place in his house, he called the reporter.

Powers said: ‘[Ginsburg] said he had no idea they’d put me in a closet and was very sorry.

‘He said he was just following their lead and was extremely embarrassed by the whole thing.’

But some guests were shocked by the Vice President’s staff.

One emailed the paper saying: ‘I was in attendance at the Fundraiser and enjoyed a nice lunch.

‘If I had known there was a reporter stuffed in the closet, I would have been compelled to stand up and demand answers.

‘I would also like to know if this is actually legal to treat people like caged animals. I’m disgusted by these actions.’

Florida state law says kidnapping entails ‘forcibly, secretly or by threat confining, abducting or imprisoning another person against her or his will and without lawful authority.’

Alan Ginsburg’s home was awash with 150 guests — non of whom seemed to know Scott Power was being held guard in the closet

Powers said of his treatment: ‘It was frustrating and annoying that I was not given a chance to do my job fully and properly.

‘This was an extreme, and extremely inappropriate way of handling the press… it was essentially a rude and uncomfortable way to treat a reporter.’

He attempted to play down his treatment calling it ‘hardly unusual or shocking’ and confirmed that he received an apology from Ginsburg.

But the Vice President’s staff emailed him an apology which he said ‘I found far less satisfying than Ginsburg’s.’

The incident is especially embarrassing for the administration because it comes at a time when the White House has been condemning the treatment of journalists trying to report in Libya.

Just ten days ago, President Obama’s spokesman Jay Carney told reporters: ‘journalists should be protected and allowed to do their work.’

The Vice President’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

           — Hat tip: AC[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

France: Sarkozy Routed in Local Polls, Socialists Win

(AGI) Paris — Sarkozy’s UMP party was routed in the 2nd round of local polls, just 13 months ahead of the presidential elections. The UMP gained only 18.8% of the vote in Sunday’s second round of voting in France’s cantons, that were won by Martine Aubry’s Socialist party with 36.2%. Marine Le Pen’s far-right Front national party secured an impressive 11% of the vote. The abstention rate was 55%.

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

Germany Stays on Fence on Mario Draghi’s ECB Presidency Candidacy

Draghi, Bank of Italy governor is in pole position to replace Trichet

Bank of Italy governor Mario Draghi is in pole position to replace Jean-Claude Trichet as president of the European Central Bank. But Germany, which was widely expected to provide the next ECB head, remains ambiguous on Draghi’s chances

Gianluca Paolucci

Bank of Italy Governor Mario Draghi would be a “first-rate candidate” for the presidency of the European Central Bank (ECB), according to Werner Hoyer, German Minister of State at the Foreign Office, who oversees European affairs. He underlines, however, that “the German government does not have a position” on who should take over from outgoing ECB head Jean-Claude Trichet.

Like many members of the Free Democratic Party (Fdp), the liberal party to which he belongs, Hoyer also liked the idea of “Axel Weber [president of the German Central Bank] for his vision of monetary policy based on stability.” Unfortunately, Hoyer notes, “Weber is no longer a candidate.”

Draghi’s nationality is not an issue, insists Hoyer. The governor of Bank of Italy is “one of the first-rate candidates,” partly because he too has “a vision of monetary policy based on stability,” as well as “impeccable” credentials. According to other German government sources, a lot will depend on how the Italian government seeks to support Draghi in the contest for the top seat at the ECB Eurotower headquarters.

One certainty is that as the deadline for a decision draws closer, there are no other candidates in view with the Italian’s prestigious profile. That reputation was built in part on the work he did internationally as the chairman of the Financial Stability Board during the most difficult periods of the global financial crisis, which also won him the recognition of the German government.

Many of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s economic advisors, who have had dealings with Draghi at G20 meetings, sing the banker’s praises. Still, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble’s public declarations on Draghi’s candidacy seemed platitudinous more than anything.

Time is on Draghi’s side. Trichet’s term expires on October 31, but a decision on his successor needs to be taken a lot sooner. Less than a month ago, a few weeks after Weber’s “withdrawal”, Schäuble said that Germany might put forward someone else as its national candidate. But none of the names suggested, ranging from Jurgen Stark, member of the executive board of the European Central Bank, to Klaus Regling, chief of the European Financial Stability Facility, appear to have garnered support amongst the various parties in Merkel’s coalition.

At this point, the German decision now rests in the hands of Merkel, who recently clashed with the Italian government over its proposal to introduce shared euro bonds to restore confidence in the euro. Thus when asked about Draghi’s chances of becoming the next president of the ECB, Hoyer ends the conversation by saying with a smile: “Go ask Tremonti”, referring to Italian Minister of Economy and Finance Giulio Tremonti.

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

Italy: Berlusconi’s Govt Passes Law to Temporarily Halt Return to Nuclear Power

Rome (AKI) — Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s government on Wednesday passed a decree law that freezes its initiative to bring back nuclear energy production almost a quarter-of-a-century after a popular referendum mothballed all Italian atomic power plants.

The move comes less than two weeks after an earthquake and tsunami in Japan caused extensive damage to one of the country’s power plants, provoking the worst nuclear accident since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

The law puts on hold a plan to construct nuclear plants that were supposed to produce 25 percent of the country’s energy by 2020. Italy seeks to produce half of its electricity with power plants run on fossil fuel, and 25 percent by renewable energy like solar, wind and hydropower.

The 11 March 8.9 magnitude earthquake damaged the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in northeastern Japan, causing explosions and fires and raising the possibility of meltdowns of its several of its reactors.

Italians voted to temporarily shutter its nuclear power plants following Chernobyl accident.

Italy is a highly seismic zone. A 2008 earthquake struck the central city of L’Aquila, killing about 300 people.

“It will be a responsible pause for reflection like in other European countries,” Italian industry minister Paolo Romani said on Monday in Brussels, following an extraordinary meeting of European Union energy ministers.

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

Italy: Fiat Intends to Move Headquarters to US After Chrysler Merger

(AKI) — If Fiat raises its stake in Chrysler as the Turin, Italy-based company expects to do, the automaker will likely be move its management headquarters to the United States, according to Reuters news agency, citing an unnamed executive familiar with chief executive Sergio Marchionne’s business strategy.

Chrysler’s headquarters is close to Detroit in the Midwestern state of Michigan.

Fiat plans to raise its Chrysler stake to 51 percent from its current 25 percent holding by 2014, the “Special Report” said.

During a recent February visit to San Francisco, Marchionne reportedly raised the possibility of merging Fiat and Chrysler’s headquarters in the US. His comments sparked an uproar in Italy, prompting clarification by chairman John Elkann who said he would not abandon Turin. Marchionne backed Elkann’s comments giving testimony to parliament.

Fiat is Italy’s biggest manufacturer.

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

Italy: New Agro Minister Sworn in Despite President’s Reservations

Romano probed for alleged Mafia links, no charges made

(ANSA) — Rome, March 23 — President Giorgio Napolitano swore in Francesco Saverio Romano as Italy’s new agriculture minister Wednesday despite saying he had expressed reservations because Romano is under investigation for Mafia crimes.

The MP is being probed in Palermo over alleged Mafia association and corruption to assist the Mafia.

Napolitano said in a note the gravity of these crimes had prompted him to express reservations to the government about the appointment.

Romano has not been charged with a crime and the fact he is being probed does not necessarily mean he will be indicted.

He replaced Giancarlo Galan, who is the new culture minister following the resignation of Sandro Bondi, who had been heavily criticized after a series of collapses at the Pompeii archaeology site last year.

Romano is the first of a group of lawmakers who changed sides in recent months to support the government to have been rewarded with a cabinet post.

Premier Silvio Berlusconi survived a crunch confidence vote in December by just three votes by luring a few opposition MPs to the government ranks and has since bolstered his majority by winning over several others.

Berlusconi’s majority in parliament was slashed last year when House speaker Gianfranco Fini split from the People of Freedom (PdL) party he had co-founded with the premier after months of wrangling and formed his own group.

Romano left centrist Catholic party UDC in September and is part of the self-styled “responsible” group of lawmakers who have defected from various opposition parties and are now supporting the government.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Leviathan is Here: In Brussels

Brussels is the lair of a bureaucratic monster, writes the German essayist Hans Magnus Enzensberger. It’s up to the Europeans themselves now to take up their pitchforks.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Muslim Pirates Captured, Sold a Million Europeans as Slaves: Lewis Lapham

By Lewis Lapham — Mar 26, 2011

On Aug. 4, 1639, William Okeley sailed from the Isle of Wight on the Mary, bound for South America. He was captured by pirates and taken to Algiers, where he was paraded in front of the pasha, Yusuf II, before being sold at the slave market.

(To listen to the podcast, click here.)

Okeley had a lot to fear. Christians were sometimes tortured to force a conversion to Islam, males could be raped, and punishment was appalling. One slave had his arms and legs broken with a sledgehammer, another was thrown from a high wall onto a meat hook and left to die, while another was dragged naked through the streets, his ankles tied to a horse’s tail.

In the 17th century, more than a million Europeans were sold into slavery on the Barbary Coast. Okeley was one of the very few who, after years in captivity, managed to escape and make it back to England.

I spoke with Adrian Tinniswood, author of “Pirates of Barbary,” on the following topics:

1. Christians vs. Muslims

2. Capturing Slaves

3. State-Funded Crime

4. Pirate Terror

5. Paying Tribute

           — Hat tip: Kitman[Return to headlines]

Spain: Religion Classes, 350,000 Less Students in 5 Years

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, MARCH 25 — Secularism in Spain is quickly gaining steam according to the latest statistics from the Sociological Research Centre (CIS) and data published by the Episcopal conference. Only 34.1% of marriages in the last year were celebrated as religious and Catholic services. On the other hand, in the last 5 years the number of students registered for optional religion classes has dropped by 350,000, declining to 3.17 million students from 3.54 million just five years ago. Attendance at religion classes dropped from 77.4% in the 2005-2006 scholastic year to just 71% this year, equivalent to a 8.3% decline according to the latest statistics. And a manifesto for a secular university, signed by over 453 university professors from across Spain against the presence of chapels and churches on school campuses will be presented this afternoon at the Complutense University of Madrid. For days there has been an ongoing dispute at the university between a group of political science students and church officials in the capital, with the former staging a loud protest demanding a secular state and calling for the removal of religious symbols from universities. On March 18 three male students and one female student were arrested and later released for removing their shirts in the Complutense University chapel in a sign of protest. The act was condemned by the Archbishop of Madrid as “an attack on the freedom of worship and desecrating a holy place,” and was also followed by a lawsuit filed against the students by extreme right-wing organisation Manos Limpias. The Archbishop of Madrid, Cardinal Ruoco Maria Varela, president of the Spanish Episcopal Conference, returned to speaking about “the persecution of Catholics in Spain”. It is in the midst of this heated debate that Madrid is gearing up to welcome the Pope for World Youth Day in August, the second pastoral visit by Benedict XVI to Spain following a prior visit in November to Santiago de Compostela and Barcelona. But in a country that was once a spiritual haven in the West, the advance of secularism seems to be unstoppable. “We are in favour of removing chapels from universities, where there should not be any worship in a non-sectarian state,” said José Maria Garcia Mourinho, a member of the progressive Christian movement in a statement to the press. He did, however, acknowledge that the protest staged by the students “was an incredible lack of respect against others”. While reporting data on religion class attendance, bishops assured that there is still a margin for action to educate young people about religion, since when children finish secondary school the percentage of students that say they are believers is 42.7%, while in middle school the average rises to 58.9% and the figure increases to 80% in elementary school. Bishops also mentioned a “complete lack, scarce or limited amount of information when signing their children up for school” in connection with this “educational emergency”. They also spoke of the “disregard, at times, with which religion teachers are treated, with their classes scheduled at the beginning or the end of the school days, which allows students to skip them.” They also maintain that there is “discrimination against teaching religion, which violates the fundamental rights of parents to decide on the education of their children”. On the other hand, parents who belong to secular organisations say: “If there were a real alternative, the number of children registered in religion classes would plummet,” said the President of Secular Europe, Francisco Delgado.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Croatia: Ruling Party’s Rating Sinks to All-Time Low in Election Year

Zagreb, 25 March (AKI) — After eight years in power, the popularity rating of the ruling Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) has fallen to all time low and currently stands at 17 percent, a survey showed on Friday.

With parliamentary elections expected towards the end of this year, the opposition Social Democratic Party (SDP) has surged forward with 27 per cent of popular support. Prime minister Jadranka Kosor stood slightly better than her party with 22 per cent support, the survey showed.

But she was trailing far behind SDP leader Zoran Milanovic who enjoys the support of 42 per cent of those surveyed. By far the most popular politician is president Ivo Josipovic from SDP with the support of 79 per cent, the survey showed.

HDZ has been rocked by a multi-million euro corruption scandal, which led to resignation of Kosor’s predecessor Ivo Sanader last year. Sanader fled the country in December last year and is awaiting extradition from Austrian jail.

Croatia expects to join the European Union next year, but the country has been swept by a wave of anti-government protests lately, demanding Kosor’s resignation and early elections.

The country grapples with forty billion euros foreign debt, 18 percent unemployment and has been criticized by EU officials for failing to crack down on corruption and organized crime.

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

North Africa

800 Priceless Artifacts Missing From Egypt Warehouse

Egyptian officials said on Friday that 800 priceless artifacts were still missing after armed robbers raided a warehouse near the canal city of Ismailiya in the unrest following a popular revolt.

“An inventory of the East Qantara warehouse which houses antiquities from the provinces on the Suez Canal and Sinai has revealed the theft and damage of a large number of artifacts,” said Mohammed Abdul Maqsood, an official with Supreme Council of Antiquities for north east Egypt, according to AFP.

“We found that 800 antiquities — which go back to the Pharaonic, Roman and Islamic periods — are still missing from the warehouse after 293 items were recovered,” he said.

Abdul Maqsood said the survey also revealed that “several” artifacts unearthed by French, American and Polish archaeological teams had also been stolen.

Robbers raided several warehouses around the country, including the one in Cairo’s world renowned Egyptian Museum, after an uprising that forced the stepping down of longtime leader Hosni Mubarak gave way to looting and insecurity.

On Tuesday, the United Nations cultural body UNESCO voiced growing concern for Egypt’s archaeological sites and museums.

           — Hat tip: AC[Return to headlines]

Egypt: Law to Stifle Protest and Demonstrations

The goal is to stop protest against the constitutional referendum manipulated by the Muslim Brotherhood. The military junta still has to approve the decree. Many fear an agreement between extremists and the army to maintain the country’s stability at the cost of freedom and democracy.

Cairo (AsiaNews) — The Egyptian cabinet approved a decree that criminalises strikes, protests, demonstrations and sit-ins that interrupt private or state owned businesses or affect the economy in any way. It calls for severe punishment of those who call for or incite action, with a maximum sentence of one year in prison and fines of up to US$ 85,000. The new law still needs to be approved by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which took over following Mubarak’s fall from power.

Sources told AsiaNews that the measure is meant to stifle the voice of the people who led the Jasmine Revolution and oppose the results of the recent constitutional referendum, manipulated by the Muslim Brotherhood.

“This law confirms the Brotherhood’s attempt to take over the Jasmine Revolution,” the source said. The army and the Islamist party have struck a deal to maintain the country’s stability and the price is the ideals of democracy and democracy that brought down Mubarak. “The danger is the rise of an Islamic dictatorship that would replace the military regime that has governed the country in the past 40 years.”

Even economic groups that benefit from the decree have criticised it. In a statement issued today, the investment bank Beltone Financial said that the law is more likely to lead to more discontent. “The Egyptian public has only just found its political voice and will, most likely, view this decision as another attempt to silence it. We agree that there is a need for work to resume normally once again, for Egypt’s economy to begin its recovery process, but we also believe that the government’s decision to criminalise protests and strikes could provoke further discontentment and more protests.”

Sources told AsiaNews that the writing was already on the wall. “Four days after Mubarak’s fall, some members of the Muslim Brotherhood took over the platform set up in Tahrir to celebrate victory and took away the microphone from a young leader of the revolution in order to hail the Islamic Revolution.”

“Another factor is the lack of neutrality shown by the army during the fire that engulfed the Coptic church in Soul, destroyed by a group of Islamic extremists before the eyes of soldiers standing idly by and during the violent crackdown against the protest by Copts in suburban Cairo.”

The backward step taken by the military and the strengthening of the Muslim Brotherhood represent a great threat not only for Christians, who have seen a rise in cases of discrimination, but also for all those moderate Muslims opposed to a clerical regime.

“What is happening in Egypt is not a confrontation between Christians and Muslims but a struggle between traditionalists and obscurantists against liberals and modernists. This cleavage also exists within the Coptic community, between the hierarchy that tends to be conciliatory with those in power and young people who desire change and reject the prevailing line.”

The possibility that the Muslim Brotherhood might take power scares Copts around the world, who fear greater violence and discrimination.

In a letter to US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, American Copts described the current situation as a risk for the West. “The Muslim Brotherhood,” it said, “is not only a threat to the stability of Egypt, the Middle East and Israel, but constitutes a direct threat to the United States and Western civilisation”. (S.C.)

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

Libya: British Spy Aircrafts Touch Down in Cyprus’ RAF Base

(ANSAmed) — NICOSIA, MARCH 25 — The Royal Air Force has confirmed that E-3D Sentry, Sentinel R1 and Nimrod R1 surveillance aircrafts have been sent to RAF Akrotiri base, on the southern coast of Cyprus, as today reports the Famagusta Gazette website. But the air force was keeping specific details of the planes’ sorties and how many of each type had been sent under wraps. The Sentinel’s main role is to provide air-to-ground surveillance. It is not known how long the Nimrods — which are based at RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire and were due to be scrapped at the end of this month — will be in use.

According to diplomatic sources, the Nimrods had their life extended after the violence broke out. The two remaining Nimrod R1s were originally planned to be retired at the end of March 2011, but operational requirements forced the RAF to deploy one to Akrotiri on 16 March in support of Operation Ellamy (the codename for the United Kingdom participation in the military intervention in Libya). They will now be kept in service for at least another three months until June 2011. Meanwhile, NATO member states have agreed to assume command of a no-fly zone over Libya, and are considering whether to take on broader responsibilities outlined in two U.N. Security Council resolutions.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Libyan Rebels Capture Key Oil Towns

TRIPOLI, Libya — Rebels surged westward along Libya’s coast on Sunday, seizing three more key towns and capitalizing on their new momentum after more than a week of airstrikes by an international coalition.

U.S. officials were cautiously optimistic about the reversal of fortunes for the rebels. President Obama is scheduled to address the nation Monday night, and officials said he will be able to show that the operation is starting to achieve its goals. Obama has faced mounting criticism from some lawmakers, who fear that the United States could get bogged down in a foreign intervention without a clear objective.

Although the rebels have seized the initiative in eastern Libya, they still face formidable obstacles, analysts warned. Senior U.S. officials said Sunday that Moammar Gaddafi’s 41-year-long rule could end with the implosion of his regime or a negotiated settlement rather than an outright rebel victory.

“One should not underestimate the possibility of the regime itself cracking,” Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

NATO members agreed Sunday evening that the alliance would assume control of the international military campaign against Libya. It had earlier taken over from the U.S. military in leading enforcement of an arms embargo and a no-fly zone and had debated for days whether to coordinate the politically riskier strikes on Libyan ground forces.

With Gaddafi’s air-defense equipment largely destroyed and NATO stepping up to assume command, the United States will be able to reduce its role, Gates said.

“Within the next week or so, we will begin to diminish the commitment of resources,” Gates said. He added, however, that the United States would stay on in a supporting role, and acknowledged that it was unclear how long the operation would last. He and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Sunday defended the Libya campaign, saying it was helping avert a humanitarian catastrophe.

The coalition again targeted the Libyan capital, Tripoli, with witnesses reporting at least 10 loud explosions Sunday night, followed by bursts of antiaircraft fire.

As rebel forces headed toward Sirte, 278 miles east of Tripoli, reporters on a government trip to the city heard at least half a dozen explosions there and saw warplanes circling overhead. The heavily guarded city, Gaddafi’s home town, is expected to pose the toughest challenge yet to the rebels.

Libyan state television reported what it said were the first coalition strikes against Sirte, but by late Sunday it had still not broadcast details of the loyalist army’s rapid retreat across more than 200 miles of coastal highway over the previous 24 hours.

Government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim said Sunday evening that although its forces had pulled back, “we are still very strong on the ground.” He said the airstrikes were “a plan to [put] the Libyan state in a weak negotiating position.”

[Return to headlines]

Most Germans Support Libyan Abstention

A majority of Germans support their government’s decision not to take part in the military action against Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, a survey revealed Saturday.

The Emnid survey, published by news magazine Focus, found that 56 percent think Germany was right to abstain from the United Nations Security Council vote on whether to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya.

Only 36 percent said Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government was wrong to abstain.

But former politicians and senior German diplomats continue to condemn the government’s move. Former Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer called the abstention a “farce,” while former Defence Minister Volker Rühe, of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), gave a particularly withering verdict.

“The pillars of CDU politics are being destroyed by a mixture of rudderlessness and incompetence,” he told the latest edition of weekly news magazine Der Spiegel.

Christian Schwarz-Schilling, former European Union commissioner to Bosnia, accused Merkel’s centre-right government of “historic cynicism,” by making a decision that would probably be more palatable to the electorate ahead of key state elections.

Focus also pointed out that high-ranking German officers are taking part in the operation, because they are stationed at NATO headquarters in Izmir, Turkey, from where the operation is being coordinated.

The German army, or Bundeswehr, said the officers had to stay there for operational reasons, and that their participation did not require permission from the German parliament. Their work was part of the Bundeswehr’s permanent duty to NATO, and not part of the armed intervention in Libya, the army said.

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

NATO Plans Will Restrict Use of Force in Libya

(AGI) Brussels — NATO sources have reported that military plans drafted by NATO will restrict the use of force strictly to protecting civilians and in inhabited areas. The three-month long plan does not envisage NATO supporting insurgents fighting against forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi, with NATO “remaining impartial and not taking sides.” .

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

No More Surprises, Mr Sarkozy

As forces loyal to Col. Moammar Gadhafi increased their advances toward Benghazi last week in a move that appeared to strike a deadly blow to the rebels’ resistance, we might appreciate France for taking the initiative to stop the brutal oppression of a movement that asked for the end of four decades of one-man rule.

Yet how can we expect the international community to have confidence in the French leadership handling the Libyan crisis?

The French Republic, or should we say the Republic of Sarkozy, became the first country to formally recognize the rebels’ newly created Interim Governing Council, after President Nicolas Sarkozy met with two representatives.

We are talking about a president who has made this decision without informing, let alone consulting, his own Foreign Ministry.

We are talking about a president whose surprise decision sent shockwaves through his allies in Europe, striking a serious blow to efforts to forge a common European foreign and defense policy.

After having failed to see developments in Tunisia, a country it sees as in its own backyard, and the initial gaffes that made France look like it was on the side of the corrupt regime in that country, perhaps one should have expected France — or Sarkozy — to be more pro-active on Libya. Equally, after having placed its bets on the Libyan rebels, one could not have expected Mr. Sarkozy to sit idly by and watch the rebels perish at the hands of Col. Gadhafi’s forces. Think of France’s diplomatic humiliation had Gadhafi’s forces been victorious. And put the upcoming presidential elections in France on top of all this. Then it becomes easy to understand why France — or Sarkozy — has rushed to initiate the military intervention.

French officials have rejected the allegations that France launched attacks on Libyan ground forces near Benghazi on Saturday without properly informing its allies.

Yet some French commentators have pointed out, however, that the first French jets entered Libyan airspace many hours before anti-aircraft defenses were pummeled by U.S. and British missiles and planes on Saturday night. The French pilots were, therefore, at greater risk of being shot down.

That Mr. Sarkozy can go off his rocker, to the point of jeopardizing the lives of his own pilots, is his and his nation’s problem.

The international community cannot take the luxury of putting a huge responsibility in the hands of Mr. Sarkozy. The fact that he was successful in mobilizing world powers — as well as Arab countries to support a U.N. resolution to open the way for a military intervention to stop a brutal dictator that refuses to listen to the demands of his people — is by itself not enough to let Sarkozy assume leadership. His track record is too tainted for just one healthy outcome to make us forget his past.

France — or Sarkozy — should yield leadership to a more international mechanism.

The views expressed in the Straight represent the consensus opinion of the Hürriyet Daily News and its editorial board members.

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

Tunisia: Revolution? Press Situation Has Not Changed

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, MARCH 25 — Despite the “revolution”, Tunisia is still far away from a “free and pluralist press”, said the president of the national union of Tunisian journalists, Neji B’Ghouri. He made his statement to Le Temps, underlining that “the situation of our press, written and audiovisual, hasn’t really changed”. B’Ghouri made his remark in a period in which journalists and Tunisian political observers are looking into the role of the media, in the light of the recent past and of the hope created by the revolution.

The debate is stimulated from the inside by the press itself, which wonders nearly every day if what it is doing is right. The analysis of the union of journalists president is also ruthless when he claims that the role of the press “yesterday was to make propaganda for the dictatorship and insult the opposition, today we praise the revolution and insult and intimidate the Ben Ali family”.

Harsh claims, which take the fact that the Ben Ali regime had complete control over the media into account. This control was not only exerted by the obsessive pressure applied by government and Ben Ali’s party on journalists, but also by their direct or indirect ownership of — or interests in many media, both printed and audiovisual, with an ironclad system of interference. The questions that are asked about the role of the press also have to do with the heated internal debate. This debate has led the journalists to make a critical revision of their profession at the dawn of the new Tunisia and the uncontrolled multiplication of political figures, as well as the role of information itself on the eve of an electoral campaign. This campaign will be long and the first official date is July 24, when the constituent assembly will be elected, unless it is postponed as many have asked. A variety of parties (already 50) will participate in this event, jostling for visibility, making increasingly sensational statements thinking that the more unexpected their stance, the more attention it will get in the media. So far journalists don’t really know how to cope with all these statement, speeches, proposals, projects and proclamations. And here, B’Ghouri comments bitterly, a “lack of training” plays a role, which is understandable considering the fact that just a few weeks ago, information was often standardised and almost completely dedicated to praising the dictator. B’Ghouri also denounces that should be the new ruling class: “Censorship still exists, the government continues to interfere”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

UK: Coalition Will Not Arm Rebels to Fight Gaddafi

(AGI) London- The international coalition will not arm Libyan rebels to fight Gaddafi, says UK Defence Minister Liam Fox. Fox explained that such an action would violate the UN arms embargo and thus denied allegations made by the Sunday Times that the UK government and its allies were planning to furnish Libyan insurgents with weapons to combat the regime.

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

West Being Suckered by Arab League

By Salim Mansur, QMI Agency

The Libyan mission Operation Odyssey Dawn, under UN authority, is a dog’s breakfast and nothing good is going to come out of it. The conniving elite of the Arab League has snookered an ever-ready coalition of western powers to do its bidding. And the western powers (Britain, France, the U.S. and Canada dutifully in tow), with their sights protectively fixed on oil-rich desert patches of the Middle East and North Africa, needed little urging to respond.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Why Are Pacifist Europeans Declaring War on Libya?

Ever since taking office in 2004, Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero has worked overtime to craft his own public persona as a “convinced pacifist.” His first official act as pacifist-in-chief was, famously, to withdraw Spanish troops from Iraq. That decision was not only wildly popular with Spanish voters, but it also cemented Zapatero’s pacifist credentials on the world stage.

Fast-forward to 2011 and the crisis in Libya. Zapatero the ardent pacifist has suddenly been transformed chameleon-like into Zapatero the enthusiastic warrior. Far from bashing the Americans for attacking a tin pot dictator in the Middle East, Zapatero has redefined braggadocio by dispatching four Spanish F-18 fighter jets to Libya. Foes and allies alike have been transfixed by Zapatero’s “definitive metamorphosis.”

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Middle East

Bahrain: Manama Protests With Beirut, Hezbollah Terrorists

(ANSAmed) — BEIRUT, MARCH 25 — The Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah “is a terrorist organisation” that supports the “trouble-makers” in Bahrain, according to Bahrain’s Foreign Minister, Sheikh Khaled Al Khalifa, who was interviewed by the pan-Arab television channel Al Arabiyya this morning. The Minister said that he had sent a formal protest to the Beirut government.

Al Khalifa explicitly accused the pro-Iranian movement of “training and organising” Bahrain’s Shiites “with subversive aims”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

In Syria: A Test for Bashar Assad

The beleaguered president sends troops to protest areas and promises to repeal a controversial law. But there are signs that the unrest is a strain on his regime.

Reporting from Cairo— Syrian President Bashar Assad tried to retain control of his protest-roiled nation on Sunday, sending troops to the site of recent clashes and promising through subordinates to remove a controversial emergency law used to detain dissidents without trial.

But there were signs that the unrest continued to test the political skill of Assad, who came to power in 2000 after his father’s 29-year rule. Political analysts pondered the regional implications of the stress being placed on his regime.

A presidential advisor told reporters Sunday that Assad would address the nation on state television “within 24 to 48 hours.” The president has largely remained out of view since his forces first fired on unarmed protesters in the southern city of Dara on March 18. The death toll from such clashes has climbed past 60.

Assad’s remarks were expected to detail his pledge to remove the 1963 emergency law, which strictly limits Syrians’ ability to assemble or voice opposition to the regime. The government first signaled a willingness to relax the law on Thursday, but it did not give a timetable or scope for the pullback, and the pledge failed to stem widespread protests.

Army troops were sent Sunday to the small coastal city of Latakia, the site of the latest clashes with protesters. Government officials blamed “armed gangs” for violence there. News reports said six people have died and more than 100 have been injured.

Witnesses said the violence began when protesters set fire to a building housing the ruling Baath Party on Saturday, an event that was especially brazen because the Assad family’s political and business connections run deep in the city.

Damascus, the capital, was skittish Sunday. Citizens received text messages from the government warning them not to go to Umaweyeen Square where security forces apparently fretted protesters would reemerge. The city buzzed with reports about detained foreigners, including Muhammad Bakr Radwan, a dual U.S.-Egyptian citizen who was accused of selling photographs to international outlets.

By dusk, witnesses said, an extremely heavy security presence descended on the area. White vans with tinted windows and decals showing Assad wearing aviator sunglasses were seen in the roundabout. Passersby noted that such vans often ferry people who are arrested.

Some protest leaders said their movement was using the day to regroup after protests in the west Damascus suburbs took on a sectarian overtone as Sunni Muslims battled with Alawites, a Shiite offshoot group that includes the Assad family.

State media seemed to stoke fears of further sectarian violence, saying foreigners had entered Syria to threaten the people’s “coexistence” and political analysts spoke of a plot by the United States to send the country back to the Stone Age.

“Everybody wants to contain the problem before it gets bigger,” said Maen Akl, a resident of Damascus. “People are so worried about a sectarian conflict, and they are chasing those who made some trouble yesterday.”

Christians and other minority groups have taken solace over the years in the fact that Assad is an Alawite, believing he was a counterbalance against the Sunni majority.

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Islamists Clash With Security Forces in South Yemen

(AGI) Sanaa — There have been clashes between Islamist groups and Yemeni security forces attempting to regain control of buildings occupied by militias in Jaar, in the southern province of Abyan. According to witnesses, a soldier was killed during an attack. Yesterday, key buildings in the city were attacked and occupied by a coalition of Islamist groups. Faced with weeks of protests Yemen’s president Ali Abdullah Saleh has reiterated in an interview with Al-Aribya that he does not intend to “remain attached to power”, and launched an appeal to avoid the country falling into a civil war .

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

Italy: Clinton: Military Intervention in Syria Not on the Cards

(AGI) Rome — United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has, for the moment, excluded military intervention in Syria.

In an Interview with CBS news, Clinton condemned violence in the Middle Eastern country, but also reiterated that “every situation in unique” and refused to compare the situation in Syria with the one in Libya.

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

Jordan: Police Attack Peaceful Protesters, 1 Dead,60 Injured

By Mohammad Ben Hussein (ANSA) AMMAN, MARCH 25 — Anti riot police and regime loyalists on Friday attacked peaceful demonstrators in a central square in Amman to stop them from camping near a busy square in Amman, leading to the death of one person and injury of at least 60, according to eye witnesses.

Armed with water cannons batons anti-riot police assaulted the youth group near Jamal Abdul Nasser square after a similar attack by loyalist and police dressed in civilian cloth. At least three journalists were hurt in the attack, one of them is in serious condition and currently receives treatment in hospital.

Witnesses said at least one person died on site, but it was not yet clear causes of his death.

The protest started on Thursday afternoon and continued throughout the night, when protesters erected tents near the square in protest against lack of political freedoms.

Activists accused security forces of sponsoring thugs, who attacked protesters with rocks, sticks and stones, causing injuries among men and women camping in the area.

By end of the day, police moved to disperse activists and tore down their tents, in a bid to avoid a situation that could spin out of control as the case in Egypt and Yemen.

Nearly 300 protesters erected their tents in the busy area of Amman, emulating activists in Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain and other parts of the region who sought to exert relentless pressure on authorities.

The crowd was joined by activists from different parts of the kingdom, including rural areas in the north.

President of the Jordan Engineers Association, Salem Falahat blasted the government for violent policy with protesters and announced his resignation from a national committee for reform.

“I no longer want to be member of this committee. I hereby announce I will join protests of 24 March and will support their demands for reform,” he told ANSA during the protest.

The gathering is a turning point in weeks of demonstrations in Jordan, which so far has been limited to Friday protests.

The government recently formed a national dialogue committee to iron out a reform strategy. Jordan has been gripped by protests unseen in recent years, but are considered benign compared to that in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Yemen, where demands focused on toppling the leadership.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Jordan: Pro-Government Hackers Attack Opposition Web Site

(AGI) Amman — Pro-government hackers are working to try to defuse the winds of unrest blowing from the Maghreb toward Jordan. The hackers are attacking the opposition’s main web site. “The content has been removed and substituted by official slogans and communiques”, claims opposition party Islamic Action Front chief Hamzah Mansur, “this clearly shows that the ruling party is responsible for the hacking”.

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

Lebanese Capital Sets Scene for Pro-Assad Rallies

(AGI) Beirut — Syrian tensions spill over to Beirut where hundreds of pro-Assad demonstrators gathered at the Syrian embassy. Other pro-Assad demonstrations were staged amid a tough display of security in both the western and eastern quarters of the Lebanese capital.

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

Queensland Woman Tells of Her Jail Hell in United Arab Emirates

A QUEENSLAND woman spent eight months in a United Arab Emirates jail for adultery after complaining to police about being drugged and raped by co-workers.

Alicia Gali, 29, yesterday detailed her harrowing ordeal after filing a Queensland lawsuit against the five-star international resort where the attack allegedly took place in 2008.

Warning other women against going to the UAE, Ms Gali said she endured eight months in a crowded prison room with up to 30 other women after she complained to authorities of being raped.

“These countries don’t have the same laws as us. You can end up in serious trouble,” she said.

Apart from her family, no one in Australia knew Ms Gali had been jailed for adultery and illegal drinking, because Australian embassy staff advised her and her family not to go to the media.

“It was just traumatising,” she said.

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“Everything that happened was the worst thing that somebody could go through.”

“You’re just totally alone in a foreign country, with no assistance from your employer or the embassy.”

Ms Gali, a salon manager at the resort, said she had been in the staff bar, where she was told she could legally drink, when another employee put ice in her drink.

She said it was the last thing she remembered before waking the next day in her room with painful injuries.

“I didn’t know what had happened. I was traumatised, I felt ill. I didn’t even remember getting there or what had happened,” Ms Gali said.

She said it was only when she took herself to hospital did she realise she had been sexually assaulted.

Later she learned she had been heard screaming and security guards had found men hiding in her room, where she was naked and unconscious.

When she was discharged from hospital she was asked to go to a police station to make a statement and then speak in front of a judge.

“I realised when I was put in a police car that I was being taken to jail.”

Ms Gali said she was never warned by her UAE employers that she could be charged with adultery and face prison if she complained of being raped, without having four adult male Muslim witnesses.

“I didn’t even know what the charges were until five months into my sentence,” Ms Gali said.

Three of the men Ms Gali claimed sexually abused her were jailed, but for adultery and not rape.

After serving eight months of a 12-month sentence, Ms Gali was pardoned and released and flew home in March 2009.

Since then she has been treated for post traumatic stress disorder, suffered claustrophobia and flashbacks.

“I felt depressed, angry and confused,” she said.

“I was the victim. I’d had something wrong done to me and I was being punished.”

Law firm Maurice Blackburn on Thursday filed a damages claim in the Supreme Court in Brisbane, alleging Ms Gali’s employer failed to warn her of the risk of being drugged, raped, charged with adultery and jailed if she complained.

Solicitor Melissa Payne said it was a complex legal case and they would consult experts in UAE law.

           — Hat tip: SWH[Return to headlines]

Turkey: MEPs Ask ‘Government Point of View’ On Publishing House Raid

Two members of the European Parliament have requested the Turkish “government’s point of view” on police raids Thursday in search of an unpublished manuscript, expressing skepticism about the action.

“We have a hard time conceiving of what explanation would justify the unprecedented act of raiding a news desk and seeking to ban an unpublished book,” Alexander Graf Lambsdorff and Marietje Schaake told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review in a joint written statement Friday.

“These actions are taking part under the counter-terrorism law. If there is anything we have learned from the fight against terrorism over the past decade, it is that the medicine should never be stronger than the disease. The insurance of security and the guarantee of freedoms go hand in hand,” the two members of the European Parliament wrote.

Lambsdorff and Schaake have asked Turkey’s chief negotiator for EU talks, State Minister Egemen Bagis, for the Turkish “government’s point of view” on the raids of a publishing house and the offices of a mainstream newspaper, held to confiscate any possible copies of an unpublished draft book by a recently arrested Turkish journalist.

Lambsdorff is the vice-president of the EP’s Alliance of Liberals and Democrats of Europe, or ALDE, who speaks for ALDE on Turkey at the parliament, and Schaake represents D66, a Dutch liberal party member of ALDE. They sent their official letter to Bagis on Thursday, immediately following the police raids on a publishing house, a home and a mainstream newspaper.

Three buildings were raided by the police Wednesday night and Thursday following a court decision to confiscate all copies of an unwritten book draft written by journalist Ahmet Sik, who was arrested two weeks ago. The 12th Court for Serious Crimes characterized the draft book as an “illegal organizational document” and also ruled that anyone who refused to hand in copies of the book would be accused of “aiding a criminal organization.”

“Unfortunately, our European friends have recently been seriously affected by manipulations of debates on the freedom of press,” Bagis told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review in a written statement Friday. “We want to make clear that journalists arrested within the scope of the Ergenekon case and the raid done on the daily Radikal must be discussed in the context of the alleged terrorist organization Ergenekon case and rather separately from the freedom of press context.”

Noting the importance of the Ergenekon case, Bagis said, “As the [Turkish] government, we are against any faults in the judging proceedings or any application that would give way to restrictions to the freedom of expression.”

“We do not still understand why a legal process, totally an initiative of the judiciary, continues to be used as a tool of pressure against our government. … Efforts by the Turkish government to try and make an intervention to the independent Turkish judiciary seem necessary, but will constitute a situation inconsistent with the modern legal norms the European Union represents,” Bagis said in his statement, referring to the letter by the MEPs.

Judiciary independence must go with respect for human rights

“Thus far Prime Minister Erdogan is refusing to comment, claiming the judiciary’s independence. Granted, Mr. Erdogan’s renewed commitment to the independence of the judiciary should be applauded,” MEPs Lambsdorff and Schaake said in their statement.

However, although check-and-balances, as well as a separation of powers are fundamental principles in liberal democracies, that independence does not exist in a vacuum, and governments always have a responsibility, the MEPs said.

“Although independence of the judiciary is a crucial element of any democracy, transparency, good governance, due process and guarantees of civil liberties, fair trial and free expression are equally important. If institutions systematically fail to implement such principles, a government can no longer justify in-action.”

Lambsdorff and Schaake also said they were concerned with the impact on the media, as well as the risk of a climate of fear which could be the result of such actions and could have an impact on all of Turkish society.

Despite the EP’s recently adopted report on Turkey, where it criticized the lack of press freedom in the country, the MEPs said there were plans to send an independent fact-finding mission to Turkey.

“The concern press freedom is one that is shared among all political groups in the European Parliament. The European Parliament is also ready to share expertise and to help the Turkish authorities, to ensure that the fundamental freedoms of citizens are guaranteed. We would want nothing more than for Turkey to live up to its promise of being a flourishing democracy and a vibrant economy, which would serve as an example to neighbors.”

Police raids Thursday confiscated copies of Sik’s books

The Istanbul police first raided the Ithaki publishing house on Wednesday and Thursday, the publisher that owned the rights to Sik’s book “Imamin Ordusu” (The Imam’s Army). They erased the digital copy of the book found there and continued searching for other digital copies.

Sik’s wife, Yonca Sik, was also told by the police Thursday that she and any other parties who had a digital copy must turn them in or they would be accused of “aiding a criminal organization.” The prosecution office also asked for copies in his lawyers’ possession, prompting questions about how they will be able to come up with a defense.

Finally the police raided offices of Radikal, a sister newspaper of the Hürriyet Daily News, asking journalist Ertugrul Mavioglu to hand in a copy of Sik’s book, which the latter had sent to Mavioglu for an opinion in December 2010.

Sik’s unpublished book deals with an alleged organization founded within the Turkish police by the Fethullah Gülen religious community. This fact has led to suspicions that Sik was arrested due to the book’s contents, rather than his involvement in the alleged Ergenekon gang, which he has worked as a journalist to expose.

Ergenekon is an alleged ultranationalist, shadowy gang accused of planning to topple the government by staging a coup, initially by spreading chaos and mayhem. Some believe it to be an extension of the “deep state,” an alleged shadow organization of bureaucracy and military within the state whose existence was voiced by people including presidents but for which an exact definition has never been made.

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


Russian Orthodox Leadership Proposes Alliance With Catholics

The Russian Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church should accept each other not as rivals, but first and foremost as allies, working to protect the rights of Christians, said Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, head of the ROC’s Department for External Church Relations in a speech at an international meeting of Christians in Wurzburg, Germany. “The future of Christianity in the third millennium depends on the joint efforts of the Orthodox believers and Catholics,’’ Hilarion said.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

South Asia

India Largest Importer of Weapons in the World

With a volume of international transfers of 9%, the country is ahead of China, South Korea and Pakistan. 82% comes from Russia. But India’s overtaking in Beijing is linked to the new market for domestic production of arms in China.

Stockholm (AsiaNews / Agencies) — According to a report compiled by the Swedish Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) published yesterday, India is the largest importer of weapons in the world. With 9% of the volume of international arms transfers between 2006 and 2010, of which 82% came from Russia, the country has overtaken China — with its 6% — for the first place. The two neighbours, are followed by South Korea, again with 6%, and Pakistan with 5%.

“The increase — Siemon Wezeman, a researcher at SIPRI told Bloomberg — is substantial. It is worrying that the weapons are concentrated in an not particularly stable area. Security threats inside the country and its rivalry with China and Pakistan, neighbours with which there are cyclical border disputes have led India to an increase its military spending. “

An Indian priest who spoke to AsiaNews, said: “This is the cancer of our society. Under the guise of security mafia, military groups and political elites are getting richer, while the poverty gap among the lower levels of the population widens. “

The defence budget for 2011-2012 in India was set at 1.5 trillion rupees (about 33 billion dollars), an increase of 40% over the past two years. The amount allocated, about 70% will be invested in arms. The plans include the purchase submarines, aircraft carriers, transport planes, as well as 126 combat aircraft and 200 helicopters.

However, India’s leap ahead is not only related to the phase of strong economic growth that it is experiencing. Wezeman specifies that “China now produces its own weapons, it is still early days for India.” This, according to the researcher, explains China’s “retrocession”. Then, there are the figures announced for the five-year economic plan 2011-2015. During the National People’s Congress, spokesman, Li Zhaoxing, has revealed that the army’s budget this year will increase by 12.7% (compared to only 7.5% in 2010), with an investment of 601 billion Yuan (about 6% of the central government budget).

To those who criticized the future investments as excessive, denouncing the presence of “hidden” military expenditures, Li responded by defining the spending instead as “appropriate, to ensure a balance between national defence and economic development.” Specifying that the defence budget represents only 1 to 4% of GDP, against India, which announced it would spend more than 2% of its GDP on defence. Antony Wong Dong, president of the International Military Association of Macao, called the reference made by Li to India’s military spending “remarkable”. “The military tension between Beijing and New Delhi has increased since last year, after India multiplied the number of troops along the border with China, south of Tibet.”

SIPRI is an institute based in Stockholm, founded in 1966, which conducts research on conflict, weapons, arms control and disarmament. As reported on its website, a large proportion of its funding comes from the Swedish government.

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

Far East

Cooling at Two of Japan’s Nuclear Reactors Delayed as Radiation Increases

Efforts to repair the cooling systems at the No. 2 and No. 3 reactors at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant are being delayed by the need to drain radioactive water from the floors, Tokyo Electric Power Co. said.

Tests found radiation levels at 100,000 times the normal level in the No. 2 reactor at the plant, and the reactor may be leaking water, Vice President Sakae Muto said at a briefing broadcast on the Internet.

The company plans to put the radioactive water into condenser tanks. Those tanks are probably already full, so crews must find a way to drain them, company officials said at a briefing today.

“I think it is high,” Muto said of the radiation level in the pool of water at the No. 2 unit.

The cooling pool at the No. 2 reactor, used to store spent nuclear fuel, appears to be full of water, the company said. The pool at the No. 4 reactor is likely full, the company said. The pools need cooling water to keep the rods from melting and releasing radiation into the air.

The radiation level at the No. 2 reactor was measured at 1,000 millisieverts an hour, Japan’s nuclear safety agency said. That’s higher than the dose that would cause vomiting, hair loss and diarrhea, according to the World Nuclear Association.

“They’re finding quite high levels of radiation fields, which is impeding their progress dealing with the situation,” said Richard Wakeford, an expert in radiation epidemiology at the U.K.’s Dalton Nuclear Institute in Manchester. At reactor 2, “you’d have a lot of difficulty putting anyone in there.”

[Return to headlines]

Japan: TEPCO Corrects Fukushima Radiation Readings

(AGI) Tokyo — The vice president of the company than runs the Fukushima nuclear power plant, Tepco, has apologized publicly and corrected information provided earlier in the day.

Radiation levels in the water of reactor 2 at the Fukushima plant are in fact 100,000 times higher than normal, not 10 million time higher as previously stated. Sakae Muto said, “I am extremely sorry and I promise that mistakes such as this one will not be repeated.”

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

Latin America

Brazil: Fiat and VW Fight it Out for Brazilian Market Dominance

Sao Paulo, 24 March (AKI/Bloomberg) — German’s Volkswagen will boost production and add models in Brazil to challenge Italy’s Fiat for the leading position in the country’s rapidly growing auto market.

“Competition in Brazil is intense and we expect it will become even more intense in the future,” Thomas Schmall, head of VW’s Brazilian operations, said in an interview. “We want to further expand our position.”

VW, trailing Fiat in a three-way race with General Motors for the country’s top spot, is expanding three of five plants in Latin America’s largest economy to increase sales 40 percent to 1 million vehicles in the next four years, he said.

Europe’s largest automaker is investing 2.3 billion euros in Brazil through 2014 as a growing middle class, strong currency and job creation ahead of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics fuel demand. Auto sales in the country, VW’s third-biggest market after China and Germany, will advance 40 percent by the end of 2016 to 3.64 million vehicles annually, according to industry researcher IHS Automotive.

Fiat leads this year with a 22.3 percent share of the car and light truck market through mid-March, according to data from Brazilian dealers association Fenabrave. Wolfsburg, VW is second with 21.8 percent and GM is third with 18.2 percent. VW and Fiat have been trading the top spot back-and- forth, while facing increasing pressure from rivals pouring in to capitalize on the market’s potential.

“Brazil has never experienced a moment such as the present one, having 45 brands selling their cars here,” said Paulo Sergio Rosa, an automotive consultant from Consultoria Columbia in Sao Paulo. “The math now suggests a subtraction for everyone. VW is making a huge effort to try and get the lead back.”

Fiat, based in Turin, Italy, is spending 10 billion reais (4.25 billion euros) through 2014 to cement itself as the country’s biggest automaker and boost deliveries to more than 1 million vehicles. Brazil is especially important for Fiat because it does not have a strong presence in the other growth markets of China, Russia and India.

“Our profits don’t come from Italy, but from Brazil,” chief executive officer Sergio Marchionne said 15 February. Fiat deliveries in the country increased 1.6 percent last year to 761,400 vehicles, generating revenue of 9.25 billion euros, or 25 percent of total sales, according to its annual report.

The VW group, whose revenue in Latin America increased 40 percent last year to 13.5 billion euros, sold 711,500 vehicles, including the Audi luxury brand and commercial-vehicles division, in Brazil in 2010.

VW will introduce revamped versions of the Passat sedan, Touareg sport-utility vehicle and Jetta compact sedan this year in the country, continuing a roll-out that featured 26 new models or facelifts at the namesake VW brand in 2009 and 2010, Schmall said. The carmaker will lose 2.5 percentage points of market share in Brazil through 2016, according to IHS forecasts.

“I do prefer VW’s cars because my father and my husband have had VW for a long time, but it is a little expensive,” said Andrea Puccini Santos, the 34-year-old owner of a VW Gol, as she looked at offerings at a Sao Paulo dealership. “I am looking at other models with similar prices and cost benefit.”

The best-selling car last year in Brazil was the Gol, with deliveries of 293,783 of the hatchback, followed by Fiat´s Uno, with 229,323 sold. The Gol, based on the underpinnings of VW’s Polo, starts at 29,290 reais, while the Uno’s base price is 26,490 reais, according to the carmakers’ Brazilian websites.

“What makes it so relevant for VW, but also for GM and Fiat, to retain share in that market is that the pricing is so strong,” said Guido Vildozo, an IHS Automotive analyst in New York. “A large influx of domestic production in coming years is going to put a lot of pressure on the established manufacturers.”

Brazil’s economy will expand 4.03 percent this year, according to a central bank survey of about 100 economists published this week. Brazilian Central Bank president Alexandre Tombini said 22 March the economy has a “great” medium and long-term growth outlook.

“We’re expecting a positive economic development in coming years,” Schmall said in the 11 March 11. “It’s our goal to share in the growth in auto markets in Brazil and other Latin American countries.”

Volkswagen plans to invest 53.5 billion euros in its global automotive business through 2015, with another 10.6 billion euros to be spent through its two Chinese joint ventures. VW aims to spur sales to more than 10 million vehicles globally to surpass Toyota Motor Corp. as the world’s largest automaker.

Expansion in South America and Southeast Asia is important to VW as a counterweight to the carmaker’s increasing reliance on China, Bernd Osterloh, head of VW’s works council, said in a an interview March 10 in Wolfsburg.

China accounted for 26 percent of VW’s deliveries last year. The carmaker’s operating profit in the country, the world’s biggest auto market, more than doubled in 2010 to 1.9 billion euros.

“Development in China is very good and potential for further growth is no doubt in place,” said Osterloh, who is also deputy head of VW’s supervisory board. “But we as the works council don’t want to become too dependent on China.”

Volkswagen may need to adjust production at its Brazilian factories and add models to reap benefits from the country’s economic advance, he said.

“Our capacities are already nowadays running close to limits,” Osterloh said, noting that the commercial-vehicle unit would benefit from an added offering. “We could grow even more with new products.”

Long-time Gol driver Rossana Matheus Montanarini would be open to new offerings.

“This the car I learned to drive with,” the 27-year-old physiotherapist said of the Gol. “But I tested Fox and I saw it’s very comfortable to drive. I am thinking of cheating on Gol but continuing with Volkswagen.”

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


Catania: Demonstration Against Solidarity Village

(AGI) Catania — Over a thousand people demonstrated in Mineo this morning against the creation of a Solidarity Village. It will be built in the area that currently houses 1,500 migrants, including refugees and asylum seekers. Local mayors and members of parliament for the Partito Democratico and the Movimento per le Autonomie took part along with many local people. A delegation, composed of deputies and mayors were authorised to enter the property and inspect it. Posters were put up at the entrance to the Village saying ‘We get the Tunisians, the North gets the Bossi-Fini (law)’. The demonstrators explained: “It ‘s not a problem of racism, but we do not feel safe. There are migrants who roam our countryside and towns. They are out of work and create great difficulties and stress for our agricultural economy, already seriously depressed, and for our personal safety.” Many spoke of “having seen migrants running away from the centre, jumping over the fence and fleeing to Catania”

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

Italy: Regional President: Lampedusa Looks Like Tunis

(AGI) Palermo — “Everywhere you turn on the island you see migrants”, claims Sicily’s regional president, Raffaele Lombardo. “Lampedusa looks more like a Tunisian island than Italian territory. The Civil Protection unit has set up tents at Lampedusa port for arriving migrants. He went on to say, “I strongly appeal to the President, to the national government and to decision-makers to ensure that Lampedusa become Italian territory once again. These people need to be helped, they certainly cannot be mistreated nor rejected, but the island of Lampedusa cannot bear the assistance burden that should fall on the entire country”.

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

More Immigrants Land in Lampedusa, 1000 More Expected

(AGI) Lampedusa — The immigration situation in Lampedusa is still very tense. Finance Police informs that the latest landing took place at 7.30, with about 40 immigrants reaching the island. But four large boats are now expected to bring 600 more. Plus, there is great concern for the 330 Eritreans and Somalis, adrift in non-Italian waters, 60 miles off the shores of Lampedusa. There were rescued by patrol units of the Coast Guard and Finance Police and escorted by the Italian navy ship ‘Etna’.

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

Over 100 Immigrants Flee Camp in Manduria

(AGI) Taranto — Over one hundred refugees who arrived from Lampedusa this morning on the San Marco and were then taken to Manduria have fled the tent-city put up for them. Only a few hours after their arrival, the men, all Tunisians aged between 18 and 35, left the camp, and set off on foot along the road that leads from Manduria to Oria.

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

President of Brindisi Province: Safety at Risk

(AGI) Taranto — “These people are not refugees. They are illegal immigrants. The local safety is at risk. Nobody can guarantee whether these people will not escape from the tent city between Manduria and Oria and commit illegal actions”. The President of the Province of Brindisi, Massimo Ferrarese, commented during his visit to the refugee settlement between Manduria and Oria. The first contingent of Tunisian refugees landed in Taranto aboard a ship of San Marco navy forces. “They are not supposed to be here, absolutely — Ferrarese reiterated — or, at least, not at the current conditions. We do not feel safe or protected at all. Furthermore, works are still in progress in the tent city, thus revealing that many more people are yet to come. We risk having 4,000 of them here, an absolutely intolerable number”.

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

Tunisia Promises to Step Up Border Controls

EU ‘will provide more help’

(ANSA) — Tunis, March 25 — Tunisia on Friday pledged to stem a migrant flow to Italy in exchange for training, resources and a 150-million-euro credit line, Italian ministers said after talks with the government in Tunis.

“Commitments” were made to staunch an exodus towards the Italian island of Lampedusa, closer to Tunisia than to Sicily, Foreign Minister Franco Frattini and Interior Minister Roberto Maroni told reporters.

Among other things, the credit line will be used to help Tunisians who accept voluntary repatriation to find a place in their native economy, Frattini said.

Tunisia will “intensify” controls of its sea borders to stop migrants heading off on the short hop, Maroni said.

“We asked the Tunisan government to reinforce maritime controls.

“It’s a concern very much in their minds, and they told us they will intensify vigilance”.

The minister described the result of the talks as “positive and encouraging”.

“If it is followed by concrete acts, we will be able to stem the flow (of migrants)”.

The control systems “worked perfectly up till December 31, 2010,” he noted.

Frattini and Maroni met their Tunisian counterparts and Prime Minister Caid Essebsi.

Italy has repeatedly asked Tunisian authorities to restore police controls on the maritime borders, “which are currently non-existent,” according to Italian officials.

Earlier this month, after the Tunisian uprising, Maroni offered to help Tunisia patrol its maritime borders but was rebuffed.

Italy has also set up a refugee camp on Tunisia’s land border with Libya.

Maroni said Friday 15,700 Tunisians have arrived on Lampedusa since the New Year compared to just 4,000 migrants all of last year, when a ‘push-back’ policy with Libya was in effect.

Getting the border-control system up again is “fundamental,” he said, “otherwise there’ll never be an end to it”.

He pointed out that “only 25 illegal immigrants arrived from Tunisia last year”.

The minister has stressed that most if not all of the Tunisians on Lampedusa are economic migrants and will not therefore be included in the expected quota of 50,000 refugees from the Libyan war.

He reiterated earlier this week that the government was also “very worried” about a possible mass exodus from Libya.

“We are getting ready in case the earthquake happening in Libya is followed by a human tsunami”.

On Thursday the United Nations said it expected between 200,000 and 250,000 refugees from the Libya crisis.

EU ‘Will Do More’

All European Union members are ready to provide “concrete solidarity” with the countries bearing the brunt of immigration after the North African upheavals, a resolution from an EU summit in Brussels said Friday.

The European Commission will be tasked with drawing up a plan for handling migrant flows and refugee processing ahead of an EU summit in June.

Italy has been pressing for weeks for more help from the EU after Lampedusa was swamped and it geared to spread tens of thousands of expected refugees from Libya around its regions.

There were no landings overnight on Lampedusa, where a navy ship has been removing Tunisians to ease a humanitarian emergency that has seen the migrants outnumber the local population of 5,000.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Spend Trillions Now, And World Temperatures Might Fall in 1,000 Years

Even if every country in the world adopts economy-killing carbon caps, they’ll have to wait about 1,000 years for global temperatures to fall, says Australia’s newly appointed climate commissioner.

Tim Flannery, a zoologist and author of an acclaimed 2005 book on climage change, “The Weather Makers,” compares skeptics of global warming to “flat Earth believers.” But he made a point that most global warming alarmists gloss over when he threw down this lightning bolt in an interview with Macquarie Radio’s Andrew Bolt:

“If we cut emissions today, global temperatures are not likely to drop for about a thousand years.”

That’s not just in Australia, mind you. That’s cutting emissions worldwide.

Under continued questioning by Bolt, Flannery said: “Just let me finish and say this: If the world as a whole cut all emissions tomorrow the average temperature of the planet is not going to drop in several hundred years, perhaps as much as a thousand years because the system is overburdened with CO2 that has to be absorbed and that only happens slowly.”

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]