Saturday, January 11, 2003

News Feed 20110904

Financial Crisis
»Debt Greece in No State to Pay
»Greece: Qatar Invests in Greek Banks
»Greece: Budget Office Head Resigns
»Italy: CGIA Mestre — Abolition of Provinces Saves Just 3. 9%
»Italy: Budget Amendment Cuts Back on Public Holiday Allowances
»Italy: Mayors to Publish Everyone’s Tax Returns
»Italy to Imprison Serious Tax Evaders
»Italy: EU: Confindustria Call Tax Evasion Law Into Question
»Netherlands: Finance Minister Partly Blames Germany, France for Debt Crisis
»Spain: Congress Approves Constitution Reform Amid Protests
»U.S. Postal Service is Nearing Default as Losses Mount
»Cheney Says Hillary Clinton is Better Than Barack Obama
»‘Muslim Family Day’ Will Spread Peace at Six Flags
Europe and the EU
»Austria: A Haven of Corruption
»Banon’s Mother: Strauss-Kahn’s Return to France is Indecent
»Czech Republic: Fatty Army to Go on a Diet
»Electronic Tagging of Sex Offenders in Germany, Protests
»France: Marine Le Pen: ‘Obama is More Right-Wing Than Me’
»Italy: WikiLeaks Cable Reveals La Russa Was U.S.A.’s Best Ally
»Italy: Modern Crime Lesson 1: If Your Boyfriend’s in the Mob be Careful on Facebook
»Italy: Tarantini Arrested for Blackmailing Berlusconi
»Italy: Probed Former Minister Confident of Proving Innocence
»Italy: Rome Monuments Attacked by Vandals
»SPD Triumphs in Germany’s Regional Elections
»UK: 60 Arrested in EDL Protest Clashes
»UK: Home Fit for a Hero? While £1m Homes Go to Asylum Seekers, A Soldier Who Lost Three Limbs Serving His Country is Put in a Tiny Flat … on the Sixth Floor
»UK: Imam Murder Case: 24-Year-Old Man Charged
»UK: Theresa May Pulled the Plug on Dave’s ‘Macho’ US Supercop After Dinner Party Rowby David Rose
»Serbia: Italy Export Leader, Third in Imports
Mediterranean Union
»EU-Jordan: Deal on Trade Controversies in Effect
North Africa
»Libya: The Trembling Young Voices of Gaddafi’s Captured Mercenaries
»Libya: In Tripoli, Children and Teenagers Used in the War Against Gaddafi
»Libya: Gaddafi Still a Threat With Troops Under Command — NATO
»Morocco: Husband ‘Made No Effort to Help Wife After Balcony Fall’, Claims New Witnesspolice Said Tilly Lamb Fell After Balustrade Gave Way But Witnesses Say There Was No Evidence of Damage
»Pepe Escobar: It’s a TOTAL War, Monsieur
»Tripoli Rebel Chief Admits He Was Tortured by CIA
»Tunisia: Violence in Douz; 30 Injured, Curfew
Israel and the Palestinians
»Israel Trains Settlers for Palestinian Protests
»Protestors Preparing ‘March of Millions’
Middle East
»How Much Does Ramadan Cost?
»Netanyahu Tries to Calm Tensions With Turkey, No Apologies
»Saudi Arabia’s Mistake in Announcing Eid Al-Fitr Angers Muslims Worldwide
»Turkey Imposes Sanctions Against Israel in the Wake of UN Report on the Gaza Flotilla
South Asia
»India: Tamil Nadu Theft, Destruction, Beatings and Arrests of Protestant Christians
»Indonesia: Minister Denies Paying Bribe for Bonus
»Pakistan: Bhatti Murder: Focusing Again on Islamic Extremism
Far East
»Biden in Beijing, Embarrassment and Servility
Australia — Pacific
»Local Fanatics Plotting Terror Strikes
»1,447 Somalis Granted Residence Permits in Malta in 2009
»Catalonia Advises Detainees to Leave Spain
»Italy: Gelmini: Pisapia Knows Nothing of ‘Ghetto School’ Problems
»Learn Dutch or Lose Your Benefits, The Hague City Council Says
»Malaysia: 1.2 Mln Illegal Indonesian Workers Register for Amnesty
Culture Wars
»Australia Goes All PC With a Ban on BC: Birth of Jesus to be Removed as Reference Point for Dates in School History Booksby Mail Foreign Service
»Islamo-Phobic? Think Again

Financial Crisis

Debt Greece in No State to Pay

Libération Paris

Greek debt is now out of control. This disturbing conclusion, issued by a parliamentary committee, comes from Athens itself. Asphyxiated by a recession severer than expected and undermined by the black economy, the country looks unlikely to meet its repayment deadlines.

Jean Quatremer

The scene takes place in Hydra, an island in the Saronic Gulf, two hours by boat from Pireas, frequented by Greek high society, including Prime Minister George Papandreou. On an August night, at the end of a dinner in a well known tavern, the owner brings out the bill for her ten guests: 150 euros. The bill is handwritten, that is to say not registered. There is no question of paying by credit card, there is no terminal. So it has to be cash. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to deduce that the tavern is run mainly as a cash business to evade paying taxes.

The tavern is not an exception, far from it. On the island, it is common knowledge that the restaurants and cafe’s defraud the taxman, as do the undeclared rooms to rent that double Hydra’s hotel capacity. A typical example is a well-established guest house offereing seven rooms at a minimum rate of 50 euros per night, to be paid in cash with no bill supplied. Taking into account a season that lasts four months, the owner can expect to earn €42,000 (less costs), which is tax free. The same applies to cafes and other businesses. On Hydra alone, millions of euros of revenue are slipping through the tax net, while businesses that actually pay taxes, like the official hotels, have the uncomfortable impression of being fleeced — even more so, now that the rates they pay are increasing.

In spite of all of this, the tax authorities receive relatively few tip-offs (18,500 in 2010 as opposed to 4,500 in 2009). Everyone knows that most of the country’s tax inspectors are corrupt are willing to turn a blind eye in exchange for a fakelaki, a “brown envelope.” That is not to say that there hasn’t been some progress in a number of places, which have broken with a two-centuries-old tradition of massive fraud. For example on the Ionian island of Lefkada, most of the taverns now distribute receipts in accordance with regulations. But above board commerce continues to be an exception rather than the rule: restaurants, taxis, cafes, and all kinds of other businesses are deeply involved in the black economy, whose benefits are plainly visible (luxury cars, new buildings, pleasure boats etc.).

The bottomless tub

According to estimates, it continues to represent 30 to 40% of the Greek economy, and this figure does not take into account the Church and arms businesses that are legally exempt from taxes…

Two years after the onset of the crisis, Greece still appears to be unaware of the seriousness of the problems it faces and the efforts that it will have to make to avoid bankruptcy: a public debt equivalent to 160% of GDP at 360 billion euros, a 2011 deficit that will exceed the desired level of 7.5% of GDP, which, at 14.69 billion euros on 1st July, had already absorbed the bulk of an annual target of 16.68 billion euros…

Reforms have been voted, but the new rules are hardly ever applied. The troika mission formed by representatives of the Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund, which recently arrived in Athens to evaluate progress in the run-up to the handover of the next tranche of aid, will have to accept that Greece is a modern version of the bottomless tub that the daughters of Danaus were forced to fill: demands for further budgetary cuts will serve no purpose in a state that remains dysfunctional. As one official in Paris put it, “We believed that Greece was a normal country, but we were wrong. Its problems will not be solved in one or two years. It will need assistance to build a state that works, and that will take time. This also implies that we will have to continue to protect it from the markets until then.”

Inability to combat tax fraud

On 31 August, the country’s new budget watchdog, which is staffed by independent analysts, said that the country’s debt was “out of control.” There is no doubt that the economic recession has played a major role in this uncontrolled economic slippage — minus 4.5% GDP in 2005 as opposed to an expected minus 3.5%, and minus 10% over the last three years. But several European countries have experienced even more severe recessions (minus 10.5% in Latvia in 2010) and still avoided the situation in which Greece now finds itself.

As the budget watchdog has pointed out, Athens is now paying for its lack of a proper state: “It is clear that the country not only has a problem with the volume of its public debt, but also with its inability to consolidate its ongoing budgetary management. Notwithstanding the huge effort in the field of budgetary adjustment, there has been no primary budget surplus, on the contrary, the primary budget deficit has continued to grow.”…

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

Greece: Qatar Invests in Greek Banks

Ta Nea, 30 August 2011

Ta Nea, along with the rest of the Greek press, delightedly reports on what amounts to an “interbank honeymoon” in the wake of the “marriage of the year”: the merger of Alpha and Eurobank, the second and third largest Greek banks, assisted by a cash injection from Qatar, which is “the largest foreign investment in Greece in years.” The 29 August announcement of the merger was particularly well received by the markets, with the Athens stock exchange gaining 14%. “Thanks to the support from Qatar which has provided 500 million euros for a 17% stake, the new entity will now become the largest bank in Greece and the Balkans. The merger will also pave the way for the opening of the Greek banking sector,” explains Ta Nea.

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

Greece: Budget Office Head Resigns

(ANSAmed) — ATHENS, SEPTEMBER 2 — The head of the Greek Parliament’s Budget Office, Stella Sava Balfusia, has tendered her resignation to Parliament Speaker Filippos Petsalnikos, after the scandal which erupted following the publication of a report by the office according to which the trend in Greek public debt was out of control. The finance minister reacted immediately, saying that “the text is lacking in elements of validity which international agency reports have, since the Parliament’s Budget Office (recently constituted) does not yet have the knowledge nor the experience necessary of international organisations.”

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: CGIA Mestre — Abolition of Provinces Saves Just 3. 9%

(AGI) Rome — The abolition of the provinces would save just 509,9 million euro, with 96,1% of spending remaining unchanged.

According to CGIA Mestre this saving amounts to just 3.9% of the total of 13 billion currently spent in Italy.

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

Italy: Budget Amendment Cuts Back on Public Holiday Allowances

(AGI) Rome — Opposition emergency budget amendments to cut back of public holidays have gained parliament’s unanimous approval.

The amendment looks to move all patron saint festivity celebrations to Sundays, leaving out May Day, June 2 and April 25 celebrations. Other exemptions include major Catholic festivities.

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

Italy: Mayors to Publish Everyone’s Tax Returns

Measure may be included in budget

ROME — Vincenzo Visco tried in 2008 and it was a spectacular failure. Italians’ 2005 tax returns were posted on the tax agency website but they were only online for a few minutes before all hell broke loose. Beppe Grillo’s protests were particularly vociferous and the privacy guarantor sought clarification, prompting the tax authorities to remove everything. Today, a Centre-right government is trying again.

Informed sources say that one of the new measures in the budget, agreed during Monday’s meeting at Silvio Berlusconi’s Arcore home, is the — possibly mandatory — publication of people’s incomes. This time, it will be done by municipal authorities, not the tax agency. The hope is that local residents will, whether out of envy or simply because they are fed up paying for other people’s evasion, inform on tax dodgers and enable mayors to offset a substantial part of cutbacks in central government funding.

The procedure has yet to be defined and the budget amendment is expected no earlier than this evening. Obviously, every possible precaution will be taken to prevent a repetition of 2008’s debacle. It is unclear whether the enhanced revenue from “social control of fiscal probity”, as the experts call it, will be coded. Nor is it certain whether there will be a back-up measure to ensure the two billion euros or thereabouts required to offset the lighter municipal spending cuts decided at Monday’s meeting…

English translation by Giles Watson

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

Italy to Imprison Serious Tax Evaders

Measure included in amendment to government austerity package

(ANSA) — Rome, September 1 — Italy has toughened its law on tax evasion so that serious offenders face prison as part of its austerity package, according to an amendment signed by Economy Minister Giulio Tremonti Thursday.

“If the tax evaded or not paid exceeds three million euros, suspended sentences will not be applied,” read the amendment.

The government, which has been forced to accelerate a tough austerity plan to prevent its debt crisis from spiraling out of control, has promised to balance the budget by 2013 through measures such as cracking down on tax evasion, which is very high in Italy.

Italy’s tax auditors recovered 10.6 billion euros in unpaid taxes in 2010, double the 2007 amount.

Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi and senior ministers on Monday dropped the “solidarity tax” that proposed extra taxes on high income earners and on Thursday reversed a move to cut out time spent at university and doing compulsory military service from pension calculations.

Opponents to the solidarity tax and to spending cuts in the austerity package have argued in favor of harsher rules against tax dodgers, in part because raising taxes only effects those honest enough to pay.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: EU: Confindustria Call Tax Evasion Law Into Question

Austerity bill amendment ‘must be revised’ says employer group

(ANSA) — Rome, September 2 — The European Union expressed concern Friday that Italy’s move to impose prison terms on serious tax evaders would not make a strong difference to its budget deficit, while Italy’s biggest employer organization Confindustria called for revisions.

According to Amadeu Altafaj, spokesperson for the European Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs, there were “difficulties” and “uncertainties” tied to evaluating the revenue that could derive from a government amendment presented in the Senate Thursday that would make prison terms mandatory for those who dodge taxes exceeding three million euros.

Altafaj emphasized the EU’s hope that Italy would find room in the austerity package for measures that could stimulate more economic growth, an area where Italy lags behind the rest of Europe.

Confindustria called the amendment “hardly effective in its aim to seriously fight tax evasion” and said it risked penalizing law-abiding companies which, according to the law, could be wrongly identified as shell companies merely due to having lost money for three consecutive years.

“In these years of serious, wide-spread economic crisis, there are many companies who find themselves in such circumstances,” it said, adding that the measure “must be revised”.

The government, which has been forced to accelerate a tough austerity plan to prevent its debt crisis from spiraling out of control, has promised to balance the budget by 2013 through measures such as cracking down on tax evasion, which is very high in Italy.

Italy’s tax auditors recovered 10.6 billion euros in unpaid taxes in 2010, double the 2007 amount.

Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi and senior ministers on Monday dropped a “solidarity tax” that proposed extra taxes on high income earners and on Thursday reversed a move to cut out time spent at university and doing compulsory military service from pension calculations.

Opponents to the austerity package have called for harsher rules against tax dodgers, in part because raising taxes and making cuts effects disproportionately effects honest citizens.

The government was making more amendments to the austerity plan Friday, which is expected to be put to the floor of the Senate. European Central Bank chairman Jean Claude Trichet said that Italy must “confirm and solidify” its austerity package in order to “rapidly reduce the public deficit and to improve the flexibility of the Italian economy”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Netherlands: Finance Minister Partly Blames Germany, France for Debt Crisis

Finance minister Jan Kees de Jager partly blames Germany and France for Europe’s debt crisis because they ran larger than permitted budget deficits in the early 2000s, news agency AP reports.

De Jager is quoted as saying that when the two largest countries in the eurozone ran deficits of over 3% in 2003 and 2004 without any action being taken it ‘opened the flood gates for other countries’ to break the rules, ultimately leading to the current crisis.

De Jager also said at the press conference for foreign journalists in the Netherlands the country will continue to support the new bail-out for Greece even though it might not work.

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

Spain: Congress Approves Constitution Reform Amid Protests

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, SEPTEMBER 2 — The first reform of Article 135 of the Spanish Constitution which introduces a deficit ceiling into the document was approved today by Congress with votes in favour of the amendment only from the PSOE and PP, which had previously agreed on the move, as well as the Union Pueblo Navarro (UPN). The reform obtained 316 votes in favour and 5 against, which came from representatives of the Coaliccion Canaria and Union Progreso y Democracia, as well as two socialist MPs. The session was marked by the controversial exit from the hall by the minority left-wing parties — IU, ERC, ICV, BNG and NaBai — when the vote was taking place in a sign of protest because none of the amendments presented had been approved. Also, MPs of Catalonian and Basque nationalist parties, CiU and PNV, did not vote, although they did remain present in the room. The modification needed a three-fifths majority in favour of approval, which was easily achieved. Now the amendment will go to the Senate for definitive approval next week.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

U.S. Postal Service is Nearing Default as Losses Mount

The United States Postal Service has long lived on the financial edge, but it has never been as close to the precipice as it is today: the agency is so low on cash that it will not be able to make a $5.5 billion payment due this month and may have to shut down entirely this winter unless Congress takes emergency action to stabilize its finances.

“Our situation is extremely serious,” the postmaster general, Patrick R. Donahoe, said in an interview. “If Congress doesn’t act, we will default.”

In recent weeks, Mr. Donahoe has been pushing a series of painful cost-cutting measures to erase the agency’s deficit, which will reach $9.2 billion this fiscal year. They include eliminating Saturday mail delivery, closing up to 3,700 postal locations and laying off 120,000 workers — nearly one-fifth of the agency’s work force — despite a no-layoffs clause in the unions’ contracts.

The post office’s problems stem from one hard reality: it is being squeezed on both revenue and costs.

As any computer user knows, the Internet revolution has led to people and businesses sending far less conventional mail.

At the same time, decades of contractual promises made to unionized workers, including no-layoff clauses, are increasing the post office’s costs. Labor represents 80 percent of the agency’s expenses, compared with 53 percent at United Parcel Service and 32 percent at FedEx, its two biggest private competitors. Postal workers also receive more generous health benefits than most other federal employees.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on the agency’s predicament on Tuesday. So far, feuding Democrats and Republicans in Congress, still smarting from the brawl over the federal debt ceiling, have failed to agree on any solutions. It doesn’t help that many of the options for saving the postal service are politically unpalatable.

“The situation is dire,” said Thomas R. Carper, the Delaware Democrat who is chairman of the Senate subcommittee that oversees the postal service. “If we do nothing, if we don’t react in a smart, appropriate way, the postal service could literally close later this year. That’s not the kind of development we need to inject into a weak, uneven economic recovery.”

Missing the $5.5 billion payment due on Sept. 30, intended to finance retirees’ future health care, won’t cause immediate disaster. But sometime early next year, the agency will run out of money to pay its employees and gas up its trucks, officials warn, forcing it to stop delivering the roughly three billion pieces of mail it handles weekly.

The causes of the crisis are well known and immensely difficult to overcome.

Mail volume has plummeted with the rise of e-mail, electronic bill-paying and a Web that makes everything from fashion catalogs to news instantly available. The system will handle an estimated 167 billion pieces of mail this fiscal year, down 22 percent from five years ago.

It’s difficult to imagine that trend reversing, and pessimistic projections suggest that volume could plunge to 118 billion pieces by 2020. The law also prevents the post office from raising postage fees faster than inflation.

Meanwhile, the agency has had a tough time cutting its costs to match the revenue drop, with a history of labor contracts offering good health and pension benefits, underused post offices, and laws that restrict its ability to make basic business decisions, like reducing the frequency of deliveries.

Congress is considering numerous emergency proposals — most notably, allowing the post office to recover billions of dollars that management says it overpaid to its employees’ pension funds. That fix would help the agency get through the short-term crisis, but would delay the day of reckoning on bigger issues.

The agency’s leaders acknowledge that they must find a way to increase revenue, something that will prove far harder than simply slicing costs…

[Return to headlines]


Cheney Says Hillary Clinton is Better Than Barack Obama

(AGI) Washington — Former US Vice President Cheney said Hillary Clinton might have made a better president than Barack Obama.

The former Republican Vice President said that the Secretary of State might have made a better president if she had won the Democratic Party primaries in 2008. Dick Cheney also said that Clinton is “one of the more competent members of the current administration”.

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

‘Muslim Family Day’ Will Spread Peace at Six Flags

SAN ANTONIO — Up to 3,000 Muslims from around the state are expected to converge Sunday on Six Flags Fiesta Texas for “Muslim Family Day” to celebrate the end of Ramadan and spread the post-9/11 message that most Muslims are peaceful and mainstream.

Families from as far as Corpus Christi, Austin and Waco have committed to attending the event, sponsored by local chapters of the Muslim American Society and the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Fiesta Texas will be open to the public that day as scheduled, a spokeswoman said. She stressed that the event is not sponsored by Six Flags.

The two groups are selling discounted tickets and parking passes for an event that aims to give Muslim families a festive way to mark Ramadan’s end while sharing their culture and challenging stereotypes as the 10th anniversary of 9/11 nears.

Activities will include Muslim prayers, entertainment, socializing and meals in keeping with the faith’s dietary laws.

The public is welcome to buy meal tickets for international cuisine from local Muslim restaurateurs, event planners said.

The interaction with the general public at a popular, high-traffic amusement park will go far in reducing anxieties between Muslims and the larger community, said Sarwat Husain, CAIR’s local president.

“It’s our community, too, and we are mainstream just like anybody else,” she said. “It’s also giving a boost to the Muslims for what they have been going through. The 10th anniversary of 9/11 is coming up, and already there is much fear going on. We have to get out of that. It’s been 10 years.”

The event reflects the gradual acceptance of local Muslims, said the Rev. Paul Ziese, a Lutheran minister active in interfaith work and past board president of the San Antonio Community of Congregations.

“I know for years many amusement parks have had special events for Christmas and other Christian holidays,” he said.

“I think it’s appropriate that a Muslim event be recognized. Muslims still feel a little bit on the fringe even though many groups are starting to welcome them.”

[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Austria: A Haven of Corruption

Die Presse, 31 August 2011

“Give and take: the corrupt republic,” headlines Die Presse in its report on “the wave of corruption scandals that has rocked the country.” According to an OECD specialist quoted by the conservative newspaper, Austria is a “haven for corruption” that “the courts are no longer able” to keep in check. The daily details “the wave of scandals” that has swept the country in recent years: three ministers, a member of the Telekom board of directors, the wife of the railway services CEO, a trader working for BAWAG (the trade union federation bank) have been implicated in a range of shady deals. Die Presse regrets that they are unlikely to face court action for their involvement.

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

Banon’s Mother: Strauss-Kahn’s Return to France is Indecent

(AGI) Paris — Anne Mansouret, mother of Tristane Banon, the young writer who accused Dominique Strauss-Kahn of trying to rape her, said Dsk’s return to France is “indecent”. Mansouret said, “I’m a bit taken aback by the media attention surrounding this return. For me, as well as for anyone else who studied law, this story will not end until Dsk is judged in a court.” .

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

Czech Republic: Fatty Army to Go on a Diet

Lidové noviny , 31 August 2011

There is no underestimating the weight of the Czech military. “The soldiers are too fat and will have to be given medical treatment,” reports Lidové noviny. According to a study based on medical visits in 2010, half of the 22,000 professional soldiers that are supposed to defend the country are overweight, and one in seven is obese. An order has now been issued for the launch of a “chemical” programme to combat the phenomenon, which is to cost 33 euros per month and per soldier. “Instructing the army to take more physical exercise would have been a more natural and less costly option for the state,” remarks one military doctor quoted by Lidové noviny. The Prague daily also points out that “in a conscription based army, the condition of the soldiers would reflect a slightly soft sample of the general population.” However, in 2004 the Czech Republic established a professional army supposed to have “the honour, responsibility and habits of professional” soldiers. That said, weighty troops are nothing new. The newspaper points out that under Austrian-Hungarian empire, the typical soldier had much in common with “the piggish Baloun” who devoured his lieutenant’s dinner, in the novel The Good Soldier Švejk.

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

Electronic Tagging of Sex Offenders in Germany, Protests

(AGI) Berlin — As of January 1,2012 Germany will electronically tag sex maniacs and minor offenders, but police protests. This system was introduced in Hessia ten years ago and has now been approved by Bavaria, Baden-Wuerttemberg, North Rhine-Westphalia and Meclemburgh; the other laenders should follow suit.

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

France: Marine Le Pen: ‘Obama is More Right-Wing Than Me’

Marine Le Pen, the leader of the hard-line nationalist Front National, has compared her political views to a range of other politicians, claiming she is “neither right-wing nor left-wing.”

“I’m struck when I see the Front National is the only political movement which systematically gets the ‘extreme right’ label,” she said, adding it was an attempt to “demonize” the party.

“Obama is more right-wing than I am,” she said. “His big act in social matters is to create social security. Personally, I would go much further than him.”

“The Front National is not an extreme right party,” she said. “The Front National is a party that respects democracy….We are republicans and we respect and even defend the principles of the French republic.”

Surveying the political landscape, Le Pen also found a kindred spirit in some aspects of Socialist Arnaud Montebourg’s thinking.

Montebourg is currently competing to win the Socialist Party nomination to be presidential candidate in 2012. Like him, she has frequently denounced the perceived excesses of globalization.

Le Pen likened her views on the role of the state to those of General Charles de Gaulle, who led France for ten years from 1959 to 1969.

“I think there should be a strategic role for the state and a regulatory role for the state,” she said. “Let’s say that I have a Gaullist vision of the role and the place of the state.”

In a taste of how the Front National will campaign in next year’s presidential elections, Le Pen stressed the primacy of the party’s policy for France to leave the eurozone.

The party will also campaign on more traditional themes of reducing immigration, restricting social benefits and giving first rights on housing and jobs to French-born people.

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

Italy: WikiLeaks Cable Reveals La Russa Was U.S.A.’s Best Ally

(AGI) Rome — A Wikileaks cable from the US Embassy reveals that Defense Minister La Russa ( was a strong supporter of NATO missions in Afghanistan. “La Russa is a good friend of the USA, a strong defender of our shared interests on transatlantic security and, a rarity in Europe, a strong supported of NATO’s mission in Afghanistan,” wrote the Embassy’s number two, Elizabeth Dibble, to U.S. Secretary for Defense Robert Gates, in a cable dated October 5th 2009 and published by Wikileaks .

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

Italy: Modern Crime Lesson 1: If Your Boyfriend’s in the Mob be Careful on Facebook

Social media sites are a double-edged sword in the battle between criminals and law enforcement. In this case, the cops were able to exploit the growing habit of wanting to share all your latest personal news with your friends and family

By now, most of us know to be extra careful when posting personal information on Facebook. A compromising picture might jeopardize your friendships, your marriage, your career… and if you happen to be among Italy’s most wanted mobsters, even your freedom.

Italian and Spanish police have arrested alleged top boss Salvatore D’Avino, whose whereabouts were traced thanks to snapshots posted on Facebook by his pregnant girlfriend.

D’Avino, 39, had been on the run since 2003. He is accused of being a key member of the bloody Giuliano clan of the Camorra crime syndicate of Naples. Italian police had issued arrest warrants for him in 2003 and 2007 on charges of drug trafficking and mafia activity. He faces up to 20 years in prison.

According to Italian authorities, D’Avino had gone into hiding in Tangier, Morocco where he started a relationship with a Moroccan woman. When she got pregnant, the couple moved to the Spanish town of Marbella, on the Costa del Sol.

But with the impending arrival of the offspring, the future mother made a kid’s mistake. She posted on Facebook two photographs of herself, proudly pregnant, so her friends and relatives could see. The problem is that in one photo she was posed in front of a sign for a very-well known beach in Marbella, and the other is shot in front of a bronze statue of a lion outside a popular local Italian restaurant.

With that head start, the police were able to locate her whereabouts. Later, monitoring her e-mail, they moved in after she sent a message to D’Avino saying that the birth was imminent.

When the mobster arrived, the police were there, and placed him under arrest. One negative postscript, however, from the police point of view: the Spanish authorities who actually made the arrest were not pleased with their Italian colleagues for describing how the suspect was traced — they fear that when other criminals hear the story, they will remember to be careful on Facebook.

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

Italy: Tarantini Arrested for Blackmailing Berlusconi

NAPLES — At dawn yesterday, police knocked on the door of a luxury apartment in Rome’s Parioli district to arrest Gianpaolo Tarantini and his wife Angela Devenuto, opening a new chapter in the judicial saga that features the Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi. This time, Mr Berlusconi faces no charges. He is the victim. The Bari-born businessman, who procured prostitutes for Mr Berlusconi’s Palazzo Grazioli soirées, his wife and Valter Lavitola, publisher and editor of l’Avanti newspaper, are accused of extortion. Mr Lavitola, who is also a fish trader in Central America, faces an arrest warrant on the same charges but for some time now he has been careful to remain abroad. All three are alleged to have blackmailed the prime minister into paying them five hundred thousand euros and making regular monthly payments of twenty thousand euros for expenses, including rent, to Mr Tarantini and his family. In return, Mr Tarantini would not alter his defence strategy at his trial in Bari, where he is accused of exploiting prostitution, or change his story about the women he took to Mr Berlusconi’s residence. So far, Mr Tarantini has claimed that he paid the women himself and that the prime minister was completely in the dark because Mr Tarantini said nothing to him about these occasional visitors to Palazzo Grazioli…

English translation by Giles Watson

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

Italy: Probed Former Minister Confident of Proving Innocence

Scajola under investigation over real estate deal

(ANSA) — Rome, August 30 — Former industry minister Claudio Scajola has said he is certain he will prove his innocence after being probed for alleged wrongdoing in a real estate deal. Scajola, who was forced to resign last year when the scandal exploded, was put under investigation on Monday for alleged corruption in a 2004 deal to purchase a 180-square metre apartment overlooking the Colosseum.

Rome prosecutors say that the apartment was paid for in part by Diego Anemone, a businessman arrested as part of a wider corruption probe over public tenders.

“I learned about this from the media,” said Scajola. “I await the results of the Rome magistrates’ work. I’m convinced my innocence will be proven beyond doubt”.

The former minister pointed out that prosecutors in the central Italian city of Perugia had not found any evidence of wrongdoing by him in a separate probe into the affair.

Scajola quit the cabinet in May 2010 following media reports that he had covered up the real price paid for the flat.

“I have been at the center of an unprecedented media campaign,” he said at the time.

Lawyers for Diego Anemone told ANSA their client categorically denied any involvement, saying the press reports were “totally made up” and without “a shred of proof”.

Anemone and three other people — among whom the former head of the state public works office, Angelo Balducci — were arrested in February 2010 by prosecutors probing alleged graft in public tenders for the construction of state venues, including the renovation of the original site of last year’s Group of Eight summit on the Sardinian island of La Maddalena and a police barracks in Florence.

Scajola maintained that he took out a bank mortgage to pay the previous owners of his apartment, sisters Beatrice and Barbara Papa, 610,000 euros for the first-floor flat in a 1950s apartment block.

The press noted that the price was considerably below its market price in 2004.

Scajola was forced to resign from a previous Berlusconi government in July 2002 after sparking controversy by making derogatory remarks about slain Labor Ministry aide Marco Biagi.

Biagi was gunned down the previous March by the Red Brigades after being denied a police escort by Scajola.

In off-the-cuff remarks, Scajola said Biagi had been a “pain in the a**” and that had Biagi been given an escort “three people would have been killed instead of one”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Rome Monuments Attacked by Vandals

Three historic monuments have been attacked by vandals in the Italian capital, Rome.

In the first attack, a man was caught on security cameras chipping two pieces off a marble statue on a fountain in the Piazza Navona.

Hours later tourists watched as a man threw a rock at the famous Trevi Fountain in the centre of the city.

Police then said they caught an American student scaling a wall of the Colosseum to chip off pieces of marble.


The fountain in the Piazza Navona is a 19th Century reproduction of a much earlier group of statues — now in a museum for safekeeping. It was not seriously damaged.

Police say the attacker could be the same individual who threw the rock at the Trevi monument — of Three Coins in the Fountain movie fame.

He missed, but his image was also captured on a security camera.

Police said the American student caught scaling the wall of the ancient Roman amphitheatre had been trying to chip away pieces of travertine marble to take home as souvenirs.

Rome’s fragile art heritage is under attack by a new army of vandals — the name originally given to the invaders who first sacked the city and destroyed many of its monuments 15 centuries ago.

Part of an Egyptian obelisk brought to Rome 2,000 years ago has just been covered in graffiti.

Despite the installation of 1,200 security cameras in central Rome and more frequent police patrols, protecting the Italian capital’s artistic treasures is proving an increasingly difficult task in an age of mass tourism and government budget cuts.

           — Hat tip: Vlad Tepes[Return to headlines]

SPD Triumphs in Germany’s Regional Elections

(AGI) Berlin -The Social Democrats have triumphed in a regional election held in Meclemburg winning 37% of votes compared to 30.2% in 2006.The NPD ne-Nazi party lost votes at 5.5%, after obtaining 7.3% of votes and six representatives in 2006. With 8.5% the Green Party has managed for the first time to enter the Schwerin parliament with representation on all 16 laender.

Angela Merkel’s CDU fell from 28.8% to 24%, collecting its sixth consecutive defeat in regional elections.

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

UK: 60 Arrested in EDL Protest Clashes

Sixty people have been arrested after far-right demonstrators clashed with police at protests in the capital.

Scuffles broke out and bottles and firecrackers were thrown by members of the English Defence League (EDL) as riot police, mounted police and dogs turned out on the streets in large numbers to maintain control.

By early evening on Saturday 16 people had been arrested for a variety of offences including affray, drunk and disorderly and assault on a police officer. Later 44 people on a coach were arrested on suspicion of violent disorder, Scotland Yard said.

Skirmishes broke out during the afternoon as EDL leader Stephen “Tommy” Lennon addressed a crowd, telling them he had broken his bail conditions to be at the protest. He was not one of those arrested.

The group had told Scotland Yard it planned to lead a “static demonstration” in the wake of a 30-day ban by Home Secretary Theresa May on marching in six areas.

There had been fears of potential unrest ahead of the protest, centred on the deprived inner city borough of Tower Hamlets. Mrs May also banned marches in Newham, Waltham Forest, Islington, Hackney and the City of London.

More than 3,000 officers were made available amid fears of violence and clashes with opposition groups including Unite Against Fascism. Police vans from forces including Cumbria, Lancashire and Grampian could be seen on the streets.

Scuffles broke out as Lennon addressed the chanting crowd, many of whom were waving banners and flags. He said: “I’m meant to sign on at a police station on a Saturday, I’m not doing that. I’m not allowed to go to a demonstration, I’m not doing that.

“That’s what’s going to happen and when I go to court if they let me out of court with any bail conditions that restrict my democratic right to oppose militant Islam, I will break them the minute I walk out.”

The 28-year-old EDL founder, from Luton, Bedfordshire, was found guilty of using threatening, abusive or insulting behaviour and leading Luton’s hooligans into a fight after a trial at Luton and South Bedfordshire Magistrates’ Court…

           — Hat tip: Derius[Return to headlines]

UK: Home Fit for a Hero? While £1m Homes Go to Asylum Seekers, A Soldier Who Lost Three Limbs Serving His Country is Put in a Tiny Flat … on the Sixth Floor

He lost three limbs in a bomb blast while serving in Afghanistan.

Now Private Alex Stringer is fighting another battle back home — against a housing allocation that has left him trapped in a tiny sixth floor flat.

As some families living solely on benefits are housed in multi-million-pound properties, the 20-year-old struggles in a flat so small he says he is unable to use his wheelchair indoors.

He cannot get into the kitchen or his daughter’s bedroom, and when the lifts for the building break down, he has no way of entering or leaving his home in Chadwell St Mary, Essex.

He said the council had installed a wet room but his injuries made sitting on a chair under the shower uncomfortable.

The tiny apartment appears entirely unsuited to the soldier’s needs.

In contrast, a family of refugees from Afghanistan lived in a £1.2million, seven-bedroom London mansion paid for by an astonishing £3,000 a week in housing benefits.

Private Stringer, of 23 Pioneer Regiment Royal Logistics Corps, had more than 30 operations after losing both legs, shattering his pelvis and suffering injuries so severe that his left arm had to be amputated at the elbow.

He still spends three weeks every two months at the Army’s rehabilitation centre in Headley Court, Surrey, and struggles at home with fiancée Danielle Taylor, 19, and daughters Millie, three, and Harlie-Rose, one this month.

They have been told by Thurrock Council there is a five-year waiting list for a more suitable home.

Private Stringer said: ‘I knew the risks when I signed up and I have no complaints about what happened to me or the Army.

‘But our flat is unsuitable for a triple amputee.

‘I want to be independent again. I rely on Danielle and friends for everything. It’s demoralising.’

His plight will be considered by many to be a clear breach of the Military Covenant — enshrined in law in July — under which the Army can expect to be provided with adequate housing.

Last night Conservative MP Patrick Mercer said of Private Stringer’s situation: ‘[He] deserves much better treatment than this.

‘I wonder how this accommodation compares to other council tenants who have not risked their lives in the service of their country?’

Private Stringer’s living conditions contrast sharply with those of the Afghan family whose controversial living arrangement, which first made headlines in 2008, led to an overhaul of the housing benefits system.

Toorpakai Saiedi and her family — granted leave to remain in Britain after claiming asylum — lived in a series of large properties, all paid for by local authorities, including the seven-bedroom home in Acton, West London.

A spokesman for Thurrock Council said: ‘We are doing everything we can to support Mr Stringer’s return to independence.’

A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence added: ‘The MoD works closely with injured personnel to ensure that they can obtain accommodation which meets their specific needs.’

           — Hat tip: Vlad Tepes[Return to headlines]

UK: Imam Murder Case: 24-Year-Old Man Charged

A man has been charged with murder after an imam was found dead at a mosque in north London.

The religious leader, understood to be Sheikh Maymoun Zarzour, was found at the Muslim Welfare House in Seven Sisters Road, Finsbury Park, on Friday.

Ziani Aissa, 24, of no fixed abode, was arrested by Metropolitan Police officers at the scene.

He was charged on Sunday evening and is due to appear at Highbury Corner Magistrates’ Court on Monday.

The mosque, in a statement, said it was thought the religious leader, who lost his sight in a childhood accident, was killed in his office after taking prayers.

           — Hat tip: Vlad Tepes[Return to headlines]

UK: Theresa May Pulled the Plug on Dave’s ‘Macho’ US Supercop After Dinner Party Rowby David Rose

Home Secretary Theresa May vowed to block David Cameron’s choice of US ‘Supercop’ Bill Bratton as the next Metropolitan Police Commissioner because she despises his ‘macho’ personality.

And Mr Bratton, who this month starts his ‘consolation prize’ role as Mr Cameron’s top adviser on combating gangs, told friends he considers Mrs May ‘unqualified’ as she has ‘no background’ in law-and-order policy.

And their relationship soured badly after they disagreed during a dinner-party conversation on the future of policing, sources have revealed.

‘They loathe each other. I imagine she told the Prime Minister, “Him or me,”‘ said a senior British official who witnessed their rift. ‘It is fairly clear that they couldn’t work together, as the Home Secretary and Met Commissioner must.’

Mr Bratton, 63, has been police chief in Boston, New York and Los Angeles and won acclaim for his zero-tolerance policy to beating crime. Last month it emerged that Mr Cameron wanted him to replace Sir Paul Stephenson, who quit as Met chief in the phone-hacking scandal.

Mrs May then hit out, saying the force had ‘always been led by a British citizen’ and the right leader could still be found among UK officers. Her words are said to have undermined her standing with Mr Cameron’s inner circle.

The animosity was born last November, after Mrs May watched Mr Bratton speak at an event organised by the think-tank Policy Exchange.

His speech might have been expected to appeal strongly to a Home Secretary seeking to reform policing in the face of diminishing resources.

He said that ‘with the right leadership’, it was possible ‘to create transformational change in record time despite tight budgets, limited resources, motivational hurdles and sometimes powerful opposition’.

Mr Bratton and Mrs May then attended a dinner at the Cinnamon Club in Westminster. Two of those present, including the senior British official, revealed what transpired.

‘As they spoke, you could see her face darkening,’ said the official. ‘They were discussing the proposal to create a National Crime Agency and replace local police authorities with elected commissioners.

‘Bratton said he thought the agency was a pretty good idea — after all, it seems to work with the FBI in America. But he said the elected commissioners plan was much less sensible. He kept asking her, “Why would you want to do that?” and didn’t seem impressed by her explanation.’

Mr Bratton, the official added, expresses himself forcefully, making clear his views were derived from long experience. ‘You could call that arrogant,’ he said. ‘She did not like what she saw as his macho style, nor being told that what she was doing was potty. She really didn’t like him. You could tell from her body language.’

Matters did not improve when Mrs May met Mr Bratton again on a visit to America. Afterwards, the second source said, Mr Bratton told associates he thought Mrs May’s lack of experience made her a poor choice as Home Secretary.

Last night Mr Bratton’s spokesman said the police chief ‘did not wish to discuss his dealings with Mrs May through the media’. In an interview yesterday, he appeared to regret being excluded as Commissioner, saying he was an Anglophile with longstanding ties to UK police forces.

‘What is going on in Britain is going to require a lot of collaboration,’ he said, ‘and one of those collaborations might be to bring in the Bill Brattons in the world to hear what they have to say.

‘I am just pleased to have the opportunity to throw my two cents in,’ he added. A Home Office spokeswoman said she could not comment on Mrs May’s private conversations.

           — Hat tip: Kitman[Return to headlines]


Serbia: Italy Export Leader, Third in Imports

(ANSAmed) — BELGRADE, SEPTEMBER 2 — Italy was Serbia’s leading export partner in the first seven months of the year, and the third biggest partner for imports.

Serbia’s national office of statistics announced today that Serbia exported 824.7 million dollars worth of goods to Italy, with 773.8 million exported to Germany and 656.3 million to Bosnia Herzegovina.

In terms of imports, Russia led the way with 1.59 billion dollars worth of goods, followed by Germany with 1.23 billion and Italy with 940.3 million dollars.

EU countries cover 50% of Serbia’s foreign trade, with CEFTA countries in second place.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Mediterranean Union

EU-Jordan: Deal on Trade Controversies in Effect

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, SEPTEMBER 2 — The deal between the European Union and Jordan which establishes a system to resolve disputes related to trade issues is already in effect, announced the Official Gazette of the European Union today, which specified that the new instrument has been active since July 1 of this year. According to reports from the European Gazette, the system shall be applied “in case of controversies falling within the framework of the trade regulations of the Euro-Mediterranean agreement establishing an association between the European community and their member states on the one hand, and Jordan on the other”. The memorandum of understanding was signed on February 11 in Brussels.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

North Africa

Libya: The Trembling Young Voices of Gaddafi’s Captured Mercenaries

At a makeshift prison outside of Tripoli, foreign soldiers — as young as 14 — await an uncertain fate. The Libyan rebel army colonel overseeing the inmates tells an Italian reporter that human rights will be respected. The prisoners don’t seem to believe him

At 14, Ayed is the youngest of Muammar Gaddafi’s mercenaries captured by Libyan rebels and jailed in Tajura, on the outskirts of Tripoli. “I didn’t do anything,” he pleads. Ayed is jailed in an elementary school converted into a prison, along with 375 other inmates, many of whom are teenagers. The school’s cafeteria has been turned into a mass prison cell.

The teenage prisoners are wearing light blue or pink pajamas from the nearby hospital. Some of them have been shot, some of them were informers. A padlock and a chain are all that’s needed to lock them up. A former Libyan army official and 20 volunteers act as guards. “It all started on the evening of August 20, when they tried to occupy Tajura,” says Mohammed Ghedyani, the 31-year-old dentist at the local hospital. “We didn’t know where to lock them up. This elementary school was the only place available.”

There are the children’ toilets and pieces of cardboard are used as mattresses. Entering is possible only under the surveillance of the director of the prison who holds a gun, and a volunteer who holds a horsewhip. The prisoners are silent. Some pray, others sleeps, and one or two appear to be silently weeping. Ayed is one of these…

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

Libya: In Tripoli, Children and Teenagers Used in the War Against Gaddafi

An Italian businesswoman says heavily armed boys as young as nine are walking around the capital with the rebels. A police force is now needed to re-establish security in the streets and prevent revenge attacks between loyalists and rebels. Gaddafi flees with his older sons to the Fezzan, sends wife and daughter to Algeria.

Tripoli (AsiaNews) — “NATO does not care about civilians. A generation has been decimated in the battle for Tripoli. Boys ranging from 9 to 25 fought on the side of the rebels. They now go around heavily armed thinking they have toys,” said Tiziana Gamannossi, an Italian businesswoman who lives in Tripoli. Speaking to AsiaNews, she said, “A police force is now needed to re-establish security in the streets and avoid revenge attacks between loyalists and rebels”.

Rebels and NATO forces continue their move from east and west against Gaddafi’s home town of Sirte, and are only 30 kilometres from his stronghold. They also appear to be negotiating with local tribes for the city’s peaceful surrender.

The possibility that Sirte might fall appears to have driven Gaddafi and his sons Saif al-Islam and Saadi to Bani Walid, about 100 kilometres southeast of Tripoli. From there, he might be trying to reach the Fezzan, a region that borders Chad, where local Bedouin tribes have always been his traditional allies.

Gaddafi’s wife Safia, and his daughter Aisha, have crossed instead the border into Algeria. The latter just delivered a baby.

After days of fierce fighting and the danger of a humanitarian catastrophe, things are improving in Tripoli after Gaddafi’s flight, Tiziana Gamannossi said.

“The rebels now control the city. Since yesterday, there are checkpoints every 100 metres,” she explained. “They have been handing out free food and water for the past few days and are trying to help the population.”

Some stores have re-opened but prices have jumped tenfold, she said. “Before the war, a kilo of apples cost 1.5 dinars; now it goes for more than 10.” Still, “people are helping each other, eating together and protecting each other. People with cars give rides to those who are on foot.

Tensions remain high however. There are barricades throughout the city. Some cars are still burning. Many homes have been destroyed. People talk about a manhunt for Gaddafi regime officials.

“Some say that when they are caught they are put into houses that have been turned into makeshift prisons where they will be tried,” the businesswoman explained. “Others are saying they are killed after capture.”

Many African immigrants have fled fearing revenge, afraid they might be confused with mercenaries. “Blacks from sub-Saharan Africa are not in the streets. Many have fled. They are all terrified. When the rebels find them, they take them away. No one knows what happens to them.”

Still, for her it is impossible to take sides. Revenge and criminal acts against civilians are committed by both sides because war was caused by two political factions.

For Gamannossi, trained professionals fought against Gaddafi forces, not ordinary civilians. Once inside Tripoli, they gave weapons to boys and young men, ranging in age from 9 and 25, to kill loyalist troops. “Only now we see some adults side by side these young fighters,” she said.

For her, young people are the main victims of this absurd war, a conflict that could have been avoided. “After the shock of the last few months, people have started to think about the reasons that led to the destruction of Libya. Every day, neighbours and Libyan acquaintances ask me why the West, especially their Italian friends, did not intervene right away to mediate and find a political solution. They wanted help to stop a fight between two factions, not bombs and weapons that caused only death and destruction.” (S.C.)

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

Libya: Gaddafi Still a Threat With Troops Under Command — NATO

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, AUGUST 30 — NATO continues to say that Muammar Gaddafi remains a threat to the Libyan population since he “can still command and deploy troops”. For this reason, the NATO mission has not yet ended. So said the spokesman for the Unified Protector operation, the Canadian Colonel Roland Lavoie, in a connection from Naples. Gaddafi “can still command and control troops and their movements, as well as those of weapons and especially ground-to-ground missiles,” added the colonel. Lavoie said that Gaddafi is “a general threat” for the Libyan population, but NATO does not hold that he is “a real threat to neighbouring countries”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Morocco: Husband ‘Made No Effort to Help Wife After Balcony Fall’, Claims New Witnesspolice Said Tilly Lamb Fell After Balustrade Gave Way But Witnesses Say There Was No Evidence of Damage

His account deepens the mystery surrounding the death of Mathilde Lamb, 43, and that of her husband Roger, 47, who died in a separate fall four days later, leaving their four sons orphaned.

Mrs Lamb, known as Tilly, was killed after plunging three floors from the window of the family’s £30-a-night rented apartment in the coastal town of Essaouira during the early hours of August 17.

Speaking for the first time about the incident, witness Rashid Hamaini, an artist, said that no member of Mrs Lamb’s family came to her aid after the fall.

He said: ‘I was working late that night. It was about 12.30am and it was very quiet. Then I heard a scream outside — it was a woman’s voice. I ran straight outside and into the street.

Mounting money worries. A marriage under strain. And a mysterious text that made one friend fear the worst… What really drove the balcony couple to their deaths?

‘On the pavement was Mrs Lamb who was lying on her front. She was wearing a T-shirt and bikini bottoms and blood was coming from her head.

‘The scream that I heard was not from her but from a woman who had seen her fall from the window. She was standing in the street shaking and was very upset. I went over and comforted her.’

Mr Hamaini said he asked what had happened and the witness said she had just seen a woman falling.

He added: ‘The entire street was deserted. It was absolutely quiet — not a sound from anywhere. There was no one in the street apart from the two of us.

‘Nobody came down to help the victim or to check her at all. Within ten minutes both the police and the ambulance had arrived and they took the woman away on a stretcher.’

Mr Hamaini said more police arrived 15 minutes later and took Mr Lamb and one of the boys away in a car.

Confusion has surrounded the horrific events which led to the couple’s deaths, with unconfirmed reports about them arguing over plans for the family to move abroad, and that they were experiencing financial worries.

Mrs Lamb’s family say she had been trying to remonstrate with revellers outside the flat but leaned out of the window too far and fell.

But witnesses said they had heard no raised voices prior to the fall.

Local police say they believe her death was a tragic accident caused by a wooden balustrade giving way. However, there are no signs of any damage to the barrier.

Witness Hasna El Akrab told the Sunday Times: ‘I looked up immediately at the window. It was open but there was no light coming from it. I can say that the railing was in perfect order.’

Of the incident, Mr Lamb’s brother-in-law, Mark Rogerson, said: ‘Unfortunately because the awning downstairs was blocking her view, she couldn’t see what was going on and according to her son, she climbed up on to the balustrade to get a better view.

‘She was leaning out when she overbalanced and fell. Roger ran straight outside and found Tilly in the street.’

He added: ‘We have heard a host of sometimes contradictory statements from witnesses. Further speculation can only be hurtful to the boys.’

Mr Lamb, a structural engineer, checked himself and his sons into the nearby Sofitel hotel after the incident and fell from a second-floor stairwell four days after his wife fell.

It has also emerged that the day after Mrs Lamb’s death, her husband was admitted to Mohammed Ben Abdellah hospital by the couple’s eldest son Angus, 16, after apparently trying to take his own life.

He was soaking wet, apparently having fallen into the sea, reported the Sunday Times.

He was released and the family checked into the Sofitel with Mrs Lamb’s sister Charlotter and her husband Rupert who had arrived in Essaouira that day.

A doctor was called after the hotel notified the hospital that he was unable to remember anything from the night his wife died.

Mr Lamb was given anti-depressants and a tranquilliser and the doctor advised the family to move from the second floor to the ground floor and monitor Mr Lamb 24 hours a day.

Staff were asked to inform the British consul so that Mr Lamb and the boys could be repatriated.

Mr lamb was seen sitting by the hotel pool, laughing with his children but the following day he had made another suicide attempt.

After eating breakfast with his children and Charlotte and Rupert, he leapt off a second-floor walkway overlooking an internal atrium.

He was rushed to hospital where he died soon after.

A family friend has also revealed that the police had been called to the couple’s home in 2008 and Mrs Lamb begged officers to take away her husband’s shotgun.

They came close to separating at the time, sources said.

The couple’s children — Angus, Monty, 15, Henry, 11, and Felix, nine — are now back in Britain being cared for by relatives. The bodies of Mr and Mrs Lamb have been repatriated.

           — Hat tip: Nilk[Return to headlines]

Pepe Escobar: It’s a TOTAL War, Monsieur

The winners of that “kinetic” thing in northern Africa (the Barack Obama administration swears it’s not a war) — collectively described as Friends of Libya (FOL) — were all in a jolly mood as they gathered in Paris on Thursday, with no air-conditioning but potent odors of runny Brie and Roquefort, to gloat about their United Nations-sanctioned, North Atlantic Treaty Organization-implemented “operation” for regime change in Libya.

Call it the FOL war; the R2P war (as in “responsibility to protect” Western plunder); the Air France war; the Total war; anyway, the FOL had a blast spinning their win.

The Great Arab Liberator, neo-Napoleonic President Nicolas Sarkozy, gloated, “We have aligned with the Arab people in their aspiration for freedom.” Bahrainis, Saudis, Yemenis, not to mention Tunisians and Egyptians, have every right to be puzzled.

Sarko added, “Dozens of thousands of lives were spared thanks to the intervention.” Even the “rebels” are spinning there are at least 50,000 dead, with NATO still hooked on a wild bombing spree.

The emir of Qatar at least admitted that on-the-run Muammar Gaddafi could not have been toppled without NATO. But he added that the Arab League could have done more; in fact it did — by providing a bogus vote that opened the way for the Anglo-French-American redacted UN Resolution 1973.

Transitional National Council (TNC) interim prime minister Mahmoud Jibril asserted, “The world bet on the Libyans and the Libyans showed their courage and made their dream real.” “World” now means NATO and a bunch of regressive Persian Gulf monarchies. As for the rest, shut up.

Yet the most sinister, true to character, must have been NATO secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen; “We have no plans whatsoever to intervene in conflicts in the region.” Then came the inevitable “but”. Rasmussen added, “But more generally speaking, I think this could set a template. We have demonstrated an ability to act in support of the United Nations and we have demonstrated an ability to include partners outside NATO in such operations”.

Africa and the Middle East, not to mention most of the global South, you have been warned; Humanitarian imperialism, under the cloak of R2P, is the new law of the land.

Securing the loot

Hours before the Paris bash, French daily Liberation published on its website a letter written only 17 days after UN Resolution 1973. In the letter, the TNC ratifies an agreement ceding no less than 35% of Libya’s total crude oil production to France in exchange of Sarko’s “humanitarian” support.

The letter is addressed to the office of the emir of Qatar (the go-between for the TNC and France from the beginning) — with a copy to then-Arab League secretary general, Amr Moussa. The letterhead is supplied by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Libya.

The promise totally matches what an official from an oil company in Cyrenaica said last week — that the “winners” in the oil bonanza would be the nations that supported the TNC from the start.

As expected, denials piled up. The Quai d’Orsay — the French Foreign Ministry — said it had never heard of such a document. Same for Mansur Said al-Nasr, a TNC special envoy to the Paris conference. The TNC’s man in Britain, Guma al-Gamaty, added that all future oil contracts would be awarded “on the basis of merit”. And even energy giant Total had to muscle in; its chief executive officer, Christophe de Margerie, swore he had never discussed oil deals with the TNC.

As if Sarko and Total were altruistic, Rousseau-style humanitarians who would never spare a thought for 44 billion barrels of oil. Total was in Benghazi discussing business with the TNC already last June. A bitter intra-European “oil war” between Total and Italy’s ENI is already in effect.

ENI — active in Libya since 1959 — has already signed an agreement with the TNC to be back in business and immediately supply fuel to Libya — in exchange for future payment in oil. Total’s push is to secure a much larger piece of the Libya energy pie than it already had — as in future contracts.

Slouching towards Arabia

It’s quasi-official. Libya is not in Africa anymore. It has been relocated (upgraded?) to Arabia. Maybe Saudi King Abdullah ordered it by decree and no one noticed. The FOL do not include Africans. The African Union (AU) has refused to recognize the TNC; it will only do so when a legitimate government is in place.

While NATO went the Air France way — liberation from above, in business class — the AU from the start pleaded for a ceasefire and negotiations. The FOL imperially ignored it.

Perhaps Africans have noticed that NATO’s mission “to protect civilians” now includes bombing Sirte — where smart projectiles carefully target only “evil” Gaddafi supporters disguised as civilians, while the good guys escape unharmed.

Perhaps Africans have been the only ones to listen to the Vietnam-era threat by TNC member Ali Tarhouni — very cozy with Qatar — who said, about the few towns and regions still loyal to Gaddafi, “Sometimes to avoid bloodshed you must shed blood — and the faster we do this the less blood will be shed.”

Perhaps Africans were the only ones to notice the sustained and increasingly reported (not by corporate media) ethnic cleansing perpetrated by the “rebels”; as if no one knew that people in Cyrenaica have historically been extremely prejudiced against sub-Saharan Africans.

Or perhaps Africans see right through the FOL’s agenda; the new Libyan status as a barely disguised Western colony; and the neo-Orwellian fable of humanitarian imperialism.

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007) and Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge. His new book, just out, is Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

He may be reached at

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

Tripoli Rebel Chief Admits He Was Tortured by CIA

(AGI) Paris — The military chief of Tripoli rebels and former Jihadist Abdelhakim Belhaj denied connections with al-Qaeda.

However, he admitted having been tortured by the CIA in Bangkok. In an interview to Le Monde, 45-year old Belhaj, one of Libya’s strong men (right now he is the man in charge of security in Tripoli), nonetheless recognized that anti-Gaddafi forces include many men who fought in Afghanistan .

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

Tunisia: Violence in Douz; 30 Injured, Curfew

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, SEPTEMBER 2 — Violent incidents have been reported since last night in Douz, in the south of Tunisia, with clashes breaking out between youths from the towns of El Kalaa and Abedla. Around thirty people have been injured, some of them by shots fired from hunting rifles, and taken to hospital.

Despite the intervention of the army and the national guard, the violence has continued with three houses and two petrol stations set ablaze. As a result, the local authorities have decided to impose a curfew, which will be active between 19:00 and 5:00. Doctors and paramedics at the hospital in Douz staged a sit-in to demand greater protection of the building.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

Israel Trains Settlers for Palestinian Protests

(ANSAmed) — JERUSALEM, AUGUST 30 — The Israeli army has begun to train units of settlers tasked with internal security in all Jewish settlements in the West Bank to deal with a much-feared wave of Palestinian mass protests in support of the request of UN membership for a Palestinian state in September. A military spokesman has confirmed the news, which appeared in today’s daily Haaretz, saying that the army and soldiers are training settlers to deal with a number of possible scenarios. One of the latter is the arrival of a large number of protestors at the entrance to the settlements, with a resulting risk of clashes with settlers, or even the break-in of Palestinians into the settlements. The Palestinian Authority (PA) has repeatedly denied the intention to set off a wave of violence and has instead spoken of peaceful protests.

The newspaper noted that the settlers units are being trained to use tear gas canisters and deafening grenades to break up crowds. However, the news has not yet been confirmed by sources from the council of the West Bank settlements. These sources also say that if protestors were to break into the settlements, the settlers’ response would be strictly defensive and not offensive while awaiting the arrival of the army. Most settlers already have weapons such as pistols and automatic rifles for personal defence and that of the settlements.

Palestinians and human rights activists have repeatedly accused settlers of having made use of weapons to attack Palestinians. Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas has said that on September 20 Palestinians will be submitting a request for full membership to the United Nations of a Palestinian state. It is a move which Abbas claims has become necessary due to the lack of direct peace talks with Israel. For their recovery, Palestinians want Israel to commit to accepting the constitution of a Palestinian state in West Bank along the borders before the 1967 conflict and a total freeze on settlements in Palestinian territories. Israel has rejected these two conditions and opposes — with US support and that of other Western states — the Palestinian request, saying that a Palestinian state can only come into being within the framework of direct negotiations.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Protestors Preparing ‘March of Millions’

(ANSAmed) — TEL AVIV, SEPTEMBER — Following six weeks of protests, one after the other with little pause in between, Israeli protestors are looking to bring their activities to a climax tomorrow by getting an overall million demonstrators to take to the streets in about fifteen cities, including Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa, Eilat (near the Red Sea) and Kiryat Shmona (on the border with Lebanon). In the Tel Aviv camp on Boulevard Rothschild and in the other camps set up over the past few weeks in other cities, activists — assisted by the university students’ movement — have stepped up organisational efforts to ensure the success of the demonstration. It is said that after it ends, the tents may be taken down in the confidence that it has become possible to translate the mass demonstrations which have already been held into new social policies by the government. In a heated editorial, the daily paper Haaretz stated that the protests “have already changed the political language” in Israel and urged its readers to go into the streets “since tomorrow the character of our society will be decided: whether to continue being a sleepwalker..or to become combative, whether we continue to be a country in which one pays much to receive little and where most of the wealth is held in the hands of the few, or whether a change will come into being.” Meanwhile, an opinion poll conducted yesterday by the state radio station seems to show that the current government has not been weakened by the social protests and that, if elections were to be held today, the nationalist and confessional-based parties would receive 69 out of the 120 seats in the Knesset. The centrists party Kadima would drop from 28 to 18, while Labour party members — after the split led by Ehud Barak — would get only 10 seats.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Middle East

How Much Does Ramadan Cost?

(ANSAmed) — DUBAI, AUGUST 30 — The holy month of the Muslim calendar ended yesterday with the festival of Eid al Fitr. Ramadan is the month of sacrifice, abstinence, prayer, as well as families gathering together each night at sunset for the meal that ends the day without food and water. It is a month in which the days for the 49 Muslim-majority countries in the world transform from intense and difficult to fast and joyful. But what does this mean for the economies of these countries, after a month in which the pace of work slows and hours are reduced? The answer is nearly 5.8 billion dollars for the Gulf countries, according to an new study conduced by Productive Muslim in collaboration with Dinar Standards. Countries reducing their work days from 8 to 6 hours lose the equivalent of a week of productivity, an average 7.7% of GDP, explained the study, entitled “Productivity during Ramadan: Strategies for Modern Muslim Labour Policies”. Saudi Arabia led the world ranking for losses with 2.4 billion dollars, followed by Indonesia, with 2.2 billion and the United Arab Emirates with 1.4 billion dollars. Several regional analysts, however, raised objections to the study based on 1,524 cases. While some industries slow down, others speed up, they said.

“We must consider the entire situation,” commented Ajit Karnik, an economics professor at Middlesex University of Dubai, speaking to Gulf News. “Products and services linked to the tourism and hotel sector increase during this period.” Moreover, just like the other important holidays in other religions such as Christmas in the Christian world, spending on lunches, sweets, gifts and several product lines lead to increases in production months in advance in order to deal with growing demand. “This should also be included in this calculation,” concluded Karnik. According to others, increased flexibility in hours — with afternoons free and returning in the evening — as well as reorganised shifts between Muslim and non-Muslim colleagues, makes up for the reduced hours. The study definitively poses a key question to the governments of the member-countries of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), which represents 57 Muslim countries: Is it better to keep two hours of production or change to one? Sixty-one percent of those interviewed said that two hours do not effect final productivity, 26% said that it does have an effect, 15% said that labour should not factor into the priorities of this month, which is dedicated to religious and spiritual activity, while 3% believe that, basically, no one works during Ramadan.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Netanyahu Tries to Calm Tensions With Turkey, No Apologies

(AGI) Jerusalem — Israel is trying to calm tensions with Turkey, but is still not prepared to apologise for the Flotilla attack. Nine Turkish nationals were killed in the armed attack on the Flotilla Freedom. Relations between the two countries, once allies, seem to have hit new lows over the last few days, in the wake of the UN Report on the raid. Ankara has expelled the Israeli ambassador, suspended military agreements and is now threatening to take the case of the Gaza Strip naval blocade to the International Court of Justice next week.

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

Saudi Arabia’s Mistake in Announcing Eid Al-Fitr Angers Muslims Worldwide

TEHRAN (FNA)- The Jeddah Astronomy Society’s mistake in sighting of the new moon in Saudi Arabia has angered the many Muslim nations who followed suit and pronounced Tuesday as Eid al-Fitr wrongly.

The society had said that people actually saw the planet Saturn and not the crescent moon that marks the beginning of the Islamic month of Shawwal.

Hatem Auda, director of the National Institute for Astronomical and Geophysical Research, had said that astronomical calculations by scientists of the institute noted that the first day of the Eid was Wednesday, August 31, making Tuesday, August 30 the last day of Ramadan for the Hijri year of 1432.

Various news agencies such as Al-Arabiya and Aljazeera have also reported that the planet Saturn has been mistaken for the Hilal (crescent moon), and this means that what was announced as the first day of Eid al-Fitr was supposed to be a day of fasting, rather than celebrations.

According to the Aljazeera report, the source of these problematic Hilal-sighting is from Sudair, a region located approximately 150km North of the capital Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

The vice-president of Jeddah Astronomy Society reassured that it is impossible to view the Hilal with the naked eye.

Saudi government officials have reportedly apologized to their nation and said that they would pay Kaffarah (an amount of money paid as expiation for breaking the fast during the holy month of Ramadan) for the entire Saudi nation.

While a number of Muslim countries like Iran announce the new crescent only on the basis of frequent sightings by the people, astronomy societies and clerics inside their borders, many others rely on the sightings done by Saudi Arabia and announcement of the Eid crescent by Riyadh.

Thus, those Muslim nations who have followed the Saudi suit as usual and celebrated the last Tuesday as Eid al-Fitr are now angry with the Saudis as Eid al-Fitr is the biggest eve for the worldwide Muslim community.

           — Hat tip: Nilk[Return to headlines]

Turkey Imposes Sanctions Against Israel in the Wake of UN Report on the Gaza Flotilla

Israel’s ambassador is expelled and diplomatic relations are downgraded to the secretary level. Ankara cancels defence agreements and will provide aid to the families of the people killed in the Israeli raid against the Mavi Marmara. Turkey continues to demand Israel’s apology and compensation for the families of those killed.

Tel Aviv (AsiaNews/Agencies) — Turkey has decided to downgrade diplomatic ties with Israel after the release of a UN report on Israel’s attempt to stop a Turkish ship, the Mavi Marmara, from breaking the Gaza maritime blockade. Dissatisfied by the report, Turkey continues to demand Israel apologise. In the meantime, it has imposed a number of sanctions.

Speaking to the press, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said he ordered the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador from Turkey, and the reduction of Turkey’s diplomatic representation in Israel to the secretary level. He also cancelled all remaining defence agreements with Israel, and ordered an international legal action against the Gaza blockade as well as the distribution of aid to the families of those who died in last year’s incident (see “Israel attacks ship carrying aid to Gaza. At least 10 dead,” in AsiaNews, 31 May 2010).

On 31 May 2010, Israeli commandos stormed the Mavi Marmara, a ship that had left Istanbul carrying pro-Palestinian activists trying to force the Gaza blockade to bring medicine to the territory. The Israeli attack, in international waters, left nine Turkish activists dead. Turkey immediately called for a UN investigation, and demanded an apology from Israel.

The UN report, scheduled for release in February, should be made public today, but the New York Times released a copy yesterday.

Prepared by a panel headed by former New Zealand Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer, the report is a difficult balancing act.

Whilst defending the naval blockade of Gaza (even in international waters), it criticises Israel for the excessive use of force by its commandos. Equally, it criticised Turkey for not doing enough to stop the ship from leaving port as well as the activists for acting “recklessly”. It slammed Israeli soldiers for their abusive treatment of activists and described the loss of life as “unacceptable”.

The Turkish member of the panel Ozdem Sanberk disputed some of the report’s conclusions, especially the view that the blockade was legal and that activists’ behaviour was also blameworthy.

Israeli panellist Joseph Ciechanover for his part rejected criticism of Israeli soldiers arguing that they acted in self-defence.

So far, Israel has issued no immediate formal comment, but one senior Israeli official expressed some satisfaction. “The bottom line is that the Israeli actions were legal,” he told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

Since the dispute arose, the United States has tried to mediate between Israel and Turkey, given the latter’s importance as a member of NATO and a US ally in the Mediterranean.

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

South Asia

India: Tamil Nadu Theft, Destruction, Beatings and Arrests of Protestant Christians

The activists of the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) accused them of forced conversions. Church demolished, two motorcycles destroyed, a camera and six bikes stolen. Sajan K George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC): “Here is the insecurity in which the Christian minority in secular India live.”

Mumbai (AsiaNews) — In Thurivarur district (Tamil Nadu), some local activists of the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party, the ultra-nationalist Hindu party) beat the pastor Ramados Williams and his wife. Then, they stormed the Bethel Prayer House, where the man administers to the community: they demolished the church, destroyed two motorcycles, stole six bicycles, a camera and a cell phone. Finally, the activists dragged the pastor, his wife and some members of the community to the police station, where they were charged under sections 147, 148, 352, 427 and 506 of the Penal Code. The Christians spent six days in jail until they were released on bail. The facts date back to last Aug. 13, but the news was not known until recently.

Sajan K George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), said: “That very day government authorities had visited the church, measured the area on which it stands and said that everything was in order, and belonged to the pastor. Local activists rejected the verdict of the authorities: after two hours they attacked those present and the violence began. This is the insecurity in which the vulnerable Christian minority in secular India lives. The attackers are free and innocent victims arrested and imprisoned. “

The pastor administered had worked in the area for 15 years. In June 2005 he bought a small piece of land, on which he built the Bethel Prayer House and a refuge. Local BJP activists have insistently ordered the pastor to stop practising his faith. In 2007, they tried to burn the church and threatened to kill him if he did not stop the work of conversion in the village.

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

Indonesia: Minister Denies Paying Bribe for Bonus

(AKI/Jakarta Post)- Manpower and Transmigration Minister Muhaimin Iskandar denied accusation prompted by a lawyer of Dharnawati, a businesswoman recently nabbed by Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) investigators over bribery charges.

“I never received such money as Idul Fitri bonus,” Muhaimin told The Jakarta Post over the phone on Friday.

“First and foremost, I never communicated with or even meet her [the businesswoman].”

Farhat Abbas, Dharnawati’s lawyer earlier stated that the Rp 1.5 billion bribe money was supposed to be channeled to Muhaimin.

“There had been two officials came to my client asking to lend money for Idul Fitri. I don’t know who ordered them or whether it was done with or without the minister’s knowledge, but they kept mention Muhaimin’s name,” Farhat said.

Dharnawati, he added, had finally agreed to funnel the money.

“Well, you know these officials… If it is for institution’s matter and not for personal benefit, why not?” he said.

On the contrary, Muhaimin said that his office never borrowed money for our employees’ Lebaran bonuses.

Last week, KPK nabbed Dharnawati, two manpower and transmigration ministry officials Nyoman Suisnaya and Dadong Irberelawan and confiscated Rp 1.5 billion of bribe money that they put in a cardboard box used to sell durian. KPK said that the money was given in order to smooth a project of infrastructure acceleration in a settlement area in Manokwari, West Papua.

The ministry this year allocated Rp 500 billion for the project to develop in infrastructure, including roads and bridges in resettlement areas in 19 regencies.

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

Pakistan: Bhatti Murder: Focusing Again on Islamic Extremism

Court issues arrest warrants for two Pakistani nationals who fled to Dubai. Pakistan plans to demand the extradition of Ziaur Rehman and Malik Abid, both from Faisalabad. Move closes the chapter on allegations that the murder was due to a family feud or intra-Christian disputes. Now police are back investigating circles close to the Taliban and Islamic fundamentalism.

Islamabad (AsiaNews) — Pakistan’s anti-terrorism court has issued an international arrest warrant against two people in connection with the murder of Shahbaz Bhatti, the Catholic Minority Affairs Minister who was assassinated on 2 March. The order was signed by Special Judge Pervez Ali Shah against Ziaur Rehman and Malik Abid, both from Faisalabad, who fled to Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Now Pakistani authorities will be able to demand their extradition so that they can be put on trial.

This development opens a new chapter in the death of the Catholic political leader, a ‘martyr’ for Pakistani Christians because he gave his life for the country’s minorities and development.

The gunmen who killed Bhatti left a note at the scene of the crime, claiming the murder on behalf of the Taliban. Eventually, rumours began circulating, pinning the murder on intra-Christian disputes, and later on a family feud over property.

Pakistani Christians and international human rights groups rejected such claims. The government and the police (not to mention some Pakistani newspapers that picked such stories) were thus forced to refute the rumours, focusing again on terrorism and Islamic extremist movements.

In fact, Islamabad’s most senior police officer, Inspector General of Police Bani Amin Khan told a Senate standing committee on home affairs that Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) was behind the murder.

Among Christians, initial reactions to the police chief’s statement were positive. Still, many want quicker action to shed light on Shahbaz Bhatti’s death.

For Mgr Lawrence Saldanha, archbishop emeritus of Lahore, “now the investigations are going in the right direction”. Hopefully, “the culprits will be brought to justice,” he said.

In the words of Islamabad’s own bishop, Mgr Sebastian Shah, the slain minister “was the voice of the voiceless”. Now, “We hope,” he said, “that those responsible are arrested and that it [recent revelations] does not turn out to be the usual tactic to divert the investigations.”

Pervez Rafique, head of All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA), agrees. For him, the Joint Investigation Team report must be released and a commission of inquiry must be set up.

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

Far East

Biden in Beijing, Embarrassment and Servility

The recent visit of U.S. Vice President Biden in Beijing (7-21 August) has done more harm than good. Yet, the White House called it a success. Biden made it clear that, in the States, the perception towards human rights in China is changing and this is a defeat for the world. But the Communist Party should not overdo it, because Americans are still able to give a lot of hard lessons. The analysis of the great Chinese dissident.

Washington (AsiaNews) — Last week we talked about the awkwardness of Sino-US relations. After that, I also discovered the awkwardness of Vice President Biden who is the implementer of this new diplomatic action. He is often criticized by the US media for making mistakes during his speeches and talks. However, I still like Vice President Biden’s character, which is the typical character of the Americans: being frank, saying what is in his mind without taking into account the consequences. In other words, he has a disdain to lie.

The Washington Post’s editorial board opinion has already raised a very serious criticism towards Vice President Biden’s visit to China this time, saying that in order to avoid mistakes, he has rejected interviews from reporters. Yet, in his open lecture at Sichuan University, he still made two serious mistakes. One was to say that he “fully understands” China’s coercive family planning policy concerning having only one child; the other was to say that “Maybe the biggest difference in our respective approaches is our approach to what we refer to as human rights,” instead of saying that human rights are universal. And, in my observation, he made at least one more error: publicly supporting China’s designated successors, interfering in the internal affairs in China.

I agree with the first two items of criticism of Vice President Biden, but do not think that he said the wrong words. He did not express it wrongly, he told the truth. Most Americans treat human rights as basic values in their lives, and do not tolerate human rights violations. Chinese audiences can see this clearly from the well-known American movies: those people who violate human rights, no matter how rich and powerful they might be, are always characterized as evils. In fact, this is a general value to the Americans. So American politicians must pay attention to human rights, otherwise people will put them in the basket of the bad guys.

Vice President Biden might be getting old, and does not intend to run for election, so he might speak more casually to the degree of revealing the truth. This truth is this: as the big American capitalists continue to make excess profits, Americans views have started to be different depending on which social class they are in. Most people, that are the majority of middle class people, still hold the normal view. But, the views of the bureaucratic and the capitalist classes have changed a lot. They have two double standards.

The first double standard for the bureaucratic and capitalist classes is that they treat home and abroad differently. They still, as always, have concern for human rights in the US because they live there. As Chinese say, when the rabbits are killed, the foxes are sad. They would not want themselves to become victims of human rights violations. Therefore, they maintain their normal minds towards human rights in the US. However, they have completely opposite minds regarding human rights in China, where they rely on the favorable conditions of a low human rights standard to make profits. In the view of these people, human rights in China and human rights activists are troublemakers. They would rather to see these human rights activists eradicated, or at least would not support these human rights activists. So indeed, Mr. Biden spoke out exactly what is in their minds: different standards.

Another double standard is that they treat the inside and outside differently. Although the bureaucrats and capitalists think that the Chinese people should not have human rights, what they say is that they are very concerned about Chinese human rights. If one appeals for human rights in China, then, if they could not eliminate him physically, at least they will block one’s voice in the media. They will even create some rumors to describe him or her as a troublemaker, so everyone would avoid that person. Reducing the activist’s influence is a profit for the capitalist. If a politician supports these activists, the capitalists will not give the politician campaign funds, and, who knows, maybe even raise more serious political persecution. I have seen this kind of countenance for many years now.

In recent years, Vice President Biden and many politicians in the US have become increasingly open to using double standards towards human rights in China. They are increasingly afraid to interfere in China’s human rights, even to the point of publicly stating that human rights are not the focus of US-China relations. As soon as the Chinese Communist Party shouts “interference in internal affairs”, the U.S. government apologizes in the way of bowing their heads to their toes. It has come to the degree that when the Chinese played anti-American and support North Korean music in the White House, the US President and his aides even pretended that they did not know.

But this time, it is very interesting. It is Americans who openly support the Communist successor who will not take over until next year. This public support is a serious interference in the purely internal affairs of China, but the Americans are not worried nor did the Communist regime in China protest. Both sides have a tacit understanding of each other. This is the awkwardness of Sino-US relations. The US administration makes deals with the evil Communist regime in private behind the back of the American electorate, and betrays the interests of both the Chinese and the U.S. people.

Of course, the White House will explain that it is doing so for the U.S. interests, in an effort to appreciate the Chinese currency so as to increase employment in the United States. But why didn’t the Chinese government follow its practice of protesting? Because both sides understand that the appreciation of the Chinese currency requested by the White House is an election show within the boundaries of not damaging the excess profits of big capitalists. Because it is not easy to handle this understanding, there is the need of secret talks face to face without the media knowing.

Obviously, China has been reluctant to interfere in U.S. internal affairs, so as to avoid the wrong bet resulting in a bad ending in the future. More importantly, the Chinese Communist Party has bet well on big capital in the US, so it will be the same regardless of who is elected U.S. president. Unlike the democratic politics in Japan and Taiwan influenced by the United States, the dictatorial politics in China only cares about the influence of large capital in the USA and China, not the influence of public opinion. So China’s Vice-President Xi said: You are better not to trouble us, take care of yourself instead. So Vice President Biden’s visit started out with respect but met with an arrogant end. His attitude after the meetings was not very friendly; apparently he did not reach the minimum estimated result he wanted at the beginning.

Why did such a high profile and enthusiastic visit have such an abnormal result? Why was his warm face greeted with the cold butt of the Communist Party? Because the politicians on both sides do not understand the habits of thoughts of each other. The bureaucrats in the Obama administration thought that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) cares about friendship and would reciprocate the kindness they offered. They thought that by supporting CCP’s successor in charge of foreign affairs, they would receive some small help from the CCP in exchange. Little did these bureaucrats know that even within the CCP itself, the term friendship does not exist. Ruthlessness and cold is the traditional thinking of CCP. In the past, the CCP only cared about the Party’s interests. Now, it only cares about the interests of the ruling clique. They are away from the Americans by more than six degrees of separation, so from where would this friendship come? Yet, the White House happily announced the establishment of a good working relationship after only one meeting. This kind of statement would make all the Chinese people laugh: are they in kindergarten or preschool?

But, the Communist regime does not understand Americans either. Americans talk about honest trading: when there is a debt, it has to be paid. Since the Americans agreed to support the successor chosen by the CCP, it should not return with “fix yourself, do not bother us” kind of attitude and the promises already made. Obama still has more than one year of Presidency, long enough to teach the CCP a lesson if he wants. As the Chinese say, if you do not drink that cup of alcohol as the way to accept respect, then you still have to drink that cup of alcohol as a punishment. Although Americans are kind, they also could be valiant, not to mention that saving the US economy is in the interest of all Americans regardless their viewpoint. For the CCP to play overbearing will for sure not be worth the effort.

This problem is really the most awkward thing between Vice President Biden of the USA and Vice President Xi Jinping in China.

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

Australia — Pacific

Local Fanatics Plotting Terror Strikes

HOME-grown extremists are actively considering launching terrorist attacks in Australia.

The latest intelligence also suggests sporting venues, transport hubs and other places of mass gatherings have become the favoured targets of terrorist planners, the Herald Sun reported.

“Clearly there are extremists now on our shores,” Australian Federal Police counter-terrorism chief Steve Lancaster said.

“There are people out there who genuinely think about doing bad things, or support terrorist acts overseas.”

In an interview with the Herald Sun to mark the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, Assistant Commissioner Lancaster also revealed:

POLICE have secretly foiled several potential terrorist threats in Australia by disrupting them at an early stage.

RELIGIOUS extremists who follow a distorted and militant interpretation of Islam are still the biggest threat to Australians.

IT is incredibly difficult for any agency to stop a lone terrorist who decides to walk into a crowded place with a gun or bomb.

TERRORIST groups al-Qa’ida and Jemaah Islamiyah remain powerful threats to Australia.

A Federal Government counter-terrorism White Paper warned last year that some Australians were known by authorities to subscribe to the violent jihadist message sprouted by Muslim extremists.

“Many of these individuals were born in Australia,” it said.

“The emergence and activity of terrorist cells in Australia, inspired by the narrative espoused by al-Qaida, is likely to continue.

“Prior to the rise of self-styled jihadist terrorism fostered by al-Qaida, Australia itself was not a specific target. We now are.”

Mr Lancaster said while he would rather do both, stopping a terrorist attack was more important than a successful prosecution.

“If even one person is injured or killed in a terrorist attack because you delayed too long, that would be inexcusable,” he said.

“You have to make that decision of going in and disrupting. You make it absolutely clear to them that you are aware that something is going on, that you are not comfortable with it and that you want it to stop.”

Mr Lancaster admitted the AFP had made mistakes in some aspects of the probe into falsely accused terrorism suspect Dr Mohamed Haneef in 2007, but it had learned valuable lessons from the Clarke inquiry that followed and had become a better force as a result.

“I can tell you the Haneef affair hurt the organisation. It had an enormous impact on morale within the organisation,” he said.

“Our response to terrorism continues to evolve since September 11.

“It’s a tricky balancing act between respecting the rights of individuals and taking appropriate action to prevent a terrorist act.

“We continue to err on the side of caution in our efforts to protect the community.”

           — Hat tip: Nilk[Return to headlines]


1,447 Somalis Granted Residence Permits in Malta in 2009

by Noel Grima

Almost half of those granted new residence permits in Malta in 2009 came from Somalia — 1,447 Somalis were in fact granted residence permits in that year, Eurostat reported yesterday.

A slightly higher figure — 1,489 — came from what were described as ‘other countries’. 208 were from the Philippines, 199 from Eritrea, 193 from Russia and 146 from China.

The provenance of those who were given residence permits in Malta differs quite substantially with the countries which provided the EU with new residents. The highest number of new authorisations to reside in EU member states in 2009 was granted to citizens of India (191,000), followed by those of the United States (175,000), China (171,000) and Morocco (158,000). These four citizenships accounted for almost 30% of all new permits issued in the EU in 2009.

The number of new permits issued in 2009 exceeded half a million in the United Kingdom and Italy. These two countries granted 28.6% and 21.6% respectively of the total permits issued at EU level, followed by Spain (12.4%), France (8.3%) and Germany (5.2%).

However, if one considers the ratio between the number of permits issued and the size of the resident population, the highest number of permits was granted by Cyprus (32 for 1000 residents), followed by the UK (10.9) and Sweden (9.8).

Malta is fourth, just below Sweden. In actual figures, 3,682 new residence permits were issued in 2009 in Malta, of which 391 or 10.6% were for family reasons, 191 or 5.2% were for study reasons, and 669 or 18.2% were for work reasons.

Focusing on the permits issued at EU level for family reasons, the largest number was granted by Spain, followed by the UK and France.

Family reunification and formation was the main reason for issuing residence permits in almost half (12 out of 26) of the member states for which data is available. In particular, in Austria and Greece these instances accounted for more than half of all new permits issued.

As regards permits granted for education-related reasons, the vast majority were issued by the UK, i.e. 269,000 permits representing 52.7 % of all new permits for education in the EU in 2009. Among all permits granted by the UK, those for education represented the relative majority (40.0%). This was also true for Denmark (53.7% of all permits issued by Denmark), Ireland (48.1%) and Bulgaria (37%). The total number of permits issued for education reasons by these three countries, however, was slightly over 30,000, that is 5.9% of all new permits for education in the EU.

The majority of permits for employment purposes was granted by Italy (236,000, i.e. 36.5% of the EU total), followed by the UK (18.1%) and Spain (15.9%). Permits for employment represented the largest share of all permits issued in eight member states: Czech Republic, Italy, Cyprus, Lithuania, Hungary, Poland, Slovenia and Slovakia. In particular, they represented more than 50% of all new permits issued by Cyprus and Lithuania, and more than 75% of those issued by Slovenia.

Two-thirds of the residence permits issued by Malta in 2009 were for what were described as ‘other reasons’. Other reasons relate to a miscellaneous group of reasons such as international protection, residence without the right to work (e.g. for pensioners), diplomatic duties, and people in the intermediate stages of a regularisation process. However, a cross-country comparison based on this miscellaneous category is hampered by the differences that exist in the national administrative and legislative systems.

           — Hat tip: RRW[Return to headlines]

Catalonia Advises Detainees to Leave Spain

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, SEPTEMBER 2 — To reduce the prison population of clandestine immigrants, the Catalonia government will propose a suspended sentence in their home countries to detainees who have already served half their sentence. This is included in a circular released by the Generalitat’s Justice Department, cited today by the daily paper Publico. The new circular will also lead to harsher sentences starting on September 15, when it will come into force, since it will prohibit undocumented detainees from gaining access to custodial sentences allowing study or work outside prisons or planned exits, as had happened up until now. The ordinance aims to prevent “double sentences” imposed up until now on clandestine immigrants, i.e. expulsion by police authorities once out of jail and after having served their sentences. Under the new regulations, once half the sentence is served, they will be able to opt to return to their home counties with suspended sentences. The measure aims to save on detention costs in a region with 10,000 inmates in 11 Catalan jails, 45% of whom are immigrants. Of the latter, about 2,000 are undocumented and therefore clandestine.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Gelmini: Pisapia Knows Nothing of ‘Ghetto School’ Problems

(AGI) Cernobbio — “Mayor Pisapia knows nothing of the problems of ‘ghetto classes’. In order to favor real integration, it is necessary to have both Italian and foreign students: integration issues from living together”. The comment was made by Education Minister Mariastella Gelmini, on replying to the Mayor of Milan on th issue of the Paravia School, after Giuliano Pisapia invited the parents of Italian schoolchildren to enroll their kids in this school.

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

Learn Dutch or Lose Your Benefits, The Hague City Council Says

The Hague city council has told some 800 people with an ethnic minority background they need to learn Dutch and take a civic integration course or their welfare benefits will be stopped, the Telegraaf reports on Friday.

The measure is primarily aimed at ‘helping them to participate in the labour market,’ a spokeswoman for council integration chief Marnix Norder told the paper. ‘These sort of disadvantages are an enormous obstacle to getting a job,’ the spokeswoman said.

Council officials have drawn up a shortlist of 3,000 people who don’t speak Dutch well enough to get a job. So far 800 have been interviewed and given the ultimatum. The rest will be called in for a meeting soon, the paper says.

Last year Norder, who is a Labour party member, hit the headlines for saying The Hague needed help to cope with a tsunami of Eastern Europeans who had come to live in the city.

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

Malaysia: 1.2 Mln Illegal Indonesian Workers Register for Amnesty

Jakarta, 1 Sept. (AKI/Jakarta Post) — About 1.2 million Indonesian migrant workers have registered themselves in massive amnesty program called “pemutihan” initiated by the Malaysian government to legalize the many immigrant workers who seek jobs illegally in the country.

“Out of 2 million immigrant workers registered, 1.2 million of them are Indonesian. The registration process was facilitated by migrant-worker agencies located in Malaysia,” National Agency for the Placement and Protection of Indonesian Migrant Workers chief Moh. Jumhur Hidayat said Thursday.

Most of the immigrant workers were reportedly resident in Semenanjung Sarawak and Sabah.

Jumhur said that several government institutions were involved in the program including the Home Ministry, the Immigration office, and the Manpower Ministry.

The program, which launched in early August, includes fingerprinting each immigrant for improved security. Those who fail to fulfil certain requirements could be deported.

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

Culture Wars

Australia Goes All PC With a Ban on BC: Birth of Jesus to be Removed as Reference Point for Dates in School History Booksby Mail Foreign Service

Australia is to remove the birth of Jesus as a reference point for dates in school history books.

Under the new politically correct curriculum, the terms BC (Before Christ) and AD (Anno Domini) will be replaced with BCE (Before Common Era) and CE (Common Era).

The Archbishop of Sydney, Peter Jensen, yesterday condemned the move as an ‘intellectually absurd attempt to write Christ out of human history’.

He described the phrase ‘common era’ as ‘meaningless’, and compared it to using ‘festive season’ instead of Christmas.

The changes, introduced by the government, were supposed to be pushed through next year, but have been delayed by the row.

The terms CE and BCE have been popularised in academic and scientific publications.

Although historical dates won’t change, with Christ’s birth remaining as the change point, the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority ruled that teachers will use the terms BCE (Before Common Era), which will replace BC, and CE (Common Era), which replaces AD, instead.

Opposition education spokesman Christopher Pyne, of Australia’s Liberal National Party, also criticised the government changes, which were supposed to be pushed through next year but have been delayed because of the row.

‘Australia is what it is today because of the foundations of our nation in the Judeo-Christian heritage that we inherited from Western civilization,’ he said.

‘Kowtowing to political correctness by the embarrassing removal of AD and BC in our national curriculum is of a piece with the fundamental flaw of trying to deny who we are as a people,’ he added.

The Common Era was originally introduced in the Sixth Century and appeared in English as early 1708.

Its use can traced back to the Latin term vulgaris aerae and the English Vulgar Era.

Use of the CE abbreviation was introduced by Jewish academics in the mid-19th century.

The terms CE and BCE became popular in academic and scientific publications in the late 20th century.

They were used by publishers to emphasise secularism or sensitivity to non-Christians, but both still use the Gregorian calendar and the year-numbering system revolving around BC and AD.

The Gregorian calendar — the most widely used in the world — is based on the traditionally reckoned year of the birth of Jesus, with AD counting the years afterwards and BC denoting the years before.

The term Anno Domini is Medieval Latin translated as ‘In the year of Our Lord.’

           — Hat tip: T

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Islamo-Phobic? Think Again

Notwithstanding it’s a mistake for Westerners to interpret what they hear, and actions they observe, solely through the lens of Western culture. Doing so equates the Judeo-Christian worldview with Islam, but wrongly so.

State Religion v. Free Exercise Thereof

On many occasions, we’ve heard public claim that both Christianity and Islam are religions of peace. I agree. However, the “peace that passes understanding,” as intended in the Bible, is not the peace touted by Islamists. To the contrary, Islam speaks to the “peace” that comes by submitting to Allah—whether by conviction or, if need be, by force. The devout Muslim’s mission is to establish a global Islamic Caliphate.[2]

To a Muslim, there’s no clear distinction between government, society, culture, the judiciary, and religion. All huddle in singular submission to Allah and his prophet. In fact, many countries, as Saudi Arabia, endorse Islam as a State religion to be imposed on citizens. People of the Book—i.e., Christians and Jews—are allowed to live, but only as second-class citizens (under what’s called dhimmitude).[3]

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