Saturday, January 11, 2003

News Feed 20111113

Financial Crisis
»Brussels Asks Spain for Credibility, Not Promises
»Cyprus Could Face EU Fines for Failing to Tackle Deficits
»Europe Against the People?
»Greece: House Prices Remain High Despite Shrinking Demand
»Jobs: EU Report: Italy and Spain Preferred by Romanians
»More Than 70 Billion Dutch Euros Outstanding in Italy
»Netherlands: PVV Investigates Return of Guilder, May Call for Referendum
»Portugal: First Parliament Approval of Austerity Bill
»Refuseniks and Problem Cases of the Non-Eurozone
»Silvio Berlusconi Knew That Italians Don’t Like Change or Obeying Rules
»Sticking to the Rules Will Not Rescue the Eurozone
»Thousands of Hong Kong-Owned Factories Could Shut Down Before the End of the Year
»Westerwelle Praises Stability Law & the Work of Berlusconi
Europe and the EU
»Italy: Memories of ‘B’: A Personal and National Obsession Named Silvio Berlusconi
»Mosque Pig Burial Outrages Swiss Muslims
»Norway Gunman Allowed to Appear in Person in Court
»Sarkozy Writes Letter to Netanyahu Following ‘Liar’ Gaffe
»Serbia: US, Iraq, Italy Main Arms Buyers
»Three Suspects Go on Trial in Oslo for Danish Paper Attack Plot
»UK: Drug-Dealing Dwarf Spared Jail So He Can Keep His Specially Adapted Home
»UK: Insanity. Beatings and a Brother’s Forbidden Passion. As a Lost Book by Charlotte Bronte is Auctioned, The Truth About Literature’s Oddest Family
»UK: The Heartwarming Result of Our Recent Cold Winters?
»Serbia: Site: Turkey Working on Sandzak Islamic Union
North Africa
»Rival Libyan Militias Clash Near Military Base
»Three Died in Fights With Local Militias in Libya Yesterday
»Tunisia: Outstanding Results for Sidi Dhaher Oil Well
Middle East
»Iran Missile Development Commander Killed in Explosion
»Iran Says Has Detected Duqu Computer Virus
»Turkey: Constitution: Secular Opposition Dumps Armed Forces
»Turkey: Fall in Child-Mother Phenomenon
»Russia Will Continue to Sell Weapons to Syria
South Asia
»Indonesia: Amnesty Calls on Gov to Stop Papua Rights Violations
»Kazakhstan: Churches and Mosques in Kazakh Prisons Closed. Solitary Confinement for Praying in Cells
»Kazakhstan: Law on Religious Freedom Sets Off Islamic Terrorism Alarm
»UK: Checks on Asylum Seekers Halted in Row Over Stab Vests
»UK: Police Told Me to Relax Passport Rules, Says Former Borders Chief

Financial Crisis

Brussels Asks Spain for Credibility, Not Promises

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, 11 NOV — The European Commission’s spokesperson for Economic and Monetary Affairs, Amadeu Altafaj, has today called on Spain to show its credibility in the markets by reaching its target for this year of 6% deficit, even though Brussels predicts that the level will exceed 6.6%.

“There is still time to correct this,” Altafaj told the media during an economic event being held in Barcelona. “Only austerity will drag us out of this hole,” he warned, Europa Press reported. Austerity policy together with “structural reforms to reactivate the economy and employment” are needed, he said, “because the risk of recession is now real again and we cannot face a decade of stagnation”. Spain “should be able to show over 2011 that it can maintain its commitments with or without elections, and close the year with a deficit of 6%, in order to maintain credibility and produce numbers and not only promises,” the spokesperson said. With regard to the prospect of Europe moving at two different speeds in order to emerge from crisis, an idea mooted in recent days, Altafaj said that “we will come out of crisis as Europeans, together. But this does not mean everything is guaranteed for everyone,” he added. “Solidarity is a two-way street, efforts must be reciprocated, there are benefits and duties”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Cyprus Could Face EU Fines for Failing to Tackle Deficits

(ANSAmed) — NICOSIA, NOVEMBER 11 — Cyprus could face EU fines for failing to meet its shared commitments on debt and deficit ceilings after being singled out by EU Commissioner Olli Rehn during an EU financial forecast presentation today. Rehn said Cyprus — along with Malta, Belgium, Hungary and Poland — has failed to tackle its excessive deficits and would be receiving stern letters from Brussels in the coming days. “I have already given an early warning to the ministers of these countries during the last Ecofin Council (held on Tuesday) and will be sending letters with our requests to these specific member states,” Rehn said as reported by Cyprus Mail. Last month Rehn highlighted Cyprus and Belgium: “As examples of those which could be at risk (of EU sanctions) if they do not make significant adjustments to their public finances within the next couple of months”. The government has said that its 2012 budget is geared towards reducing its fiscal deficit to 2.3% from around 6.0% in 2011. The comments were made during yesterday morning’s presentation on the EU’s latest growth forecasts, which predict the eurozone will grow by just 0.5% with unemployment stuck at 9.5% as world trade growth slows. Cyprus’ forecast annual economic growth is 0.3% cent.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Europe Against the People?

Efforts to save the euro cannot run against the will of the voters indefinitely

EUROPE has claimed the scalps of two leaders in almost as many days. First George Papandreou, the Greek prime minister, promised to resign, and then Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi did the same. Both leaders have been in trouble for some time, but the immediate cause of their downfall is plain: the ultimatum they received from euro-zone leaders at the G20 summit in Cannes to reform their economies—or else.

Mr Papandreou was instructed to approve the last European bail-out deal or risk losing his loans and being ejected from the euro. He scrapped his call for a referendum, and agreed on November 6th to make way for a government of national unity. With Italy’s bond yields reaching danger levels, Mr Berlusconi was told he lacked credibility and was made to “invite” the IMF to supervise his reforms. On November 8th, though, Mr Berlusconi lost his majority in parliament, and agreed to step down once the reforms are passed.

Two taboos were broken in Cannes. It was the first time euro-zone leaders accepted that a member could default and leave the euro. (And once the unthinkable is possible, why stop at Greece?) It was also the first time leaders intruded so deliberately into the internal politics of other countries.

True, the European Union has long influenced national politics. Think of how Conservative divisions over Europe contributed to the resignation of Britain’s Margaret Thatcher in 1990, or how new members have transformed themselves to join the EU, or how Italy reformed its public finances to qualify for the euro in 1999. In the past year the crisis has brought down the prime ministers of Ireland and Portugal after they needed to be bailed out.

Yet something has changed…

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

Greece: House Prices Remain High Despite Shrinking Demand

(ANSAmed) — ATHENS, NOVEMBER 11 — Bank of Greece figures revealed on Thursday that those in the home-building sector remain unwilling to adjust their prices to market conditions, as on average they only reduced the prices for newly built houses by 3% within the third quarter of the year. Since the start of the year, as daily Kathimerini reports, the average price drop across the country has come to 4.6%. However the number of transactions conducted through the banking system amounted to just 9,100, showing a spectacular decline of 42.1% in the July-September period compared to the same quarter last year, as demand is shrinking dramatically. In the year’s first nine months, transactions amounted to no more than 33,500. In 2010 there were 74,500 transactions, just down from 74,600 in 2009.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Jobs: EU Report: Italy and Spain Preferred by Romanians

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, NOVEMBER 11 — Italy and Spain have thus far been the main destinations in the EU for Bulgarian and Romanian workers, but they have not a significant impact on the internal work market. This is according to a report published today by the European Commission.

The study shows that at the end of 2010, there were twice as many Bulgarian and Romanian residents compared to 2006. In percentage terms, though, citizens of the two countries only make up 0.6% of the other 25 EU states. Their presence is most significant in Cyprus (4.1%), followed by Spain (2.2%) and Italy (1.8%).

The report also shows that the level of employment in Bulgaria and Romania is 63%, very close to the average of 65% across the other 25 countries in the European Union. The economic crisis means that the latest Bulgarians and Romanians to arrive have found it more difficult to find work: around 16% were unemployed in 2010, compared to 9% in 2007.

“What is clear is that citizens moving away from these two countries have played a minor role in the crisis of the job market, a direct consequence of the economic and financial crisis, but also of structural problems within the job market itself”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

More Than 70 Billion Dutch Euros Outstanding in Italy

AMSTERDAM, 11/11/11 — Dutch banks, insurers and pension funds have 71 billion euros outstanding in Italy, according to the latest figures.

The Italian government is the biggest debtor for the Dutch financial sector, at over 40 billion euros. Then comes the private sector (nearly 24 billion) and the Italian banks (6.7 billion), according to figures from the Dutch central bank (DNB) at end-June this year.

It is likely that the pension funds in particular have large holdings of Italian state bonds. “Many pension funds follow certain standards for fixed-interest securities,” explains ABN Amro economist Han de Jong. “And the Italian bond market is the biggest in Europe because they now simply have the biggest debt in Europe at 1,900 billion euros. So it is logical that pension funds would have large holdings of Italian bonds in their portfolios.”

The Netherlands’ biggest pension fund ABP, the fund for civil servants, says it had about 10 billion euros in Italian state bonds at end-2010. It does not wish to give more recent figures.

Banking and insurance group ING had 3.4 billion euros in Italian debt paper at the end of the third quarter. Rabobank had about 2 billion euros outstanding in Italy at end-June, and ABN Amro, 1.3 billion.

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

Netherlands: PVV Investigates Return of Guilder, May Call for Referendum

The anti-Islam PVV is paying a ‘renowned international bureau’ to investigate whether bringing back the guilder would benefit the Dutch economy.

If the report is positive, the party will press for a referendum on leaving the euro, party leader Geert Wilders says in Friday’s Telegraaf.

‘The cabinet is frightening us by telling us the lights will go out if we leave the euro. Of course it will cost money, but I want to know if going back to the guilder will deliver more in the long term,’ Wilders told the paper.

Prime minister Mark Rutte told reporters after the weekly cabinet meeting the PVV’s action will probably show that a return to the guilder would be bad for Europe and help persuade Wilders to toe the cabinet line.

Finance minister Jan Kees de Jager also said a return to the guilder ‘is not an option’. The euro has delivered many benefits, such as low inflation and modest unemployment, the minister said.


Wilders denies the move is aimed at putting pressure on the coalition, which may be forced to make more spending cuts next year because of the eurozone debt crisis.

The PVV has agreed to support the minority cabinet on the economy in return for tougher immigration rules.

According to a Maurice de Hond poll earlier this week, 58% of the population support a return to the guilder. The Netherlands adopted the euro in 2001.

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

Portugal: First Parliament Approval of Austerity Bill

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, NOVEMBER 11 — The unforgiving budget for 2012, which includes drastic cuts on public spending approved by the government of Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho, today received its first approval from the Portuguese Parliament, thanks to the votes of the conservative majority and the abstentions of the opposition Socialist party. Yesterday and today, the legislative assembly studied carried out its first general study of the austerity measures demanded by the IMF and the European Union, in exchange for the 78 billion euros afforded to the country. The government will significantly reduce the influence of the public sector, further cutting the wages of employees, which have already been reduced by 10%, will freeze end-of-year and holiday bonuses, and will cut pensions that are already low and will cut investments in infrastructure and state spending.

Minority parties on the Portuguese left voted en masse against the measures. The Social Democrat party (PSD) led by the conservative Passos Coelho voted in favour of the bill, as did its government coalition partners, the Partido Popular Christian Democrats (CDS-PP). The bill will now need to pass two further votes and be approved by an absolute majority.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Refuseniks and Problem Cases of the Non-Eurozone

Respekt, Prague

As the eurozone crisis deepens, the countries outside of it are trying to come up with ways not to lose control of their destinies inside the EU.

Tomáš Sacher

Is a referendum on the euro, call for by Czech Prime Minister Petr Necas, a “triumph of reason” or rather a “stab in the back” of the saviour of the euro, German Chancellor Merkel? The Czech Republic will have to work out its own role and position in crisis-torn Europe. Elsewhere across the continent, this all-important agenda is shaping up in different ways.

The nine other countries outside the eurozone can be divided, with some simplification, into four groups. Number one, the open refusniks: Britain, Denmark, and Sweden. Two, those who want to but cannot quite yet meet the conditions for adopting the euro: Lithuania, Latvia, and Bulgaria. Three: Poland, a strongly pro-European fan of the Union. And lastly, “problem cases” who due to shaky national budgets and economies are not even in a position to debate joining the euro: Romania and Hungary.

The Czech Republic is still in the second group, but is swinging toward group number one. London and Copenhagen both previously negotiated an exception — that is, to opt out of the obligation to adopt the euro. Although Sweden has no exemption, it’s ranked among euro opponents because of a referendum on the single currency held in 2003 that was rejected by a narrow majority.

An expected explosion of nationalist and anti-EU sentiment

To label Sweden today as eurosceptic, however, is not entirely straightforward. According to Mark Rhinard, Senior Research Fellow at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs, worries about growing alienation from the European core may have prompted the recent statement by the Prime Minister that Sweden could contribute to the rescue package for Greece, even though, as a non-eurozone member, it is not obliged to do so.

It’s much the same fear of losing “influence over its own future” that is now being voiced in Denmark — a country that, along with Britain, has come to be labelled the most sceptical of all the twenty-seven member states. Local experts, on the other hand, are increasingly observing that Denmark has long been an indirect member of the eurozone anyway, since for years the Danish krone has been in the especially close relationship with the euro, adhering to rules eurozone candidates must follow in the two years preceding a changeover to the euro.. Although formally independent, the Danish krone is now firmly tied to the movements of the euro.

Interviews with political scientists and economists in countries outside the eurozone reveal that calls for referendums are exceptions rather than the rule. The only two countries where such calls have been heard recently are Latvia and Poland. In Poland one was called for by the head of the opposition Law and Justice party, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who in the last elections, however, was defeated by pro-EU Prime Minister Donald Tusk.

In Latvia, it should be borne in mind that only two years ago the country found itself in a situation similar to that facing Greece today. A host of economic problems forced the small Baltic state to accept drastic measures imposed by the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund: salaries and state benefits were cut across the board by tens of percent, and the government introduced several new taxes and raised existing ones. Many commentators expected an explosion of nationalist and anti-EU sentiment. None of this has happened — at least, not yet…

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

Silvio Berlusconi Knew That Italians Don’t Like Change or Obeying Rules

Corruption, vested interests, bunga-bunga girls … and it became a country for old men

Guido Rossi, Italy’s leading corporate troubleshooter, once remarked that his country’s worst maladies were “the rejection of rules and an aversion to change”. Few of his compatriots would deny these were national characteristics, though many would, I suspect, see them in a more positive light. They would regard the first as thinking for themselves and the second as respect for tradition. At all events, the mess Italy got itself and the euro into last week can, to a large extent, be traced to those traits.

What has increasingly terrified investors is Italy’s giant public debt — or rather, a fear that the country’s growth potential is so weak that it will be unable to meet the interest payments. The Italian treasury is in the same, vulnerable position as an individual with a vast overdraft, but whose salary never rises: the moment interest rates go up, as they have in the eurozone, he or she is in trouble.

The debt began to grow in the heady days following the upheavals of 1968, when Italy’s Christian Democrat-dominated governments bent with the leftwing winds blowing through Europe and began constructing a welfare state. The treasury’s spending rose and continued to do so through the economically troubled 1970s as extra cash had to be found to meet the losses of nationalised industries and a rising bill for redundancy pay.

Knowing the difficulty of getting Italians to obey rules, particularly the one about having to pay tax, successive governments turned a blind eye to evasion. There were political and economic reasons for doing so, too. The people who could evade most easily were the shopkeepers, bar owners and other small businesspeople who formed that “middle Italy” which voted Christian Democrat. They also included the stewards of a vast “black economy”, accounting for 15-20% of the total, which politicians were loth to interfere with because it was Italy’s most dynamic and profitable sector (unsurprisingly, since its labour costs were so low).

In the prosperous 1980s, the debt could have been paid off. But systemic corruption was kicking in. The price of everything sold to the public sector was increased to take account of the tangenti raked off by the parties. A large part of today’s debt consists of the difference between fair prices and what the authorities actually paid suppliers.

But since the authorities were borrowing what they needed by issuing treasury bills, known as BoTs, at succulently high rates of interest, and these were being snapped up, mostly by Italians, no one complained. Least of all the “BoT people”, the middle-class investors whose steady investment returns help explain why Italy today is a poor state of rich individuals.

The advent of the euro — and of low, German-style interest rates — cut the return on BoTs. But it also eased the unsustainably high cost of servicing the debt. But that meant Italians had to move gradually towards German levels of competitiveness. The reverse has happened. The gap has increased.

Which is where aversion to change comes in. It is not just the outgoing prime minister who is 75. The young are blocked in almost every walk of life, even rock music — the superstars are Vasco Rossi, 59, Luciano Ligabue, 51, and Zucchero, 56. The top TV current affairs presenter is 77. Berlusconi’s best-known news anchor, facing trial for supplying him with “bunga-bunga” girls, is 80.

Italians leaving school or university face a choice between surviving on an endless succession of short-term contracts or going abroad to work, as hundreds of thousands have done. If they stay, they find the efforts of the unions are devoted overwhelmingly towards safeguarding the privileges of the upper tier, disproportionately composed of older, male workers in dying industries or the public sector.

But the unions are merely part of a vast web of vested interest groups. They include closed professions — from taxi drivers to public notaries — firms controlled by shareholder pacts and invisible cartels such as the one discovered some years ago in which city administrations secretly collaborated to suppress competition for local transport franchises.

Italians’ determination to prevent change can be awesome. Both the government advisers behind employment law reforms were assassinated: Massimo D’Antona in 1999 and Marco Biagi in 2002.

With official connivance, Italy’s universities have resisted for more than 20 years the efforts of their lettori — foreign language teachers — to obtain the same conditions as Italian lecturers, defying rulings up to and including the European Court of Justice. In August, the lawyers and notaries in parliament were quite prepared to sink the austerity package being rushed through the legislature to stem the last run on Italy’s bonds rather than agree to reform of their closed shops…

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

Sticking to the Rules Will Not Rescue the Eurozone

Most events have an official — or at any rate widely accepted — narrative. In much of Europe, the narrative of the eurozone crisis goes something like this: this is not a crisis of the eurozone, which has been a success. The European Central Bank (ECB) has delivered price stability, and the euro has become an established and stable international currency. If some member-states currently face difficulties, it is because they lost ‘competitiveness’ and violated the fiscal rules. It follows that the way to restore confidence in the eurozone is for the sinners to consolidate their public finances and to reform their economies. The road to redemption passes through the rediscovery of discipline, thrift and hard work.

The narrative has an unmistakable North European imprint: “We, the creditor countries, are free of sin. Other countries would be fine if only they behaved like us. Our behaviour must therefore be universalised. The eurozone as currently designed is a workable arrangement, provided all its member-states learn to observe the rules of the club (as North Europeans do). Countries that break the rules must be punished, while serial offenders may have to be shown the exit door.” This narrative passes for received wisdom in Finland, Germany and the Netherlands. But it is self-righteous, complacent and wrong-headed. And its underlying message is probably incompatible with the survival of the eurozone.

The Northerners are obviously right that excesses have occurred in the eurozone’s periphery and that South European countries need to reform. But the North European narrative is illogical because it is impossible for every country to ‘live within its means’ (creditor countries can only exist if there are debtors). It is wrong-headed because compliance with the fiscal rules had little bearing on whether countries subsequently found themselves shut out of the bond markets. And it is self-serving because it skates over sin in the core. It is a little unedifying to watch Germany call for ever greater levels of pain in Southern Europe while it does so little to tackle its weakly-capitalised banking system.

The obsession with discipline and rules continues to spawn perverse attitudes and policies. Greece is being berated for missing its fiscal targets — even though a sharper than projected contraction in GDP is to blame. All eurozone countries are trying to prove their virtue by slashing public spending at the same time — the collective outcome will be a brutally contractionary policy for the region as a whole. (This is not policy co-ordination, but the opposite.) As for the ECB, it has come in for fierce criticism in Germany for buying Spanish and Italian government bonds — a move that was necessary to avert the collapse of the eurozone, but which prompted the resignation of the ECB’s chief economist, Jürgen Stark.

Countries in the eurozone’s core increasingly give the impression that rules should be obeyed at almost any price. Why? The answer is that rules are a substitute for fiscal union. Rules exist because the appetite for fiscal union does not. The fussing over rules and discipline looks like displacement activity. The crux of the matter is that the eurozone as currently constituted is institutionally incomplete — and governments have no democratic mandate to rectify the design flaw.

This lack of political will is disastrous given that the euro — a shared currency outside a fiscal union — has turned out to be less stable than even longstanding sceptics had imagined. The reason is that a currency shared by fiscally independent member-states can generate vicious negative feed-back loops between sovereigns and banks. The legacy of the global financial crisis in 2008 was a sovereign debt crisis in parts of the eurozone, and a banking crisis across the region as a whole. The two crises have fed on each other ever since, with weak sovereigns undermining confidence in banks and vice versa. The greatest threat to the eurozone is that this vicious feedback loop spins out of control. The polarisation of government bond yields within the eurozone since early July, allied to the growing funding difficulties of banks across the region, suggest that this point is perilously close to hand.

What might help to arrest the negative feed-back loop? The short answer is: mutualisation. Since yields on peripheral bonds are unsustainably high and yields on core bonds are abnormally low (because of high levels of risk aversion), pooling debt would reduce the polarisation of borrowing costs. Likewise, the adoption of a pan-European deposit protection scheme would stabilise banks domiciled in countries with weakened sovereigns, because it would reduce their vulnerability to runs on deposits. But describing what may be necessary to stabilise the euro is to emphasise how far European leaders are from doing so: mutualisation is anathema to many governments and voters in creditor countries.

Rules, however strictly or inflexibly applied, will not restore faith in the eurozone. Fiscal consolidation in Greece, labour reforms in Spain, and pension reforms in Italy are all necessary. However, they will not turn the eurozone into a more stable arrangement, as creditor countries appear to have convinced themselves. That cannot happen without a further institutional step forward, the nature of which exceeds current political appetites. In the absence of such a step, the eurozone is condemned to be a currency area marked (in the most benign scenario) by periodic confidence crises and sovereign defaults, but which is more likely to break up in an uncontrolled and potentially catastrophic manner.

Since the 1950s, monetary stability and European integration have been two leading (and largely complementary) German policy priorities. This is no longer the case. German appetite for European integration is waning. Voters do not want to be part of a ‘transfer union’, and some influential policy-makers now seem to believe that European integration poses a threat to monetary stability. From Southern Europe, the view looks different: it is of a Germany obsessed with the lessons of the 1920s condemning them to the disastrous policies of the 1930s.

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

Thousands of Hong Kong-Owned Factories Could Shut Down Before the End of the Year

Official figures show that a third of the 50,000 factories in mainland China owned by Hong Kong interests could close by Christmas. Exports are down whilst raw material costs and wages are up. Now firms want a freeze on higher wages already battered by high inflation.

Hong Kong (AsiaNews/Agencies) — Up to a third of Hong Kong’s 50,000 or so mainland factories could shut by Christmas as exporters are hit by cost rises and lower global demand for Chinese goods. Millions of migrant workers could be out of a job a few weeks from now.

The warning comes from the Federation of Hong Kong Industries, which represents some 3,000 firms with factories in China whose activity has been sharply curbed by falling demand in the United States and the eurozone. Traditionally Christmas orders are placed well in advance of the end of the year. Now, orders in the second half of this year and the first half of next year are expected to fall anywhere between 5 and30 per cent.

For Stanley Lau, deputy chairman of Hong Kong’s leading industrial promotion body, matters are made worse by rising raw material costs and factory worker wages, which have already risen by up to 20 per cent this year over last.

One additional risk on the near horizon is the spectre of yet another round of expected minimum wage hikes from between 18-20 per cent on 1 January, Lau warned.

“Many [factory owners] can’t see when the market will have a rebound so they are trying to cut their losses by closing, before all their money is gone,” Lau explained.

If this happens, millions of migrant workers would lose their job like in 2008-2009 at the height of the financial crisis, when thousands of plants shut down in the Pearl River Delta, China’s industrial heartland.

Lau said his federation and a number of Hong Kong firms are now lobbying local Chinese governments to freeze wage hike plans to see market trends.

However, experts note that inflation has already reduced workers’ purchasing power. Some basic food items like pork have seen double digit increases.

At the same time, the debt crisis of some European Union member states is not likely to revive the fortunes of Chinese exports. The EU is China’s main tradition partner.

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

Westerwelle Praises Stability Law & the Work of Berlusconi

(AGI) Berlin — Guido Westerwelle praised Italy’s Stability Law and the work of Berlusconi’s government. “It is an important contribution to the stability of Europe, he told the conference of his German liberal party (FDP). “Italy has shown that we are all working together to stabilise the Union,” the German foreign minister added.

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

Europe and the EU

Italy: Memories of ‘B’: A Personal and National Obsession Named Silvio Berlusconi

As Berlusconi steps down as prime minister after 17 years at the center of Italian political life, one columnist who first covered “B” as a sports reporter long before the flamboyant businessman entered politics, tries to make sense of someone as frightening as he was fun.

Massimo Gramellini

Only now that he seems to finally be fading…ever so slowly…into the picture album of Italian history, did I found myself shuddering at the realization that I’ve spent half of my life following B. The same can be said about many of you, I’m sure.

In the beginning I was a young sports reporter, and he was a successful businessman, best known as the new owner of the AC Milan soccer club.

My first clear memory dates back to 1988. We were in an imposing hall inside the Vatican palaces waiting for Pope John Paul II, who would be arriving to meet the staff and players of AC Milan, recent winners of the Italian league championship.

A bishop approached B. “As we agreed, His Holiness will speak after you,” the prelate said.

B had no idea what he was talking about, but smiled politely nonetheless. He then turned to his aides and gave them a quick and memorable tongue-lashing for not having informed him of the protocol. He had just ten minutes to put together a speech. I silently followed him walking along the corridors, curious to see how an important man like this would react in an emergency. I watched him pacing nevously, contorting his mouth and moving his hands. He was getting ready.

When the moment arrived to finally meet the Polish pontiff, B flashed his his movie-star smile and began his speech. It would become part of his legend. “Holy Father, at the end of the day, you are like my Milan,” he said, pausing, as some of the cardinals present fidgeted nervously. “Like us, you often must play away matches, to bring to the world a winning ideal: the ideal of God.”

B had brought with him an enormous entourage, beyond the team: business associates, journalists, hangers-on: the Gruppo, he called it. And he presented each person, one-by-one, to John Paul. “This is Ruud Gullit, Your Holiness. Twelve goals this year, three in the Champions Cup.”

He prompted a reaction from the pope when he introduced the editor of one of his magazines, boasting how it outsold the better-known “Panorama” weekly. “Panorama! I always read Panorama!” John Paul exclaimed. That may have been when B decided to buy Mondadori, which published Panorama…

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

Mosque Pig Burial Outrages Swiss Muslims

The new attack was regarded as a result of the anti-minarets vote that has tarnished the image of peaceful Muslims in the European country.BERN — Sending shockwaves across the peaceful Swiss Muslim community, body parts of a dead pig were buried on the site of a future mosque, in a new clear sign of growing anti-Muslim sentiments in the European country.

“Since the ban on minarets there’s been an increase in Islamophobia and Islamophobic events, so it was not really surprising” Abdel Azziz Qaasim Illi, spokesman for Switzerland’s Central Islamic Council, told CNN on Saturday, November 12.

The unsigned flier, written in German, says “This operation was done (conducted) to protest against the growing expansion of Islam in Switzerland,” and says that a similar desecration in Spain earlier halted another mosque construction project.

The note also said that 120 liters of blood from the animals were also spilled in the site to desecrate the ground to halt the construction of the mosque.

Islam considers pigs unclean because they are omnivorous, not discerning between meat or vegetation in their natural dietary habits unlike cows and sheep for instance, which eat only plants.

Muslims do not eat pork and consider pigs and their meat filthy and unhealthy to eat.

Illi said the deed “crossed a line” that had already been pushed against Muslims since a popular referendum in 2009 banned the construction of new mosque minarets.

           — Hat tip: Steen[Return to headlines]

Norway Gunman Allowed to Appear in Person in Court

The gunman behind the July 22 massacres in Norway will be allowed to appear in court in person instead of via video link for a custody extension hearing next week, the Supreme Court ruled Friday.

“He will be allowed to appear,” Supreme Court spokesman Svein Tore Andersen said.

Anders Behring Breivik, a 32-year-old right-wing extremist being held at the high-security Ila prison near Oslo, is scheduled to appear before a judge at the Oslo district court on Monday for a hearing on the extension of his custody for 12 more weeks.

The lower court recently ruled the hearing would be open to the public but then granted a police request that Behring Breivik, who has confessed to the two attacks that killed 77 people, would appear only via video link.

His appeal against that ruling was first rejected by the appeals court, but on Friday Norway’s highest court found in his favour.

Andersen refused to comment on the grounds cited for the reversal.

According to the NTB news agency however, video links are not permitted in hearings about extended isolation, and although Behring Breivik officially was released from solitary confinement a month ago, the Supreme Court said in practice he was still isolated and therefore must be permitted a physical court appearance.

It remained unclear what additional security measures would need to be taken for the court hearing or how many people could be expected to attend, Oslo district court spokeswoman Irene Ramm told the VG daily’s online edition.

“We don’t know how many might come, but we have a capacity for up to about 400,” she said.

Behring Breivik has admitted setting off a car bomb outside Norway’s government offices in Oslo, killing eight people, before going on a shooting rampage on the nearby island of Utoeya.

[Return to headlines]

Sarkozy Writes Letter to Netanyahu Following ‘Liar’ Gaffe

(AGI) Jerusalem — After the ‘liar’ gaffe, Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot has France’s Sarkozy sending make-up letter to Netanyahu. The French president is alleged to have called the Israeli premier “a liar” during private talks with US counterpart Barack Obama, and disclosure to that effect, according to Yediot Aharonot, has led to Nicolas Sarkozy writing a “warm” letter of apology to the Israeli premier.

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

Serbia: US, Iraq, Italy Main Arms Buyers

(ANSAmed) — BELGRADE, NOVEMBER 11 — Serbia exported 467 million dollars of weapons in 2009, chiefly to the United States, Iraq, Italy and Belgium, which together account for 85% of total export.

The Serbian Finance Minister said in Belgrade that weapons sold to the US, for a total of more than 245 million dollars, were then sent on to Mexico, Canada, Afghanistan and Ecuador.

Iran purchased 62 million dollars worth of Serbian weapons, ahead of Italy with 22 million, Belgium with 20 million. Kenya and Bulgaria spent 15 million each, Cyprus 9 million, Germany and Egypt 6 million each and the Caribbean state St. Kitts & Nevis 5.7 million dollars. In 2009, Serbia exported weapons and military equipment to 60 countries, 16 of which are members of the EU, while it imported chiefly from Russia, Bosnia Herzegovina, France and Germany.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Three Suspects Go on Trial in Oslo for Danish Paper Attack Plot

According to prosecution, trio is suspected of planning, preparing attack against newspaper Jyllands-Posten, caricaturist Kurt Westergaard.

Suspects risk up to 20 years in prison

Three men believed to have ties to Al-Qaeda and suspected of plotting an attack on the Danish newspaper that printed controversial Islam Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) cartoons will go on trial in Norway Tuesday.

Mikael Davud, a Norwegian of Uighur origin, Shawan Sadek Saeed Bujak, an Iraqi Kurd residing in Norway, and David Jakobsen, an Uzbek also living in Norway, have been charged with “conspiracy to commit a terrorist attack in northern Europe”.

The three, who were arrested in July 2010, have also been charged with possession of materials used to make explosives. Police found hydrogen peroxide and acetone stored in a cellar belonging to one of them.

According to the prosecution, the trio is suspected of planning and preparing an attack against the newspaper Jyllands-Posten and/or the caricaturist Kurt Westergaard.

Westergaard, 76, drew the most controversial of the 12 cartoons, featuring the Prophet of Islam Mohammed (PBUH) with a lit fuse in his turban, which were published in 2005 and later touched off a wave of sometimes violent protests around the Muslim world.

“They risk up to 20 years in prison,” prosecutor Geir Evanger said.

“Our closing arguments will illustrate the gravity of the charges,” he said.

Norway’s intelligence agency PST also suspects the trio of having ties to the Al-Qaeda network.

Davud, 40, presented as the mastermind, was trained in explosives handling at an Al-Qaeda camp in Pakistan, according to PST.

Davud and Bujak, 38, have been held in custody since their arrest and have both admitted they were planning an attack though their versions have differed on the target.

Davud, a member of the Chinese Uighur minority, has said the target was the Chinese embassy in Oslo while Bujak said it was the Jyllands-Posten newspaper.

The third man, David Jakobsen, who contacted police voluntarily, has denied any responsibility and is currently a free man.

The trial opens less than two weeks after the offices of French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo were firebombed in Paris as it published an edition featuring the Prophet of Islam Mohammed (PBUH) as “guest editor” on the cover.

The identity and motive of the firebombers have not been proven but glances have been cast at extremist Muslims.

Since 2005, Jyllands-Posten and Westergaard have been the target of numerous threats from Islamist circles.

At the end of December 2010, Danish intelligence said they had foiled an Islamist plot against the newspaper and five people were arrested in Denmark and Sweden.

Westergaard now lives with round-the-clock security.

He was the victim of a murder attempt in January 2010 when an axe-wielding man burst into his home, and he has also received several death threats.

The man who tried to kill him, Mohamed Geele of Somalia, has been sentenced to 10 years in prison by a Danish court.

In September, Westergaard was forced to cut short a trip to Oslo after Norwegian intelligence caught wind of a possible attack against him.

           — Hat tip: Steen[Return to headlines]

UK: Drug-Dealing Dwarf Spared Jail So He Can Keep His Specially Adapted Home

A dwarf has been avoided jail for dealing crack cocaine after a court was told he would lose his specially adapted home if he was given a prison term.

           — Hat tip: Kitman[Return to headlines]

UK: Insanity. Beatings and a Brother’s Forbidden Passion. As a Lost Book by Charlotte Bronte is Auctioned, The Truth About Literature’s Oddest Family

The document is tiny. Its 19 pages are the size of your credit card. Its author was 14 years old. And it is expected to reach in the region of £300,000 when it goes under the hammer at Sotheby’s auction house on December 15.

For this is a lost story by none other than Charlotte Bronte, author of Jane Eyre, and a member of the famous family who lived in the parsonage in Haworth, West Yorkshire.


It is thanks to [Charlotte’s widower] Mr Nicholls that the Bronte children’s little books, drawings, clothes and other memorabilia have been preserved.

The extraordinary gifts of the Brontes spring from the hidden well of genius. But genius has to be planted in a nourishing soil.

           — Hat tip: Egghead[Return to headlines]

UK: The Heartwarming Result of Our Recent Cold Winters?

When the weather gets cold and the nights draw in, there isn’t always a great deal to do beyond getting an early night.

This may be the factor behind claims that recent colder winters have contributed to a boom in the birthrate.

‘Some believe that the fertility rate was highest in September, October and November in 2010 because people were staying in more due to the bad weather the previous winter,’ a spokesman for the Office for National Statistics said.

Their figures show a winter baby boom has pushed up birth rates to levels not seen for nearly 40 years…

Babies born during the autumn of last year were conceived during one of the coldest winters for years and January 2009 was the coldest since 1997.

Birth rates are now higher than at any point since the early 1970s and, as a result, the average woman can now expect to have at least two children.

Reasons for the baby boom so far advanced by state statisticians include childbearing by large numbers of women in their 30s and 40s having children late, and immigration, which has brought three million into the country since 1997.

           — Hat tip: Kitman[Return to headlines]


Serbia: Site: Turkey Working on Sandzak Islamic Union

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, NOVEMBER 11 — The Turkish Foreign Ministry is said to be working secretly with its Serbian counterpart to create a union of Muslims in the Sandzak area, cooling dangerous separatist pressure in the poor and turbulent Balkan region. The claim has been made by the English-language version of the website of the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet, which quoted diplomatic sources.

Speaking of “silent and meticulous diplomacy”, the website adds that work is ongoing to supply “particular links” with Bosnia Herzegovina and Turkey for Muslims, who are a majority in the southern Serbian region. “The aim of our talks with the Serbian side is to create an Islamic Union in this country, to unite Muslims”, the diplomat told Hurriyet Daily News.

Turkey’s Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu is to hold talks with his Serbian counterpart, Vuk Jeremic, in Belgrade tomorrow, for the third time in three weeks. Problems caused by the Kosovo situation could arise in the Sandzak area, compromising Serbia’s internal stability and the already fragile links with neighbouring Bosnia, an issue, according to the Turkish site, that has received little attention from the international community.

Sandzak (or Raska) is spread over Serbia and Montenegro. More than 60% of people living there are Bosnian Muslims and the area is home to small groups of fundamentalists inspired by the Wahhabi movement, who are making strident demands for special autonomy or even subordination to Bosnia, Hurriyet points out.

The process aimed at creating this Islamic Union “could bring stability and prosperity to this region and to Serbia,” a diplomatic source told the Turkish website, adding that Davutoglu is playing a key role thanks to his close ties with the influential Grand Mufti of Bosnia, Mustafa Ceric. The union could put an end to divisions between Muslim groups, bringing about a “sustainable” organisation. An agreement would see the state, more than just not interfering with professions of Islamic faith, actively building mosques and improving living conditions in the region considered the least developed in the country.

The deal would also see the creation of a “special link” with Bosnia and Turkey, based on historical, religious and social relations between the two countries. Indeed, Sandzak takes its name from an administrative division of the Ottoman empire that remained in force until 1912.

Turkish diplomats believe that it is a good time to carry out the operation, considering Serbia’s progress in edging closer to the European Union. Despite the critical situation in Kosovo, Belgrade is expecting to be granted the status of candidate country for EU accession at next month’s European summit.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

North Africa

Rival Libyan Militias Clash Near Military Base

TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) — Rival militias clashed on the outskirts of Tripoli for a fourth day Sunday, the most sustained violence since the capture and killing of Moammar Gadhafi last month.

The fighting, which has left at least four people dead since late last week, raised new concerns about the ability of Libya’s transitional government to disarm thousands of fighters and restore order after a bloody eight-month civil war.

Libya’s interim leader, Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, said his National Transitional Council brought together elders from the rival areas—the coastal city of Zawiya and the nearby town of Warshefana—over the weekend and that the dispute has been resolved. “I want to assure the Libyan people that everything is under control,” he said Sunday.

           — Hat tip: KGS[Return to headlines]

Three Died in Fights With Local Militias in Libya Yesterday

(AGI) Al-Mayah — At least three people died in fights a few kilometres from Tripoli yesterday. According to insurrectional sources, the former rebels of the coastal town al-Zawiyah, loyal to the National Transition Committee, are clashing with the militias of a local tribal group controlling the area near al-Mayah, halfway between Zawiyah and the capital city.

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

Tunisia: Outstanding Results for Sidi Dhaher Oil Well

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, NOVEMBER 11 — The Sidi Dhaher well contains 51 million barrels of oil, reports Gulfsands Petroleum.

Last month, Gulfsands had announced that the Sidi Dhaher-1 exploration well would have an estimated capacity of 44 million barrels. The figure has now been changed after seismic and geological data were analysed. The Sidi Dhaher-1 well is located within the Chorbane exploration permit in central Tunisia.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Middle East

Iran Missile Development Commander Killed in Explosion

An explosion at a Revolutionary Guard base in Iran killed a senior commander in charge of the country’s missile development programme, the authorities have said, prompting speculation Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service was involved.

Brigadier General Hassan Moghaddam was said to be “responsible for industrial research aimed at ensuring self-sufficiency of the Revolutionary Guards’ armaments”, a coded way of confirming reports that he was responsible for its missile inventory.

The authorities claimed the explosion was caused by an accident which happened as ammunition was being moved, but the high-profile status of its main victim will add to speculation that it was an act of sabotage aimed at the country’s nuclear weapons programme.

One US-based commentator known to have good sources in Israel’s military community said he had been told it was carried out by Mossad, co-operating with an exile group, the People’s Mojaheddin of Iran (MEK).

He drew comparisons with an explosion at a base housing Shahab-3 long-range missiles just over a year ago, which killed 18 people and which was also put down by the authorities to a fire in an ammunition depot.

Neither Mossad nor Israel ever claims responsibility for such acts. But Israeli media began speculating immediately as to the nature of the blast, which sent shock-waves from the base at as far away as Tehran 25 miles away to the east. Seventeen people were killed, according to the Revolutionary Guard spokesman, Gen. Ramazan Sharif…

           — Hat tip: Vlad Tepes[Return to headlines]

Iran Says Has Detected Duqu Computer Virus

TEHRAN (Reuters) — Iran said on Sunday it had detected the Duqu computer virus that experts say is based on Stuxnet, the so-called “cyber-weapon” discovered last year and believed to be aimed at sabotaging the Islamic Republic’s nuclear sites.

The head of Iran’s civil defense organization told the official IRNA news agency that computers at all main sites at risk were being checked and that Iran had developed software to combat the virus.

“We are in the initial phase of fighting the Duqu virus,” Gholamreza Jalali, was quoted as saying. “The final report which says which organizations the virus has spread to and what its impacts are has not been completed yet.

“All the organizations and centers that could be susceptible to being contaminated are being controlled,” he said.

News of Duqu surfaced in October when security software maker Symantec Corp said it had found a mysterious virus that contained code similar to Stuxnet.

While Stuxnet was aimed at crippling industrial control systems and may have destroyed some of the centrifuges Iran uses to enrich uranium, experts say Duqu appeared designed to gather data to make it easier to launch future cyber attacks.

Symantec said: “Duqu is essentially the precursor to a future Stuxnet-like attack.” Instead of being designed to sabotage an industrial control system, the new virus is designed to gain remote access capabilities, it said in a report issued last month.

Iran said in April it had been targeted by a second computer virus which it identified as “Stars.” It was not immediately clear if Stars and Duqu were related but Jalali described Duqu as the third virus to hit Iran.

           — Hat tip: Vlad Tepes[Return to headlines]

Turkey: Constitution: Secular Opposition Dumps Armed Forces

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, NOVEMBER 11 — The Republican People’s Party (CHP), the secular social democratic party that is the main opposition force in Turkey, is opposed to the army being consulted on reforms to the Turkish Constitution. The position, which has considerable historical and political implications, was reported today by a Turkish daily, detailing the developments of a process that is decisive for the future of the country and the entire Middle East, considering Turkey’s influence in the region. This is an important detail from talks in the inter-party commission that has the task of writing the draft of the new Constitution which will replace the one that has been amended several times but was written under the influence of the 1980 military coup. In the most recent meeting, reports Turkish daily Aksam, there was a debate on which institutions should be consulted to contribute to drafting the text. The CHP, the main opposition party to the single-party government of moderate-Islamist Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated that it is opposed to consulting with three institutions: President Adbullah Gul (AKP, Erdogan’s party), the Prime Minister and, in an apparently surprising development, the Armed Forces General Staff. The CHP, inspired by the values espoused by Ataturk, has always been accused of being too close to the armed forces, which has carried out coups in the past, with the most recent “post-modern” one in 1997, to preserve Turkey’s secularism imposed by founder Kemal Ataturk in a Muslim country. In its report, the daily did not speculate on the reasons for this choice, but the underlying dual strategy to exclude the general staff from consultations requested by Kemal Kilicdaroglu’s party and certainly backed by Erdogan’s party, which is hostile to the armed forces, is clear: with a single move, the CHP would free itself from this unpopular reputation of a pro-military party and would ease the premier’s grip on reforms. Erdogan has already made great efforts to exercise the influence of the office of the premier on the constitutional reform process by dictating the timetable for the commission’s work (fast: by midway through next year, although this is already an uncertain goal) and suggesting its topics (one that is professedly dear to him: upholding a presidential system that would keep him in the political world even after the expiration of his third consecutive term, which cannot be extended). Without the armed forces, already worn by waves of long precautionary arrests due to alleged coup attempts over the last decade, the future of secularism in Turkey seems to be assured at least by Erdogan and Gul’s statements. An observing Muslim whose wife wears a headscarf, Erdogan reiterated during last June’s electoral campaign that he wants to protect all Turkish lifestyles, religious faiths and values: a non-theocratic Islamism part of a “secular state in which all religions are equal”. A formula that Erdogan also preached in September in the North African capitals of the Arab Spring countries, puzzling some who are seeking a form of Islamism that is closer to Sharia and further away from the version inspired by the multiethnic tolerance of the Ottoman Empire.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Turkey: Fall in Child-Mother Phenomenon

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, 10 NOVEMBER — Turkey has seen a big fall in the number of girls under 15 giving birth over the last decade.

This is the picture that emerges from the National Statistical Office data (Tuik) published today on the website of the newspaper Hurriyet.

Twere more 12.5 million births with a decrease of 87 births for mothers under 15 years-old in Turkey between 2001 and 2010.

There was also a 37% fall for young girls between 15 and 19 years and a 22.3% drop for those aged between 20 and 24.

The data also shows that over the past decade there has been a 31% rise in births to women over 30 years-old and a decrease in mothers over 40 (-19% in the segment between 45 and 49 years ).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Russia Will Continue to Sell Weapons to Syria

(AGI) Moscow- Russia’s arms exportation to Syria does not conflict with any international ban, Russian authorities stated. Moscow will thus continue selling weapons to Syria said deputy director of the Federal Military and Technical Cooperation Service (FSVTS) Viacheslav Dzirkaln.

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

South Asia

Indonesia: Amnesty Calls on Gov to Stop Papua Rights Violations

Jakarta, 8 Nov. (AKI/Jakarta Post) — The Indonesian government must immediately act on the Indonesian National Human Rights Commission’s (Komnas HAM) findings that human rights violations were committed by Indonesian security forces at the Third Papuan Peoples’ Congress on Oct. 19, Amnesty International says.

The Komnas HAM investigation team found that Indonesian security forces opened fire on participants of the peaceful gathering and also beat and kicked them, the organization said in a press statement on Tuesday.

The Commission, which made its findings public on Nov. 4, has called on the Indonesian National Police chief to investigate these human rights violations.

It was reported on Nov. 7 that the President’s office had rejected the findings of Komnas HAM, stating that the police were still handling the case.

Amnesty International called the Indonesian authorities to initiate an independent, thorough and effective investigation into the Commission’s findings.

“If the investigations find that the security forces committed unlawful killings or torture or other ill-treatment, then those responsible, including persons with command responsibility, must be prosecuted in proceedings which meet international standards of fairness and victims should be provided with reparations,” it said.

“The failure to bring perpetrators of these violations to justice in fair trials will reinforce the perception that the security forces in Papua operate above the law and fuel the ongoing climate of mistrust towards the security forces there.”

On Oct. 19, police and military units violently dispersed participants of the Third Papuan People’s Congress, a peaceful gathering held in Abepura, Papua province. The bodies of Demianus Daniel, Yakobus Samonsabara, and Max Asa Yeuw were found near the Congress area. An estimated 300 participants were arbitrarily arrested at the end of the Congress. Most were released the following day but six have been charged. Five people were charged for “rebellion” and “incitement” under Articles 106, 110 and 160 of the Criminal Code, while one was charged for “possession of weapons” under Emergency Law No. 12/1951.

According to Komnas HAM, the three people who were found dead had gunshot wounds. The Commission was not able to confirm whether they were killed by the police or the military and have called for police forensics investigators to examine the bullets. Komnas HAM also found that at least 96 participants had been shot, kicked or beaten by police officers.

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

Kazakhstan: Churches and Mosques in Kazakh Prisons Closed. Solitary Confinement for Praying in Cells

The places of worship in violation of new laws on religious freedom. Prohibiting prayer in public places. The prison service is run by the Muslim community and the Russian Orthodox Church.

Astana (AsiaNews / F18) — The Kazakh government has closed mosques, churches and places of worship in prisons. The authorities justify the gesture with the application of the new law which prohibits any form of religious activity in public buildings. Alika Kadenova, Interior Minister, said that churches and other buildings had been built illegally. However Fr. Alekseandr Suvorov of Orthodox Diocese of Astana and Almaty, points out that no official has been arrested. These days the police have sent a few Muslim prisoners into solitary confinement for praying in their cells.

Omirbek Ongar, spokesman for the Muslim community, said that prisons are areas under strict police control, so there is no reason to fear any terrorist attacks or the spread of Islamic extremism. In recent months the prisoners have sent several appeals to the government to have a place to pray. “We wrote letters and contacted the authorities to denounce this attitude — the Muslim leader says — but no one listened. The prisoners were left without churches and mosques. “

A total of 163 places of worship in prisons are to be closed. Of these about 100 belong to the Muslim community, the other to the Kazakh Orthodox Church. They are the only two faiths to have places of encounter and prayer in public prisons.

Launched last October 13 and wanted by President Nursultan Nazarbayev, the laws were created to combat Islamic extremism. But they affect all religious groups and aim to nationalize the country’s faiths considered traditional or with a large following, following the pattern of control used by the Chinese government. To survive and avoid sanctions at a national level, each religious group must demonstrate that they have at least 5 thousand members. The laws prohibit any form of religious expression in public places and forbid Muslim women to wear headscarves. In principle only the Russian Orthodox Church and Islamic community Kazakhstan, considered part of the tradition, were excluded from these restrictions, but the recent discovery in the territory of extremist groups has prompted the government tighten its grip on them also.

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

Kazakhstan: Law on Religious Freedom Sets Off Islamic Terrorism Alarm

The authorities recognize for the first time the presence of a fundamentalist cell in the territory of Kazakhstan inspired by the Caucasus radicalism: the “Soldiers of the caliphate.” Their recent claim of responsibility for twin bombings in the West, in retaliation for draconian law on religious organizations.

Astana (AsiaNews) — Kazakhstan has sounded a warning over Islamic terrorism. For the first time the authorities have acknowledged the presence of terrorist groups in the richest country in Central Asia thus far considered a bastion of stability, distant from the influence of fundamentalist movements. According to the Attorney General, the two bombs which exploded on October 31 in Atyrau were claimed by the Al-Djund Khalifat group (‘Soldiers of the Caliphate’), in a video (see photo), the existence of which the government to date had denied. The attack, the same bombers say, was a reprisal for the draconian law on religious freedom, launched in October in Astana, which also prohibits any practice of worship within government buildings.

Three members of the group shed light on in activities admitting responsibility for the twin bombings, after being arrested last week. The other alleged terrorist, who formed the Islamic cell, was the only victim of the bombs in Atyrau, having handled the explosive material carelessly.

According to the prosecutor, the “Soldiers of the Caliphate” were born in 2009, inspired by one of the best-known figures of the Caucasian Islamic radicalism, the “martyr” Sayeed Buryatskij, a Russian convert to Islam, killed by FSB agents in Ingushetia in March. Buryatskij, 28, was considered the architect of the Moscow-St Petersburg train attack in 2009, which killed 26 people. The four would-be terrorists, moreover, have apparently fought against allied troops in Afghanistan alongside the Taliban.

Analysts also highlight the far from random target of the attack: the city of Atyrau. Located in the west of the country, not far from the tinderbox of the North Caucasus, Atyrau is the “capital” of the thriving district that includes the Tengiz and Kashagan oil fields. It is also the base for the offices of major foreign companies operating in Kazakhstan: among them Eni, Chevron, ExxonMobil and Tengizchevroil. (N.A.)

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


UK: Checks on Asylum Seekers Halted in Row Over Stab Vests

Border control chiefs ordered officers to stop carrying out crucial checks on asylum seekers because of a dispute over the wearing of stab vests.

They halted the monitoring of asylum seekers for several weeks during the same period that the border force also relaxed checks on the passports of non-EU nationals entering Britain.

Officers at the UK Border Agency headquarters in West London had demanded stab vests after a colleague was threatened by a knife-wielding asylum seeker.

But Rebecca Baumgartner, UKBA’s deputy director for London, ruled they could not wear them for the checks — conducted at asylum seekers’ living accommodation — while a review of the policy was under way.

As a compromise, she said officers should not monitor asylum seekers in all parts of London until they made a decision.

As a result, for several weeks between June and July, UKBA officers across the capital did not carry out spot-checks on hundreds of asylum seekers whose applications were being processed by the Home Office.

Directors in London finally announced stab vests would remain banned…

UKBA sources say the spot-checks in the community are the only way to keep track of asylum seekers while their claims are being handled. They also help ensure asylum seekers are not working illegally.

One officer said: ‘Suspending checks just gave a red light to God knows how many people to abscond.’

Although they have now resumed, some officers have dismissed them as ineffective, since the more dangerous asylum seekers are no longer monitored.

           — Hat tip: Kitman[Return to headlines]

UK: Police Told Me to Relax Passport Rules, Says Former Borders Chief

Home secretary on the ropes after telling the Commons that Brodie Clark had acted improperly

Theresa May, the home secretary, faces a fight for her political career when Brodie Clark, the senior civil servant who resigned from the UK Borders Agency over an immigration dispute, is expected to reveal that he only ever relaxed passport controls to non-EU citizens on the advice of police.

May claimed in the Commons that Clark, who plans to lodge a constructive dismissal case against the government, had improperly relaxed passport checks to manage growing queues at airports. Clark, who has worked in the civil service for 40 years, issued a statement denying the politician’s claim and agreed to attend a meeting of the home affairs select committee on Tuesday

The Observer understands that Clark, 60, will this week tell MPs that he only acted on police orders. He will say that a directive put in place three years ago obliged him to act if the police believed a crowd was causing a threat to public order. He will explain that he has been unable to recover documents and emails from his office to prove his case because he has not been allowed to enter the agency’s headquarters.

Matthew Coats, who was the UKBA’s head of immigration, has temporarily taken over Clark’s role. A notice on the UKBA website says the border force operations manual is “being updated”.

Meanwhile, the turmoil at the UKBA intensified last night after immigration officials revealed they had suspended a policy of conducting illegal passport checks on buses. Last week, the Observer reported that Border Agency officials were regularly targeting coach passengers but the practice appears illegal because UKBA staff are only authorised to examine people at air or sea ports.

           — Hat tip: Kitman[Return to headlines]