Saturday, January 11, 2003

News Feed 20110723

Financial Crisis
»Boehner Says Work Has Begun on New Debt Deal to Cut $3 Trillion to $4 Trillion
»Italy’s Tremonti on Financial Speculation
»Welfare Payments Now Made to Half the Irish Population
»Joel I. Klein, Former N.Y. Schools Chief, Emerges as Murdoch’s Unlikely Ally
Europe and the EU
»Building to be Reconstructed Into Mosque for Muslim Community in Athens
»Europol Plans Task Force for Norway
»In Italy the Orthodox Pray in Empty Catholic Churches
»Italian Holidays for Merkel and Her Ministers
North Africa
»Libyan Rebels Use Swiss Ammunition
South Asia
»Corruption Reaches Crisis Level in Tajik Universities
Far East
»Former Chinese Executive Gets Death Penalty for Bribes Worth US$ 1.15 Million
»Rebiya Kadeer: Chinese Government Real Terrorist
»Italy: Trieste Border Police Stop 13 Afghans, Including 6 Kids

Financial Crisis

Boehner Says Work Has Begun on New Debt Deal to Cut $3 Trillion to $4 Trillion

Hoping to reassure markets in the wake of an angry breakdown in the federal budget negotiations, Congressional leaders raced Saturday to reach a new deficit-reduction agreement that Speaker John A. Boehner told colleagues could cut $3 trillion to $4 trillion in spending over 10 years.

“We are working, and I’m confident there will be resolution,” Mr. Boehner told fellow House Republicans on an afternoon conference call, according to participants. “There has to be.”

Mr. Boehner’s comments came a little more than a week before the federal government risks defaulting on its debts, a fate that could be avoided if Congress agrees to increase the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling.

[Return to headlines]

Italy’s Tremonti on Financial Speculation

(AGI) Roma — According to Italy’s finance minister, financial speculation “has returned to pre-crisis volumes”. Giulio Tremonti took his assessments further submitting that financial speculation volumes “have in fact exceeded the pre-crisis benchmark.” Tremonti went on to submit “finance no longer serves the real economy; it is self-serving and has acquired colossal dimensions. Once upon a time states would print paper money. That role has been taken over by finance.” .

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

Welfare Payments Now Made to Half the Irish Population

Recession drives more and more into seeking state aid

Almost half the Irish population is now in receipt of a social welfare payment from the government as the recession deepens.

New figures show that the cost to the exchequer is spiralling as long term unemployment grows.

Last year alone saw a 40 per cent increase in the total cost of payments to those on Jobseekers Allowance.

Shockingly, a third of all money spent by the Irish state in 2010 went to welfare recipients.

Figures from the Department of Social Protection confirm that a whopping $29.3billion was paid by the Irish government to welfare recipients in 2010.

The figure is in stark contrast to the $19billion spent on the same basis at the height of the Celtic Tiger boom in 2006.

Children’s allowance payments were actually down in 2010, after a major clampdown on fraud, while pensions and other payments to older people made up 22 per cent of the 2010 expenditure.

Just under 20 per cent of the $29.billion paid went to the unemployed while 12.7 per cent went on child support payments.

The cost of the government’s Jobseekers Allowance scheme rose by $1.13billion to $3.95billion last year.

In spite of the huge sums involved, sources at the Department for Social Protection have denied there are any plans to cut unemployment benefit or other welfare payments next year.

           — Hat tip: McR[Return to headlines]


Joel I. Klein, Former N.Y. Schools Chief, Emerges as Murdoch’s Unlikely Ally

Joel I. Klein, the former New York City schools chancellor, was in a tricky position. Three weeks ago, Rupert Murdoch asked Mr. Klein, now his trusted deputy, to oversee an investigation into the phone hacking scandal that has deeply wounded News Corporation and its chairman, something Mr. Klein was eager to avoid.

“I am trying to get as far away from this as I can,” he lamented to a friend.

He has not succeeded. Mr. Klein, who joined News Corporation as a senior vice president in January, is not only responsible for the investigation that could uncover what company managers knew about the hacking, but he has become one of Mr. Murdoch’s closest and most visible advisers throughout the crisis.

His seemingly contradictory roles — de facto chief of internal affairs officer and ascendant executive with Mr. Murdoch’s ear — are raising questions about how robust and objective the internal inquiry can be.

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Europe and the EU

Building to be Reconstructed Into Mosque for Muslim Community in Athens

The Greek government will finance the reconstruction of building structures into mosques for the Muslim community in Athens. Estimated to cost less than 15 million, the existing plans for the mosque will serve 500 faithful Muslims.

The building of the former Naval Base in Botanikos has been chosen and once it is renovated and converted, it will operate as an Islamic mosque in Athens. According to the amendment tabled in parliament it will be incorporated in a bill being debated by the Ministry of Environment Energy and Climate Change which governs energy issues.

The Steering Committee of the mosque consists of five Greek government officials and two Muslims from recognized associations in Athens. The Islamic leadership position, often the worship leader of a mosque and the Muslim community will be appointed after approval by the Minister of Education.

           — Hat tip: Steen[Return to headlines]

Europol Plans Task Force for Norway

LONDON (AP) — In the wake of Norway’s terrorist attack, the European police agency is setting up a task force of more than 50 experts to help northern European countries investigate non-Islamic terror threats, its spokesman told The Associated Press on Saturday.

Soeren Pedersen said the group, which is based in The Hague, hopes to help Norway and nearby countries in their investigations in the coming weeks. He said Norway has not requested forensic experts but that Europol could provide them if needed.

“There is no doubt that the threat from Islamist terrorism is still valid,” he said. “But there have actually been warnings that (right-wing groups) are getting more professional, more aggressive in the way they attract others to their cause.”

Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, European countries have viewed Islamic terrorism as the primary threat. But the fact the suspect in Friday’s twin attacks turned out to be a Norwegian with right-wing views is raising questions about whether homegrown, non-Islamic terror threats have been neglected.

           — Hat tip: Van Grungy[Return to headlines]

In Italy the Orthodox Pray in Empty Catholic Churches

Moscow Patriarchate: our people growing abroad also with the help of the Catholic Church, who host us in its facilities. Number of Orthodox churches built abroad are now over 400.

Moscow (AsiaNews) — The Catholic parishes in Italy often left empty are hosting religious services of the Russian Orthodox Church, which still does not have sufficient facilities of its own abroad, according to Archbishop Mark of Yegorievsk, head of the foreign institutions of the Patriarchate of Moscow. “Catholic churches, that have no parishioners — the bishop said in an interview on the website of the Russian Church — are often put at our disposal and the appearance of so many faithful is due to the help of the Catholic Church, which offers us its facilities for worship. “

Mark explains that the Russian Orthodox Church has 400 parishes in 52 countries, but stresses that not all communities have their own church. “For example, in Italy there are 49 parishes, but only some have a church.” He adds: “The divine services may be celebrated in different places — he adds — but it is important to build churches”.

The Moscow Patriarchate has undertaken a real campaign of expansion at home and abroad. In the Russian capital, in April, the mayor Sergei Sobianin gave the green light to build 200 new churches. The project, recalls the religious information website, is meeting with great resistance from civil society, concerned with defending the secularism in a State in which the Church has become one of its greatest allies. According to data from the Patriarchate, the proportion between the number of churches and Orthodox believers in Moscow is one church for every 35 thousand inhabitants and in some quarters even every 150 thousand or 200 thousand inhabitants. The aim is to give every believer a church within walking distance from home. “Two hundred new churches can not solve the problem of insufficient places of worship (destroyed under Soviet atheism, ed) — Kirill said — but the situation will change, because we will have the opportunity to work among the people.”

For the State the support of the Church, within the confines of the Federation, is of great help in the perspective of combating social ills such as alcoholism, ethnic violence and abortion. Abroad, however, the Patriarchate — according to some analysts — is one of the Kremlin’s tools to restore its geopolitical influence in the territories of the former USSR and beyond. According to Mark himself, an Orthodox church is going to be opened in Cyprus and another is scheduled in Madrid, while a large Orthodox spiritual center will be built at the foot of the Eiffel tower in Paris. Meanwhile, a growing number of Orthodox churches will be built in Thailand and also in Great Britain — Mark continues — where the number of parishioners is increasing and new communities opening up.

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

Italian Holidays for Merkel and Her Ministers

(AGI) Berlin — Italy continues to be the favourite holiday destination for German politicians. Beside Angela Merkel, who is going to leave for Alto Adige for the fourth consecutive year, also liberal Daniel Bahr, Ministry of Health, choose the same destination. Cdu Ursula von der Leyen, Ministry of Work, and her family chose Sardinia, planning “delightful idleness and a lot of good food” ..

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

North Africa

Libyan Rebels Use Swiss Ammunition

Rebels fighting for the removal of Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi are using Swiss M80 rifle ammunition, according to a news report on Swiss television.

The Rundschau programme claimed the ammunition, which conforms to Nato standards, came from the state-owned arms manufacturer Ruag and was exported to Qatar by the FGS Frex company in Oberägeri, canton Zug.

FGS Frex confirmed the report, which also said the deal had been approved in 2009 by the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (Seco) on condition that Qatar did not forward the ammunition to a third party.

Swiss authorities are now examining whether the ban on re-exportation had been broken by Qatar. Seco told Rundschau on Wednesday that until that issue had been cleared up, no further materiel exports would be approved to Qatar.

Rebels and pro-Gaddafi forces are locked in a stalemate with the rebels unable to advance beyond pockets in the west despite a Nato air campaign against Gaddafi’s forces. Rebel forces hold most of the east but have been unable to wrest the strategic oil town of Brega from Gaddafi’s forces.

The Nato-led campaign of airstrikes was mandated by the United Nations to protect civilians from a crackdown by Gaddafi on an uprising against his rule, amid revolts this year around the Arab world.

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

South Asia

Corruption Reaches Crisis Level in Tajik Universities

The Education Ministry is the most corrupt government body. Entry exams in scientific departments can require paying US$ 20,000 bribes, this in a country where 47 per cent of the population lives in poverty.

Dushanbe (AsiaNews) — University education is one of the most corrupt domains in Tajikistan. The problem is such that the country is facing a shortage of “qualified professionals”, experts say.

The numbers tell the whole story. It is estimated that very few students earn their degree without paying bribes during their years of study. According to the country’s National Anti-Corruption Agency, the Education Ministry is the most corrupt state body in the country.

According to accounts reported by EurasiaNet, an administrator at a medical school asked a prospective student US$ 20,000 in bribes in order to be admitted. For matriculation into a liberal arts programme, students are expected to pay from US$ 1,000 to US$ 3,000. Law or economics programmes can cost between US$ 4,500 and US$ 10,000 to enter.

The price depends on depending on the prestige of the department, anonymous sources told the Central Asia-centred online research journal.

What is more, to put that figure in context, roughly 47 per cent of Tajiks live in poverty—that is, surviving on less than US$ 2 per day—according to the most recent World Bank data.

“Those who have the money can easily afford enrolment in any university, but the smart guys who cannot afford this remain unable to master their area of study,” said Oynihol Bobonazarova, who runs a legal-support clinic, Perspective-Plus, in Dushanbe.

“Corruption leads to instability. It undermines everything—like a tree that is healthy in appearance, but which has worms eating at its roots.” The lack of qualified experts in every field will cause “a very big problem,” Bobonazarova explained.

Graft in higher education has long been a problem in the former Soviet Union, and fed a culture of corruption in which paying extra fees for the right grade comes easily.

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

Far East

Former Chinese Executive Gets Death Penalty for Bribes Worth US$ 1.15 Million

The sentence could be commuted to life in prison after two years of good behaviour. Zhang Chunjiang, 53, is former vice president at China Mobile and the China Mobile Communications Corp and was closely connected to the Communist Party.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) — A former executive at China Mobile Ltd, the world’s biggest mobile carrier by subscriber accounts, was found guilty of taking about US$ 1.15 million in bribes. A court in northern China’s Hebei province gave Zhang Chunjiang, 53, a suspended death sentence, which could be commuted to life in prison after two years of good behaviour.

Zhang Chunjiang, a former vice chairman at Hong Kong-listed China Mobile and former vice president at the company’s state-owned parent, China Mobile Communications Corp, took 7.46 million yuan (US$ 1.15 million) in bribes between 1994 and 2009, a period in which he served as a senior telecom official in Liaoning province.

The charges against him also included helping bribers with receiving business contracts and “recovering debts.”

China’s leaders have repeatedly vowed to eradicate corruption, which represents a potential threat to economic growth as well as a source of public discontent. But their efforts appear to have had limited effect in a country where the ruling Communist Party is essentially the only arbiter of officials’ conduct and where those who take bribe often have ties with the party.

Before being accused of corruption, Mr Zhang was also head of the powerful Communist Party committee at China Mobile’s state-owned parent.

Like in other cases involving top figures, the details of Mr Zhang’s crimes have not been made public. Ordinary Chinese have been kept in the dark with regards to the extent of the web of corruption in which Zhang was involved.

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

Rebiya Kadeer: Chinese Government Real Terrorist

The exiled Uyghur leader sees through Beijing’s charges of terrorism in Hotan clashes two days ago and demands China cease arbitrary arrests and torture. Meanwhile, Uyghur sources speak of at least 20 dead and 70 arrested.

Beijing (AsiaNews / Agencies) — Tension in Hotan, Xinjiang, remains high after the clashes between police and protesters on July 19. The World Uyghur Congress reports that there were at least 20 Uyghurs killed (14 crushed to death and 6 killed by gun shots) and 70 arrested. Rebiya Kadeer, leader of the Congress, responding to China’s accusations states that the real terrorists are the Chinese leaders.

The massive police presence is visible only at the Nuerbage police station, site of the clashes, and around some government offices. Beijing insists that it was a terrorist attack, by assailants armed with knives, axes and Molotov cocktails praising “Allah the one God” and invoking “holy war”, brandishing banners with extremist slogans, with 18 deaths (14 protesters, 2 policemen and 2 civilians) and 4 terrorists arrested. The head of the local police station Abulaiti Maitiniyazi claims the attackers were almost all from out of town.

But the Congress reports that the police opened fire on unarmed peaceful protesters who then reacted and they accused the police of premeditated killing. It explains that the demonstrators were protesting against an unjust expropriation of their land and demanding news of their relatives who “disappeared” during the ethnic violence of July 2009.

Rebiya Kadeer, Uyghur leaders imprisoned in China for years for crimes of opinion and forced into exile in the United States, denies both the terrorist plot, because of the Uyghurs were armed and asks that “the Chinese government stops this sort of terrorist activity against a peaceful people and respects the culture and national identity of the Uyghurs. “ “China — she adds — has no right to talk of ‘terrorist attacks’, until it allows its citizens freedom of speech and assembly.” “Finally, China should cease arbitrary detention, unfair executions and torture in prison.”

Kadeer speaks of a region ready to explode, with Beijing, which robs Xinjiang of oil and other natural resources, encouraging the immigration of ethnic Han who occupy positions of power and appling strict control measures, with bans and arrests even against the practice and teaching of the Islamic religion. “The Uyghurs — she concludes, speaking Radio Free Asia — have no rights, no job, no money, so they have nothing to lose.”

Ethnic clashes erupted in Xinjiang between the native Uyghurs and Han immigrants, in July 2009, which caused at least 200 deaths. Since then the region has been guarded by police, who often speak of having to act against Islamic extremists, while Uyghur sources speak of systematic abuse.

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


Italy: Trieste Border Police Stop 13 Afghans, Including 6 Kids

(AGI) Trieste — Trieste border police found 13 illegal Afghan immigrants on the Karst Plateau, hungry but in good physical conditions. The group comprised three families: six children and seven young adults, of which 4 men and 3 women. They were walking along State Road 202 in direction of Banne (Trieste), when they were noticed by a bypasser who immediately called the police.

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