Saturday, January 11, 2003

News Feed 20110403

Financial Crisis
»Commies, Crimes, And Chase
»European Central Bank Set for Historic Rates Decision
»Feds Becoming Biggest Part of State Budgets
»Greece: Troika to Return to Athens Soon
»Italy: Record 8.4% Unemployment in 2010, 30% Among Young
»Libya: Bank Controlled by Tripoli Took Advantage of Favourable Fed Reserve Loans
»Netherlands: Top Company Executive Pay Back at Pre-Crisis Levels
»Obama: Transforming America
»Unemployment: Spain Under-25 Record in February (43.5%)
»Chinese ‘Invasion’ Of USA Scrapped
»Diana West: It’s Not Terry Jones’ “Fault”
»Graham: Explore Limits on Quran Burnings
»Quran Burning: Obama: Act of Extreme Intolerance
»Samantha Power to be the Next Secretary of State?
Europe and the EU
»Corruption: MEPs to Check Lobbyist ID
»Greece: Bomb at Jail: Italy Anarchists Claim Responsibility
»Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble in Report Warning: Islamic Groups Want Sharia Law in Germany
»Italy: More Female Berlusconi Erotic Party Guests Emerge, Say Prosecutors
»Italy: Maldini Indicted for ‘Bribing Tax Official’
»Italy: Fiat-Chrysler Set to Generate ‘Over 100 Billion’
»Italy May Give North African Migrants Permits to Roam Europe
»Italy: MPs Row Again After ‘Save-Premier’ Move
»Spain: Zapatero Suitable Candidate for Only 11% of Spaniards
»UK: Why Did My Middle Class Brother Turn Into an Islamic Extremist Who Won’t be Seen on TV With Our Mother if She’s Not Wearing a Veil?
»Bosnia Mediator Intervenes, Draws Ire
»Serbia: EU Membership Not “Easy and Comfortable Ride”, Official Warns Belgrade
»Serbia, Slovenia and Croatia Eye Joint Ventures in North Africa and Russia
North Africa
»Egypt Moved by Deep Waters
»Egyptians Rally in Cairo to ‘Save the Revolution’
»Egypt: Armed Forces: Parliamentary Elections in September
»Ex-Mujahedeen Help Lead Libyan Rebels
»Inside the Libyan Rebel Garage: Churning Out Homemade Weapons
»Islamists Poised to Fill Egypt Vacuum
»Libya: Rebels Forced to Withdraw From Brega Again
»Mr. Obama’s Libyan Adventure
»Paris and London Torpedo EU Foreign Policy
»Sirte: Eight Civilians Killed During Airstrikes. Apostolic Vicar: “Pray for Libya”
»Tunisia: Magistrates Strike Over Security Issues
»Tunisia: Strikes and Demands After ‘Revolution’
»Tunisia: Country Divided Over Future Political System, Survey
»Tunisia: Anger of Judges, No Political Interference
Israel and the Palestinians
»3rd Intifada Facebook Page Translated
»Israel Urges UN to Cancel Goldstone Report on Gaza War
»Israel Asks U.N. To Annul Goldstone Report on Gaza Attack
»Reconsidering the Goldstone Report on Israel and War Crimes
Middle East
»Bahrain Orders Opposition Newspaper Shut Down
»Iran Sees Western Plot Behind Tensions With Gulf Countries
»Neo-Ottomans Discover New Middle East
»Pakistan Ready for Middle East Role
»Turkish Journalist Sik’s Controversial Unpublished Book Released Online
»Turkish Online ‘Revolution’ Demands End to Sexist, Racist Language in Media
»Turks Hypocritical When Discussing Religion, WikiLeaks Cable Says
»U.S. Shifts to Seek Removal of Yemen’s Leader, An Ally
»Uprisings: Turkey: The New Political Model for Islamic World
»Yemen: Police Open Fire on Protests in Sanaa & Taiz
South Asia
»Jakarta Confirms the Arrest in Pakistan of Umar Patek, Mastermind of the Bali Bombings
»Pakistan: 36 Killed in Suicide Bomb Attack on Sufi Temple
»Tajikistan: Dushanbe: Systematic Violation of Religious Freedom and Human Rights by State
»Taliban Claim Responsibility for Attack on Pakistan Temple
Far East
»Cardinal Zen’s Anger Over Fr. Heyndrickx and Propaganda Fide’s “Dialogue at All Costs”
»Japan: Crews Pin Hopes on Polymer to Stop Nuke Leak
Sub-Saharan Africa
»Ivory Coast: French Troops Take Over Airport in Abdijan
»Ivory Coast: UN Presses [Their Man] Ouattara Over Massacre
»Machete Thugs Hack to Death 1,000 in Just One Town as Ivory Coast Battle Rages
»Muslim Troops Slaughter 1,000 Civilians in Ivory Coast Massacre
»300 Leave Manduria Tent City to Stage Protest
»Berlusconi Due to Make Trip to Tunisia Amid Immigrant ‘Crisis’
»Cardinal Reiterates “Immigration is a European Problem”
»Israel: Alarm Over Far Right Patrols in Tel Aviv
»Italy: Government: Tunisia Doesn’t Respect Agreements
»Migrants: Berlusconi Says Tunisia Lacks Strong Government
»New Fence in Manduria, 1,350 Refugees
»Tunisia Denies Migration Deal With Italy
»Tunisia: Forged Schengen Visas Found

Financial Crisis

Commies, Crimes, And Chase

A man who had access to the White House on at least four occasions and a former official of one of the country’s most-powerful unions, Service Employees International Union (SEIU), detailed a secret plan to “destabilize” the country.

Steven Lerner, the “man with access,” thinks it’s a cool way to redistribute wealth and make changes in government. He spoke at a closed session at a Pace University Forum last weekend.

As many readers know, Glenn Beck got a transcript of that meeting and disclosed that Lerner, using community organization groups, planned a stealth attack to destroy J.P. Morgan Chase, put the stock market in ruins, and weaken the grip elitists have on America’s economy. That’s what Lerner said was the objective.

Lerner admits that unions and community organizations are all but dead. He says $17 trillion has been stolen from the middle class and the only way to get it back is through the redistribution of wealth. That is his stated goal. He plans to organize a mass attack on mortgage loans, among other things. He says this can destabilize the stock market — perhaps bring on a crash — and when people stop making mortgage payments, they get to live in their homes for a year, rent free — well, sometimes they do. Lerner says if he can get enough people to do this, it will overwhelm the system which will fall down. He’s right. That has a grain of truth. He doesn’t mention the horrible credit rating those who stop paying their mortgage will have for life, but… hey, it’s for the “greater good.”


This article may sound like it’s about Steven Lerner, but this article is about you. It’s about the need for your common sense to prevail as unions come closer and closer to failure and as community organizers get weaker and more desperate. As Tea Party Groups become stronger, the others fight for their existence. We saw that in “a little piece of Madison, WI.”

How can you learn to identify misinformation and disinformation when it’s being fed to you?

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

European Central Bank Set for Historic Rates Decision

The European Central Bank, or ECB, is poised to raise interest rates faster than the U.S. Federal Reserve for the first time in four decades, opening up a transatlantic policy gap that may help the euro endure the sovereign debt crisis.

ECB President Jean-Claude Trichet and his Governing Council meet April 7, a month since signaling a plan to increase the refinancing rate by a quarter-point from a record 1 percent as euro-area inflation breaches the 2 percent limit. By contrast, Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke and colleagues affirmed plans last month to buy $600 billion of Treasuries through June and to keep rates “exceptionally low” for an “extended period.”

That would mark the first time since at least 1971 when the rate cycle has turned tougher in Europe before the U.S., according to Credit Suisse. The gap may widen for another 12 months before the Fed starts to catch up, propelling the euro possibly through $1.50 from $1.42 today, said Gavyn Davies, chairman of hedge fund Fulcrum Asset Management.

“It’s very abnormal that they are diverging at all on rates for any period of time and also that it’s the ECB tightening before the Fed,” said Davies.

The lure of higher rates may be enough for currency traders to buy euros even as Europe’s debt turmoil continues amid speculation Portugal will seek a bailout as its 10-year bond yield trades at a euro-era record. The single currency has traded near its strongest since November following Trichet’s comments on March 3 when he surprised investors by saying “strong vigilance” is needed on prices.

The troubled Med

While the euro strengthened, bonds in peripheral Europe have dropped, driving yields to record levels. Investors demand 5.09 percentage points of extra yield to own Portuguese 10-year debt rather than German bunds of similar maturity, the highest since the euro was introduced in 1999.

“Even though there are risks to the euro due to the debt crisis, it doesn’t mean relative interest rate differences won’t dominate,” said Kasper Kirkegaard, a senior currency strategist at Danske Bank in Copenhagen, who predicts the euro will reach $1.50 in six months.

April may prove to be the first time since the euro began trading that the Fed and ECB shifted in opposite directions in the same month, according to Barclays Capital. When including Germany’s Bundesbank, Credit Suisse strategists found the Fed has raised rates before Europe by a median average of 18 months in the six tightening periods since 1971. The delay was as long as 70 months in the mid-1990s and 17 months until the ECB last began a series of interest rate increases in December 2005.

That precedent is “an indication the ECB is over-reacting to the perceived inflation risk and may be making a policy mistake,” said Luca Paolini, an equity strategist at Credit Suisse in London.

Get ready for stress

History shows a policy split between the U.S. and Europe can stress financial markets, said Niall Ferguson, who currently teaches at the London School of Economics. Germany’s struggles with inflation preceded the collapse of the Bretton Woods system of fixed currencies in the early 1970s. The Bundesbank was attacked by then-U.S. Treasury Secretary James Baker for raising rates in October 1987, days before the stock market crash.

The ECB’s last rate increase of July 2008 clashed with a push by Bernanke and other U.S. officials to talk up the dollar, and had to be reversed three months later as the world economy sank.

“There is a legitimate concern that having the two major central banks practicing different policies is likely to be destabilizing,” said Ferguson.

Richard Buxton, a fund manager at Schroders in London, said investors should be on alert that the latest “policy mismatch could cause a hiccup in the short term.”

A market disturbance doesn’t have to happen this time, and typically only does when the U.S. and Europe each want their exchange rates to trade in the same direction, said Davies at Fulcrum. This time around, Bernanke would likely welcome a drop in the dollar to boost U.S. growth and Trichet would probably embrace a stronger euro to help quell inflation, he said.

The gain in the euro may even end up preventing “the ECB from the full monetary tightening it would do otherwise,” said Davies, a former chief economist at Goldman Sachs. At the same time, a weaker dollar could end up complicating the ECB’s job by spurring gains in the oil price.

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

Feds Becoming Biggest Part of State Budgets

America on verge of European-style unitary government

This will be the first year that federal aid will become the largest individual component of state budgets, expanding Washington control over more of the decisions at that level, according to a report by an educational and research organization.

Already 27 states rely on federal aid as their primary source of funding, but the report by the Wyoming Liberty Group describes this year’s level as a critical breaking point.

“It sends a profound message,” says Wyoming Liberty Group research fellow Sven Larson, the author of the report. “There is a growing consensus among the states that dependency on the federal government is tolerable, even desirable.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Greece: Troika to Return to Athens Soon

(ANSAmed) — ATHENS, MARCH 28 — The “Troika”, inspectors from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), technical experts from the European Union and those from the European Central Bank, will be returning to Athens at the beginning of next week to verify — according to reports in the Greek press today — the implementation of the austerity plan, and most especially the implementation of the 2012-2015 mid-term programme as well as that of privatisations. The visit is occurring at a time seeing significant delay in state revenue which poses a risk to the state budget. In the month of April the Finance Minister is expected to announce fresh measures worth about 1.7 billion euros to cover a gap in the 2011 budget. The “Troika” will be staying in the Greek capital for 2-3 days, to then return another time for the final verification on the basis of which the fifth, 12-billion-euro aid tranche will be paid out — expected to occur in May — as part of the 110-billion-euro package granted by Greek a year ago.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Record 8.4% Unemployment in 2010, 30% Among Young

Worst figures since new records began in 2004

(ANSA) — Rome, April 1 — Italian unemployment rose to a record 8.4% in 2010, the highest since new recording systems started in 2004, Istat said Friday.

Youth unemployment was particularly bad, rising to 29.8% in the final quarter of last year, the statistics office said.

Overall unemployment in the last quarter of 2010 was 8.7%, Istat said.

There was a slight improvement in February with the jobless rate still at 8.4% but 0.2% down on January and 0.1% lower than a year previously.

Labour Minister Maurizio Sacconi shrugged off the data, recalling that the number of those in work rose in February.

“Even the doom-sayers can’t say there isn’t a knock-on effect from the upswing in the economy,” he claimed.

The level of youth unemployment has raised concerns over a so-called ‘lost generation’, to which Italian President Giorgio Napolitano pointedly referred in an end-of-year TV address to the nation.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Libya: Bank Controlled by Tripoli Took Advantage of Favourable Fed Reserve Loans

New York, 1 April (AKI/Bloomberg) — Arab Banking Corp., the lender part- owned by the Central Bank of Libya, used a New York branch to get 73 loans from the US Federal Reserve in the 18 months after Lehman Brothers collapsed.

The bank, then 29 percent-owned by the Libyan state, had aggregate borrowings in that period of 35 billion dollars — while the largest single loan amount outstanding was 1.2 billion dollars in July 2009, according to Fed data released Thursday. In October 2008, when lending to financial institutions by the central bank’s so- called discount window peaked at 111 billion dollars, Arab Banking took repeated loans totalling more than 2 billion dollars.

Fed officials say all the discount window loans made during the worst financial crisis since the 1930s have been repaid with interest.

The US government has since frozen assets linked to the regime of Libyan ruler Muammar Gaddafi and engaged in air strikes against his military forces, which are battling a rebel uprising in the North African country. Arab Banking got an exemption that allows the firm to continue operating while barring it from engaging in any transactions with the Libyan government, according to the US Treasury Department.

“It is incomprehensible to me that while creditworthy small businesses in Vermont and throughout the country could not receive affordable loans, the Federal Reserve was providing tens of billions of dollars in credit to a bank that is substantially owned by the Central Bank of Libya,” senator Bernard Sanders of Vermont, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, wrote in a letter to Fed and US officials.

The letter was addressed to Fed chairman Ben S. Bernanke, Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner and John Walsh, acting comptroller of the currency. The figure refers to the aggregate amount of loans the bank received under US lending programs. Arab Banking owed about 4 billion dollars to the Fed under other bailout programs in the fall of 2009, data released in December show.

Jack Gutt, a spokesman for the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, declined to comment.

Arab Banking said 2 Dec. that Libya’s stake in the Manama, Bahrain-based lender had increased to 59 percent.

“There was an uneasy detente between the United States and Libya” when the loans were made, said William Poole, senior economic adviser to Merk Investments and a former president of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. “It would not happen in the morning.”

David Siegel, treasurer of Arab Banking’s branch on Park Avenue in midtown Manhattan, declined to comment. The New York branch deals mainly in trade finance, according to its website. The bank’s chairman is Mohammed Hussain Layas, chief executive officer of the Libyan Investment Authority. The CEO is Bahrain- based Hassan Ali Juma.

Arab Banking reported a loss of 880 million dollars in 2008 as it took a 1.1 billion dollar charge tied to structured investment vehicles and derivative products known as collateralized debt obligations. Arab Banking recovered during the next two years, posting profits totalling 265 million dollars.

Libya previously shared the bank with the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority and the Kuwait Investment Authority, both sovereign investment funds. The Libyan Central Bank bought out the Abu Dhabi stake in 2010 and took majority control, which prompted Fitch Ratings in December to downgrade Arab Banking’s credit rating.

In March, after the U.S. froze Libya’s assets, Fitch downgraded the bank’s credit rating again, this time to “junk” status. Contracts to protect Arab Banking’s debt, which typically rise as investor confidence deteriorates, increased by 186 basis points to 500 during March. A basis point equals 1,000 dollars annually on a contract protecting $10 million of debt.

Uncertain Outcome

“Nobody knows how the situation in Libya is going to work out finally and who will ultimately be in charge and obviously who will be running institutions like the central bank,” Philip Smith, a London-based Fitch analyst, said in a phone interview.

Under the asset freeze, the bank has been prevented from conducting transactions with the Gaddafi regime and can thus continue trading with other customers as usual, Smith said.

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

Netherlands: Top Company Executive Pay Back at Pre-Crisis Levels

The average pay of top Dutch company bosses rose 16% last year to €3.1m and is now back to pre-crisis levels, according to research by the Volkskrant.

The highest earner is Shell CEO Peter Voser, whose total remuneration package was €10.5m.

The Volkskrant looked at the pay of senior executives at 21 of the 25 companies listed on the blue chip AEX exchange.

Over the previous two years, executive pay levels fell by around 20%.

Options and bonuses

The swings in salary are due to bonuses and profits on options and shares. In 2010, the average annual bonus rose 40% to €935,000. Fixed salary was more or less unchanged at an average €890,000, the paper said.

But pressure on banks which have had state aid not to pay bonuses meant ING’s Jan Hommen and Aegon’s Alexander Wyndaendts did not earn more money last year.

On Thursday it emerged Aegon had also opted not to give the executive board a bonus over 2010.

Second on the list of highest paid CEOs is KPN’s Ad Scheepbouwer with a pay packet totalling €7.9m. Klaas Wester of Fugro is third with just over €5m.

The paper also pointed out that nearly every AEX company booked a profit again in 2010.

The Volkskrant’s website includes a graph giving more details.

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

Obama: Transforming America

Obama’s economic policy is transforming America

He said he was going to do it. He explained why he was going to do it. He even said how he was going to do it. He has been doing it since the day he took office.

To be fair, he did take office at a time when the economy was on the brink of disaster. Of course, he and others of his philosophical ilk caused both the housing bubble and its collapse — no matter how hard they deny it. Organizations such as ACORN , where Obama cut his teeth as a community organizer, demanded that banks fund mortgages for people who had no hope of repaying them. Democrats in Congress made it easy for banks by guaranteeing the loans through Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Two months before the 2008 election, the U.S. government had to bail out the two failed financial institutions to the tune of $15 billion. During eight years under the Bush administration, the national debt increased by $4 trillion ($500 billion per year.) These years included the attack on the World Trade Centers, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and Hurricane Katrina, as well as the explosion of the housing bubble. Obama added $4 trillion to the national debt in 421 days. And his belief that “spreading the wealth around” has created a debt that will burden future generations for years to come. Obama’s economic policy is transforming America.

Despite the absence of Constitutional authority, or a single Republican vote, Obama’s health care plan not only deepens the public debt, but also forces previously free citizens to purchase a product designated by the government. Never before has the federal government presumed to dictate what its citizens must buy. Moreover, Obama, and his Democrat majority in Congress, used bizarre procedures to force “Obamacare” into law. By so doing, Obama has demonstrated that he believes his ideas on governance to be superior to the Founders’, and that achieving his goals is far more important than any rules or procedural restraints.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Unemployment: Spain Under-25 Record in February (43.5%)

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, APRIL 1 — Spain posted a new European Union record on unemployment in February. Eurostat figures show that the rate of unemployment for Spaniards under the age of 25 reached 43.5% in February 2011, a 3.4% increase on last year’s corresponding month (40.1%). The EU average, meanwhile, is 20.4%, while the Euro-zone has an average of 19.4%.

With regard to the Mediterranean’s EU countries, there was a fall in the number of unemployed Italians under 25, from 29.4% tom 28.1%, the same figure as in February 2010.

France’s figure fell from 21.4% in January 2011 to 21.1% the following month, and even more significantly compared to the corresponding month in 2010, when the figure was 24%. Portugal has also registered a gradual fall (21.3% in February 2011 against 21.8% in February 2010), as has Malta, which stands at 11.7%, compared to 14.4% in February last year.

Eurostat’s figures show that the total rate of unemployment in February was 9.9% in the Euro-zone and 9.5% in the 27-member EU area, compared to 10% and 9.6% respectively in January. The fall in the number of unemployed in the Euro-zone only concerns the male workforce (down from 9.9% to 9.7%), while the number of women out of work has risen again (from 10.1% to 10.2%). The highest figure in the EU still belong to Spain (43.5%), followed by Greece (36.1% in the fourth quarter of 2010).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Chinese ‘Invasion’ Of USA Scrapped

Remake of ‘Red Dawn’ altered to avoid giving Beijing offense

A long-delayed film about Chinese invaders taking over the U.S. to help “fix” America’s broken economy has undergone a digital makeover, removing the allusions to China in fear, some report, of offending the Asian nation’s $1.5-billion box office.

As WND reported, the movie was expected to be a hard-core remake of the original communism-bashing “Red Dawn” of two decades back — where Lea Thompson, Charlie Sheen, Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze staged a shoot-’em-up against invading Russians in the Colorado mountains — only this time, with Chinese invaders instead.

But now, several Hollywood sources report, the filmmakers at MGM have hired digital artists to change all the film’s Chinese flags and symbols … to North Korean.


Reported the Guardian, “Perhaps the strongest symbol of America’s decline and China’s rise in the ‘Red Dawn’ remake does not come from the movie’s sets or script or even its plot. It comes from the fact that much of the movie was shot in and around the battered industrial city of Detroit. The city’s emptying streets and many abandoned factories were seen as the perfect real-life backdrop for the city’s war scenes.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Diana West: It’s Not Terry Jones’ “Fault”

Not to be outstyled by the “avenging” Gray Lady, The Christian Science Monitor wins Dhimmi of the News-Day today for this headline:

“Terry Jones: How free speech and Quran burning can lead to violence”

Is it really necessary to explain that free speech is speech and not violence; that burning the Koran is burning a bunch of wood pulp, and not violence; that violence is violence and that the only thing that “led” to it, now as always, are barbaric imams who, following the laws of Islam, exhorted their rabid flock to kill “infidels”?


These elementary facts have gone lost in the blur of dhimmitude from which the fearful outcry against Terry Jones has yet to reach its crescendo.

It’s all his fault, the world shrieks, embarking on a leap of logic and laspe of morality in order to equate this symbolic act with a bloodlust massacre. Exhibit A; Our President.

It is anything but Jones’ fault — just as it is anything but the Danish Motoons’ fault, Theo van Gogh’s fault, the Pope’s fault, Dante’s fault, the Fogel family’s fault, Fitna’s fault, the Miss World Pageant’s fault, Israel’s fault, Geert Wilders’ fault, Hirsi Ali’s fault, the Copts’ fault, the Paris police’s fault, Jylland Posten’s fault, Salman Rushdie’s fault, Rushdie’s Japanese translator’s fault, Abdul Rahman’s fault, Lara Logan’s fault, Aaslya Hassan’s fault, yodeling’s fault, Kurt Westergaard’s fault, Voltaire’s fault, homosexuals’ fault, the London Underground’s fault, Tommy Robinson’s fault, the World Trade Center’s fault, Hena Akhter’s fault, the Buddhas of Bamiyan’s fault, the Davis Cup’s fault, Jylland Posten’s fault, Roberto Calderoni’s fault, the Beslan schoolchildren’s fault, Molly Norris’s fault, the 82nd Airborne’s fault … or the fault of any other defender, staunch or incidental, or expression, heartfelt or passing, of or in the faith in God, aetheism, the West, Hinduism, the Reconquista, pork stew, freedom of conscience, dogs, and/or Frank Loesser.

The latest from Bloomberg:…

           — Hat tip: Diana West[Return to headlines]

Graham: Explore Limits on Quran Burnings

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a military lawyer, is the first member of Congress to say the legislature needs to explore the possibility, however unlikely, of limiting some kinds of free speech — like Terry Jones’ Quran burning — that help America’s enemies.

“I wish we could find a way to hold people accountable. Free speech is a great idea, but we’re in a war,” he told CBS’s Bob Schieffer on “Face the Nation.”

“During World War II, we had limits on what you could do if it inspired the enemy,” Graham said, adding that he wanted to do “anything we can to push back here in America against acts like this that put our troops at risk.”

Graham also continued his attack on President Barack Obama’s decision to pull back in Libya saying, it “comforted” Col. Muammar Qadhafi and ensured a “stalemate” in Libya.

Instead, he urged “taking the fight to Tripoli” — targeting Qadhafi’s inner circle and arming the rebels with tank-killing missiles.

“Well, you certainly made some news,” Schieffer quipped after the five-minute interview.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Quran Burning: Obama: Act of Extreme Intolerance

(AGI) Washington — The US president, Barack Obama, called the desecration of the Quran “an act of extreme intolerance and bigotry”. The provocation that took place on 20 March lead to violence in Afghanistan and to the slaughter at the UN quarters in Mazar-i- Sharif.

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

Samantha Power to be the Next Secretary of State?

A flattering New York Times profile has increased speculation that Samantha Power, the Dublin-born aide to President Obama, could be his next Secretary of State or National Security Adviser.

She has been the main architect, along with Hillary Clinton, of the Libya policy and has an increasing influence in the White House inner circle.

[Samantha Power is also the wife of White House Information Czar Cass Sunstein.]

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Corruption: MEPs to Check Lobbyist ID

De Standaard, 1 April 2011

“Strict new rules for MEPs,” headlines De Standaard, on the growing corruption scandal at the European Parliament. In the wake of a Sunday Times “sting” operation, in which MEPs agreed to amend European laws in exchange for payments from undercover reporters posing as lobbyists, the EP is to table a series of guidelines for MEPs. “When approached by lobbyists, MEPs from now on must carry out a thorough ID check on prospective clients,” the Brussels daily reveals, adding that each MEP will have access to “biometric and retinal scan devices like those used in airports in the wake of the 9/11 attacks in order to filter out fraudulent ID.” Outlining the new rules on 31 March, EP spokesman Martin Bulak said, “It’s essential that if an MEP accepts payments in order to amend EU laws and directives, then he must first ascertain that this is in fact a bona fide interest group, and not undercover journalists.”

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

Greece: Bomb at Jail: Italy Anarchists Claim Responsibility

(ANSAmed) — ATHENS, APRIL 1 — The Informal Anarchist Federation (FAI) has claimed responsibility, according to the Greek police, for the parcel bomb that was sent to the Korydallos Prison yesterday, located a short distance from the centre of Athens, “as a sign of solidarity to the prisoners — members of the Conspiracy of Fire Nuclei organisation and others prisoners being held in Chile, Switzerland and Germany”. The document claiming responsibility for the attack was found inside of the parcel bomb. According to police, it was written in Italian on a sheet of paper wrapped in insulating tape, similar to what was found in the Livorno parcel bomb.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble in Report Warning: Islamic Groups Want Sharia Law in Germany

Some Muslim groups in Germany want to live under Sharia law in Germany, according to a new study.

The annual report for the Protection of the Constitution revealed that active groups like ‘Milli Görüs’ want to be able to live under the strict Islamic rules.

And the secret service’s yearly report, which will be revealed today by Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, contains some other schocking warnings:

  • Increasing numbers of Islamic fundamentalists — mostly second generation immigrants and radical converts — are travelling from Germany to Pakistan to visit terror camps run by al-Qaeda and other similar groups.
  • German interests at home and abroad are in danger. The report reveals that Germany is an ‘immediate target’ for Islamist terror groups.
  • The internet is the most important communication and propaganda instrument — and terror groups are getting more professional at using it.

The report for the Protection of the Constitution gave several other warnings:

  • There was a marked rise in the number of radical right-wing crimes — up 15.8 per cent to 19,894, of which more than 1,000 were violent. Particularly dangerous are the ‘autonomous Nationalists’ who gather at demonstrations as the so-called ‘Black block’ and cause violent clashes with left-wing demonstrators.
  • The number of crimes by left-wing supporters also rose in 2008 to 3,124, up from 2,765 in the previous year. Some 701 of those crimes were violent.

           — Hat tip: AC[Return to headlines]

Italy: More Female Berlusconi Erotic Party Guests Emerge, Say Prosecutors

Milan, 1 April — (AKI) — Around 10 more young women who attended erotic parties at Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s villa in northern Italy last year have emerged, according to Milan prosecutors spearheading a prostitution probe. The new names come on top of a previous list of 32 women prosecutors allege were guests at the parties.

The teenage Moroccan dancer nicknamed ‘Ruby’ was among the women, who were paid to attend the 74-year-old premier’s erotic parties and in her case and that of some other girls, to have sex with him, prosecutors say.

A judge has ordered Berlusconi to stand trial for having sex with ‘Ruby’ on 6 April, following a request from the prosecutors.

Paying for sex is not illegal in Italy, but it becomes a crime when the prostitute is below 18 years of age.

‘Ruby’, whose real name is Karima El Mahroug, is now 18, but at the time of her sexual encounters with Berlusconi last year was 17, according to prosecutors.

She and Berlusconi deny they had sex but El Mahroug admits she received a car, cash and jewellery from the premier, who claims he saw she needed help.

Berlusconi is also being tried for abuse of office as prosecutors allege he pressured police to release El Mahroug from detention over an unrelated theft charge to cover up his relationship with her.

If convicted of abuse of office, he could be jailed for up to 12 years. Frequenting underaged prostitutes carries a penalty of up to three years behind bars.

Prosecutors have over 800 pages of wiretap transcripts and financial documents which they say contain ‘obvious’ evidence that Berlusconi is guilty of the crimes for which he has been sent for a fast-track trial.

A news anchorman for one of Berlusconi’s TV channels who has been targeted by the prostitution probe, Emilio Fede, recruited’ El Mahroug as a 16-year-old at a beauty contest, according to prosecutors.

Fede, one of three Berlusconi associates targeted by the prostitution probe, spotted El Mahroug at the beauty pageant in the southern Italian city of Taormina in September 2009, prosecutors claim.

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

Italy: Maldini Indicted for ‘Bribing Tax Official’

Soccer legend ‘paid to avoid inspections’, prosecutors claim

(ANSA) — Milan, March 28 — A Milan judge on Monday indicted AC Milan and Italy legend Paolo Maldini on suspicion of bribing a tax official to gain access to internal revenue computers, judicial sources said.

Prosecutors say Maldini, 42, paid a Milan tax official to avoid inspections on a real estate company he was setting up with his wife, Italo-Venezuelan ex-model Adriana Fossa.

According to judicial papers, Maldini allegedly paid internal revenue official and accountant Luciano Bressi regular annual fees of 40,000 euros ($53,000) for his services as well as a “special” off-the-books consultancy for the new company, Velvet SaS, amounting to “at least 185,000 euros” ($250,000)”.

Some 40 others, including top Milan accountants and businessmen, have also been probed in connection with Bressi’s activities at the revenue office.

Bressi was detained in the probe in June 2009.

Police released wiretaps at the time in which Maldini appears to be asking Bressi to run a tax check on a potential partner in the new real estate and construction company he was planning to set up with his wife in Tuscany.

Maldini and Fossa have been married since 1994 and have two sons, both on Milan’s youth books.

Maldini played for Milan for 25 years, winning seven Serie A titles and five European Cup/Champions League trophies.

He played for Italy for 14 years before retiring in 2002 with a then record 126 caps.

Many Italian sports stars have been caught up in tax cases in the past.

They include skier Alberto Tomba; MotoGP riders Valentino Rossi and Loris Capirossi; and former Argentina coach Diego Maradona, who owes around 36 million euros from unpaid taxes from his stint as a player at Napoli between 1984 and 1991.

The latest athletes to have fallen foul of the taxman are two-time former world skiing champion Isolde Kostner and another high-profile Italian skier, Denise Karbon, both suspected of putting money into secret Swiss bank accounts.

Ex-Renault Formula One boss Fabio Briatore last year had his luxury yacht impounded in a probe into dodging EU fuel duty.

Italy has been stepping up its battle against tax evasion as part of its bid to reduce its budget deficit.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Fiat-Chrysler Set to Generate ‘Over 100 Billion’

Stake in US carmaker soon to reach 35%, says Marchionne

(ANSA) — Turin, March 30 — CEO Sergio Marchionne told a shareholders’ meeting Wednesday that he expected Fiat and Chrysler to generate combined revenue of over 100 billion euros by 2014, despite some disappointing recent results from the former.

“In 2014 Fiat will reach a turnover of 64 billion euros, almost double last year’s, over 100 billion with Chrysler,” Marchionne, the CEO of both carmakers, told Fiat shareholders.

The forecast of soaring sales came despite Fiat’s share of the European market dropping to 7.6% in February compared to 9.2% in the same month last year.

Marchionne said Fiat will reverse this even though overall car sales in Europe are expected to fall, thanks to “the launch of new models in the second half of the year”.

Marchionne told Fiat’s first general meeting after its auto businesses were split from its other divisions at the start of this year that the Italian carmaker will soon own more than a third of Chrysler.

“Soon we’ll take the stake in Chrysler up to 35%,” said Marchionne, who aims to merge the two companies in the next few years.

Fiat took a controlling stake in the American carmaker in 2009 under a US government rescue plan and has turned its fortunes around since.

In January Fiat raised its stake in Chrysler from 20 to 25% and Marchionne said this could go up to 51% by the end of this year.

These plans and Marchionne’s comments earlier this year that the merged company’s headquarters could be moved to the United States have sparked fears Fiat’s presence in Italy could diminish.

He subsequently said that Fiat’s “heart will stay in Italy” while stressing that “our base will be in many different places” and that the question of the location of the group’s legal headquarters will not be addressed until 2014.

Fiat Chairman John Elkann emphasized the importance of Fiat’s ties across the Atlantic at Wednesday’s meeting.

“Fiat has returned to making cars and nothing else,” Elkann said.

“To make cars in today’s world, where there are more markets and greater demands, it is important to have a great focus on many markets with many different products.

“That’s precisely why Fiat has always looked towards America as the market to make deals with”. Marchionne also spoke about Fiat’s Italian plants following his controversial drive to introduce revolutionary production deals at them, outside the country’s long-established system of nationally negotiated collective contracts.

Marchionne says factory-specific agreements like the ones struck with moderate unions for Fiat’s Mirafiori plant in Turin and its Pomigliano d’Arco plant near Naples are necessary to make the facilities profitable and be able to press ahead with plans to invest 20 billion euros in Italy over the next three years.

“In 2010 we made major steps forward to obtain greater flexibility at the plants and guarantee them secure future prospects,” he said of the deals, which feature reductions in break times, increases in shifts, measures to cut absenteeism and limits on the ability to strike. FIOM, the engineering workers’ arm of Italy’s biggest and most left-wing union CGIL, has staunchly opposed these deals, saying they breach constitutionally guaranteed labour rights.

Marchionne added that “the degree of use of the Italian plants is low, there’s an evident gap (with the level) of Fiat plants in (the rest of Europe).. the use of the Italian network is 54%”. The address drew stiff criticism from some quarters.

“Marchionne and John Elkann continue to take Italy and the Italian people for a ride,” said Maurizio Zipponi of the opposition Italy of Values party.

“It’s wrong to talk about a gap in production between Italian plants and those of other countries. In Italy the factories are idle or the workers are laid off. The problem isn’t productivity, but not selling cars.

“The fact that Fiat continues to lose market share to other European and international marques shows this completely”. The general meeting approved the annual report for 2010, the last for a single Fiat group following the spin-off of the non-auto divisions into a new company, Fiat Industrial, in January. photo: Fiat Chairman John Elkann and CEO Sergio Marchionne.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy May Give North African Migrants Permits to Roam Europe

Repatriation ‘main solution’ for Tunisians, says Berlusconi

(ANSA) — Rome, April 1 — Italy on Friday threatened to respond to an alleged lack of cooperation from Europe in handling its migrant crisis by issuing the North African arrivals with permits that would enable them to roam its neighbouring countries.

The Italian government has repeatedly bemoaned a “flagrant” lack of assistance from Europe in dealing with some 20,000 mostly Tunisian migrants, singling out France for criticism after it blocked Tunisian migrants at the French-Italian border.

The French government said it has the right to stop undocumented migrants fleeing turmoil in North Africa from entering its territory without breaking the Schengen Agreement that abolished border controls in much of mainland Europe.

But this would no longer be the case if Italy issued the migrants with temporary papers. “In cases where the migrant declares their intention to go to other countries, we could grant them temporary residence permits with the right to freely circulate around Europe,” Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi told a press conference.

Berlusconi, speaking after a meeting with officials and regional governors on relocating migrants amid efforts to end an emergency on the swamped southern island of Lampedusa, said many of the Tunisians wanted to be reunited with family members in France and Germany.

Interior Minister Roberto Maroni said issuing temporary permits would be a “way to make Europe realize that we have a legislative instrument to apply the principle of solidarity when faced with a total refusal to cooperate”.

Italy won support Friday from European Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom, who reprimanded France for turning back the migrants at its border.

Malmstrom added after returning from a visit to Tunisia that the EU was ready to do more to help, while stressing that it had already made a contribution.

“Italy has received a considerable amount (of European money),” she said. “We have already told Italy that more money remains available.

“We are ready to talk about other funds when this money runs out and discuss what can be done for the future”. She also announced that Tunisia was willing to negotiate on repatriations and that her home nation Sweden had offered to take a “few hundred” refugees to have fled conflict in Libya.

Aside from the option of giving migrants papers to travel elsewhere in Europe, Berlusconi stressed that Italy saw repatriation as the “main solution” for the Tunisians ahead of a visit to Tunis on Monday.

The premier told Friday’s meeting of officials and regional governors, which failed to reach an agreement for a series of temporary camps to accommodate the migrants meaning another had to be set for Tuesday, that Italy was aiming to repatriate 100 Tunisians a day, sources at the meeting said.

At the press conference, however, the premier said that a final decision could not be made until Monday’s meeting with the Tunisian government that assumed control after Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s regime was ousted in January. He added that a credit-and-aid package for Tunisia worth 100 million euros will open in two weeks following an agreement reached last week with the new Tunisian government to help stem the tide of migrants to Italy’s shores.

“We are committed to (providing) credit lines and equipment to the police working on migrant control for a value of around 100 million euros by mid-April,” Berlusconi told a press conference.

On Friday efforts to transfer around 3,900 migrants left on Lampedusa were temporarily suspended because of bad conditions at sea.

But around 1,700 migrants who had been transferred to the mainland were taken to a huge camp at the southern town of Manduria, near Taranto.

Interior Ministry Undersecretary Alfredo Mantovano, who is from those parts, tended his resignation Wednesday evening in protest at the number of migrants being moved there.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: MPs Row Again After ‘Save-Premier’ Move

Parliamentary officers ‘deplore’ defence minister’s conduct

(ANSA) — Rome, March 31 — Italian MPs hurled insults at each other in parliament for the second day running Thursday in a row over the latest move seen as favouring Premier Silvio Berlusconi in his judicial woes.

Justice Minister Angelino Alfano threw his parliamentary membership card at the opposition benches, a day after Defence Minister Ignazio La Russa goaded rivals after being pelted with coins by anti-government demonstrators on his way into the chamber and ended up apparently telling the Speaker to “go to hell”.

A vote on censoring La Russa for the offence to parliamentary dignity was initially put off because officials said there was no precedent for such acts regarding ministers.

But then the college of quaestors, officials who judge parliamentary conduct, said they “deplored” La Russa’s actions.

The opposition had even called for the minister to resign after apparently using an expletive against Speaker Gianfranco Fini, the head of a smaller rival party.

Meanwhile Fini asked Interior Minister Roberto Maroni to report on the anti-government protests outside parliament Wednesday.

Italian media have likened the coin-throwing to an episode that helped hasten late premier Bettino Craxi’s fall from grace in 1993.

The furore blew up Wednesday afternoon after government MPs moved to accelerate a bill that would shorten the statute of limitations for defendants with no criminal record.

According to the opposition, the measure is the umpteenth attempt to help Berlusconi out of a legal problem, a claim the government vehemently denies.

Under the bill, the statute of limitations would be reduced to the maximum possible penalty for a crime plus a sixth, rather than a quarter as at present.

Berlusconi’s critics say this would mean a trial in which he is accused of paying British tax lawyer David Mills for favourable testimony would run out of time in June rather than next year.

The premier has said his MPs have never tried to aid him judicially and claims to be the victim of politically motivated magistrates who are out to “eliminate” him.

Legal experts say the reduced statute bill, dubbed by critics another ‘save-premier’ move, would only affect the Mills trial while three other trials do not risk being timed out.

Two of these concern alleged fraud and embezzlement on TV film rights while the third, opening April 6, is for the alleged use of an underaged prostitute called Ruby and alleged abuse of power to get her out of police custody in an unrelated theft case.

Berlusconi denies the charges and has called witnesses including George Clooney, his girlfriend Elsabetta Canalis and footballer Cristiano Ronaldo as witnesses in his defence.

Clooney says he only ever met Berlusconi to appeal for aid for Darfur while Canalis has denied Ruby’s claim she saw the pair at one of the premier’s incriminated parties.

Ruby, a teen Moroccan runaway and belly dancer who prosecutors say was paid for sex at the age of 17, claims she had sex with Real Madrid star Ronaldo after meeting him at a Milan disco in January 2010.

The star, currently the highest-paid footballer in the world, has denied meeting Ruby or giving her 4,000 euros for sex.

Berlusconi has said his so-called ‘bunga bunga’ parties were “convivial” and harmless soirees and claims to have a secret girlfriend who would have “scratched his eyes out” if they had degenerated into the debauched affairs prosecutors allege.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Spain: Zapatero Suitable Candidate for Only 11% of Spaniards

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, MARCH 28 — Only 11% of Spaniards consider the Prime Minister José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero to be the best candidate for the general election to be held in March 2012, while 57% believe that the PSOE party has “more suitable” candidates to lead the government. This is the result of a survey carried out by DYM for the right-wing newspaper ABC.

The statement shows that the majority of Spaniards (49%) would have preferred the Prime Minister to announce publically his decision over his electoral future at the next Federal Committee on April 2. Only 16% consider the delay in the announcement to be appropriate, while 21% are indifferent.

The Socialist electorate is afraid that the uncertainty regarding Zapatero will affect the local elections due to be held in May. If the general election were held today, the People’s Party would obtain 43.5% of the vote and would gain an outright majority, more than 13.5 percentage points ahead of the PSOE, according to the survey in the liberal newspaper Publico. In the general election of March 2008, the PSOE won 43.6% of the vote to the PP’s 40.1%.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

UK: Why Did My Middle Class Brother Turn Into an Islamic Extremist Who Won’t be Seen on TV With Our Mother if She’s Not Wearing a Veil?

Pressing his loudspeaker tighter into his mousy-brown bush of a beard, Salahuddin’s bright-blue eyes fill with hatred.

‘When the Taliban defeat the allies we will establish Sharia law and take the fight to the enemy,’ he preaches before a baying crowd of extremist friends at a demo in Barking, Greater London.

But just a year ago Salahuddin was known to his middle-class friends and family simply as Rich, a 27-year-old security guard for the BBC.

As a youngster, growing up in the sunny seaside town of Weymouth, Dorset, he harboured dreams of becoming a builder. That was before his transformation.

Now he refuses to use his right hand to shake hands with step-brother Robb Leech from whom he was inseparable last summer on a family holiday to Cyprus.

Instead he uses his ‘dirty’ left hand — the same one he uses after going to the toilet.

Within the space of just six months he has abandoned his family and believes the UK should be run by strict Sharia law — which means cutting off the hands of thieves and stoning women for cheating.

Now, in a controversial new documentary made by his brother, Robb has attempted to understand Rich’s journey throughout this drastic change in lifestyle.

But, during the film, he continues to shock his step-brother with a series of harrowing comments and gestures that would rile most Britons.

During one visit back to his boyhood hometown, Salahuddin blasts local men for ‘looking like women’ — before decrying homosexuality.

In another he refuses to allow his mother to appear in the documentary without a veil as it would bring him dishonour.

Salahuddin states that he would be accountable for it on day of judgement despite his mother having never worn a veil in her life.

He regularly takes to the streets of Whitechapel, East London, where he now lives, to whip up support for the fight to create a global Islamic state.

He has helped recruit new members to the religion, many of whom are also white, middle-class citizens who have turned their backs on the society they grew up in.

And alongside this band of new white ‘brothers’, Salahuddin regularly takes part in angry confrontations while protesting against Western Society.

Shocking images in the documentary capture him on camera condemning soldiers as ‘murderers’ as they march through Barking, East London, on arrival back from Afghanistan.

The platoon, which had lost five men during bloody conflicts, is hit by a barrage of vitriol by the group of Islamist extremists, one of which is Salahuddin.

And, with grieving relatives meters away within earshot, he takes to the megaphone and screams: ‘You foolish people risk your life for these degenerate rulers — these people who continue to guide you into the hellfire.

‘Wake yourself up from your slumber and educate yourself, you foolish people.’

During the documentary, Salahuddin meets a young, enthusiastic Muslim convert named Ben, 17, whose mother is clearly concerned by his new religion.

When quizzed by Salahuddin, he admits in front of his mother he is willing to die for the Islamist cause leaving her speechless and close to tears.

The woman, Maggie, says: ‘I knew you were passionate — but I’m speechless.’

Under Salahuddin’s guidance, teenage Ben gets circumcised and even creates an extremist style video where he explains his new found views.

Together they attend frightening conferences held by hate figure Anjem Choudary, leader of the radical Muslim group, Islam4UK -later banned under Britain’s anti-terror laws.

And they even take to the streets to burn American flags in retaliation to U.S. Pastor Terry Jones’ threat of burning the Koran.

Robb said: ‘I made this film to try and help my family understand it all.

‘The idea that we are all dirty and the only way to escape eternal suffering and the hellfire is to join Rich’s group of fundamentalists really bothers me.

‘It doesn’t matter how charitable, good-willed or selfless you are if you don’t conform you will burn.’

My Brother The Islamist charts the brothers’ relationship — and Robb’s attempt to understand why the person he’d once looked up to as a teenage role model could so strongly reject all that his family, and the Western world, believes in.

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]


Bosnia Mediator Intervenes, Draws Ire

This week marked a decisive turn in the continuing confusion over who has true political authority in Bosnia and Herzegovina, or BiH. Leaders of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s diverse political and ethnic groups have reacted strongly to a decision made last Monday by the international administrator tasked with overseeing Bosnia’s delicately balanced federal political system.

On Monday, High Representative Valentin Inzko, the international administrator tasked with overseeing the implementation of the Dayton Peace Accords, overturned the Central Elections Commission’s ruling that the government established by BiH’s larger entity, the Federation, was illegal. The decision, Inzko’s second intervention related to state-level and constitutional matters since January, would ensure that the Federation government could continue functioning until the Constitutional Court rendered a final decision on the matter.

Inzko said the decision was a joint conclusion reached by members of the Peace Implementation Council, or PIC, the 55-member body composed of countries and international agencies, charged with implementing the Dayton Peace Accords. The High Representative’s only comment to journalists on the matter was that “the Constitutional Court will decide.”

But the high court did not have an opportunity to issue a verdict because Borjana Kristo, outgoing president of the Federation, and Federation Minister of Finance Vjekoslav Bevanda rescinded the complaint that they lodged with the Constitutional Court. Kristo said it was due to the court’s decision to hold the session behind closed doors.

“The proceeding is well regulated and says that the public can be excluded only in cases of state, military or some other secret is involved,” Kristo said on Thursday at a lecture in Mostar to the student group affiliated with her party, the Croatian Democratic Union of BiH, or HDZ BiH.

Monday’s intervention came two weeks after the controversial decision to constitute the Federation Parliament without two nationalist Croat parties, HDZ 1990 and HDZ BiH. The decision followed months of political wrangling and failed talks overseen by High Representative Inzko. The parties that formed the government, the Social Democratic Party, or SDP, and the Party of Democratic Action, or SDA, lauded Inzko’s decision, but the reaction from hard-line Croat parties and Serb parties has been negative.

The main Croat parties, who could not reach agreement with the SDP and SDA to form the government, said in a joint statement that the high representative’s decision “represents the introduction of an emergency in the state and the destruction of constitutional order.”

Inzko “violated his authority by suspending the decision of the Central Election Commission of BiH”, said Kristo, claiming that the decision was an affront to the commission’s and the Constitutional Court’s authorities. “The confidence in the work and validity of decisions of the BiH court, which in regular legal procedure should respond to the decision of the election commission, has been brought into question. By ignoring these two important state institutions, the rule of law as one of the fundamental postulates of the functioning of each country has been questioned and threatened.”

Mladen Bosic, president of the Serb Democratic party, or SDS, accused the Office of the High Representative for meddling too much in Federation affairs.

“As in previous cases, such interventions by the Office of the High Representative will not contribute to calming the situation, but will deepen the crisis. It is evident that the high representative in this way derogates the institutions of BiH and it will have far-reaching consequences for the future of BiH,” Bosic told reporters on Monday.

Milorad Dodik, president of BiH’s predominantly Serb entity, Republika Srpska, voiced his displeasure with the high representative’s continuing presence in BiH.

“If the high representative remains in Bosnia and Herzegovina, we expect that his next decision will be a suspension of elections and that the government will then be smoothly formed by the Office of the High Representative — if BiH survives until then,” Dodik said in a written statement on Tuesday.

Inzko issued his decision after a March 24 ruling by the Central Elections Commission that the elections for Federation president and vice-president, as well as members of its upper house, had not been compliant with BiH election law.

The Office of the High Representative’s decision and the fact that it cannot be overturned by the Constitutional Court mean that the Federation Parliament can be considered legitimate, a precondition that now ensures that formation of the state-level government can begin, but this process too, will be arduous.

Dodik and Dragan Covic, leader of the biggest Croat party, held a joint conference in Mostar on March 25 announcing that they would join forces to form the state-level government. Despite previously stated disagreements on policy issues, the pair appears to be united in their separatist rhetoric.

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

Serbia: EU Membership Not “Easy and Comfortable Ride”, Official Warns Belgrade

Belegrade, 29 March (AKI) — European Union commissioner for enlargement Stefan Fuele told Serbian officials on Tuesday that Serbia may get a status of an official candidate for EU membership this year, but he warned it wasn’t an “easy and comfortable ride”.

Addressing Serbian parliament on a visit to Belgrade, Fuele said Serbia has to fulfil numerous obligations before 12 October when the EU Commission is expected to rule on its candidacy status.

“Serbia must declare war on organized crime,” continue judiciary reforms, eradicate corruption and bring its laws in harmony with the European standards, Fuele said.

As a key precondition for Serbia’s advances towards the EU, Fuele spelled out the arrest of the two remaining fugitives wanted by the UN war crimes tribunal, wartime Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic, and Goran Hadzic, a wartime leader of rebel Serbs in Croatia.

“Cooperation with the Hague tribunal will be of a key importance for the conclusions of EU commission as well as for the decision of 27 member states,” Fuele said.

It depends entirely on the government in Belgrade at what pace the country will move towards EU membership, Fuele pointed out.

“You have that opportunity this year,” Fuele said. “We gave you the road map, key areas which Serbia included in its action plan and which have to be realized,” he added.

Fuele praised Belgrade and Pristina for starting talks this month on issues which should improve lives of people in Kosovo, which declared independence in February 2008.

Belgrade opposes Kosovo independence, recognized by 75 countries, including the United States and 22 EU members. But Brussels insists the two countries should establish “good neighbourly relations” before joining the EU.

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

Serbia, Slovenia and Croatia Eye Joint Ventures in North Africa and Russia

Belgrade, 1 April — (AKI) — The leaders of Serbia, Slovenia and Croatia agreed at informal talks outside Belgrade on Friday to step up mutual economic cooperation and promote joint ventures abroad.

Slovenian prime minister Borut Pahor, Croatia’s Jadranka Kosor and Serbian president Boris Tadic (photo) said economic cooperation was the basis for rebuilding ties between the three former Yugoslav republics after 1991-1995 war.

The trio met in an informal atmosphere in a 19th century castle in Smederevo, east of Belgrade.

Pahor, whose country is a member of the European Union, pledged his support to Croatia and Serbia in their bids to join the 27-member bloc. Croatia is expecting to join the EU next year and Serbia hopes to obtain official candidate status by the end of 2010

The neighbours agreed that there was ample scope for joint ventures between Slovenian, Croatian and Serbian companies in foreign markets, especially in Russia and in North African countries.

Construction, defence, automobile, timber and food industries were sectors where there was potential for such joint ventures, the leaders said.

Kosor and Tadic said constructions companies from their countries had been hit by the conflict in Libya, where they were mainly involved in the building sector.

Croatia and Serbia have sued each other for genocide in the Hague-based International Court of Justice, but Kosor said that issue wasn’t on the agenda.

Tadic said withdrawal of the suits “would be appropriate solution, but it is up to the two governments”.

Kosor said the priority of her government was to resolve the fate of some 13,000 missing persons whose destiny has been unknown since the end of war in 1995.

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

North Africa

Egypt Moved by Deep Waters

By Victor Kotsev

TEL AVIV — By and large, the international media lost interest in Egypt even before former president Hosni Mubarak was ousted. “The problem with the Egypt story,” wrote The Globe and Mail columnist John Doyle on 10 February, “is that most American and Canadian viewers don’t actually care much about Egyptians”.

Subsequently, as Libya, Japan, Bahrain and Yemen exploded, many pundits were also overwhelmed. Meanwhile, transparency is on the decline in both domestic and foreign Egyptian policy, and several major crises are taking shape down the road. The future is precarious, and it is a time when Egypt needs all the attention, and pressure for transparency, it can get.

On Wednesday, 11 days after Egyptians voted in their first referendum on amendments to the 1971 constitution, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which has held the lion’s share of power in the country since the ouster of Mubarak, issued an “Interim Constitutional Declaration” (ICD). In an ironic twist, the referendum and the declaration pitted the old enemies — the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and Mubarak’s National Democratic Party (NDP) — against the liberal youth movement.

The liberals were particularly disappointed by the ICD, pointing out that the declaration includes 80% of the old constitution, including “an outdated socialist quota” stipulating that half of the seats in the parliament are reserved for workers and farmers. A lot of ambiguity remained concerning when and by whom a more permanent constitution would be drafted, and what that would look like. “Any modification or amendment of the current constitution will not achieve the aspirations of the people” said Ayman Nour, one of the leaders of the youth movement and former presidential candidate, in a recent interview with Asharq Al-Awsat.

At this point, the ICD was not a major surprise: the declaration followed, with some additions, the amendments considered at the referendum. Tension has been brewing for some time now, and another leader of the liberals, Mohamed ElBaradei, was physically attacked by Islamists during the voting. The “25 January Revolutionary Youth Coalition,” including ElBaradei and Nour, largely voted “No” in the polls, over concerns that the changes were insufficient and would not allow enough time for the opposition to organize for the elections.

The amendments, which opened the way for parliamentary and presidential elections this summer, benefited unfairly already established parties such as the NDP and the MB, the liberals claimed. The “25 January,” on the other hand, considers itself a movement, and lacks grassroots party structures that are of vital importance in elections. It has threatened to organize a new “million-man protest” on Friday, April 8, if broad demands, including tougher measures against former Mubarak regime officials, are not met.

Previously, I projected that the army and the Muslim Brotherhood may prop up a secular democratic government with hopes of using it as a scapegoat when the economy takes a turn to the worse, the political reforms stagnate, and disillusionment sets in. [1] Despite the spike in tensions, this is still a possibility, and it is important to note that the three main presidential candidates so far, Amr Moussa, Mohamed ElBaradei and Ayman Nour, are representatives of the liberal opposition. Moussa, who is Secretary General of the Arab League and a former Egyptian prime minister, is considered the front-runner in the still-informal race; his approach to the amendments has also been the more conciliatory than that of ElBaradei and Nour.

A government without a real power base is a disaster for democracy at a minimum, and most likely for the general well-being of society as well. The alternatives are not very good — or clear — either. Meanwhile, sectarian violence is soaring. Thirteen people were killed in clashes between Muslims and Coptic Christians in Cairo on March 9, an incident that came on the heels of several deadly attacks against Copts (who make up at least 10% of Egypt’s population) in the last months. More recently, on Sunday a group of terrorists attacked the Egypt-Israel natural gas pipeline for the second time in two months; the bomb they planted failed to explode.

Other worrisome internal developments include reports that women protesters were subjected to torture and humiliation by the army last month, including pseudo-scientific forced virginity tests. [2] Overall, Dina Guirguis’ analysis, published by the Jerusalem Post, appears to capture the situation very well: “In Egypt’s transition, one step forward and two steps back.”

Egypt’s recent foreign policy choices raise many questions as well. Most analysts have argued that Mubarak’s ouster was beneficial for a more active Egyptian involvement in the region, and indeed there are signs of activity, but these are confusing and worrisome signs. Egypt announced that it would not interfere in Libya “for reasons linked to our internal security and the large number of Egyptians present,” but consistent reports are coming in that Cairo is deeply involved in supplying weapons to the rebels in Benghazi. Moreover, in the beginning of the Libya crisis the prestigious American think-tank Stratfor cited sources claiming that Egypt’s special forces had repeatedly entered its western neighbor.

Meanwhile, at least prior to the unrest in Syria, a detente of sorts had started to take shape between Egypt, on the one hand, and Iran and Syria, on the other. According to a report in the Israeli daily Ha’aretz, Egypt’s de facto ruler, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, sent a letter to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad last month, expressing his hope “to open a new page in the relations between Syria and Egypt on the basis of the ties that existed in the past and those we hope to maintain”. Assad responded positively. Weeks earlier, in late February, two Iranian warships were permitted to pass through the Suez Canal, for the first time since 1979.

This development is confusing for several reasons: firstly, in light of the Libya crisis. There are indications that while the exchange of letters was going on, Syria assisted Gaddafi militarily whereas Egypt supported the rebels. The link suggests a double-game played by both. Unconfirmed reports claim that a major objective of Syria and Iran might have been the weapons stockpiles (perhaps including chemical weapons) that fell in the hands of the opposition and which they wanted for Hezbollah and Hamas. If this is true, it is uncertain what Egypt’s role might have been.

Secondly, a warming of relations between Egypt, Syria, and Iran complicates things enormously for Israel. Egypt’s rulers have repeatedly asserted that they intend to uphold the peace treaty with the Jewish State, but some have called for revisions. When violence between Israel and Gaza militants escalated last week, Egypt leaned forcefully on Israel not to respond harshly.

Simultaneously, however, Egypt pressured Hamas and Islamic Jihad as well. Gaza has enjoyed a relative easing of the blockade since Mubarak left, but for the militants there a detente between Egypt and Syria is not necessarily a good thing. Hamas had carved a niche for itself by playing, to a certain extent, Cairo and Damascus off of each other. Israel often plays the role of a wild card in this relationship. Last week’s violence may well have had something to do with that. Stratfor speculates that it came about because “certain Palestinian factions were making a concerted effort to provoke Israel into a military confrontation that could have seriously undermined the position of the military-led regime in Egypt and created a crisis in Egyptian-Israeli relations”.

All this was further complicated by the unrest in Syria, which most likely will hurt relations with Egypt. A brutal crackdown by the Syrian regime would make it harder for Egypt’s military rulers to support it. Moreover, some analysts have speculated that Assad aimed to divert the international attention away from the unrest in his country; and this would be at Egypt’s and Israel’s expense.

For Egypt, unrest in Syria also highlights its regional rivalry with Turkey. “Turkey is deeply concerned by the Syrian disturbances: Damascus has been the cornerstone of Ankara’s ambitious Arab policy,” Patrick Seale writes in Foreign Policy. “Turkey’s loss, however, may turn out to be Egypt’s gain.”

Turkey and Egypt are two major Muslim powers in the Mediterranean, and have historically competed for influence over the Arab and Muslim world. Some have speculated that their rivalry might lead them to intervene in other countries in the region that are experiencing unrest, and thus to step in for the United States whose influence is in decline. How exactly their relationship will develop is uncertain.

Independently from these other crises, Egypt is facing a challenge to its south. On Wednesday, Ethiopia announced plans to build a large dam on the Nile despite Egypt’s and Sudan’s claims to most of the water of the river. The latter claims are based on treaties that date back to colonial times, and six upstream countries — Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda Tanzania and Burundi — have for years called for these treaties to be revised. The dispute is particularly bitter in light of the severe water crisis that is plaguing the entire region, and, according to Reuters, there are “concerns” that it “may spark a war”.

Overall, Egypt is facing formidable challenges, both in its domestic and foreign policy. Elements of the old regime are deeply entrenched in all spheres of social life, and a genuine transition to democracy would require a high level of transparency and consensus-building in the political processes that is not currently happening. Internationally, too, Egypt is struggling to find its place in a region engulfed in turmoil, intrigues, and profiteering. While it could use some of the attention that helped topple its authoritarian former president, the world is looking the other way.


1. More strife in store for Egypt, Asia Times Online, Mar 2, 2011. 2. Egyptian Women Protesters Forced to Take ‘Virginity Tests’, Amnesty International, Mar 23, 2011.

Victor Kotsev is a journalist and political analyst based in Tel Aviv.

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

Egyptians Rally in Cairo to ‘Save the Revolution’

Tens of thousands of Egyptians gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square Friday, issuing calls to “save the revolution” that ousted president Hosni Mubarak and to rid of the country of the old regime.

The Youth Coalition Movement, an umbrella grouping those who launched the uprising against Mubarak, called this week for a new demonstration to demand judgment of the corrupt and those who fired live rounds on protesters.

The young pro-democracy activists also want the country’s institutions purged of members of the former ruling National Democratic Party as well as the restitution of “the millions stolen from the people”.

Protesters chanted “The people want to purify the country” and “Marshal, Marshal, legitimacy stems from Tahrir.”

They were referring to Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, the head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces who has been de facto head of state since 18 days of popular protests forced Mubarak to resign on February 11.

Friday’s weekly Muslim prayers in Tahrir Square were attended by 15,000 people, according to state news agency MENA, but in the afternoon twice as many protesters thronged the central Cairo plaza.

Egyptian courts have forbidden several former ministers, politicians and businessmen from leaving the country, as well as freezing their assets pending the findings of an enquiry into corruption and embezzlement.

Mubarak and his family were bound by the same restrictions in February.

Nevertheless, pro-democracy activists say they fear a return to the past and the “confiscation” of the revolution.

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

Egypt: Armed Forces: Parliamentary Elections in September

(ANSAmed) — CAIRO, MARCH 28 — The next parliamentary elections in Egypt — where the parliament was dissolved around two months ago — will be held in September, while a date for the presidential elections has not been scheduled yet. The announcement was made by a member of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces, which manages the country since the resignation of former President Mubarak, Mamdouh Shaheen.

Shaheen added that the constitutional statement — which specifies details on the amendments to articles of the Constitution that were approved in the referendum of March 19 and on other regulations regarding parliamentary and presidential elections — will be published tomorrow or the day after tomorrow. People are looking out to this statement, since it defines the terms of the upcoming political developments in Egypt, on which a lively debate has been started. Regarding the presidential elections, before the revolution scheduled to take place in September, yesterday well-informed sources quoted by the independent daily Al Masr al Youm mentioned “a strong tendency in the Supreme Council of Armed Forces to hold the elections in June 2012, so that the new Constitution is ready before the election”.

The same sources said that delay in the publication of the constitutional statement has been caused by the ongoing debate between the political parties.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Ex-Mujahedeen Help Lead Libyan Rebels

DARNA, Libya—Two former Afghan Mujahedeen and a six-year detainee at Guantanamo Bay have stepped to the fore of this city’s military campaign, training new recruits for the front and to protect the city from infiltrators loyal to Col. Moammar Gadhafi.

The presence of Islamists like these amid the opposition has raised concerns, among some fellow rebels as well as their Western allies, that the goal of some Libyan fighters in battling Col. Gadhafi is to propagate Islamist extremism.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Inside the Libyan Rebel Garage: Churning Out Homemade Weapons

For now, the Western coalition has focused on air support for Libyan rebels rather than arms supplies. So beleaguered anti-Gaddafi forces have resorted to constructing their own weapons. Here’s how.

Guido Ruotolo

Their eyes are smiling. The calculations were correct and the missile sank into the sea, five kilometers (3.1 miles) from shore. It has been an unforgettable day for the Benghazi rebels. Hopefully it will not be needed, but the mere fact that they have created a missile launcher that can fire its deadly load up to 21.4 km (13.2 miles) away has boosted morale. Over the past four days, they have built ten, and now the rebels’ military strategists will have to decide whether to position the missiles as defenses for Benghazi, or to use them on the battlefield.

In a warehouse on the outskirts of Beida, a city a few hours by car from Benghazi, master locksmith “Colonel Smith” is at work. The warehouse has been transformed into a weapons factory. Colonel Smith and Omar, an electrician, are proud of their work because the test-run of the prototype they invented was a great success. They have created this arsenal of sophisticated weapons with recycled material.

Their creation is a “light” missile launcher with a range of 21.4 kilometers, mounted on a pickup truck so it can be transported easily. Colonel Smith (a nickname taken from one of the protagonists of the A-Team television series) proudly shows off his recently-finished prototype: a pickup on which he has mounted the base of a machine gun and four three-meter long tubes capable of firing ammunition. Omar the electrician explains how he invented a system of connecting tubes with a manual switch, as a substitute for sophisticated computers, to launch the missiles singly or in succession.

“This battery is from 1975,” Colonel Smith explains. “It is capable of launching its missiles in 20 seconds. In a situation of close combat, such as urban guerrilla warfare, it is complicated to move a heavy truck. By building an agile firing point like a modified pick-up truck, you can move the vehicle quickly once the missiles have been launched to avoid becoming an enemy target.

“Colonel Smith” is not some type of Libyan Rambo. He has a relaxed air, a beard and wears mechanics overalls. The production line, consisting of eight welders for four pick-ups at a time, only stops at prayer time. Muammed is the driver of the pick-up, and demonstrates its features. It is armored, weighs four tons and has three self-defense systems. “It emits smoke,” Muammad explains, “gives an electric shock to anyone who approaches it, and shoots nails on the road.”

Listening to the rebels talk, it could be one of James Bond’s cars. Gaddafi used it in the past to suppress demonstrations, for example in Derna, “where they followed, ran down and killed two protestors.” In the space of four days, Colonel Smith has delivered his first ten light missile launchers. He is proud of his work. Now he’s waiting for the Libyan National Council, the interim self-governing organism of liberated Libya, to answer that ever important tactical question: position the prized new hardware to defend Benghazi, or take them to the frontline?

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

Islamists Poised to Fill Egypt Vacuum

Islamists’ reactions to the overwhelming approval by voters last month of changes to the Egyptian constitution have triggered a tidal wave of concern that religious movements are growing stronger amid the current power vacuum.

One video, made by a Salafi Muslim after the referendum results were announced, caused a particular stir when it was broadcast on YouTube and circulated among Facebook users in Egypt.

“I first heard good news that it [the referendum result] was ‘yes’; God is the greatest. This was the battle of ballot boxes that said ‘yes.’ Isn’t this the democracy that they want?” the maker of the video said. “It said ‘yes’ for Islam and those who think they can’t live in such a country can leave and go to any other place; U.S. and Canadian visas are available.”

Such comments have sparked debate about whether the results will boost the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood and members of the former ruling party.

“Most of the voters chose ‘yes’ after a huge campaign saying that the referendum was on Article 2 of the constitution, a change that wasn’t included from the beginning,” said Hafez Abu-Seda, head of the Egyptian organization for human rights. According to Abu-Seda, this means the results of the referendum are not a real answer to the questions asked.

The article in question emphasizes the country’s Islamic identity by stating that the state religion is Islam and the principle of shariah is the main source of legislation.

More than 77 percent of voters, or 14 million people out of 18 million, voted to approve the constitutional amendments March 19, less than two weeks after they were announced. Critics say this allows very limited time to explain the proposed changes to the people.

“The date of the referendum was announced March 8 and it wasn’t enough to make a wide-ranging social dialogue,” said Ahmed Samih, the head of the Andalus Institute for Tolerance and Anti-Violence Studies. “A social dialogue doesn’t mean the Muslim Brotherhood holding popular conferences in all provinces telling people to vote ‘yes’ in the referendum,” he said.

The Muslim Brotherhood and remnants of former President Hosni Mubarak’s ruling party called for a ‘yes’ vote. Analysts said they would benefit the most from an early parliamentary election. Reformers urged a ‘no’ vote, saying they wanted the constitution entirely rewritten.

“We have to learn the lesson and make sure that what happened won’t repeat again during the legislative elections, which will result in the most important parliament in Egyptian history,” said Abu-Seda. He believes mobilizing on a religious basis threatens democracy in Egypt and may even take the country into a sectarian conflict that might be used to justify the return of a dictatorship.

Despite fears raised by Islamists’ behavior after Mubarak stepped down, concerns that reached their peak during the days prior to the referendum, many experts disagreed with the idea that the referendum’s results reflect the power of Islamism.

“More important is the map of the general trend in Egyptian society,” said Dr. Amr al-Shobaky, an analyst of political Islam at the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies. “I think the middle stream that supported the revolution from Jan. 25 until Feb. 12 preferred stability by voting ‘yes’ as a way to rebuild the country through the next step, which is the legislative elections.”

Citing the results of student union elections at Cairo University, in which the Muslim Brotherhood won only 28 percent of the seats, al-Shobaky called for people to not succumb to fear-mongering.

“We must put everything at its real size without falling [victim] to the scarecrows,” al-Shobaky said, calling on liberals, leftists and members of other secular movements in Egypt to do more to reach the vast majority of the people and convince them of their stances, just as the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups do.

“This imposes a challenge on the civil-society powers that shouldn’t rely on acting through Facebook and Twitter only,” said al-Shobaky, calling for “a firm law that forbids using religious slogans and places of worship for political aims before the legislative elections that should take place within six months.”

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

Libya: Rebels Forced to Withdraw From Brega Again

(AGI) Brega — Libyan rebels have withdrawn from Brega once again after claiming to have retaken it last Saturday. The strategically placed oil town lies between Benghazi and Tripoli, 800km East of the capital. It is a place of great significance, the scene of many a battle between the rebels and Muammar Gaddafi loyalists. The rebels decided on a strategic withdrawal from Brega due to recent events in the area.

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

Mr. Obama’s Libyan Adventure

Our unclear mission objectives mean that we’ve become a peacekeeping force with no goal or exit strategy.

It’s a lot easier to start a war than it is to finish it, as Mr. Obama is learning on his Libyan adventure. That is why wars are generally entered into after some consideration of the situation on the ground. There is only one excuse for a rush to war—and that is either an imminent threat or in response to an act of war. Such was the case after September 11, and yet even then the United States waited longer to begin bombing the Taliban—than we did before bombing Gaddafi.

Obama rushed in when bombing Libya was popular, and now when it hasn’t he’s rushing out again. The US is ending combat operations almost as soon as it began them to avoid being associated with the failure of the Libyan intervention. Or rather to avoid associating Obama with its failure. Obama was happy to take credit for the fall of Mubarak until the Muslim Brotherhood stepped up to succeed him. He was happy to take credit for toppling Gaddafi until he realized that it wasn’t going to happen without a full bore invasion. The Arab Revolt was cool, but now it isn’t anymore. And Obama doesn’t want to be associated with it anymore. Suddenly it’s last year’s Keffiyah lying in the trash.

Waiting is not a virtue in and of itself—but planning is. That allows you to determine if the rebellion you are intervening to support only consists of a few hundred fighters—some of whom are Al Qaeda. No general would have called for an assault before learning such simple facts and clarifying what the mission was to be. But the Summa Cum Anti-War grad of 2008, who has doubtless read Chris Hedges and Noam Chomsky, and built a grass roots network based entirely on his opposition to the war, had spent too much time studying why war is wrong and not nearly enough time studying how wars are won.

A month ago the Arab League and European leaders were rushing to get on the right side of history. When the Libyan army, which had lost every war it ever fought, was pushed back by a few rebel attacks, the consensus was that Gaddafi was finished. Leading members of his own regime rushed to join the opposition. And the media triumphantly reported an inevitable rebel victory. There was just one problem. This time we were the ones getting our news about the war from ‘Baghdad Bob’.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Paris and London Torpedo EU Foreign Policy

The initiative taken by France and the United Kingdom — two countries which occupy key posts in the European External Action Service — has fragmented the emerging structure of European diplomacy to the point where some commentators have remarked that the EU’s foreign policy should be directly entrusted to Paris and London.

Marta Dassù

In the wake of the euro crisis and in the context of the ongoing war in Libya, what has become of the European Union? Whereas developments in the economic sphere have been largely positive, virtually nothing has happened in the field of foreign policy. Jean Monnet remarked that crises were the driving force in the construction of Europe — an observation that has in part been confirmed by the new pact for the euro, which Europe has finally adopted in response to the debt crisis.

However, the same cannot be said for European intervention in Libya, which for the moment has done nothing to advance the agenda for a common foreign policy. On the contrary, it has demonstrated that the organisation outlined by the Lisbon Treaty — a kind of foreign ministry with an attached diplomatic service — is completely pointless or simply does not work. Some have argued that Catherine Ashton, who has increasingly been the target of all kinds of criticism, is to blame for this situation. However, the reality is that national governments deliberately chose Mrs Ashton for a reason: they specifically wanted the High Representative for Foreign Affairs to be a “non-entity” — a stipulation that Baroness Ashton has fulfilled to the letter.

So why is it so difficult to establish a common foreign policy that actually works? Because member states have divergent geopolitical interests — or at least they think they do. Because politicians use international relations as a medium for their own personal PR, and because there is no diplomatic equivalent of economic phenomena like the single currency or the common institutions linked to the single market.

That is not to say that there is no conflict between national economic interests, but that European initiatives benefit from the conviction that the advantages of belonging to an integrated economic zone outweigh the disadvantages, which for the moment continues to hold sway. This is not the case in the field of foreign policy, and the war in Libya is a case in point. France, which stumbled in its handling of events in Tunisia, is now eager to establish a new basis for its influence in the Mediterranean region — a position not shared by Germany, whose sphere of political influence is mainly focused on Eastern and Central Europe and whose trading interests are mainly in India and China. As a result, Berlin views the war as a pointless and costly venture.

The failure to see eye-to-eye on the issue has resulted in a paradox: for the first time ever, two European countries (France and the United Kingdom) have led the way in taking the initiative in an international crisis, but at the same time, Europe’s common foreign and security policy has been completely blown apart.

Naturally, Paris and London do not see it that way: they believe they are acting “on behalf” of Europe, because they are the two European countries with the fire power to do so. However, the perception in other European countries is that France and the UK have “taken over” from Europe, and that amounts to quite a difference — especially in the context of last November’s Franco-British agreement on military cooperation, which has not advanced the agenda for European defence. France and the UK account for close to 50% of European military spending and they are the only EU member states to have nuclear weapons and permanent seats on the UN Security Council, but they have no intention of allowing their bilateral cooperation to be watered down by a European “institution” that would not be under their control, and the European Defence Agency, which recently appointed a French woman as its chief executive, has never really taken off. Finally, the conflict in Libya has also revealed the limitations of Europe’s existing military capacity: to intervene France and Britain have been obliged to use US-made Tomahawk missiles, and to launch missions from Italian airbases.

Notwithstanding questions about their commitment to European policies in foreign affairs and defence, France and the United Kingdom have succeeded in monopolising most of the key jobs in the European External Action Service (EEAS), which is increasingly aligned with positions adopted in London and Paris. In this context, if we want a European foreign policy that works, we might as well follow the advice voiced by the director of the Centre for European Reform think tank in London, Charles Grant, who recommends that it should be subcontracted to Paris and London, in accordance with the principle of “decentralisation” as outlined in the Lisbon Treaty.

When ideas like this begin to circulate, there is every reason for concern. There are number of precedents — notably Suez, Algeria and Ben Ali — that are there to remind us of this fact…

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

Sirte: Eight Civilians Killed During Airstrikes. Apostolic Vicar: “Pray for Libya”

Interviewed by AsiaNews, Mgr. Martinelli, stresses that the population is suffering from the NATO military operation against the Gaddafi regime. Lack of water, food and fuel in affected cities. The prelate affirms that the Church is there to serve the Libyan people and the many Christian migrants in the country. “If the purpose is to protect civilian life — he says — instead they are destroying it.”

Tripoli (AsiaNews) — The NATO airstrikes in Libya have left eight more civilian casualties in Sirte, especially women and children, and over 40 deaths among the ranks of the Gaddafi military. This is confirmed by Mgr. Giovanni Innocenzo Martinelli, Vicar Apostolic of Tripoli. “The effects of war are being felt — says the archbishop — water, food and fuel are becoming scarce in the city.” Archbishop Martinelli points out that the bombs are crippling the population.

“Today — he continues — there were more than 50 abortions in the hospital in Tripoli, due to the the trauma of the war.” According to the archbishop “a bomb can not accurately destroy a military site, instead it has unforeseen consequences that can affect innocent people, homes and hospitals. If the purpose is to defend civilian life in reality, they are destroying it”.

Despite the fighting and explosions, Mgr. Martinelli said that the Church is very present and continues her work, especially among the many migrant Christians still in Libya, offering their services in hospitals and social work. “The people — he says — come to Church, there are those who feel the need to gather spiritually, to be together. Today, more than 200 people attended the Mass that we celebrate every Friday, a day of celebration for Muslims. “

The prelate stresses that so far the Church has not suffered directly, but is particularly saddened by what is happening. “We are at the service of the Libyan people — he explains — in addition to the religious sisters who work in the social and medical field, there are also many Filipino Christian girls who work in hospitals. It is quite hard for them to live and serve the people in this difficult reality in various hospitals in Libya”. According to the prelate the Church’s role in this war is to bear witness to a service of love and charity, especially to the wounded and those who suffer.

In terms of humanitarian aid, Mgr. Martinelli points out that currently the International policy is against any interference. “Libya is considered a rich country, however, the Church accepts any contribution, especially for foreign migrants, who thanks to indirect aid have been able to return to their countries”.

Archbishop Martinelli launches an appeal and calls on all Christians to pray for Libya. “Only the power of prayer can move man in his desire to pursue in war and violence.” Echoing the words of the Pope at the Angelus on March 27, the prelate says that the “war must end, or at least there must be a truce, so that the parties involved can meet to agree an end of hostilities, especially raising awareness in the African Union. “ (Sc)

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

Tunisia: Magistrates Strike Over Security Issues

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, MARCH 31 — The Tunisian magistrates stage an unannounced strike, today and tomorrow. The decision for the strike, called by the Tunisian union of magistrates which was constituted a few days ago, was taken to ask the authorities to look into the security problems in some of the country’s tribunals, and the threats that are made on a daily basis against many magistrates.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Tunisia: Strikes and Demands After ‘Revolution’

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, APRIL 1 — The wave of euphoria that swept through Tunisia following the happy outcome of the “Jasmine revolution” is yet to subside. This euphoria has been felt in all sectors, from politics (with the exponential increase in parties) to culture (a large number of exhibitions and initiatives glorifying the “revolution”) and society, with an admirable mobilisation in favour of Libyan refugees.

But the spirit that led to the fall of the regime of President Ben Ali has brought the economy a season of protests and demands, particularly, though not exclusively, those concerning wages. The situation is changing constantly, with the daily news almost becoming a bulletin of strikes and closures.

Some companies, such as Poulina, the Tunisian food and agriculture giant, have chosen a mediated solution, partly accepting wage and hour demands by employees, yet strongly opposing attempts from union hardliners to bring down senior officials.

But the situation remains murky, with the emerging picture showing a world of employment that for years has felt badly or underpaid (which indeed it was, at least by European standards) and that is now looking to make up for lost time. In economy, however, there are certain hoops to be jumped through, those of contracts and planning, aspects with which the most radical elements of the trade unions do not intend fully to cooperate. The result of this stand-off concerning a number of the country’s most important industries is that stasis has now been reached, with each side — employers and unions — waiting for the other to make a move, for fear of exposing themselves and favouring the opposition’s attack. The situation is of no use to either side, as the paralysis of industrial relations could put a number of companies out of the market.

This is partly why the Tunisian confederation of industry (Utica), which is also battling with internal wrangling and is now run by a provisional board, has taken an official stance, appealing for a moratorium to bring to an end “protest movements in industries, at least until the end of the year, in order to bring about the revival of economic activity and investments”.

Utica has expressed “indignation at the claims being faced by some Tunisian and foreign companies”. Tunisian industrialists agree that both sides must be kept happy and dialogue between corporate partners strengthened, but they insist that this must not cause a halt in production and with it the economy of a country going through a particularly delicate period, one that is decisive for its future.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Tunisia: Country Divided Over Future Political System, Survey

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, MARCH 29 — Tunisia is almost completely divided with regards to its political and constitutional future, with the various options each recording tallies of around 50%. This is according to a survey quoted today by the newspaper Le Quotidien, which interviewed a target sample of citizens for almost a month, asking, amongst a host of others, questions on the future political system desired in the country.

The result is a reasonably faithful portrayal of the opinions transpiring from the endless stances that have been taken in Tunisian newspapers for the last few weeks.

According to 41% of people interviewed by Global Management Service, the ideal political system is a parliamentary one, while 39% believe that a semi-presidential set-up is the way forward. Meanwhile, 16% of Tunisians are in favour of an unadulterated presidential system.

There is no more uniformity in the survey’s results on the future of the constituent assembly (which, once the new electoral law has been approved, is expected to pave the way for a future Tunisian Parliament). According to 43% of those interviewed, the assembly should be dissolved after the new Constitution has been launched, but 26% hope that the Assembly will become the Chamber of Deputies.

In terms of political orientation, the centre leads the way with 45%, ahead of the right with 14% and the left with 8%. The survey also features some rather surprising tendencies, such as the recognition of the RCD, the party of the former President Ben Ali, as the most well-known political faction. Only yesterday, the party received its official break-up order from the civil court in Tunis.

The RCD, with 20%, is only 2 points ahead of Ennadha, a party with strong Islamic roots that was outlawed for decades.

These figures, however, are not representative of political involvement, with only 4% of Tunisians said to be members of any political party.

The political climate in Tunisian, though, remains highly conditioned by the element of “fear”, which above all regards the issue of security, which 70% of Tunisians believe to be of greatest concern. The unemployment situation is also a worry, as are the democratic capacity of the country, the balance between Tunisian regions, protection of human rights and the independence of the judiciary.

Another factor features high up the list of the Tunisian people’s concerns: the hunt for partisans of the ousted Ben Ali regime.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Tunisia: Anger of Judges, No Political Interference

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, MARCH 28 — For over two decades many of them they were perfectly integrated in the well-oiled power mechanism set up by the former President, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, and his cronies. But when a wind of change began to sweep through Tunisia, bringing with it a rebellion that blew away the regime in the space of a few weeks, they were among the first to take to the streets, to face up to the police in their black robes, to denounce the regime of which, as they recognised, they had been components. Some of them suffered the shame of being thrown out of offices in which they administered anything but justice.

But now, Tunisian judges are afraid that, as time goes by, the road towards the normalisation of the country could mean their subordination to power, a phenomenon they are keen to avoid. The chance to make their demands and proposals has come with the celebration of the national day of judiciary independence, during which slogans like “The people want an independent judiciary” and “The blood of martyrs = the independence of the judiciary” were widely chanted. But there were also chants of “the Superior Council of the Judiciary must be elected”, in answer to the potential creation of a council by the government rather than by members of Tunisia’s judiciary. Ahmed Rahmouni, the chair of the association of Tunisian judges, says that the Day was designed to attract the attention of the public towards the “issue of justice” and to underline the need to reach the consolidation of all guarantees necessary to save the independence of judicial power. Rahmouni believes that Tunisia will only gain real stability if it is able to implement the “dismantling of the system of control over judicial power and judges”.

As part of their demands, magistrates are complaining that they found “closed doors” at the Justice Ministry, especially with regards to the issue of the independence of the judicial order. During the stand-off, magistrates have registered the support of other components of the justice system, including lawyers’ organisations, representatives of civil society, political parties and trade unions.

The delicate nature of the conflict with the government, and more generally with the political system, has led Tunisian judges to give themselves another instrument of representation, namely a first ever trade union, whose constitution states clearly that it will be “independent from all courts, organisations and trade unions” in consideration of the “principle of independence of judicial power and in accordance with democratic principles” defended by the “revolution of freedom and dignity”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

3rd Intifada Facebook Page Translated

The following is an Arabic-to-English translation of a Facebook page calling for a 3rd Palestinian intifada. The page has over 340,000 “likes” and has drawn considerable press attention. Facebook also has drawn attention from the ADL over the page, which it refuses to remove. Here is the full translation of the page:


The Third Palestinian Intifada

Palestine will be liberated

and we will liberate it.

Top (Yellow box):

Alert -

Countries neighboring Palestine will begin to march to Palestine on May 15, after the marches of neighboring states, soon after all Islamic countries will begin to march. Our time is close. Palestine will be liberated and we will liberate it. Our goal now is to reach millions of subscribers to this page before May. Arise, please publish the page in every place. Onward, Palestine.

Copy our link and put it in your profile, and publish it in every picture and video and pages and everywhere.

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After the Tunisian intifada, the Egyptian intifada, and the Libyan intifada

The time has come for the Palestinian intifada

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The first Palestinian intifada was in the year 1987

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           — Hat tip: AC[Return to headlines]

Israel Urges UN to Cancel Goldstone Report on Gaza War

Israel has called on the UN to cancel a report that said it possibly committed war crimes during its 2008-2009 military offensive in Gaza.

The report’s author, South African judge Richard Goldstone, said on Friday that new accounts indicated Israel had not deliberately targeted civilians.

He said that if he had known what he knew now, “the Goldstone Report would have been a different document”.

Israel’s prime minister said the remark meant the report “should be buried”.

Operation Cast Lead was launched in response to repeated rocket attacks on Israeli territory by militants in Gaza. Some 1,400 Palestinians were killed, including hundreds of civilians, as well as 13 Israelis.

Hamas criticised

The Goldstone Report, published in September 2009, concluded that both the Israeli military and militants from the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, which controls Gaza, had committed potential war crimes and possible crimes against humanity during the offensive.

The UN-appointed expert panel led by Mr Goldstone accused Israel of using disproportionate force, deliberately targeting civilians and destroying civilian infrastructure, and using people as human shields.

The report also accused Hamas of deliberately targeting civilians and trying to spread terror through by firing rockets at Israeli towns and cities.

Israel refused to co-operate with the investigation, accusing the panel of being biased, and rejected its accusations. It did, however, conduct independent investigations into more than 400 allegations of misconduct.

In an opinion piece in the Washington Post on Friday, Mr Goldstone wrote that his conclusions about Israel appeared to have been wrong.

He said the Israeli investigations, which were recognised by a UN committee, indicated that “civilians were not intentionally targeted as a matter of policy”.

“We know a lot more today about what happened in the Gaza war,” he explained. “If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document.”

On Saturday, Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement: “Everything we said has been proven to be true.

“Israel does not purposely target civilians and its investigative institutions are competent, while Hamas intentionally fires at innocent civilians and does not investigate anything.

“The fact that Goldstone has backtracked means the report should be buried once and for all.”

Mr Goldstone also noted that Hamas had “done nothing” to examine its rocket attacks, which were “purposefully and indiscriminately aimed at civilian targets”.

There was no immediate response from Hamas.

           — Hat tip: MN[Return to headlines]

Israel Asks U.N. To Annul Goldstone Report on Gaza Attack

(AGI) Tel Aviv — Israel has asked the United Nations to annul the Goldstone Report on the Israeli attack on the Gaza two years ago after the author, South African judge Richard Goldstone, partially retracted his findings of deliberate attacks on civilians by the Israeli Defense Force. The U.N.

inquest on Operation Cast Lead against the Gaza Strip that lasted 22 days, between December 208 and January 2009, maintained that both sides committed war crimes and possible crimes against humanity.

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

Reconsidering the Goldstone Report on Israel and War Crimes

By Richard Goldstone

We know a lot more today about what happened in the Gaza war of 2008-09 than we did when I chaired the fact-finding mission appointed by the U.N. Human Rights Council that produced what has come to be known as the Goldstone Report. If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document.

The final report by the U.N. committee of independent experts — chaired by former New York judge Mary McGowan Davis — that followed up on the recommendations of the Goldstone Report has found that “Israel has dedicated significant resources to investigate over 400 allegations of operational misconduct in Gaza” while “the de facto authorities (i.e., Hamas) have not conducted any investigations into the launching of rocket and mortar attacks against Israel.”

Our report found evidence of potential war crimes and “possibly crimes against humanity” by both Israel and Hamas. That the crimes allegedly committed by Hamas were intentional goes without saying — its rockets were purposefully and indiscriminately aimed at civilian targets.

The allegations of intentionality by Israel were based on the deaths of and injuries to civilians in situations where our fact-finding mission had no evidence on which to draw any other reasonable conclusion. While the investigations published by the Israeli military and recognized in the U.N. committee’s report have established the validity of some incidents that we investigated in cases involving individual soldiers, they also indicate that civilians were not intentionally targeted as a matter of policy.

For example, the most serious attack the Goldstone Report focused on was the killing of some 29 members of the al-Simouni family in their home. The shelling of the home was apparently the consequence of an Israeli commander’s erroneous interpretation of a drone image, and an Israeli officer is under investigation for having ordered the attack. While the length of this investigation is frustrating, it appears that an appropriate process is underway, and I am confident that if the officer is found to have been negligent, Israel will respond accordingly. The purpose of these investigations, as I have always said, is to ensure accountability for improper actions, not to second-guess, with the benefit of hindsight, commanders making difficult battlefield decisions.

While I welcome Israel’s investigations into allegations, I share the concerns reflected in the McGowan Davis report that few of Israel’s inquiries have been concluded and believe that the proceedings should have been held in a public forum. Although the Israeli evidence that has emerged since publication of our report doesn’t negate the tragic loss of civilian life, I regret that our fact-finding mission did not have such evidence explaining the circumstances in which we said civilians in Gaza were targeted, because it probably would have influenced our findings about intentionality and war crimes.

Israel’s lack of cooperation with our investigation meant that we were not able to corroborate how many Gazans killed were civilians and how many were combatants. The Israeli military’s numbers have turned out to be similar to those recently furnished by Hamas (although Hamas may have reason to inflate the number of its combatants).

As I indicated from the very beginning, I would have welcomed Israel’s cooperation. The purpose of the Goldstone Report was never to prove a foregone conclusion against Israel. I insisted on changing the original mandate adopted by the Human Rights Council, which was skewed against Israel. I have always been clear that Israel, like any other sovereign nation, has the right and obligation to defend itself and its citizens against attacks from abroad and within. Something that has not been recognized often enough is the fact that our report marked the first time illegal acts of terrorism from Hamas were being investigated and condemned by the United Nations. I had hoped that our inquiry into all aspects of the Gaza conflict would begin a new era of evenhandedness at the U.N. Human Rights Council, whose history of bias against Israel cannot be doubted.

Some have charged that the process we followed did not live up to judicial standards. To be clear: Our mission was in no way a judicial or even quasi-judicial proceeding. We did not investigate criminal conduct on the part of any individual in Israel, Gaza or the West Bank. We made our recommendations based on the record before us, which unfortunately did not include any evidence provided by the Israeli government. Indeed, our main recommendation was for each party to investigate, transparently and in good faith, the incidents referred to in our report. McGowan Davis has found that Israel has done this to a significant degree; Hamas has done nothing.

Some have suggested that it was absurd to expect Hamas, an organization that has a policy to destroy the state of Israel, to investigate what we said were serious war crimes. It was my hope, even if unrealistic, that Hamas would do so, especially if Israel conducted its own investigations. At minimum I hoped that in the face of a clear finding that its members were committing serious war crimes, Hamas would curtail its attacks. Sadly, that has not been the case. Hundreds more rockets and mortar rounds have been directed at civilian targets in southern Israel. That comparatively few Israelis have been killed by the unlawful rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza in no way minimizes the criminality. The U.N. Human Rights Council should condemn these heinous acts in the strongest terms.

In the end, asking Hamas to investigate may have been a mistaken enterprise. So, too, the Human Rights Council should condemn the inexcusable and cold-blooded recent slaughter of a young Israeli couple and three of their small children in their beds…

[Return to headlines]

Middle East

Bahrain Orders Opposition Newspaper Shut Down

(AGI) Manama — Bahraini authorities have ordered the country’s main opposition newspaper Al Wasat to shut down after it was critical of the government’s actions during the Shiite protests of the past few weeks. Bahrain’s Information Commission is bringing the newspaper to court. State TV said Al Wasat is accused of publishing “false news” on the country’s security and using “made-up names” for people who were allegedly abused by the police.

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

Iran Sees Western Plot Behind Tensions With Gulf Countries

(AGI) Teheran -Iran claims the shadow of “a Western and Zionist plot” is behind recent tensions between Gulf countries and Iran. The announcement came from Teheran’s Foreign Ministry which, through Spokesman Ramin Mehmanparst, again advised governments in the region “to listen to the requests of their people in order to bring an end to these conspiracies.” .

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

Neo-Ottomans Discover New Middle East

By M K Bhadrakumar

To emphasize commonalities and to marginalize differences is the overall drift of diplomacy in inter-state relationships. But there could also be extraordinary times when good diplomacy needs to accentuate differences in a relationship characterized by growing commonalities.

Turkish diplomacy focused during the recent years on building up “zero-problem” relationships with Iran and Syria. But even as stunning results have begun appearing, a need has arisen for Ankara to mark a certain distance from its neighbors. The Arab revolt threatens to bring to the surface new templates of regional rivalry.

The Middle East was the arena where the Ottoman-Safavid rivalry played out for over half a millennia all the way up to the beginning of the 20th century. The prospect of the birth of a New Middle East finds the two regional powers jockeying for leadership. Arguably, there are third parties — Western powers on the whole and some among Arabs — who may actually hope to gain out from a replay of the historical rivalry in the contemporary regional setting, which by common reckoning is working to the advantage of Iran’s rise.

Unfinished business in Gaza

The alacrity with which Turkey filed a report to the United Nations in New York regarding its seizure of a cache of weapons from a transiting Iranian aircraft en route to Syria on March 21 and the attendant media “leaks” — all this happening in a fast-forward mode within the week — underscores an interplay of regional rivalries.

Indeed, Turkey acted as a responsible member of the international community when it apprehended the Iranian aircraft violating the United Nations Security Council sanctions against Iran — although the “prohibited military items” ferried across to Aleppo in Syria consisted of just 60 Kalashnikov rifles, 14 machine guns, 8,000 rounds of ammunition and 2,000 mortar shells.

What matters is that Colombia, which is a staunch ally of the United States and heads the Iran sanctions committee, promptly told the Security Council that the incident is a “matter of serious concern” and Western diplomats rushed to comment that the episode “reflected positively on Turkey”.

An element of discord has indeed appeared in Turkish-Iranian-Syrian ties, which had been on a steady upward curve. The issue also likely involves Hezbollah and (or) Hamas, and we may not have heard the last word. Yesterday, former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert said ominously that an all-out war against the Gaza Strip is inevitable.

To quote Olmert, “If there’s one thing I regret — it’s that we didn’t finish the job back then — we cannot avoid the need to complete the job. Israel cannot accept the presence of a terror entity in Gaza, which threatens the citizens of Israel, without taking action. Not random action, but controlled, precise and organized action with enough force to bring a change to the reality in Gaza.”

Turks are some of the oldest practitioners of modern diplomacy. They know tensions are building up in Syria, and Ankara has taken a prescriptive approach toward Damascus by openly and repeatedly calling on President Bashar Assad to reform. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke to Assad twice. President Abdullah Gul reiterated Turkey’s call for reforms within a day of Assad’s address on Wednesday where he said the Syrian protests were the result of a “foreign plot”.

Gul used uncharacteristically strong language: “Whatever needs [to be done] should be done. There can be no closed regime on the Mediterranean coast. Assad is aware of this, too … We are sharing our experiences with him and we do not want chaos in Syria.” Gul’s adviser Ersat Hurmuzlu demanded: “Waiting for the protests to end to make reforms is a wrong approach. Necessary reforms should be made now, not later. Leaders should be brave … It would be an easy transformation if the Syrian administration can make significant reforms on human rights and democracy and find solutions in the struggle against corruption.”

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told Reuters: “It is like Eastern Europe in the late 1990s … Those who try to prevent this process will face more difficulties like in Libya … We don’t have any evidence [of a “foreign plot”] … We’re supporting reforms and democratization [in Syria] but it should be a peaceful transformation, not through violence, attacks against civilians or by trying to keep the status quo or by creating instability.”

Marked shift in attitudes

The sudden Turkish belligerence toward Syria has a complex backdrop. No Arab state was more anti-Turkish than Ba’athist Syria. In the Syrian folklore, Ottomans are cast as villains, and just below the surface lies a territorial dispute dating back to 1939 when Turks annexed Hatay province from Syria. This is also where the hidden meaning of the Turkish seizure of Iranian aircraft carrying weapons en route to Syria probably lies.

Again, Turkey has been reaching out to Hezbollah and Hamas, bypassing Syria’s (and Iran’s) claim to be their interlocutor, in an effort to enhance its regional credentials and burnish its standing with Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states.

The GCC states, on their part, regard it a good thing that Ankara is willing to shoot across Tehran’s bow. Unlike the case with Iran, whose objectives vis-a-vis Hezbollah and Hamas are viewed in zero-sum terms by Saudi Arabia, Turkey’s efforts to advance its political status are not perceived as aimed at threatening or marginalizing Riyadh’s interests.

Therefore, the visit by the Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal to Ankara last week assumes great significance. The Saudis have been apprehensive about the flowering of Turkish-Iranian ties. Riyadh is deeply concerned that Tehran may turn out to be the real beneficiary of the current turmoil in the Middle East.

The Saudis see that only Turkey can act as a counterweight to Iran in the emergent scenario where Egypt is in a shambles and US regional policies are in disarray. But at the same time, Saudis were disenchanted that Erdogan’s ebullient “Third Worldism” was becoming too radical whereas in the end everything in the New Middle East ought to come down to sectarianism — Turkey is Sunni (and Salafi), so is Saudi Arabia, but Iran is Shi’ite.

Conceivably, Faisal reminded the Turkish leadership — Gul lived in Jeddah for eight years and knows how the Saudi mind works — that amidst the euphoria of the Arab revolt for democratization, it shouldn’t be forgotten that, at the end of the day, through the Ottoman era Arabs preferred Sublime Porte (the open court of the sultan) to Persian hegemony. But Turkey doesn’t need to be particularly reminded of that. The Ottomans had a thorough grasp of sectarianism in the Muslim Middle East and they played up confessional differences, encouraged sectarianism and propped up minorities with great skill and aplomb. Anyway, there has been a marked shift in the Turkish attitudes since Faisal flew back home from Ankara…

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

Pakistan Ready for Middle East Role

By Syed Saleem Shahzad

ISLAMABAD — With a broad Sunni Muslim bloc of countries lining up against an emerging Shi’ite crescent in the Middle East, Sunni-majority and nuclear-armed Pakistan could play an important — albeit somewhat reluctant — role.

A step in this direction is Pakistan’s decision to keep two army divisions on standby for deployment to Saudi Arabia in the event of trouble there. This followed a visit by Saudi Prince and secretary general of the National Security Council Prince Bandar Bin Sultan to Pakistan.

Earlier, Pakistan’s Fauji Foundation, an armed forces entity, organized the recruitment of over 1,000 ex-army personnel for service in Bahrain’s National Guard. The small Persian Gulf state, which is headquarters to the United States 5th Fleet, is suppressing protests with the help of Saudi invasion forces. Bahrain’s ruling elite is Sunni, although about 70% of the population is Shi’ite.

The advertisement for Pakistanis to join Bahrain’s National Guard was published about three weeks ago in a mass-circulation Urdu-language newspaper. Since then, the process of recruitment has continued unabated.

According to investigations by Asia Times Online, the recruits have been promised 100,000 Pakistani rupees (US$1,174) a month, beside other perks including free medical and accommodation. People with names that have a traditional Shi’ite ring — such as Syed, Abbas, Ali and Hussain — are being overlooked.

Iranian media have broadcast stories predicting a strong Pakistani role in the Gulf region; this resulted in Iranian-sponsored agitators in Bahrain killing several Pakistani workers for “collaborating with the Sunni rulers of Bahrain”…

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

Turkish Journalist Sik’s Controversial Unpublished Book Released Online

An unpublished manuscript by arrested journalist Ahmet Sik, the subject of recent police raids, was released Thursday afternoon on Google’s online document-sharing service and quickly spread through social-media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.

Journalist Aydin Engin, who had previously read the manuscript of “Imamin Ordusu” (The Imam’s Army), confirmed that the version online was genuine.

The content of the controversial book has been a hot topic in Turkey since Sik’s detention March 3 as part of the ongoing Ergenekon case. At the time of his arrest, he told reporters, “Those who touch [it], burn.” The book is about the Fethullah Gülen religious community and the alleged organization it has founded within the Turkish police.

When Sik was subsequently arrested March 6, then-Ergenekon probe prosecutor Zekeriya Öz said the arrest was not about the book. However, raids were carried out March 24 at both the printing house and among people who had digital copies of the manuscript. The copies were deleted and the people involved were warned that they might be accused of aiding an illegal organization.

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

Turkish Online ‘Revolution’ Demands End to Sexist, Racist Language in Media

In the age of social media and cyber-communities, 140-character ‘tweets’ have kicked off a social movement against sexist, racist or homophobic language in the Turkish media, with thousands signing the Defne Revolution’s petition demanding change. Coordinators Binnaz Saktanber and Zeynep Erdim talk to the Daily News about how the ‘revolution’ began and what they hope it will accomplish

When a columnist known mostly for his arrogance and super-sized ego spat out a disrespectful article on the sad passing of a famous TV personality, he did not encounter the usual nonchalance reserved for his toxic column. “She fell on her sword!” wrote Hincal Uluç, implying that Defne Joy Foster deserved her untimely death for some assumed flirting or maybe more.

The reaction, almost unanimous, was one of fury. The metaphorical sword turned out to be double-edged when a group of people’s rants against Uluç’s column turned into collective action overnight through the social networking and microblogging website Twitter. A number of users began adding the tag “#defnejoy” to their Twitter posts; rapidly joined by others, they made her name become a “trending” (popular) topic.

With the awareness that sexism, racism and homophobia are influenced, and sometimes even manufactured, by the media, the collective Twitter posts transformed into what is now called the Defne Revolution, a petition that has drawn national media attention.

The petition page for the Defne Revolution,, holds a manifesto that begins with a list of questions, questions that have frustrated more than a few readers, audience members and consumers of media for some time now: “Why hasn’t the media changed at all, when everything else is transforming? Why is it forcing upon us the same old bankrupt discourse one generation after another, full of insults, executions, tirades, harassment and a modernist feudalism? Why does the national media, chronically falling behind the rest of the world and society, get the right to manhandle us so carelessly?”

Who exactly is the national media here and who is to blame? Binnaz Saktanber, prolific blogger, a Ph.D. candidate and one of the coordinators of the initiative, does not go very easy on the members of the Turkish media. “When you take a close look at the media, you will see writers or journalists in every outlet constantly perpetuating racist, sexist and discriminatory language,” Saktanber said. She believes, as do the nearly 8,000 people who have signed the petition on, that there needs to be “a shared platform urging this language to change. The demands of the Defne Revolution hopefully will be the driver behind that platform.”

Eliminating the gatekeepers

What are the demands of the Defne Revolution? They are not so complicated: “We demand that the racist, sexist, homophobic and discriminatory media discourse be eliminated. And to anyone who cannot stand the change, we say: Take it or leave it! We demand another media, and we will get it together!” Through collective action, the Defne Revolution hopes to “end the ignorant rhetoric covering all aspects of our lives, the violation of the right to privacy, the severe under-representation of minority voices in the media and journalism and the pigeonholing of women in stereotypical roles.”

The Defne Revolution is a collective action representative of our age, emerging overnight through the 140-character Twitter messages of a handful of people. “We can call it a social media movement,” said Saktanber. The callous, sexist media coverage of Foster’s death became the tipping point for many. “The idea came from Vivet Kanetti. We first added #defnejoy at the end of our tweets to generate some reaction,” said Saktanber. Soon thousands of people joined this simple yet powerful reaction. Then came the idea for the petition.

Journalist and writer Vivet Kanetti is known to many in Turkey for her timeless translations of Goscinny’s “Le Petit Nicolas” children’s book series. When Kanetti, Saktanber and journalist Zeynep Erdim, along with many others from diverse backgrounds, careers and even ideologies, came together around a shared goal, the social media movement skyrocketed. It wasn’t a movement that started with a bunch of elites but one that began through cyber communities.

“Social media is a platform where what’s going on in society, politics and the media is harshly criticized, without any censorship and with urgency,” said Saktanber. Pointing at the role of social media in recent uprisings around the world, she noted the power of social media in fuelling momentum in organizing social movements. “Social media is more democratic. The gatekeepers between the media consumer/reader/audience and media producer/writer/editor are eliminated in social media,” she said. “It enables people with different points of view to share their opinions and understand each other. Ideas circulate freely and quickly.”

Revealing the real face of the media

The manifesto on the petition page lists some examples from the Turkish media, examples that signatories hope never to read or see “uttered in the media ever again.” Among them are: “Once a favorite for men, now she is so old,” “She lost the struggle to hide her cellulite,” “Half-Armenian pro-Kurdish,” “[Reality star] eliminated from life” and “Are you gay, or are you normal?”

“The sentences we have put in our petition are direct quotes from the Turkish media. These sentences cannot be used in any democratic society,” said Zeynep Erdim, the BBC World Turkey office producer and another coordinator of the initiative. “I can’t imagine reading ‘Armenians’ real faces are revealed’ in The Guardian or other mainstream English media. Replace the ‘Armenians’ with any ethnic minority in the U.K., and imagine what the reaction from society would be.”

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

Turks Hypocritical When Discussing Religion, WikiLeaks Cable Says

Turks are “complete hypocritical” when discussing Islam and Christianity as they are constantly angered when disrespect is shown to the former even as they consistently slam the latter, according to a leaked U.S. embassy cable.

People “are trying to steal the faith of our youth and children,” John Kunstadter, then-Secretary of Political affairs at the U.S. Embassy to Ankara, wrote in a March 16, 2005, cable, quoting an anti-missionary sermon read out a mosque five days before the cable was sent.

The cable, titled “Turkish Imams read anti-Missionary sermon,” came to light after it was released by the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks’ Turkish partner, daily Taraf.

Kundstadter said the imam preached that Islam was the only valid religion for Allah and that “holy armies” bent on erasing Muslims from history had failed before. The sermon text did not mention missionaries by name but noted that they were the ones that were trying to change the nation’s faith.

Only 500 Turkish Muslims are thought to have converted to Christianity in the past 10 years, yet the supposed threat posed by missionary activity carried the issue all the way to the National Security Council, or MGK, agenda.

Mehmet Görmez, then-deputy head of the Religious Affairs Directorate, told Kundstadter at the time that while missionaries had the right to operate in Turkey, the directorate was determined to “educate” people so that missionaries not benefit from their “ignorance.”

When asked what he thought of Muslims trying to Christians in the West to Islam, Görmez said Muslims migrated to make money, not convert people from Christianity.

Kunstadter called Turks “complete hypocrites” on the grounds mentioned above, noting that the imam’s sermon suggested Christianity was not a monotheistic religion due to its belief in the Holy Trinity.

“Like other religious Turks, Görmez considers converting to Islam a natural progress when he feels a deep hatred toward Muslims who convert to Christianity,” Kundstadter wrote.

The remaining cables from Taraf’s Friday edition indicated that the United States was worried that the alleged hatred preached against Christians and missionaries in Turkey would result in violence. Catholic Priest Andrea Santoro was murdered in Trabzon in 2006, Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink was killed in 2007, while three missionaries were brutally murdered in 2007 in Malatya after the cables were penned.

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

U.S. Shifts to Seek Removal of Yemen’s Leader, An Ally

The United States, which long supported Yemen’s president, even in the face of recent widespread protests, has now quietly shifted positions and has concluded that he is unlikely to bring about the required reforms and must be eased out of office, according to American and Yemeni officials.

The American position began to shift in the past week, administration officials said. While American officials have not publicly pressed President Ali Abdullah Saleh to go, they have told allies and some reporters that they now view his hold on office as untenable, and they believe he should leave.

[Return to headlines]

Uprisings: Turkey: The New Political Model for Islamic World

(ANSAmed) — ROME, MARCH 29 — According to a recent survey by the Tesey research centre, two thirds of the citizens of the Arab Countries and Iran see Turkey led by Akp, in power since 2002, as a “good marriage between Islam and democracy”. Such is the premise of an interview with Hugh Pope, a researcher working with the International Crisis Group, published on the latest edition of Reset, a magazine run by Giancarlo Bosetti that is available in newsstands with the headline “L’89 arabo, saltano i rais. Cambia tanto anche per noi”(89 of the Arabs, the rais are being thrown out. Much changes for us too). Guido Rampoldi asks “Did Akp’s success really induce part of Arab Islamism to adjust its ideological coordinates and reinforce scepticism towards armed combat? Or are these Islamic admirers of Turkey making a simply tactical choice to be more acceptable to the westerners?”.

Questions that may only be answered in the future, according to Pope (a former correspondent for Reuters and the Wall Street Journal), but Akp’s history proves how the Islamic parties have become more complex and dynamic than we thought. Even though, Pope added, the region’s interest towards Turkey “has more to do with its political pluralism than with religion”. And if it is still true that Turkey’s people still look down on the less developed Arab countries, it is also true that “there is general sympathy for the Muslim brothers, especially the oppressed ones such as the Palestinians”. Among other articles in the magazine, Fred Dallmayr remembers Al-Jabri, the Arab philosopher who disappeared last year.

The English online version of Reset Doc (Dialogue on Civilation) instead focuses on migration flows and reception, and also includes an essay by Brahim El Guabli on the “new prophets of change” in the revolts of the Arab world.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Yemen: Police Open Fire on Protests in Sanaa & Taiz

(AGI) Sanaa- At least 250 people were injured in Taiz and Sanaa, where police fired shots and used tear gas to disperse a protest. The demonstrators had gathered in protest against President Ali Abdullah Saleh and tried to reach his palace.

Dozens were also wounded in Sanaa, where officers attacked protesters, 10 of whom were hit by bullets.

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

South Asia

Jakarta Confirms the Arrest in Pakistan of Umar Patek, Mastermind of the Bali Bombings

Indonesian intelligence Chief General Sutanto said that the terrorist was wounded during a gunfight with police. Of Arab origins, he is thought to have organised the 2002 attack that left 202 people dead. A leader in Jemaah Islamiyah, Patek trained prominent terrorists like Noordin Moh Top and established ties with Abu Sayyaf and al Qaeda.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) — Umar Patek, the Indonesian terrorist who masterminded the 2002 Bali attacks, was captured by Pakistani security forces. He suffered minor injuries in the gunfight with the arresting agents. The announcement in Jakarta last night came from General Sutanto, head of Indonesian Intelligence in what is the first statement by Indonesian authorities with regards to the terrorist’s capture a few weeks ago in Pakistan. Until now, no government official or leader had confirmed or rejected reports about his arrest.

Umar Patek is a Javanese of Arab origin, originally from Pekalongan District in Central Java where he was born in 1970.

He is considered the mastermind behind the Bali bombings of 12 October 2002, when bombs exploded in two nightclubs killing 202 people, mostly foreign tourists, with the largest contingent from Australia. Hundreds more were wounded, some losing limbs.

On 1 October 2005, another, less lethal attack was carried out on the island of Bali with 23 dead and dozens of wounded.

Umar Patek led the first Bali attack. He is considered one of the leading figures in Jemaah Islamiyah and is thought to have established ties with Osama Bin Laden’s al Qaeda.

Since 2002, the United States, the Philippines, Indonesia and Australia have been trying to arrest him without success. In early March, reports appeared saying he had been arrested by Pakistani security forces, a fact that has now been, at least partially, confirmed.

Indonesia had offered a million dollar prize for any information that would lead to his capture.

The Indonesian terrorist, who is a bomb and explosive expert, is believed to have trained two top Islamic terrorists from Malaysia, Azahari bin Husin and Noordin Moh Top. The latter was killed during a police raid in Indonesia.

Patek has used various aliases, including Umar Kecil, Pak Taek, Abu Syekh, and Zacky.

It is also believed that he operated in southern Philippines for a long time, together with the fighters of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Abu Sayyaf terrorists.

Last Tuesday, Pakistani officials officially confirmed his arrest. “He was captured with his Indonesian wife during a gun battle with local Pakistani security,” General Sutanto said. Patek was wounded in the incident, which claimed the lives of several agents.

His arrest might shed some light on the links between the various international terrorist cells and the plot that led to the 2002 Bali bombings.

Investigators also want to see what relations, if any, exist with controversial Islamic leader Abu Bakar Baasyir.

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

Pakistan: 36 Killed in Suicide Bomb Attack on Sufi Temple

(AGI) Islamabad — At least 36 people were killed and 100 injured in three suicide-bomb attacks on the Sufi temple at Saki Sarwar, 45 km from Dera Ghazi Khan in Pakistan, Geo TV reports. The attacks took place during religious celebrations of Urs. The temple is dedicated to a Sufi saint in the central province of Punjab.

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

Tajikistan: Dushanbe: Systematic Violation of Religious Freedom and Human Rights by State

Forum 18 news agency denounces the persecution, for years, of all religious activities not subject to rigid state control: demolished mosques and churches, banned religious groups, faithful arrested or fined. Even catechism for children prohibited.

Dushanbe (AsiaNews/F18) — The Tajik government systematically violates the religious freedom and related human rights of believers of any faith, not subject to full state control. The news agency Forum 18 is calling for an immediate intervention by the United Nations and international organizations, to curb abuses.

A recent draft law now even bans children under 18 from participating in any religious activity, including prayer meetings and catechism, with the exception of funerals. Government authorization is needed to participate in the catechism or other activities and parents are responsible for ANY “violations.”

Since 2007, the authorities have primarily targeted places of worship, through the closure, confiscation and demolition of mosques and churches and even the only synagogue in the country (see AsiaNews, 24.6.2008, Dushanbe’s old synagogue demolished to make way for a presidential palace , and 13.10.2007, Three mosques demolished and others closed, the only synagogue in danger, in March 2009, a private citizen gave the Jewish community in his palace to meet and pray: 30/03/2009 AsiaNews, New synagogue of Dushanbe to open soon). A limit to the number of mosques was also introduced. In January 2011, about 50 other mosques in Dushanbe were closed down as “not registered and built without public authorization.”

For all religious groups any activities without official authorisation are prohibited, even prayer meetings. Since 2007 Jehovah’s Witnesses and some Protestant Christians and Islamic movements have been banned and their followers arrested and charged for practising their faith. This was the case with 95 followers of the Tabligh Jamaat Islamic movement banned in 2010 who were sentenced to fines or jailed for 3 to 6 years, because they gathered to pray and talk about their faith.

Even in permitted activities, the authorities impose a strict censorship, among other things, religious texts or books must have state authorization. In January 2011 the new offense of “manufacture, importation, sale and distribution of religious literature” without permission was introduced, punishable with heavy fines equivalent to years of an average salary, even for printing such material.

The small country of about 7 million people has a large Muslim majority. After independence from the Soviet Union, a civil war broke out along ethnic and clan lines, lasting from 1992 to 1997, during which the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP), the only party with a religious foundation, was outlawed. Since 1992, the country has been led by President Emomali Rahmon, a former Soviet leader, allegedly responsible for systematic violations of rights, including repeated electoral fraud to win elections.

F18 reports that the government wants to practice and prevent any religious activity that is not under rigid state control. Experts say that perhaps Dushanbe fears that group will be created for the protection of rights and democracy that will oppose its rule.

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

Taliban Claim Responsibility for Attack on Pakistan Temple

(AGI) Islamabad — Pakistani Taleban have claimed responsibility for a attack on the Sufi temple in Saki Sarwar, 45 kilometres from Dera Ghazi Khan in Pakistan, in which at least 41 people died and over 100 were injured. this place of worship is dedicated to a Sufi saint and is situated in the central Punjab province. When the explosion took place, celebrations for Urs were being held.

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

Far East

Cardinal Zen’s Anger Over Fr. Heyndrickx and Propaganda Fide’s “Dialogue at All Costs”

The “dire state” of the Church in China is caused by the policy of Beijing, but also by the Vatican policy, too similar to the failed Ostpolitik promoted byCard. Casaroli. Implement dialogue, but without selling out on our faith. Likelihood of schism with bishops who “enthusiastically” obey the regime. A spirit of repentance and conversion for all.

Hong Kong (AsiaNews)-The Church in China is in a “disastrous state” because of the harshness of the regime, but also because a “triumvirate” (the Prefect of Propaganda Fide, one of his minions, and Fr Jeroom Heyndrickx, a Scheut missionary and one of their counsellors) which continues to push the Vatican to compromise with the Chinese regime, modelled on Card. Casaroli’s Ostpolitik. This very attitude led many bishops of the official Church to participate in the illicit ordination of Chengde (11/20/2010 Chengde, eight bishops in communion with Pope participate in illicit ordination) and the National Assembly of Catholic Representatives (09/12 / 2010 Assembly elects new leadership, causing major harm to the Church), in clear disobedience to the directions of Benedict XVI. According to the retired bishop of Hong Kong the Holy See must give clear guidance to the Church in China to avoid the schism where official bishops “enthusiastically obey” the Chinese government and not the pope.

Card. Zen makes his case in a written response he has sent to us, to a reflection by Fr Jeroom Heyndrickx, published in No March 16, 2011 of the Ferdinand Verbiest. In it, the Belgian priest, an expert on the Church in China, writes that despite the “slap in the face” to the Pope of the Chengde ordination and Beijing Assembly, dialogue with the Chinese Government should continue and the bishops should not be judged to harshly, neither must we get carried away by “misunderstandings” over their loyalty despite the many violations of canon law. “ (cfr. Verbiest Update 16 — March 2011).

Here is what Card Joseph Zen has to say.

Cardinal Zen’s Answer to Ferdinand Verbiest Update No. 16

As usual, Fr. Jeroom Heyndrickx makes his choices among the Popes, putting one against the other. In this case, he opposes Pope Paul VI as promoter of dialogue to Pope Pius XI who loves confrontation.

The Dialogue

I allow myself to remind Fr. Heyndrickx that there are different instances of dialogue. It is very different when a Pope proclaims the general principles of dialogue from when a Pope dialogues with those who are mercilessly killing his children.

In our concrete case, I ask: “Should we go after niceties of dialogue when our Holy Father has been seriously insulted?” Actually, what could be the meaning of the events at the end of November and at the beginning of December last year, if not a slap in the face of the Pope?

The dialogue is surely of paramount importance. But in our case, people have rudely slammed the door in the face of their all-too-gentle interlocutors.


Fr. Heyndrickx is enthusiastic of the Ostpolitik of Cardinal Casaroli in dealing with the totalitarian regimes in East Europe, which policy, he says, was strongly supported by Pope Paul VI. I don’t know how far that support went. But I know for sure, from a most authoritative source, that when John Paul II was elected Pope, he said “Enough!” with regard to that Ostpolitik.

Cardinal Casaroli and his followers thought that they had worked miracles, by pursuing a policy of compromise at any cost. But, in reality, they made peace, yes, with totalitarian Governments, but at the expense of a grievous weakening of our Church. You need only listen to some ecclesiastics from those countries. One of them told me that Cardinal Wyzinsky one day went to Rome to tell some officials in the Roman Curia to keep their hands off the affairs of the Church in Poland.

Fr. Heyndrickx believes that John Paul II would be on his side as an exemplary model of moderation. He has obviously forgotten that it was precisely John Paul II who allowed the proceedings for the canonization of the Chinese martyrs, knowing pretty well that this would surely upset the Beijing Government. After the fact, he did not apologize for the canonization, as the same Fr. Heyndrickx acknowledges.

Now let us come to the Church in China today.

The Church in China

Our Church in China is now in a disastrous situation, because during the last years some have blindly and stubbornly persued that same policy of Ostpolitik, ignoring the clear direction given by Pope Benedict in his Letter to the Church in China of 2007, and against the majority opinion of the Commission which the Pope set up to advise the Holy See in affairs of the Church in China.

Dialogue and compromise are necessary, but there must be a bottom line. We cannot renounce the principles of our faith and our basic ecclesiastical discipline, just to please the Beijing Government.

Pope Benedict has judged that the moment of clarification has come. The Commission for China was of the opinion that we have reached the bottom of compromise and that it is time to stop. But the Prefect of CEP, a clerk of the same, and Fr. Heyndrickx, the three of them, thought they knew better.

The Church in Poland was strong and courageous. Not so the Church in China. Our bishops needed some supply of courage. But instead they received much misplaced compassion, which pushed them deeper and deeper into the mire of slavish subjection.

Somebody told these our brothers: “We understand you”. This meant, obviously: “We understand you, even if you, under pressure, obey to the orders of the Government.” But, in this case, to obey the Government, means to betray grievously the loyalty due to the Pope and to the communion with the Universal Church!

After the ordination of Chengde and after the Eighth Assembly, some of the bishops involved apologized to their priests. Some other broke in tears. But there are others who, as Fr. Heyndrickx confirms, were enthusiastic of the present situation. I am afraid these people do not belong to our Church any more. It is only out of kindness, that the Pope refrains from calling that part of the Church “schismatic”, when they proclaim solemnly the will of being an independent Church and of carrying out episcopal ordinations without pontifical mandate.

Hunting for the Culprits

Fr. Heyndrickx finds it very convenient to put the blame on unspecified “conservative elements” of the Chinese Communist Party. The Party surely has its responsibility. But all could also see clearly that Mr. Liu Bai Nian was the one orchestrating everything behind the scenes, as he succeeded in putting at the head of the Patriotic Association and of the Episcopal Conference two bishops who are his obedient puppets. Even as Honorary President, Mr. Liu Bai Nian still goes diligently to work every day.

It looks preposterous to me that Fr. Hendrickx should always bring in the unofficial community, when the subject matter is the deserved punishment for those in the official community. What justifies this putting on the same level our persecuted brothers and those honoured and exalted by the Government?

Obviously I find myself among those whom Fr. Heyndrickx qualifies as “politicians who try to divide the Church” and those “outside China who were quicker than Rome to condemn Chinese bishops”, because I organized a prayer meeting for the Church in China in the spirit of penance and conversion. Here I want just to remind Fr. Heyndricks that I explicitly meant everybody, myself included, by those in need of repentance and conversion.

The sad thing is that, while we are discussing who are the culprits, everything in the Church in China is at a standstill. The faithful in China are waiting in vain for some clarification on how the Church should be. Each day is like an eternity for those our brothers in pain. When will their cries be heeded by the Lord?

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

Japan: Crews Pin Hopes on Polymer to Stop Nuke Leak

TOKYO — (04/03/11) — Engineers pinned their hopes on chemicals, sawdust and shredded newspaper to stop highly radioactive water pouring into the ocean from Japan’s tsunami-ravaged nuclear plant Sunday as officials said it will take several months to bring the crisis under control, the first time they have provided a timetable.

Concrete already failed to stop the tainted water spewing from a crack in a maintenance pit, and the new mixture did not appear to be working either, but engineers said they were not abandoning it.

The Fukushima Da-ichi plant has been leaking radioactivity since the March 11 tsunami carved a path of destruction along Japan’s northeastern coast, killing as many as 25,000 people and knocking out key cooling systems that kept it from overheating. People living within 12 miles (20 kilometers) of the plant have been forced to abandon their homes.

The government said Sunday it will be several months before the radiation stops and permanent cooling systems are restored. Even after that happens, there will be years of work ahead to clean up the area around the complex and figure out what to do with it.

“It would take a few months until we finally get things under control and have a better idea about the future,” said Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency spokesman Hidehiko Nishiyama. “We’ll face a crucial turning point within the next few months, but that is not the end.”

His agency said the timetable is based on the first step, pumping radioactive water into tanks, being completed quickly and the second, restoring cooling systems, being done within a matter of weeks or months.

Every day brings some new problem at the plant, where workers have often been forced to retreat from repair efforts because of high radiation levels. On Sunday, plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. announced it had found the bodies of two workers missing since the tsunami.

Radiation, debris and explosions kept workers from finding them until Wednesday, and then the announcement was delayed several days out of respect for their families.

TEPCO officials said they believed the workers ran down to a basement to check equipment after the magnitude-9.0 earthquake that preceded the tsunami. They were there when the massive wave swept over the plant.

“It pains us to have lost these two young workers who were trying to protect the power plant amid the earthquake and tsunami,” TEPCO Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata said in a statement.

On Saturday, workers discovered an 8-inch (20-centimeter) crack in a maintenance pit at the plant and said they believe water from it may be the source of some of the high levels of radioactive iodine that have been found in the ocean for more than a week.

This is the first time they have found radioactive water leaking directly into the sea. A picture released by TEPCO shows water shooting some distance away from a wall and splashing into the ocean, though the amount is not clear. No other cracks have been found.

The radioactive water dissipates quickly in the ocean but could be dangerous to workers at the plant.

Engineers tried to seal the crack with concrete Saturday, but that effort failed.

So on Sunday they went farther up the system and injected sawdust, three garbage bags of shredded newspaper and a polymer — similar to one used to absorb liquid in diapers — that can expand to 50 times its normal size when combined with water.

The polymer mix in the passageway leading to the pit had not stopped the leak by Sunday night, but it also had not leaked out of the crack along with the water, so engineers were stirring it in an attempt to get it to expand. They expected to know by Monday morning if it would work.

[Return to headlines]

Sub-Saharan Africa

Ivory Coast: French Troops Take Over Airport in Abdijan

(AGI) Paris- French troops have taken over Abdijan airport.

Clashes between Laurent Gbagbo’s troops and forces loyal to the UN-recognised President, Alassane Ouattara, have been raging in Ivory Coast’s capital for days. On Saturday there was a surge in armed conflict and gunfire at key buildings, including the Presidential Palace.

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

Ivory Coast: UN Presses [Their Man] Ouattara Over Massacre

[WARNING: Disturbing content.]

The UN secretary general has urged Ivory Coast’s internationally-backed president to investigate hundreds of deaths blamed partly on his supporters.

Ban Ki-moon said he was “concerned and alarmed” about the reports, from the town of Duekoue, but Alassane Ouattara said his followers were not involved.

The BBC’s Andrew Harding, in Duekoue, says UN workers have found hundreds of bodies.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Machete Thugs Hack to Death 1,000 in Just One Town as Ivory Coast Battle Rages

[WARNING: Disturbing content.]

A thousand civilians have been found massacred in a small town in Ivory Coast amid worsening civil conflict in the West African state.

The victims were discovered by aid agency workers in Duekoue. Some had been shot and others hacked to death with machetes.

It was not clear last night who carried out the attacks, but the area is thought to be in the control of supporters of Alassane Ouattara, who won Ivory Coast’s election late last year. President Laurent Gbagbo has refused to step down.

[Comments: Alassane Ouattara is the UN backed muslim leader the international community wants to replace the Christian leader Laurent Gbagbo.]

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Muslim Troops Slaughter 1,000 Civilians in Ivory Coast Massacre

Troops loyal to Alassane Ouattara, the Muslim opposition leader, slaughtered 1,000 civilians in Duekoue last week. The victims were mostly men who were shot as they fled the city.

Caritas reported that the massacre took place in the ‘Carrefour’ quarter of town, controlled by pro-Ouattara forces, during clashes on Sunday 27 March to Tuesday 29 March.

30,000 civilians are trapped in a Catholic church compound.

There was no mention of Pastor Terry Jones in the article.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


300 Leave Manduria Tent City to Stage Protest

(AGI) Taranto — About 300 refugees left the tent city in Manduria this afternoon after breaking the boundary fence open.

Most of them are currently staging a protest just outside the tent city on the road linking Manduria to Oria to urge authorities and institutions to grant them residence permits.

Some of the refugees, however, took the opportunity to run away.

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

Berlusconi Due to Make Trip to Tunisia Amid Immigrant ‘Crisis’

(AKI) — Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusoni will visit Tunisia on Monday following the arrival of tens of thousands of migrants who arrived in Italy after disembarking from the North African country’s shores.

The announcement of the trip follows a telephone call on Thursday between Berlusconi and Tunisian prime minister Beji Caid Essebsi. No details of the visit were immediately available but it is expected that Berlusconi will discuss any possible move by Tunisia to block the departure of migrant boats for the southern Italy island of Lampedusa.

Berlusconi on Thursday said Tunisa was not cooperating with Italy to stem the migrant flow. Last week Italy said it would give Tunisia 80 million euros worth of aid to solve the problem.

“Italy guaranteed a financial commitment to help economic recovery in Tunisia’s cities and in exchange Tunisia was supposed to block the departure of boats from its ports and accept the repatriation of its citizens,” Berlusconi said late Thursday.

Around 20,000 primarily Tunisians have landed by boat on Lampedusa since a popular uprising in January overthrew that country’s authoritarian president. Berlusconi’s government calls the situation a “crisis.”

Italy claims that almost all the migrants are looking for economic opportunity and will be repatriated. Most have been moved to detention centres on the Italian mainland and Sicily.

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

Cardinal Reiterates “Immigration is a European Problem”

(AGI) Vatican City — Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco has reiterated that the current migratory wave from North Africa concerns the whole of Europe, just as much as it concerns Italy, saying “Italy’s coastal borders coincide with the European Union’s southern border.” The cardinal added, “The emergency must be faced within a framework that assigns resources for an extraordinary development effort, one that will reap benefits later in terms of overall security.” ..

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

Israel: Alarm Over Far Right Patrols in Tel Aviv

(ANSAmed) — TEL AVIV, APRIL 1 — The extreme nationalist Jewish right-wing is preparing to take action in several suburbs of Tel Aviv, intending to declare the start of so-called popular “self-defence” initiatives against threats attributed to the growing presence of legal and illegal immigrants. This new development was reported today in an alarming fashion on Yediot Ahronot’s website, the most widely read newspaper in Israel, while police sources have already criticised the issue as a dangerous provocation. The idea came from a member of the National Union Party, an extreme right-wing political party inspired by the legacy of the notorious Kach movement, founded by the late Rabbi Mier Kahane and later banned in Israel — following the massacre of Palestinian Muslims in Hebron (West Bank) by one of its members, Colonel Baruch Goldstein — on accusations of instigating violence and racial hate. The task has been given to controversial radical Baruch Marzel, who has already assembled an initial contingent of 200 vigilantes — both men and women — all trained in martial arts and equipped with black shirts and tear gas. Marzel said that his model for the current initiative is based on the “Jewish self-defence” teams recruited in New York by Rabbi Kahane from the young Kach movement activists. One of the volunteers interviewed by Yediot Ahronot justified this measure, saying that Jews — the overwhelming majority in Tel Aviv — “currently feel that they are in danger” in certain areas, citing alleged attacks by “Sudanese immigrants”, as well as Arab (Israelis), who are not immigrants. A different stance was taken by a police officer and immigration expert, who said that the entire operation is a case of political exploitation that must be stopped. “These people,” commented the official, “are groups of troublemakers whose only purpose is to throw gas on the fire.”

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Government: Tunisia Doesn’t Respect Agreements

(AGI) Rome- The Italian government refuses an agreement on immigration with Tunisia as it does not respect political commitments. Diplomatic sources stated that “Prime Minister Berlusconi will visit Tunisia in order to ask the North African nation to respect its agreements”. The same sources underline that Italy has already furnished 150 million euros towards cooperation and 70 million for equipment so that Tunis can control its coasts and put a stop to the wave of illegal immigration.

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

Migrants: Berlusconi Says Tunisia Lacks Strong Government

(AGI) Rome — Berlusconi said that Tunisia doesn’t have a strong government and is unsure that it can halt the flow of migrants.

Speaking by telephone to the ‘Rete Italia’ convention the prime minister explained that the Tunisian government “certainly isn’t strong,” in that “it is not legitimised by the consent of its people. We’ll see whether it can find a way to halt departures.” Berlusconi also criticised the opposition for using the immigration problem to attack to the government, commenting: “When dealing with serious problems we need nerves of steel.” .

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

New Fence in Manduria, 1,350 Refugees

(AGI) Taranto — Building works outside the tent city near Manduria have started to make the current fence higher. The fence will be three-metre high to avoid crossing and discourage other mass escapes. The people in charge of the centre say that the situation is “quieter” now: currently 1,350 refugees are in the tent city.

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

Tunisia Denies Migration Deal With Italy

(AGI) Tunis — Accused by Rome of failing to uphold its end of an alleged migration bargain, Tunis today clarified that no such agreement exists. “No agreement was signed”, Tunisian foreign ministry sources declared today with reference to an alleged deal at close of Tunis meetings attended by Italian minister Maroni and Frattini last March 25. The sources were quoted by Tunisian press agency TAP, in response to “the Italian media’s speculation on Tunisia’s failure to uphold migration agreements.” The Tunisian government has meanwhile called on Italy to “show greater solidarity” with the Tunisian people “at this crucial transition juncture.” .

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

Tunisia: Forged Schengen Visas Found

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, MARCH 28 — The border police at the Tunis-Carthage airport discovered a batch of forged Schengen visas and Tunisian residence permits during checks of passengers who were on their way to European destinations. Press agency TAP reports that two Tunisians, three Congolese, a Moroccan and a man from Mali were arrested for showing forged documents.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]