Saturday, January 11, 2003

News Feed 20110410

Financial Crisis
»A Super Mario for the ECB?
»China Raising Fuel Prices, Buying Crude From Libyan Rebels
»Debt Portugal Gets Offer it Can’t Refuse
»EU: Top Antitrust Official Tracking Italian Bid to Protect Dairy Giant Parmalat
»Italy: Adding Insult to Injury in the Parmalat Case
»Majority of Finns Oppose Bailout
»One of Five in Turkey Survives on State Aid
»Portugal: Spain: We Are Now Insurmountable Dam
»US to Use Facebook, Twitter to Issue Terror Alerts
Europe and the EU
»Barolo vs. Bordeaux: Latest Round to the Italian in Red
»Dutch Parliament Likely to Ban Shchitah Next Week
»France ‘The New US’ With Sarkozy as Chief Warmonger
»Germany- Italy Must Deal W/the Problem Alone
»Italian Girls ‘Using Alcohol More Riskily’
»Italy: Naples Trash Emergency Returns
»Netherlands: Lower House Urges Ban on Ritual Slaughter
»UK: BNP Election Candidate Arrested Over Qur’an Burning
»Barroso Voices Support for Bosnia’s EU Bid
»Bosnia: Saudi Fund for Development Loan for Road Project
»Fiat: Finest: Good Prospects for Allied Industry in Serbia
»Kosovo: New President Handpicked by Americans, Predecessor Says
North Africa
»Egypt Gears Up for Elections, Amid Political Divisions, Religious Extremism and Military Power
»Egypt: Mubarak ‘Smuggling Money Out of the Country’
»Egypt: Hundreds of Thousands Call to Bring Mubarak to Trial
»Egypt: Islam Fundamentalism Rising, Attacks on Sufi Shrines
»Egypt: The Army Will Remove Governors of Mubarak’s Era
»Gallup: Few Finns Are Willing to Send Hornets to Libya
»Libya: AU Insists on “Immediate Stop to Hostilities’“
»Libya: ‘Thank You Italy’, Demonstration in Benghazi
»Tunisia: Premier: Ben Ali Deserves the Death Penalty
Israel and the Palestinians
»30 Days Since Massacre Marked With Construction
»Hamas-Egypt Relations Worry Israel
»IDF Conditionally Ceases Air Strikes on Hamas Targets
Middle East
»Crackdown Fears Halt Yemen March Toward UN Mission
»Iraq: 3 Killed in Army and Iran’s Mujahedin Clashes
»Prosecco Advertisement Campaign on Turkey’s Monuments
»Syria: Militaries Deployed in Banias and Homs
»Syria: NGO: Killed 26 Participants in Daraa Funeral
»Syria’s Security Forces Shoot on Faithful in Banias Mosque
»Thousands in Baghdad Call for US Withdrawal
»Turkey ‘World Leader’ In Imprisoned Journalists, IPI Report Says
»Yemen Seals Al Jazeera TV Office in Sana’a
»Yemen: Sana’a: City Threatened by Thirst
»Moderate Imam Murdered in Dagestan
South Asia
»Pakistan: Political Games and Devolution Behind Uncertainties Over Minority Affairs Ministry
»Berlusconi: Merkel Sure to Admit Emergency
»Calderoni: Italians Out of Lebanon to Aid Migrant Issue
»Defence Minister: Troop Reduction in Lebanon on the Horizon
»Frattini: European and Not National Issue
»French Interior Minister Calls for Less Immigration
»Germany: Conservatives Urge Border Checks for Tunisian Refugees
»Germany, Italy Disagree Over Handling of Migrant Influx From North Africa
»Illegal Migrant Issue Must be Faced by Entire E. U.
»Italian Red Cross Camp in Tunisia, 4000 Meals
»Italy: Fight Breaks Out Between 2 Tunisians in Genoa
»Migrants: Lampedusa Tourism Chief Says Season at Risk
»Netherlands: Minister Wants to Slash Non-EU Work Permits
»Permits on Wednesday for Refugees in Manduria
Culture Wars
»AIDS Comments Provoke ‘Attacks’

Financial Crisis

A Super Mario for the ECB?

Der Spiegel Hamburg

Axel Weber has taken himself out of the running, and the candidate from Finland has also withdrawn: That leaves an Italian, Mario Draghi, in line to succeed Jean-Claude Trichet as head of the European Central Bank. A man from a deeply indebted EU nation may now be tasked with saving the euro.

Hans-Jürgen Schlamp

What was Mario Draghi supposed to become, if not a central banker? When he was born in 1947, his father was busy in Rome, trying to organize the printing of post-war Italian money. Now the son is in charge in the same building — the Palazzo Koch on the Via Nazionale — as governor of the Banca d’Italia.

The reputation of Italy’s central bank has historically been somewhat dubious. Speculative bubbles, bursts of inflation, and currency crises all have had their origins in the Palazzo Koch, and many of the bank chiefs — named to life-long positions, like popes — have meddled in both national politics and engaged in back-room deals. They’re not held in the highest esteem.

So will the new “Mr. Euro” be recruited from this shady institution? Quite possibly. Draghi’s is the name most frequently heard among candidates to succeed Jean-Claude Trichet as president of the European Central Bank — after Axel Weber, the head of the German Central Bank, annouced that he had decided to quit this April and also turned down the European job.

‘This Italian’

The question is: Should he be responsible for the stability of the continent’s currency? Should the future head of the ECB, a conservative institution modelled on Germany’s inflation-battling Bundesbank, come from a nation with a distinct culture of inflation and the second-highest level of sovereign debt in the euro zone?

Leading German politicians have rejected the idea in private. They see no way of explaining it to German voters. Meanwhile the mass-circulation Bild blares: “No Way” will “This Italian” become president of the ECB, which “Oversees the Legacy of the Good, Stable German Mark.”

But Chancellor Angela Merkel rarely lets Bild get in her way, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy has lobbied for the Italian. So the decision seems all but settled. EU leaders will make a final decision at a summit in June, and it’s hard to imagine them voting against the will of their two most powerful members.

Even if the EU leaders were to reject simply accepting Merkel and Sarkozy’s choice and instead look for the best-qualified candidate for the job, the Italian would still find himself near the top of any shortlist.

‘The Best Europe Has to Offer’

Prominent economists around the world, including the American Nouriel Roubini, believe in Draghi. Finance Ministers like Luc Frieden, from Luxembourg, describe him as “impressive and intelligent.” Former German Finance Minister Peer Steinbrück says that Draghi “is always very independent, very quiet and technically excellent” at international financial summits like the G-8 or the G-20. In the banking headquarters in the City of London — where he served for a few years as European head of the American investment bank Goldman Sachs — he’s known as “Super Mario.”

“The entire international financial establishment supports Draghi,” says a Brussels insider quoted in the Financial Times Deutschland. He’s supposedly “the best man Europe has to offer.”

Draghi is very different from Italy’s prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi. He’s quiet and polite. He’s friendly but shy of the public. He doesn’t go to glamorous parties. He embodies a national alternative to Berlusconi, who embarrasses many Italians.

Draghi studied first in Rome before earning a PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). After serving at the World Bank in Washington, in 1990 he returned home to serve as the top official in Italy’s Finance Ministry, where he privatized ailing public enterprises and set out to reform the highly-indebted state budget, which was a prerequisite for Italy’s accession to the euro zone in 1999.

Draghi left government when Berlusconi took office in 2001 and took the job at Goldman Sachs. French President Sarkozy considers this move a black mark on Draghi’s resume. For former German Finance minister Peer Steinbrück it seems “more of an advantage than a disadvantage” for a continental banker “to understand the Anglo-American world.” When the Banca d’Italia threatened to sink near the end of 2005, the Berlusconi government called him home.

‘We Should All Follow the German Example’

His opinions on the European crisis are not Mediterranean so much as Prussian. In a currency union it is “unacceptable that individual states should use the others,” he said in an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. The euro zone therefore needs quasi-automatic rules to force member nations onto a frugal and stable financial course.

He wants more rules for the euro zone to encourage its members to follow growth-friendly reforms. He finds it unconscionable for citizens in one country to retire at 57 while citizens in another work until 67. That leads, he says, to imbalances in competition, which is expensive for everyone. Germany has raised its retirement age to 67 and improved its competitive power. “We should all follow the German example,” says Draghi.

His only failing for the job of ECB president, it seems, is the wrong passport. So it’s still possible that “this Italian” will be passed over in June, at the EU summit. There was some speculation that the next president could be the Finn, Erkki Liikanen, or the Luxembourger, Yves Mersch. They both come from orderly nations.

But Finland, meanwhile, has removed Liikanen from the running, and Mersch’s chances are seen as distant because another Luxembourger, Jean-Claude Juncker, will probably remain as president of the Euro Group, the euro zone’s policy coordination forum — and having two citizens of the same small country in top EU positions is seen as unlikely.

In other words: Draghi’s chances are not bad at all.

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

China Raising Fuel Prices, Buying Crude From Libyan Rebels

Fuel prices jump 5.8 per cent pushed by record-level oil prices. Meanwhile, Beijing is buying crude from Libyan rebels. Inflation is up but big world banks believe it’s time to invest in Chinese stocks, signalling confidence in Beijing’s capacity to muzzle inflation.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) — China has increased the retail price of petrol and diesel to meet rising oil prices. It is also negotiating with Libyan rebels to buy oil. At the same time, big investment banks are responding favourably to China’s higher interest rates, saying, “it’s time” to buy Chinese stocks.

China’s rising interest rates, jacked up for the fourth time since October 2010 to 6.31 per cent, have spurred four of the world’s leading banks to say it is time to invest in Chinese stocks.

Credit Suisse Group AG boosted its 12-month forecast for the Hang Seng China Enterprises Index, also known as the H-share index, predicting a 28 per cent gain over the next 12 months. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS) and Deutsche Bank AG (DBK) as well as others have also issued bullish forecasts as well.

Experts view this as a sign that many believe Beijing will be able to curb inflation without penalising economic growth, which the World Bank expects to be around 9 per cent in 2011.

Consumer prices jumped 4.9 percent in February from a year earlier, topping the government’s full-year target of 4 per cent. Inflation probably accelerated to 5.2 per cent in March.

Fuel prices rose 5.8 per cent today, the second hike this year, after oil reached a 30-month high (US$ 109 in New York yesterday).

Beijing has tried to hold fuel prices down to stop inflation and favour consumption and investments; even if it means having state-owned oil companies lose money.

Experts note however that the rise will not contain domestic fuel consumption. It also will not limit the losses of energy plants, which still have to take a shortfall, albeit of two rather than ten dollars.

In order to increase energy supplies, China has bought the first oil cargo from Libyan rebels via trading house Vitol.

For now, quantities from the rebels will be limited since the war has cut output in rebel-held areas. However, the deal is important because it provides the rebel government with greater recognition.

Previously, Beijing had criticised NATO air strikes against Libyan military positions in support of rebel forces.

Meanwhile, China’s central bank has said the yuan will start to be convertible with more currencies. At present, it can be exchanged with the US dollar, euro, yen, Hong Kong dollar, pound sterling, Russian rouble and Malaysian ringgit.

Bank officials have not mentioned which currencies but the report confirms China’s intention of giving the yuan greater international leverage.

Among operators, caution remains de rigueur however. Being used to Beijing’s small step policy, no one expects any major changes on the short run.

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

Debt Portugal Gets Offer it Can’t Refuse

Irish and Greek and now Portuguese citizens can testify that falling into the clutches of the European commission for a bailout is a mobster’s embrace, argues a Guardian columnist.

In the excellent TV series The Sopranos there is an episode where mobster Tony Soprano tells a small-time gambler why he let him play and lose in the big stakes game. “I knew you could never afford it, but your wife had the sports goods store,” he explains after stripping the store of its assets and bankrupting it.

The Sopranos is available in Portuguese. Viewers will find out more about their fate than from most media coverage now Portugal is the latest economy to fall into the clutches of the European commission and, possibly the IMF. It is a mobster’s embrace, as Irish and Greek citizens can testify.

The Portuguese government is reportedly requesting an emergency loan of €80bn, following an auction of government bonds where interest rates reached exorbitant levels. However, judging by the experience elsewhere in Europe the interest rate charged by the EU will be no lower than the unsustainable rate demanded by the bond markets.

The Irish and Greek bailouts were billed as an extreme but necessary step to support the solvency of the state. They have failed. Both economies have suffered further downgrades by the international credit ratings’ agencies since the bailouts were announced, and financial markets are still pricing in a likely default. The Lisbon government, like those in Dublin and Athens, is likely to find it has exchanged the uncertain and costly financial market debt for the certainty of exorbitant debt from the EU and the IMF. As a result, the state will be less able to repay the debt over the long run, and more immediately it will be less able to sustain the debt servicing costs.

Worse, in exchange for the bailout funds a further set of cuts to public spending and taxes on poor and middle-income earners will be demanded — which throttle economic activity, depressing the tax income on which debt servicing depends. The likelihood is that the deficit will rise and so too will the risk of default. Greek and Irish tax revenues are falling.

There remain persistent reports, publicly denied, that the IMF is urging a Greek partial default on its debt. Whatever their validity, mainstream opinion — in the form of the Economist, the Financial Times and leading economists such as Joseph Stiglitz, Paul Krugman and Kenneth Rogoff — have all urged partial default on either Ireland or Greece simply because the interest burden is unsustainable.

The reason these enormous bailout sums increase the likelihood of a default is because they are Tony Soprano bailouts — not a cent goes the countries themselves, but straight to their creditors, European banks and, increasingly, US hedge funds. It is a repeat of the loathed bank bailouts seen across the world, this time on the international stage. Taxpayers in the so-called “peripheral” economies are bailing out Europe’s biggest banks. Britain’s banks are also beneficiaries, with nationalised Royal Bank of Scotland at the head of the queue.

“Peripheral” economies is one of the more polite designations identifying the targeted countries. It is said the categorisation is based on debt levels — but that cannot be true. Both Italy and Belgium had higher government debt as a proportion of GDP than all these economies except Greece. Nor is it true that they are all chronically prone to high deficits: Ireland and Spain ran government surpluses before the crisis.

It is actually banking that determines whether the country comes under attack from the concerted efforts of financial markets, ratings agencies, EU and European Central Bank. Data from the Bank for International Settlements shows net assets of the banking sector of Germany, the Benelux countries and France are over $2tn, while the Mediterranean group of countries has net external liabilities of over $400bn. Ireland went from poster-boy for austerity to EU/IMF basket-case only when its banks were clearly insolvent at the end of 2010.

Domestic politicians are also responsible. The crisis hit all countries, but some weathered it much better than others, mainly via increased government spending, which led to economic recovery. But it was the initial weakness of tax revenues that determined the severity of the crisis. A league table of low-tax economies in Europe would have all these countries in the vanguard — Ireland, Estonia, Slovakia, Greece, Spain and Portugal . Their banks/shipping, companies/property speculators gambled and lost. Now the heavy mob have arrived to strip assets and load taxpayers with more debt. As Tony S says, “watchyagonnado?”

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

EU: Top Antitrust Official Tracking Italian Bid to Protect Dairy Giant Parmalat

(AKI) — St Gallen, 8 April — The European Union is “closely following” Italy’s attempts to stop French dairy company Lactalis from buying a stake in Parmalat that would make it the company’s biggest shareholder, according to the EU’s top competitition official.

Competition commissioner Joaquin Almunia said on Friday the EU executive was assessing whether Lactalis’s bid to acquire a 29 percent stake in the Italian dairy giant would constitute a takeover under EU rules.

“The European Commission is examining whether the case is reviewable under EU merger control,” Almunia said in a speech in St. Gallen in Switzerland.

“If it is, the commission will have exclusive competence to assess its compatibility with EU competition rules,” he said.

Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi on 31 March urged Italian investors to form a group to counter the French company’s bid.

The government passed a decree authorising state purchases of stakes in companies deemed strategic, such as Parmalat. Finance minister Giulio Tremonti says it is modeled on a French measure.

The EU had in the past stopped states that “put forward unjustified obstacles to cross-border mergers,” Almunia said.

He said he was “determined to rely on such powers again if necessary”.

Parmalat postponed a shareholders’ meeting until June, giving the country’s biggest listed food group time to find domestic investors.

The meeting, originally scheduled for April 12-14, would have allowed Lactalis — the world’s third largest dairy group — to take control of Parmalat.

Parlamalat was declared bankrupt in December 2003 after it emerged that four billion euros it supposedly held in an offshore Bank of America account did not actually exist.

The collapse of Parmalat wiped out the savings of more than 100,000 small investors and ruined its image as a leading business empire.

Parmalat’s disgraced founder and former chief executive Calisto Tanzi, its former financial director Fausto Tonna and Tanzi’s brother Giovanni Tanzi were jailed in 2010 over their roles in Parmalat’s fraudulent bankruptcy.

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

Italy: Adding Insult to Injury in the Parmalat Case

Claims for damages may be statute barred

Bankers on trial for pumping and dumping; 80,000 savers at risk

MILAN — December 2003: all hope for Parmalat vanished with Calisto Tanzi’s bizarre and still obscure trip to Ecuador. Then came the chief executive’s arrest and the multinational’s unbelievable €14bn crash, whose blow was only softened by receivership under the Marzano Bis law. For over120,000 holders of bonds issued by the fraudulent king of UHT milk, this was only the beginning of their problems. If the banks are not convicted on 18 April 2011, i.e. in just a few days’ time, 80,000 of those savers will lose their last chance to make good their losses.

It’s a complex issue, but on 18 April the Court of Milan is expected to deliver its verdict in the trial against Citigroup, Bank of America, Deutsche Bank, Morgan Stanley, and their chief executives, for pumping and dumping. The dates are important here, because pumping and dumping offences committed by individuals become statute barred after seven and a half years. In other words, in just a few weeks’ time. This means that all those who have been following the trial, hoping for justice, may be in for a nasty surprise. The fact is that even if the court convicts and serves out a hefty sentence on the managers whom prosecution magistrates Eugenio Fusco, Carlo Nocerino and Francesco Greco allege were behind the crash, it would be a pyrrhic victory. If they were to appeal, any crimes committed by Carlo Pagliani, Paolo Basso (Morgan Stanley), Marco Pracca, Tommaso Zibordi (Deutsche Bank) and Paolo Botta (Citi) would undoubtedly become statute barred…

English translation by Simon Tanner

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

Majority of Finns Oppose Bailout

A clear majority of Finns oppose the planned bailout package for crisis-hit EU countries. Nearly 60 percent of people asked in a poll for MTV3 rejected Finnish participation in the bailout. The survey’s margin of error is three percentage points.

According to the survey, women were more critical of the bailout than men. More than 60 percent of women were opposed to the bailout, while around 55 percent of men witheld their support.

A little over 30 percent of respondents accept the support packages. Of highly educated respondents, slightly more than half supported the bailout.

The proportion of negative respondents was greater in the north. Those in employment were also more likely to oppose the bailout.

The research was carried out by Think If Laboratories on behalf of MTV3 between 30 March and 6 April. Around 2,400 people answered the survey.

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

One of Five in Turkey Survives on State Aid

Unfair income distribution and an array of socio-cultural complexities have resulted in one in five Turkish people surviving on state aid, according to experts.

About 4 million people in Turkey receive state aid, according to figures disclosed by the Social Security Institution, or SGK, in March. With family members of aid recipients included, the number translates to roughly 16 million people relying at least in part on state-provided assistance.

“The main reason for such figures is unfair income distribution [throughout Turkey],” Hüsamettin Inanç, an associate professor of sociology at the Kütahya Dumlupinar University, told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review in a phone interview Monday. The country’s economic growth is not in parallel with the development of social structures, according to Inanç. “Turkey is traveling down an unplanned growth path. Development is not planned in accordance with social structures.”

The real problem with such a figure is that most of these numbers would be concentrated in certain areas, including mostly eastern provinces and suburbs of large cities, according to Erinç Yeldan, a professor of economics at Bilkent University who spoke to the Daily News on Monday. He said such concentration of poverty made the problem even more complex. “It is very hard to bring education and other social infrastructure to these areas. It is hard to reach these people.”

The large number of people who live at the poverty line should not be seen as only an economic issue, but rather as a combination of economic and other factors, including the social, cultural and ethnic backgrounds of people, according to Yeldan. “[Poverty] may give way to feelings of hatred and social exclusion, which might then be reflected in social explosions,” he said, adding that the best way to address these problems was to train and teach people in need with the skills necessary for them to afford their own livings.

There are no exact figures on the total amount of social aid delivered yearly by the state, given that related expenditures are reflected in different items of the budget. However, the amount of no-premium payments by SGK was 2.56 billion Turkish Liras in 2010. Moreover, money transfers from the state budget to households in the same year added up to 1.68 billion liras and social transfers were an additional 1.61 million liras. There were also 849 million liras listed in the “other transfers” item in the 2010 budget.

These transfers could be seen as part of the social welfare state, provided that they have not been delivered on terms of religious and political ties, according to Yeldan. “Unfortunately, some form of this aid is given under political patronage and under religious and ethnic ties.” Citizenship ties should be the ones to guide social welfare aid, he added.

“The [number of people receiving state aid] is very high,” Inanç said, suggesting that the state should establish mechanisms to prepare individuals able to work who received aid for social life and labor markets, rather than just offer them monetary assistance. “Aid recipients must become part of the production [labor] force.”

Other factors for the large number of people living by state aid

Another factor affecting the high number of people in need of assistance is inadequate education, according to Inanç, who said university students were not properly prepared for the labor market. “There is a large gap among universities’ curricula and the knowledge required in the workforce,” he said, adding that university and vocational schools programs had to be reviewed in this regard.

“A major concern [in labor markets] is not the availability of jobs, but rather finding an individual that suits all the requirements,” Inanç said.

“There are about 400 working areas defined in Germany, whereas one could hardly find 40 such areas in Turkey,” Inanç said, adding that the number of well-determined professions was limited in Turkey and that even existing professions did not meet international standards. “This drives people into temporary no-quality ‘jobs,’ mostly made up by the people themselves,” he said, mentioning people selling tokens next to a ferry station or unqualified people teaching in private teaching centers known as dershanes.

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

Portugal: Spain: We Are Now Insurmountable Dam

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, APRIL 8 — Spain is now “an insurmountable dam” that is protecting the eurozone, after it has been seen as possible fragile element for a long time. So said Spanish Deputy Prime Minister Alfredo Rubalcaba.

Asked by journalists about the possibility of the Portuguese crisis spreading to Spain, the number 2 of the socialist government of Premier Jose’ Luis Zapatero said that Spain is no longer “one of the many elements” in Europe that are at risk of instability, now it is “an insurmountable dam” protecting the eurozone. In a press conference following the weekly cabinet meeting, Rubalcaba showed his confidence that the country will hold up: “Today we form a guarantee for the entire eurozone”, he said, explaining that “this is no coincidence, Spain has done what it had to do”.

The Deputy Premier added that reading the “most influential newspapers”, people become aware of the fact that “it is not only the government that says so”. He referred to a recent article in the Financial Times that praised the reforms carried out by Spain.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


US to Use Facebook, Twitter to Issue Terror Alerts

WASHINGTON — Terror alerts from the government will soon have just two levels of warnings — elevated and imminent — and those will be relayed to the public only under certain circumstances. Color codes are out; Facebook and Twitter will sometimes be in, according to a Homeland Security draft obtained by The Associated Press.

Some terror warnings could be withheld from the public if announcing a threat would risk exposing an intelligence operation or an ongoing investigation, according to the government’s confidential plan.

Like a gallon of milk, the new terror warnings will each come with a stamped expiration date.

The new system, replacing the five color-coded levels, is expected to be in place by April 27.

A 19-page document, marked “for official use only” and dated April 1, describes the step-by-step process that would occur behind the scenes when the government believes terrorists might be threatening Americans. It describes the sequence of notifying members of Congress, then counterterrorism officials in states and cities, then governors and mayors and, ultimately, the public.

It even specifies details about how many minutes U.S. officials can wait before organizing urgent conference calls to discuss pending threats. It places the Homeland Security secretary, currently Janet Napolitano, in charge of the National Terrorism Advisory System.

The new terror alerts would also be published online using Facebook and Twitter “when appropriate,” the plan said, but only after federal, state and local leaders have been notified.

The government has struggled with how much information to share with the public about specific threats, sometimes over concern about revealing classified intelligence or law enforcement efforts to disrupt an unfolding plot. But the color warnings that became one of the government’s most visible anti-terrorism programs since the September 2001 attacks were criticized as too vague to be useful and were sometimes mocked by TV comedians.

The new advisory system is designed to be easier to understand and more specific, but it’s unclear how often the public will receive warnings. The message will always depend on the threat and the intelligence behind it.

For example, if there is a specific threat that terrorists are looking to hide explosives in backpacks around U.S. airports, the government might issue a public warning that would be announced in airports telling travelers to be extra vigilant and report any unattended backpacks or other suspicious activity.

If the intelligence community believes a terror threat is so serious that an alert should be issued, the warning would offer specific information for specific audiences. The Homeland Security secretary would make the final decision on whether to issue an alert and to whom — sometimes just to law enforcement and other times to the public.

According to the draft plan, an “elevated” alert would warn of a credible threat against the U.S. It probably would not specify timing or targets, but it could reveal terrorist trends that intelligence officials believe should be shared in order to prevent an attack. That alert would expire after no more than 30 days but could be extended.

An “imminent” alert would warn about a credible, specific and impending terrorist threat or an on-going attack against the U.S. That alert would expire after no more than seven days, though it, too, could be extended.

There hasn’t been a change in the color warnings since 2006, despite an uptick in attempted attacks and terror plots against the U.S. That’s because the counterterrorism community has found other ways to notify relevant people about a particular threat. In December 2010, intelligence officials learned that a terrorist organization was looking to use insulated beverage containers to hide explosives. That information was relayed to the aviation industry to be watchful. Less formal warnings like that will continue under the new system.

In the past, there was no established system for determining whether to raise or lower the threat level, said James Carafano, a national security expert at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington think tank. In part because of this, travelers have heard about nonspecific “orange” level threats in airports since August 2006 when the government responded to an al-Qaida plot to detonate liquid explosive bombs hidden in soft drink bottles on aircraft bound for the United States and Canada.

While there was coordination among U.S. counterterrorism officials about the threat, “it was pretty much kind of a gut call,” said Carafano, who was on a 2009 advisory committee to review the color alerts and suggest ways to improve them.

According to the draft plan, before an official alert is issued, there is a multi-step process that must be followed, starting with intelligence sharing among multiple federal, state and local agencies, including the FBI, the National Counterterrorism Center and the White House. If the threat is considered serious enough, a Homeland Security official will call for a meeting of a special counterterrorism advisory board. That board would be expected to meet within 30 minutes of being called. If it’s decided an alert is necessary, it would need to be issued within two hours.

“The plan is not yet final, as we will continue to meet and exercise with our partners to finalize a plan that meets everyone’s needs,” Homeland Security spokeswoman Amy Kudwa said.

           — Hat tip: AC[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Barolo vs. Bordeaux: Latest Round to the Italian in Red

Wine guru Robert Parker pays unique homage to Barolo 2007, a vintage that could down as a once-in-a-generation offering. And the Italians rejoice

Robert Parker, the influential wine critic who has determined the success or disgrace of countless producers across the world, has picked Barolo to do what he had never done before: a public wine tasting in New York.

With a selected group of 15 producers of the Langhe — the wine-growing area in the northern Italian Piedmont region — he introduced the 2007 Barolo to the most important collectors in the United States, Canada and Britain.

Apparently, it did not go down well in Bordeaux.

It is, in fact, nothing short of a conversion for Parker, who has long been a fan of Bordeaux at the expenses of some wines, like Nebbiolo of Alba or French pinot noir, that are the standard-bearers of specific terroir and identity.

No wonder Parker has had his right-hand man Antonio Galloni do some reconnaissance. Galloni has long been a supporter of Italian wine in the “Wine Advocate.”

Called “Festa del Barolo” the event took place a week ago at Del Posto in New York, which has recently earned a fourth star from the New York Times, the first Italian restaurant in decades to win such an honor.

Fifteen tables for 15 star producers. The lucky ones who spent $900 for a seat were treated to a wine tasting, followed by a gala dinner and an auction whose proceeds were destined to relief efforts in tsunami-hit Japan.

“Such an event will go down in the history of Barolo as a milestone, the definitive recognition of our land and our wines,” said Luca Currado of the Vietti di Castiglione Falletto wine cellar. “If the Legion D’Honneur existed in Italy, they should give it to Antonio Galloni.”

And perhaps to Parker, too.

Says Bruno Ceretto of the wine-making dynasty in the Langhe: “I remember the first time Parker came to the Langhe in 1994. Prior to that visit, the Barolo and Barbaresco wines were considered ‘good but…’ After, they just became ‘Good. Period.’“

“This New York event consolidated a prestige that has been built with decades of hard work,” said Ceretto.

Elio Altare, a producer from a town called La Morra, said Parker made a “safe bet.”

“The 2007 vintage is one of those that can hardly repeat itself in the lifetime of a Barolo producer: it was so complete that it was virtually impossible to make mediocre wine,” he explained.

Another fine producer, Enrico Scavino, likened the 2007 vintage to another one that is now legendary, 1990. “Same elegance, harmony, finesse and intensity. With its extraordinary fullness, a sip is all it takes to win you over.”

The 2007 vintage produced a Barolo that was easy on the palate and became ready very soon. “A great wine is one that can be easily drunk even if it is as complex as Barolo,” said producer Bruno Giacosa.

What matters is the impression that Barolo has finally made an impact among the great collectors in a country that, despite the crisis, remains the most crucial market for high-end wine. Back in Italy, producers who have returned from the New York event can hardly conceal their enthusiasm.

“It was unprecedented. Americans can get even more excited than us. The other night they looked like children in a candy store,” says Barbara Sandrone, of the winery by the same name, who attended with her father Luciano. She said the Americans came to appreciate the uniqueness of this Italian wine.

The producers’ thoughts now turn to the hoped-for hike in sales that the event is expected to bring. Might they overtake the French producers? They hope so, though nobody yet dares to say it out loud.

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

Dutch Parliament Likely to Ban Shchitah Next Week

Despite protests from Jewish groups and an appeal to Liberal Prime Minister Mark Rutte, Holland is set to ban shechita, the Jewish ritual slaughter of animals following the Socialist party’s decision to support a proposal from the pro-animal party, the world’s first such party to be elected to parliament in 2006.

The proposal, which claims that there is evidence that ritual slaughter causes animals unnecessary paid and suffering, is likely to get a majority of votes at the Dutch parliament next week, political observers said.

Both Jewish kosher slaughter and Muslim halal slaughter demand that slaughter is carried out with a single cut to the throat. In ordinary abattoirs, animals are usually stunned before being killed.

The extreme right Party for Freedom (PVV) led by Geert Wilders supports the bill out of its hostility toward the Dutch Muslim population. According to the press, Wilders has an interest in helping the bill pass because his party uses the “animal lover” tag as part of its pitch against Halal butchering.

However, Wilders casts himself as a friend of Israel and the Jews, and by supporting the ban vote he risks losing their support.

Most Dutch favor a ban but many centrist and religious parties feel the issue is a distraction from the more serious issue of abuses at regular slaughterhouses. One of the two members of the governing coalition led by Mark Rutte, the Christian Democrats (CDA), oppose the law out of fear for damage to the country’s international image as a haven of tolerance for religious minorities.

Holland has a great tradition of tolerance and was one of the first countries in Europe to allow Jews to live openly with their religion in the 17th century.

The other member of the coalition, the liberal VVD party, has not yet determined which way it will vote.

Jewish and Muslim groups have called the initiative an affront to freedom of religion.

“I can speak for the Dutch Jewish Community and I think for the wider Jewish world, that this law raises grave concerns about infringements on religious freedom,” said Ruben Vis, spokesman for the Netherlands’ NIK, an umbrella of Jewish organizations.

“What’s worse is that there is no conclusive scientific evidence that slaughter without stunning is more harmful or painful for animals,” Vis of the CJO said.

In a letter to the Dutch Prime Minister ahead of the vote, European Jewish Congress (EJC) President Moshe Kantor said that the legislation would violate Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, namely the right to freedom of religious practice.

He also pointed out that Muslim ritual slaughter does not expressly forbid pre-slaughter stunning of animals, meaning that the legislation affects only the Jewish community and its slaughter of a couple thousand animals each year.

If the legislation passes, it would make Holland the first European Union country to ban kosher slaughter and it might have a domino effect threat in other parts of Europe.

New Zealand,, the Scandinavian and Baltic countries as well as Switzerland currently ban ritual slaughter.

Around 45,000 Jews live in Holland.

           — Hat tip: Steen[Return to headlines]

France ‘The New US’ With Sarkozy as Chief Warmonger

Nicolas Sarkozy has transformed France from one-time vociferous pacifist to one of the West’s eagerest warmongers. He says his actions are in the name of democracy, but political analysts believe those same actions could come back to haunt him.

In January this year, French president Nicolas Sarkozy told a roomful of journalists: “A colonial power — even after several decades — is never justified in making a judgment on the internal affairs of its former colony — and you know it, and everybody knows it.”

He was talking about Tunisia then. But two months later, the president has unashamedly changed tack. On Tuesday night, French forces attacked the presidential palace of another of its former colonies, Ivory Coast.

The operation is part of a UN peacekeeping mission — to which, according to Ban Ki-moon, President Sarkozy “responded positively”. The Elysee Palace released a statement Monday insisting that the operation was intended to “neutralise” heavy weapons belonging to troops loyal to incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo — who refuses to give up the presidency to internationally recognised election winner Alassane Ouattara.

The mission came just after France joined a coalition of armed forces against the Gaddafi regime in Libya (a former Italian colony). But that itself followed a dire diplomatic start to the year, after which France was criticised for dithering over Tunisia and Egypt, as the masses fought for democracy there.

Ulterior motive?

With Sarkozy’s approval ratings at an all-time low just a year before the next presidential election, some of his opponents have suggested that the French president’s enthusiasm for war could be part of a strategy to boost his dwindling reputation.

In an interview with the New York Times, opposition member Didier Mathus said that Sarkozy “would declare a war every week” if he could, in order to stir up patriotism and boost his ratings.

“I think it’s possible to say that’s he’s acting with the presidential election in mind,” Douglas Yates, a Paris-based researcher specialised in France-Africa relations, told FRANCE 24. “But he may also have been thinking about his international reputation. It’s clear that he was very embarrassed by the series of diplomatic failures in North Africa earlier this year.”

If Sarkozy is hoping to benefit from the “rally round the flag” syndrome, his strategy has yet to bring home any results. While approximately two-thirds of French people say they approve of France’s intervention in Libya, the president probably shouldn’t hold his breath waiting for news about his personal popularity boost.

“I don’t think it will improve his ratings,” says François Nectoux, a researcher in French international relations at Kingston University, London. “Even if it does, it will only be short-lived.”

Changing places

Nonetheless, the Sarkozy government was already taking credit for the situation in Ivory Coast before Gbagbo had even been deposed. On Tuesday, Prime Minister François Fillon told parliament that “France can be proud to have participated in the defence and expression of democracy in Ivory Coast.”

Nectoux believes that popularity at the polls is a supplementary advantage of waging war. “It’s not Sarkozy’s main objective,” he told FRANCE 24. “France wants to be seen as part of the goodies — the UN, the EU, the coalition in Libya — it wants to be seen at the front line fighting for human rights etc, not as a neo-colonialist”.

This is the same France that was resolute in its disapproval of the US-led invasion of Iraq eight years ago. Today, while Sarkozy strikes a gung-ho attitude to war, US President Barack Obama is being quietly congratulated for his prudence.

“France and the USA have swapped positions when it comes to going to war,” says Nectoux. “Like there was in Iraq, there is also a lot of trouble to come in both Ivory Coast and Libya, even once Gbagbo and Gaddafi have been gotten rid of. If a lot of civilians are killed, then Sarkozy will suffer, and massively.”

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

Germany- Italy Must Deal W/the Problem Alone

(AGI) Berlin — According to ‘Die Welt’, Italy is on its own when it comes to the issue of dealing with Tunisian refugees.

The German newspaper reports that the country’s Interior Minister, Hans-Peter Friedrich, stated that “Italy must solve the refugee problem on its own; there is no reason to resort to norms for a mass exodus.” .

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

Italian Girls ‘Using Alcohol More Riskily’

11-15-year-old consumers ‘three times adult female numbers’

(ANSA) — Rome, April 7 — Italian girls as young as 11 are using alcohol more and more riskily, the Higher Health Institute (ISS) said on the 10th annual Alcohol Prevention Day (APD) Thursday.

“We’re particularly concerned about pre-adolescents girls,” said Emanuele Scafato, head of the National Alcohol Observatory and scientific director of the APD.

“Among 11 to 15-year-old girls we see an average number of consumers markedly higher than the overall Italian female average, three times more than adult women”.

In a slightly older age group, more and more Italian girls are drinking outside mealtimes and drinking to get drunk, the ISS said.

“Even though men are still the bigger drinkers, the most significant rise in the use of alcohol away from the dinner table is among female consumers aged 25-44, who have doubled (+45.2%) in 10 years”, the ISS said.

For both sexes, at-risk drinkers under the age of 16 are on the rise, with 18.5% of males and 15.5% of females in that age bracket showing worrying drink patterns.

“About 475,000 minors are at risk,” the ISS said. The use of alco-pops and other drinks targeted at the teen market has surged in Italy in recent years and the stigma of being seen drunk in public has all but vanished, experts say, especially in certain northern and central regions.

The case of a 14-year-old girl rushed to a Rome hospital in an alcoholic coma on Saturday gained national headlines this week, with calls to clamp down on the sale of alcohol to minors.

The girl and her friends had bought two bottles of vodka before heading for one of the hottest spots on Rome’s drinking scene, Campo dei Fiori.

Faced with the growing problem of binge drinking and alcohol-related deaths, the government has passed a raft of measures including zero tolerance for drivers and stricter controls at discos.

Thursday’s report came two days after national statistics agency Istat said over eight and a half million Italians engage in some form of dangerous drinking.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Naples Trash Emergency Returns

Almost 2,000 tonnes of uncollected refuse in the streets

(ANSA) — Naples, April 8 — A rubbish emergency in Naples has returned with almost 2,000 tonnes of uncollected refuse littering the streets amid fears of health risks from rising temperatures and arson.

Several fires were set in trash mounds overnight and Naples Hygiene Councillor Paolo Giacomelli said: “I’m very worried because fires cause public-health risks because of the emission of dioxins into the air.

“I think that as temperatures rise over the coming days we absolutely have to find a solution to reduce the quantity of refuse still in the streets”. Giacomelli appealed to local authorities to greenlight disposal in new landfills.

In the Naples suburb of Pozzuoli, where about 1,200 tonnes of trash fill the streets, officials complained that trucks were unable to unload “for days at a time”. “The situation can only get worse,” they said as plastic bags continued to pile up.

The trash crisis in Naples has been running for months amid resistance to opening new disposal sites.

Weeks of clashes and rising trash piles brought Premier Silvio Berlusconi to the city in early November.

The premier, who won kudos by sorting out a similar emergency in 2008, vowed to clear the streets in three days.

But his pledge ran into renewed opposition to landfills and a delay in the start-up of incineration plants before the situation was eventually brought under control around Christmas time with the help of other Italian regions.

Prosecutors on Friday asked to send 20 people to trial for allegedly causing an epidemic risk in 2008, including former Naples prefect and waste czar Alessandro Pansa, former Campania governor Antonio Bassolino and the current mayor of the city, Rosa Russo Iervolino.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Netherlands: Lower House Urges Ban on Ritual Slaughter

THE HAGUE, 09/04/11 — The Lower House wants a ban on the unanaesthetised ritual slaughter of animals. The support of Labour (PvdA) has created a House majority.

The PvdA is supporting a private member’s bill from the Party for Animals (PvdD) to enshrine the bank in legislation. Earlier, the Party for Freedom (PVV), Socialist Party (SP), leftwing Greens (GroenLinks) and centre-left D66 had already backed the proposal.

The conservatives (VVD) have not yet taken a position. The Christian parties CDA, ChristenUnie and SGP, are against scrapping the exemption in the law that currently allows unanaesthetised ritual slaughter.

CDA considers freedom of religion for Orthodox Jews and Muslims takes precedence. It also says there does not need to be any question of animal suffering if the ritual slaughter is carried out in a proper manner.

According to PvdA MP Van Dekken, his party has decided “after lengthy wrestling” to allow animal welfare to weigh more heavily than freedom of religion. Pvd -leader Thieme is pleased that her private member’s bill has now achieved a majority. She says the stunning of animals before they are ritually slaughtered is a good alternative.

The Lower House will continue the debate on Thieme’s bill next week. Unanaesthetised ritual slaughter is already banned in New Zealand, Norway and Austria.

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

UK: BNP Election Candidate Arrested Over Qur’an Burning

Footage leaked to the Observer shows Welsh Assembly candidate setting fire to Islamic holy book in his garden

A senior member of the BNP who burned a copy of the Qur’an in his garden has been arrested following an investigation by the Observer.

Footage of the burning shows Sion Owens, 40, from south Wales and a candidate for the forthcoming Welsh Assembly elections, soaking the Qur’an in kerosene and setting fire to it.

A video clip of the act, leaked to the Observer and passed immediately to South Wales police, provoked fierce criticism from the government.

A statement from the Home Office said: “The government absolutely condemns the burning of the Qur’an. It is fundamentally offensive to the values of our pluralist and tolerant society.

“We equally condemn any attempts to create divisions between communities and are committed to ensuring that everyone has the freedom to live their lives free from fear of targeted hostility or harassment on the grounds of a particular characteristic, such as religion.”

Owens, who has previously stood for a council seat, was last Tuesday unveiled by the BNP as a candidate for next month’s assembly elections. Several photographs place him alongside party leader Nick Griffin, including one showing the pair embracing during a party conference.

The footage comes at a time of heightened tensions. Internationally, protests continued in Afghanistan last week against the recent Qur’an burning by the US pastor Terry Jones in his Florida church.

Jones’s act triggered a wave of global violence that nine days ago led to protesters storming a UN Afghan compound, killing three UN staff members and four Nepalese guards. Police had feared that far-right British extremists might attempt to stir tensions here by replicating Jones’s stunt.

Superintendent Phil Davies of South Wales police, who led the investigation, said: “We always adopt an extremely robust approach to allegations of this sort and find this sort of intolerance unacceptable in our society.”

Owens was arrested within hours of police receiving the video. A second person, believed to have filmed the Qur’an burning, is also in police custody.

It is unclear when the incident took place, but the five-minute footage is already understood to have been circulated to extremists. There is no evidence that Griffin was aware of the film.

When Jones went ahead with his “punishment” of the Qur’an on 20 March it was initially largely ignored until it was streamed on the internet and preserved on YouTube.

The footage of the burning in Britain clearly identifies Owens, who is wearing a “Whitelaw No Surrender” T-shirt. The film starts with the Qur’an lying in a Quality Street tin before Owens begins dousing the holy book in flammable liquid and then setting fire to it. The camera zooms in as the Qur’an burns.

           — Hat tip: Kitman[Return to headlines]


Barroso Voices Support for Bosnia’s EU Bid

Sarajevo, 8 April (AKI) — President of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso on Friday voiced his support for Bosnia’s drive to join the European Union, provided it implemented the necessary reforms and shared its values.

On the second leg of his current Balkans tour, Barroso told Bosnian leaders the EU was ready to welcome Bosnia, but said the country must help achieve that goal.

“I received a clear message: Bosnia and Herzegovina wants to become a member of the European Union,” Barroso said after meeting with members of Bosnia’s three-man rotating state presidency in Sarajevo.

“I also replied with a clear message: Bosnia and Herzegovina is a part of the European family and has a European future,” he added.

But Barroso warned that a “common vision and common desire is crucial to address the reforms that are key for progress towards the EU”.

Bosnia’s progress towards EU membership has been hampered by internal political squabbling between its three main groups — Muslims, Serbs and Croats — and lagging in reforms demanded by the EU.

“The EU is ready to help you through its reinforced presence and policies, and substantial aid. But Bosnia and Herzegovina has to do its own part,” Barroso said.

Earlier on a visit to Zagreb, Barroso passed on similar message to the Croatian leaders. After meeting with president Ivo Josipovic and Jadranka Kosor on Thursday, Barroso said Croatia was on the home stretch of its journey towards the EU, but said it was “the most difficult step”.

Croatia is in the final phase of talks with the EU and is expecting to join the Union next year, but Barroso refused to state precise dates.

“I can’t talk about dates, but our position is that essence is more important than speed,” he said.

“The EU will gladly accept Croatia as its 28th member as soon as possible,” Barroso said.

“You are now on the last leg of your road towards EU membership, and that is the most difficult part,” he added.

After meetings in Sarajevo, Barroso was due to travel to Montenegro and to Macedonia, both aspiring EU members.

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

Bosnia: Saudi Fund for Development Loan for Road Project

(ANSAmed) — SARAJEVO, APRIL 8 — The Saudi Fund for Development extended a BAM34.75 million (around 17.76 million euros) loan to finance the construction of a beltway around Zenica, in central Bosnia.

The project aims to enhance the economic and social development of the city and give a boost to tourism and industry in the area, the Fund said in a statement.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Fiat: Finest: Good Prospects for Allied Industry in Serbia

(ANSAmed) — PORDENONE, APRIL 7 — The region of Kragujevac (Serbia) is increasingly interesting for Italian firms. Fiat has moved part of its car production to the area, creating important business opportunities for all automobile companies and ancillary industries. This emerged from the first meeting on a project aimed at the internationalisation of Italian firms, organised by Finest with the purpose of planning a coordinated activity on Kragujevac to conquer the market in a systematic approach. “This is a very ambitious project”, said Finest chairman Renato Pujatti, “in which our organisation strongly believes.

Serbia is one of the most interesting countries for Finest and we have invested important resources here”. Finest will open an operational desk in Kragujevac to promote the project. This desk, explained Paolo Perin, Head of Marketing and Special Projects for Finest, will be opened “in an integrated view, involving players like Siepa, Simest, Friulia, Ial Fvg, Chambers, Confindustria, professional organisations and specialised consultants”. This way Finest, Perin added, “places its know-how acquired over a 20-year period in the Balkan area at the service of all Italian firms, not only those from Triveneto”. Italy is Serbia’s third trade partner. Italian investments over the 2007-2009 period increased substantially and currently 200 companies invest in the country, including Generali, Fantoni and AcegasAps. Finest has completed a total of 26 operations in Serbia, totalling almost 20 million euros with a volume of generated investment of 167 million euros. The main sectors are construction, steel and wood-furniture while Udine, Gorizia, Venice and Trieste are the provinces that are most present in Serbia with the support of Finest.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Kosovo: New President Handpicked by Americans, Predecessor Says

(AKI) — Former Kosovo president Bedzet Pacoli said on Friday his successor Atifete Jahjaga, who was elected by parliament, was in fact handpicked by the US ambassador to Pristina Christopher Dell.

Pacoli spent only one month in office and resigned last month after the constitutional court ruled the there had been irregularities in his election.

To break the political deadlock, the ruling Democratic Party of Kosovo, its coalition partner Alliance for new Kosovo and the opposition Democratic Alliance of Kosovo had agreed to field Jahjaga as a joint candidate.

But Pacoli told Pristina channel “TV Clan”, Jahjaga actually wasn’t a candidate of the three main parties, but of the Americans.

He described how Dell pulled out an envelope at a meeting with prime minister Hashim Thaci, Pacoli and opposition leader Isa Mustafa with Jahjaga’s name and said she was the candidate.

When Thaci and Mustafa heard the proposal, “they looked at each other in disbelief”, Pacoli said.

“Both of them were perplexed, and it’s hard to describe their reaction by words,” he added.

Dell was “very nervous and sharp in his demand” and told the three leaders not to “underestimate” his proposal, because they could lose America as a friend.

Pacoli said he accepted the proposal though he “never heard” of Jahjaga before.

The US spearheaded Kosovo’s drive for independence from Serbia three years ago.

American-educated Jahjaga, 36, joined Kosovo police as a translator in 2000, and had reached the rank of deputy police director before becoming president.

Dell said in a statement that his country ha worked with Jahjaga for many years.

“She had earned the admiration and respect of all those that worked with her, from US secretary of state Hillary Clinton to hundreds of US policemen and women that were proud to serve next to her during the past 11 years,” Dell said.

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

North Africa

Egypt Gears Up for Elections, Amid Political Divisions, Religious Extremism and Military Power

The young people of Tahrir Square try a coalition of movements ahead of September elections, but have little time. The internal disputes within the Muslim Brotherhood are likely to increase the ranks of the extremist Islamic Salafist movement. The military, currently holding power, maintaining stability in the country by balancing the differences between the parties. Hundreds of thousands of people in Tahrir Square call for Mubarak to be put on trial. Sources tell AsiaNews: “If Christians and Muslims are committed to working together, the country will see progress.”

Cairo (AsiaNews) — About two months after the resignation of President Mubarak, Egypt’s democratic future remains uncertain. According to AsiaNews sources, the majority of parties and movements, including the Muslim Brotherhood, are split and are trying to understand the way to go ahead of parliamentary elections in September. Today, hundreds of thousands of young people and former military took to the streets to demand Mubarak be put on trial. They also want greater clarity about the country’s future and the cancellation of the recent decree that prohibits strikes and demonstrations.

“The young people of Tahrir Square — says a source, anonymous for security reasons — are trying to create a coalition that unites the movements born of the revolution, but have little time to efficiently organize themselves. The general impression is that the fruits of the revolution have been taken over by the Muslim Brotherhood, but even they are deeply divided. “

To date, the only source of stability is the army, which after the fall of Mubarak has been appointed to manage the transition of the country until parliamentary elections in September. “The military took control of the situation — says the source — they are trying to maintain stability by balancing the differences between the movements and ideological currents.”

The internal disputes within the Muslim movements are likely to increase the ranks of the Salafi movement, the Islamic extremist group backed by Saudi Arabia. These days, Sheikh Mohamed Hassan, leader of the group, announced the creation of a political party, which will see him as a candidate in the forthcoming parliamentary elections. “The Salafi — says the source — are against the Muslim Brotherhood, regarded as too open, and offer sharia and the Koran as the only solution to the problems in Egypt, but among them there are various currents.

These divisions, however, have not stopped the violent activities of Islamic radicals, especially in the outskirts of Cairo and Upper Egypt. The source reports that the Salafist carried out the majority of attacks against the Coptic community in recent months. “Many — he says — say the group is supported by Mubarak supporters to destabilize the country.” According to the source, the National Democratic Party (NDP), the only organized party along with the Muslim Brotherhood wants to be the only source of stability in the face of political chaos and the growth of extremist parties that began with the fall of the regime.

Despite the influence of Islamic radicals and the risk of a return to the old regime, the source emphasizes that the movements and groups born during the Jasmine Revolution continue their struggle for a secular state and a society based on social equality.

Today thousands of Muslim and Coptic demonstrators gathered in Tahrir Square to demand Mubarak, his family and entourage be put on trial. Some former soldiers also took part in the protest. In addition to anti-Mubarak slogans, the young protesters have called again for Christian-Muslim unity, to stop a radical involution that some have described as a “counter-revolution”. Local media are reporting that crowds might continue to gather tonight turning the event into another million-strong protest.

According to the source, “the international community will support change in Egypt’s parliamentary elections, fostering a dialogue between the various groups toward the common good”, but precludes any modification of art. 2 of the Constitution, which provides Sharia law as the basis for all law. “Most of the Muslim population — he adds — are convinced that the deletion of Article would destroy the Islamic identity of the country.” “To this day — he concludes — it is very difficult to think of a real democracy for the future of Egypt, but if Christians and Muslims are committed to working together, the country will make progress.” (S.C.)

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

Egypt: Mubarak ‘Smuggling Money Out of the Country’

Cairo, 8 April — (AKI) — Youth groups involved in the street protests which led to the ousting of Egypt’s autocratic president Hosni Mubarak in February have accused him of smuggling cash and other valuables out of the country since he resigned, Al-Ahram Online reports.

Mubarak has smuggled unspecified sums of money, as well as gold and jewellery out of his current residence in the Red Sea resort of Sharm El Sheikh, according to a complaint lodged with Egypt’s ruling military council.

The assets were smuggled out of the country aboard a ship, according to the complaint by youth groups.

They claim that Mubarak — who is said to be in poor health — began smuggling the money out of Sharm El Sheikh after his former chief of staff, Zakaria Azzmi was arrested on 7 April.

Over a million people demonstrated on Friday in Egypt’s iconic Tahrir Square — the focus of the uprising which toppled longtime president Hosni Mubarak in February — urging him and top officials from his regime to stand trial for corruption.

Mubarak amassed a personal fortune of up to 70 billion euros during his 30-year rule according to Arabic media reports.

During Friday’s protest, hundreds of demonstrators gathered before the high rise apartment building in Giza housing the Israeli embassy, hoisting Egyptian and Palestinian flags, Al-Ahram Online reported.

Residents of the apartment building join in the protest, by putting out Egyptian flags, Al-Ahram said.

Israeli attacks have killed at least 10 Palestinians have been killed since Thursday and more than 40 have been injured, amid the worst fighting since 2009.

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

Egypt: Hundreds of Thousands Call to Bring Mubarak to Trial

(ANSAmed) — CAIRO, APRIL 8 — Hundreds of thousands of protestors have gathered in Tahrir Square in Cairo for a Friday of “trial and purification”. The protestors were called again to the square that is a symbol of the January 25 Revolution to demand for Hosni Mubarak, his family and his entourage to stand trial, and the influx of thousands of people is continuing even after Friday prayer for what could become a another ‘million-man protest’. Groups of protestors hoisted banners with slogans such as “the people want the murderer to stand trial” and “the road to stability requires cleaning the country of corruption” written on them. Egyptian, Tunisian Libyan, Syrian and Yemeni flags have all been seen among the crowd of protestors. “We will go to Sharm if prosecutors and General Tantawi refuse to bring Mubarak and his wife to stand trial,” said Sheikh Safwat Hegazi of the Muslim Brotherhood during Friday prayer, referring to the city on the Red Sea where the former leader is under house arrest at his residence.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Egypt: Islam Fundamentalism Rising, Attacks on Sufi Shrines

(ANSAmed) — ROME, APRIL 8 — People’s committees to defend the Sufi places of worship that were destroyed or attacked by Salafite groups in the past months: this is one of the measures taken by the followers of this mystic movement, after at least twenty sanctuaries, according to their leaders, were attacked, particularly after the revolution of January 25 in which President Mubarak was forced to step down. People in Egypt fear that these incidents are a sign of rising interreligious tensions between the two groups, due to the conviction of Salafis — who explain the religious texts in an extremely traditionalist way — that the Sufi version of Islam is heretic.

Tensions rose further due to the revolution and the fact that the rigid surveillance and repression system of the old regime against any form of Islamic fundamentalism has fallen away. But the attacks are not mainly aimed at the philosophical and mystic aspects of Sufism, but rather at the popular religious practices regarding the tombs of leaders who are considered to be holy, particularly those placed inside or near mosques. This was also the case in the Sidi Gamal al-Din sanctuary in Qalyoub which was set on fire, or the Sidi Abdel Rahman sanctuary which inhabitants of the town managed to save, Reuters reports, from an attack in the night by dozens of fundamentalist fanatics. In Tala, in the delta region, a temple was set on fire, similar to the recent and bloody attack in Pakistan on Sufis.

The fact that the mufti of Egypt, Ali Gomaa, has spoken up against this violence shows that the phenomenon is cause for general alarm. The head of the Supreme Council for Sufi Orders, Sheikh Abdul Hady al-Qasaby, has turned to him and to imam of Al Azhar, Ahmed Al-Tayyeb, asking for a conference on the issue together with other religious leaders. Meanwhile the Council decided in emergency meeting held in the past days to form people’s committees to defend Sufi places of worship in all governorates. The council has also asked the authorities to continue their investigations. In Alexandria a demonstration was organised, and in the capital hundreds of believers said they were ready to protect the tomb in the Hussein mosque, icon of Islamic Cairo. The press has issued an alarm about the new wave of interreligious intolerance in the Islamic community. The pan-Arab newspaper Al Sharq Al Awsat writes in an article with the headline “the Salafite scarecrow” about the suggestion that this sudden reappearance of Salafite groups could be part of “the so-called counter-revolution in Egypt or an attempt to raise concerns about the future”. The newspaper also wonders if this could not be a scenario in which “religion and politics are mixed into an explosive cocktail”, and adds that the Muslim Brotherhood may benefit from the rise of Salafite groups, because this movement’s “current programme seems very moderate compared with what the Salafite groups are saying”. However, the daily specifies, the Muslim Brotherhood still has to deal with its own internal divisions between the young generation and the old traditionalist guard.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Egypt: The Army Will Remove Governors of Mubarak’s Era

(AGI) Cairo — The Egyptian army will remove from office several Governors appointed by former President Hosni Mubarak. The move apparently tends to the request of protesters who, during these last few days, have again started crowding Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the protest demonstrations that led to a change of regime in Egypt.

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

Gallup: Few Finns Are Willing to Send Hornets to Libya

Most poll respondents reject the idea of deploying Finnish fighters in the Libyan crisis

Only six per cent of Finns are in favour of Finland’s military contribution to the Libya operation “for example by committing Finnish Hornet fighters for the Libya operation”, indicates a survey commissioned by Helsingin Sanomat. The supporters of the National Coalition Party backed the sending of Hornet fighters to Libya most enthusiastically, but here, too, just 13 per cent of the party’s respondents were fully in favour.

The most popular response alternative represented the same moderate policy line as Finland’s foreign policy leaders have taken.

Around half of Finns felt that Finland should participate in the Libya operation only later, for example by protecting the evacuation of civilians and providing humanitarian aid.

One-fourth of Finns regarded even the provision of humanitarian aid as too much. In their opinion, Finland must not be involved in the Libya operation in any shape or form.

The voters of the True Finns took a particularly negative attitude toward Finland’s participation in the operation. Half of them chose the “absolute no” line.

In the camps of the Centre Party, the Social Democrats, and the Left Alliance, one-fourth of respondents supported complete withdrawal from participation.

Among the voters of the National Coalition Party and the Green League, around 13 per cent of respondents adhered to the strict “No” line.

Participation at a later stage, including protection of humanitarian aid shipments and potential evacuations, was supported most by voters of the Green League and the Left Alliance.

A party affiliation was the most significant underlying factor behind the opinions.

There was no great difference between men and women, except that the protection of humanitarian aid operations was slightly more supported by women.

Further factors explaining the Libya attitudes were education and the employment status. The number of respondents who opposed all participation was highest among those with a vocational school education and among the unemployed.

Half of respondents with university education were in favour of protecting humanitarian aid measures, while less than one-fourth supported participation in the operation without a separate military contribution.

A NATO-led alliance is monitoring the no-fly zone imposed on Libya by the United Nations Security Council. The Council has also granted the alliance permission to protect civilians, under which the alliance’s jet fighters have attacked the ground forces of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.

Sweden has sent eight jet fighters to Libya.

Finland is not taking part in the enforcement of the no-fly zone. From the outset, both President Tarja Halonen and Minister for Foreign Affairs Alexander Stubb (Nat. Coalition Party) have opposed the sending of F-18C Hornet fighters to Libya.

In their view, Finland will later send humanitarian aid and help to protect aid operations.

Finland has been asked to participate in planning a potential EU battle group operation that would protect humanitarian aid transports and other actions in Libya.

FACTFILE: How was the survey conducted?

The poll was conducted in early March, involving interviews with 1,307 Finns aged 15 to 74, with the exception of the autonomous Åland Islands.

The respondents were asked:”The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is leading the alliance of Western countries that is monitoring the no-fly zone imposed on Libya by the United Nations Security Council. For example Sweden has made a decision to send eight jet fighters to Libya. Finland is not involved in the Libya operation. Do you think that Finland should participate in the operation?”

A total of five response alternatives were available: 1. Yes, for example by sending Finnish fighers to support the operation. 2. Yes, by participating in the alliance, but without a military contribution. 3. Cannot tell. 4. No, Finland should participate in the settling of the crisis later on, for example in the protection of potential evacuations and humanitarian aid. 5. No, Finland must not participate in the Libya operation in any way.

The margin of error in the survey is around 2.5 percentage points in either direction.

The poll was commissioned by Helsingin Sanomat and conducted by TNS Gallup.

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

Libya: AU Insists on “Immediate Stop to Hostilities’“

(AGI) Nouakchott — The African Union has reiterated the “immediate stop to all hostilities’“ in Lybia. The five African leaders, accepted by Gaddafi as conflict mediators, have urged parties to discuss on the possibility of allowing access to humanitarian aid in the war zone. The first appeal was made on March 19 when mediators, led by Mauritania’s president Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, proposed a transition period characterized by “political reforms”.

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

Libya: ‘Thank You Italy’, Demonstration in Benghazi

(ANSAmed) — BENGHAZI, APRIL 7 — Several dozens of people came together today in front of the building where the Italian consulate in Benghazi was seated, to “thank Italy” for recognising the National Transitional Council (NTC) as Libya’s legitimate political interlocutor. The building was destroyed in a demonstration on February 17 2006 and has remained closed to the public since that moment. Waving Italian and Libyan flags of the pre-Gaddafi era, the demonstrators repeatedly shouted “thank you Italy, long live Free Libya”. The demonstration has been organised by the committee of relatives of the victims that fell on that day: 14 people were killed when Libyan security forces opened fire to disperse the protest. The protest was aimed at former Minister Roberto Calderoli, who had shown a shirt on live television with the cartoon regarding the prophet Mohammed, which had been published by a Danish newspaper. In those days the cartoon triggered violent demonstrations in the entire Islamic world.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Tunisia: Premier: Ben Ali Deserves the Death Penalty

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, APRIL 8 — According to Tunisia’s interim Premier Béji Cad Essebsi, speaking in a long interview with Jeune Afrique weekly magazine, former Tunisian President Ben Ali deserves the death penalty for the way he pillaged his country and due to the fact that he fled. Essebsi spoke about the family of the former president and his wife, Leila Trebelsi, underlining that they must stand trial to respond for their actions, but without resorting to a “witch-hunt”. Although confirming his “soft” position regarding the former members of Ben Ali’s political party, the RCD, which was banned in a decision by the Tunisian courts, Essebsi took a harsh stance against the man who governed the country with a dictatorship for over two decades. “His desertion is an act of treason, pure and simple,” he said. “The sentence in these cases is the death penalty.”

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

30 Days Since Massacre Marked With Construction

by Maayana Miskin

Thirty days have passed since the brutal murder of five members of the Fogel family from Itamar, and friends and family gathered to mark the occasion. In Itamar, the cornerstone was laid for what will be a Torah study hall built in honor of the slain Rabbi Ehud (Udi) Fogel.

In the following video, INN’s Yoni Kempinski speaks to participants in the memorial about their feelings.

YouTube: Itamar: Building — the Response to Terror

Before the cornerstone was put into place, men and women gathered separately to discuss the attack and to hear relevant concepts from the Torah.

The new study hall will be called Mishkan Ehud.

Rabbi Yehuda Ben-Yishai, father of Ruth Fogel, said, “Our Udi and our Ruti, you are watching us. You are wondering what all the fuss is about. You yourselves never realized what you had in your souls… Simple modestly and humility, humanity. You brought many different kinds of people together. They loved you.”

“Now you are going to be more than what we knew… Ask G-d to grant us strength, wisdom, and resourcefulness. As part of the Jewish people, for the Jewish people.”

Chaim Fogel, Rabbi Udi Fogel’s father, said, “You married in Beit Orot, opposite the site of the Holy Temple, as you requested. [You lived in] Eli, Mevaseret, Netzarim. You were expelled [from Gush Katif] and stood proud, and continued to draw the world closer to Torah.. Ariel, Itamar. We felt that you had found your place in Itamar.”

“Every place you stopped in life, you were loved by your friends, Udi. Because you had those qualities that make a person a friend.”

Lieutenant-Colonel Idan Tavor, who served with Udi Fogel, said, “We did not know ‘Rabbi Udi,’ but Udi. He listened more than he spoke… He heard what needed to be done, he took action, with modesty and respect for his follow man. That was the man we knew.”

Rabbi Natan Chai, rabbi of Itamar, said, “When it comes to holy people, who live the Torah, the pain is not only a private pain, but the pain of the lack of G-d’s presence, a pain that is incomprehensible due to the desecration of G-d’s name.” By building a center for Torah, “we strengthen the eternal flame of the people of Israel,” he said.

Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar praised the Fogels’ family and neighbors. “You did not sink into bitterness, but stood to build a house for the Divine presence, a hall of Torah study,” he said.

“We cannot understand the great holiness of the souls murdered in G-d’s name,” he continued. “All we can say is, ‘And Aharon was silent,’“ he added, referring to the Bible’s account of Aharon’s response to the deaths of two of his sons.

Rabbi Avi Ronsky, formerly the IDF Chief Rabbi, was at the event as well. He plans to travel to the United States on Sunday night to be with American Jewish communities when they mark the one-month anniversary of the Itamar massacre. Thousands are expected to take part in U.S. events, he said.

           — Hat tip: TV[Return to headlines]

Hamas-Egypt Relations Worry Israel

Cairo stops building underground wall; Israel urges Cairo to continue tough position on smuggling and to prevent the flow of arms to Gaza.

Egypt has suspended construction of an underground steel wall along the Egypt-Gaza border that it had been building over the past year in an effort to stop smuggling weaponry through tunnels into the Gaza Strip, defense officials have told The Jerusalem Post.

According to the officials, Egypt suspended construction of the underground barrier following the revolution in the country in February which toppled Hosni Mubarak’s regime.

Egypt began building the underground barrier in late 2009 to a depth of about 20 meters and along 10 kilometers of the border, where most of the hundreds of smuggling tunnels which serve as Hamas’s main conduit for weapons are located. While smugglers succeeded in breaching the wall in some parts, Israeli officials said that it had been partly effective in places where it was built by making it more difficult for smugglers to dig tunnels across the border.

Israel has not lodged an official complaint with the new Egyptian government led by Defense Minister Muhammad Tantawi, but has urged Cairo to continue the previous government’s tough position on smuggling and to work to take action to prevent the flow of arms to the Gaza Strip.

News of the freeze on construction comes as concern increases in Israel over an apparent strengthening of ties between Hamas and the new Egyptian government. During a recent visit to Cairo, Mahmoud al-Zahr, the so-called Hamas foreign minister, met not just with Egyptian politicians but also with military and intelligence officials.

“There is a new relationship between Hamas and Cairo today,” one senior official said. “This is likely connected to the upcoming elections and the understanding in Egypt that the Muslim Brotherhood is a strong player and as a result it is important to maintain contacts with Hamas.”

Israel’s concerns are split into two categories.

Firstly, it is worried that Cairo’s new relationship with Hamas will come at the expense of its relationship with Israel. The second concern has to do with security and the possibility that Egypt will turn a blind eye to the movement of weaponry, cash and people across the border.

During 2010, for example, more than 160,000 people passed through the Rafah Crossing into Egypt and Gaza.

That number is expected to grow dramatically over the coming year.

           — Hat tip: AC[Return to headlines]

IDF Conditionally Ceases Air Strikes on Hamas Targets

Palestinian official says Hamas, Israel agree to truce shortly before Kassam rocket explodes near Ashkelon; no injuries or damage reported; Defense Ministry official: Israel will hold fire if Hamas does same.

The IDF stopped its air strikes against Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip on Sunday after Palestinian terror groups cut back on rocket attacks against Israel, in what appeared to be the beginning of a shaky cease-fire. The decision was made shortly before a Kassam rocket exploded near Ashkelon. No injuries were reported and no damage was caused.

On Sunday, 13 rockets were fired into Israel, and a senior official in the Defense Ministry, who requested anonymity, told reporters that Israel decided to hold its fire as long as Hamas and the other Palestinian terror groups ceased launching attacks on civilians.

“It all depends on the other side,” the Defense Ministry official said. “If a barrage of missiles falls in a town and there are casualties, that will change the situation — but if a rocket lands in an open field we will look at that differently.”

At the same time, a Palestinian official close to UN-and Egyptian-mediated negotiations told Reuters on Sunday that Israel and terrorist groups in Gaza had agreed to a truce, as cross-border violence abated.

“Palestinian factions have agreed to halt rocket fire and Israel agreed to cease attacks on the Gaza Strip,” the Palestinian official said.

A senior IDF officer said Sunday that the IDF has a list of 19 names of Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists who have been killed in air strikes and ground attacks since Israel stepped up military operations following Thursday’s anti-tank missile attack against a school bus near Nahal Oz.

Another 47 terrorists have been wounded, and there are two known deaths of civilians.

“We believe that Hamas has understood the message,” the senior defense official, who requested anonymity, said.

“We are ready to escalate our operations, however, if the attacks continue.”

Meanwhile, the star of the latest round of violence between Israel and Hamas continued to be the Iron Dome counter-rocket defense system, which has intercepted eight rockets since Thursday.

On Sunday, the Defense Ministry’s MAFAT Research and Development Directorate released video footage from the Iron Dome, showing how the Tamir interceptor shot down a number of Katyusha rockets over the weekend.

Israel plans to increase the number of operational batteries to six in the coming years, with the arrival of $205 million the Obama administration has pledged it will provide Israel to purchase additional rocket defense systems. The money is supposed to be included in the US’s upcoming annual budget.

The Defense Ministry recently completed negotiations with Iron Dome manufacturer Rafael about the upcoming deal.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak said the system’s success “has deeply impacted Israel’s ability to act operationally and to maneuver diplomatically against challenges, not just routinely, but also during much broader events.”

Once the money is received, it will still take at least 18 months before the first of the four batteries is delivered to the Air Force and up to two-and-a-half years before the last of the four is operational.

           — Hat tip: AC[Return to headlines]

Middle East

Crackdown Fears Halt Yemen March Toward UN Mission

SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Tens of thousands of people are rallying in Yemen’s capital to protest the deaths of demonstrators Friday in the southern city of Taiz.

The protesters in Sanaa had planned to march to the United Nations mission, which is not far from the presidential palace. But they stopped after being tipped that presidential guard units controlled by President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s eldest son would crush them.

Hundreds of thousands also rallied Saturday in demonstrations across Yemen. The protests that day in Sanaa and Taiz turned violent. The director of a field hospital in Taiz said 580 people were injured there Saturday.

More than 120 people have been killed in Yemen since Feb. 11 in protests inspired by popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, according to an AP count.

           — Hat tip: AC[Return to headlines]

Iraq: 3 Killed in Army and Iran’s Mujahedin Clashes

(AGI) Baghdad — At least three people have been killed in clashes between security forces and the People’s Mujahedin near Baquba. The information comes from security sources. The Mujahedin, which is the armed wing of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (a group opposed to the theocratic regime in Tehran), claims however that there are 25 victims of the clashes.

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

Prosecco Advertisement Campaign on Turkey’s Monuments

(ANSAmed) — VENICE, APRIL 6 — Prosecco is so liked around the world that Turkey’s people have made a national monument of it.

Of course it is a photomontage, but seeing prosecco on billboards all over Turkey fitted into the artistic heritage is a sign of how much even here this wine is deemed to be an excellent Made in Italy product.

So it happens that bottles make their appearance in the Haydarpasa palace on the sea of Marmara, and that the historical Galata Kulesi tower in Istanbul is covered with the label of a winery from Santa Maria di Piave (Treviso), which with its ‘alcohol free’ spumante is colonising the markets in the area.

one of the many companies of the wine industry that prove the inclination of Veneto’s food and agriculture industry towards the export of goods, which has resulted in the region becoming, during the third quarter of 2010, the first in Italy with 616 million in terms of export.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Syria: Militaries Deployed in Banias and Homs

(AGI) Damascus — Tensions this Sunday between protesters and police forces in Syria; militaries deployed in Banias and Homs.

Many were the participants in the protests against Bashar Assad’s regime. Gunfire was heard early this morning.

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

Syria: NGO: Killed 26 Participants in Daraa Funeral

(AGI) Nicosia — A human rights organization reports that Syrian security forces killed 26 people yesterday. The victims were participating in a mass funeral in Daraa, in the South of the Country.

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

Syria’s Security Forces Shoot on Faithful in Banias Mosque

(AGI) Nicosia — Plainclothes agents have fired on the crowds outside a mosque in Banias, on the coast of Syria, where ever since this morning the government had deployed large numbers of anti-riot police to prevent protests against President Bashar Assad. According to witnesses many were killed and injured.

“There were seven cars filled with men sent by the regime,” reported one witness, “They arrived outside the mosque and opened fire.” .

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

Thousands in Baghdad Call for US Withdrawal

(AGI) Baghdad — Thousands of people have turned out in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square for a new Friday protest. Many of the banners call for the withdrawal of Americans from Iraq, the subject of US Defense Secretary, Robert Gates’ visit to Baghdad yesterday. Tomorrow marks the anniversary of the US invasion in 2003 and the followers of the anti-American Shiite imam, Moqtada al-Sadr have organized a grand march against the US “occupiers”.

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

Turkey ‘World Leader’ In Imprisoned Journalists, IPI Report Says

Turkey has more journalists in prison than any other country in the world, including China and Iran, according to a press release issued Monday by the International Press Institute.

The group based its release on a report published by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, or OSCE, that said 57 journalists are currently in prison in Turkey. As of December, Iran and China each had 34 journalists behind bars.

“While Iran and China topped lists in December by reportedly jailing some 34 journalists each, Turkey, a candidate for membership in the European Union, has nearly doubled that number five months later, raising questions about the country’s commitment to freedom of the press and the legitimacy of its democratic image,” IPI Press Freedom Adviser Steven M. Ellis wrote in an article featured on the institute’s website.

Daily Radikal meanwhile reported in its Friday edition that Aziz Özer, chief executive officer for the monthly culture and literature magazine Güney (South), had been sentenced to 1.5 years in prison because of a short story and a caricature he published that were determined to constitute “making propaganda” for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK. The implementation of the sentence was not suspended.

In its report, the IPI also noted the case of journalist Nedim Sener, an IPI World Press Freedom Hero who was arrested recently on accusations of being a member of the alleged Ergenekon coup-plot gang. Dunja Mijatovic, the OSCE representative on media freedom, who commissioned the report, called upon Turkish authorities to bring the standards of press freedom in Turkey up to meet its OSCE commitments.

The IPI also drew attention to the fact that there are between 700 and 1,000 ongoing cases in Turkey that could result in the imprisonment of more journalists.

“The sheer number of cases poses fundamental questions about the legal provisions governing journalism in Turkey and raises concerns that the number of journalists in prison could further increase,” said Mijatovic.

The report conceded that governments do have a legitimate need to fight terrorism, but stressed that the notion of national security should not be used as a basis to curb press freedom. The IPI noted that most of the arrested journalists were taken into custody either under Turkey’s anti-terror law or for alleged crimes under the criminal code’s prohibitions on “founding, leading or becoming a member of an armed organization for the purpose of committing certain offenses.”

The report also noted the extremely long sentences requested by for journalists. Ibrahim Çiçek and Bayram Namaz from Atilim newspaper, for example, each face up to 3,000 years in prison.

“These journalists are in jail because of Turkey’s anti-terror Law. This law threatens the freedom of press, and investigative journalists live under its menace. We find this unacceptable. We made a request to the government to change this law, but unfortunately the government does not lend an ear to professional journalist associations,” said Ferai Tinç, the chair of IPI’s Turkey National Committee and an IPI board member.

“Turkey, at the crossroads between East and West, is a major regional power with an ancient cultural heritage. The country is also often held up as an example of a healthy Muslim democracy,” said IPI director Alison Bethel McKenzie, who warned that moving away from this history and imprisoning more journalists than any other country is damaging.

McKenzie also called on the Turkish government to respect press freedom and release all journalists who have been detained because of their work.

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

Yemen Seals Al Jazeera TV Office in Sana’a

Sanaa, April 10 (IANS) Security authorities of Yemen closed the office of Doha-based Al Jazeera satellite TV Channel in Sana’a and revoked its permit for supporting sabotage in the country, Xinhua cited the state-run Saba news agency in a report.

‘In view of that some media have repeatedly, blatantly meddled into domestic affairs of Yemen, the security authorities decided to close the office of Doha-based Al Jazeera satellite TV Channel in Sana’a with sealing wax and revoked its permit,’ Saba quoted an information ministry official as saying Saturday.

‘This final action came after Al Jazeera television persisted in conducting a subversive scheme and supporting sabotage that aimed at inciting sedition, hatred and fighting against the government in number of Yemeni provinces,’ the official stated.

‘In addition to that, Al Jazeera had also violated the Yemeni laws, and it lacked credibility, professionalism and impartiality in its coverage of anti-government protests in Yemen,’ he added.

The step came few hours after Yemen recalled its ambassador to Qatar for consultation, as a response to the remarks of Qatari Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem bin Jabr al-Thani that the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) ‘hopes to reach a deal with the Yemeni president to step down’.

           — Hat tip: AC[Return to headlines]

Yemen: Sana’a: City Threatened by Thirst

(ANSAmed) — ROMA, MARCH 31 — Overcome by worries and daily fears, amidst anti-regime demonstrations and bloody repressions, Sana’a, one of the world’s most ancient and suggestive cities, is doomed. Six years from now, according to a report by Washington’s Centre for strategic and international studies, it will completely run out of water. Yemen’s capital city consumes four times the rainwater that flows into its underground reserves in a region that is no longer the fertile Roman Arabia Felix, but a chain of dry mountains. The aquifers are drying up.

In 2017, according to the experts of the US think-tank, no more water will flow from the taps and the 1.5 million citizens will be forced to leave. It is an announced catastrophe that at the same time is faced with fatalism, because there is no time and there are no economic and political resources to deal with the situation. The ‘wise men’ of the US Centre claim that the only solutions involve payment of water consumption or nuclear power stations on the Red Sea that would cost at least 2.5 billion dollars each to desalinise the sea water and transport it to the mountains at a height of 1,700 metres. Unlikely solutions, as admitted by the experts, for the poorest Country in the Middle East, where people live on 900 dollars per year and the demand for water already represents one fifth of the world average. Without taking into account the current political situation, caught between a regime on its last legs and popular uprisings, between tribal rivalries verging on civil war and the shadow of the al Qaeda terrorist threat. In this scenario, death by thirst in Sana’s could have incalculable consequences. The lack of water is not a drama that only affects Yemen, it affects the entire Middle Eastern and Arab region. Another research paper presented in Brussels in recent weeks by ‘Blue peace’ reports that between 1960 and 2010 the flow of rivers that run in Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan dropped from 50 to 90%. The next waves of the revolt, according to the survey, could derive from the region’s growing water crisis, where blue gold is becoming increasingly rare. However the situation in Yemen is of particular gravity, according to website, which specialises in the area’s problems. The population is equal to 24 million people and in 17 years it will double because it has the world’s second highest demographic growth rate. Up to 1960 Sana’s citizens lived exclusively in the old city, the large medina of old and tasteful buildings enclosed by the clay walls. An architectural prodigy that Unesco included in the world heritage list. Today Sana’s has grown chaotically and without structure, and its population has quadrupled. As in other Arab nations, the so-called ‘green revolution’ of the ‘80s and ‘90s, which saw the growth of local agricultural production to feed the people, drained the water reserves. Also disconcerting is the fact that 40% of Yemen’s available water is still allocated to growing Khat, the plant whose leaves are chewed to experience numbness and euphoria. A national drug that nobody, in a nation tested by violence and misery, apparently wants to give up.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Moderate Imam Murdered in Dagestan

(AGI) Makhachkala — The moderate Imam Magomed Saiputdinov, a leading figure in turbulent North Caucasus, was murdered in Dagestan. Police sources reported that Saiputdinov was riddled with bullets shot from an automatic weapon in his own home in Kizil-Yurt, on the border with Chechnya. The unidentified assailants shot him through a window.

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

South Asia

Pakistan: Political Games and Devolution Behind Uncertainties Over Minority Affairs Ministry

President Zardari appoints Paul Bhatti as “special adviser” even though the Election Commission picked Hindu leader Khatu Mal Jeewan. The process of decentralisation could lead to the transfer of jurisdiction to the provinces, taking it away from the federal government. Catholic leader says that what counts is the protection of minorities and peaceful coexistence.

Islamabad (AsiaNews) — The Minority Affairs Ministry in Pakistan is at the centre of a “political game” that transcends any post, reflecting a shuffle for power inside the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and a new organisation of the state, which started a process of “decentralisation of posts” along federalist lines. Senator Khatu Mal Jeewan, a Hindu, resigned his Senate seat expecting to be appointed Minority Affairs minister in accordance with the choice of the Election Commission. Instead, President Zardari chose Paul Bhatti, brother of Shabbaz Bhatti, the previous minister who was slain on 2 March by an extremist group, as “special advisor” on minorities to the prime minister, de facto giving him the post. For Peter Jacob, a Catholic, “it doesn’t matter whether the ministry goes to a Christian or a Hindu”, the central goal is “the protection of minorities and peaceful coexistence.”

Contacted by AsiaNews, Paul Bhatti said that a ministry can be run by one of two appointees. The “first one is chosen among parliamentarians” in the National Assembly. “In this case, we have an actual minister,” he said. In the second case, the president appoints someone who has the same “portfolio, capacity and authority” when “special circumstances” arise. “My role,” Bhatti said, is “that of adviser to the prime minister with the same responsibilities and functions of a minister.”

However, a few days ago Khatu Mal Jeewan, a leader of the Hindu community, was picked by the Election Commission to take over the Minority Affairs Ministry. In fact, he quit as senator elected on the PPP ticket just for that purpose and was given a seat in the National Assembly, a necessary condition to be minister. He was one of three possible candidates to take over the Minority Affairs Ministry should the post become vacant.

In a recent interview, Khatu Mal Jeewan said that “he was backed by the preceding minister in his struggle for minorities.” He also said he was looking forward to working with cabinet colleagues and other minority leaders.

His goal, the Hind leader said, is to fulfil the dream of Pakistan’s founder Ali Jinnah, who wanted a country “in which minorities would have the same rights and could live free and in peace, in accordance with the faith of each.”

However, the situation now appears confused. For greater clarity, we must look back at the days that followed Shahbaz Bhatti’s death. He was assassinated because he proposed changes to the blasphemy law and expressed his support for Asia Bibi.

Following his death, the PPP had proposed to give the ministry to one of his relatives, but that was impossible because Pakistani law requires that a minister be an elected Member of Parliament. The choice thus fell on one of three candidates, with the final decision going in favour of Senator Khatu Mal Jeewan, a Hindu, over Michael Javed and Khalid Gill.

At that point, President Asif Ali Zardari, exercising his prerogatives, called on Paul Bhatti to take over from his brother.

“The adviser is less than a full minister,” a source, anonymous for security reasons, told AsiaNews, “because he cannot exercises the same functions of a minister,” who “must be chosen from the ranks of the National Assembly”.

At present, the situation is complex and constantly evolving because it does not affect only the Minority Affairs Ministry but the entire institutional structure of the country.

“In Pakistan, a process of devolution is underway,” the source said, “leading to the transfer of ministries and posts to the various provinces, like health, education, etc.”

Therefore, it remains to be seen whether minority affairs will remain under the purview of the federal government, or will be turned over to provincial governments.

In addition, the source said, there is a “power game” inside the People’s Party over posts, offices, and economic interests “in a political situation that is constantly evolving. The Minority Affairs Ministry is just one pawn on the chessboard.”

If the political situation is complex and fragmentary, the position of Pakistani Catholics appears clear. Peter Jacob, executive secretary of the National Commission on Justice and Peace (NCJP) of the Pakistani Church, said that “it doesn’t matter whether the ministry goes to a Christian or a Hindu”, the central goal is “the protection of minorities and peaceful coexistence” in the country. (DS)

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


Berlusconi: Merkel Sure to Admit Emergency

(AGI)Rome- Silvio Berlusconi is “certain that Chancellor Merkel can only agree on the need for a shared EU policy” on immigration. The Italian Prime Minister stated as much during a press conference in Lampedusa, Sicily. The German government’s stance is perhaps motivated “by internal reasons” says Mr.

Berlusconi, “but in the end a comparison must be made with reality” he added.

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

Calderoni: Italians Out of Lebanon to Aid Migrant Issue

(AGI) Rome — Minister Roberto Calderoni said that he was going to propose to the cabinet the withdrawal of the Italian contingent to Lebanon to help resolve the illegal migrant emergency now facing Italy. “The Northern League’s answer to the illegal migration issue, because of the problems in North Africa,” Calderoni explained, “can be summarized in three points. We help them in their own country, we empty the bath and turn off the tap, which unfortunately, is still dripping.” .

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

Defence Minister: Troop Reduction in Lebanon on the Horizon

(AGI) Rome — “We envisage a progressive withdrawal of our troops from Lebanon and Kosovo, where most of them are stationed.” These were Italian Minister of Defence Ignazio La Russa’s remarks with regards to Roberto Calderoli’s statement on a request to the Council of Ministers for the reduction of the country’s contingent in Lebanon. The underlying aim is to enable Italy to better tackle the immigration crisis. Mr La Russa clarified that Italian Legislative Simplification Minister (Mr Calderoli) “made explicit, even though he might have overstated the case a little, a notion which I had already put to the Council.” ..

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

Frattini: European and Not National Issue

(AGI) Rome — Foreign Minister Frattini said Europe must acknowledge that immigration is a European rather than a national issue. In a phone interview with Tg2, the minister said that if Europe fails to acknowledge that, then it “will give up playing a key role in handling an extremely important issue, a real human tsunami affecting hundreds of thousands of people “. “That would mark the end of the strong integration that we all want within the European Union” Frattini added.

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

French Interior Minister Calls for Less Immigration

Interior Minister Claude Guéant (pictured) has asked the government to reduce the number of people entering France through work, family reunification and other visas.

French Interior Minister Claude Guéant says the government intends to reduce the number of immigrants allowed to enter the country legally, in statements evoking a divisive and little-understood aspect of contemporary French society.

“I have asked that we reduce the number of people admitted under work immigration visas,” Guéant told the conservative Figaro Magazine in an interview to be published on Friday.

“We also continue to reduce the number of foreigners coming to France for family reunification,” he said.

Some 20,000 people are allowed to enter France on work visas and another 15,000 for family reasons each year, according to the Ministry of the Interior, which is responsible for immigration.

Guéant also said he would not exclude changes to France’s policy on asylum seekers, suggesting a cap on asylum visas was also on the table.

The opposition Socialist Party and the organization SOS Racism have already condemned Guéant’s statement as a “provocation”.

Socialist MP Sandrine Mazetier said cutbacks to family reunification visas violated “fundamental rights” and accused the government of exploiting the issue of immigration to divert attention away from the country’s unemployment.

Guéant had already enraged rights groups earlier in the week by saying that the “increase in the number” of Muslims in France posed “a problem”.

His statements come amid widening divisions within President Nicolas Sarkozy’s ruling UMP party, where conservatives embrace a hard line against immigration that party centrists reject.

Missing statistics

According to Mirna Safi, a sociologist and research director with the Paris Institute of Political Studies, France’s policy of restricting immigration has remained relatively consistent for the past 30 years.

The only exception has been the so called “competences and talents” visa, proposed by Nicolas Sarkozy in 2003 when he was interior minister.

“It was a small and isolated recognition of a need for immigrant workers,” Safi says.

Sarkozy said at the time that the new visa would allow immigrants chosen for their professional capacities to enter France and reverse what he said was a trend of unskilled immigrants leeching on the state’s social programmes.

But the competences and talents visa did not produce a significant increase in legal and professional immigrant workers after 2003, says Xavier Thierry, who tracked immigration flows for France’s National Institute of Demographic Studies (INED) until 2008.

“A stable figure of five percent of immigration for professional reasons may have increased to eight to 10 percent,” Thierry says, adding that a pronounced change in immigration flows could not be determined immediately by annual statistics.

Thierry admits that he was the only researcher at INED to study immigration flows and asked to be taken off the subject after feeling “discouraged”. No one has taken over from him, and data relative to immigration in France, legal or not, is scarce after 2008.

As to the contradiction between France’s intense interest in the subject of immigration and the lack of information to encourage or oppose further immigration, Thierry is reluctant to answer.

“There is a problem,” he awkwardly offers.

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

Germany: Conservatives Urge Border Checks for Tunisian Refugees

The Italian government’s plan to issue temporary permits to thousands of Tunisian refugees, allowing them to travel to other EU countries, has prompted calls from members of the conservative camp for tougher checks along Germany’s borders.

Bavarian Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann and the conservatives’ interior policy spokesman, Hans-Peter Uhl — both members of the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister party to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats — proposed this weekend that Germany strengthen its border controls.

Italy has faced a flood of refugees, mostly from Tunisia, following the unrest in northern Africa. The majority fled to the Italian island of Lampedusa. Rome has appealed to European Union members for help in handling the influx, but the request has been met with mixed reactions in Germany.

In an interview with Welt am Sonntag, Hermann threatened to set up border checks along the German-Austrian border in the event that Rome issues Tunisian migrants visas for Schengen countries.

The Schengen agreement abolished checks along internal EU borders between the signatory countries.

“We will not accept the Italian government simply declaring the Tunisians as tourists as a way of pushing them into other countries,” Hermann told the paper.

The Bavarian interior minister said he expected Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to take care of the influx himself and not pass the buck to other EU nations. He added that Italy is a country large enough to take in 23,000 Tunisian migrants.

“Only 10 percent of them have filed an asylum application,” he said. “The majority are economic refugees. That is something completely different than in Libya, where people are fleeing a civil war.”

Hermann called for the EU to adopt a common stance on economic migrants.

Meanwhile, Hans Peter Uhl suggested that Schengen nations reinstate border checks for arrivals from Italy, according to the Mitteldeutsche Zeitung.

He said the country was allowing illegal refugees to “continue on to Germany and to France,” adding that there seemed to be no other solution but to perform checks on flights from Italy.

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

Germany, Italy Disagree Over Handling of Migrant Influx From North Africa

BERLIN — Italy on Sunday urged its European partners to share the burden of the thousands of migrants reaching its shores from North Africa during the region’s upheavals, but key German officials rejected the request for help.

“Italy has to resolve its refugee problem on its own,” German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich told daily Welt’s Monday edition.

Rome’s newly stated policy of issuing visas to migrants from North Africa amounts to a violation of the European Union’s Schengen rules for visa-free travel across most of the bloc, Friedrich was quoted as saying. He vowed to bring up the issue at an EU interior minister meeting starting in Luxembourg on Monday.

German state interior minister Joachim Herrmann also criticized Italy’s new migration policy and threatened to reinstate border controls to keep the migrants at bay — despite Europe’s Schengen agreement.

Herrmann of Bavaria state, which borders Austria and is a possible transit route to northern Europe from Italy, was quoted in Welt’s Sunday edition as saying that Italy “has to deal with its immigration problem itself and may not dump it on other EU countries.”

But Italy’s foreign minister insisted that the influx of illegal immigrants from northern Africa, which has brought 20,000 Tunisians to Italy’s shores in recent weeks, is indeed a European problem.

“We want to tell Europe that economic contributions are not enough, political action is necessary,” Franco Frattini said on Sunday, defending the decision to issue temporary permits in comments he made on Sky Italia.

Meanwhile, illegal immigrants kept arriving at Lampedusa island, with a boat carrying 50 people arriving at midday Sunday. Italian police also have spotted two more boats on their way, carrying a total of about 300 people, he said.

Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi on Saturday asked Germany, France and the rest of Europe to show solidarity with Italy in accepting migrants or risk calling into question the whole idea of the European Union.

France has promised to honour the temporary residency documents Rome plans to issue to Tunisians, but insisted they must prove they could financially support themselves in France — a condition many of them are unlikely to be able to meet.

Germany officials insist that Italy and Malta must deal with the refugee crisis on their own.

In a small gesture of solidarity, however, Germany’s Interior Ministry said Friday that Berlin is offering to take in 100 North African refugees who are currently on Malta.

           — Hat tip: AC[Return to headlines]

Illegal Migrant Issue Must be Faced by Entire E. U.

(AGI) Rome — The European Union says the problem of illegal migrants is a common one that must be solved by working together, E.U. spokesman Cezary Lewanowicz said. “We will not comment on what Berlusconi or other members of the Italian government say,” Lewanowicz said in a phone interview with AGI, “in general, I can say that this is an important question that no one country can face alone. It is not feasible.” .

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

Italian Red Cross Camp in Tunisia, 4000 Meals

(ANSAmed) — ROME, APRIL 7 — The Italian Red Cross has opened a camp in Ras Jadir, Tunisia, 8 km from the Libya border. The structure, adjacent to the Transit Camp, is managed by the International Red Cross and Red Crescent and the Tunisian Red Crescent, and covers a surface area of 5000 square metres.

The camp includes a kitchen where up to 4000 meals per day can be prepared. The first 150 people arrived yesterday. Most of them are Eritrean and Somali families coming from Libya. The water purification system is also operational: Italian experts designed a special treatment to make the salt water completely drinkable, after analyzing water samples taken 20 days ago. The installation has a capacity of 5000 litres of water per hour. It can also be used by other humanitarian organisations in the area. Team leader Emerico Laccetti explained that the water in the entire region is salty, which could harm people’s kidneys.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Fight Breaks Out Between 2 Tunisians in Genoa

(AGI) Genoa — When they landed in Lampedusa, two 26-year-old Tunisian nationals caught up with a friend in Genoa. Their fellow national has legal residence status in Italy; he was their “contact” in Sampierdarena, Genoa’s industrial area. Last night, however, for reasons as yet unbeknownst to the police, the 3 friends and a fourth Tunisian man began to fight and eventually came to blows. The brawl broke out at 4 a.m.; local police rushed to the spot and arrested all four men.

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

Migrants: Lampedusa Tourism Chief Says Season at Risk

(AGI) Lampedusa — The head of tourism for Lampedusa and Linosa, Peter Busetta, expressed doubt that the season could be saved.

He explained: “We hope that the optimism of the Minister Brambilla is confirmed by the facts. We are much less confident that the season can be saved although we would like to be proved wrong. As long as the message transmitted through the ether is one of landings on the island bookings for the summer are unlikely to pick up.” He continued: “For the time being operators tell me that there are only cancellations and I am hearing the concerns of those who hoped that the advance payments for 2011 would pay off debts accumulated in the winter for investments. However, to understand the gravity of the problem we just have to listen to the tour operators who are wondering whether to cancel the summer charters.” With regard to the numbers, he explained: “It would be good for Brambilla to understand that in addition to 2,000 beds in hotels there are 4,000 in private homes, making a total of 700-800 thousand summer visitors to the island. On the other hand if just on one Saturday in August, up to 3000 passengers arrive by air and others by ship and hydrofoil, it is clear that there cannot be 2000 beds, unless the tourists, as I very much doubt, sleep rough like the poor Tunisians.” The local council is asking for “what the prime minister promised, namely that arrivals are put directly onto support ships already at anchor in Lampedusa. It is also asking for an advertising campaign to say that immigration is now back to normal, no longer visible on the island and will not prevent people from enjoying a peaceful holiday in Lampedusa. Busetta concluded: “Someone said that the Lampedusa tourist season has already begun, with hotels full of soldiers. However, many are still closed and so the few that are open are indeed full, but in any case this is not the kind of tourism that the island wants and we consider the income from this similar to mainlining on a drug. We want real tourism of people walking, spending, travelling around the island, renting scooters, cars and boats, buying souvenirs, going to restaurants not at the price set by the ministry and who pay cash immediately rather than later via tortuously slow bureaucratic procedures. And above all, we want the type of tourism that spreads prosperity throughout the island and not just to a few hotels “ .

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

Netherlands: Minister Wants to Slash Non-EU Work Permits

The cabinet on Friday will discuss home affairs minister Henk Kamp’s plan to drastically reduce the number of work permits for non-EU nationals, the Telegraaf reports.

The rules for knowledge migrants will not be affected, the paper says.

The paper says the minister wants to make it much more difficult for companies to prove they cannot find suitable staff in the Netherlands or the EU.

‘There are 500,000 people sitting on the sidelines on social security benefits. That is a reservoir to be tapped into,’ the paper quotes the minister as saying.

Last year, the immigration service approved 14,000 work permits for people from outside the EU who did not fall under the knowledge migrant scheme.

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

Permits on Wednesday for Refugees in Manduria

(AGI) Taranto- A first batch of 100 or so residence permits will be given to refugees present in Manduria camp (Apulia region). Burocratic procedures have almost been completed after Italian police finished collecting identification for those who landed in Lampedusa and were then taken to Taranto via ship before arriving in Manduria. Meanwhile new times for exiting and returning to the camp will be enforced as of tomorrow: 9AM-12PM and 2PM-7.30PM. The measures aim to contain the to and fro of refugees to Oria, a city a short distance away from the camp and the refugees’ favourite destination in recent days.

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

Culture Wars

AIDS Comments Provoke ‘Attacks’

Pie-ing a Belgian Archbishop with Carefree Abandon

The leader of the Roman Catholic Church in Belgium has been repeatedly targeted by pie-throwing activists angry over comments he made about gay people. Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard reportedly claimed AIDS was an “intrinsic justice” for homosexuals.

Activists have targeted a Roman Catholic Archbishop in Belgium with a pie to the face — again, again, again and again. Andre-Joseph Leonard has repeatedly been on the end of the pie-ing, a comedy staple, after he made comments claiming AIDS was “a sort of intrinsic justice” for gay people.

A prankster named “the Glooper” posted clips online showing the leader of the Catholic Church in Belgium getting hit in the face by custard pies four times while speaking at the Catholic University of Louvain-la-Neuve near Brussels Tuesday.

“The Glooper” is also said to have dished out a pie-ing to French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Microsoft founder Bill Gates in the past.

This time around, Leonard was targeted over his comments on gay people — which included comparing homosexuality to an eating disorder. He was quoted as saying: “Homosexuality is not the same as normal sex in the same way that anorexia is not a normal appetite.”

One of the activists who carried out the pie-ing said: “For all those homosexuals who daren’t tell their parents they are gay, for all those young girls who want to have an abortion, he absolutely deserved it.”

But there was also plenty of support for Archbishop Leonard, with messages of sympathy and encouragement on his official Facebook page Thursday. Whether the activists plan to continue their pie-based onslaught, however, is unknown.

mdm — with wire reports

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