Saturday, January 11, 2003

News Feed 20111106

Financial Crisis
»EU to Press Greece Until it Has National Unity Government
»Tour Operator Brings Back Contracts in Dracmas for Greece
»Two-Thirds of Germans See Greece Out of Euro Zone
»President Obama and the First Lady Mark the Hajj and Eid Al-Adha
Europe and the EU
»Apicella Confident — Berlusconi’s Mystery CD to Debut on 22 November
»Italy: Berlusconi Determined in Spite of Defections
»Netherlands: 77% of Staffing Agencies Discriminate
»Norway: No Slowdown in Oslo Rape Surge
»Serbia/Italy: Fiat Said ‘20 Kilos of Blacked Out Documents’ Protected Secrets
»Vatican: Mother of Dead Swiss Guard Asks Pope to Reopen Shooting Case
North Africa
»Algeria: Work on Great Mosque Begins, Amid Controversy
»Libya: Pro-Gaddafi Group Targets Hundreds for Assassination
Israel and the Palestinians
»Jerusalem: No Women in Posters
Middle East
»Lebanon: Maronite Patriarch: Army to Absorb Hezbollah Militia
»Turkey: PKK: Erdogan Defends Arrest of Constitutionalist
South Asia
»Indonesia: Business Bribes Among World’s Most Abundant
»Nepalese Parliament Reaches Agreement on Future of 19 Thousand Maoist Guerrillas
»Pakistani Christian Leader Calls for a Strong and Rooted Party for Minorities
Far East
»Dalai Lama in Favour of Nuclear Energy for Peaceful Ends
Sub-Saharan Africa
»Taiwanese Fishermen Defeat Boarding Pirates
»UK Border Force Chief Suspended on Lax Control Grounds
Culture Wars
»Rome Hospital Accused of Turning Away Lesbian Blood Donor

Financial Crisis

EU to Press Greece Until it Has National Unity Government

(AGI) Paris — Olli Rehn, European commissioner for Financial, Economic and Monetary affairs, said the European Union will press Greece until it has a government of national unity. “We believe it is the best way to restore confidence and allow Athens to face up to its obligations.” Rehn continued, “They are working in Greece to restore confidence and we need a convincing report on this tomorrow at the Eurogroup from Finance Minister Venizelos.” .

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

Tour Operator Brings Back Contracts in Dracmas for Greece

(AGI) Berlin — “Tui”, Germany’s largest tour operator has submitted contracts calculated in dracmas to its Greek hotel partners. Bild, having obtained the document, reported that Tui, in order to prepare itself against the risk of a Greek exit from the euro, is already submitting contracts in dracmas.

The document states, “if the currency is not the euro, Tui is authorized to pay in the new currency. The exchange rate will corrispond to that fixed by the government.” The newspaper explained that should the dracma return, the loss of value of the new currency could come to 60%, a prospect against which Tui is already taking preventative counter measures.

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

Two-Thirds of Germans See Greece Out of Euro Zone

(AGI) Berlin — Over two-thirds of Germans (68%) are sure that Greece will have to step out of the euro, a survey by the weekly magazine “Focus” reported. Only one out of four Germans (27%) is sure that Athens “will still have a future in the Euro-zone.” Supporters of the Liberal (75%) and Linke (79%) parties have a more pessimistic outlook on the matter.

Hans-Werner Sinn, president of IFO Institute for Economic Research, told “Spiegel” that “with the euro Greece will never get back up on its feet again.”

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


President Obama and the First Lady Mark the Hajj and Eid Al-Adha

Michelle and I extend our greetings for a happy Eid al-Adha to Muslims worldwide and congratulate those performing Hajj.

Thousands of Muslim Americans are among those who have joined one of the world’s largest and most diverse gatherings in making the pilgrimage to Mecca and nearby sites.

As Muslims celebrate this Eid, they will also commemorate Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son by distributing food to those less fortunate around the world. They join the United States and the international community in relief efforts to assist those struggling to survive in the Horn of Africa and those recovering from the devastating earthquake in Turkey.

The Eid and Hajj rituals are a reminder of the shared roots of the world’s Abrahamic faiths and the powerful role that faith plays in motivating communities to serve and stand with those in need. On behalf of the American people, we extend our best wishes during this Hajj season.

           — Hat tip: Van Grungy[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Apicella Confident — Berlusconi’s Mystery CD to Debut on 22 November

Neapolitan crooner blames technical problems: “The prime minister kept asking me when it was coming out”

MILAN — It is one of those issues of state that attract the attention of the world’s press, with the Guardian and Le Monde leading the pack: “Why isn’t Silvio Berlusconi’s new CD out yet?” That’s right because for some months the Italian prime minister has been keeping his latest musical opus, “Il vero amore” [True Love], under wraps. Once again, it was crafted in tandem with the trusty Mariano Apicella, one writing the lyrics and the other the music. There was talk the CD might appear at the end of September. Then a big party was going to be arranged in Milan for late October. But October came and went with no sign of the CD. The Guardian, Le Monde and everyone else assumed that Mr Berlusconi’s other problems had left him with little time (or that it was perhaps not the right time) for music, a passion that he has nurtured since his younger days as a cruise ship singer.

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

Italy: Berlusconi Determined in Spite of Defections

(AGI) Rome — In a phone call to ‘Azione Popolare’ organized by Silvano Moffa, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said, “In spite of defections, whom I hope will return to us, we are still the majority party.” He emphasized his confidence that the recent government defections will return in the next few hours.

Berlusconi said that voting against the economic provisions Italy has undertaken with the European Union “is not voting against the government, it is voting against Italy.”

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

Netherlands: 77% of Staffing Agencies Discriminate

Over three-quarters of the 187 staffing agencies approached by two VU university researchers agreed to a request not to supply Moroccan, Turkish and Surinamese candidates, the Volkskrant reports on Wednesday.

Sociology students Evelien Loeters and Anne Backer approached the agencies looking for staff for a non-existent call centre. During each phone call they said to the agency: ‘It’s a little awkward to ask this but I’d rather not have any Moroccans (or Turks or Surinamese) even if they speak fine Dutch’.

In 77% of cases, the agency agreed to the request. Large agencies with multiple branches were less likely to comply. In a further 13 cases, the agencies offered to supply the researchers with a list so they could choose the names themselves.

Sector organisations ABU and NBBU told the paper they are shocked at the results of the research and plan to invest more time in extra training sessions and information provision for their members.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Norway: No Slowdown in Oslo Rape Surge

Two teenage girls emerging from downtown Oslo’s train station were attacked on Saturday evening by five young men in yet another escalation of the capital’s burgeoning rape problem.

The arrest of five Afghan and Pakistani men immediately stoked calls for the creation of a national police sex-crimes unit. Oslo mayor Fabian Stang also called for discussions on a possible curtailment on freedoms for asylum seekers.

The mass attack on the 16-year-old girls braving the station area after dark was reported just hours after hundreds took part in a torchlight protest to “take back the night”, a rally by women’s groups and ordinary citizens for action against sexual assault.

In all, newspaper VG chronicled five rapes over the weekend, including one in which assailants were described as “Scandinavian in appearance”.

Whatever the count of foreigners involved, Mayor Stang weighed in with a call for “dramatic action” after a record year of 48 “after hours” rapes. While he singled out non-western foreigners, he also made it clear that asylum seekers should not be kept confined from the rest of society.

“But in an extreme situation like the one we are now experiencing, we have to be able to discuss adjusting our principles to protect our girls,” Stang told newspaper Aftenposten.

Another newspaper spotlighting rape reported that police numbers show a minority of attackers have been “non-westerners”. Most of 2011’s attackers have not been identified.

“In 2008/2009, we identified 13 assailants behind 35 attacks,” police inspector Hanne Kristin Rohde told Dagbladet.

“Six of those had at some point been asylum seekers and had either received a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ (to residency status).”

Norwegian Directorate of Immigration director, Ida Børresen, meanwhile, said it was worrying that asylum seekers and criminals were being talked about in the same breath.

“That the majority of culprits are described as “non-Nordic” does not mean that they are asylum seekers,” Børresen was quoted by broadcaster NRK as saying.

Under intense public scrutiny since July 2011, when police mobilization became an issue, police have put 20 extra officers onto the capital’s streets in an effort to curb a wave of rapes since the summer.

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

Serbia/Italy: Fiat Said ‘20 Kilos of Blacked Out Documents’ Protected Secrets

Belgrade, 4 Nov. (AKI) — Italian automaker Fiat said it was protecting privileged information by blacking out “20 kilograms” of paper the Serbian’s anti-corruption body received following its request for documents related to a 700 million-euro deal.

Much of the information “represents crucial commercial and industrial secrets, indispensable for the success of a joint undertaking,” Turin, Italy-based Fiat said. It claimed that a secrecy clause is in the “interest of the company formed in partnership with the Republic of Serbia as well as their shareholders.”

Serbian media has speculated that the government is covering up a business deal that never came to fruition. Reports say Fiat may never have paid any money and the government was in fact financing the entire project with foreign loans for political and marketing purposes.

Verica Barac, the head of the Serbian Anti-Corruption Agency had asked the government to supply her with the agreement and all relevant documents. But she was shocked when she received “20 kilograms of paper” in which details on mutual financial obligations were blackened with ink.

Government spokesman, Milivoje Mihajlovic, said Fiat demanded that parts of the agreement be kept as secret to protect its business operations and “for that reason can’t be made public.”

Fiat chief executive officer Sergio Marchione and Serbian economy minister Mladjan Dinkic in 2008 signed a joint-venture agreement allowing Fiat to take over the Zastava automobile factory in the city of Kragujevac and to launch production of new automobile models destined for the European market.

At the time of the deal, Dinkic said Fiat Automobiles Serbia — 67 percent owned by Fiat and 33 held by the Serbia government — would produce 200,000 automobiles “over the next few years.” Three and a half years later the project is hardly off the ground, sparking suspicion that something went wrong.

For its part, Fiat was supposed to spend 700 million euros to retool the factory that was heavily damaged in the 1999 NATO bombing. Serbia was to turn over the factory to the Italian manufacturing giant, provide infrastructure and invest 50 million euros.

The “the biggest foreign investment” in Serbia was billed as a job generator in a country with high employment. Now critics accuse Serbian president Boris Tadic of using the deal to gain votes on “false promises.”

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

Vatican: Mother of Dead Swiss Guard Asks Pope to Reopen Shooting Case

Vatican City, 4 Nov. (AKI) — The mother of a Swiss Guard who the Vatican said killed his commander and his wife almost 14 years ago before taking his own life has written pope Benedict XVI imploring him to reopen the case, according to reports on Swiss television.

In May 1998 Swiss Gaurd Lieut Col. Alois Estermann, 43, and his wife, Gladys Meza Romero were found shot dead in their Vatican apartment. The body of a 23-year-old Swiss guard, Cedric Tornay, was discovered nearby.

A Vatican investigation concluded that disgruntled Tornay killed his superior after being reprimanded for infractions. The Vatican almost immediately dismissed reports of a crime of passion or the possibility of some other scandal. It said an autopsy found traces of marijuana in Tornay’s urine and a small tumour in his brain.

Tornay’s mother, Muguette Baudat, told an Italian newspaper she wouldn’t accept the Vatican’s conclusion and told the Italian media that she did not believe the Vatican and repeated her assertions that her son was murdered and made a scapegoat in a broader plot.

A 2002 letter to the late pope John Paul II asking for the case to be reopened went unanswered.

Baudat lawyer Luc Brossellet on Thursday told Swiss TV that he believes the things are more transparent in the Vatican amid the sex scandals that have plagued the Church.

“Vatican politics, as expressed by the Holy Father, have changed,” he said. “He says the Vatican must conform to international law. It is for this reason we thought it was the right moment” to ask the Vatican to reopen the case.

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

North Africa

Algeria: Work on Great Mosque Begins, Amid Controversy

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, NOVEMBER 1 — Work on the Great Mosque of Algiers will be significant, gigantic even (over an area of just over twenty hectares) and is the result of an ambitious, and therefore costly, project. But is the work really necessary? This is the question being asked by many people in Algeria today, after the first stone was laid by President Abdelaziz Bouteflika (in a ceremony that lasted only a few minutes) in a project that has been awarded to a major Chinese construction group and which, if the timeframe is respected, should be complete within 48 months.

The building of the Mosque, which will include a major conference centre, prayer halls, libraries, a museum, a research centre and shops, spread across around ten buildings, and surrounded by thousands of parking spaces and an array of green areas, will eventually cost the equivalent of roughly one and a half billion dollars. The figure is enormous in absolute terms for a country that, despite being rich in energy resources, is experiencing social difficulties, which are fuelled daily by protests by various sectors. For this reason, many are wondering if it is really necessary to take on such huge spending for work that not everyone believes to be a priority.

In recent months, Algerian political observers have expressed great concern for the situation emerging in the country, where housing is a problem for huge swathes of the population, who live in crumbling buildings and have held heated protests, with some fathers and mothers even resorting to suicide, in desperation more than in protest.

Some people, meanwhile, such as Ghania Lassal in the newspaper El Watan, point out that while the state has allocated the funds necessary to build the world’s third biggest mosque in Algiers, the country has 22,000 patients suffering from tumours in its hospitals, and who, amid indescribable suffering, are edging closer to death as a result of a lack of appropriate treatment. Only a couple of weeks ago, in fact, an internet petition demanding that those suffering from tumours be treated abroad at the state’s expense gathered thousands of signatures, not all of them from patients and their families, highlighting a social problem that is keenly felt by Algerians.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Libya: Pro-Gaddafi Group Targets Hundreds for Assassination

Tripoli, 4 Nov. (AKI) — A Libyan group loyal to the late dictator Muammar Gaddafi says it has a list of 500 names it has targeted for assassination.

“We are ready to initiate a campaign to eliminate all the leaders of the National Transitional Council, killing them one by one,” the Libyan Liberation Front (LLF) said in a message posted on several Arab-language web sites, referring to the leadership of the rebels who toppled Gaddafi and now govern Libya.

The group says it was responsible for the recent killing al-Amin al-Manfur al-Manfa, a former confident of Gaddafi son Saif al-Islam changed sides to become an official working for the Transitional Council.

The LLF threatened to expand its targets beyond the initial names.

“This is only the first list that we intend to draw up. There are names of all the traitors that deserve the death penalty,” it said.

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

Israel and the Palestinians

Jerusalem: No Women in Posters

(ANSA) — JERUSALEM, NOVEMBER 2 — Women have almost completely disappeared from the streets of Jerusalem, not only in the densely populated Orthodox areas (where they could offend the sensibilities of the most God-fearing) but also in the “mixed” and even secular areas.

The victim of the phenomenon is the fashion model Sandy Bar, who has recently become the face of a chain of clothes shops in Israel. Her graceful figure appears in full in posters in Tel Aviv. In Jerusalem, though, so as not to offend the zealots, the model’s advertising agency has preferred to put up picture showing only her chest, with the merest of views of her low neckline.

Meanwhile, the country’s leading lender, Bank Hapoalim, has replaced pictures in Jerusalem of the young actress Alma Zak, who advertises the bank’s services in the rest of the country, with the picture of a gnome. This trend, which follows a ban on women walking through a street in the Orthodox district of Mea Shearim, which was imposed last month during a religious occasion, has angered a number of female political activists in the city. The Haaretz newspaper says that the women posed for photographs yesterday and now intend to display hundreds of posters of them on the balconies of individual homes. “Pictures of women will not disappear from the city’s streets,” they have said.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Middle East

Lebanon: Maronite Patriarch: Army to Absorb Hezbollah Militia

(ANSAmed) — BEIRUT, OCTOBER 31 — The armed wing of the Lebanese Shiite anti-Israeli movement, Hezbollah, should be incorporated in the country’s armed forces. This hope has been voiced by the Maronite Patriarch of the country, Bishara al Rai, as cited by Lebanese media today on his return from a long pastoral visit to the Unite States. “It will be a great day on which Hezbollah hands over its weapons to the Army,” al Rai is cited as saying by Beirut’s LBC TV. “The issue of Hezbollah’s arsenal is not only in the hands of the Lebanese, but also in those of the international community”, he continued.

Ever since Israel’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon after twenty-two years of occupation in 2000, there have been calls for the disbanding of the armed wing of the Shiite pro-Iranian movement from many sides within the country. Disbandment was included as a condition in the Taif accords, which brought a formal end to Lebanon’s long civil war in 1989-90. For its part, Hezbollah and its allies have always rejected the idea of disarming, attributing such requests to Israeli and US sources — as part of their attempts to weaken the “front of the anti-Zionist resistance,” which also comprises the Palestinian Hamas movement, the Syrian Assad regime and the Iranian Islamic Republic.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Turkey: PKK: Erdogan Defends Arrest of Constitutionalist

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, NOVEMBER 4 — Turkey’s Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan has defended arrests that have involved a publisher and a university lecturer on accusations of plotting to form an organisation with links to PKK terrorists. “What kind of organisation is KCK? Who is its leader? Who are its supporters?” Mr Erdogan wondered out loud in rhetorical fashion to journalists. He went on to claim: “Our friends have not looked into these matters deeply”. Addressing daily paper Yeni Safak among others, the Premier indicated that clarity would emerge once the charges behind the forty-four arrests made on Tuesday have been announced. The arrests followed swoops on dozens of people suspected of involvement in the KCK, a “platform” of organisations thought to be the “urban” or “political” arm of Kurdish separatist movement PKK.

Those arrested included publisher Ragip Zarakolu and Professor Busra Ersanli, a constitutionalist who is thought to have contributed to drawing up the new constitution for the main pro-Kurdish party, BDP. The arrests on charges of belonging to or supporting a terrorist group form part of a series of investigations that has led to the arrests and committal for trial of at least hundreds of people since 2009 (according to the BDP, the figure exceeds four thousand).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

South Asia

Indonesia: Business Bribes Among World’s Most Abundant

Berlin, 2 Nov. (AKI) — Transparency International has ranked Indonesia fourth on the list of countries whose businesses are most likely to pay bribes abroad, after Russia, China and Mexico.

Berlin-based Transparency released on Wednesday its 2011 Bribe Payers Index, which ranks 28 leading international and regional exporting countries by the likelihood of their firms to bribe abroad.

“Companies from Russia and China, who invested US$120 billion overseas in 2010, are seen as most likely to pay bribes abroad. Companies from the Netherlands and Switzerland are seen as least likely to bribe,” Transparency said in a press statement sent to The Jakarta Post.

The index was based on a survey involving 3,000 business executives from developed and developing countries.

The scores are based on the business executives’ responses when asked how often firms, with which they have a business relationship, from a given country engage in bribery. Score 0 means they always bribe, 10 means they never do.

The Netherlands, Switzerland, Belgium, Germany and Japan are the top five countries that collected the highest scores, scoring 8.8, 8.8, 8.7, 8.6 and 8.6, respectively.

The United Arab Emirates, Indonesia, Mexico, China and Russia, meanwhile, are the bottom five, scoring 7.3, 7.1, 7.0, 6.5 and 6.1, respectively.

The average score of the 28 countries surveyed is 7.8.

The survey also concludes that the public works and construction sector is the most prone to bribery, and agriculture and light manufacturing the least, from a total of 19 sectors surveyed.

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

Nepalese Parliament Reaches Agreement on Future of 19 Thousand Maoist Guerrillas

Over 6500 former paramilitary integrated into the army. The remaining 12,500 will be included in programs for absorption into society. The landmark decision comes five years after the Civil War. Radical fringes of the Maoist party protest.

Kathmandu (AsiaNews / Agencies) — The Nepalese parliament will integrate over 6500 Maoist guerrillas into the army five years after the Civil War (1996/2006). The agreement was signed yesterday by the leaders of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal, Nepali Congress, Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist) and United Democratic Madhesi Front. According to the agreement, for now ex-combatants will not be inserted into armed units. They will have an active role in humanitarian relief, security, industrial and forestry activities. The remaining 12,500 will instead follow a program of reintegration into society. The required funding amounts up to 11,500 for each fighter. However, the decision did not receive the approval of the more radical wings of the party, who called the agreement “a humiliation for the People’s Liberation Army.”

The civil war in Nepal has pitted the army against the Maoist guerrillas for 11 years, who fought with the aim of overthrowing the monarchy and establishing the People’s Republic of Nepal. The conflict ended with a comprehensive peace agreement between the army and the Maoists signed November 21, 2006 in front of UN and international community. The war claimed more than 12,800 dead and created about 100 thousand refugees. In recent years the Maoists have always refused to surrender their weapons, demanding the inclusion of former guerrillas into the national army. On September 2 paramilitary cadres accepted disarmament and handed over the keys of the stockpiles in seven camps scattered all over Nepal.

The reintegration of former fighters is a historic step for the country. To date, the Maoists are the majority party in parliament after winning the elections for the Constituent Assembly held in 2008. On 28 August they returned to the government in two years after the resignation of their historical leader Prachanda. The new Prime Minister Baburan Battharai is committed to completing the peace process and writing a new constitution. It should already have been ready in 2009, but its approval has been hampered by the opposition of the Maoists, who three times have forced the UN to postpone the deadline, in a form of blackmail for the failure to reintegrate fighters into society. The first draft of the new constitution will be delivered by the end of November.

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

Pakistani Christian Leader Calls for a Strong and Rooted Party for Minorities

Cornelius Mohsin, an entrepreneur with a passion for politics, has lived for years in the U.S.. Friend and collaborator of Shahbaz Bhatti, he may return to his country of origin and contribute to the emergence of a political movement that promotes the rights of minorities and better schooling. The project is welcomed by the Bishop of Islamabad, who ensures the support of Catholics.

Islamabad (AsiaNews) — The situation of religious minorities in Pakistan, the violence perpetrated in the name of the blasphemy law, exclusion of Christians from the political framework and the creation of a strong movement, able to impose itself on a national level to protect the rights of all citizens. These are among the many issues addressed by Cornelius Mohsin, Pakistani Christian leader, in an interview with AsiaNews. He has lived for some years in Philadelphia, the United States, but never lost touch with his country of origin. Mohsin emphasizes the importance of education for the development of Pakistan and does not exclude the possibility of a return home, to work in the political and institutional framework to protect the rights of non-Muslims. A project also welcomed by the Bishop of Islamabad-Rawalpindi Rufin Anthony, who sees him as a “new hope”, because he is a “political expert” able to lift “the hopes of minorities after the death of Shahbaz Bhatti.” “We would welcome Mohsin with warmth in Pakistan — adds the prelate -, the Catholic Church will support him in the battle in favour of minorities in Pakistan.”

Cornelius Mohsin, 65, was born in Rawalpindi and since the 1980s took part in the political life of the country. A close associate of Shahbaz Bhatti, he moved to the United States, where he set up a business. He studied at the University of Rawalpindi and has always pursued dual activities as a politician and businessman. He speaks of his intention to leave America and return to Pakistan to resume the political struggle and the battle to protect religious minorities.

Here, below, an AsiaNews interview with Cornelius Mohsin:

How would you rate the political reality of Pakistan and the role played by Christians and minorities?

The political process in Pakistan is still in its infancy, because for most of the last 64 years power remained has firmly in the hands of the establishment, and since it was replaced by a civilian government, it has never been able to move freely, to apply its own ideas. Even today the majority of politicians of the first band has been reared and nurtured by the army, to which they respond with the obligation to promote its political agenda. The growth of real leadership is always blocked by different elements which make reference to the establishment.

Unfortunately, as regards the reality of the Christians, they were never able to give life to a national leadership capable of defending the problems of religious minorities of Pakistan and as citizens.

The Christians did not have a say on the occasion of the great events that have marked the country’s recent history: the split in 1971 between West and East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), the war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, the fight against terrorism in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks in New York, economic, social decisions, the battle against corruption and so on. Secondly, there are attempts to amend the 295 law of the Pakistan Penal Code — the infamous anti-blasphemy provisions, ed — and the approval of Shariah in the National Assembly, which was rejected by the Senate. For a short period of time we had Shahbaz Bhatti in the national political landscape, but his voice was silenced by murder. And the current leader Paul Bhatti — Shahbaz’s brother — seems to have failed in his task of facing the challenges posed by the current reality. There is clearly a need for a strong and well established organization to protect minorities, one that has a leadership of worth.

Do you think that the Pakistani government is doing enough to control extremist religious sentiments?

So far I have not seen any serious effort by the executive. There are federal agencies responsible for overseeing the application of the law, which does not affect even the fundamentalist groups. And when some elements are caught, the court orders their release for lack of evidence. The television show and social media programs dedicate themselves to promoting hatred, intolerance for other religions, including Jews, Hindus and Christians. Still, the Parliament has failed in the task of promoting the application of the law so that these elements can be adequately controlled.

How do you view the current status of the religious minorities in Pakistan?

Pakistani Christians are still considered second class citizens of Pakistan. There are constitutional discriminations as well as social discriminations and with both of them non-Muslims are suffering in there. Every day you can easily read stories of forced conversions, dispossession of land, desecration of cemeteries, Hindus and Christians, kidnappings of young girls non-Muslim discrimination in school, at work and a general hatred and widespread. Not to mention the cases of blasphemy …. families are victims of provocations and threats and civil justice is not achieved easily. Ex-governor Sulman Taseer’s murderer has been treated as a hero. At the beginning, the birth of Pakistan was made possible thanks to the presence of a moderate Muslim leaders such as Ali Jinnah, with a promise to make Pakistan a country in which there is equality among religions, sects and faiths and that is still missing in Pakistan. We need to adopt a multi-prong, out of box strategy for improvement in the condition of religious minorities.

Do you think is it the lack of leadership is responsible for the current status of the religious minorities?

I absolutely agree with the statement. Today we see so called leadership divided in integration or segregation without giving attention to our particular set of problems which can only be addressed if we have nationwide minority political party which makes alliances with mainstream parties with a special focus on the minority agenda. Otherwise we will always be divided into small factions, and we are not able to capture the attention of the Muslim leadership at the national level. We need to develop a strong party, rooted in the territory and with a wide participation, with a leadership with vision, commitment and ability to achieve the objectives.

Do you think that amending the Blasphemy laws will change the condition of the religious minorities as demanded by many minority parties?

The blasphemy law is one part of the bigger problems which non-Muslims are facing now. Some religious entities, major political parties are convinced and some court decisions are proof that the misuse of blasphemy law is occurring in most cases. Therefore we must begin dialogue to make them understand where we are coming from. This should not be done on TV talk shows but in private. However there are other areas which are never touched by our leaders, we do not have true and fair censes of non-Muslims in Pakistan. International agencies speak of a given around 8-10%, which is probably underestimated and does not take into account the Ahmadis. Representation in assemblies is inadequate thus ineffective, representation in assembly should ensured by reserve seats for non-Muslims. After the death of Shahbaz Bhatti, there is no-one in the executive to represent the minorities, then how can they be part of the political process and how they can assume positions of power … And also from the social point of view it is difficult to obtain health care, education, work. You need a package of planned and sustainable socio-economic development, to help minorities have active role and become future players in Pakistan.

Which political party in your view can bring a change in Pakistan?

Any movement that is not part of the establishment and any party that wants to see a tolerant, moderate, democratic and prosperous Pakistan. I do not see a party capable of reaching 2 / 3 in parliament in the near future, but an alliance between some parties — including the PPP, MQM, ANP — could be considered less evil at the political level and enjoy our support.

Mr. Mohsin, how important is education for the future of Pakistan?

Education is very important and plays a vital role in the life of each country. In Pakistan, the schooling rate is very low when compared with the nations of the area. The government spends less than 2% of GDP on education and our schools do not meet the standards of the world average. However, there is the desire for better education among the people, which is essential to secure the best opportunities in rural areas. Pakistan must tagare the defense budget, which is about 8% of total GDP. And the entry of private channels, internet and social networking is slowly changing the country for the better. Education involves more awareness and more democracy, and an improvement of society. Perhaps it is precisely for this reason that the government does not want to invest in education …

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

Far East

Dalai Lama in Favour of Nuclear Energy for Peaceful Ends

(AGI) Tokyo — The Dalai Lama has said he is against atomic weapons, but in favour of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

The Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader acknowledged that the world needs more energy and that, without a viable alternative to fossil fuels and new green energy sources, the only option is to make use of the atom.

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

Sub-Saharan Africa

Taiwanese Fishermen Defeat Boarding Pirates

(AGI) Taipei — The crew retook the ship after Somali pirates boarded their fishing vessel offshore from West Africa. The 28 sailors took out the six heavily armed pirates. This is the first time that Somali pirates’ victims get the upper hand against their assailants.

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


UK Border Force Chief Suspended on Lax Control Grounds

(AGI) London — The Daily Mail reports the UK Border Force chief’s suspension following orders to relax border controls.

According to the British tabloid, earlier this summer, Brodie Clark ordered border controls to be expedited in order to avoid customs and passport control build-ups. The move is said to have led to some 124,000 asylum seekers — among whom suspected terrorists and other types of persona non grata — disappearing off the radar between July and October. Clark has been suspended along with two other high ranking border officials.

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

Culture Wars

Rome Hospital Accused of Turning Away Lesbian Blood Donor

After the third such case in recent years, where health officials cite “risks” of gays giving blood, Italian gay rights activists say it’s time to explicitly guarantee the right for people of all sexual orientations to donate blood.

Donating blood is one more civic act that Italian gay rights activists now say must be explicitly protected by law. The latest controversy comes after a woman in Rome says she was not allowed to give blood at one of the city’s largest hospitals because she is a lesbian.

The 39-year-old accounting firm employee, referred to as “Angela,” says she was told by a hospital official at Policlinico Umberto I that she is “considered at risk” because of her personal life. The woman says she has had a monogamous relationship with another woman for more than the 120 days required to exclude the risk of sexually transmitted diseases.

“There is no law that bans homosexuals from donating blood,” said Gabriella Girelli, director of the blood transfusion center at Umberto I. “In general, ‘at risk’ people cannot do it. It’s up to the examining doctor to determine the risk on the base of the information provided.”

Roberto Stocco, spokesman for the Rome chapter of the Arcigay association, says denying someone the possibility to donate blood is a violation of Italian law. He added that he was skeptical about Girelli’s claim that she cannot refer to the specifics of the case to protect patient privacy.

“It is an exercise in stupidity,” says Ivan Scalfarotto, an official for the opposition Democratic Party. “Since AIDS is transmitted via blood and sperm, lesbians are considered not at risk.”

This is not the first time this issue has come to the fore in Italy, with similar denials in the northern city of Pordenone in 2007, and Milan in 2010. Another opposition politician and activist, Paolo Concia, says she will take the issue to Parliament.

“We want to put it down by law that homosexuality is not an element that should exclude someone from donating blood,” she said. “Some institutes use ‘safety’ to hide their anti-gay prejudices, forgetting the real risk of 9 million straight Italian men who frequent prostitutes.”

           — Hat tip: PT[Return to headlines]