Saturday, January 11, 2003

News Feed 20110929

Financial Crisis
»Banks to Pay ‘Fair Share’ Under EU Transactions Tax
»Brussels Intends to Bring the Auditors to Heel
»Countries Cutting Off Europe’s Poor
»Dear Prime Minister … A Letter From Mario Draghi and Jean-Claude Trichet
»Germany Approves Expansion of Euro Bailout Fund
»Germany, Do Your Duty and Save the Euro
»Italy’s Credit Downgrade: Belligerent Berlusconi Toys With Europe
»Merkel Breathes Sigh of Relief: German Parliament Passes Euro Fund Expansion
»The Netherlands to Send Tax Officials to Help Greece
Europe and the EU
»EU Court to Intervene in Naples Trash
»EU Warns France Over Bonus Channels to Canal+, TF1 and M6
»EU: Spain Risks Fines for Regulations on Zoos
»EU-Morocco: Accord on Fisheries, EP Rejects Appeal to Court
»France: Senate Veers to the Left — Alarm Call for Sarkozy
»Germany’s Enormous Hidden Debt
»Germany: RTL Reviewing Security After Kurds Storm Studio
»German Survey: Former East Less Trusting Than Former West
»Greece: Draft Law Presented to Bring in Referendum
»Ireland: Banned Drivers Failing to Hand in Licences
»Italy: IDV Leader Asks Napolitano to Put Govt Out of Its Misery
»Italy: Dismissal Plea Filed Against Parliament’s Ruby Objections
»Netherlands: PVV Calls for Referendum on Minarets
»New Experiment Aims to Trap Bizarre Antimatter
»Nuclear Plant Phase-Out Gets Swiss Go-Ahead
»Security Officers to Patrol Swiss Trains With Guns
»Shipping: Greece’s Sector Grows Larger and Younger
»Shipping: Greek Merchant Marine Fleet Down
»Spain: Zapatero’s Last Appearance in Parliament
»Spain to EU Court for Local River Regulations
»Swiss Parliamentarians Vote for Burqa Ban
»UK: EDL Leader Convicted of Assault
»UK: Why All the Apologies, Ed?
»Kosovo: Witness Describes to UN Tribunal Rivalries Between Albanian Rebels
North Africa
»Libya: Italy’s Oil Giant ENI Re-Starts Production
»NATO: Gaddafi Forces Weak; Mission Will be Over in 3 Months
»Tony Blair Had Six Secret Meetings With Gaddafi in Libya
Middle East
»Is Turkey Going Rogue?
»Lebanon: Patriarch Bechara Rai and the “Arab Spring”. Tensions With Paris and Washington
»Now Even Al Qaeda Tells Iran’s Ahmadinejad to Stop the Conspiracy Theories Blaming the U.S. For 9/11iranian President Called it ‘The September 11 Mystery’
»Syria: US Ambassador Pelted With Stones and Tomatoes
»Turkey Threatens to Blacklist Firms Working With Cyprus
South Asia
»Pakistan: Faisalabad: Magician Who Burns Qur’an in Ritual Ceremony Arrested for Blasphemy
»Pakistan: Punjab: Armed Muslims Rape a Christian, A “Common Practice”
»The Muslim Party’s Demands and Islamisation in Sri Lanka
»The Vast Asian Realm of the Lost Humans
Far East
»Duties on Poultry: The Latest Act in the Trade War
»Philippines: Christians Dispossessed and Silenced in Mindanao
Australia — Pacific
»Bolt is Guilty But the Law is Wrong, Let the Markets Deal With Racial Discrimination
»If a Shark Takes Me, Blame Me, Not the Shark: Briton’s Words Before Great White Attackhe Was Regular Swimmer Who Ignored Warning of Shark in the Water
»Western Australia Girls Admit Shocking McDonalds Condom Hoax
»500 Migrants Taken Away, Other 500 Today
»Migrants’ Revolt in Lampedusa, Tunisians in Jail
»Switzerland: SVP to Immigrants: Don’t Mess With the Swiss Flag
Culture Wars
»US Ambassador Urges Serbia to Secure Gay Pride
»Earth Surrounded by Fewer Potentially Dangerous Asteroids Than Thought, NASA Finds
»‘Magic Mushrooms’ May Permanently Alter Personality
»Planet Mercury Full of Strange Surprises, NASA Spacecraft Reveals

Financial Crisis

Banks to Pay ‘Fair Share’ Under EU Transactions Tax

The European Commission on Wednesday (28 September) unveiled plans to slap a tax on financial transactions in the EU, a scheme that the EU executive hope will raise some €57 billion a year in revenues. Jose Manuel Barroso, the president of the commission announced that the college of commissioners had adopted the proposal, long expected and dreaded by the City of London, during his state of the union address to the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

All financial transactions in which at least one party is located in the EU would come under the purview of the proposed rules. The commission would like to see both derivative contracts and trades in shares and bonds taxed at 0.1 percent from January 2014.

           — Hat tip: Rembrandt[Return to headlines]

Brussels Intends to Bring the Auditors to Heel

Financial Times Deutschland, 27 September 2011

“Brussels is taking up the ax against the auditors”, headlines the Financial Times Deutschland, reporting on the intent of the European Commission to strip the big audit firms of one of their most lucrative services: their corporate advisory branches. It is by coupling company valuation and advice to the same companies, though, that firms such as PricewaterhouseCoopers, KPMG, Ernst & Young and Deloitte are bringing in significant revenues — four billion euros a year in Germany alone. Unfortunately for the auditors, confidence in them has evaporated following the collapse of the energy giant Enron, which was brought down by scandals over its faked balance sheets. The accusation levelled against the firms is that they are not sufficiently independent to carry out both auditing and consulting. Michel Barnier, European Commissioner for Internal Market and Services, will therefore present a radical reform of the consultancies in November. “Resistance will be prolonged,” warns the Hamburg newspaper.

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

Countries Cutting Off Europe’s Poor

La Libre Belgique, Brussels

Six member States refuse to allow funds from the Common Agricultural Policy to be used as food aid to the poor. On 1 January 2012, the budget for assistance to 18 million Europeans may drop from 480 to 113.5 million euros. It’s a possibility that revolts La Libre Belgique.

Sabine Verhest

Their position is as appalling as it is incomprehensible. Unbearable, really. Six member states of the Union — Germany, UK, Netherlands, Czech Republic, Denmark and Sweden, all rich and mostly eurosceptic — are still blocking, through legal wrangling and fallacious arguments, the providing of some 480 million euros intended to feed the poorest Europeans [the final decision has been deferred to the next meeting of EU ministers in late October].

How to understand that, in the midst of the euro crisis, while poverty is increasing throughout the Old Continent, powerful countries can undermine a policy that has proven itself over a quarter century?…

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

Dear Prime Minister … A Letter From Mario Draghi and Jean-Claude Trichet

Frankfurt/Rome, 5 August 2011.

Dear Prime Minister,

The Governing Council of the European Central Bank discussed on 4 August the situation in Italy’s government bond markets. The Governing Council considers that pressing action by the Italian authorities is essential to restore the confidence of investors.

The Euro area Heads of State or Government summit of 21 July 2011 concluded that “all euro countries solemnly reaffirm their inflexible determination to honour fully their own individual sovereign signature and all their commitments to sustainable fiscal conditions and structural reforms”. The Governing Council considers that Italy needs to urgently underpin the standing of its sovereign signature and its commitment to fiscal sustainability and structural reforms.

The Italian Government has decided to pursue a balanced budget in 2014 and, to this purpose, has recently introduced a fiscal package. These are important steps, but not sufficient.

At the current juncture, we consider the following measures as essential:

1. We see a need for significant measures to enhance potential growth. A few recent decisions taken by the Government move in this direction; other measures are under discussion with social partners. However, more needs to be done and it is crucial to go forward decisively. Key challenges are to increase competition, particularly in services to improve the quality of public services and to design regulatory and fiscal systems better suited to support firms’ competitiveness and efficiency of the labour market.

a) A comprehensive, far-reaching and credible reform strategy, including the full liberalisation of local public services and of professional services is needed. This should apply particularly to the provision of local services through large scale privatizations.

b) There is also a need to further reform the collective wage bargaining system allowing firm-level agreements to tailor wages and working conditions to firms’ specific needs and increasing their relevance with respect to other layers of negotiations. The June 28 agreement between the main trade unions and the industrial businesses associations moves in this direction.

c) A thorough review of the rules regulating the hiring and dismissal of employees should be adopted in conjunction with the establishment of an unemployment insurance system and a set of active labour market policies capable of easing the reallocation of resources towards the more competitive firms and sectors.

2. The government needs to take immediate and bold measures to ensuring the sustainability of public finances.

a) Additional-corrective fiscal measures is needed. We consider essential for the Italian authorities to frontload the measures adopted in the July 2011 package by at least one year. The aim should be to achieve a better-than-planned fiscal deficit in 2011, a net borrowing of 1.0% in 2012 and a balanced budget in 2013, mainly via expenditure cuts. It is possible to intervene further in the pension system, making more stringent the eligibility criteria for seniority pensions and rapidly aligning the retirement age of women in the private sector to that established for public employees. thereby achieving savings already in 2012. In addition, the goverment should consider significantly reducing the cost of public employees, by strenghtening turnover rules and, if necessary, by reducing wages.

b) An automatic deficit reducing clause should be introduced stating that any slippages from deficit targets will be automatically compensated through horizontal cuts on discretionary expenditures.

c) Borrowing, including commercial debt and expenditures of regional and local governments should be placed under tight control, in line with the principles of the ongoing reform of intergovernmental fiscal relations.

In view of the severity of the current financial market situation, we regard as crucial that all actions listed in section 1 and 2 above be taken as soon as possible with decree-laws, followed by Parliamentary ratification by end September 2011. A constitutional reform tightening fiscal rules would also be appropriate.

3. We also encourage the government to immediately take measures to ensure a major overhaul of the public administration in order to improve administrative efficiency and business friendliness…

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

Germany Approves Expansion of Euro Bailout Fund

The German Parliament approved the expansion of the bailout fund for heavily indebted European countries Thursday, the most important step in a tortuous process that has rattled markets and raised long-term doubts about the ability of governments to react to the expanding debt crisis.

The vote in Germany, Europe’s largest economy and the only country with the fiscal wherewithal to pull fellow countries in the euro currency zone out of trouble, moved the struggling rescue forward. But analysts said it likely would offer only momentary relief rather than anything like a permanent solution.

And for Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor, the victory merely provided breathing room after a divisive debate within her own parliamentary bloc that has weakened her grip on power at a critical moment. Opposition politicians argue that the vocal opposition within her ranks meant that Mrs. Merkel had lost control of her coalition and needed to dissolve the government.

[Return to headlines]

Germany, Do Your Duty and Save the Euro

Through a vote of the Bundestag on Thursday, Germany may decide to kill its own best product, precisely when it is really beginning to work. Such would be the result of a rejection of the eurozone package supported by Chancellor Angela Merkel and endorsed by many in the opposition.

When the euro was launched, it was given two almost impossible tasks. First, it had to provide a number of countries with a single currency that would prove as stable as had been the deutsche mark. Germany, which had inflicted immense tragedies to itself and the world partly as a consequence of hyperinflation between the two World Wars, could not settle for anything less. Most other EU countries were keen on having themselves an “anchor of stability” on which to base their economic growth as well as the pursuit of equity across society and between generations.

The second, even more difficult, task was to induce a profound transformation of economic policies and structures, but also of the institutions and the culture determining them. The vectors of such transformation were to be the principles and the rules presiding over the euro, enshrined in the Maastricht Treaty, in the Stability and Growth Pact, and finally in the Lisbon Treaty, where the blueprint of a “highly competitive social market economy”, first experimented in Germany in the Fifties, was adopted by the whole EU. National specificities, a richness of Europe, would of course persist, but as a consequence of sharing the euro all eurozone countries would gradually become somewhat more similar to the template developed in Germany as Ordnungspolitik , the orderly-structured application of liberal principles (see “Marked by a miracle” by Ralph Atkins, FT, 21 September 2011).

After 13 years, it is clear that the euro, largely thanks to the European Central Bank, has achieved remarkably well the first objective. The second, even more difficult, objective — the structural convergence of economic cultures and policies — is being reached in a less continuous manner…

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

Italy’s Credit Downgrade: Belligerent Berlusconi Toys With Europe

An Analysis by David Böcking

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi refuses to recognize that his country is in trouble. Vast debt, sluggish growth and rising borrowing rates indicate that Rome too may be infected by the euro-zone debt crisis. But the EU has few tools at its disposal to get Italy to take action.

After ratings agency Standard & Poor’s downgraded Italy’s credit rating a notch on Monday night, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi immediately went on the offensive. The appraisal of the country’s economic state seemed to be “dictated more by media reports than reality,” he said. The Italian government is already balancing the budget, he added.

In reality Berlusconi has only just begun working on savings measures — a reaction to massive pressure and repeated market fluctuations. His behavior demonstrates the leader’s intention to cling to the populist style of governing until the bitter end. But the powerful media mogul’s stance also betrays the limits of European Union influence on its indebted member states — at least those that haven’t yet been forced to accept a bailout.

That Italy might ultimately need financial support, to be sure, can’t be ruled out. Certainly, in contrast to Greece and Portugal, the country has a powerful economy and still counts among the world’s biggest industrial nations. But Italy’s national debt, some 120 percent of its yearly economic output, is surpassed only by Greece within the EU.

Moreover, the Italian economy has grown only weakly in recent years, meaning that there is too little tax revenue to reduce its debt. And financing that debt has become more expensive as interest rates rise. In August 2010, interest rates on Italian government bonds were 3.8 percent. One year later, that number had jumped to 5.3 percent.

‘International Laughingstock’

Large debts, weak growth and rising interest rates: These are the same symptoms exhibited by the three euro-zone countries that have already required financial assistance from their currency union partners. Saving Italy, however, would be vastly more difficult. Its debt is simply too great.

The danger has long been recognized in Europe. But as long as Italy has not drawn on financial assistance, EU influence remains restricted. Even after S&P’s credit downgrade and Berlusconi’s aggressive reaction, European leaders can only make appeals. A spokesperson for European Economic Commissioner Olli Rehn urged Italy to immediately enact its savings resolutions. Gerda Hasselfeldt, head of the state parliamentary group for Bavaria’s conservative Christian Social Union (CSU), called the downgrade a “good and necessary incentive.” Peter Altmaier, a leading member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats , said: “The case of Italy shows that we’re not just talking about Greece.”

As slightly less diplomatic analysis came from the president of Confindustria, an organization representing Italian manufacturing and service companies. “We are sick and tired of being the international laughingstock,” Emma Marcegaglia said. The government must either “enact quick, serious and also unpopular reforms” or “pack their bags,” she said.

Her harsh statement shows the pent up frustration over Berlusconi’s crisis management. For a long time the prime minister saw no reason to act at all. When the government passed austerity measures worth some €47 billion in July, Berlusconi boasted about how harmless it was. “We have avoided every drastic measure taken by other European countries,” he said. “The Italians should build us a monument.”…

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

Merkel Breathes Sigh of Relief: German Parliament Passes Euro Fund Expansion

Chancellor Angela Merkel got the majority she needed on Thursday as German parliament passed the expansion of the euro backstop fund, the EFSF. With fewer conservative renegades than feared, Merkel can breathe a sigh of relief. But with more difficult decisions approaching, the respite may not last.

German parliamentarians on Thursday approved the planned expansion of the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) with 523 voting in favor, 85 against and three abstentions. The bill’s passage is a vital step in euro-zone efforts to increase the fund’s lending capacity from its current €250 billion ($338 billion) to €440 billion. Germany’s share of guarantees for the fund will rise from €120 billion to €211 billion, though several other euro-zone parliaments must still vote on the expansion.

           — Hat tip: Rembrandt[Return to headlines]

The Netherlands to Send Tax Officials to Help Greece

The International Monetary Fund has asked the Netherlands to send ‘several’ tax department officials to help Greece improve its taxation collection, the Volkskrant reports on Wednesday.

The officials would join the International Monetary Fund team in Athens, the paper says.

‘Tax collection is one of the major problems in Greece,’ finance ministry spokesman Niels Redeker told the paper. ‘It is crucial to make improvements.’

Another civil servant told the paper the ministry wants to be sure Greece itself is keen on having Dutch support.

‘The Greeks must feel it is their idea otherwise it won’t work,’ he said. ‘They should not feel we are taking over their tax collection.’

The EU is also putting together a 25-strong team to help the Greek government, which is also likely to involve Dutch nationals, the paper says.

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

Europe and the EU

EU Court to Intervene in Naples Trash

Italy could see sanctions

(ANSA) — Brussels, September 27 — The European Union is preparing to take Italy to court for failing to resolve the trash situation in Naples, EU sources told ANSA Tuesday.

Barring any last-minute changes, the EU will issue a notice on Thursday declaring that the country has two months to resolve the recurring emergency before the case would be taken to the European Court of Justice where Italy could be sentenced to pay sanctions.

The warning came as firefighters were called to put out 13 rubbish fires in and around Naples.

The European Commissioner for the Environment, Janez Potocnik, has been monitoring the Naples trash crisis for several months, promising to implement tough measures if the situation did not improve.

Last year, the European Court of Justice condemned Italy for its failure to adopt adequate measures to deal with the trash situation in the southern region of Campania, of which Naples is the capital.

If Italy is condemned for a second time, penalties would be applied to past and future infractions.

The Naples trash problem is prone to constant flareups.

This summer, thousands of tonnes of trash covered the city’s streets and the surrounding provinces, leading to routine waste fires and street protests from citizens.

There was a previous outcry last November when weeks of clashes and rising piles of rubbish brought Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi to the city.

The premier won plaudits by sorting out a similar emergency in 2008 and made a vow to clear the streets in three days.

But the problems have continued because of technical failures in local incinerators and the lack of investment in other landfill sites.

The issue is further complicated by the role of the local mafia, or Camorra, and claims that they have infiltrated waste management in Naples and dumped toxic waste on sites near residential areas.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

EU Warns France Over Bonus Channels to Canal+, TF1 and M6

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, SEPTEMBER 29 — France could be taken to the European Court of Justice for assigning digital television frequencies, the so-called ‘bonus channels’, to the three broadcasters Canal+, TF1 and M6 without presenting a tender. The European Commission states that the French procedure is against European regulations, harms competing broadcasters and deprives television viewers of a wider choice. According to Brussels, the procedures followed by France to assign the bonus channels, introduced in 2007 before the shift to digital television (DTT), without tender is against European law for several reasons. First of all, this way of assigning frequencies is only allowed in the case of general interest, which is not in question in this case. Brussels also claims that the assignment of bonus channels discriminates new broadcasters, which are forced to present proposals without any guarantee of success. France has two months time to comply to EU legislation. If the country fails to do so, the Commission could turn to the European Court of Justice.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

EU: Spain Risks Fines for Regulations on Zoos

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, SEPTEMBER 29 — Spain risks paying heavy fines for not adapting their practices in several regions to European regulations on zoos. After a ruling by the European Court of Justice in 2010, the European Commission found that the new regulations were transposed on a national level, but were not implemented locally. The government in Madrid did not provide sufficient proof that several zoos were being run in line with EU criteria, in particular regarding licenses, inspections and procedures for closing structures. The zoos found to be in violation are in the regions of Aragon, the Asturias, the Balearic Islands, the Canary Islands, Cantabria, Castile and Leon, Extremadura and Galicia. A formal letter of warning was sent from Brussels on a recommendation from EU Commissioner for the Environment, Janez Potocnik. If Spain does not provide sufficient responses, the commission could resort to a new recourse to the Court of Justice, requesting fines to be issued.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

EU-Morocco: Accord on Fisheries, EP Rejects Appeal to Court

(ANSAmed) — STRASBOURG, SEPTEMBER 29 — European Parliament will not appeal to the European Court of Justice for an opinion on the legality of the agreement on fisheries between the EU and Morocco. With a solid majority (302 against, 221 in favour, 30 abstained) Parliament rejected the request formulated by a group of 77 MEPs to verify if the deal involving making use of the fishing resources in the Western Sahara region is in line with EU and international law. In particular, the court would have had to verify if the inclusion of the Western Sahara region into the agreement respects the interests of the local population. According to Andrew Duff, a British Liberal Democrat who promoted the initiative, this verification is “particularly important during a period like the Arab Spring, where we are calling for the respect of human rights, democracy and transparency”. With the Treaty of Lisbon effective, now European Parliament must approve the EU’s international agreements. Therefore the approval procedure will move forward without the opinion of the European Court of Justice. The issue will be examined by the European Parliament Fisheries Committee meeting in November and will be voted on during the plenary session in December.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

France: Senate Veers to the Left — Alarm Call for Sarkozy

(ANSAmed) — PARIS, SEPTEMBER 26 — France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy has today held a meeting with Premier Francois Fillon and Jean-Francois Cope’, the General Secretary of the majority party (UMP) on the day after an historic defeat for the country’s Right in elections for the Upper House.

Apart from analysing the election results, the meeting was also aimed at deciding on the futures of two ministers elected to the Senate yesterday: Defence Minister Gerard Longuet and Sports Minister Chantal Jouanno, given that twin appointments are incompatible. Yesterday’s terrible results — it has been 50 years since the Left last managed to win a majority of seats in the Senate — comes as an alarm call to Mr Sarkozy, seven months ahead of the 2012 presidential elections. Meanwhile, with the majority of Senators now provided by the Left, battle has started for the nomination of the Senate Speaker, a role conducted up until today by Sarkozy loyalist, Gerard Larcher.

The vote for the Senate’s Speaker takes place on October 1.

It is a vote of great symbolic importance because, as in Italy, this is the second-highest political position in the land. The Socialists have already issued a warning to the ruling Right: there will be no fudging of the issue in the interests of keeping the position in Right-wing hands. Following yesterday’s victory, the Senate Speaker will have to come from the Left.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Germany’s Enormous Hidden Debt

Handelsblatt, 23 September 2011

“The Truth,” leads Handelsblatt, giving short shrift to the alleged parsimony of the German state — and the astronomical numbers support it. Officially, German debt in 2011 stands at 2,000 billion euros. But that’s only half the truth, because the major portion of expenditure for pensioners, the sick and dependent persons is not included in the calculation. According to new figures, the real debt is 5,000 billion euros. If these figures stand, Germany is in debt to the tune of 185 percent of its gross domestic product and not 83 percent, as officially declared. By comparison, Greek debt should be 186 percent of GDP in 2012, and Italy’s debt is currently at 120 percent. The critical threshold beyond which debt crushes growth is 90 percent. Since coming to power in 2005, Angela Merkel, “has created as much new debt as all the chancellors in the previous four decades together,” writes the chief economist of the business daily. “These are 7,000 billion euros on a bad cheque that we have signed and our children and grandchildren will have to pay.”

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

Germany: RTL Reviewing Security After Kurds Storm Studio

German television network RTL is reviewing its security arrangements after a group of Kurdish sympathizers stormed one of their Cologne studios and staged a sit-in protest.

           — Hat tip: Rembrandt[Return to headlines]

German Survey: Former East Less Trusting Than Former West

A team of German and British social scientists have published a new study into trust in more than 50 countries. Germany as a whole ranked in the top ten, although those in the western part are more trusting than easterners. The study, the results of which were released this week by Jacobs University in Bremen, found that trust is generally strongest in western, modernized countries and weakest in poorer countries.

Of the countries surveyed, people in Sweden, Switzerland and Norway trust others the most, while those in Turkey, Rwanda and Trinidad and Tobago are the least trusting. Germany’s ranking was split, based on past research and how the survey evolved: western Germany placed 7th, while former communist eastern Germany 11th. Sociology professor Jan Delhey, who co-authored the study, said the researchers were less interested in the differences within Germany, because they wanted to make a bigger international and cross-cultural comparison.

But he said being an ex-communist country is one factor in determining a country’s general level of trust. Rule of law is very important in generating and sustaining trust in other people,” Delhey told The Local. “East Germany had the legacy of being a socialist country for at least 40 years. In socialist countries the state is very suspicious of its citizens, instilling a general climate of distrust. That would be our main explanation.”

           — Hat tip: Rembrandt[Return to headlines]

Greece: Draft Law Presented to Bring in Referendum

(ANSAmed) — ATHENS, SEPTEMBER 20 — The referendum as an institution will soon be making its debut in Greece as well.

After months in which Socialist Prime Minister George Papandreou has repeatedly spoken about the importance of this instrument to lead Greeks towards further democratic achievements, Interior Minister Charis Castanidis has presented a draft law on the holding of referendums in Greece. The draft law — as reported by today’s papers — calls for two forms of referendum: one to propose and one to eliminate.

The first is for issues of national importance, both of a social and of an economic nature, while the second concerns laws passed by Parliament but not yet published in the Official Gazette. To call a referendum on an issue of a national character, there needs to be a proposal by the government and the approval of a majority of MPs (151 out of 300). To call a referendum for a law which has already been passed by Parliament, there needs to be a proposal by two-fifths of MPs (120) and approval by three-fifths of MPs (180). The results of the voting for referendums are binding for the government only of at least 50% of the electoral body take part in it. As concerns referendums on issues of national importance, the quorum will be decided during the drawing up of the law by the competent parliamentary committee. The questions on the referendum will be decided by Parliament.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Ireland: Banned Drivers Failing to Hand in Licences

JUST OVER A third of the 1,354 drivers disqualified from driving after accumulating 12 penalty points have surrendered their driving licences.

Figures released by the Road Safety Authority show 531 of the drivers with 12 points handed over a licence to the District Court.

The issue arises because garda do not have the power to seize the licence of a disqualified motorist.

The Minister for Transport, Leo Varadkar, told The Irish Times he plans to close this loophole and make it an offence for a motorist reaching 12 penalty points to fail to hand over their licence.

“It needs to become compulsory to hand over your licence when you get to 12 points. It will need to become an offence. There will be an offence of not presenting your licence,” he said.

Mr Varadkar said he will close another loophole, which has allowed more than 85,000 holders of an Irish driving licence to avoid having the points put on their licence because they failed to bring their licence to court.

A provision to make it a requirement for a driver before the courts is contained in the Road Traffic Act 2010, and Mr Varadkar said he hopes this legislation, which also makes it compulsory to hand over a licence after accruing 12 points, will be enacted in time for the October bank holiday weekend.

Mr Varadkar said he was also considering an increase in the penalty points allocated for two key offences; speeding, and using a mobile phone while driving.

“I am considering adjusting the points allocated for speeding and using a mobile phone,” he said. “I am weighing up the pros and cons of such a move.”

Both offences currently attract two penalty points and the Road Safety Authority has recommended that the points for speeding and failing to wear a seatbelt should be increased to three.

Mr Varadkar said he plans to expand the penalty points system and activate a number of new offences including driving with faulty lights, and failing to wear a motorcycle helmet.

Mr Varadkar said his road safety priority this year was to get road deaths below 200 (last year saw 211 deaths — the lowest on record) and then focus more on the level of serious injuries.

“The focus up to now has been on deaths. But injuries are really important and huge numbers of people are damaged in crashes,” he added.

Mr Varadkar was also generous in his praise of the previous government and former minister for transport, Noel Dempsey.

“The last government gets a lot of criticism but on road safety I think they did a really good job,” he said. “Road deaths would not have gone down by the amount they have had it not been made a priority.”

           — Hat tip: McR[Return to headlines]

Italy: IDV Leader Asks Napolitano to Put Govt Out of Its Misery

(AGI) Rome — IDV leader Di Pietro called on the Head of State to put the government out of its misery. “As usual, they are intentionally missing the point. Today, I warned of a real danger faced by the country. A social revolt is drawing near and can break out at any time”, Antonio Di Pietro wrote in a statement. “Failing to understand the seriousness of the present situation would mean closing our eyes and pretending that nothing’s happening. This is something Gaddafi can do in Libya, not Berlusconi in Italy” Di Pietro added.

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

Italy: Dismissal Plea Filed Against Parliament’s Ruby Objections

(AGI) Milano — Milan’s Prosecution Office files against Parliament’s ‘conflict of attributions’ claim in the ‘Ruby’ case. With Parliament having argued that the Milan Prosecution Office lacks jurisdiction in the case involving an alleged underage prostitute — Ruby — and the Italian premier, Silvio Berlusconi, chief magistrate Edmondo Bruti Liberati today informed of the Office’s filing for Parliament’s case to be either “rejected or declared unfounded.” .

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

Netherlands: PVV Calls for Referendum on Minarets

The anti-Islam PVV wants to hold a referendum on the building of new minarets in the Netherlands, along the line of the Swiss vote, party leader Geert Wilders said on Wednesday.

Wilders said he is to submit draft legislation to parliament to pave the way for a public vote.

‘Minarets hurt the eyes. They are the towers of a rising desert ideology ,’ the Telegraaf quoted Wilders as saying.

Minarets have nothing to do with religion, he said. Rather, they are meant to be an ‘ imperialist and ideological sign of domination’.

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

New Experiment Aims to Trap Bizarre Antimatter

A new project is underway at the European physics lab CERN to produce antimatter versions of protons and trap them for study. Antimatter is the spooky cousin of normal matter. For every regular subatomic particle, there is thought to be a corresponding antiparticle with equal mass and opposite charge. When a particle and its antimatter partner meet, they annihilate each other to become pure energy.

The Geneva, Switzerland-based CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research) is home to other famous physics experiments, notably the world’s largest particle accelerator — the Large Hadron Collider, or LHC — and the OPERA experiment that recently announced the detection of particles that appear to be traveling faster than light.

           — Hat tip: Rembrandt[Return to headlines]

Nuclear Plant Phase-Out Gets Swiss Go-Ahead

The Swiss parliament on Wednesday voted to phase out the country’s nuclear plants, about six months after the Fukushima accident in Japan. It followed a June vote by the lower chamber to back an exit from nuclear energy recommended by the government, which had earlier frozen plans for a new construction programme after the Fukushima atomic plant explosion.

Bern said it would count on the development of its already considerable hydro-electric plants and other renewable energy to make up for the loss of nuclear power, while not ruling out importing electricity. If necessary the country could also fall back on electricity produced by fossil fuels, a statement added, while still respecting targets set under Switzerland’s climate change policy.

           — Hat tip: Rembrandt[Return to headlines]

Security Officers to Patrol Swiss Trains With Guns

Security officers patrolling Swiss trains will carry firearms from the summer of 2012 in a bid to halt rising violence against ticket controllers, the rail service SBB said Thursday. “The pistol will be hidden and the agent will use it only in the case of violence, in order to defend himself,” an SBB spokesman said. Some 200 security agents patrol Swiss stations and trains at the moment, and their number will increase to 250 in 2012.

Cases of physical violence against train personnel fall between 2005 and 2010 from 278 to 147, but the number of serious attacks has increased, said the spokesman. The Swiss government in August authorised SBB to provide firearms to its security agents. The Swiss parliament, which was also consulted, was unable to find an agreement on the topic, and had asked the government to decide. Swiss border, cantonal and military police are already allowed to carry firearms on trains.

           — Hat tip: Rembrandt[Return to headlines]

Shipping: Greece’s Sector Grows Larger and Younger

(ANSAmed) — ATHENS, SEPTEMBER 16 — Greek shipowners placed orders for 91 new ships worth 9.4 billion USD and bought 98 used ships of all kinds, worth 3 billion USD, in the first seven months of 2011 as daily Kathimerini reports. They currently have 654 ships under construction (310 in Korea, 298 in China, 22 in Japan and the rest elsewhere), totaling a capacity of 63.2 million deadweight tons. Chinese shipowners, by contrast, invested a total of only 2.4 billion USD in the same period, according to a survey by Clarksons. The Greek-owned fleet in June numbered 4,714 vessels, from 4,655 a year earlier. Of these, only 2,046 were Greek-flagged (compared to 2,126 in June 2010), comprising 567 cargo vessels, 544 tankers, 705 ferry boats and 230 ships of various other categories. Greek-managed shipping companies with vessels up to nine years old rose to 151 in 2011, from 30 in 1998.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Shipping: Greek Merchant Marine Fleet Down

(ANSAmed) — ATHENS, SEPTEMBER 21 — Greece’s merchant marine fleet fell by 3.7% in July this year, compared with the corresponding month in 2010, after an increase of 0.3% recorded in July 2010, ANA news agency reports citing data from the Hellenic Statistical Authority (Helstat). The statistics service said the Greek merchant marine fleet totaled 2,041 ships in July, with a gross tonnage of 43,154,944, up 0.4% compared with July 2010.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Spain: Zapatero’s Last Appearance in Parliament

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, SEPTEMBER 21 — This morning in Madrid was Spanish Socialist prime minister Jose’ Luis Zapatero’s last appearance in Parliament after almost eight years in power. The head of the Spanish government took part for the last time before the dissolving of the chambers on Monday for the early general elections set to take place on November 20, in the last debate with opposition leader Mariano Rajoy in the Congress of Deputies.

The prime minister said that over the past few years his government had had to lead the country through “the most serious economic crisis in the past 80 years, which forced three countries to request outside help”, claiming to have “protected social cohesion as much as possible”. Zapatero did however claim “responsibility” for the high unemployment rate in the country, which is near 21%. Rajoy, who the latest polls show in the lead for the November 20 elections and as the likely future prime minister, said that Zapatero is leaving behind “a poisoned inheritance” to his successor. The head of the outgoing socialist government is not standing as a candidate for the elections nor is he running for a seat in parliament. The Socialist are led in the early general elections by prime minister candidate Alfredo Rubalcaba.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Spain to EU Court for Local River Regulations

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, SEPTEMBER 29 — The European Commission has referred Spain to the EU Court of Justice for not aligning their water legislation to EU policy, specifically regarding regulations on the management of rivers at a local level. After already sending a message on the matter and in the absence of the necessary measures being taken, Environmental Commissioner, Janez Potocnik, decided to appeal to the EU Court of Justice. The member states had until the end of 2003 to adopt regulations, rules and administrative procedures required by European policies. Spanish legislation in this case has not yet been modified to conform, in particular regarding plans for the management of river basins. According to Spanish law, several requirements apply only to rivers that flow through more than one region and not to those present in a single region. The requirements involve areas such as the conditions to grant exceptions, the management of bodies of water used for the extraction of drinking water and inspecting the ecological health and chemical compositions of surface waters.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Swiss Parliamentarians Vote for Burqa Ban

Swiss parliamentarians approved on Wednesday a far-right move to impose a ban on the burqa or other face coverings in some public places, including on public transport. With 101 votes against 77, the lower chamber of the house approved the motion titled “masks off!”. The draft bill will still have to be examined by the upper chamber.

Put forward by Oskar Freysinger, a politician of the Swiss far-right SVP party, the motion requires “anyone addressing a federal, cantonal or communal authority exercising his or her functions, to present themselves with their faces uncovered.” Burqas would also be banned on public transport, while “authorities can ban or restrict access to public buildings to such individuals in order to guarantee the security of other users.” Explaining the motion, Freysinger noted that “at a time when insecurity is growing in our streets, more and more people are hiding their faces behind a balaclava, a mask or a burqa. “This makes it impossible to identify these people, a fact that is particularly troublesome in case of violence or identity checks,” he noted.

           — Hat tip: Rembrandt[Return to headlines]

UK: EDL Leader Convicted of Assault

The leader of the English Defence League is facing a possible jail sentence after being convicted of assault.

Stephen Lennon launched a verbal attack on a fellow member of the far-right group before headbutting his victim, Preston Magistrates’ Court heard.

Lennon, 28, founder of the EDL, “goaded” a crowd of followers during a rally by 2,000 supporters in Blackburn on April 2.

The 28-year-old, from Luton, Bedfordshire, launched a tirade against a man, who was accused of putting messages on the internet about police informers and “grasses”, before trouble broke out in the crowd among EDL members, the court heard.

Alan McKee, 33, from Gateshead, was pulled from the crowd by stewards for his own safety and taken away by police officers.

But the court heard he later confronted Lennon about his speech as the rally continued with other speakers. Lennon, who was surrounded by his own security guards and EDL stewards, then lunged or stepped forward and headbutted Mr McKee.

Lennon denied assault and claimed during his speech he had harangued another man, also called Alan, an Alan Smith, from Newcastle, who was a member of an EDL splinter group, the North East Infidels, intent on causing trouble.

The court heard from two police officers, Pc Paul Green and Pc Andrew Sumner, who told the court they were on hand when the incident happened. Both maintained they clearly saw Lennon headbutt Mr McKee.

After a day-long trial District Judge Peter Ward said he believed the police officers and convicted Lennon of common assault. Sentencing was adjourned until November 3 when police will apply for a criminal Asbo (Anti-social behaviour order) to prevent Lennon attending EDL rallies.

Outside court, Lennon said: “It’s a fit-up. They are fabricating evidence. I have had ongoing harassment. All this is about getting an Asbo that will ban me from demonstrations and protests. It is meant to be a democracy but this is a stitch-up.”

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

UK: Why All the Apologies, Ed?

by Martin Bright

The Labour Conference 2011 has turned into a horrible misery-fest. What a daft idea to make the theme of the conference: “We’re really sorry, we won’t do it again”. At least it’s not the slogan, although it would have been more honest than “Fulfilling the Promise of Britain”. I agree with Steve Richards in the Independent that the pessimism is self-fulfilling. This does not feel like a platform for re-election.


[Reader comment — Ricky, 27 September 2011 at 6:03 pm]

Yet another delusional article by a cheerleader for the Regressive Alliance..

The tribalism of the comrades is so vindictive and confrontational. They seem incapable of accepting that other people in our country do actually have good ideas or are clever or honest or inspirational or are even people of goodwill. The arrogance, entitlement and certainty of the Left is quite chilling. Harman’s creepy story about shielding her baby from Margaret Thatcher’s gaze shows how demented and hateful socialists really are.

Most are people haters and their loathing for mankind drives their command and control mentality. For a decade they tried to lock us into a politically correct “intellectual gulag”, so fearful are they of open ideas and challenging debate. Their control over the judiciary, education, the police, the BBC, the public sector, the MSM is almost total and that’s why the alternative message is rarely heard. They used huge borrowings from China and Brazil to bribe a third of the electorate. They created a massive public sector that became addicted to unearned subsidies. They flooded the country with voting fodder and educated a dependent generation schooled in Marxist dogma. No wonder the addicts still yearn for the simple world view they were promised.

They prefer to assume rights of ideas over the rest of us and are fuelled by loathing and contempt. They are frozen into a kind of late nineteenth century world view — based upon syndicalism, Marxism, Fabianism & Chartism and are yet to move on into our century. Yesterday’s bruvvers & sistas — all.

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]


Kosovo: Witness Describes to UN Tribunal Rivalries Between Albanian Rebels

The Hague, 26 Sept. (AKI) — A prosecution witness at retrial of former Kosovo prime minister Ramus Haradinaj Monday described to the United Nations war crimes tribunal rivalries between the Kosovo Liberation Army and the Armed Forces of the Republic of Kosovo (FARK) who fought against Serbian rule during 1998/99 conflict.

The protected witness, listed as 077, told the tribunal a FARK brigade entered Kosovo from Albania in June 1998, but was ordered by Haradinaj, a regional commander of the KLA, to “go back where they came from”.

The KLA’s political leader was current Kosovo prime minister Hashim Thaci, while FARK was formed by a rival group headed by late Kosovo president Ibrahim Rugova.

Haradinaj came to FARK camp in the village of Papracani in western Kosovo, fired in the air and told FARK commander Tahir Zemaj to leave.

Zemaj reportedly criticised his behaviour saying: “We shouldn’t fight among ourselves”.

The FARK brigade was allowed to stay for a while and later left. The witness said he heard that Haradinaj’s aide, Idriz Balaj, known as Toger, came to the FARK camp and marched away five soldiers who were later killed.

The witness said he escaped to neighbouring Montenegro and later found refuge in a European country.

“I was faced with the prospect of being killed and that no one would know whether I was killed by Serbs of Albanians,” he said.

Haradinaj, who briefly served as prime minister after Kosovo was put under UN control in 1999, was indicted in 2005 for crimes against Serb, Roma and non-loyal Albanian civilians.

He and Balaj were acquitted in 2007 for lack of evidence, while a third accomplice, Lah Brahimaj, was sentenced to six years in jail. But the tribunal’s appeals panel ordered a retrial, saying the first trial was conducted in an “atmosphere of intimidation of witnesses”.

Several witnesses were killed or died mysterious deaths before and during the trial and many refused to testify.

Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian majority declared independence from Serbia in 2008, a move opposed by Belgrade.

Kosovo has now been recognised by more than eighty countries, including the United States and 22 out of 27 members of the European Union.

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

North Africa

Libya: Italy’s Oil Giant ENI Re-Starts Production

(AKI) — Italian energy company Eni is resuming production in Libya after the more-than-seven-month-long civil war that ousted longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi brought output to a virtual standstill.

Eni is re-starting production in 15 Libyan wells in Abu-Attifel, located 300 kilometres south of the eastern port city of Benghazi, the company said in a statement.

Before the conflict between Libyan rebels and forces loyal to Gaddafi, Eni was the top foreign producer of oil and gas in the North African country.

Eni is working in partnership with Libya’s state-run oil company NOC at Abu Attifel bringing production to 31,900 barrels a day and will soon re-start other wells.

“In the coming days, other wells will be re-activated in order to reach the required volumes to fill the pipeline connecting the field to the Zuetina terminal,” stated Eni.

On Friday, French oil giant Total said it had resumed production from an offshore oil platform off Libya, making it the first major to return to work since the fall of Gaddafi.

Eni signed an agreement in Tripoli in August with Libya’s new rulers to allow the company to resume output in the country as soon as possible.

Due to the fighting, production from Libya had fallen to around 50,000 barrels of oil equivalent a day from 280,000 barrels, Eni said in July.

Prior to the conflict, Eni got 13 percent of its revenue from Libyan natural resources.

Italy was Libya’s biggest trading partner before it supported UN-mandated military action by Nato forces to protect civilians from attack by Gaddafi’s armed forces and to enforce a no-fly zone.

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

NATO: Gaddafi Forces Weak; Mission Will be Over in 3 Months

(AGI) Naples- “Our mission continues, because Gaddafi’s forces are still threatening the population”, claims Charles Bouchard.

The NATO operations chief for Libya further explained, “a few days ago, 25 families were swapped near Sirte by government forces asking for food and water in exchange”. The general noted that “the Colonel’s troops have lost the ability to coordinate amongst themselves and to carry our broad-scale attacks; they are only executing isolated initiatives”. Which is why he “trusts” that the ‘Unified protector’ mission will be finalized within the 3 months envisaged by the mandate renewed yesterday by NATO members and partners. “The Colonel’s forces only control small pockets of the country, mainly near Sirte and Bani Walid. The latest reports tell us that Wedan, Jufrah and Sabha have also come under the NTC’s control”.

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

Tony Blair Had Six Secret Meetings With Gaddafi in Libya

(AGI) London — Tony Blair had six private meetings with Gaddafi in Libya after he left Downing Street in 2007, not just two. It was reported by the conservative Sunday Telegraph, according to which the revelation casts a shadow on the nature of the relations between the former British prime minister and the Libyan dictator.

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

Middle East

Is Turkey Going Rogue?

by Daniel Pipes

In a Middle East wracked by coups d’état and civil insurrections, the Republic of Turkey credibly offers itself as a model thanks to its impressive economic growth, democratic system, political control of the military, and secular order. Recep Tayyip Erdogan effectively bought the June 2011 elections by pumping credit into the Turkish economy. But, in reality, Turkey may be, along with Iran, the most dangerous state of the region.

           — Hat tip: Rembrandt[Return to headlines]

Lebanon: Patriarch Bechara Rai and the “Arab Spring”. Tensions With Paris and Washington

After France, rumors of discontent within U.S. government over patriarch Béchara Raï’s speech. Trip to the U.S. capital, where the patriarch is scheduled to meet President Obama, postponed. The delicate situation of the Lebanese Christians, in the grip between Sunnis and Shiites. The quest for peace and coexsistence.

Beirut (AsiaNews) — It all started in Paris in early September. Invited by France, to which the newly elected Maronite patriarchs grant — according to an ancient tradition — their first official visit, the patriarch Béchara Raï gave a certainly balanced, but nonetheless, out of the ordinary speech. On his return to Lebanon, a statement by the Quai d’Orsay — the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs — announced that “France is surprised and disappointed” by the intentions expressed by the patriarch, during the press conference held in the context of the visit.

A few days ago the Maronite Patriarchal seat announced that patriarch Raï’s visit to Washington, in the context of a pastoral visit this October to the United States, where there is a thriving Maronite community, was canceled. And in the context of this visit to U.S. capital, of the possibility of organizing a meeting with President Obama was under consideration. A few days earlier, the U.S. ambassador in Lebanon Maura Connelly had visited Bkerke. Logical conclusion: after France, the U.S. is also unhappy about the positions taken by the Maronite Patriarch about the Hezbollah movement and the Arab Spring.

But what, specifically, are these positions? Regarding the Arab Spring, the patriarch has not taken a public position, but greatly mitigated France’s staunch claim that Syrian President Assad “is over.” The head of the Maronite Church, informed about what is happening in Syria to by Maronite priests and bishops living in the country, warned the French President Sarkozy that in no way should the risk of “confessional drift” in the Sunni Muslim country be underestimated, where the Sunni community represents about 80% of the population.

By saying as much, the patriarch Raï seemed to favour President Assad’s holding on to power, whose dictatorial regime is — in principle — secular, against the possible rise of a Sunni theocracy. But this is not at all what the Patriarch Raï said. The latter has sought to explain that he only “described a situation”, but in no way intended to “take sides” with the Syrian regime. The patriarch also fears a military drift in the Syrian revolt, which would result in a civil war between the Sunni majority and the Alawite minority, of which is part President Bashar al-Assad. A civil war, the Patriarch said, would ultimately — and inevitably — lead to a division of Syria, a prelude to a “fragmentation” of the Arab world along ethno-religious lines. The Maronite Patriarch supports a “civil” regime, in which religion is separated from the State and trusts in the virtues of pluralism.

As for Hezbollah, of which in public statements the patriarch appeared to justify the possession of weapons, the Maronite Patriarchate insists that the weapons will remain legitimate as long as the West — which some identify with the “international community” — fail to remove the pretexts with which Hezbollah justifies its maintenance of arms: a helpless Lebanese army, without air cover, without anti-tank rockets, and Israel’s belligerent policy, characterized by the continuous occupation of strips of land that belong to Lebanon.

Patriarch Raï confirmed these beliefs — which some believe are also supported, albeit discreetly, by the Vatican — two days ago during a series of extended meetings between religious leaders held, at the express request of the Maronite Patriarchate, at the headquarters of Dar el-Fatwa, the Council of the Sunni community. A meeting also wanted, in part, to correct the impression that the Maronite Patriarchate is playing the “Shiite” card against the Sunni community, as part of an adventurous “alliance of minorities”. Instead the patriarch’s initiative proves his will to consolidate the “national pact” between the Lebanese and their desire to live together.

However, this effort faces two crucial points, carefully avoided during the session: Hezbollah arms, the function of which are not as altruistic as the pro-Iranian party’ would like make believe. These weapons, in fact, are crucial in the regional geopolitical equation, and place Lebanon within the Syrian-Iranian axis, against the axis formed by the West. And the second, decisive question: the International Tribunal to judge the murder of Rafik Hariri in 2005. From this point of view, the Sunnis and Shiite conflict is clear, since the explicitly accuses militants of Hezbollah, as perpetrators of the massacre. Hezbollah conducted a broad campaign to discredit the Tsl, to push the Lebanese government to withdraw its share of funding. For the opposition, this campaign is to double check that Hezbollah has betrayed Hariri and cleared, in collusion with the Syrian regime.

Currently it is unclear how the Maronite Church will address these two major dilemmas, which represent the main obstacle to real peace within civil society, which would protect Lebanon and the Lebanese Christians from any upset. We know only that the government of Nagib Mikati has imposed this requirement at the top of his priorities, but without any guarantee of success.

In addition, the volatility of the situation in Syria is such that, once again, questions arise spontaneously. What will the consequences for the Christians of that country be, of a militarization of the revolt that no one can control? And what are the consequences, in this case, of the alleged support that the churches have given to the incumbent regime, at the very moment when the West calls on Arab countries, including Lebanon, to strongly disassociate themselves from this regime?

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

Now Even Al Qaeda Tells Iran’s Ahmadinejad to Stop the Conspiracy Theories Blaming the U.S. For 9/11iranian President Called it ‘The September 11 Mystery’

Outspoken controversial Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been told by Al-Qaeda to stop his conspiracy theories claiming that the U.S. was to blame for the 9/11 attacks.

The terrorist organisation has reportedly sent a message to the Iranian president asking him to stop spreading his ‘ridiculous belief’ about the 2001 attacks which killed nearly 3,000 people.

According to the Guardian, Iranian media reported on Wednesday quotes from Al-Qaeda’s English language magazine, criticising Ahmadinejad’s latest comments.

The Iranian leader caused a U.S. delegation to walk out of his UN general assembly speech last week when he cast doubt over the official version of the 2001 attacks by referring to 9/11 as a ‘mystery’.

Delegates from several other countries, including Israel, Ireland and Fiji, also walked out while Ahmadinejad was still talking.

According to Iranian media, the article in Inspire said: ‘The Iranian government has professed on the tongue of its president Ahmadinejad that it does not believe that Al-Qaeda was behind 9/11 but rather, the US government.

‘So we may ask the question: why would Iran ascribe to such a ridiculous belief that stands in the face of all logic and evidence?’

The Guardian reported that the Al-Qaeda article insisted it was behind the terror attacks, before criticising Ahmadinejad for discrediting the terrorist group.

The Inspire article continued: ‘For them, Al-Qaeda was a competitor for the hearts and minds of the disenfranchised Muslims around the world. Al-Qaeda… succeeded in what Iran couldn’t.

‘Therefore it was necessary for the Iranians to discredit 9/11 and what better way to do so? Conspiracy theories.’

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had outraged the UN last week by calling the 9/11 attack on the U.S. ‘a mystery’ shortly after the 10th anniversary of the atrocity.

In a speech full of questions which were no more than thinly veiled attacks on the U.S. he asked the UN who had used the ‘mysterious September 11 incident’ as a precursor to war and to dominate the Middle East?

He added: ‘By using their imperialistic media network which is under the influence of colonialism they threaten anyone who questions the Holocaust and the September 11 event with sanctions and military actions,’ he said.

When the idea of an independent fact-finding investigation of ‘the hidden elements’ involved in the attacks was raised last year, he said, ‘my country and myself came under pressure and threat by the government of the United States.’

‘Instead of assigning a fact-finding team, they killed the main perpetrator and threw his body into the sea,’ Ahmadinejad said, referring to the U.S. military’s killing of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in early May.

‘Would it not have been reasonable to bring to justice and openly to trial the main perpetrator of the incident in order to identify the elements behind the safe space provided for the invading aircraft to attack the twin world trade towers?,’ he asked.

No stranger to outrageous comments, Ahmadinejad began his speech by highlighting the plight of the world’s poorest nations, but included the U.S. in that by saying the country suffered from ‘inequality’.

Ahmadinejad then cryptically said this year he planned ‘to analyse the current [global] situation from a different angle’.

He then went on to single out a regular target of his, blaming Zionism for the wars in the Korean peninsula and Vietnam.

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

Syria: US Ambassador Pelted With Stones and Tomatoes

(ANSAmed) — BEIRUT, SEPTEMBER 29 — The American Ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, was attacked this morning in Damascus by a group of loyalists who threw stones and tomatoes at the U.S.

official immediately after he visited a well-known dissident. So reports pan-Arab TV network Al Arabiya, which cited eyewitnesses. By the end of August ambassador Ford was also attacked in the centre of Damascus by loyalist demonstrators. One of them tried to wrap a banner depicting Syrian President Bashar al Assad around the US envoy. Eyewitnesses quoted by al Arabiya report that the attack on Ford and the diplomatic convoy that accompanied him took place near the house of Hassan Abdel Azim, an elderly dissident and leader of a coalition of illegal parties. Azim has repeatedly asked the regime to end the bloody repression of anti-government demonstrators.

Last week French ambassador Eric Chevalier was pelted by a group of loyalists armed with sticks, stones, eggs and tomatoes in the old centre of Damascus. This attack took place immediately after his meeting with the leader of the Orthodox Church in Syria. Both ambassadors had been showing their support to the popular uprising in public since June, before moving to Hama, the heart of the rebellion where they met the demonstrators.

After that they visited Jassem, a town in the southern region of Daraa, the activists’ main stronghold. Chevalier and Ford were present two weeks ago at the funeral ceremony for Ghiyath Matar, a young activist from Daraya, suburb of Damascus, and leader of the peaceful protest movement. She was arrested and killed under torture by the security services. According to the eyewitnesses, two cars of the US embassy have been damaged, and dozens of loyalists are still surrounding the house of the opposition member.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Turkey Threatens to Blacklist Firms Working With Cyprus

(ANSAmed) — ATHENS, SEPTEMBER 22 — Turkey’s Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan threatened to blacklist international oil and gas firms working with Cyprus on Mediterranean exploration, and stop them from participating in energy projects in Turkey, as daily Kathimerini website reports today. Turkey’s Energy Ministry is drawing up sanctions on companies that meet the criteria, Erdogan said in televised comments from New York. The prime minister spoke Wednesday after signing a continental-shelf accord with northern Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu that allows Turkish Cypriots to define and drill in waters surrounding the island. Noble Energy Inc., a US company, started drilling September 18 in Cyprus’s southern waters. Erdogan said Turkey’s agreement with northern Cyprus counters the Greek Cypriot decision to start exploration meanwhile Turkey’s navy and air force are monitoring activities in the eastern Mediterranean.

Exxon Mobil Corp. and Chevron Corp. from the US, Brazil’s Petroleo Brasileiro SA, Norway’s Statoil ASA and Royal Dutch Shell Plc are among companies that have offered to work with the state oil firm Turkiye Petrolleri AO (TPAO) in Mediterranean drilling, Istanbul-based Sabah said.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

South Asia

Pakistan: Faisalabad: Magician Who Burns Qur’an in Ritual Ceremony Arrested for Blasphemy

According to police, Muhammad Akram, 45, has practiced “necromancy and black magic for years.” Muslim leader slams the practice but hails the ‘black law’, which guarantees peace and stability in society. A Lahore Sikh leader, active in interfaith dialogue and harmony, is targeted by extremists.

Faisalabad (AsiaNews) — Muhammad Akram, 45, a self-styled magician from Faisalabad (Punjab), was arrested on blasphemy charges for burning a copy of the Qur’an during a ritual ceremony. A resident of Faisalabad’s Mureedwala suburb, he has practiced necromancy and black magic for years, police sources report.

Muhammad Sarfraz, a merchant, hired Akram to conduct “black magic against a business rival”. The two men left together yesterday for the cemetery of Mir Ali, a village in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). The two began chanting magic words over a Qur’an. At the end of the ritual, Akram burnt the copy of Islam’s sacred book. Sarfraz reacted angrily to the act, shouting at Akram, drawing people to the scene where they attacked Akram for his blasphemous action.

Senior Police Superintendant Rana Iqbal confirm that “divination and black magic are commonplace in rural areas”, especially among the illiterate who “hope to solve their problems through magic”.

The official added that “Muhammad Akram is one of a number of self-styled magicians who trick people in Mureedwala”, an area where people still live in “darkness”.

Police charged Muhammad Akram under Section 295 B of the Pakistan Penal Code, the so-called ‘black law’, which often leads to the extrajudicial murder of people accused of blasphemy before or during their sentence.

Lahore Sharia expert, Mullah Syed Hassan Tabish, condemned the profanation of the Qur’an and those who practice magic, playing “with the lives of innocent people”. However, for him, the blasphemy law is legitimate because it punishes “acts contrary to Islam”. In fact, “Islamic laws are the best in the world to maintain a balanced and peaceful society”.

In the meantime, Sardar Bishon Singh, the 74-year-old head of the Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, is still in hiding after Islamic extremists threatened him. As a leader of Pakistan’s Sikh community, he has complained several times against the discrimination and attacks suffered by his community.

Originally from the tribal areas of Khyber Pukhtunkhawa Province, he moved to Lahore in 1993 to start an import business. In the past six months, Singh became the target of fundamentalists who hit his stores in Lahore’s commercial district on more than one occasion.

Speaking about another attack against a leader of a Pakistani religious minority, Fr Francis Xavier slammed the discrimination endured by “Urdu-speaking Hindus and Sikhs, who pay their taxes and love their homeland like all other Pakistanis” of the Muslim faith.

“We demand immediate protection for Sardar Bishon Singh,” the clergyman from Lahore Diocese said, because “he is a prominent leader of his community and his services for his community and interfaith harmony are remarkable. Such a person is an asset for the country”.

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

Pakistan: Punjab: Armed Muslims Rape a Christian, A “Common Practice”

A 32 year old woman and mother of five children was abducted and raped in turn by three men. Threats to the husband to force him to withdraw his complaint. Police officers covering the crime, drawing up a report full of holes. Priest in Lahore: Christian violence against women is widespread and scandalous.

Lahore (AsiaNews) — The rape of Christian women in Punjab has become a “common practice” an “outrageous” phenomenon compounded by the fact that “the police protect the guilty” and not the victims. This is the bitter synopsis of Fr Jill John, of the Diocese of Lahore on the last recorded case of sexual violence against a Christian mother. The family calls for justice, but is struggling against a society in which the defenders of the law support the rapists. Even human rights groups like Masihi Life for All Foundation have intervened on the matter, asking government authorities to target the perpetrators of crimes and punish the corrupt and conniving police officers.

The incident dates back to Sept. 15, but the news filtered through only in recent days. Arifa Mushtaq (name changed for security reasons — ed) 32, mother of five was abducted and raped by three Muslims . Her husband Muashtaq Masih a worker at the Kasur sanitation department, in a devastated condition said, “Arifa use to work in a garment factory, on the y evening of 15 September she was coming home from work, she got off the bus, two local Muslims grabbed her from the back. Another armed accomplice came and put a gun on her head”.

The woman began to scream, then asked the trio to leave her free to think their children who were waiting at home. Instead, the men took Arifa by force to a house and, one by one, they raped her. The family is in shock and even their attempt to report the rape has added insult to injury: the Muslims have threatened her husband, warning him to withdraw the lawsuit. Otherwise, his children will have to go through what his wife has gone through. The police has also protected the perpetrators, putting pressure on Muashtaq Masih.

Fr. Jill John confirms that “the police helps the guilty, with omissions and gaps in the compilation of complaints to favor their freedom.” The family of the raped woman, added the priest, are now living in fear while criminals are free to roam the streets of the town. “How much longer — he asks — will we see the children of God suffer? And when will Mushtaq Masih’s family get justice? “. He appealed to the police chief of Punjab and the Minister of Justice to target the corrupt police officers and protect the family.

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

The Muslim Party’s Demands and Islamisation in Sri Lanka

In an interview, A.R.M. Itmtiyaz, political scientist of Temple University in Philadelphia, looks at the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), a party that wants a seat at the peace table with Tamils and Sinhalese. For the academic, the party, which is part of the ruling alliance, should instead be more concerned about the rise of fundamentalism within its own community.

Colombo (AsiaNews) — “The ruling regime can solve the problems that afflict Muslims in north-eastern Sri Lanka, but is doing nothing,” said A. R. M. Itmtiyaz, associated professor in the Department of Political Science in Temple University, Philadelphia, United States, as he spoke about protests by the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), the country’s largest Muslim party, against the exclusion of the Muslim community from interethnic talks.

Last week, SLMC President Basheer Segu Dawood even called on the international community to induce the Sri Lankan government to give his party a specific role in the peace process.

Speaking to AsiaNews, Prof Itmtiyaz explains what role the Muslim community plays in the island nation’s interethnic conflict. He looks at the SLMC’s errors and explains why its request to the international community is unhelpful. He also discusses the growing Islamisation of the country’s Muslims, a trend that has been ignored by moderate and liberal Muslims so far.

Professor, what do you think of Muslim leaders’ dissatisfaction in Sri Lanka?

The ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka is the by-product of ethnocentric policies of successive Sri Lankan governments, dominated by the Sinhala-Buddhists. The conflict, which later transformed itself into a brutal war against the Tamils and the Tamil Tigers [known as the LTTE], who were the babies of the ethnic conflict disproportionally, affected Muslims as well. Muslims were expelled by the LTTE from the Northern region in 1990. Three hundred Eastern Muslims were killed at prayer time inside their mosque in 1991 and Muslim wealth was confiscated in the Jaffna, Batticaloa and Amparai districts in the North-Eastern Province. Muslims, particularly in the North and the East, lost their peace and security due to the ethnic conflict. Muslims claimed that the Tamil Tigers treated inhumanely.

Apart from the Eastern Muslim elites’ desire to enjoy power, the marginalization of northern and eastern Muslims was the main reason that progressively contributed to the formation of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress in the mid of 80s.

The SLMC’s rational was politically correct, because marginalized groups often seek a political voice, and in democratic setting, they often appeal to moderates to seek justice. There was a demand from both elites and masses among the Northern Eastern Muslims for political accommodation if and when there was attempt to find a solution to the ethnic conflict. Their demands were often ignored by the major Tamil and Sinhalese parties in the conflict. The LTTE, which successfully challenged state terrorism, did not want to see Muslims at the negotiation table. Even after the military collapse of the LTTE, Tamil moderates do not seem to move away from the LTTE position. On the other hand, the government of Sri Lanka, which got all the support from the Muslim elites against the LTTE and the Tamil nation, did not consider the Muslims as equal partners in a peace settlement. Muslim elites and politicians who had and have great record in supporting the government of Sri Lanka for political and economic reasons did not mobilize their key demand for a separate seat for Muslims.

Do you agree with the president of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress?

In fact, the demand for a separate seat is reasonable. However, the Muslim political establishment, which had aggressively supported the war against the LTTE that killed more than 40,000 innocent Tamils, can win their demands from the government. The latter should address the concerns of the Muslim masses. Now the SLMC is part and parcel of the regime. They are accountable to whatever the regime does, and should be able to settle the major problems that affect the North and Muslims. Such a political outcome may only be possible if the SLMC has some political courage and is sincere in working for the interests of Muslim masses. My point is that the SLMC should focus on the issues that affect Muslims and seek solutions rather than asking global actors to help win Muslim representation at the negotiation table.

How are Sri Lanka and its Muslim Community today?

Muslims in Sri Lanka constitute approximately 8 per cent of the country’s population. They speak mainly Tamil, but their claims are distinct from those of the Tamils despite the fact that they speak the same language and embrace some cultural elements associated with the Tamil nation. They are from three different ethno-social backgrounds: the Sri Lanka Moors, the Indian Moors and the Malays. The others include the Memons, the Bohras, etc. The term Moors used by the Portuguese in the 16th century refers to the Arab Muslims and their descendants. The term was applied to identify their religion and had no role in identifying their origin. They were scattered along the coastal areas but some of them moved into the interior, perhaps to avoid persecution by the Portuguese and the Dutch who once ruled the Maritime Provinces. Though the majority of Muslims (62 per cent) live in predominantly Sinhalese areas, outside the North and East of Sri Lanka, the other 38 per cent live in the Tamil-dominated North-East.

There is a long standing opinion that Muslims are rich and are vibrant. But reality suggests however that most Muslims of Sri Lanka, regardless of their geographical location, are economically weak and have to struggle to earn a decent life. Muslim schools lack qualified teachers and scientific management. Actually, they are one of the most marginalized and poor ethnic groups in Sri Lanka.

The community is now experiencing a process of psychological Islamisation as more and more a strict adherence to Islam and the Muslim dress code prevail, isolating those who do not agree with Islamisation. This also comes with attacks against Sufis. This trend is very noticeable not only among the Muslims of the North and East, but also among the Muslims of the South and West, including Colombo, where Muslims have always been relatively liberal in their religious outlook.

Islamic radicalization is in an early stage and has its origin in political and social factors. Those who are in power or associated with the Sinhala political class, particularly Muslim political elites and politicians need to understand the reality on the ground, and adopt political moves to find solutions.

Such measures can help weaken Islamic fundamentalists and rescue Muslims from joining global jihadists who have become aware of marginalized Muslims in the subcontinent. In reality, Muslim elites, politicians and scholars are in denial when it comes to Islamisation and the recent growth of Islamists. Some of those who deny the reality are actually aware of the reality, but prefer to discuss it within the community and avoid outside attention.

Communities often want to hide their problems and choose instead to paint a nice picture of themselves. This is not only common to Sri Lanka Muslims; it can be seen among the non-Muslims in Sri Lanka and beyond. The point is that denial is dangerous, because when you deny the problem, finding a real solution will be difficult, from elites to the masses.

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

The Vast Asian Realm of the Lost Humans

THE Denisovans, mysterious cousins of the Neanderthals, occupied a vast realm stretching from the chill expanse of Siberia to the steamy tropical forests of Indonesia — suggesting the third human of the Pleistocene displayed a level of adaptability previously thought to be unique to modern humans. Our first tantalising glimpse of the Denisovans came last year with DNA analysis of a bone and tooth found in a Siberian cave. The DNA was distinct enough from Neanderthals’ to suggest tens of thousands of years of independent evolution.

Before they disappeared, the Denisovans found time to interbreed with Homo sapiens. As a result, 5 per cent of the Denisovan genome lives on — not in the inhabitants of Siberia but in Papua New Guineans, living thousands of kilometres to the south-east. “I don’t think many people would have predicted that,” says Mark Stoneking of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. Stoneking has now compared the Denisovan genome with an additional 33 populations from mainland Asia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Polynesia, Australia and Papua New Guinea. He found Denisovan genes in east Indonesia, Australia, Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Polynesia.

           — Hat tip: Rembrandt[Return to headlines]

Far East

Duties on Poultry: The Latest Act in the Trade War

The United States has lodged a formal complaint against China at the World Trade Organisation for duties imposed on exports of poultry from Beijing. This is only the latest case, in order of time, in a no-holds-barred confrontation between the two powers.

Peking (AsiaNews / Agencies) — The United States has lodged a formal complaint against China at the World Trade Organisation (WTO). According to Washington, Peking violated international law last year when it imposed duties on exports of American poultry.

According to Ron Kirk, the U.S. representative at the WTO, tariffs have hit a sector that employs about 300 thousand people, in addition, the rates have doubled the price of poultry, nearly eliminating demand for it. This is just the latest in a series of cases that have pitted the U.S. and China against one another at the Organisation. Washington has already submitted several complaints regarding the duties imposed by the Asian giant on steel products and derivatives, which are essential for the installation of wind turbines. Because of this situation, the U.S. government, led by Barack Obama, has been the target of the Republican opposition: they want to respond to the duties with sanctions against China, guilty of maintaining the value of its national currency artificially low.

The trade war between the two economic giants, however, is likely to continue along these lines. Just yesterday, the American ambassador to Beijing, Gary Locke, asked Communist officials to ensure “increased access” to the internal market to foreign actors, in order to respond to the “growing frustration” of non-Chinese industrialists and to “respond to the needs of a increasingly developing China.”

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

Philippines: Christians Dispossessed and Silenced in Mindanao

In Jolo, Marawi and Basilan, Christians are afraid to express their faith. Because of constant attacks and kidnappings, the churches can only be entered through a side door, guarded 24hrs. The experience of Muslim-Christian dialogue proposed by Silsilah.

Manila (AsiaNews) — In Jolo, Marawi, Basilan and other areas of Mindanao, the Christian minority is suffering harassment and pressure from the Muslim population, AsiaNews’ sources in Mindanao say. Government officials are forcing Christians to sell their land to make room for Chinese industries.

According to sources, the climate of impunity, the abductions, the continuing clashes between the army and extremist Islamic groups and the economic crisis have created an unbearable atmosphere for the Christian population, who are afraid to express their faith in public.

“Jolo Cathedral”, they explain, “is located at the center of the city, and has always been a symbol of unity and friendship between Muslims and Christians. Until a few years ago, the main door was open at all hours, but due to the continuous episodes of vandalism, the Cathedral can now be accessed only through the side entrance. The churchyard is guarded day and night by military and police.”

Sources say that the situation is the same in Basilan and Cotabato. Here in recent weeks both churches were hit with paper bombs that damaged the part of the walls and windows. These acts provide publicity for the young extremists, who learn intolerance against Christians from unscrupulous preachers, often funded by foreign countries, who aim to spread a restrictive and fundamentalist vision of Islam. “The situation is very difficult”, AsiaNews sources explain, “Christians are not permitted to react. The only alternative to escape is to suffer these abuses in silence.”

For Fr. Sebastiano D’Ambra, PIME missionary in Zamboanga and founder of Silsilah (“chain”), a movement for interreligious dialogue, there are nevertheless some signs of hope that could change the future situation of these provinces, considered the most dangerous on the entire archipelago. “In Basilan”, he says, “we have organized a series of meetings with Muslim and Christian leaders where we recounted our experience of interreligious dialogue made in other cities and listened to the problems experienced by the local population. This has sparked a relationship among the various local religious leaders, including the bishop and high Islamic authorities, who for several months have been collaborating to address the problems of the two communities.”

From this experience of dialogue was born the Interfaith Council of Leaders, which aims to get Christians and Muslims to meet to discuss concrete facts and not theoretical problems. For example, the priest explains that Basilan’s population has no access to electricity. To solicit the government, representatives of the Christian and Muslim communities wrote a manifesto of protest, with some concrete proposals useful in addressing the problem.

“What we propose”, said Fr. D’Ambra, “is a spirit of dialogue that touches on all aspects, not only matters of religion. Our task is not simply to speak of dialogue, but to respond in a concrete way to the reality that surrounds us.”

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

Australia — Pacific

Bolt is Guilty But the Law is Wrong, Let the Markets Deal With Racial Discrimination

Political activists and bad legislation have combined to create the extraordinary situation where eligibility for awards and prizes can’t be questioned.

Not all prizes and awards — we can still mock Wayne Swan’s Euromoney award — but only those that have an ethnic component to them.

In a society increasingly obsessed with ethnicity and race this will quickly become a problem.

Andrew Bolt has been found guilty of violating section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act by suggesting that several individuals had claimed Aboriginality in order to further their careers.

           — Hat tip: Nilk[Return to headlines]

If a Shark Takes Me, Blame Me, Not the Shark: Briton’s Words Before Great White Attackhe Was Regular Swimmer Who Ignored Warning of Shark in the Water

A Briton was last night in a critical condition after losing both his legs in a shark attack.

Witnesses said the man, named as Michael Cohen, had gone swimming despite warnings that a shark was circling close to the beach in Cape Town, South Africa.

The 43-year-old is said to have swum regularly at Fish Hoek beach, notorious for Great White sightings, even telling fellow beachgoers: ‘If a shark takes me, then blame me, not the shark.’

Witnesses said he parked his car and then walked right past a flag indicating that the beach was closed.

At least two people warned him that a shark had been seen, but he strode into the water anyway.

Tracy Sassen, a former South African surfing champion, watched as Mr Cohen was taken by the 10ft Great White only a few yards from the beach.

‘I saw two swimmers in the sea, even though the beach was closed,’ she said.

‘I saw a burst of water and thought it was a seal taking a fish or something. Then people started rushing into the sea and pulling this guy out of the water. He was moaning and crying and pleading with them, “Please help me, please help me”.

‘He was very white and in shock. Half of one leg was missing and the ankle on the other leg was badly bitten.’

Monwabisi Sikweyiya, one of the shark-spotters who guards the bay each day, helped drag Mr Cohen from the water and used his own shorts and belt as tourniquets.

He said of Mr Cohen: ‘He was very interested in sharks and respected them, but never took any notice of our warnings.

‘We warned him often that he was taking a risk, but he always said “If a shark takes me, then blame me, not the shark”.’

The shark remained in the bay for some time after the attack and the beach will remain closed indefinitely. Sharks have claimed a number of swimmers and surfers there in recent years.

Last night Mr Cohen was expected to undergo at least six hours of surgery in Cape Town for ‘very serious injuries’.

It is believed the keen swimmer, who is single, was born in Canada but holds a British passport and spent several years living in the UK before moving to South Africa.

The latest incident comes just weeks after British honeymooner Ian Redmond, 30, was killed by a shark as his bride watched him snorkelling in the Seychelles.

           — Hat tip: KGS[Return to headlines]

Western Australia Girls Admit Shocking McDonalds Condom Hoax

A GROUP of Geraldton schoolgirls have admitted to a shocking hoax at McDonald’s in which a two-year-old girl was found chewing on a condom in the restaurant’s playground.

A McDonalds spokeswoman said today a group of local schoolgirls had admitted planting the used condom filled with vanilla icecream in the cubby house of the Geraldton outlet.

The company launched an investigation this week following the incident on Saturday after a complaint was made by the girl’s father.

The toddler’s father said he was having lunch inside the restaurant when his daughter walked in with what he thought was a used condom in her mouth.

McDonalds said the girls were very remorseful for the prank and the company would not take further action against them.

“The students have apologised, expressing remorse for their actions and the distress caused to the family involved,” the McDonalds spokeswoman said.

“While this was a very careless prank that has caused unnecessary concern, we appreciate the girls coming forward and won’t be taking the matter further.”

           — Hat tip: Nilk[Return to headlines]


500 Migrants Taken Away, Other 500 Today

(AGI) Agrigento — About 500 migrants have been taken away from Lampedusa, late yesterday evening and early this morning. They have been flown to infrastructures in Sicily and in Southern Italy. There were 1,040 migrants left after yesterday’s first flights. Agrigento Chief of Police, Giuseppe Bisogno reported to Agi that in the upcoming hours the remaining 500 will leave the island and will be flown to the same infrastructures.

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

Migrants’ Revolt in Lampedusa, Tunisians in Jail

(AGI) Agrigento — The Tunisians arrested yesterday after the Lampedusa revolt have been transferred to the Petrusa Jail in Agrigento. Tuesday revolt culminated with the arson of the Lampedusa holding center. That was the first act of an episode of urban guerrilla which involved the local inhabitants as well. The disorders produced eleven injured people, one of whom, a Tunisian, is in serious conditions at the Palermo hospital where he was airlifted. The arrested parties are accused of arson, damages and resisting arrest.

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

Switzerland: SVP to Immigrants: Don’t Mess With the Swiss Flag

The vice president of pro-immigrant organization Secondos Plus has infuriated far-right politicians and others in Switzerland with his “humorous” calls for a new Swiss flag, contributor Meritxell Mir reports. What started as a joke to provoke reflection on Swiss values has turned into a nightmare for Ivica Petrusic and Secondos Plus, an association for children of immigrants born in the country.

More than a month ago, Petrusic, the vice president of the lobby group, suggested the cross should be removed from the Swiss flag to bring it more in line with today’s “multicultural Switzerland.” In two recent interviews, Petrusic sought to defuse the issue. Instead, debate flared anew and now Petrusic faces threats from groups on the extreme-right.

           — Hat tip: Rembrandt[Return to headlines]

Culture Wars

US Ambassador Urges Serbia to Secure Gay Pride

— BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — The U.S. ambassador to Serbia has urged authorities to provide security for an upcoming gay pride march that has faced threats from extremists.

Mary Warlick said in a statement Wednesday that pride marches present an “important and widely-accepted vehicle” for the gay community to advocate their rights. Serbia’s pride march is set for Sunday, but there are fears it could erupt in violence similar to last year’s when more than 100 people were injured. A right-wing group has scheduled its own gathering on the same day.

Warlick praised the Serbian authorities for securing last year’s event despite the attacks, and urged them “to do everything possible to facilitate a successful and safe event this year as well.”

           — Hat tip: Kitman[Return to headlines]


Earth Surrounded by Fewer Potentially Dangerous Asteroids Than Thought, NASA Finds

A NASA space telescope that meticulously mapped the entire sky has found fewer potentially dangerous asteroids that orbit near Earth, space agency officials announced today (Sept. 29). The discovery significantly lowers the number of medium-size asteroids near Earth to 19,500 — nearly a 50 percent drop from the 35,000 space rocks initially estimated — and suggests that the threat to Earth by dangerous asteroids may be “somewhat less than previously thought,” NASA officials said in a statement. Still, there are thousands more of these asteroids, which can measure up to 3,300 feet wide, that remain to be found.

           — Hat tip: Rembrandt[Return to headlines]

‘Magic Mushrooms’ May Permanently Alter Personality

Just one strong dose of hallucinogenic mushrooms can alter a person’s personality for more than a year and perhaps permanently, a new study finds.

People given psilocybin, the compound in “magic mushrooms” that causes hallucinations and feelings of transcendence, demonstrated a more “open” personality after their experience, an effect that persisted for at least 14 months. Openness is a psychological term referring to an appreciation for new experiences. People who are more open tend to have broad imaginations and value emotion, art and curiosity.

This personality warp is unusual, said study researcher Katherine MacLean, because personality rarely changes much after the age of 25 or 30. (In fact, one recent study found that by first grade our personalities are set pretty much for life.)

           — Hat tip: Rembrandt[Return to headlines]

Planet Mercury Full of Strange Surprises, NASA Spacecraft Reveals

Mercury is not just hellishly hot but apparently covered in brimstone. A vast part of the planet is covered with dried lava — enough to bury the state of Texas under 4 miles of the stuff, scientists say. These and other strange discoveries about Mercury were announced in seven papers released in the Sept. 30 issue of the journal Science, a trove of knowledge from NASA’s Messenger probe, covering everything from odd landscape to the planet’s magnetic core.

Messenger, which stands for “Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry, and Ranging,” marks humankind’s first-ever orbiter around the solar system’s smallest and innermost planet. It is only the second probe even to just visit, following the Mariner 10 flyby in the mid-1970s. Launched in 2004, the $446 million Messenger spacecraft began orbiting Mercury in March.

           — Hat tip: Rembrandt[Return to headlines]


Dimitar Vesselinov said...

I suppose you should pay some attention to the current news from Bulgaria, this is a failed state. There is a huge problem with mafia, corrupted and rotten elite and Gypsies.

Dimitar Vesselinov said...

Facebook is openly censored in #Bulgaria. Groups, profiles, everything. This is the European Iran!